Let’s get one thing straight. Extreme II, aka “Pornograffitti”, is one of the best rock records since 1990, hands-down. “Extreme III (Sides to Every Story)” was definitely no slouch, and the first record had some great tracks as well. It is funny that we just got done checking out Winger “Seven” when Extreme “Six” came our way, because both bands were doing a Herculean amount of heavy lifting trying to elevate hard rock and fight the rising tides of mediocrity before both got put on ice for very similar reasons. Both bands were able to craft three masterpiece records before being encased in carbonite. Other acts like Faith No More, Mr. Big, Firehouse, and Talisman were fighting similar battles along the same front-lines, but the early work of Extreme, especially the second record, served as a glorious last stand for thinking man’s hard rock and metal.
Following Extreme’s break in the late 90s, they did reform in 2008 to release the moderately successful “Saudades de Rock,” but things have been mostly quiet in the time since. Lead guitar wizard and principal songwriter Nuno Bettencourt indicated to Eddie Trunk in 2020 that the band had several albums worth of new music in the works, but they did not want to release something until the music could be the best work possible. It seems that time is now, and the passing into history of Eddie Van Halen, patron saint to all guitar players, may have been a catalyst, at least in part. “When Eddie Van Halen passed, it really hit me,” Bettencourt said. “I’m not going to be the one who will take the throne, but I felt some responsibility to keep guitar playing alive. So, you hear a lot of fire on the record.”
We are going to spend a little time here dissecting the scope and intensity of that fire on this record, but one thing is clear; there is no shortage of the fire on “Rise,” the first track of the album. Perhaps the scowling, red-eyed gorilla on the album cover is looking to get some revenge and set right the catastrophic post-Harambe timeline, but Extreme is certainly providing the firepower with this opening track. At first, there is only Nuno riffing hard on his signature Washburn super-strat and Dimebag-style humbuckers, before drums join with a brisk, driven, energetic eight-beat pattern in 4/4. At the same time Pat Badger’s bass joins in, Gary Cherone gets right to dropping some verse. Now, we don’t want to highlight anything derivative this early in the review, but when it is literally the first thing on the record, it’s hard to avoid. Gary’s verse structure on the track is essentially carbon-copy of “Silvergun Superman” from Stone Temple Pilots 1994 chart-topping “Purple” album, albeit at a faster tempo here. It hardly seems intentional, but it’s an unfortunate blemish when the single from the new album starts off sounding like a previous Billboard hit album.
After Gary works through the opening verses, we are treated to the first iteration of the chorus, which, strangely enough, is a sort of inverted 3-5-3 sequence of that yodeling “millennial whoop” thing that pop and indie music discovered a few years back. The chorus is about lifting you “up up up” but if there were a way to give the word “up” multiple syllables via tonal shifts, Extreme have cracked that code, to be sure. At this point, we’ve dinged the new single twice, but surprisingly, it’s still solid, well-put-together, and quite listenable. It has as much ear-worm potential as most any other high-gain Extreme tune. Of course, all the buzz about this track is about one thing, and one thing only: Nuno’s over-the-top guitar solo. Although his fills throughout the track are cool and textbook Nuno, this solo sets a new bar we’ve not seen since the first two records. Right in the middle of this 4-minute track, Nuno goes off like a Roman candle, with a very phased brown sound, picking like a madman, delivering right-handed fire not seen since the first 45 seconds of “Eruption,” before the two-hand tapping comes into play. Between the picking technique and the diving Floyd Rose action, it’s definitely a condensed EVH tribute, but it’s 30 seconds into the solo where things get interesting. While it’s most comparable to Eddie’s “Mean Street” intro, the technique and execution is still very much Nuno’s own, and there’s really no way words can describe the four-fingered, semi-muted, arpeggiated runs dominating all the real estate above the twelfth fret in a very short amount of time. The icing on the cake is the vocal/synth chorus of “ahhs” joining the last few phases of the section, which seem to lift the song higher, adding to the entire “Rise” theme. It may not be a perfect song, but it’s catchy and heavy enough, and damn, Nuno’s solo alone makes the whole album worth the price of admission.
The second track, “#Rebel,” captures much of the same mojo in a bottle found in “Proud Desperado” from the aforementioned Winger “Seven” album. A derisive song taking a poke at the trappings of wannabe-rebel culture, the riffs are chunky and the vocals are great, right down to the point where Gary starts heading for the stratosphere, while Nuno’s lead guitar follows right along. Speaking of whom, the guitar solo is a whole lot of action tastefully jammed into a 30-second block, as is Nuno’s wont to do, complete with two-hand tapping bits in the middle.
If you liked the chunky aggressive guitars on the previous track, (getting into “He-Man Woman-Hater” territory) you will enjoy “Banshee.” The verse structure is actually borderline bluesy, like some weird cousin to The A to Z of rock, Aerosmith and ZZ Top. Credit to Kevin Figueiredo on the solid drumming here, right down to the abuse of the ride cymbal. The guitar solo is cool here, although a bit more blues-rock and less metal, which is suitable, right down to bent stops and the occasional added finger tap.
In a surprising detour, Nuno tunes up the twelve-string steel acoustic for “Other Side of the Rainbow,” a love-themed ballad with a couple neat party-tricks. When the verse steps up into the chorus, it has a sincerely feel-good melodic retro vibe, sort of like what Paul Gilbert used to try to capture in tracks like “Amy is Amazing.” Around two minutes in, Nuno keeps up the strum while Gary demonstrates he still has all or most of his impressive range, belting out an improvisational vocal section, before turning it over to Nuno to bring it home with a tasteful medium-high gain guitar solo. Of course, while Nuno has the acoustic guitars out, the band moves on to “Small Town Beautiful,” an even more traditional ballad, offering some vocal give-and-take duet elements between Gary and Nuno. No, it isn’t “More Than Words,” nor does it need to be. It’s just a well-written little sanctuary for the feels, during a break from all the heaviness.
In another radical detour, we have “The Mask,” which might not have Jim Carrey, but it does seem to have Nuno singing in the style of Beetlejuice, to a backdrop of a shuffle of drums and bass. Shortly after Gary takes back the mic, the whole band joins in on full gain, while Gary delivers a chorus about ripping off masks and seeing who we are inside. The rest of the track is effectively the same format, aside from some cool vocal harmonies, and before the solo there’s a nice instrumental progression right out of the book of classic rock and roll, sort of along the same lines as the last thirty seconds of Journey’s 1978 “La Do Da.”
Channeling late 90s industrial techno vibes, “Thicker Than Blood” seems like some sort of NIN/Zombie hybrid, but by the time the chorus comes in, it’s still Extreme at the core. Demonstrating some versatility, Nuno takes some verses, and delivers well. Many of the vocals are delivered through post-production effects emulating that whole bullhorn-through-a-telephone sort of distortion. Speaking of distortion, Nuno delivers a great little solo jam, utilizing octave and ring modulation effects to accomplish a unique flavor. While we are revisiting the 90s and its aftermath, the next track, “Save Me” is dripping with grungy sort of Alice in Chains energy. While the guitar solo is unmistakably Nuno, the rest of the track is muddy distortion, probably dropped to “D” tuning, with a chorus hearkening back to “Man in the Box” atmosphere.
If any track is shaping up to be the unsung (not literally, of course) hero of Extreme’s sixth record, it could very well be “Hurricane.” From it’s achingly beautiful acoustic guitars, to the impeccable vocal harmonies, this could just well be Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The lyrics are a simple metaphor relating to a storm of sorrow brewing in the heart, on a storm-front of painful memories, yet songs and imagery such as these are the ones which stand the test of time.
Returning to the 2000-ish industrial Matrix vibes we found in “Thicker Than Blood,” it might be easy to discount the next track, “X Out” as another attempt by an old rock band to try to learn new tricks, but there is some real substance here. The lyrics are dark and interesting, playing on the depressed and disheartened narrator wanting to embrace their inner “Live-Laugh-Love” with optimistic things like Faith, Hope, and Love, but instead the narrator ticks off all the pain, suffering, disappointment and tragedy in the world, and chooses instead to “X Out” things like faith, hope, and love. If you only give the track 30 seconds, you might make the mistake of thinking this is something that got left off of the “Fifth Element” soundtrack, but it has a lot of depth and variety. The industrial riffing takes some breaks to get into the whole “X Out” vocal progression, and just let the synth atmosphere breathe and stretch out. At around 3:20, the song format breaks into something almost like the epic “Home” by Dream Theater, perhaps merged with something Vai might have done in his “Ultra Zone” period. Simple piano melodies carry this surprisingly deep tune to its conclusion.
In perhaps the most surprising detour of the album, we have “Beautiful Girls,” a Diamond–Davidian 180 from the previous track about doom and gloom. This track, with modern indie-pop production, paired with skirt-chasing subject matter, and Nuno unleashing his Brian May chops, result in this track being about as dark and metal as “You Can Call Me Al.” It’s a fun track, and probably right at home on the PA system at Bahama Breeze or Jimmy Buffet “Margaritaville,” but we certainly did not see it coming.
The album closes with similar bittersweet energy to “Hole-Hearted,” with this new track “Here’s to the Losers.” Thematically, it’s a bit like “We are the Champions,” if said song was more about getting up and trying again when you do not succeed. It’s a short jangly number, with faux-crowd interaction, and a concise Nuno guitar solo. Gary’s vocals are in fine fettle, and a fitting way to round out this album.
As far as rounding out this review, this album takes a few listens to be absorbed properly. After one casual listen, it might be easy to dismiss this as the title track single, plus a variety of moderately entertaining filler. In truth, which each listen, some of the individual tracks start to stand out, not only for differences of sub-genre and theme, but also for their unique high points and characteristics. “X Out” is a surprising trek into the dark and serious side of Extreme, and “Hurricane” is a rare and precious bloom, sure to someday appear on a definitive Best of Extreme collection. The other tracks showcase not only a variety of genre, but a sensible approach to integrating contemporary elements brought to the music scene since Extreme’s original peak, but without compromising the integrity of the band’s sound. As a whole, the album is well-mixed, thoughtfully laid-out, well-written, and a welcome treat in a music scene all-too-starved for such records today. Definitely look for this one on June 9th.
Release Date: June 9th, 2023
Record Label: earMUSIC
Genre: Melodic Hard Rock
- Gary Cherone / Lead vocals
- Nuno Bettencourt / Guitars, brass/orchestration arrangements, keyboards, piano, backing and lead vocals
- Pat Badger / Bass, backing vocals
- Kevin Figueiredo / Drums, percussion
4. Other Side of the Rainbow
5. Small Town Beautiful
6. The Mask
7. Thicker Than Blood
8. Save Me
10. X Out
11. Beautiful Girls
12. Here’s to the Losers
Pre-order/save “Six” on CD/LP/Digital HERE.
Extreme’s first new studio album in fifteen years is worth the wait. While stylistically, the band is experimenting with their sound, perhaps for the best, what is undeniable is that the singing, and instrumental talent, and the songwriting remains as strong as ever. Gary Cherone is still an incredible vocalist, Pat and Kevin are in command of the rhythm section, and Nuno Bettencourt remains a being from another dimension, delivering some of the most incredible guitar playing in the history of Earth, while doing it tastefully. This is a solid addition to hard rock and classic metal history, and should not be missed