Tuesday, July 5, 2016

SIXX:AM – Prayers For The Damned [album review]

Released on April 29th

After lacklustre previous album Modern Vintage, SIXX:AM recapture and surpass the fine form they showed on their first two releases with Prayers For The Damned, their latest collections of songs. The band recorded enough material for a double album, but decided to hold off on releasing the other half of the material until later this year. That album, not unexpectedly, will be titled Prayers For The Damned, Vol. 2

It’s an ambitious endeavour from the trio consisting of Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx (I suppose I should be adding a “former” to that now?), ex-Guns N’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba, and vocalist James Michael. Michael actually established his name as a producer, engineer, songwriter, and mixer who’s collaborated with a diverse range of artists like Meat Loaf, the Crüe, Alanis Morissette, Scorpions, and Kelly Clarkson. Drum duties for the new albums and current tour are handled by Orillia, Ontario’s Dustin Steinke. His performances really stood out on an album that’s loaded with great musicianship.

Prayers For The Damned deals up plenty of songs anchored by huge anthemic choruses, which is a formula that SIXX:AM have perfected at this point. There’s no better examples than “You Have Come To The Right Place”, “When We Were Gods”, “Everything Went To Hell”, and powerful opener “Rise”. The latter incorporates some very effective hymnal-sounding background vocals that add greater dimension to the song, which features lyrics that are defiant yet optimistic about the world’s increasingly unstable state. “I’m Sick” swings between a sauntering verse section and sped-up, aggressive choruses, with a searing solo from Ashba. “Prayers For The Damned” is one of the album’s best songs and is followed up by the more restrained “Better Man”, which feels like a companion piece to the title track with its very similar chord structure. The anthemic “Can’t Stop” sounds like filler on the first few listens before revealing its infectious charms, as does the more experimental “Belly Of The Beast”. “Rise Of The Melancholy Empire” delivers a grandiose and haunting conclusion to Prayers For The Damned, using another heavily leaned-on songwriting device in SIXX:AM’s sound — the quiet/loud dynamic. The contemplative lyrics from Sixx were inspired by last November’s Paris terrorist attacks. 

As far as side projects go, SIXX:AM was considerably better than most. Ashba left GN’R last year “with a heavy heart” to devote more time to SIXX:AM (Axl Rose also asked him to come back to play with the currently semi-reunited group) and Sixx played his final show with the now-retired Mötley Crüe on New Year’s Eve. The pair’s newfound lack of musical distractions is fully evident on the filler-free Prayers For The Damned, which is easily the band’s best release yet. The biggest revelation to me on the album was Ashba’s playing. I obviously knew he was a great guitarist, but he really steps up his game here with some absolutely monstrous solos and a nice assortment of offbeat six string sounds. Until this album, I also had never noticed the clear influence of Slash on Ashba, both in his playing style and tone (it really becomes evident when Ashba breaks out the wah-wah pedal).   

There is one ongoing quibble I have with SIXX:AM, however, and that’s Michael’s voice. I’ve just never fully warmed to it. To my ears, it sounds a little on the thin side, even though he has perfectly acceptable range. It’s always bothered me that I can’t quite get past my issue with it, but I think it’s simply one of those subjective and hard-to-explain oddities we all get with certain songs or singers. Michael, who produced and engineered Prayers For The Damned, does deserves his full due for how great the album sounds, though. There’s an abundance of great ear candy here, which Michael talks about in his revealing Fly On The Wall YouTube series. 

Almost a decade into their career, SIXX:AM hits their stride with Prayers For The Damned. The band delivers their heaviest album yet, comprised of first-rate arena-ready anthems that are also infused with an intriguing level of depth and scope. Considering the album’s soon-to-be-released companion piece was recorded at the same time, there’s no reason not to have very high expectations for Vol. 2.

Rating: A