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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Album Review: Queensryche - Dedicated to Chaos

Queensryche - Dedicated to Chaos
2011 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In the past few years, Roadrunner Records has become a safe haven and career rebooter for legacy bands (or in current hipster marketing lingo, "heritage bands"). Dream Theater, Megadeth and Ratt have all enjoyed elevated success from their Roadrunner affiliation. Ratt might be considered the happiest recipient considering sales of their latest album Infestation vaulted well past their last couple.

While Rob Zombie is going to sell albums whether he's with Sony or Roadrunner, there's no doubt the label has become an attractive compound for long-established pros who have the chance to rub elbows with today's elite like Slipknot, Machine Head and Stone Sour. Indeed a court of kings.

Queensryche is the latest "heritage band" to join forces with Roadrunner and it might be said the move is something this group needed now hitting their 30th anniversary. Since the runaway success of Queensryche's sanctified trifecta Rage for Order, Operation Mindcrime and Empire, the prog metal unit has long been seeking its voice again--and as of 1997's Hear in the Now Frontier, the same broad audience that began drifting away. Some argue they left right after Queensryche's maudlin spit upon their own success, Promised Land.

It's no secret Queensryche has been left in a quagmire since the explosive popularity of Empire. "Silent Lucidity" and "Jet City Woman" are a mere few years away from infiltrating classic rock radio, while fans who continue to follow the band are still debating whether 2006's Operation Mindcrime II was a stoic sequel or pure folly.

The fact of the matter is, Mindcrime II may not stand up to the original, yet it was precisely what Queensryche needed to get their creative motors revved up. While it may not have generated the mass appeal Queensryche might've expected, their last album American Soldier from 2009 was given a general stamp of approval from those who caught it. In particular, the United States military have expressed their love of American Soldier. Salute.

Which leads us to Queensryche's Roadrunner debut, Dedicated to Chaos.

There's been a pattern to this band's post-Empire catalog, first noticeable on Promised Land and Q2K and it bleeds true yet again this time around. Like those albums and other more recent efforts, Queensryche starts their 11th album Dedicated to Chaos with a pair of gunslingers, "Get Started" and "Hot Spot Junkie."

The whetstone is primed. The ignition is cranked. The feet are tapping. The temptation to throw a fist along is nearly irresistible. Dedicated to Chaos, like its predecessors, is anticipatory and hinting at the edgy "thinking man's metal" tag which was pinned upon them in 1988. "Get Started" even sounds like a major radio hit, as if Queensryche decided in tandem it needed a commercially-pliable rock jam. In actuality, that's exactly what they need. You feel good for the band because "Get Started" is a smart choice and "Hot Spot Junkie" keeps Dedicated to Chaos on full throttle.

Then the next four songs arrive. If there's any blaring criticism of Queensryche since Hear in the Now Frontier, it's filling out the center sections of their albums with appropriate momentum carriers. Far too often Queensryche takes the opportunity to dabble and tinker with slow to mid-tempo compositions that don't so much loft as they perplex at times. Tribe was an album that capitalized on its shuffling ambiguity, yet on Dedicated to Chaos, the almost-silly "Got it Bad" and the definitely silly "Wot We Do" dangerously comes close to derailing the entire album. "Got it Bad" may be funky, but it begins a sequence of out-there experiments that lack the proper juice to give them full attention. It's not to be unexpected the average listener will be thumbing along until track seven, "Drive."

"Drive," "At the Edge" and "I Take You" might've served this album's purposes better by arriving on the tail end of "Get Started" and "Hot Spot Junkie" since these three best represent where Queensryche left off with Empire. "At the Edge" might be the Ryche's inherent nod to Yes' Closer to the Edge (repeated later in quick tribute by a very detailed breakdown on "The Lie") and even to Daft Punk and Paul Oakenfold with hello-there techno plants. The sneaky saxophones on "At the Edge" are a fresh addition and they leave a pleasing impact coming into the heavy and drudging "I Take You."

The good news for Dedicated to Chaos is Queensryche remembers to throw another catchy number out there. "Retail Therapy," like "Get Started," is a straight-up punch out with a terrific, singable chorus and an undeniable groove. While Geoff Tate is hitting a career point where his operatics can betray him depending on the mood of the song, "Retail Therapy" is like stepping back to Empire and you applaud him and the band's undeniable energy here.

While "Big Noize" is a big antithesis due to its reserved, slow shimmy (it's probably a good track to slow grind your honey to, assuming you're listening to Queensryche and not the Foo Fighters during sex), it's not the big boom finale Queensryche really should've ended on. There was a time when Queensryche were master closers: "Eyes of a Stranger," "Is There Anybody Listening?" and "Right Side of My Mind." All dramatic album finishers. Like some of their recent albums, they crawl out instead of stamp out. "Big Noize" had the opportunity to close shop on Dedicated to Chaos with a titular boom. Not so much, alas.

The thing with Dedicated to Chaos is one can hear Queensryche wrestling through self-suffocation modes with the red-hot notion that Roadrunner may the answer. "Retail Therapy," "Get Started" and "Hot Spot Junkie" on the one hand presents Queensryche as ready to rock. Like Megadeth's brilliant Endgame, Dream Theater's well-exciting Black Clouds & Silver Linings and Ratt's thump 'n pump rock party Infestation, Queensryche came to play for their new benefactors.

While the latter bands sustained their albums largely from start-to-finish on adrenaline and the proper respect for their fan bases, Dedicated to Chaos offers the same out the gate and in random doses. You appreciate Queensyrche's progressive lines on "The Lie" and you partially excuse the drag of "Higher" because of its syncopation and haunting string section. On the other hand, the fact Queensryche bothered to make some damned snappy cuts on Dedicated to Chaos and then skidded this album's hopeful verve to remind everybody they're artisans and not just some rock band...well, people want them to be the rock band, sorry to say.

Rating: ***

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 6/29/11

Howdy, friends. Another dash 'n go this week as I continue to pick up the pieces and fit them accordingly. In the end, all will be worth it.

Stayed tuned for reviews of the new Pagan's Mind, Phoenix Rising, a DVD documentary about the MK IV era of Deep Purple and other hullabaloo coming atcha.


The Donnas - Spend the Night
The Donnas - Turn 21
The Donnas - Bitchin'
Jimi Hendrix - South Saturn Delta
In Flames - Soundtrack to Your Escape
Deep Purple - Burn
Deep Purple - Stormbringer
Deep Purple - Come Taste the Band
The Jam - In the City
The Jam - Compact Snap
AC/DC - Highway to Hell
Pagan's Mind - Heavenly Ecstasy
WhoCares - "Out of My Mind"/"Holy Water"
Down By Law - Last of the Sharpshooters
Down By Law - Blue
Down By Law - Fly the Flag
Down By Law - Punkrockacademyfightsong
Kodo - Mondo Head
John Lennon - Legend
Stereolab - Dots and Loops
Stereolab - Space Age Bachelor Pad Music
Daft Punk - Tron: Legacy soundtrack
Tron: Legacy Reconfigured
The Return of the Living Dead soundtrack
Less Than Zero soundtrack
The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow

Monday, June 27, 2011

Poll Question: What Film Do You Think Has a Damned Good Metal Soundtrack?

Half the experience of a truly memorable movie is its score. Sometimes the music becomes even more memorable than the film it represents. As fun a flick as Tron: Legacy is, there's no denying its true amplitude comes from Daft Punk's heroic cyberscore. A lot of people remember Grease more for its cavalcade of fifties-via-seventies pop smear than the fact it's a pretty hilarious popcorn film. Then there's anything bearing the name of either John Williams, Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer where the cinematic experience is gelled by an equally triumphant musical vehicle. Many consider the Forrest Gump soundtrack the creme de la creme of all, while I lean more towards American Graffiti for the all-encompassing atmosphere gained between celluloid and audile textures.

Given the fact most movie soundtracks are gimmicky ventures to pimp new bands the host label has "carefully" selected (the more recent Saw and Punisher soundtracks come to mind), said film soundtracks are dubious by nature. Not every soundtrack can be wholly representative of the films they decorate, such as Repo Man, Return of the Living Dead, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Spartacus (Alex North's gorgeous and valorous score from the 1960 Stanley Kubrick film), Goodfellas, Stand By Me, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Gladiator, Blade Runner, John Carpenter's chum-dripping take on The Thing and the aforementioned Tron: Legacy.

Heavy metal has historically been exploited as a tool in films, largely threaded towards horror and action than most other genres. The opening of Adam Green's Hatchet II wastes little time jumping into Ministry's "Just One Fix" for the opening credit roll. Gloriously, it ends with Overkill's jokey jam "Old School." Bands ranging from Static-X to Rob Zombie, Fear Factory, Type O Negative, Napalm Death, Deftones, Rammstein, Soulfly, Marilyn Manson, Ill Nino and Mudvayne are scattered upon one if not many of the Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and Valentine soundtracks. Consider the Roadrunner Records mutant dance party that was the Freddy vs. Jason soundtrack featuring Killswitch Engage, Slipknot, Stone Sour, Powerman 5000, Hatebreed, Type O Negative, Sevendust, In Flames, Sepultura with Mike Patton and Blank Theory.

Somehow those metal-glommed film soundtracks are skullcrushers, wisely used by their benefactors to juice up the more intense scenes if not the films at-large. Then you have the soundtrack to The Crow, which might be one of the finest collections of metal and alternative groups there is. Consider the samplings of Helmet, Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, For Love Not Lisa, Rollins Band and Stone Temple Pilots hobknobbing with The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Jesus and Mary Chain, Violent Femmes and My Life With Thrill Kill Kult. Strange, though, how Dio's "Hungry For Heaven" appeared in 1985 on a virtually un-metal film soundtrack for Vision Quest, strange until you find Sammy Hagar's "I'll Fall In Love Again" and Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" on the same slab.

Still, there are few films birthed of pure metal culture from which a truly damned good soundtrack derives. The original Heavy Metal soundtrack comes to mind, even if not every tune is metal. You can't go wrong with the Devo, Donald Fagen, Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult tracks, admit it. Fastway's happy-go-lucky fist pumps throughout the Trick Or Treat soundtrack is always a sure bet, even if they swiped a couple of previously-released tunes to fill it out.

I personally recommend the 1987 soundtrack to The River's Edge, a chilling story of disturbia before such a term was ever coined. Consider the soundtrack is largely culled from early-years Slayer, tunes like "Tormentor," "Die By the Sword," "Evil Has No Boundaries" and "Captor of Sin." Groovy? Yup. Add some Fates Warning, Agent Orange, Hallow's Eve, The Wipers and reggae-splashers Burning Spear and you have yourself a cult classic soundtrack with some teeth.

Of course, we can't overlook Penelope Spheris' scary-accurate 1988 documentary film The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Even though her punk-oriented first Decline is perhaps more important as far as the bands and the scene she profiled, it was well overshadowed by its metalhead counterpart. It helps Spheris' cause she has the sounds of Megadeth, Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Rigor Mortis, Lizzy Borden, Metal Church, Queensryche, Armored Saint, Seduce and Faster Pussycat booming throughout.

Lizzy and Hallow's Eve return on the seldom-seen Black Roses soundtrack, along with King Kobra, Tempest, Bang Tango and the namesake pseudo band, Black Roses. Speaking of pseudo metal bands as star of a movie, does anyone else come to mind before Spinal Tap?

For an overall metal-meets-film overview, I'm tempted to hang with Spheris since the broad perspective is gained through both the visual and audile senses, even if I'm stupidly nostalgic for Heavy Metal and Trick Or Treat and well, big bottoms, baby, you know what for.

So chime in, folks. What film do you think has a damned good metal soundtrack?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Album Review - WhoCares - Out of My Mind/Holy Water

WhoCares - Out of My Mind/Holy Water CD single
2011 Armoury Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

You might recall Hear 'n Aid, the eighties' all-metal answer to USA For Africa, the all-star pop ensemble who brought us (for better or worse) "We Are the World." In the case of Hear 'n Aid, the late Ronnie James Dio orchestrated a Who's Who batallion of metal giants united in the name of charity. Though Dio released a full album, it's Hear 'n Aid's round robin feel of "Stars" that's best remembered. Geoff Tate, Kevin Dubrow, Dee Snider, Rob Halford, Don Dokken, Craig Goldy, Yngwie Malmsteen, Blackie Lawless, George Lynch, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are just a a handful of Hear 'n Aid's amped-up roster which raised money for Ethiopian famine relief in Africa back in the day.

26 years later, heavy metal royalty comes together again to raise money for the benefit of Armenia, which is still feeling bits of the 1988 earthquake devastation prompting Gillan and Iommi to take action. Particularly, they are targeting a shellacked music school in Gyumri for their philanthropic efforts. Offically dubbed WhoCares and also referred to as "Ian Gillan, Tony Iommi & Friends," this alliance featuring Gillan and Iommi also includes Nicko McBrain, Jon Lord, Jason Newsted and Linde Lindstrom.

We're going to dispense with an actual rating of this project because of WhoCares' intent. Like Hear 'n Aid, we're not necessarily here to gauge the output or the talent going into the endeavor. The talent speaks for itself in both cases. While Hear 'n Aid's album in 1985 consisted of the "Stars" single plus live tracks from Kiss, Accept, Rush, Motorhead, Y&T, Scorpions, Dio and a posthumous contribution from Jimi Hendrix, WhoCares is coming forward with a two-song maxi-single designed to fund a resurrection of the music school in Gyumri, Armenia.

While the aforementioned ensemble of Gillan, only appear together on one of the two songs, "Out of My Mind," Gillan and Iommi, joining audile forces for the first time since Black Sabbath's Born Again, hitch up with a scratch group of session players on "Holy Water."

As you might expect, both songs plod melancholia with Iommi's doom-driven chuff with Ian Gillan drawling effortlessly overtop. Of course they make it look easy and while each track is roughly six minutes apiece, it's "Out of My Mind" which is Out of My Mind/Holy Water which will draw the most attention simply for the pedigree thrumming it out. Each player has a signature sound coming into "Out of My Mind" and while the obvious conveyance would've been to celebrate the prowess of each player with individual solo decorations, WhoCares sticks together and still come off as singular and fundamental despite the congruency.

Out of My Mind/Holy Water is an enhanced disc that includes a half hour documentary delving more into where Gillan and Iommi are coming from with this project. It's enough that Iommi and Gillan have buried the proverbial hatchet against long-ago trangressions to kickstart this triumvirate; hearing and seeing Gillan and former Deep Purple bandmate Jon Lord working together is nifty unspoken hatchet burying in its own right.

It helps WhoCares' appeal offering listeners a chance to be witness to three generations of metal craftsman working together. Linde Lindstrom of HIM demonstrates he knows trad metal along with doom, since HIM's Goth rock stance lends itself well to doom measures. Journeyman Jason Newsted follows up his stint in Voivod to stand tall with the cheery stick work of Nicko Brain and Tony Iommi's droning chops. You can't help but think of Metallica's raping of Newsted's bass lines on the original print of And Justice For All, particularly when sections of "Out of My Mind" turn the dial up for him.

Instead of peeling off a rating for Out of My Mind/Holy Water, let's just say earnestly you should support WhoCares. Staking the future of would-be musicians is what drew these legends together. The thundering drag of WhoCares on both tracks is the reward, so to speak, the perk, the donation thank you. These are Stars in their own right and Ronnie Dio would've been proud.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Album Review: Molly Hatchet - Greatest Hits II

Molly Hatchet - Greatest Hits II
2011 SPV Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Molly Hatchet is one of those beasts of a band that both nobody and everybody wants to claim for their own. By this, we're to say the Hatchet has long been buried in the Southern boogie rock and headbanger sanctions. Still, for as long as Molly Hatchet has been tearing ass through the rock world, one would assume they'd dominate classic rock stations like Skynard, The Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Kansas and Bad Company do.

More than likely the only Molly Hatchet song anyone outside of the band's pack of beer-chasing mongrels knows is "Flirtin' With Disaster," about the only tune any radio station ever spins of theirs. Like Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" and Nazareth's booming take on "Love Hurts," Molly Hatchet should have at least a few more of their late seventies' hauls such as "Bounty Hunter," "The Creeper" and "Whiskey Man" played with regularity over the airwaves.

Similar to Nazareth, Molly Hatchet once disbanded and has been on the prowl in the 2000s with a steady stream of loud 'n proud revival albums: Devil's Canyon, Justice, Warriors of the Rainbow Bridge, Kingdom of XII and Silent Reign of Heroes. Guitarist Dave Hlubek has been the last man standing in a band that once ran a stint without him in 1989 on the ill-fated Lightning Strikes Twice. That being said, the sextet comprising Molly Hatchet today has been fortified by the songwriting and axe slinging prowess of Bobby Ingram.

On their more recent albums, Molly Hatchet has mixed up the thunder with some prog and it is this reason SPV Steamhammer brings you Greatest Hits II. This double album brings you a pocketful of tunes from the group's past five studio albums and their two live albums, Locked and Loaded and Live in Hamburg. For good measure, a previously unreleased seven minute cut "Sacred Ground" is tossed into the goodie bag.

Say what you will about Molly Hatchet. They have the best goddamn sword 'n sorcery album covers in the business courtesy of Frank Frazetta, even if this compendium dispels with tradition. Instead, Greatest Hits II opts for the less-striking though bluntly-stated message of the South making amends with the North. Under one God, under one joint flag, under one post 9-11 shared conflagration. In other words, Molly Hatchet.

The selections chosen on the first disc of Greatest Hits II may not knock on the door of Molly Hatchet's early catalog, but no doubt every hellraiser in a dinged-up Nova is going to holler along madcap to "Son of the South," "Heart of the USA," "American Pride" and "Mississipi Moon Dog." All of these songs punch the card within four-to five minutes max, capitalizing on anthemic patriotism and their payday-driven masculinity. It's the more progressive "Fall of the Peacemakers," "I'm Gonna Live 'til I Die," "The Journey" and "Rainbow Bridge" which shows a near-bipolar duality to Molly Hatchet in its second life. One thing to note about Bobby Ingram and Dave Hlubek: together, these guys cover as a tag-team what used to be expounded by a threesome. You're listening to these newer compositions with the delivered promise of sparkling solos and mammoth riffing. Somehow Ingram and Hlubek still manage to pass off as a trio.

While many of the studio songs range from good to average on Greatest Hits II, the label is banking on its live selections to keep fans interested. Really, there's nothing amongst the accumulated studio tracks constituting a "hit" in the fiscally measurable sense. Nearly all of the live choices on the second disc are culled from the 1978 self-titled album and subsequent Flirtin' With Disaster. It's been many sundowns since Danny Joe Brown howled overtop "Bounty Hunter," "Gator Country," "Dreams I'll Never See" and "Flirtin' With Disaster." As ralphed by Phil McCormack, these vintage Hatchet tunes are still well-passable and are the reason diehards will want Greatest Hits II if they don't already own Locked and Loaded and Live in Hamburg.

Frankly, Phil McCormack can be a tough pill to swallow at times and Molly Hatchet carries a jughead nuance about them that is often hard to push away when they strive for articulation. Somehow, for all the seriousness of "Fall of the Peacemakers" and "Tatanka," you still have the subliminal image of foxy Southern belles dumping Bud Lights overtop their stretched-out white tees and sloven perverts wearing Johnny Reb bandanas pitching what lies beneath their sterling silver belt buckles. Hell yeah, sons of the South, as McCormack and company bellow.

For diehards and those looking to catch up with Molly Hatchet's doings after bailing on No Guts...No Glory and Deed is Done.

Rating: ***

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 6/22/11

Avast and harle, ye faithful swabs!

Okay, so I'm a bit carried away from Father's Day in which my whole clan hauled me off to the latest Pirates of the Carribean flick which was much better than the previous two and nearly on par with the original. What a nice diversion from all the stress and chaos.

A hug, a kiss and a honk to my wifey of 16 years as of this past Friday. Don't know how we did it, but 16 and counting, my pigeon...

As the boxes slowly empty and the next strategies of this life begin to unfurl, I'm just thankful to be given the opportunities I have, new ones including a very rewarding magazine assignment where I covered a local history museum. Always great when your host and curator wraps an hour and a half tour with an encore of music chat!

Now that I've turned my copy in ahead of deadline, the agenda previously outlayed here will resume and move forward from that point. Do hang out with us, yes?

A Pale Horse Named Death - s/t
Cellout - Superstar Prototype
Prong - Beg to Differ
Rainbow - Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow
Rainbow - Rising
Jimi Hendrix - South Saturn Delta
Boris - Akuma No Uta
Nick Drake - Bryter Layter
The Yardbirds - The Very Best of The Yardbirds
The Cars - Move Like This
Burning Brides - Hang Love
Rammstein - Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da
Tron: Legacy Reconfigured
Yes - Relayer
Foster the People - Torches
Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
The Black Keys - Brothers
Flogging Molly - Speed of Darkness
Molly Hatchet - Greatest Hits II

Monday, June 20, 2011

Metal Louvre: Boris - Akuma No Uta

Normally I yawn when artists borrow or gratuitously steal from the past. Often the technique of cleverly-disguised "homage" is blatant huckstering designed to tag one demographic outside of its core audience and hence, broaden the sales capacity. On the other hand, one might argue such a plot simply bridges generation gaps.

In the case of Boris' Akuma No Uta, there's something resplendent in their hike of the cover art from Nick Drake's immortal Bryter Layter. Were Boris not supreme musicians in their own right, this album cover would be near-blasphemy. It helps Boris' fuzzy bliss is well-rooted in the early-to-mid seventies, yet for them to choose an album best known for quietude instead of amplification, you have to admire their moxy.

Takeshi's hair-dumped, swaggering posture with his double-neck Ibanez visually issues Boris' mission statement on Akuma No Uta. Counter to Nick Drake's shadowed facade and leering slouch with his acoustic, Takeshi assets himself confidently with the promise of thunderous distortion versus reserved introspection, which Drake offers on Bryter Layter.

As Akuma No Uta well-delivers its booming promise, we can readily accept Boris' pictorial tribute to Nick Drake as a noble nod to a long-lost voice. This is art instead of profit-raking.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

DVD Review: Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer

Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer
2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In college, I scored an A++ by my psych professor for a lengthy term paper I wrote on serial killers. Perhaps it was my love of horror films that drove me to such a cryptic subject. Perhaps it was youthful curiosity as to the reasons mankind has the propensity to destroy one another in such ruthless, barbaric manners. All I know is I attacked the research end of that paper with such intensity it gives me shivers to think about it now.

That was a long time ago and forensics are triple more advanced than they were when I wrote that paper. Society has likewise changed greatly and the motives for criminal behavior has been amended, appendaged and tapped to the nth so much the average armchair analyst thinks he or she indisputably knows what makes a serial murderer tick, simply by watching NCIS and CSI.

Naive thinking, just as my paper from more than two decades ago is naive despite the grossly favorable grade it fetched. I'm far less proud of that paper nowadays, frankly due to the inexpicable romanticizing of serial and spree killers we've seen in the media today. You can blame Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lechter more so than you can Jason Voorhees. Voorhees is a near-primate horror caricature, while Lechter presented a discomfiting human face behind a mask of evil. Prior to Hannibal Lechter's insane popularity, there was Michael Rooker's savage and alarming Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer from 1986. Talk about discomfiting.

Only Make Them Die Slowly and Cannibal Holocaust is more shocking than Henry, yet the modern horror film has evolved (or rather, de-volved) into a celebration of dragged-out torture and stomach-busting evisceration. Hostel being one of the primary culprits for this new renaissance of grievous bodily harm in horror presentation, it's gotten so severe that even a seemingly stealthy thriller like Eden Lake turns into a game of can-you-take-it where nobody wins except the disgusting teen-creep who pisses you off at the film's end for having gotten away with some absolutely reprehensible business.

Hell, we can pin the bloody tail on Henry, since most horror filmmakers will acknowledge that film has left a gnarled impact upon how they tell a terror tale. Certainly Henry comes raging to mind with Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer, another disturbing examination of degenerate behavior. While Henry's modus operandi as a shock film differs in vantage, mood and setting, Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer is purportedly based upon true events and it effectively gets under the skin even if you know exactly what's coming by story's end.

Brian Krause (from Charmed, and not the brother of Six Feet Under, Parenthood and Dirty Sexy Money's Peter Krause) helms the title role as Cyrus, a beast of a man with a textbook horrid background which has sent him over the edge as an inhuman corpse grinder. The twist to Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer, however, comes by the other two leads in the film, Lance Henriksen and Halloween and Hatchet II scream queen Danielle Harris.

Harris plays an overeager television investigator who trails the bloody legacy of "The County Line Cannibal" to a reserved town where the locals appear to be covering up the fact they've unwittingly hosted a notorious serial murderer, Cyrus Danser. Harris' character Maria Sanchez and her cameraman Tom confront Lance Henriksen, who is far too knowledgeable about the events associated with Cyrus, whom he reports is long-gone along with his victims.

It really wouldn't be a spoiler to note that Henriksen, it turns out, is in cahoots with a very-much alive Cyrus, revealed at film's conclusion when Harris' obsession costs her and her cameraman. Simply by Henriksen's repeated warnings that their filmed documentation isn't going ever going to be seen by anyone, you get the idea right away he's serving them as sausage fodder, a chewy fate befalling all of Cyrus' victims.

We learn that Cyrus was abused by a crack whore mother. We learn he was MIA in the heat of combat and tortured by his capturers. We learn that Cyrus weds a crack whore wife (with a ginormous tattoo down her back, which doesn't seem in-line with the kind of woman our holy rolling butcher would take to the altar before God). Eventually he kills the wife upon catching her screwing a traveling salesman and Cyrus also snaps the neck of their infant in the midst of his anguish. Naturally, he reports all of this to the townsfolk as abandonment, meanwhile serving his family's ground-up carcasses to his neighbors and customers.

Motel Hell, anyone? Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Destruction's Mad Butcher, for that matter? EC Comics?

Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer may operate on the basis of a few facts or perhaps an entire slew of murders attributed to one mortal monster. Still, it does feel like a hodgepodge of existing slasher flicks and snuff films with a few random bits of "authority" testimonials peeling off psychobabble about what makes a serial killer tick. In the case of Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer, proseltyzing while slaughtering human beings is sadly, a been-there, done-that affair. Even American Gothic, the 1988 film with Rod Steiger and Yvonne DeCarlo, is an ancestor to this film.

I say it's sad, because we've come to the point in horror where just about every taboo has been crossed and Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer leaps over the line as much as it can while trying to pass off as a legit psychodrama. A lot of drawn-out gutting, branding and intestine ripping are to be had in this film, albeit director Mark Vadik is wise enough to flash and cut his violence so you actually see less than you think you are. The thing is, even CSI is pretty damned gory for mainstream television, albeit Cyrus has plenty of flopping bazookas and profanity (the latter a no-no in Cyrus' world, but well-teased by Lance Henriksen in the film's finale) to set it apart from CBS' literati take on human suffering. Between CSI, Hostel and now Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer, audiences are destined to become desensitized to scenes of animalistic conduct. As Jane's Addiction would quip, nothing's shocking.

However, Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer is a well-done bit of splat cinema that really carries its good standing card on the backs of Henriksen, Krause and Harris. Without Lance Henriksen, this film might've gone into the B ranks. His obtuse, callous delivery overrides all of the plot's obviousness to the point you're ready to dip back into Truman Capote's In Cold Blood to get a better feel for the origins of Henriken's frosty but punctual performance.

Though Michael Rooker continues to haunt to this day as the nastiest exposition of a random city crawler who rips and tears to relieve his pent-up angst, this film leaves its own scars. Don't call Cyrus a bastard, whatever you do.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, June 17, 2011

Album Review: Cellout - Superstar Prototype

Cellout - Superstar Prototype
2011 Nuerra Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

This clever name Cellout would indicate a jibe at the FM posterboy heavies (you know who you are, laddies), as in selling yourself out to the machine entraps you forevermore. There's a Lady Ga Ga spirit of humor in that. Stick with me, folks, because I know this is The Metal Minute, not The Ga Ga Parade. But do consider Lady Ga Ga first entered the commercial music arena with the intent to roast the entire pop scene. At least that was her motive until she bought into her own in-joke and now embraces the ceaseless media hype that has elevated her past pop prankster into veritable diva.

So are we to assume Sweden's Cellout is likewise coming into the metal foray with tongues rammed in cheek and gelled spikes and drippy curls spinning a yeoman's sense of nyuk nyuk chugga chugga about them?

Perhaps. Little is known about this band in North America. Their album title Superstar Protoype is as funny as their group moniker, yet they carry the dominant nihilism-is-chic swagger about them that has made Disturbed superstars along with Trapt, Hinder, Papa Roach, My Darkest Days and lately, Pop Evil.

Cellout brings the same blackened agro glam look (yes, it is glam, wake up, y'all) and they bring songs of self-stirred anger like "Dark Days," "All My Demons Inside," "The Tragedy in You" (which is more a case of the "me" lyrically) and "Set Things Straight." On occasion, Cellout brings some speed and double hammer. For the most part, Cellout blows up their amps and ride high on some meaty riffs. In the end, though, you've probably heard Papa Roach's Getting Away With Murder enough times that you don't want to hear it again on Cellout's "Breathe." Cellout hopelessly states their case "this is the way it's got to be" on "Breathe" and unfortunately, that begins to rule out any hope Superstar Prototype is a knee-slapping poke in the eyes against contemporary hard rock.

"Fake" belts out a few bursts of excitement in-between the forlorn drag of the verses and the jumpy choruses. You can hear the band trying to noodle between multiple variations of a pop metal theme with "Fake" and if there's a subliminal jab intended here, then it's pretty damned hilarious. Doubtful, though.

Doubtful, even, that Superstar Prototype is the Fame Monster of mainstream metal. As much as Cellout works around their bends with some heavier modes of conducts than corporate radio is going to feel comfortable with, there is a decided internal hopefulness that this group will catch on worldwide. They just might, actually, at least as openers on a Five Finger Death Punch Euro haunt or an American summer festival as a "new discovery." In fact, Cellout is working on landing a spot on this year's Warped tour and they're asking for your votes to get there.

In the end, does that constitute a sellout? Not necessarily, since mass promotion is more brutal than ever these days and if In Flames hadn't touched up their sound with a more rhythmic, less abrasive cadence, they possibly wouldn't have left Sweden and the European borders. Herein, you see what Cellout is attempting to achieve. When they throw in a softer, hookier ditty like "Flooded" in between punchy crowd pleasers like "The Gift" and "Set Things Straight," you know Cellout has been well-schooled in the game they seek as pliable entrants. Watch your backs, Alterbridge...

Too bad, because a band carrying the snarky handle of Cellout could've had a chance to smack up the scene as this exploded form of tough-guy hoser metal is 1987 all over again. Today it's just Affliction shirts, black jeans and faux hawks instead of spandex and Aqua Net. Again, I say it is glam.

Some band needs to step up and say no to it all. You want to buy in to this theory of an anti-deadman, but Superstar Prototype, for all of its professional chops, slick songwriting and occasional headbanging bliss, is just that: too professional.

Rating: **1/2

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Album Review: A Pale Horse Named Death - And Hell Will Follow Me

A Pale Horse Named Death - And Hell Will Follow Me
2011 SPV Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Type O fans rejoice...

The loss of Peter Steele left a reeling effect upon the metal world--in particular the Goth and doom sects. Even though Steele's Type O Negative produced a bounty of material before his passing, the group's last collective effort Dead Again felt like unfinished business had been left in its wake. The album title being the most dastardly and prophetic of all puns (remember, Steele's death had been once falsely reported before the real deal occured), Steele's departure from this world opened the door for someone to replicate his dusky anthems of solitude and strange love.

Resurfacing in Steele's honor is Type O co-founder (and current Life of Agony drummer) Sal Abruscato. With a group name and album title reflective of a cross between Piers Anthony and Jeremiah Johnson, A Pale Horse Named Death is Abruscato's funereal homage to his fallen comrade. And Hell Will Follow Me isn't so much an extensive swan song dedicated to Steele so much as it is a proverbial crossing over into the dirge zone whence Abruscato presumes Steele to dwell. Doubtless it matches a mindframe stuck in purgatory, if you're to properly soak up A Pale Horse Named Death.

No surprise, then, that And Hell Will Follow Me resounds every bit as much as a Type O Negative and Alice in Chains album. On the few random tunes where Abruscato picks up the pace on "Bath in My Blood (Schizophrenia in Me)" and "Serial Killer," his voice and tempos match a less-commercialized Rob Zombie. Otherwise, it's very much a Type O album delivered by another voice, one you do take comfort in.

While And Hell Will Follow Me clocks in well past the 50-minute mark, there is a decided efficiency to Abruscato's work, even when set upon the repeat schism of slow, lumbering and cryptic. At times And Hell Will Follow Me is Type O lush and decorative, such as on "Pill Head," "As Black As My Heart," "Meet the Wolf" and "To Die In Your Arms." Even the hefty closing number "Die Alone" is graced with some tenor sax to sprinkle some extra texture. "When Crows Descend Upon You" mixes the pace between drudging and uptempo and Abruscato lavishes the song with an unexplainable charm. Not unexplainable if you're a fan of Type O Negative, that is. At large, Abruscato creates a dank, challenging hellscape carved out of Native American tradition and next-life passing myths.

In its strange manner, And Hell Will Follow Me is a celebratory montage of gloom and mysticism. Co-produced with Matt Brown of Seventh Void, Abruscato finds a doomy man-at-arms who understands the mission statement here. Biohazard guitarist Bobby Hambel also lends a hand to Abruscato's one-man-gang on "Devil in the Closet," "Cracks in the Walls" and "Heroin Train."

Without succumbing too deeply into the ether from which A Pale Horse Named Death traverses, Sal Abruscato has well-recreated a blackened vibe he helped instigate with Peter Steele. This is one heavy bitch of an album, as in the traditional meaning of heavy music. Dense, brutal and uncompromising, yes, but And Hell Will Follow Me is an album that presses its will upon you. You either allot for the album's mashing effect or you squirm away by "Bad Dream" if you haven't been able to withstand Abruscato's suffocation. "Die Alone" is so freaking depressing you deserve a reward for making it that far yet Abruscato delivers one with a near-beautiful coda to wrap And Hell Will Follow Me.

No qualms in saying Abruscato was deeply affected by Steele's death and if his goal was to blow a lofty, cheerless kiss of farewell to his former partner, then A Pale Horse Named Death rings precisely thus.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 6/15/11

Hails, readers! Apologies for an unproductive week here at The Metal Minute. At the moment, life is being transfigured out of boxes. Moving is never an easy task, much less an easy decision to make, but in the interest of my family's well-being, the choice has been made. At this point, I feel humbled and sobered by this transition and look forward to putting the pieces back together again. Like my lead character Randy "Old School" Schofield in my new novel Saved by Zero, I've been kicked in the teeth and knocked down, so it's time to embrace the harshness as a catalyst to a better life.

I want to thank the many friends who stepped up and lent their time and services to this move. We're all better off in the long run with friends who care so much and without a doubt, I have the best damn friends around.

Looking forward to seeing how the Stanley Cup wraps up tonight. Though I missed much of Games 4 and 5, it's really been a tale of home advantage and we'll see who wants it more tonight. I'm always neutral with hockey since I am an NHL game analyst in another life, but part of me wants to see our Canadian brethren have something to celebrate and I know our old buddy Jon Mikl Thor is probably salivating for a first-ever Vancouver championship. On the other hand, the Bruins have played with tremendous passion and though lopsided victories in the Stanley Cup finals tend to piss me off, Boston has certainly earned a right to the cup as well. Hopefully the dirty business and brutal injuries will be kept out of this grand finale where speed and grit wins the day. Game on in number seven, baby...

Coming up at The Metal Minute, we'll examine new releases by A Pale Horse Named Death, Cellout, Molly Hatchet, Pagan's Mind and Who Cares, the latter being a collective made up of Tony Iommi, Jason Newsted, Ian Gillan, Nicko McBrain, Linde Lindstrom and Jon Lord. Plus we'll confront what appears on the face to be the Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer of this generation, Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer starring Brian Krause, Danielle Harris and Lance Henriksen.

Thank you all for your patience. Let's rock this mutha.

Brian Setzer - 13
Brian Setzer - Rockabilly Riot! Volume One: A Tribute to Sun Records
Brian Setzer - Nitro Burnin' Funny Daddy
Brian Setzer Orchestra - Guitar Slinger
Brian Setzer Orchestra - The Dirty Boogie
Brian Setzer Orchestra - Songs From Lonely Avenue
A Pale Horse Named Death - And Hell Will Follow Me
Flogging Molly - Speed of Darkness
The Black Keys - Brothers
Cellout - Superstar Prototype
Seemless - s/t
Seemless - What Have We Become
Y&T - The Ultimate Collection
Foghat - The Best of Foghat
Zombi - Cosmos
Zombi - Surface to Air
Zombi - Spirit Animal
Zombi - Escape Velocity
Screaming Trees - Dust
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band - Greatest Hits
Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Stereolab - Peng!
The Breeders - Last Splash
Foster the People - Torches
Thom Yorke - The Eraser

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Poll Question: Should MTV Revamp Headbangers Ball Or Kill It Off?

Let's be honest. What's happened to Headbangers Ball is a disgrace and an insult to all those who support the genre of metal. Yes, a new demographic rules, there's no toxic waltzing your way around it. MTV now markets to teens with buns in their ovens or those scraping through sexuality issues. Music videos, the foundation of this network, are so passe it appears MTV, generally-speaking, has surrendered to YouTube, podcasting, iTunes and on-demand video presentations. Sure, there's plenty of video-themed offshoot channels between MTV and its sister station VH-1, but the special in the word "specialty" has long vanished when you mention MTV anymore. Call it sour grapes at age 41, but I'm one of millions who helped make MTV a media sensation, speaking as an original diehard viewer.

I'm proud to say I was there in 1982 when MTV first broadcast. I'm also proud to say I caught nearly every single episode of the original Headbangers Ball back in the day, even if it meant coming home at midnight on a Saturday night and going back out or hijacking the tube wherever I might be at that unholy hour. HBB was religion. Even though the eighties' incarnation of The Ball eventually became a fluff parade designed to hook both the nothin' but a good time pop metal partiers and the serious metalheads waiting for most of the show to see a Mercyful Fate, Overkill or Metal Church clip, it was a mandatory element to headbanger culture.

After Headbangers Ball first blew into the dust once grunge smacked heavy metal aside in North America, I was overjoyed in my adult life to see its return more than a decade ago. Formerly hosted by Jamey Jasta, the new Headbangers Ball had it right--at least for awhile. Interview segments, upcoming release and news blurbs and some righteously heavy videos. Goddamn, it was like a true metalhead got the production and editorial job in one fell swoop.

Then one day, it all swooped and fell, period.

If you've been paying attention over the years, Headbangers Ball has been treated like a commodity with a worn shelf life. Yeah, it attracts people by name and for what it stands for, yet the instability of keeping a proper Headbangers Ball has flushed a genuine institution down the Manhattan sewers from whence it quasi-broadcasts. You likely have to DVR Headbangers Ball now on (random) Tuesday mornings at 3:00 a.m. and it's only for a measly hour with guest artists presenting videos. Seriously, though, where's the passion in it? While packing up my dungeon recently, I came across a generous handful of tapes from the original Ball and the new and something felt even more remiss in my heart than the empty basement I'm leaving behind. I even had enough presence of mind to have taped 24 hours worth of MTV X, you know, the one-time metal channel that was later golfed away into the mainstream fairways of hip hop.

God bless Eddie Trunk and the boys at That Metal Show on VH-1 Classic, or else there'd no be no real commercial sanctum for metal freaks, one of the remaining few sects of hard copy music buyers out there. Metal releases are scattered all over Billboard and yet it only warrants a jackoff pittance in a time slot obviously bestowed as a bitch slap. The least MTV could've done was release DVDs of the original Headbangers Ball and even some of Jamey Jasta's era, because metalheads would buy that shit! Wake up and smell the digi-dollars, MTV!

At this point, for MTV to even hold onto Headbangers Ball in its current state is posturing. The show deserves an overhaul or it deserves death. At 3:00 a.m. at irregualar intervals for a lousy 60 minutes with commercial interruptions, you might as well put up the tombstone and suck up to the faux hawks and their pregnant, pretend-tanned waif wives. Beavis and Butthead are coming back, cheers to that. Why not bring back one of the best game shows ever, Remote Control? Because the only people who want their real MTV and Headbangers Ball as a fan-oriented two to three hour program the way it used to be are now the parents they once rebelled against when MTV actually stood for something.

What are your thoughts, readers? Reboot The Ball properly or stick a Flying V in it?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 6/8/11

Howdy, friends. Not much banter this week as I'm darting to and fro like an ion.

Stay tuned for the good stuff coming up here at The Metal Minute! In the meantime, bring out your dead...

Himsa - Summon in Thunder
Himsa - Hail Horror
Himsa - Courting Tragedy and Disaster
Adele - 21
U.D.O. - Rev-Raptor
Voivod - Warriors of Ice
The Hidden Hand - The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote
Trashcan Darlings - Real Fucking Make-Up
Metallica - Beyond the Walls of Sound Live 1987
Slayer - Def Jam demos 1986
The Grand Astoria - Omnipresence
Death Mental - Isolated
Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Album Review: U.D.O. - Rev-Raptor

U.D.O. - Rev-Raptor
2011 AFM Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

You had to know Udo Dirkschneider was on his way with a new album. As much as the Udo-less Accept turned out to be the feelgood metal story of 2010 with Blood of the Nations, an answer from Dirkschneider was just about obligatory.

While the new incarnation of Accept fronted by Mark Tornillo has defied the odds with a new voice and broader-scoped songwriting, it's U.D.O. that keeps the throttle forward on its bread 'n butter power metal drive that has marked early Accept releases and every one of Udo Dirkschneider's solo efforts.

Along with fellow Accept escapee Stefan Kaufmann, U.D.O. is never going to pull the wool over your eyes. No false advertising, no shams. What you see is what you get. What you hear is what you hear. If you don't know what Udo and his steel posse are offering, seriously, get out from under the boulder, huh? Though 2007's Mastercutor might have a hair more swerve than the rest of Dirkschneider and Kaufmann's joint ventures, there should be absolutely no surprises coming to the table with this year's offering, Rev-Raptor.

Sometimes as silly as the album's title itself, Rev-Raptor nonetheless sticks to the script, mingling brisk and muscular thunder rock with borderline drippy power ballads. If Dirkschneider's critics at this point want him to compete against his former comrades, he's not taking the bait. "Renegade," "Rev-Raptor," "Leatherhead," "Dr. Death," "True Born Winners," "Terrorvision" and "Motor-Borg" are all unapologetically loud and nutty, serving only the band and U.D.O.'s loyal allegiance that expects the throbs and the knobs, i.e. shredding, amplitude, chiseled vocals and sparkly solos. As much as you want to laugh at "Motor-Borg" for its titular provocation (like you probably did with some of the songs on 2009's Dominator), guess what? You'll be too busy banging your head to give it much thought beyond a chuckle. Udo knows how to hook you, forget fighting it.

"True Born Winners" is Rev-Raptor's bona fide ass-whipper with its demanding pace that still takes pause for a reserved breakdown before resuming its heady course. On the flipside, do expect Udo and the boys to turn it down a notch on the near-wallowing "I Give As Good As I Get," while the pop-tweaked "Rock 'n Roll Soldiers" is still getting out of reveille for much of the ride. Otherwise, damn the torpedoes.

As ever, Udo Dirkschneider is an ageless wonder. Rev-Raptor is obviously his baby, even with a solid backing crew that knows every nook and cranny that goes into presenting a tried and true power metal canvas for Udo to shriek and wail against. All of it is way familiar and certainly the adage joy in repetition applies as ever. Even "Fairy Tales of Victory" is like a vintage era Def Leppard and Krokus drag given the boost of Teutonic testiculation.

Maybe that should go down as a nominee title for the next U.D.O. album.

Rating: ****

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Album Review: Voviod - Warriors of Ice

Voivod - Warriors of Ice
2011 Sonic Unyon Metal
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Admittedly, there is a strangeness to life in Voivod without Denis "Piggy" d'Amour. Then again, this is one of the most-respected metal acts of all-time, even with member departures and returns resulting in some (at-times) peculiar lineups. Recall the cataclysmic death pell of Eric Forrest's ralphing regime on the insanely-brackish Negatron and Phobos? Hoo-eee! Jason Newsted's tenure with Voivod was a grand gesture that helped put the band's name on the map, yet sadly, the death of Piggy marked an assumed finish to Voivod much as Newsted had helped resurrect them.

So heartbreaking was this loss that Voivod's last two Piggy-assisted albums, the well-assembled Katorz and Infini were the most bitter of bittersweet farewells. Then the bizarre happened.

A couple years ago, Dan Mongrain of the Voivod-idolizing Martyr suddenly appeared onstage in Piggy's daunted spot. Perhaps Mongrain would've been booed upon sight if not for the off-setting appearance of the well-loved Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault back on bass. No disrespect to Newsted, Forrest or any of the session players Voivod used to get the job done following The Outer Limits; Blacky is the one who could match Piggy note-for-note. Together, those two were confirmed magic.

To Mongrain's credit, he brought his waist-tickling locks and the majority of Denis d'Amour's revered licks to the table, easing more than enough tensions that a post-Piggy Voivod wasn't so blasphemous after all. So enamored has the band and Voivod's loyalists become of Mongrain he now boasts his own nickname, "Chewy."

Warriors of Ice is a live album recorded shortly after the Japan concert presented on Voivod's 2009 DVD Tatsumaki. Precisely, this show was belted out in the band's home turf of Montreal at Club Soda on December 12, 2009.

Named after one of the shredding cuts from Voivod's 1984 album War and Pain, Warriors of Ice comes loaded with a fusilage of classic tech thrash. Spanning the early days with "Voivod," "Nuclear War" and "Ripping Headaches" and touching upon key tracks from Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross, Nothingface, Angel Rat and even Infini, this is one mean mother of a live album, if a bit cluttery.

It goes without saying we should cut Dan Mongrain some slack at this point. Just listen to "Chewy" slay on "Overreaction." Piggy would be proud, believe it. You can hear Blacky's and Away's pride as they meet Mongrain with blazing speed and even push him to the nth. Mongrain is up to the task, even with a few sliding hiccups on "Ravenous Medicine." He somehow can't replicate the echoing reverb on "Tribal Convictions" as gnarly as Piggy could, but Mongrain nails the rest of it. He also nails precise details on "Panorama," "Global Warning," "The Unknown Knows," "Nothingface" and "Brain Scan." On the fastest tunes like "Tornado," "Ripping Headaches" and "Voivod," Chewy, Blacky and Away are frigging demonic together.

Warriors of Ice, however, doesn't do Denis "Snake" Belanger a lot of justice. Or rather, he doesn't get into the pocket vocally. It's a given Snake has been pushing and straining his chops since combating his addictions and unfortunately, they've taken their toll upon the man. Belanger undeniably gives it his all on the mike and sometimes he does a fairly agreeable job, but in many spots he forces himself through the ruts. The band rescues him on "Nothingface" long after he's stirred his Quebecois audience to a rousing stir early on with "Voivod." God bless him, though, because Snake is obviously shaking off the loss of Piggy as much as his bandmates and it all sounds like a healing in-progress. Just hearing Blacky's distorted "wows" on "The Unknown Knows" is therapeutic.

All told, Warriors of Ice is a compulsory pick-up for every Voivod fan. Despite some roughshod moments, it serves as a curiosity piece to witness Chewy's comeuppance, but mostly, it serves to honor and remember Piggy's memory at the speed of jagged nanoseconds.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, June 03, 2011

Album Review: Death Mental - Isolated

Death Mental - Isolated
2010 Bloody Carnage Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Proof positive that death and black metal artists are just like you and me at the core...

Ian Aiken is a one-man-gang who vents his frustrations with life via his boisterous blend of thrash, grind, black metal and yes, even prog measures. I personally know this cat is a huge Yes aficianado and for all the blaring, screaming and ripping self-abuse Aiken throws into his music, you'd better believe modes ala Songs From Topographic Oceans and Relayer will sneak into the works.

Aiken--performing as Death Mental--took quite a long time to lay down his second venture, Isolated, a well-written tirade which voices his problematic existence in the real world. Unlike death and black metal artists yelping in protest against Christianity, Aiken growls and grumbles against a different authority, one you and I can relate to--the pissant boss and the daily grind.

Isolated is Ian Aiken's outpouring of outrage and even a stake against outrage. Each of the three tracks on Isolated mention Aiken having a literal stroke from his anxiety. Seriously, when he lets the hellhounds loose on the thrashier parts of his work, you know the brother means it.

Hard to imagine this is a family man at work, but Aiken's alter ego Death Mental is a full-on expression of artistic angst you'll be hard-pressed to ignore. The opening number "Stress, Sleep, Stress, Sleep, Stress, Sleep" is masterfully titled and segmented accordingly. Each block has an accompanying vibe, divvied between blaring aggression and a mathematic dissemination. Here is where Aiken spills his Yes affinities--the quieter, proggier parts, naturally. "Stress, Sleep, Stress, Sleep, Stress, Sleep" goes on forever, yet if you work for a dollar in this complicated tech society, you get it.

Just like you get it when Aiken leaks a tranquil series of key notes into a less-bombastic breakdown sequence on "Stroke" before going haywire in the final section. The acoustic intro to "Successful Failure" whispers like a cadence huffed out of Fragile, yet stand prepared to be cornholed immediately thereafter as Aiken fires up the thrusters.

Unlike many lone wolf artists who set themselves to a drum machine and then caterwaul for fifty minutes solid, Death Mental is best served due to Ian Aiken's acclimation to each instrument he fields. For a self-produced number, there's a subtle resonance that rises above the thinned outlay. Aiken's drumming is well-struck between ratchety and precise, while his variations on acoustic and electric guitar are dubbed together smartly. At times, Aiken's maniacal woofs overpower his instrumentation, but overall, Isolated comes off the way he intended it: one blaring bitch of a headache tempered by deliberate sedation.

Yep, if that's the answer to the proverbial question Just what is "death mental," Ian Aiken is out to sizzle your neurons, all to make you relate to his ferocious recess.

Rating: ****

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Album Review: Srodek - Forfall by Devin Walsh

Srodek - Forfall
2011 Aeternitas Tenebrarum Music Foundation
Devin Walsh

Srodek has just released Förfall, and I must say, this is not your typical doom/depressing metal listen. First, I can honestly say at times the music could be on the album of an alternative band, a punk band, or even a classic band of the '60s. I think these guys fit the metal genre mainly due to the dissonant distorted sounds and screaming vocals, but some of the musical pieces were so easy to listen to--and I mean this in a positive way--that I forgot I was listening to a “metal” album. For me, the simplistic musical writing of this album is something to take note of and it's worth listening to for even that reason alone.

The first track "Echoes From the Past" is quite a fitting title as the auditory experience perfectly fits that specific title. The track begins with guttural ambient atmospheric sounds that are soon met by echoes of a faint female voice. The voice almost reminds me of a cross between traditional Native American sounds and an ancient Celtic voice. This track serves as a proper mood-setting number for the rest of the album as it slowly fades out and into the second track.

“Bleak” moves right into things with a simple yet emotional drum beat topped with a hypnotic distorted guitar riff that also has clean guitars underneath. This offers up a real unique sound as it doesn’t jump right out as any particular genre. I really like the backing clean guitar tones, as they add a cool element without being overbearing. The vocals come in and right away I am hearing too much reverb and they just sound way too distanced from the music. The timbre of the screaming vocals isn’t bad, nor is it anything exceptional. My biggest issue though is with how the vocals were mixed as they seem to take a back seat, but then again, maybe that is what they were after. The song continues on with the same musical riffs, but the more I listen to the music, the more into I get. It’s very clean and refreshing in its simplicity. The song moves on to wrap up at just shy of seven minutes, which I feel is slightly too long for the song considering the lack of movement and change within the music. While the song is still decent, I feel the band could have gotten their point across in three to four minutes.

The next track is titled “Förfall,” which starts off with another grooving guitar and drum part that once again has a real smooth flow to it. I’m really becoming more and more of a fan of Srodek’s musical writing. It comes across as sort of alternative and almost pop at times, but by no means is it either of the two. Once again as the vocals enter, there is just way too much reverb and they sit way too far in the back. I think either a new approach to the vocal mixing/performance or even a new vocalist could take this band even further. In the middle of the song there is a unique little break that offers up a “happy” sounding riff as it just flows and moves so well. Once again, the musical writing of Srodek is quite different, yet very appealing in a way I really haven’t heard before. Like the previous track, this one moves into seven minute territory; however, I feel this one was able to effectively fit that time.

“Rotboskogens Djup” begins with a circus-sounding accordion that later has a spoken vocal part over top. The song then moves into the music which consists of ringing power chords over real nice harmonies. I am once again impressed with the music itself and its simplicity. There is nothing over-complicated or impressive about the musical performance, but the writing ability is excellent. It is very rarely that you come across such well-written music that is also so simple. Rather than repeating myself, I will say the vocals remain the same as the last two tracks, and I have already made my thoughts on that clear.

The next track is “Vagtjärns Svarta Vatten” and it begins the same as the rest – a beautifully written musical piece with vocals that take away from the excellence. The vocals are not horrible, but I truly feel a different style could really take this music to the next level. As before, I am once again very impressed with the simplistic yet very effective musical writing of this band. The guitars, bass, and drums all fit so well together and are perfectly executed. I can certainly hear good vocal ideas at times, but the execution and mixing of them just doesn’t do the music justice. The song breaks in the middle for a brief clean interlude which then kicks back into a new riff that moves very well. I also really like the subtle guitar harmonies these guys use that add that extra spice to their music.

“Ödestad” is the second to last track and begins with a bit more of a sombre feel as the bass guitar plays off of the sporadic clean guitar notes. After the brief intro, the song proceeds into a moving section that has motifs of the intro but a little more life with the addition of more active drums and vocals. Of all the tracks, this one seems to be the most “depressed” sounding and dissonant. The guitar tones also remind me of the classic rock band The Doors, and this isn’t a comparison you hear very often, especially in the black metal genre of today. The bass guitar seems to play a more prominent role in this song as it carries the melody while the guitars add layers over top. The song wraps up with the continuation of the groovy, depressed beat that has carried the entire song. As with most of their songs, I feel they could all be two to three minutes shorter and still accomplish what the song needs to say.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when putting on the new Srodek album, but since I am not really the biggest fan of doom and depressing metal, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when I read those were some genre comparisons for these guys. While I understand why they are grouped in those genres, I feel Srodek offer something different--namely the music itself. My biggest criticism would be the vocals and their mixing as well as style, but I was pleasantly surprised with the music itself and how simple, yet effective it was. I can say this is some of the most well written music I have reviewed in awhile. It is at times so basic and easy, yet this seemingly simple task is something very hard to do and takes serious talent. I commend the musical writing skills of this band and feel they could go even further with a different vocal approach. In the end my experience wasn’t all that bad. If I am to listen to them again, it would purely be for the musical enjoyment – not the vocals.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 6/1/11

Howdy, chums and chummettes, hope everyone had a relaxing and loud Memorial Day weekend and in the process took at least one minute (if you're an American) to recognize the sacrifice of military personnel doing a job so few actually want to do.

I often think about the process of a human life and all the experiences that go into molding existence. Those who die in battle (no matter what country they originate from) all have had "x" amount of years on the planet, learning, growing, loving, hating, being. As a father, I watch my little one zip up so quickly in height and intelligence. If his desire is ever to enter the military, I will question whether everything we've done as parents to raise him in the hope his future lies brighter than ours will be quaffed if ultimately put upon the front line. It's mind-blowing at times to think of people so willing to bank their lives in the name of an ideal, principle or mandate. Because of their acceptance that death is a high probability in their chosen cause, you have to salute each and every one of them, whether you consider them friend or foe.

That being said, prayers out to the Afghani civilians accidentally killed in the line of fire. The phrase "casualties of war" is a blanket expression to somehow rationalize mistakes and inadvertent loss of non-military lives. So too do these people experience life and suddenly lose them at flashpoint. If you're not privy to a hot war zone outside your front window, consider yourself blessed before firing up the summer grill and popping open brewskis.

Coming up at The Metal Minute, we'll be checking out the new Death Mental EP and new releases by U.D.O. and Brent Hinds, as well as the live Voivod compilation Warriors of Ice. A special thanks to all who participated in this week's poll question on and off-site.

So hang out, 'cuz we'll be back with more stuff, as Chuck Barris of The Gong Show would rave.

Yes - 90125
Yes - s/t
Yes - The Yes Album
Yes - Close to the Edge
Yes - Fragile
Wolfmother - s/t
Wolfmother - Cosmic Egg
Zebrahead - Phoenix
Duff McKagan's Loaded - Sick reissue
U.D.O. - Rev-Raptor
Enslaved - The Sleeping Gods EP
Van Halen - 1976 demo
WASP - Masters of Disaster 1982 demo
Zombi - Escape Velocity