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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Take 5 With Gregg Rossetti of Suspyre by Devin Walsh

Devin Walsh (The Metal Minute): Thus far, Suspyre has recorded and released three albums (The Silvery Image, A Great Divide, When Time Fades) with a fourth one currently in the works. What do you feel are major differences between each of your albums – whether it’s the recording and writing process, lyrical themes, musicianship, etcetera?

Gregg Rossetti (Suspyre – guitars): With each album, we try to do something different from the last while maintaining a similar thread, be it with how we approach composition, recording, etcetera. I think each album touches on a completely different side of what I love about music.

The Silvery Image was a collection of music written between 1999 and 2005. It's a long timespan that consisted mostly of my early stages of learning how to write. Specifically, the music is written with common-practice tonality; most of the songs follow recognizable song structures and have chord progressions that rarely challenge the ear, but rather, provide foundation for melodies. There are some progressive elements throughout, namely some mixed meter sections, industrial synths and some jazzy and dissonant chords. Lyrically, we had some fantasy-themed songs, but there are also some more esoteric ideas. Some of the lyrics were written based on ones that already existed, some were new. Overall, it our most straight-forward, simple, and catchy album.

A Great Divide, composed from 2005 to 2006, is two concept pieces broken down into twelve tracks. The subject matter for the first half was based on a real life experience Clay Barton had. The second half is an emotional ride through the life of a fictional pianist named April--having a keyboardist named April
join the band a few years later is pure coincidence. The music covers much more ground than The Silvery Image. It's heavier overall, but at the same time there are a lot more odd time signatures, dissonant chords, and 70s jazz-fusion influences to help balance the thrash. The album flows so well because most of the songs were written at the same time, and it being a concept album, calls for some melodies and riffs to be reused and variated. Obviously, the production and musicianship is much better than the previous album, as The Silvery Image provided us lots of practice not only on our instruments, but how to produce a good-sounding album. Overall, it is the most cohesive and emotional work, but still melodic and catchy.

When Time Fades... again spans a significant amount of time. Some of the tracks are leftover ones from 2003 that didn't make the cut for The Silvery Image (usually because they were too difficult), and the rest of the tracks were new. This is our experimental album. There are lots of different tempi, time
signatures, keys/modes and tunings than the previous albums. A lot of the eccentric compositional antics were influenced by the composition lessons I was getting in graduate school. Starting in 2006, I got involved in microtonality and further delved into avant-garde music. The idea was that more complicated music yielded more interesting music. One drawback to this style was it limits what can be played live. Having some songs in different tunings and having nearly impossible-to-memorize parts really creates a problem when putting on an enjoyable performance. Overall, it is our most progressive and experimental album.

The next album (title to be released soon) pushes our musical boundaries in another direction without alienating the past. The overall sound is more groove-oriented, bright and dare I say, "happy." It's not as gloomy, gothic or grotesque. That being said, some of the riffs are the heaviest we've ever done. It's still in its beginning stages, but hopefully as my work load lightens up, I can speed up the process on it.

DW: You guys have used an array of different musical instruments throughout your albums such as mandolin, Chapman Stick, saxophone and others. Are there any plans for some odd instruments on the new album?

GR: I don't like to be limited in the amount of colors I can have in my music, so I'm always open to writing for non-traditional "rock band" instruments. My fiancée got me an Oud (an Egyptian lute) for Christmas, so I can't wait to use it on this album! I've also been experimenting with using the saxophone as an integral part of the piece, rather than just a solo instrument.

DW: I know Suspyre has been through some lineup changes in the past. Do you feel the band is at its strongest now? How is the overall cohesion and compatibility of the band now?

GR: Lineup changes are frustrating, especially for a composer, because I'm used to writing for that one person's style. Rich Skibinsky and I founded the band, so it's strange not having him playing the guitar parts. He left on sudden, but good terms, as he wanted to pursue other opportunities. Andrew had no trouble learning his parts, though. Finding a drummer was a tedious process, as we needed someone who had the tightness of a metal drummer but the creativity of a jazz drummer. Enter funk drummer Gabe Marshall. The fact that the band is more spread out location-wise now makes things difficult when it comes to practicing. When the drummer, bassist, and both guitarists lived within 15 minutes of each other, we were able to be more productive. Hopefully we'll fix this problem soon! That said, the band all works hard and learns the music, and all that matters is when we're together for a show we put our best into it.

DW: When you first started Suspyre in 2001, what were your goals at the time? Are you happy where the band is at now or are there still mountains you want to climb?

GR: Suspyre at first was just for fun, as I was leaving for college and didn't know what I wanted to do. I considered economics, business, or computer science but took some music classes to meet some general requirements. When I was approached about being a music major, it gave me the confidence I needed to take on a musical career. There was a time when I thought we could do Suspyre full time, but it'll be very discouraging when I have bills to pay and no money coming in. I'd like Suspyre to be respected as an artistic group, rather than just a "metal band." I'm still struggling on how to best communicate this with the listeners. Hopefully releasing this next album will show what we can really do musically. I would like to do more in a live situation, but again, it's frustrating when there are life obligations; shows take a lot of practice and preparation and there are only so many hours in a day!

DW: If you could put together a single show with Suspyre and any other bands/artists, alive or dead, who would you choose to play with?

GR: Igor Stravinsky and his orchestral works, definitely. He was one of the founders of progressive music. Le Sacre Du Printempts (The Rite of Spring) set the foundation for progressive music with its heavy driving rhythms, fluctuating odd-time signatures and dreamy, surreal sense of harmony. I think fans of him will see his influence in our music. Other dead artists that I would like to perform with would be Edgard Varèse and Harry Partch.

As for living bands, Dream Theater would be at the top of my list. I know they are the quintessential progressive rock/metal band, but it's not for that reason. It's the fact that they know what they are doing and do everything with confidence. When they release a song that I'm not as fond of, I know it's not because they made a mistake, but rather they tried something different. Being an artist is about trying new things and not worrying about failure. There are too many bands that recreate the same album over and over again because it's safe and commercially viable. That's not Suspyre, and I'd like to be associated with other artists like Dream Theater. There are many artists I believe deserve an honorable mention--as I listen to many different genres--but wouldn't do well in a live situation with us.

(c) Copyright 2011 Devin Walsh

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Metal Louvre: Death - Leprosy

I remember when Death's Leprosy came out, I was transfixed by this gruesome cover. Perhaps not as horrid as the Scream Bloody Gore artwork and not spectacularly bloody, but Leprosy's cover is vivid, stark and remiss of the somewhat-comical nature of its predecessor.

This is one of the most striking death metal album covers of all-time and I remember oddly thinking of Ben-Hur upon greeting, then getting blown away by the album itself as one of the most technically-sound albums of its style. Chuck Schuldiner's genius had blossomed at this point in his career and Leprosy remains one of his signature bodies of work, Human and The Sound of Perseverance notwithstanding.

I recall grossing out one of the female employees at the mall record store when picking up Leprosy and staring at it for minutes. Her grunt of repulsion still echoes in my ears today. Almost as fun as terrorizing my high-school girlfriend by taking her to see A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Good times, indeed...

Friday, February 25, 2011

CD Review: Lazarus A.D. - Black Rivers Flow

Lazarus A.D. - Black Rivers Flow
2011 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

There's already been a number of fans grunting and growling about this album, and honestly, that sucks, because Lazarus A.D. may have switched a few schisms from their retro-thrash introductory offers, but that doesn't mean their latest album Black Rivers Flow isn't good. Actually, it's durned near outstanding.

As The Agony Scene had effortlessly done in transition from agro brutal to groove-filled precise, Lazarus A.D. does likewise on Black Rivers Flow. Sure, The Onslaught made good on its name with blazing speed, but young buck metal fans, cut this band some slack, huh? At least it wasn't metal thrashing culture shock like Celtic Frost between Into the Pandemonium and Cold Lake. Be happy you weren't there for that travesty, to use Tom G. Warrior's actual phrasing, delivered to this writer a few years ago.

The Agony Scene peeled the paint with The Deepest Red and so does Lazarus A.D. on Black Rivers Flow. Who says groove isn't welcome in metal? The more the better, because we have hundreds of black metal clones, hundreds of prog metallers, thousands of death metal mongrels and more than our share of thrash revivalists. Kudos to Lazarus A.D. for having the guts to stir things up between velocity and power punching on "Casting Forward," "The Strong Prevail" and "Through Your Eyes."

There is hardly anything sacrificed heavy-wise by this band when they opt to march proudly through "The Ultimate Sacrifice" or throw out a hook on "Beneath Waves of Hatred." Yeah, there's more breakdowns and slowdown bridge sequences this time around, but Lazarus A.D. stacks them with greasy guitar solos from Alex Lackner and Dan Gapen. On the bottom end, Jeff Paulick wields thrumming pulses beneath the shucking bobs of "Beneath Waves of Hatred," "American Dreams" and "The Ultimate Sacrifice."

Not quite Brent Masters, former drummer of The Agony Scene, Ryan Shutler is still one of the stabilizing forces on Black Rivers Flow. He keeps an air-tight, rhythmic furrow on this album. Double-hammer, triplets, 4/4 steady bangs, whatever is called upon this dude, he nails it. He is Senor Signature Swap on "American Dreams" and really lays down some snazzy ride cymbal taps to accent the guitar shredding Lazarus A.D. rolls from his lead.

Seriously, let it ride with this album, because Black Rivers Flow is a highly entertaining mince 'n mash trip with the sensibility to hunt out verve instead of settle for the sure thing and get lost in the toxic waltz. No offense to all of the young thrash revisionists out there because many are very good or outright spectacular. Still, the senior overlords of speed metal have returned en masse to show off their long-standing might and only those who can keep up will remain significant. Lazarus A.D. has wisely progressed and unleashed a maniacal riff and tear metal rump shaker that stands out from the pack--pick your style.

Rating: ****

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Van of the Dead: Swappin' Spit: I Spit On Your Grave 1978 and 2010

I Spit On Your Grave 1978 and 2010
2011 Starz Media/Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

When I think of Meir Zarchi's original I Spit On Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman) from 1978, I think of my one-time neighbor and old friend from the mid-eighties. Beta was dead, VHS was all the rage. Ditto for Colecovision and Commodore 64. Archaic brand names to young eyes, right? Most don't even know what these 8-bit computers and gadgets are, much less care. Why should they? Not with 4G cell phones that can play movies on the damned things.

I bring this up in light of Steven R. Monroe's 2010 hitch 'n ride update of I Spit On Your Grave. As young teens, my buddy Shawn and I used to sneak all the forbidden horror films we could in his basement or sometimes in my living room when my folks weren't around. It was a less PC world back then and there was a silent bond between video counter reps in their young twenties and teenagers that they would look past our ages and let those nasty R-borderline-X films out the door in our mits. We always knew who worked what shift between the hardball older employees and the college-agers who knew why we had to see Tobe Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and eventually the really brutal stuff like Make Them Die Slowly, Faces of Death and Meir Zarchi's I Spit On Your Grave.

Of these films, Shawn and I were disappointed by Chainsaw's less-is-more minimalist approach because we were juvenile gore hounds. Romero delivered the goods, but we were laughing like lunatics all the way through and at the time missed the sociological hellhole Romero was trying to convey. Faces of Death impacted us, finally, particularly with the headless chicken. Then everything changed with Make Them Die Slowly and I Spit On Your Grave, two of the most hardcore genre films that have been printed. Only Cannibal Holocaust supercedes these two.

Our sicko teen bloodlust was more than satiated with these films, but speaking for myself, it was the first time I actually felt dirty watching them. Both Make Them Die Slowly and I Spit On Your Grave involve dastardly murders and each feature a castration scene. The hot topic between Shawn and I was, did they actually go too far?

Here, I'm sure, was the dilemma posed before Steven Monroe when tackling I Spit On Your Grave. By title alone, you know you're in for something thoroughly wicked. How deep was Monroe going to subject his lead, Sarah Butler, in conveying Jennifer Hills' appalling degredation? Zarchi had put his lead (and one-time lover) Camille Keaton through an unbelievable amount of physical torment. Acting or not, Keaton deserves some sort of subculture Academy award for subjecting her body beyond the expectations of just about anyone, Butler included. Keaton spent at least 30 to 40% of the first I Spit On Your Grave fully naked, largely in the woods, water and fields and getting thoroughly roughhoused in a brave performance to show rape at its foulest and most intolerable. Give her a hand whether you approve of the film or not. Poor Sarah Butler, she sure had a tough act to follow in 2010.

This year Starz and Anchor Bay bring you both versions of I Spit On Your Grave. The '78 film gets the Blu Ray treatment alongside its contemporary and the dare is laid before you to watch them in succession. Zarchi's film gets the upper hand for the sheer brutality of Jennifer's rape, while Monroe actually one-ups his predecessor (Zarchi did oversee the remake, for the record) in terms of the humiliation factor and of course, the revenge sequences.

Both films are set up in the same manner. A pretty young writer vanishes to a secluded cabin to write her novel, makes the fateful stopover at a backwoods gas station and stupidly red alerts the panting perverts at the pumps what she's up to. Both Jennifers are inherently concerned about offending the apish hicks they come across and don't wish to come off as snotty, which is unfortunately their undoing.

In Zarchi's film, Camille Keaton is a bit more seductive though annoyed to pieces the local rednecks begin cruising by her cabin on the lake. Their intentions are slow-paced and methodical until their loins get the best of them and they jump Camille on the lake, drag her away and take their fill of her. She gets away, they stalk her and rape her some more. She staggers home in the muck and the mire and yet again they attack her in her cabin once the audience has assumed Jennifer has suffered the worst of her ordeal. Leaving her trampled and degraded, the specially-challenged grocery boy Matthew also gets a turn; when he is left to stab and finish Jennifer off, he can't do it and he hides it from his mongrel pals.

From there, Camille Keaton licks her wounds in a series of silent segments before gaining enough strength to go after her rapists and extol a bloody retaliatory strike. What's different in the '78 film is Jennifer uses her sexuality as a weapon to coax Matthew and main baddie Johnny before hanging and slicing gnards respectively. Camille's dispatching of the other two scumbags is feral and the film rolls to close on the frame of Jennifer's outboard motor, drifting from her smug smile of vengeance.

By contrast, Steven Monroe's Spit goes for the jugular in terms of humiliation and in portrayal of Jennifer's spectacularly ugly revenge. Sarah Butler's Jennifer is with the times; she brings a cell phone and laptop to the cabin instead of the typewriter Camille Keaton uses. While cell phones are routinely used as gags in horror vehicles, once Butler's cell drops into the disgusting toilet of her cabin, it's symbolic of the sickening filth and torture she'll both endure and inflict.

In the spirit of the unsavory times we're living in and the over-the-top eviscerating world modern horror has become, Monroe's I Spit On Your Grave opts to explore the depravity of subjugation versus the overt act of sex. Thus Butler's Jennifer is forced into a prolonged psychological battering before she's even penetrated. The four mucky-mucks in this film comprise of a new Johnny and Matthew, plus a videophile who captures every minute of Jennifer before-and-after they violate her. In this film, however, two other central dirtbags are introduced: the renter of the cabins who turns his eye from what he knows is going on in town, and a sadomasochistic cop who turns on Butler when she escapes the first wave of her profane mistreatment.

Jennifer has been likened to a show horse that has to be broken and she's forced to suck Johnny's cold steel pistol like a phallus. These scenes are extensive and disturbing, yet when Jennifer brings the sheriff to her cabin to arrest Johnny's motley mutts, she's subjected to even more cruelty since the badge is in league with the rubble. Like Zarchi's movie, Matthew is kept to this bunch like a mascot "retard" but in Monroe's film, he is the first to actually rape Butler. From there, the film breezes through Jennifer's defilement in the woods, which is merciful for the audience, considering the cop plants himself in her rear and that scene is plenty horrific. Teasing Jennifer by leaving his holster within her reach while sodomizing her, if you're not shuddering, you're soulless.

Butler escapes by dumping herself into the river off of a bridge, which sends the sheriff and his oversexed oafs into scampering mode trying to retrieve Jennifer and bump her off. As Roger Ebert (famous for his "reprehensible" tirade against the original film) has pointed out, the first half of Monroe's film is the more offensive, despite the outrageous kill scenes yet to come.

You have to overlook the fact Jennifer has somehow survived her turmoil and lived on the land for a month as the film suggests. You have to, because Monroe really capitalizes on her improbable return and wisely keeps Jennifer to the shadows as she stalks her rapists and drives them insane before setting them up for gross snuff-outs. As the thugs throw a dead bird on her cabin porch before invading her, this motif comes back to haunt Johnny as one dead bird after another gets thrown at his sliding glass door. The sheriff is purported as a family man with a second child on the way. As Jennifer has teased her aggressors off-camera, she finally shows up in the sheriff's living room with his wife and daughter, posing as an advisor for a gifted student's school. Good stuff, though you have to wonder how she even knew anything about the allusion of the daughter's intelligence, only dropped to the audience in a scene between the sheriff and his wife.

I'll leave the revenge kills to you for examination because Monroe would obviously prefer his audience to be virgin coming into the final act of his film--as we're to assume Jennifer is virginal (or at least quasi-virginal) before her trials. Let's just say Johnny's castration scene in the original is humanitarian compared to this one--albeit, neither compare to the dick puncturing squeamishness in Neighbor.

Jennifer takes her time with her nauseating getbacks in this update--we have well entered the Hostel competition sweepstakes, let's leave it at that. Sarah Butler recites every raunchy bit thrown at her back to her victims, so it's up to you to decide if her verbal warfare is more poetic justice than Camille Keaton's spread 'em and slash 'em revenge. The bonding thread between Keaton and Butler is their final smirks of satisfaction before the credit rolls.

As a side comment, Monroe's brief usage of the harmonica really wasn't necessary, because the harmonica is seldom used in his redo and with very little impact. In Zarchi's film, the harmonica is instrumental in Camille Keaton's rape through the second round. It's as much a torture device for Keaton to come across that scoundrel casually whipping out a steel harmony with his mouth before banging her from behind. His lackadaisical disregard for Keaton's anguish was a genuinely devastating sequence of events, unmatched by the new film. The harmonica in 2010 is a mere appeasement to Zarchi and his fans.

Admittedly, this was one film I cited in conversation I never wanted to see remade, particularly after Last House On the Left had been rebooted. My main point was, how much further does it have to go if you remake I Spit On Your Grave? Well, Steven R. Monroe has delivered his post-Pong, post-Saturday Night Fever answer. We live in the age of X-box and iPod and mainstream music has launched a full disco revival, while Monroe has created a well-filmed bit of nastiness that goes pretty damned further than the original in some aspects. Some argue both films are smut, some art house treasures. Zarchi's film perhaps stands to gain the benefit of both, but Monroe has brought you the bare-knuckled terror of humanity at its worse. You either consider that an improvement or you don't.

Combined Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 2/23/11

Welp, winter's socked us in the teeth again, so it's time for the annual demand of Punxsutawney Phil's lynching. I was wearing shorts last week, eskimo wear yesterday, such a tease. Spring's not even soon enough for me.

At the moment, yours truly has been laid off from the mortgage title industry. Can't say I'm a stranger to downsizing because that industry hires high when the business comes, then dumps everyone at will when it slows down. This time it's a bigger annoyance with a family to provide for and a house to try and keep over our heads. Having my vehicle break down the day after I was laid off was an insult. My wife's car having a broken heater cord this morning after a frigid snow dump and her inability to see...well, I'm taking it personal, at this point.

But I have my armor on, even with my kiddo interrupting me as I try to network and sling out the resumes. Sweet boy, I pray he never knows what this feels like. The few minutes I have before bed, I'm reading Johnny Cash's autobiography and trying to draw strength from his aura. I feel a kindred spirit to the man in some respects.

Thus, any of you fine readers out there who would be interested in having a look at my resume and samples, I have a combined 18 years of business and journalism experience. I'm your man. I do wish to thank the countless people in the industry who have wished me well and taken my resume to filter around their circles. Networking is everything and I'm grateful to know so many caring individuals.

In the immediate future as my job hunt schedule allows, I will be doing some side writing for Heavy Metal and the web area of The Big Takeover magazine. And with that, hang out and hang tight, I'll continue to bring you goodies here at The Metal Minute. Cheers...

Lazarus A.D. - Black Rivers Flow
Stone Axe - s/t reissue
KMFDM - Don't Blow Your Top
Bad Brains - Rock For Light
Bad Brains - I Against I
Thievery Corporation - The Cosmic Game
Thievery Corporation - The Outernational Conspiracy
Judas Priest - Hero Hero
Bloodbath - The Fathomless Mastery
Melechesh - Emissaries
The Agony Scene - s/t
The Agony Scene - The Darkest Red
The Agony Scene - Get Damned
Matsuriza - Matsuri Daiko
Daft Punk - Homework
Big Brother and The Holding Company - Cheap Thrills
Devo - Something For Everybody
Elvis Presley - Elvis is Back! Legacy Edition
My Dying Bride - The Angel and the Dark River

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Metal Louvre: Deep Purple - Stormbringer

Here's an album that doesn't get a lot of love, which kinda stinks because Deep Purple's Stormbringer may not peel the paint like In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head or even David Coverdale's other Purple outing Burn, but it's a damned fine album. It has groove, some soul and enough heavy to quantify it as hard rock. Coverdale's contributions are the main reason Stormbringer passes off as slick as it does, considering the in-house drama plaguing Deep Purple at this point in their career. It's a small miracle they recorded a well-rounded, though underappreciated album.

Besides, doesn't this artwork leave a lot to the imagination? I've always tripped on the juxtaposition of Pegasus in relation to the tornado ripping through a midwest farm scene. Is Pegasus the instigator or is he actually chasing the funnel down in the hopes of preventing disaster? The title Stormbringer indicates one thing, but I sometimes like to think Pegasus has burst out of the murk with the rainbow lightning at his back in the interest of good. Release the Kracken...

Monday, February 21, 2011

DVD Review: Let Me In

Let Me In
2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I rarely buy into glimmering testimonials, but when a rave quote comes dialed up by Stephen King (the man who inspired me to pick up a pen at age 14), I do take it seriously. When the master of horror himself declares something to be "The best American horror film in the last 20 years," I am going to give him a de facto benefit of the doubt. After all, who better to lift his thumbs-up to a vampire film than the author of 'Salem's Lot? Unfortunately, there's a caveat here, since Let Me In is actually a remake of a Swedish film.

The immediate Americanization of a foreign film these days comes with the dubious air of it becoming nothing more noteworthy than a potential franchise vehicle. The Grudge and Bangkok Dangerous come to mind, though the latter has yet to see a sequel, even if you have to suspect one will manifest eventually. In the case of Matt Reeves' Let Me In, let's pray there will be no sequel or continuation, because his westernized take on the 2008 film Lat den ratte komma in (or Let the Right One In) and originating novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist is well...pretty danged close to what Stephen King declares it to be.

Backed by the sixties' moguls of vampire chic, Hammer Films, Let Me In is leaps beyond The Vampire Lovers and in pretty comfy quarters alongside The Horror of Dracula. Different times of conception, different methods of filmmaking and different times altogether, Let Me In is still a gutsy transcendental horror flick even presented as a period piece.

No, we're not talking about the Victorian flamboyance of Hammer's tried 'n trues. Let Me In is set in the early eighties with the ghosts of Reaganomics and David Bowie's "Let's Dance" chiming through the movie. Old Datsuns and rusty car door huffs bring us back, along with the Rubik's Cube, Ms. Pac-Man and Jordache jeans, carefully planted within a New Mexican tundra to set up Let Me In's frigid yarn. Matt Reeves brings a Gen X authenticity to this story that's equal to the task of conveying the double jeopardy motif imagined by Lindqvist. I think all we were missing from Reeves was The Smurfs.

Getting serious, though, Let Me In haunts on two separate levels: the vampire circus-de-slaughter and the brutal trials of adolescence. Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) plays the doe-eyed Owen, a persecuted 12-year-old who is about to meet a friend literally for life. Chloe Grace Moretz (from Kick-Ass) brings maturity and fragility to her tween vampire lead, Abby. Add to that, ferocity. Perpetually stuck at 12-years-old herself, Abby resists befriending the tormented Owen until their paths become forever entwined through blood and snow.

Abby shows up as a new tenant in a (seemingly) subsidized apartment complex with her "father," the famed Richard Jenkins. Jenkins, we learn, has been with her since he was a lad himself, and is Abby's provider--in the means he kills and drains victims so Abby can sustain herself. As Jenkins grows weary of his long-tenured sanguinary devil deeds, Abby grows closer to Owen, who is seeking his identity in the midst of an ugly divorce and even uglier mistreatment by bullies at his school. As a pair of outcasts, Owen and Abby give new definition to the phrase "bonded by blood" as Jenkins' character miscues a murder attempt and douses himself with acid, ultimately leading to his death.

Let Me In thus becomes a study of confused, raging hormones and the comeuppance of a vulnerable fop in the company of a bloodsucker he's both attracted to and feels a nurturing heart for. Despite learning Abby's nasty secret and witnessing her chaw down a detective (Elias Koteas, also the voice of Owen's father in a phone scene) who's established in the film's opening sequence, Owen can't stay away from her. Despite her best efforts to stave her hunger when Owen cuts his finger and asks her for a blood pact before the revelation of her vampire's curse, Abby is forced to leave him. Leaving a trail of corpses in her wake and treating Owen with the same discipline and affection as she did her previous charge (and assumedly preteen love interest), this sets the course of the kids' future together.

The term "let me in" in this film refers to the old vampire lore that a nosferatu cannot enter one's home without invitation, and the film gives us a messy reason why. It also endears Owen to Abby once he sees the bloody repercussions of not verbalizing her invitation. In turn, his caring provokes Abby's loyalty. Following her departure, Abby delivers on a previously-issued promise to back Owen against his nemeses.

Together, as they say, for life.

Moretz and Smit-McPhee are magical together. You understand Owen's attraction to Abby from their first formal introductions. Abby walks barefooted for much of the story, and while Owen picks up on it, his sense of self-worthlessness carries him past any preconceptions. Even when Abby slithers naked and freezing into Owen's bedroom with gore on her face, the awkwardness of the moment comes off pure and innocent. Owen obeys Abby when she tells him not to look at her, but he still wants to consummate the moment, not by trying to cop a feel, but by asking her to go steady. Having spied on his neighbors having sex with his telescope, the delicate measures he takes to procure this outrageous relationship is strangely dear.

At the core of Let Me In is a sub-story of teen rage and it's hardly Twilight melodrama. The personal traumas Owen faces in and out of school are as unnervingly accurate as the references made in the film's setting. Placed within a stark, cold, hick town takes this film beyond 30 Days of Night, much as the latter film's premise is one of the niftiest of the genre. What Let Me In accomplishes is to touch multiple nerves on both a visceral and subliminal level.

Filmed largely in the dark and under the camera obscura, Let Me In is at times claustrophobic, at times horrific and even heartbreakingly sweet where it's supposed to be. Though it's hard to imagine a 12-year-old child running away with his vampire friend, the blood he's seen, the abscence of his single mother and the deadly events he suffers courtesy of his antagonists does allow the probability of the film's ending. Let's hope the story remains content to stay on that note, because it will prevent unnecessary taint upon a well-earned title as a modern horror classic. Even as a remake. Hey, the Stones did a rip-roaring honky tonk take on Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and Slayer a thrash-styled yank on "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida." Anything's possible at times.

Rating: ****1/2

Friday, February 18, 2011

Metal Louvre: Big Brother and The Holding Company - Cheap Thrills

Sure, Big Brother and The Holding Company was more blues and acid rock, and Janis Joplin was more a soul and blues mama, but there's no denying they left a monster imprint upon the future of rock on its way towards developing the vein of metal. Ask any hard rock or heavy metal band coming up in the wake of Big Brother if they weren't affected by the screeching, pounding thrum of "Combination of the Two" "Piece of My Heart," "I Need a Man to Love" or their crushing reinterpretation of "Ball of Chain," I'd say they're a fricking liar.

The cover of Cheap Thrills was illustrated by Art Crumb, whose main claim to fame is the raunchy animated sex 'n pot romp, Fritz the Cat. Yet, I feel his Cheap Thrills artwork remains his true calling card, at least on a singular level. As a child, I was mystified and transfixed by the Cheap Thrills album and would sit with it in my lap while my mother played it almost anytime I asked for it. I like to say I was weaned on Motown, Jimi and Janis plus the early seventies pop standards of the times. Thus, Cheap Thrills will always be an endearment to me.

My progressive mom never took issue that I was staring at the headlights of the cartoon Janis in the panel for "I Need Someone to Love," nor was she worried about me figuring out what a doobie was or the fact a turtle is puffing away on a ciggie. I was always sucked into the toking cyclops, the dancing number two, the turban-doused man with an unspoken moment of a-ha! he's pushing off the cover, Janis' ball and chain, and that somewhat horrific panel of the cut-off facial with the guy tugging at his eye and the upright feet in the background. As a child, I thought they'd gotten into a fight or worse, a murder had occurred. With age and experience grows the morning after dawning of truth, heh...

By today's social mores, the Cheap Thrills album cover is somewhat politcally incorrect, yet this was a time of enormous social upheaval and it is representative of the riot-filled times in sixties and post-sixties America. The Haight was alive with music and art back then, even if it's now become more of an underground subculture than in its prime. If its legacy has any extension into modern times aside from its most notable musicians and political activists, the Cheap Thrills album is purely symbolic on all levels of aesthetic.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bad Brains - "Attitude" live

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 2/16/11

To quote my kid's Woody doll, "Hey, hidey hey!"

For some, we're waking up to better weather and a gradual meltdown of the snow. For others, not so much the same luxury. For yet others, the streets are crammed with angry people and violence is escalating all over the Middle East.

Change has hit Egypt and it's triggered a brutal catalyst, assuming you've been keeping up with global headlines. When you think your life sucks, stop a minute and realize it could be much worse. When you toss horns to that death metal lyric about slaughter and evisceration, try to remember it's all a gory facade. Death metal can't handle the real deal.

With that, stay tuned for more stuff here at The Metal Minute including a look at the DVD release of Let Me In, the latest album from Lazarus A.D. and more.

Eyes of Fire - Prisons
Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak Deluxe Edition
Thin Lizzy - Johnny the Fox Deluxe Edition
Long Distance Calling - Satellite Bay
Long Distance Calling - s/t
Ostinato - Chasing the Form
Thievery Corporation - Sounds From the Thievery Hi-Fi
Thievery Corporation - The Mirror Conspiracy
Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
Om - Pilgrimage
Devo - Something for Everybody
Red - Until We Have Faces
Drugs of Faith - s/t
Bob Marley & The Wailers - Legend
Gonin Ish - Naishikyo-Sekai
Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration box set

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CD Review: Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox Deluxe Editions

Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox Deluxe Editions
2011 Universal Music Group
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Maybe it was the disco surge. Maybe it was an American bicentennial that guzzled up the infectious sugar pop courtesy of Abba and the Bee Gees, the street pimped strut of Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield and the costumed boom and crunch of Kiss. Or maybe it was the underground rumblings in New York and London of kids dancing on pins and needles and flying gobs to show the world its hatred and punk bands their love. Queen hijacked mainstream hard rock of the seventies in a long-running stranglehold, declaring themselves champions of the world, while those who sought to keep it real longed to pull a beer or two under the shady moss of sweet home Alabama.

All of these reasons and then some, if you're to ask the question why Thin Lizzy weren't bigger than they should've been. A continued revolving door of guitarists hinted instability in the Lizzy camp, while poor Phil Lynott had essentially made himself a dandy case as the Irish Bruce Springsteen, but nobody knew it until he'd died. Worse, Lynott was an oddity in the heavy rock world: aloof, introspective, both a bassist and lead singer and he was black. Stereotypes being what they were even in the seventies and early eighties, Thin Lizzy sadly were victims of an unspoken, subconscious racism. Not that it was blatant. As with most cases in social acceptance, most people shy from what they cannot understand.

This, despite the fact Thin Lizzy rocked harder than most of their peers, they boasted unparalleled guitar solos executed in slavers, not clumps. Their songs were tight, they were--at the height of their prowess, before Lynott tried his hand at more progressive theories later down the road--flawless and memorable. The songs were often romantic, but not in a sickly way, frequently hopeful and occasionally snarky. Thin Lizzy often opened insightful portals to the road life that even the Stones' Exile On Main St. hadn't quite put a finger on. Thin Lizzy's "Sweet Marie" may get overlooked because of its swooning balladry that stands out like a canker sore on Johnny the Fox, but you get Phil Lynott's loneliness and isolation on the road.

It was Lynott's smooth pipes that gave Thin Lizzy their cadence and elevated them past the burst of cock rockers who came and went within a few album cycles. Thin Lizzy were as pro as you'd want in a live band and still today, should be considered one of the reasons arena rock became a phenomenon. Lizzy could fill the gaps and then some. Dare we say, they had a hand in helping the New Wave of British Heavy Metal find its sea legs, and metal itself owes Thin Lizzy for paying a large chunk of its dues. Put "Massacre" from 1976's Johnny the Fox up against early Judas Priest, you'll get it.

"The Boys Are Back in Town" will always be considered a rock classic, but why won't those format FM retro stations spin "Bad Reputation" or "Jailbreak" or "Don't Believe a Word?" For that matter, "Borderline," "Johnny," "Rosalie" or "Cowboy Song?" By now, there's no real prejudices we can blame upon the general snubbery Thin Lizzy has faced. Textbook ignorance is more the operative excuse. Long since broken up and now with Lynott and former guitarist Gary Moore having departed terra firma for the great rock hall on the other side, interest in Thin Lizzy has been slowly rising the past few years. Sad that death prompts us to seek out long-standing bodies of work, but it's the nature of the beast, and it's certainly better late than never we do so.

Universal Music brings us the Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox Deluxe Editions--both originally released in 1976--and it's not just reflection or cash-in reissue pieces we're dealing with here. Two discs apiece, with remastered albums and hunks of demos, alternate takes, remixes, BBC recordings and a few previously-unreleased songs, such as "Blues Boy" and "Derby Blues" (a rough treatment of what would go on to become "Cowboy Song") on Jailbreak, plus "Scott's Tune" on Johnny the Fox.

If you've been a fan of Thin Lizzy or even a pure rock aficianado, seldom few songs get you more revved up by the intro power chord of "Jailbreak." know it instantly and whatever's caging you up--figuratively or literally--will seem more imperative once Phil Lynott croons with a gust in his throat, "Tonight there's gonna be a jailbreak, somewhere in this town, see, me and the boys don't like it, so we're getting up and going down..." Hell yes, that's more metal than "Shout at the Devil," people. Lynott makes you believe there will be trouble and you'd better not be around if you're the authorities. Metaphorically the same message as Motley's "Shout," but issued less than a decade earlier and with tremendous conviction. This is is one of the original sons of anarchy and it's a shame punk rock in its infancy stages didn't glom onto "Jailbreak" instead of seeking to bury Thin Lizzy and others of their ilk.

Lynott's street-bled poetry on "Angel From the Coast" and "Romeo and the Lonely Girl" (Romeo sitting on own-eee-o, ripe stuff) are part of Jailbreak's massive endearments, while it hails their signature cut "The Boys Are Back in Town." Both are reasons you should own this album, but it goes deeper than that. How about the tag-team guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson? Amongst the best the business has ever produced, KK Downing and Glenn Tipton notwithstanding. Homogenous, fluid, instinctive, the guitars on Jailbreak (and, for that matter, Johnny the Fox, Bad Reputation and Fighting) are halcyon, worthy of study by every future guitarist.

A product of its time, Jailbreak could've traded with Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan with "Running Back" and "Romeo and the Lonely Girl," while "Warriors" out-Kisses Kiss with a similarly-styled riff attack with more grit and less sleaze. Listen to the solo section on "Warriors" as well and try not to think of earlier Motorhead. Ahead of their time, Thin Lizzy.

You have to think future bands like Tesla were spinning the boundary-pushing "Cowboy Song" with relentless fury in their younger years, taking note how Lynott gets his muse lost in dreamland while being bucked off a bull's ass. It took awhile for the pro rodeo circuit to bring black and Latin bronc and bull riders into the circuit, and you have to think Phil's smiling down from Heaven at it. "Cowboy Song" became a fan favorite in Thin Lizzy's live repertoire and with good reason. We're all tall in the saddle thanks to Phil Lynott.

It's an absolute sin "Don't Believe a Word" never made it upon the DJ playlists of yesteryear and today. Okay, perhaps it's a bit heavier than mainstream rock and pop stations of the day could hack, but there's a monster hook and slide to "Don't Believe a Word" that should've made Thin Lizzy masters of the universe by the time Johnny the Fox came on the heels of Jailbreak. Only a click behind its predecessor, Johnny the Fox is still stout work, even in a quasi concept that's barely conveyed and not really fleshed out.

Johnny the Fox is heavier than Jailbreak, while the former is leaner and more driven. "Fight Or Fall" from Jailbreak has hints of funk to break up its light candor, while the quixotic "Borderline" from Johnny the Fox serves as a veritable blueprint for every hairball power ballad that followed in its distant wake. "Borderline" has punctuated guitar strikes amidst its lofty verses and a home run guitar solo that seeps into the second chorus. It's the prototype love lost rock jam that is only superceded by the Scorpions' "Still Loving You."

Thin Lizzy withholds the funk licks for "Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed" and it likely did Curtis Mayfield proud. You get the picture there's a lost gutter trash film out there that got shitcanned because it could've used a badass intro tune like this one.

Even while "Fool's Gold" reworks the riff segments of "The Boys Are Back in Town" and drops the tempo several notches, it still hums and gets further benefit by gnarly guitar ticks. All before Johnny the Fox dips back and forth between swishy and aggressive, i.e. "Old Flame" then "Massacre" then "Sweet Marie." Few bands can pull such blatant mood swings and get away with it.

Some of the alternate versions to these deluxe editions include a steadier pulse to "Johnny," including harder guitar solos and a planted horn section plus a lankier work-in-progress take of "Don't Believe a Word." There are instrumental takes on "Rocky," "Massacre" and "Fool's Gold," plus different vocal tracks for "The Boys Are Back in Town." There are session recordings Thin Lizzy did with the BBC for "Jailbreak," "Emerald," "The Warrior," "Cowboy Song" and "Johnny." Of the "new" tracks, "Scott's Tune" is an especially ripped-up bit of abbreviated fun worth hearing for any Thin Lizzy disciple.

Thin Lizzy spent more time after their core body of work living up to their image as desperados while changes in modern music all but demanded they leave Dodge. This stress and sense of unwantedness likely had everything to do with the so-so showings of Chinatown and Renegade in the early eighties. It also is the probable linchpin to Phil Lynott's self-destructive modes which claimed his life at age 35. His drug death is more tragic than most because there was hardly any "righteousness" to it. Lynott's music is more timeless than listeners have given him credit for and the historical lack of appreciation for Thin Lizzy has been nothing short of criminal. Lynott's home was where his heart was and it wasn't much of a home, to paraphrase his near-weeping on "Sweet Marie." That's as painful as anything recorded in anybody's genre.

Thank you, Universal, for helping set the record straight.

Rating: *****

Monday, February 14, 2011

CD Review: Long Distance Calling - s/t

Long Distance Calling - s/t
2011 Superball Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Germany has always been one of the core hubs of music that gets less attention than it should. Mozart, hello? Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, Webern? Everyone from Kraftwerk, Destruction, KMFDM, Rammstein, Warlock, Kreator, Accept and the Scorpions have left indelible imprints upon the rock world in their own styles. As far as expressionistic metal goes, Germany has The Ocean and Long Distance Calling representing the subgenre with the same deep threat as their world-class bobsled teams.

It may seem contradictory to label Long Distance Calling as Pelican-meets-prog rock, but that's probably the best way to prepare listeners not yet familiar with this group. These instrumental explorists have been more about captivation than blunt force, the latter being more The Ocean's forte. Similiar to Scale the Summit, Long Distance Calling re-interprets vintage Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson and Spock's Beard for the Tool generation. Unlike Scale the Summit, Long Distance Calling dials up longer compositions and sometimes drops their keys. They frequently labor and prod for their soundspace, while Scale the Summit is more about establishing a groove and decorating it.

2007's Satellite Bay was a commanding debut for Long Distance Calling and it comes highly recommended. Not that the group was trying to compete with Isis--who would soon be calling it quits a few years later--but there was a logic to bringing up Long Distance Calling's name as compatriots of style. Satellite Bay was one room of atmospherics after another and Long Distance Calling made a compelling statement to be taken seriously as metal artisans.

2008's Avoid the Light sort of came and went without fanfare, though it had the trump card of having Katatonia's Jonas Renske dealing vocals on "The Nearing Grave." For a band of Long Distance Calling's talent, the album surely did avoid the limelight, which may have prompted the reasoning behind the self-titling job of their newest work.

Long Distance Calling is a connector album between its predecessors, an appeasement to Satellite Bay on the first couple and final tracks and then a branching out to more elaborate pastures. The sway and gusts of the opening number "Into the Black Wide Open" bring Long Distance Calling's primary identity back into view and it's a stunner. Wavy, methodic and alluring, "Into the Black Wide Open" steps on the amps as precursor to the final stanza and goes berserk before calming things back into its initial reverie. Champion work here.

You're not really expecting the uptempo jive of "The Figrin D'an Boogie," but it stamps in the vein of ELP's "Fanfare For the Common Man" and Pink Floyd's "One of These Days," albeit with its own groove. It's Deep Purple and Floyd given a modern canvas and "The Figrin D'an Boogie" is pretty damned awesome.

As Long Distance Calling appears to be settled with its acknowledgements to Satellite Bay by the time "Invisible Giants" rumbles through, stand prepared for new goodies out of the trick bag to include fusion jazz sprinkles (ala the first half of "Timebends") and straightforward classic rock modes. While LCD has stated they are less about Rush when writing their music, it's sublminally planted the framework of "Invisible Giants" and rockier parts of "Timebends." No shame in it, since Long Distance Calling is hardly out to duplicate "2112." Tool is the glue for Long Distance Calling, and you'll hear them chugged out to delight on "Arecibo (Long Distance Calling)."

The big heralding moment of Long Distance Calling, however, is the appearance of Armored Saint/Anthrax vocalist John Bush on the punchy rocker "Middleville." LCD has stated Alice in Chains left a big influence upon their work, and "Middleville" is the proof positive. If AIC had been more intent on elaboration, then "Middleville" is precisely the song they would've come up with. For Long Distance Calling's purposes, they happen to have the vocal graces of a metal legend in their midst. Bush does get the point of "Middleville" and he delivers a solid Layne Staley wallowing on the choruses while keeping his own gravelly mark on the dime on the verses. LCD waits for three-fourths of "Middleville" to paintbrush and drop note-heavy solos, but keeps the song moving on its prime directive, which is to show this band can rawk it up when they see the opportunity.

The whispery and frequently pretty closer "Beyond the Void" is the figurative merging of Satellite Bay and Avoid the Light. It sculpts and molds in transition to a mixture of boom and wah, leaving an organic splash to its shimmering translucence. "Beyond the Void" is the perfect extensive outro to a demonstrative album proving this band's worth as a premiere art metal band.

KMFDM once asked, What do you know, Deutschland? The answer, using Long Distance Calling and The Ocean as a gauge is, a hell of a lot.

Rating: ****1/2

Friday, February 11, 2011

CD Review: Red - Until We Have Faces

Red - Until We Have Faces
2011 Sony Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

There are two things Skillet and Red have in common with each other: aside from being Christian-based rock bands, both have penetrated the mainstream with a proto punch AOR style, which is either your cup of tea or it isn't. In the case of Red, they've been nominated for two Grammys (in the Rock Gospel category) and as of this writing, their new album Until We Have Faces has debuted at number two on Billboard this week--not to mention number one in many miscellaneous categories. They were also on Conan O'Brien this week and their new single "Feed the Machine" boasts an MP3 spread featuring the imprinted facial outlines of their fans as a mosaic. Not the times of red you normally associate with a band coming up, but in this Red's case, the times are good.

For a band playing in the same agro tough chunk as anyone you'll hear on your local FM rock station, Red is just a hair more interesting. Following their previous two albums End of Silence and Innocence and Instinct, this album is tuned a bit different to adjust with the times. This means Until We Have Faces is their heaviest album to-date--for this ready-safe branch of hard rock, anyway.

If you're an addict of FM rock, then Until We Have Faces is going to be a compulsory pick-up. Christian rockers, it's a given. Michael Barnes has a refined polish to his vocal chops that keeps Red in its zone. The Armstrong brothers keep it on the dime with their electric fuzz and pleasant backing vocals, while drummer Joe Rickard employs the same plodding rhythm sections with a few tapped-out variations on the bass pedal. Yet the main attraction to Red's success is Barnes' gluey outpourings.

Even if a song called "Let it Burn" is antithesis to the lovelorn balladry Red drips into it and even if we've had more than our share of "Wake up!!!" blares and decrees in AOR rock (i.e. "Feed the Machine" and "Faceless"), there is a draw to Red's straightforward punch.

Yes, the string and choral accompaniments spread throughout Until We Have Faces are alluring and they serve Red's music fabulously. The chimes and violin sweeps are especially dramatic on "Buried Beneath," but let's get real. The majority of Red's peers are doing likewise, much as the heavier and more brutal strands of metal are doing. Symphonic metal, folk metal, Goth-black-fugue, power pop, it's a beautiful idea that's been tapped out. Red will only be able to employ this strategm that makes their music sound like a histrionic soundtrack to slo-mo football highlights for so long. Same goes for everyone else.

For now, Red can get away with whatever they want to, because their audience is established and they will pack the joints wherever they play. Their positive attitude is a charm, their focus is the reason the Grammy committee pays them strict attention. After a bit, however, you can only hold the lighter up so long during the dreamy "Not Alone" and you can only nod along with "The Best is Yet to Come," because just about everyone with a tenured rock resume has a song by the same name.

While "Hymn for the Missing" sends this album out on a quiet coda featuring whispered siren vocals, the bottom line is Red has enough time to make a point now that they've corraled a wide-berthed crowd to their creed. If they want to really make an impact, the next album will throw out the FM standard convictions and embrace a hard-nosed snub attack to back their admirable ideals. Of course, that's not the path to the festival circuit and 40-date venue crawls.

Rating: ***

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kreator - "Ganglands" Live, 1987

Eighties bootlegging at its best...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 2/9/11

Rest in Peace, Gary Moore of Thin Lizzy and master of the blues jam. You sometimes forget Thin Lizzy were considered a global powerhouse of the rock scene, until you put on Bad Reputation, Johnny the Fox or Jailbreak. Smokers, all of them. A friend made the righteous statement, "Now Gary and Phil can jam together again." It's a shame that Moore's death came the way it did, but here at The Metal Minute, we will be paying tribute to Moore and Thin Lizzy as Universal is releasing deluxe editions of Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox. I had the opportunity to sit with them last night and they sound terrific in the remaster, plus there's a number of alternate recordings and bonus songs as well.

I will say that Universal had long planned to re-release these albums before Moore's passing, and the forthcoming reviews here at The Metal Minute will be topical for the wrong reasons. However, if you have few moments of dead space in your day, kick up some Lizzy, however you consume it, and relish the power of a hard rock titan who haven't gotten their full due in the modern age. It'll feel good, trust me.

Earth - Hibernaculum
Earth - Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method
Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
Earth - Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions
Earth - The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
Thievery Corporation - The Mirror Conspiracy
Thievery Corporation - The Richest Man in Babylon
Blue Oyster Cult - Spectres
Long Distance Calling - s/t
Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power
Mudhoney - s/t
Bruce Springsteen - The Promise
Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On the Edge of Town
Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
The Fixx - Reach the Beach
Red - Until We Have Faces
Jimi Hendrix - Blues
Thin Lizzy - Bad Reputation
Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak Deluxe Edition
Thin Lizzy - Johnny the Fox Deluxe Edition
Gary Moore - Essential Montreaux box set
W.H. Walker - Suds!
Lazarus A.D. - Black Rivers Flow

Sunday, February 06, 2011

CD Review: Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1

Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
2011 Southern Lord
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Duane Eddy is the Twang Thang. Link Wray is the Prince of the Power Chord. Ry Cooder, the Sultan of Slide. Dick Dale, the King of Surf. Howlin' Wolf, Leadbelly, Bo Diddley, Roy Buchanan all these guitar legends have figured into Dylan Carlson's dragged-out note schisms and if he wasn't already before, let's pay our respects to the crowned Deacon of Drone.

Beginning with his rise-to-prominence revisionist album Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method in 2005, Dylan Carlson has created a stark realm of singular, crawling vibration still unparalleled at this point in his career. Girlfriend Adrienne Davis continues on as his saddle mate with her anti-giddyap slowpoke rhythms while Earth continues their meandering exploration of haunted grandeur on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1.

This being the first of a reported concept series continuing with the blueprints laid out by Hex, 2007's Hibernaculum EP and Earth's cathartic The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull album from 2008, the new album both extends Carlson's Texarkana on low-fi theme and expands them even deeper. Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 incorporates whispered fugue strings into the deliberate mechanics of Carlson's writing and Earth's death echo effect is even more realized as a result.

"Old Black" could've landed on any of Earth's recent albums, yet there's a few more twists and revolutions to the script as Adrienne Davies plods along like exhausted horses lumbering a wagon full of slowly-dying settlers through a blizzard. As she's done for Carlson in all of their collaborations together. Still to this day, Davies is an underappreciated force behind the kit. Her methodic boomp...a-boomp...clang clang clang...fssshhhh...boomp style is as minimalist as it gets in drumming, which is precisely her talent. If you're a master of drone compositioning, it's key to have someone who can maintain an appropriate dirge shuffle behind you, particularly when playing live when said snail's pace becomes a nightly marathon. It's why Carlson can ooze into "Father Midnight" and why he can turn the coin from hapless to hopeful on "Old Black." Time to think as much as there is to surrender to his own escapist's swish, Dylan Carlson has mastered his craft to the point nobody else should dare challenge him.

The scratchy cello in the background on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 takes Carlson's inherently Faustian songwriting into a full expression of damnation and curious wonderment. If it's western lore Carlson has sought to bring to life following his formative years of disorted rowdiness and tone exploitation, listen to the beguiling, weepy notes on "Descent to the Zenith" and the raunchy grind of "Hell's Winter," both of which present lament for casualties suffered from both sides in the native vs. white man struggle for territorial dominance.

"Hell's Winter" carries a fifties' Gene Vincent/Duane Eddy rumble, focused largely on the drawled drag of bass and guitar. For you vinyl old-timers, think of playing a "Rebel Rouser" 45 on 33 speed. For that matter, keep the same resonance in mind for the 20-minute title track, which is even more stripped at just bass and guitar for a prolonged period until drum and cello join in. Davies actually gets to step the beat up a click with a few more rolls and bass drum taps the longer "Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1" establishes itself. Carlson turns on the splicers in the later portion of the track and dog-paddles in his furrows of wah. In the end, Earth presents a gorgeous sequence of echoing, note-jerked haze serving as a swan song for Carlson's muse, even if we already know there is more to come in this series.

Thank God Dylan Carlson has finally shirked the Kurt Cobain monkey off his back. While we still pay attention to the fact Cobain and Melvins/High On Fire/Thrones wizard Joe Preston were a part of Earth's early foundations, namely their contributions on Bureaucratic Desire for Extra-Capsular Extraction, Carlson's 2005 reimagination of Earth has now become its true identity.

Earth 2 and Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions may be the most brutal work Dylan Carlson has presented his listeners, but every album since Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method has been his heaviest and continuing on with this album, his grandest.

Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Metal Louvre: Judas Priest - Sin After Sin

As Judas Priest will be hitting the road this year for their reported final tour, it's appropriate to wander back to their 1977 masterwork, Sin After Sin.

Sin After Sin was, at one time, an acquired taste in Priest's catalog. While it remains one of their all-time heaviest and most polished recordings, most fans picked up with the band either via British Steel and Hell Bent For Leather or Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith. Those albums are slicker, louder and filled with iconic heavy metal classics. Sin After Sin is iconic itself, but you really had to dig backwards when learning the history of metal in order to appreciate their grinding "Dissident Aggressor" (made popular by benefit of Slayer's cover) and the banging "Sinner," "Race With the Devil" and "Starbreaker."

A bit more refined than the over-the-top bludgeoning and tunefulness of their later work, Sin After Sin is a portal into a heavy metal wonderland, in sound by "Last Rose of Summer" and visually by the album's escapist artwork. I have a great fondness for a lot of the older, detailed paintings gracing Judas Priest's albums, in particular for Sad Wings of Destiny, Rocka Rolla and the Hero Hero compilation. I'm most fond, however, of the minimalist copier paper trail to infinitum found on Point of Entry. As a writer, that triggers my neurons and sends them scampering in search of that elusive vanishing point.

Yet the Sin After Sin album cover may provoke the most imagination of any of Priest's albums. I think of Heavy Metal the magazine, I think of Arthur's fadeout in Excalibur and I think of lust and desire, depicted in the abstract forms found at the sepulchure's portal on this cover. One must deal with temptation from both sides when approaching the tomb, which really strikes my fancy.

Seduction and damnation await all who enter, and yet the Sin After Sin cover makes you want to see more, particularly to see if there's a payout to the suggested sex by the translucent girl parting her legs to the side. What's she hiding between her thighs? Kind of reminds you of an installment of Den from the pages of Heavy Metal, yes? With the devil obscura towards panel left, you get the feeling there's pain coming with the pleasure, woe be to your genitalia...

Friday, February 04, 2011

CD Review: Ana Kefr - The Burial Tree

Ana Kefr - The Burial Tree
2011 Muse Sick Records
Devin Walsh

What the hell is “Philosophical Metal”? I must admit, it was a new term to me when I heard this is how California's Ana Kefr is described. I can only speak of this genre from my experience with Ana Kefr and their latest release, The Burial Tree, but I tell you, it is much more than just simply the music. Whatever you want to call these guys, they come across as a talented bunch of progressive musicians with the brains of a thinking man, and they are not afraid to throw an 18- second song or even a 9-minute epic song at you.

The band wastes no time getting the listener acquainted with their brutality by means of the opening track “Ash-Shahid.” Blast beats from hell and aggressive guitars match the guttural vocals. Singer Rhiis D. Lopez reminds me quite a bit of Randy Blythe from Lamb of God – which I find to be an attractive, yet hard to actually perform vocal style. Just when we are getting into the metal meat of this song, they show their progressive side with a sudden break into an almost funk drum and bass interlude. They are somehow able to transition into heaviness with a natural feeling of progression.

Don’t ask me what “Ash-Shahid” means, but I can offer this insight: Apparently, the band name Ana Kefr means “I am Infidel” in Arabic. I am assuming with other such song titles as “Emago” and “Monody” you may have to search other languages or obscure texts to find their meanings – or I could be totally wrong. Either way, I really enjoy the unorthodox naming of their songs. In particular, their previously- released single “Tonight We Watch the Children Burn.” That’s pretty damned evil, scary, fucked-up, and intriguing at the same time.

Throughout the album there is the constant undertone of death metal that seems to combine sounds from bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, Cradle of Filth and even Dream Theater by means of their song structure and usage of non-typical metal instruments. For example, they use an alto saxophone for the introduction to “Monody.” This song develops into further soundscapes featuring a female vocal performance followed by a black metal sound that could be from any major Norwegian black metal powerhouse. The song continues to ride the progressive wave with another bass interlude which is later accompanied by clean guitars and once again, an appearance by the saxophone.

In addition to being able to write some very interesting songs with progressive structure, Ana Kefr actually has talented musicians who can perform on their instruments as guitarists Kyle Coughran and Brendan Moore play some ear-splitting leads on “In the House of Distorted Mirrors” and “The Collector,” as well as solid and confident rhythms.

If having just a saxophone wasn’t enough for the progressive fans out there, they go on to include even more obscure metal sounds on “Thaumatrope,” as the song begins with an orchestral arrangement (not atypical for metal) but also what sounds like a clarinet. Just when you might think they are getting soft on you, these guys proceed to kick your ass with some brutally heavy music, followed once again with some syncopated rhythms. This band is all over the place, but they are able to successfully pull that off by producing a magical glue that holds the entire album together – and the best way I can describe it is just that “it makes sense.”

Another great example of their ability to not follow the rules yet make sense is the song “Jeremiad,” as it is only an 18-second piece that logically flows into the following track “Apoptosis,” a dizzying, unique song of organized chaos.

An accurate description of Ana Kefr is to call it an auditory trip. Like every band out there, their biography also calls their music “fresh” and “truly different.” Well, unlike most other bands, these guys can walk the walk. I can name bands that some of Ana Kefr's parts sound like, but I cannot think of a single band that comes in the type of package that these guys do. Their music is filled with a multitude of sounds from death metal to black metal to melodic metal and everything in- between.

It is like a giant mixing pot of metal, and music in general, and the final product is a new taste drawing the best from each of its ingredients. In addition to their music, one can not overlook their lyrical content and style. After reading their lyrics, you will gain a better understanding of what philosophical metal is. The lyrics are well-crafted and the band draws references from biblical stories and other spiritual thoughts. I would recommend checking these guys out if you want something new to hear or something new to read and ponder. The Burial Tree is a great release by Ana Kefr, who continues to spread their thought-provoking musical style across the globe.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 2/2/11

Greetings, friends, a happy, cold and white Wednesday to ya.

Wherever you may be, hope you're either warm or not swimming in complete anarchy. If you preach anarchy while standing in line for the show, do have a look at Egypt and see if that's really what you're looking for. Most who yell about anarchy are posers (and I say this from my own teenaged experience), so consider the consequences when a real uprising amasses. Not a pretty sight, is it?

Enough of that, right? Keep it dialed here at The Metal Minute for more goodies to come. We're dishing 'em up like jimmies on a hot fudge sundae...

Twisted Sister - You Can't Stop Rock 'n Roll
Alex North - Spartacus soundtrack
Miklos Rozsa - Ben-Hur soundtrack
Daft Punk - Tron: Legacy soundtrack
John Williams - Star Wars: A New Hope soundtrack
John Williams - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets soundtrack
John Carpenter & Alan Howarth - Halloween III: Season of the Witch soundtrack
V/A - Goodfellas soundtrack
V/A - The Saint soundtrack
Nashville Pussy - Let Them Eat Pussy
Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
Brian Wilson - Smile
Korn - Issues
Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet
Rolling Stones - Let it Bleed
Donovan - Greatest Hits
Elvis Costello and the Imposters - Nomofuku
Isis and Aereogramme - In the Fishtank 14
Hades - Resisting Success
Hades - If at First You Don't Succeed
My Dying Bride - The Dreadful Hours
Lords of the New Church - Is Nothing Sacred