For years I have been watching Sixx:A.M. evolve from a side project to a fully blown iconic rock and roll band. Nikki Sixx: DJ Ashba and James Michael are the creative trio behind the band and they have just released their new album Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1. With decades of experience between the trio, Sixx:A.M. have recorded a series of songs that will entertain rock and roll music lovers for generations to come.
While it was sad to see Sixx et al retire Mötley Crüe, and DJ Ashba resign from his position as lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, I’m glad both they did because the focus these incredible musicians have given to this album has made it arguably the best rock and roll album of 2016; that is until Vol. 2 is released later this year. While I am looking forward to Vol. 2, Vol. 1 has exceeded all my expectations.
The double album format is nothing new in the world of rock and roll, but it can be challenging for fans as I still don’t know which Use Your Illusion album I prefer. In fact, just between me and you, I think that double album release could have been compiled into a single album as there is quite a bit of filler. Whereas, Prayers For The Damned has no filler tracks on Vol. 1. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t know how Sixx:A.M. is going to top the recordings on Vol. 1.
I first became aware of the Sixx:A.M. upon the release of The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack. Seriously, who releases a soundtrack for a book? Pure brilliance! However, it wasn’t until the release of This Is Gonna Hurt that I truly saw what was possible from the band.
When I purchased This Is Gonna Hurt, it was the iTunes LP edition that included a gorgeous interface and additional content that would rival any blockbuster film release. At the time it was one of the very first iTunes LP releases that I purchased and I remember thinking that this is how music should be presented in the digital realm. Unfortunately, due to either a lack of support by the music industry, or Apple, that format never really took off. To be honest, Apple never really did anything with the format and playback is still limited to iTunes on a Mac or PC. Unfortunately, these types of cool ‘digital’ release features are restricted by the technology of the day and ongoing support of the particular format. Anyone remember ‘Enhanced CD’? Anyway, Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 doesn’t concern itself with gimmick additions as it is all about the music.
When I ordered Prayers Of The Damned Vol. 1, it was for the signature edition CD. Unfortunately, Australian retailer JB Hi-Fi didn’t send me the signed release, despite getting my order completed before they sold out, and within time applicable time. JB Hi-Fi has not even replied to my emails about the error. Such a shame that retailers disappoint consumers. If it weren’t for the promised signatures, I would have purchased the album on vinyl, but I’ll end up doing that anyway. Yes, the album is good enough to own in both formats and stream regularly on TIDAL Hi-Fi.
The mastering of Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 is perfect for the style of music with only minimal cut-off being noticed on the cymbals. Plus, the overall production, vocal delivery, and musicality of the band is off the charts and that minor issue therefore becomes somewhat irrelevant in my mind.
For this release I was hoping for a digipak design, rather than a jewel case. My case cracked in the mail, thanks again JB Hi-Fi (for pathetic packaging), but that additional tactile element would have added to the ‘album’ experience for me. Gorgeous photography and layout are included throughout the liner notes, but I was a little disappointed that the lyrics were not included. Now, regular readers will know that I class vocals as just another instrument as I don’t necessarily follow the meaning of a song. However, Sixx:A.M. is a rock and roll band with a social consciousness and therefore their lyrics are relevant to life and the empowerment of the listener. Hence, on this occasion, it was important to me.
Let’s take a look at the songs:
Rise is inspirational and sets the tone for the entire album with high reaching vocals and fat guitar and bass riffs that merge perfectly with some of the best drumming I have heard on any recent rock and roll album. Dustin Steinke deserves his drumming credit, and permanent role in Sixx:A.M., as his performance is flawless across the entire album.
You Have Come To The Right Place continues the before mentioned style with a groove element that prevents you from sitting still. In fact, I’ve been using this album on my daily walks over the last few days and it gives you inspiration to keep pushing through as you strut along with the beat.
I’m Sick mellows things out a little, but not for long as it picks up frantically when the chorus kicks in. This is a song that I had to listen to a few times, in order to fully appreciate it. Now it is one of my favourite songs on the album.
Prayers For The Damned is what I call symphonic rock and roll. Think rock ballad + symphonic orchestra tuning + rock and roll. It is exceptional! DJ Ashba makes that guitar sing. Axl was insane for never releasing a new Guns ‘N Roses album with Ashba as the lead guitarist. Yes, Slash is a rock god, but Ashba is easily his equal and this album proves that.
Better Man has an acoustic feel to it. If you have listened to 7, you will know just how beautiful this band can sound unplugged. James Michael is an incredible vocalist and I think what I truly appreciate about his vocal delivery is the clarity he brings to the music. Unlike many rock vocalists, he doesn’t slur/blur his lyrics. Perhaps this is the reason why I would have liked to have the lyrics included in this release.
Can’t Stop is presented with the verse in a spoken word lyrical style. It works perfectly with the accompanying music and overall style of the band. The song is moody and full of attitude with Nikki’s bass tracks complementing the entire song while Ashba tortures his guitar.
When We Were Gods has a beautiful verse, but I’m not blown away by the chorus. I’m torn, I’ve listened to this song no less than twenty times, in the album format, and I still have mixed feelings about it.
Belly Of The Beast is a song that reminds me of Shout At The Devil. That isn’t to say that Sixx:A.M. has reimagined Mötley Crüe, but what I am saying is this song is going to be a fan favourite live; just as Shout At The Devil was. Basically, I love this song and enjoy singing along while strumming the old air guitar. If you only listen to one song from this album, make it this one. Michael’s vocal range on this track is incredible.
Everything Went To Hell is head banger material. Fast, then melodic, then fast again. Does anything else have to be said?
The Last Time (My Heart Will Hit The Ground) is just a cool title with some magical guitar work that makes for a very enjoyable rock and roll song.
Rise Of The Melancholy Empire closes out the album perfectly. As you listen to this song, you naturally become compelled to play the album again.
The bottom line is that is you’re a rock and roll fan, you need to own this album. Sixx:A.M. have proven that rock and roll is not dead. Those who say it is should kiss their old bands goodbye and reinvent themselves as Sixx and Ashba have.
James Michael is not only a legendary producer, that has worked with a number of successful artists such as Meat Loaf, but he is an exceptional vocalist in his own right and a perfect fit for the band.
Now, we just have to wait for Vol. 2. I still don’t know how they are going to top Vol. 1 as I truly feel it is the best rock and roll album, thus far, of 2016.