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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Guest Writer: Scott Alisoglu: Label Spotlight: Willowtip Records

Certain established labels that consistently release a quality product often have what can loosely be termed a “sound.” That simply means that more often than not a batch of releases will possess a common set of characteristics usually identified with the label. Remember the Relapse sound?

In the case of Zelienople, PA’s Willowtip Records, the “sound” is defined by death metal and grindcore, often characterized by a technical orientation and/or a precision style of playing. Randomly pick a group of past and present Willowtip bands – let’s say, Misery Index, Necrophagist, Illogicist, Severed Savior, Crowpath, Odious Mortem, Circle of Dead Children, Kill the Client, and Arsis – and you will surely hear it.

“My favorite genre is pretty much technical death metal and grindcore, so that tends to be a lot of the stuff I put out [laughs],” is Chief Jason Tipton’s matter of fact response. “That’s what we’ve become known for. There sort of is a Willowtip sound and I’m proud of that. You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re trying to sell. I’m not going to put out something because a band has 100,000 friends on Myspace and it might sell a million albums, but I think they blow.”

The aforementioned “sound” does not mean that every band on the roster is stylistically interchangeable with every other band or that Tipton will sign only a specific type of band. Take for example Impaled’s The Last Gasp.

“I’ve just always really liked Impaled and we finally got the opportunity where things worked out and we could work with them,” says Tipton. “They don’t necessarily have the ‘Willowtip sound,’ but I’m not going to just put out ‘brutal death metal,’ like some labels.”

Here again, passion for the music was the prime motivator; trends and sales potential never played into it. While still a student at Grove City College, Tipton began his descent into the underground in 1998 by independently releasing albums by Pittsburgh area bands that he liked and counted as friends. A split EP by Fate of Icarus and Creation is Crucifixion was his first release. It wasn’t until graduation in 2000 though that the idea of running a label as a full-time endeavor became a career possibility for Tipton.

“My dad owns this computer business and he was like ‘Well, why don’t you just come down and you can help me with my business’ because I was pretty good with computers ‘and if you want to do this label thing, then just do it and see where it goes; who knows what might happen.’ When I was in college I was pretty much devoting my full time to it anyway. Basically, what it comes down to is I put out albums that it turned out people liked and I sort of got a name. I was a business management major in college and I’ve always had a sense for that too. I always had great support from my parents as well. They’d never tell me ‘This is retarded, this is ridiculous, why are putting out stuff from stupid bands?’ If I wouldn’t have had support from my mom and dad, then I wouldn’t have ever tried. I would have went and got a job with my degree. I wouldn’t have put my focus on trying to make this work.”

What came next was a proverbial rolling up of the sleeves. Tipton jumped in head first and learned by doing, while relying on his business savvy to avoid common startup pitfalls like the debt trap. The old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” did not apply to Tipton.

“There are not many labels that I can even think of who have gotten where we are today without being tied into another label or being a person in the scene that knew tons of people.” I didn’t know anybody, except kids that I was friends with in Pittsburgh. I never worked for another label. I know a bunch of other labels that got their start by being given the best distribution and stuff like that and had tie-ins with other labels that were already established. We didn’t have any of that. It was baby steps the whole way to get to learn the business and also become established because we didn’t have anything handed to us.”

That tireless work ethic and shrewd business sense resulted in a well-respected and financially healthy record label. Ask Tipton about the most important part of the packaging and delivery of the Willowtip sound and he will tell you, in not so many words, “It’s the customer, stupid!”

“You’ve got to keep people happy to want to order from you again. When I’m at the office most of the time what I’m doing is packing orders. That has to be the number one thing you have to take care of every day; make sure people get their stuff the same day they order. I want to make sure I’m on top of things with people that are buying our product. I want to make sure I keep them happy because those are the kids that are buying stuff from you. A lot of labels have really screwed up by not doing that. For one thing, kids get ripped off all the time; they don’t even get their stuff sent to them. And two, waiting three to six weeks to get an order? That’s ridiculous! Nobody wants to do that. I treat people the way they’d want to be treated as a customer. There are wholesale orders to send out, there are trades to send out… That takes a lot of time. But if I didn’t have anything to pack it would be real bad [laughs].

Copyright 2009 Scott Alisoglu

Friday, February 27, 2009

CD Review: Kreator - Hoardes of Chaos

Kreator - Hoardes of Chaos
2009 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Moreso now than ever, people tend to fashionably slag bands shy of original members, particularly those who originally made a name for themselves in generations past. Say what you will about Germany's thrasher beloveds Kreator boasting only two residents from the old days (Mille Petrozza and Jurgen "Ventor" Reil), what counts these days is what kind of juice you pour into your reason for being.

Let that be the judge when coming to Kreator's latest crash 'n dash album Hoardes of Chaos. Letting very little off the gas from their 2005 crusher Enemy of God and 2001's Violent Revolution, the only real difference to Hoardes of Chaos is flashier guitar work, sparkling production and most of all, uncharacterically-discernable vocals from Mille Petrozza.

Okay, we have the 55-second airy interlude "Corpses of Liberty" which is as daring as Mille and company have been since the experimental days of Endorama and Outcast. The opening stanza of "Demon Prince" is un-brutally eloquent, but it does launch verily into a speed metal frenzy worthy of the Pleasure to Kill and Terrible Certainty years.

Is there anything really wrong with dressing up a tried and true standard such as Kreator has operated with for much of their career? Yeah, they used to be one of the fastest bands on the planet and sure, there was a cybernetic kitsch ala their classic crusher "Toxic Trace," much less their future-courting Coma of Souls album that has drifted away over the course of time, though recurrent in meted measures. A good example is found on Hoardes of Chaos courtesy of a few otherworldly chords pulled out of the old trick bag during "To the Afterborn."

Honestly, Kreator can still knock heads and provoke audiences into body-toppled mosh pits. Put Hoardes of Chaos up against a large number of their ilk and it stands up like a champ. "Warcurse" alone can outrun much of Kreator's competition much less "Radical Resistance," and even while they scale tempos down to hairs above mid-tempo on "Escalation" or "Amok Run," the enthusiasm Kreator projects doesn't dwindle. The energy is largely expounded on the thrumming heels of Jurgen Reil's thunderous double bass, which has no problem keeping a relaxed pace when called upon to do so before spiking madly on a dime.

Perhaps Hoardes of Chaos is a tad slick for the old guard who've been following Mille's monsterbots throughout their near thirty years--counting when they were known as Tyrant and then Tormentor. Hells bells and the forked devils pulling the doom chimes though, you have to admire the adrenalized fortitude Kreator still brings to the table. That hellion's march introducing the intertwining speed jam "Absolute Misanthropy" is particularly inspired, as is Mille and Sami Yli Sirnio's dancing fretwork. Their synergy on the slower-timed "To the Afterborn" is practically breathtaking in itself, despite the tune being perhaps their most accessible song ever recorded, save for the thrash bursts contained within.

Admit it, you were scared these guys were finished after Endorama...

Rating: ****

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Albums You Can't Live Without - Whiplash - Power and Pain

Okay, granted I'm going to be sending interested parties on a wild goose chase with this selection, but maybe one of you indie distributors who specialize in catalog reissues or perhaps my friends at Roadrunner Records might see fit to make an effort to resurrect this thrash gem.

You talk about the indisputable classics of eighties thrash, you're assuredly going to come up with Slayer's Reign in Blood, the finest thrash and death metal album ever sliced out. You'll also undoubtedly hear uttered Metallica's Kill 'em All, Exodus' Bonded by Blood, Death's Scream Bloody Gore, Testament's The Legacy, Anthrax's Spreading the Disease, Nuclear Assault's Game Over, Overkill's Feel the Fire, Possessed's Seven Churches and Megadeth's Killing's My Business and Business is Good.

Seldom-mentioned except by deep-rooted thrash and metal aficiandos, the New Jersey-spawned Whiplash churned out one of the form's greatest outpourings in 1985, Power and Pain. In some ways, Whiplash deserves credit for being one of the first genuine American thrash acts, while Canada's Anvil and Exciter criminally get overlooked for their early-going contributions to the evolution of speed metal.

Released by a then-very young Roadrunner Records, Power and Pain is without a doubt one of the fastest albums of the eighties, a greased lightning engine of doom with pounding velocity, intense shredding and mind-melding guitar solos from an unsung hero of metal, Tony Portaro.

Take your pick of the lot from this unyielding slab: "Stage Dive," "Message in Blood," "Red Bomb," "War Monger" or "Stirring the Cauldron..." These cuts are brutal, finessed, faster than bowels released by castor oil, occasionally choppy but most of the way dialed in from start-to-finish.

Power and Pain is one of the few albums where the similarity of the songs does it service instead of hurts its cause. Scaling the jackrabbit pace down to medium gallop for one song, "Last Man Alive," Whiplash scorches their cuts with admirable precision and subtle tunefulness. Portaro and bassist Tony Bono work harmoniously together at top flight, with Bono's low-end fills flooding his spaces with submerging vibratum tidals. Meanwhile, Whiplash's third Tony (can you imagine the chaos between Whiplash and management back in the day?), drummer Scaglione gives a knee-popping display of untiring double-hammer mayhem.

Behind-the-scenes of Power and Pain are guest cameo vocals from Agnotic Front's Vinnie Stigma and Rob Kabula as well as Carnivore and Type O Negative's Peter Steele and fellow Carnivorian Louie Beateaux, adding to this album's cult legacy.

Just the soaring power metal bridges and breakdowns on "Stirring the Cauldron" gives the song a higher element of class than it would've had without them. This is what separates Power and Pain from a large number of thrash albums of the decade. Try keeping up with the searing synonymous guitar and bass solo on "Spit On Your Grave," I triple dog dare ya...

Broken strings and bleeding fingers be damned, Whiplash poured everything they could humanly muster into this album. While their next album 1987's Ticket to Mayhem is also a solid exercise in thrash mastery, there's no denying Power and Pain was a moment in time that deserved far more exposure than it got. Whiplash would later resurface in the nineties and 2000s with Insult to Injury, Cult of One and Sit Stand Kneel Prey, all of which are discontinued and are a real bitch to hunt down.

You can find Power and Pain and Ticket to Mayhem on one disc released by Holland's Displeased Records (who mysteriously forget to credit "Nailed to the Cross" on the track listing) as well another import label, Massacre. Whoever is in charge of the licensing of Power and Pain, do us all a favor, most especially Whiplash; get this sucker back out to the metal masses and let a genuine classic unleash itself unto a new generation of thrash addicts and those who might've missed out the first time.

Seriously, if you love thrash, you can't live without this one...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 2/25/09

Aloha, from the balmy east coast! As Foghorn Leghorn would say, that's a joke there, son...

Having been in upstate New York a number of times including in the midst their heaviest winter blasts, I can say it's far worse up there and Maine and you Nor'easter folk, not to mention the Great Lakes states...I pity ya'll... I hate winter, man, despite being a hockeyhead. Makes no sense, I know, but there ya go.

So the week has been crummy, the weather annoying, the family is starting to get sick again, the baby first and foremost. Good times...

One slight glimmer of hope this week but I'm going to keep on the low tip for now until I see what plays out from that.

Music-wise, a lot of variance of genres, but I have a neck-and-neck going between the new Isis and Billy Sheehan albums, which are both outstanding, plus Chicago III, my all-time favorite album. I'd have to go with Chicago since I've needed its healing vibes to get through. As I type I'm feeling a bit of arthritis or something in my right finger, so this album is one of many that just gets through it all...

Readig-wise, I'm still moving along with Stephen King's Just After Sunset short story collection. Viewing-wise, I finished Metalocalypse Season 2 (just need to write that sucker up), Dallas Season 9, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Friday the 13th Part III in 3-D no-less, wah-hoo! That gave me a monster headache but it was fun as hell, no doubt. To think I used to lie when I was younger about seeing that in the theater. It was Jaws 3-D I saw, and it sucked the big one, but in 3-D, what did you care about plot, right?

Chicago - Chicago III
Isis - Wavering Radiant
Billy Sheehan - Holy Cow
U2 - Boy
U2- War
Beatles - A Hard Day's Night
Beatles - Abbey Road
Beatles - Rubber Soul
Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions
Big Joe Turner - Shoutin' the Blues
Wolfmother - s/t
Ephel Duath - Through My Dog's Eyes
The Turtles - 20 Greatest Hits
Herbie Hancock - Headhunters
Barry White - All-Time Greatest Hits
Hank III - Damn Right, Rebel Proud
Kylesa - Static Tensions
Samael - Above

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Guest Writer: Scott Alisoglu - Cenotaph: "Death by Turk"

Death by Turk
By Scott Alisoglu

There is brutal death metal and there is brutal death metal. The latter is a style defined by vocals ranging from unintelligible sewage gurgling to pig squealing, the heaviest of riffs often derived from the early Suffocation school, blast beaten rhythms, and gore-soaked lyrical fare that would make Chris Barnes blush (ok, well, maybe not blush). The fans are a small, but dedicated group, found the world over, their allegiance unwavering and their tastes almost exclusively extreme. It is this segment of the death metal community to which Tennessee’s stalwart Unmatched Brutality label caters, no matter the geographical location.

One of the label’s newest roster additions is Turkey’s Cenotaph (not to be confused with the Mexican act); a demonstration of brutal death metal’s global reach. Formed in Ankara in 1994 by vocalist Batu Cetin, the group (rounded out by guitarists Basar Cetin and Cihan Ak√ľn, bassist Coskun Kaplan, and drummer Caglar Yurut) has released four albums. All have seen U.S. release through the now defunct United Guttural (Pseudo Verminal Cadaverium), Burning Dogma (re-releases of Voluptuously Minced and Puked Genital Purulency on one disc called Voluptuously Puked Genitals), and new Unmatched Brutal disc Reincarnation in Gorextacy, 25 minutes of unashamed grind ‘n squawk brutal death.

Though a key NATO ally and a westernized democracy at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, some may be surprised at Turkey’s sizeable base of extreme music fans, a point that Batu Cetin emphasizes with regularity. And that extends to the families of these musicians.

“My family supports our musical activities,” says Cetin. “My mom had to listen to death metal because every day I listened at high volume in my room when I was 18 – 20 years old, and she can tell me the difference between Bolt Thrower and Cannibal Corpse. I love my family because they have supported Cenotaph since the beginning.”

That support doesn’t stop with Mom and Dad. Batu had a profound influence on the musical tastes of brother and band mate Basar.

“I bought Basar a B.C. Rich guitar when he was 12 years old and he started to play. He joined the band in 2000 when our old guitarist left. He grew up in a death metal family because his brother listens to it 24 hours a day every day and he of course also became a death metal head. We have a project band together called Drain of Impurity, which is a drum machine blast metal band.”

Moving beyond the Cetin family to the group itself, Cenotaph includes in its ranks a membership with an intriguing range of occupations and activities outside of the band. One way or the other though, music is the common bond.

“I’m working at the airport as an airline representative, 13 years doing the same job,” Batu begins. “I’ve worked at three different airports. I’m also running an underground distro called Drain Productions. I released two CDs under this label. I’m also selling underground brutal CDs, shirts, etc. Coskun worked for a while at rehearsal and recording studios in Turkey. Right now he’s working at an advertising company and working all day with PhotoShop. Caglar has a label called Anger Epidemic Records. He released a few death metal and hardcore albums with local bands. Basar is a bit of a lazy fuck, hanging all day at home and also going to university, studying pathology, anatomy, and amputation. He’ll soon work as an amputator; when people lose their arms or legs he’ll do the plastic ones for them. Cihan hangs around at school all day and plays guitar at home.”

The beauty of metal is the universal language spoken by its devotees, one that transcends race, ethnicity, and religion. It is an attribute that becomes readily apparent in discussing the issue with Batu. Because of the media saturation concerning Middle Eastern conflicts, which are often rooted in religion, the misinformed often paints the region with wide strokes, failing to see the dominant middle ground for the fringe elements. Just as Christianity is not defined by its most radical adherents, but by an arguably larger sect that embraces what some would call a sacrilegious musical style, neither does Islam consist only of the orthodox, even in an overwhelmingly Muslim, though secularly based, country like Turkey.

“We respect every religion, but personally I’m an atheist. The other band members have different opinions about this subject. It doesn’t bother me if someone believes as a Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist. For me there are two types of persons that exist in the world: good ones and assholes. I have many friends with different views and I have no problem with that. I also lived for 10 years in Austria, which is a Catholic country and not had any problems with the people or the religion. Every person is free to believe or not believe. People have to respect each other because religious fanaticism and radicalism only starts wars.”

Copyright (c) 2009 Scott Alisoglu

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CD Review: Kylesa - Static Tensions

Kylesa - Static Tensions
2009 Prosthetic Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

To create an album this hungry, this passionate and this important so early in 2009 assuredly didn't come easy given the harsh adversity Kylesa has faced to reach this moment of homogeny. Consider the loss of original bassist Brian Duke, who passed from this life due to an epileptic seizure, not to mention the subsequent exit of drummer Brandon Baltzley and vocalist/bassist Corey Barhorst, and one might insinuate this has become a moment of destiny.

Static Tensions is an appropriate title for a band that has been progressively sifting through their troubles and finessing their sludge-punk-doom art into a cohesive soundburst of rightful and harmonious distortion. Pouring every ounce of sun-baked humidity from their native Savannah territory, the core remnants of Kylesa, Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants have triumphed yet again amidst the smoke of a hard-fought trench battle beginning with their radar-hailing sophomore album To Walk a Middle Course.

At this point in their career on album number four, Kylesa have not only taken the next logical step from the careening vibrancy of their Time Will Fuse Its Worth album, they have demonstratively issued one of this year's statement albums in the form of the booming and dexterous Static Tensions.

It's enough that Static Tension's psychedlic artwork by John Dyer Baizley will leave you thinking of Batman's vegey-vogue nemesis Poison Ivy squeezed through an unnerving Berni Wrightson terror sieve, but the content within is a combination of excitable hardcore and hellish doom strides that never loses intensity. Returning to the expansive production of Time Will Fuse Its Worth's double trouble drummer attack in the form of Carl McGinley and Eric Hernandez, Kylesa is now far more formidable on Static Tensions than they've been in the past. The percussive sublets sculpting through "Running Red," "To Walk Alone," "Unknown Awareness," "Said and Done" and "Only One" capitalize moreso on this album than its predecessor, carving apart what few empty spaces Kylesa leave in their dense and sometimes gorgeous sonic channels.

As Static Tensions kicks open the doors with the monstrous ass-chewer "Scapegoat," expect the pacing of the album to maintain a consistent heaviness on "Insomnia For Months," "Said and Done" and the Fugazi-ish "Almost Lost." Even "Only One" roars like every ounce of past pain in this band exonerated through song once it assumes a blazing Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard tonal explosion following the series of tribal rolls opening it.

The doom expressionism slowly driving "Nature's Predators" on the main verses give way to a series of stepped-up and varied tempo switches reminiscent of Quicksand and Botch before switching back to the lollygagging thunder of the core melody. Perfectly written and executed, "Nature's Predators" changes mood with flawless congruity amidst Phillip Cope's protesting wails of "This is the town I live in, it is an American tension..."

"Perception" adopts a structural theory similar to Isis in the way it comes out raging then has the guts to step backwards and rebuild the intensity of the track with each towering bar, growing louder and louder and then climaxing in a Kyuss-esque free-for-all blitz segment until finishing with a stomped-down finale.

Whereas the drumming duo scheme on Time Will Fuse Its Worth was understated, this time around, their presence is loud and clear and Kylesa has now become the band they were fated to become: a stoner, doom and punk hybrid boasting a high level of class only a few meager steps away from Mastodon's supreme down-tuned artifice. With no pretention intended, Static Tensions is one of 2009's immediate elite.

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesdays - 2/18/09

Greetings, brothers and sisters and all the ships at sea...

A little slack in production this week, apologies. The hit count at the site meter had a considerable spike, so I need to get my slackass moving with some material for you generous reading folk. Those of you who check in regularly know my insane schedule. I had intended to have a review of the amazing new Kylesa album yesterday, but baby, bill writing, insomnia and a short story I'm working on--not to mention a little farting around at Facebook have stymied my output here. Fret not, as Chuck Barris would say on ye old Gong Show, stay tuned, we'll be back with more STUFF...

Yesterday morning while rushing to beat the clock getting those dratted bills out the door, I received a very special email from one of the leading magazines of our genre. It turns out The Metal Minute, along with a nice helping of fellow blogs and websites has been nominated for a web publication award. To be even considered by this prestigious periodical leaves me speechless. I can't even get my head around winning said award since there are bigger and better places in cyberspace, but it goes to show you never know who's reading out there and for all of the aggravation and the argumentation inside my head whether to keep rolling this site, that, along with the continued reader feedback is the judgment factor to keep me moving. Thank you committee, whoever you are...

So only a little bit of promo got spun, although the new albums are filtering in at ramming speed, so I better get a move on, eh? The new Isis album just arrived and that's going to be my geek-out album following Kylesa's Static Tensions, I can just feel it. Iron Maiden's Powerslave wins top-spinner of the week as I continue to obsess over its absolute perfection as I did in the mid eighties. Is this the most perfect metal album ever recorded? A bold statement, considering everyone else would take Number of the Beast over Powerslave, but I'm feeling pretty solid on this statement. For now, anyway...

Also upcoming here at The Metal Minute will be some guest writing from one of my bros and favorite writers in metal journalism, Mr. Scott Alisoglu. Be on the lookout for his articles on Cenotaph and Willowtip in the immediate future. Thanks for gracing the Metal Minute with your work, bud... Everyone else, please keep coming by for more goodies here and look me up at Facebook and MySpace if you haven't already. I'm easy to find.

Iron Maiden - Powerslave
Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death
Psyopus - Odd Senses
Kylesa - Static Tensions
Kylesa - To Walk a Middle Course
Love - Forever Changes
Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Foo Fighters - s/t
Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape
Nashville Pussy - From Hell to Texas
Ephel Duath - Through My Dog's Eyes
Thin Lizzy - Still Dangerous: Live at the Tower Theatre, Philly 1977
The Cure - Boys Don't Cry
The Cure - Disintegration
The Cure - Wild Mood Swings
Yes - Symphonic Live
Korn - See You On the Other Side
Lynard Skynard - Street Survivors
INXS - Kick

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Return to Crystal Lake


So I had the rare opportunity to escape the house last night on Friday the 13th and if anything, superstition played into my favor more than it jinxed me. The parking attendent at the garage near my day job left early and put up the gate, which equated into a free pass, thank you, universe.

After writing up the recently-released Friday the 13th documentary His Name Was Jason (which you can check out at, I had a coupon from the DVD for $5.00 off to catch the new Friday flick which came out yesterday. Granted, this time last year I was bitching up a storm over the announcement that Friday the 13th would be remade. I don't know whether to shake Michael Bay's hand for his ingenuity at retooling and reselling eighties pop culture (his Transformers sequel due out this year looks as badass as the first film, I will admit) or to curse his liberally-borrowed existence.

Damn near every eighties and late seventies horror flick that ever made an impact story-wise or financially has been rebooted within the past five years and for a lover of this stuff, it's been utterly sad to see these pointless redos of The Amityville Horror, Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Fog and the especially needless redux of The Omen. Bad enough a frightening portion of the moviegoing public today are unaware half of these films were done ages ago. I will give credit to the new Dawn of the Dead for mostly making its own story and being an entertaining zombie romp, but seriously... Enough is enough is enough, you guys. Get your own goddamn stories, willya?

So yours truly tried to rustle up some company for the Friday the 13th remake but fate wasn't having it and I'll leave my friends to their privacy in said fashion. I've never been ashamed to go to the movies by myself (I've done it three times since the baby arrived for obvious reasons), but I will say this, even after chowing on sushi at Wegman's and loading up a basket full of various teas I can't get anywhere else, plus flowers for the wifey and my favorite soup mix Mrs. Grass chicken noodle (again remiss of most grocery stores save for Wegman's), I was feeling a bit weird picking up my lone ticket amidst a throng of teenagers. Over two decades ago a mall used to be in this location and that was where I hung every weekend in my teenage years; I consider those grounds to be my own Fast Times at Ridgemont High, no matter what they've done to the place. The torch has long been passed, whether I wanted it or not.

I killed some time in the middle of the square where they have a large fireplace going and a little mouse came scurrying out to lighten up the tension in the cold air, which was now filled with the cloudy exhalations of laughter, repulsion and terror. Normally I'd find a rodent's public presence a bit nasty, but we were technically outdoors, thus it is the mouse's territory; we just liberate it unto ourselves as sovereign beings.

Come time for the flick, I saw a monster line of grumbling and noisy teens at the bathroom near our side of the theater, so I walked to the opposite side and strolled in where only myself and another did our business. Gotta love it. Experience wins over youth.

Popcorn and soda in hand, I mosied up to the theater portal where a bunch of folks were already hovering and waiting for the theater to open. Suddenly an usher forces all of us in our location to form a line behind what amounted to be one hell of a queue. Tempers were flaring from the seeming hopelessness of this wraparound line, while I thought back to the days when the original Friday films came out. Business as usual, as far as I was concerned. Bring Voorhees back out of space and put his rotted ass back where he belongs and people are suddenly interested again. Kids today have no clue how long we stood in line for movies during the eighties and how commonplace this phenomenon was, considering theaters usually only had one print of the film, not three or four as is today's convenient norm. You kids are spoiled rotten! You want to steal what Gen X had before you? Pay your dues and suck it up!

As soon as the doors opened, panic ensued and people in the back of the line shamelessly turned around and squeezed into the file of folks who were already there first. I honestly wasn't all that worried about getting a seat, being a single viewer and also aged 38. I've learned now that teenagers want nothing to do with sitting near old geezers, even though we have first claim to these fucking films to begin with.

So by attrition I ended up being the last one in line and I didn't try to lobby my position further because the universe said I was exactly where I was supposed to be. With cussing and shoving ahead of me, I, along with the last four in line were told Friday the 13th was going to run in the next door theater as well. Can you dig it? Though that theater filled up just as fast, I calmly strode in, found the seat I wanted and ye bang, thank you, universe.

What can we say about Friday the 13th 2009? Not much different than what you'd expect from a traditional Jason splatter epic. Teens wander into woods, start fucking, find stray cannabis leaves near the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. They think they're in the Garden of Eden, until a sack-faced Jason Voorhees rips them new assholes.

Flash forward six weeks, another group of college idiots turn up on the other end of Crystal Lake for a weekend shindig. You know what's coming to them. Enter the brother of one of the first group of campers looking for his missing sister. Jason takes exception to all of this milling about in his territory and begins dispatching them commando style. More fucking (at one point treading very close to softcore porn), a topless water skier doing aerials with her perky little tits bobbing in time to The Hives' "Tick Tick Boom," you get the picture.

The new Friday the 13th is designed to hopscotch elements of the first four original films. Writers Damien Shannon and Mark Swift grab what they see fit to use of those flicks, be it the brother (Jared Padalecki) in search of his lost sister Whitney (shades of the fourth film), the original Camp Crystal Lake sign planted surreptitiously in the background, the "legend" of Jason beside a campfire (despite preliminary word they wanted none of their characters to know a thing about Jason to give him more aura...oops), kids partying at a lakeside cabin or some of the eighties' more memorable kill scenes re-thought in newer-realized spectacles. Expect to see Shannon and Swift, along with producers Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller try to one-up Kevin Bacon's throat goring stunt from the first film, for starters. Hell, we even see them pay tribute to the original movie in a death sequence occuring in the basement of the luxurious cabin where a broken hanging lamp swings back and forth after the kill. Remember what happened instantly after Marci took a faceful of axe in the original? You really gotta know these films religiously to pick up the new one's subtleties.

How about Jason strung up in a barn, albeit this time with chains? Of course the big to-do is how Jason obtains his famous hockey mask which is much different than in Friday the 13th Part III where Jason shows up from the shadows, having swiped the nerdy prankster Shelly's prop hockey mask after sending him to a prolonged death. Honestly, in the new film, the way Jason finds the mask is too blase and far too convenient, but then again suspension of disbelief was always key in this series. Frankly, I prefer us not seeing Shelly's death on camera, but rather finding him gasping for air in a later frame and dripping blood from a fresh throat slash (ahh, you're fooling no one, Shelly), while his killer lumbers into another scene wearing the mask before shooting a harpoon into the eye of Rita, Shelly's would-be love interest. Now that's making an entrance bearing a new death shroud.

Nana Visitor (of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as a briefly-seen Pamela Voorhees has no fault really other than not being Betsy Palmer. The flashback sequence of Momma V chasing down the last camp counselor (certainly nowhere near as memorable as Adrienne King) then hijacking all of Betsy's critical lines before losing her head in un-gory fashion is rushed through so quickly you almost don't care, other than to see a young Jason at the scene picking up Mommy Dearest's cause. Honestly, this forced exposition could've been left out of the film since nobody bothered to dial in, performance-wise or plot-wise. Then again, I guess we need some sort of explanation for the reason there's a bed in Jason's cabin bearing his name carved into the headboard. Oh, how sweeeeeet....

Then there's the scoring. Ugh. Okay, this is a modern interpretation for a contemporary audience, but Steve Jablonsky's work here just doesn't work, at least for a Friday the 13th film. We want Harry Manfredini's traditional orchestral score and the way he leads his ensemble to peel off quick cello strikes to haunt the scenes more appropriately. Jablonsky reportedly wanted to pay Manfredini subtle homage, but it's so subtle you're going to be hard-pressed to find it unless you're listening out carefully, and honestly when you watch the first four films, isn't that what you're doing half of the time, waiting for Manfredini's death chimes? It lends to the creepy aura. Jablonsky's scoring is too peppy, too bouncy, too loud, all indicative of a rushed society that favors getting-to-the-point in the most noisome manner as opposed to building up genuine suspense. By the way, did anyone else hear John Carpenter's Halloween theme ever-so-silently during one of the scenes in Jason's cabin before his mommy's lopped head is discovered in a carved hole in the wall (and thought to be a doll, groan)?

Credit where it's due, though. Some of the kill scenes are quite colorful such as the meaty boat sequence where an arrow takes the driver out while his topless girlfriend not only gets rammed in the head by the boat, by the time Jason catches up with her overtop a pier, her noggin-skewered dispatch is particularly gruesome. In the opening montage, one of the girls gets torched over the bonfire while strung up in her sleeping bag. Meanwhile, her boyfriend gets caught in a bear trap which Jason has laid out for him and his final moment on earth will remind you of what nailed Mark the paraplegic in Part 2.

Friday the 13th 2009 also has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper's version not the recent version) nuance playing into the scheme with Jason's subterranean domicile (which we've never seen before, figuring he was content with an abandoned bunkhouse), plus his willingness to hold Whitney (Amanda Righetti) captive instead of snuffing her like he would anyone else. Can't you hear it in the distance? "Bubba's got a girlfriend!!!" The connection between Jason and Whitney here is that she bears slight resemblence to his mother, at least the one showing in a keepsake locket Jason has--oy. Of course, Whitney borrows Amy Steel's mode of preservation in Part 2 by utilizing some head games to toy with Jason. Ho-hum. Someone call in Lar Park Linkin or Dana Kimmel and show this chick how to really take Jason to the mat, eh?

Unfortunately, this Friday the 13th simply cannot resist the urge to screw the entire endeavor up with its cheap shit ending. It would've been better to have let the camera fade on Jason's sunken mask than what Shannon and Swift write for us... You know what's going to happen by mere insinuation and most likely Shannon and Swift wanted to honor the memory of the original film, but let the crowd's reaction be the gauge to having Jason leaping out of the lake in a flash-cut finale (never mind he's supposed to have has brains shredded out beforehand): More than a few people screamed "Lame!" at that final uninspired moment.

And they're right to say so. Friday the 13th 2009 was every bit as predictable as you would think, except the sex is hotter, the lead frat boy is more of a dick than usual (and you do cheer his riotous exodus out of the film) and Derek Mears as Jason moves at top flight. It did have things going for it.

Like the zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake, Mears' Jason doesn't merely shamble along. Though setting no speed records for woods stalkers, Mears' hulking mobility makes his interpretation a pleasant surprise, considering anyone who really gives a crap about these films feel Kane Hodder was robbed. Sure, Mears spends 99% of his time behind a head wrap and a mask, but his dexterous crouching and leaping, along with his considerable girth (despite being leaner than previous Jasons, due to the continuity factor of him living off the land) makes this Jason more of a hunter than nearly all of those from the original films. In the past, Jason would stalk, hide, cut the electricity, appear during incandescent lighting and kill. Under Mears' guidance, Jason does all of those, however, this time he uses his victims as bait to lure out the others and he is seen on rooftops patiently waiting for anyone to come outside and pounce upon. Also take note this Jason wears something of a military jacket as well, giving him an altered appearance.

So in essence this Friday the 13th was not all that bad, but it certainly has its weaknesses. Of course, it far outshines Jason's last four outings, Freddy vs. Jason included, which was brought to you by the same team as this one. For one of these dratted remakes, I can at least give it a shaky near-thumbs-up, taking it for it's worth. I really loved the bridge location between the abandoned camp and the slight clearance where a fair portion of the film takes place. Dreadfully shivery. I also salute the troops here for waiting until Jason has first batch of kills before flashing up the title of the film, despite it being about 20 minutes in. Very inventive.

Though it took them a bit of time to start making some chatter, the crowd eventually started groaning and guffawing during the moistier death sequences, which is really all what the Friday the 13th 2009 team is likely looking for at this point, realizing the reviews would be unanimously horrendous just in mere hindsight.

Of course, on my way out of the theater, I by-passed the line of anxious teens trying to get their bladders unloaded and handled my business on the other side of the theater once again, having that bathroom all to myself. You know what, you kids just keep on doing what you're doing; why mess up a good thing?

Unfortunately on my way out, I spotted a movie poster for the remake of Last House on the Left. Jesus, Wes Craven's original was sick enough! I guess they'll go after the nefarious rape ordeal of I Spit on Your Grave next. To make matters worse, we already know Freddy K's sharpening up the gloves yet again and rumor has it Robert Englund has been thrown over for the role.

Hollywood, you're exactly what teenage America called you in that theater last night: lame.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Take 5 With Ross the Boss

Photo by Katja Piolka

Though it's been two decades since he's called Manowar his home, legendary guitarist Ross the Boss returned to the band he helped found a few years back at the Earthshaker Festival in Germany where he gave a guitar clinic, hung with fans and of course, took the stage with his former bandmates including a band alumni version of "Battle Hymns" that has to be seen in its bombastic glory in order to appreciate the moment.

Coming out of Earthshaker was a renewed interest in power metal for Ross the Boss. Though continuing to crop up with beloved punk pioneers The Dictators as well as Manitoba's Wild Kingdom plus his other bands such as Brain Surgeons and The Thunderbolts, Ross the Boss returns to the metallic crunch he made a name with during the eighties on Manowar classics such as Hail to England, Into Glory Ride and Battle Hymns.

His debut solo album New Metal Leader yields some of the classic Manowar sound that Ross peeled wicked riffs and solos upon, while changing the album's scheme along the way to straightforward rock, melodic rock and even a flamenco-based power epic. The fans have reacted strongly to New Metal Leader as The Boss (not Bruce, I assure ya) is back on the prowl. From a batting cage in New York, Ross the Boss took some time out to chat with The Metal Minute...

The Metal Minute: I want to start with the Manowar years. Manowar’s historically been more of a phenomenon in Europe, South America and Asia as opposed to the U.S., even though you guys are one of the heaviest metal bands from this country. Did it feel like a major fight trying to develop an audience here in the States?

Ross the Boss: You know, I think a little bit of it was our fault and a little bit the fault of the media here. We didn’t tour as much as we should’ve back in the early days when there was that buzz going on with the band. We should’ve definitely toured more in the clubs, just gotten a small truck, go in and do our thing, and expose people to the talent of our band, not necessarily the equipment of the band! (laughs) Yeah, Europe was more of a bigger audience, obviously.

MM: That 2005 Earthshaker Festival where you played with Manowar onstage including that awesome all-alumni rendition of “Battle Hymns” to me would appear to be a sort of catalyst for you doing some more power metal, which leads us to your first solo album New Metal Leader. Put us there at the Earthshaker Fest from your perspective and what it did to inspire you to do this album. I’m sure the fans’ reaction to you was worthwhile...

RTB: It was cool to reunite with the band; it was definitely a cool vibe. There was a great audience, we had that Manowar fan festival thing for about four days, we got to meet all the people from around the world, so it was great. The fans’ reaction to me was cataclysmic, it really was. This one guy just got on his knees and bowed to me like I was the pope! (laughs) I said ‘Get up, man, I’m not the pope!’ That’s exactly what I said to him! It was unbelievable. It was heartfelt, truly heartfelt.

MM: In general I’d say New Metal Leader is a drift back to the vintage Manowar sound, pre-Fighting the World with a few surprise tunes here and there. I definitely feel the Battle Hymns, Hail to England and Into Glory Ride essence on this album.

RTB: Yeah, but it wasn’t an attempt to recapture that sound. It’s just the sound that I generate and it’s the sound my new group generates. I mean, it’s real drums, a guitar player who plugs right into the amp; there’s no effects. We have solid bass playing. If our sound harkens back to that sound you’re thinking of, yeah, that might be true since I’m one of the guys who helped make it. We knew this album was going to be a different thing. It obviously has to be a little like Manowar; my logo and the artwork does touch on the Manowar era, but it’s not Manowar II, I’ll tell you that! I didn’t want anything to do with that.

MM: You throw out some curveballs on New Metal Leader such as “Constantine’s Sword” and “May the Gods Be With You,” which is more of a power rock vibe, then you’ve got “Matador,” which has a rock epic feel with some flamenco in there. Were you out to show your fans there’s more dynamics to Ross the Boss by changing things up on this album?

RTB: We wanted to just put a diverse bunch of songs that would showcase the band, especially the songwriting skills of the band. That’s always the thing with Manowar, each song was different than the next. I mean, we didn’t do “Hail and Kill” and then “Son of Hail and Kill,” you know? (laughs) It’s like with some bands, you listen to one song and then afterwards it’s the same song but not as good and it continues for the rest of the record! In this band we change up keys, we change up approaches, tempos and singing styles. My favorite thing was “Matador” and the flamenco. I’ve been dying to do something like that for so long and I told the band, "This is the song! I’ve got the idea, I’ve got the riff, that’s what we’re doing!" The guys, Patrick (Fuchs) and Matthias (Mayer) were like, "What?!? This is disgusting! That sucks!" Then every day that went by, they were like, "Actually, that’s kinda good! It’s getting better." Unbelievable! Then Patrick adds his vocals to it and then we have the title and the subject. So then it was like, "Wow, this is unbelievable! This is the best song on the record!" It went from shit to hit! Seriously, I’m very proud of it; it ‘s a cool vibe.

MM: The Dictators were obviously an institution at CBGB’s. What was it like playing with The Dictators during CBGB’s final weekend? I’m sure it was quite a moment...

RTB: That I can say was truly an emotional weekend for us. We had played there so many times. I must’ve played there 50 or so times in my career, and Hilly and the Kristel family was always so gracious to have me there. If I needed a gig, I had CBGB’s, even to all of my projects besides The Dictators, even to all the groups around town. They were friends to a lot of original music and that was a very, very emotional weekend for us, especially that last song we played with Tommy Ramone—the only surviving Ramone from the original group—and Tommy’s singing “Blitzkrieg Bop.” He came up to us and said "Look, I just want you to know we all loved The Dictators! Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee, we all loved The Dictators. We idolized them and we were so influenced by them and maybe they didn’t get all the credit they deserved in the history books," but now we are! It was truly an emotional weekend.

Then when the song was done as it was the last punk rock song to be played on that stage, it was like, "Oh, fuck! This is weird..." It was haunting. We miss Joey so much. After the Ramones were finished, he was such a scene maker. He would keep our scene together, he would have his gigs and birthday bashes, he would jam with us. He just kept the whole scene together because everyone loved him so much. He’s truly missed, I’ve got to tell you. Joey Ramone is truly missed. He was a sweet, sweet man. You know Andy (Shernoff) our bass player and songwriter, he was in Joey’s solo band and he wrote songs for the Ramones. He was at Joey’s bedside when he died. The whole thing is just too much. It’s hard for me to talk about it, it really is. The fact that I’m still alive and the fact that all of us are still alive, it’s makes you realize how lucky you are to have good health.

Copyright 2009 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 2/11/09

Greetings from the slowly-warming banks of the Mason-Dixon line...

We'll keep things brief once again as this proves yet another challenging week with the loss of a friend I used to roll with on Friday nights in our posse of poets and performers. Seems like now is the time where people young and old are suddenly departing this life and it's hard to make sense of it other than to try and mentally wrap your head that it might be you one day soon, so you take the best measures possible to stay Death's hand as long as you can. Cheers to you, Chris, hit them some mean bass licks up there...

Trying to catch up on sleep as little man is now 14 months old and sleeping quite well, praise the Lord. Though he's not ours per se, he is a part of the household and the house wins, as my daytime partner would say. I recommend all you wannabe parents to consider your age as you make your choices because this isn't easy. My hats off to all the single parents and all the couples keeping watch over their flock. I have a full appreciation of the parenting experience now. I will be enjoying my first Friday night out since the kid arrived this coming week, thank God! I never used to be home on Fridays before him.

With the magazines folding left and right out there, I am starting to court new periodicals, but I am also looking towards the horror genre which I've always loved. I just recently joined Horror as an interviewer. I just completed a chat with Stevan Mena, director of the horror spoof Brutal Massacre. I was also given wonderful encouragement from an esteemed director in the genre and I feel this is an avenue best suited for me. Thank you for your offer of assistance and the motivation to put in play, my friend.

I am also happy to say an old friend of mine in the mortgage industry was falling on hard times I learned and she was facing possible jail time. I knew of an opening somewhere and gave her the contact. I'm pleased to hear she got the job and I pray she gets her life on track from here on out.

Okay, not so brief, but music-wise, I'm full-on for the new Kylesa album Static Tension. This one's a danged smoker! Some more Thin Lizzy, some Kyuss, some Peter Frampton, some 400 Blows, some Thievery Corporation, you know how I roll...

Kylesa - Static Tensions
Thin Lizzy - The Ultimate Collection
Peter Frampton - Frampton
Kyuss - Blues for the Red Sun
Kyuss - And the Circus Comes to Town
The Cure - Faith
Thievery Corporation - The Outernational Sound
400 Blows - Black Rainbow
400 Blows - Angel's Trumpets and Devil's Trombones
Metal Church - s/t
Jeff Beck - Performing This Week... Live at Ronnie Scott's
Flogging Molly - Float
Seizure Crypt - Under the Gun
Evile - Enter the Grave special edition
Nashville Pussy - From Hell to Texas
Krokus - Hellraiser
Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich - Krupa and Rich

Sunday, February 08, 2009

CD Review: Seizure Crypt - Under the Gun

Seizure Crypt - Under the Gun
2008 Bad Elephant Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Can I just go ahead and say it now? After two albums, New York's Seizure Crypt are fucking nuts...

Of course their attitude of unapologetic hardcore psychopathy is certainly what the doctor ordered when this style of music has mostly lost its identity. Do you get the feeling Seizure Crypt's reason for being is to mug it up purposefully as a direct protest?

Though it's highly unlikely Seizure Crypt will become kings of the punk rawk jet-setting scene, their home is right where it's supposed to be: stuffed onto miniscule stages with barely any clearance of the air ducts and heating pipes with a crowded throng of locals going berserk to Seizure Crypt's blazing gun punk for the spasmatically insane.

Seizure Crypt have nothing to do with youth crew nor do they take a stance in favor of anything, other than busting their dripping nads in a generally unforgiving hardcore underground. Likely these guys have worn more beer than consumed it playing in cramped quarters with a bunch of sweathogs dogpiling each other in response to Seizure Crypt's old-fashioned knockabout hardcore.

This is the style of hardcore today's generation is afraid to play since it's more fashionable to ply to an artificial unity scene mandated by the junkie format soundtrack of verse-chorus-breakdown. Seizure Crypt is closer to Cryptic Slaughter, Crumbsuckers and The Meatmen, all names swept into hardcore oblivion along with Black Market Baby and Adrenalin OD. Seizure Crypt, for all of their undisciplined rowdiness, would've easily scored a spot on the classic Flipside magazine compilations from the eighties for their mere chutzpah alone.

Zipping out ridiculous and sarcastic ditties like "The Last Icon," "No Room Left to Bleed," "Crazy Cat Lady" (reportedly based on bassist Brian "Bro Town" Kaminski's experience living with an old bat who housed 60 felines) and the sick 'n twisted hilarity of "When You Die (They Throw Yer Stuff Out)," the bopping pace of Under the Gun is like trying to keep up with a masturbation addict.

The preposterous yet hilarious woofing vocals of Mike SOS and Tom are enough to test most folks' patience, but their tradeoff yowls are literal ravings that provoke more than a chuckle or two along the way.

Under the Gun wraps its business in a little over 20 minutes, which is just enough time to get your laugh on as well take a few stagedives off your deck as practice for the real event. What Seizure Crypt does is hardly pretty, but it's the exact kind of knucklehead mayhem hardcore has been sorely lacking since the days of Suicidal Tendencies' "I Saw Your Mommy" and the Circle Jerks' "World Up My Ass." The left-for-dead cedar coffeetable in your attic has more polish than Seizure Crypt, but it's nowhere near as fun.

Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, February 07, 2009

CD Review: Evile - Enter the Grave Special Edition

Evile - Enter the Grave Special Edition
2009 Earache Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

America, feel humbled. You have to understand how special it is when a British metal band chooses its roots in Bay Area thrash instead of its domestic NWOBHM bands, not that this writer will quibble in either case, so long as the material is respectful and brings something to the table.

In case you haven't heard them yet, England's Evile are something like classic Metallica, Exodus, Slayer, Obituary, Forbidden and Death merged into a post-modern thrash entity where yeah, you've heard every tomahawked lick, every scorching shred line, even their symmetrical bloody ode to Julius Caesar as you hear on Enter the Grave. Familiarity has its advantages, however, in Evile's case. When you have former Metallica producer Flemming Rasmussen in your corner, some of that old speed elixir magic is going to rub off in your favor. Ripping their tunes on Enter the Grave with precise dexterity and an inarguable love for the original source lends every ounce of thrash-addicted charm to this project.

What's particularly fascinating about Evile is how easily these young bucks translate the vintage sound. Had they come around as a unit during the rise of thrash in the mid-eighties, they would've at least been sitting on the same tier as Heathen, Deathrow, Atrophy or possibly Death Angel in the latter's formative days. Even more striking is the way vocalist/guitarist Matt Drake executes his voice with bare strenuousness. Tom Araya is obviously his god since the issuance of his words are an exact facsimile of Araya's snide pentameter, though Drake almost never makes the effort to elevate his octaves. Nor does he need to.

This allows Matt, with his brother Ol Drake, bassist Mike Alexander and drummer Ben Carter to stamp down on the thrusters of their limitless mosh propulsion on songs such as "Thrasher," "First Blood," "Armoured Assault," Killer From the Deep" and "Schizophrenia." The concentration of Enter the Grave is veritably upon Evile's capacity to nearly tear the strings from their frets as well as punch a hole into Carter's protesting snare receptacle. The fact Matt Drake emits just the bare minimum vocal projection necessary to guide the already explosive tempos is refreshing, since his singular tones are clear and defined, whether he's in the studio or onstage. He serves the base of the songs with even-kilter, gravelly rasps instead of trying to determine the highest octaves or deepest grumbles to undermine the album's continuously punchy rhythms.

Structured like Metallica on the title track beginning Open the Grave, Evile goes for the throat instantly thereafter and seldom unseizes their chokehold. Even the tempered metal marches like those dominating "Bathe in Blood" and "We Who Are About to Die" are still smashed down with protesting thrash.

Speed junkies to the core, Evile's 2007 debut Enter the Grave is well worth chasing down, particularly this special edition which further endears the band to the old school which effectually gives Evile a reason for being. Inside this repackaging of Enter the Grave are three demo tracks, an accompanying 2 hour DVD as well as a guitar pick and denim band patch, all in the name of bridging the generation gap into a united force Billy Milano crooned about on Speak English Or Die.

The DVD is particularly fun as it mixes footage of Evile on tour supporting Megadeth with live studio renditions of all ten of the album's songs, plus interviews and on-the-road shenanigans. To be their ages with such focused talent on a major package like Gigantour across Europe... You see why they were selected through the onstage scenes as Evile can more than handle themselves onstage and there's a bit of a spectacle watching the nimble fingers of the Drake brothers and Mike Alexander move fluidly together. Stay tuned for an amusing story involving Alexander and Lee Altus of Exodus who are kindred spirits of the bottle, shall we say...

Most bands attempting to replicate even one bar of Bay Area thrash almost need to baptize themselves in the San Franciscan waters courtesy of a cannonball leap off the Golden Gate in order to gain a realistic sense of how it's done. Evile's Enter the Grave masterfully bonds its new blood to the old ways when labels such as Combat and Megaforce served as birth canals to some of the fiercest music being served up in its day. Hell, the main album selection is fun enough and proves this band has done their job honorably, but listening to the blazing demo tracks "Sacrificial" and "Darkness Shall Bring Death" proves how scary good Evile are.

Rating: ****

Thursday, February 05, 2009

CD Review: Maegashira - The Stark Arctic

Maegashira - The Stark Arctic
2009 Spare Change
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Doom metal is expressed visually and aurally through different translations. Pulp fantasy depictions are one means of doom's outlandish expressionism, while psychedelic swirls and translucent monochromes are another. Howling jackals, cracked skulls, naked succubi, all fair game with doom, which has become more extendable and pliant over the years since the days of Saint Vitus' general unacceptabilty by a riskless rawk crowd of the eighties.

Let me tell you something. The minute I laid eyes on the cover of Maegashira's The Stark Arctic and its hapless tapestry of varied white and emotionless pastels, a few things came to my mind: One, that I freakin' hate winter, beautiful as it can be on a Saturday afternoon when everyone's home and the tea kettle's blowing and football season's in its crowning phase, just as hockey begins to get interesting in its long and winding second half. All that, and still winter is so goddamned depressing. Two, a deep, slate gray winterscape has a capacity to drag you into a vertigo-like tailspin of perplexing infinity to the point you could be walking half a mile in the shit and feel like you've been marching in a swoon for hours. Three, you're subconsciously on guard for unattended Siberian Huskies that quite likely harbor spidery aliens inside ready to tear your spleen out.

How can you not find an appropriate doom sensation from The Stark Arctic simply based on its outer presentation, much less the bombastic dirge contained within? As if giving raging voice to the barren tundra of frostbitten hostility, JJ Koczan (also editorial overlord of Metal Maniacs magazine) blares vehemently overtop his band's slick 'n sudsy guitar licks and head-slamming sludge riffs.

Koczan's sweltering yelps and demonic ralphs overtop Maegashira's otherwise rocksteady grime on the uptempo-downtempo switcheroo of "Carribou Crossing," the crunchy din of "Baggage Claim/Skin Slip" and the noisome "Hi From Jersey" are not quite what you're expecting from a traditional doom outpouring. Forcing you to intake Maegashira's sonic expenditure at a nastier toll, Koczan blatantly wedges his group's syrupy songs into a blustery funnel ushered violently by his uncontrolled yelling.

Harrowing note sequences are found on The Stark Arctic amidst the mire-slogged chord deliveries, such as the opening stanza of the 22-minute gunk epic "Back to Muro." "Muro" is so calculated in its icy savagery it waits for just the right moments after plucking lines of false security in order to peel your vulnerable ear canals open with which to let Koczan wallow cruelly inside. Consider the effect similar to the class clown catching you off-guard in the midst of a hazy afternoon trance by screaming purposefully into your reverie.

As brutish as the sumo wrestler's lumbering girth from which Maegashira derives its namesake, don't expect The Stark Arctic to be graceful whatsoever. You will be pushed beyond your tolerance if the mix of abusive yelling and belching overtop laced-out doom threads is too much to process.

On the other hand, The Stark Arctic is as frigid and oddly captivating as falling astray in a frozen no man's land where only a brackish sound this ugly could capture the mood so appropriately.

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 2/4/09

Not going to blab too much this week as I'm still feeling some melancholy about Metal Maniacs, my co-worker who was let go and other bits of things. But hey, those Steelers pulled out a miracle against a very deserving Arizona Cardinals who put up an amazing show in the 2nd half. Yay, Steelers! That Fitzgerald, though, wow, the man's something special...

Had an interview with Trevor Phipps of Unearth last week and I should be getting both Wayne Static and Dee Snider this week, so I'm starting to squeeze just a little bit of my life back into play, even though little man keeps me busier than a porcupine in a nudist colony, as Foghorn Leghorn would say.

Thus it's been a heavy dose of the entire Static-X studio catalog this week including the new one Cult of Static, but also massive shots of Thin Lizzy as well. The baby seems to really dig "Jailbreak," good boy...

Thin Lizzy - The Ultimate Collection
Thin Lizzy - Bad Reputation
Static-X - Wisconsin Death Trip
Static-X - Machine
Static-X - Shadow Zone
Static-X - Start a War
Static-X - Cannibal
Static-X - Cult of Static
Nashville Pussy - From Hell to Texas
Narcosis - Discography 1998-2007 Best Served Cold
Thievery Corporation - The Outernational Sound
Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady
Growing - His Return
Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration
Jim Croce - The 50th Anniversary Collection
Guns n' Roses - Chinese Democracy
Pat Benetar - Best Shots
Steel Pulse - Smash Hits
Cro Mags - The Age of Quarrel
Grave Digger - Ballads of a Hangman
Volbeat - Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood
Zombi - Spirit Animal

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Metal Maniacs Closes Up Shop For Now

John of Beyond Fear, Liz Ciavarella, Wifey, Ray and Dave "Capt. Cavebitch" Brenner

Yet another victim of the Bush administration and Wall Street's failed economy, it was hard to digest the news that Metal Maniacs, along with Metal Edge and Relix magazines are all ceasing activity indefinitely.

I can poll my fellow metal scribes and the majority will tell you that Metal Maniacs has long been one of the most revered periodicals of our scene, one we all climbed mountains to become a part of. I can honestly say when I was accepted as part of the Maniacs staff I felt one of the bigger moments of accomplishment in my journalism career. Not only has the pay been fair in a medium that seldom has the means to compensate its writers, but Metal Maniacs' editor Liz Ciavarella has been, bar none, my favorite of the bunch. I think we might've had one testy moment that was of my doing, but Liz has always treated me with respect and given me an abundance of assignments in my few years on board.

I am most pleased to say I interviewed some of the coolest in the scene such as Exodus, Helloween, Max Cavalera, Metal Church, Testament, Fear Factory, Earth, Chris Poland, Hammers of Fortune, Leaves Eyes, Master, Destruction, Gorerotted, Warface and others. I had fun taking Glenn Danzig as well as Joey Belladonna during the Anthrax reunion, and I was especially proud of my chance to do horror-related interviews with Betsy Palmer, Don Coscarelli and Stuart Gordon. I won't ever forget Liz giving me the green to venture up to New Jersey to the camp where the original Friday the 13th was filmed to take photos and write a companion article to the Betsy Palmer piece. Seeing the tiny bunkhouse where Kevin Bacon got his throat gored out was incredible in a strange way, as venturing down the main street of the town where Annie the cook shambles through in the opening of the film.

I can say some of the best of the best writers in the biz have come through Metal Maniacs and I value the chance to work on the Fear Factory piece together with Liz. I came to the magazine when her publicist husband (and my main hookup shiznit in this game) Dave Brenner shot her a blog piece I did where I battled Megadeth's Peace Sells...But Who's Buying against Metallica's Masters of Puppets and crazily declared Peace Sells the winner. Liz ended up publishing this insane battle in Maniacs after I'd tried to get in for months beforehand and thus I was brought aboard. Scoring my gig at Maniacs in such a zany fashion is one of the pride and joy stories of my writing history.

Though we've been told Maniacs is in the "hiatus" stage, it's difficult nonetheless to imagine life without this magazine. On the same day a co-worker of mine was let go, this news comes thereafter. Once I finish writing up the new Zombi album for Heavy Metal, I might go sit and contemplate what this scene is truly about to lose without Metal Maniacs...

Thanks a mil, you greedy corporate fucks. May hi-def scorch your worthless eyes.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Albums You Can't Live Without: Scorpions - Lovedrive

Alright, no doubt the horny teenager that gravitated to this album based on the legend of its cover is still lurking around inside me more than 20 years after-the-fact. Even today I'm still in dumb awe of it. I originally had Lovedrive on vinyl back in the eighties, which meant I sat staring transfixed upon it--particularly the back cover--with intense obsession. After awhile you start feeling like you have no life because the sight of this redhead German hottie with her left boob hanging out is irresistible to the point of stirring the loins into a stupid overboil. You know what happens if you let a pot go too long on high...

This classic album cover with a German version of a British dandy yanking bubblegum off the scrumptious breast of his seemingly obtuse escort is the stuff of alpha exuberance. Yet, for a brief moment in time, it was banned in the U.S. to the point you could only get the cassette version that featured a less interesting silhouetted steel scorpion. Fine for a different album cover, but the Scorpions at this point were reknowned for their artwork, which was sometimes controversial given Lovedrive and the ultra sleazy Animal Magnetism. The alternate artwork for Mercury's bland by comparison cassette release was almost punishment for everyone involved, most especially the consumers.

What most people don't know about the Lovedrive album cover, and it is extremely hard to find in print, but the reverse artwork where we get nudity and the redhead holding a framed portrait of the Scorpions was in fact another form of censorship to what truly exists there. If you manage to find the original photo on this album, you're going to find she's completely topless and she's actually jacking the guy off with his crank on full display in her hand. Ever wonder why her face is scrunched up so tightly she looks like she's either taking a dump in the backseat or straining herself to the point of exhaustion? There you go.

Now, is all of this outrageous titillation the reason you can't live without Lovedrive? Well, yeah, and when I interviewed Matthias Jabs last year, we discussed the cover and he mentioned even he's astounded when fans across the world show up with the fully uncensored version of Lovedrive for him to sign.

You might say the mid to the late seventies was all about pushing the envelope with sexuality, as if trying to outdo the Roaring Twenties and in many ways succeeding. Robert Palmer broke through in 1976 by ramming the mainstream with his one-night-stand depiction on his Pressure Drop album where his nameless plaything stands bare-assed in the background, showing her fronties off to the balcony. Then there's Whitesnake's Lovehunter from 1979 with a naked vixen straddling a king serpent (no subtleties there). Hell, even John Lennon and Yoko Ono were in on the be free, be naked spree of the seventies with their famous nude cuddling pic which appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Honestly, though, the Scorpions could've simply made do with their dirty visual work and called it a day, yet the contents inside Lovedrive more than makes the difference as it is one of their finest albums to-date.

Almost everyone who appreciates heavy music recognizes "Loving You Sunday Morning" within the first few notes, even if the Scorpions have more widely-recognized tunes which we don't need to address at this time. With the same bravado as the album's cover, "Loving You Sunday Morning" is a breathy and addictive tune about weekend flings, where unlike Palmer, the idea is to stick around just a little longer and have a second helping.

"Another Piece of Meat" is naturally more to-the-point and you can draw your own analogies to it, but the rhythm is smoking, the riffs titanic and Klaus Meine's spiraling high octaves really juice the choruses on this one. It's the direct structural antithesis to "Can't Get Enough," which belts out cautious and anticipatory verses, building up that sweltering tension that has already been climaxed on "Another Piece of Meat." You might say the two songs interconnect with "Loving You Sunday Morning" since you can timeline the three together as an oversexed batch of tunes to grind continuously to.

As the Scorpions are one of the only hard rock bands to legitmiately pull off ballads without being pukey, they serve up two of their best on Lovedrive, "Holiday" and "Is There Anybody There?" The latter song is a purposeful slowdown moment, the proverbial cigarette after hot sex with its breezy island feel. The Carribean textures of "Is There Anybody There" is so direct the Trinidad-based rock unit Orange Sky would cover it faithfully last year on their sophomore album Dat Iz Voodoo.

While some bands covering "Holiday" have opted to be so creative in their interpretations they jack the tempo to punk speed, the swaying dreaminess the Scorpions relay is the more appealing way to go, particularly after the pumping, nympho throb of the title song, which calls for something of temperment.

Then of course there's the fantastic instrumental "Coast to Coast," which was one of the Scorpions' calling card tunes in concert during the eighties. Yes, people actually went more berserk for "The Zoo" and "Coast to Coast" at one point in time instead of "Winds of Change," "Big City Nights" and of course, "Rock You Like a Hurricane." Wait, I did say we weren't going to go there, didn't I?

All of the shock value of Lovedrive's front aside, it's the confidence lurking inside that makes the album indispensible. Also featuring Michael Schenker's last official recording with the Scorpions, that too lends the element of not being able to do without this album being in your collection.

Exhibiting all that generated the term "cock rock" in heavy metal, Lovedrive is vintage in that respect, but so very few bands afterwards could match its musical integrity. Sometimes you need some actual substance behind all of that bubblegum foreplay...