Angel of Retribution
Rob Halford's back, and it's almost as if all that hey-let's-get-that-kid-from-the-tribute-band-to-sing-for-us unpleasantness never happened. Stylistically, Angel of Retribution would've served nicely as the transition from Ram It Down to the more extreme-metal sounds of the last Halford-fronted effort, 1990's Painkiller. Drummer Scott Travis' double-bass mastery is in full effect, and overall, Angel of Retribution strikes a comfortable balance between "classic Priest" and later hit-and-miss attempts by the band to update its identity.
There's less scrambling for a new sound here. The group seems at peace with itself, though its trademarked simple, driving verse riffs often assume a more postmodern vibe; the foundations of tunes like "Judas Rising," "Revolution," "Demonizer" and "Hellrider" come off like interesting hybrids of "Breaking The Law" and a less mechanized Ministry.
There are at least two new classics in attendance ("Deal with the Devil" and the elaborately brooding "Worth Fighting For"). Halford's voice hasn't aged a day, and Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing remain one of metal's most talented - and underappreciated - dual-guitar teams.
Plus, thanks to Sony/BMG's novel new enhanced-CD technology, which puts the album on one side and DVD extras on the other, you get a documentary about Halford re-entering the fold (including live footage), and the entire new album, again, in an "enhanced stereo" format.
1/2 -Scott Harrell
All Harm Ends Here
EARLY DAY MINERS
Bloomington, Indiana's Early Day Miners are intrigued, if not obsessed, by the darker hues of the indie rock spectrum. Nevertheless, they succeed at being dramatic without becoming melodramatic. Nowhere is this more apparent than on All Harm Ends Here, an album that follows the nine-year-old band's already established pattern of layering seas of guitars and singer/frontman Dan Burton's rich, dark vocal harmonies. All Harm Ends Here is a reminder of a bygone era of indie rock - specifically, the early and mid-'90s, when bands like Slint and Codeine were being ignored by virtually everyone outside of their tiny (yet devoted) fan bases. And, like those seminal groups, Early Day Miners prefer a slow-and-steady approach to making music, often building songs from one sustained chord or repetitive beat. Burton's lyrics carry with them an attitude of both indifference and self-importance, highlighted by little gems of insight that suit the somberness of this album perfectly. Snippets of pre-chorus countermelodies sound as if they came from inspired notes jotted down on the way to pick up a prescription for Thorazine. Drums trot along obediently, remaining as modest as the wall of guitars that adorn each track. At worst, All Harm Ends Here is an album that suffers from a lack of color. But during its brightest moments, it offers textbook examples of how music so thoroughly understated can be so captivating as well.
1/2 -Mark Sanders
A consummate musicians' musician, 74-year-old guitarist Jim Hall has released a beguiling trio of albums recorded at the fabled Village Vanguard. This intimate, relaxed performance underscores one of Hall's great musical strengths: his avoidance of (some might say contempt for) clichés. While ostensibly linked to the tradition of straight-ahead jazz guitar, he does not resort to the type of fluid, single note runs, followed by sliding octaves, that seem to be the stock-in-trade of just about everyone else in the genre. There is also the matter of his tone - acoustic with a hint of signal processing here and there - that gives his playing a certain gentle bite. He's also a great texturalist who's more concerned with exploring the harmonic possibilities of chords than making his fingers blur. He uses space for graceful effect, and his solos always come off as lovingly created melodies rather than a series of licks and lines. Joining Hall are bassist Scott Colley and drummer Lewis Nash. More like equal partners than sidemen, they not only provide sensitive accompaniment but make formidable statements of their own. Magic Meeting fares best when at its most meditative (which is most of the time), especially on the standards "Skylark" and "Body and Soul." The performance stumbles ever so slightly on a few uptempo sequences, most notably a disc-closing turn at Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" - a bubbly calypso that should be summarily retired from the jazz canon. (www.jimhallmusic.com)
1/2 -Eric Snider
Life in Dreams
HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW
This Jersey quintet stops just short of the place where frenetic, quasi-technical Taking Back Sunday-style emo becomes something altogether darker, heavier and screamier. Yeah, I know, so do about a thousand other bands, and that's the problem. While Hidden in Plain View does have some interesting things going for it - a knack for inventive chord voicings, an absolutely kick-ass drummer in Spencer Peterson, and a solid, catchy single ("The Point") that's almost certainly destined for breakthrough greatness - these elements are overrun by what have become the genre's exhausted clichés: clumsy, self-involved high-school poetry; alternately harmonious and overlapping two-voice interplay; and a lead singer who uses the same almost-snotty high tenor as every all-ages frontman to come along since New Found Glory's early years.
1/2 -Scott Harrell