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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Beasties, Brains and Queens...Oh My!

So I was lax on dishing out a Primo Promo this week (which I have one coming for you this weekend anyway) because I've had another long and busy week...end of the month bonanza with one super late night and then last night one of our marketers, who is generous beyond reason, got married last night and we attended a very hot and sticky outdoor reception after work, though it was a very nice time and I'm thrilled for the groom and his new family, so that was a late night as well. We went to a little shindig tonight thrown by the social service workers who are handling our foster/adoption process, and while it was nice, we were both exhausted and feeling way out-of-place, and then my wife got a call regarding our godson that deliriously upset her, so we left early. Later, after watching Revenge of the Nerds and part of Sleepaway Camp on those Retroplex Flix channels, I realized just how tired I really was, lol... So much work to catch up at home, but anyway...

My boss gave us a little bonus this week, which is doubt the perks of this company are first rate; he just got a corporate account to a local gym so we only have to pay $20 a month to join, so I'm in, especially looking at the bloated and sweaty 37 year old fart in the picture from that reception last night, sheesh.

So with part of my bonus I wrangled up the new Beastie Boys, Bad Brains and Queens of the Stone Age albums and I was fighting a tidal wave of emotions regarding the Bad Brains while coming to the realization that Josh Homme may be an outright deity of modern heavy rock because he's on an undeniable roll. And those Beasties, I just can't believe what artists they've developed into, considering they were once the target of us metalheads who wanted them taped to our dartboards for the mockery that was License to Ill, an album that has grown on me fondly now, though just about every other album of theirs is far superior, possibly including their new instrumental album The Mix Up.

Paul's Boutique showed that the Beastie Boys were for real after License to Ill made them clown prince superstars, a scratch and sample masterpiece that set a precedence for its time, and then came Check Your Head, one of rap's most important slabs, because it showed that you can play instruments and still break it down proper. Check Your Head is beloved by both metal and rap afficianados, and there's a damn good reason for it. After the entertaining but somewhat safe To the Five Boroughs from a couple years ago, the Beastie Boys prove they're veritible artists with The Mix Up, an album filled with funky grooves and noncommittal jams that aren't so revolutionary as they are just simple and simply impressive. Granted, the last portion of the album becomes a little repetitive, but seriously, can these guys really do any wrong?

Then there's the Bad Brains. I find it exhilirating that a band can shatter you at two widely different points in their career. I really never expected to see a new Bad Brains album, truth be told. I figured a Soul Brains album might generate, but not Build a Nation under the true moniker, Bad Brains. I had to stop on the road and call Bob Vinyl out of sheer excitement over Build a Nation because I couldn't contain the positive energy raging inside of me. The Bad Brains devastated me as a teenager when I first heard I Against I and now here I was, 37 and shrieking like that same teenager, wanting someone to know how passionate I felt listening to these old friends, whose presence is so dearly needed in a society filled with so much negativity.

The soulful vibes of Build a Nation is superceded only by the blasting inferno of their wicked fast punk tones that are both brutal and beautiful. The sound is raw, gritty, uplifting, decimating, and there's a lot of the same keys they played on I Against I so it has that feel to it, along with a dose of Rock For Light, mostly with the outright velocity and the constant reggae interchanging. Seriously, the Bad Brains are perhaps the most underrated reggae band out there, and there's is so calculated in tempering their blistering tenacity that it's the greatest musical mind trip out there.

I'm very fond of God of Love, which The Cars' Ric Ocasek produced and it has a glossy, polished sound many fans found offensive, but even the Bad Brains are too powerful to produce sellout vibes. In contrast, Build a Nation is pointedly fierce and jagged, teeming with such explosive inhibition the rhythm tends to fall out of whack on occasion, and still the core is contained before being breached. This may be the most important album of 2007, honestly. The scene needs their presence, and though Bob pondered the question as to whether Build a Nation hurts or helps their legacy, my opinion is that it re-establishes them as ambassadors of peaceful hardcore that really needs to hold the angry youngsters of today in check. Whatever your opinion about Build a Nation may be when you hear it, there's no denying the Bad Brains are real, much as they've always been.

When I started this blog, the second entry I posted had to do with whether or not Queens of the Stone Age are America's last hope for rock 'n roll in the classic sense. A lot has happened since their last album Lullabies to Paralyze in only two years ago, and while I dig that album, the Queens' latest offering Era Vulgaris is without a doubt their crown jewel, regardless of the departure of Nick Oliveri. This is the most complete Queens of the Stone Age album Josh Homme has conceived (which is the ironic point in a band some feel he usurped), and I think a lot of has to do with his side project Eagles of Death Metal. The fact he's content to drum in Eagles and discover the art of the groove that made Death By Sexy a sheer delight I believe has taught him greatly for Era Vulgaris. There's not one stinker on this album and I was just blown away by its steady presence and its depth.

It's pretty amazing when you're able to cough up an album in your career that will undeniably stand the test of time, that listeners of the future will go "Man, that's some cool shit! Wish I was there originally!" Queens of the Stone Age already had it with Songs For the Deaf. The fact that Era Vulgaris surpasses that album is just astounding. So few bands are able to consistently release quality albums that generate attention and dedicated fans; despite all of the internal shakeups between Homme and past Queens members, there's no denying he's on one hell of a roll and I hope it continues for years to come.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Repeat Revolutions Wednesday

This is becoming one of my favorite blogging days of the week since it seems to bring a lot of you in, and I always appreciate you all sharing your playlists. Part of it is the marketer in me that never got to use my degree; I like to see what people listen to, just out of curiosity sake, plus as a writer and commentator on music, it's interesting to see which way the tides turn out there. It's like my being so compulsively obsessed that I beeline towards any CD collection after walking into someone new's house. I always apologize in advance before I start checking their music out. It's just who I am, unfortunately.

I'm coasting on fumes this morning from working almost 14 hours yesterday. God love the end of the month! In the mortgage industry, everyone considers this the crunch time of the month since most loan officers want to save their customers money on upfront interest by waiting until the last possible day of the month that will allow the borrowers to fund in the same month after their 3-day recission period has elapsed. Plus you have some loan officers out there who might not be having the greatest of months, so they panic at the last minute to try and make their books and pipelines look a little more harmonious. For myself and my comrades (I have a hell of a good team who sticks it out together), this means literally burning the midnight oil...

So anyway, I'm going to need some high octane vibes today to juice me up, but looking back on the past seven days, I have to say, I'm on a real Twisted Sister kick right now after watching my promo of their upcoming DVD The Video Years. One thing that has shocked me about my own personal taste is that I have always considered Under the Blade their best album, yet I couldn't get You Can't Stop Rock 'n Roll out of my player this week. It was like the old days for me where I just had to hear "The Kids Are Back" over and over because it made me feel so damned good. Nostalgia, maybe, but the nostalgia rolls in when I hear "The Price" from Stay Hungry, one of metal's best ballads that always gets overlooked. Hell, even the greatest metal ballad of all-time, The Scorpions' "Still Lovin' You" is almost an afterthought these days, so much you have to remind people it ever existed, since the power ballads anyone talks about anymore are from Poison, Slaughter or Warrant. Where is the culture of this country, anyway?

I will be hopefully mashing out a lot of promos that are flooding to my desk. I briefly listened to the new SOD EP and the new Devin Townsend Orchestra album is absolutely crazy, but I need another spin to fully evaluate it. Out of nowhere, the Bad Brains are back on the scene, so I need to rush out and get that one and the new Queens of the Stone Age. Somehow in the midst of all of this other music I spun, I did manage to do Judas Priest's Metalogy, which I recommend for on-the-job listening since it's easier to take that metal-studded box in than your whole Priest collection individually. Plus it's a great conversation piece! Sometimes it sucks being so obssesed with music...

1. Twisted Sister - You Can't Stop Rock 'n Roll
2. Doro - Calling the Wild
3. Asian Dub Foundation - Time Freeze 1995/2007
4. Chris Caffery - Pins and Needles
5. Candlemass - King of the Grey Islands
6. Warlock - Triumph and Agony
7. Kamelot - Ghost Opera
8. Electric Light Orchestra - Afterglow box set
9. Twisted Sister - Stay Hungry
10. America - Greatest Hits/History

Monday, June 25, 2007

Chatting With New Candlemass Vocalist Rob Lowe

I just got off the phone from a late evening interview with Rob Lowe, the new helmsman of Candlemass, and once the new album King of the Grey Islands drops on July 3rd, expect to be impressed. No disrespect intended towards the mighty Messiah Marcolin, especially since he turned in a magnificent performance on the self-titled Candlemass album a couple years back, but mad props to Rob Lowe for fusing some new blood and a little bit of attitude into the band! Once you all listen to it, let me know if you agree. I think King of the Grey Islands is one of Candlemass' best efforts past the eighties glory years.

In talking with Rob for my Death From Below column in AMP magazine, one of the things that strikes you about this singer from Dallas who is also frontman for underground doom heroes Solitude Aeturnus is that he's a real dude who literally had fate brush him into a hell of a cool gig.

Though Candlemass' Leif Eidling is reportedly friends with Solitude Aeturnus, Rob notes that it was his girlfriend who prompted him to try out for Candlemass. As modest as you can get, Rob told me that he didn't feel he was worthy enough of being in Candlemass, that they wouldn't want him in the band, but as luck would have it, Leif had just bought the latest Solitude Aeturnus album the very same day Rob's name came up as a candidate to replace Messiah. You can't buy that kind of luck...

I'll save the rest for the magazine, but I thought that was one hell of a neat rock 'n roll story. If Candlemass were bigger than a cult band, Hollywood might eat that up faster than a sequel to Almost Famous. Of course, knowing Hollyweird, they'd cast Jack Black in the role of Messiah. You know I'm right.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Banned in NJ - WSOU's Pirate Radio Sends Metal Bands to the Plank

Let's see if I can stir up something to talk about...

Strangely in the span of a week, I talked with two musicians from the New Jersey region who were both informed they'd been stricken from the playlist of Seton Hall University's "Pirate Radio," WSOU.

WSOU, I've researched, has been friendly to hard rock and heavy metal for years, but it being a Catholic college, they have had to act under certain restrictions, such as altering a band's name that even remotely suggests using the Lord's name in vain. For instance, WSOU deejays are reportedly ordered to say "LOG" instead of Lamb of God and "Forbids" instead of God Forbid.

Okay, this is really lame, to be honest, but kudos nevertheless to the station for playing metal. Kudos, that is, until you talk about a newly appointed program director (according to one of my sources) who might have been a bedfellow of the PMRC in the eighties, or he or she is just simply a zealot with a rigid sense of biblical interpretation, so much he and Piper Laurie from the original Carrie would probably be seen trolling around neighborhoods spreading the gospel and whacking their pubescent, under lock and key daughters in the noodle with the bible once they get "the curse" as a chastisement from God for imaginary transgressions. It's a period, mama, every girl gets it. Why didn't you tell me, mama?

One of the victims to be inexplicably banned from WSOU is the prog metal band Symphony X. I was told prior to beginning my interview with Mike Romeo that WSOU had just yanked Symphony X from their playlist and no rational explanation was given. I mean, come on, Symphony X? Why? Because their most recent album is titled Paradise Lost? Mike Romeo told me the theme of his band's album is about centering on the power that fuels the evil of this world and focusing on positive energy to counter it.

Then a week later, I found out from Dan Lorenzo, whose tag-team project with Overkill's Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, The Cursed, was just pulled from WSOU's playlist after the station had played their single "Evil, in the Bag" a number of times. The reason is that The Cursed's album is called Room Full of Sinners and of course, we can't go around promoting a song caleld "Evil, in the Bag," especially since it has a Gary Glitter-like strut to the rhythm, which of course just glorifies evil, so much kids are shaving their heads and getting "666" tattooed to their domes Damien-style... And let us not forget that Lorenzo used to play guitar in the thrash band Hades? Cue up the blast furnaces of hell! Jesus, what about a rap song that lures the youth into a romantic image of street toughery like "'Cuz I'm a Thug?"

It's not like Symphony X or The Cursed is a Norwegian black metal band like Belphegor, who I think no one would argue with WSOU for choosing not to play them, because they are what they purport themselves to be; Belphegor is as brutally honest as it gets in their particular subgenre's extreme.

Of the two bands, it was Dan Lorenzo who expressed his anger about WSOU's ban. I spoke with Dan for about 10 minutes last week to follow up on this story and he expressed his bewilderment over the ban, specifically noting that WSOU had been very friendly to his previous band Non-Fiction, going to so far as to credit them for boosting the band's popularity in the New Jersey and New York region. Lorenzo mentioned that at one time, WSOU was an important lifeline for bands in such a critical music market. In his vehemence, Dan gave me a by-line quote that I'm using with my article on The Cursed for Metal Maniacs:

"The most religious people in the world fly planes into buildings. I'm not a fan of fanaticism, but at least they reminded me why I stopped going to church."

So the question leads me to wonder what in the name of God (pun intended) is going on up there at Seton Hall? Again, mad props to the station for supporting heavy music; they're a rare entity in that aspect. Yet, when a program director cluelessly shackles and sends bands to the plank with the implication of a keel-hauling, particularly when there's no genuine foundation to this death sentence, then may the Jolly Roger bite this fool right in his or her hypocritical ass! Woe be to any other metal bands suffering the same fate as these two bands; they have to feel like this renowned fellow right about now...

Maybe I'm being melodramatic about this issue, but let's face it; metal is strictly underground in the U.S., so whatever outlets it can find to reach the masses is a plus for the cause. When someone screws with a band's capacity to find an audience, especially over foundless causes, then let's demand Dave Mustaine play his anti-PMRC and censorship tirade "Hook In Mouth" at every Megadeth concert until program directors (or whomever calls the shots) like this one are expelled from their jobs, because they're doing the metal community no service whatsoever.

So, let's take this post to discuss just this issue alone. The next post I want to discuss Dan's fiery comments about and their implications. At Bob Vinyl's suggestion, we'll next put the forum over to the other side's point-of-view and chat about defending faith in a time where religion is paradoxically at its highest and lowest points in modern history.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Why Savatage's Handful of Rain is Braver Than It's Credited For

Even to this day, Jon Oliva's voice still crackles a little bit when he brings up his late brother Criss; even in talking about Jon Oliva's Pain, Jon still manages to homage his sibling. When I spoke with The Mountain King a few months back, Jon was mostly cheerful and full of laughter, and still I think it's obvious where his new band entity derives its namesake. Jon Oliva's pain endures even he himself continues on musically.

Jon was already mentally exhauted and relegated himself to keyboardist, songwriter and co-producer by the time Savatage released their Edge of Thorns album, the final studio documentation of Criss Oliva before he was stricken from this life. His vocal replacement, Zachary Stevens, had less range and vocal pizazz that Jon Oliva possessed, yet Stevens' straightforward, macho and occasionally gruff delivery was perfectly suitable for a period in Savatage that had seen much of the epic flamboyance of their stalwart progressive masterpieces Streets: A Rock Opera, Gutter Ballet and Hall of the Mountain King scale backwards.

The death of Criss Oliva, coupled by his surviving brother's existing demons, should've spelled the end of Savatage, and most fans cried foul and labeled the ensuing lineup scabs, though bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve Wacholz were already well-entrenched in the band. Really, the only new addition to Savatage when Handful of Rain came out was Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick, who was already in his own state of flux following fan and band backlash for Testament's grossly underrated The Ritual album.

One would think having Skolnick in Savatage as one of the only logical successors for the late Criss Oliva and the briefly departed Chris Caffery, and while Handful of Rain is not Skolnick's flashiest and brightest spot of work, his tasteful playing on the album so as not to steal the spotlight from Criss Oliva is a classy gesture that Skolnick almost never gets credit for. He has far more depth than he shows on Handful of Rain and I can't help but respect his reverence on this album.

Handful of Rain also is not one of Savatage's most memorable efforts, and part of the reason is the mutual melancholy of producers and songwriters Jon Oliva and Paul O'Neill, who did write enough heavy and catchy material to make Handful of Rain a solid progressive metal album overall, but the fan accusations of Savatage simply going through the motions here isn't terribly off-base. Conservative is the more appropriate word, and still, I can think of many metal bands dishing out their A-game and still falling way short of Handful of Rain.

The chugging opener "Taunting Cobras" kicks Handful of Rain into gear while the subsequent title song is nearly brutal with its stomping rhythms before coming to quiet epiphany in the second half. Songs like "Chance," "Nothing Going On" and the soulful closing number "Alone You Breathe" contain the staple Savatage prog metal sound filled with rising crescendos, artful time signature swaps and precise heavy strumming.

Still, the fact that Handful of Rain is a tribute to Criss Oliva, it stands nevertheless as a moody centerpiece of soul searching, particularly on the woeful tempo and choruses of "Symmetry" or the reserved tone of "Stare Into the Sun" and "Castles Burning." Fortunately for Zachary Stevens, he isn't required to stretch too far beyond his capacity, which is what I think most people wanted from Handful of Rain, a soul-scraping, gut-wrenching lament for Criss Oliva, and yet it is Alex Skolnick who does the hypothetical crying for the band with his wailing but tempered solos. Even Jon Oliva gets quietly into the act with his madman possessed keyboard fugue strikes on the brief interlude "Visions," but even this is low-key for everything Oliva had hammered out previously.

While a number of spots on Handful of Rain are so slick they sound like a radio beer commercial, particularly with Zachary Stevens' everyman's voice, and despite the fact the album overall is pretty downbeat, Savatage could've done far worse under the circumstances in which this album was conceived. Some people looked at Savatage's continuation as a slap in the face to the memory of Criss Oliva, but in the grand perspective, Handful of Rain is a courageous option to honor that memory and move forward to Savatage's brilliant next offering Dead Winter Dead, which would inadvertently give birth to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The cosmos being what it is, things happen for a reason...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Primo Promo of the Week: Kamelot - Ghost Opera

Here's a new Friday feature I'm going to bring to Pulses. I can't even begin to tell you how far behind on my promos are...maybe next week I'll take a photo of my stacks and post them for your enjoyment.

Each Friday I will highlight a promo similar to magazines' Pick of the Week. The album may be out already or it may yet to be released, which I'll note for you guys in case you feel so inclined to check it out.

This week's Primo Promo is Kamelot's Ghost Opera.

Ghost Opera
SPV Records
now available

I'll spare you a lavish writeup since I have this one as a review assignment for Metal Maniacs, but let's just say that the symphonic metal sanction has gotten absolutely logjammed, so much it has to be denoted as Gothic Symphonic Metal or European Symphonic Metal or Scandinvian Symphonic Metal. Hell, I'll go ahead and claim the category labels for Swashbuckling Symphonic Metal, Blood and Guts Symphonic Metal and Rape 'Em and Pillage 'Em Symphonic Metal.

Seriously, though, I'm starting to get really bored with the whole sound because most of it really isn't symphonic in the true sense; a lot of these bands are using synthesizer tweaks and classical and operatic samples to give the illusion there's a massive orchestra behind these guys. Of course, there's Dol Ammad, for instance, who really does tramp around an entire orchestra and chorus behind his metal band and his stuff is fabulous.

While Kamelot is guilty of some synthesizer supplementation, they've traditionally input some live fugue violins and other neoclassical implants into their music, but it's subtle, not brazen, to where the orchestral sound actually takes a back seat to the hard metal drives and melodic tune structures they have.

Ghost Opera is the first symphonic metal disc I've listened to more than five times in a very long time. Why? Because it fucking rocks! Kamelot sets a beautiful tone with a violin solo out the gate then just hammers along, and their neoclassical influences simply accent instead of acting in a cheesy manner that would best be suited for a Saturday afternoon round of sword and sorcery ripoff shows that only cultists can stomach. I do love that particular genre of fantasy, but let's face it; you have to be hardcore into the stuff to deal with Zena: Warrior Princess, no offense to her loyal legion of fans.

With the exception of a syrupy ballad that doesn't quite work on "Anthem," Ghost Opera majestically gallops with songs like "Solitaire," "Rule the World," "The Human Stain," "Blucher," "Mourning Star" and "Silence of the Darkness."

While I probably can't convince a number of you that Kamelot is a skullcrusher of this particular genre, for those whom I can, this one's a must for you...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Repeat Revolutions Wednesday

So here we are again, midweek and hopefully chugging along okay for everyone out there? Feeling the need to pound down cranberry juice and water this week and get my energy level back up. I'm getting decent sleep for once, knowing I've wracked my bod quite hard lately; I'm feeling my age, people, and by the time a child enters this house, good God. I'm hoping the opposite will happen, that the role of daddy will energize me like never before.

Anyone out there see Ghost Rider yet? I have it, thought it was really tame; they should've gone for the R like Blade and let the Rider wreck havoc. I thought G.R. and the bike looked cool, while Nicholas Cage was a bit hammy in his Elvis-meets-Evil Kenievel interpretation of Johnny Blaze, which is way off to the comic book, but whatever. I know Cage is a diehard comic book fan, at least. I just thought G.R. won his battles way too easily and the whole premise was just blah. Neat visual film, not much else.

Tonight I have Eyal Levi of Daath, which I'm looking forward to because they're a positive-minded extreme metal band that uses the inverted tree of life to seek out truth and causes of what's wrong with our world and hopefully confront it to seek out a better good. Daath is a Hebrew word for knowledge not usually attained by regular means, which you can interpret as you will, so I'm looking forward to exploring this a bit in my interview with Eyal. This band is another one I hope makes my top 10 of the year because The Hinderers is sheer excellence of its style. You should see these guys' tour itinerary this year; Lordee...

Anyway, let's get on with it. This week, Chris Caffery bumps Pelican out of the running. Seriously, peeps, Caffery has a remarkable album on his hands with Pins & Needles and I'm going to try like hell to keep it in my top 10 year end list. Some new contacts are making their way to me and I'm getting a more diverse batch of CDs sent to me like the new Stooges album and an Asian Dub Foundation anthology and a rap album by a crew called Shop Boyz and I do think the album and its concept Rockstar Mentality is a lot of fun. The new Silverstein came, which I'm flattered to be on the list for one of that genre's top bands, but I do find myself struggling to listen to emo anymore, so we'll see. And then I got a neat little surprise in the way of a cult band from 1995 called P that features the Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes and, believe it or not... Captain Jack himself, Johnny Depp. Should be interesting.

1. Chris Caffery - Pins and Needles
2. One Man Army and the Undead Quartet - Error in Evolution
3. Droid - S/T
4. Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth
5. The Beach Boys - 20 Good Vibrations
6. Raven - Life's a Bitch
7. J. Geils Band - Freeze Frame
8. Prodigy - Always Outnumbered
9. Ozzy - Black Rain
10. The Stooges - The Weirdness

And how about y'all?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Encore! Encore!

Whenever I'm at a show with Bob Vinyl, the issue of encores usually comes up. I never really thought about it much until he made the point that encores are bad for rock and roll and I had to sit on that for a good while. Encores in music are just a part of the schism. The band appears ready to close the set, the crowd claps and stomps for a curtain call, the band comes back out and hits one to three more tunes, and if it's a real barnstormer, a second encore might follow, depending on their willingness and the crowd's fervor.

Back in the day it was considered a genuine honor to be called out by an audience for an encore. It usually constituted there was something special about the performer that nobody was ready to let go for the evening, not just yet. I can imagine the curtain calls for Janis Joplin or Johnny Cash or even Lynard Skynard. Those were probably something to behold.

As time has progressed, it seems like the encore has become something of an expectation by the headliner, so much it's timed to a certain spot in the set list, and this is where Bob convinced me to stop and think a little bit, because in an era where underground rock bands usually have shorter set lists due to more bands on the bills and an attempt to keep ticket prices honest, seeing a band knock out forty or so minutes of music then vanish then come back out kind of seems artificial at times.

On the other side, if a band is working its asses off onstage, I can see taking the pause to wait for an encore summons so they can catch their breaths, rehydrate, and get ready to deliver a few more songs.

Seldom, however, do I see crowds get so fervent in demanding an encore that you just have to wonder. The best encore summons I've seen lately are actually for openers such as 400 Blows and Time Again, and that's quite special because it's unexpected, even to the bands themselves.

I've come to appreciate a band that gives everything it has then doesn't return to the stage, though when Boris played, I was amongst those cheering for them to get back out there because they deserved the encore call. Doro Pesch was another one, and she got not one, but two enthusiastic curtain calls, and she obliged both with a mistiness to her eyes from not having played the U.S. in years and still finding a loudly receptive crowd.

Still, when Bob and I saw The Melvins, there was no question they gave everything they had within them for a good hour fifteen, maybe longer, and keep in mind they had Big Company as openers, so that's more time onstage. Bob and I agreed it was a little selfish of the audience to expect more, and The Melvins did not do an encore. They didn't need to. Anything else after the thunderous performance they gave would've been anticlimactic.

And then there's Mastodon who fooled everyone by letting people howl and stomp for an encore for minutes before simply playing the acoustic finale of Leviathan "Joseph Merrick" as the house lights raised and no return to the stage. That was succulent...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bada Bing Bada Brilliant

First off, a happy belated Father's Day to all the dads out there! Hope it was relaxing. My wife and I had our 12th anniversary yesterday, which was weird it falling on Dad's Day, but we made the most of it and my folks are the saviors of our anniversary this year since the budget was rather tight this month, so next weekend we'll get to enjoy it proper...

I figured I'd give it a little time before discussing The Sopranos series finale so that most people will have had the chance to see it. If you haven't, sorry for the spoiler, but I did wait, lol...

I don't think I've seen this much of a bruhaha over a television finale since the limpdicked Seinfeld finale, which really did deserve the crucifixion it got. When I think of memorable series finales I think of how the entire cast of Family Ties bawled before our eyes and us along with them, or on the silly extreme, how the finale of Dallas ended up with JR being forced into a twisted take on It's a Wonderful Life, only it was the devil coming after him, not an angel. Then there's my vote for greatest ending of a television series in history, the beautiful and touching way Six Feet Under went out by taking us to the deaths of each character, be it natural or unnatural, and with the gorgeous swan song "Breathe Me" by Sia playing like a whisper overhead, it was the most poignant finale ever sequenced.

Most viewers are still pissed that The Sopranos ended without resolution. The weeks prior to the end I heard so much bloodlust coming out of the mouths of fans who are spoiled by The Godfather, Goodfellas, Scarface and other gangster films where the principals end up dying or taking each other out in spectacular, gory fashion. In some ways, the crowd's demand for the death of Tony Soprano as a fitting ending to the show is kinda lame, if not predictible. After all, isn't there a chance for redemption even in the most repugnant of characters? Part of Tony Soprano's appeal is the fact he's a brute, a thug, a murderer, a thief, and a cheater but there's a sense of loyalty and honor about him that's underscored by his continuous depression that he's taken on the role of mob boss, and that's something no one ever explored before.

Couldn't it have been plausible for Tony and Carmela to pack up shop, bequeath The Family to a logical heir (though it probably should've gone to Chris, who I think everyone in Sopranos fanland was shocked he was taken out so early) and let AJ and Meadow decide their paths? Sure it could've, but most audiences would've found that boring and anticlimactic. As it is, I heard way too much that the final season of The Sopranos moved too slow, which as a writer, I find that vulgar and hopeless, because the art of storytelling was completely lost on them. I personally thought the season may not have had the overal spectacular sensationalism of the past, but the cogs of the final chapter were built piece by piece leading us to the end. If you're a fan of good writing and go back and think about it, the writers trailed deliberately and methodically to slowly build up suspense.

Of course, everyone cheered that Tony's rival Phil was dispatched in brutal fashion after ordering a hit on Tony and his family, which breaks the Mafia code of not only attacking a made man and a don, but more importantly, the mafioso's family. The hit was coordinated between Tony's and Phil's people, which leads to the end moment of the series, and by now the anticipation is so great as Tony and his family meet in an average joe eatery, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" playing as the camera acts both laissez faire and pointedly to create an aura of trepidation, so much that any person in the establishment that isn't a Soprano could be a likely culprit to take them out.

I don't know about you, but I sense of claustrophobia the longer that sequence dragged out, and as Meadow struggled to park, dragging out the suspense even longer, then finally gets to the front door and suddenly fade to black...

Yeah, I was pissed off for a few seconds, but then I thought, "Brilliant!" It's the ultimate cliffhanger! One where the audience gets to decide the outcome? Did Tony and his family get whacked on the spot in bloody Bonnie and Clyde fashion? Did they put themselves out in the open to draw out any further enemies, then they all pull out guns and defend themselves in a Wild Bunch free-for-all? Did Tony and Carmela tell the kids they were leaving and that Tony was naming AJ his successor? Maybe they just ate, went home and went about their business. That's what so right about that ending, is the spirit of the unknown.

The cliffhanger was a fun tool of the old 30s and 40s movie serials as they were a big part of 70s and early 80s eighties television. The aforementioned Dallas to this day still remains master of the cliffhanger, that is, until The Sopranos just one-upped them because there's no foreseeable resolution. It'll forever remain a mystery, because the rumored Sopranos movie doesn't seem to be a reality.

Do I want to know what happened after-the-fact? Sure, but you know what? Not knowing is equally delicious, if not more so.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ray Gets Interviewed at

Chad Bowar of just interviewed me about being a heavy metal journalist. I must say it was neat being on the other side of the "mike," so to speak, and I think Chad did a nice job of getting me to open up. Of course, it helps he's my age, so there was a spirit of empathy here. Turns out we're comrades at other venues and I didn't realize it until now. I know, I know, that Van Horn, he's so into himself...

Click here to read the interview:

Ray Van Horn, Jr. Interview at

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Upcoming Flotsam

Well, a mixed bag of highs and lows today. Most urgent is my aunt who is in the hospital once again from a seizure. She only just recently left, as I recall visiting her a couple weeks ago in what was a quality visit, so this turn of events is distressing. My thoughts and prayers have been for her and my uncle, who's been a hell of a guy in taking care of her for the past few years when most guys would've abandoned ship. I'll leave it at that.

On the other side, many who know me closely know I've had to contend with a condition on my hands for almost six years now. As of yesterday, I have finally begun to heal and my wife almost cried all over me when I showed her my hands, which has suddenly lost about 80% of the virus that inflicted them.

I was contacted today by and requested to do an interview in a series they're doing on heavy metal writers. This is only the third time I've been interviewed as a writer--twice before for my novel Mentor. I'm flattered to be called out by my peers and humbled beyond words.

I'm prepping for my interview with Michael Romeo of Symphony X tomorrow, and with all of these other matters to devote my concern, I'll let you all get caught up on my blabby road stories.

Coming up are a few topics I've conjured up from my groggy gray matter: I'll be talking about the art of concert encores and when they're appropriate and when it's just ego stroking. I want to talk about the controversial series finale of The Sopranos and why I thought the ending was a brilliant piece of writing. I'll be discussing why Savatage's Handful of Rain was a braver endeavor than it's given credit for, and Random Shelf Review will resume as we enter the B's. I see Bachman Turner Overdrive in the pole position, and while I could leave its fate up in the air, I'd have to say that BTO is 99% a gimme to remain on the shelf.

So hope y'all are doing well in what's been a quiet week in blogland and I'll part with this anecdote:

Useless But Fun Musical Trivia:

I dragged out L7's Hungry For Stink today and completely forgot that "Fuel My Fire" was originally theirs, that's how long it's been since I've listened to this album. The better-known version is by Prodigy, which is an underground club hit. Strange but true. You liarrrrrr........

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Repeat Revolutions Wednesday and Stories From the Road Part 2: Springfield, VA with Doro Pesch and Chris Caffery

Que pasa, everyone? Slow week out there in cyberland, but I'm just finally catching up on some z's even though last night was another late one out thanks to the generosity of one of our marketers who dropped some serious coin to take us out for a productive month in May.

I was able to catch up with Skinny Puppy on Monday and had a very thought-provoking interview with cKevin. Symphony X is my next assignment tomorrow, and if things get put together, I'll have a mega interview announcement coming. I don't want to jinx it, but the pieces are in place and I'm just waiting for a confirmed date.

As you know, this past weekend I was on the run, which we'll get into the second half in just a moment, but needless to say, I've consumed a lot of music since last Wednesday, some promos like the new Ozzy, Kamelot, Symphony X, Horse the Band and Iced Earth along with Spheric Universe Experience, Pantheon I, Samael, Within Temptation, Tia Carrere (a sludge rock band, not the femme celeb) and my new album pick of the week, Chris Caffery's amazing Pins and Needles album. It's not just because I interviewed the man; I was freaking blown away by this album because it's leaps and measures superior to his previous bodies of work, Faces and W.A.R.P.E.D. Pins and Needles is a hell of a rock and metal album with lots of aggression and grandeur, and far more depth. Pick it up immediately!

Amazingly, though, I still found the new Pelican album in my player just a few times more than Caffery's (which means they both got a lotta spins), so... Here's the top 10 revolutions for this week:

1. Pelican - City of Echoes
2. Chris Caffery - Pins and Needles
3. Warsawpack - Stocks and Bombs
4. Doro - Warrior Soul
5. Skinny Puppy - Mythmaker
6. Unsane - Blood Run
7. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
8. Symphony X - Paradise Lost
9. Tomahawk - Anonymous
10. Melechesh - Emissaries

Okay, let's pause a minute, take a sip of coffee (so long as it's not a cup from a NJ Turnpike rest stop), mull over the albums we've been listening to repeatedly the past week....I personally feel like I've had musical overload, to be honest, but it's a beautiful thing still...

Ready? Let's move on to Part 2 of this past weekend's road trip.

I got maybe three hours of sleep after getting home from NYC at 5:30 in the morning. The cats showed me a little mercy for once and waiting to pounce at 8:30 a.m. instead of 6:30 like they usually do, the brats. I'm due for dinner at my parents' place before trekking to Virginia for the Doro Pesch gig, so I have just enough time to snuggle with my wife and recount my New York experiences, and then we start talking about our hopes to adopt a child soon, knowing we have a final meeting with the social worker on Monday and the health inspector on Tuesday (which we aced, BTW, even if I did fall asleep on the social worker, who laughed really hard at me and was good natured about it, especially after I told her the weekend I had...I don't think she believed me until I opened up my mail in front of her and the promo for Ozzy's Black Rain and a CD advance of Queensyrche's full concert of both Operation Mindcrimes and the DVD is coming and I'm salivating), but soon enough I was crawling out of bed, sore as hell from all the blocks I trudged through in New York, wondering how I was going to stand all night at Doro's gig.

Dinner with Mom and Pop was wonderful, though abbreviated; wifey stayed home since she was tired from a long day of work the day prior, and my folks demanded I take a nap before leaving again. I think I got about 15 minutes at best, because I was so psyched about meeting Doro in the flesh, plus I'd already interviewed her once, and Chris Caffery twice, so I felt confident both interviews would be easy to do. I was right in that respect.

Doro's drummer Johnny Dee is also the band's tour manager, and he makes you forget the fact he's in the band. After missing my exit to Springfield for the Jaxx night club, I finally get my act together and arrive at the venue only two minutes late, but Johnny called me asked to bump the time up so they could eat, which I was more than happy to accommodate. Sometimes when this situation happens, it means the writer is going to either get delayed a very long time or rescheduled to a phoner on another date. I've seen it happen many times. I had to force myself once upon a tour manager for Ill Nino becaus I'd driven 4.5 hours to do that interview and if I'd let him bump me to the morning after the show, the band would've already been long gone. That TM tried to tell me they'd still be in town in the morning. Dave Chavarri, Ill Nino's drummer later offered me his hotel room in Norfolk, Virginia because he said Ill Nino was rolling out quite fast that evening. Fun, huh? BTW, both Chavarri and vocalist Cristian Machado are absolute gentlemen and classy as hell.

As was Johnny Dee, who took excellent care of me. With sweat dripping down my back while waiting for the club to open, Johnny kept in touch with me and stayed at the front when the doors opened to vouch for me when the club first said they had no guest list or photo passes. He took care of everything and took me to the bus to meet up with Doro, and while we were waiting, he was hospitable and we talked briefly about how the tour was going to that point, since it had been years since Doro toured the US. He mentioned their first bus broke down in Georgia (I believe) and they had to bump that gig up until a new bus was brought to them since the right part couldn't be obtained quickly enough. He mentioned the new bus was swankier and half the cost of the original one, which I think is stand-up of the bus company to do, considering the daily expense it takes for a band to rent a bus. Doro uses her own money to keep the show rolling, so to speak, since there's no direct label support, so I was very intrigued by the whole matter altogether.

Keep in mind I had a crush on Doro when I was 17, but meeting her face-to-face, I was warmed by her beauty that doesn't seem to vanish, and amazingly had no willies while we interviewed. I'll save the details for my article, but we had a great chat, and I was so into the conversation, I put my notebook to the side and freestyled the interview, calling up the most important questions I had. Doro told me a wonderful story about what her friendship with Lemmy means to her and it's pretty deep stuff. To think she almost gave up on life altogether, only to have Lemmy help hoist her up during a hard time in her life, it's incredible to consider.

This picture below is not one of the best and won't be used in my article, but if you see her smile here, and you see it live in front of you, then you'll understand why Doro's the queen:

Doro Pesch Photo (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

By this time, Chris Caffery came onto the bus and I was really pleased he recognized me. The Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitarist meets thousands of people all the time, so I was humbled on Sunday as I was when my wife and I saw TSO and he remembered me at a meet-and-greet by name and he treated my wife very nicely. Good peoples, Chris. Our interview went as great as the previous two and I can tell the man has really come into his own, as a person and especially as a musician. I doted on his new album Pins and Needles earlier, and as he was filling in Doro's band for her US tour, along with his own solo slot, my respect for him grew. He mentioned that a lot of the clubs on this US tour were not aware he was playing an opening slot along with Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, so there would be a lot of local acts booked and it cut into Chris' solo time. Even on Sunday he was forced into a half hour slot because there were two opening bands, one who I thought stunk because I only heard them doing Iron Maiden covers that were mediocre. The vocalist was scalping her band's guest list tickets to people in line at a three buck discount. Classy.

After about an hour on the bus with Doro and Chris, they both obliged me a photograph, which I was grateful for. I try not to be fanboyish at live interviews, but I'm coming to realize a photograph is more important to me than an autograph, which I've long since stopped asking for from face-to-face interviews. There's more of an endearement with the photo, I think, and they're usually quite accommodating. Doro was feeling sick and still sucked it up to do that photo I posted the other day, God bless her. She also sucked it up in her live performance.

When I walked into the club after the interviews, I spotted Joey Belladonna behind the merch table and I wasn't aware he was on the bill! I was happy that he recognized me since I've interviewed him three times and Metal Mark joined me at one of them. I didn't get much time to talk to Joey, honestly, because ever since he did the Anthrax gig, he's a celebrity again, and people were there to get to him. He was very nice to all the fans and took photos with them, and all of that. When he came onstage, he yet another all-new lineup for his solo act. He roared through three of his solo songs then the usual batch of Anthrax covers, but he blew the fucking roof off of Jaxx with his exuberance, and Jaxx was jam-packed at this time. The only bitch was that I thought Joey was reaching his fist out to me for knucks because it was within inches of me, then he slapped my hand down and I realized he was posing for a kid near me. Honestly? I was really pissed by that gesture, but I let it go and apologized to the kid for muffing up his shot; the kid was very nice about it, particularly since Joey mugged for his camera quite often. Joey's got a different air about him since the 'thrax reunion. Mark will tell you that when we saw him in Baltimore, maybe 40 people tops were there, and Joey still gave a great show, but his confidence had yet to come back as it did on Sunday. Here's a cool shot I got:

Joey Belladonna Photo (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Prior to Joey, as I mentioned, Chris Caffery only had a half hour to play, which he mixed with a couple of Savatage songs that he was on, particularly "Edge of Thorns," and a song from each of his solo albums. I was happy that he played "Chained" from his new album because I brought up in the interview it was my favorite song on Pins and Needles. Caffery's quite an underrated guitarist; he has the best of both technicality and free touch and he likewise socked out his set with the little time he had.

Chris Caffery photo (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Which brings us to Doro's set. There's not much else I can say about it unless you've never witnessed her perform live, but she literally commands the stage and she seldom strays from the crowd. She lives for her fans and constantly brings the mike out to them to sing along with her or get up "hey hey hey!" chants. She's a very interactive performer and a true goddess in her gesticulations. You better know the lyrics to her songs, because she's going to put that mike out to your mouth at any given moment.

Doro's band is a very professional bunch who all have commanding presences of their own. They own their own spots onstage and stage drift to the front to keep the tempo up, and the crowd reacted every single time. They're all master showmen, and that's why Doro's set was nothing short of electric as she played a lot of the more obscure songs from her first two solo albums and a couple of Warlock songs, including the obligatory "All We Are," which she told me is the song she can't wait to perform every time. I saw why, because she gets as fans to scream "All We Are!" she possibly can and it's funny stuff. She's so playful and the fans ate it up.

Doro Pesch and Chris Caffery photo (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

At the end of the gig, she was called out for two encores, and though she'd been sick, she came out both times, and she got misty-eyed when people shouted out how much they loved her. Doro's a genuine person, and sitting in front of her on the bus, I could tell she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders; a thousand things go through the lady's head and yet she's focused to her task and dedicated to her fans and the press. What else can I say about her? Oh, the fact that while I'd been a pillar of strength during the interview, it was when she dipper her head into the crowd and made brief eye contact with me that the 17-year-old returned and I melted...

Though I started falling asleep about twenty minutes before I got home, the rush of the evening carried me for much of my hour forty trek home. How I got up for work the next day is beyond me, but after completing the Skinny Puppy interview on Monday and watching a tape of the final Sopranos episode, down I went. I'm getting old, people...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Stories From the Road - Part 1: New York City and Skinny Puppy

So this past weekend with about 11 hours of total driving and at least 40-some blocks on foot, I had a memorable road trip filled with music, communication logjams, lots of new experiences, subway woes, $27 in tolls, bad sushi, even worse coffee and about 6 total hours of sleep during the weekend, I'll share with you a few notes from the road and some pics for your viewing pleasure...

Saturday I went up to New York City to cover the Skinny Puppy show in Times Square. I had my routes planned and bases covered, and after driving to Staten Island and taking the free ferry into Manhattan, I had some time to spare and decided to goof around Battery Park since I'd yet to see it or hardly anything of downtown in the many times I've gone to NY now. Once I decided to hop the subway uptown, I learned, to my dismay, that there was no uptown service from my dropoff station. Beauteous!

One of the best parts about having to hoof blocks on foot is getting to really experience the flavor of where you're at, and within two blocks I was on Wall Street, which was kinda neat, though trying getting a good shot of the bull during the day! Between people squatting beneath Ferdinand's ass for photos and half the tourists invading New York jockeying for position at the front, I took my obligatory photo and kept moving, coming across a beautiful Gothic Episcopolean church that had a dozen "No Standing" signs around it. Well, not until I got all the photos I wanted! Below is my favorite of the church shots, this viny sculpture that reminded me of arteries:

Photo (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I kept walking north on Broadway and took note of the impoverished few blocks next to Wall Street that is proof positive of the haves vs. have-nots dilemma in our world. I kept venturing into various subway stations looking to find one with uptown service and getting a little bent about it. Twenty or so blocks later, I ended up in Soho and thought I saw Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City, but she moved so quickly I couldn't positively ID her. Prior to that, I'd had some crummy sushi at a trendy chain that served noodle dishes and sushi. After spilling my Diet Coke and nearly dousing the girl in front of me, I noticed everyone but me was eating noodle dishes. Lessons to be learned.

By the time I found a yellow line subway willing to take me uptown, I was a complete sweathog and had yet to meet up with Skinny Puppy, much less a publicist friend of mine who was coming into the city for dinner. Upon arrival in Times Square, I quickly beelined for the Virgin Megastore since my footwork had crushed my spare time and I wanted to scout out the discs and duck into the bathroom to defunk. After accidentally going into the ladies room, using the facilities and running half of my deodorant stick all over my upper body--keeping in mind I had no idea I'd erred until much later when I crossed by it again and realized what an asshole I'd been--I ended up getting a DVD for my wife and the new Pelican album for myself.

Some cell phone issues put a skunkwork into my interview Skinny Puppy. The Nokia Theatre is a beautiful and huge concert hall, but it's also a couple stories underground, so their tour manager could not hear me, nor could she get back to me. An hour passed and I'd spoken to the record label rep, who was in a dash setting up for the band's after party, and with no calls back and my adamantly leaning against another "No Standing" sign while waiting, I gave up and putzed around to 5th Avenue, when my friend called me and said she was in town, so I had to quick-step back to Times Square to meet her, weaving through double the crowd I've ever seen there, plus new age corner flutists and terribly off-key hari krishnas, building up more sweat in the process.

I'm really surprised my friend Jen kept me company, because I couldn't stand the smell of myself, but we had a nice dinner and I haven't seen her in a year and a half. Of course as we're waiting for a table, Skinny Puppy's TM is finally in a cell-friendly zone and is ready to have me come meet the band. Go figure. That's rock 'n roll for ya. I couldn't tell Jen I had to suddenly bolt after she came in an hour away, so we took our time and I missed the opening band and when I called the TM, I knew I'd taken up too much time, so we mutually agreed to reschedule the interview as a phoner for Monday.

At the show, I was really into Skinny Puppy's performance, since Ogre is a real theatrical frontman. He started the show for three songs behind a screen with blood splatters on it, which of course, the photographers were told to get out of the pit by then, so the really theatrical stuff began when Ogre came out with wires and tubes wrapped around him and his face painted in a pasty film. He then coughed more blood onto the screen and then Skinny Puppy really kept up a hell of a rhythm for the show, pulsing steadily while the crowd danced in tandem. Here's a shot of Ogre behind the screen:

Skinny Puppy photo (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I had to leave a little early because I knew I'd have to catch the subway back down to the State Island ferry, which only runs on the hour after 7 pm, and I had a four-hour drive to contend with. After being asked by tourists which lines they needed to take to get various destinations (glad I passed the locals test), I felt terrible having to admit I was fairly clueless, since I'd only memorized my only travel lines. The fates paid me in kind as the three stops before mine were all closed and was going straight through to Brooklyn, so I had to hop off at Canal Street and hike 10-12 blocks back down to the ferry station.

It was about 11:15 pm at this time, and the streets were mostly bare, not like midtown, where people are still crawling around at 4:00 a.m. There were prostitutes galore, though, and not a single cop in sight. Amazing. I buddied up with a woman without saying anything and we moved pretty quickly, though my ankles were on fire by this time. I found the bull at Wall Street again, not a single person hanging from his horns or balls at this time of night. Go figure. No way I was pulling my camera out at that time of night, not when I was walking like I belonged here.

When I got to the ferry station, I'd just missed the fucking thing and had to wait a whole hour for the next one. So with everything aching, I sat on a hard seat and wrote up questions for my interview with Chris Caffery the next day. By the time we got on the ferry, it was standing room only at 12:30 a.m. and I'd taken note how half the ferry riders--and NYC as a whole--had fucking Ipods jammed in their ears like Borg. Silliness.

Arriving at port in the truck by 1:15 a.m. I ventured home on a long, dark drive where I got some terrible ass coffee from a New Jersey rest stop at 3:30 a.m. The speed freaks are out at this time of night; when I crossed the Maryland border, an entire horde of sportcars practically crushed me on-sight, whizzing by me and criss-crossing lanes ahead of me. Interestingly enough, about six or so miles later, I saw a few cop cars aiming for the on-ramp ahead of me. I wondered if there were any casualties, the dirtbags. Hopefully not. People's callous disregard for life makes me nauseous.

5:30 a.m. with sunlight rising and Trent Renzor howling into my ear with air conditioning blasting into my crusting and drooping eyes, I get home and flop, knowing I have to do this again on Sunday in Virginia...

Here's a bonus Skinny Puppy shot:

Skinny Puppy photo (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Stay tuned for Part 2....

Monday, June 11, 2007

Back Home from RNR Weekend and Exhausted

Welp, the road dog is back in the kennel, though he has to return to reality and go to work, and he's a tired pup, so stand by for full accounts of a weekend filled with craziness and wonderfulness, lots of (literally) footwork and time spent sipping rancid coffee in the middle of the night trying to stay awake. Let's just I got home from NYC at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and 3:00 a.m. last night from Virginia. Glory days! In the meantime, here's a photo of yours truly with Doro Pesch and Chris Caffery from last night's gig, which was amazing. You wouldn't be able to tell Doro is sick in this photo, nor by her electric performance that she delivered even while so under the weather. She really is the queen, period, the end...

Stay tuned for details and more photos. Peace...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Road Trip Weekend Coming Up

So the announcement I was referring to the other day has come to fruition.

Call me nuts, I don't know what's possessing me, but I'm going for it. This coming Saturday I'm trekking from northern Maryland to New York City to cover Skinny Puppy at The Nokia Theatre in Times Square, interview and show photos. I always love going up to New York and this will be the third time I've had music business to attend to. I'm looking forward to going up a little early, depending on whether or not this pesky ache in my ear is healed up by Saturday morning. If not, I'll need to visit the doctor before leaving, but I hope to get up there early enough to gallavant around Manhattan and meet up with a publicist friend of mine for a late lunch before the interview.

I'll be leaving New York the same night and probably crash at a hotel for the night unless I'm wired enough to make it home for some z's, but on Sunday I'll be next heading to northern Virginia to interview both Doro Pesch and Chris Caffery at Doro's gig. I've interviewed both of these fine people in the past, Caffery twice. He's probably the only musician aside from Geoff Tate who remembered me without prompting that I've interviewed. With Chris, he was very nice to me and my wife at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra meet and greet. Interviewing him is always a pleasure, and he'll not only be doing his solo band slot, but he'll be playing guitar during Doro's set as well.

I've interviewed Doro over the phone once and I literally melted. I was nutty enough to admit to having a crush on her when I was 17 and true to her regal stature, she was graceful and sweet when she could've hung right up. A genuinely classy lady who cares deeply about her fans, meeting her in the flesh is going to be a huge high point for me. Personally, I think she has a little something for Lemmy of Motorhead, if you watch her new DVD 20 Years of a Warrior Soul. Lemmy and Mikkey Dee play with her on a loud version of "Love Me Forever" during Doro's three hour 20th anniversary concert, and there's a schoolgirlish demeanor about her when near Lemmy.

She's the queen for a reason...

Also during this marathon show is the full return of Warlock onstage for three songs; they look great and sound better. I'm hoping there's something brewing for a little reunion album on the horizon, not necessarily a tour, just a little tribute to themselves since they sounded terrific on this DVD. And of course, Udo Dirkschneider graces the show all over the place...he's the man.

So anyway, I'll be clocking in some serious road time but I'm expecting this weekend will be just as special as the weekend I covered the Anthrax reunion at The Starland Ballroom in New Jersey (the show captured for Alive 2) and then the Testament reunion in Virginia the following day. I won't ever forget sitting across from Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian in their hotel bar and the barmaid asking all three of us if were in a band together. Riot! I also saw Chuck Billy in the lobby while waiting for the interview. I thought I had him since I wasn't told who was doing it, but as he and I made eye contact, there was something on his face asking me not to blow his cover as he and his wife/girlfriend got on the elevator. I nodded to him, they both nodded to me as the doors shut and that night at the show, Chuck gave me a fast glance at the gig. I'll be certain to bring that up if I ever interview him.

So, hopefully I'll have some good shots for you guys from the forthcoming weekend and I hope you all enjoy your own!


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Repeat Revolutions Wednesday

Can it be Wednesday already? Wow. Welp, amazingly enough, despite a round of CD Shelf Cleanup, there were others on the repeat tip during the week. This time, I couldn't get Ric Ocasek's version of The Cars outta my player, namely their awesome debut album. That one's abundanza and it just never grows old. The promos are a-pilin' up on me and I'm going to just have to drop out for a month and listen to 'em straight if I'm ever going to get through them! The new Candlemass came this week, and yes, it's very good without the Messiah in the ranks. The Cursed album (finally) came, over a month after I interviewed Blitz of Overkill and Dan Lorenzo, formerly of Hades and Non Fiction, who are in this offshoot band that played just one and only gig in New York on May 20th. Supagroup is the hip album of the month for me; they rearrange a ton of Bon Scott era AC/DC riffs plus other eighties hard rock lines to create new songs and it's fucking awesome. Droid just earned itself a "hell yeah" from me as one of the loudest and toughest metalcore acts I've heard in ages. If they all sounded like this...well, never mind on that. They already do, but Droid is just brutal. I have Duane Denison of Tomahawk (and formerly Jesus Lizard) tonight, and the third album is just incredible. I'm trying to get something really special lined up for the weekend, so if it all pans out, I'll report back...

1. The Cars - The Cars
2. Supagroup - Roll In Smokin'
3. Droid - S/T
4. Devo - Freedom of Choice
5. Tomahawk - Anonymous
6. Warlock - True as Steel
7. Accept - Metal Heart
8. Iced Earth - Overture of the Wicked
9. The Cursed - Roomful of Sinners
10. Candlemass - King of the Grey Islands

Let's have 'em, chums...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

CD Shelf Clean-Up: End of the A's (at last)

Hold everyone's alive out there...

Been ages since I did CD Shelf Clean-Up, but you know the drill, so let's put A to rest finally...

Atreyu - Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses - In 2002, this sounded very fresh and pretty original. It was critically acclaimed and I can see all the reasons since that was five years ago already. In 2007, however, a million American metalcore acts following Atreyu's wake have hijacked everything that made this album a sharp cookie. Listening to it now, it's been carbon copied so much it's kinda boring, save for some really brilliant sub-sequences. Still, I'm not positive how often this will get played anymore, and it's no fault of Atreyu's; blame their unoriginal competitors. On the Bubble

Atreyu - The Curse - This, on the other hand, still maintains a personality despite the fact The Curse spawned an entire slew of wannabes immediately thereafter. This album drives with motivation and melody, and the scream / clean vocal tradeoff is one of the best in the business, even if the formula is tiresome now. I interviewed guitarist Travis Miguel at their gig with Unearth and Norma Jean and Atreyu were the headliners that night. They gave a heck of a performance, even if Unearth and Norma Jean stole the show from under their noses. Atreyu are savvy songwriters and own the stage when they're on. Worth Keeping

Atreyu - A Death Grip on Yesterday - I'm not sure what to predict will be Atreyu's fate after this album. On the one hand, Death Grip features some of Atreyu's most skilled craftsmanship with better guitars and outstanding songwriting, but I'm a little concerned on how much they want the limelight at this point. Death Grip shoots for the Top 40 at times, but then again, Atreyu has been really quiet since releasing this one, dumping on their fans a cheap shot greatest hits album. WTF? Still, Atreyu is one of the very few metalcore acts I can hack anymore. Worth Keeping

Audrey Horne - No Hay Banda - Yeah, the name is yanked from Sherilyn Fenn's character of the same name on Twin Peaks. This Norwegian amalgam featuring members of Enslaved and Gorgoroth show their melodic side, which probably surprised a hell of a lot of people. I find this album, actually, to be very entertaining. A mixture of Alice in Chains and Goth metal, No Hay Banda is aggressive yet tuneful, and for a side project, very tight. Believe it or not, they actually opened for Audioslave at a summer festival. I know who I'd put my on as the better band. Worth Keeping

The Autumn Offering - Embrace the Gutter - I touted this as the album of last summer, using the younger audience's point-of-view. I heard the title song off of this album played in many parking lots and garages before concerts, and they ranged from neo-punkers with towering mohawks to plastic girls with their body parts half on display. I slagged The Autumn Offering on their debut album Revelations of the Unsung in a review for due to its blatant ripping off of the metalcore formul, but I noted that they stood the chance to do something special, considering their fantastic tag-team guitarists Tommy Church and Matt Johnson. Bring in the discipline of producer Jason Suecof, who I think is probably metalcore's answer to Rick Rubin since he's made bands like Trivium turn into megastars, and The Autumn Offering delivers on the promise shown before. Very strong album with incredible solos and singable choruses. Like Atreyu, a rare breed in a style full of posers. Worth Keeping

The Autumn Project - Burning Light - This album goes from incredible to incredibly frustrating. Kind of like Cult of Luna meets The Cure with splashs of Grace Under Pressure era Rush. The album's most critical fault is the fact that is doesn't capitalize on bombastic glory; instead, it dwells minutes in silence or in faint faux "atmosphere" with low-end electronics (think of coldwave music you can barely hear). When Burning Light is on all thrusters, the album is majestic, emotional and frankly beautiful. I'm fine with short spurts of quietude as bookends to songs, but minutes of the shit is anticlimactic. This could've been a masterpiece. Worth Keeping

Avail - Dixie - Here's a punk band that really its heart in the right place. Trailing below the famous DC hardcore scene in northern Virginia, Avail has a great east coast following, and it's for a reason. They're honest, sincere and full of passion, just what it should be. Worth Keeping

Avail - 4 AM Friday More of the same as Dixie; what's appealing about Avail is the rootiness of their music, which unravels even more on their next couple of albums. Worth Keeping

Avail - Front Porch Stories - Rites of Spring meets Hot Water Music this time around as Avail begin to grow past their hardcore base and blossom as songwriters. The album rocks like hell and turns wistful faster than you can blink. Throw in some southern rock spices, and Avail proves they're more multifaceted than some Delmarva punk phenomenon. Worth Keeping

Avail - Over the James - One thing about Avail is that they're consistent as hell even as they mature with each outing. This is punk rock with depth and soul, so take notes as you listen. Bob Vinyl and I caught Avail as this was released, and I remember it being a lot of fun, especially watching the fans dogpile on top of each other trying to get at Avail. Priceless. Worth Keeping

Avantgardism: Drum 'n Bass Volume One - Plucked out of the bargain bin for $3.00, I thought it was a steal at the time, considering you normally pay $17.00 average for this kind of stuff. The problem for me with this disc is that what I thought was great electronic experimentalism has very little of the charm that drew me to it. The ideas here are great for 2001, but they're already behind the times even at that year. The high note synthesizer melodies are about all I can enjoy on this anymore. Otherwise, it's a digitized migraine-inducer. Where the fuck's the groove? The Tribe Has Spoken, It's Time for You to Go

Avenged Sevenfold - City of Evil - I initially boycotted this band because I thought they were boring as all get-out, but sometimes I'm intrigued by what makes teenagers tick, since they're the core fan base for Avenged Sevenfold. I remember who I was at the time and I think I might've fallen sucker for these guys in the right time and place. City of Evil is leaps and bounds (in my opinion) superior to Waking the Fallen primarily because the songwriting--albeit very, very slick--is triple the maturity level this time around. The overture interludes between songs is actually appropriate and not cheesy as it is in most cases. This album actually feels bigger than it is and I applaud AS for that. Worth Keeping

Average White Band - Pickin' up the Pieces: The Best of The Average White Band - A bunch of Scots get down and dirty in the seventies and I like it! I think "Pick Up the Pieces" was played damn near everywhere, including on What's Happening more than a number of times as one of Rerun's dance jams. While AWB is not a be-all-end-all of seventies funk, there are some pretty good other songs that are tamer by American funk standards, and yet the longer AWB stayed together, the more they tinkered with their keys and all of a sudden I hear Jamiroquai all over it. Funky funky... Worth Keeping

So that does it for the A's, hooray! I do enjoy doing this, though new arrivals quickly take the places of those I've kicked out of the collection. By the time I ever make it to the end, who knows what I'll feel about those ones? If you're ready for the B's, they'll be starting up momentarily...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Returning This Week...

CD Shelf Clean-Up!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Create Your Own Band Name: Acronym Edition

You all did me proud the other day, so let's try an advanced round...

In the eighties, metal and punk had a blast coming up with some of the most memorable band names just out of sheer laziness by using an acronym. Of course, the argument can be made that an aura of mystique exists when you don't know what those confounded dotted letters stand for. In a way, they'd already been beaten to the punch by ABBA, who used the acronym as the first letter of each band member, and of course AC/DC was referencing the electrical term, though some idiot decided it meant Anti-Christ Devil's Children. Probably the same cockamamie right winger who decided Kiss was an acronym for Knights in Satan's Service. Frank Zappa produced a one-shot group calling themselves GTO's, which stood for the deliciously erotic Girls Together Outrageously. Anyone remember them? I didn't think so.

S.O.D. is probably the most recognized acronym band outside of MC5 (a simple abbreviation for Motor City Five), obviously standing for Stormtroopers of Death. S.O.D. rolled off the tongue insidiously and I remember how much fun it was in high school when the straights would try to figure out what S.O.D. meant. They'd get so flabbergasted (if they cared beyond a minute or two) they'd ask "What the hell is SOD?" literally saying the word "sod" instead of breaking it down by letter. Of course, S.O.D. is more famous for its constituents and its legend of being recorded in only three days while still containing some of metal's coolest riffs and thrash threads. The magic wore off when ringleader Billy Milano decided to spawn his sequel band M.O.D., which was abbreviation for Method of Destruction. Not quite as inspired as the alma mater, and outside of the first M.O.D. album, nothing in the same league. S.O.D. worked so well because it was all tongue-in-cheek and so over-the-top it was hard to replicate.

D.R.I. would probably be the second most-recognizable acronym band. The Dirty Rotten Imbeciles had such hardcore fans in their beginning that they would get defensive if you referred to them as D.R.I. instead of using the full moniker. It was their private code to determine fan from poser. Ditto for C.O.C., only it was the reverse. You were considered a jerkoff if you referred to them as Corrosion of Conformity instead of C.O.C., even now, when the band bills themselves in full name. To the original fan base, they'll always be C.O.C. You just can't change a dog's spots, sorry.

Then you had M.D.C. who fucked with everyone by brilliantly changing what it stood for on each album from Millions of Dead Cops to Millions of Dead Children to Millions of Damn Christians and so on. G.B.H. had the honors for holding theirs secret until later on when Colin Aberhall revealed the truth. Debates were intense amongst punk rockers as to whether it stood for Great British Hardcore or Gratuitous Bodily Harm. Colin acknowledged it was the latter, a degree of capital offense in Britain.

And let's not forget Blackie Lawless and W.A.S.P., which kind of made me uneasy sometimes to have them on my body because you know almost no one outside of the metal sanction knew it stood for We Are Sexual Perverts (or Sexually Perverted). A W.A.S.P. (White Anglo Saxon Protestant), even in the eighties had racist connotations to it. I specifically remember telling someone who gave me the business what the band acronym really meant and that I was only a quarter British and Catholic. They still looked at me like I was an asshole. There's just no pleasing everybody...

This fine art has been lost for the most part over the years, though P.O.D. as Payable On Death is the lone band coming out of the metal revival who uses the acronym. U.D.O. has been Udo Dirkschneider's solo band name since the late eighties, and to this day I don't think it really stands for anything, though I made the mistake of saying "Udo" in my interview with him, while he politely said "U.D.O." throughout the remainder of the chat. I appreciated him not chastising me, because let's face it, what would U.D.O. really stand for? United Dirkschneider Organization or Unisex Deutschland Organization? I don't know; I'm a fan of the guy, so I'll just leave well enough alone.

Some people have cheated and pared the Red Hot Chili Peppers down to not just "The Chilis" but R.H.C.P., but they don't count, because it's really O.P.P., yeah you know me. I'm surprised nobody hijacked F.O.A.D. as a band name, though Broken Bones used it for an album title. Everyone remember what this glorious acronym stood for? You saw it tattooed or scribbled in marker on people's hands back in the day... Fuck Off and Die! Just like F.T.W., which you apt pupils can problably figure out for yourselves.

Let's see, we had A.O.D. as Adrenaline O.D. Not quite a full acronym, but they were a good band. There was J.F.A. if you remember them...they're lesser-known to outsiders as Jodie Foster's Army. I really thought someone was going to try and make Youth of Today an acronym at Y.O.T. Thank God they didn't. Anyone remember that dreadful dance group in the early nineties The KLF? That stood for Kopyright Liberation Front, which is kind of funny (and appropriate) since they pirated more samples than De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising. At least De La produced something wonderful and vibrant from their tooling. Let's see, you can touch them once and touch them twice while watching eighties teen flicks with O.M.D., otherwise known as Orchestral Maneouvers in the Dark (though they cheated by not accounting for "in the") and staying in the alternative mode, R.E.M. of course stood for "Rapid Eye Movement." I respect R.E.M. but with them a lot of times my rapid eye movements were of the downward motion.

And finally, I need to do my homework, but there's a thrash metal band there who did the stupid but funny song where they take the pseudo identity D.O.D. You ready for this one? It was Dicks of Death.

So anyway, let's get those creative juices flowing as well as you did the other day. I could be utterly lame and take F.O.D. for Farts of Doom or B.O.B. for Buckets of Blood (sorry Bob Vinyl, I know you got excited there) I.L.D.P.S. for the I Love Doro Pesch Society, but I'm going to work a little harder at it. How about L.A.D. for Light Against Dark? No? Alright, how about P.N.W. for Peace Not War? Well, I like it, but it's just enough effort. P.O.S.? Nah, everyone knows that, but it is a goodie! I got it... Drumroll...

C.O.M. Curse of Menstruation

No? Fuck it, you guys go for it...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Chat With Mike Score of All Out War and The State of Hardcore Today

I just got off the phone with Mike Score, vocalist of the hardcore band All Out War in an interview for Pit magazine. I wasn't sure what to expect because Mike is as brutally honest as they get, if you visit the band's website. Though I'm now into my fourth year as a music journalist and I've interviewed over 200 musicians, you never know if someone who speaks his mind is going to think you're a dweeb and smoke you. I thought Casey Chaos would've made mincemeat of me but we ended up talking for four hours. I'm glad to say that Mike and I had a productive half hour discussion.

When All Out War started around 1990-91, metal, punk and hardcore was, as I put it to Mike, "three quarters down the shitter." It was probably courageous to start up a hardcore band when the only hardcore act anyone seemed to give a shit about at that time was Biohazard, who I remember really, really sucked on their demo that I used to have (Mark, do you still have it?) but they got better in time, and for better or worse, are a bridge band for today's hardcore scene and even the rap metal scene.

Mike doesn't really look at it as anything courageous. To paraphrase his words, All Out War's existence was "a big fuck you to everything that was going on musically at the time."

Hardcore music--and I'm not talking about mindless gangsta rap that hijacked the term--used to be exemplified by Bad Brains, by GBH, by Broken Bones, by Discharge, by Minor Threat, by The Exploited by The Circle Jerks and even some of the lesser knowns like Naked Raygun, Black Market Baby and Leeway. Hardcore used to stand for something at one time, and this was the predominant theme of my chat with Mike.

One thing I appreciate about All Out War's sound is that, like Nuclear Assault and Carnivore--two bands Mike says are "be all end all" groups that helped hedge his band's approach, is the way All Out War effectively merges thrash metal, death metal and traditonal hardcore in ways that bands like Suicidal Tendencies wasted their potential once dabbling with them all. Much as I love How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today, despite being a blatant speed metal record, Suicidal kind of lost it all a couple albums later. Suicidal and DRI can take credit for helping to usher in the crossover phenomenon of the late eighties, but in the end, did it really mean anything? The self-titled Suicidal Tendencies and DRI's Dealing With It are important albums in underground rock. DRI had some fine moments as a thrash band, but where was the importance, other than their brilliant stab at corporate America with "Suit and Tie Guy?" However, when you have a crushing band like the Cro Mags, whose influence is subtle but far more flung that people give them credit for, then it's amazing that hardcore lost its soul afterwards.

The problem today, Mike and I agreed, is that hardcore music has little to say. The fact that it stems from one of the most scene-altering sounds the underground has ever seen means that its current practitioners should exercise some due respect and find something important to take a stand on. All Out War takes a stand not against Christ and Christians, but at the underlying issues of Christianity and how today's church and state union has created terrible repercussions for us all. Meanwhile, I won't mention some of the names, but you can figure them out because they all sound alike...just listen for the ones who follow the same fucking hackneyed script that is sculpted around including three or four breakdown sequences per song, and you'll get what I'm saying.

Mike and I discussed on how hardcore in general today basically postures and rallies in the name of selling albums, but more sad is the fans who hide behind their computers and threaten to beat the hell out of this person or that person for their beliefs that don't jive with their own. Hardcore to them is about fighting, but there's no real physical threat, not in cyberspace. The real physicality comes at the shows when they zany out on one another in the pits, and really, was hardcore music about clobbering one other back in the day? Fuck no. It was about releasing your anger in a positive manner through loud, energetic music that voiced what you were thinking inside that no else but you seemed to "get."

There are lots of great hardcore bands out there today like All Out War, Hatebreed, Path of Resistance, Scum, Brutal Truth, Seventh Star, Ringworm, Madball and so on, because these bands fearlessly take a stand on something real and tangible instead of standing on a pedestal for a photo shoot in AP magazine. I respect Throwdown, but when you can buy their shirts in the malls, what's up with that? I don't think even they saw that coming.

The sad reality to me is that a band like Full Blown Chaos can be pretty entertaining and having interviewed them, I believe them to have the right attitude about being in this scene, but they have a script that's copied by many young hopefuls who mimic the style but do nothing to push it forward. As Mike Score uttered repeatedly in our interview "that's just sad."

Besides, there's still yet to be anything more devastating and emotionally endearing in hardcore than the Bad Brains' I Against I, so much the scene hardly has a fighting chance, pun intended.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Lost Vinnie Vincent Clip

I found this little trinket at and it's a link to the MySpace page of former Vinnie Vincent Invasion drummer Andre LaBelle. Apparently ol' lightning fingers and lightning hair himself was in the works of doing a third VVI album in 1990 that was obviously shitcanned, probably because he slam-dunked his band with those outrageous and nutty guitar solos, and, gee whiz, we got Slaughter out the deal...

But you know want to check this shit out. I certainly did. It's fucking hideous and it's ridiculously awesome too, even if it sounds like Zep in the first few bars. It's a partial track called "Shocker" and it's kinda cool and of course, ol' Vinnie shreds the crap out of the band that left him high and dry. Of course, I interviewed former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin, who told me some hilarious anecdotes about VV being a royal, hyper pain in the ass. Check it out, I dare you...

Andre Labelle link

Create Your Own Band Name

You know it happens all the time... You say or hear something so off-the-wall that you're inclined to respond "Hey, that'd be a really cool band name!" I figure that's how a band like Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers or Anal Cunt came up with their notable--if utterly vulgar--names. Or there's more innocuous names like The Be Good Tanyas or all of those looney 50s "and the" names like Danny and The Juniors or Sam and The Pharoahs or Dickey Do and The Don'ts? Me, I would've gone for Rad Ray and The Retards, but that's just me.

I mean, I could two take items on my desk now, a can of root beer and a Waylon Jennings CD and concoct The Sarsparilla Waylons or something idiotic like that, or take three other items and come up with The Easy Jade Skeletors. I don't know, I'm in a weird mood this morning, especially when I'm looking in the medicine cabinet and thinking, "Hey, what about The Freeze Offs?" Niiiiiice....

No? Okay, well, you guys have at it...