Any album which opens with a ten-minute epic of prog-metal magnificence deserves a rapid ascent on this critic’s radar. “Tales of the Weird,” the title track off German cult trash-metal act Paradox’s latest album, sets the table for significant ear-bending, and the album’s off and flying from there.
Not that they’re new to the game or anything of the sort — these guys have been out there rocking with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest since the mid-80s, and they’ve been giants of German metal since their first Roadrunner album Product of Imagination in 1987. Still, it’s incredible to hear just how seriously they’re still capable of crafting mind-altering riffage.
“Day of Judgment,” “Brutalized” and “Fragile Alliance” offer a three-tier gut-punch following the title-track’s initial barrage, and the band never lets up an ounce from there. The thundering percussion and skin-shredding guitar work on “Escalation” sits perfectly with the best songs they’ve ever recorded. Listen to this album straight through and you’ll understand why Paradox remains, at least in America, the best-kept secret of German metal. Here’s hoping Tales of the Weird eliminates the “secret” element from that equation.
It’s a strange moment in the music world when the trends shift from big-time hip-hop and pop releases to classical pop. Two recent releases from artists as different as night and day have arrived to show us that the exact same concept can be tackled in completely different ways while finding similar ways of both hitting and missing the mark. And while Sting’s Symphonicities had song selection strong enough to make it a recommended listen, young violin virtuoso David Garrett struggles more with finding his identity, and that makes his new album Rock Symphonies harder to love.
Garrett, the self-proclaimed “David Beckham of the classical scene” (who AMG dubbed more appropriately as “the Eddie Van Halen of bowed instruments”) has made a relatively successful crossover into the U.S. market with his ridiculously over-the-top cheesy renditions of popular songs, taken from their natural pop landscape and placed in the world of “classical” by arranging them with a symphonic bent and then ramping the energy level up to 11.
It worked like a charm on his reworking of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” which came out prior to Jackson’s death, and his album Rock Symphonies continues in the same vein. Garrett earns his listeners with the album’s opener, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which does its damndest to pay respect to Cobain by showing just how much impact that song can have in any setting. The album also includes a beautifully rendered cover of “Live and Let Die” which is well worth a purchase on its own.
But he gives too much of a not-so-great thing when he piles on “November Rain,” “Walk This Way” and “80s Anthem,” giving us less variety than one might expect. Avoid “The 5th” like the plague though, another attempt to make Beethoven rock when disco already murdered the concept in the ’70s. And a cover of “Master of Puppets” by Metallica just showcases how much better that song was handled on the band’s own S&M.
It’s a fine line Garrett risks walking, but you never know if he might wind up inspiring a new generation to want to rock out with instruments they may never have considered to be “fun.” What we’ve got on Rock Symphonies are a few solid songs that show his amazing abilities as an expert of his instrument, while the rest flounders, sputters and begs for a stronger sense of musical direction. Maybe he’ll find that on the next album out.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.