Saturday, May 18, 2013
Saturday, May 04, 2013
Metal purists and longtime scene haunts Howie Abrams and Sacha Jenkins have assembled an unconventional (and frequently hilarious) book on the ethos of heavy metal that calls for an unconventional mode of review. Metalheads and punkers, more so than any other type of music fan, have historically been compelled by nature to create lists to somehow organize their obsessive inner babble about outsider music seldom few actually get, much less care about. In here, Abrams and Sacha methodically list the best of the best and of course, the not so best in heavy metal music. Yet there's much more to their compendium of chaos that not only includes a forward and afterword by Kerry King and Phil Anselmo respectively, there's a reckless, no-rules ethic presiding that reflects the core of its topic at its most authentic. Opinionated, brash, occasionally annoying yet ultimately comprehensive, Abrams and Sacha have assembled one of the nuttiest yet most entertaining examinations of metal culture delivered in compact fashion.
I couldn't think of a more appropriate way to analyze a book entitled The Merciless Book of Metal Lists than to follow suit in list fashion.
10 Questions My Five-Year-Old Son Asked While I Reviewed The Merciless Book of Metal Lists:
1. "Dad, could Pirate Mickey Mouse take Spiderman in a fight?"
2. "Is that a boy or a girl in that picture, Dad?"
3. "Why do you like loud music so much, Dad?"
4. "Is that grown-up drink you're putting in your cranberry juice?"
5. "Was the Scarecrow (from The Wizard of Oz) ever a baby, you know, like a Scarebaby?"
6. "What's a Sepultura?"
7. "Did you interview that band, Dad?"
8 "What's a cassette tape?"
9. "What are those things on that scary guy (Lemmy Kilmister)'s face?"
10. "Can animals toot like us, Dad?"
10 Things From The Merciless Book of Metal Lists That Put Me On the Floor:
1. Richard Christy's "Quadruple Poople."
2. Richard Christy pissing his pants three times during a Maiden show so he wouldn't miss a minute.
3. Richard Christy cooking his own shit in an oven.
4. "10 Observations From Lemmy's Warts." (alone, this sells the entire project)
5. "What Would Varg Vikernes (Burzum) Do?"
6. "Half-off trip for two to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. with Varg Vikernes," from "10 Heavy Metal Livingsocial/Groupon Deals You Never See."
7. "The Very Best Qualities of Metallica's Load and Reload Albums."
8. Candlemass' "Bewitched" video roasted in "Thoroughly Embarrassing Metal Videos."
9. "10 Illegible Black Metal Logos (Rorschach Tests?)"
10. "Best iTunes Playlist to Set On Repeat for a Drive of Eight Hours or Longer," by Danny Lilker (totaling "around eleven seconds of playtime.")
10 Things The Merciless Book of Metal Lists Gets Spot-On:
1. Including the mighty Voivod in many categories. To do less would make this book a sham.
2. Proposing that Led Zeppelin is "JNM" (Just Not Metal).
3. "Completely Unnecessary Heavy Metal Subgenres"
4. "The Very Best Qualities of Metallica's Load and Reload Albums" (lampoon genius)
5. "25 Great Hardcore/Metal Crossover Albums"
6. "Glorious Paul Baloff Stage Banter"
7. "All Hail the Original Man - Some Metal Bands That Have, Or Have Had, Black Members" (also "10 Things You Should Know About Being Black in a Metal Band," by Hirax vocalist Katon W. De Pena)
8. "Some Non-Metal Artists Metalheads Love" (perfecto list DESPITE omitting Killing Joke and Can)
9. "The 10 Best and Worst Things About Being a Female Fronting a Metal Band," by Betsy Bitch.
10. "20 of the Greatest Metal Voices"
5 Things The Merciless Book of Metal Lists Shanks:
1. While agreed that Def Leppard's Pyromania is not a metal album, but a melodic hard rock album, it's hardly the "turd dropped from pop music's ass." Pardon me, gents, but that dishonor goes straight to the shameless huckstering that was Hysteria.
2. Maiden's Somewhere in Time, a shark-jumping record? No arguments with Celtic Frost's Cold Lake, which Tom G. Warrior himself told me directly was "an abomination." Ditto for Load and Reload, but Somewhere in Time? Bull to the fucking shit.
3. The Merciless Gay Bashing of Rob Halford. Seriously, a joke's a joke and funny once, but a persistent flogging of the man? The rest of us have let Halford off the hook, for Christ's sake. He is the Metal God, period, the end. Having interviewed him, I say the man is a king who doesn't know he has a crown. Just leave him alone.
4. The dismantling of Overkill while listing them as a candidate to make "The Big 4" of thrash a 5. While maybe straying for a couple albums, this is one of the most consistent bands speed metal's ever seen. Suggested Listening only for the Power in Black demo? Groan. Horrorscope, The Years of Decay, Taking Over, Feel the Fire...even their last two albums have been faster than just about anyone outside of Slayer or grind tech. C'mon, brothers.
5. Picking on Grim Reaper has been fashionable since Beavis and Butthead torched the "See You In Hell" video long before Abrams and Jenkins do so here. It's passé. While the video does betray a cheese element relative to the time in which it was conceived, Grim Reaper was a damned fine band also relative to their time. It's just lame getting on their asses about this video.
10 Coolest Guests Appearing in The Merciless Book of Metal Lists:
1. Betsy Bitch
2. Danny Lilker
3. Katon W. De Pena
4. Kerry King
5. John Gallagher
6. Phil Anselmo
7. Brian Slagel
8. Jon and Marsha Zazula
9. Paul Baloff (vicariously through the authors and Gary Holt)
10. Hoya Roc
11. Max Cavalera (okay, make it 11 Coolest Personalities Appearing On the Guest List of The Merciless Book of Metal Lists, sue me)
10 Things I Learned From The Merciless Book of Metal Lists:
1. Producer Flemming Rasmussen's recount of jumping from 12 hours a day in the studio to 14-16 hours during the recording of Metallica's ...And Justice For All. I wonder how Jason Newsted would tally it.
2. My editor at Blabbermouth, Borivoj Krgin, is considered a master guru of the pre-internet tape trading days that I cherish and miss dearly.
3. Max Cavalera and Sean Lennon did a duet together, "Son Song."
4. Ron Fair, who engineered Slayer's Hell Awaits, is responsible for the discovery and production of Christina Aguilera. Strange cosmos.
5. The Goo Goo Dolls and Cannibal Corpse played shows together in their beginnings. Um, wow...
6. Ace Frehley ordered a tuna fish sandwich at an upscale restaurant in Manhattan in the company of Jon and Marsha Zazula.
7. Jaromir Jagr is a metalhead. Dammit, wish I'd known that when I was covering the NHL.
8. The intro to Raven's "Rock Until You Drop" consists of the band "stamping on plastic coffee cups in a stone bathroom."
9. There are idiots in the world who truly believe Scott Ian is Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
10. Betsy Bitch laments not having a boob job. As if one was needed, crikey. She's still hot.
10 Albums That Were Played While I Reviewed The Merciless Book of Metal Lists (when my son wasn't up my crawl):
1. The Cramps - Psychedelic Jungle
2. Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
3. The Return of the Living Dead soundtrack
4. Slayer - Haunting the Chapel EP
5. The Ocean - Pelagial
6. Can - Ege Bamyasi
7. Bitch - Be My Slave
8. Raven - Life's a Bitch
9. AC/DC - Flick of the Switch
10. Voivod - Dimension Hatross
5 Things I Plan To Do After Wrapping On This Review:
1. Pour myself another cranberry and vodka.
2. Watch some Stanley Cup, Phantasm II and Frank Zappa: The Torture Never Stops in succession.
3. Knock out a review for Blabbermouth, starting with the new Kylesa joint.
4. Attempt to convert my wife to heavy metal for the 2,397th time before asking for a shag.
5. Say hello to Mr. Happy Hand when # 4 fails royally.
Friday, May 03, 2013
I can still see the man jamming along to Zeppelin on Slayer's tour bus, a hundred lit candles all around him, nodding to me as I passed by to the rear of the coach for an interview with Dave Lombardo. I'm absolutely stunned by this as I'm sure the entire metal community is. RIP, Jeff...
Posted by Ray Van Horn, Jr. at 9:56 PM
Monday, April 29, 2013
No rolling preamble this time, just a friendly check-in and well-wishes to all of you readers.
Killing Joke - The Singles Collection: 1979-2012
Killing Joke - Night Time
Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
Killing Joke - MMXII
The Ocean - Pelagial
Oceans of Slumber - Aetherial
Dust - Hard Attack/Dust reissue
H.I.M. - Tears On Tape
Sacred Steel - The Blood Summoning
The Cars - s/t
The Cars - Candy-O
Anger as Art - Hubris, Inc.
John Williams - Star Wars Episode VI: A New Hope soundtrack
Sade - The Best of Sade
LCD Soundsystem - s/t
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
AC/DC - Flick of the Switch
Stravinsky - The Firebird Suite
Holst - The Planets
Can - Ege Bamyasi
Can - Future Days
Can - Delay 1968
Leadbelly - Goodnight Irene
Suicidal Tendencies - 13
Suicidal Tendencies - How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today?
Killing Joke - XXV Gathering
Iron Maiden - Maiden England '88
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Frank Miller - Sin City TPB
Frank Miller - Elektra Assassin TPB
Gail Simone - New 52 Batgirl series
Howie Abrams and Sacha Jenkins - The Merciless Book of Metal Lists
Posted by Ray Van Horn, Jr. at 9:34 PM
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
I don't give too many plugs for things outside of music, but this one's compelled me.
Comic books are just too freaking expensive, that's a fact. The superhero renaissance in cinema has kept a mainstream interest in them when they were nearly extinct a decade ago. As a one-time diehard collector of comics, I've passed on the passion to my son and after taking him to a comic shop where I once worked a lifetime ago, I was happy to trip over Gail Simone's Batgirl resurrection under DC's New 52 revamp line.
I've always felt DC has squandered the Barbara Gordon character since she was violated and paralyzed by Joker many crises ago in 1988 via Alan Moore's vivid and disturbing The Killing Joke. As Oracle, Babs has served as a dark horse character giving hope to our disabled citizens that there's life after debilitation, but that was so long ago and frankly, Oracle's long served her purpose. She needed to be set free.
In the hands of Gail Simone (also the writer of Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, Secret Six, Deadpool and others including a current co-writing stint on The Fury of Firestorm), Babs is back under the cowl operating under New 52 rules and Simone's knife-edged narration and chewy insight has made me a believer. Batgirl rules.
By all means, check it out...
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
In my second editorial for Ghost Cult Magazine, I was asked to chime in with my thoughts about the controversial Queensryche division. Check it out in Issue 7, also featuring interviews with Intronaut, Soilwork, Cathedral, Six Feet Under, Enslaved and more...
Posted by Ray Van Horn, Jr. at 9:18 PM
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Those who were Tower Records habitués can hopefully relate to this little nugget from the past. There was a time when music stores were not just emporiums of sound, but cultural hubs where like minds could congregate, future artists could refine their knowledge and loners could find those special voices who spoke their language on record. You never knew when the next Jeff Beck, Buddy Rich, Larry Graham or Rob Halford was going to be proverbially birthed from the annals of record shelves and listening booths. Meanwhile, profiteers sat back and watched vinyl (and later, cassettes and CDs) fly out with the chunks and tings of old cash registers adding a synthetic, commercial glaze overtop whatever happened to dominating the store loudspeakers.
In Baltimore, we used to have a monster-sized music store that's long gone the way of Colecovision and Frosty root beer, the Record Theatre. About half the size of a Tower Records and maybe one floor of the colossal Virgin Megastores (both also long gone), the Record Theatre was still the place for tunes in our area, along with Waxy Maxy's, but the latter was located in a different part of town.
I remember when Record Theatre was flourishing, it was filled with wall-to-wall people, much like the Virgin superplex in Times Square. I miss both dearly, albeit for me, the smaller homeboy record shop like you'd find in High Fidelity or Pretty in Pink is truly where I'd find myself home. In Baltimore today, that distinction belongs to Sound Garden and Record and Tape Traders, two music shacks still holding on in tough times and still experiencing a respectable influx of never-say-die tune freaks.
Back to Record Theatre, however, the place seemed like a castle to young eyes such as mine in the late seventies and early eighties. Being stationed in an urban location, I always thought the owners were shrewd in catering to all tastes, even if R&B sold more than rock 'n roll (albeit the Stones sold more than anyone, period), but that wasn't always the norm depending on what time of day diverse pockets of clientele would show up. At one point, the Record Theatre hired some punks and metalheads who worked certain shifts and they hijacked the store stereo to spin hardcore and thrash. I tended to show up during their shifts on purpose, just so I could hear new things I identified with and to have someone who knew what made me tick behind the register.
Before all that, the store was supported mostly by soul and pop sales, thus walking in would submit you to a lot of Rod Stewart, Luther Vandross, Donna Summer and even Kiss. I remember buying "I Was Made For Lovin' You" on 45 there when I was a kid and my folks had stopped at the store with an uncle of mine. I can't remember what they were after, Conway Twitty or Willie Nelson for I all know. The Record Theatre had the area's best country selection, go figure. It was one of the few times I'd been allowed to venture on my own and since I was a Kiss loyalist at the time, I had to have that 45. I'd been teased by one of my cousins-in-law for picking up "I Was Made For Lovin' You" because Kiss had done the unthinkable by going disco. In hindsight, they were right for harassing me, but I digress.
What was eye-popping about Record Theatre aside from the neon piping along the perimeter that was precursor to the tubular glitz of eighties' arcades, was the giant framed album cover art mounted around the circumference of the place. They collectively propagated as much of a pseudo pop art gallery of its time as they were glaring advertisements, yet many of those hoisted pieces never came down until the store went under in the late eighties. Some of those remained up for nearly a decade and one of those eternal holdouts was The Cars' Candy-O.
If I owned a record shop today, I would have Candy-O along with Roxy Music's Country Life, Roger Waters' The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking and Robert Palmer's Pressure Drop high up on the wall of my hypothetical store. Whitesnake's Lovehunter would certainly be a temptation, but it does cross into actual porn territory. Call me a pervert if you must, it's all good, but I maintain that each of these risqué album covers are boundary-pushing fine art of the modern age. The art world has been historically been consumed with interpreting the nude in poetic manners, and while Roxy, Waters and Palmer's album covers contain nudity, they're reasonably tasteful. Appositely, the nudity is merely suggestive in the case of Candy-O, and that one fascinated me the most as a kid. Hell, it continues to titillate me today.
Alberto Vargas gave us a rock 'n roll masterpiece on Candy-O that sums up the entire ethos of the genre upon the hood of a prototype street beastie with its alluring tamer spread across the hood. Today I find fascination with "Candy-O's" gravity-defying bosom that hardly seems logical in such a perpendicular position, not without one of those missile-cone bras of the fifties. The sheer fabric Vargas enshrouds his honeypot muse in suggests she's full-on beneath and as a young boy, I was completely entranced by it, slightly exaggerated or not.
It was the fiery red hair and the shadowy belly button that first attracted me at nine years old. I knew vaguely that men and women and boys and girls had different anatomy and that (in most cases) they were drawn to each other. It wasn't until I'd learned more about sex itself later that year after tripping over a stray copy of Hustler magazine when the rest of Candy-O's attributes became apparent to my greedy eyes. As I got older and able to process desire for consummation with the other sex, I wanted Candy-O. Who didn't? The Cars had scored a home run by flashing Vargas' fleshly beacon call overtop their wax, and that's before listeners could dive into "Let's Go," "Double Life," "Lust For Kicks," "Got a Lot On My Head," "Dangerous Type" and the title track.
It was vintage marketing. Sex sells better than a glittering testimonial from God Himself. The 1978 self-titled album had been such a powerhouse that Candy-O was going to be a hit by attrition. The Cars merely sweetened the deal for one of their future classics by thrusting a smoking hot aphrodisiac into the package.
When I first beheld Candy-O on the upper tier of the Record Theatre, that disco Kiss slab in my paw suddenly grew icky. I felt a then-unfathomable urge to betray my kabuki heroes and beeline for The Cars on the sales racks. My mom, being ever vigilant while loosening the leash, did a beeline of her own for me once she'd seen what had ensnared my attention. "Eyes down, honey," she'd told me in a gentle voice and steered me away from Candy-O's svelte and sleek invitation. Kiss remained in my hands and thus came home with me, paid for with my dollar-a-week allowance. Yes, I remember when 45's were only 99 cents, much less remembering them at all.
The more frequently we attended the Record Theatre as a family, it became a bit of a sport for me to sneak passing glances at Candy-O. My mom knew all the time what I was doing, and it's to her credit she'd thrown the boundary lines at me while my sexual hormones were starting unravel by the time I hit age 11. I think it was well-smart of her to hold me in check and now as a father, I hide all of the album covers I mentioned earlier from my son. He's not yet ready for any of that, but I'll understand wholeheartedly when someday I catch him trying to sneak a peek at Candy-O and that bare-bottomed one-night-stand from Robert Palmer's voguish playboy days.
When the Record Theatre announced it was closing, I was in my late teens and hitting the place on a regular basis. Some of the routine customers were being offered pieces of the store to keep as mementos. You can bet what I asked for when they asked me if I wanted something. She was still there in her glory on the high end of the wall, oozing overtop the jazz section as she always had since I'd first set foot in the place. I've always loved that dichotomy, such a jazzy chick spilling rock 'n roll wantonness overtop a style of music that's subliminally sex-driven instead of outright sleazy. When I asked if I could have Candy-O, I was given a laugh and told, "She's already claimed, Ray, sorry." Instead, they sent me out with an album promo cutout for Elvis Costello's Spike, still a couple months ahead of its official release. That was kinda cool, actually. It gave me a taste of my future, having access to music in advance.
Like the eighth track on Candy-O, you can't hold on too long to much of anything and nowadays whenever I pass the exit from the beltway that used to lead to Record Theatre, I routinely sigh. Nobody but me knows why I do it, but I miss the hell out of the place and I miss that giant Candy-O wall mount. She was my first adolescent fantasy. Blondie told me to call her over and over from my turntable, but Candy-O summoned me, if you will. I used to have innocent crushes on Barbara Eden and Catherine Bach prior to, but Candy-O was there to prompt my first wet dream. When I think about it, that gal popped my cherry long before the real event occurred. Candy-O, I needed you so, apparently.
Listening to Candy-O on CD doesn't have quite the same verve as spinning on it vinyl. Somehow, the turntable rolls a little extra revolution as if by naughty instinct and Candy-O's tunes sound sweatier on slab than on the digital transfer, "It's All I Can Do," "Night Spots," "Shoo Be Doo," "Got a Lot On My Head," "Double Life" and "Candy O" being the biggest distinctions. I could be wrong, but I think Candy-O prefers things faster and wetter in that respect, ruby rings, sharp stilettos and all. Ric Ocasek would say she's a lot like you...
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Don't infer by the title of this post that I'm dishing on the immortal Iron Maiden. As my stepfather has coined from the silver screen of yesterday, Mother Q never raised such a foolish child.
Anyone who knows me knows Maiden is my favorite metal band of all-time and as I've been pecking at their latest video release Maiden England '88 for review at Blabbermouth, I've found it hard not to drift back somewhere in time inside my mind. 1988 was the year I graduated high school and it was also a year of other transitions and hard life lessons learned.
I'd faced breakup and forced resignation from a grocery store job that had a policy I was due to receive health benefits after having worked there for nearly two years. It was the year I missed my senior prom having gone a year earlier as a junior to my ex's senior prom. Bully on her, she couldn't be bothered to honor the commitment she'd made me a year thence. On the positive end, my curfew was extended and I was on the prowl most weekends, often coming home to watch Headbangers Ball on Saturday like it was liturgical, and sometimes I'd sneak back out and goof off with buddies in the wee hours until the fuzz politely sent us on our way.
In 1988, I realized I wanted to be a writer more than anything and as I was accepted into the local community college, I was talked by my folks into aiming towards a business degree as a backup plan to my budding aspirations. I'd also deluded myself into thinking I was marrying my high school sweetheart and though she didn't support my ambitions, I was willing to get on task of gainful employment, then chase after my dreams.
In the midst of all this change and growth in my life, I was cleaning corporate offices inside a Black and Decker complex that included a warehouse. My closest headbanger companion Mark worked on the cleaning crew with me for awhile and then he moved into the warehouse end. I was shrewd enough to know that our foreman only did two rounds of the facility to make sure we were staying on task and then he would crash in the cleaning crew's office and slack off. He'd later join us for our ten minute break and then disappear again. He would show up at precise and predictable moments of time, so he was easy to get over since the work was likewise simple and it hardly constituted the full allotted shift time. You get the picture.
You might correctly assume that because of the flawless anticipation of the foreman's rounds, we on the crew would time our work so that we could gather on certain floors and horse around. Dustbuster Tag was a favorite game. We'd flip out the main lights and dive under cubicle desks, stalking one another through the partitions and chasing each other with whirring dustbusters until everyone had been "tagged." I can still see those grody gray-brown marks on my old concert shirts from those epic contests. One of our lot used to call sex lines from the desks and we'd all laugh our fool heads off until he was fired for it once the corporate moguls put two-and-two together.
For awhile, we young bucks had a lady on our crew and I made friends with her for the short time she'd been with us. She took me to a projection booth inside an assembly hall on the premises and she'd let me vent about the stunning loss of my girlfriend. Sadly, I don't remember this girl's name, but she had a couple years on me and had fallen into a bad relationship she wanted out of. She gave me my first cigarette (a very short-lived habit I've long put to the wind) and we made out for a couple of minutes in that projection booth before she stopped me and said she didn't want her boyfriend snapping me in half. A week later, she quit.
Once separated and attending to our tasks of emptying trash cans, ashtrays (this was still the days when people could smoke inside the office), vacuuming, buffing tiles and cleaning the bathrooms (sorry, ladies, but the women's rooms were always far more frightening than the men's), I would have my Walkman strapped at my hip while I worked. The early form of an iPod, I used to do my job with cassette tapes spinning at my waist and the two heaviest hitters that ruled my Walkman at work were Iron Maiden's Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
The latter had just come out in 1988 and thus I spun it with the same obsessive consumption as I have every Maiden album that's crawled into my mits. I could be wrong, but I might've listened to Seventh Son the most times out of any Iron Maiden album within my life span, considering it would get an easy two spins while on the job, reserving time for screwing off with my friends, break time and also when I would sit in the president's office and stare out of his massive window at the glow of the illuminated parking lot after-hours. I took my headphones off then, just in the event the brass might skulk back in for a late impromptu meeting, which did occur now and then.
On occasion, some of the office workers would linger behind and while many were snobbish towards me, a few of the mid-level managers were really kind and talkative. One man made the effort to ask what I was listening to and he nodded when I said it was Iron Maiden. "I'm more of a Deep Purple guy," he'd said. That stands vivid in my mind and I still find it way cool.
I tried like hell not to sing "Moonchild," "The Evil That Men Do," "Can I Play With Madness" and "Only the Good Die Young" out loud when people were around working overtime, but when they were all gone for the night, the gloves were off. I wanted to be Bruce Dickinson in the worst way and I know I butchered him in off-key, post-adolescent impression, yet it felt good singing the Seventh Son songs to no one in particular. I knew when our super would be on the way, so the headphones would zip off my ears and dangle around my neck while I silently dumped trash and wiped down desks once he moseyed through my floor at 6:40 p.m. faithfully.
There was the one time, however, when I was caught "whoa-ohhing" along with Dickinson during the title track by the floor receptionist. I was embarrassed beyond words and tried to get out of her vicinity when I saw her laughing. However, she nicely told me to carry on, that she was only there to retrieve her purse she'd left behind. This woman turned out to be the mother of one of my closest friends in high school, Heather. By this time, we'd all graduated and gone our separate ways, a few of us keeping up with the "K.I.T." (for keep in touch) prompts we'd scribbled in one another's yearbooks. I was very fond of Heather back in the day and supportive of her rotten relationship with some guitarist who went into the military once we'd all left school. What I never knew, once I'd been formally introduced to her mother at Black and Decker, was that she'd wanted to see me. Apparently I'd been given a glowing review to Heather's mom and her mother supported the idea of us taking a stab at a date. This, despite the fact I was a gritboy headbanger with torn jeans, Megadeth and Overkill shirts and a ponytail.
Avoiding as much drama as I can, I was ecstatic once I had Heather on my ear and she'd agreed to go out with me. I'd been coming out of my personal funk from my breakup and thankfully avoided suicide. That little makeout session in the projection booth had restored some of my confidence and now this was going to put me right on top. I'd held a silent crush on Heather for a long time in school, often hoping she'd break up with the loser she'd been with. They had lasted through high school and I gave up on any notions of getting together with her, much less any of the ladies I'd been attracted to in school outside of my year-long girlfriend, Monica.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son continued to roll in my Walkman, in my car and in my bedroom stereo. I fucking loved that album, despite some of the negative press it got. It was symbolic of change, change within Iron Maiden's sound and change in my own personal life. Today I still feel all the emotions I ever did when I couldn't get it out of my various tape players back then.
The unfortunate ending to my time at Black and Decker and my foiled date with Heather came out one night when I stupidly tried to act heroic for one of the warehouse ladies who'd gotten her chips stuck inside a vending machine. I was looked at as one of the stronger guys on the crew, and I dumbly took that as a responsibility, thus I shook, titled and ultimately forechecked the machine until the Plexiglas shattered. I got those chips out and we all had a laugh over it, but the critical error I'd made was assuming our supervisor was going to discuss the incident with the right powers and explain it was an accident. I told the security guard who'd seen it go down that I was willing to pay for the damage, but no one spoke up and I went back to work. Later, an entourage escorted me out of the building and onto the street.
When I called Heather the next day to tell her what had happened and confirm our date, she told me she'd been forbidden by her mother to see me. By this time, I'd had many conversations with her mother. In fact, I knew her mom had hung behind after her time was up just to share a few words with me. I liked that woman and felt her reciprocation. To this day, I often wonder if fate hadn't intervened, what course life would've taken. It's nothing I agonize over, since life goes on and you make the most of what you have. Still, given how I thought I'd won that woman over, I felt betrayal, even though she was just doing with a mother would and should do under the circumstances she'd been presented.
It had gone around the plant that I had picked a fight with the security guard and thrown him into the vending machine. Heather's mom bought into this fabrication and after I pleaded over and over to be heard out, I was left with a click in my ear. No one believes a teenager, especially a scrub like I'd been back then.
I felt a tremendous sense of loss in that fragment of time, on an equilibrium to my breakup earlier in the year. I was furious, dejected and right back to that deep-down sense of low morale I'd slugged through and would have to slug through again. With no sense of irony lost, I pushed play on my stereo after Heather sobbed in my ear and hung up on me. "The Evil That Men Do" chimed on. Call it figurative if you must, but life does blow raspberries at you that way.
And so, as I watch the Seventh Son tunes roll before me on Maiden England '88, I think about how the band had incredible moxy to tackle a concept album and to buck the naysayers that were blowing their own raspberries at the addition of synthesizers to Somewhere in Time. Those were increased on Seventh Son and nowadays it hardly sounds shocking. It's just a natural progression and experimentation that still manifests in their music now and then today. The acoustic elements on Seventh Son remain some of the most graceful textures the band's ever dabbled with. At least history has mostly been kind to both albums and I maintain that the songwriting on Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, while lacking the galloping thunder (minus "The Evil That Men Do" and "Only the Good Die Young") and tone-drenched power of its predecessors, is one of their most refined recorded works and one of their finest overall achievements. Powerslave, for me, is the definitive Iron Maiden album, but Seventh Son is glorious in its own right.
I choose to think more about the Dustbuster Tag games and pretending I was master of the domain in the big boss man's chair than I do the butt ugly conclusion of my teenaged tenure at that complex. I do wish I'd been given proper audience by everyone who'd disparaged me by grossly misstating the chain of events. I thought I was being noble and ended up making a yeoman mistake. It cost me much, but not the cost of the Plexiglas, funny enough. My honor and reputation had been smeared and that's really about all I lament these days. In many ways, my future career actions have set about to not necessarily atone for that incident, but to wipe it clean altogether. Only with infinite dreams and a little cajoling of the proverbial clairvoyant have I managed to achieve that.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Hey there, everybody. Just wrapped on March's blitz of Blabbermouth reviews, so I anticipate getting more reviews planted over here in the upcoming week and thereafter. As previously promised, be on the lookout for analysis of the new Centurion and The Beyond albums, plus As They Burn, Vanna, and whatever else there's time to knock out.
I want to thank my Beatallibanger commenters with whom I've cultivated some insightful dialogue offsite. While many readers are going to both agree and disagree with my analysis of Beatallica's Abbey Load album, thus far, cooler heads have prevailed from the rebuking parties and I've enjoyed learning a few anecdotes that shed some light as to how I derived my opinions of the new album. I have no choice but to stand on what I wrote based upon what has been presented, but I now believe that Beatallica were held in check by licensing mandates from issuing the album they perhaps wanted to release this time around. If that's any attempt to be fair on my part, then hopefully it comes across that way. Hesh, you Beatallifreaks!
Depeche Mode - Delta Machine
Depeche Mode - Speak & Spell
Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
Jimi Hendrix - Band of Gypsys
Puscifer - Donkey Punch the Night EP
Puscifer - V is for Vagina
Clutch - Earth Rocker
ZZ Top - El Loco
H.I.M. - XX: Two Decades of Love Metal
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Second Helping
Nader Sadek - Living Flesh
Beatallica - Abbey Load
Ruins - No Place of Pity
Focus - Focus X
Baptists - Bushcraft
Cold Steel - America Idle EP
Man Made Sun - More Devil Than a God EP
New Order - Technique
New Order - Substance
Bonnie and Clyde
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Don't Stop Believin' : The Untold Story of Journey - Neil Daniels
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Man Made Sun - More a Devil Than a God EP
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Israeli born, New York-planted Man Made Sun is cultivating a modest audience using a grass roots (whatever constitutes for grass roots in the digital age) reachout and frankly, what they've been tooling with as a band defies category to this point. Proto pump metal? Gutter alternative? Psych crunk?
Yeah, all of those and none of them, if you take the inference. On their nicely constructed debut EP More a Devil Than a God, Man Made Sun would first have you believe they're aiming towards a pop metal audience with the hook-filled "God Vs. God" and "Belief." Then they change gears altogether on "Signal," which merges grunge rock and electro punk, i.e. early Soundgarden and Pearl Jam with The Prodigy, of all concoctions.
On "Three Things," there's more of a punk base in the fuzzy drawl of Fugazi that's given a bit of a subliminal hip hop groove without drifting towards actual rap. If anything, vocalist Ofer Tiberin (former guitarist of Emok) slithers and slinks his notes and words, accentuating instead of punctuating. Even when he huffs out a pseudo rap attack amidst the crunchy street riffs on "God Vs. God," there's more of a restrained open mike essence instead of flat-out slam to his delivery.
The coolest number on the EP, "Waiting for the Sun," throws a few curveballs, tricking the listener into thinking Man Made Sun is going straight for a neo-gangsta rap groove before jacking the track with shrilling guitar lines and synthetic Middle Eastern whispers as interpreted through electro channels. Tiberin weaves a pretty tasty splice of Cake's John McCrea and Damon Albarn on this song's verses while wailing like he's just getting its pipes loosened on the choruses.
If there's any glaring shortfall to More a Devil Than a God, it's a slight bit of hesitation from the band instead of pulling their triggers. There's so much going in these tracks and evidence of Man Made Sun trying to hedge an actual voice for themselves, more attention is given to the execution and homogenous mixing of their parts instead of letting their creative mojo leap free. You can sense a tiger's soul lingering within this collective hiding in the proverbial brush and waiting for the right delta to spring forward into, claws and incisors bared at the ready.
Still, Man Made Sun are onto something. Once that something is constituted as creed within their band, look the hell out.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Beatallica - Abbey Load
2013 Oglio Entertainment Group
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
The legend of Milwaukee genre splicers Beatallica is familiar to most rock fans, the most important fact being that they have the endorsements of both Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield behind them. Their fans are known globally as "heshers" and "Beatallibangers." Not too shabby for a Spinal Tap-ish pseudo career that began as a contest parody and took an improbable life of its own. If you're one of the unlikely souls coming across this review without knowing who or what Beatallica is, then one gander at the artwork of their fourth official album, Abbey Load should be indicative of what you're in for.
In the past, Beatallica has presented a cement head's (if mostly harmless) alter vision of famous Beatles songs played in the static key of "ca." At times, Beatallica have wielded some hilarious nuggets such as "Hey Dude," "Leper Madonna," "Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice" and "I Want to Choke Your Band." Their sheer balls for issuing All You Need is Blood on repeat in thirteen languages is likewise a high point, albeit that's only saying so much. If the components of Beatallica weren't sharp musicians coming into this ridiculous venture, they would've been cast away into the ether of a novelty act phantom zone where Dread Zeppelin and Napoleon Bonaparte have long been banished. Their last album Masterful Mystery Tour from 2009 was not a bad lightning ride from these fools banging from the proverbial hill. It seemed like Beatallica had engineered a riotous coda from which they probably should've carried their weight to an appropriate fade to black.
Enough wasn't enough, though, and this year Beatallica resurfaces once again with Abbey Load. Frankly, if you're thinking the title hints at material more watered down than a Coors Light, trust your instincts. While there are some fun bits of thrash midway through the end of the album, it's evident by the fact Beatallica has this time laid down a strict cover album of Beatles cuts they're in a quandary. With no real attempt to weave some of their trademark title and lyrical scrambles into their goob goob ga-growl Eggman platters, it merely posits the band has run out of cooking gas.
Abbey Load is merely Beatles familiars given the amplified treatment with a heavy concentration of Metalli-riffs grabbed from the latter's Load couplet. For example, "Until it Sleeps" winks into the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers" and Beatallica thus keeps the track rolling in low key with a thin resemblance to the original song. That's the general status quo to this album.
Beatallica ho-hums through a grungy and blasé take of "Come Together" while they limp through "I Saw Her Standing There," "Help!" and "Please Please Me" with bloodless riffs and the now-tiresome yo-ooooo Hetfield impressions conducted by Jaymz Lennfield. Let's not go there with "Michelle," ripped asunder (with seemingly intentional poor execution) by the crunch of Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls." In this case, Beatallica invites you to snicker over their lone external interjection, a morphed chorus tweak, "for whom Michelle tolls." Yeah, they went there. Sorry, but these cuts are just nowhere, man.
The album's highlight is a somewhat serious (and well-performed) instrumental take on "Blackbird" yielding a smidge of metal warping to Beatallica's acoustic parlay. Okay, it is genuinely funny to hear "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" and "Carry that Weight" thrown through Beatallica's grinding wind tunnels. Yet Abbey Load represents an end of the line moment for these Metalligoofs, at least on record. There's a bald absence of the creative zeal that made Masterful Mystery Tour and Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band pretty danged funny joints.
What really reeks on Abbey Load, however, is the band's swipe from Megadeth's "Bad Omen" in the midst of transition between "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam." They've already teased their listeners by tooling well-familiar rolling riffs into "Mean Mr. Mustard" found in Metallica's "Four Horsemen" and Megadeth's "Mechanix." You know, the same songwriting split over two different groups' tunes that continues to fuel the wrath of scrumming pundits over who won the battle of Dave Mustaine's work. Followed by the "Bad Omen" hijack, you're not sure if this is gonzo stuff or if Beatallica's opened a can of worms they sure as hell didn't need to now that the Metalli-deth war has been put to rest. Moreover, is Mustaine going to have a sense of humor that some of his fiercest licks bred in the midst of that long-ago feud has been ripped by a Metallica joke band? You understand Beatallica's jibe, but is this indeed a bad omen? Probably. Bad taste, for certain. Beatllica may want to keep Lars Ulrich's proffered retainer money handy.
Sad but true, Abbey Load has pushed the Beatallica farceur vehicle as far as it's going to go. Once a pretty funny and talented band of metalhead pranksters, their diehard Beatallicabangers may delight in this album but there's no denying Abbey Load is flatter than a highway flip cat. These guys will probably sustain themselves as Friday and Saturday night bar sensations since nothing opens beer bottles faster than a good party onstage, but their future memory is in danger of remaining only in theory. Like the epochal piano crash at the end of "A Day in the Life," this is done.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
2013 Experience Hendrix, LLC/Sony Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Jimi Hendrix just might be more popular these days than at the height of his purple reign. The brother's never gone out of fashion. He's an immortal, a cosmic troubadour, a young lion cut short at the height of his talents, add any due superlatives you like. He is canonized by the masses as guitar god of the most righteous order. By now, there's no argument Hendrix was the greatest of the great, but what's getting to be more evident these past few years now that his estate trickles out vault package after vault package is that the cat was playing (and recording, apparently) in his sleep.
It's been both dubious as well as intoxicating to have so much Jimi Hendrix to glom onto after decades of sitting on a handful of his halcyon recordings: Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland plus the Band of Gypsies live album representing his figurative legacy. For so long, Jimi Hendrix's basement tapes have remained under lock and key, even with the issue of The Cry of Love and War Heroes shortly as his death in September of 1970.
While Jimi's estate has taken up the laborious task over the years of segmenting and tuning up his vast "lost recordings," the fact so much of it has flooded the marketplace in rapid succession since Valleys of Neptune in 2010 carries an underlying reek of capitalist cash grabbing. On the other hand, Valleys of Neptune was merely a primer for a secondhand posthumous career that will rival anyone who's picked up an instrument in his or her life and put their wares to tracking. First Rays of the New Rising Sun, South Saturn Delta, Blues plus the Radio One and BBC Sessions live documents have not only satiated the appetites of hardcore Hendrix acolytes, it's given the world a better audile overview of the man's genius. For the truly rabid, there's also the Dagger Records bootleg imprint set up by surviving Hendrix clan. In effect, what Jimi Hendrix released in an official capacity during his four-year hijacking of the rock world was but three courses of an intended banquet, and just desserts for those who had the appetite.
Which leads us to People, Hell and Angels, twelve previously-unreleased tracks of Jimi noodling with schemes and external performers outside of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. While most of the material's rawness shows beneath the otherwise sparkling overdubbing, People, Hell and Angels is served up as further insight to how much energy was clamoring for release from Jimi's aura. You have to assume the unfitting way he checked out of this life was partially due to fatigue from his obsessive creative habit.
In a way, it is fitting that Hendrix squares off this past week in the same timeframe as David Bowie's strong rebound album, The Next Day. As representatives of a revered era of music, it's fun to couple them in one sitdown. What resonates about People, Hell and Angels on its own merits is its glimpse into what we audibly know about Jimi Hendrix and in a few cases, what we've not yet been treated to. "Earth Blues," "Crash Landing," "Inside Out," "Hey Gypsy Boy," "Hear My Train a Comin'" and "Bleeding Heart" are laidback blues jams with plenty enough glue to groove to, imperfect as they may be. Despite Jimi's intense plying for perfection, hearing these tracks along with all of this other archival material shows that he was quite human, much as many of his contemporaries might have argued he was an alien taking a prolonged vacay on planet Earth.
This album's hugest pleasure pill is Hendrix's duet with honky tonk and revival saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood on "Let Me Move You." Gospel at its heart, "Let Me Move You" propels into sonic and organic planes with clean, rapid strumming and precise soloing. All set against a booming wall of brass, organs and a crushing beat giving Jimi room to vibe, even if Lonnie Youngblood dominates the track with his visceral yowling and madcap tooting. The super-funky "Mojo Man" could've been one to outshine Curtis Mayfield had people heard this secretive get-together between Jimi and a mostly unlisted funk troupe that included his longtime Harlem friend Albert Allen on vocals.
Then there's "Easy Blues," a low-key jazz instrumental which shows Jimi could hop into damned near any genre he wanted to tool with, much like his future disciple Prince would go on to do. "Crash Landing" carries a hint of country bop beneath the primary blues drive, showing Jimi's propensity to toy with dynamics. On "Inside Out," Hendrix was playing around with a lot of ostinato as he was exploring the homogenous relationship between cleans and statics, one of his trademarks. "Inside Out" brings some of the traditional Hendrix principles on both guitar and bass, but it feels like he was trying to extend his ideas into a funkier vein with Mitch Mitchell riding shotgun in the interest of letting his friend helm and hone to his content.
"Hey Gypsy Boy" is one of the darker cuts Hendrix was working on between 1968 and 1970. Inherently muddy, you can detect grander psychedelic splashes on the horizon in what comes off as a wicked demo track in which Jimi wrangles his frets and coaxes all sorts of weird, translucent tones and keys that would've been significantly monstrous in finished form.
What People, Hell and Angels leads Jimi's fans to believe by de facto assumption is there is still far more the estate has yet to supply the listening world. As a traveling minstrel spreading the good news of electric nirvana, Jimi Hendrix came into contact with many of his contemporaries on top of so many differing stylists and performers. Dare we think there are Jimi and Janis tapes waiting to see the light of day? Or perhaps Jimi and Carlos Santana?
This isn't the end of the ride, bank on it.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Hey there, readers. Yeah, I've fallen off the pace here at The Metal Minute, but the traffic's spiked once again nevertheless. Personal matters and the need to recharge in solitude for a couple of evenings compelled me to get off-track. I love each and every one of you for keeping the momentum growing.
This week I was asked to write a guest editorial for Ghost Cult magazine regarding the butt ugly Queensryche division, so be on the lookout for that in future days. Meanwhile, I expect to pound on this site with previously-promised reviews and more including the latest Hendrix vaults package, People, Hell and Angels.
Be there or be nowhere.
Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
The Gathering - How to Build a Planet?
The Gathering - Nighttime Birds
Queensryche - The Warning
Queensryche - Operation Mindcrime
Queensryche - Promised Land
Otep - Hydra
Arbogast - s/t
Mudhoney - Piece of Cake
David Bowie - The Next Day
April Wine - The Nature of the Beast
The Black Keys - Attack & Release
The Black Keys - Rubber Factory
The Black Keys - Magic Potion
The Black Keys - Thickfreakness
Saxon - Strong Arm of the Law
Saxon - Power and the Glory
Allman Brothers Band - Idlewild South
Roger Waters - The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking
Mudhoney - I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney
Stray Cats Live at Montreaux 1981
An Evening With Frank Zappa: The Torture Never Stops
Oz, The Great and Powerful
James Salter - A Sport and a Pasttime
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Head on over to Blabbermouth.net right now and check out my reviews of the latest releases from Destruction, Helloween, Tomahawk, Saxon, The Gathering, Vreid, My Soliloquy, Kingcrow and Soilwork's spectacular double album, The Living Infinite, plus Rammstein's Videos 1995-2012 and Tank's War Machine Live DVDs.
And, as always, thank ya kindly for your support!
Posted by Ray Van Horn, Jr. at 9:45 PM
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Bad Religion - True North
2013 Epitaph Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
It's not just their longevity that's impressive, nor their prolificness. The fact Bad Religion has seldom disappointed in their three decades on the punk scene cements their legacy. Even their lowest moment on record is still above-average and that has everything to do with their ceaseless angst and contempt for authority that has kept them real. Granted, the message over the course of Bad Religion's career has been stuck in stasis, but nobody sells the anti-establishment creed better than these guys, that's a fact.
True North is just as fast, just as scathing and just as imperative in tone as Suffer, No Control and Against the Grain, the band's widely-acknowledged classics. Since bringing Minor Threat/Dag Nasty/Junkyard guitarist Brian Baker into the fold, Bad Religion has upgraded their speed attack from a guy who can go as fast or as slow as he's needed. For instance, he helps keeping the whirling tsunami of "Robin Hood in Reverse" gusting with tuneful bravado. By attrition, Bad Religion's historic sense of musicality has spiked as of 2000's New America and 2002's The Process of Belief, the latter when the briefly-departed Gurewitz rejoined the band to hone out a triple guitar attack. Already masters of harmony set on hyperthrust, Bad Religion have their brisk-moving, accusatory craft down pat as holdouts of a SoCal punk scene that's more talked about in reflection than preserved at-large.
Perhaps watching ghosts of their contemporaries crop up only intermittently gives Bad Religion extra fang and extra spit to keep going as scene regulars. "Past is Dead" on their latest album would be more than indicative that Bad Religion has said a figurative goodbye to nostalgia and kept to their own collective task. Of course it can't be discounted the fact guitarist Brett Gurewitz owns Epitaph Records and his constant exposure to new talent that grew up on his band's early catalog keeps his--and his bandmates, by benefit--fires going.
16 songs in under 35 minutes, True North is a classic in the making for a band that has plenty enough classics already. Greg Graffin may be a tad more laidback in his delivery than he used to be, but it's only by a hair. You won't feel like he's missed a venomous lick on "Nothing to Dismay" or "Land of Endless Greed ." As ever, his supporting back-layered "ahhs" from the band keeps a lofting conscience overtop the sheer anger Graffin wields more than he lashes these days. Together, they're outright beautiful on "Crisis Time."
While True North opens in a flurry of velocity with the title track, "Past is Dead," "Robin Hood in Reverse" and "Land of Endless Greed," the album varies its tempos through the remainder of its fast ride, exploding with a climax on the trifecta finale "My Head is Full of Ghosts," "The Island" and "Changing Tide," the former ringing very much akin to Dag Nasty's "Ghosts" from their brilliant and passionate Minority of One album--of which Brian Baker was a party to.
In fact, True North might be the best punk album since Minority of One. This is not only a brutally honest mini epic of punk dogma, it's a preconditioned reaction to a way of being, not merely playing. Still attacking the while collar world on "Robin Hood in Reverse," "Dept. of False Hope" and "Land of Endless Greed" and societal apathy on "Vanity" and "In Their Hearts is Right," Bad Religion puts their few rubbed nickels where their saliva-laced mouths are. Greg Graffin uses "Fuck You" as a platform not for shock value but as a gentle "excuse me" moment to explain his reflexive, still adolescent need to shout back at the world despite his representative age. In turn, he's looking for an extra pardon and a little bit of understanding on "Hello Cruel World." This is a punk ethos you can't teach youngsters who need to learn it on their own and on their own terms.
The past may be dead, but Bad Religion shows that keeping their course set for true north into a future that seems hardly expired is not just the nobler way, it's the only righteous direction.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Greetings, peeps, hope all's well around the metal frontiers.
Coming up at The Metal Minute in the immediate future, there'll be examinations of the latest from Bad Religion, The Beyond and Centurion, and another installment of Notes From the Old School.
Been on a Rammstein kick aside from the new Voivod after reviewing Rammstein's seriously kickass three-disc DVD Videos: 1995-2012 for Blabbermouth. Is this the tightest band alive, as I read one reviewer call them? Maybe, maybe not, but these guys are so much more than just a next-gen metal-industrial band. Between their outrageous stage theatrics and expressionistic videos, they just might be deserving of their own future-coined art movement: Rammstein.
Voivod - Target Earth
Rammstein - Sensucht
Rammstein - Reise Reise
Rammstein - Mutter
Rammstein - Rosenrot
Rammstein - Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da
Soilwork - The Living Infinite
Helloween - Straight Out of Hell
Vreid - Welcome Farewell
Iron Maiden - s/t
Gojira - L'enfant Sauvage
Conny Ochs - Black Happy
Bad Religion - True North
Siouxsie and the Banshees - Juju
Siouxsie and the Banshees - Tinderbox
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention - Freak Out!
Herbie Hancock - Inventions & Dimensions
Patti Smith Group - Easter
Fela Kuti - Beasts of No Nation
Lynyrd Skynard - Second Helping
Rammstein - Videos: 1995-2012
Mudhoney - I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney
A Fistful of Dollars
Monday, February 25, 2013
Conny Ochs - Black Happy
2013 Exile On Mainstream Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
An alliance with doom sovereign Scott "Wino" Weinrich has made German soloist Conny Ochs a budding underground sensation. Renaissance Man Wino seemed destined for last year's collaboration with Ochs, Heavy Kingdom, when you consider Wino had already issued his moody and introspective acoustic solo flight, Adrift. Kindred souls met and Conny Ochs corraled an entire demographic he might've silently courted but probably never expected to win over.
On his latest album Black Happy, the title is indicative of what you'll be subjected to, a man belting acoustic and low-dialed electric guitar with random guest vocals whirring at his side and the occasional bass drum and percussion keeping time. Ochs frequently writes the music in an upbeat tone even if the themes of his songs cast a beguiling range of emotions: melancholia, aspiration, despondency, sarcasm and above all, enlightenment.
It's Neil Young for the doom leagues, even if Conny Ochs' frequent troubadour's cadence puts him in distant company of another Ochs from folk yesteryear. Conny and Phil may not be singing about the same things, given the relevancy of the times impacting each man's art. Yet there's sincerity and authenticity emitting from Black Happy that would easily resonate with the folk scene along with the doom sect, both demographics being sparse and self-guarded.
Conny Ochs presents himself like a guarded man cutting himself loose in the company of lost souls in search of his crooning angst. Ochs delivers to his audience like he spent years traveling the world's neo-hippie communes in order to hone his craft. Black Happy checks in under twenty-eight minutes and Ochs is both sparing and fulfilling with his eleven self-contained numbers. "Blues For My Baby," "Borderline," "Phantom Pain" and "Stable Chaos" could've come straight out of the sixties and early seventies, while the album's honky tonkin' finale "Mouth" wraps Black Happy on such an upbeat jive despite its self-lamenting lyrics.
The opening number "Exile" will immediately endear Ochs to his newfound doom disciples with its beleaguered slides and subliminal distortion, even if the choruses sweep upwards to higher ground to keep the hapless lyrical content from submerging to the point of no return. "No Sleep Tonight," "Blues For My Baby" and "Die In Your Arms" push forth their discomforting dispositions like Ochs tapped his own skein onto the paper where he scrawled the lumbering note lines and ambivalent chord progressions. "Die In Your Arms" brings about a swirling eighties alt kick in the key of the Violent Femmes despite the happy-go-lucky harmonica almost laughing overtop the swinging minutiae. Ditto for "Trust In Love," which carries even more of the Femmes' over-the-hedge snidery.
Where Black Happy succeeds most is its search for something real and tangible with which to climb out of the initial and afterthought despair the listener is confronted with. Conny Ochs sings with conviction and with conscience. He could've easily sunk into monotone on many of these songs and yet Ochs chooses to allay and soothe with brisk projection and high pitches in order to keep his album from qualifying as straight-out dirge. There's a quantified play for something deeper than merely wallowing in misery for eleven songs. By the time he hits "Trust In Love" and "Borderline," Black Happy gravitates towards something on the edge of spiritual. The album may wrap with a downplayed thumb bite, but there's every reason to feel comforted by Conny Ochs, who brings his love of Neil Young, sixties folk and rock and old-time blues into a harping but sensuous mingling for the modern age.