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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/31/10

Mornin' ya'll...

I say it so much I might as well consider myself a suck-up, but you readers make my week and it's my pleasure to keep The Metal Minute afloat while I work on my other projects plus attend to family duties. Not once have you faithful lot deviated according to the weekly hit count, even with scaled-back production. I can't it say enough, thank you.

Coming up through this week will be reviews of what was promised already and I think we'll see a surprise Take 5 sneak in here, groovy?

Though he's not metal, almost every true music fan loves Johnny Cash. The original Man in Black, before metalheads usurped the image. In fact, Johnny was so forward-thinking he embraced all types of music outside of country. Yeah, he did a strange duet with U2, but more so if you've ever seen his seventies variety show, Johnny Cash brought on entertainers from country to rock to folk to soul to gospel. The man was a legend for multiple reasons and if you get a chance to hear his farewell album American VI: Ain't No Grave, be prepared to be devastated. Joey Ramone's goodbye solo album was wrenching enough, but Johnny Cash stares death in the eye and sings about it on this album. If the Grammy committee doesn't give him a posthumous award for this album, then quite simply...they're fucked in their heads.

On that note, cheers to each and everyone of you and enjoy the Easter holiday however you may!

Blue Oyster Cult - Tyranny and Mutation
Blue Oyster Cult - Secret Treaties
Blue Oyster Cult - Spectres
Armored Saint - La Raza
Exodus - Exhibit B: The Human Condition
Scorpions - Sting in the Tail
Scorpions - Blackout
Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left
Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune
Miles Davis - Porgy and Bess
Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um
Harry Connick, Jr. - Red Light Blue Light
Johnny Cash - American VI: Ain't No Grave
Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette
Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Judas Priest - Sad Wings of Destiny
Wolfmother - Cosmic Egg

Saturday, March 27, 2010

CD Review: Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune

Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune
2010 Sony Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Michael Jackson's passing still fresh on our minds, the industry term "legacy performer" is uttered more than ever these days. While largely attributed to artists who now hold sonic splashdowns from unseen stages on the other side, a legacy performer could easily be Elvis Costello as much as Elvis Presley--one still with us, the other the recipient of posthumous re-coronations twice a year.

In the case of Jimi Hendrix, the music world continues to obsess over the impulsive talent this man congealed into any amp able to sustain the introspection woven from his Fender. Many writers say Jimi Hendrix was a perfectionist, but if you watch his Woodstock performance with less critique of his fingers on the frets, it might be said the cat was pure gut. Then again, you're talking about a reel-to-reel analog player who never had the opportunity to play with Pro Tools and sweep out any dust from his playing, so yeah, he probably was hard on himself. For this writer's money, though, the more roughshod the guitar resonance, the better--a stance changed over the years as a one-time proponent of precise solos and flawless arpeggios.

Thus it presents both joy and confusion to walk up to fellow music aficianados lately and query, "Hey, man, did you hear the new Jimi album?" Yes, the typical answer rings to the tune of "Nice trick from the grave, dude..." However, it's 2010 and we're discussing a kinda-sorta new trick bag from the late Jimi Hendrix, Valleys of Neptune.

Scuttlebutt has it the more devout of Jimi Hendrix's followers have been pressing the powers of attorney watching over Jimi's estate to hand over the goods. In this case, twelve quasi-locked-up recordings following the Electric Ladyland sessions which offer a transitional, er, experience following a trifecta of psychedelic bliss which needs no further substantiation.

Like the Beatles, a suddenly "new" song from the vault of Hendrix makes instant headlines, which is the primary reason Valleys of Neptune has emerged. Smart money at work here, though. Instead of launching a mass campaign behind "Valleys of Neptune" the single, a more digestible (though still capitalistic in nature) enterprise comes forth in this rough trade listening session where the listener is subject to some of the last known recordings featuring The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Meshed together as if we're all privy to a sitdown with the band at work on their future.

Sadly, history dictated a different course for Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding and Jimi. Already having to suffer a split with original bassist Redding, the next inception of The Experience was apparently on a full-tilt boogie with Billy Cox by the time these Valleys of Neptune sessions were captured. Despite the fact there's a misnomer at play under Valleys of Neptune's premise, the collected presentation still tells a story.

Part of it is exhibited in these round robin demos and studio jams cleaned and remixed by famed mixing mogul Eddie Kramer, who presents Valleys of Neptune more concise and tactile than anyone could've expected. Grimy and flumpy, these songs are hardly perfection, yet Kramer glues the pieces and shines them to the point Jimi and company sound like they're nailing their business to the sheets in their sleep. Jimi's uptempo blues screeching on "Lover Man" resonates on its own merits with some of the most footloose soloing his fans have ever heard.

"Ships Passing Through the Night" offers listeners multiple layers of rowdy distortion and clean picking through blues, funk and psych measures before Jimi juices up. Listen for the amplified wah during the fadeout of "Ships" and recognize he who birthed Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption." If you were sick to your stomach the first time you ever heard Axis: Bold as Love, get ready for similiar tingles in the gut. Jimi's the best of all-time, even when he's not around to judge if this work is worthy of himself.

Another part of the saga on Valleys of Neptune is the changeover between Redding and Cox, as both are represented here. That's Redding fielding the chorus on the stripped-down, February, '69 version of "Fire" and his rambling bass is unmistakable. By contrast, Billy Cox gales through slide notes on the syncopation-filled "Stone Free" on this album, as well as the magical mystery tune in celebration, "Valleys of Neptune." Though the "Stone Free" offered here has officially been released in the past on the 2000 Hendrix box set, the difference is Cox on this album's version, effectively washing Redding out through overdubs from the box set version. Can you say cuh-cuh-controversy?

"Valleys of Neptune" itself had manifested in part as a brief excerpt featured on the Lifelines radio show box set. The cut being offered on this album is obviously put together from broken pieces, yet Kramer's final mix is a sheer blessing. You can hear bits of "Crosstown Traffic" leaking into "Valleys of Neptune" along with other slices out of Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland, which may explain why Jimi shelved it. Still, it has a long-ago funk rock vibe which Fat Albert would've grooved to if he didn't have his own junkyard band.

One of the pumping standouts on Valleys of Neptune is "Lullaby for the Summer," which provide the innards of "Ezy Rider" in instrumental form, yet it's jacked up fun listening to the original constituents of The Experience plow and ride together. This three-man rumble was undoubtedly a personal and private moment before surfacing for public consumption four decades later. Ditto for the terrific cover of Elmore James' "Bleeding Heart," which sucks you in the minute Jimi coaxes "Hear me, people, hear me, people..." Get on the nearest butterscotch cloud and float away with the soulful southpaw on this one.

"Red House" checks in again on Valleys of Neptune as well as a crazy fun instrumental cover of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." The former is another exhibition clinic from Jimi, who changes up a few scales. His nod to Eric Clapton on the latter is just sicko to hear him downpick a long succession of clapped improv notes set to congo lines, then rip out a solo which--sorry to say with all due respect, Mr. Clapton--far supercedes.

Passed off as all brand-new material, don't be guilded by Valleys of Neptune, particularly if you're a devout collector. Do pick it up, however, because "Bleeding Heart," "Mr. Bad Luck," "Hear My Train a Comin'" and "Crying Blue Rain" are worth the trip just by themselves. The rest of this expository submission--a lot of which was added and dressed up by Mitchell and Redding in 1987--is proof positive Jimi Hendrix is a legacy perfomer. In this life and somewhere beyond the Spanish castles.

What else is the estate holding from us?

Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, March 25, 2010

CD Review: Scorpions - Sting in the Tail

Scorpions - Sting in the Tail
2010 Universal Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In this, the reported final year of the Scorpions' four-decade career, I'm feeling nostalgic enough to drift back to 1988 and the Monsters of Rock tour headlined by Van Halen (Hagar for you David Lee Roth purists). I was fortunate enough to attend that summer fiesta which was opened by Kingdom Come, Dokken and Metallica, the latter of whom were just debuting Jason Newsted and were in their waning moments as a pure thrash band.

Exciting and fast as Metallica was and surprisingly durable as the OU812 era of Van Halen presented themselves, it was the Scorpions who were the class act of the bill. Dare I say, they upstaged their hosts simply by doing what the Scorps have done for 44 years now: rock uncompromisingly. Sure, the Scorpions were partial innovators of the massive stage lighting schemes as part of their own headlining tours, but it's their ceaseless pounding and identifiable tunefulness which has made them champions of metal music. Back in '88, the crowd went as nuts for "The Zoo" and "Another Piece of Meat" as they did "Big City Nights" and "Rock You Like a Hurricane," never mind the Scorpions would go on to reach further heights two years later with their signature global hit, "Winds of Change."

It all seems like yesterday and yesterday is the name of the game on the Scorpions' parting gift to their long-timers, Sting in the Tail. While their previous albums Humanity 2.0 and Unbreakable were branching out moments more fans need to spend time with, Sting in the Tail is all about the old times and the good times. Consider this album Lovedrive, Virgin Killer, Savage Amusement, Crazy World and Love at First Sting all compacted and updated for a goodbye party which will coax a few chokes along the way while instigating quite a few bittersweet headbangs.

With an unapologetic self-rip of "Loving You Sunday Morning" and "Rock You Like a Hurricane," Sting of the Tail chugs out to the fore with the bobbing anthem "Raised On Rock." Is this really 2010? Seriously? Somebody tell Klaus Meine and the boys, because "Raised On Rock" is an eighties car-cranker if there ever was one.

You have to love how the Scorpions are so confident in their long-standing identity they amp up the grooves of the title cut like it was hip advert material, and they crank up the speed and the volume on the teeth-knocking "Rock Zone." With all the gang shouts, harmless innuendo and pole dancing power riffs, the Scorpions reinvent everything they'd recorded from Blackout to Face the Heat on "Slave Me" and "Turn You On." Shake a tail feather and listen in for all the bad boys running wild chords and wahhs throughout most of Sting in the Tail. It's evident the Scorpions rode through their own nostalgia train with current drummer James Kottak and bassist Pavel Maciwoda and the rails can barely hold their steam.

Granted, four out of eleven cuts from Sting in the Tail are ballads, which would be inadvisable if you were anyone but the Scorpions. Masters of the power ballad with their timeless makeout jewel "Still Loving You," three-fourths of the love jams on Sting in the Tail are agreeable fun. "Sly" will remind most of "Still Loving You" and "Holiday," while "The Good Die Young" stands out for its towering second half and guest appearance by former Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen.

Unfortunately, "Lorelei" might've done better as an outtake for the inevitable expanded edition as it's a momentum skidder with its silly lovelorn aching. Compelling in 1983, not so much in 2010, albeit the caveat to avoid chicks named "Lorelei" stands well-advised, given the numerous rock odes dedicated to this moniker.

Sting in the Tail sidles to the finish line with the okee dokee "Spirit of Rock," which is more a bit tame than big time. It is more fitting for the middle tier of eighties rockers such as Rough Cutt or Y&T instead of a veteran juggernaut like the Scorpions, but why needle at this point? "The Best is Yet to Come" likewise holds a finger on the trigger with its love note essence, but it sends this group into the sunset on a sweet hey-aye-hey-oh note full of aspiration instead of gloom and doom.

What to say of Klaus Meine? His regiment of vocal warm-ups have to be something, because he continues to emulate his younger self with thorough conviction. As Klaus teasingly states on "Raised On Rock," he was born in a hurricane. Well, you're apt to believe him, sheesh. Likewise, Matthias Jabs and Rudy Schenker jam their respective MJ and Flying V up the wazoos of the entire rock world, defying emulation. Their tag event will forever be uniquely theirs, talk boxes and all.

In the end (and what a great end it shall be with a two-year tour in support of this album), Sting in the Tail is bread and butter Scorpions for their arena-dwelled faithful. It sounds large, not epic, booming, not devastating. In general, Sting in the Tail presents a happy vibe for a band historically keeping a piston pulse to their rockers and glove love smoothness to their ballads. For old times' sake, ask the lady in the back seat of the limo for some gum...

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/24/10

Greeting, friends, how ya'll be, as the late Justin Wilson would pipe...

The first draft of my novel is complete and the editing phase is under way. That should mean increased production at The Metal Minute, so be on the lookout for upcoming reviews of the new Scorpions, Armored Saint, Dark Tranquillity, Exodus and Jimi Hendrix albums, plus catching up some old business long overdue.

Keeping things brief today as I'm in editing mode. As always, I thank you for your undying support of this site.

Scorpions - Sting In the Tail
Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void
Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune
The Chieftains - The Best of The Chieftains
Flogging Molly - Float
Sonic Youth - Goo
Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left
Nick Drake - Bryter Layter
Nick Drake - Pink Moon
Thin Lizzy - The Definitive Collection
Tori Amos - Scarlet's Walk
Cinderella - Night Songs
Grace Jones - Slave to the Rhythm
Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette
Iggy and The Stooges - Raw Power
Armored Saint - La Raza

Sunday, March 21, 2010

DVD Review: Blank Generation

Blank Generation
2010 MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The thing with punk rock, particularly in its early-on stages is there's no way to be subjective with it. Unlike metal, which applies itself fundamentally to documentarians and filmmakers because its constituents are largely outgoing in conjunction with music so damned loud, punk rock is largely apposite. Before punk became a marketable commodity in the 2000s to the point you can buy punk rocker Halloween costumes, it was the most anti-social, confrontational music scene before the Scandinavian black metal scene emerged.

It's why films like Sid & Nancy, The Great Rock 'n Roll Swindle and Jubilee ring with quirks instead stocks and bombs. Punk is so basic in its fuck-you concept filmmakers and obsessively curious historians have gone to lengths of overkill trying to sociologize it all. Honestly, Rock and Roll High School works because it has The Ramones to amp it up, but it's so intentionally pretentious and subversively pop-minded you forgive it at face-value. Even The Great Rock 'n Roll Swindle is designed to be a roast in the Sex Pistols' inimitable sludge 'n glass style. Repo Man, Class of 1984 and to certain latitudes Return of the Living Dead are cyberpunk, cowpunk, crunkpunk, gorepunk, whatever you want to name them, but they're more about flavor capture as in the brand of iced tea in the convenience store which gets overlooked and bought last behind the more trendy Arizona and Lipton brands.

Don Letts' The Punk Rock Movie is perhaps one of the finest attempts at punk time capsuling, while Penelope Spheris made her mark in punk with The Decline of Western Civilization before turning her camera and mike over to the hairballs and thrash masters for the more-familiar Decline sequel.

Despite, there's still something a little trite about a title called "The Punk Rock Movie," almost like "Smurfs On Ice." Punk rock is one of the few genres of music where seldom few can figure it out with whole accuracy, and still it doesn't need figuring out. Some music just is, whether you're talking Television, The Stooges, MC5, The Dead Boys, Generation X, Talking Heads, X-Ray Spex or The Exploited. The same applies to The Clash, albeit they were so transcendental they remain today the most important crossover influence on mainstream rock.

Richard Hell and The Voidoids may be conisdered a blip on the punk rock evolution map, yet their trash classic album Blank Generation was a sign of the times in which it was conceived in 1977. In some ways, Blank Generation allowed Never Mind the Bollocks to become an iconic classic, despite the grimy noise splooged out from The Sex Pistols, who are wrongly worshipped. Attitude aside, the Pistols were hardly heroes. Johnny Lydon might well issue one of his nefarious fuck off statements if you were to call him a hero.

So where did director Ulli Lommel find hero worship in Richard Hell for his 1978-shot film Blank Generation? Within the first few scenes, Hell is depicted in an upscale recording studio laying down vocals while being glorified by French journalist and utter headcase Nada (Carole Bouquet). There would've been more cred, perhaps, if Hell was seen ripping his lungs out at the mike and tearing off anal cheese in Nada's face, yet the sanitized depiction of Richard Hell calmly delivering his tracks is almost Jim Morrison-like minus one hand down his trousers, the other around a fifth.

As Richard Hell is seen in a retrospective interview on this reissue of Blank Generation, the man calls Lommel out for many things. On the one hand, Blank Generation is a genuine artifact for music and industrial civilization buffs. Lommel takes his cameras deep into the bowels of CBGB's during its gutter posh era to capture live footage of The Voidoids, one of the best treasures to watching this flick. Unfortunately, Lommel milks the hell out (pun intended) of the title track with different cuts to the point it's a hack job. Richard of course slags Lommel for this and many other reasons, namely its lack of credibility.

Two different live sequences feature audiences at tables with a pair of knuckleheads throwing money-like confetti at the band. Subversive commentary about punk rock's destiny to sell out, or a jibe at gobbing and bottle hurling? You be the judge, while Richard Hell scoffs at the entire matter altogether. In fact, there's much Hell takes exception to, which interviewer Luc Sante gently coaxes out of him as a CB's frequenter himself in the day. As the CD box quotes Hell, it is a "bonus feature which is better than the movie itself."

And he's right. The photography by Ed Lachman is outstanding and he captures a Manhattan which once suffered the toilet-flushed scorn of the rest of the country. Not everything was Broadway and Studio 54, and the only genuinely compelling measures Blank Generation offers its viewers is presenting the filth and squalor in which Richard Hell lives and breathes in. His character Billy is presented as a foppish ratboy whose unbelievable forced entry into Nada's world exposes his vulnerability to the point he walks off stage in the middle of a show just because he can't cope. He can't cope with his new record deal, he can't cope with his own songs which he offers to sell the rights to, and most of all, he can't cope with a flighty bounce-about girlfriend who's already cheating on her German lover Hoffritz, played by director Lommel himself.

Well, Nada can't cope, Hoffritz can't cope, nobody can cope, and here is the supposed premise Lommel wanted to convey in his Blank Generation. The fact Nada gets into a pointless argument with Billy about whether to go to Coney Island or not erupts into a stupid resolution where she steals his car and leaves him behind, only to patch fences shortly thereafter...say what? Are we to believe Richard Hell's character is so wimpy he takes all of this at face value, considering the masculine floor-pinning and camera-turning upon Nada exhibited in the early scenes? I personally love characters with duality and fallacies, but come on...

What's most annoying is watching Nada's indecisiveness. One frame she's throwing Billy's belognings to the front door and demanding he leave. The next frame she's halting an interview to call Billy and beg forgiveness. Shortly after taking him back into her grungy flat, she dumps him once Hoffritz emerges in New York City to cover an interview with Andy Warhol, which offers the only real comedy relief of the film--still, you get the feeling it wasn't intentional humor. The agitated romance between Nada and Billy isn't even neurotic as it is a ping pong match prompting clock watching until The Voidoids start playing again, or at least until you see the graffiti of the bathroom stairwell in CBGB's. Aside from Andy Warhol's short but endearing cameo, also be on the lookout for a quick appearance by Marky Ramone, appearing by his real name Mark Bell.

Another highlight of Blank Generation is Elliot Goldenthal's superb scoring. However bohemian it may sound in this film, Blank Generation is not the platform for Goldenthal's tender, romantic and sometimes aloof soundtrack. This is supposed to be a punk rock anecdote about a stupefied society, is it not?

Blank Generation has its merits, namely its willingness to dwell in the shards, the garbage and street bonfires as much as it does briefly in Times Square and the Staten Island Ferry. At times the movie becomes claustrophobic for the right reasons, while too often side characters slow the pace down and try to make Blank Generation more esoteric than it comes across, dated or not.

Then again, very little about punk rock from its infancy stages when Blank Generation was filmed could hardly be considered estoeric...

Rating: **1/2

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/17/10

Slainte, all you Irish and wannabe Irish! To all of my readers in the homeland, a hearty cheers and let's raise the Smithwicks from both sides of the pond! My ancestry is comprised of Irish-British-German-Dutch, aka your typical American mutt, but of course just about everyone in the Yoo-Ess-Ayy turns Irish today as they turn Mexican on the 5th of May...up the pints!

Production continues on the novel and I'm two chapters away from the first draft, which means things ought to pick a little here at The Metal Minute. To all of you bands who've written me over the past few months requesting coverage, my non-response isn't purposeful, nor do I wish to come off like a snot. I'll be with you asap. My head is simply buried in getting my book finished so I can edit and be ready to show it for representation. Calling all agents!

Anyone out there get a hold of the new Jimi Hendrix product Valleys of Neptune? I've been dealing with a very sore and grouchy wife the past week who presented me with Valleys of Neptune as a peace offering (ha ha), and what a peace offering, holy smokes... Perhaps you fine folks out there will be reading about it here. As it is, I'll issue a hearty recommendation along with the new Exodus and Armored Saint albums. Even the return of Raven is a mostly welcome venture, while the reportedly final Scorps album just arrived in my box yesterday.

This year is the revenge of the old school, mark it!

Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune
Beck - Sea Change
Beck - The Information
Fear Factory - Mechanize
Armored Saint - La Raza
Exodus - Exhibit B: The Human Condition
Raven - Walk Through Fire
Cinderella - Heartbreak Station
Go Gos - Vacation
Crosby Stills Nash and Young - box set
Nick Drake - Pink Moon
Flogging Molly - Float
Charred Walls of the Damned - s/t

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Headbangers 2003 Interview Sessions: Eric Brittingham

I remember at this point in my 2003 project running the table of some high-caliber guests to the point I was convinced I could wrangle up most of the Who's Who from the eighties metal scene. Welp, that ended up being a personal misnomer--sing to the tune of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Knock Me Down" if you like--but I'm still today proud of the participants I'd brought into this venture, as you'll see throughout the year in this series at The Metal Minute.

At this point with Eric Brittingham, I'd just previously interviewed the late Kevin Dubrow and then Ron Keel, both who were total gentlemen. Kevin and I enjoyed two afternoons of conversation and he and Frankie Banali were sending me regular correspondence about Quiet Riot's doings leading to their Rehab album, while Ron Keel sent me an acoustic solo project of his and then we continued conversing by email for a few weeks. We started talking about some of the bigger tour packages of the day and of course we came across Cinderella.

I like to think of Keel and Cinderella in the same mindspace because there was a similar look to them (well, duh, of course) yet both bands emerged to a successful peak then found themselves on the outside looking in quicker than some of their peers. Both Ron Keel and the members of Cinderella opted towards fleshing out some country and blues in their future work which detrimentally added to their waning mass appeal. Both were praised by critics and condemned by many fans, which led to both heading off into the proverbial sunset. At least their musical integrity rode with them. Even I admit back in the day, Cinderella's Long Cold Winter and Heartbreak Station took me for a loop, but today I feel both albums are their watermark pieces.

Cinderella enjoyed more of a commercial success than Keel, albeit both groups have enjoyed a resurrection phase in the 2000s. Fans now remember what they had after it was gone (to paraphase Cinderella) but was suddenly returning back. By the time I reached Eric Brittingham following the Ron Keel interview, it was through Eric's wife Inga, with whom he played (along with Cinderella shotgun rider Jeff Lebar) in Naked Beggars. Cinderella were still putting together reunion gigs at this point in 2003, while Naked Beggars was a large focus of Eric's. Inga sent me out a copy of their album and then set up this interview after I'd reviewed the Beggars album in one of the outlets I'd started out with...sad to say, I've forgotten which, argh!

I look at this interview now and realize much of what Eric and I discussed is old news, particularly the Britny Fox and Jon Bon Jovi questions I raised. At the time I did this interview, Behind the Music was quite the rage on VH-1 and most of the metal books out there now weren't yet. So went my attempt at creating some back story. I laugh at myself now. Good try, Van Horn. I got better later in my career.

The coolest anecdote to this interview with Eric was he, Inga and their family were in a mall waiting to catch a movie, so you can hear the echoes behind him on the tape and Eric's family milling around him. Being a father myself now, I'm really warmed by this. It's a rare catch of a rock personality outside of his normal element. Like the time I recently interviewed Lita Ford and Jim Gillette while Lita was cooking for her family, having a solid twenty with Eric before he was about enjoy some downtime with his clan...well, you get the picture.

RVH: Cinderella was born in Philly and what’s interesting to me is how deeply-rooted the music scene is up there. I've always look at it as kind of an unheralded hotbed for heavy music. How do you remember the Philadelphia scene before Cinderella moved on to the west coast?

EB: Actually, when we first got together the scene really blew. It was all cover bands--and new wave cover bands at that--so that’s why Tom (Kiefer) and I got tired of dealing with having to play covers. So we just did our own thing. It was tough getting gigs in the beginning, but once we started going out a few times, we quickly got a following and started packing places. Eventually club owners wised-up a little, like, ‘Wow, we don’t have to pay any ASCAP and BMI shit!’ (laughs) So we kind of changed the tide for awhile and so in Philly every live music club kind of turned into all-original music, so that’s kind of cool. Back then when we started, we played at The Galaxy in Jersey and the Empire Rock Room in Philly; they were the main two places. Even though they went towards originals, most of your bigger clubs in Philly were catering to bands like The Hooters, kind of like pop rock or new wave rock at that time.

RVH: It’s almost forgotten that Britny Fox is an extension of Cinderella with Michael Kelly Smith and Tony “Stix” Destra rolling out of Cinderella in ’85. In essence they kind of mirrored you guys to the point of “Dizzy” Dean Davidson having the same grainy vocal patterns as Tom Kiefer. I can only imagine what was going on in the Cinderella camp at this breaking point...

EB: It’s kind of funny, because Dean was actually a drummer; he auditioned for it (in Cinderella) after Tony and Mike left and he didn’t get the gig, so after Cinderella broke and I’d heard that Tony and Mike had put a band together that had Dean singing, I was like ‘Well, that’s kind of strange!’ Then they got signed and I saw the first video and I was like, ‘Man, he does a good Tom Kiefer!’ (laughs) I think one of our bus drivers ran into them and he was like ‘Damn, I just saw a band that had a Tom, a Jeff (LaBar, guitarist) and two Erics!’ (laughs) That’s kind of funny.

RVH: (laughs) I used to rag on Bon Jovi back in the day for setting heavy metal on a commercial course of no return, but when Jon Bon Jovi discovered you guys, you might say he kind of put a Midas touch onto Cinderella as Night Songs slowly became a hit. I always laugh at the funny faux rivalry you guys have with Jon and Ritchie Sambora at the end of the “Somebody Save Me” video. Tell us about this association with Bon Jovi and how do you feel it affected Cinderella’s path?

EB: When Jon came out to see us, he was recording his second record in Philly and he basically went back to his A&R guy at Mercury and told him he should go down and check this band out in Philly, so that was the extent of his involvement. From there we eventually got signed, but I think one misconception a lot of people have is to say ‘Oh, Bon Jovi discovered them!’ Well, Bon Jovi were not very big at that point. They had had one single with success, which was “Runaway,” and they were on their second record (7800 Fahrenheit) which didn’t do all that great. Then their third record Slippery When Wet, which is their huge record, actually didn’t break until Cinderella’s first record was double-platinum! (laughs) So it’s kind of funny; everyone’s like, ‘Bon Jovi had his influence,’ well, no, actually he was a struggling artist at the same time. He was only on his second record and hadn’t really broken huge yet.

RVH: I figure that’s been a pain in the ass over the years trying to rationalize this to people?

EB: (laughs) Yeah, I know! People have this picture that he (Bon Jovi) could get anyone signed. It’s not like he really got us signed. He didn’t shop the band; he simply came out, saw the band and liked it and told the A&R guy who signed him.

RVH: I find it ironic a lot of the east coast rockers in the eighties were eventually forced to get in line with the L.A. neo-glam scene like Poison--who also came from Pennsylvania--Hanoi Rocks, Faster Pussycat, Autograph and Motley Crue during Motley's Theatre of Pain album to my eyes, in order to make your mark in eighties heavy metal, glam was the fastest way to do it. Your thoughts to that?

EB: Yeah, I think it’s like with any era and any band that breaks big, the record label is going to be in a hurry to sign a lot of artists that look or sound like whatever’s hot at the moment. That’s what happened back then. When we came out, Poison’s album (Look What the Cat Dragged In) came out at the same time as ours, and actually their album didn’t break for about a year after and Night Songs had already had success. Once Cinderella’s album went platinum, all of these other bands started popping up like weeds, you know? The same thing happened through the nineties and it still happens today. You have one band that comes out that does something a little bit different that has success with it, and suddenly you have twenty more just like them!

RVH: For sure; case in point, everyone seems to be following Lamb of God and Shadows Fall in today’s scene.

EB: Yeah, I’m not saying we were trendsetters; it’s just the way shit happened, you know?

RVH: True. Everybody, regardless if you were a thrasher, a glammer or just a regular rocker, we all had the hots for those twins in the early Cinderella videos! (laughs)

EB: (laughs) They were different people who played those parts each time.

RVH: That’s what I thought!

EB: Yeah, it wasn’t the same girls.

RVH: Still, they had their own little cult thing going on.

EB: Yeah!

RVH: I remember on Beavis and Butthead when they’re watching “Somebody Save Me,” they yell out “Butt! Butt! Butt! Butt!”

EB: (laughs)

RVH: The point I’m making is that for men having to dress effeminately in their bands, in order to show off their alpha masculinity they obviously needed to bring in hot women. Nothing’s changed, obviously, since you can watch any rap video today and find twice the amount of bouncing girls as there were in the eighties metal videos. More than a few times, I’m sure the phrase “sex sells” crossed your guys’ minds?

EB: Absolutely, and if it doesn’t, it’s still fun! (laughs)

RVH: I have to give big kudos to Cinderella for having the fortitude to drift away from the sure thing that was Night Songs with the following albums Long Cold Winter, Heartbreak Station and Still Climbing, which took you guys further from the sleaze rock element to the more rootsy stuff with blues and country. What did you see going on musically at the time that pushed you guys in that direction?

EB: Well, Tom’s the main writer, so I guess he was just exploring new directions and I guess he was on a self-discovery kind of search, which is fine since we all pretty much had the same musical backgrounds. It was cool and fun just pushing the boundaries and sometimes we’ll still do it with Naked Beggars. It’s actually kind of cool with that band because we take things even further; we can go a lot more pop and we can go a lot more heavier, and it’s fun.

RVH: In retrospect, do you feel having such integrity ostracized Cinderella from the spotlight? I know the sales of Long Cold Winter were really solid, but it’s always a risk to play music with conviction where not every soul who was there before is necessarily going to “get.”

EB: Yeah, with the Heartbreak Station record, critically it was the most exciting record that we had done to-date, and it sold about a third of what the first two records sold, so yeah, there’s a cost by going in that direction, but I would rather have a useful integrity than to just sell out, writing music for the mainstream or the money, you know? Money’s nice, but you know... (laughs)

RVH: I can imagine how mind-blowing it must be when one day you wake up and your band is not fashionable, your label has kicked you to the curb in light of cyclical change, then to have infrastructure change such as Fred Coury (drummer) temporarily leave the band, and then Tom one day momentarily unable to sing. How did you cope with such a beyond-your-control collapse all at once?

EB: I don’t know, you just deal with it and you struggle to get a lot of the crap off. Back in ’95 when the Still Climbing record came out, we went out on tour and we played in Seattle at the height of the grunge era and we couldn’t even buy advertising time on the radio stations! (laughs) I was like, ‘Man, talk about being harsh!’ But the fifty people that were there had a good show! (laughs)

RVH: (laughs) Obviously, you and Jeff (Lebar) have hung together in Naked Beggars, so do you feel all of this fighting to survive in the rock trenches has fortified the bond between you?

EB: Yeah, I think it’s easy for so many people to try and change with the trends, and we’ve always stayed true to what we like doing musically and now it’s paying off. We have a new band and we’re starting to gain some popularity and fans and we’re being true to what we like to do. It’s very rewarding.

RVH: Tell us how it feels playing a footloose, no-rules rock unit like Naked Beggars versus Cinderella, which I’d think that, despite your efforts to be true to yourselves, was probably stifled by label pressure to keep the fires hot, so to speak.

EB: Well, actually, no. With Cinderella, in our record deal with Mercury, we retained full artistic freedom!

RVH: How’d you get away with that?

EB: We just demanded it. We could’ve put out a freaking polka record and they couldn’t have said a damn thing about it, so we just did what we wanted to do and that was that. The difference between Cinderella and Naked Beggars today is that Cinderella is very regimented. We do everything by the book; we work out a show, we hone it down and we go out. It’s like a production, whereas with Naked Beggars, it’s more spontaneous and we just fly by the seat of our pants at shows. I change shit up constantly. If we don’t feel like doing songs, we don’t do them. If we want to throw in songs we just learned the day before, we’ll just do it, you know?

RVH: Ron Keel went to Tennessee to explore his country roots after the original metal scene died out, and now he’s returned to some of his rock elements. You're nestled in Nashville, which I’ve been to only once, and it’s naturally a different culture than Philly or L.A. What adjustments, if any, have you needed to address living there?

EB: None, really. I started coming down here in ’98, because that’s when Cinderella got back together and Tom and Fred had separately moved down here. They both have studios, so when we got together it made sense that we come down here to rehearse, to record, whatever. I truly like it here. I think the people and just the pace of life is a little more laid-back. I’d gotten separated at that time and I ran into Inga at the mall, so we hooked up and became friends and eventually started dating, got married, and we settled here.

RVH: Knowing that Cinderella has seen the top and you guys still get together for reunion gigs, when you take the stage now as Naked Beggars, given your musical journey to this point, what are some of the thoughts that cross your mind?

EB: I think we’ve learned a lot of things not to do, you know? (laughs) With Naked Beggars, we’re very hands-off. We do things a hell of a lot different than Cinderella does, and I think a lot of the people that we deal with when we’re playing live are actually taken back, because we pull up and Jeff and I get out and we open up the trailer and unload the gear and set up. (laughs) It’s all like we’ve never done in Cinderella before when we had roadies and assistants and shit, so that takes people by surprise, but you know, I think it’s really healthy.

Transcript (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Photos (c) Phil Ryan, Wikipedia and Cinderella MySpace page

Thursday, March 11, 2010

CD Review: Fear Factory - Mechanize

Fear Factory - Mechanize
2010 Candlelight Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

At their best, Fear Factory was the nineties' tech-grind pickup of Voivod. In many ways, Fear Factory inadvertently mimicked the sound exploration paths of the 'vod. For all intents and purposes, Fear Factory's ratchety Soul of a New Machine is comparable to Voivod's Rrroooaaarrr in the sense both albums were precursors to the revelations each band excavated on their respective follow-ups. Subsequently, Fear Factory found their industrial-thrash niche with Demanufacture and Obsolete as Voivod pulled the handles to their art deco speed picker on Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross.

While apposite types of bands, both Voivod and Fear Factory are regarded as pioneers, one for engineering a cyberpunk sound very few have the talent to fully replicate, the other for altering the face of metal with blast beat inferno rhythms. Both share the distinction of radically changing their methodology as well as personnel on later works, i.e. Angel Rat, The Outer Limits and Phobos for Voivod, Digimortal, Transgression and Archetype for Fear Factory. While we're at it, we can note each band hit a hallmark in their reknowned careers where the true fans got it, but the masses at large let them blow by: Nothingface and Concrete respectively.

In the case of Fear Factory 2010, suffice it to say the internal politics have become more the story than a band which lit up a celluloid dukeout between Johnny Cage and Scorpion in the first Mortal Kombat film with their blazing classic "Zero Hour." As each member has either left altogether or simply taken powders from Fear Factory to pursue their side projects such as Divine Heresy, Arkaea and Ascension of the Watchers, the home base itself has been left in a questionable doubt to this point.

Sure, Archetype and Transgression are both solid post grind-era Fear Factory records and each bring something to the table from the stance of songwriting differentiation. However, there's no question in anyone's mind Fear Factory's signature vibe is that which was breathtakingly cultivated on Obsolete and Demanufacture.

Cut to this year, as Christian Olde-Wolbers and Raymond Herrera (master innovator of today's blast beat technique) bolt from Camp Fear Factory into their impressive alter unit Arkaea. Back from sojourn is wayward guitarist Dino Cazares with the supplementation of Strapping Young Lad superstars Bryon Stroud and Gene Hoglan. Thus this all-star re-imagination of Fear Factory brings the noise, the ambience and the trip hammers of the old days on Mechanize, easily the heaviest album this group has expounded since Obsolete.

Between last year and this one, established veterans of the metal scene who have either released sub-par contract fillers or dabbled so left of center from their cores are all drifting back to their bread and butter resonance.

For Fear Factory, it means massiveness to the extreme, set on the same ionized bpms they made their reps on. Mechanize is freaking relentless, a booming exclamation point from surviving member Burton C. Bell and his returned armsman Dino Cazares that the time for brushstroking and abstracting is expired. Instead, time to thrash again.

The always-electrifying Gene Hoglan has Ray Herrera's stop-go polyrhythms down to a tee. Just the title track opening Mechanize gets old Fear Factory listeners snug into the group's familiar speed and pothole-swerve lane, while "Industial Discipline" literally whooshes onto a metallic Autobahn complete with snug synth highways guiding the brutal velocity of the track. Yes, it feels just like the nineties again for this band.

With zilcho mercy, the tempest of speed continues into the maniacally-driven "Fear Campaign," which drives on virtually two tempos from Hoglan, settling into mid-tempo snakes on the bridges and breakdowns before accelerating again on each intermittent bar. You imagine this inception of Fear Factory screaming in the studio, "Take that, Dethklok!" while Hoglan smacks the crap out of his kit and Cazares whips out a deadly solo. All of it is child's play compared to the neck-snapping chaos reigning over "Powershifter," which rattles on two modes of punishment, the slower measures actually becoming the more abusive.

The welcome back of Cazares is a hot topic behind Mechanize, and he sure as hell as sounds like he's missed being a part of the script--his tone-flogging riffage on "Christploitation" is obscenely giddy. Meanwhile, Hoglan and Stroud bringing pro firepower to Fear Factory's recalibrated pistons are their own story.

Burton Bell is another a facet altogether on this thing. Still one of the most intimidating growlers in metal history, he owns his territory on Mechanize, which is hard fought for when your current bandmates are all world-class. Older than he was on Obsolete and Demanufacture, Bell's screams are only nastier, while his cleans wield perfectionist's sage. He's a Yoda of his craft, plain and simple. Bell's peformance on the beautifully brackish "Final Exit" is one of the most stellar he's ever delivered.

Without understatement, Mechanize is the album Fear Factory's long-timers have been scratching about ever since the group gained notoriety with their mid-tempo stomp favorite "Linchpin." A fast and chewy number like "Controlled Demolition" hails both the Demanufacture and Digimortal eras, still growing heavier and faster with pure exhiliration.

Some may argue Mechanize is a step backwards for this band, to which everyone else will likely be boisterously replying "Well, duh! Hell, yes!" As the saying goes, sometimes you have to step back to move forward. No disrespect intended towards Herrera and Wolberts, who are both gentlemen of their trades, but Mechanize plays confidently like it's nobody's fool and it rewards all who come ready for some serious ear-gouging.

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Whatttya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/10/10

Howdy ho, neighbors!

A little brief again this week. Condolensces go out to my friend Metal Mark and his family with the passing of his mom this week. A truly fine lady and it's all very surreal.

At the office this week, there's been no running water as that community has been tapped dry since last Saturday and no concrete fix date. Back to the primitive, I assure you, and it really puts you in the place of those less fortunate on a day-to-day basis as well as the recent quake victims in Chile and Haiti. After watching 2012 last Friday, I was disturbed enough to really feel for the downtrodden. Bless you all.

Upcoming here at the site, expect another installment of the 2003 Headbangers Interview Sessions. For fun I'll leave the guest's identity a mystery. Been behind on reviews, so those will get along like dogies very shortly. Four chapters left on the first draft on the novel...feeling like a proud papa who has to let his chicklings go into the world and still needing to refine them just a few clicks before the world gets a good gander.

Speaking of papa, my boy is all over Judas Priest, even if I was very much stuck on The Clash's London Calling as it designed one of the novel's chapters. I just adored watching the kid headbang and yell "Music...loud, Daddy!" You betcha, kid, you betcha...

The Clash - London Calling
The Clash - s/t
Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void
Free Reign - Tragedy EP
Judas Priest - British Steel
Judas Priest - Point of Entry
Judas Priest - Hell Bent for Leather
Pink Floyd - Meddle
Pink Floyd - Animals
Ratt - Infestation
Icarus Witch - Songs for the Lost

Thursday, March 04, 2010

CD Review: Free Reign - Tragedy EP

Free Reign - Tragedy EP
2010 Riot! Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Those Dallas Cowboys... They have the richest clientele, they have the most visible brand in the NFL, rudimentary as their star logo may be. Their cheerleading squad forever remains the Rockettes of the industry. Their owner is the secret puppet master behind the entire league. They have the biggest jumbotron the world's yet seen inside a modern coliseum. No broadcast about football can air without mentioning their names. Hell, the Cowboys even enjoy the benefit of J.R. Ewing-fried testimonials courtesy of Dallas reruns on DVD.

Now they have their own metal band.

Free Reign is a band that can provide their own security as three-fourths of the members set up shop in their day posts on the offensive line for the Cowboys. Trying to protect Tony Romo and open up gaps for explosive running plays are the reasons you normally hear the names of Marc Colombo, Cory Procter and Leonard Davis called on Fox. Trading their pads and jerseys for stone-washed jeans and designer Affliction t-shirts (these days Affliction is as popular as Under Armor with professional jocks and millions of UFC junkies trying to look both metal and agro chic), Colombo, Procter, Davis and guitarist/songwriter Justin Chapman plug into the amps and wreck havoc with amplitude as Free Reign.

Who says jocks and headbangers can't co-habitate? I personally recommend my younger metal readers to have a go with weightlifting in high school and pound at it with absolute focus if you want to enjoy your metal lifestyle with the highest reduction of harassment. I speak from experience, plus music can only release "x" amount of aggression, so pump iron, metalheads!

Already the recurring joke swirling behind Colombo and company in Free Reign is how they can't be any worse than the '84 Chicago Bears with their inexcusable barf-o-rama "Super Bowl Shuffle." Well, yeah, Free Reign can't be any worse, but the cool news is they're pretty damned good, actually!

Pop metal for the modern gladiator is what's at stake with Free Reign on their debut EP Tragedy. Expect to see pro wrasslers and pit mongrels stamping down aisles towards their meat-grinding business with Free Reign's "In Your Head" or "Rise Up." Hell, Free Reign just missed a golden opportunity to theme up the remake of Clash of the Titans, but no doubt some shrewd movie studio has caught wind of these guys by now. Perhaps you'll yet see gleaming broadswords and severed limbs twirling in tandem to "Rise Up" in an inevitable Conan the Barbarian redo. Forget the meathead chorus; it's the raucous breakdown Arnold's successor is going to cleave Cimmerian mayhem to.

The riffs of these songs lend constitution to raging hormones and fisticuffs, quite what you'd expect from a gridiron gang. Yet there's whiffs of surprising sensitivity and subvert melody beneath the punishment Free Reign sets loose like the first veterans scrimmage against newbies during training camp. "Tragedy" and "Last Goodbye" fuse sequences of lamenting melody lines in the vein of Mudvayne, Soil, Staind and Disturbed, done with sharp commercial sense without being overly squalid in the wuss department. The vocal-backing vocal response outlays on the chorus of "Last Goodbye" is particularly impressive.

Colombo's vocals range from stringent to strained, and "In Your Head" is betrayed by a handful of transition squibs. At times Tragedy is stocked with a few penalizing chop blocks. Still, you have to applaud these guys for their metal acumen, particularly knowing how to use a breakdown properly, i.e. to serve their loud 'n crashing tunes instead of skidding them to no avail.

For all intents and purposes, Tragedy is a dry-run experiment for four songs with mostly pleasant results. However, it's the last song "All in Vain" where Free Reign gels fabulously with a triumphant march ode filled with Mastodon crunches and a shackles-are-off mentality. "All in Vain" literally screams, even without Colombo ripping his sternum to pieces, while the choruses are genuinely memorable. I'll go on record and say I sang this beast to myself for nearly half an hour after taking the disc out.

Thus we can conclude Free Reign may still be a work in progress, but who rightly expected something that cruises this confidently from football stars? Jim McMahon and Fridge, eat all of our shorts, but if we see Jerry Jones flicking horns from his skybox, I'm crying foul all over again...

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/3/10

Hails once again, valued readers!

Keeping things short this week as the snow finally melts down and life resumes with a bit more normalcy. Status quo over here, and getting excited with six chapters of the novel left to write before the first draft is complete.

Congrats to our Canadian brothers and sisters up north for not only scoring the most Olympic gold but also for sweeping out the US men and women's hockey teams for all the marbles--or medals in this case. As a longtime hockey fan, I know damned well what this means to you Canuckleheads to win both on your home turf, so revel in it. The Olympics as a whole was practically epic, though I'm still catching a lot of what I missed On Demand and tapes.

A lot of Overkill and Celtic Frost plus jazz this week as my boy wanted large doses of both. Love that kid! Who am I to deny my child want he wants, right? Of course, the new Heathen album has been a large fixture on the road with me, ya-huh!

Keep your eyes peeled here at The Metal Minute as goodies and surprises are coming on tap...

Heathen - The Evolution of Chaos
Overkill - Taking Over
Overkill - The Years of Decay
Overkill - Horrorscope
Response Negative - s/t EP
Celtic Frost - Morbid Tales
Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Jazz: Red Hot & Cool
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - s/t
Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers - Moanin'
Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers - Mosaic
Cheap Trick - Heaven Tonight
Yes - s/t
Vinnie Moore - To the Core
Prince - Parade
Dirt Mall - Got the Goat By the Horns
Dirt Mall - Pacifuego
New Order - Waiting for the Sirens' Call
Big Brother and Holding Company - Cheap Thrills

Monday, March 01, 2010

CD Review: Heathen - The Evolution of Chaos

Heathen - The Evolution of Chaos
2010 Mascot Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Okay, ya'll can quit shouting "HEATHEN!" up at Lee Altus during Exodus gigs...he's heard you and he's managed to bring in-and-out vocalist David White back for another good ol' thrash party, Bay-style. Though the remainder of the lineup comprising today's Heathen weren't around during the band's brief run for the metal gold on 1987's Breaking the Silence, (though drummer Darren Minter did hook up with the group in '88) nobody told today's Heathenairres they couldn't make a difference.

Minus Heathen's set of covers and re-recordings from 2004, Recovered, which was released following a last-minute corralling for the Chuck Schuldiner/Chuck Billy benefit concert Thrash of the Titans, the classic speed metallers had remained dormant since the early nineties. Their last proper full-length, Victims of Deception was once thought to be their epithet.

As eighties thrash legends have collectively risen in response to an inbred generation of speed revivalists, the original guard are stepping on the gas once again just to keep up with their younger counterparts. Remember when thrash metal groups suddenly slowed down in the nineties after Metallica scored huge with The Black Album? Exactly the reverse is occurring at the tail end of the first decade in the new millennium. The bpms are jacked once again as the pupils are invigorating the professors to dust off their manuals and throw down a thrash course proper. Old Mustangs such as Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Overkill, Destruction, Exodus and Kreator are proving there's serious horsepower left in the tanks. Chickeerunners beware...

Unfortunately for Heathen, their day in the spotlight was far too brief and relegated upon the unlikely success of their revved and chunky cover of Sweet's "Set Me Free." Given most people until lately were familiar only with this remake courtesy of video play on VH-1 Classic's Metal Mania, it's probably been as much of a burden to Lee Altus as it is a grace Heathen's "Set Me Free" hit.

Only the diehards remember to yell out "Goblin's Blade," "Death by Hanging" and "World's End" at shows where Altus can be found. Yet there's something new for Heathen's faithful to demand from Lee either at an Exodus gig or with Heathen once they ultimately get on the road themselves. 2010 brings the Heathen cause back to the scene with The Evolution of Chaos, and if you thought Testament's The Formation of Damnation was a restoration of metal honor, look the hell on out here...

Altus and his current Heathen posse (which also includes bassist Jon Torres and tag guitarist Kragen Lum) make the most of their moment on The Evolution of Chaos, which means they do overstay their welcome in a few spots given the majority of the songs surpass the six and seven-minute mark. However, one cannot understate the vibrant energy level sifting out of this album.

Like Overkill's thrash-happy Ironbound, The Evolution of Chaos proves Altus and his Heathen trademark can take their listeners through exhaustive volleys of speed with professional exactitude. If the Grammy committee actually knew what they were doing, "Control by Chaos" would be a gimme nominee. Absolutely one of the finest-recorded metal songs of the year, "Control by Chaos" is a seven-minute epic filled with velocity, steady piston pops on the breaks and outrageous guitar solos from Altus, Lum and Exodus' Gary Holt. The final minute of the song is poignant and beautiful and it bolsters into a breathtaking double-hammer stamp filled with grandiose notes amidst Heathen's fading whirlwinds. Stunning...

The Evolution of Chaos does hit many mid-tempo glides throughout, yet there's no denying this is one fast and hard hour of power. "Bloodkult," "Dying Season," "Silent Nothingness," "Undone" and "Arrows of Agony" are all stocked with tremendous muscle, banging acceleration and ear-tickling fretwork. Even with "Undone" riding mostly at slower tempos despite some thrashy interludes, Altus and Lum lavish this cut with solos so tasteful and elegant they make the Dragonforce dudes seem spend-hardy.

One of the conversation pieces of The Evolution of Chaos is undoubtedly going to be "No Stone Unturned" due to its Metallica tributizing. Rather than a full-on rip, "No Stone Unturned" is a ten-minute-plus toast to Metallica's glory years--and the Bay Area scene's by attrition. In some ways "No Stone Unturned" is Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets rolled into one snug portrait. Frighteningly similar to "For Whom the Bell Tolls" during the intro (albeit with plenty of subtle differences), "No Stone Unturned" chugs on a primary set of riffs and freestyle bass slaps from Sadus' Steve DiGiorgio. The solo sections are pure Heathen yet undeniably Hammett-esque. Remember Kirk Hammett provided Heathen some input on "World's End." As "No Stone Unturned" builds a head of steam, a ghostly instrumental section with full kindred to "Orion" splices the main body of the song to a picked-up tempo adjustment complete with pasty-sounding bass rolls from Darren Minter. Amazingly "No Stone Unturned" works because of its blatancy. It's a love-letter to old school Metallica as it is everyone who played the Cow Palace back in the day.

"A Hero's Welcome" in another mini-epic written on behalf of the United States military. It's a fine bit of work until the hammy narrative interlude turns a grateful pat on the shoulders into a pulp comic panel.

That minor complaint aside, The Evolution of Chaos manages the impossible, which is to one, prove a lone remaining founder can put together a terrific album, and two, to outdo a cult classic album which deserved better treatment in its day. The Evolution of Chaos means business and both Altus and David White sound hungrier than they've ever been. Also aided by cameos from Terry Lauderdale, Rob Dukes from Exodus and Jon Allen of Sadus, Heathen 2.0 is a rousing bray from the Bay. Mandatory listening.

Rating: ****