DELIVERING THE GOODS: Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner and singer Rob Halford unleash a storm of British metal classics on the closing night of the ‘Firepower’ tour featuring Saxon in San Antonio (Photo by David Castillo).

CRUSADER: Saxon singer Biff Byford feels the power of the San Antonio faithful (Photo by David Castillo).

By Metal Dave

Does this town know how to rock? If the town in question is San Antonio, you can bet your denim and leather.

Proudly known as the Heavy Metal Capital of the World — especially during the late-1970s through the 1980s — San Antonio has a long and storied love affair with hard and heavy music. Just ask Iron Maiden, Rush, Scorpions and countless other world-renowned metal bands that got their American break in Alamo City.

No surprise whatsoever that two of the city’s all-time favorites — elite metal titans Judas Priest and Saxon — received a roaring, gladiator’s welcome Tuesday at San Antonio’s sold-out Freeman Coliseum. As was rightfully noted several times from the stage, the night would offer another chapter of heavy metal memories past, present and future.

First to hold court on this bill of rock royalty was former Thin Lizzy guitar god Scott Gorham who led his Black Star Riders — rounded out by singer/guitarist Ricky Warwick (The Almighty), guitarist Damon Johnson (Brother Cane/Alice Cooper), bassist Robbie Crane (Ratt/Vince Neil) and drummer Chad Szeliga (Breaking Benjamin/Black Label Society) — through a set of tracks from their three albums, plus a cutthroat cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak.” All told, the band was a solid blend of tough-guy rock-n-roll sharing pints with Thin Lizzy’s swagger. Yeah, that’s a good thing. Go buy their albums. 

THE EAGLE HAS LIGHTNING: Saxon’s latest album offers another chapter of the band’s heavy metal thunder.

Next up was Saxon whose heavy touring in recent years has turned the British metal legends into a well-oiled tank. Fronted by singer Biff Byford and driven by the propulsive churn of bionic drummer Nigel Glockler (is this man really 65?), Saxon is promoting its enthusiastically-received 22nd album, “Thunderbolt,” which offered a few new songs, including the title track, “The Secret of Flight” (a personal fave) and the Motorhead tribute, “They Played Rock and Roll.” The classics were plenty — “Power & the Glory,” “Dallas 1 P.M.,” “Motorcycle Man,” “20,000 Feet (with producer, friend and current Priest guitarist Andy Sneap on guest Flying V),” “Crusader,” “Wheels of Steel,” “This Town Rocks” “Princess of the Night” and “Denim and Leather” — as the band strong-armed every last decibel out of its allotted time.

Founding guitarist Paul Quinn and his counterpart Doug Scarratt kept the soloes sharp and slicing while bassist Nibbs Carter made Angus Young look stiff and hamstrung as he spun his hair like a hyper-speed windmill. On record and on stage, Saxon still swings the hammer like conquering warriors.

HEAVY DUTY: Judas Priest’s newest album, ‘Firepower,’ has been praised as its best since 1990’s ‘Painkiller.’

And then came the call for the Priest. Perhaps San Antonio’s most-loved metal band (the Priest vs. Maiden arguments between high school stoners remain the stuff of legend), Britain’s Judas Priest is soldiering through a tour that is somewhat bittersweet as they promote their wildly successful album, “Firepower,” while reluctantly conceding to the departure of original, fan-favorite lead guitarist Glenn Tipton who, at 70, is battling the onset of Parkinson’s Disease. In his place is the aforementioned prolific metal producer extraordinaire, Andy Sneap (Saxon, Accept, Kreator and more). Sneap, alongside co-guitarist Richie Faulkner (who himself, replaced longtime, fan-favorite guitarist K.K. Downing nearly seven years ago) brought renewed, youthful vigor to the overall Priest performance. Faulkner, in particular, spent the night moving like a shark to chum and damn near stole the show with a mind-bending guitar solo during the 1977 deep cut, “Sinner.” Holy Judas Priest!

Front and center, of course, was legendary 66-year-old, shaved-skull singer Rob Halford who proved still capable of screaming like an eagle. Having seen Priest numerous times on recent tours (and many in the past), I dare say Halford’s impossible wail has somehow improved in recent years as he led Priest through the expected staples while also dusting off such long-buried gems as “Bloodstone” (a personal fave), “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll,” the never-before-played-on-tour “Saints in Hell,” “Running Wild” and a blistering “Tyrant.” Whoa! Truly impressive. Slayer and Metallica would be quick to agree.

From a catalog that offers more diamonds than rust, Priest fueled the fever with “Grinder,” “The Ripper,” “Electric Eye,” “Turbo Lover,” “Painkiller,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and the Harley-driven “Hellbent for Leather.” The brand-new “Firepower” tracks were fully worthy and included the title song, “Lightning Strike” (amazing) and “Evil Never Dies” (also amazing). Throughout, original bassist Ian Hill swung his axe like a lumberjack while drummer Scott Travis went storming on a one-man stampede.

METAL GODS: Guitarist Glenn Tipton, right, makes a guest appearance in San Antonio. (Photo by David Castillo).

As if the night’s ironclad triple bill needed another stud in its fist, an unannounced Glenn Tipton walked on stage in time for the closing trifecta of “Metal Gods,” “Breaking the Law” and the aptly-titled “Living After Midnight” (which had arena staff triple-checking their watches and reaching for the brooms). It must be said that Tipton looked painfully frail, but as he’s done in select cities throughout the tour, he rose to the occasion to greet his fans — and nowhere was that gesture more appreciated than in Priest-crazy San Antonio on the last night of the tour. If this turns out to be the final bow for one of metal’s greatest guitarists, we humbly say thank you, Glenn, for all the music and memories. We wish you well, good sir.

So, yeah, if it sounds like the gig exceeded expectations, well, that’s because it did. And, as Halford alluded to toward the end of the night, somewhere beyond the realms of death, Joe “The Godfather” Anthony was surely beaming on his heavy metal faithful. 

UP THE DOSE: The debut EP from Medicine Bird is a promising teaser for fans of the Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, the JuJu Hounds and other like-minded, blues-based rockers.

By Metal Dave

Fans of the countrified Rolling Stones, Georgia Satellites and other blues-rock dealers will find their share to crow about on the debut EP from Medicine Bird.

A swampy stew of blues harp, Hammond B3, twangy guitars and backwoods vocals, the five-song serving is the brainchild of songwriting duo Jeremy White and Tobin Dale.

“Just Come As You Are,” gets things started with a three-shot swagger, but overall the EP settles into a morning-after, mid-tempo drawl.

“Lost and Lonely Soul” peeks into the toils of a crumbling down-and-outer (“fold me up like a lawn chair”) while “Only Man You Need to Know” seems to juxtapose lovelorn desperation with (false?) hope. “Chin Waggin’ Mama” runs the vocals through an effects box and tells the classic/cautionary tale of an obnoxious loudmouth who is reminded through a teeth-gnashing sneer that “if you ain’t got two pennies, mama, you ought not drop a dime.” Genius! Closing track “Cold Side of the Mountain” journeys around the bend in search of self-imposed exile and — along with the previously mentioned track — reminds these ears of Austin’s long-defunct bluegrass maestros, the Bad Livers.

EPs seem to be the preferred format of choice these days, but another upbeat rocker or two would better balance this debut flight (L.A. to Nashville) from Medicine Bird. It’s a small spoonful, but it goes down fine, and ultimately Medicine Bird shows plenty of promise for those who like their rock-n-roll dosed with twang-n-drawl.

3 out of 5 Stars

LONG, STRANGE TRIP: Credited to artist Alan Aldridge, the colorful double-gatefold sleeve of Elton John’s 1975 album, ‘Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,’ is a kaleidoscope of eye-popping fantasia. The Venus flytrap character, pictured far left, was the inspiration for Jason McMaster’s 1990 chest tattoo.

SCREAMIN’ FOR MORE: McMaster’s Elton John tribute continued to expand.

By Metal Dave

Head-to-toe tattoos are as common as ears among rockers these days, but in 1990 it was a fairly rare breed who went shopping for a needle to the ribs.

Count Dangerous Toys singer Jason McMaster as a dude who liked being scared (not really). Along with Circus of Power singer Alex Mitchell (and precious few others at the time), McMaster took the plunge for an expansive piece of pain in tribute to a favorite childhood album — Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” released in 1975.

“I got the tat in West Hollywood in 1990,” McMaster said. “The tattoo artist was recommended to me by David Roach from Junkyard (2Fast2Die Note: McMaster and Roach went to high school together in Austin, Texas).”

The art in question is a Venus flytrap wrapped around a naked woman with a bird’s head. The character detail can be found on the back-cover wraparound gatefold art of “Captain Fantastic” by artist Alan Aldridge. As was typical of 1970s album art, the image was a kaleidoscope of trippy characters and swirling colors.

FANTASTICO!: McMaster letting it rip on New Year’s Eve 1992/93 with his work-in-progress, Elton-inspired tattoo in all its blazing glory. (Photo by David Castillo)

“That record has something about it,” McMaster said. “The cover art was like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ meets a sort of Shakespearean nightmare. I was 10 or 11 years old when I got it, and it changed me. Some dark stories on it.  The title track is so good, but others, like ‘Tower of Babel,’ ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ and ‘Better Off Dead’ are engrained.

“The Venus flytrap section on the back wrap-around art sized right on my chest,” he continued. “It wouldn’t have fit anywhere else except my back so I got it on my sternum and later added tentacles to span up my pecs. Then there are these two Rat Finks with snakes for fingers in tribute to the song ‘Bitter Fingers.’ There is also a version of another character from the original art and they’re facing each other from one shoulder to the other.

“I actually have an autograph from Gus Dungeon who produced that album,” McMaster added.  “There’s no question that Elton John and that particular album are very special to me.”

COCKED & RELOADED: New L.A. Guns album, “The Missing Peace,” is a smashing return to form for reunited singer Phil Lewis and guitarist Tracii Guns, along with band mates Michael Grant, Johnny Martin and Shane Fitzgibbon.

By Metal Dave

Fifteen years after a bitter split, singer Phil Lewis and guitarist Tracii Guns have bitten the bullet and found their peace. Cue a rowdy round of applause.

Backed by the surefire cast of guitarist Michael Grant, bassist Johnny Martin and drummer Shane Fitzgibbon, the reunited core of L.A. Guns shoots to thrill on new album, “The Missing Peace,” and, man, are these guys on target.

From the ripping opener, “It’s All The Same to Me,” through the punky jolt of “Speed” to the blasting chug of “Baby Gotta Fever” and the infectious, whoa-whoa-ho of “Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight,” L.A. Guns deliver the signature, sex-n-swagger, sleaze-rock that helped them carve their own shadowy niche during the glitz-n-glam heyday of the Sunset Strip.

Of course, when the Guns stop blazing, they emote with the coolest of splendor. “Christine” could pass for the younger sister of “The Ballad of Jayne,” while “The Flood’s the Fault of the Rain” starts with a mournful Animals-meets-Skynyrd-style guitar before soaring into a smoldering blues-rock jam that could impress Paul Rodgers and Bad Company.

As always, L.A. Guns cover the bases with convincing ease. The upbeat songs (“Sticky Fingers,” “The Devil Made Me Do It”) quicken the pulse, the ballads (“The Missing Peace,” “Gave It All Away”) are deftly orchestrated without being bloated on cheese, and the elastic vocals and versatile musicianship are always tailored to fit as snug as a pair of black leathers.

When the smoke settles, “The Missing Peace” not only stands alongside L.A. Guns’ classic albums, it also makes a pitch for rock Album of the Year. Perhaps more importantly, “The Missing Peace” reminds us that a reunited Phil and Tracii equal an L.A. Guns much greater than the sum of its pieces.

Rating: An L.A. Guns masterpeace!

CREATURES OF THE NIGHT: Kickin Valentina, from left to right, is drummer Jimmy Berdine, singer Joe Edwards, bassist Chris Taylor and guitarist Heber Pampillon. The band’s third release in four years reveals a fine-tuned chemistry, booming production, improved lyrics and super-thick consistency resulting in Kickin Valentina’s finest record to date.

By Metal Dave

Remember when bands like Faster Pussycat, Alice Cooper and Motley Crue fattened up their sound on late ‘80s albums like “Wake Me When It’s Over,” “Trash” and “Dr. Feelgood”? That’s where Kickin Valentina slots with “Imaginary Creatures.”

More polished than their 2013 debut EP and more focused and cohesive than 2015’s “Super Atomic,” “Imaginary Creatures” is the work of a band that’s finding its strengths and flexing them hard.

Overall, songs like “Eyes,” “Turns Me On,” “Devil’s Hand” and “Roll Ya One” (a number that would’ve been right at home on Aerosmith’s “Permanent Vacation”) serve as Kickin Valentina’s calling card: namely a souped-up, but-not-TOO-slick blend of hair-metal mixed with swaggering sleaze and heavy blues.

“Heartbreak” has an off-the-rails Guns N’Roses vibe while the feverish, ragtime boogie of “Street” swings like Tina Turner’s hips thanks to some rollicking female backup vocals. Mercy!

Dennis Linde’s (hunka, hunka) “Burning Love” (made famous by Elvis Presley) proves to be a novel, but fun cover and “Eat N’ Run,” a groove-heavy highlight from the debut EP, gets reworked to better effect thanks to the sonic upgrade. The closing title track romps forth like a nightmarish Alice Cooper tune and makes a fitting end to a wild ride.

Vocalist Joe Edwards is still the best unknown singer out there and nowhere is his Gregg Allman gruff on better display than “Crazy,” the album’s lone ballad. Just wow! Drummer Jimmy Berdine also shines throughout with perfectly placed double-kick bombs, and bassist Chris Taylor and guitarist Heber Pampillon add their respective rumble and flash. 

Fans of that late-’80s/early ’90s slice of time when cock rock embraced big-guns production without washing away all the dirt will find plenty to like on “Imaginary Creatures.” A winner by any measure, “Imaginary Creatures” is the most fully realized release to date from Atlanta’s formidable heavy rock contenders. Yeah, it’s Kickin. For real!

ACES HIGH: Junkyard’s latest album — it’s first in 26 years — is already one of the best releases of 2017.

By Metal Dave

Junkyard’s first album in more than two decades will almost certainly finish the year in my Top 3. Hell, it might even score Numero Uno.

As I wrote in my review, “High Water” picks up right where the band left off with its two major-label releases beginning in 1989. Rebuilt for 2017 and riding a crest of rave reviews, Junkyard is wrecking stages across the nation on a tour that’s kept the band busier than ever.

I caught up with 3/5 of Junkyard in Austin where we discussed “High Water,” the pitfalls of major labels, an early tour with the Black Crowes, a kinship with Axl Rose and that time an eager James Hetfield showed up to check out this promising young band (kinda).
With thanks to Steve Miller at AustinVideoSpecialist for his audio/video skills
and Jim Daeng Ostrandeer at Texas Mist for interview location and hospitality.

MONSTER MAN: Doyle’s latest album combines the muscle of metal with his signature horror-punk howl.

By Metal Dave

As guitarist for legendary horror punks, the Misfits, Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein long ago staked his claim as a punishing, hyper-speed axe-grinder. Just ask Metallica.

No surprise, then, that his second solo album, “Doyle II: As We Die” is a death-comes-ripping monster mash of chainsawing guitar chords, pinched harmonics, pummeling drums and psycho-beast/serial killer vocals.

Awash in waves of distortion and landing somewhere between the Misfits’ Michale Graves albums and Doyle’s previous solo effort, “Abominator,” “Doyle II: As We Die” is at its skull-crushing best on hooky stormers “Run for Your Life,” “Darkside,” “Blood on the Axe” and “Night of Sin.” On the flip side, a memorably haunting Elvis vibe permeates “We Belong Dead” to great effect.

The title track features an impressive vocal cameo from Doyle’s squeeze Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) along with guest guitarist Michael Amott (Arch Enemy); and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe turns up on “Virgin Sacrifice.”

While Doyle is the obvious star of his namesake creep show (and seems to be credited as bassist, although Brandon “Izzy” Strate gets the nod on “live bass”), vocalist Alex “Wolfman” Story (Cancerslug/Gorgeous Frankenstein) holds his own at center stage with a voice that alternates between bellowing grunts and hardcore rants. Not to be outdone, drummer Brandon Pertzborn (Black Flag) earns a rowdy shout as the band’s secret weapon (the dude brings serious artillery!).

Overall, “Doyle II: As We Die” leans more toward metal than punk, but packs enough deliciously wicked fun to make it a howling good, B-movie-type listen. Crank it up … and tell ’em Doyle made you do it!

Rating: 4 out of 5 pentagrams

ANIMALS (ROCK LIKE A BEAST): Crank County Daredevils are, left-to-right, bassist Billy Velvet, drummer Mike Irwin, lead guitarist Rory Kelly and Drano-drinking vocalist/guitarist Scotty P. For good measure, original guitarist Adam ‘Fever’ Stevens has been joining his old partners in crime for select gigs. (Photo by JRT Photography)

‘DEVILS MUSIC: Produced and engineered by lead guitarist Rory Kelly, ‘Feed the Beast’ roars like a monster.

By Metal Dave

Crank County Daredevils sound like a band that makes lunch out of whiskey and saw blades.  

Raw, raunchy and possibly out on bail, North Carolina’s most notorious sleaze rockers return from hiatus with a rampaging six-song EP that would easily be considered contraband in most civilized corners of the world. (Hey, it ain’t bragging if it’s true!).

Titled “Feed the Beast” and sounding like WASP and Motorhead on a crime spree with Zeke, the EP slams with all the chaotic fury of a head-on dump truck collision. From the blow-your-head-off title track to the breakneck remake of “Speed Kills (But it’s Paying the Bills),” the Daredevils aim to bury all comers.

“Heads Are Gonna Roll” thumps along on behind-the-beat, kickstart-my-heart pounding, and “Kicked in the Teeth” is a grinding romper-stomper of near-boogie guitar that explodes into full-on violence with its bursts of scare-ya-senseless gang vocals. 

“Broke and Shitty (in Detroit City)” is an all-too-real account of life on the road (so much so, that the title was tattooed on band members years before the song was written) that trudges and throbs to a commanding snare crack.

In a slightly a new twist for the Cranks, the psychedelic sludge of “Alcohol, Fire and Weed” could pass for an outtake from Down.

As with previous releases, the beauty of the “Beast” is Crank County Daredevils’ frightening ability to erupt on the stereo the same way they do on stage. This is music as a weapon, and in the white-knuckle grip of Crank County Daredevils, the hammer is relentless as ever. Helmet not included.

Rating: Go ahead. Feed the Beast.

ROCK-N-ROLL JUNKIES: Junkyard 2017 is, L-R, Todd Muscat, Tim Mosher, David Roach, Jimmy James and Pat Muzingo.

ON THE ROCKS: Junkyard’s first album in 26 years offers more of the metallic-blooze the band first uncorked in 1989.

By Metal Dave

Patched together during Hollywood’s hair-metal heyday, Junkyard was the “wifebeater” of rock-n-roll. Sweat-stained and best suited to redneck punks and motorheads, the ‘Yard dogs were a belligerent sight and sound compared to MTV’s fancy-pants poodle boys.

Fast-forward to “High Water” (Acetate Records) – their first album in 26 years – and Junkyard is still peddling the southern-flavored, metallic blooze-rock that first left skid marks on the Sunset Strip with 1989’s self-titled debut and its follow-up “Sixes, Sevens and Nines.” Think Rose Tattoo meets Lynyrd Skynyrd and add as much booze as you dare.

Still fronted by founding singer David Roach (he of the snotty rasp) and propelled by original drummer Patrick Muzingo, the revived Junkyard now includes bassist Todd Muscat along with guitarists Tim Mosher and Jimmy James (on loan from the Hangmen while Brian Baker tends to his other band, Bad Religion).

Opening hard and fast with “Walk Away,” Junkyard crashes through the door like Social Distortion steering a runaway hot rod. “Faded” weaves tales of misspent youth around stop-start stabs of guitar, and the slinky grind of “Cut From the Same Cloth” (a gem of a song) unravels the mournful tale of a problem child who never had a chance – and comes by it naturally.

“Styrofoam Cup” is filled with twangy regret (ditto for the hillbilly stomp of “Don’t Give a Damn”) and the hard-bouncing “Hellbound” is a loser’s lament that speaks for itself.

Elsewhere, “High Water” swerves between the love/hate romp of “W.F.L.W.F.”; the bratty, revved-up punk-rock of “Wallet”; and the beautiful (yes, beautiful) vocal arrangements of “Hell or High Water,” a song that deserves to be all over the radio (assuming radio still exists?).

Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke contributes the road-weary “’Til the Wheels Fall Off” (another radio-hit-in-waiting) and the explosive “Kindness to the Dead” sounds like Guns N’Roses circa 1987 covering Aerosmith circa 1973.

Overall, “High Water” is as gloriously ragged as Junkyard’s past. Uncompromising, unwashed and blissfully unaware of trends and fashion, it’s the sound of timeless rock-n-roll. Drink up!

Rating: All the aces!

Junkyard trivia: Do you recognize the “Faded” references to Westlake and Circle K? If so, you probably spent time in David Roach’s childhood hometown of Austin, TX.