Saturday, May 26, 2018

APJSC Under 11 Reds: Round 7 vs Figtree Amber

It’s been a good start to the season for the Albion Park Junior Soccer Club Under 11 Red team, who going in to the weekend were still undefeated after their first five matches. Though not complacent as such, perhaps the fire wasn’t burning so brightly as it has been as they approached their match against the Figtree Amber team at Harry Graham Oval.

Playing without a reserve due to the illness of Ky Van Helden, the Park team was under pressure from the outset as the Figtree team immediately breached the defence and the ball was sent wide of keeper Josh Peters for the home team to take a 1-0 lead. The play was in a bit of disarray, and it took a great piece of play to get them heading back in the right direction. From a stoppage in play for a goal kick, Jack Tate chased the attackers and forced a mistake, from which Belle Kadwell swept in from defence and stole the ball, passing it back up to Jack. Jack then went on one of his signature runs, beating four players before shooting from a fair distance outside the box, and beating the keeper with the ball crashing into the top right corner for a fantastic goal, and the score was level again at 1-1.

The dominant order had been restored, with the Park kids finding their feet once again. There was some excellent work from the forward five who were working hard to find a way through their opponents defence. On the left, Zoe Middleton made a great tackle on her opponents and forced a slick pass forward to Claire Kadwell who beat one player before giving the ball to Indy Middleton who raced diagonally across the field to the right where he found Brock Young. Brock turned and shot at goal only to have it saved, but the ball rebounded all the way back to where Jack was waiting again, and once again from long long range he launched a shot on goal that was too good for the keeper. Jack had his second goal, and the score was now in Park’s favour at 2-1.

With their tails up, the Park forward line was looking to capitalise. There were some great attacking moves from Indy, Claire and Brock, and Zoe only narrowly missed getting a goal of her own when just failing to get on to a great cross past the goal by Brock. The pressure told, and when Jack again attacked his opponents from a goal kick, he stole the ball and slotted home his third goal of the half to take the score to 3-1 when the half time whistle blew.

The second half proved to be one of frustration and jangling nerves as one team attacked for no result and the other took their opportunities and forced their way back into the game. Jack moved into goals, noticeably exhausted from having run himself off his feet, which gave others the chance to make the running. Up front Noah Black and Claire combined well, with Noah twice able to find Claire in space, but she was just not quite able to make it count. From one of these plays the Figtree team took advantage of a Park defence that had gone to sleep and were taken unawares, leaving Jack stranded and unable to prevent the goal being scored. Despite being the dominant attacking team, the score was now only 3-2 to Albion Park.

There was now a period of ten minutes where Albion Park had multiple shots on goal for little reward. Both Indy and Noah had three shots on goal, and though a couple went well wide the others were superbly saved by the Figtree goal keeper. Jack-Ryan Eberwein also unloaded his big right boot on two shots but couldn’t beat the great defence. Finally, after a lengthy period of sustained attack, Noah managed to get one past the outstretched hand of the keeper, which then hit the post and rebounded into the goal for Albion Park to increase their buffer to two, and the score to 4-2.

With at least six goals saved, the score could have been a blow-out, but in the end the reason Albion Park was able to call themselves winners was because of Belle Kadwell. Through the whole match she has been tireless and never stopped in defence, rushing at her opponents before they could control the ball and kicking it long out of danger. In the second half especially she was magnificent. A further Figtree goal down the left had brought the score back to 4-3, and there was little doubt they were looking to not just draw the match, but win it. But time and time again belle saved the day, appearing when no one else was in sight, keeping the goal box clear, stealing and passing the ball upfield, or just getting it over the sideline. Even for an Energizer Bunny it was quite a display of football.

When the whistle blew full time, there was a mixed feeling on the sideline. With all of the attacking chances, the score could well have been a much bigger victory for the Albion Park team. But the Figtree goal keeper had been terrific, and the few chances created at their end were mostly converted. The right team won, but the feeling was that there is still plenty to work on in all facets.

Player of the Day was a tough choice. Jack Tate, almost a year to the day from when he scored 5 goals against Lakeside, was brilliant in the first half scoring his hat-trick, and on any other day he would have won the award. But it went to Belle Kadwell for her match long amazing effort in defence that really proved to be the difference between winning and losing on the day.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

APJSC Under 11 Reds: Round 5 vs Kiama Gold

It has taken some time for the soccer season to break the incredible run of weather we have been having, but finally it managed to do so on Saturday when the Albion Park Under 11 Reds travelled to Cavalier Park (also occasionally referred to as Kiama Sporting Complex) to take on the Kiama team.

The weather was… atrocious. It was cold, it was windy, and was wet and raining. While the less hardy of the spectators gathered under the barely appropriate covered canteen area, some of us braved the sideline in order to encourage our kids to keep moving to avoid freezing to death. The fact that the rain was at time horizontal should give you an indication of what the kids faced. The delayed arrival of the team jerseys was fortunately not problematic as the game was delayed due to the grounds still needing to be set up in the awful conditions.

The game was shortened to just 40 minutes to make up for lost time, but for all intents and purposes it was over after just two minutes, at which point the Albion Park kids led 3-0. Josh Peters first touch of the match was to diffuse a missed pass from his Kiama opponent, which he then passed perfectly through the attacks to Ky Van Helden up front, who then ran in and crashed the ball into the goal for a 1-0 lead. From the restart Ky stole the ball, and then ran past four defenders before striking hot again for his second goal in under a minute. A third restart saw the ball move back into the Albion Park forward line, where Claire Kadwell on the left pushed the ball to the right of the goal, where Jack Tate also beat the keeper to give the team their 3-0 lead.

Kiama was able to regain some ground, but never really found any way to overcome the conditions or the barrelling offense. Ky soon had the ball again, and this time got a great pass away to Jack-Ryan Eberwein who booted the goal home. This was followed by some good play in the middle of the field by Indy Middleton and Josh who halted a couple of advances from their opponents before delivering the ball to their teammates upfield. Zoe Middleton made one terrific tackle on the left wing and also chased down two opponents and bustled them into giving up the ball as they tried to find an open player. As a result of this good work at the back and in the midfield Jack again got a pass to the centre where Ky took full advantage and scored yet again. Immediately following the restart Ky again bounced forward, stealing the ball and making another solo effort and finishing off with a great strike to beat the keeper again, and making the score 6-0 to Albion Park.

With the weather getting worse, one of the best pieces of play for the match unfolded, as Jack worked the ball past three defenders on the right wing before finding Ky in space and slotting the ball to him. Ky ran toward goal with only the goal keeper to beat, but unselfishly passed the Claire on his left who made no mistake with her shot on goal. The whistle mercifully blew half time, with Albion Park leading by 7-0, their winning score for the entire match the previous week.

Coaches Shane Black and Andy Middleton decided on a policy of ‘silent coaching’ for the opening of the second half, in order to see how the kids reacted without any talk from the sideline, as well as giving everyone a chance to have a run up forward. The early minutes of the second half saw the ball trapped mostly in the midfield, but it wasn’t long before the Albion Park team began to assert their dominance once again. After a couple of shots went wide, Jack-Ryan decided to launch a shot from long range which beat the keeper with its ferocity, and the score increased out to 8-0. Jack-Ryan was getting a taste for being up forward, and having beaten two defenders down the right flank he passed perfectly to Brock Young who was getting a chance to showcase his wares up forward, and he beat one defender before slotting the ball into the net for his first goal of the day, and making the score 9-0.

The attacking raids kept coming, and three consecutive corners finally made Kiama pay, as Jack’s cross found Josh from long range hitting the ball perfectly, only to be denied by a great save from the Kiama keeper, but the rebound fell for Belle Kadwell who jumped on the chance and kneed it home for her own goal and a 10-0 lead. Josh was also unfortunate to be denied another long range shot shortly after, which found the back of the net but was then called up and denied by the referee, though the reason was unclear.

The weather wasn’t letting up and neither was the Albion Park wave of attack. Ky and Brock combined expertly through the centre of the park for Jack-Ryan to boot home his third goal for the morning, and then some great lead up work from Claire allowed Noah Black, who had been keeper for the first half, to get himself into the game as he poked the ball past the keeper for his own goal.

The goal of the match followed, when Ky rescued the ball from the back of the field, and passed perfectly down to the left wing where Belle was playing. She took the ball on the sideline on her own side of half way, and then scooted down the left wing leaving defenders in her wake, she then jagged back infield on an angle directed towards the goal, where she lined up and fired the ball past the keeper for a fantastic and brilliant solo goal for the Energizer Bunny.

Still it was getting wetter, and Noah proved deadly from long range, firing the ball from outside the box to crash into the top right corner of the net to make it 14-0, and with five minutes still remaining the referee finally relented and called a close to the match, much to the relief I’m sure of everyone.

The kids were frozen and drenched, but winning always seems to help that. They all played wonderfully well and never let their foot off the pedal. Ky probably could have scored 14 goals on his own except for his unselfish play and then dropping back to allow other players a chance at scoring a goal.

Player of the Day was awarded to Josh Peters, which made his father wonder whether it was just because he was one of the few not to score a goal. He has been excellent at the back this season, and the number of clean sheets produced by this team can be partly attributed to his work in the centre back position.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Megadeth / So Far, So Good... So What! 1988. 4.5/5

I had moved on to university by the time this album was released, and was all the more excited because of it. To this point in time I had only had Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good! (as finding anywhere that imported Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? in those days was ridiculous) and I couldn’t wait to have new Megadeth material to feast my ears upon. The differences between the first two albums and this are noticeable, and some find it is too much to bear. On the other hand, there are songs here that are incomparable and still stand the test of time thirty years on.

The opening of So Far, So Good... So What! is once again once of the big strengths of the album, setting the tone from the outset. The instrumental “Into the Lungs of Hell” is a beauty, showcasing the renewed vigour of replacement guitarist Jeff Young into the fold along with drummer Chuck Behler. In the days where the one-upmanship between Megadeth and Metallica was at its height, it’s hard to say whether or not Dave Mustaine felt the need to create his own instrumental in order to counter what Metallica had done with “The Call of Ktulu” and “Orion” on their recent albums. Whatever the reason it is a great way to open up here. This segues wonderfully into the thrashing rites of “Set the World Afire” which starts out hard and ends in a flurry of Mustaine’s vocals spitting out fire and flame. I’ve always loved these opening two tracks and they are as good now as they were back when this was released.
The closing tracks to Side One of the album have not held the same love affair for me. The cover of Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the U.K.”, with the U.S.A. substituted in conveniently when necessary in the lyrics, is okay, but it doesn’t really have any of the fire and spirit you would expect from a band trying to add their own personality to it. It is the third cover song in successive albums from Megadeth and this is probably the lamest version of the three. This is followed by “Mary Jane”, and for the most part I find that the whining and warbling of the lyrics tends to harm the output of the song. It’s not a bad track by any stretch of the imagination, but it just isn’t up to the high standard you (or at least I) would expect.
“502” kick-starts the second half of the album off in style with a better rendition of what you expect from the Megadeth sound, though the middle section with transfer of the song to a car’s stereo does sometimes get in the way. I love the riff progression and spitting lyrics which starts off “Liar”, in many ways it is the favourite part of the album. I also enjoy the way it ends abruptly, because charging straight into the finale of “Hook in Mouth”. Mustaine loves a rant, and these two songs are ranting at their best.
The star attraction of the album is “In My Darkest Hour”, which along with the previous album’s “Wake Up Dead” are the two best songs from the 1980’s Megadeth releases. “In My Darkest Hour” has the most mature sound from the band to this point, with clear and distorted guitars combined with both mournful vocals and harsh anger, and combines the raw heavy metal with a distilled thrash sound towards the end that makes this a unique song for the band and the genre to this point.
There’s a lot going on here and the album has divided fans opinion ever since its release. Some feel this was a weak album with the band throwing aside most of its thrash tendencies in an effort to find more credibility and commercial bent. Others believe it is a landmark, a crossing of the divide from the first two albums to what would eventually become their masterpiece, Rust in Peace. Once Mustaine fired both Young and Behler he was critical of their contribution and of the album itself which probably didn’t help to win it any fans or any favour.

Clearly the majority of those people who are young and looking back at this album having not grown up with it are seeing flaws in the songs and the production, and that is not necessarily an incorrect view from that perspective. Judging this against an album such as Endgame one could see many differences that would colour their perspective. On the other hand, I grew up with this album from the age of 18, and I played this to death when I first bought it on vinyl, and I loved every square inch of it. I spat lyrics at the mirror imitating Mustaine and perhaps overlooked a couple of things that could have been ‘less strong’. But even taking those into consideration, this album deserves the respect it has earned, and I for one still love putting this on and singing along at high screeching volume.

Rating:  “No survivors, set the world afire!”  4.5/5

Megadeth / Cryptic Writings. 1997. 4/5

Some fans had issues with the Youthanasia album because of its divergence from what many saw as the quintessential Megadeth sound. That intensified with the release of Cryptic Writings which takes even more liberties than the previous two albums. The question asked at the time was could Megadeth fans move with the way the band was heading?

Unlike the previous album my initial memories of this album were all good. I got drawn in by the opening two tracks in particular, “Trust” and “Almost Honest”. I like the moody opening of “Trust” and the build into the heart of the song. I still think the break in the middle of the song, which had become a bit of a Mustaine thing to do, was probably beyond its lifetime, but the song itself is still one I like. So too with “Almost Honest”, which again has a varied mood all the way through than what previous Megadeth songs and albums but it’s one I can get on board with.
Whether or not you think there is an issue with the songs through the middle of the album is going to be a matter of personal taste. “Use the Man” has a sludgy pace to start off with before exploding towards the close of the track. “Mastermind” is probably the least exciting of this crop of songs but that’s not to say it is a bad song, it just doesn’t inspire much excitement. “The Disintegrators” is one of the fastest songs on the album, with Nick Menza having to get out second gear for the first time in a while. It’s actually a pretty underrated song, showcasing the dual soloing from Mustaine and Friedman in a speed that better reflects what most people enjoy from Megadeth songs. “I’ll Get Even” is a similar track to “Use the Man”, understated with quieter Mustaine vocals until the chorus comes around, which does tend to repeat too often. “Sin” and “Have Cool, Will Travel” are only on the good side of average
On the other hand “A Secret Place” has always been a favourite. This goes the same for “She-Wolf”, though it was in a roundabout fashion for me. I always felt it was an average song until I heard it live on a subsequent tour, where it was one of the stand out songs on the playlist. From that moment on it became one of my favourite Megadeth songs of their later years, and it does feel like a star attraction here.

After an extended period when I played this album constantly for a good four month period and probably had stars in my eyes because of the band that recorded it, It hasn’t been one that I’ve gone back to very often in the years since. In the long run that only means that it isn’t one of my favourite four or five Megadeth albums, and that certainly is true enough. Despite that, and the obvious change in style that this album has compared to previous releases, I still get plenty out of it every time I decide to give it a spin again.

Rating: "Beware the she-wolf and her bite”. 4/5.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Anthrax / Kings Among Scotland [Live]. 2018. 4/5

For a band that has been around for four decades, it is unusual that Anthrax has never really had a definitive live album. Iron Maiden, Slayer, Ozzy Osbourne… they all have live albums that are legendary and are caught as moments in time of the era they were recorded. Anthrax has the afterthought of their Island Records contract when it released Live: The Island Years, and then the John Bush-headed recording of Music of Mass Destruction, before the reunion with Joey Belladonna release of Alive 2 (2005). All three are good solid live albums, and Music of Mass Destructionespecially at least stands as a monument to the Bush-era songs, but for a quintessential live recording of the band there has been somewhat of a gap.

Does that make this release the live album we have been waiting for from this band? Well, to be fair to the band that moment when they could have released a live album that would stand the test of time has probably passed. Music of Mass Destruction is probably the closest they will come. And the songs have had to be naturally altered with some tuning and a slower pace in order to accommodate the changes in the techniques of the individuals in the band. Yes, tuning down in order to allow Joey to come close to singing some of the older songs that they have in this set list. For me a live recording on the Persistence of Time tour would have been the ultimate goal, but seeing as this was when I first saw them perhaps I am blinded by that.
So does this have a chance to be that definitive live album? It does have a chance, for two reasons. Disc One is a mix of the old and the new. Amongst songs taken from the album on which the band is touring, For All Kings we have a mix of classic Anthrax tunes. The new songs all sound good in this live environment, and given they had been toured for a while before this gig was recorded it shows. “Evil Twin”, “Blood Eagle Wings” and “Breathing Lightning” showcase the best of the latest studio album, and new crowd favourite “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” from the Worship Music album still comes across well. Liberally splashing with the crowd pleasers such as “A.I.R.”, “Madhouse”, “Medusa” and “Be All End All”, there is something for everyone.
What will elevate this live album into a more accessible category is the second disc, which was the second act of the evening during the tour. It involves the playing live of the entire Among the Living album which is revered and generally accepted as Anthrax’s finest moment. It is not played here in correct running order, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Each of these nine amazing songs are played in full and with reverence. The crowd know all the words, and especially in the backing vocals of Scott Ian and Frankie Bello you can hear the crowd at full volume joining in. The album and gig then ends with a rousing rendition of “Antisocial”.
The band are older, and perhaps wiser. Joey Belladonna may not be quite the vocalist he was, but no one is at his age. He still does a great job throughout, and even where he has to make changes to accommodate it comes across well enough to keep the doubters at bay. Jon Donais on lead guitar does a sterling job, while Ian and Bello are as enthusiastic as always. Charlie Benante still amazes on the drums, and again while it may not be his heyday his drum sound is still one of the best in the business.

I’ll admit that after the first two or three times I listened to this I was wondering if this was just another album I would buy and within a couple of weeks would return to the collection to be hidden forever. That may still happen, given I am less likely to drag out a live album to listen to that a studio album. But I have softened my hard resolve against the tiny things I held against this release, and now I can happily continue to listen to it despite the fact I wish it had been released in 1988 and not 2018.

Rating:  “Evil witch casts her spell”.  4/5.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Michael Schenker Fest / Resurrection. 2018. 4/5

Michael Schenker has been shredding his guitar for half a century now, and for much of it he has been doing it superbly. He has been in different bands with different musicians and band mates, and at times his work has been astounding. But how do you keep producing material that your fans are interested in without having it sound like the same stuff over and over again? Or is that exactly what you try and do?

With the formation of Michael Schenker Fest, what is being presented to us is a collection of songs that under any other circumstances may be seen as a fair result, though without the kind of excitement or intensity that would make it stand out from the crowd. Perhaps that is what it is anyway. But what does inspire here is the band that centres on Schenker himself also has Ted McKenna (drums) and Chris Glen (bass) from the original incarnation of the Michael Schenker Group from the early 1980’s, and they all bring that old feeling back to this album. It’s feels like a comfortable pair of shoes, you can slip into this album and feel like you are in your comfort zone.
As if that isn’t enough, just to sweeten the pot even more, we have not one, not two, not three but FOUR former vocalists who have collaborated and recorded with Schenker through the years, all here to not only perform on individual songs but to even come together and do some of the songs together. And THAT is more than enough to give this album a listen.
OK, so you have to know coming in that you are just not going to get those most memorable and brilliant guitar riffs and fireworks that you got from Schenker in his days with UFO and Scorpions and those early days of MSG. Don’t even try and kid yourself that that is going to happen. But if you come in with an open mind and you just allow the music to wash over you, I think you’ll find this is actually better than you first imagine. Because I came in wanting this to be a shred-fest and it isn’t, and it coloured my initial judgement. Once I got away from that and just listened to the album for the fun of it, I found it was terrifically enjoyable, and that Schenker’s guitar work may be toned down from his glory days but it is still excellent nonetheless. As a counterpoint, take the instrumental “Salvation” which comes at the rear of the album. THIS will straight away take you back to those MSG days, of the magic of “Into the Arena” and “Captain Nemo”. This is a great song and showcases Schenker’s best. Once you have heard this and enjoyed it, you can then focus on the rest of the album. Because there are some good moments here, and at times it sounds similar to some of those best songs we know from the band back in the 1980’s.
It’s interesting that the songs which Graham Bonnet sings on have a somewhat slower and stilted feel to them, more in the style that some of his other solo material has headed than his best MSG material. I was most looking forward to the songs he participated in. “Night Moods” fits this perfectly. “Everest” segues in from the previous song and is immediately a better fit for Bonnet’s vocals. Gary Barden has at times had problems in a live environment, but in the studio he still has the pipes to do the job. In many ways he is still the quintessential MSG vocalist and he still sounds that way in his songs here, and they sound most like the old MSG songs. “Messin’ Around” and “Livin’ a Life Worth Livin’” are his contributions here and they do exactly that. Robin McAuley may not have the same singing style as he did thirty years ago, but he still has the energy and drive in his vocals that lend themselves to the songs in a great way. His two songs are probably my favourite on the album, probably because they are the fastest and only songs with a double kick throughout. He has the opening track “Heart and Soul” which also features Metallica’s Kirk Hammett on guitar which adds to the great guitar sound it exudes, and Robin’s other track is “Time Knows When It’s Time” which also sounds great and utilises his vocal range to its utmost. In amongst all of this, current Temple of Rock vocalist Doogie White does his work well. Having worked with Schenker on that project in recent years he is obviously comfortable in his setting, and his songs, “Take Me to the Church”, “The Girl with the Stars in Her Eyes” and “Anchors Away” still have that touch of his previous band’s work in them. Then you have the complete collaboration songs, where all four vocalists combine to add their vocal chords to the same progression. The second song “Warrior” and the closing track “The Last Supper” both feature the entire ensemble, and it’s great to hear everyone together and enjoying themselves so much.

As is usually the case with some who is as revered as Schenker is in the metal music community, and who continues to record music beyond what could be considered his ‘golden years’, opinion on this album will come down to how much you allow sentiment to alter your perception. If you love Schenker’s music and also enjoy the vocalists who are on show here, then you will really enjoy what this album has to offer. As long as you aren’t expecting to hear anything ground-breaking and are happy to accept that, you will find this collaboration is worthy of your time, and an enjoyable experience.

Rating:  “We are all the same, no one is to blame, and we live on to tomorrow”  4/5

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Curious Case of Fawad Ahmed

When Fawad Ahmed first came to national prominence six years ago, he was widely seen as the answer to Australia’s spin bowling prayers. Now on the verge of being without a state contract for next season, is his fading light due to a complete oversight by national and state selectors or has he just not put the figures on the board to demand selection?

Much was made at the time of Cricket Australia and the Federal Government pushing through his claim for permanent residency in late 2012, after which he was rushed into the Victorian team and subsequently the Prime Ministers XI that took on the West Indies. In July 2013 he was granted Australian citizenship, allowing him to play for the Australian team.

His entire international career was then squeezed into 19 days in August and September 2013, when he played three ODI’s and two T20’s at the tail-end of the Ashes tour in England. He has not been chosen since, though he did tour the West Indies and England in 2015 as the second spinner behind Nathan Lyon.

What happened in the time between when he was given express service to ensure he received residency and then citizenship so he could represent Australia, to those few games he was given to show his wares? Why did the water turn from hot to cold so quickly? Did his insistence on not wearing badges of sponsors that belied his religious beliefs come into the decision making? Was there any other behind-the-scenes issues that marked his card on being selected again? There is no evidence of this being the case, but why would someone who had been so obviously fast tracked for this role then go to never being selected again?

Prior to Fawad gaining national selection there had been question marks on Nathan Lyon’s ability to do a job in the Australian team, and whether he was the match winner the team needed. Though he was dropped at the start of the 2013 Ashes in England he came back in the subsequent series in Australia and did well enough behind the dominant pace attack that the spin fears of the team seemed to calm, thus probably halting any need to rush in a new option. Lyon’s growing confidence both on the field and within the team clique probably closed the door on Fawad getting a look in for the Test team, and once the World Cup in 2015 was won with extreme pace and part-time spin options his pathway to the shorter forms of the game probably closed as well.

Fawad forced the selectors’ hands with his Sheffield Shield season in 2014/15 when he topped the bowlers aggregate with 48 wickets at 24.85, including a Shield Final best of 8/89 from 40 overs. He made the Ashes touring squad but never got a sniff of playing a Test. This was his best season, and since then he has had a battle to even be selected for Victoria as Jon Holland’s rise has created a battle within itself.

His first class career record stands at 196 wickets at an average of 31.74. In 2017/18 he played seven matches and took 27 wickets at 37.74. At 36 years of age he has been usurped in the race for the Test team by Queensland’s Mitchell Swepson who toured India and Bangladesh last year. Swepson’s Shield figures for 2017/18 almost mirror Fawad’s, with 32 wickets at 36.96.

To watch Fawad bowl is a treat. He bowls the leggie, he has a terrific wrong ‘un and can bowl the flipper as well. At Big Bash level with the Sydney Thunder he has been a revelation, and the way he sets up the batsmen before dismissing them is a masterclass for leg spinners young and old. He rarely seems flustered and continues to come back even if he is being flogged around the park.

If taken on just figures alone, many would argue Fawad has not done enough to force his way into the Australian side on merit since his brief stint five years ago. Figures don’t always tell the whole story, but no selection panel over that time frame has felt strongly enough that he should be in the national side. I think that is a shame. Perhaps if he had been given a chance at Test level he may have bombed, but he may also have stepped up to the challenge and not only succeeded but improved by being at that level. We’ll never know.

Though Australian cricket may be the loser in the long run, Fawad’s career since his asylum here has been a revelation. If his first class career is to end then he has given a lot of people enjoyment from watching him bowl (myself included) which is something he can be proud of.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Slayer / Seasons in the Abyss. 1990. 5/5

I can totally understand why Slayer fans who came into the band all the way back at the beginning in 1983 have problems reconciling what is offered on Seasons in the Abyss. Where you have been raised on a diet of pure thrash and speed metal that the band delivered on their early albums, coming into this album must have been a slightly off-putting experience. On the other hand, for those that found Slayer at about the time this was released, it could be seen as being a liberating event. This is where I met Slayer.

That it took me so long to get around to listening to Slayer is not only a bit surprising it is also disappointing. I should have been listening to Slayer a lot earlier than this, but as none of my friend group with whom I shared all of our album purchases with had found their way into the band either, none of us had a reference point. Don’t get me wrong, I had heard snatches of songs at record stores and on metal programmes along the way, but had never actually made the connection to go out and buy their albums. As a result, it wasn’t until a few months before this album came along that I finally started divulging in the band, and it was this album that was the first of theirs I bought and obsessed over.
This is where the two sides of the fan debate will part, and maybe I feel a little fortunate that I was able to take in and love this album without the past albums intruding to colour my judgement, because if I had I too may have felt that this album changed everything that Slayer had produced before. Yes, I’m talking about the speed and ferociousness of the songs in general. It’s not the case for the whole album but there are certainly moments where the groove and riff sets in rather than the pure speed or high level thrash that dominated the band’s earlier albums. “Dead Skin Mask” and “Seasons in the Abyss” are the two high profile songs on this album that do this. They are both terrific songs in their own right, but they are not like anything that came from their early days. Perhaps the best example on the album is perhaps my favourite song, “Skeletons of Society”. It’s a simple groove and riff, it tends to plod along, but I love the song and the lyrics. It mirrors “Expendable Youth” though the soloing goes off on its own track as well.
Still if you want thrash you’ve still got it here. Album opener “War Ensemble” is a killer track, set off on the back of the remarkable drumming of Dave Lombardo who ignites the song at a fever pitch but is challenged by the riffing of Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King as Tom Araya somehow plays the bass at this speed while spitting out the lyrics in the same speed. “Blood Red” and “Spirit in Black” continue in a similar vein, as do “Hallowed Point” and “Born of Fire”. Another favourite is “Temptation” with dual vocals tracks that Araya had recorded separately (one the way he wanted to sing it, the other the way writer King thought it should be sung) that were then put together on the song when it was thought it worked. And it does!

In a year where so many fantastic but ever-changing heavy metal albums were released, you can’t deny that this one is still at the top of its game. All four band members are on fire here, Hanneman and King’s amazing guitars brought to the fore with Araya’s bass and vocals pushing the limits and Lombardo’s drumming smashing the silence and at times the sound barrier. While we will always have the raw majesty of Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits, and while Reign in Blood will always stand as a pinnacle, and while South of Heaven still ranks alongside these other albums, this album shows that thrash metal can show a maturity without overly compromising its principles. As I said initially, I can understand where those early fans are coming from with their criticism of this album, and find I am thankful in this instance for the fact that I was able to fall in love with this album for the right reasons and not just be angry about any perceived changes in the make-up of the songs from their earlier vintage. This still ranks as one of the greats.

Rating:  “The final swing is not a drill, it's how many people I can kill!”.  5/5

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Dokken / Return to the East Live [Live]. 2018. 2.5/5

The heyday of bands can stretch for any length of time, but once that heyday has been reached and passed there is no returning to it. Nostalgia can often carry a band to further heights at a later stage, and classic line up reunions can do the same. Dokken appears to have gone for most of those things combined with this live album release, and while there will be fans of the band out there who will lick this up, many others will rightly ask whether or not this release was necessary in any shape or form apart from being a money spinner.

The classic run for Dokken of Tooth and NailUnder Lock and Key and Back for the Attack was completed by the release of the live album Beast From the East, which tied up the ends nicely before they disbanded for other projects apart from each other. Despite other albums coming and the band members changing once a reformation of sorts was accomplished seven years later, nothing has approached those four albums in the Dokken discography.
Once again though, the ‘classic’ line up reformed a couple of years ago, did a run of shows with their greatest hits through Japan again (where surely their main audience still resides), recorded a new tune and put this album together along with a live video of the shows and titled it Return to the East Live (2016). No doubt looking for the nostalgia buffs.
If you truly loved Dokken in the day, or discovered them later on, then there is no real need to invest in this package. To be honest, it is somewhat of an injustice to the memory of just how good this band was in the 1980’s where their greatest material was written and recorded. One of the first problems you run into on this recording is that there just doesn’t feel like there is any energy coming through. Dokken always thrived on stage, and on their studio albums you felt that energy pumping out of the speakers. Here however it is almost like they have produced an easy-listening version of their songs, and that they are playing in front of a crowd of grannies at an old folk’s home. It’s a soft comeback, and while I’m happy to attribute some of that to the advancing age of the participants on the stage, and perhaps even that this still wasn’t the happiest of reunions apart from being a grab for cash, it still doesn’t excuse the lounge act kind of atmosphere that most of this album seems to sound like.
One of the inescapable facts of the album is that Don’s voice just cannot do the things that it used to do in those more enlightened times. Every song has been tuned down and altered vocally so that Don can at least give a semblance of a performance of the lyrics, which is interesting because for the most part Jeff Pilson’s supporting vocals still sound the same as they ever did. So I guess for much of the time I spend listening to this album I keep hearing how the vocals SHOULD sound and in trying to marry that up with the way that Don HAS to sing them now, and it just doesn’t come together very well.

Is it a bad album? No it’s not, but it is different. This was all done better on the 1988 live album when the band was at its peak, and this is just a reunion show playing much the same material but 30 years later. The new single recorded for the release, “It’s Another Day”, does sound fine, mostly because it is recorded with the band’s current requirements being taken into account. There are also two acoustic track, “Heaven Sent” and “Will the Sun Rise”, which I can take or leave without too much trouble.
If you don’t know Dokken and want to see what they are all about, then the four albums listed above will give you the best chance to grow to love them. Unless you are a completely obsessive fan who is a die-hard lover of the band, you don’t need to hear this.

Rating:  Only for the mega-fan.  2.5/5

Stryper / God Damn Evil. 2018. 3.5/5

Before I sat down to write this review of Stryper’s new album God Damn Evil, I took a look back at what I have said about their last four or five albums. Not to steal from them, but more to confirm that in essence how I feel about this album is exactly how I have felt about those albums. I didn’t want to head into writing what I guessed was essentially the same old feelings without knowing that was what I was going to do.

So yes, that’s pretty much what I’m going to do. Because here is yet another excellent sounding album by a band that rediscovered its mojo with their 2009 release Murder by Pride and has maintained that level of excellence since. And I can’t really say anything different this time around because all of the same things stand true here as they have on the previous three albums. Those being:

1. This is a Christian band, and these are Christian-themed lyrics in each song. If you are in to that kind of thing then you are in the right ballpark. If you aren’t, then you should ignore what might be being proclaimed in the lyrics and just enjoy the songs, because they still sound great.
2. The musicianship and production is fantastic. Robert Sweet’s drumming is still terrific, and drives each song perfectly. He has always seemed to get a great sound from his equipment on Stryper albums, which is not always the case on studio recordings. New bass guitarist Perry Richardson does his job admirably in support of the rhythm section.
3. The guitars of Oz Fox and Michael Sweet are just incredible. Not only the sound they get, but the brilliant riffs and soloing from the two of them has always been one of the major themes that draws me to this band. Whatever you might think of their themes, the actual guitaring is always magnificent and more than worth coming back to hear time and time again.
4. The vocal chords of Michael Sweet. I’m not sure if he has ever gotten due praise for his voice. It is one of the best in the business, in any genre of music. In harmony with Oz Fox, these two just nail every song and still hit notes that are surely impossible to sing.

I don’t always find particular songs to rave about on Stryper albums now, but I can put on this album and listen all the way through and then have a repeat dose. There are some things mixed in on this edition, the chorus high pitched screaming of “TAKE IT TO THE CROSS!” on the opening track of the same name is a change in habit, and then the drop back in intensity in “Sorry”. The hard core riff and beat of “God Damn Evil” is followed by the smooth and rumbling “You Don’t Even Know Me”. The closing track “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here” is another favourite.

In the long run, if you have enjoyed Stryper in the past you will enjoy this album as well, even though it probably isn’t quite as heavy or creative as the previous couple of albums. The groove is well maintained here, and the best parts of the band are highlighted and maintained. If you are not a fan of the band then you won’t find anything here to change your mind.

Rating:  “You better change your reflection and start a new crusade”.  3.5/5