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

Friday, May 27, 2005

Bane review

This band from Boston is exactly the kind of hip-check punk needs right now...

The Note
Equal Vision Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Four years after the release of their frequently discussed Give Blood album, Boston’s Bane is back and with a fury. Their third disc, The Note is deep, thoughtful hardcore in the tradition of Dag Nasty, Descendents, Bad Religion and Minor Threat with a few implementations of modern theory. It helps that The Note was recorded in the back yard of the woebegone legendary DC hardcore scene at Salad Days Studio. When Aaron Bedard screams, he often escalates his crescendos in Ian MacKaye, Dave Smalley and Henry Rollins fashion the facsimile is more than obvious. Well, if you’re going to emulate greatness…

“Woulda Coulda Shoulda” features a Dag Nasty orientation of classic punk principles injected with heavy drive and melodic choruses. Ditto for the lightning crash of “Hoods Up” that slips into a retro stomp groove that is dearly missed in today’s hardcore scene. Even more striking about this track is the gut-punching lyrics that will make old farts re-evaluate themselves and will give today’s generation something to get behind with lines like “TELL ME that this is still for the kids, by the kids, about the fucking kids,” and “TELL ME that loud guitars backed by loud ideals is what we’re all about,” and “TELL ME that there is so much more, so much worth screaming our heads off for.” It’s been a long time since hardcore angst has been this legitimate.

Likewise Bedard issues the warning about “talking about conviction when you haven’t been convinced of anything yet” on “Wasted on the Young.” It’s straight edge introspection as it is a preface towards giving serious thought to what you postulate as the truth. Even at 35, I’m still in search of the truth and I’m frustratingly wrong more times than not. It’s a sobering wakeup regardless of your age.

The end result of The Note is highly tuneful punk that is a rare commodity sandwiched uncomfortably between the emo sanctions and the breakdown buttkickers of hardcore whose emphasis is overdramatic posturing in the former case, outright bludgeoning (sometimes bordering on nihilism) in the latter. Bane’s reflective incorporation of old school punk and hardcore themes does them credit and The Note is thoroughly enjoyable as a result. Even at a meager 28 minutes, The Note adopts the leave ‘em wanting more ideology of classic punk records and guess what? You won’t mind it one bit. You’ll simply let it and play and play and play some more, if for nothing else to scream along with the roundtable chorus “When Armageddon’s been locked and loaded I will come back for you…” from the appropriately-titled “Swan Song” as The Note fades out. This is great stuff and most welcome in a scene that needs such principled music.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars Episode III

At 35 it seems a bit surreal that Star Wars made its original debut in 1977, where I sat goggle-eyed at the greatest spectacle my young eyes had ever feasted upon. I remember I kept flash-checking over my shoulder up at the projection booth to confirm the images that were spread before me. Indeed, a truly magical moment for a then-seven-year-old.

While it stands to reason that the original trilogy of Star Wars (or Episodes IV - VI for those of you who favor technicalities) is by far superior to George Lucas' prequels, I have to say that at Episode III - Revenge of the Sith comes damned close to being worthy enough to stand amongst the original three.

Much has been made in the early goings-on about Episode III garnishing a PG-13 rating for a few intense scenes. From a parent's perspective, I can see the outrage (not that it's going to stop many of them from appeasing their assuredly curious children) from the view that there has been so much cross-marketing for Episode III it's surprising to a parent that a movie they are expected to buy related toys, cereal and other products bearing the familiar Star Wars emblem should be a risky venture to take their kids to see it. Nonetheless, parents be warned; if you have small children you will be at a crossroads on this movie because while much of Episode III is fantastical non-stop action that will assuredly captivate a child's heart, it indeed has a few boundary-pushing scenes (boundary-pushing for Lucas) that will make you squirm. Though it's tastefully done for the most part, Anakin's unleashing of fury upon the children in the Jedi temple is daring and absolutely frightening, even for adults...especially for adults.

On the other hand, I see Lucas' point as well when he says he has a story to tell and shouldn't be expected to compromise what's supposed to be the darkest chapter in the saga, where we witness the plummet of Anakin Skywalker's innocence into the power-hungry iconoclast that becomes Darth Vader. You can't surround the story with Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks (who only has two flash appearances in Episode III and only one miniscule line - atta boy George, you're listening to your faithful) for cutesty comic relief. Episode III inserts a few random bits of humor to alleviate the tension, but let's face it; the bad guys win (if temporarily) in this flick, and they win butt-ugly. They don't do it by pussyfooting their way through the galaxy with Rasta-speaking sidekicks.

Episode III is definitely ugly and it's mostly emotional. Granted, there are a few moments of poor acting, and Lucas again frustratingly gives Christian Hayden and Natalie Portman cookie cutter dialog that sounds natural maybe for a pair of curious twelve-year-olds, not for the pivotal romance that instigates Anakin's downfall to evil. It takes a few awkward scenes between Hayden and Portman to generate any believable chemistry, but fortunately, Lucas steps the pace up by developing his estrangement from the Jedi and his seduction by Chancellor Palpatine, AKA Darth Sidious, AKA The Emperor. You don't quite buy that Anakin's reasoning for turning to the dark side is stemmed by nightmares about his wife Padme, whom he believes will die, but when Palpatine gives Anakin false hope of prevention through a mysterious power only learned through the Dark Side, it helps the plot.

Alright, so Anakin's transformation to Darth Vader is out of love for Padme. Okay, sigh if you want. It's a weak element, but the real tragedy is not the failure between Anakin and Padme; it's the failure between Anakin and his friend and master, Obi Wan Kenobi. The fight scene between the two is blistering, intense, and gut-punching, particularly when Kenobi fights tears as he screams that Anakin was supposed to be "the chosen one" to restore balance to The Force, that Anakin has betrayed him and everyone by embracing the darkness. It's the most rewarding scene Lucas develops, for all of the high-tech wizardry that coats Episode III. The very end of the movie after Anakin and Padme's twins (Luke and Leia, of course) have been separated is likewise poignant and well-executed by intergrating John Williams' classic scoring from the original triology that bridges Episode III to Episode IV: A New Hope rather nicely.

Otherwise, Episode III is a relentless barnstormer of action with lots of lightsaber duels, excellent pacing and a far superior storyline than the previous two in the prequel set. I read a lousy-reasoned review by MSN where they pinpoint the dialog between Ben Kenobi and Anakin prior to their emotional fight where they believe George Lucas is emulating another George, whose politics piss me off to no end, but you'll find me in a rare defense of our president. MSN was way off; if anything, the Star Wars series has plucked its roots from the Nazi Party and World War II with elements of the Civil War within its fantasy-themed storylines. On the opposite spectrum, GW himself has gone on record to say that the violence in Episode III is a direct result of the Iraq war and 9-11. Sorry, knucklehead, you're giving yourself way too much credit.

Star Wars Episode III was everything I wanted it to be and in some apsects more. The effects are magical and George Lucas shows why he's a Master Jedi when it comes to visual presentation. At least this time his characters show more emotion than in the past two. Particularly strong is Ewan McGregor, who has really found himself in the role of Ben Kenobi. Whereas in Episode I: The Phantom Menace McGregor was a little iffy until the showdown with Darth Maul, the past two movies McGregor nails the character with conviction and fortitude, and in Episode III you can almost see the transition from McGregor to Sir Alec Guinness.

I doubt highly this is Lucas' true last hurrah with Star Wars. Whether it continues in the form of a rumored t.v. series or other fill-in movies, or better yet, the originally promised post Return of the Jedi sequels (though it won't be the same with our heroes as old they are - or will it?), you can bet George Lucas will take a hiatus from Star Wars, release some of his personal projects and when his audiences reject those, you can almost guarantee The Force will flow again once more. There could even be a coup by some upstart who thinks he/she can do justice to the series. After all, Star Wars, whether you like it not, is bigger than all of us. I mean, what other movie do you know where people camp out for the damned tickets?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bipolar CD reviews: Boris and The Duke

No, it's not a slapdash satanic merge between Boris Batenov and John Wayne. I'm having fun sharing some of my reviews with you all, and these two CDs couldn't be further distinct from one another, one for, the other for

Boris – Akuma No Uta – Southern Lord – Review by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

On the opposite extreme of Puffy Amiyumi (who is admittedly one of my musical guilty pleasures, and no wisecracks, ya bastards) lies a brick-heavy Japanese trio who might’ve imagined on more than one occasion sharing roundtable sushi with some of their traceable influences such as Kyuss, Jimi Hendrix, The Stooges, Blue Cheer and even Minor Threat. A strange company to be sure, but not really, not when you conceptualize the verse lines of Minor Threat’s “Out of Step” amped to fuzzbomb proportions. This is merely one dimension to Boris’ raucous beast of an album Akuma No Uta.

Often seen in the company of their droning labelmates Sunn O))) it should be no surprise whatsoever that Akuma No Uta opens with “Introduction,” a prolonged guitar whirr that amazingly has enough cohesive melody amidst its meticulous note extension that the listener is committed to Boris being a Sunn 0))) repro until the next track “Ibitsu” roars with such tonal carnage the listener is caught unprepared for it.

By this time, Boris freestyles amidst its psychedelic guitar washes on the twelve-minute-plus “Naki Kyoku” and positively erupts from its predecessor’s tension on “Ano Onna No Onryuou.” With mammoth beats to pave the way for the flurry of trippy solos and quick-timed strumming rhythms, Boris truly embodies the tag “power trio.” Perhaps not in the league of say, Rush, this threesome need not concern itself with advanced progression; the mere fact Boris’ bombastic music takes on so many rich aural qualities of its own puts them into a small herd of musicians who know how to attribute themselves with a deep-rooted appreciation for homegrown distortion methodology, much in the admirable way their other labelmates The Hidden Hand do like no other. If Boris matches Scott Weinrich’s work ethic (and they’re damned close to it), get out of their way.

To sum it up thusly: Akuma No Uta is to underground riff metal as Akira is to adult anime; the latter is an undeniable classic and the former may one day be considered so.

The Duke
My Kung Fu is Good
Spitfire Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Rating: 3/4

I was glad to learn that Rich Ward’s alter ego “The Duke” was gelled as a tag from a reviewer in a German music magazine, versus any idolization of the overrated iconoclast John Wayne (all of you punk obscurists sing along with me in irony to MDC’s “John Wayne Was a Nazi,” will you?) If you know the name Rich Ward, you’ll certainly cough up Stuck Mojo and Fozzy. Bear these entities in mind but for a split second when approaching The Duke’s My Kung Fu is Good, and then promptly abandon them. If you’re expecting the rap metal mania of Stuck Mojo, there are miniscule traces. If you’re expecting the syrupy heaviness of Fozzy (who adept pupils will note is related to the WWE’s Chris Jericho), forget that altogether. This is not to say that The Duke is wimp rock, but you will undoubtedly need to give it a few chances before passing it off at face value. It’s a personal soul-searching endeavor by Rich Ward, who sticks to conventional pop-oriented hard rock in the vein everything from 3 Doors Down to Nickelback to Everclear to even Journey, and that’s not being fully accurate. It is an eye opener, that’s for sure, as it must be for Ward himself.

On the opening number “I Give to You,” Ward tells us “I don’t wanna be a star, don’t wanna be your god, we came together ‘cause you see it too, when the sun is in my face, the best part of me is in the music I give to you.” As he explains in his liner notes, Rich Ward has some personal demons to expel and expel them he does. Obviously constrained by whatever demands his musical life has shackled upon him, these songs from My Kung Fu is Good unchain him purposefully and melodically.

With tender lyrics, rich vocals and tempered guitar solos that serve the emotions of the songs instead of merely showing off a repertoire of chops, Ward creates an album that allows his listeners inside his microcosm. Dealing with an everyday conundrum he seeks to assemble properly through music is a theme that runs rampant on My Kung Fu is Good, be it the dawning realization of self-killing on the riff-heavy “Suicide Machine” or personal reflection through the soft tones of “Summer” and “Running.” Call it Rich Ward’s private therapy session made public. When the final query of “What will it take to see me for who I am?” it sounds like a love plea on one side, but in the end, Ward answers his own question by opting to live in the moment and find a meaningful direction. In many ways, Ward could’ve opted to put the peppy pop pleaser “Back to You” at the end of My Kung Fu is Good as it represents a lifting of his personal haze, lyrically and musically, but it’s all good. The sequencing of the tracks is obviously as delicate to Ward as the tracks themselves.

Consider this a warning that The Duke is going to sock you one hard if you’re expecting it to be a metal juggernaut. It’s not. What separates Rich Ward’s pop plying from Top 40 radio flirts is the fact that has songs possess conviction and they are bloodletting fragments many of us struggling to reach a higher standard in our lives can relate to. If it takes hooky, friendlier-sounding vehicles to reach this objective, so be it. Rich Ward consulted a musical sensei that set him on a different path and his kung fu is definitely good. Go in peace on your journey towards introspection, brother…

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Gwar - Live From Mt. Fuji review

Because I'm feeling overambitious this morning...

Gwar – Live From Mt. Fuji – DRT Entertainment Review by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The first question that may arise when you approach this endeavor will be: “Why?” Let’s face it, people, the majority of you show up at a Gwar show with painted targets on your chests and gaped mouths with the anticipation of going home a stinking, dripping mess. Combining Grand Guignol shock theater with riff-heavy metal licks, Gwar is perfectly comfortable in the knowledge that at least half of its audience shows up for the spectacle, not the music. Thing is though, Gwar has really polished itself as a pretty good metal unit aside from being a bloody novelty, and herewith lies the reasoning we have Live From Mt. Fuji, Gwar’s first live outing. After all, their current studio album War Party proves that Gwar has become more adept at its sound and Live From Mt. Fuji captures the aural rowdiness of some of those songs like “Womb With a View” and “Bring Back the Bomb,” while serving up classic Gwar cuts like “The Salaminizer,” “Horror of Yg,” “Biledriver” and “Crack in the Egg.” The good news for fans of Gwar’s music is that this live compendium sounds damn good.

It’s kind of funny to hear Oderus Urungus toy with his Japanese throng who yell their adoration in near-clueless response. For example, the preamble before launching into “Krosstika,” where he notes that “the swastika and the print of Christ should be familiar to the people of Japan.” Honestly, since when has Gwar been afraid of ducking political correctness? They’ve set precedents in anti-p.c.! I stated in another review of War Party (and I know I’m a minority in this thinking) that there’s subtle political and social commentary lurking beneath the spew, the blood, the jizz and the mock mutilation. After all, Gwar was originally founded as a sociology project. Whether you know it or not, you’re guinea pigs in Gwar’s fundamentalist experiment, not vice versa. Gwar appeals to us at our basest levels, the bloodthirsty parts of our psyches that need artists like Gwar to express ourselves within a fantastical environment, as opposed to taking to the streets and acting upon hedonistic impulses. Think about it. Why else would anyone cheer and beg Oderus Urungus to jack off in their faces? It’s the same reason why porn is a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s why the Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series improbably continue to breathe.

This year’s “guests” on the Gwar gore festival included Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Michael Jackson, Lacey Peterson and the reprehensible Paris Hilton and G.W. Bush as well as “The Reaganator,” and you can merely imagine what tasteless fates were in store for these “celebrities.” Having attended this year’s Gwar road debacle, I can assure you the simulated deaths were appropriately gory. This is what will be lingering on your minds as you listen to Live From Mt. Fuji; what the hell is going on that slimy stage? Your only clue is Oderus’ offensive narration, the quickly strumming guitars of Balsac, the Jaws of Death, the vibrating bass of Beefcake the Mighty and your darkest imagination. This is quite clever when you think about it; what better way to prime your live audience than to merely give it half of what it expects? Genius…

Trephine review

After a night's sleep on what was an emotionally-draining day, I figured I'd divert myself by getting back into my work. After all, music always has been my great healer, though I can't understate the value of caring friends who took the time to address me yesterday. I appreciate you all more than you know.

For all of my Baltimore-based readers, the following band are homies, and I can't get them out of my regular rotation, if such a thing exists these days! They're called Trephine and, well, this review for hopefully paints the picture...

Trephine – Trephine (Public Guilt) Review by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If Mars Volta and Yes swung the ropes in a game of double-dutch for Mastodon with Voivod and Mr. Bungle kicking cans along the gutter, you might get the unpredictable street soiree that comprises Baltimore’s Trephine. While the term “math metal” really tends to badger me (likely, perhaps, because I carried a mediocre C average through all of my math subjects), Trephine indeed calculates its complex rhythms and interchanging tempos with an old-fashioned abacus, not a plastic number cruncher. In other words, the metaphor indicates that Trephine structures its mega instrumentals with an artisan’s methodical hand.

Part 1 of the bookend sections entitled “Goes to Hell, Mr. Wiggles” can hardly prepare you for the drop-tuned insanity that prevails on this outrageously fun album. The lumbering opening sequences of “Age of Reptiles” soon switches gears into an all-out riff-fest, while “Metal Detector” opens like a Melvins or Mudhoney-spirited offshoot with its steady grunge lines that spill into acid guitar grooves and classic metal stomps.

They jam a six-stringed phallus into “Devil’s Activist” with heavy-as-hell thrusts that climax into a Sonic Youth-like screech finale that pierces just long enough to make its point before launching into some slick and winding progressive sequencing on “Axolotyl.” If Trephine pulls off any Mr. Bungle chicanery, it’s assuredly on “President Advisor,” which is equally tricky with its swapped jazz sequences and weighty rock bludgeoning. If they make a case for Mars Volta comparison, it’s with the frenetic sense of giddyap note clustering that precedes the slower tempo stylizing on the near-astonishing “Adrenochrome.”

Historically, instrumental albums can be hit or miss, but in Trephine’s case, their lunatic fringe art would only work vocally with someone like Mastodon’s Troy Sanders (whose band is progressively heavy in its own right), and only with random interjected growls and yelps. Otherwise, Trephine is totally fine on its own and they never grow stale. Hell, that’s understating it quite a bit. To be more accurate, Trephine more than likely kicks the crap out of anything you’re listening to this very minute.

Monday, May 16, 2005

a short poem from a would-be parent

I've had a nerve of mine deeply struck quite a few times recently, all of it from primarily young, unknowing parents. Their transgressions are subtle but what it boils down to is that if you're a parentless couple, forget trying to offer your two cents to many of those who have children. Though the majority of them would never be so crass as to say it directly, they unintentionally belittle those who have no children because there's a preconceived lack of empathy. It's unfortunate that my wife can't bear me children and we have spent years agonizing together over this. Her pain surpasses mine because the burden inadvertently falls upon her, and if there's anyone with greater maternal instincts and skills, it's her. Far be it for me to judge God's will, but it's certainly unjust that it should be this way. We tell ourselves constantly that the answer lies on our horizon, which God will reveal at the appropriate time, but then you have to factor in that I'm 35 and she's 32. How much longer can we viably wait before we become old parents, which stands to hurt any conceived children in the long run?

The thing about couples with children is that are rightly consumed within their own little microcosms (hinting at Robert DiNiro's proverbial Circle of Trust from Meet the Parents/Fockers) that they, in turn, cannot empathize with couples who desire children but are victims of genetics and an exploitative, money and freedom-consuming adoption process. It's heartbreaking to discuss someone's child and offer your point-of-view, only to be shot down as not knowing what you're talking about simply because you don't have the fruit of your loins to bear testimony. My friends, this is thoroughly wrong and insensitive. It's one thing if you're a non-parent giving bad advice, but in our case, my wife has worked in day care centers and has acted as a private nanny many times, and I've glommed onto her perspectives and insights. A friend of ours, whose son we are legal guardians of, is egging Ardisse to get on that Nanny 101 show and show them how to raise children. As much as I won't stand to have my wife belittled by scripted television, the sentiment is a step in the opposite direction.

What it boils down to is that those of us who cannot bear children naturally are forced down painful and ugly paths and to have ourselves dismissed at face value, well, enough of the articulation... it flat-out sucks!

What follows below is a short poem I'd gladly write for my son or daughter were he or she in my life this very second. The next time my wife, myself or anyone in our sitution tries to share the joy that another couple has with their children, only to be unconsciously blown off because we don't have a fleshly representation of our ideals ought to understand we know more than they THINK we know about children...


go forward little one
I love your life more than my own
fear not of falling
I will be there to catch you
until you are ready to fall one day
or to stand proudly of your own accord
and know then
that I will always love you
your triumphs will be mine
and your tears will be wiped
after my own...

(c) 2005 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

wind chimes

Never does chaos theory sound more appealing than through the random musicology produced by a gentle morning breeze through the patio that strikes the hollow metal cylinders, producing resonate songs with desultory but fruitful melodies...

Bloody Sunday review

Contrary to the debate my friend Bob and I have going on in the Mastodon blog, I offer my readers this review I've generated for I feel I call it as I see it, be it in front of a band plying for one section of the youth's attention like Death by Stereo, or this spiritually-based hardcore band plying for any youth's (or anyone else's, for that matter) attention, whoever will listen.

Bloody Sunday - To Sentence the Dead (Facedown Records) Review by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

G.W. may be the Christian Coalition’s whore, but this unholy alliance is nowhere near as potentially frightening as hardcore with a religious message. Hear me out before you roll your eyes up, though. If you think Bloody Sunday’s tempestuous litany is merely a set of breakdown-laden hymns, you’re incorrect. Surprisingly skimpy on the breakdowns (which I personally applaud), Bloody Sunday are contemporary soothsayers with a serious bug up their rectums. The inferno blazing on their cover of To Sentence the Dead will call to mind both Nuclear Assault and Unearth in the same breath, yet Bloody Sunday’s double-timed preachery will either appeal to you or it’ll make you wave them off. At either rate, Bloody Sunday is here to judge you in no light terms; they openly invite you to their cause, or they warn you that clinging to this life of materialism spells your undoing in the afterlife. Judgment Day apparently comes early, and To Sentence the Dead is a surprisingly effective advance memorandum.

While some of the songs that deal with straight-edge angst and the inability to cope with non-straight-edge friends are nothing new, neither are they commonplace. A true straight-edge is hard to find; a true straight-edge with tolerance is even harder to find. One can sort of sympathize with where vocalist Keith is coming from, but on songs like “Old Friends and Dead Ends” and “Sugar On Your Lips Murder in Your Heart,” it’s apparent he’s subscribed to the gospel of Ian MacKaye as he has the old testament. It’s frustrating as hell to watch the world compulsively debauch itself, which is where Keith sounds dead-on. On the other hand, I can personally give Keith the advice that while such convictions are noble, they become maddeningly self-destructive in the end. I’ve been there. Does that mean one simply relent principles in light of a world that won’t clean up its act? Not at all. It means you refocus and target yourself in a channel of positivity, which Bloody Sunday does for the most part. It’s just the hammering way they go about it that will leave listeners to decide if Bloody Sunday’s messages of hope beyond mortality are appealing or mere zealotry.

Bloody Sunday is relentless with its gung-ho professions of faith through thrash vehicles. Well-polished songs like “Best of Me” or “Total Immersion” will give hardcore fans the blistering fix they need, while forcing them to think for a second. As the latter song attacks capitalism, one might start to yawn at its tried-and-true theme, yet the ultimate message of working to leave a more positive world for future generations is right on and most welcome. It doesn’t hurt that Bloody Sunday’s hardline attack is better than many of their peers; if you like your hardcore with steady mosh rhythms and a few changeups that are mitigated by a large reduction of archetypal breakdowns, this album is for you.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a sound so brutal taking on religious qualities, but it beats the sappiness of contemporary Christian music found at your local Bible Mart. Even as “False Ideas of Perfection” assumes a holier-than-thou stance, Bloody Sunday nonetheless addresses its largely impressionable audience without fear, and given recent trends in the underground, there’s a growing section of youth receptive to hardcore bands like Bloody Sunday and Norma Jean. Be skeptical if you want, but honestly, that’s a good thing. It’s far better to find your path to God through well-thought-out music than through back pocket politics.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Mastodon show

Countdown to Episode III....

Last night was the first time I've been to a concert that I wasn't covering since Prince last summer. It may sound condescending, which is certainly not my intention, but after almost a year of covering shows with company joining me at maybe a handful of them, it was refreshing to go to a show just as a fan in the company of longtime close friends. There's certain things you take for granted when you relinquish the journalist part of you, for one thing, jockeying for position between tall heads, but there's always a certain charm about that, aggravating as it can be. The point is that sometimes one can get rather comfortable with guest lists and photo passes, but sometimes it boils down to be with your buddies and having a kickass time with no responsibilities.

What was especially lingering in the back of my mind (and I know my friends Bob and Mark probably wouldn't appreciate this as much as I do) is the fact that these two dudes and I had a band together for maybe a blink of an eye. Doomed from the start, I kept thinking what a testament to our friendship that 15 years or so since we made a shabby attempt to make music together we were still hanging out together, two of us with children (I being the exception), very different people but still the same gritboys we were back in the day. Much wiser, more thought-out kind of guys we are now, but what it boils down to (and I think this answers Monty Python's proposed query to what the meaning of life consists of) is being honest to yourselves and to one another, and to simply enjoy what life has presented you.

That sappy preamble aside, we went to catch the Mastodon show at the Recher Theater in Towson, Maryland. With the news of Mastodon's signing to a major label, it became somewhat imperative to me that I catch them in a small venue. When I interviewed drummer Brann Dailor last fall, I was on their guest list to see them with Killswitch Engage and Slayer. The contemptuous greed of the mortgage brokers I deal with in my day life prevented me from making the gig, a point of contention I venomously bitched about for days afterwards, as I'd left the office an hour forty late that night. Now was my chance to see what I'd missed, and Mastodon was headlining this time.

Beginning with the opening band Cult of Luna, the three of us agreed that this primarily doom act was really solid as a band, that is, until Luna's singer ruined the effect. Nothing personal to the guy; screamers are so much a part in today's metal scene it's no surprise he's there, but what's particularly striking about Cult of Luna is their sense of subtlely and texture beneath their slow rhythms. At first you want to yell at them to get a move on, which the crowd, though surprisingly polite, were obviously thinking, given the way they chattered through Luna's entire set. In time, though, you could see that Cult of Luna are quite good at building their songs with neat, spacey guitar notes that ascend into doom-heavy riffs that really erupt in the latter portions of their songs. As an instrumental band, Cult of Luna are sterling musicians. It's when their vocalist jumps in and hollers overtop of their textures where their craft is noticeably disrupted. A bummer, but certainly not preventive of buying their CD, which I did.

The second band, Death by Stereo, presented an opportunity for Bob and I to heartily disagree over their inclusion in the lineup, but what the three of us mutually decided upon was that Death by Stereo was a freaking pain in the ass. They had me for three songs with their speedy and energy hardcore performance, but it due time, it was plain they were scripted, emotionless (despite the constant effrontery of their lead singer) and in my opinion, pliers for the youth in the crowd. Stereo became tedious, obnoxious, and while many of the younger members of the crowd obviously dug them, the boos on the sides of the hall were noticeable. Herein lies the contention between Bob and I: it is of my opinion that Death by Stereo was included on this bill as a youth-endearing crowd pleaser, a peppy (if pretentious) bunch of hardcore goofs whose act is no different than most others of their ilk. I feel they were brought on to get the younger sect of the crowd fired up and ready for Mastodon; as with any good lineup, it always helps your cause to have a band that can work your crowd into a frenzy so that they're receptive to you as a headliner.

Bob believes I sell the youth of today short, which I may have from time-to-time, mainly in terms of gauging their capacity to learn history, particularly in music, but in this case, I feel as if I'm dead-on, particularly if you consider that Mastodon certainly benefited from the fact that many of the crowd were jazzed up after Death by Stereo, while the other portion were pissed off by them. For Mastodon, it's a win-win. Death by Stereo were sacrificial lambs, whether intended by Mastodon or not. But to finish the mini-argument between Bob and I, the pit was pretty nuts for Death by Stereo, even with thin ranks. To that extent, Bob wins a point, the fact that there weren't many people cranking and skanking in the pit. But I stand on my point that the improbable inclusion of Death by Stereo between the talented Cult of Luna and Mastodon was purposefully designed, which I think may even fall on the promoters. After all, music is a business and it's all about marketing. Rock 'n roll still has a soul, but it doesn't mean it's not privy to corruption, slight as it may be in this case. The end result is that Death by Stereo, who I am sure to cross paths with in some form, either in front of the stage or behind the scenes, did their thing, but it was a fruitless set when all was said and done, and the fact they were on for an astonishing 45 minutes, I think, supports the point Bob refuted me on. Nonetheless, we got over it once Mastodon came on.

What else can you say about Mastodon? If you know their music, you know they're a progressive metal juggernaut with complex time switches and gargantuan riffs. In my opinion, Mastodon in an elite class of metal that some are tempted to cast into the stoner set. It's a shallow assumption, I feel, because, while Mastodon's riffs may be drop-tuned, they're constantly moving their sequences and they're frequently more intricate than your average weed band. In fact, the whole stoner tag has become a great big pisser, because too many bands are getting lumped into its leagues because of their drop D tuning that don't deserve to be. That's a rant for a separate entry or a professional review, so let me continue on by saying that Mastodon, while having only the most subtly few mistakes (I've listened to their masterpiece Leviathan religiously) than a seasoned ear to their music can pick up, were mostly dead-on. After all, their music is complex and I know it must be devilishly tedious trying to accurately recreate it in a live setting, but damn if they didn't crush their songs and vibrate the walls of the Recher Theatre. They were mighty, commanding and they played the entire Leviathan album, out of order of course. It was surprising that they opened with their 13- minute epic "Hearts Alive," but it went on to show Mastodon's unconventionality, which was most welcome.

Particularly sneaky was their fake-curtain call. When Troy Sanders (who was maniacal on his bass and vocals) said that they saved their best for last by playing their breakthrough song "March of the Fire Ants" from Remission, almost nobody realized he was serious. The crowd stomped, hooted and did their best to summon Mastodon out for a curtain call, and Bob made an astute comment by saying "I bet they're laughing at us," because the lights dimmed as if Mastodon would indeed return for a curtain call, only to have their closing instrumental from Leviathan "Joseph Merrick" pumped over the p.a. as their farewell. I had a feeling this was Mastodon's send off, and as the house lights sprang up in the middle of this track, I laughed while most of the crowd expressed its disgust. Bob congratulated Mastodon for this swervy maneuver and I'm inclined to agree. I thought it was kind of funny and pretty neat. The temptation to call it cheap is undermined by Bob's point that encores are mostly self-serving anyway and the older I get, the more I see his point.

In all, a fantastic night out with some close friends and some mostly great tunes. I certainly don't let those bastard mortgage brokers off the hook, but I feel greatly satiated by experiencing Mastodon live.

If you're so inclined, my interview with Mastodon's drummer Brann Dailor (who is obscene on the kit) can be found at

Friday, May 13, 2005

Weerd Science review at Music - teaser

Nope, it's not the silly 80s flick nor its tres rad theme by underappreciated heroes Oingo Boingo. This is a side project from none other than Coheed and Cambria's Josh Eppard, and what a side project! No emo, no metal, it's underground rap and while the potential for absolute cheese exists for such an ambitious undertaking, Eppard pulls it off admirably! Here is the intro paragraph to my review of this outstanding effort at Music

Artist: Weerd Science
Title: Friends and Nervous Breakdowns
Genre: Hip Hop
Label: Equal Vision Records

There are times I wish I had my own radio station, preferably an underground pirate operation like Christian Slater had in Pump Up the Volume. Then I could play obscure underground music like Weerd Science that’ll likely only get attention because of the association instead of the actual music. Let’s face it, mainstream America is a fickle breed and Coheed and Cambria will be the primary reason people discuss this album. But the truth of the matter is that Joshua Eppard has been pursuing his rap aspirations for almost 11 years and now that he has his chance, he capitalizes with vitality and antagonism. Friends and Nervous Breakdowns is relevant, fresh and so deliciously much the venomous anti-rap rap album that it is.

(c) 2005 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

To read the rest of my review, hit up and scroll towards the bottom! Peace...


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Growl Karaoke

Alright death metal freaks, click on this and have fun! My cat ran for cover and I laughed my fool head off!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Interview excerpt from Paul Kuhr of Novembers Doom/Subterranean Masquerade

This is for all of you parents out there. I had an interview with Larry Roberts and Paul Kuhr of Novembers Doom. Paul also sings in Subterranean Masquerade, who I blogged last week, and who I'm extremely fond of. I thought Paul's answer to the following question was exceptional.

INSIDE METAL: I would have to agree if I were in your place. Now, “Through a Child’s Eyes” really struck me as well. I personally have an opinion that children know more than meets the eye and that there’s a special underlying wisdom inside of them that adults can’t really relate to if they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a child. I would posit that age seven through your teenage years are the most formulative years in one’s life, which I think you’ve tapped into with “Through a Child’s Eyes.” Did I come anywhere close with my analogy?

PK: Yes you did. That entire song is based on my childhood and the things I once knew, believed in, and when I had a brighter outlook on life. Children are pure and are sponges, and they only become jaded later in life. Because kids are more apt to believe in things that are not real, they in fact believe they can see more then people give them credit for. The song is just about a time where I believed things were innocent and I never really thought about it again until I watched my daughter interact with things, and I can see that innocence again.

(c) 2005 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Agenda from Lacey Conner of Nocturne

Today I have Lacey Conner of Nocturne on the interview tip. Primarily Nocturne is consisted of Lacey and Chris Telkes, who handles the majority of the instrumentation for this industrial-based Goth outfit. Their new album Guide to Extinction is perhaps more agro and metal than their previous bodies of work. When Lacey gets her growls on, I can't think anyone else but the late Wendy O. Williams. Does an old fart rocker good. Lacey is quite alluring, but like Angelina Jolie, the initial beauty that catches my eye with these ladies is surpassed by their hearts. In both cases, Conner and Jolie are humanitarians and put their money where their mouths are. Below you will find a message from Lacey I extracted while boning up for the interview, which she wants spread around. Despite the fact I own a leather jacket, the things Lacey and her bandmate Chris stand against supplement my own beliefs.

Well, by reading the stories in the newspaper, watching CNN, and doing research online, it seems like hell actually exists on this earth. I am an avid humanitarian, animal rights activist, and environmentalist. All of us are SO busy with our own lives, that it seems like the problems of the world are too overwhelming to worry about, in addition to the problems of our own personal lives. So I thought I'd try something cool, although slightly cheesy, but in a cool sort of way (if that even makes sense). I am going to start a list of small, easy, things, that we can all do to make this world a better place: for other human beings, for the animals, and for the environment. I have added many ideas of my own. Please COPY and PASTE this into your blog, and onto your BULLETIN BOARD, and feel free to add ideas of your own to the list that I have started! (see below)

But first and foremost, the first idea that we should all be open to is that ALL people, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation, and ALL animals, deserve to be treated with respect, and deserve the right to live a healthy, happy, and comfortable existence.

Please see my list of easy things we can all do for each other, the earth, and it's creatures, below my name. Again, feel free to add your own ideas to this list, when reposting this into your bulletin board.

Take care,

- Lacey
- N O C T U R N E -


1. Check out this site: (this stands for "Human Rights Watch") Educate yourself about what's going on in the world.

2. OPPOSE WAR! Because of our government's ulterior motives, our brave young American men and women are being sent off to be needlessly slaughtered and maimed. War is never the answer.

3. Be nice to other people. Don't be a snob. Don't be pissy. Don't be grumpy. Make it a habit to compliment ONE person, each day. Make it your goal to make ONE person feel good about themselves, each day, even if for a moment.

4. Be humble. Drop the "NO ONE fucks with me! I can kick your ass!" attitude. Find out why you feel the need to be this way, and find a way to bring yourself away from this mindset.

5. Learn to be patient while driving your car. Don't fall into the trap of spreading negative energy. If someone cuts you off, take a DEEP breath, and change lanes AWAY from that person. Don't honk at them, and don't flick them off. Don't spread anger, even if it's the other person's fault.

6. Give the homeless guy some change. Yeah, he might go and spend it on crack, but on the other hand, he/she also might be truly hungry, as well. So what if you've possibly wasted 25 cents. Don't judge homeless people. No, they don't WANT to be homeless, and they're not just lazy. Life truly took a big shit on those people, so give them a break.

7. Give $5, once a month, to a charity that helps people (like the Red Cross).

**** FOR ANIMALS ****

1. GREAT web site - check this out:
EDUCATE YOURSELF!!! Here's one more:

2. If you see a pet that is very thin, or is being abused, DO something about it! Call directory assistance, and ask for the number of your local SPCA, and report it. If looks to be an extreme case of animal abuse, call the police. Studies have shown over and over and over again that people who commit violent crimes toward humans, usually started out by abusing animals.

3. DON'T wear fur or leather! Rabbits, mink, and other animals that are raised for their skin or fur live miserable lives, locked in tiny cages their whole life (for you, that's like being in prison), and are often kept in horrible conditions. If you like the look, then wear FAKE fur, and FAKE leather, or vinyl.

4. Don't leave your dog chained up, or tied up, all day, with no human interaction, left along in the back yard. Dogs are SOCIAL creatures, and need to be walked every day, and they need you to spend time with them, play with them, and love on them.

5. If you have a neighbor who leaves their dog chained up or tied up all day, go up to your neighbor, politely introduce yourself, and politely say that you see they have a tough time keeping up their dog, and state that you would like to volunteer to take their dog for a walk for a few minutes, a few times a week.

6. Boycott any circus that has performing animals in it. These animals are confined to cramped cages for hours and hours on end, and the methods to train circus animal are usually abusive.

7. Talk about these issues with friends, and online. Educate people. Spread the word. Preach compassion towards animals.

8. Give $5 a month to an animal shelter, or any animal related charity.

9. Spay or neuter your pets!!! Don't allow them have puppies/kittens. Thousands of animals EACH DAY are put to sleep in this country because there are more pets alive than people who want them.

10. If you want a pet, adopt it from an animal shelter, not a breeder. Breeders don't put dogs to sleep. Shelters do. By adopting your next pet from a shelter, you could be saving that animal's life.


1. Visit this web site:
EDUCATE yourself about issues relating to the environment

2. STOP LITTERING! Don't throw your trash or cigarette butts out the car window.

3. Pick up one piece of trash that is on the ground, once a week, and throw it away in a trash can.

4. Recycle your bottles, cans, and paper.

5. Buy recycled paper.

6. Try not to drive more than you have to, and try not to leave your car engine on, for extended periods of time, if you are not driving it. Car pool, when you can. Ride your bike, when you can, instead of driving (great exercise, too!)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Circa Survive review

Another submission for AMP Magazine.

Circa Survive
Equal Vision
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

It sounds like a Mars Volta album in title, and when you hear Circa Survive’s Anthony Green sing, you will undoubtedly draw parallels to Omar Rodriguez Lopez of Mars Volta; the facsimile is disturbing, as disturbing as the facsimile of Muse’s Matthew Bellamy is to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. In both cases, the effect is flattering at least, not plagiaristic. This is due to the progressive instrumentation that comprises both bands, which elevates their respective crafts beyond mimicry. More akin to the driving harmonies of Coheed and Cambria with touches of At the Drive-In than the extraordinary jackknife grandeur of Mars Volta, Circa Survive nonetheless delivers a highly entertaining album that raises the bar on the whole emo gig. Honestly, someone had to, if not Mars Volta, who is so intricate they defy categorization, or the other At the Drive-In offshoot, Sparta, who only show hints of greatness, more on Wiretap Scars than their current, more mainstream album Porcelain. It is somewhere in the middle of all of this secular madness where Circa Survive dwells. An impressive debut in its own right, Circa Survive’s Juturna features loads of memorable hooks, dreamy melodies, painful singing and delicate guitar improvisation, giving them an artsy feel to their emo foundation, and with Mars Volta spearheading the expressionistic charge, other bands like Circa Survive are forced into stepping up their game in order to, er, survive. If Circa Survive can produce something that transcends the whininess they could succumb to, it says good things about the lately maligned genre, at least for the next few months anyway.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Billy Idol - Devil's Playground review

Tuning up for an inteview I have coming up this week with guitarist par excellance Steve Stevens, I wrote up Billy Idol's new album Devil's Playground for AMP Magazine and thought I'd share it with you...

Devil’s Playground
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As the name implies, Sanctuary Records is a label where many artists of yesteryear, particularly the eighties, go to jumpstart their faded careers. None are more profound than the improbable resurrection of Billy Idol. His highly entertaining VH-1 Storytellers special or fleeting movie cameos in The Doors and The Wedding Singer aside, the prospect of a new full-length Billy Idol album this late after his last hiccup Cyberpunk in 1993 seems, well…preposterous. Or does it? After you hear the first two songs off of his new album Devil’s Playground, “Super Overdrive” and “World Comin’ Down” you will realize why Billy Idol has daringly resurfaced, and why Devil’s Playground is a legitimate comeback for both Idol and his legendary partner-in-crime, guitarist Steve Stevens. Not since Generation X had Billy Idol tapped so deep inside of himself to extract a guttural performance. Cut the man some slack if he goes off-key every so often; he’s been around a long while, but his heart is in the right place this time. Once the butt-end joke of the punk rock underground, Billy Idol sounds punk again, complete with fast-timed three-chord jams, sarcastic lyrics, and as it’s lately fashionable in punk to show your affinity for country music, Idol and Stevens pull that stunt off admirably in a few spots. You won’t hear anything on Devil’s Playground that makes you want to caterwaul “Hey everybody get laid, get fucked!” in tandem. (If you’ve been following Billy long enough or you addictively haunt the dance floor, you get my reference, and for the record, Tommy James and The Shondells did “Mony Mony” first, dammit!) Even better, Idol and Stevens playfully court sacrilege with “Plastic Jesus,” which will have you roaring in your seat at its hilarious road dog spiritualist lyrics, along with Billy Idol’s attempt to duplicate the cheeky rock n’ roll holiday anthem that makes Joey Ramones’ “Merry Christmas I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight” such a classic. Idol’s “Yellin’ at the Christmas Tree” is impossible not to sing along to as Santa boffs Idol’s proverbial “mom” in the song. Of course, Billy Idol cannot resist tossing out a few pop hooks like on the greaser-era Neil Diamond-like “Sherri” and “Cherie” (not to be confused with Diamond’s “Cherry Cherry”) or the abrasive but tuneful “Rat Race.” Nevertheless, gone are the days of the dreamy “Eyes Without a Face,” from Billy’s superlative Rebel Yell album, but mercifully gone are the days of the miserable “I’ve Got to Be a Lover” from the cash cow Whiplash Smile. Billy Idol may look a little cheesy at his age with his trademark spiked do and his once-vintage snarl which looks fabricated in 2005, yet there’s no denying that Devil’s Playground is, for both Billy Idol and Steve Stevens an adrenalized lease on life. (RVH)


Dave Weiner interview is up

I wrote a blog about this interview back when I conducted it in March, so I won't rehash too much, but I will say if you want to see what a highly-skilled guitarist who plays in a superstar's rock band (Steve Vai) who could be a pretentious, head-swollen wanker, but is one of the most laid-back individuals given his position, read my interview with Dave Weiner at or hit the link on my blog and go to Features. Dave's theory is that you only need record labels for mass promotion and distribution; everything else can be under your own control. A pragmatic DIY individual, Dave is a refreshing guy to talk to and I hope he makes his side projects outside of Vai's band soar...

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Sent to me by my friend Erikka. If you have a righteous skeleton sustaining your mass, this will appeal to you:

Scene took place on a BA (British Airways)flight between Johannesburg
and London. A white woman, about 50 years old, was seated next to a
black man. Obviously disturbed by this, she called the air Hostess.
"Madam, what is the matter," the hostess asked. "You obviously do not
see it then?" she responded. "You placed me next to a black man. I do
not agree to sit next to someone from such a repugnant group. Give me
an alternative seat." "Be calm please," the hostess replied. "Almost all
the places on this flight are taken. I will go to see if another place
is available." The Hostess went away and then came back a few minutes
later. "Madam, just as I thought, there are no other available seats in
the economy class. I spoke to the captain and he informed me that there
are also no seats in the business class. All the same, we still have one
place in the first class."

Before the woman could say anything, the hostess continued: "It is not
usual for our company to permit someone from the economy class to sit
in the first class. However, given the circumstances, the captain feels
that it would be scandalous to make someone sit next to someone so
disgusting." She turned to the black man, and said, "Therefore, Sir, if
you would like to, please collect your hand luggage, a seat awaits you
in first class." At that moment, the other passengers who were shocked
by what they had just witnessed stood up and applauded.

This is a true story.

Puffy Amiyumi

Forget Pokemon (God, I wish it were possible, cringe cringe), Puffy Amiyumi is Japan's revenge for Hiroshima...

You might've seen their cartoon, or you might know their rad anthem for Teen Titans or you might've heard them in Scooby Doo 2. To me, a revisit to Shonen Knife prompted a dude at Barnes and Noble (who goes by the nickname Klown) to sell me on Puffy. As much as Shonen Knife is noncommittal three-chord pop nirvana, Puffy Amiyumi is...well...

Everything from rock 'n roll to disco to samba to punk to country to girl groups to alt rock to trad rock to techno, it's all in this Japanese duo's savory trick bag. Cute as buttons and full of sugar/acid Kool Aid blasts, Puffy Amiyumi chirps like paper doll psychedelics in front of pop stylings from every period in modern music as generated by their retro-minded writing and collaborations with such notables as Andy Sturmer of the trippy Jellyfish, Yasuharu Konishi of Pizzicato Five and techno head Freddy Fresh. You will hear The Beatles, Beach Boys and The Who as you will hear Ricky Ricardo, Moby or Strawberry Alarm Clock (or Strawberry Zots, for that matter), Ramones, Redd Kross and of course, Shonen Knife. You will even hear some English Beat, Elvis Costello and Chic; like Prego, it's in there.

This may be a bit to digest on the first sampling, or you may be like me, won over instantly. This duo is syrupy, flamboyant, adrenalized and hipper-than-thou a simple-minded way. They're not genuises, but they are when you hear the amalgams they toss out there. They're a guilty pleasure to the extreme as you count off the hundreds of influences you'll hear zipping out of their spritely music. Like Abba, Puffy Amiyumi are masters of the catchy hook. You may want to scream for mercy or you may want to gouge your ears out because it's sappy on one hand, memorable and irresistible as hell on the other. Or you may just want to surrender now, because resistance is futile.

In other words, this Puffy is way cooler than Sean Combs. Perhaps that is why he calls himself P Diddy now; he's been outclassed, outsmarted and outhipped by a pair of cutesy Japanese ragamuffins whose borrowed shtick isn't flagrant thievery as much as it is bubblegum throwback.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Blare Bitch Project

Another one I just had to share with you all...

Blare Bitch Project
Double Distortion Burger
Steel Cage Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

No, this isn’t the porn movie of nearly the same name. It’s hellafun airhead rock ‘n roll that incorporates crossfades of The Runaways, Skid Row, early Twisted Sister and Hanoi Rocks, just to name a few comparables. With member names like Blare N. Bitch and Chase Manhattan, you are expected to take this as seriously as one of the president’s state of the union addresses, but Blare Bitch Project is easier on the ears and actually has a few plus points in the brain cell count. A few.

Simplistic three-chord sleaze rock at its retrospective best, these songs roll along like a set of speaker-thumping cock rock (and in this case some bonus beaver) jams like “Catch Me,” “Soul,” “Get It” and “Outta Control.” “Knock Me Out” sounds comfortably like a lot bands you know and love, but Faster Pussycat’s “Cathouse” especially comes to mind.

Blair N. Bitch, who sounds like the one-night-stand offspring of Joan Jett and Stephen Pearcy, vies to be a roadhouse version of Wendy O. Williams while her energetic compatriots lay down whiskey-soaked rock and simpleton punk riffs for her to snarl from. “Shut the Fuck Up” roars hilariously like a Dead Kennedys and Nashville Pussy hybrid it’s irresistible to dismiss at face value.

Interestingly enough, Blare Bitch Project has a social conscience beneath the debauched surface of “Drink” when you sample the following lyric: “Have a drink not a pill, don’t shoot dope cause it kills.” That’s a lesson many of the bands Blare Bitch Project embraces and emulates could’ve benefited from. Then again, we wouldn’t have so many jaw-dropping episodes of Behind the Music now, would we?

Honestly, there’s not much of a point to extensively critique Double Distortion Burger beyond saying that as silly and pretentious as all of this is, Blare Bitch Project is a relentless batch of goofy roughneck fun that’s over with way too quick. By no means a masterpiece, Double Distortion Burger is drive-through junk food worth rotting your insides for.

Rating: 3/5

Nobody told me...

I've been grooving to some John Lennon today and his song "Nobody Told Me" struck a nerve like it hasn't before. Could be because I listen to it more carefully with an adult ear than a goofy kid's curious appreciation for its amicable melody when it was first released. That being said, I feel obliged to add a few of my own anecdotes of things nobody told me:

1. Nobody told me the world is more set in its ways than meets the eye.

2. Nobody told me Kiss were sellouts, but it should've been obvious by the time I reached age ten when Unmasked and The Elder were the best they could come up with at the time.

3. Nobody told me that fertility problems makes a couple an exploitable demographic.

4. For that matter, nobody told me that chasing your career before having children contributes to those aforementioned fertility problems; stinking 80s, I love you and hate you.

5. Nobody told me that the human race suffers from a deficient knowledge of basic history. A culture that supports bigotry, racism and groundless war has no hope. Then again, you're talking about morons who think American Idol is cool.

6. Nobody told me that all the groovy t.v. shows of yesteryear we used to watch for free would cost us $30-50 to watch them later on DVD.

7. Nobody told me that seeking the ideals of peace makes you an outcast.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Ghost Orgy

I know, sounds appealing, right? Read on...

Ghost Orgy
Lullabies for Lunatics
Thoth Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Okay, so my attention was captured immediately when this monstrosity hit my mailbox. Ghost Orgy? Placebo’s titillating cover of Sleeping with Ghosts snapped to mind with the delicious thought of paranormal group sex. In comparison, Ghost Orgy’s less alluring cover of a hanging harlot kind of concerned me, but then again, such imagery was prevalent in the glory years of death metal in the eighties. Okay, fair enough. Flipping the disc over, I grinned as if I wasn’t married; if that isn’t the red-hot Asia Carrere in her sensuous glory…cha cha cha… Oh yeah, the music. This is a CD after all, right? Fuck it. Despite the obviousness of the album’s namesake, which would imply an explicit call for an unconventional approach, Lullabies for Lunatics is an absolute mess.

Not even the appealingly macabre Faustian viola of Elena Doroftei can remedy this regularly disastrous heap of dung. Dina Concina would make an ideal frontwoman in a straight rock or metal band, but in Ghost Orgy, she’s frequently like an alley cat on an off-night. Her caterwauling is as unnerving as are the songs she utterly howls in front of. The few times Ghost Orgy gets revving with a few complacent rocking grooves, they instantly get undone by haphazard time signatures and piercing, disagreeable notes. I should stop here before Ghost Orgy starts taking this personal. Just doing my job, after all.

Less macabre than outright crummy, this album slays more tastebuds than coffee made by smokers. In other words, it’s one big cup of suck. The new Nine Inch Nails, on the other hand… Now that’s a lunatic’s lullaby worth turning your nightlight out for.

Rating: 1/5

Subterranean Masquerade

This is one of the neatest bands I've ever heard. A review of their upcoming album for your consumption. If you dig really out there musically-inclined stuff, this one is a must.

Subterranean Masquerade
Suspended Animation Dreams
The End Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Subterranean Masquerade is potentially the next Mr. Bungle, yet in a subliminal way. They are far more counter-cultural in a less gratuitous manner if that makes any sense. They defy categorization but are so adept at transmuting their various inspirations and elements they are avant guarde in such a pleasing manner you don’t want to try to fit them into one category. Forget calling them progressive, it’s nowhere near accurate. The culmination of many players and components, what you’ll find on Suspended Animation Dreams will be your own journey to discover and enjoy. As on their previous EP Temporary Psychotic State, they risk defilement of sane musical structure and pull it off admirably. One of my most anticipated releases of 2005, Subterranean Masquerade surpasses what they merely hinted at on Temporary Psychotic State to stratospheric proportions.

One of the highlight performers of Subterranean Masquerade is Novembers Doom’s Paul Kohr on vocals. Showing even more range than he does in his home band, he sometimes sounds like the sanitized voice of reason aloft the whims of the ever-changing rhythms and melodies he is subjected to. Often he reverts to growls, but mostly he quietly mesmerizes or silences himself altogether as his entourage takes center stage instrumentally.

“Suspended Animation Dreams” begins the album with a jazz and calypso orientation as the sneaky and dank “Wolf Among Sheep (Or Maybe the Other Way Around)” constructs its melodies around various instruments, as does the extravagant “No Place Like Home,” which you never want to end, mark my words. These are but mere examples of the ever-changing vividness you will find on this album.

The added percussion, stringed instruments, flutes and piano only escalates the craft that defines Subterranean Masquerade. As a fan of world music, it’s invigorating to hear such dicey maneuvers submerge themselves inside a wide variety of external influences amidst the band’s constant shifting it becomes an absolute wonder to listen for what’s coming next. Leaving you constantly at a guess as to what Subterranean Masquerade will pull out of its trick bag next, every moment becomes a pure thrill to unravel.

Take, for instance, the choral accompaniment on the too brief “Kind of Blur” and “Awake,” or the way Paul Kohr freakily assumes the shaggy mantle of Jim Morrison on the lengthy “The Rock ‘n Roll Preacher” before he crushes the vocals with various throat-scraping. All the while, the band churns out a Faith No More-like rockout section behind him. It works better than the Elvis impersonation guiding Dread Zeppelin. And guess what? It’s merely one section of a song that takes on a different psychedelic personality in the later portion of the song. Perhaps this is what The Doors intended to create on their only stinker of an album The Soft Parade. Ray Manzarek should be envious as all hell. If that isn’t enough, the song wraps up sounding like old school Chicago with a death metal singer. Trip on that awhile; it will leave you unprepared for the chamber strings that accompany the metal segments on the subsequent “Six Strings to Cover Fear.” It’s that awesome, as is “Awake,” which brings in every instrument it can cram into its atmospheric base; it’s too gorgeous to describe here.

If I continue to lavish and compliment, I will find myself growing terribly redundant, so let me summarize myself by saying that Subterranean Masquerade delivers far more than it promised on Temporary Psychotic State. Luminous and dark in each sense of the words, Subterranean Masquerade may find itself lofted as merely a cult band because it’ll be too hard to digest by those with a mainstream affinity. Discerning tastes and ears, however, will do well to hunt this disc down above most everyone else’s regardless of genre. Simply put, Subterranean Masquerade is brilliant beyond words.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Teenaged forever....

A friend of mine named Reverend Brandy posted a way cool topic about being an adult yet still feeling like a teenager inside. If you want to check it out, scroll down to the link for Bemused Musings in Baltimore. The Rev is a hell of a writer and I want to elaborate on her topic a bit.

Does a song trigger a memory of where you were during your teenaged years? Undoubtedly. I have a ton of them. Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages" or Yes' "Changes" from 90125 (a glorious album in my opinion, though I'm in thin ranks of agreement here) put me on top of my bed with Heather Thomas grinning cheesily down at me, her slavering sexuality bursting from her thin pink bikini, a spent bag of Cheetos on the floor next to my Atari games and record sleeves with extracted lyrics I'd read ten times over yet was too lazy to put back in their jackets afterwards. I had a thing for Heather for a brief while, Catherine Bach long before her, my first true love. With Heather, it was more lust than pure admiration. She was for my ZZ Top as Bach was for my Styx. I'll leave the rest to your imagination, but I'm sure enough images come to mind to paint an accurate picture of a hormonal teenager in search of love outside of his four walls, much less outside of his house. This is only a hint as to what makes the Buzzcocks' "Orgasm Addict" so damned right on the money.

Coming upon 35 and a decade of marriage and triple the obligations I once had as a directionless teenager, the difference between me now and at age 17 is the gray stubble, the random heart pangs, the sudden huffing after a few flights of stairs, a slightly tempered erection, more bills than just my car insurance and gas, pressure to adopt since God seems to have a reason to stymie our procreation abilities, and a sudden piqued interest in things that once held no meaning. Otherwise, like Reverend Brandy points out, I feel like a teenager aching inside of a thirty-something's body and I want out!

The same rebel that stalked the halls of high school with a proverbial chip on my shoulder is still there. As a man interested in the pursuit of peace, the chip shows up intermittently, but it's normally in reaction to injustice, racism, thoughtlessness, mean-spiritedness and conservative aversion to thinking outside the box. It goes beyond the fact that I rediscovered heavy metal almost seven years ago after pursuing other forms of music to expand my horizons; no matter where he went to during the 90s, that dormant angry headbanger rages once against inside of me.

You can find me up against the stage at shows and after I've snapped off my obligatory pictures, if I'm into the band, a ridiculous, primal urge to headbang seizes me, knowing I'm likely setting myself up for a sprained neck or worse, Parkinson's. I can't help it, though. As furious as I am with the general state of the world, I have no release or retreat as I did in my teenage years. No escaping to the bedroom to crank up tunes, write dumb and bloody horror stories and whack off to images, that despite being paper encapsulations of humanity, are still as fleshless and artificial as machina. Responsiblity now deems I mow the yard, pay the bills, cook dinner, do the laundry, clean the cat's litter box, fret about world peace, wonder and pray about the salvation of my sinning soul.

As I approach a quickening midlife crisis and I begin to see people in my area and its neighboring towns as one-time kids I likely went to school with, the majority of them have what I don't have; children. I wouldn't trade my life for anything, yet the emptiness my wife and I feel as a result of cruel genetics causes me to self retreat and rebel, because as a man all I want to do is help the situation, cure the situation, make the ugliness go away, just make everything...right. And because I can't, all I feel is the juvenile urge to break sticks against clubhouse trees and boom some Testament just to annoy the piss out of everyone around me. I want to tell everyone that the president is a douchebag and everyone who voted for him voted for their lamewad party because they're too scared to think for themselves, and life totally sucks because there's no NHL due to a stinking lockout, not that too many Americans give a rat's ass, damn them to hell.

There's too much responsibility in an uncaring world and all I can do is pay my taxes, nurture a wife who can't be nurtured, sling my peace symbol around my neck along with my Mary and Joseph medallions, pop in my copy of Fast Times at Ridgemont High on DVD and pray that I never grow up...

Chuck Schuldiner

This is a review I am submitting regarding the release of Zero Tolerance, a collection of stuff by the late Chuck Schuldiner of Death.

Chuck Schuldiner
Zero Tolerance
Candlelight USA
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I remember when Chuck Schuldiner passed it was a noteworthy enough event to make the entertainment news of a local rock station whose jughead target market favors 3 Doors Down, Nickelback and repeat AC/DC and Van Halen classics. Extraordinary, over-the-head news for a very plain audience who knew nothing of the legacy of Chuck Schuldiner. To them, the only remarkable item from that news reel was that a guy from a metal band called Death had ironically passed away. It became somewhat of a joke amidst these jerkoff DJs and their blue collar redneck listeners. For fans of the underground, you should be pissed off; I most certainly was. Ring off some of the albums generated by Chuck Schuldiner and his talented cohorts: Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy, Human, Individual Thought Patterns and the dazzling denouement of Schuldiner’s stint in Death, the brilliant Sound of Perseverance. As sterling a catalog as anyone in the business for more than three albums, the untimely death of Chuck Schuldiner is as much of a loss to the metal community as Dimebag Darrell and Cliff Burton, particularly when you consider that in many circles Schuldiner is regarded as the father of death metal as we know and dig it today.

If you haven’t heard these metal masterworks, I suggest you get your mits on them before checking out the recently released Zero Tolerance attributed to Chuck Schuldiner. Frankly, Zero Tolerance is a collection of low fidelity live tracks and demo tapes spanning Schuldiner’s career from his go-round in Death to previously unreleased material for his subsequent band Control Denied. Zero Tolerance reveals what was considerably special about Chuck, which is the release’s plus. Its minus lies in the fact that many of the tracks here are grimy and gritty live tracks that you’re going to enjoy only if you’re a bootleg purist or a devout fan of Schuldiner and Death. In many ways however, such uninhibited diffusion captures the spirit of eighties metal at its stripped-down best. Labels like Combat and Megaforce will come roaring to your mind like comforting buzzwords as you reflect upon what was so damned fine about the original metal scene. In other words, if you were initially there, this will feel like home. If you weren’t, this is going to sound like a heap of crap in many places.

The shrill and hollow resonance of the demo tracks are also going to put off new listeners who mistakenly come to Zero Tolerance prior to exploring Schuldiner’s sterling material in Death. Therein lies the detriment of the album as a whole; especially at two discs, it’s sometimes a pain in the ass to listen to as much as it is a joyful artifact if you’re a Death completist. Despite the wave of negativity surrounding this album’s release, it really isn’t all bad. Some moments are nearly glorious, such as the Control Denied material, which painfully stakes why the loss of Chuck Schuldiner is as profound as it is. Still, the question you’ll undoubtedly be asking yourself regardless of your walk of life is, Is this release a cash cow or a bare bones tribute to an acknowledged legend?

Again, I strongly urge anyone coming within five feet of Zero Tolerance sporting little to no experience with Chuck Schuldiner’s material to grab everything you can of Death before this you even consider buying this one. That way you’ll recognize the historical and archival value of Zero Tolerance (I mean, let’s face it, friends; it is what it is) and not dismiss Chuck before giving him his actual due.

some non-metal bands you should check out

Diversity is the key to fulfillment, I say. While I know many of my readers are fellow headbangers, I post this to you: Explore other forms of music. Heavy metal died off once, it'll do so again. It's inevitable. When I had a metal and punk column in college, only my loyal friends read the damned thing and in order to save the column from being axed, I was forced to explore other forms of music. I then found the original alternative scene like The Cure, New Order, Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, Peter Murphy, Sisters of Mercy and so on, and I don't regret getting into them one iota. In fact, I miss those bands, even as most of them have returned with new material. In fact, I heard the new New Order song last night; doesn't have the same starch as their previous bodies of work, but it's still catchy.

Anyway, after being immensely impressed with an advance promo of the forthcoming Devildriver album, I discovered a couple of other bands outside of the metal realm that have brought me pure joy. I'll add a few others I've been turned onto lately, just to extend this theme a little:

Muse: How in the name of God did this band escape me? In an interview with Seemless' Derek Kerswill, this name came up and I knew of their rep, and not even a listen in a record store sampling booth braced me properly until listening to them with my friend Tom...from there, I had to pursue them. Frequently compared to Radiohead, Muse undeniably shows parallels, particularly in the uncannily facsimile of Tom Yorke's brooding vocals by Matthew Bellamy. While Radiohead are unequivocal gods of their atmospheric craft, for me, Muse escalates it one notch higher, going for the gusto a bit more than their predecessors. If you put Radiohead's OK Computer against Muse's first album Showbiz, there's no comparison, depsite the impressive artistry Muse displays out the gate. OK Computer, simply put, is a masterpiece of the modern age. However, pit Muse's current album Absolution against Radiohead's latest, Hail to the Thief, and despite the yumminess of the latter's "There There," you will discover that Absolution is far superior. Thoroughly amazing.

Air: Not a new band, but many probably have no clue who this is. If you've seen The Virgin Suicides, one of my personal favorite movies, you know who Air is by the film's dark and atmospheric score. As I cover electronic music for Legends Magazine, the French duo Air are considered pioneers for their bridging of seventies pop rock sensibilities to their electronic blend, which does include organic instruments like bass, guitars and drums. Moon Safari is considered Air's masterwork and I agree with the assessment, yet it is the score to The Virgin Suicides, particularly the morose but melodic "Playground Love" that mists my eyes and casts me back into the seventies as a child, which is Air's intention all along. As an album, The Virgin Suicides sounds like splices instead of songs, but what an ominous and ultimately reflective body of work it is. Thoroughly infectious. It took me a long time to find it on disc, but I happily unearthed it in a used bin last week. The former owner's loss, my gain.

Ivy: This trio has been around longer than I thought. Totally an impulse purchase while meandering around the world section in the music department at Barnes and Noble. Perfect pop-alt music not unlike the long-forgotten but pivotal Lush. Less emphasis on the overt aquatic guitars Lush was embraced for, there's just enough of a trace to parallel the two, and synth shades reminiscent of The Cure's Roger O'Donnell only make Ivy more appealing. The pleasing vocals of Dominique Durand had me double-checking constantly to see if Lush's Miki Berenyi or Emma Anderson didn't stake cameos. This is really groovy stuff.

Paris Combo: My friend Bob has done a project two years now entitled "Missed Hits" where he painstakingly uncovers bands you've unlikely heard of before. I consider Bob one of my music gurus, and when I heard the cabaret jazz stylings of Paris Combo's "Bedroom Door" on his "Missed Hits 2003," I fell in love. Some of the coolest hepcat jazz from France you're unlikely to hear duplicated elsewhere, listen for some flamenco orientation in their work; it's more delicious than a chocolate mint snowball. I found Paris Combo Live and was blown away. I'm seldom impressed with live albums, but this one's essential.

Ruben Blades: Like the daring Afro Celt Sound System, I admire Ruben Blades for taking risks within his traditional Latin structures. I really dig traditional Latin percussion and acoustic to begin with; most of it is soothing and therapeutic, and when injected with a little salsa, it can make the worst dancer want to get up and groove like a loon. This is what you'll hear with Ruben Blades, and yet you'll hear other schools of thought like Celtic and straight-up rock in his stuff. In a music market that finds artists blindly falling into pigeonholes, it's innovators who think outside the box that deserve your attention and your money.

Weerd Science: Let's face it. Rap and hip hop just plain sucks right now. Save for a few groups like Jurassic 5, John Legend, Dilated Peoples, Black Eyed Peas, Kelis and a few others, it's hard to imagine rap was ever underground given the fact that's it completely corporate right now. Drugs, gangbanging, buttsteak, throwback jerseys, posturing and hackneyed beats and sampling plague an art form that hasn't meant jack since Public Enemy. I'm here to tell you that it takes the drummer from the emo band Coheed and Cambria to set the record straight and to show mofos how its done. This is one of the best underground rap albums I've ever heard, and yes, Josh Eppard stands to be ridiculed in the same vein as Vanilla Ice or Lucas, but his white boy rap is hardly saccharine. With more street cred than The Streets and just a hair below the importance of the Beastie Boys, his Weerd Science project bravely attacks today's rap game with more sensibility than P Diddy given cred lessons by Chuck D. Friends and Nervous Breakdowns is as gutsy a maneuver in music as I've ever witnessed and I'm grateful to the publicist who sent it to me as a challenge. As emo begins to die off, Eppard made the right move by exploring a different avenue and attacking it with as much sincerity as he can muster.

John Legend: As mentioned, John Legend is one of the real hopefuls in the hip hop game. Combining seventies soul with modern street beats may not be anything new in today's saturated market, but execution with such precision, soulful singing and emotional piano work is a rare commodity and John Legend possesses it all. He's an all-around, and though the Grammys mean shit, if they were legit, John Legend would easily be 2005 Male R&B Performer. Bottom line.

These are just a handful of non-metal acts to check out. Another mentionable that Bob hipped me to is And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. A mouthful of a band name, these guys nevertheless have elevated themselves to substantial heights it's almost shattering what they've accomplished between Source Tags and Codes, a very strong album, and Worlds Apart, which, if I were in a band today, it just might make me want to quit in the way Brian Wilson once wanted to toss in the towel once The Beatles put out Sgt. Peppers...