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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Album Review: Quintessence of Versatility by Devin Walsh

Quintessence of Versatility - 2009 Demo
Devin Walsh

Quintessence of Versatility is a group of Frenchmen who are showing that France is most definitely a force to be reckoned with in the metal world. I recently had the chance to review their 2009 demo and I came in knowing nothing. I will be walking away with only positive thoughts and seeing a future full of potential for these guys.

As the demo gets moving into the first full length song, “Hypocrisy,” the intensity and heaviness of Quintessence of Versatility really shines through with heavy guitars backed by pounding drums. I agree that last description is pretty generic, but not everyone can pull off such a simple thing. The song develops with some real deep and guttural heavy vocals that add a flare of death metal to the more metalcore-sounding music. This song showcases the full band with tight kick drumming matched by passages of bass guitar grooves overlaid with heavy, yet groovy guitars. My only criticism of this song is towards the end, there is a blast beat passage that seems to lose the flow of the music a bit, but then they kick it back up with some ass kicking riffs to make sure you are still banging your head.

“Sentimental Hatred” is the next track that immediately reminds me of hardcore bands like Biohazard with a vocal chant type sound in the beginning and riffing that is reminiscent of older Exodus. Don’t let those comparisons fool you as these guys are surely not a copy of those bands, or any band really, for that matter. The movement of this song is somewhat progressive as it flows from death metal to thrash to straight-up heavy metal riffing. They have music centered around the guitars that act as the tour guide through this adventure with Quintessence of Versatility. Around the 2:30 mark, there is a guitar passage that really reminds me of System of a Down with the higher octave guitar melody; it doesn’t come across as a traditional sounding piece.

Continuing on in the album, the song “Crisis” has once again a more hardcore and almost punkish vibe to it with the higher octave guitar lead. My only complaint with this song is the bass guitar in the introduction, as the timing is a bit progressive, but doesn’t seem to fit the nature of the song. Other than that simple personal taste difference, “Crisis” moves along with the signature heavy ass guitar and drum synchronization matched by deep guttural vocals that are Quintessence of Versatility.

The album continues to flow with a progressive death metal feel as these guys often step into waters that are not always typical of a straightforward metal band. This is easily showcased on “Never Forgive, Never Forget” by the clearly old school hardcore-influenced vocal verses. The band offers a unique sound by blending similar, yet different musical sounds into one cohesive piece.

Overall, the 2009 demo by Quintessence of Versatility is a very solid and hard- hitting effort by these French metallers. This demo could very well be a full- length album as it offers enough coherent content with professional-sounding production. Nowadays there are way too many genres for metal, but sometimes it’s necessary because a band's sound doesn’t fit into only one genre. I think Quintessence of Versatility are a good example of this as their overall sound is more like death metal, but there are certainly elements of hardcore, metalcore, and some other 'core I’m sure I forgot to mention. Bearing in mind this was recorded three years ago, I could only imagine how much further this band has progressed over the last three years. Their music comes across as very energetic and I would imagine it is a great live experience. I’m looking forward to hearing more of these French guys and hope they get a chance to showcase their talents in the USA!

Copyright 2011 Devin Walsh

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/30/11

Greetings, friends, welcome to another midweek checkpoint of your listening pleasures!

Being back to work is a thankful sigh of relief. Nothing sobers you to reality than facing the unemployment line. I was only out for a month and grateful something came up, but I went at my search with relentless devotion. It doesn't always mean you'll get a job with such a quick turnaround, not in this economy and tech-altered landscape, but perseverence is your weapon. In the time I was laid off, I kept to a similar schedule of working and pumped out nearly 200 resumes and I networked through every thread of business and entertainment I'm affiliated with and even in those I've yet to take on. I got dressed like I was on the job and filled my travel mug with coffee most days, as if nothing had changed in my life. Mind over mattter, people.

Unless you're in the medical profession, there's not exactly a plethora of opportunities, though the job postings are galore. Do be careful out there, job seekers, because there are traps by what I've come to call "scummers." They're lurking everywhere, particularly at Craigslist and I would say if a job domain comes up that you've never heard of, approach with caution. Spam is the least offense that'll come your way. Job hunting today has been morphed into a new beast, so don't expect to run your search strictly through the newspaper ads, which have shriveled like Shrinky Dinks.

I kept a log of my job hunting each day and looking at it right now, I can't believe I attacked from so many sources with only a handful of hits that didn't pan out anyway. Do your homework, be brave and stay strong. Play lots of music while you hunt and stay the hell away from the tube, unless you're watching the ads on the Monster job seeking channel. Take a short break for lunch or to go for a walk, then get back in there. Most of all, believe in yourself, even on the days when your inbox is empty. Jab, jab, jab like the world is a speed bag. Do not give up and become a statistic.

That being said, I've worked some long hours in the past couple weeks since getting hired and I'm falling flat on my face each night. My right hand Devin Walsh was on vacay in the same timeframe, but we're both getting energized and ready to bring you some goodies in the upcoming week. We both have album reviews for you and I'm whirling through The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead book for an upcoming write-up here at The Metal Minute. You will be here, of course, yes?

Also, please note that because of the changing formats in music consumption, i.e. MP3, digital albums and the resurrection of vinyl, I feel it's now pertinent to change the "CD Review" section to "Album Review." Same gig as usual, but if you're leafing through our past reviews here on the site, that's what's up.

Cry tough, friends...

The Clash - Give 'em Enough Rope
The Clash - Sandinista
Between the Buried and Me - Alaska
Between the Buried and Me - The Great Misdirect
Vicious Rumors - Razorback Killers
Kingdom Come - Rendered Waters
Blade Runner soundtrack
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Psychocandy
Bryan Ferry - Boys and Girls
Deftones - Diamond Eyes

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Korpiklanni - Live in Toronto

Monday, March 28, 2011

Metal Louvre: Rough Cutt - Wants You!

I'm not saying Rough Cutt was a terrific heavy metal band, though they had the potential to be, had its original lineup beginning under the name Magic stayed intact. You're talking Jake E. Lee, Paul Shortino, Craig Goldie, Claude Schnell, David Alford and Joey Christofinilli. Supergroup, anyone?

Rough Cutt suffered many cuts as only Shortino and Alford remained in the band as of their 1986 album, Wants You! The later inception of Rough Cutt was still a pretty decent hard rock band that came up and then went away through the plastic fantastic grinder. They took their cues from Y&T, Whitesnake and Keel and were quickly gobbled up by the majors for an instant sell, as happened with many of the eighties expendables. Of course, Shortino bailed out quickly after Wants You! was released once the offer to join Quiet Riot was put on his table. This in-house drama and abrupt clocking out is why Rough Cutt's name seldom comes up outside of Shortino's followers and those who lived the metal scene the first time around.

Practically erased from sight after this album (with the exception of Shortino and guitarist Amir Derakh who later joined Orgy), Rough Cutt at least managed to penetrate their target audience with this snazzy bit of pop art on their so-so Wants You! album. The marketing campaign for Wants You! found Rough Cutt in many magazines and trade periodicals of the day, like Hit Parader, Circus and Metal Forces. Warner Brothers had pushed Wants You! with nearly the same zeal as David Lee Roth's Eat 'em and Smile and Skyscraper albums. With a cheeky album cover (pun intended), Rough Cutt had a shot at the big-time, although it was a minimal one, as a quickly-disinterested Warners soon proved.

It's not that this album cover is a masterpiece, but it's detailed and linear in the space allotted for the subjects and I've always been fond of this cover as it could've also landed on a Cars album and made a definite impact. Wants You! is just slinky enough to stand in the same heavy petting space as The Cars' Candy-O album cover, although Candy-O is far more iconic. Wants You! is a case of style over substance, sex over rock 'n roll--instead of with it. Hey, it worked. If you had Wants You! back in the day, why did you buy it? Be honest.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Metal Louvre: Iced Earth - The Dark Saga

I think The Dark Saga was one of the concepts that endeared me back to metal in the late nineties when I'd abandoned the genre following my explorations in alternative, electronic, classic rock, jazz, classical, Celtic and other forms of music. I've always been a comic book fan, though my participation in that medium has lately been dictated by its inaffordable pricing.

Still, Iced Earth's The Dark Saga really caught my eye with Todd MacFarlane's depiction of his famed Spawn upon the cover. Subsequently, the album dedicating itself to the storytelling of Spawn's damnation/salvation/damnation really stuck with me. I still own the first 40-plus issues of Spawn as it was one of my carryover addictions from working in a comic book retail store. Even though I've changed my once-favorable opinion of the live action film of Spawn (though I still love the HBO animated series), The Dark Saga rekindled two passions of mine, for better or worse.

Just as horror and metal have made comfy bedpartners, ditto for comics and metal. What else do I need to say?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

10 of the Most Important Metal Artists of the Past 15 Years

Rather than debate whether the old school of metal is better than today's crop, let's just accept what is. Metal is still here, though hanging by a thread sales-wise--at least in the United States, anyway. Let's be fair, though. Today's scene has brought us hundreds of wonderful bands who are just getting better and better as more students graduate through the turnstiles of heavy academia. There might not be a better overall class of metal bands than has emerged in the past fifteen years, so we should celebrate them.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, since many readers are going to cry foul their favorites aren't included. Would that I could put Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motorhead on the list since they represent metal just by name and stature. Would that I could've included Slough Feg, Nachtmystium, Agalloch, All That Remains, Shadows Fall, The Dillinger Escape Plan, My Dying Bride, Enslaved, Katatonia, Chthonic and Wolves in the Throne Room for their dedication, ingenuity and relentless craft. The definition of "important" is subjective, of course, and very much subject to scrutiny, however, The Metal Minute will accept such burden and deliver to you 10 of the most important metal bands of this generation.


It was predicted that Mastodon would change the face of heavy metal after 2002's Remission was released. Leviathan proved the point instantly. Mastodon's articulate reworking of doom and stoner in linear progression has forced most everyone to keep up. There might not be a more universally-respected metal group in the metal revival, save for the next band...


Already one of the most beloved metal acts on the planet, Opeth might be the most fundamentally-sound set of musicians writing heavy music today. You can count their bars of four in nearly every composition and each segment builds towards an emotional climax so few bands are able to master. Damnation, Blackwater Park, My Arms Your Hearse and Ghost Reveries are crucial albums any self-respecting metalhead should own. Opeth has shown that Goth isn't just for self-pitying arm cutters.

Between the Buried and Me

To this point, every album this uber-talented band has released is filled with wonderment. Did anyone think it was possible to see brackish grind metal given a prog twist? Alaska and The Great Misdirect are superlative albums, though Colors has become a masterpiece of the genre. Though Mr. Bungle has really played a hand in their schemes (along with many other bands, if you have their covers album The Anatomy Of), Between the Buried and Me has actually become metal's answer to Yes and Pink Floyd. Like Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me has broken barriers and shown a new dimension to prog, much less metal. If you don't own their entire catalog to this point, that's your fault.


In the wake of ground Neurosis tore open for everyone following in their "post-metal" excavation, Isis went on to refine the form with long compositions that seldom bored and almost always adopted a sculpting motif. Critics have favored Isis' work to film soundtracks and particularly their last two albums In the Absence of Truth and Wavering Radiant have that feel. Isis' influence (along with Pelican and Neurosis) has affected many expressive metal acts operating in the underground. Too bad they hung it up once they finally gained notoriety.


With Isis having split up, the inheritors of the "post metal" crown by de facto vote has to be Pelican. Pelican has worked danged hard to develop a world-class repertoire of impressionistic and expressionistic instrumental metal. Rough around the edges in their comeuppance, Pelican's din has always compensated for a busted chop here and there. 2005's The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw might be the most anxious and satisfying album in their catalog, yet 2009's What We Come to Need has corraled the polish Pelican has been chasing after and now they're just about unbeatable.


Though Japan's Boris consider themselves an abstract art rock band, there's no denying their core audience is metal-branched. If anyone has tapped distortion to its fullest potential outside of Sonic Youth, Boris is the one. They have thrived on it. Each album Boris has recorded is an unknown, be it singular chord drags or Hendix-huffing wah set on adrenaline. This is the most literate fuzz metal band in the world.


Ihsahn is single-handedly responsible for breaking black metal to the world. Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth may be the subgenre's poster children, but Emperor took cue from Celtic Frost and decorated black metal with orchestral and choral accompaniment and lavish fills nobody could've expected. Emperor remains the finest black metal band of all-time, while Ihsahn's solo work has grown breathtakingly adventurous. Ditto for his left-of-center work with his wife in Peccatum. Black metal is his root, yet Ihsahn has shown his affinities for other forms of music from classical to jazz to classic rock. Ihsahn has become a professor of legitimizing the extreme.


While Dylan Carlson's earlier tone-drone sludge as Earth ranks amongst the heaviest aural trips you can take, his love of Duane Eddy in his revival form of Earth has taken his listeners on a far deeper journey along a lost highway. It's your decision whether his dusty, enlongated drive is on a highway to hell or to the gates of enlightenment. Carlson is the Deacon of Drone and nobody in the scene can make more use of a singular twang.


Yes, Slayer have been around for decades, but they are the reason the music industry at-large still cares about metal. It's not just the fact Slayer has lassoed in a couple of Grammy Awards, though it's remarkable a band this extreme has been honored in such fashion. Slayer represents a sound and a lifestyle that in unmistakbly metal. This is the most-appreciated metal band in the entire universe, from doctors to college kids to the Slayer Wehrmacht, who yell their name at-will wherever their feet take them. It helps that Slayer has never compromised themselves in their long run. A few tweaks and experiments along the way, but Slayer is the heaviest of the heavy and they're showing no signs of quitting.


A notorious recluse, Xasthur has shown the way for DIY in black metal. It's a given a large percentage of black metal acts today are one-man-gangs--which brings very dubious results most of the time--yet Xasthur (aka Scott "Malefic" Conner) has grown and matured into one of the most intelligent dark songwriters of our time. Unfortunately, Malefic will cease work as Xasthur following his latest album Portal of Sorrow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/23/11

Howdy, ya'll...

Back to work on my end and very grateful for a job. Though I was only laid off a month, I saw some of the worst job market conditions ever in my working history and I'd entered a recession when I got out of college in 1993. No matter which field I attacked, no matter what thread of my vast network I tugged on, the economy is still hurting and so is the employment numbers. Friends I know in this industry are likewise scrambling for work, much less money to promote bands. If you're without a job right now, I feel your pain. It's brutal out there, but keep slugging. Treat each day like a regular work day and stop only for lunch or a sanity break until you find a job.

Stay tuned for more madness here at The Metal Minute. My right hand Devin Walsh has been on vacay but the site will welcome his return in the immediate future. Continued prayers for Japan; we're always thinking of you.

The Dillinger Escape Plan - Miss Machine
Hemoptysis - Misanthropic Slaughter
Between the Buried and Me - The Best of Between the Buried and Me
Between the Buried and Me - Colors
Ana Kefr - The Burial Tree (II)
Death - The Sound of Perseverance
Laethora - March of the Parasite
Khors - Mysticism
Cyclone - Brutal Destruction
Ahab - The Call of the Wretched Sea
Ahab - The Divinity of Oceans
The Chieftains - The Best of the Chieftains
The Pogues - Dirty Old Town
The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Grace Jones - Nightclubbing
Cheap Trick - Heaven Tonight
The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
The Smiths - Meat is Murder
The Smiths - Strangeways Here We Come
The Smiths - Louder Than Bombs
Brazzaville - East L.A. Breeze
Snapcase - End Transmission
Depeche Mode - Black Celebration
Depeche Mode - Violator
Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe
Echo and the Bunnymen - s/t
The Doors - Strange Days

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CD Review: Between the Buried and Me - The Best of Between the Buried and Me

Between the Buried and Me - The Best of Between the Buried and Me
2011 Victory Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I hold Between the Buried and Me in the same regard I do as The Police. Albeit nothing in common genre-wise (though it's surprising BTBAM didn't take a crack at "Invisible Sun" on their dynamic covers album The Anatomy Of), neither band can be contained to singular "Best Of" compilations, try as one might. Zenyatta Mondatta and Colors are considered signature albums for each respective group. While Between the Buried and Me hardly contains the potential to cross over, they are one of the most important metal acts of the past 15 years. A hits package from BTBAM and The Police is hardly comprehensive, no matter how astute you are as a record label. Sorry to say, but even in these cash-strapped times, if you care about music from a craftsmanship point-of-view, you damn well ought to own the entire catalog of both bands.

But these are tough economic times and Victory Records has to grudgingly let go of their flagship act as Between the Buried and Me joins Metal Blade Records for the release of their Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogue EP next month. You can understand why Victory is releasing The Best of Between the Buried and Me, but the gross understatement is, you cannot be a casual fan of this group. Hence, the casual nature of a two album, one DVD greatest hits mentality does impair its overall consumption experience--particularly when a band is this gifted.

Even though The Best of Between the Buried and Me grabs five of the eight compositions from the band's masterpiece Colors, it feels absolutely naked remiss of "Sun of Nothing" and "Ants of the Sky," particularly if you want to remind listeners this album is Pink Floyd interpreted through grind. Four songs apiece from The Silent Circus and Alaska check in on this comp and two from BTBAM's most recent full-length, The Great Misdirect. Nothing from The Anatomy Of, which is forgivable since there's a ton of ground to cover with these masters of prog-grind. Though it would've been a hell of fun way to accentuate the point of Colors by including Between the Buried and Me's take on Floyd's "Us and Them."

While the selections from The Silent Circus ("Mordecai," "Ad a Dglgmut," "Aesthetic" and "Shevanel Take 2") are more spread out from the album's track listing, the Alaska tracks are hedged more from the beginning. Yes, most fans yell out for "All Bodies," "Backwards Marathon" and "Selkies: The Endless Obsession," but Alaska is such a deep album you're missing a big part of the picture without "Medicine Wheel," "Autodidact" and "Breathe In, Breathe Out." In a way, it's like presenting a Mr. Bungle hits package without "Egg," "Travolta" or "My Ass is On Fire," since Bungle is essentially the silver-haired ancestor to Between the Buried and Me and their brain-stewed contemporaries.

The good news, however, is Victory has assembled some of Between the Buried and Me's most refined songs, thus this hits album is a powerful overview of the crunk side to the band as well as their expressive, layered side. The Best of Between the Buried and Me also benefits from a series of in-progress live songs on the second disc and a very cool bonus DVD featuring the thought-provoking videos for "Obfuscation," "Alaska" and "Mordecai." Add to the pot a terrific long film credited as "Synesthesia," which is the entire Colors album set to a whirlygig flicker-fly of film splices spanning from the 1920s to the 1960s. You won't soon think the same way about Colors if you make it through the sensory overload of social commentary Between the Buried and Me tosses out for assimilation as quickly-delved as their polyrhythm.

Better yet, the packaging of The Best of Between the Buried and Me features a digipak of foldout holograms, which gives you something to trip out on during "Aesthetic," "Viridian" and "From Born A: The Backtrack." Fuck you, iPod, hard copy still rules.

Is the best yet to come for Between the Buried and Me? We'll find out beginning this April and with all luck, they'll continue their trend of "must own" albums, which does include The Best of Between the Buried and Me. Victory is sending their math metal maestros out with an appreciative thank you note to all this band has achieved for them and for tech metal as its own clarified form of art.

Rating: ****1/2

Monday, March 21, 2011

CD Review: Hemoptysis - Misanthropic Slaughter

Hemoptysis - Misanthropic Slaughter
2011 Hemoptysis
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

First, on behalf of Hemoptysis' Masaki Murashita, a note of continued respect and well-wishes to Japan for healing and recovery through its ongoing trials following the horrifying earthquake and tsunami...

I don't have hunches too often, but in this metal revival, I always go back to Trivium when I first met the band before they signed with Roadrunner Records and became stars of this scene. I'd seen hunger and passion when Trivium opened for Iced Earth many years back and while the old school power heads wrote Trivium off at that gig, I'd approached Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu in the parking lot with the prediction they'd make their mark.

You can hear it when a young band really wants it. Fortunately for me in my position, you can also tell who is in it, not so much for the glory, but because they're way onto something and they must be heard.

Only their non-mainstream-friendly artwork on Hemoptysis' EP and now their debut album Misanthropic Slaughter will keep them in the underground. It sure as hell isn't their sound keeping them from reaching a wider berth of fans, nor is it the group's relentless press wrangling. I can vouch, as Hemoptysis has long been politely tapping my shoulder's shadow for attention, and they damn well deserve it. For an unsigned band, Hemoptysis might be the hottest metal act in desperate need of a showcase. Check out this band's roll call of endorsements and you'll wonder why Hemoptysis isn't sitting on a roster list next to Amon Amarth or even Daath.

When you recruit a Grammy-award-winning producer to your first full-length, there's only going to be so much longer the words "independently-released" will remain applicable. Ryan Greene (Megadeth, Alice Cooper, NOFX) shows his moxy and takes on an up-and-coming death-thrash-power hybrid and as a result, Hemoptysis' Misanthropic Slaughter freakin' rules.

Seriously, this album is a smoker and one as much for the thrash mongers as for the trad heavy metal purists. Shredding, moshing, freefall soloing (and tightly-secreted soloing as well), NHOBHM riff structures, double hammer, ralphing yet decipherable vocals, there's very little Hemoptysis omits from Misanthropic Slaughter, so do not miss this trip.

This band has quickly evolved from their debut EP from a couple years back. Masaki Murashita and Ryan Miller may very well have staked a claim as the tag team shred duo to beat in 2011. Everything they do is cohesive, crisp, clean, poignant and frequently articulate. Be it the decorative solos and chugging riff train on "Blood Storm" or the extensive Iron Maiden-esque intro to the piledriving crush of "M.O.D." (as in "merchant of death," not Milano's merry moshers), Hemoptysis is all pro. The opening picks of "And the World Dies," "Hadephobia" and "The Cycle" are pure metal. Check out the trade-off solo section on "And the World Dies" and the flawless thrash bursts on "End of Sorrow." The bar is well-raised, everybody.

Speed and aggression fuels Misanthropic Slaughter, but it's the band's canvasses of power artistry that makes it a mandatory listen. "Hopeless" is largely an old school headbanging paradise with bursts of increased tempo and it comes on the heels of the brief vintage Metallica slides opening the speedy title track. However, "Misanthropic Slaughter" largely rips out some classic Whiplash (as in the cult thrash band, not Metallica's halcyon jumping bean) and Dark Angel. Though "Shadow of Death" is grossly stripped in production, it hurls a rugged smack in the puss at times reflecting Priest, in others, Amon Amarth. Ditto for "Hadephobia," even if the production is far more spot-on.

Travis Thune is a maniac behind the kit and has the propensity to kick into overdrive on a whim, while his rhythm counterpart Sunao Arai delivers a hefty platform for his front line shedders to go berserk as they see fit. Arai not only keeps pace on the demanding curves of "The Cycle," he leaves a note-hungry imprint upon it. On "Hadephobia," Arai is practically the star with his insistent groove. The taste of Asiatic homesickness comes via the soothing "Interlude," but overall, Misanthropic Slaughter is one tough juggernaut of educated metal guaranteed to satisfy headbangers of any generation.

Misanthropic Slaughter is the good side to DIY. I personally will admit to a lot of kvetching about how the shift in trends to the hands of any ol' artist with access to tech can get in the game, which leaves a lot to be said for the need of quality control. In the case of Hemoptysis, however, DIY is the linchpin to potential greatness. Trivum started their mission with Ember to Inferno and has blossomed into young gun sovereignty as of 2008's Shogun. Though much heavier than Trivium, for Hemoptysis' purposes, the mission statement is loudly stated with Misanthropic Slaughter.

I have a hunch, folks...

Rating: ****1/2

Friday, March 18, 2011

Yoshiki of X Japan to Auction Crystal Piano for Japanese Relief Efforts

On the heels of Sandra Bullock's million dollar donation to the relief efforts in Japan, X Japan's Yoshiki has put up his cherished "crystal" piano for auction. All proceeds from the sale of his piano will go towards his earthquake and tsunami-ravaged homeland.

In a press release issued on behalf of Yoshiki, "The custom-made, plexi-glass "Yoshiki Signature Piano by Kawai" with Yoshiki's name engraved on it, was used when the band played their legendary shows at the Tokyo Dome.

The Japanese-born Yoshiki, who lives in Los Angeles, felt the earthquake tremors while in a Tokyo recording studio working on X Japan's first North American album, and was shocked by the large-scale damage across Japan. "It took awhile to locate my mother, but she is, thankfully, OK," said Yoshiki, "and I've spoken with [band members] Toshi, Pata, Sugizo and Heath, and they are all safe as well. I am praying for the people here who are still trying to locate their family and friends."

X Japan has decided to postpone the release of their first U.S. single, "Jade," that had been scheduled to be released today, so that they may focus on their time and energies on helping with the recovery.

In addition to raising money by auctioning his "crystal" piano, Yoshiki will collect donations for the Japanese disaster relief through the Yoshiki Foundation America, his California non-profit, public benefit corporation with tax-exempt status as a section 501(c) ( The Yoshiki Foundation has already donated to American organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, the Grammy Foundation, and St. Vincent's Meals on Wheels."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Van of the Dead Interview: Sarah Butler of I Spit On Your Grave 2010

The Metal Minute: I will be the first to go on record and state that I Spit On Your Grave was the last film I wanted to see remade, aside from Cannibal Holocaust. Some movies just cross the line, and while I've always held a strange admiration for the original Spit for its bravado and unsettling depictions, I just couldn't imagine another actress willing to submit herself to the physical demands and brutality Camille Keaton went through in the first film. Put me there when the script of the new Spit was put in your hands. Did you know what you were getting into and the sense of demoralization you would have to convey before the new Jennifer Hills exacts her nasty revenge? For the record, I am now also feeling a strange admiration for the new film.

Sarah Butler: That's great to hear, Ray! I'm glad we're slowly, but surely, winning you over. Amazingly enough, yes, I did know what I was getting myself into. I had read the script at that point, which is pretty close to the original, and trust me, I had the same feelings of disgust while reading it. I actually scolded my manager for even forwarding the audition to me. He usually filters out scripts with too much violence, nudity, etcetera and this had it all, times 2000! I thought to myself, there is no way I can do this film. It was others who convinced me to give it a chance. My boyfriend encouraged me to go to the audition anyway, just for the hell of it. My manager read the script and reported back that if I took on the role, I would be "bad-ass," and friends of mine expressed jealousy over the opportunity to play such a hugely demanding role. It was my opportunity to shine, so i went for it.

MM: I think Jennifer's vengeance this time around is far more gonzo and vicious than Camille Keaton's seduce and slice motif. Your Jennifer gets to taunt her attackers with all of their sick words and she finds a gallows humor way to turn each character's kill scene into a reflection of themselves, i.e. birds pecking out the eyes of Stanley the videophile after smearing the gutted fish into his hooked-open eyes, then Johnny's fellatio conundrum and Sheriff Storch's shotgun sodomy. Modern amplitude for modern times, obviously; the Hostel films have changed horror for the next decade, at least. What was your attraction to perform these dreadful acts of violence on film, much less being submitted to rape and humiliation in the build-up of Spit's story?

SB: Well, it's kind of like I was saying before, the project had a strange hold on me. Once my curiosity about it piqued, I never looked back. I accepted the acts of violence and humiliation, the nudity, the physical demands of the role, and I even relished them. I knew I couldn't half-ass this role, and I wanted to do it right if I was going to do it at all. What was underneath was a great role, a huge arc, a chance to play a woman hugely changed over the course of the film. That's the stuff we dream about as actors. That's the stuff that gets people's attention, whether they know it or not. Filming was just like any of the other projects I've worked on. We had a job to do, a story to tell, and we talked out the aspects of that, rehearsed them, and then lived them. In fact, we would sometimes catch strangers staring at us in the hotel lobby as we openly discussed "When you shoved the gun in my mouth", or "When Sarah put the shotgun up Andrew (Howard)'s ...." We're just making a movie, folks.

MM: (laughs) Examining both versions of I Spit On Your Grave, I can only imagine how much Camille Keaton had to gnaw through, having spent a large percentage of her film fully naked. You yourself went through a roughhousing in the cabin sequences and in the woods. That freefall off the bridge, holy smokes. Was that you or a stunt double? From the point-of-view of Jennifer, facing all of these bellowing, raping scum who shove pistols down her throat, liken her to a "show pony," videotape her degredation and ultimately violate her in every orifice, tell me what you feel was the harshest element you had to gnaw through.

SB: That was the one shot where a stunt double was used. Second one, I might add. The first double injured herself practicing the stunt the day before it was to be shot. We pulled in another girl last minute, despite the fact that I offered enthusiastically to perform the stunt. Liabilities... Obviously it was all difficult to digest and to throw myself into it day after day. But really, I know that Jeff Branson isn't really obsessed with my teeth, and Danny Franzese would never videotape me through my window. The hardest parts to get over were my real, personal fears. I'm not a good swimmer. When I had to get dunked, I was terrified. Also, I'd like to go on the record that those were real matches Rodney (Eastman) was flicking at me and I could smell my hair burning. A bit unsettling, to say the least.

MM: Seriously! Suffer for thy art, as the saying goes. Have you been approached by real rape victims who have seen the new Spit and if so, what have their reactions been?

SB: No, at least, not openly. That's probably the thing I'm the most scared of now that the DVD is available nationwide, and more and more people have seen it. I would never want to drudge up bad memories and offend real rape victims. This is a pain I can only imagine, and my heart goes out to these people.

MM: Critics can be just as raw as the people they condemn in films they don't like, but I've seen a quote (I'm deliberately omitting the source) where "Lead actress Sarah Butler (who was apparently attracted to the role for it's "strong feminist arc," ahem...) may look back on her dried up career at some point in the future and realise that it was this movie to blame." Do you think this statement was unnecessarily catty and even though you're still building your career, do you worry one day that this sentiment actually might hit home with you?

SB: Of course, I'll never really know if the path I've taken is the "right" one, but that goes for every person on Earth in their endeavors. I do feel proud of the film that we made and how it helped me grow as an actress. If my grandparents, aunts, uncles, mom and dad, sister, cousins, friends and industry connections can applaud and support the decision I've made, then I won't worry about critics whose main goal is to stir up shit anyway, just to get readership. These people run the same risk of regretting their past decisions. Maybe they'll look back someday and realize that they were wrong about me.

Copyright 2011 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/16/11

Greetings, faithful lot, it's that time again and though my heart remains heavy in respect and concern for our Japanese brothers and sisters overseas, I am personally feeling upbeat in anticipation of the goodness yet to come. I pray this vibe I'm riding can touch the fallen and the destitute in Japan. My soul to yours, friends. Strength and hope be yours.

Thanks to Rhiis D. Lopez of Ana Kefr for sharing his candid thoughts with our own Devin Walsh. This Thursday, I am bringing you a very special guest to the Take 5 corner, Sarah Butler from I Spit On Your Grave 2010. Sarah will discuss her perspectives in updating one of the most controversial stories ever told on film. If you've not yet seen the new Spit, it takes a tough stomach at times, but you won't soon forget it, trust me. Stay tuned tomorrow for Sarah Butler, aka "Jennifer Hills" the Second here at The Metal Minute.

Also hang out for more goodies through the week. I'm now at Twitter aside from Facebook and LinkedIn, so come on by. @rvanhornjr is the e-handle.

Keep those ears plugged with tunes and be grateful for what you have. If you hate your life, think upon the Miyagi Prefecture.

Bang Tango - Psycho Cafe
Bang Tango - Ain't No Jive...Live
Jag Panzer - The Scourge of the Light
Bachelorette - s/t
Ana Kefr - The Burial Tree (II)
Face Value - Rode Hard, Put Away Wet
D.O.A. - Something Better Change
D.O.A. - True (North) Strong & Free
Gamma Ray - To the Metal!
The Police - Ghost in the Machine
The Police - Synchronicity
Afrika Bambaataa - Looking for the Perfect Beat 1980-1985
Dr. Dre - The Chronic
Jethro Tull - Aqualung
Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe
Depeche Mode - Music for the Masses
Depeche Mode - Songs of Faith and Devotion
Depeche Mode - Playing the Angel
Fleetwood Mac - Greatest Hits
Charm City Devils - Let's Rock 'n Roll
The Hidden Hand - Mother Teacher Destroyer
Brahms - The Best of Brahms
Yanni - Truth of Touch
MXPX - Secret Weapon
Flesh for Lulu - Plastic Fantastic

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CD Review: Bang Tango - Psycho Cafe Reissue

Bang Tango - Psycho Cafe Reissue
2011 Metal Mind Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Never discount the long-lasting power of MTV when its primary function was still relegated to music. Case in point, Bang Tango.

If you bring up Bang Tango's name to most rock and metal aficianados, nine out of ten are going to answer in the following manner: "Ahh, yeah, I remember that band. "Someone Like You" was such a great song!" The reason for this was due to MTV's extensive play of the "Someone Like You" video and its successor "Breaking Up a Heart of Stone." "Someone Like You" was a staple on the original Headbangers Ball and it eventually crossed over into the mainstream rotation, if even only for a spell in 1989.

Granted, most people never got around to Bang Tango's debut album Psycho Cafe, but they are now. Of late a sought-after nugget in the American metal revival, Bang Tango is reconnecting with its original audience and some late bloomers who have begun to discover the merits of this rock-metal-glam-wah-funk hybrid. It's common knowledge Bang Tango died ahead of their time and the in-house destruction has been felt in later years with its players having formed mini camps when the itch to tour bites them.

Yet Psycho Cafe represents one of the original wave of heavy metal's last hurrahs. Coupled with the subsequent Dancin' On Coals, Psycho Cafe may have been birthed in the wake of Guns n' Roses and Hanoi Rocks, but it marks a transitional wipeaway of the LA sweat and sleaze that dominated hard rock for most of the eighties. If Psycho Cafe had been the last glam album ever laid down, nobody would've argued the subgenre went out in style.

Metal Mind brings us reissues of Bang Tango's first two studio albums and their live EP Ain't No Jive...Live. Huzzah to that. Even if Bang Tango had to squeeze shoulders with LA Guns and Faster Pussycat, both of whom had staked out sizeable followings of their own, Bang Tango took it to another level with their greasy blues and Hendrix funk stylizations. Dancin' On Coals is the funkier of their first two records, yet Psycho Cafe is a strut more than a dance. It's also louder than bombs at times.

"Attack of Life" opens Psycho Cafe with a 'bangin' sashay and chunky, echoing riffs. It serves as a metal megaphone to kick the album off with a heavier dose than most of Bang Tango's softsoap contemporaries of the day. Psycho Cafe then snarls into their calling card "Someone Like You" as Joe LeSte rides the furrow of Bang Tango's hump groove with a possessive vocal range between sultry and slinky. "Someone Like You" is as perfect a hard rock jam as you'll find in Hairball Heaven, because it delivers the thrust promised by the crank-waggling bass licks from Kyle Kyle.

For this writer's purposes, Bang Tango's other hit from Psycho Cafe, "Breaking Up a Heart of Stone" is just a click better for its variations, soulful choruses, crushing beat and diddy-do guitars which whisper, reverb and then bellow. Carrying a hair more depth than "Someone Like You," "Breaking Up a Heart of Stone" is Psycho Cafe's insurance policy. It delivers the promise built up by the first three songs, including "Wrap My Wings."

"Wrap My Wings" also brings some serious amplitude and a catty set of riffs, not to mention a sprinkle of progression in the song's breakdown. Where Bang Tango begins to dally with the funk on Psycho Cafe is the bass-plunking wailfest of "Shotgun Man," the supercalifragisexy slide on the verses of "Love Injection" and the uppity hotfooting of "Do What You're Told."

The electric ala carte served by Psycho Cafe is broken up by the acoustic ballad "Just For You." One would have to be surprised this gazing ditty didn't become a de facto hit because of the glut of hard rock love that dominated the scene at this point in time. Smart move to avoid the obvious or would "Just For You" have kept Bang Tango in the ears of hard rock nation a little longer?

Well, the answer is obvious. Despite the brackish hip-slinging through the closing track "Sweet Little Razor," Psycho Cafe's staying power was limited, despite a darned fine effort. You can't ask for a better smoker to round out an album than "Sweet Little Razor," but history reminds us the wrist cutting gloom of grunge would win favor in North America. There was nothing sweet about those razors; thank God for Sonic Youth, Today is the Day and Mudhoney.

Bang Tango was a great band. Spectacular, maybe not, but for their brief mark upon hard rock, they had plenty more in the tanks and were robbed of their chance to cruise true. The same could be said of many of Bang Tango's peers since product cycling is the enemy and ultimately the propagator.

Rating: ****

Monday, March 14, 2011

CD Review: Jag Panzer - The Scourge of the Light

Jag Panzer - The Scourge of the Light
2011 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Back in early 2004, I'd caught up with Jag Panzer guitarist and co-founding member Mark Briody for a private project. The Panzer had already released its re-recordings album Decade of the Nail-Spiked Bat in 2003 and Briody was then excited to discuss what would unravel as Casting of the Stones, released in '04. I'd come to Briody with very little knowledge of what was to follow for the metal pride of Denver. Unfortunately, the mojo that had brought three-fifths of the original lineup together in 1997 for The Fourth Judgment had weirdly skidded to a halt after Casting of the Stones.

The following year, I'd thought, man, what a nice return ride Jag Panzer had after a here-and-gone run in the mid-eighties. They'd picked up Christian Laseque on second guitar and Rikard Stjernquist on drums to maintain a stabilized lineup capable of rolling forward into the metal revival with something to say for themselves. With Harry "Tyrant" Conklin back on the mike, it appeared Jag Panzer was going to run neck-and-neck with Iced Earth and Kamelot for bragging rights to lordship over the American power metal market.

Only Kamelot has kept a steady pace since 2004 as Jon Schaffer has seemingly laid Iced Earth to rest for awhile in pursuit of his side projects Demons & Wizards and Sons of Liberty. Now, finally, Jag Panzer returns to the domestic power metal trenches with a pretty solid studio outing, The Scourge of the Light.

The layoff Jag Panzer imposed upon themselves has certainly kindled a creative spirit on their latest album that rips at times and in many places, features piano and string garnishments elevating The Scourge of the Light past its direct predecessors. The piano fugue intro and outro on "Burn" is fabulous, but is precursor to the exquisite opening to "The Book of Kells," which is filled with a chamber coupling and choral backups. Stjernquist's steady lament march on "The Book of Kells" lifts Harry Conklin's whispered intro into a gusty hail to the clouds until the middle sequence of this mini-epic brings a hushed reserve as set-up for a thrumming closure. Part doom, part Goth, part power surge, "The Book of Kells" is one of Jag Panzer's finest recordings.

The Scourge of the Light (with breathtaking Dagobah and Conan-heralded artwork by Justin Yun) gallops off the mark with the brisk arms loader, "Condemned to Fight." Jag Panzer also zips on "Cycles" and the Priest and Dio-tributizing "Let it Out." Otherwise, the album is mostly mid-tempo with mixed results. "Union" plods a bit and establishes mostly a proto metalheads-in-league chorus. Same scheme for "Call to Arms," even though the latter has a smart intro while both rail with The Tyrant's (who looks and sounds really freaking good these days) soothing old-school swoons. Snazzy guitars as well, though Briody and Laseque decorate The Scourge of the Light all over with some of the most gorgeous soloing you'll hear in 2011. Sweet licks to summon up "Overload," gentlemen.

"Bringing the End" is a headbanger's paradise even with its tranquil verses, but "Overload" is another well-established tune with its tramping riffs, soaring gang vocals and swishy string accompaniment.

Was the wait worth it? Of course. The Scourge of the Light is a very patient album that expects some of the same from its listeners. There are plenty of payouts and lavish additions to Jag Panzer's songwriting, which means this album dusts a lot off despite the extensive amount of time from when they recorded Casting the Stones. This one carries some excess, but if the metal public receives The Scourge of the Light favorably and keeps Jag Panzer's sprockets amping its running track, the next album ought to be a doozie.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, March 11, 2011

Van of the Dead Movie Review: Sharktopus

2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

To quote Princess Leia to Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: A New Hope, Mr. Corman, only you could be so bold!

In today's horror scene, the chief focus is either on zombies, vampires or torture grind. Anchor Bay has waved their sails in the past couple months on the winds of each with The Walking Dead, The Bleeding, Let Me In and I Spit On Your Grave 2010. Yet one of the video acquisition empire's understated specialties is their perpetual love of creature feature revivals. The Rig comes recently to mind and now, Anchor Bay really locks it down with Roger Corman's "comeback" horror film for the Syfy channel, Sharktopus.

Granted, upon mere greeting, Sharktopus prompts the groans and the rolling of the eyes. Sharktopus, are you serious? Carnosaur, Lake Placid, Python, Anaconda 2, they just keep on coming and people still support these knucklehead monster mashes. Why? Because you know what you're getting yourself into, the expectations aren't high, there's very little brain matter required and so long as the mutated monstrosity kicks ass and has the grace to be blown to smithereens after entertaining its audience for an hour and a half, then at the end of the day, everyone goes home happy.

Sharktopus is pure Corman. If you're a fan, you're in for a treat. Bikini babes every three minutes, crummy dialogue, campy acting (even from Eric Roberts, whom we hope is camping it up in this chomp and strangle vehicle) and a ripped-up shark-squid hybrid with no moral fiber and an attitude fathoms-deep. Sharktopus is B Benchley, as in Jaws-meets-Beast. Everyone look out, in the water and on land.

This is straight out of fifties' heaven with a CGI upgrade that works for the most part. Some scenes in Sharktopus are effectively blended, such as when the leviathan propels itself on its tentacles high above a boat and hovers a couple seconds before striking. Killer visual. Sometimes the computer animated blood paints the screen in a cartoonish manner (only Ninja Assassin looks more fake), but in other spots, Sharktopus' victims are doused in stage blood, which helps keep the film landlubbed where it needs to be. Minus a riotous beheading effect which looks borrowed out of a zombie video game, most of Sharktopus' casualties (and there are many in this film) are nailed, spiked, impaled, ripped and devoured within bloody seconds.

The story is standard schlock: the U.S. navy commissions the genetic splicing of an aquatic killing machine they want to use against drug runners and pirates. Eric Roberts plays Nathan Sands, an egomaniac scientist (though he carries himself in the film less as a man of science and more of an unscrupulous pissant), and Sharktopus' creator. His daughter Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane) is a biochemistry genius and a robotics expert. Engineering a remote control device on Sharktopus that gets wrecked in the midst of an impromptu demonstration, the tenancled ripper gets loose and causes havoc on a California beach before swimming away to a Mexican resort. We learn later that Daddy's been tinkering with the programming, and Sharktopus is more serial slasher than defensive predator. Ohhh, Daaaa-ddyyyyy....

Naturally, Sharktopus is going to tear apart a supporting cast gleefully served up for Corman's chum bucket. Save for the recruiting of Andy Flynn (Kerem Bersin), a former bioscientist turned mercenary (he once worked for Sands, don'tcha know) to help pin down Sharktopus for a salvage operation, there's not much more you need to know in the way of characterization. Sharktopus has various side characters like a gung-ho reporter and her leery cameraman, "Bones," (Liv Boughn and Hector Jimenez) their slovenly eyewitness, Flynn's buddy Carlos (Julian Gonzalez) and Captain Jack (Ralph Garman), a boatside DJ who plays techno and street punk instead of Billy Joel. Don't count on any of them making it to the final credit roll. Look for a cameo by Corman himself in a really nutty kill sequence at the Cali tide.

The majority of the cast snuffs it while vacationers work on their tans and flaunt their hardbodies on the beach while Sharktopus leaps out and terrorizes, then disappears. Vacationers go back to their non-business and fill the camera's lens with their goodies. Resume cycle until the final showdown when Nathan Sands' greed gets him gored, while his "pumpkin" and Flynn corner the beastie and pop his great white brains apart. One of Sharktopus' creative kills involves a bungee jumper which is really rad, despite its obviousness.

Sharktopus is better than the name implies. Hardly in the league of Let Me in, this is the kind of popcorn and cheese doodle chill-out flick that takes itself as seriously as most of Corman's films, Rock 'n Roll High School, Piranha and Death Race 2000 notwithstanding. Roger Corman is a low budget entertainer who knows how to dab out sleaze with class and lunatic horror romps with an undying teenager's inclination to goof it up like his class clown status depends on it.

Rating: ***

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Take 5 With Rhiis D. Lopez of Ana Kefr by Devin Walsh

The Metal Minute: You guys are the first band I have come across with the title “philosophical metal.” I must say, after reading your lyrics, content, and song names, you guys do seem to be intelligent and you helped me understand the meaning of “philosophical metal.” In regards to your lyrics, where do you draw your inspiration from and is there any particular message(s) you are trying to convey to the listener/reader?

Rhiis D. Lopez (lead vocals, keyboards): Thanks for the compliments! As far as lyrical inspiration goes, I'd say it comes from my interests in religion, mythology, philosophy, psychology and science. I put a lot of value in music that has thought-out and meaningful lyrics. It's nice to be able to come back to an album over and over and be able to take away something new each time. The Burial Tree had months of time invested in working out lyrical ideas and concepts. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction and I like to jot down notes if something jumps out at me, or if I have some epiphany that I think may work for Ana Kefr's material. The Burial Tree began as a massive amount of notes and ideas. When the musical body was complete, I then began whittling down the ideas, organizing my notes, developing some while throwing away others. It all begins with a ton of notes.

As far as any specific message, it's hard to pinpoint one because I discuss a lot of different things through the songs. I'd say a common conceptual thread that runs through pretty much everything is the importance of truth. Truth has been politically incorrect for a long time; it's just gone out of fashion, if it ever was in fashion the first place. We find glossy lies and distorted reflections every time we attempt to reach out and connect with something real. Individuality--something that actually means something important--has been given a brand name and is used to sell sports cars and food. It's kind of surreal. Being an individual these days, or to understand truth, is basically equated with joining a herd and taking on their behavior and dress patterns. This reminds me of the title of an album by The Locust, Follow the Flock, Step in Shit. If you haven't heard them and if you enjoy loud and strange music, check them out.

MM: Continuing with lyrical content, I really like your song names, as they are quite unique like “The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body.” My favorite by far though is “Tonight We Watch the Children Burn,” although I have also seen it titled as “Tonight We Watch the Fucking Children Burn.” I certainly do not promote child burning--or people burning or actually anything but a controlled fire burning for that matter--but this title is so evil and metal. I love it! What is this song really about?

RL: It's funny that you ask about this, because a lot of people have assumed that the song is promoting the burning of children, or that it is about doing some horrible, violent act. Ana Kefr would never stand for something like that. "Tonight We Watch the Children Fucking Burn" is about the Palestine-Israel conflict. It takes forever to fully explain a song, but the short and sweet version would be: if we are to believe the quasi-mythological history of Israel (as given in the Torah), then we find that the nation of Israel began by completely wiping out seven different nations that lived in ancient Palestine--the birth of Israel was in genocide.

Fast forward and we find that Israel was then the victim of genocide (i.e., the Holocaust). Fast forward again and they are occupying Palestine now, gunning down school children, and it's all done because God allegedly gave them the land, regardless of who was living there for decades or how many must die for them to live in it. I find a sick irony in the history of Israel; it goes from them wiping out nations and leaving nothing alive to others attempting to do the same to them. The song is discussing these things, also touching on the similarities between the Nazi ideals of the Fatherland/Master Race/Third Reich and the Israeli Promised Land/Chosen People/Kingdom of Zion. The title itself is basically what I see the rest of the world doing as they sit back and watch it passively, excusing it because they believe it is blessed by God. It's like sitting back with your bowl of potato chips and a can of Coke, turning on the television. "What are we going to watch?" The song title is their answer.

MM: Your style of music is very progressive, but not in the traditional sense. When I hear progressive rock/metal, I immediately think of Dream Theater or Rush. You guys really bring something new to the progressive table as your music is a constant journey. Did you guys intentionally set out to specifically sound the way you do, or is this just what the natural excretions of Ana Kefr sound like?

RL: Thanks for the compliment! I'd say our sound is for the most part what naturally comes out. We all listen to a pretty weird variety of music, and when it comes to writing we just don't hold ourselves back. In a way, I guess you could say it is somewhat intentional because one thing we don't want to do is set out to be a band that sounds like X, or something that has to be written like X because we want to be some certain kind of music. We don't want to define ourselves or box ourselves into a genre. Doing that would severely limit any artistic expression. There are very few rules in the band when it comes to writing, but one rule would be to not repeat ourselves. It's okay to have the element of a certain style in the music, but for every song to use it and to make it something you could expect is kind of against what we try to do. It's important to us that we try new things and that each song stands out individually. It sucks when an album is good but every song basically sounds the same. That's too easy to make. I think the real challenge is in writing an album that is obviously from one band but whose songs span all across the musical board.

MM: In regards to your sound, I find whether you like it or not, your favorite bands and artists help develop and make up your sound. What are some of your musical influences?

RL: My influences would be Tom Waits, Pink Floyd, Mr. Bungle and classical music--especially Modeste Mussorgsky and Zbigniew Preisner. The guys listen to everything from The Roots, Rush, Radiohead, Killswitch Engage and dub-step techno.

DW: The band name Ana Kefr means “I am Infidel” in Arabic. Arabic is a language generally not associated with heavy metal. Why did you guys choose this name? What does it mean for you? Do any of you have a connection with Arabic?

RL: I lived in Egypt for 3 years. I worked as a casting director in the film industry there. I am pretty decent at speaking, reading and writing Arabic, so that would be the band's Arab connection. I came back from Egypt to visit and ended up staying after I met Kyle. Things really just fell into place. I'd written the lyrics to an early song called "Takeover," and in it there is the chant 'ana kefr,' which means "I am infidel," as you said. We were going over different band name ideas and a friend pointed out that part in the song and said he thought that sounded perfect. Well, we have him to thank for that one, since he was right. For me personally, the name reminds me of a lot of my experiences living in the Middle East. I traveled to Jordan, Israel and Palestine for months and it just changed the way I look at everything. For me, the band name is perfect because it kind of encapsulates the defiant and angry spirit of metal while, beneath the defiance, there is a whole humanistic philosophical side. I love it!

(c) Copyright 2011 Devin Walsh

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 2/9/11

Sometimes the best thing to do when you're on a bad luck streak is to steal the negative energy giving it life and put it to bed. That's what I'm going to do and leave it while summoning all that's good in life to come my way. 'Nuff said...

Stay tuned here at The Metal Minute for plenty of goodies coming your way including reviews of the new Jag Panzer album, reissues by Stone Axe and Bang Tango and Roger Corman's successful Syfy production, Sharktopus. Plus, our own Devin Walsh sits down with Ana Kefr for a real schway Take 5 interview session.

Bring it...

D.O.A. - Something Better Change
Dick Dale and His Del-Tones - The Best of Dick Dale and His Del-Tones
The Police - Regatta de Blanc
The Police - Outlandos d'Amour
The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta
D.J. Spooky - Subliminal Minded EP
Sepultura - Roots
Death - Human
The Cars - s/t
The Cars - Candy O
Warlock - Hellbound reissue
Snapcase - End Transmission
It's Casual - Stop Listening to Bad Music
It's Casual - Buicregl
Stone Axe - s/t reissue
Hank Williams - The Ultimate Collection
Johnny Cash - The Legend of Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash - American VI: Ain't No Grave
Sun Records: The Definitive Collection Vol. 1
Devo - Duty Now for the Future
Jag Panzer - The Scourge of the Light

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Van of the Dead DVD Review: The Walking Dead Season 1

The Walking Dead Season 1
2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

What's your favorite zombie film? Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, Zombieland, Zombie, The Evil Dead, hell, even White Zombie? It has to be asked, because zombies are so posh in horror cinema these days (along with vampires) almost every city has its own "dead crawl" event and people who have been extras or lead ghouls in zombie flicks proudly post it on their resumes--this writer, included.

Did anyone in their right mind expect to see a fully-developed zombie epic made for television? Alright, so AMC's The Walking Dead would never qualify for the censor standards of network--even if thongs, gratuitous cleavage, surgical evisceration, flatulence and every cuss word minus the F, S and C words are now permissable on The Big Three. Yet, let's take into consideration the fact AMC is the one sponsoring a very adult-natured television series, one with full amps of gore, intestine yanking, foul language, race issues, softcore sex (minus the nudity) and even a graphic depiction of the slaying of an undead child.

Not to chastise AMC for any of this, because their acquisition and revved-up presentation of Robert Kirkman's zombie romp graphic novel The Walking Dead is exactly what everyone's hyped it to be. It's just an anamoly, however, that this is AMC calling the shots. Here is a network called American Movie Classics that preluded Turner Classic Movies as the premiere station for lost classic films ranging all the way back to the silent era. The station was reknowned for Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Errol Flynn, Anthony Perkins, Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis, the golden gods of Hollywood. Eventually AMC decided it didn't want to compete against Turner and opted for a younger, mainstream audience. When Buckaroo Banzai becomes quantified as an American movie classic, well, that's taking things too far--and with commercial interruptions, gads!

The truly shocking thing about AMC's The Walking Dead is how bold and unchained it is. AMC first made its dent upon cable courture with its fabulous Monster Fest marathons during the Halloween season. Everything from Universal to the fifties' B films to Hammer up through the mid-seventies was catapulted upon the horror public and it was a true delight to have much of October blocked off for these flicks. Unfortunately, AMC later passed off its Halloween season with recurring, censored plays of Halloween II through the sixth film for the final week of the Samhain season. If there's a true complaint about AMC's transition besides a loose valuation system, it's the fact they whack up many of the films they run.

With The Walking Dead, consider AMC fully redeemed.

It's not just the flying guts, the moist cadavers and the rough language (which is tastefully kept in check in this script) that makes The Walking Dead an instant classic, though you just can't seem to do a proper zombie film outside of Scooby Doo without all of that--and even Scooby had to confront a lopped-off head in his zombie vehicle.

The Walking Dead, inherited through Robert Kirkman and brought to visceral excellence by director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and Terminator and Aliens producer Gale Anne Hurd has thus far covered in one season George Romero's turf and places he hasn't.

You don't even need to be a zombie film expert to figure out The Walking Dead's premise. Kirkman's story and Darabont's direction, however, really puts some emotion into familiar territory. Less comical and more reality-based, The Walking Dead, as spread out through a full televised series concept, brings the focus upon the spectacle of the survivors more so than the shuffling corpses within its Georgia setting. Romero has been the master at conveying the devastating impact of what it means to be a thinned-out and isolated human race against an overwhelming percentile of undead. Darabont and Hurd thus pay homage then release their own catastrophic hounds.

Minus a housed-up sequence in the pilot episode, The Walking Dead Season 1 is less focused upon the trapped-in-a-compound element Romero was fond of in his first three zombie masterworks, though Darabont really plays the theme a foil in the final episode of this season. A large chunk of The Walking Dead is actually told inside an open-air encampment, which alone presents the opportunity for numerous stories. The threat of finding straggling death walkers (referred to by the cast as "geeks") inside their outer rim camp near Atlanta lingers like a pest through the second to the fifth episodes. A zombie can (and will) appear out of nowhere and eat recently-killed game for the survivors and you can assume correctly the chompers will arrive in numbers at a later point--and with dire consequences. This uncontained setting makes The Walking Dead even more claustrophobic than a mall or boarded-up house, because there is little-to-no way you can exercise damage control, especially when the numbers dwindle after zombie attacks and the leaders leave camp, as happens in this story.

Deputy sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is seriously wounded in a police capture and presumed to be dead by the time a full-on zombie outbreak wrecks havoc upon the United States. In search of his family, the confused Grimes wakes up to a devastated world and is saved by a father and son who brings Grimes up to speed on things. They soon part ways as Grimes is determined to find his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and their son, Carl (Chandler Riggs). There is promise of safe haven in Atlanta and as Grimes rides on horseback into a seemingly evacuated city (what a terrific visual this is, particularly the side of Interstate 85 leading out of Atlanta clogged by abandoned cars, the route in perfectly clear), he is attacked by a horde of zombies. The first episode ends on an adrenalized chase sequence that finds Grimes shacked up inside a tank, where he is spotted by survivors.

From here, The Walking Dead really develops it human interaction storyline. Grimes' new affiliates inside a department store range from a pizza delivery guy to a public works specialist to a trigger-happy woman. Worse, he is in the company of a bigoted hedonist (played by Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer's Michael Rooker) whom he subdues and handcuffs to the top of a building--and ultimately leaves him there. Rooker's despicable character Merle Dixon plays a hand (no pun intended, if you've seen the series) in the story's plot as Grimes gets a case of the guilts and recruits Dixon's equally gonzo brother Daryl (Norman Reedus) and his second benefactor Glenn (Steven Yeun) for a rescue mission. This mini-posse includes T-Dog (IronE Singleton), who has been beaten up by Merle in a racist attack, yet feels equally guilty leaving Merle on the rooftop. This subplot to The Walking Dead takes the story upon an entire different thread capped by a standoff against a gang of Latinos claiming rights to Grimes' abandoned artillery that brings a standalone flashpoint to the story.

Grimes miraculously finds his family at the survivor camp, though unbeknownst to him, his best friend and former partner on the police force Shane (Jon Bernthal) has been getting it on with his wife. You can see this rift ready to detonate in the second season as Lori declares her loyalty to her husband upon his return and renounces Shane. At one point in the story, Shane has Grimes in his gun sight and struggles with a decision on whether or not to plug his buddy and steal his family. This is where The Walking Dead steps up its game from a storytelling point-of-view. The enemies outside are hardly as dangerous as those within. In the pilot episode, you see Grimes' savior in tearful desperation as he cannot kill his zombified wife who keeps showing up on the porch where he and his son are hiding. It's haunting and sad, as are the struggles of the other cast members who are dealt bad deals from the zombies and have to make critical decisions. A scene where Grimes returns to an abandoned park to put a bisected crawling corpse (referred to as "The Bike Girl") out of her misery is rather touching.

One of The Walking Dead's key fears is these zombies react to extreme noise, such as gunshots and loud chatter. Pop one zombie with a gun, you're going to have two blocks' worth of them on your butt. They also smell you out. Priceless. The zombies in this series shamble around, but do have the capacity to pick up speed. In one of the season's most memorable sequences, Grimes and Glenn attempt to elude the zombie pack out on the streets by covering themselves in coats covered by the remains of a chopped-up zombie. Absolutely disgusting, but this will be well-discussed over the course of modern horror history.

As this series ends on a literal bang at the CDC (reported to be a team of scientists working on a resolution to the zombie plague), The Walking Dead Season 1, though awfully short, really primes its fans for a return this coming fall. 19 episodes have been commissioned, so take comfort The Walking Dead will be with us for least two more rounds.

This DVD includes numerous featurettes and commentaries from Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yuen, Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd and writer Robert Kirkman. The Zombie School segment is pretty amusing and will no doubt inspire an actual program for aspiring "geeks."

If you think you've seen it all with zombies, you probably have, but The Walking Dead is still mandatory for its style, its rhythm, its soul and its tributary love of a horror standard that will undoubtedly usher in a new Renaissance for its network.

Rating: *****

Thursday, March 03, 2011

CD Review: Warlock - Hellbound Reissue

Warlock - Hellbound Reissue
2011 Metal Mind Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Though their biography only warrants a mere paragraph at AllMusic, Warlock deserves more than an abbreviated overview. "All We Are" and "Fight for Rock" are two of heavy metal's master anthems. Even if you weren't around for the original wave of heavy metal, you know their choruses. They hold up, they're timeless, they speak to us all, they transcend, they are.

Perhaps it was the internal collapses within Warlock as they were gaining a worldwide audience that sweeps their contributions under the proverbial rug. Doro Pesch remains the lone figurehead of the band, particularly since she was left to hold the fort after 1987's Triumph and Agony was released and everybody she'd come up with in the band had well rolled out by the time that album's tour cycle wrapped. "Fur Immer" (Forever) Doro has chanted and swooned to her fans ever since, and it is Doro's legacy which keeps a beacon light upon Warlock.

Things happen for a reason, of course. The legal squabbles between Doro and her former Warlock brethren are distasteful, but the lady's made the best of such misfortunes and by attrition has been deemed immortal by her public as the reigning Queen of Metal.

Before all that, however, Warlock had surreptitiously staked a claim in the German power metal market, taking cue from Accept and Running Wild on their first two albums before 1986's slightly commercial True as Steel put them on the map.

1985 was a tremendous year for heavy metal across the globe and for Warlock's purposes, their sophomore album Hellbound proved they could refine and harness the agitation of '84's Burning the Witches. In '85, Hellbound became sort of a hidden gem amidst the variations of Iron Maiden's Live After Death, Anthrax's Spreading the Disease, David Lee Roth's Eat 'em and Smile, Exodus' Bonded by Blood, Kix's Midnite Dynamite, Overkill's Feel the Fire, W.A.S.P.'s The Last Command, Slayer's Hell Awaits, Motley Crue's Theatre of Pain, Pantera's I am the Night, Megadeth's Killing's My Business...and Business is Good and Celtic Frost's To Mega-Therion. Warlock's fellow countrymen Accept, Shy, Destruction, Sodom, Helloween and Kreator all struck with breakout and debut releases the same year. The Scorpions were leading the wolf pack with their uber-successful World Wide Live. Lee Aaron was running toe-to-toe with Doro for bragging rights as front-femme supreme. Then Warlock westernized their grooves and created metal history.

Though a breaking point for original guitarist Randy Graf, Hellbound is Warlock's heaviest and most relentless album they recorded. Though capped at the end by the gorgeous power ballad "Catch My Heart," which ranks high amongst Doro's best in a solo capacity, Hellbound is all business. It throbs and rolls on a tandem with scattered prog breakdowns and miscellaneous soundbytes, ala "Earthshaker Rock" and various experimental intros on the album.

Hellbound is hearty and focused, a polished piledriver of Teutonic mayhem kept on a steady equilibrium of shred, mid-tempo jogs and wailing guitar solos. "Earthshaker Rock," "Hellbound" and "Time to Die" hustle along like Accept on Restless and Wild and parts of Metal Heart. "All Night," "Wrathchild," "Down and Out" and "Shout it Out" summon fists into the air with meaty riffs and shining solos from Rudy Graf and Peter Szigeti, while Doro rips her indelible valkyrie imprint overtop.

Frank Rittel operates like a mechanic with his bass lines straight through Hellbound, while drummer Michael Eurich can switch gears between a third gear piston hammer and double time, no sweat. Together, they gallop all over "Out of Control" and keep a hefty crunch upon it, even if the schism is reminiscent of many heavy metal bands of the day. A distant cousin to it would be Quiet Riot's "Breathless."

While "Shout it Out," "Out of Control" and "Down and Out" would blueprint the future sound of Warlock, there's still a lot of fang to them on Hellbound, particularly with the atypically pessimistic "you're a loser" taunt Doro whips out on "Down and Out."

Added with two bonus tracks, the stout brigade march of "Hellraiser" and a live take on the title cut, this gold disc reissue of Hellbound is mandatory if you're a Doro Pesch fan, but more so if you're an apt pupil of vintage heavy metal at its ripest.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 3/2/11

Greetings, folks, as always, best wishes to you wherever you rest your head.

On the loose still looking for work with my boy hacking up a lung right behind me as I write this. Been singing along with Ace Frehley on Kiss' "Hard Times," a song I've always loved and is always my rock when backed into the corner.

Other than that, I have reviews of the reissues for Twisted Sister's Come and Out and Play and Love is for Suckers at Heavy Metal (thanks for the work, Chad!) and over at Big you can find my interview with Gerald Casale of Devo and a write-up of the Elvis is Back! Legacy Edition. Any time now, my interview with Matt Sorum of Velvet Revolver/The Cult/Guns n' Roses should be live at Dee Snider's House of Hair Online.

With that, back to the grind, back to the phone with my kid's pediatrician and hoping "Hard Times" can see me through to the next good thing. Cheers, gang...

Elvis Presley - Elvis is Back! Legacy Edition
Lazarus A.D. - Black Rivers Flow
Twisted Sister - Come Out and Play reissue
Twisted Sister - Love is for Suckers reissue
Blue Oyster Cult - Fire of Unknown Origin
Blue Oyster Cult - Agents of Fortune
Deep Purple - In Rock
Deep Purple - Burn
Deep Purple - Stormbringer
Motorhead - Overkill
Motorhead - Another Perfect Day
Motorhead - Rock 'n Roll
Motorhead - Bastards
Motorhead - Overnight Sensation
Devo - New Traditionalists
Ostinato - Unusable Signal
Big Business - Mind the Drift
Angra - Aqua
Kiss - Dynasty
Bang Tango - Dancin' On Coals reissue
Bang Tango - Psycho Cafe reissue
Warlock - Hellbound reissue
Against Me! - Searching for a Former Clarity
The Resurrection Sorrow - Hour of the Wolf
Pelican - Australasia
The Cars - s/t

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

CD Review: Bang Tango - Dancin' On Coals Reissue

Bang Tango - Dancin' On Coals Reissue
2011 Metal Mind Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

So few bands kick up the "ahh, what could've been" idiom like Bang Tango. Despite this band cropping up as bisected entities in recent years (similar to L.A. Guns, which briefly housed Bang Tango vocalist Joe LeSte in one of their own alter-camps), the quick dismissal of Bang Tango from the hard rock scene is sad. Despite MTV pouring out heavy plays of Bang Tango's "Someone Like You" video from their debut album, Psycho Cafe, the band hardly stood a chance come 1991 when releasing their funky and giddy Dancin' On Coals.

Then again, most metal and hard rock bands stood very little chance that year, as anything and anyone resembling Aqua Net gypsies had been given the door by the American listening public. Flannel instead of ascots and velvet vests were the new norm. Bang Tango in 1991 had already made a terrific impression with '89's Psycho Cafe, yet they could've followed up with the glam album of the decade and it wouldn't have mattered.

Unfortunate, because Dancin' on Coals, minus a couple of minor glibs, should've kept Bang Tango in good standing amongst the rock community. America proved fickle, however, and ohhhhh my my, Bang Tango got once bitten into hairball obscurity.

Dancin' On Coals, folks, is a bit of a lost classic in a time when Bang Tango, along with Faster Pussycat and L.A. Guns, had a shot at taking over the metal scene. Let's not forget the impact White Zombie made upon the metal scene; for many listeners, they were as heavy as they wanted it. Dirty, sleazy, rocking, that's what Bang Tango is, and with Dancin' On Coals, they proved their funk affinities on Psycho Cafe were no fluke. Everyone always says Bang Tango was chasing after the wake of the Red Hot Chili Peppers with this album, but actually, they hit closer to Fishbone and Jimi Hendrix on the slapdash jives of "I'm In Love," "My Saltine," "Big Line" and "Soul to Soul." "Soul to Soul" bears a few timing squibs but is very ambitious stuff for its time.

The Chilis were in transition between the funk punk nirvana of Mother's Milk and the ass-drag that turned up as Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Dancin' On Coals hardly mimics either album. If anything, Bang Tango confirmed that funk had a cozy spot in aggressive music, which opened the door for future groups like Mindfunk, Infectious Grooves and later on, the pre-prefab years of Incubus and Sugar Ray.

Of course, Jimi Hendrix had long showed the way before Bang Tango, but they sure as heck get it right on the animalistic funk party of "Big Line," courtesy of Mark Knight and Kyle Stevens who whip and wah enough to shake a groove or three.

However, there are other moods to this album, such as the spearheaded rock drive of "United and True" and "Dressed Up Vamp," which recreate the gusty pumps of Psycho Cafe. They dab out an Aerosmith-felt toe tapper with "Cactus Juice" as well as a Black Crowes and Faster Pussycat-like bob on "Last Kiss." The couple times Bang Tango slows down on Dancin' On Coals are hit and miss. "Midnight Struck" strives for a Rolling Stones gospel and country hoist which floats agreeably. "Emotion in Gear" gets lost in emotion, but at least "I'm in Love" picks up the pieces from that point and Dancin' On Coals stays true the rest of the way.

This reissue of Dancin' On Coals includes two live cuts, "Futurama" and "20th Century Boy," both capturing the band well on their game, even if this version of "20th Century Boy" also appears on the Ain't No Jive...Live EP. In the end, what Dancin' On Coals proves is that Joe LeSte was one hell of a frontman, Kyle Kyle could spank a bass like a monkey, Tigo Ketler could drop the beat once in awhile but was wholeheartedly steady and both Knight and Stevens could rip and tear amongst the best of their peers. Together, Bang Tango had magic on Psycho Cafe, Dancin' On Coals and even their 1994 release, Love After Death. They've seen better days as spliced versions since their short-lived glory days and that's a shame. Bang Tango is a rock 'n roll casualty that didn't need to be.

Rating: ****