The Metal Minute Awarded 2009 Best Personal Blog By Metal Hammer Magazine

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mega-Sized CD Shelf Cleanup

How are ya, everyone? In a good mood on my end. My team at work was taken out to an expensive restaurant in celebration of surpassing a quota that was there before I started earlier this month. One of the main marketers of our team was generous enough to take us tonight, including spouses, so it was a cheerful evening and though we had to leave my wife's car at her job since she was too loopy to drive, it's all good. I'd rather she be alive and full of good memories. I mean, really, I've only been on this job a month and I get to enjoy a great reward like that... And of course yesterday the promo for Black Sabbath - The Dio Years came in my mailbox, megasweeeeet...

But anywho, it's full-on CD Shelf Cleanup, so sit back, relax, and hopefully enjoy today's round...

Antigama - Zeroland - Grind metal is an unholy beast unto itself and frankly, I'm admittedly snooty when it comes to this subgenre. If it doesn't move me, I get irritated by it since it's usually a lot of migraine-inducing jackhammer beats and overall distortion. I was really rough on this band when I reviewed their first album, but I warmed up to Zeroland and gave it a decent review. I think because there's some shifty rock elements in-between the jacknife speed and guttural bellowing, I was kinder to this album. Should it remain in my personal collection, though, when I've not spared the rod to others of its ilk? Checking out Zeroland with a casual and not a journalist's ear, I just wasn't having the same kind of fun. I don't think anyone will beat Napalm Death in this style, so... The Tribe Has Spoken, It's Time For You to Go

Antimatter - Planetary Confinement - Antimatter is an avant guarde duo who gets tossed around metal circles because one of the members is Duncan Patterson, formerly of Anathema. Antimatter mostly focuses on creating cerebral--and mostly depressing--acoustic compositions with rich vocals. Picture Days of the New with less flash and more wrist bleeding. This is a textured and emotional CD, worth listening to even if you're in jovial spirits. Worth Keeping

Anvil - Plugged in Permanent - I think a lot of people have totally forgotten that Canada's Anvil was one of the world's first speed metal bands--at least they were in the beginning. Of course, I think a lot of people have forgotten Anvil altogether, which is kinda sad since they've always meant well and have a bricks-heavy sound. They did score a minor hit twenty years ago with the cheeky "Mad Dog," which featured a really funny video. After Anvil nosedived in popularity, Lips Kudlow and the boys decided to thrash it up on this damned fine album from 1996. It's positively relentless, and how can you go wrong with an ode to Jack Kervorkian? "Doctor Kervorkian, doctor of deeeeatth!" Worth Keeping

Anvil - Back to Basics - I spent an easy hour and a half on the phone with Lips when this album came out in 2004 and Anvil certainly lived up to the album's namesake. Anvil goes back to their early roots and opts for a mucky and miry brand of heavy rock. It's kind of a shaky move after putting out a number of quality thrash albums in the nineties, and unfortunately it was a gambit that didn't really pay off. Stil... Worth Keeping

Anything Box - Peace - I'm really sad to say this album has not held up well in the least. This alternative band from 1990 tried pretty hard to be a hybrid of New Order, early Depeche Mode and Erasure but it didn't quite work; at least that's how I see it now. Back then, I traded an old buddy for this disc because I thought it was cool and I liked the album title. This album has very little passion, and despite being released on Epic Records, Anything Box should be known as Anything But... I really am sorry to see this one go. The Tribe Has Spoken, It's Time For You to Go

Carmine Appice Project - Ultimate Guitar Zeus - I got it from the mouth of the man himself: it's pronounced "A-piece." Of course his brother Vinnie will tell you otherwise. So the mystery continues... This project that Carmine put together is a damned good array of hard rock tunes with him playing behind such guitar notables as Slash, Brian May, Zakk Wylde, Ted Nugent, Mick Mars, Richie Sambora, Neil Schon and Yngwie Malmsteen. I'm personally most affected by the King's X connection songs, "This Time Around" with Doug Pinnick and Malmsteen, as well as "Killin' Time" with Ty Tabor. Believe it or not, Carmine wrote Rod Stewart's sleazy and cheesy hit single "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," and Carmine decided to shanghai the song and amp it up a little. Almost as funny as the Revolting Cocks' version. Worth Keeping

Arcade - self-titled - I don't know this qualifies for Metal Mark's supergroups session last week, but a lot of us remember this quasi supergroup featuring former Ratt vocalist Stephen Pearcy and ex-Cinderella drummer Fred Coury. I'm a diehard Ratt fan, so shame on me for taking forever to get this album. I'd heard it stunk, and that's rubbish, I say! This is a very strong rock record and one I play often. Arcade may not have enjoyed the wild success of their parent bands, but Arcade certainly attracted a large enough audience. Worth Keeping

Arch Enemy - Black Earth - The debut album of Arch Enemy is beyond unreal. This is as strong a debut as I've ever heard, and as it is a pre-Angela Gossow album, Arch Enemy was only a quartet at the time and with Johan Liiva on vocals (and I've read somewhere that he didn't really play bass as credited) but they have a full sound and the Amott brothers rip and tear like they have something to prove. Amazing album. Indispensable

Arch Enemy - Anthems of Rebellion - I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Arch Enemy was probably in a state of confusion as they were getting on-track with Angela Gossow fronting the band by this time. While Anthems of Rebellion is certainly a very good album with lots of polish and terrific guitar work, something is lacking overall in the band's transition towards a more mainstream sound. Despite, this is still a very listenable album. Worth Keeping

Arch Enemy - Dead Eyes See No Future EP - I really don't see the need to keep an EP with mostly live tracks, including three covers. Their cover of Megadeth's "Symphony of Destruction" is bland, while they do Manowar's "Kill With Power" a pretty good service, and they nail Carcass' "Incarnated Solvent Abuse." Regardless, this gets little to no play since I reviewed it. Great band, however... The Tribe Has Spoken, It's Time For You to Go

Arch Enemy - Doomsday Machine - Now this is more like it! Everything about Doomsday Machine is right-on. Arch Enemy sounds completely settled in and everything about the album is a triumph, including the neo-Rome commentary in the artwork by Joachin Luetke, who I just interviewed for my visual arts column in Pit magazine. With the Amotts back together on this album, the guitars sound as best as they have since the early years. Crank this bitch up... Indispensable

India Arie - Acoustic Soul - Hip hop and soul is in serious trouble these days, but not because of the fantastic talent of India Arie. Arie sings and plays guitar, setting a standard in soul that few are willing to meet since most roads in the genre lead to quick profit through cheating. Arie never cheats on this album and it's practically flawless. Plus, her upbeat self-positivity on "Video" is the right message we need to hear more of. Indispensable

India Arie - Testimony: Vol. 1, Life and Relationship - Arie is obviously out to make an artistic statement, and while her talent is impeccable, this album is hardly as memorable of Acoustic Soul. It's a good album and I love Arie's messages of hope and peace, so more power to her and the rest of us. Hope she steps it up a notch in the future, though. Worth Keeping

Armor for Sleep - What to Do When You Are Dead - Emo is a real drag these days, sorry to say. Like hip hop, it's gone commercial, but there's no fighitng it since the kids haven't yet learned to question their exploitation. Armor for Sleep hardly exploits their audience; in fact, this is one of the best emo bands out there. They hardly whine and this album is a terrific concept album about death and reincarnation. Armor for Sleep are catchy and pensive in the same breath. Worth Keeping

Arrested Development - 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of... Why can't rap sound this important anymore? Arrested Development are one of the greatest hip hop ensembles ever piece together and this is one of rap's greatest albums ever recorded. Arrested Development are infectious, sarcastic, knowledgeable and well-spoken. Every track is a winner, covers and all... Indispensable

Arrested Development - Zingalamundi - I remember when I worked in downtown Baltimore, I saw poster ads for this album everywhere I went. I also remember being initially disappointed by this album despite it sounding better than even most of what was coming out then. Time has really shown a kind face to this album. Most of the songs on this album are far ahead of their time. Worth Keeping

Artimus Pyledriver - self titled - Loud and sweaty southern metal that makes Buckcherry sounds like wimps. Need I say more? Badass. Worth Keeping

Believe it or not, we're finally getting close to the end of the A's...thank God. I have a triple disc Armagadden Over Wacken 2005 to cover, so I have my work cut out for me. Keep rocking, everyone...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review of Earth's Hibernaculum for my column in AMP magazine

One of the albums I personally was looking forward to this year...

Southern Lord Recordings

Face the facts, Dylan Carlson is a genius. The dean of drone scored huge on the previous EARTH album, the forlorn lost highway essence that was Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method. Having tapped into such a wallowing, echoed sound that was perhaps more grounded than Carlson’s previous EARTH albums, he decides to revisit his past catalog and give a few oldies new life (adding in the haunting “A Plague of Angels,” originally featured on a 12” split with SUNNO)))) with this somnambulist formula, and man, does he pull it off triumphantly!

Having Adrienne Davies in this ensemble has done wonders for EARTH’s afterlife; Davies is a largely underrated drummer and her stabilizing force allows Carlson to produce deeper extractions on “Ouroboros is Broken” and “Miami Morning Coming Down.” I don’t think many people can fully appreciate Davies’ knack for knowing precisely where to strike her snare, which allocates Carlson’s twanging, elongated notes, much less her capacity to drag out a fill on her high hat, which assists in the slithering feel of EARTH’s downplayed murmur. The two are chemically dependent and here’s hoping Davies finds permanence in this group.

Added to the band on Hibernaculum are Jonas Haskins, EARTH’s touring bassist, as well as fellow bassist Don McGreevy and Steve Moore on keys to add layers to Dylan Carlson’s Duane Eddy-spirited revivalism, peppered especially on “Coda Maestoso in F (Flat) Minor.” Keeping it in the family, SUNN O))) member and Southern Lord co-owner Greg Anderson chips in with some subsonics in a show of camaraderie. Hibernaculum also comes with a bonus DVD of EARTH on tour in support of the Hex album, and tweak your surround-sound all you want; the proper effect of hypnotics is only beheld live. Take it from me, I know. You’re going to be hearing a lot of drone metal out there in the upcoming months, but the one you need to know is EARTH. As far as this writer is concerned, Carlson is doing far more important work than his late buddy Kurt Cobain.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

CD Shelf Cleanup Continues...

Veggie burgers and Yuengling...what a combo, but that's my dinner as I get ready to hunker down for another column in AMP, though our cat Neo wants loving more than she wants me to get any work done. Last night I had a very fun interview with Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth of Overkill and The Cursed, and I'm real excited for the article I'm doing with him and Dan Lorenzo.

I'm going to hit you y'all up with another round of CD Shelf Cleanup... Contain your excitement, please. I can't believe we're still in the A's, for crying out loud, but you know the size of my collection. Last time around I found two victims to send to the kill pile. Let's see how we do today...

Annihilator - Criteria for a Black Widow - This album is Jeff Waters' attempt on Annihilator's ninth credited recording to lasso in the lineup that delivered Alice in Hell, including wild man vocalist Randy Rampage. This is also supposed to be a sequel to Alice. Waters alludes to suffering a personal family crisis before Criteria was recorded and for sure this albums sounds like it's therapeutic for him. Full of thrash and explosive power riffs, Criteria for a Black Widow is a really entertaining album , though by no means is it in the class of Alice in Hell. Regardless, it's obvious that some good effort went into this album, even if Randy Rampage would soon find himself out the door afterwards. Worth Keeping

Annihilator - All For You - A lot of fans have torched this album, one that is mostly Jeff Waters supplying all guitar and bass with Mike Mangini on drums and features the introduction of vocalist Dave Padden. For sure Padden takes a lot of getting used to, because he's frequently quirky, but when he's on, damnation! All For You is a downright weird album full of various measures of thrash, rock, ballads and tonal crush, and unlike Set the World On Fire, there's some testosterone put into this ball of confusion. Keep an open mind and you just might warm up to it. I certainly did. Worth Keeping

Annihilator - Schizo Deluxe - Again, it's the Jeff Waters show with Dave Padden returning to the mic, but this time Padden is full of confidence and goddamn it, Schizo Deluxe sounds like it's a full-fledged band, Waters' mix is so good. The layers he heaps into these fast and frequently brutal cuts are worth savoring. Waters absolutely shreds and I can only imagine my wrists wanting to snap from such velocity. This is perhaps Jeff Waters' best work in his later career. Worth Keeping

Anorexia Nervosa - Redemption Process - What a beautiful album, as far as extreme Goth metal goes. These French metallers whip their deathly compositions with grace and flair, never failing to texture their insanely quick rhythms. If you can take it as fast as Anorexia Nervosa gives it, this ride is a must. Worth Keeping

Anthrax - Fistful of Metal - The first thing I said to myself as soon I came to this classic is simply "Ahhhhh..." Everyone thinks that mushed mouth cover is butt, yet because this album is one of the first of the then-new thrash records to come out, this primitive artwork is to be expected. And hell, who didn't daydream about an enemy suffering a sock in the puss like this? I can think of plenty who deserve it. Sound-wise, I have to say that Fistful of Metal isn't the immortal slab I always purported it to be. It's raw, it's choppy, and original vocalist Neil Turbin just shrieks and caterwauls all over the place to the point of distraction, something that is successor Joey Belladonna had a better time in containing. I mean, "Metal Thrashing Mad" is a beloved Anthrax staple, and "Panic" and "Deathrider" kill, but overall, this is the sound of a band just starting to get its act together and one that had to bore us with a ho-hum everyone-does-that cover of Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen." It soon wouldn't take Anthrax long to evolve into a great band. Worth Keeping

Anthrax - Spreading the Disease - In my opinion, this is Anthrax at their absolute best. It's their fastest, their most manic and perhaps their most proficient effort on record. Even with the hijacked "Armed and Dangerous" from the same-titled EP, Spreading the Disease is a crucial thrash album, and while I love every song on this album including "Gung-Ho," "Medusa," "A.I.R." and "The Enemy," I think that "S.S.C./Stand Or Fall" is sheer genius. If you're a metal fan and this one isn't in your stable, shame on you. Indispensable

Anthrax - Among the Living - For sure most people claim this one as their favorite Anthrax album, and I certainly have no qualms with it. Among the Living is a terrific--if a tad more mainstreamish--thrash gem that gave us the timeless "Caught in a Mosh" and "Indians," one of the first metal songs aside from Megadeth's "Peace Sells" to be considered a genuine metal protest piece. I still prefer Spreading the Disease to Among the Living, but Living is a hell of an album in its own right. Indispensable

Anthrax - Persistence of Time - By far, this is easily notable as Anthrax's thinking man's album. Most people only remember that the blistering cover of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time" is on this album, while next-tier fans at least know "Belly of the Beast" is on here. However, if you're a real Anthrax diehard, you hold this album in high regard. I think Persistence of Time is one of Anthrax's best musical statements and certainly one that restored my faith after the silly I'm the Man EP and the mostly sluggish State of Euphoria. In an interview I did with Scott Ian, he told me a lot of fans stared stupidly up at them when they played "Time" during the reunion gigs of 2005 and early '06. What a shame. Indispensable

Anthrax - Sound of White Noise - I was mad at Anthrax for awhile for bouncing Joey Belladonna out of the band because they didn't feel he was marketable anymore for the sound they wanted to go with. As time goes on, I realize that (despite how insanely loyal I am to the helluva good guy Belladonna) they were right, at least for the songwriting on Sound of White Noise. Former Armored Saint vocalist John Bush really owns these songs, so much that good 'ol Joey would not sound right in the least doing them. I avoided this album for awhile, but was glad when I eventually got it. Listen to those angry strikes of "Potter's Field" and "Packaged Rebellion." Holy smokes... And I just love the shit out of "Black Lodge," because it was so different and daring for Anthrax, and those psychedelic guitars by Dan Spitz are irresistible. Worth Keeping

Anthrax - We've Come For You All - Both Scott Ian and Frank Bello expressed to me their disappointment that this album wasn't as received as strongly as they'd hoped. Perhaps Anthrax was still in the unfashionable phase that returned once they did the Joey Belladonna reunion, who knows. Admittedly, I was really put off by this at first, but I quickly saw its value and sorry if you're a hater, but I love this album. "Safe Home" is such a wonderfully written tune, as are most of the songs on We've Come For You All. Okay so only 3/5 of the original Anthrax are left by this album, but at least they stepped back up from being a quartet after Sound of White Noise. This album has a lot of heart, believe it. Worth Keeping

Anthrax - Alive 2 - I was in attendence at The Starland Ballroom in New Jersey where this live show was recorded. I remember it being positively electric and you couldn't move in the joint. I recall how everyone was getting real intense from Anthrax's inspired set, nearly trading fisticuffs with each other, but immediately backing down each time and keeping order. I never saw anything like it. I was apologized to from so many people after being bumped around, and frankly, I think this is an oddity, though I salute the New Jersey faithful for their class. Yeah, about the album? It's really good. Worth Keeping

Anticon sampler - Anticon is an independent label that features mostly underground rap you've never heard of. What this means is that it actually has substance. While there are all sorts of crazy junk in between the good stuff, what is good is very solid and it's what keeps me paying attention to rap, depsite the fact that it's sold out overall. Worth Keeping

Lost Highway - A Poem

Desert rats pluck droning desert notes
the soundtrack of my looming antipathy
Where is my security?
Who actually cares for me?
What is this facade people call love?


(c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

March Metal Madness Finale: Kiss - Crazy Nights

Kiss was my very favorite band for a long time, even during the non-makeup years of the eighties. Looking back, it's easy to see why we all loved Kiss in the seventies since they were larger-than-life, but the dirty sound of their sometimes metallic rock 'n roll was just so much fun to listen to that it became the total package to just love them.

In the eighties, I think most of us fans were suspect about how Kiss would fare by performing without their makeup. Considering that Unmasked and The Elder were bombs of the utmost extreme and Creatures of the Night failed to generate the mass hysteria that previous Kiss albums did (despite being one hell of a heavy rock album), one might say that in hindsight Kiss' decision to ditch their trademark personas was a wise strategm.

Lick it Up and Animalize were two of Kiss' best records, particularly in their eighties existence, and even Asylum went beyond being the guilty pleasure album it was to me personally despite being fanatically loyal to the band when it was released. I find myself flocking to Asylum a lot more frequently these days. Admittedly, Kiss was really in the zone on that one.

As I've mentioned before, 1987 was one of the most interesting years of my life, especialy as related to music and heavy metal. By the time Kiss released the very difficult Crazy Nights album, I would personally have to say that I started to see these guys in a different light. Despite having one of rock's greatest drummers at the time, the late Eric Carr, and having one of metal's most entertaining lead guitarists with Bruce Kulick, the directions Kiss was taking that started with the lighter songs on Asylum like "Tears are Falling" and "Who Wants to Be Lonely" gave telling hints at the grab bag of confusion that would mystify long-timer fans on Crazy Nights.

When I first saw the video for "Crazy Crazy Nights," I'm not sure what appalled me more: the sheer softness of the song, the blatant commercialism of it, or Paul Stanley forcing us to watch him wiggle his spandex-clad ass into the camera, much as David Lee Roth shamelessly did on the "Yankee Rose" video. Hope you ladies found it amusing... Obviously Paul Stanley's makeup persona as the Star Child was emphasized by his dripping sexuality, and on the rear cover art for Crazy Nights, he has to flaunt his purported promiscuity by sliding his pants down and showing us a tease of his bikini briefs. Thanks, man, that did wonders for my libido.

Okay, yeah, if this was a girl, I'd be hypocritcal and say spank me, mama, but to me, this obnoxious flaming on Paul's part by the time Crazy Nights came out only told me that Kiss was going to do whatever it took to stay on top, and sure enough, it worked like a charm. At least the band had ditched the Poison look they'd adopted on Asylum. Remember how especially hideous Gene looked in mascara and poofed hair? Oi... Still, let's flag this behavior for what it is; selling out to trends and modes in order to sell albums.

Now, the thing I'm at odds with regarding Crazy Nights is the fact that Kiss heaps out songs for all tastes, which helps prevent the album from being utterly detestable, so I can't just toss this one into the shitter. But what the hell is with those syrupy keyboards and synths? I think above all, this was the most eye-popping bit of nonsense Kiss brought to this album. I've made my peace with keys and metal, which was unfathomable back then, but the way Kiss abused them on Crazy Nights shows a lack of overall confidence in the material they'd written, so the option was to drown them with synthetic gloss.

The fast-paced heaviness of "No No No" is a high point, especially since it has a sterling intro lead by Kulick, and despite its obviousness, "When Your Walls Come Down" is a steady rocker that's quite likeable, even if it makes you want to strap on leg warmers and jazzercize. "I'll Fight Hell to Hold You" is a good amalgam of Creatures of the Night and Animalize, so alright, there's enough oomph to warrant listening to this album.

I keep thinking that Kiss must've spent some time with the Wilson sisters of Heart, since they coughed up the blatant eighties Heart redux, "Reason to Live." Then there's "Turn On the Night" and "My Way," which are less obvious but still show more than a few tickles of Heart at the same time period. "Reason to Live" is a fucking pisser because the verses are nice, but the choruses scream ripoff, and given the pattern Kiss would take at points to stay alive after Crazy Nights, I'm even madder at them because I've figured them out. Oh, and while we're at it, let's give Gene Simmons a hiss for taking back and re-recording "Thief in the Night," which he originally wrote for Wendy O. Williams on her W.O.W. album. Incidentally, Wendy's version is far superior, even if she had the benefit of some Kiss musicians on that recording.

In defense of Crazy Nights, what I'm really, really impressed with is the high caliber of Paul and Gene's vocals throughout this album. Paul sounds terrifically energized, even hitting falsettos on "My Way" that sound great instead of pukey. And Gene...well, come on, he's never been the greatest of singers but we always thought he had a cool voice befitting of his demon character. On Crazy Nights, it's as if he underwent vocal coaching because only his the vocals on his Kiss solo album sounds this good. He especially sparkles on "Good Girl Gone Bad" with his sleazy dips.

Of course, Kiss wouldn't be Kiss without the crude "Bang Bang You," which is kind of a waste since it's a boring and vulgar fuck jam, but hey, it's Kiss and it's obligatory. Still, I don't think they'll ever top "Ladies Room" as their most infectious and raunchy song. Or lest we forget them talking about putting your hand in their pockets and grabbing onto their rockets" on "Take Me." I think even Kiss were having trouble finding proper inspiration to come up with genuinely good sleaze (the absolutely stupid "Let's Put the X in Sex" on the subsequent Smashes, Thrashes and Hits compilation being a prime example), though on Crazy Nights, they didn't need to work too hard. They were still the hottest band in the world and this tour is the only time I've seen them live, and fair is fair...that concert was bloody amazing. I was in the front row, too. Unforgettable, depsite the fact that Gene kicked off the bedsheet I'd thrown onto the stage where I'd labored two whole days drawing their faces onto it. But my hero of the moment, Bruce Kulick saw the whole thing, strutted over to our side, pointed down to me and tossed me a pick. While pushing myself overtop the other kids trying to beat me senseless for it, someone stole my tour shirt. Good times...

So in final summation, I would say that twenty years has not stopped me from throwing the same darts at this album that I threw back then, but I recognize Crazy Nights as a fun but unimportant album that was more for the fans than for Kiss...well, maybe it was for them so that they didn't need to preorder their own Kiss caskets that the ever-entreprenuerial Gene Simmons engineered.

That wraps things up for March Metal Madness. I'd like to thank my fellow Knights of the Rock Table (Heavy Metal Time Machine, Heavy Metal Addiction and Hard Rock Hideout) for iniviting me to participate in this unique endeavor. I'm hoping to work with these brothers again. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

Are We Losing Our Souls?

Before I get into today's topic, I'll give you a little preview of what's coming up...

Tomorrow of course ends Metal March Madness as the Knights of the Rock Table take on the ever-sensitive topic of Kiss' Crazy Nights album. I spent a fair amount of time with this disc during the week and have a few outspoken things and some nice ones as well. My wife and I saw Premonition with Sandra Bullock last night and I have a few thoughts about the subject matter I will share with you. After having some friends over to watch Casino Royale on Friday night, I intend to do a battle of the Bonds by pitting Casino Royale up against Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only and Die Another Day, which is assuming I can make the time to watch the other three.

Of course, expect the usual yammer about new promos and as always more Random Shelf Review. Yesterday I had an interview with Dan Lorenzo, guitarist of Hades and Non-Fiction and now The Cursed, the side project featuring Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth of Overkill. In fact, I'm scheduled to chat with Blitz tomorrow night to round out this session discussing The Cursed. I've interviewed Blitz before and he's a very funny guy. Dan Lorenzo is also a very personable fella and I think we had more in common than I thought we might. Good times.

So I hope to see you all this week...

What in the world is wrong with this society? I think our moral fabric is unraveling by the thread each and every day. It's bad enough to stomach this unjust war where American soldiers and Iraqis citizens are paying the price for another Vietnam agenda, this time even more misappropriated. It's crazy that our hurry-up society is so demanding that not only do we find people magnetically glued to our rear bumpers in inclement weather, and not only are we so self-absorbed in our daily routines (and I throw the spear of guilt at myself as well, for the record), but it's so much that you can't even catch a movie you want to see unless you do it within the first couple of weeks because chances are the studio's already given up on it if the investment hasn't already been made back by then. I mean, there were a couple of movies we wanted to see and finally decided to go out and see them. They're gone! The Number 23 was one of them; I mean, since when does a Jim Carrey movie suddenly vanish after a couple of weeks? I personally am happy that Ghost Rider has had some staying power and that 300 is doing well; both of these I want to see, but my wifey's not too down with those. So we ended up seeing Premonition as I mentioned. Not exactly my first choice, not a bad film at all, really, but perhaps we should've seen Wild Hogs instead...

But let's move on. I've seen two things recently that's made me think the world is now in such a cruel place that I'm questioning our ability for collective salvation. The first thing is this week's disgusting suggestion that the baby polar bear cub born a in German zoo, Knut, ought to have been euthanized because his momma rejected him and his brother. Of all things, a so-called animal rights activist vehemently fought to have the cub snuffed because he believes it's the divine order of the animal kingdom. And worse, there were plenty of supporters for this hypocrite.

Now, granted, I'm over-sensitive because polar bears and tigers are my favorite animals, but for crying out loud; if mankind thinks it's doing the animal world a service by acting as judge, jury and executioner based off of certain behavioral patterns that humans collected, not spoken for by the animals themselves, then mankind commits animal genocide. Does this clod realize that polar bears are an endangered species at-large? I salute the German zookeepers for keeping Knut alive, and despite the argument that having an animal rely on humans to take care of it, what's the difference between this and our personal pets? The zoo argues that Knut can be grow up to stud future cubs, and this is what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned; preserving life as best as we can. If the animals suddenly ruled the world and judged over mankind, how would we be looked upon?

The other thing that annoyed me was the proposed question on MSN as to whether or not Big Bird should die. I mean, goddamn it, Marvel Comics just executed Captain America (until they see fit to write him a resurrection like Superman, of course), so that's one American institution flushed down the toilet, but why Big Bird? Are we so jaded by our cybernetic, seen-it-all, give-me-now society that we have to even suggest ripping something so pure as Sesame Street? Seriously, am I wrong here?

The reason Sesame Street has lasted as long as it has is for a reason. Elmo may not be a part of my generation of Sesame Street, but I'd fight for him and the entire show if it was in my power because children look up to these characters as I myself and Generation X did. I'm kinda sour that The Electric Company went away, since I measure that and Sesame Street against all children's shows as the standard to meet, and sadly most don't, though I fully approve of Thomas. But this is what I'm getting at; if children love Sesame Street, who are the adults to even remotely suggest that Big Bird and the show get knocked off? Gunsmoke lasted over twenty years on t.v., The Simpsons are soon to catch it and The Price Is Right refuses to die, so what the hell? If it works, leave it be.

I'm really worried about our world. In fact, I'm doing an interview with the visual artist Joachim Leutke, who has done some frigid commentary pieces that are featured in albums by Dimmu Borgir, Kreator and Arch Enemy, and I kept thinking his frosty and deathly visions of a cyber-controlled dystopia may not be far-fetched at all. What's next, the England of V for Vendetta? Killing Big Bird and baby cubs...this world should ashamed of itself.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Holly Golightly show and CD Shelf Cleanup

Last night my friend Bob and I took in Holly Golightly in Baltimore and I only knew of a song or two of hers through him, but I felt it was worth taking a chance and it'd been awhile since I've enjoyed some live music, and what we got was a super treat.

In case you don't know Holly Golightly, she's a British singer with an affinity for American country and blues and her voice captures a Mississippi twang that is really unique, perhaps Tammy Wynette with a punk rock edge, if you will.

She's traveling as a two-piece unit right now as Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs. Her partner is an incredibly talented guy named Lawyer Dave. This guy plays a whiskey-soaked style of blues slide that needs to be seen as it does heard, particularly because at the same time he is operating a small drum kit with his feet and he has excellent rhythm, considering he's playing another instrument as well as singing on top of it all. Lawyer Dave had his own solo set before Holly joined him for her set and the whole effect with just two people putting on a hell of a performance really impressed me. After seeing this, my comment was "White Stripes Who?"

CD Shelf Cleanup Continues...

Angel - A Woman's Diary - Chapter 1 - This was a project I spent a lot of time with and I think I grew as a prospective music journalist because of it. This is the solo work of Helena Iren Michaelsen, the beautiful blonde singer formerly of Imperia and Trail of Tears. Initially I was put off by this album because I thought it was amateurish and rather boring, and I was honest to my impressions when I wrote the review. I listened to it one final time after submitting the review and I began to really tap into the core of what this album is all about and as I began to understand, I wanted to confirm my impressions, so I requested an interview with Helena and was granted it. She was unbelievably candid with me and shared things I don't think she shared publicly before then. The woman has been through abuse and witnessing firsthand the gory murder of her mother. This album is about Helena's tumuluous life, her vulnerabilities, her attempt to hide from her past by embracing her childhood and realizing that some things are unavoidable. Pretty devastating stuff. I'm grateful to taking the time to look at this album deeper, as I am to Helena for sharing as she did. Worth Keeping

Angel Blake - S/T - You cult metal fans probably know The Crown really well, so it would be no surprise that Marko Tervonen would reach into a more vulnerable--and ironically more tuneful--journey into Goth metal with Angel Blake. There's some really catchy songs on here, particularly the irresistible "The Forsaken" and its hallowing melody set to a bouncy rock rhythm. Vocalist Tony Jelencovich borders from incredibly sharp to frequently shaky, but he really soars on the choruses. Save for a crummy cover of The Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" (and they're all crummy because the original is untouchable, and I wish bands would stop fucking covering it and keeping the plague of ineptitude going), this is a solid effort that may or may not see a follow up. Worth Keeping

I had to blow this awesome cover up for you guys...

Angra - Temple of Shadows - This is one of prog metal's most underrated groups, if not its most. They deserve to be sitting on the same pedestal as Helloween and Gamma Ray. Angra has been around since the mid-nineties, and by the time Temple of Shadows came out, the band hit a full maturation that has culminated in a flawless brand of technical epicry. Indispensable

Angra - Aurora Consurgens - I believe I still owe SPV Records an official review of this album, now that I think about it. Released last fall, this follow-up to Temple of Shadows is perhaps more daring than its predecessor as Angra tries to broaden its capacities. Frequently they dabble in more world music textures as on Temple of Shadows, but it seems more concentrated this time. I think the rising popularity of Dragonlord is going to make some fans blow Angra off for the exotic speed of "The Voice Commanding You," but I'll take Angra because it's nowhere near as formulaic, thought it's equally busy. As I mentioned before, this is one of prog metal's most elite bands and hopefully some of you might be moved to check 'em out. Worth Keeping

Animosity - Empires - Not the one you're probably more familiar with if you're into metal, this one is a younger, much more chaotic grind/thrash band out of California. I always laugh when I come across this album becaues I got scolded by an editor for my review because it was less than a hundred words. As far as the style goes, this a strong enough album to compete, but as I've heard far too many bands now doing this style (and have plenty more waiting for me in my promo piles), I'm going consider keeping only the best of the best because it does get too much to stomach due to the repetition factor, and frankly the vomitous vocals on this album barf so loudly you start getting distracted from the rest of the band, which is actually a pretty good unit. Still, as I talk this out, I think it's earned a dump. Did I do this in under a hundred too? The Tribe Has Spoken, It's Time For You to Go

Ditto for this gem...

Annihilator - Alice in Hell - Heavy sigh of delight... Alright, so it's always fun to note that Annihilator has always suffered the tortures of the damned because of mastermind Jeff Waters' propensity to disguise particular albums as a band effort, when they'd been primarily a solo gig. Not so on the classic Alice in Hell. This one is mandatory for thrash heads and pure metal fans alike. The acoustic prelude opening the album notes the class of the rest of Alice in Hell, and while it's a gas to shriek the choruses of the title song along with derelict in/out vocalist Randy Rampage, this is actually one hell of serious statement. And for the record, I've interviewed Waters when he put out the thrashy Schizo Deluxe album in 2005 and the man is funny as hell. I'm utterly embarassed to say I lost the tape and thus the final article. The man has a great sense of humor about Annihilator's history and there's no denying he's one of the great guitarists the genre has ever birthed. Indispensable

Annihilator - Never Neverland - This is considered, along with Alice in Hell, the critical two Annihilator albums, particularly since there was still a real band in place here. In some ways, Never Neverland is a superior album, mostly due to its eloquence, but it is the perfect companion piece to its predecessor. The change in vocalists to Coburn Pharr added further depth to Annihilator and changed the dynamics only just enough to elevate its class, though it rips just as hard as Alice in Hell. Indispensable

Annihilator - Set the World On Fire - This one tends to put me on the fence. By the time this album came along, only bassist Wayne Darley was to be found from the original gang, and the legend of Lone Wolf Waters was making history. I think you'll find if you listen to the whole body of work of Waters and Annihilator that after the first two albums, the creed to expect the unexpected was apropos because I don't think even Waters himself knew where to fully attack his talents, other than to spread himself to different styles. Set the World On Fire is a hodgepodge of speed metal, power metal, hard rock and yes, balladry. This is for sure one of the weakest efforts under the Annihilator banner... I mean, "Knight Jumps Queen" is pretty damned stupid (not to mention the schizophrenic "Brain Dance"), but Waters has some hypontic guitar work on it. And the slow jam "Phoenix Rising" is drab while the other one "Sounds Good to Me" sounds like an LA powderpuff rock band, so much it's embarassing. The real reason you're staying tuned to this colossal bore is to hear Waters peel off some ridiculous solos. Not sure that warrants keeping this around, though... The Tribe Has Spoken, It's Time For You to Go

Coming up... more Annihilator, Anthrax and other goodies. Stay tuned and like Bartles and Jaymes, we thank you for your support...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Salvador Dali's "Sacrament of The Last Supper"

I've deliberately chosen two apposite sides to Salvador Dali's work that utterly fascinates me. Like Prince before his recent restoration to the mainstream, both Prince and Dali exhibited strong affinities for sex and spirituality, so much the offsetting duality had to make audiences wonder who the real person behind the artist is. To contrast "Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity," here is Dali's expressive rendition of the biblical Last Supper.

This piece is actually on display on hour away from me in Washington, DC at The National Gallery of Art. You have to look for it in one of the stairwells leading to the cafeteria and gift shop. It's a monstrous painting and it's one I've always made it mandatory to pause in front of. Of course, I've done that for every original Dali I've seen, which isn't many as of yet, though I've ventured to Philadelphia and Cleveland and found originals.

What's so very special about Dali's "Sacrament of The Last Supper," aside from the subject matter, is the daring way it's presented. For one, we have a Christ with no facial hair, which is a great statement on Dali's behalf that the purported image of Jesus and God stands to be interpreted by each individual as he or she may see fit. That aligns with my own personal religious beliefs, that we're all worshipping the same god, deity, entity, higher being, whatever you want to call it. We're under the same mystical force; it's mankind that chooses to construct organized religion principles in order to keep civil order.

Now, I was raised Catholic and while my wife and I are terrible about attending church, there are certain airs and latitudes to Catholicism we still hold onto, though both of us have had our moments of doubt and questioning about the catechism of the church, much less the church at large itself. I'll stop right there before I break my rule about theology discussions and move back into Dali's presentation.

I think the 3-D effect of the painting is so alluring that even if you're agnostic you have to appreciate the depth and beauty of Dali's technique, and the transparent "stained" glass that encompasses Jesus and the apostles is quite daring, as is Dali's choice of foreshadowing the spiritual visage of the Christ as he ascends towards the heavens. It has fantastic juxtaposition and to this day I don't think anyone trying to portray the Last Supper has attempted such allegory in one panel.

Simply brilliant.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Salvador Dali's "Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity"

It's art appreciation time! I'm overdue for my quarterly column in Pit magazine, "Artists of the Macabre" where I interview visual artists that are related to heavy metal, either by album cover works or twisted horror imagery and they have a tie-in to metal of some sort. You might know the name Derek Hess, who's rather popular, and he was the first one I did for my column. I can't seem to get my current guest locked in, and I'm just dawdling around in one of my art books to wind down from two long days and nights...

I'm a huge fan of Salvador Dali and yes, I'm very interested in erotica (yeah, I know, you're allowed to call me a perv, s'all good), and this happens to be one of my favorite of Dali's works.

It's unbelievably titillating when you put together the surrealist swoops that assemble the young virgin's nude body, so much that I once wrote a not-so-great poem about this somewhat dangerous body of work and concluded it with "shame on me for wanting to fuck a painting." There really is something primal about wanting to deflower this still-divine creature who is obviously considering on giving up her virginity, if not merely daydreaming about the prospect.

This is where the slight innocence of the piece--or innocence lost, if you will--comes into play. The painting resonates of a young woman's naivete, that waiting for her in her season of feminine ripeness are hungry sexual predators. Whatever is the source of her aloofness, it leaves her vulnerable to the world at large and its potential evil that she's yet to contemplate it until it's hypothetically jammed into her orifices and then it's far too late to take back.

Perhaps she's wondering about sex, perhaps she's wondering about something altogether different, but the message I take from this painting is that she is unwittingly displaying her vulnerability, and this is beautifully charming as it is subtly frightening--for her, anyway.

I'm interested to know who she eventually gave it up to...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

March Metal Madness Week 3: Testament - The Legacy

As always, be sure to jump over to my amigos at Heavy Metal Time Machine, Heavy Metal Addiction and Hard Rock Hideout to take part in our cyberspace roundtable discussion, known as March Metal Madness.

Before we get into this week's edition with Testament, I wanted to spread some recent Testament news from a press release I was given on the 7th:

For Immediate Release

Testament, Original Line Up World Tour!

Continuing the return of Testament, the original line-up will perform shows world-wide within 2007. Influencing a whole metal movement today, Testament maintain the originators of thrash.

Drummer Nick Barker (Dimmu Borgir/Cradle of Filth) will join all original members Alex Skolnick (guitar), Greg Christian (bass), Eric Peterson (guitar) and Chuck Billy (vocals) for this historical year.

Testament is currently working on new material for an upcoming CD release! Stay tuned for more information.

Band guitarist Eric Peterson exclaims, “Hey Metal world! Working hard with Nick on some new ideas and some cool old school styles and it's coming together really killer! Six songs already in the can so far! Just waiting for the Chief to come up with some lyrics to match, we get into the studio to track the drums in June...looking forward to busting out some new ones for this summer at the festivals and get a reaction!"

Chuck Billy states "It’s been a long time coming, this new album is like a good wine, you throw in the grapes and “CRUSH”."

If you're anywhere but the US (save for the lower end gulch territories), it looks like you're in for some major league Testament live action! I caught them on their run with the entire original lineup in 2005 on one of the most memorable weekends I've spent around metal: I covered Anthrax at their now-historic reunion performance at The Starland Ballroom in New Jersey (as in the one captured for Alive 2), then I traveled down to Virginia the following day to interview Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian for the Testament reunion gig at Jaxx. I won't forget that glorious weekend of metal ever...

Greg Christian, Testament reunion gig, 6/05, Jaxx, Springfield, VA (c) 2005 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

1987 was one of those years I'm forever endeared to, as I've mentioned in the past. I keep bringing up Headbangers Ball each week because it was my musical sabbath that I only missed once ever in its original run. I think if you were a real serious metalhead, you were growing worried that MTV was selling the genre out by selecting only what were then-considered douche bands by we metal diehards and pimping these same select few media darlings every damned week. It was the beginning stages of an outright contagion in 1987 because there was plenty of garbage to weed through before the cool stuff materialized on Headbangers Ball, usually in the last half hour of the show.

I was already deeply into Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus and Anthrax at this point, and I'd read about the famous vocalist swap between Exodus and a band we'd previously known as Legacy. That band was now running around as Testament, and the word in the magazines was that they were as brutal a thrash band as was available then. I don't know; when you already had Exodus, Slayer and Death Angel out there, it was pretty hard to top. When Testament's "Over the Wall" suddenly crept into the rotation on Headbangers Ball, I sat straight up on my couch to pay attention.

What a great fucking song! Look at those grimy-looking pukes snarling and slam dancing in their jail cells; hilarious, but man could they play! It was fast, caustic, dirty and full of the piss and vinegar I was looking for in metal in those days. And wow, listen to that melodic guitar solo by a dude with a skunk stripe in his locks! I actually got up from the sofa and banged my head like a maniac in front of the tube, hoping my parents stayed in bed and didn't catch me in my lunacy.

The Legacy immediately became one of my must-owns--an affliction I've been privy to many times in my listening lifespan--and it became something of an obsession when I got it. I loved the menacing riffs and notes scattered throughout this album between the rhythm section of Alex Skolnick, Eric Peterson and Greg Christian as I loved Louie Clemente's all-over-the-place thrash and power metal beat patterns. I fell hook, line and sinker for for Chuck Billy's swooping vocals that could propel from laidback and devilish to full-on demonic shriek blasts. Considering that soon-to-be Exodus singer Steve Souza almost had Chuck Billy's position on The Legacy, it's very hard to imagine Souza's voice on "The Haunting," "Burnt Offerings," "Raging Waters," "First Strike is Deadly" or "C.O.T.L.O.D." even though Souza co-wrote a hefty amount of the songs on The Legacy. It's also hard to imagine Chuck Billy toxic waltzing in Exodus, so as they say, everything happens for a reason. When I interviewed Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian, they described Souza as something of a control freak (my words) and a totalitarian general, which led the noteworthy swap with Exodus.

The chemistry of Testament is undeniable on The Legacy. Despite the album's rawness that would quickly be corrected by the subsequent album The New Order, you can hear how instinctual these guys are on their manic debut with the chugging rhythms, the second-sighting of each other's moves, and an uncannily ability by Alex Skolnick to create Gothic introductions like on "Burnt Offerings" and "Apocalyptic City" to hellbound string wails on "Raging Waters" and "First Strike is Deadly." I always thought of Testament as having a lot of neoclassical Renaissance mannerisms buried beneath the relentless thrash that rattles you completely senseless, like on "Do Or Die." No other Testament album has produced such brain-melting volatile eruption like The Legacy with maybe the exception of The Gathering.


If Testament had any soft side on The Legacy, it's probably on the tuneful "Alone in the Dark," where Chuck Billy swoons on the choruses, but before you even make it to this point, you're already pummeled into submission by the breathtakingly bombastic "Do Or Die."

Jesus wept, I don't think I recovered too quickly from this album once I had it in my possession, and the fact that MTV had dared to play "Over the Wall" gave me a sense of hope that Headbangers Ball would properly represent true heavy metal. Of course, we all know this was merely a ruse to keep us watching every week; MTV was so shrewd by tossing in little bones like Testament, Metal Church, Heathen, King Diamond or Overkill to keep us waiting through the fluff bands they wanted to peddle on behalf of the big gun record labels. Looking back, I'm not so pissed by it anymore, though I refuse to ever watch Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me" again or Motley Crue's "Girls Girls Girls" video, despite the eye candy flopping tits that at least made it worth watching...the first fifty times, anyway.

By the time The New Order came out, Testament was given more production money and hence produced a sharper, slicker album, a trend that would extend into the next two albums Practice What You Preach and Souls of Black. Headbangers Ball gave The New Order and Testament a vote of confidence by putting "Disciples of the Watch" and "Into the Pit" into frequent rotation. It was fun to see a scurvy speed metal band like Testament represent us elitist thrash heads from week-to-week, truth be known. Twisted Sister was down the shitter by the time Love is for Suckers came out and WASP was puzzling us with a confusing personnel shift and a more glam rock side to the band when Inside the Electric Circus seeped out. With all of this bewildering cash-in panic going on, Testament was a monster breath of fresh air, and The Legacy remains a thrash classic, if not Testament's greatest body of work. It's timing couldn't have been more perfect.

Alex Skolnick, Testament reunion gig, 6/05, Jaxx, Springfield, VA (c) 2005 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Join us all next week for our March Metal Madness wrap-up featuring Kiss' Crazy Nights.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Feeling Nostalgic

I think it's a combination of a few things that has me aching for the eighties right now, which does happen from time-to-time...okay, it happens all the time, and perhaps now I understand why my stepfather talks about life being better in the fifties and why he adamantly refuses to come out of them.

I had a reader of Metal Maniacs drop me a line about a month back about a short essay I wrote for the magazine entitled "Confessions of an Old School Headbanger." To-date this piece has generated my only real blast of fan mail as a writer, both directly to me and in the magazine. I've had bands come at me and say they wanted to look me up because of the article, and everyone's been totally supportive of the piece. I'm humbled that it touched so many people, and the really amazing thing is to get correspondence from younger fans who give me praise and support. I'm just happy that we can all unite under the banner of music--in this particular case heavy metal. The reader I'm referring to is a younger fan and I've kept a regular correspondence with him as he's a very nice dude who "gets" what this stuff is all about. Yesterday he asked me what got me into heavy metal originally.

Now, I've been working on a book about metal for over three years--in fact, it's how I got into the magazine writing biz--and I've thought over and over about how to get it done, and I've just been so busy with life, work and assignments that I've neglected it terribly. I interviewed over 50 musicians, DJs and business folk for the project that if I don't finish it, I'll be doing them a gross disservice. I was thinking about opening it with a personal narrative that may stretch across the book, and I certainly wanted to touch on what drew me me into metal.

Then last night I was watching a promo of the re-release of Dokken's Unchain the Night on DVD and I got so suckered by the whole thing, remembering that I still dug them even when I turned towards thrash, punk and death metal and seeing those old videos--a lot of which are just ridiculous but gloriously cheesy--made me remember the ages of 13-19 when I was really headstrong for hard rock and metal, and I remember being so jealous of the LA lifestyle and how much metal was chugging through there. When you see Dokken with their gear on a flatbed riding through the streest of LA in the "It's Not Love" video, damn, that's living... I had it real bad for LA then, so much I couldn't even watch a movie with LA in the background without growing hungry for it. The same is how I feel about New York City now, and though I've only been six times, I get a serious longing to go back.

I did an interview with the LA metal band Crescent Shield this week, which plays a retro style of power metal (so much their sound is like analog, giving them an authentic trad metal feel) and they're former east coasters as well. They attest that there's no real metal scene in LA right now, which I've already confirmed a number of times from other metal bands as well as from pop punk and rock bands I've interviewed. It's all about the SoCal metalcore scene these days. Mang, I wish it was 1986 right now and that I'd found the stones to trek across the country to LA. I made it as far as Colorado on a family trip in 1989 at least...

But as I sit here and remember who I was in 1982 and 1983 when my cousin by marriage sat me down and said that a kid like me who was pissed off about being in fights every day in middle school should be listening to Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne instead of Michael Jackson and Men Without Hats, it was a conversion I won't ever forget, because my other cousin was trying to sway me over to the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack because it had that Cali connection I wanted so badly then. The other cousin spun me Dio and that was it. Killers, Diary of a Madman and Holy Diver in one sitting was too compelling. I became a metalhead for life.

So anyway, as I look at the spritzed and glitzed Dokken of 1986 on the DVD on my left side and a copy of Testament's The Legacy on my other, ready for this week's round of March Metal Madness, I'm feeling the pain in my back from shoveling this morning and the crunch of looming deadlines and realizing you can't make everyone happy in a large office such as I'm in now, but it's all about making the right immediate choices if you want to survive it all, then I realize that I'm better off sprawled on the floor of my old bedroom in my parents' house, staring at my walls that were covered inch-to-inch with metal posters and cut out picutres from Hit Parader, Circus, Rip and Metal Forces daydreaming about stupid simplicity as watching those hilarious Killer Dwarfs videos and wishing I was entertaining the same wild metal life as WASP or Motley Crue or even Dokken... I'm a hunterrrrr, searching for love on these lonely streets agaaaaaain...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

New tunes and CD Shelf Cleanup...

So this week I'm excited that the new Megadeth and Earth promos came in my mailbox. The new Earth album Hibernaculum is unbelievable; I just cannot get enough of Dylan Carlson's drone mastery and it's even more textured this time. Very similar to the preceding album Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, but with a couple more layers. The new Megadeth album United Abominations needs a couple more listens. In many ways, Dave Mustaine is covering all of the same territory, so much to the point of redo "A Tout le Monde" with backup singers! Ugh. However, it is still a pretty strong album full of political venom and some random thrash bits that keeps it chugging. The new Tankard album Kings of Beer also came, and I am just so impressed by how they release a new album once a year, and in this case sooner, since I know I just reviewed Beauty and the Beer in AMP a few months back. Better yet, Tankard loses no steam at all...they continue to thrash with the best of 'em.

Over the weekend I found a weird little gem, The Melvins and Fantomas performing together at a gig in 2000. Very fucked up album but it still rocks. Plus I grabbed some older Type O Negative discs and Flotsam and Jetsam's Cuatro for two bucks. Score!

Anyway.... Moving along with CD Shelf Cleanup...


Tori Amos - From the Choirgirl Hotel - This is my favorite Tori album because it's her most unique, particularly for using a backup band throughout the whole album, but also because it's her most detailed and best written album, I think. It's positively dreamy and full of bohemian angst without being bitter like on Boys For Pele. An absolute gem. My wife and I saw her on this tour as well...a sick performance, to be sure. Indispensable

Tori Amos - Scarlet's Walk - I cannot resist Tori, and though I don't think Scarlet's Walk is her best work, it is still a fine album, even though I think it's a bit of a cautious one for her. There's still some moments with the backup band, but overall, I think Tori is treading on the fine line between rebellion and conventionality here. I remember thinking that the folks the Peabody Conservatory in my hometown of Baltimore who kicked her out for being rebellious might've actually approved of this album. Worth Keeping

Tori Amos - The Beekeeper - For me, the jury was still in when this album came out; was it going to be safe and conservative or was Tori going to return to her rambunctious roots? The answer was neither, really. Tori takes a stab at being more mainstream on this album and she is full of catchy hooks all over the place, but there's nothing overtly mainstreamish about a devotchka behind a piano, so while Tori has a monstrous legion of fans, she will likely never become a pop sensation, though she was very close out the gate on her first album. Worth Keeping

...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Source Tags and Codes - My friend Bob turned me onto these guys, though it was on their next album. I trailed back to this one after being impressed, and my initial impression was that this was nowhere near the same class as what they'd develop into. However, this is still a very unique and eclectic album, one that gave huge hints of what would come, particularly with many shades of The Beatles. Worth Keeping

...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Worlds Apart - Yeah, I'll say! This might've been my favorite non-metal album of 2005. Again, with a heavy emphasis on the later-year Beatles, AYWKUBTTOD really worked hard on their songwriting on this album. A deep, resonant and impressive performance. Indispensable

...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - So Divided - By now, it's hip to abbreviate their name as simply Trail of Dead, particularly since their fan base has grown quite large. I heard a couple of people complain about the direction of So Divided, but I personally applaud them for it. Flashes of The Beatles and David Bowie are merely an underscore as the talent this band exudes. This album is almost untamable even with its reaches into pop and emo punk, though they never cross over fully into either. This is one of the smartest albums I've heard in any genre this year. Indispensable

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kings of Cool

It's always interesting to look back at sports and media idols that you grew up with and how they might've influenced your life in a positive manner. I suppose you can't always find a direct connection between individual behavior and specific role models, but often you can, and it's made a bigger deal about these days than it ever was, probably because we as Americans have lost our innocence, so much that I think we're starving for positive figureheads to glom onto. When the facade of the Oval Office hints tyranny, when your favorite athlete will likely be traded or bail out due to salary issues or when a CGI figure has more integrity than a human actor, well, that kind of sets it, I think. Coolness is both overt and subjective, and very few people in the camera's eye genuinely have it anymore. You know I'm right.

I feel as if Generation X may have had the last of the great kings of cool. Okay, so we didn't have a James Dean or a Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King. Those were all people of their time and age in eras of social change and turbulence. In a post-Vietnam America, you might say us kids had it pretty durned easy. The adults were out of their minds in polyester and beneath the roving eye was a very raunchy underground that might've rivaled the roaring twenties, but on the surface, we Gen X'ers had some of the coolest of the cool throughout the seventies and the early eighties. Some taught morality, some taught that knowledge is power, others just elevated the bar to something else we wanted to be in life. Reggie Jackson was no Mickey Mantle, but he certainly carried the American Dream on his home run swing--even if his candy bar was ass. Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys showed the meaning of dedication and hard work, both constantly in championship runs and both representing America with class and honor.

But the seventies particularly was a bit of sensory overload within the context of the limited outlets we had...I mean, we were still in the land of UHF and VHF! We could get Soul Train, Hee Haw and Scooby Doo and somehow it was more than plenty. Why? Because they were cool. So with that being said, I submit for your approval, some of the Kings of Cool, from a Gen X'ers point-of-view...

Ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.....sit on it!

Easy Reader, this his name...uh uh uh...readin' readin' that's his game...uh uh uh

Chicks dig him...

Anybody whose best friend is a walking carpet is alright in my book...

B.A. but a pussycat heart...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

March Metal Madness - Dio - Dream Evil

Remember to visit my fellow Knights of the Rock Table at Heavy Metal Time Machine, Heavy Metal Addiction and Hard Rock Hideout for March Metal Madness. How are you liking this format so far?

I believe Mark stayed the night at my house when it originally aired on Headbangers Ball in 1987, but I vividly recall the night “I Could’ve Been a Dreamer” premiered one anonymous Saturday night. Whether he was there or not, we both expressed our shock over the timidness of this song and with only that song to go by, we were both in doubt as to whether Ronnie James Dio had any staying power with his upcoming Dream Evil album.

I promptly lumped Dio into my pile of doubtfuls, already feeling betrayed by Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister and Judas Priest as the mid eighties was proving that commercialism could undo the best of bands. “I Could’ve Been a Dreamer” was such an about-face for a traditionally strong metal performer as Ronnie James that it was heartbreaking upon first listen/view. The song was slower, obviously more melodic, a seeming ploy to reach the mainstream since “Rock ‘n Roll Children” and “Hungry for Heaven” had helped usher Ronnie James Dio closer to the mainstream, especially when you consider the latter song was included on the soundtrack to the eighties film Vision Quest, which is more notable for the music than the film itself.

Without having heard the rest of Dio’s Dream Evil, it was very hard to accept the direction Ronnie was taking, much less embrace the unknown, which was how the rest of the album sounded. It was so easy to crucify Dio off of one song because it was, upon initial contact, so wimpy-sounding for him, and it felt like a sign of the times, that metal’s greats were surrendering to the cashola payout. Def Leppard was understandable but regrettable, the Crue was predictable, but not RJD! Please, God, no! “I Could’ve Been a Dreamer,” upon the first few viewings on MTV, was just lackluster, drab...and certainly not indicative of the rest of Dream Evil.

The second video came for “All the Fools Sailed Away,” and I liked this better but still there was doubt. Why was Ronnie embracing these soft ballads all of a sudden? “Fools” clocked in at a hefty seven-plus minutes, thus qualifying it for metal epic status, and the jury is still in as to whether or not this song should be considered a metal epic or not. Considering its adherence to traditional song-chorus-song structure, “All the Fools Sailed Away” isn’t really what you’d consider a true metal epic, but its length is something to consider—good or bad—because MTV aired the full length of the song and suddenly Ronnie James Dio got at least as much play as Yngwie Malmsteen and TNT, if not the aforementioned, Crue, Lep and Priest, along with then-media darlings White Lion, Bon Jovi and Whitesnake.

It took me awhile before I caved in and listened to Dream Evil because I was generally turned off by the direction Dio had allegedly taken, but then I discovered that it was mostly a case of Warner Brothers having trouble selecting songs it thought would be commercially viable, realizing that after Holy Diver, The Last in Line and Sacred Heart, Ronnie James Dio had selling power.

Dream Evil is actually quite a strong album when you listen to it from start-to-finish, and it’s a shame that Warners and MTV misled the listening public into thinking the album was soft soap when it was mostly a typically strong Dio album. While “All the Fools Sailed Away” is both great and bad in the same measure, when you hear the strength of “Sunset Superman,” “Over Love,” the title track and “Night People,” it’s a gross misconception on behalf of the marketers at-large that Dream Evil was a lackadaisical piece of shit when it was far to the contrary.

Dream Evil is an overlooked album, mostly because it is not available in the mass market—-you have to have special order the album anymore—-but the thing to consider is that Dio had in his stable as of this recording Jimmy Bain, Vinny Appice, Craig Goldie and Claude Schnell, all rotating members who have housed themselves in the Dio camp, and they turn in a professional performance on Dream Evil. If you’re worried about heaviness, have a go with “Faces in the Window,” “Naked in the Rain” and “Over Love.” While the final song “When a Woman Cries” is also both cool and lame at the same time (the latter mostly due to the corny choruses), it’s to be said that Dream Evil is another solid outing by Dio that has a few questionable moments, but given the fact that it is 2007 instead of 1987, if you really love the old school, then this album is as welcome on your shelf as Mob Rules.

Goes to show you that record executives think they know what sells, but given the fact that you now have to work hard to find Dream Evil in the market, then they don’t know shit after all. If they’d released “Naked in the Rain” or “Sunset Superman…”

Thursday, March 08, 2007

CD Shelf Cleanup Rolling Right Along...

So we continue along in the endless key of A....

American Head Charge - The War of Art - Ever since I got this album I've had a strange phenomenon that I just can't shake. I always seem to recall that the first half is pretty strong in general, but I never remember the second half. This album put American Head Charge on the map of underground metal, but really, I can't see this as being a totally memorable album. It's a shame because I had a very hilarious interview with vocalist Martin Cock, but I'm going to have to give this consideration for ejection. On the Bubble

American Head Charge - The Feeding - Now this album I like much better, though their diehards cried foul when it came out. It was here where I interviewed Martin Cock and I remember him talking to me on his cell while in a Mom and Pop shop to find cheap junk to play a prank on their openers, whom I wish I could recall offhand. Anyway, this album is full of pep and a lot of southern boogie amidst the hard rock and punk fuses, almost to a full old school measure. Can't complain about that. Worth Keeping

Amon Amarth - With Oden On Our Side - One of my New Year's resolutions should've been to get more Amon Amarth into my collection. What I've heard in the past I've always liked, but when this promo came to me from Metal Blade, I was devastated. This made my top 5 of last year and with so many promos I've heard since this album, I still think this is currently the death metal album to beat. Indispensable

Amoral - Decrowning - Very fine thrash album you probably have never heard of unless you're a metal journalist. Check it out; this is quite a polished effort. Melodic, speedy, aggressive, there you go, nice and tidy. Mosh! Worth Keeping

Amorphis - The Karelian Isthmus - One of Finland's greatest bands, Amorphis is a hell of interesting case study in musical evolution. I sometimes think Amorphis is the U2 of art metal that was once death metal...did you keep up with that? When they started out with The Karelian Isthmus, Amorphis was a strict death metal band, with completely hard growls and a fast, grimy approach. This album is quite articluate for its loud and brisk disposition. It must be heard in order to appreciate how far this band has come. Worth Keeping

Amorphis - Tales From the Thousand Lakes - Already Amorphis was beginning to experiment on this 1994 release. Still heavy, still brutal, still full of demonic vocals, some of the folk elements that would alter the course Amorphis would take starts to come into play here. The progression of the songs on this album is assuredly brilliant. Worth Keeping

Amorphis - Elegy - This is one of my favorite Amorphis albums, even if it is a point-of-no-return album for them where they begin to embrace the oddity of altering their sound every damned album! So much has been modified on Elegy, even with the retention of hard vocals, but some cleans are introduced here and the songwriting is some of the band's best. A very unpredictable album that treads new territory. Worth Keeping

Amorphis - Far From the Sun - This one might be considered the shocker album of Amorphis' career. Gone are the thrash elements, gone are the hard vocals. The Amorphis on this album is so distant from the band that recorded The Karelian Isthmus that you have to wonder what possessed them. At the same rate, the stripped down rock essence that makes up Far From the Sun is actually quite pleasing despite. I admittedly struggled with this album at first, but I'm dig it better now. Apparently Amorphis knowns damned well what they're doing, even if nobody else does. Worth Keeping

Amorphis - Eclipse - Someone must've really told Amorphis off for Far From the Sun and their critically-panned Tuonela. Eclipse is yet another directional change with new vocals and new vocal schematics, this time bringing back the hard vocals amidst the soaring cleans. The songs on Eclipse would probably best be described as a cross between the Elegy years and The Tales From the Thousand Lakes era with a far more mainstream slant, mainstream as in what's hip in today's metal scene. Definitely someone took the backlash towards Far From the Sun a bit personal. One thing's for sure, Amorphis is always thinking. Worth Keeping

Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes - Sweet, Tori, how I love thee... I remember when this originally came out in 1991 I was utterly bored with her, but I became a fan as of Under the Pink and after conniving this album away from my wife, I am tickled with the phallic artwork on the back of the CD case as Tori's cheeky angst that is subtly detected on an album filled with the melancholy "Silent All These Years" and the urgent "Crucify Yourself." Bliss. Indispensable

Tori Amos - Under the Pink - I realized what a goddess Tori is when I got this album and heard the devilish "God" and the otherworldly "Yes, Anastasia," but just the opening song "Pretty Good Year" gets me hyped, particularly with the rock explosion on the bridge, which gives a hint of what would come when Tori explored outside of her solo piano compositioning. Can we say From the Choirgirl Hotel? Coming up soon... Indispensable

Tori Amos - Boys for Pele - If Tori has a headbanger's album, this is the one. Often dismissed as a lunatic's raving, Boys for Pele is a seriously angry album written in the midst of a breakup Tori experienced and you might call this the ultimate hate letter. Hell, what's more metal than a song called "Father Lucifer?" For me in particular, the venomous harpsichord notes Tori plucks on "Hey Jupiter" is one of the most abrasive sounds I've ever heard on record. And hey, how about Tori suckling a pig in the liner art? Fuck you, Paris, that's hot... Worth Keeping