With what passes for rock and roll nowadays, who could really blame those that say the genre is dead or dying? But if you scratch just a little bit deeper, you’ll find there is a whole new generation of artists well versed in the finer points of classic rock, penning brand new messages in fifty year old ink. Greta Van Fleet may have garnered the lion’s share of hedgerow bustling from the mainstream, but there was a bumper crop of retro-leaning acts in 2018 proving there will always be plenty of room for bands that want to wrap themselves in velvets and party like it’s 1974. It was tough to whittle the whole year down to ten releases, and even tougher to rank them. But after countless hours of analysis, these are the best things I heard this year; if you don’t think they make ‘em like they used to, you need to check this shit out.
After releasing one of 2018’s finest hunks of retro-rock (the downright dazzling Ain’t No Shame), Norwegian flower-power trio Friendship are kicking off the new year with the re-release of their 2012 debut single. Both “Alpha Male” and its corresponding b-side “Give It Time” show that the band’s knack for funky and fluid, sexy and soulful sunshine rock was in place from the start, whip-tight power-pop filtered through a kaleidoscopic lens of swaggering psychedelia.
Stoner rock fans across North America will have reason to rejoice in March 2019, when English horror-psych mavens Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats join forces with Swedish retro-rockers Graveyard for a co-headlining jaunt dubbed the “Peace Across the Wasteland” tour. Ticket pre-sales for the nineteen-date tour, which kicks off at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer on March 6 and runs through March 30 at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, begin October 24, with the general on-sale beginning two days later.
No matter the status of his endlessly fluctuating relationship with his former bandmates/business partners, and no matter who’s stage left working his suit and wearing his makeup, Ace Frehley will always be the lead guitar player for KISS. One of the most influential axemen in rock and roll history (haters and naysayers be damned), Frehley has spent a large swath of the sixteen-plus years since his last public appearance with the band firmly cementing his reputation as the once-and-forever Space Ace, touring and releasing a string of albums that show off his singular talents and find inspiration in his formidable legacy. His newest release, Spaceman, plays up the KISS connections and corollaries more than any other project in his solo catalog, which should give longtime fans and followers plenty to sink their teeth into.
In addition to having a keenly honed knack for riff-driven/pop-tinged sugar-and-sludge psychedelia, Kevin Starrs does atmosphere better than anybody working in heavy music today. As creative force and sole constant member of Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, his albums play like 70mm cult horror classics bootlegged onto well-worn VHS cassettes, casting their cathode ray glow over otherwise darkened bedrooms. The colors are vibrant but washed-out, it’s warbly and more than a little distorted, the on-screen movements leave tracers, and the whole thing has just enough fuzz and static on it to seem genuinely creepy. Acid-steeped, with a heavy dose of psychopaths, brainwashers, and a ready steady flow of that red red kroovy, the Uncle Acid canon is a grindhouse marathon for the mind’s eye. The latest opus from Starrs and Co., Wasteland, brings the “post-apocalyptic dystopia” genre into the oeuvre, a tale of walled cities, mindless masses, piped-in propaganda, and hidden computer discs filled with long-forgotten memories and perhaps the keys to freedom. The premise may sound prog, but the execution is blessedly pure classic rock hesh.
Business is damn sure picking up for Richmond, Virginia hesher riff-kings SATAN’S SATYRS. They’re gearing up for a North American tour with fellow Cavaliers WINDHAND that’ll take up most of October and November, and their sludgy, sleazy new album The Lucky Ones will see release October 19, courtesy of Bad Omen Records and RidingEasy. To whet your appetite and catch a little contact high before the whole slab drops, you can check out the second advance track from The Lucky Ones, the T.REX-in-a-Trans Am stomper “She Beast,” now streaming via YouTube.
In celebration of the 30th Anniversary of their platinum-certified debut album, hard rockers KINGDOM COME have reunited and will be touring the U.S. this fall. The band’s original lineup is largely intact (drummer James Kottak, guitarists Danny Stag and Rick Steier, and bassist Johnny B. Frank), with longtime MONTROSE vocalist Keith St. John stepping in for original frontman Lenny Wolf (who declined to take part but has given the project his blessing). They will be performing Kingdom Come in its entirety, along with selections from their 1989 follow-up In Your Face.
Ain’t No Shame, the eagerly anticipated second full-length from Norwegian trio Friendship, should be classified as a mood-enhancing substance. The first time I heard it, it pulled me out of the kind of piss-poor headspace that can only come from five hours cooped up in a car with two cranky children and an more than exasperated spouse. I was actually a little nervous to hit play that first time, for fear that my mental and physical exhaustion might negatively color my feeling toward the material. But by the end of the Monkees-and-Cream-playing-Cheap Trick opener “Are You Ready,” I was grinning ear to ear. Somewhere in the middle of the jazzy delight “Harmony Turns to Sound,” my dopey grin turned to slack-jawed awe. And within three seconds of the stomping funk-rock romp “Fire,” I actually laughed out loud from the combination of amazement and joy. I went to bed that night with a smile on my face and a sense of contentment in my heart, and I have Fredrik Skalstad (drums & lead vocals), Martin Morland (bass), and Sander Eriksen Nordahl (guitar) (along with their litany of guest musicians) to thank for that. It brought me up when I was down, and there’s not too many higher accolades than that.
The surest way to stand out in a bleak and dour world? Be a beacon of light. With their matching white outfits, recurring rainbow motifs, and a fully-formed and realized rock band-as-hippie love sect mythos, Nottingham-based occult rock septet Church of the Cosmic Skull have done a more-than-admirable job setting themselves apart from the seemingly endless parade of monsters and demons and scowling young men in varying shades of black that populate today’s heavy rock scene. Their aesthetic is so refined and so well-structured, in fact, that at first glance some folks may be inclined to immediately dismiss the group out of hand as a mere novelty act or an elaborate joke. Those folks would being doing themselves a grave disservice, however, because here’s the thing: Church of the Cosmic Skull is one of the best bands in the world of retro-rock, and with their absolutely breathtaking six-part harmonies, they may be the most singular unit out there. Nobody else sounds like this. Their debut album, 2016’s Is Satan Real?, is one of the best records I’ve heard since I started writing for Metal Nexus last summer. Their newest, Science Fiction, is even better.
Four years after recording their self-titled debut, Norwegian retro-psych trio Friendship is poised to release their sophomore effort, the intoxicatingly shimmery Ain’t No Shame. It’s a forty-minute smile, a heartfelt and exquisitely crafted work that should appeal equally to fans of Cream and Kadavar, of Earth, Wind, & Fire and Grand Funk Railroad, and we here at Metal Nexus are pleased and proud to offer you an exclusive streaming premiere of the album’s infectiously swinging title track.