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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 7/30/08

And once again Wednesday spins our way! Tired and drained as the word that got Ralphie a mouthful of Lifebuoy but keeping the faith as best I can. The little spud's keeping us busy when all we want to do is crash from our difficult days on the job, but as all parents will attest, you just end up digging a little deeper and a little deeper beyond that.

At least I managed to squeeze in a lot of CD spinning and get some interview prep work and time in, like Eric Hersemann of Gigan as you've undoubtedly already read here (ahem ahem), plus I had an hour with Matt "The Lord" Zane of Society 1 and now record holder for live flesh suspension Saturday night for Hails & Horns magazine, plus I will be sharing a Take 5 excerpt from that session riiiiight 'chere at ye olde Metal Minute! Other guests are being booked as well, so spud boy better be ready for bedtime so foster daddy can crank 'em out! This Sunday I am scheduled to chat with Uncle Alice for Hails as well, so I'm particularly stoked for that.

Spins-wise, I'd say it was almost a neck and neck between the Koffin Kats' latest album and the new Motorhead disc Motorized. For the second album in a row, Lemmy and the boys try to expand their sound and at least for the first half, there's a number of surprises and new twists before settling into the familiar Motorhead grooves on the second half. Still, it rocks pretty hard.

The promos are just outta control right about now and since the spud actually started jamming out to Flyleaf in an FYE while we were waiting for foster mommy to finish her business, I can tell I've got a little headbanger in the making. Of course, he's cooed to a Ted Nugent guitar solo and of course Sabbath, so the infection is coursing, muah hahahahahaha... I still give him Blues Clues, Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go and have introduced him to Schoolhouse Rock and Fat Albert from the old school closet, and I'm just very impressed with his aptitude for music. I've shown him Looney Tunes and he'll only half-heartedly look at the cartoons, but the minute the theme music comes on, he'll snap in the direction of it every time.

At any rate, let's check 'em in, peeps, and you readers who haven't been participating, please feel free to join in, eh? We don't bite... Well, maybe Bob Vinyl does, but we love him anyway...

Motorhead - Motorizer
Koffin Kats - Drunk in the Daylight
Vader - XXV
The Doors - LA Woman
Gigan - The Order of the False Eye
Mouth of the Architect - Quietly
Mouth of the Architect - Time and Withering
Mouth of the Architect - The Ties That Blind
Nachtmystium - s/t
Nachtmystium - Instinct: Decay
Society 1 - The Years of Spiritual Descent
Blackmore's Night - Secret Voyage
Krohm - A World Through Dead Eyes
Egypt Central - s/t
Cult Fiction - Spitfire

Monday, July 28, 2008

Take 5 With Eric Hersemann of Gigan

Tampa has quietly crept on the radar over the years as a haven for blistering American metal when you stop and consider some of the modern era's greats hail from Tampa such as Cannibal Corpse, The Absence and Hate Eternal. Eric Hersemann is one of the area's more notable musicians, having played with Hate Eternal, Diabolic and Lord Blasphemer in his career. His prolific tech skills on guitar and bass has led to the formation of Gigan, a trio set upon unleashing metal so complex it brings expressionistic elements of grind, thrash, prog and death metal into a swirling miasma of cacaphony.

Add to it a cybernetic undertow that reminds of early years Voivod, and Gigan on their first full-length album The Order of the False Eye have created a layer-filled, senses-attacking odyssey that requires multiple listens to process it all. The Metal Minute caught up with Eric Hersemann for a brief discussion on Gigan's labyrinthine metalscape.

The Metal Minute: Alright, bro, so you backed yourself up from our last correspondence; The Order of the False Eye is one hell of a trip. Since your Footsteps of Gigan EP, you’ve really opened Gigan up to new possibilities. By far, The Order of the False Eye is a broader conception of grind and tech metal with a combination of psychedelics and cyberpunk. You obviously saw the direction Gigan was heading between the EP and the new album, so can you bring us to that point in time where you found the necessary focus to create something so mind-numbingly complex as The Order of the False Eye?

Eric Hersemann: The direction was very obvious to me due to the fact that when we corresponded; half the record was already written! I was also aware that we chose the three easiest Gigan songs to digest for the EP recording. We did not want to freak people out too early with something so intimidating. The Footsteps of Gigan CD was the gateway drug leading listeners to the true addictions of The Order of the False Eye! As far as necessary focus, Gigan is always intent on challenging our fans and listeners with everything we hear in our heads!

MM: There’s something about The Order of the False Eye that reminds me of a deathgrind spin on Voivod. To me, it's something confrontational yet highly evolved to where the listener is compelled to spin this album a few times to get a proper intake, considering the top layer ethereal guitar and bass lines alone demand their own attention, much less the bottom layers that paintbrush the album’s underscore of hypnotic brutality, using songs like “Still Image Symphony” or “Occult Rites of the Uumpluuy” for example. Certainly Killing Technology and Rrroooaaarrr beforehand were so cutting edge and provoking in their day they were hard to digest at first, but of course time has made them metal classics. Is that a goal you’ve strived for with an album as undeniably “busy” as The Order of the False Eye?

EH: Any Voivod comparisons are accepted with great honor and humility. As far as Gigan ever reaching those pinnacles of greatness, we shall have to wait and see. We in Gigan don't think in those terms; we just live in the now and create the best music we can.

MM: Going another step further with that, I spun The Order of the False Eye at two largely different decibels, so much I found the lower volume revealed a lot more of the album’s details and intricacies, whereas the higher volume gauged my ears out much of the time yet created a loud ambience all on its own. Do you feel there’s a dichotomy to The Order of the False Eye in this manner?

EH: No, I feel most records are easier to understand at lower volumes. In addition to that, the louder it gets the less your ears can be trusted, anyway!

MM: Obviously it’s been awhile since you’ve played with Diabolic and you’ve also moved on from Hate Eternal, but do you feel you’ve brought anything from those bands into Gigan? As mentioned previously, Gigan can be spellbinding and trippy but the groundwork for this band is a violent and explosive form of metal that might be said to be rooted in your past associations, just using “Chrysalis” as an example.

EH: No, what I brought from those bands I already had many years ago. Listen to Lord Blasphemer's Tales of Misanthropy, Bloodlust and Mass Homicide, which is also recorded by Sanford Parker, and you will hear the same levels of aggression, dissonance and technicality, albeit delivered a little differently. When I joined those other bands later in my career I brought myself to them, not the other way around.

MM: Grind metal has gotten so sophisticated and technically advanced it’s hard to believe it started with Napalm Death, Lawnmower Death and Wehrmacht. Having created your own mathematic twist on grind with The Order of the False Eye, how do you see this specific genre’s metamorphosis, particularly for your own purposes in Gigan?

EH: I think all genres in metal are in a state of constant change. Things that are currently known as grindcore, black metal or even hardcore are unrecognizable to me. Those labels on bands used to help but now they just confuse. I believe people should stop labeling stuff and start buying it. Then maybe the bands they like will do more than just put shit on MySpace. As far as Gigan goes, we are gonna do what we do and if that changes things, cool! If not, the true fans will show up to see us when we play and that is all that matters! Thanks for this interview and we hope to see all Gigan devotees this summeand fall while we tour!

Copyright 2008 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Sunday, July 27, 2008

CD Review: Spitfire - Cult Fiction

Spitfire - Cult Fiction
2008 Goodfellow Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In some ways the cover art for Spitfire's Cult Fiction is titillating in an unstable, primeval sense, but it is also appropriately dark and disturbing. While one might be led to believe this is a black metal album on the face, Cult Fiction is a revisionist theory album largely based on what Steve Austin has engineered over the years with Today is the Day. Akin to many art-driven screech bands like The Number 12 Looks Like You, Quell or on a more recognizable note, early Norma Jean, Spitfire utilizes shock value to its blunt aural delivery on top of the provoking images barely caged inside Cult Fiction's liner notes.

Though vocalist Jonathan Spencer sears his throat apart with the same frustrated candor of a teething infant throughout Cult Fiction (delivering the recipient of such bleeding vociferousness the same inflicted earache) his rhythm section compensates with constantly engaging post punk (if that's what we're still supposed to call it these days) drive on songs like "The Animal Kingdom of Heaven's Gate," "Meth Monster," "Meat Maker" and "Mother Earth in Labor." The fact there's a Christian-based plea bargaining beneath it all makes Spitfire spiritualists of an entirely different (though no less meaningful) conviction.

Frequently wired for self-destruction, Spitfire plays to the teetering edge on Cult Fiction and the majority of the time they exhibit the discipline to jerk their listeners back from diving off their screaming hardcore cliffs. Artistically coloring "Dawn Patrol" with a trancy haze of guitar and piano that weirdly reminds of Zakk Wylde's more creative moments in Black Label Society, as well as spinning hallucinatory ambience on their two "Apnea" segments, Spitfire manages to instill conflicting parts of calm between the otherwise outraged cannonade blasting Spitfire to smithereens.

Most people are going to want to lump Spitfire into the screamo sanction, if for nothing else, Jonathan Spencer's over-the-edge yelling and a random propensity to expunge speed-skid-halt tempos on songs like "Pro-Life" and "Crossed." The differentiating factor between Spitfire and a prototype screamo band utilizing this conscript is that Spitfire incorporates a bludgeoning breakdown in the middle of "Crossed" that is more reminiscent of Today is the Day instead of your typical windmill and karate kick-inducing metalcore unit. Take another song like "Brain Debris" and its agreeably lumbering rhythm that surrenders to a trail of faint cacophony; shakily experimental yet effective. Cult Fiction has a few bitter pills to swallow along the way, but the album tries to be inventive instead of conventional and it does skullfuck its audience, delivered as promised on the savagely obscene cover. Unhinged art begetting equally confrontational art in this case...

Rating: ****

Saturday, July 26, 2008

CD Review: Koffin Kats - Drunk In the Daylight

Koffin Kats - Drunk In the Daylight
2008 Hairball 8 Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Starting the day with a blast of psychobilly gets you more revved than a posh cup of thematic joe and since nobody can afford a five dollar shot these days (as Starbucks has learned the bean ugly truth), music that contains aural caffeine and adrenaline like psychobilly ought to be considered an alternative pick-me-upper. Of course, the music is mostly so damned fast we're all going to be flying down highways like uncaged hellions to the reckless tempo of this stuff just by attrition.

It's interesting to see what has spurted out of The Reverend Horton Heat, The Misfits and The Stray Cats, all revisionists in their own way and in the Rev's case, nobody could've predicted the one-time fringe rocker would've engineered not only the term "psychobilly," but also a new formula in which the country-styled roots of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Snow and the elder Hank Williams could be morphed into a punk-driven sound that has become a cult phenomenon in later years. As Betties and Whiffleheads gather en masse into their mutant sock hops, psychobilly bands have been cropping all over the country in response. Notably, the Danish Nekromantix have become the kings of psychobilly, usurping a decidedly American sound and finessing it with commanding precision and velocity, so much they have inadvertently forced the homebase practitioners to keep up or eat their dust.

As psychobilly is one of the last remaining threads to fifties' bred American rock 'n roll, Michigan's Koffin Kats has been building their sound with swapped strides at times leaning towards darkness, such as their last album, the angry statement piece Straying From the Pack. However, so long as there's good times to be had and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon (which has rebounded in popularity amongst psychobillies and a broke-ass college crowd) within reach, then don't expect Koffin Kats to sing songs about impaling virgins with the stand of Vic Victor's slap bass, unless of course it's tongue-in-cheek.

On their fourth album, Drunk in the Daylight, the Koffin Kats keep things on a more upbeat note and they belt the tar out of the seventeen cuts on this cranker. Though the production is sometimes tone heavy and a lot of the tracks yield a gross extraction of E Ball Walls' whomping bass drum and floor tom as if the guy was stamping someone's face clean into the dirt, Drunk in the Daylight is nonetheless badass through and through.

Keeping their foot on the gas the majority of the way through Drunk in the Daylight, the album moves briskly with determination but also a relaxed candor, if that makes sense. They take random breaks amidst the speedfest of Drunk in the Daylight, such as "Laws of Sanity," the abbreviated Elvis on a pill trip "Blue Eyed Drug" and the sharply-written "The Experiment," in which guitarist Tommy Koffin pulls some meanly-unzippered notes on the strolling verses before the choruses literally leap out in rapid bursts.

Still, the cash and carry of a psychobilly album is its manic speed, and the Koffin Kats give you more than enough to chew on with songs like "Loud and Hard," "Battery Acid Baby," "Above Me, Beyond You" and the title track. "Well Oiled Machines" steps up the pace even harder, as if it needed picking up at the tail end of the album, but that's to the Koffin Kats' credit; they structure Drunk In the Daylight so that the energy level is kept at a steady throb, even when changing the beat patterns on still-jumpy tunes like "Theme For a Sinner" and the jacknifed "A Vampire's 2084" that is almost breathtaking with the subliminal harmonizing beneath its brute force.

Koffin Kats are perhaps more punk and rock-oriented in nature than some psychobilly bands, though each and every one of them must acknowledge influences besides Reverend Horton Heat ranging from The Misfits to Bad Religion to Adrenalin OD to even Youth of Today. There's plenty of punk-gnarled gusto on this album that puts Koffin Kats at that point Nekromantix was right after Curse of the Coffin, which means if the Kats stay on this course, they'll be one of the psychobilly freakouts to beat in no time.

Rating: ****

Friday, July 25, 2008

CD Review: Egypt Central - S/T

Egypt Central - S/T
2008 Fat Lady Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

For all intents and purposes, the nu-metal explosion in the late nineties died immediately after it made a dent, simply due to a matter of saturation and a going-nowhere effect once it had commercialized itself as most American rock subcultures tend to do once they catch on with a mass audience. Still, give nu-metal a little credit; it brought an awareness back to heavy metal that wasn't there previously and it acted as a catalyst to the full-on revival we have today.

Only a handful of those nu-metal acts are still around to speak of today, while Linkin Park are the darlings of their era who are still able to hold on to their audience beyond their post-adolescent breakout. Of course, this means they continue to serve as a model for certain bands who want to amp up but still maintain thick airs of melody about their business. FM radio has of late tried to metal up in recent years, usually via the inclusion of classic seventies and eighties metal tunes served in hour increments at lunchtime or midnight, but mostly they're seeking bands like Linkin Park, Trapt and Nickelback with which to strap on a heavier helmet (as an excuse to continue playing the same Boston, Kansas and Supertramp tunes they've been spinning for decades) though still make themselves attractive to their advertisers. You're not going to hear Carcass on FM, but you will Megadeth, so long as it's the more sanitized selections of the 'deth catalog, natch. For "Take No Prisoners," you go to Sirius' Hard Attack.

Of course, this mindset opens the door open for a band like Memphis' Egypt Central, a band tailor-made for FM format, although they're a bit more unrestrained than your airwave prototypes. Then again, FM has hijacked a balls-out band like Five Finger Death Punch, so a new order may soon be on the way. In the meantime, Egypt Central (named after a mysterious road in the band's hometown) has ridden the fast track to recognizability with their song "Over and Under" making an appearance in the Stone Cold Steve Austin flick The Condemned. The song, hitting the third spot on their self-titled album bears much of what you know about mainstream hard rock these days, mish-mashing Disturbed with Staind and Linkin Park.

And that is largely the scheme to Egypt Central, churning ear-friendly march rock that unfortunately follows too many scripts and modes to consider them a genuine breakthrough. It's even to the point where many of their songs follow a verse-chorus-verse plod with a breakdown section that allows lead vocalist John Falls to screech his intestines dry, which should sound more than familiar in theory. While "Taking You Down" yields the most giddyap on this album and Egypt Central themselves possess an admittedly competent rhythm section (with some flat-out funky guitar licks from Heath Hindman and Jeff James and personable-sounding bass from Joey Chicago), the album overall is unfortunately too predictible.

Worse, whatever mustard Egypt Central spreads for themselves in the opening half of the album (obviously also to be considered the radio meat of the album), the disc soon wanders about like a mallrat looking for a Hot Topic through the second half. Though finishing with a nice acoustic-led walkoff "Home," by that point Egypt Central has created an album that rocks hard for a party crowd but perhaps not so much for the outcast crew Egypt Central plies to image-wise. There's nothing wrong with writing harmonious rock tunes, particularly since this band is sure to be a summertime crowd-pleaser, but for their own identity, they should reach for something a bit higher on the next go-round.

Rating: ***

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Nuge's Rain Dance at Monsters of Rock in Spain

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

You gotta love this...

Ted Nugent's press agent reports:

"Ted Nugent brought the 2008 Monsters of Rock in Spain to a halt after he performed a Native American rain dance donned in full-feathered headgear. The ritual came as Ted wrapped his set with his “Great White Buffalo” and the ensuing downpour destroyed all the production, staging and lighting, which ultimately forced the cancellation of the remainder of the annual music festival, including a performance from headliner Deep Purple; the July 11 Zaragoza, Spain show’s bill also featured Twisted Sister, Saxon, Thin Lizzy, Pretty Maids, Candlemass and Rage. Now back in the U.S. on his “Rolling Thunder 2008” tour--the Motor City Madman’s 50th trek--Ted is performing classics including “Stranglehold” and songs from the explosive Love Grenade, his 35th album released last fall (Eagle Rock Entertainment); he’s also touring in support of his new CD and DVD (Sweden Rocks). Next month, look for the rocker to make his feature film debut in Beer For My Horses, which stars Toby Keith and also features Rodney Carrington, Claire Forlani, Tom Skerritt and Willie Nelson. In addition, this fall “the Human Tornado” will release his new book (Ted, White & Blue: The Nugent Manifesto), comprising 10 chapters on how to fix America. What is Ted’s manifesto? "That logic, honesty, goodwill and decency will guide a person to a quality of life--and that if a wild guitar player like me can be an asset to self, family, community, country, mankind and the good earth, nobody has an excuse to be a liability,” says Ted. “Doing the right thing is ridiculously easy and always much more satisfying."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 7/23/08

Guttentag, readers, a bit slow on production here at TMM, but my personal time is equally slowed down, all for the obvious reasons, although I've taken a half hour here or there to gnaw on the novel and last night I had a quick ten minute interview with Sound and Fury vocalist Luke Metcalf. Otherwise, it's work, baby, a little bit of sleep, repeat the cycle, get a lot of chores and errands done on Saturday, relax with the entire family on Sunday.

Not a ton of new listening either, but Alice Cooper's latest is the top spinner of the week. As I mentioned in my review, it's just a fun album to sink your teeth into and it'll nibble back at you a little, so by all means, have a go with it. I also got to spin the new Mouth of the Architect album Quietly while running errands last Saturday and these guys just continue to mature. Not sure it delivers the same impact as Ties That Blind, but I'll spin it a few more times before making that judgment. And I've continued to spend time with the classics in the Dio-era Sabbath box set The Rules of Hell, so that basically rounds out the extensiveness of my listening patterns this past week, outside of a little visit to the eighties with Men at Work and and of course some stays at Underground Garage, Punk and Left of Center on Sirius radio. Hope y'all are well; please check in and drop me your spin lists!

Alice Cooper - Along Came a Spider
Mouth of the Architect - Quietly
Sound and Fury - s/t
Men at Work - Contraband: The Best of Men at Work
Black Sabbath - The Rules of Hell

Saturday, July 19, 2008

CD Review: Alice Cooper - Along Came a Spider

Alice Cooper - Along Came a Spider
2008 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Mother Goose was one mean-spirited and violent wench when you stop and read past the gloss of her so-called "children's" sonnets, poems and limericks. Kids often face vicious repercussions, punishment and a hell of a lot of physical abuse, be it Jack and Jill splitting their noggins open while falling down a hill or cradles spilling newborns from tree branches to unspoken calamities. In other words, the hedonistic being writing under the nom de plume Mother Goose bore a grudge against children, no matter how idealistic you dress it up. It should then come as no surprise that Alice Cooper, the world's greatest theatrical shock rock performer can find inspiration in "Little Miss Muffet" to twist a silly fable about a girl spilling her breakfast at the sight of an arachnid into a more contemporary psychodrama set to a largely upbeat pulse on Along Came a Spider, one of Cooper's coolest albums of what many consider the extended second portion of his career.

Uncle Alice spins us a modern-day serial killer story on Along Came a Spider in which he assumes the main character, Spider, a villainous schizophrenic who outlines detailed murders of eight beautiful girls wrapped in silk and with one leg severed off through music that disturbingly flows at a pumping and uptempo rock pace. In the midst of Spider's gory human/arachnid assembly, Alice sardonically sings about a loathing of the general public that causes him to stuff his victims into trunks, leaving their fates to be decided later. Likewise, Spider toys with his victims by stalking and jumping them with chloroform and handcuffs, as relayed on the near-hilarious "I'm Hungry." While the story moves briskly along, Cooper attempts to fuse an imploring bit of humanity into Spider on the mini epic "Salvation."

With a blatant old-school Alice-meets-newer-school Alice methodology, Along Came a Spider is a relaxed vehicle that lets Alice Cooper be Alice Cooper, and he wastes no opportunity to dance gleefully in the waves of late sixties psychedelia on "I Know Where You Live," "I Am the Spider" and even "Wake the Dead," the latter a stripped-down throwback rocker that sounds, crazily enough, like Beck chawing about ripping up redheads, brunettes and blondes to the spin of a nonsensical repeat chorus.

Alice brings the amps behind heavier cuts like "Vengeance is Mine," (which features a guitar cameo by Slash) "Catch Me If You Can" and "The One That Got Away," while drifting backwards to the grimy rockout tone of the Love it to Death through Billion Dollar Babies era Alice on "Wrapped in Silk," which also bears hints of his Constrictor era dotting the choruses. For good measure, Alice drops out a couple of slower songs such as "Killed By Love" and of course, the loud rock blast of "Salvation," which is perhaps the best example of vintage era Alice making its comeback into his later-day existence, resting as easy on this album as it would on Pretties For You or Killers.

Alice Cooper has remained strong in his second coming from the mid-eighties via Constrictor and Raise Your Fist and Yell with Kane Roberts slinging axe or the dropkicked heaviness of Brutal Planet and Dragontown, much less his entertaining and creative Eyes of Alice Cooper album, which might as well be looked at as the retro-spirited catalyst leading to Along Came a Spider.

As "I Am the Spider" wraps up this album on a heavy note that actually launches from a reinterpretation of "Welcome to My Nightmare" on the verses, Alice Cooper finishes his project with an epilogue narrative that leads us to question if the grisly events ravaged through this throbbing rock odyssey are real or the intertwined mental fabrications of Cooper's unhinged muse. Bringing Kiss drummer Eric Singer aboard for another terror rock jaunt with guitarists Keri Kelli and Jason Hook and bassist Chuck Garric (also including a few random guest fills), Alice Cooper creates a sick and twisted tale set to a foot-tapping rock playground soundtrack. In other words, classic Alice. The songs on this album are the most memorable full set of tunes Alice has woven since Raise Your Fist and Yell. End summation, Along Came a Spider is just plain fun.

Rating: ****

Friday, July 18, 2008

What Is a Metal Song That Makes You Think Of Someone, Good Or Bad?

A little class discussion today, folks. As I mentioned the other day on Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday, I assembled a two-disc pool of music that would hypothetically constitute a soundtrack to a possible film adaptation of a novel I've been working on. I had to laugh at myself for having very few metal songs on this thing, but the songs are appropriate and frequently heavy-toned or straight-up rockout cuts, and a lot of them remind me of the places I was at when I first heard them, who my friends were, who I was dating, what-not. I then began to think off-track about songs reminding me of past girlfriends which I felt best inflated a memory, good and sometimes bad.

For instance, U2's "With Or Without You" reminds me of my high school girlfriend, mostly because I hated it back then as a loudmouthed headbanger but ironically what was the big summer hit of 1987 would later end up being one of my favorite songs of the decade and I'm always reminded of that summer and of her when I hear it. Then I could choose Soundgarden's "Big Dumb Sex" for an ex-girlfriend who was the meanest bitch I've ever dated, the biggest tease I've ever known, and though I'm well over it, I continue to laugh at that song, knowing the foul-mouthed chorus was always ringing in the back of my head when I think of those angry three months I dated this psycho Goth chick. I could've picked a Cure song for her ("A Night Like This" comes to mind) but that would've been far too obvious...

If you're talking basic friendship, the Red Hot Chill Peppers' "Me and My Friends" is always one that always makes me smile, while Prince's "Damn U" will always be the song for my wife and I as we still giggle like idiots that something so soft, sweet and melodic could have such a persnikkety title.

But how about a metal song that reminds you of someone, something that has an indelible thread of attachment? I think of AC/DC's "Money Talks," a song I still think is boring, to an old girlfriend who wasn't bad at all (we just ended up not seeing eye-to-eye), and I laugh at how I grumbled to her constantly I felt that song, much less The Razor's Edge as a whole wasn't AC/DC at its best, but it was a monster hit and she loved it, so there you go.

I think of Cinderella's "Shake Me" for a long-lost comrade as another example. I could also think of a thousand songs that remind me of years spent as a teenager with Metal Mark and our lost headbanger-in-arms buddy whom I have no clue if he's even alive or not, but for them I'll pick Testament's "Over the Wall" since we once goofily had a three man mosh pit in a mall parking lot with Testament blaring out of my old piece of shit Escort one stupid Friday night.

I could go on and on about metal songs that remind me of people, but let's open the platform to you, faithful readers...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Vader - "Choices" video

Because I'm in a Vader kinda mood...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 7/16/08

And here we are, folks, another midweek checkpoint. Hope you're all hanging in there and doing well.

I want to talk a second about soundtracks. Unfortunately in the modern age, as with everything else, a good idea that's been around for ages is twisted and skewed to become a mass marketing tool, so much that we've had the lame phenomenon of "music inspired by _________" in addition to the handful of songs that actually appear in a movie. Not that movie soundtracks are hot sellers much these days, still, you have to give a lot of the raspberry for a lack of credibility in what is naturally to be construed as a fast buck.

When you think of the great movie soundtracks like American Graffiti, Pulp Fiction, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Forrest Gump, Six Feet Under, High Fidelity, Fast Times at Ridgemont, Purple Rain, Pump Up the Volume, The Virgin Suicides, The Graduate, Dirty Dancing, A Clockwork Orange and sorts like that, the music filling and moreover, adorning those films can actually be heard in the movies themselves, albeit usually in small dashes carefully cut to accent a 20-30 second scene, but strung together, the pulse of the music in relation to the film cannot be denied.

Being the overambitious forward-thinking-to-a-fault chap that I am, I have a fiction project I've been tapping at and I keep coming back to it to write in spurts. It's already outlined and I constantly draw new bits of inspiration with which to add to it, but even more so, I've had a hypothetical soundtrack to the as-of-yet unfilmed adaptation of this project in my mind for months. This past weekend I went ahead and tugged out 60-plus albums from the wall and really gave them a once-over to organize a two-disc pool of songs that tells the majority of my story through music. Having ripped them into a reasonable succession and played it all back, I'm very pleased with the effect I'm hearing, and even more possibilities and inspiration has trickled through, as I'd hoped would happen.

Though the "soundtrack" isn't quite as metal as I'd thought it would be, I let instinct be my guide and it's more punkish with a hefty portion of eighties nostalgic pop, as well as a few scores a romantic tunes, ending with a morose funereal chant by Dead Can Dance and then the melancholic "Heartbreak Station" by Cinderella. In-between are songs by Circle Jerks, Redd Kross, Eagles of Death Metal, Duran Duran, The Go Gos, The Fixx, Down By Law, Black Flag, Joy Division, New Order, Prince, Suicidal Tendencies, Boris, Thievery Corporation, Paris Combo, Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution and many others. I'm loving the overall pump of the two discs and can picture most of them where they'd fit into my hypothetical film version. I've always wanted to be a Hollywood film music director (amongst my many ambitions), and so this is a small taste of it on my own terms.

Suffice it to say, I've spent the past few days wrapping my head around these discs and drawing strength from them in what's already been a tough week. Of course, before that, I got a few discs reviewed and I couldn't get enough of the new Keep of Kalessin album, thus that one's the official spin winner of the week. The new Alice Cooper album just arrived, as did the new Mouth of the Architect, which I can't wait to spin. Mouth is one of those bands who've progressed with each album and they are amazing live, so I'm anxious to hear what direction they've gone this time. I also discovered that the baby loves the synth rock of eighties electro pioneers OMD, thus that is getting some love around the house, suffice it to say. So my playlist is very short by my standards, but the music has been my kindred nonetheless...

Keep of Kalessin - Kolossus
Alice Cooper - Along Came a Spider
Cataract - S/T
Equilibrium - Sagas
Marduk - Those of the Unlight
MSG - In the Midst of Beauty
Tyr - Land
Ascend - Ample Fire Within
OMD - Live Architecture & Morality & More

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

CD Review: Keep of Kalessin - Kolossus

Keep of Kalessin - Kolossus
2008 Nuclear Blast Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

A permanent image when coming to the band Keep of Kalessin for the first time is a gloomy castle keep housing occultists or demigod worshippers, not far in theory from Thulsa Doom's serpent temple in Conan the Barbarian. The fact that Keep of Kalessin has evolved over the years into a powerhouse black metal band with the tendency to write drowsy guitar ohms overtop their careening speed gives them a deadly construct with which to capitalize impressively on their fourth album Kolossus.

One of Keep of Kalessin's forthright talents is their capacity to create weaving, droning melody lines overtop their hydraulic blast beat strands that is dreamy in some instances, utterly claustrophobic in others. The fact they can also skid the manic tempos down to near nothingness when they want to merge in acoustic interludes and string and piano accompaniment makes Keep of Kalessin new masters of their brand of art.

Though it's been a long and strange journey for Keep of Kalessin with past members such as Mayhem's Attila and Satyricon's Frost holding posts before their publicized arrests, the band's present inception of Obsidian C on guitars and keys, Thebon on vocals, Wizziac on bass and Vyl on drums is even more competent than ever, particularly with an airtight rhythm section that can summon up the majesty of Emperor and Voivod in the midst of Vyl's torrential beat patterns.

While black metal's primary script is to play at breakneck neck with as many bpms as can be crammed in each song, the whole thing can get more than redundant if the artist is a one-trick pony with the project's melodies and harmonies. Such is the rare artisan in this subgenre who can make something so combative and hostile sound utterly beautiful, and on songs like "Union," "A New Empire's Birth," "Against the Gods" and "Escape the Union," Keep of Kalessin expel hyponotic guitar scales that frequently sound like mesmerizing snake cult chants. Savor as well the anticipatory doom intro of the epic title song that launches confidently from its stridence into a literal hurricane of blazingly accurate metal and a near-teary acoustic solo that breathes from a top layer of quick-wristed strumming. Not your standard black metal favor.

Just for apparent kicks, Keep of Kalessin throws in the largely straightforward mosher "Warmonger" to temper the gale force of Kolossus' tsunami, even as it eventually surrenders to a blast-beat-filled breakdown and middle stanza that also yields a tremendous power metal-esque guitar solo from Obsidian C before scaling back to the steady bopping pulse previously established.

Getting frighteningly close to the grandiose eloquence of Emperor in their quest to weave spellbinding dark metal, Kolossus is the album to beat right now in this particular sect of music. Like Nachtmystium or Wolves In the Throne Room, Keep of Kalessin might as well be considered black metal by association only, because they've risen to something far more compelling and intricate. Kolossus inhales gray mists and expunges mesmerizing dragon's breath in one of the most indenting displays of the year.

Rating: ****1/2

Ray Examines Heavy Metal in Baghdad at DVD

Think you know what it means to fight for your rock? You don't know doodly until you've tried to be a metalhead, much less a heavy metal band in war-torn Iraq. Ray reviews one of the most affecting rock documentaries ever filmed in the modern age at DVD Guaranteed to make you think long and hard when you see your Iraqi metal brothers dodging bullets, mortar shell and carbombs and risking arrest in the midst of a fundamental civil war. Journalists Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi literally put their necks on the line to bring one of the most compelling stories about music appreciation you'll ever be witness to.

Check it out here:

Heavy Metal in Baghdad review

Saturday, July 12, 2008

CD Review: MSG - In the Midst of Beauty

MSG - In the Midst of Beauty
2008 Inakustik GmbH
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As with much in heavy metal today, what's old is new again, and it's enough that over 75% of the Who's Who of the original heavy metal clique have recently taken their shots at continued glory, but the theme of the day also happens to be the reunification of vintage lineups, even if said parties had split the bricks between them as long as a quarter century ago. You can either look at it as selling an illusion to a reminiscent generation and a curious new flock or you can take the stance that dipping back into the past can be the catalyst for cool things.

From 1979 to 1983 Gary Barden was the original voice behind Michael Schenker's post UFO and Scorpions solo endeavor, traditionally known as MSG (even if in the mid-to-late eighties it became briefly known as the McCauley-Schenker Group when Robin McCauley nearly helped Schenker ascend to a commercial breakout with 1987's Perfect Timing) before Barden's services were no longer needed. Barden is the helmsman on such Schenker classics as Built to Destroy, MSG, The Michael Schenker Group and the live album One Night in Budokan. After Barden's gallop in the saddle with the illustrious Michael Schenker, Barden did a brief stint with Gary Moore and has quietly hobbled around here and there as a solo artist and in such bands as Statetrooper, Silver and Praying Mantis, along the way chipping in a couple songs with MSG on the recent anthologies Heavy Hitters and Tales of Rock 'n Roll.

Of course, MSG is more the story of Michael Schenker and on a personal note, this writer enjoyed a highly candid 4.5 hour interview with the Flying V-brandished legend a few years back, countering much of his reported reclusive and silent nature. Since I interviewed Schenker, he's kept a subtle presence in the underground with his MSG compilations and 2003's Arachnophobiac plus appearances with contemporaries such as Leslie West and Glenn Hughes.

For 2008, Schenker dips the ladle back into the party punch of his own past by coaxing Gary Barden back for another rock 'n roll jaunt into Nostalgiaville, along with famed keyboard troubadour Don Airey, former Black Sabbath bassist Neil Murray and reknowned drummer Simon Phillips, whose own stout resume has put him in the company of The Who, Stanley Clarke, Asia, Jeff Beck, Judas Priest, Mike Oldfield, Mick Jagger and a host of other notables.

If there was any strategy on Schenker's part with this honor roll cast, it pays in dividends, because his latest MSG project In the Midst of Beauty is a rock solid winner. Though Gary Barden's strayed and sometimes aloof vocals play random foil to the bottled energy of In the Midst of Beauty (showing quite a bit of strain on the near ballad "Summerdays," for example) his veteran presence seems to give Michael Schenker all the inspiration he needs to keep this album largely throbbing on rockout cuts like "Competition," "I Want You," "City Lights" and "End of the Line."

If anyone nearly steals the show beneath Schenker and Barden's wistful performances, it's Don Airey, who gives songs like "Cross of Crosses," "Competition," "Come Closer" and "Wings of Emotion" superfluous character through his pumping organs. As Airey has spent more than a short time hanging with the likes of Deep Purple, expect his dense fingers to produce the same undertow of syrupy psychedelics on In the Midst of Beauty, while Murray and Phillips round out Schenker's rhythm section with the affluent professionalism expected of them.

All of this allows Michael Schenker to write smart, largely upbeat rock songs and in the same breath peel off his licks and solos with far less flash and urgency than he's shown in the past. In many ways, an understated Michael Schenker is a more impressive Michael Schenker because he focuses more on the meat and grind of his songs instead of hiring a standard squad that will allow him to break off insane threads from his trademark Gibson. His solos on In the Midst of Beauty squeal and shred, most certainly, but in his elder years, Michael has learned that the real showcase of good rock music has less to do with fret dazzling than it does creating a harmonious and memorable chugging drive that is only accented by sharp solos instead of being dictated by them. In the Midst of Beauty is one of Michael Schenker's finest recordings, UFO and vintage MSG years notwithstanding. Some things are worth repeating...

Rating: ****

Friday, July 11, 2008

CD Review: Pagan Fire

Pagan Fire
2008 Nuclear Blast Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I normally don't tote gratuitously over compilations since their inherent nature is to cross-sell catalog full-length albums, but sometimes comps are put together with love and honesty for its subject matter or at the very least a stout pair of nads with full comprehension of what it's doing. In such cases, the compilation ends up being quite cool, whether you're talking a two-disc overview of classic soul like Stax's 50th Anniversary collection or the old Flipside punk anthologies, or even a roundhouse of psychobilly cuts on the wild-as-hell Start Your Engines.

Pagan Fire is one of those few compilations that enjoys itself immensely by targeting what most writers would call "Viking Metal," or "Heritage Metal" or "Finnish/Swedish Death Folk" or whatever suits them to describe the tumultuous sound of heavy marching odes usually honoring the Celts, Vikings and other past warring cultures of Europe and Scandinavia. Where Manowar and Saxon celebrated the chivalrously-interpreted cutlassing history of England, there has been a literal flotilla of contemporary metal bands from across the entire Euro continent such as Tyr, Amon Amarth and Enslaved (the latter two of which appear on Pagan Fire) that have turned on the jets and screamed their bloody guts out in what is one of the more fun sanctions of metal being created today.

While a lot of this style of metal is played fast, furious and almost cheeky with an underlying polka essence to much of it, the inherent national pride of the bands playing in this form is worth checking out because that makes their metal just a bit harder, and on Pagan Fire, Nuclear Blast Records gives you the opportunity to experience the insane speed and rancor of these bands, mostly from past and present in-house selections, plus a few outside extractions including a rare cut from black metal legend Bathory.

Even though a band who defines the subgenre like Tyr is sadly missing from Pagan Fire, what is here is more than compensatory, be it the blunt velocity of Equilibrium, Korpiklaani, Wintersun, Bal-Sagoth and Falkenbach or the monster stomps of Eluvetie, Amon Amarth, Primordium, Turisas and Unleashed. Of course, Pagan Fire brings us the graceful black metal caresses of Enslaved's "Isa" and the epic carryover of Moonsorrow's "Kylan Paassa" for good measure.

If growling isn't your thing, that is perhaps the only deterrant from enjoying Pagan Fire, since the majority of these groups bellow their lungs into the sails of the longships and the frost-covered mountains that inspire their songs of heraldry and ransacking. Still, this particular genus of metal is one of the last pure forms being created right now, and sure, there's a bit of novelty to it when you get deep, down and probing into it. I mean, seriously, polka and thrash mixed with reed instruments and war tome chorals? Sounds like the stuff tailor-made for Spinal Tap The Next Generation, but once you've heard the majority of the bands appearing on Pagan Fire, you just might get this stuff and hopefully be won over. Hails and hellstorm abound, this compilation's got the goods and a few oars of chaos to carry you over Pagan Fire's raging waters.

Rating: ****

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Thursday - 7/10/08

So here we go again, late on the draw with this segment. The little spud's got me on my toes and I've had him to myself a lot this past Saturday and most of the nights this week as wifey and I juggle our external commitments and run like mad to shuttle him to meeting places and get him back home. Unfortunately yours truly fell down for the count on Tuesday night in a haze of exhaustion. All you parents out there, I salute you...

At the least, the baby and I have been watching a lot of music DVDs so foster daddy can get a sliver of his writing finished and we've listened to a lot of music together, plus I've been on a blitz of reviewing as well. If there's any front runner this, it would be the latest MSG album since it's not so hectic for the baby, and he really seems to dig it in our travels home. I'm quite impressed with the new Nachtmystium album, so much I'm not sure it's appropriate to call them black metal anymore since they've turned highly progressive with little to resemble them as blackened. Also stay tuned for a review of the Nuclear Blast comp Pagan Fire, which they did an outstanding job with. And so, without further adieu, check 'em in, peeps...

MSG - In the Midst of Beauty
Nachtmystium - Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1
The Beatles - Please Please Me
The Beatles - Hard Day's Night
Bob Dylan - Blonde On Blonde
Lion's Share - Emotional Coma
Pagan Fire
Warrel Dane - Praises to the War Machine
Whitechapel - This Is Exile
Totimoshi - Milagrosa
Carnivore - Carnivore
Brown Jenkins - Angel Eyes
Dream Theater - Greatest Hit...and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs
Black Sabbath - The Rules of Hell
Venomous Concept - Poisoned Apple
Aborted - Strychnine.213

Sunday, July 06, 2008

CD Review: Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs)

Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs)
2008 Rhino Entertainment Company
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Not exactly an enviable task trying to come up with a pliable compilation when it comes to a band like Dream Theater. By-and-large, Dream Theater has always been inherently an album band, not a single-oriented band, which accounts for the hilarious title Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs) on this two-disc anthology that features another interesting twist that is fun in theory, but uncertain in presentation.

By "Greatest Hit," Dream Theater is of course referring to their breakout single "Pull Me Under" from their 1992 sophomore album Images and Words. If Dream Theater has contributed anything in their mainstayed career, it's ushering possibilities within a heavy metal construct that was only being tinkered with before them by Savatage, Yngwie Malmsteen and Celtic Frost. Long before Dream Theater there was plenty of progressive rock out there to wrap one's head around such as Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Nektar and King Crimson. However, Dream Theater is the reason for the coined subgenre term "prog metal" and every month a handful of new prodigies who have been inspired by these guys crop up from their shadowy conservatories and locked basements.

Still, when your band isn't necessarily known for individual pieces of musical payoffs, but rather sell millions of actual records like Dream Theater has done with Images and Words, Awake, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory and Train of Thought, the proposal of a singles-minded package is rather anticlimactic. Still, Dream Theater bounced back on the scene last year with their rockout Systematic Chaos album on a new label (Roadrunner), which leaves an entire catalog at the mercy of the big boy companies to keep the machine running while the cogs are nicely greased.

To its credit, Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs) tries to be ambitious enough to segregate the two discs into "The Dark Side" versus "The Light Side," which only means that the first disc is full of heavier material such as "Lie" from Awake, "Home" from Scenes From a Memory, (both presented here in edited form) "The Root of All Evil" from Octavarium and the nearly doomy "As I Am" from Train of Thought.

On the flipside, the second album "The Light Side" gathers eleven ballads and softies from Dream Theater's repertoire such as Octavarium's "I Walked Beside You," "Disappear" from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, "Another Day" from Images and Words and "Through Her Eyes" off of Scenes From a Memory. Trying to wedge a bunch of low-key tunes onto one disc is novel in concept and it's certainly a good way to make nice with your loved one on a rainy night, but for serious listening, the effect is a little too Kenny G-ish when run straight through, caveat emptor.

Though the Pink Floyd-esque "Peruvian Skies" from Falling Into Infinity makes an appearance on "The Dark Side," as does the overture-minded "Sacrificed Sons" from Octavarium and the heavy-handed and extremely busy "The Test That Stumped Them All," excavated from its imbued sequential run on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, the biggest detriment to Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs) is that it hardly scratches the surface of Dream Theater's capabilities, even at 22 songs. Never mind nothing from When Dream and Day Unite is offered here, although that may simply be a matter of licensing issues.

Sad to say, it's much better to partake songs that are links in a large concept such as those written for the broad-scoped Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory or on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Still, for casual fans or newcomers to Dream Theater, at the very least Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs) will act as a primer with which to get acquainted. The bigger recommendation obviously is to seek out the full-length albums, because a couple of remixes, a B-side track ("To Live Forever") and a cute though ploy-driven vehicle to create actual singles from a full-length school of thought is hardly getting the most accurate picture.

Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, July 05, 2008

DVD Review: Jethro Tull - Jack in the Green - Live in Germany

Jethro Tull - Jack in the Green - Live in Germany
2008 Eagle Rock Entertainment, Ltd.
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

By now Jethro Tull should be let off the hook for upping Metallica at the 1989 Grammy Awards for their album Crest of a Knave, which most heavy metal fans who watched the awards expecting Metallica to be a lock still to this day balk at with adamant fury. Though Metallica will go down in the hard rock and heavy metal compendiums as larger-than-life figureheads now on the same scale of scrutiny as Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, one should take into serious consideration the diverse and by-and-large more complex music of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. When you consider Aqualung is regarded as much of an indispensable rock album as Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Tull should also be noted for such risky and intricate albums that have their own influences on heavy metal such as Heavy Horses, Stand Up, Benefit and Thick As a Brick. Analyzed closely, these albums can be said to have as much contributing influence upon prog metal as Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Let us also not forget that Metallica did a cover of Jtthro Tull's “Cross-Eyed Mary” for irony sake, if not simply a goodwill gesture. While we’re on the metal band cover tune sweepstakes, we can give W.A.S.P. mention for their solid take on Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.”

Jack in the Green – Live in Germany is one of the more unique music DVD enterprises as it corrals a cluster of Jethro Tull performances exclusively from Germany. Culminated largely from performances in 1982 and 1986, Jack in the Green also dishes up a couple of jazzy live tracks recorded in 1993 as well as the DVD’s crown jewels, a pair of vintage cuts from 1971, “With You There to Help Me” from Benefit and Stand Up’s “Nothing Is Easy.” While Jack in the Green could’ve taken the easy route and dug up as many Aqualung tracks as it could, only the title song and “Locomotive Breath” make an appearance here. What’s especially cool about the DVD is that it offers a broader-scoped view of Jethro Tull's catalog, and even if you still think Ian Anderson’s spritely flute isn’t metal enough, by the time you’ve seen “Hunting Girl,” “Locomotive Breath” and of course “Jack in the Green,” you’ll have caught the bug as many Tull fans have done over the years.

Even as they take the stage in the 1982 “Rockpop In Concert” segment on the DVD dressed in fantastical Medieval gear for The Broadsword and The Beast tour, just watching Ian Anderson bob around enthusiastically like he’s commanded by internal switches and twitches is something to behold. As malleable a musician as his shotgun partner Martin Barre, Anderson’s ability to change gears and constantly move to Jethro Tull's demanding involvedness is not only shrewd, but it’s also a convincing display of craft that reveals days and nights of obviously caffeinated writing and recording sessions. Coupled with the recently-released Live at Montreaux 2003, Jack in the Green is a DVD that demands your attention, because even though Jethro Tull may never be put on the same pedestal as Yes or even The Moody Blues, they are one of the mostly quietly-revered technical bands in rock history. They even defied logic and took home the Grammy for Best Metal Performance, go figure...

Rating: ****

Friday, July 04, 2008

One From the Vault: Grand Funk Railroad - "We're An American Band" video

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

CD Review: Venomous Concept - Poisoned Apple

Venomous Concept - Poisoned Apple
2008 Century Media Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In 2004, an underground meeting of the minds featuring Shane Embury and Danny Herrera of reknowned grind sovereigns Napalm Death, along with Brutal Truth vocalist Kevin Sharp and The Melvins' Buzz Osbourne conjoined for a novel retreat down the old school streets of American punk and hardcore, the way it was proudly done in the eighties. We're talking little-to-no posturing and a straight-up dedication to smash mouth riffs, belching yelps and wonderfully cluttery rhythms. Bridging their influences in grind, death metal and punk rock, Venomous Concept's debut album Retroactive Abortion was a meat pizza of Black Flag, Agent Orange, Black Market Baby and Napalm Death served out of some Manhattan locals-only after hours joint.

Although Buzz Osbourne from The Melvins isn't around for Venomous Concept's second go-round with Poisoned Apple, the certainly appreciable trade-in of Nuclear Assault, Brutal Truth and SOD bassist Dan Lilker this time is a no-brainer congential fit, eliminating any possible deficiencies on the low end of Venomous Concept's chunky punk sessions by Osbourne's absence.

Honestly, Poisoned Apple (which could very well be an intended nod to Poison Idea, one of the paving stones of hardcore that Venomous Concept also bears some resemblence to) wields more of the same largely-abbreviated crust-laden course crashing for a sometimes hilariously reckless sound that also conspires towards more brutal measures at times.

Still, the filler slices of Venomous Concept's hardcore hoagie are decidedly punk-oriented, even as they jackknife into Napalm Death territory on "Every Mother's Son," "Toxic Kiss," "Three" and the aptly-titled "Chaos!" Despite the annihilation principles of these blazing trainwrecks filled with guttural (and gut-busting for the listener's purposes) bellowing, Poisoned Apple, like Retroactive Abortion and their split releases beforehand, is more in the vein of traditional hardcore and punk rawk before it became infiltrated by exploiters (not The Exploited, assuredly) looking to dime out a mallrat fashion trend. No matter how fast Venomous Concept goes on this thing, they still keep a firm clutch on the punk influences that brought them all into the game in the first place.

Venomous Concept rips through "Life" and "Screwball" as if hanging with the DRI guys in the basement during the recording of Dealing With It, and they tighten the wheels of their skateboard-minded "Water Cooler," as they drift into the meaner territories of Carnivore with "White Devil" and "Artist Friendly." Venomous Concept also creates hybrids of their respective tastes and backgrounds by turning "Three" into a molar-grinding thrashfest after slinking along on the bobbing bass lines of Dan Lilker, as they alternate "Hero" with swaps of grind and slightly slower moshing rhythms. Still, the bottom line of Venomous Concept's prospectus is to bring the noise punk style and they deliver solidly on "Workers Unite," "Pri," "A Case of the Mondays" and "Drop Dead."

As Poisoned Apple is a labor of love project by four long-established noise makers, by all means expect conventionalism to be tossed out the door. Venomous Concept aren't pretty, nor do they attempt to be. Instead, they offer a sometimes sensory shot of retroactive hardcore after licking their greasy fingers clean of the oil-soaked cheese and tomato sauce before plugging in and playing to an imaginary slam pit before them in their loud-ass rumpus room. A slice of pandemonium, if you please, hold the onions...

Rating: ****

Thursday, July 03, 2008

CD Review: Take it Back! - Can't Fight Robots

Take it Back! - Can't Fight Robots
2008 Facedown Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I hate to prelude a review of any contemporary hardcore album like this, but more than a fair amount of newcomers have done little to nothing to move the sound forward, instead taking the audile and executory principles of Agnostic Front, Youth of Today, Biohazard, Throwdown and Carnivore like a standby recipe and offering very few external seasonings to differentiate their punk crew stew from the countless others barking for attention in the underground.

In case you're unfamiliar with them, Take it Back! is an Arkansas Christian-based hardcore unit that writes largely upbeat songs where the message is spirituality overcoming hard times and jaded attitudes. While most hardcore bands today profess unity and positivity in their roughneck, customarily bulldog-woofed street epithets, there's frequently an air of artificiality to them, particularly with the gang-mindedness behind the cracked salvation gospels preached within.

On the humorously titled Can't Fight Robots, Take it Back! makes no pretentions to propose communal bonding through toughness and rigid discipline that rivals the most intense of the old straight edgers back in the day. Instead, Take it Back! offers their viewpoints of self-reflection and remedies of internal harmony on Can't Fight Robots, largely with the same modes of interpretation yielded from a lot of merged hardcore and emo bands stamping around the scene today. Still, there's a bit of honesty to songs like "Lights in This Town," "Times Have Changed" and "The Truth" that overrides the occasional breakdown sequence, the gang shouting or the traditionally brewed anticipatory bars of mayhem-hinting before running like hell (bad pun, sorry) in speedy bursts typifying a generous portion of Take it Back's! peers.

Aside from their antidotes of constructive introspection, Take it Back! is all about fusing melodic overtures into their archetypes so that Can't Fight Robots moves along at a largely brisk pace, sounding like Bane with even more youthful exuberance and a fresh dash of new theories heaped atop the obligatory prototypes engineering their music. Though the album tends to bottleneck with less assiduity towards the end despite keeping a hefty pace, at-large Can't Fight Robots is a very inspired effort and one that genuinely tries to reach beyond the norm.

Side kudos to Take it Back! for their amusing take on Queen's contrastingly haunted News of the World album cover. Considering the underlying tabs of seriousness scattered throughout Can't Fight Robots, the offsetting humor of the album's artwork allows the listener to get settled in comfortably before Take it Back! sets their album ablaze with mostly fast-paced litanies of spiritual therapy, adding a few new corners and crevices to the existing molds they sculpt with.

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 7/2/08

A more upbeat tempo this week as I'm back to work in a real estate law firm. Very busy office, very strenuous, but perhaps this is an opportunity to grow and perhaps thrive. The baby is beginning to talk and trying to stand and sits up straight, all at 7 months. A remarkable boy; if only he can keep those lungs from blowing out my eardrums, lol... Of course, he'll know what it feels like in due time once the heavy metal infestation begins, heh heh... As it is, the lullaby I sing to him is the chorus of Judas Priest's "Heavy Metal," so the corruption game has begun! If the baby is reunited with his biological parents, they'll be in for it!

Not a lot of time to spin too many discs, but I did play the two Ihsahn solo albums mercilessly over the weekend while I worked on my interview article with him for Unrestrained, coming atcha in due time! Been hanging with Rob Halford and Fight a lot as well with the Into the Pit DVD and CD remasters package, sweeeeeet! And of course, the Underground Garage on Sirius is still where it's at!

Hope everyone has a great 4th of July. Despite the fact Bush has raised enough money to carry the wars into the next administration, let's end this bullshit once and for all and get our troops home so the only fireworks they need to concern themselves with are the ones fired off by the local booster club...

Ihsahn - Angl
Ihsahn - The Adversary
Fight - Into the Pit
Bob Dylan - Blonde On Blonde
Leatherwolf - New World Asylum
Judas Priest - Nostradamus
Equilibrium - Sagas
Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings
Catfight! - In Stereo

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Totimoshi - "Make Your Day" video