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Friday, September 14, 2012

Anniversary With a Vengeance

Judas Priest - Screaming For Vengeance 30th Anniversary Edition
Columbia Records/Legacy
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

There's no question why Screaming For Vengeance should appear in your music library.  If you're metal, this album should've been one of the first you ever came into contact with.  It's mandatory.  Like the first Black Sabbath album, like Blue Oyster Cult's Tyranny and Mutation, like Kiss' Destroyer, like Maiden's Number of the Beast and like Metallica's Master of Puppets, Screaming For Vengeance represents a pivotal moment in heavy metal music.  It's biblical to this genre and it's symbolic of metal at its most symbiotic.  It just is.

Judas Priest are the legends they are for a reason and while British Steel is regarded by many as their finest work, Sad Wings of Destiny their most artistic and Point of Entry their most underrated, their esteemed reputation comes down to 1982 and the bombastic Screaming For Vengeance.  Stained Class and Hell Bent For Leather are absolute masterpieces for Priest as well, but all that came before Screaming For Vengeance can be viewed as evolutionary milestones culminating in one of the fiercest and most majestic slabs of all-time.

It's a case of preaching to the choir if you're a seasoned metal fan, but is there anything in the entire cosmos of heavy music that summons the outer regions of the unknown into harmony with our own  than "The Hellion?"  There has never been nor will there ever be a more perfect intro to a metal album than this.  The opening shreds of Slayer's "Angel of Death" come relatively close.  Ditto for the lavish acoustic-meets-electric symposium of Metallica's "Battery."  You hear those, you're pumped up for what comes next, sure.  "The Hellion," however?  Nothing like it.  It is for metal culture, the equivalent of Beethoven's Fifth and Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."  Distasteful as it was to find "The Hellion" pounding within a car commercial, the way that ad was set up with the explosive gala and stacked amplitude to recreate a Priest concert around their product, you had to forgive them.  At least they had the savvy choose the mightiest metal chops there ever was for a disguised glittering testimonial.

Thirty years it's been since Judas Priest turned Screaming For Vengeance loose upon us and three decades later, it remains one of the heaviest audile experiences you'll ever hear.  The title track alone set a precedent for metal music by picking up the pace and the aggression.  Remember, most groups weren't playing this fast in 1982.  "Screaming For Vengeance" and Priest's "Freewheel Burning" from their subsequent Defenders of the Faith album are the foundation blocks of thrash, alongside Iron Maiden's "Invaders," "Gangland" and "Run to the Hills." 

Thirty years later, "You've Got Another Thing Coming" is the rare exception of accessibility that hasn't grown sour.  That cut still kicks and though it's discomforting to see yuppies toss up horns, "You've Got Another Thing Coming" is a bonding agent proving why Priest became immediate icons of the arena from this point forward in their careers.

"Devil's Child" remains one of the meanest-sounding tunes Judas Priest ever recorded, while "Riding On the Wind" and of course the dystopian mini-epic "Electric Eye" remain obligatory for fans and for Priest themselves onstage.  The Orwellian "Electric Eye" propagated paranoia and fantastical fear which still intimidates now in the desensitized, dumb-downed age of Big Brother.  We snarl along with the Metal God, Rob Halford about being perpetual and keeping our country clean, but put into proper context, that was some scary shit Priest had touched on.  If a government took it upon itself to cleanse its borders in Hitler-esque fashion, we'll one day think back on "Electric Eye" as the grotesque horror story it is.  For now, the song is so much of an ass-kicker, we ride into glory with Judas Priest and go bonkers with it. 

For the thirtieth anniversary of Screaming For Vengeance's release, Columbia Records remasters this golden nugget with a handful of live tracks and the bonus track "Prisoner of Your Eyes," plus a DVD featuring Judas Priest's reknowned performance at the 1983 US Festival in San Bernardino, California.  The remix of Screaming For Vengeance is crisp but the original source was so powerful even the original analog stands up to the current rewash.  The quasi ballad "Prisoner of Your Eyes" should be familiar to diehards as Rob Halford has been known to bring it out in his solo shows.  It previously made an appearance on his Live Insurrection album.

Thus the major selling point to this anniversary edition is the US Festival show.  As rad as the 1982 concert at the Mid South Coliseum contained in Priest's Metalogy box set is, the US Festival gig shows much of the Screaming For Vengeance selections at full polish.  Playing before 300,000 fans in the four day festival, it's impressive to see so many people even in 1982 pumping fists and going wild for a heavy metal band.  "Electric Eye" comes off as a slow cooker for the band and Rob Halford skulks onstage from behind the amps and Dave Holland's massive drum riser to deliver the goods in sinister fashion.  The band picks up with "Riding On the Wind" but hits full stride four songs in with "Metal Gods."  Halford comes alive with his full vocal range while KK Downing and Glenn Tipton feed off of his energy.  Ian Hill bobs back in forth at amp's edge as he's always done (as signature for him as Angus Young's ceaseless up and down knee jacking), while Dave Holland, a forgotten cog in the Priest machine, looks half frightened and half euphoric from his mount overtop the survey of humanity before him. 

Holland has the best seat in the house and so do you with this DVD.  Though it's amusing watching the camera operators focus on the wrong guitarists during the first few solos, eventually everything hums and the US Festival performance lives up to its reputation.  Priest whips out their olden year standards, "Victim of Changes," "Diamonds and Rust" and "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown") and they rank amongst the highlights of this show.  "Screaming For Vengeance" is just as thunderous here as the studio version, but none of it seems wholly fulfilling until Rob Halford manifests on his Harley during "Hell Bent For Leather."  Oh, hell to the yes.

So on the wings of a screaming metallic falcon, have another go with an immortal album, if not for your first time.  If this is your first time coming to Screaming For Vengeance, you are to be envied because this is a genuine experience you're about to confront.  You'll take the pain and the pleasure from Screaming For Vengeance and chances are, you'll rank this album deservedly high on your personal meter as the rest of us have.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Best Of? Really?

Dan Lorenzo - Best of 3
Dan Lorenzo
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Are you flippin' serious?  Dan Lorenzo has the nads to dump a "Best Of" mini anthology on us?  And I thought The Best of A Flock of Seagulls was a goddamn joke.

Alright, I'm just dicking on ol' Dan From Hades here because I'm relying on a long-established rapport that he'll take my opening jibe as the ribbing it's intended to be.  Dan has seven years on me and he'd still dust my ass on a middle school b-ball court, so now we're even.

Hades, Non-Fiction and The Cursed are where you've mostly found this dude jerking distortion, but in case you missed it, Dan Lorenzo tossed out a trio of homegrown solo records:  Nice Being Alone, Cassius King and Cut From a Different Cloth all released in a span of thirteen months.  You either consider that prolific or the case of hyper-anxiety only a box of Twinkies can quell. 

These days, Lorenzo reigns the masthead of New Jersey's Steppin' Out magazine while he's occasionally stepped out of the shadows to hit a handful of Hades and Non-Fiction reunion gigs.  The thing I like about Dan Lorenzo is he keeps his head in check.  His associated bands are cult groups with heavy followings, but when you'd rather shoot hoops than play guitar as Lorenzo has stated numerous times including the liner notes of Best of 3, then you have to dig that.  There are too many third-tier bands (pick your genre) who cling to their notoriety with far more seriousness than they should.  Just listen to Lorenzo goofing on said status-clingers on his quasi-rap-metal hybrid, "I'll Go North."  Seriously, when's the last time you heard anybody in the music biz say they'd rather pass the rock than rock out?

Best of 3 wrangles a smackerel of tracks from Dan Lorenzo's solo records along with three new cuts including a cover of Kiss' "Almost Human."  If you know Lorenzo's work, you're no doubt groaning to yourself, "Oh, Christ, another fucking Kiss cover..."  Sorry, Dan, just dicking on you again.  Mad love, homes.

Lorenzo's retrospective leans heavily on selections from his sold-out Cut From a Different Cloth album including "1974," "I'll Go North," "Back From Nice" and Dan's personal favorite solo cut, "Clintonesque."  The latter song sports Lorenzo sparring against a drum machine, and if you've never heard this mean-assed ditty, it's pretty gnarly stuff that even Rob Zombie could trip on.  Yeah, I said it.

Of the three new tracks, "What I Like" is the coolest even if it makes one think of 2 Live Crew with some meaty guitar chops and a white frontman barging in for most of the ride.  Okay, 2 Live Crew went the way of "def," granted, but at least Lorenzo's greasy licks and his not-so-serious scat-yelling is hilarious--and not in the negative connotation.  You know, it's gonzo shit like "F-Bombs For Everyone" from Nice Being Alone, which of course makes an appearance on Best of 3.  If that one didn't make it here, I'd burn my Dan Lorenzo t-shirt on the spot...never mind it was a freebie, thank you, sir.

Admitted Kiss freak that he is, Lorenzo does a snazzy job lick-wise on "Almost Human," but you can imagine Gene Simmons muttering "oy" underneath his demon paint listening to Lorenzo's growl-choked vocals along with the campy (and sickly) background chants of the chorus.  Lorenzo pulls down a cool Frehley wail on the solo, so all's well that know.  Dan does a pretty rowdy rip of "Goin' Blind" on Nice Being Alone, so shag it down sometime.  If you're too lazy for that, at least the inclusion of "1974" on this album gives you full indication just how much Kiss has touched Lorenzo's life and guitar playing.

One thing that rings loud and clear on Best of 3 in case you didn't know it already, Dan Lorenzo lives by his rules and his rules-busting solo music obviously served as an excuse to let loose a few of his internally-caged animals.  The booming strutter "Cassius King" is one of my favorite of Lorenzo's solo tunes and though no profitable radio station would play it, a decent one should.  The gritty riffs of "Cassius King" alone blow away the entire collective of waterlogged pseudo-metal FM darlings you can count in hourly rotation...all eight of them.

Current Overkill drummer Ron Lipnicki laid down grooves on many of Lorenzo's solo tracks, sharing the stool with Johnny Milnes.  Keeping it in the family, as it were.  You know, that Blitz cat and Dan Lorenzo were saddlemates in The Cursed?  If you don't, you're lame.  Interesting that Lorenzo didn't bring "Too Fast For Hate" from Nice Being Alone onto this package since Bobby Ellsworth laid down some vocal work on it, but if you trip across Lorenzo over at Dingbatz, you can bring that up to him in person.

However this review may come across to you, what I have to say about Dan Lorenzo in all sincerity is that he's a hell of a nice dude.  I've appreciated his generosity towards me in the way of freebies, donating his words here at this site and for allowing me to plug my own wares in Steppin' Out magazine.  Go on, pick this up.  It doesn't occupy your time for too long and Dan Lorenzo just might record music again if you do.  No potshots in endpoint.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Half Hour of Crush In Only 14 Minutes

Humangled - Odd Ethics EP
2012 Abyss Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Fourteen minutes, crushed and maimed for your manic pleasure.  Italian death experimentalists Humangled have essentially been in and out of the scene since 1996 with primary components Andrew Goreds and Luke Scurb representing the original incarnation of the band.  Returning in 2006 and bulking up to a five-piece to conjure their 2010 full-length debut, Fractal, the new Humangled has quickly won praise in the death underground.  This year, Humangled serves up an oscillating four song EP, Odd Ethics, and the praise continues to be heaped upon this band.

It's pretty easy to see why with Humangled's beastly riffs and gutsy swerves into doom, black metal, rawk, cowpunk and Pantera-esque proto power measures.  To call Humangled a death metal band is accurate, yet it's not.  Andrew Goreds huffs his esophagus dry while Luke Scurb and Vhell Miscarriage shred the bejeesus out of their lines.  Bassist Frank Hichols and drummer Fred Valdaster are total madmen of their positions.  All of it combined to spew death metal mayhem as you like it, but there's a twisted unpredictability to Odd Ethics that keeps you hitting the repeat button. 

"Needles of the Blind" may have you thinking it's going to settle into mere blasting modes, but then you're redirected into a doom-heavy breakdown followed by an uptempo bit of shitkicking on the choruses.  This spills into the following track, "Skinned, To Feel All,"  a nasty bit of business with a Southern boogie kick operating as the primary groove.  "Skinned, To Feel All" then shifts tones with crunky choruses and horror dirges, feeling like Pantera-meets-Botch-meets-Death.

"Smells Acrid" steps on the gas with some gnarly double-hammer plus a gory mix of Cannibal Corpse and the barest whiffs of Celtic Frost and dare we say, even Voivod.  Signature swaps galore here, but nothing compared to the final track, "Deny Your Creed."   The proggy intro is hardly indicative of where the song is actually headed.  Even the first bar of the song gives no real hint, either.  This one is a complex metal stew filled with more variables than its base meat and potatoes.  There are many extra spices to Humangled's molten gravy on "Deny Your Creed," which they stir up and let their listeners try to discern each component as they can.

There are random bits of choppiness to Odd Ethics yet the songs are still written well.  They challenge, engage and defy categorical segregation.  If this group tightens up just another hair on the next go-round, then get the hell out of their way...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eyes Up!

On Top - Top Heavy
2011 Horror Pain Gore Death Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Rule number one of heavy metal marketing, circa 1986:  bait your audience with an album cover that provokes a purchase without even sampling the contents.  Rule number two, if you get to make a video, load it up with more T&A than a swingers convention.

So many times we metalheads back in the day were suckered by sex.  We were often drawn to albums in the record store for their painstaking artwork--anything by Maiden or Helloween's Walls of Jericho, for example.  Still, most of us back then were horny males who'd duck into the nearest bathroom to rub one out on a typical Saturday night during Headbangers Ball.  Metal had been watered down to the point of despair, but the tradeoff was all of that glorious skin trade MTV peddled before us.  Damn, we were so easy.  Of course, if you actually got away with projecting sleaze on your album cover (as Ratt did with reckless delight on Out of the Cellar and Invasion of Your Privacy), you were gods for that standard alone.

Leave it to this generation to one-up their hard rocking, tool-projected gods.  There's a more lax code of conduct regarding sex in the media today.  You can't turn on a routine network show without some sexual reference that would've violated a hundred censorship codes two decades ago.   Even Entertainment Tonight at times can be Playboy Light.  Ain't it funny how it is, as Bruce Dickinson would wax.

So naturally a cover such as On Top's Top Heavy would catch immediate hell.  If trying to sneak those heavy Ds into the music world back then, you can bet Tipper Gore and her PMRC hit squad would've had a Parental Advisory sticker slapped across the whumping cleavage, by and large the initial draw to this record.  Or it might've been blacked out altogether, as happened to Overkill's Fuck You EP or most of Poison's Open Up and Say Ahh, the latter offense being a protruded tongue dangling out of a female model dressed as a tigress.  And Gene Simmons has been doing that shit for years, Christ...

If anything, Philadelphia's On Top, who are surely apt pupils of Ted Nugent and Sunset sleaze rock, missed the opportunity of a lifetime to roast the butchery of Poison's cover by blacking out their entire cover save for only the gaping yabbas on Top Heavy.  It would've been brilliant.

But let's move on past the boobs.  You're already here because of those.  What's inside is what counts and for sure, On Top are the audile hellraisers they purport themselves to be.  They may start off with a galloping power metal ode i.e. Armored Saint on "Into the Night," but afterwards, the chains are off and the trio comprising On Top go for broke to win their audience over.  In large part, they accomplish their goal.

The only fault of Top Heavy is its redundancy.  Minus some slower breakdown fills and bridge sections, most of the album keeps to a primarily quick, bang-minded tempo.  It's the sound of desperate dry humping and thirty-second ejaculation upon final consummation.  You know what you're getting with song titles such as "Another Night of Sleaze," "Hot 'n Wet," "Fire Down Below" and "Up To No Good."  Jaron Gulino, Alex Kulick and Danny Piselli are the modern-day replicants of their crotch-hungry elders--or at least, they want to be.  Thus what makes Top Heavy appealing despite its overall repetition is its unapologetic spirit of throwback grind that's easy to grab onto, whether you're in your teens or your forties.

On Top's debut is full frontal, and that's all you can ask for in a safe and tidy music scene that needs a lot more shaking up than it gets.  You'd like to hope Alex Kulick's name is real, even if it conjures up temptation to think of it as an amalgam stage name comprised of Alex Skolnick and Bruce or Bob Kulick.  Yet the younger shredder (who bears a slight resemblence to Dave Mustaine) makes a name for himself on this album.  His guitar solos are gifted and sometimes spectacular.  He also has every dirty bar rock riff stashed within his fingers, while band mastermind Jaron Gulino keeps a tight rhythm unto himself while caterwauling into his mike like he's about to splooge himself.  That's not a rip, either.  You like it when your frontman has chutzpath and raw energy.  Gulino's not really a tight vocalist, but then you're not expecting an impresario to sing about muff diving.  You have the feeling Danny Piselli has more chops to give than what he drives through this album, even though "Too Much" allows him to bring the sweaty-balled chaos to a more tempered and slightly decorative roundup.

For sure On Top has spent more than enough time trolling internet porn as they have practicing the licks of "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang."  Had On Top been given a shot back in the day on Sunset, they might not've enjoyed the success of their statewide brethren Poison, but it wouldn't have been out of the question to see a bill at the Troubadour comprised of L.A. Guns, Smashed Gladys and On Top.  That's the main compliment we can pay these dudes, that they well belong to the era they cater to.