When it comes to hard rock and heavy metal drumming royalty, the lordly name of Appice should automatically spring to mind. Individually, Vinny and Carmine Appice have canvassed the history of heavy music in their times with BLACK SABBATH, the Ozzy Osbourne band, DIO, VANILLA FUDGE, CACTUS, KING KOBRA, BLUE MURDER, HEAVEN AND HELL and plenty more. Throughout the eighties, it was an audible wet dream to contemplate the brothers playing together in any project. A gentle sibling rivalry was played more for the press than between them (outside of the ongoing "feud" over how to properly enunciate their mutual last name), but it seemed as if time was the enemy more so than an unsigned recording deal to bring these guys together on an album.
Sure, there was the "Drum Wars" tour in 2011 and 2012, but only now do we have a proper Vinny and Carmine Appice album to talk about. Sufficiently calling themselves APPICE, they bring an entire gaggle of friends and past associates to the collaborative album, "Sinister". Looking at the names sprawled across this album, it resembles a who's who from each brother's career: Paul Shortino, Craig Goldy, Johnny Rod, Mick Sweda, Robin McAuley, Phil Sousson, David Michael Phillips, Tony Franklin...just a handful of the many guests including GOV'T MULE's Jorgen Carlson, who brought his bass and production skills to "Sinister".
The title track is a curious little number with a bit more going on than the slammed-out drive of the choruses. It's not so much prog the brothers dally with on "Sinister", but a deliberate puttering to the verses that are scalded with old-time eighties synths, all as setup to the choruses' faster pace. The overdubbed drum parts, the Appices recorded separately, are pretty well done, as is the obligatory tradeoff drum solo. Jim Crean establishes a lithe if toothy vocal presence, even though he is immediately overshadowed by Paul Shortino, who is especially terrific on the gnashed-out "War Cry", and on the concise and rhythmic "Monsters and Heroes", written in direct tribute to Ronnie James Dio. The latter cut, lyrically written by Shortino, also features KING KOBRA/BULLETBOYS bassist Mick Sweda. There's a lot of meat slung upon the verses while a gentler blues juice is drizzled all over the choruses.
The blues riffs are heaped in a thick dose, spread overtop a DIO-esque sprawl on the low-key and shambling "Killing Floor". This one is served up by guest appearances from Craig Goldy, Tony Franklin and features vocals by former LYNCH MOB singer Chas West. Given Vinny Appice and Craig Goldy's time in the DIO band, it's no surprise to find another Ronnie James homage manifest on this album (West does a minute replication but not a blatant heist), also leaving open the opportunity to show off tumbling drum rolls. Jim Crean returns on the leaner drive of "Danger", which also features Phil Soussan on bass. "Danger" works quite well with an agreeable throwback melody—something cultivated from a hodgepodge of VAN HALEN's "Women and Children First" and "5150", David Lee Roth's "Skyscraper", and Steve Vai's "Passion and Warfare"—set to an undulating rhythm.
Naturally, "Drum Wars" and "Bros in Drums", by mere title, are going to attract the most attention from critics and fans alike. The first track is as fun as advertised, but frankly corny with the hollered-out chant: "Drum Wars!" like an old sneaker or Atari game ad from way back. Both songs are set up as conventional rockers with overtly rumbling tempos but not a ton of drumming pizzazz otherwise. "Drum Wars"—nothing to be compared to the brothers' showcase tour and a song that could have hung better on one of Carmine's KING KOBRA albums—simply rides along its zippy riffs, remaining content to flash a quirky keyboard splash and then a rowdy guitar solo. "Bros in Drums" is a brotherly stick tap from afar, "playing as one" with pandering choruses and a cutesy waggle singing unification's praises. Instead of delivering the expected sibling showdown, these highlight tracks merely hum along—a bit of a letdown.
The 6:35 "Riot" picks up the album from this point with a heaving beat and thunderous rolls that accent the wicked riffs and the track's bass-heavy plow. Despite its length, which could've been trimmed some in the middle, there's a couple of satisfying drum and guitar jams that first build to a sweaty climax and later swing the number home with a punch. The heat remains within the tricky shuck and sway of "Suddenly", pleasantly sung by the durable Robin McAuley. As with its predecessor, an exciting burst of guitar and drum theatrics flares regally all over the song's blistering finale.
Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal lends guitars to the breezy pop rocker "In the Night", which Jim Crean swoons idyllically over, while Scotty Bruce inherits the denser, slower "Future Past", another DIO and ALCATRAZZ-splashed cruncher. The walloping beat is more the story to this one as Scotty Bruce chimes like a sedated Graham Bonnet.
"War Cry" is one of the most ear-pleasing cuts on the album, particularly with the tribal drum cadence behind the squealing guitars of WHITESNAKE's Joel Hoekstra, the "Sabbath Mash" is, well, a mess. Slapping "Paranoid" and "Iron Man" together in a freewheeling bumble ball, Erik Turner (WARRANT) and LANA LANE keyboardist Erik Norlander poke and plod along in a strictly for kicks jam that might've been cooler and relevant if it had been a quick stroll through "Heaven and Hell" and "Mob Rules".
For certain, fans of the Appice brothers are going to want to snap up "Sinister". It is fun for the most part, and when you think about it, the decision to scale back the drumming razzle-dazzle is a sign of maturity. No rivalry here, implied or otherwise. "Sinister" is a pure rock album with a parade of players who have marched through your ears for decades. You be the judge if that's sufficient ear candy or not.