Thursday, September 27, 2018

Sykotyk Rampage - "Live At The Paris Hilton" Album Review!!

Now's a good time for our 111th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, as we're taking a look at local alternative/blues rock quartet Sykotyk Rampage's newest album "Live At The Paris Hilton"! Quietly released to their Reverbnation page on April 27th, this is canonically the 61st album from "the original crash band", but it's the first to actually be on sale rather than a free posting upon it's initial release since 2011, and likewise, our first review of theirs since 2012. The band has retroactively made their last 31 albums available for purchase there too, so keep that in mind if you want to support Sykotyk Rampage's work! Regarding "Live At The Paris Hilton", this was recorded over the past two years at River Front Recreation Studios with the band's current lineup, including singer/drummer Paul Becker, guitarists Dirk Becker and Shane Kokis, and bassist Tony Briglio, with Dirk and Tony each getting a song for lead vocals of their own on here.

You can buy this and other Sykotyk Rampage albums for $9.99 each at this link, or get individual tracks for $1.50, though curious fans can stream these songs for free as well. Also, this album is partially made up of re-recordings, so in those cases, comparisons will be inevitable, but I'll try to keep things focused on the new album. With 22 songs running for over 1 hour and 51 minutes, let's get this review rolling!

This album is a spiritual follow-up to Sykotyk Rampage's 9th album, 2005's "Live Upper Rubber Boot Saskatchewan", in that it's a faux-live record with the band introducing songs to a crowd inserted in post-production, so it's relatively unique on that basis. The album's first song is "Breakdown", which was previously included on 2015's "50 Amazing Tales", compilation, after previously being a live concert staple. After a whimsical sampled opening and a French introduction (remember, live at the Paris Hilton), the song proper kicks in, which is very similar in structure to the 2015 version, if slightly faster. The song has an energetic fast bluesy vibe and effective shouting of the song's name by multiple band members (Tony adds some particular force in this way.) "Breakdown" has been a fan favourite set opener in late-period Sykotyk Rampage concerts, with a punk essence and catchy vibe, and it's an ideal opener to the album!

Second is the album's first brand new track, a cover of The Beatles' "Come Together", which is relatively what you'd expect from a Sykotyk Rampage cover, though the intro before the first verse is extended, and some of the lyrics are altered. Paul adds his distinctive bluesy vocals well to this rendition, and the instrumentation lends itself well to the original, but given Sykotyk Rampage's blend of "blue Chinese metal crash punk", I actually assumed this cover would be more off the wall. Effective overall, but diehard fans may appreciate their original chaos more. That's followed by a new original named "Shitty Love", which is a mid-tempo blues rock song that will have a very familiar sound for Sykotyk Rampage loyalists, with Paul's singing flowing as expected over free-wheeling guitar jams and strong bass work. A bit of a funk aspect to some of the riffs, this is a fun song that perfectly fits Sykotyk Rampage's usual improvisation M.O. in studio, and fans will enjoy it!

After a brief announcement to locate the missing towel folder(!), another new song named "Plastic Bag" is next, which has more of a low-down gritty sound, almost like there's some inspiration from "Jesus Built My Hot Rod" by Ministry. Paul's vocals sound a little over-processed, but on the flip side, the drumming is loud and forceful, so that meshes well! The song as a whole is too down-beat and deliberate for my tastes, though it is well performed. That's followed (fittingly enough) by "Bag On Your Face", which made it's studio debut on 2010's "Bella Disgusta". In this form, the song is overlaid with sampled audio of Paris Hilton (as in, the socialite, not the alleged venue) talking about her personal recommendations for the first half. I get the reference, but this takes away from much of the song! This version of "Bag On Your Face" hews relatively close to the original with it's more lively structure, sing-along chorus, and fun guitar riffs, but the repetition won't be for everyone.

"Bag On Your Face" remains a fun, crowd-engaging song, but the Paris Hilton sound clip takes away from the re-recording, so I'd recommend checking out the 2010 original first. Sixth on the album is "Better We Feel", another apparent new track, which has more of a dream-like ambiance to Paul's vocals while still retaining their usual crash stylings. Tony's bass work is particularly strong here, and the guitarists hold up their end of the bargain, but this song has more of a downbear vibe from the vocals and the more deliberate structure. Hard to explain, but this song doesn't feel better than some of it's contemporaries. Seventh is the oddly titled "Anarchy Nogona Togeth", which runs for an album-long 9:16. The song actually starts with a cover of The Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" featuring Dirk Becker on lead vocals, and while it feels a little slow compared to the original, it's faithfully done, and Dirk's unique snarl was the right pick for this rendition!

Paul takes over lead vocals for the "Nogona Togeth" stretch afterward, which appear to be their own recordings, and likewise are more in the usual Sykotyk wheelhouse, with free-wheeling improvisation, bluesy undertones, and solid chemistry. Nothing about the last two thirds immensely stands out, but they're reliably fun compositions! That said, why lump "Anarchy In The UK" with them for this extra long track, instead of splitting them up? That's followed by "24/7", which is another entry into Sykotyk Rampage's cadre of drinking songs, and this song seems to be better suited to the lyrics and underlying story than some others on the album. The bass is effective, and the song has a solid vibe to it for fans of their blues side, but it's not as aggressive and lively as the songs of theirs that I like the most. Still a well done track!

The next two songs are re-recordings, starting with "9 Days", from their 2008 album of the same name. Compared to the original version, this rendition feels a little slower and more laboured (not helped by the opening with "live" audience chatter), but Tony's backing vocals help give this a heavier edge at times! "9 Days" was an early favourite of mine from when first researching Sykotyk Rampage for the SMS, and the sonic assault remains ever present on this heavier number, in conjunction with solid lyrics, but the original version is more lively and natural. Tenth is "Drinking Problem", another live favourite found on "50 Amazing Tales" (among other releases.) As preceded here by fireworks, this version of the song is slightly abbreviated, but is otherwise faithful in tone and performance. If anything, Paul's singing is more prominent in the mix, but that's not a bad thing on this bluesy drinking number. Fun song with catchy lyrics, this is a live favourite for a reason, but I do prefer their faster and heavier work.

Next is their fan favourite cover of "Fuck You, I'm Drunk" by Bondo (not Flogging Molly, as is commonly stated), which I can't find reference to being on a past album of theirs. Though popularly sang by Shane Kokis in live concerts, Paul handles that aspect on the album, with backing assistance from his brother Dirk on some verses. The vocals here are often muffled, which is a shame, as the performance of this Irish drinking punk song is upbeat and suitably high impact. If you can get past the vocal mix, the cover's solid, but something's lost with how they did the singing here. The album's second half begins with a lengthy new original named "Strange Landscapes", which definitely plays more to Sykotyk Rampage's experimental side with a drawn out structure, trippier effects, and more of a psychedelic undertone, with Paul's distinctive quaver fitting especially well on this track. While not exceedingly heavy, this track gets the job done well!

Another new song follows next, namely "Wolf Among The Sheep", which is a fairly straightforward return to Sykotyk Rampage's crash roots, with everyone playing to their strengths in the band, including a solid near-guitar solo, nicely timed drumming, and a heavy yet steady structure. Paul's vocals are confident and have some soul to them, and fans of Sykotyk Rampage's distinctive sound will eat this one right up! Nothing really to complain about, just a solid track that is a highlight at this stage! Next is a cover of Motorhead's "Killed By Death", and as you would expect, Tony takes over lead vocals on this one. He pulls off his best Lemmy impersonation for the occasion, and while not an exact match, he sounds enough like him to suit the cover! Musically, this song isn't in the usual range for the Becker clan, but they handle Motorhead capably, and it's a solid rendition of a band you don't hear covered locally all that much, so fans should enjoy it on it's own terms!

Four apparently new tracks are next, starting with "Master of Time", which has a trippy yet aggressive sound that combines the best of both worlds, with the guitar particularly shining throughout this extended track. Paul's singing is more of the affected spoken word variety for the first half, and sounds off to me, but his angry yelling as the title character adds a much needed spark to the song and characterization. The music makes this song especially worthwhile from it's free spirited-yet-heavy structure, but the vocals only catch fire when Paul gets aggressive. Then we have "Little Blue Bird", which also opens (and closes) with fireworks before transitioning into a mid-tempo blues rock number that, more than any other song so far, feels like it runs for too long. The song's fine, but it moves at the same trajectory without changing course or theme until the song's almost over, which doesn't help a bluesy track. Solidly performed and structured, but I like my Rampage to be faster and looser overall.

Song #17 is "Room 132, Ordered Egg Salad" (perhaps a reference to being at the Hilton), which begins with some related banter before commencing into Sykotyk Rampage's usual chaos, with some of the more bizarre lyrics of the album. At least we now know that Paul likes egg salad sandwiches! His percussion is particularly effective on this track, and the free-wheeling improvised guitar riffs return in full force to this amusing number. It's not as heavy or fast as some predecessors, but it's a return to form, and is a late highlight on the album! That's followed by "Disagree to Disagree", which has a simpler, more deliberate structure, but is relatively upbeat and consistent in tone. Paul's singing is a little softer and more melodic, while still maintaining the bluesy edge, and I like the guitar melody! That said, this isn't an overly heavy song, but it's fun for what it is!

A pair of Black Sabbath covers come next, starting with "Fairies Wear Boots", which is the third song here to start with fireworks. This is more of a reworking or interpretation of the original, especially regarding how the lyrics are changed, so fans may want to erase the Sabbath version before judging this one. Tony's bass playing is a highlight on this cover, and the melody is faithful while also being "sykotyk", but with the lyric changes and more muddled mix late, this isn't an optimal cover from their repertoire. "Hole In The Sky" keeps the cover action going, and while it's not as structrally altered lyrically, Paul doesn't even tackle the song's choruses (though his voice was straining to hit Ozzy's notes on the verses.) This version has more of an indie grit to it, if that makes sense, and the guitar work is particularly grungy in tone, but the song fades out too abruptly. Interesting adaptation, but Sabbath diehards may have more direct thoughts on how these covers turned out.

"Live At The Paris Hilton" closes with two originals, starting with it's shortest track, "I Was With Her". Despite it's relative length, this is a slower and more progressive track, which definitely serves to showcase Shane and Dirk on guitar in particular. The song flows well throughout, and it has a pleasant yet anarchic vibe, but it's not an aggressive free-wheeling number, comparatively speaking. The closing number is "Mother Goose Tales", which was previously featured on "50 Amazing Tales", but is unrelated to their second album "Mother Goose Lullabites". Suitably long compared to the original, this is basically the same song with minor structural tweaks, and the title is apt, as the lyrics are just Paul putting a bluesy spin on nursery rhymes. It's amusing to hear such innocuous rhymes sung in this fashion, let alone over drawn out alt-rock! The song proper would normally not be my taste given it's meandering instrumentation, but the lyrics alone give it enough entertainment value, and it's a fun closer to the album!

So, what are my final thoughts on "Live At The Paris Hilton"? Well, first off, it's nice to review a new paid Sykotyk Rampage album after far too long, hopefully there will be more now that their 2012-2016 discography is for sale! This is a trickier album to grade, given that it's under the guise of a live album, but on it's own merits, it's an entertaining mash-up of new songs, familiar live standbys, and some surprise covers, and everyone plays their part well! Paul Becker's deep bluesy vocals are welcome to hear, his drumming meshes well with Tony Briglio's rhythmic bass, and Dirk Becker & Shane Kokis keep the free-wheeling, distinctive guitar riffs rolling well throughout this album! Of the new songs, tracks like "Room 132", "Nogona Togeth", and "Strange Landscapes" were particularly entertaining, but there are aspects I would change. Certain covers weren't optimally done, a few too many songs were more along the meandering drawn out side, and I'm surprised we only heard Dirk on lead vocals for one song.

My biggest gripe is that, for a "live" album, it didn't have more live favourites of Sykotyk Rampage's, like "Lowest of the Low", "Called In Dead", and (most glaringly) "Drinking on the Weekend." For such a long release, why not devote it entirely to new originals or what would be a full live set? Overall though, it's great to have Sykotyk Rampage back, if only in studio, and this will whet the appetites of diehard fans, assuming you have your environ-mental suits ready! Hopefully there's more coming in some fashion from the masters of the crash, but stream or buy the whole thing at the above links! I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, and as for next month's, I am 99% sure that we will be reviewing local punk trio Redundant's self-titled debut EP from July! Though they never had a formal release party for it, their first local concert since then will be at the Ten Foot Pole concert on October 25th, that event will be a perfect tie-in for when we finally review their new CD on here. Look for that next month, and stay tuned for news and weekend concert previews on the site tomorrow! Thanks everyone!

No comments: