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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Take 5 With David "Rock" Feinstein

Photo Courtesy of David "Rock" Feinstein

The Metal Minute: Nobody could have a better appreciation for the legend of Ronnie James Dio as you were there from the beginning in Ronnie and the Prophets, which morphed to The Elves, Elf and indirectly into Rainbow. I understand Elf’s audition for Columbia Records was in attendance by Roger Glover and Ian Paice of Deep Purple? Put me there in the moment, finding rock ‘n roll legends at a major label audition. One might infer that fate was destined to knight you and Ronnie into the heavy rock court, so to speak.

David "Rock" Feinstein: Well, let's see, where do I begin? We had written some songs, and of course were trying to get a record deal. At the time, a friend of ours who was working at an agency called ATI made a connection through his boss to get an audition for us with Clive Davis, the head man at Columbia at the time. We were set up to audition at a rehearsal hall in New York City for Clive Davis. We found out after-the-fact that Roger Glover and Ian Paice were interested in getting into producing other bands, so they were going to be at the audition as well. We kind of freaked out because not only was Deep Purple one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, but Ritchie Blackmore was one of my idols.

We set up in this very sterile room with just a couple of chairs set in front of us. I think we were all kind of nervous but confident at the same time. In comes Clive with a couple of other people from the label and of course, Roger and Ian. We played a few songs and that was the end of it. Later that day, we found out that Clive wanted to sign the band, and Roger and Ian wanted to produce us. Before we knew it, we were in Atlanta recording the first Elf album. Who knew the history that would develop? It was certainly a special moment.

TMM: For your latest album Bitten By the Beast, the big story aside from your two-man operation is “Metal Will Never Die,” which represents the last-known recording of Ronnie. It has a vintage, lumbering crash to it which signals Dio’s touch, be it with Sabbath or in his solo capacity and while there’s a stripped and raw cadence to the song, man, almighty, what a celebration of the man’s career. As you recall bringing Ronnie into the studio to record “Metal Will Never Die,” (and also to co-write the very cool “Gambler Gambler” on this album) what seemed most important between the two of you in capturing his essence?

DF: Ronnie and I had been speaking for years about doing a project together again. It could have been an Elf reunion, something Dio-related, him singing a song on my solo album or on a new Rods album. Every time we spoke or saw each other, we spoke about it, but the logistics of it were difficult. We lived at opposite ends of the country which made if difficult for us to set the time aside for such a project. About two years ago, Ronnie was returning home more often as his mother was taken ill. He called me one day and said, "I will be in Cortland for a few extra days; it would be a good time for me to sing a couple of songs." I was ecstatic and realized that this collaboration between the two of us was really going to happen.

Coincidentally, the day before Ronnie called, I had just written a song called "Metal Will Never Die." After hearing my demo version, Carl and I agreed that it was a perfect song for Ronnie, so it was one of the two songs we chose for him to sing. The next day I picked up Ronnie and Wendy at the airport, handed him a CD with two songs that he had never heard before, and unsurprisingly he performed world class vocal performances on both of them. One of Ronnie's unique talents was that he could give any song he sang exactly what that song needed. With the horrific turn of events that have taken place in the last year, the song "Metal Will Never Die" has become the most important song to me that I have ever written. It is the most important song to me that I will ever write. It has so much meaning, and it will become part of Ronnie's legacy as a tribute to him. It's eerie how things came together. The fact that I wrote that song so quickly and at a time when Ronnie chose to come and sing, it's like it was meant for me to write that song, and it was meant for Ronnie to sing it.

TMM: Whew, gives me the chills in a pleasant way, brother. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ronnie years ago and it was one of the rare moments in my journalism career I had to get past initial jitters since I respect the man so much. I was at ease within seconds once delivering the first question since he had a fast but relaxed way of answering. He was so fond of his fans and most of his press to the point it became much of a part of his fame. I suppose that’s why it smarted so much to see the repulsive shock tactics of those Westboro Baptists in the wake of his passing. I always say Ronnie celebrated life in his music versus the accusations of those barbarians and the few detractors Ronnie ever had. From your perspective, how much did Ronnie celebrate his life and his extended family of fans?

DF: Ronnie celebrated his life to the fullest. His fans were like family to him and he appreciated them so very much. As you know because you have met him, what a kind and caring person he was. He would go out of his way to speak with everyone who wanted to speak with him, and he really listened to what they had to say. He will not only be remembered for being the great singer and musician that he was, but for being the gracious person that he really was.

TMM: Tell me about recording Bitten By the Beast with yourself and Nate Horton doing the primary work together. You have half the personnel recording this album versus your 2004 album Third Wish and yourself handling all the string instruments and vocals. Including those elements, what felt different to you laying down this album and aside from “Metal Will Never Die,” which song on this album was a signature “Rock” moment for you?

DF: I really wanted to do a solo album that was as "solo" as it could get. It was a challenge for me, but I wanted to record something that was a true representation of where I am coming from musically and as a songwriter. Nate Horton is a good friend of mine. Once he had done the drum tracks, he never heard the recording until it was totally completed.

I didn't let anyone listen to what I was doing until it was totally done because I didn't want any outside opinions. I personally wanted to be happy with what I was doing and that's all that mattered at the time. When I completed the album, I knew that "Metal Will Never Die" would be a good fit with the rest of the songs. Ronnie and I mastered the album together in California at the studio and engineer that he has worked with for years. We were both happy with the outcome of the album, and both of us felt confident that it would be well-received by the fans. Neither one of us knew what the future would bring and how important the meaning of "Metal Will Never Die" would become. As I recorded this album it was during the time that Ronnie had been diagnosed. It was a very emotional time for me, and some of the songs on this album reflect that lyrically. This whole album to me is a signature "Rock" moment for me.

TMM: Changing gears, you’re doing some dates with The Rods this year, which will no doubt bring out the old school and new legion. I want to go back the original years when The Rods first toured with Maiden in their early days. From your memory, what were those moments like? Were there any crazy or unusual stories you have and could you see back then how Maiden would soon grow to become the pinnacle of all that is metal?

DF: The early days of The Rods and touring with Maiden were incredible. We were so eager and so taken in by everything around us. We just wanted to play and give the fans everything that we could. The fans have always been so important to us. Being on tour with other bands that you idolize is always such a great feeling. The guys in Maiden were great to us. They respected what we were doing, and they treated us well as their support act. I think they respected us and realized that their goals were the same as ours. I could see that Maiden had such a positive attitude that it probably had a lot to do with the continued success that they have achieved. When you put out goodness, then goodness will come back to you. It may sound corny, but I do believe it.

(c) 2010 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Sunday, November 28, 2010

DVD & CD Review: Twisted Sister - Live at Wacken: The Reunion

Twisted Sister - Live at Wacken: The Reunion CD & DVD
2010 Eagle Rock Entertainment / Rebellion Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Hard to believe it's been a solid decade since Twisted Sister officially reformed, as in Mark "The Animal" Mendoza returning to the fold with Dee Snider, AJ Pero, Jay Jay French and Eddie "Fingers" Ojeda. While the core fivesome did lay their marks upon the 1998 Twisted tune "Heroes Are Hard to Find" for Dee Snider's splat fiesta Strangeland, the recording of that tune was done through separate sessions where the players came and went without really seeing each other.

By now, everyone knows the story behind Twisted Sister's crippling breakup in 1987. The mud has been flung and wiped away. Fences have been long mended and the makeup replaced the mud. The price has been paid and the sacrifices have been made and really, the only drawback to Twisted Sister's presence in the 2000's is a lack of a brand new studio album to comemmorate this long-term reunion.

Sure, the 25th anniversary edition of Stay Hungry was a superb event, considering Twisted Sister gave their fans an entire disc worth of previously-unreleased material from the original sessions, some demo tracks and "30," a rocking new track recorded specifically for the occasion. They decked the halls with A Twisted Christmas in 2006 and they slung out a redux of their best-known album, redubbed as Still Hungry in 2004. Still, it's been since 1987's Love is for Suckers, an album we've come to learn was a Dee Snider solo project-turned-Twisted record, that a fresh Twisted Sister LP has hit us.

Honestly, that's the only sour moment in reflection while watching Live at Wacken: The Reunion, a shot-for-posterity documentation of five men coming together from the ashes of their own wake following an inexplicably silent split-up in '87. This event transcends the group themselves, even if Twisted rises up to the limit as headliners of the 2003 Wacken Open Air Festival. At this point, they'd headlined a few European festivals, fielded some club dates and performed for the USO in Korea.

Following such a drastic layoff and suddenly whisked back into the limelight, Twisted Sister would expectedly have a lot of rust in 2003, but this is hardly the case. The agitation making Dee Snider the pissed-off hellion leading Twisted through the seventies and early eighties yields to Mr. Showman. He's money in this set, recreating most of Twisted's tunes to-the-note. Occasional deviation vocally, Dee still bounces, pogos and swirls his locks while nailing "The Kids Are Back," "What You Don't Know (Sure Can Hurt You)" and "You Can't Stop Rock 'n Roll" to the sheets before 40,000 berserker fans who meet him, word-for-word.

While French and Ojeda wail away for their worth and AJ Pero has a few hiccups and flubbed rolls but otherwise pounds his kit with snazzy accuracy, the other story musically is Mark Mendoza. Well-known for bitch-slapping his bass with envious resilience, Mendoza makes it look fluid instead of aggressive, and he hits some huge scales and sequences at blazing speed, ala "Stay Hungry," "Under the Blade" and "Burn in Hell."

Mendoza opted out for dolling up like the other Twisteds, yet you really don't notice that much or care, honestly. Twisted Sister has reached a point in their careers where the New York Dolls element of their presentation has finally become secondary to the music.

Whereas they were the ultimate freak show of the eighties, they had the wherewithal and sensiblity to film their video for "The Price" in street clothes as evidence of that song's seriousness. Some people thought that video and "Hot Love" where Twisted are depicted as ordinary headbanger-bikers was risky. Nowadays, there's no issue; the glam image is just a part of the show.

"The Price" performed at Wacken still holds meaning for Twisted Sister, if not more at that point in 2003, having overcome the odds both internally and externally. Nobody expected Twisted Sister to be on the dime in such a short regrouping period, but they dust off the true fan classics like "Shoot 'em Down," "Like a Knife in the Back," "Under the Blade" and even "Destroyer." It all shreds. "The Fire Still Burns" from Come Out and Play also gets a crack at shining amongst the staples "I Wanna Rock," "You Can't Stop Rock 'n Roll" and "We're Not Gonna Take It." Stay tuned for a huge smile as the Wacken crowd continues to sing "We're Not Gonna Take It" twice after Twisted Sister finishes, forcing them to kick up reprises in appreciation.

The coolest part to Live at Wacken: The Reunion is the mingled interview segments and side footage recounting the collapse and eventual rebuilding of Twisted Sister. Each band member speaks out during the intercuts of the main Wacken program where past animosities are detailed and healed, benefit shows are assembled in the light of rekindled friendship and Twisted Sister becomes a mighty force yet again in the new millennium. Ultra cool is watching Twisted rock out in regular clothes at a tribute show to their benefactor Jason Flomm, as is a wild stage transition where the Blue Man Group taps out "We're Not Gonna Take It" on PVC pipes, leading into a surprise performance by Twisted themselves.

Also included in this package is a bonus CD filled with live material spanning three points in Twisted Sister's lineage. While most live DVDs nowadays have separate CD packaging of the same material, you get six songs from the Wacken performance here (along with "I Am, I'm Me," which doesn't appear in the video) plus another five corraled from the early days. There's four tracks from 1980 when Tony Petri was drumming for the band, recorded in Detroit and Portchester, NY. These are pure gems aside from artifacts. Even if every band and their mother does Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," it sounds fitting emitted from a bar rock band at that point still working on becoming a legend. This is a time where Dee was still an anarchist behind the mike, and he is indeed wild. "Bad Boys of Rock 'n Roll" sounds beautifully rough, as does "I'll Never Grow Up, Now!" Too bad this one didn't stay in the band's set over time.

Sound-wise, the only complaint to Live at Wacken: The Reunion is Jay Jay French's audio feed is turned down a bit. We miss some of his solos and when he's spieling his thanks to the Wacken crowd, it's veiled and so thin you'll need to turn it up. Of course, you'll already have it cranked, won't you?

Overall, a killer document of a heavy metal great who had the grace to bring all five key members back onto the team first instead of trying to sell a charade. This is legit, it's loud as hell, it's a fun run back to a time when life was a bit less strenuous even in the midst of a cold war. Most of all, it's a rally for all the SMF's of the world who believed in and supported this moment. Now if we can just get that new studio album... Twiiiisted Siiiiisterrrrrr....come out to playyyyyeeeeee.... Clink your beer bottles like a glassy mantra to the tune of The Warriors and Come and Out Play...

Rating: ****

Friday, November 26, 2010

DVD Review: Heaven & Hell - Neon Nights: Live in Europe

Heaven & Hell - Neon Nights: Live in Europe
2010 Eagle Rock Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

One of the sad facts of life if you're on the planet long enough is you're bound to see loved ones, friends and beloved public figures vanish from sight. It's inescapable, but it doesn't change the fact that some deaths sting more than others. Even in a desensitized society as we live in where people depart as quickly as they enter this world and not much of it is newsworthy on a grand scale, there are some passings which affect us more than others.

Celebrities have a way of touching us in life and death in ways the average mortal don't necessarily have. The emotive power behind the deaths of entertainers is something of an enigma. We often take the loss of far-distanced actors, singers, athletes or writers--figureheads we've likely never met--with more strife than a 90-year-old woman drifting silently into the ether from an anonymous nursing home room.

I remember watching how the deaths of Elvis Presley and John Lennon affected my parents while growing up in the seventies. It all seemed so foreign a concept to grasp, why my folks were sullen and angry, swatting tears from their eyes. Those deaths hit so many people on a global level you had be into your teens at the minimum to comprehend why the loss was so tremendous.

The older you grow, the more obituaries you read or at least find plastered upon the headlines. I think the first musician death I personally took hard was Cliff Burton and while many artists and non have passed since, I was next shaken to my core when Joey Ramone died, then Dee Dee and even Johnny, though I was silently mad at the latter for new truths learned I wished I hadn't.

Ronnie James Dio is, for the metal world, the Sinatra of his position, the Elvis, the Teddy Pendergrass. Perhaps he's rubbing elbows with these guys in the next life because there's likely no delineation or subdivision over yonder. By now Ronnie's had a chance to peek back from his new sanctum and realize how many people his death has affected. Heavy metal carries on because there are so many practitioners these days, but there's a gaping hole left without Ronnie's presence. Without Iron Maiden, Priest and Slayer to boot, the genre would feel naked and almost invalid.

The metal world rejoiced when Dio and his drumming pal Vinny Appice were called back into action with Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi, unofficially as Black Sabbath 2.0, officially as Heaven & Hell. While there are many people who will only go as far as Paranoid if not Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in Black Sabbath's catalog, history has proven the Dio era of the band helped changed the course of the genre. Even if Black Sabbath never considered themselves a heavy metal band during the Ozzy regime, they were inescapably metal by the time Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules were laid down. "Heaven and Hell," "Neon Knights," "Die Young," "Turn Up the Night," "The Sign of the Southern Cross," "Country Girl" and "Mob Rules" are metal forevermore.

As Heaven & Hell, the foursome pounded out numerous shows and gave their fans a curtain call album, The Devil You Know, even if the intention amongst its constituents was to record yet another record beyond that one. Ronnie's death of course prevented that, yet if any good has arised from it, it's a larger public awareness of how powerful Black Sabbath under his titanic pipes is. If Ozzy had any persnikkety denouncements of his successor (which he did back in the day), it was because Ronnie James Dio far outclassed him on the mike. Ozzy inherited the staple classics of Black Sabbath, but Dio inherited a scepter of regality which carried past Rainbow and even deeper into his solo work. Not to battle the two singers against one another, but there's a reason "Lonely is the Word" has more soul amongst its doom groove with Dio than, dare we say, Ozzy's agitated swoon on "Black Sabbath."

As broken up as we all should be by Ronnie's death since nobody cared for his fans more than this man, we can take comfort in Heaven & Hell's Neon Nights: Live in Europe, the last recorded live performance of Dio at the 2009 Wacken Open Air Festival.

Part of it sheer heartbreak to watch, because Ronnie is frail in appearance while battling his final skirmish against the cancer which took his life, but there's such valiance watching Dio rip through this set with little indication he's in pain. Only the wear and age upon his voice tells the tale, and yet "Children of the Sea," the formation song bringing Ronnie into the Sabbath camp remains as epic as ever. As does "Mob Rules." As does "Die Young." As does "Falling Off the Edge of the World." And of course, "Heaven and Hell."

With a blazing torch cast upon the Wacken stage like the Olympic event it is, Heaven & Hell are magnificent in this set. Captured with a splendor literally turning on the night of their evening performance, the crowd may have been expecting to hear "Voodoo" and "Lady Evil," but there's very little to grouse about. With a set list compiled of vintage Dio-era Sabbath songs (and "Time Machine" from the 1992 reunion album Dehumanizer) plus selections from The Devil You Know, this is one heavy experience that sells itself.

The bonus features on Neon Nights: Live in Europe are as compelling as the concert as Eddie Trunk and Malcolm Dome corner Dio, Butler, Appice and Iommi for a retelling of their red times. While there may be more lost interview and live concert footage yet to come down the pike, Trunk's sitdown with Dio is emotional from the standpoint we hear a few old rumors debunked--largely the myth of multi-party tinkering with Live Evil, perhaps the most controversial live record of all-time. We're also given insight as to why Dio refused to play the Sabbath gig which was designed as Ozzy Osbourne's "farewell" performance--a gig which fell upon the shoulders of Rob Halford. Dio's loyalty to his comrades (however messed-up things may have grown between them at times) is the reason he balked at the Ozzy show, and it only increases the man's legend.

Personally, I laughed until my ribs hurt listening to Ronnie talk about how Black Sabbath tried out their new material in strip clubs to see which were winners. To imagine "Heaven and Hell" booming from a catwalk is nutty, but it's a fact, per Ronnie. It says much of his standing in Black Sabbath. In-and-out that may have been, they nevertheless had a unique bond that people are just now beginning to realize how special it was. The bond is further sketched in the brief memorials offered by Iommi, Butler and Appice, which come after much hope and speculation of further work with Ronnie.

While we would've loved to see the massive "Sign of the Southern Cross" belted out in Neon Nights: Live in Europe as one of Ronnie's farewell odes to us, there's no itching about needed. "E5150" opens this legacy performance and "Mob Rules" (one of metal's most overlooked gems) will lift you high before you have a chance to weep in mourning. If you ever cared about Ronnie James Dio, this is a compulsory pick-up.

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 11/24/10 The Thanksgiving Edition

A happy Thanksgiving to you all out there! If you're air traveling in the U.S., here's hoping the lines are less painful than expected and that you're not honked, goosed or have your goodies scanned and posted on The Hun.

As they say, this is the time where it's appropriate to sit back and reflect on what we're all thankful for before plowing into our holiday feasts. That being said, I'm personally grateful I have a son who's going to turn 3 in a couple weeks and I'm less fearful for his well-being than I was before. If anything, his confidence is through the roof--if you're a parent, that's both a good and bad thing! While the experience has aged, grayed and tired me out more than I needed to be at this point in my life, I recognize I have a fine young man for a kid to this point and when he looked up at me during a daddy and son breakfast yesterday and said to me, "I'm happy," well, how can you not be thankful for that?

I'm thankful for a solid family base who provide my sanctum, hectic as life is. No way could I live this life at my point without such a strong support base, so bless you all, family. I'm thankful for my friends, most of whom I neglect, admittedly. Not easy juggling multiple hats in my household and running out of time to pick up the phone and call or answer my emails. I suck, but you all rule for not holding it against me. As rappers would've said when the genre was still legit, y'all are true playas...

I'm thankful to all of my publicists, label reps and band chums who've flooded me with anticipation (and insurmountable requests for press coverage) and encouragement with The Metal Minute and especially Retaliate magazine. I've had numerous trials behind-the-scenes getting this sucker afloat and while it sometimes felt like the unforseen forces wanted to keep a brother down, I've felt even more it's time to push and seize the moment. People slug through worse odds and prevail.

I'm thankful for football on Thanksgiving, because we all don't take into account how privileged we are as a nation to have such luxury at our disposal, namely athletes who give up their family time to go to work and entertain us...assuming we're awake after stuffing our gills. Yeah, football players are paid mondo bucks, but this is a day where they earn their money for simply showing up. Ditto for all those forced to work on a holiday they deserve to chill out. Again, y'all are true playas...

I'm thankful to be employed in these times. While it's never easy to stomach working on loan files with people making triple what you do and getting half the interest rate you have, at the end of the day, if you're not on unemployment, that's something to believe in and be thankful for. So many people continue to struggle for the basics of life in and out of this country and there have been so many natural disasters and manmade conflicts tearing their homes apart...if you're not touched by that and thankful for the luxuries you have, then you're devoid of either the basics or a soul.

I'm thankful bands like Killing Joke, Devo, Heart and Filter believe in themselves so much they're playing honest music knowing their demographic will be limited. Their heydays are gone but not their spirits to play music that either matters or is simply a fun ride. Though I don't get to spend nearly the amount of time with every band placed before me as I'd like to, I'm thankful they've all come to me for my opinion. It's a subjective business, like writing itself; journalists and writers are tools, that's the sad fact. We're on the lower tier of the rock 'n roll food chain, yet we're given power and credentials as tastemakers and opinionated arseholes. We may not say all the things everyone wants us to say or our critiques may touch a nerve with some people, but when the albums still come, the interviews are still booked and the offers to be guest listed fill up the calendars, how can you not be thankful?

Finally, as always, I'm beyond thankful to have the same number of readers as I ever had, even when dropping out for a couple months. An audience is the most important dimension to being a writer. As a writer, you may think you're writing for yourself and only yourself, but in the end, filled pages become awful lonely without eyes giving them a lookover. Thank you all, for always being there reading.

So, this past Saturday I had a ripping interview with Thomas Pridgen and Viveca Hawkins of The Memorials for Retaliate #2. Thomas played drums on the past couple Mars Volta albums and has sessioned all over the place, while Viveca has likewise done tours of duty with multiple acts including Blackalicious. An hour filled with laughter, lunacy and one of the nuttiest but coolest interviews I've had all year. That's something to be thankful for, to connect with your guests in such fashion. After talking with Viveca and Thomas, I believe we have a date with some blue crabs in the future. Good times, ain't we lucky we've got 'em.

So on to the playlists, and do stick around The Metal Minute. I was thankful for a productive week here and I have plenty more o' comin' atcha quicker than 3-D. Well, maybe not that fast, but it's all about the hype. Look out for reviews of Texas Hippie Coalition, Heaven & Hell, Twisted Sister and a Take 5 guest I'll leave you in suspense with for the moment.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone...

Mini Mansions - s/t
The Memorials - s/t
David "Rock" Feinstein - Bitten by the Beast
Suicidal Tendencies - No Mercy Fool!/The Suicidal Family
Gwar - Bloody Pit of Horror
Powerworld - Human Parasite
Texas Hippie Coalition - Rouin
The Mars Volta - De-Loused in the Comatorium
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Air - Love 2
Hawaii Mud Bombers - Mondo Primo
The Flairz - Rock 'n Roll Ain't Evil
Res - How I Do
Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know
Repo Man soundtrack

Monday, November 22, 2010

CD Review: Gwar - Bloody Pit of Horror

Gwar - Bloody Pit of Horror
2010 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Undoubtedly you've been at a Gwar show and heard the following: "I don't own any of their albums. Who cares about the music, man? I wanna get hit by some blood!" They usually wear Fruit of the Loom whites with cheaply-drawn target symbols on their chests and they usually get their wish. Further anecdote for you neophyte photographers showing up at a Gwar show with expensive equipment: never stand center stage and find the nearest floor amp with plastic covering to hide your camera between shots...that, or someone with big hair. Writer's tip, bestowed by experience.

Reality check when your performance aura supersedes your musical craft, not that this bothers Gwar in the slightest. 12 albums into their career now, they have a formula, one they've gotten better and more detailed with each album since 2004's War Party restored Gwar's gory presence in the eyes of the metal and punk underground.

Like it or not, take them seriously or not (and woe to you if you do take them seriously), Gwar has gotten heavier, louder, more exact and more freakin' metal than most of their competition--masked or not. It just so happens they still throw the nastiest, craziest visual splatter fiesta outside of a Herschell Gordon Lewis flick. It will always be their quicker draw than their insane, chock 'o block meat grinder tunes.

Like it or not, I say, because Bloody Pit of Horror may carry the same jumping bean structure, the same tsunami swirls and the same same same as far as Gwar's creative process goes, but seriously, play this album and their previous album Lust in Space, and you have to applaud how precise this band has become.

Flattus Maximus, aka Cory Smoot, has become a hell of a guitarist and if you're not picking up on that, you're freaking prejudiced based upon the 60 pounds of latex (to quote Gwar's dildo-smacking frontman Oderus Urungus) bouncing around and clogging up your peripheral vision. Flattus, next to his creature feature string section, Balsac the Jaws of Death (Michael Dirks) and Beefcake the Mighty (played first by Michael Bishop, then Casey Orr) is as monstrous as his character. The guy is also a principal songwriter in the band and his riffs have gotten crunchier as his solos have become the only serious element to Gwar. Honestly, Flattus smokes. Jizmak da Gusha (Brad Roberts) has increased his drumming prowess to such double-punched delight you have to key in on Gwar's music while dodging the green and red goo from the cannons of Gwar's stage minions--unless you're there to be doused.

Dave Brockie, known as the lovable cornholing demon behind the mike, Oderus Urungus, still gets to growl to his filthy delight even while peddling snowboards under his real name on the side. He talks shit about Dick Cheney and accuses Paris Hilton of fucking donkeys on "The Litany of the Slain" (if you've seen Gwar play live, you've seen "Paris" racked and ripped onstage in a way Cannibal Corpse only talks about in their music) and he leads a hilarious, juvenile gang chorus of debauchery on "Tick Tits." No elaboration needed in the latter case.

Bloody Pit of Horror actually attempts a quasi theme on the opening four songs, which is something we're all still waiting for from Gwar: a full-on concept album. King Diamond they're not, but kudos for launching this album with the pounding "The Zombies March!" which incorporates more contemporary grind and bop tempos while remaining unequivocally Gwar. Check out the near-prog breakdown and bridge and that wicked soloing, eh? It's as close to full-on artistry as Gwar dares and it's beauteous. You almost forget who you're listening to.

During the opening "Bloody Pit" quartet, Gwar raises a bloody chalice in tribute to the late Peter Steele on "Come the Carnivore." Oderus actually lowers his ralphing octaves in a pinpointed farewell to Steele, while Gwar beats out a slow funeral march, ala Type O Negative. Hell, if you listen carefully to the outtro of "The Zombies March!" it's so Type O you know the Gwar guys were well-affected by Steele's death. They send him a befitting hails to the other side before Bloody of Pit of Horror resumes its rambunctious stir of the grue stew.

"Beat You to Death" flies on the legs of a trad thrash whirl, while "KZ Necromancer" is a musical summation of Gwar's old-meets-new songwriting methodoloy. It's full of syrupy sludge riffs poured upon varying mosh and crunk tempos. Gwar shifts their beat signatures galore on "KZ Necromancer," and it should be paid close attention. A short song, but Gwar covers massive ground in such brief time. Give 'em some props.

Not to get overexcited with glowing praise for Bloody Pit of Horror, because that wouldn't sit well with many people, Gwar especially. This is not a masterpeice, but it is a fun 12th edition accenting what we know to be truth: Gwar is reknowned for their Grand Guinol stage spectacles and there will always be fans who come to their gigs strictly for the face-drenched experience. There's nothing out there like a Gwar show, which is something the band has to live up to by default. Remove the rubber, the political uncorrectness and the intestine ripping, a large portion of fans walk away like they do upon a sports team hitting a bad skid. Still, that poser lot is missing out on an ear-blasting dose of gnarly horror metal which has over the years grown an even bigger pair than what dangles between Dave Brockie's legs. Sick and twisted, you betcha...

Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, November 21, 2010

CD Review: Powerworld - Human Parasite

Powerworld - Human Parasite
2010 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In the eighties, there were scores of hard rock and power metal bands who had all the talent in the world but never pulled the trigger in their work. A few names coming to mind are TNT, Rough Cutt, Shy and Icon. Sparkling players, a few memorable songs, excellent production under a big label blanket and its promotional firepower, but in the grand scheme, these bands never reached their true potential.

TNT may have a cult classic with Knights of the New Thunder, but Tell No Tales put them on the map for the wrong reasons. Rough Cutt's Wants You has some fine moments and it certainly enjoyed a couple months of hype, but in the end, the reason these albums floated out of the memory banks of the average fan is largely due to their safeness.

Germany's Powerworld is only on their second album, but when it takes 10 songs to generate a proper kick, that's playing the cards with a lack of efficiency that usually sends you packing from the poker table. With all the talent they could possibly hope for, Powerworld is unfortunately sitting on their music instead of turning it loose. Their sophomore effort Human Parasite could've been a bigger deal because it's polished, it has quite a few hooks, it boasts spiffy solos and an appealing lead vocalist.

The stigma to Human Parasite is its lack of well, power. There's simply not much bite to this album minus a few double-hammer ditties and the excellent, intricate "Tame Your Demons," which leaves an exclamation point of bewilderment. You just know by that one song Human Parasite and Powerworld has more to give, but it merely settles instead of deals out.

There's a commerical-mindedness to Human Parasite that one can detect without even listening deeply for it. The vibe Powerworld is seeking with this album however, went out of fashion with Keel's The Final Frontier and MSG's (circa Robin McCauley) Perfect Timing.

Powerworld, which is comprised of constituents involved in other projects, suffered a setback coming into this album when original vocalist Steffen Brunner and Jurgen Lucas left. Powerworld even admits in their bio they were forced into two-minute drill mode to get Human Parasite recorded, which is the telling tale of its output. No fault to new singer Andrew "Mac" McDermott and drummer Simon Michael. The fault goes to the time constraints placed upon this group.

Miraculous they sound this tight and cohesive, perfectly gelled, yet even with the tap-a-tap march opening the album on "Cleansed by Fire" and some terrific solo tugs by guitarist Barish Kepic, the song only hits a bare stride. From this point, Human Parasite goes upon a methodic and melodic course of light fare power jams and anthems which might've served up some good times on weekends circa 1986. For 2010, only those holding a candle for 80s L.A. are best served. "East Comes to the West" says it all, and it stands in theme as a distant cousin to fellow countrymen, the Scorpions, who have recorded similar, more memorable tunes. "Stand Up" carries a nice message, but it's borrowed retro dialed straight out of The Troubadour before Guns 'n Roses dirtied up its walls.

It's never fun to rag on a band who has musical capability and the wherewithal to come together in a hurry-up fashion. "Evil in Me" hardly carries a sinister tone and one gets the impression it might've had more chunk if Powerworld had ripped out a few more takes to lower the key and get mucky with it. Human Parasite hardly stinks, but it might've had more meat to sling if given the chance to breathe first.

Rating: ***

Saturday, November 20, 2010

CD Review: Mini Mansions - s/t

Mini Mansions - s/t
2010 Rekords Rekords
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Alright, so this is anything but metal, but we're keen on Queens of the Stone Age over here, so it's Broaden Your Horizons time.

Picture if you will, an astute crossover between Abbey Road, The White Album and Pet Sounds merged with John Lennon's solo work and Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd with hidden sublets of Radiohead and Blur. Therein lies the expansive aural playground for Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman to dwell and frolic in as if he got lost on an isolated harbor inlet near Manchester and took inspiration in loneliness.

Funny how an L.A. cat manages to capture the smug spiral which entrapped Lennon and Barrett at their aloof best with the self-imprisonment of Brian Wilson's post "Fun Fun Fun" days, yet Shuman and his Mini Mansion ensemble (completed by Zach Dawes and Tyler Parkford) are goddamned startling in their emulation of a hallucinatory vibe central to its time and creation.

Mini Mansions goes beyond transcendentalism and strangely creates a new art in the way Britpop and alt verve has tried so hard since the nineties to become. As great as the Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur, World Party and Trail of Dead are, only Bigelf has managed to come close to capturing the "bigness" of such an understated projection. The White Album is so revered because it's as huge as it is deeply stripped and personal. People relate to that record, Sgt. Peppers and Abbey Road because The Beatles knew how to write for themselves and their audience. Taking a strange trip or two with Lennon guiding much of The Beatles' later years was easy to digest because the world empathized as much as they were being emapthized with in serenade.

Mini Mansions is not a reach out and grab ya kind of album, much as it took a number of spins to properly soak up The White Album and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, as it did Pink Floyd's Animals. There's a ton going on with Mini Mansions even with a purposeful low-fi cadence to it. The drums clop instead of rattle, much like Ringo Starr. Bass vibrates, guitars toke and swoon, and vocally, oh my...where in the name of Barrett and Lennon did all of this come from?

This album lumbers and shuffles in a haze in a way even the famed shoegazing bands like Lush, My Bloody Valentine and Ride can't even match. Its only rival is its originating source. "Girls" might as well be called a lost White Album relic, while "Crime of the Season" ca-ca-ca-carouses on the thrust of a parade kick well at-home on Abbey Road or Sgt. Peppers. "The Room Outside" is an amalgam of Pink Floyd psychedelics, Beach Boys acapella (lofting in a breathy optimism beneath the globular murk) and a stamping Peppers march completed by some freaky Lennon whoa-ahh-whooas and trippy guitar rips.

Seriously, it's frightening how accurate Michael Shuman and Mini Mansions create a dark side to Lucy's diamond-filled sky by sprinkling in dashes of Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds pity party. Splashing "Crime of the Season" with a snarky horn section and some happy-go-lucky McCartney bass lines, those are the subtleties to this morose-yet-catchy album. On the top is a series of sixties-flavored hooks and atmospherics joined together by drum machine (sounding dubiously like those tacked upon Kimball organs) and dreamy guitar vignettes ala Blur. Add some snaggletoothed prose and Mini Mansions takes Bigelf's big tent throwback special back to its English roots.

The gorgeous and Gothic "Seven Sons" is what the nineties Lennon acolytes wished they could've been. It boasts the most contemporary sound Mini Mansions has to offer, and still it wields an uppity retro haunt that will have you feeling the need to pay respects at Strawberry Fields. To think one group could beget such future genius (borrowed as it may be), it demands salutation.

Shuman is in love with John Lennon, there's no doubt about it. Unlike most everyone seeking to tributize The Beatles in their music, Mini Mansions achieves its objective in the most original, Moog-laced, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" code of conduct it possibly can. "Kiddie Hypnogogia" and "Majik Marker" are kissed by the same otherworld sanctum where Lennon and Barrett are likely twirling their thumbs and watching their craft become reinvented timeless once again. Mini Mansions is alarming upon first listen, but it will one day grow to become an underground classic in a music world that only appreciates the hits of The Beatles, Floyd and the Beach Boys instead of the deep-planted nuances which truly made them all great.

Rating: ****

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two More Sample Pages of Retaliate Magazine

After addressing some back-end setbacks and software gremlins, Retaliate #1 is a-comin'

Thursday, November 18, 2010

CD Review: Suicidal Tendencies - No Mercy Fool!/The Suicidal Family

Suicidal Tendencies - No Mercy Fool!/The Suicidal Family
2010 Suicidal Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

There was a time in music where virtually everyone who made a name for themselves in rock 'n roll, blues and country from the fifties to the early sixties were called upon to re-record their catalog in the seventies for later generations. Sadly, most of the reduxes were contract filler hogwash yet again rearing their ugly heads these days in dollar CD bins. You know you have to be careful buying the greatest hits of Jerry Lee Lewis, The Platters and Little Richard in these bins of sins because you're simply not getting the real deal.

Not that it's a complete sin for musicians to re-record their old classics; in fact, you're seeing it become vogue as bonus material for triple pack CDs on new albums by Kiss, Foreigner and Journey. Once in an eon, a band revamping skeletons from their closets actually comes off better the second time around. Consult Oingo Boingo's Best O' Boingo for some stellar re-recordings of "Dead Man's Party," "Wild Sex in the Working Class" and others.

Mike Muir is no stranger to kicking out the old jams. Right now, he's riding a trifecta of operable bands with interchanged parts comprising today's versions of Cyco Miko, Infectious Grooves and of course, skate-thrash-core legends, Suicidal Tendencies. In the past, Suicidal has re-recorded their debut self-titled album in the form of Still Cyco After All These Years, bits of the past on Six the Hard Way and even the booming EP Controlled by Hatred/Feel Like Shit...Deja Vu contains some dustoffs of past work.

It's been a decade since a proper Suicidal full-length (i.e. Free Your Soul and Save My Mind) has come down the pike. Muir has returned from a self-imposed exile to unleash the hounds courtesy of all three of his bands and the malleable Dean Pleasants helping the cause in each. Mainstay shredder Mike Clark keeps the faith with Muir, and what we have in the midst of this dizzying array of 'core chaos are Cyco Miko and Infectious Grooves live offerings under one package and now another uncorking of past ditties under the bandana-wrapped banner of Suicidal Tendencies.

Most people are aware that No Mercy Fool!/The Suicidal Family revisits Suicidal Tendencies' 1987 album Join the Army, an album mostly the devout kick up in conversation. The band has sparked its name upon the zany skate punk of the 1983 Suicidal Tendencies album and the crossover speed zone of How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today? They even enjoyed some breakout success with their metal-rock-funk-jam experiment, Lights...Camera...Revolution. Interesting that Muir chooses to dip into Join the Army, but that's not the only vibe to No Mercy Fool!/The Suicidal Family. There's a catch, and a damned good one.

At one point in the mid-eighties, Mike Muir drifted off briefly to front the now-forgotten thrashcore unit, No Mercy. If you're going to put some cool breeze (a brisk one in this case) into your past songs, then give your audience something quasi-new to chew on. That's what No Mercy Fool!/The Suicidal Family does, and to be honest, it's the No Mercy re-recordings which are the real standouts on this album.

If the Join the Army cuts suffer anything in translation in 2010, it's a hyper giddiness to please which shoots some of the tunes in the feet. They come off occasionally sloppy and reckless. Even as Mike Muir rips away in front of his current lineup, Ron Bruner often undoes his mission with choppy, anxious fills and rolls which sometimes lack discipline ("I Feel Your Pain...and I Survive" being one case), while Steve Bruner (who is a mean cat on the bass) goes berserk with some satisfying licks, but at times, his note-happy lines are left to flounder alone, as if he's been pranked. Great sound capture (he's a beast on "The Prisoner"), but they don't always serve the flow. The true guilt of Suicidal 2010 with Ron Bruner fielding the Join the Army tracks is letting the dogs out on too far a leash. At least "Possessed to Skate" has the proper verve and "Born to Be Cyco" is the same rip-snorting fun as ever. Listen to Pleasants and Clark have nearly as much fun as Clark with Rocky George back in the day. Cool stuff.

The No Mercy tracks, by contrast, have strict focus and they scorch. With Brooks Wackerman handling drums on these songs, there is a crisper, streamlined effort to these re-recordings which provides bounce, bob and headbanging insanity. Only Muir goes bananas on the No Mercy tracks and you can tell he's sporting wood delivering these bangdango songs. Steve Bruner only embellishes when the songs call for sprinkling, while Pleasants and Clark are spectacular. "Something Inside Me" brings the three into beautiful harmony set to a mosh tempo. The soloing on "Come Alive" and "Love Runs Red" once again heralds the George-Clark era of Suicidal, even as this is a wholly different entity they're heralding. Wah-scratches, wailing and well-laid beat structures do the No Mercy songs justice.

Nearly a writeoff, Mike Muir and company save this venture by delivering a hefty second half, while the entire enterprise is a speed skate love affair. The old school will want to strap on the Chucks and dig out the Nuke Boy for a nostalgia ride after hearing this.

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 11/17/10

Greetings, readers, hope this week finds you well. Windy, blustery, rainy over on my side of the world and I'm just now back in the saddle on the web after some system malfunctions, huzzah... I'm feeling like that bad boy lizard above stomped me good and left me some aftershocks.

As for Retaliate #1, I've had to make some adjustments and create new arrangements behind-the-scenes, but we should be ready to go quite shortly. I'm sure all you editors out there have had the debut issue pains and follies and this has been a memorable pre-launch for both good and bad reasons, but in the end, I hope to deliver you all a quality product in the end. I'm picking up guests for Retaliate #2 with Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke already interviewed and I've just tonight booked up John Stabb of Government Issue to talk about their upcoming reunion gig in Washington, DC. More guests to be confirmed, but first thing's first, right?

With the computer abuse, I lost a lot of valuable time on things, but expect more goodies to drop here at The Metal Minute. As always, thank you, good people. Like Dio, we rock...

The Ocean - Anthropocentric
Dio - Live at Donington 1983 & 1987
The Cars - Shake it Up
Gwar - Bloody Pit of Horror
David "Rock" Feinstein - Bitten by the Beast
Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review: The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne, by Dave Thompson

The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne, by Dave Thompson
2010 Krause Publications
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If there's one thing we've learned over the course of Ozzy Osbourne's career, the man has exhibited a willingness to go with the flow (namely the flow outlined by his wife and manager, Sharon) when it comes to the maintenance of his image. Perhaps no one on this planet could've come out of the shadows of Anton LaVey in the eyes of the general public to purge his Prince of Darkness stage persona and become the Prince of Tomfoolery the way Ozzy has.

We still hold Ozzy accountable for his early work in Black Sabbath and a hefty portion of his solo albums. The man is hardly satanic, but it doesn't mean Ozzy Osbourne hasn't filled his till on the right arm of the devil. In other words, Ozzy's played Beelzebub and the masses like chumps on his way to an uber-successful career. If Ozzy's been in league with demons, they're manifest personification of his one-time drug and drinking habits, not to mention the continued scourge roles as bat-biter and wrongly accused songwriter. Most people know Ozzy as a daft but lovable loon from television and a happy-go-lucky bloke belting out "Crazy Train" and "I Don't Know" with perpetual giddiness. Sharon helped Ozzy rid himself of his suicide solutions and by now we've come to look at Ozzy Osbourne as a rock god who'll only quit, to paraphrase him, when the seats in the arena start turning up empty.

Ozzy's clean now, he still outsells most everyone else in the heavy metal market and the core nucleus of his family has reached an iconic plateau on the same level as the patriarch. Though he has other children in his life, the world knows his chawing sprats Kelly and Jack, the former having recently made herself over into a more glamorous persona, the former growing more business savvy by the day. He comes by it honestly. In fact, Jack is currently at work on a film bio on his dad as of this writing. Ozzy jokes he would love to see Johnny Depp take the lead role. Why not? Captain Jack Sparrow is made immortal through Depp because he modeled the character after the equally boffed and sloshed image of Keith Richards. A natural to play Ozzy, yes?

There have been more than a few diaries of the madman ready for consumption by Ozzy's followers, one of which he personally delivered earlier this year with his autobiography I Am Ozzy, the reported source of Jack Osbourne's tribute film. Back in the day, we would've killed to have a compendium of Ozzy's insane natterings, albeit he was hardly as mush-mouthed as he later became. We were all so intrigued by Ozzy's rock character it was, frankly, weird to see him later in life chilling in sweats in front of the tube with his family picking on him from behind. Rock god stripped, indeed.

Yet there's more to Ozzy Osbourne than f-bombs and hard knocks. If anything, Jack and Kelly Osbourne have been given more license than the average offspring to mouth off as they did on MTV's The Osbournes. To quoteth The Ozzman himself, "If I'd dared to say what they say to my dad, I'd be lying in the garden with a pitchfork stuck in my fucking chest."

This is one of many colorful anecdotes corraled in Dave Thompson's The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne, a Cliff's Notes look at the career of Ozzy through the rock legend's own musings. While Thompson leads his sections off with superb narrative within the first few chapters, the author lays off in the later ones with sparse commentary and lets the juices flow out of his subject.

Thompson must've had quite the time arranging licenses to get this book finished, because The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne has quotes spanning from the early seventies straight on through to direct excerpts from I Am Ozzy. In a way, The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne is a two-minute drill overview of his life, because it has a hit-and-run feel, albeit mostly complete in touching upon the most important facets to Ozzy's ever-changing image.

Thompson, who has interviewed Ozzy himsself, also grabs quotes from historic periodicals such as Creem, Sounds, Rolling Stone, NME, Guitar World, Spin, Daily Mirror and Oui along with contemporary websites. He touches upon Ozzy's time before and during Black Sabbath, his life as a hoodlum teenager where he was collared for shoplifting ("I was good at playing truant," he states) and some jaw-dropping stories about his siblings and stern father. Ozzy describes his entire family as neurotic, and he even set fire to his sister once. "I got beaten round the fuckin' house, as usual," after this incident, he notes. Prior to, his father praised Ozzy for beating the same sister up as she was reportedly a clean freak to the extreme.

There's a casual candor to a lot of Ozzy's ramblings, but there's quite a bit of life lessons to be learned from it as well, which Thompson smartly assembles in the rear portion of the book. For all of the drama queen potty-mouth nuances surrounding Ozzy in his family during the early 2000s, at the core is a man who faced evil, faced himself and though he treated his first wife poorly, he has come to value his family and his personal being a lot better.

Ozzy notes he can still be a depressed sod at times, but of late, he's been in search of the light instead of the dark. This is reflective in his more recent albums including this year's Scream, which has more optimism and less haunts to it than Ozzy's longtime fans could ever dream of. No more "War Pigs," no more "Mr. Crowley." Ozzy admits in this book he's been a plaything and playmate of the devil though he's been quietly on the side of a God of transcience more than a God of vindiction. Black Sabbath were warning the world about a possible hell on earth, not subscribing themselves to the dark underworld they brought to life in song. Ditto for Ozzy, and once you've read The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne, you're likely to have a bit of a different view of the guy. Yeah, he comes off like an asshole at times from various points of his career, but like his stage presence, Ozzy Osbourne has been able to change. Like or hate it, the Ozzman has cometh into his own.

Friday, November 12, 2010

CD Review: Dio - Dio at Donigton UK: Live 1983 & 1987

Dio - Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987
2010 Nigi Entertainment Group/BBC
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As with happens when legends pass into the next life, a flurry of archive material to help us remember and cherish them with arrives quickly thereafter. Often, releasing posthumous albums can--and sometimes should--be looked upon as despicable cash-in jobs. Even if the material is worth hearing, the echoes of cha-ching dropping into the powers that be's coffers tends to stain the listening experience.

Ronnie James Dio was such a force in his career people wanted to hear him, be it in front of Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath or in his solo capacity. There are vocalists who try to emulate the man, but it's safe to say Dio's voice will stand eternity as its own unique cadence. That's a selling point, alive or dead. The resurrected Dio-Sabbath encampment Heaven and Hell had even more to do with Ronnie's official stamp upon "Neon Knights," "Mob Rules," "Children of the Sea" and "Heaven and Hell" than his reknowned bandmates.

Dio leaves behind a tremendous legacy and if it weren't for the class and caliber of the man, one might have to feel dizzy instead of elated that a score of new releases with his name affixed to them are hitting us all at once. Heaven and Hell's performance at last year's Wacken festival will be an emotional viewing on DVD as it represents Ronnie's final live show. Ronnie's former Elf shotgun rider David Rock Feinstein has a new album, Bitten By the Beast, which features Ronnie on a track appropriately titled "Metal Will Never Die."

Neither will Ronnie, because his music transcends the fundamentals of the genre. He and his most memorable songs are timeless, inarguable classics you wouldn't dare scoff at if you strap on the title of Metalhead. Thus we have Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987, and thank God for that.

In life, Dio was famous for releasing live albums with the same relish as Iron Maiden. We took that for granted as fans. "Oh, another Dio live album, sheesh..." we'd be guilty of saying. Don't deny it. I'm just as guilty as anyone and I still had to summon the courage to be professional in 2005 when I had the privilege to interview Ronnie for his Evil or Divine live album. Ronnie remains one of only two guests I nearly vomited before the interview because I respect him that much.

So now we're at the point in our lives when Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 comes along where we suddenly rejoice instead of rebuke. Holy smokes, vintage live Dio material? And two selections from the celebrated Castle Donington festivals of the eighties? As an American metalhead of the eighties, I daydreamed about going to these shows and gnashed my teeth in jealousy, as did many fans of the day who couldn't get over there to attend. Donington was the Wacken of its time.

Though Bon Jovi was inexplicably the headliner of the 1987 Castle Donington shindig, at least Ronnie James Dio was there as a "special guest," which meant he was the torch carrier between the still-thrashy Metallica and the livin' on a prayer glee club that was Bon Jovi. Touring his Dream Evil album at the time, there were many of us initially calling Ronnie out for the album's first single "I Could've Been a Dreamer," a softer song catching many off guard upon its release. "All the Fools Sailed Away" was likewise slow and keyboard-drenched, but it brought fans back to Ronnie's cause on Dream Evil and now both songs are beheld by many of his fans as classics.

Surprising that he didn't peel off "Dreamer" in the Donington '87 show, but at the same time, what he did deliver with Craig Goldy on guitar instead of Vivian Campbell (who had vanished to join Whitesnake) was still an event, if you sit back and fall into Dio at Donigton UK: Live 1983 & 1987.

Though not as vibrant and urgent as the '83 show on this double live album, the '87 performance is still a court for a king. Both shows sound bigger than the moment and whether Ronnie's kicking out old Sabbath staples from his tenure or even Rainbow's timeless cuts "Long Live Rock 'n Roll," "Man On the Silver Mountain," "Starstruck" and a medley portion of "Stargazer," it's a wow moment to let it all sieve into your ears.

The finale of "Heaven and Hell" in the '87 show is so bombastic and glorious you're trapped into the moment, which allows Ronnie to go bananas with "Man On the Silver Mountain," then lavish his crowd to a home stretch finale with his own "All the Fools Sailed Away," followed by a reprise of "The Last in Line" and his signature jump-up-and-be-proud-of-yourself anthem, "Rainbow in the Dark."

The '83 Donington concert supersedes the '87 show, even if the latter is crisper and more fluid due to better sound capture. The fact either of these shows remain in pristine audile condition is why you're going to hunt down Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987. These represent some of Ronnie's finest live moments--on album, anyway.

"Starstruck" with Vivian Campbell, Claude Schnell, Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice (who are all present, sans Campbell in 1987) sounds just as explosive as performed with Ritchie Blackmore, while Dio's earlier solo stuff like "Stand Up and Shout," "Straight Through the Heart" and "Holy Diver" come out with all pistons popping. Interesting that Dio relied on a heavy dash of Sabbath and Rainbow in the '83 set, including a reprise of "Man On the Silver Mountain," but that was a case of a man still trying to build a new career on personal songs still building their own legend. Regardless, it's a stellar moment of transition we're subjected to with the '83 Donington show and if you're a drumhead, focus in on Vinny Appice here. The man nearly steals the show from his host, crikey...

Call it a cash-in if you like, but Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 is special. The only shame in this release is that Ronnie didn't get to see it unleashed upon the music world. Fun that the package tosses in replica stage passes to make you feel like you are there as a valued guest. Wouldn't a fan-appreciative icon like Ronnie have adored that?

Happy he didn't get to see idiotic publicity hounds under the cross of Jesus target his good name, but in the end, the legend of Ronnie James Dio will go down as a proponent of love and harmony. "Rainbow in the Dark" will forever be one of the most positive heavy metal songs ever recorded, and it deservedly finishes this two-piece live album. No matter how many times you've heard it, "Rainbow in the Dark" is our unification song and Ronnie has to be pleased from the other side we honor him in this manner.

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 11/10/10 (The Late Night Edition)

Sorry for the late post, gang. Morning was beyond my control, daytime a marathon and then I was featured tonight at an open mike gig. Good times on the latter, anyway...

Hope everybody's doing good out there. Had a hell of a chat with Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke last Saturday, in which he gave his extensive views of the world. A highly interesting chat, to say the least.

Here at The Metal Minute, we'll talk about Mini Mansions and the new Dio double live disc from Castle Donnington, plus a new Twisted Sister DVD featuring their recent Wacken performance. We'll also have a look at Ozzy's latest book, The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne, plus plenty of other fun stuff.

Calling it a night, folks, so bring out your spins if you're still lurking about...

Dio - Dio at Donnington UK: Live 1983 & 1987
Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
The Ocean - Anthropocentric
Rush - 2112
Rush - Grace Under Pressure
Rush - Moving Pictures
Rush - Signals
Rush - Permanent Waves
Halford - Halford IV: Made of Metal
Judas Priest - Hell Bent for Leather
Van Halen - Diver Down
Motley Crue - Dr. Feelgood
Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
Bobatunde Olatunji - Drums of Passion
Beastie Boys - The Mix-Up

Monday, November 08, 2010

DVD Review: VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures

VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures
2010 Eagle Vision
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If there's two things I wish I could've changed about my high school years, one is going out for football instead of working my spare time away in pursuit of a hunk of shit car that gobbled all of of my savings in repairs. The other is giving Rush better audience than I did. In my teen years as a student in a farmland school, whatever my adversaries liked, I automatically rebuffed. Rush was king amongst the toughies, the potheads, the farmers and even some of the jocks. At that time, Power Windows had been released. I admittedly gave Rush a chance on that album's merits and walked away, stupidly dismissing them and even Led Zeppelin for the same aforementioned reasons.

Later in my twenties I smartened up, corraled each band's catalogs and I own t-shirts of each. I saw Rush live on the Vapor Trails tour and laughed at my younger self, having been treated to a top-10 all-time live performance from one of the greatest bands ever assembled on the entire planet. Better to wake up late than not at all, right?

What kills me in retrospect is realizing what I'd missed out on while banging my head to W.A.S.P., Testament and Raven back in the day is how freaking heavy Rush's 2112 album is. Heavier than most bands' finest hours. Yeah, I'm talking heavy as in sound, but more so the intense Orwellian-meets-Rand story of "2112." It's beyond the word "epic." If Iron Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" has a superior, it's "2112."

As noted in this outstanding VH-1 Classic Albums documentary behind Rush's 2112 and Moving Pictures albums, "2112" speaks to generations and continues thus to newcomers. In my opinion, the message of "2112" is even more imperative in a tech-ruled society altering how we've consume and generate music. Sure, Neil Peart and Rush created a fantastical element to tell "2112," which the documentary astutely points out the group's affinity for Ayn Rand's sci-fi classics. The muse stumbles into a barren cave to find the out-of-tune guitar Alex Lifeson brilliantly tinkers with out-of-key and tunes up in mid-recording to breathe life into the "Discovery" stanza of "2112." The explosive acumen Rush thunders into the remainder of "2112" to shake up the dystopia they've created and proverbially state the power of music will save our souls has resonated since its release in 1976. Too bad I wasn't listening then.

Depending on how you look at it, the changes in the music world is harboring a dystopian undertone as much as it's freed up the airwaves to damned near anyone seeking to dial in. Clear Channel being one form of mind control through its brainless 15-20 song playlists, the new world order is creating less of a demand for hard copy and tangible, hand-felt artwork. To imagine "2112's" creation in a society looking to minimize the listening experience to pocket-size is well, blasphemous if you honor what Rush was trying to tell their listeners. Even "Lessons" from 2112 sounds like AM chicken scratch on an iPod, when it was meant to boom, to crow, to vibrate the walls with such humanity you can't ignore it. Now, you can go from desk-to-desk in a corporate office and barely discern what people are spinning through widgets barely larger than cigarette lighters.

Not that VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures goes this far in its recounting of two perrenial albums in recording history. Still, if you want to parallel "Tears" from 2112 to the early Moody Blues or damn near every rock band following "Tom Sawyer" from Moving Pictures, it's hard to sit back and see where we are as a collective soul musically-speaking. Frankly, the world is growing more and more soulless and if Rush didn't speak to the masses against allowing a dead heart control system to steal its freewill, then go straight to their song of the same name on Permanent Waves or even the sullen "Losing It" from Signals.

At least this documentary opts for a more celebratory spirit of Rush's esteemed careers. Really, the only drama it posits is how Rush nearly lost their label and fan interest (shockingly so) with their Caress of Steel album from 1975. Even in this day and age, such brilliant songwriting as Rush extolled on Caress of Steel goes ignored and unappreciated. Though hardly their most accessible album, Caress offers "Bastille Day," one of Rush's most bombastic cuts forevermore and their fans literally leap from their seats within the first few grinding riffs.

Can you imagine writing music of such complexity and grace as Caress of Steel and Fly By Night where you're still pressured to come up with a commercial megaseller or get out of Dodge? It happens every day and though they didn't mean to write a power anthem that has stood the test of time, "Tom Sawyer" was the unintentionally demonstrative answer back to the shareholders at Mercury Records. It has an undeniable kick, a strut, a vibe, yet "Tom Sawyer" was at-heart a dark song that somehow became a hard rock rally call for Generation X. Is it the hammering chords, the tougher 'n leather groove, the insane tom rolls and rat-a-tat cymbal clangs by Neil Peart or Geddy Lee's enigmatic choruses?

Whatever "Tom Sawyer's" appeal was initially, it is now held as a staple for Rush like "War Pigs" for Black Sabbath and "Rock 'n Roll All Nite" for Kiss. At least for Rush's and Moving Picture's purposes, "Tom Sawyer" is the icing on the cake for an album wielding gem after gem after gem. VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures accents this point and brings in the testimonials of Peart, Lifeson and Lee (along with producer Terry Brown) to give a few happy anecdotes behind a creative period in their lives even they treat reverentially.

You get to hear whimsical stories how "Yyz" was conceived while landing home in a Toronto airport (it does have that choatic feel of a busy terminal beneath the funk jam, doesn't it?), as they discuss the origins of "Red Barchetta" and play around with title's enunciation. They revel over Rod Serling behind the conception of "Twilight Zone" and if you were ever curious whether "A Passage to Bangkok" was a stoner song, they come clean. It is. On a personal note, I was taken by the band's breakdown of "Limelight," particularly Alex Lifeson's singled-out solo, which delivered live on camera rings as one of the most heartbreaking you'll ever let past your inner defenses.

On this DVD, you get 112 minutes of interview footage mingled with each member noodling on their instruments in conjunction with the recorded audio, but pay attention, because the feed switches to them live in random increments and it's simply beautiful how the live sound transitions fluidly from the album overdubs. You're going to want to kick back with your favorite drink on the bonus features, because you get a large dose of "2112" played live, plus the hilariously-titled "This Is Not a Drum Solo (Neil Warms Up)." If everybody warmed up by belting out an intricate ode to Gene Krupa, Peart might be out of a job at this point. It's a smoker of a laydown session and mandatory viewing.

Without flagging specific album titles, Rush poke at their mid-to-late eighties work (inherently suggested by Power Windows and Hold Your Fire), but they note the key to their long-standing success as the definitive rock trio (not to diss Motorhead) has been their unwavering dedication to experimenting and challenging themselves. They dared to try synths, they dared to splash things up with reggae, they dabbled in cyber fuse before it was hip. They get funky, they get jivey, they get jazzy. Still, in the proverbial limelight, Rush are the quintessenial prog pros whose tab books will forever be found in the bedrooms of the aspirant.

Though 2112 and Moving Pictures are the two singular bodies of work discussed here and beheld as Rush's finest moments, for the Rush purist, you can't omit Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, A Farewell to Kings, Caress of Steel and even Grace Under Pressure from the list of masterworks Rush has bestowed upon us. Their core body of work deserves a semester of study in Rock 102, and even Counterparts and Test For Echo later on showed signs of their previous glory. Agreed that 2112 and Moving Pictures are bigger than themselves, but recorded in a studio resembling a mini-atrium with a gorgeous snowscape behind them, how could Rush not have benefited from such aesthetic majesty?

I may not have taken my shot at football beyond intra-neighborhood sandlot scrimmages, but I did get hip to Rush at an apporpriate time of my life and the grandeur of "2112" and "The Camera Eye" still astonishes. Don't be like a younger me. If you've resisted Rush, be smart. This DVD's a great way to get acquainted. There'd be no Dragonforce without Rush, bank that.

Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, November 07, 2010

GBH - "Give Me Fire" video

Now this is hardcore, Flying V and all...

Saturday, November 06, 2010

CD Review: Halford - Halford IV: Made of Metal

Halford - Halford IV: Made of Metal
2010 Metal God Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

It's fairly unanimous hardcore metal fans have blown raspberries at Judas Priest's triple-dog-dare-you epic Nostradamus, even if the Grammy committee tagged honors upon it. Some fans even stake a dagger of hatred into the Priest's Angel of Retribution album from 2005.

While 1986's Turbo truly deserves a thumb bite, the point of the matter is Judas Priest is held to such a high standard by the metal community they're demanded by de facto to be nothing less than British Steel, than Stained Class, than Screaming for Vengeance or Hell Bent For Leather. Judas Priest is the epitome of heavy, the automatic brand name when you discuss the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Deviation from the script is not tolerated. Ask Ripper Owens. Hell, there are even some purists out there who rebuff the louder 'n hell Painkiller, shudder to think.

Rob Halford understands this fully well, at least when it comes to issuing his solo work. Under the Halford moniker, you may not get Downing and Tipton, but you do get the scorching (and of late well-respected) Roy Z and Metal Mike Chlasciak, who entertain like the dickens on Made of Metal. Hey, when you're the Metal God, you don't surround yourself with a court of fools.

Thus, if you are said purist, rejoice, lad and lass, because Halford IV: Made of Metal is the textbook primer of classic metal you're salivating for. Forget the operatics and the symphonics. Made of Metal is straight-up vintage Rob Halford and Priest, so much you get a slowed-down reworking of "Electric Eye" with "Speed of Sound" on this album plus a deliberate hail to red times ala Stained Class and Sin After Sin on "Hell Razor."

Put your faith in Uncle Rob, because he knows what you're craving. He takes Priest's halcyon "Before the Dawn" and speeds it up in the thread of Stratovarius on the quick-stepped "Fire and Ice." Then he atones for the strangely addictive misdemeanor of "Turbo Lover" with the cyber-slick pumper "Made of Metal," one of Rob's most memorable non-Priest tunes outside of "Nailed to the Gun" from Fight.

With 14 songs, Made of Metal is a bit of an endeavor, largely because Rob Halford takes a few outside chances in the interest of creating a leaner, more diverse listening experience. This means getting Bon Jovi jiggy on the verses of "Thunder and Lightning," which heavies up on the choruses and solos before the song gets too oily for its own good. Like Bon Jovi, Rob Halford takes a crack at the cowpoke metal ditty on "Till the Day I Die." Roy Z and Metal Mike are up to the task in creating blues slides and grimy lines for Halford to ante up from a near-whisper into a cracking metal hoedown catcall. Far less melodramatic and more testicular than Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory."

One of the elements most critics are missing with this album is the inherent romanticism Halford exudes. Sure, Rob's delivered the goods to many a love rocker in his career, but Made of Metal reveals a tender, muse-stricken intimacy to the Metal God. He's in free-frolic mode beneath the rocking stanzas of "I Know We Stand a Chance," "Fire and Ice," "Thunder and Lightning," "Heartless" and "We Own the Night." His seven-minute self-flogging mini-epic "25 Years" is nearly heartbreaking. Bless you, Rob, it's nice to hear such lovestruck humanity sieved out with the molten lava.

Halford tempers his vocal patterns throughout the entire album, withholding his screechfest "The Mower" for a grand finale. Hinted at from the beginning of the album by the proto-power chugger "Undisputed," "The Mower" becomes a cathartic finish to a marathon of pure heavy metal and bobbing rock delivered as only Rob Halford can do without a flinch. "The Matador" may be Halford's smaller-scale vie to emulate Nostradamus with more efficiency, but in the end, Made of Metal is like that coveted chair in the warmest part of the house: it rocks.

Rating: ****

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Metal Louvre: Venom - Possessed

Amazing the fun you can have with an exposure still. Could there be a more stripped way to convey fear while doing it in cheeky fashion? Say what you will, these creepy little kids wearing Venom tanks on Possessed are freaking unnerving. Call 'em Children of the Goddamned.

The original cut of Possessed was as naked, stark and intentionally banal as its cover. Venom made a lark out of satanism and this cover is just as smarmy as "Hellchild" or "Satanachrist" from the album. I've always wondered who's kids took the honor for this shot and what they're like now as adults.

Parody and jokes aside, this cover is fucked up, metally-speaking.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 11/3/10

Hightailing it on the run, folks. Status quo for me, wouldn't you agree?

Hope everyone enjoyed their Halloween. Couldn't have asked for better on my end, though I'm a little sad I was late in the month getting ready for Halloween. Oh well, we all made it count at game time and in the name of Karloff and Carpenter, it was a faboo ghoul night.

At The Metal Minute be expecting a look at Rob Halford's latest solo album Made of Metal plus other albums on tap for examination. Your two word teaser for Halford IV: It rocks.


Sweeney Todd Broadway revival soundtrack
Halloween II (Carpenter) soundtrack
Halloween III: Season of the Witch soundtrack
Nightmare Revisited
Oingo Boingo - Nothing to Fear
Oingo Boingo - Best o' Boingo
Devo - Something for Everybody
The Memorials - s/t
Gunslinger - Early Volumes 1
Halford - Halford IV: Made o Metal

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sample Page of Retaliate #1

Coming atcha very shortly...