Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bad Side - "Bad Side II" Review!!

Hey guys, it's time for our lucky 13th CD review at The Sault Metal Scene! After waiting to see if any of the Sault Ontario metal bands with announced albums would in fact release them in July (none have), I have decided to dip back into the archives this month, and for the very first time, we're going to review an album from a band I've previously reviewed an album by! So this month, we take a look at inactive Sault Michigan classic hard rockers Bad Side's second studio album, "Bad Side II"! Released through Vicious Music in September 2007, the album was recorded at Hitmakers Digital Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee (same as on their 2005 self-titled debut) and features mixes by noted producer Beau Hill, who's worked with Alice Cooper, Warrant, Ratt, and many others! The lineup on "Bad Side II" is no different from their debut, with founding members Melissa Krahnke on vocals and keyed instruments and Jason Mapes on guitars, keyboards, and backing vocals. Once again, they were supported by bassist Rich Blair on six tracks and drummer Dan Furmanik on all tracks, with Dan also supplying the bass on seven other songs. Melissa, Jason, and Dan all shared co-production duties.

The album is currently available online at a few different sites, notably on iTunes and CDBaby, where it's available for $10.99 ($9.99 by download.) However, it is out of print currently, but check local merchants in case they have physical copies. The whole album is available for free online through torrent and streaming sites, but if I were you, I would support the band and buy it at the above links! 14 songs, so let's start with the first track, "Living In Fear"! (Updated on November 26th, 2012)

"Living In Fear" kicks off with a slow heavy riff and some very audible, almost opening march-like drums, which work really well to set the tone! Almost immediately, the production and mixing is audibly MUCH better than on their debut CD, with no instruments sounding buried, so tons of credit to Beau Hill for ensuring that this time around!! Melissa's vocals are subdued in the verses, but almost in an ominous fashion to keep with an intended tone. The choruses definitely pick up though, and her soulful power really starts to come through! Honestly, this song sounds like it could be on the soundtrack of a 1980s horror movie, and that's not necessarily a criticism! The keyboard melody and lyrical content help give off that vibe, and Jason's guitar work is very good, though the solo felt very short. Another problem: The last portions of the song feature some honeslty misplaced spoken word vocals, the first batch used concurrently with singing of the exact same lines. It's like the band smushed an unused industrial concept in with what was already written. Nonetheless, this is a very solid opener, and though I don't expect the "horror" feelings to continue throughout "Bad Side II", I appreciate the variance they used for this track!

Second on the album is "Call Me If Ya Want To", which definitely harkens more to the classic hard rock style we're used to from Bad Side! The band very seamlessly mix a hard rocker with bluesy time passages, with great passionate singing and some very catchy guitar work! It may just be me, but this has the vibe of a song to drive down the highway to, if that makes sense! My biggest complaint with this song is that it's repetitive except for the break a little past half way with the (again) shorter-than-expected guitar solo. It's a very catchy song, but there's no variance in the guitar and bass lines at all during the chorus. Even still, I like it more than "Living In Fear" because it's a fun little rocker that's straightforward and to the point, even if repetitive! "This Is How You Made Me" is third on the album, and I'll come right out and say it: I'm not digging this song that much. It feels like Bad Side took inspiration from keyboard driven 1960s-70s rock bands, and while that's a great source, the song takes on a bouncy, almost circus-like feel with the riffing. Not exactly my thing, and the song wraps up really quickly too, it felt empty. The best aspect of this track is Melissa's singing, she's firing on all cylinders, but it feels like the vocal track of a great song was tacked on to what they had left, with no solo either. Aspects of this song are good, and I appreciate the leap in styles here, but it's not one of my standout tracks.

Fourth is "Get A Grip, Melissa" which is basically a skit that introduces the next song, which we'll get to in a second. The plotline is that Bad Side are in a mall going to a music store so Melissa can buy the new Aerosmith CD, in the hopes that she'll get Steven Tyler himself to sign it at that night's Aerosmith concert. The other band members question her plan, pointing to past events and the unlikelihood that it will succeed. Then they notice that a guy near the elevator actually could be Steven Tyler, at which point they go over there, ending with some "interesting" stuff said by Melissa to Steven alluding to Aerosmith song titles. This is an amusing intro, and you can tell that Melissa and Jason's radio work helped for their voice-over parts. The celebrity references sound dated, and the usefulness of an intro skit is debatable, but definitely listen to it as a lead-in for the fifth song, "Hey Steven". This song, which is dedicated to Steven Tyler, sounds like it could have been an Aerosmith song, which is definitely intentional! Interesting use of horn-like effects in the chorus, and it definitely has a poppy kind of feel to it while still being heavy! Melissa gives Steven Tyler high praise in the lyrics, you can tell that he and Aerosmith were a heavy influence of hers! She even uses some Aerosmith-esque vocal ticks that fans will appreciate! We finally get a more substantial solo here as well, Jason's laying down some great notes on this track, and Rich Blair's bass lines are solid also! It's not the heaviest song on the album, but it's not supposed to be, and it succeeds at what it sets out to do, so it works!

Track six is "Venomous", which despite the title, is actually a mid-tempo song, and seems more reserved than the subject matter would imply. Use of the piano is very prevalent here for the melody moreso than the earlier songs, and the rest of the instrumentation seems like it's just gliding along without registering a major impact. It's a laid back, yet dark song, if that makes sense. I'll say this much though, at least the vocals and the instruments feel like they belong in the same song, unlike on "This Is How Your Made Me". The guitar solo isn't bad either, it's one of Jason's better solos so far! Not a bad little song, but it doesn't pack a lot of power. Things get even slower and piano-driven on the seventh song, "Don't Tell", and like on their first album's "I Will Come To You", Melissa seems to switch from soft higher singing to the heavier soulful stuff at will, though it's not really a straight "ballad", so to speak. It has a lot of passion and emotion while still maintaining an intimate feel, and it has a grand majestic feel in the instrumental parts! Honestly, the lyrical content about "saving the little children" doesn't fit the song's type, but the song works on it's given level, even if I'd typically want a heavy rocker over this type of song.

The second half of "Bad Side II" kicks off with "Cheap Liquor & Loud Music", a song about... well, read the title! The band return to their hard rocking ways on this song, and this is exactly the kind of song that got me into Bad Side way back! Hard rock with catchy riffing, nice bluesy rhythms, and soulful energetic singing, and at just over 5 minutes, we get lots of it! Bad Side take no risks here, they play to their strengths, and it shows! If I had to criticize, the solo could stand to be longer, and the backing chants of "Hey! Hey!" don't add a lot on the studio track, but that (and some other vocal passages) are tailor made for fans to chime in at concerts! Great song, easily my favourite so far! Ninth is "Hot For You", and I could tell right away that this song was also a winner from the awesome opening riff! Great rocking energy on this track, Melissa sounds great and the bass lines and drumming are also pretty good! However, the chorus isn't up to par with the verses, the backing vocals and the tone Melissa used don't gel that well. But aside from that, I can't complain, the solo is brief but great, Metlissa shows off her vocal range very well, and it's just a fun hard rock song! The chorus keeps it from being as good as the last song, but it's a highlight of mine!

Tenth is "Come On Back", another slower song that returns to the musical style of "Don't Tell", if the softer singing was completely taken out. When listening, I had the image of Melissa at a piano singing this solo at a blues bar after losing a lover, at least that's my impression. The energy and passion is extra clear here, with emotional lyrics. As was the case on "Don't Tell", this song works at it's style, but after two straight awesome tracks, it fell a bit flat for me. It's not a bad song at all though, and I appreciate the continued variety in the track listing! After that, we get "All That I Can Get", which starts off with a slow drum intro and leads into a pretty straightforward slow song compared to the bluesier slower stuff we heard before. This song struck me as not really having enough energy to it, and I do know that it's not supposed to be a lively rocker, but it just glided along slowly, and had some kinda depressing feelings to it, though the choruses are a touch more energetic. The riffing doesn't really strike me, and it feels like they're just going through the motions for a slow song, which is disappointing when you look at songs like "Don't Tell", where you could feel Melissa's every word. I couldn't feel it here. It is well played, it just lacks energy.

The rocking returns on the twelfth song, "My Math Teacher Is A Nazi", which immediately starts with talkbox effects and a hard hitting riff! You don't hear a talkbox all that much nowadays, nice to hear! The song, while heavy, has a different vibe to it, as Melissa sings about her dislike for her math teacher, and it's pretty deep hatred! You even hear Jason Mapes as the math teacher talking back at points! The singing in the verses is mostly in angry spoken word that only lightly follows the melody, and it's oddly effective! Reminds me of some of the "disaffected youth" songs you often heard hair metal bands of the 1980s play. The musical quality of the song isn't to par of the other heavy tracks on the album, as the song is very vocally driven, and the talkbox drowns out a lot of the instrumentation, but it's a fun little song with a lot of energy and some funny moments of anti-teacher rebellion!

Thirteenth is "Lie", the album's longest song, and you remember how I criticized "This Is How Your Made Me" for it's keyboard-driven bounciness that didn't really fly? It's pulled off a lot better here, it's the same tone of playing, but this rocks harder and actually sounds like a quality Bad Side song! Its not perfect though. While it has enough heaviness, it still feels kinda light and bouncy, and Melissa's singing again seems heavier than the song really needs. But this is also a much better song that meshes together a hell of a lot better, and the keyboard playing doesn't make the song odd or strange, while still being noticeable and melodic! No guitar solo either, that's a glaring absence for a song this long. Good song, and a bit different! "Bad Side II" ends on a high note with "Let It Roll", which was one of the first songs off of this album I latched on to way back, so I could safely say prior to the review that this was a great song! The drumming from Dan Furmanik is particularly clear and good on this song, and the contrast from the soulful verses and more energetic choruses complement each other nicely! It keeps a steady pace, and remains heavy and on the same track throughout, which works well! This song does get repetitive, the backing vocals take away from the chorus a bit, and Melissa's spoken word over the song sounds like it should be during a live performance rather than on the studio recording, but overall, this is a solid rocking capper to Bad Side's sophomore release!

So how do I grade "Bad Side II"? Well, first off, credit (again) goes to Beau Hill for the mixing and mastering of this album, because the production and mixes were one of my larger complaints of Bad Side's debut. With everything level, I could enjoy the songs as a whole without fear, and on that basis, it's definitely better to listen to on the audio quality level! As musicians, Bad Side retained their obvious skill levels from the first CD, only evolving their sound to try some new things, with hit and miss results. The bluesy ballads were a nice change of pace, and the classic vibes of many songs were welcome, but a few too many songs seemed to be on one note, gliding along without energy. And in the case of "This Is How Your Made Me", I'm not really sure what happened. Melissa Krahnke continues to impress as a singer, especially given her deep soulful voice that stands in contrast to most other female rock singers in the area, and don't forget about her wit and humour! Jason Mapes is a great guitarist still on this record, be it on riffs or solos, but I found most of the solos to be way too short, which isn't indicative of his talent. Rich Blair and Dan Furmanik are both capable bassists, and Dan is also good on drums, but throughout, they never struck me as the focus even with the improved mix. Melissa and Jason were front and center, and though you can take that for what you will, their talents speak for themselves!

I appreciate when Bad Side experiment with styles, but I say that they're at their best on bluesy classic/hard rock, and there's loads of standout tracks for that, like "Hot For You", "Let It Roll", and my personal favourite, "Cheap Liquor & Loud Music"! Great stuff there, it's heavy enough for metal fans to enjoy, but has enough soul and melody for classic rock and general music fans to appreciate! Songs like "Living In Fear" and "My Math Teacher Is A Nazi" shown my favourite uses of their style experiments, but I missed the orchestral elements that we saw a bit of on their debut, that'd have been nice to hear again. "Bad Side II" is better musically than their first CD, but the difference is even greater if you include the production, which helps it stand out even more! And if their next (and latest) album, 2008's "...Bad Things Come In Threes" is any indication, fans will have nothing to worry about going forward! Overall, "Bad Side II" is uneven but high quality, and in light of the new styles and elements they try, they luckily hit their mark more often than they miss it! Classic and hard rock fans, you'll wanna check this out!

So there is this month's local metal CD review! What's on tap for next month? Again, I don't know. Even more bands have piled on for the list of bands with imminent, planned, or rumoured album releases. Garden of Bedlam, Lion Ride, Sense of Truth, Gates of Winter, Frightlight, and Sykotyk Rampage all have new albums partially or fully recorded, bands like No Arrow, Silver Dream, and Bring The Fallen have announced or rumoured albums to my knowledge, and even Sault Michigan's Elipzis may have a CD of some kind already! If something new doesn't pop up next month from a local band, then I will once again dip back into the local archives, which would be a Sault Ontario band's album, tied to an August concert if possible. So if a new album comes out, expect that to be the next review, and if one doesn't, wait and see between August 25th and 31st!

That's all for now, come back later tonight for previews of this weekend's local metal concerts and some assorted news and updates! And by Saturday, stay tuned for our next Out Of Town Bands With Local Members profiles on Jar. and Thrawsunblat! The excitement is far from over at the SMS, hope to see you guys back for more!

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