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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Random Shelf Review: Madball - Hold it Down

So tonight, my blind hand found this Agnostic Front offshoot, Madball... Considering how many hardcore albums I've had to review in the past month, this is a breath of fresh air. Not as fresh as if my hand had found Bad Religion or The Descendents, but cool enough.


Madball
Hold it Down

In case this name eludes you (and if you're into modern hardcore it most likely hasn't) Madball is the side project for two members of hardcore mainstays Agnostic Front, guitarist Vinnie Stigma and drummer Will Shepler, as well as home for vocalist Freddy Cricien, who, ironically, is Agnostic Front's Roger Miret's younger brother.

In some ways Madball is more interesting than Agnostic Front, given your propensity or aversion to Front's recent wartime support. In my opinion, Madball has more heart, even if their random rap grooves enjoinders them to Biohazard. Is Madball more streetwise in relation, though? Perhaps. The hip hop-laced closings to "Semper Fi" and "Thinking to Myself" bridge hardcore to hip hop in a way that was only cooler on the Judgment Night soundtrack. The rap-like beats and verse flow by Cricien dominate the heavy-as-bricks "Still Searching," which gets a full head of steam in less than two minutes, then lets its steam loose on the thrashy "Confessions." That's what I call a good one-two combination.

More importantly, Madball represents the last guard of hardcore before Hatebreed inspired scores of would-be straight-edge gang extremists to scream their professions of faith and devotion in ways that are kind of scary and cultish, honestly. Throwdown may be an exception because they're so damned good at what they do, while bands like Full Blown Chaos and Seventh Star help keep fresh perspectives on a genre that's milked itself so quickly in near-record time. Madball is hardcore with the right attitude and their fifth album Hold it Down exemplifies what good hardcore sounded like before it became...well, commercialized.



"Fall This Time," with its grinding tempos is mostly atypical of what's going on in the hardcore scene these days, even though "Everyday Hate" displays a very typical thrash tempo that has caught on with every single hardcore band out there. The difference between hardcore today and hardcore five years ago can be cited in the obligatory (and highly boring) use of chugga-chugga breakdowns by today's crop of practitioners. Madball, in contrast, uses a groove-shake quasi-mosh tweak between verses, even as the subsequent song "Done" gives a small glimpse of the aforementioned breakdown revolt yet to come.

The hilarious spoken word sequence from Cricien that preludes the 39-second "D.I.F.M.M." where he talks about how hardcore is taken so seriously to a fault draws boos from his audience when he says he lives with his mom and is only doing hardcore until he can get enough money to go to college and get a real job, but no, he's not about the money. Such cheekiness may go over the heads of some, but its blatant servitude shouldn't be lost as a general rule. Practicing the theory amongst the fanbase is an altogether different concept...

Hold it Down hardly ever stops, much less slows down; it's a 26-minute blunt object of precursory hardcore that is fresher than 95% of today's acts on the scene, partially because it was still underground when it was released in 2000. It'll be interesting to hear where Madball is at in 2005 on their first album in five years, Legacy, now that hundreds of carbon copies have followed the glory march from the gutters led by Hatebreed. One would like to hope that Legacy sounds as fresh and inspired as Hold it Down and its predecessors such as Set it Off and Droppin' Many Suckers, but given the shortfalls of this limited style that have been bludgeoned to death by a legion of imitators, it's unlikely Legacy will offer something new and original to consume. You never know though. Optimism isn't a bad thing...

Monday, June 27, 2005

Paul McCartney Live in Red Square

I was going to write about how great Batman Begins is until I saw Paul McCartney Live in Red Square the same day. Batman plays a big part in my escapism, but some things are more important...


I had an interview with Neil Fallon of Clutch last week, who said something I've heard in the past and it's unfortunately a stone-cold fact: music in America is treated like a commodity.

It's so very true, whether you interpret this statement in terms of corporate-contrived pseudo-musicians who are accepted by blind automatons that need a radio to tell them what's a socially-acceptable listen, or even if you take it to mean that America is spoiled rotten with its wide array of choices, not only in music but in many consumer items such as food, books, movies, clothes, what have you. With so much insufferable choice, American tastes are as fickle as yesterday's news, hours behind the minute it sees print. In this country we can make or break musicians with a snide Roman-like thumbs up or thumbs down mode of pompous acceptance. For all of the good that exists in this country, there are character traits like I've outlined here that simply break my heart.

Music is one of the most valuable forms of communication and expression we have and with so many varying mediums, styles and artists to convey their musical messages, we often forget that in other parts of the world such convenient access is not so easily available.

Though I wasn't alive when American youth were routinely forced to cower beneath their desks in an age of McCarthy nuclear paranoia, there was certainly the eighties when America was still keeping its anti-thermal devices trained against the Soviet Union. Our entertainment culture was frequently designed towards villainizing the Russkies while in the backs of our minds the threat of a nuclear holocaust seemed pliable every day. Part of it was typical American counter-fascism that demonstrated its insecurity as a dominant superpower in light of a self-righteous democracy. The other part can be found especially today in a post 9-11 wartime culture that grossly suffers a superiority complex.

Alright, so there were valid points and concerns about the former Soviet Union. Yet did anyone ever consider that in a climate of thought control and media censorship manipulated by a handful of people in powerful positions, a widespread underground of hopefuls sought a peaceful, worldwide co-existence? No, most assuredly not. We'd rather watch a musclebound Austrian pretend to be a KGB Agent who gets Americanized or we'd rather watch a group of army cadets thwart an impending nuclear shootout with stereotyped Soviet terrorists, or we'd rather demoralize an already oppressed group of human beings with the same rights to diginity as us by groaning about their grooming habits.

It's an accurate statement that The Beatles helped save the world. It was more than being in the right place at the right time; it was about creating a countercultural stance against injustice and proposing peace through music, music that was enlightened as it was groundbreaking. The free west had every opportunity in a post-Kennedy society to lick its wounds and heal as the lads from Liverpool hypothetically gave it a comforting pat on the shoulder. Everything's going to be alright, The Beatles said through music. In fact, it's getting better all the time...



(photo by John Kelley)

And yet for the Russian population, where was their right to hope and dream in a pop rock n' roll nirvana? Buying a Beatles album in the Soviet totalitarian regime cost you half your earnings and quite possibly earned you a jail sentence or worse, death. Regardless of the risk, an underground Beatles society lurked beneath the ascribed drudgery, the appointed life tasks, the solemn devotion to mindless order. For these people, there was no frolicking in strawberry fields. When they held hands in time to The Fab Four it was done beneath the radar. Is this any way to live?

I was practically reduced to tears watching Paul McCartney Live in Red Square. Recalling the importance of The Scorpions playing in Moscow in a birthed era of perestroika and what it undoubtedly meant to my Russian heavy metal brothers and sisters, I rejoiced for the Russian people as I watched Paul McCartney deliver a passionate, fan-appeasing set with a few surprises such as the gorgeous "She's Leaving Home" to a logjammed and awed Russian crowd in Red Square.



What a blessed audience who so obviously deserved it more than any fat cat in America who could afford to fork out the megabucks for a front row seat in Madison Square Garden. This concert was given for free by Paul McCartney and I as watched my baby boomer mom frequently shatter at the sight of her Russian peers either standing agape or outright crying, the emotion was unbearable even to a 35 year old male, who indeed began to blubber when the opening notes of "Let it Be" echoed over Red Square with countless peace signs hoisted high above the Russian crowd. The salute for peace also means victory in some eyes, and for those who risked their very lives to steal precious moments of respite through The Beatles, victory was so obviously theirs this day.

The mere fact that Russian president Vladimir Putin gave Paul McCartney audience and then ominously slipped into the crowd to watch the Red Square performance after saying he was unable to attend it...naturally Putin had to keep airs about himself, but his security were all on their feet, cheering and dancing like any commoner bouncing up and down behind them. McCartney wore a red shirt with the declaration "No More Land Mines" and he further endeared himself to the Russian population by launching into "Back in the USSR," which was originally written as a salute to the Russian underground fans who defied a communist dictatorship. The reward was theirs and my heart pounded joyously for them.



(photo courtesy of WhatGoesOn.com)

The spirit of music was so rich in this fragile moment its purity was obvious and enviable. To be amongst these formerly suppressed people, experiencing live rock 'n roll (which for many, was obviously the very first time) in a newly free society...can you understand what I'm trying to convey? The Russians are so endeared to The Beatles the music is literally sacred to them. When you have something you've fought desperately hard to keep, it becomes a part of your essence. This is something many Americans cannot relate to, and as I tried not to outright bawl during "Let it Be," I wanted nonetheless to cry for the Russian people as well as the laissez faire Americans who are so busy in their caffeinated world they fail to realize what's truly meaningful and substantial and so easily within their grasp. They live with a blase, scripted American Idol soundtrack to their equally mundane and self-important lives, and it's truly sad. Americans are so skeptical that a simple peace sign is like a stigma they'd rather not associate themselves with, whereas so many Russians who knew what it truly meant to be free had no qualms or efforts getting those fingers into position and raised proudly. Yeah, sure, these are our evil enemies...

And as Paul McCartney was given a tour of Moscow and he took private time with a handful of young musicians to listen and coach them, and as a choir of young kids honored him with a rendition of "Yesterday," and as he and his wife appealed to Putin to find ways to eliminate land mines from their military, an open-minded Putin said that anything that would save lives was worth looking into. In the meantime, my mother wiped tears and said that everything her generation fought for was finally worth it, as was my stepfather's effort in Vietnam. If you've ever seen anything magical in your life, it's seeing a Vietnam veteran with every right to be jaded find introspection and the courage to seek a mellow and sensitive path.

Though only two Beatles remain in this life, they're still changing the world and the daydreaming idealist in me likes to hope it's getting better all the time...

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Random Shelf Review - The Cure - Boys Don't Cry

I had a heck of a lot of fun when Maelstrom 'zine asked me to pick a closet metal classic to review. I chose Voivod's Killing Technology and had a blast analyzing it for the first time after listening to it countless times as a fan. It is in this spirit that I've decided that when time permits, I'm going to play a game with myself (no dirty cracks, please) and share it with you all.

I have over 2000 CDs mounted on the wall down in my basement, which I like to call "Sanctuary." I thought it might be a cool little way to revisit old albums I've neglected the past few years or so and review them. There's a twist, however.

I will turn my back to the wall shelf, reach behind me and review whatever my blind hand selects. Chaos theory will prevail as I will simply take whatever fate has put into my hands and write it up here on the blog. This of course means that I can potentially pick a metal disc or I can pick a disc of a different genre. You and I may get metal, we may get rap, we may get jazz, we may get classical, we may get funk, you never know. The only restriction I'm putting on myself with this game is that Greatest Hits and any compilations/anthologies are automatically disqualified. I shouldn't have to explain why.

I think this will be a fun exercise for me and hopefully you all as well.

Tonight my roving hand found The Cure's Boys Don't Cry. It pleased me to see this album come off the wall as my debut review for this project. I saw a live video of The Cure's "A Forest" on VH-1 Classic the other day and have been itching to listen to them. Maybe fate plays a higher stake in this game than I thought!

Let me know what you think of this idea; do you dig it, is it stupid? Drop me a comment here.


The Cure
Boys Don't Cry

You can either get this album or Three Imaginary Boys, which are essentially the exact same album, for the record.

While Disintegration is undeniably The Cure's masterpiece and Head on the Door is my personal favorite Cure album, Boys Don't Cry is a critical album by this seminal alternative band, most certainly a groundwork foudation album that helps bridge not only The Cure from punk to alternative but also the two genres themselves.

Recorded in 1979, Boys Don't Cry is one of the first post-modern punk albums in an era of The Clash, The Ramones, Blondie and The Boomtown Rats, all punk-based bands who pushed the boundaries of the style in their own ways. Well, perhaps The Ramones stuck to the formula with its three-chord embracement, and yet all of these bands, despite their innovations, employ the three-chord structure at least in their developing moments.



The title song "Boys Don't Cry" is a simplistic three-chord ditty filled with innocuous melody and sprightly choruses. Robert Smith sneers his way through his verses while original drummer Lol Tolhurst automatically keeps no-frills steady beats throughout this song and throughout the album. Tolhurst isn't tricky, but he's effective, particularly on his suspenseful and whispery hi-hat tapping on the lead-ins to the verses on "10:15 Saturday Night" which soon pound out remedial beats that signal each tom, snare and crash in such an obvious but subliminally complex way. As a hack drummer myself, I've played with this track and found it to be easy in some parts, aggravating in others.

Boys Don't Cry is mostly jumpy in comparison to future Cure releases. As a mere trio in its infancy stages, Boys Don't Cry is frequently joyous in its cheerful punk simplicity such as on "Jumping Someone Else's Train," "Accuracy" or "Grinding Halt." The unnerving "Killing an Arab" haunts in the new millennium given the Middle East crises, but The Cure certainly had an infectious bass groove from Michael Dempsey that drives this song to places it shouldn't go: to your tapping feet. As Lol Tolhurst lays down two crashes on the fourth note of each verse line, the song transforms into a scathing commentary accented by The Cure's outrage. After all, 1979 proved to be filled with Middle Eastern conflict as well. In 2005, this song is primitive on one hand, disturbingly prophetic on the other.

Boys Don't Cry is a one-time shot at punk legitimacy for The Cure. On the subsequent albums Seventeen Seconds and Faith, The Cure maintains a basic punk idiom in terms of its demanding grooves, yet the introduction of synthesizers and a darker, moody omnipresence by Robert Smith harkens The Cure towards new wave. By the time they released Pornography, The Cure's tainted souls forever endeared them to alternative.

Boys Don't Cry is a major contrast album compared its successive releases, somewhat demonstrative of how U2 evolved from a punk base on Boy and War to the pop rock masters they became. The Cure is obviously no U2, but it's evident they weren't looking to go the same route. The melancholy, harmonica-driven instrumental "Subway Song" from Boys Don't Cry is perhaps the lone parallel between the two bands, but as "Three Imaginary Boys" rounds out Boys Don't Cry, it's blatant difference in songwriting from the rest of the album gave a glimpse into what was yet to come for The Cure.

Friday, June 24, 2005

RNR Experiment: Peace Sells vs. Master of Puppets

OR

I'm probably not in my right mind, but I've always harbored a secret desire to see Dave Mustaine win over his former bandmates in Metallica. Obviously his ousting of Metallica was a good thing as we got two bands for the price of one, and Metallica would unlikely be the megastars they became with Dave still in the lineup, but is that such a bad thing? All I can say right now is that at least Dave Mustaine can finally feel a bit justified about his longtime feud with Metallica that finally seems to have settled its course, given his testimonials in Metallica's Some Kind of Monster movie.

Megadeth's The System Has Failed far surpasses Metallica's St. Anger in terms of craftsmanship and general respect by the media and fans. The titanic "Blackmail the Universe" alone is worth all of the stripped cacophony of St. Anger, which at least validates the fact that Megadeth has certainly had a fighting chance of beating Metallica. Granted, I'm one of the lone wolves who applauded Metallica for pissing off their audience with the unheard-of-for-them banal crush of St. Anger, partially because I've been mad at them ever since Master of Puppets. You might say oh, boo hoo fanboy, get over it, but goddammit, Metallica was one of my bands, even if I thought their name was gay the first time I heard it! When Master of Puppets came my way, my world stopped. I sprinted, not walked the jagged train tracks (nearly falling numerous times over the wooden slats) leading to a local record store to get my own copy and I was enamored with that album in such a way that the course Metallica chose down the road felt like absolute betrayal. The jocks who gave my friend Mark and I shit at the Monsters of Rock in 1988 when Metallica was in its waning moments as a pure thrash band were unexplainably into this band a few years down the road after the overblown but pivotal …And Justice for All, followed by their point-of-no-return Black Album endeared Metallica to an altogether different fanbase, and it just wasn't right.

In the time Master of Puppets was wowing the true metal fans of yesteryear, Megadeth struck hard and furious with another album that shook me to my core, Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? I can remember raking leaves for two weeks the fall Peace Sells came out, and I played it on a little tape player repeatedly as I worked, frequently into the dusk after school. I can also fondly recall blasting it through my cheap car speakers in the (now demolished) Hunt Valley Mall parking lot in my metalhead version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Frequently we were chased off by security leaving the soundtracks of Megadeth, Overkill, Anthrax, Manowar and Testament in our rowdy wake.

Between these two albums lies a grudge I never realized could be postulated and analyzed until just now. Which one is better?

Okay, so the majority of you reading this are going to go "Pfff...that's too obvious! Metallica, of course!" Therein creates an opportunity for me to experiment. Let's think this through a little more carefully, shall we? Which of those albums really is better? If you're talking technical prowess, Metallica wins hands-down. If you're talking about righteous metal anger, then open your mind and your ears a little and consider the fact that Megadeth's album was far more brutal and indicative of metal as it's classically considered.

This is the hypothesis I'm proposing and from here, I will seek to identify a possible truth that Peace Sells is a better album than Master of Puppets, and I will break it down in wars between the songs off of each album, as well as the musicians of each group. Since both albums conveniently have 8 songs apiece, that makes this little tet a tet easier to strip down. Join me, will you? Please keep in mind this a personal experiment and personal opinion. I don't presume to say my findings are gospel, but I openly invite your comments and I expect a lot of dissent, which is totally fair. I'm not exactly sure how this is going to turn out, folks. I'm doing this empirically and recording my results as they happen.

First the songs:

Megadeth: "Wake Up Dead"
Metallica: "Battery"


This pair is probably the hardest to disseminate as both songs get their respective albums jumping to kinetic proportions. "Battery" is a steady headbanger's delight with a great acoustic and electric guitar medley that sets it up wonderfully. From there it's an all-out thrash attack on the metal front that is difficult to repulse. However, "Wake Up Dead" jumps in your face from the get-go and it teases and tantalizes with its eager and anxious verses, plus it tosses out an early guitar solo that helps build the suspense. By the time the first couple of verses are done, Megadeth produces a hell of a great accelerating mosh stomp that continues to sculpt this song; you just know it's going to explode and sure enough it does, with even faster and better-timed thrash than "Battery." This is because of the late Gar Samuelson's drumming. He pounds his kit and ride cymbals for all their worth and keeps the listener deep into the track as the song's final stanza marches home confidently with another killer solo.
Winner: "Wake Up Dead"

Megadeth: "The Conjuring"
Metallica: "Master of Puppets"


Despite the fact that Megadeth rips the snot out of "The Conjuring" and keeps the tempo of Peace Sells moving at a jacknife pace, Metallica creates an epic 8 minute song that is full of driving rhythm and hard-nosed riffs. "Master of Puppets" is a metal classic, tried-and-true. As monstrous as "The Conjuring" is, it's faced with stout competition it cannot overcome.
Winner: Metallica: "Master of Puppets"

Megadeth: "Peace Sells"
Metallica: "The Thing That Should Not Be"


Sorry, this one should be more than obvious. Just as "Master of Puppets" is a genre classic, so too is "Peace Sells." "Peace Sells" is socially conscious and Dave Mustaine is at his lyrical best with his "waddya mean I..." rant. The verse stomps and choruses are highly singable and you feel every single ounce of fury Megadeth injects into their song. "The Thing That Should Not Be" is killer, but a real drag in comparison. The kids in the movie Rock School chose to cover "Peace Sells." It shows they have their priorities straight.
Winner: "Peace Sells"

Megadeth: "Devil's Island"
Metallica: "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"


This is a really hard pick as well. Megadeth absolutely clobbers "Devil's Island" with colossal thrash and escalating chords within their verses, making it a breathtaking ride. However, Metallica created a mini-masterpiece on "Sanitarium" with its hellish nightmare lyrics and suspenseful verses that are made more dramatic on the sludgy choruses. Plus it helps they have a great speed tempo to close out the last third of the track. It's much more artful than Megadeth.
Winner: "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"

Megadeth: "Good Mourning/Black Friday"
Metallica: "Disposable Heroes"


As much as Megadeth lays out the protest on "Peace Sells," Metallica gives it right back on "Disposable Heroes." Naturally, this song is about lives wasted in an unjust war effort (this case being Vietnam), and the random thrash blitzes are as exotic as anyone had ever done at that point. Megadeth matches "Disposable Heroes" in terms of intensity and then bottlerockets from a grinding tempo into a tempest of thrash that Metallica never could match. Depending on what album you're talking about, Megadeth was customarily faster than Metallica. When the "Black Friday" portion bursts loose like an uncontrollable banshee on crack, Dave Mustaine and Chris Poland's outraged guitars shriek prolifically. It's a rare thing when I put a song of ideals behind sonic aggression, but...
Winner: "Good Mourning/Black Friday"

Megadeth: "Bad Omen"
Metallica: "Leper Messiah"


If Master of Puppets has an Achilles' heel, it’s "Leper Messiah." Not that it's a bad song at all, but it slows the album down, whereas Megadeth's "Bad Omen" keeps Peace Sells moving like a mutha...
Winner: "Bad Omen"

Megadeth: "I Ain't Superstitious"
Metallica: "Orion"


Megadeth's cover of Willie Dixon's "I Ain't Superstitious" is cheeky, fun and a great way to catch your breath from the manic speed of Peace Sells. Unfortunately for them, Metallica's "Orion" is simply fantastic, one of the greatest rock instrumentals ever conceived. From the heavy chugs to the beautiful slow tapestry that Kirk Hammett, Cliff Burton and James Hetfield weave on this masterwork, you just can't beat it unless you’re Iron Maiden. It still rings cryptic years later; on Metallica's Cliff 'Em All video, the slow section of “Orion” is played in homage to the late Cliff Burton and it's still chilling today.
Winner: "Orion"

Megadeth: "My Last Words"
Metallica: "Damage, Inc."


The all-important home stretch closer. This one's a toughie as well. "My Last Words" is an extraordinary song with slick rhythms, changing chords and a hell of a bass lick laid down by Dave Ellefson. The final stanza of the song in its double-hammer time is a triumphant stride to the finish line for Megadeth, a call to arms, if you will. That alone should make it win, but "Damage, Inc." is considered a thrash classic for a good reason. One of the fastest songs ever put down in its time, "Damage, Inc." roars from its pissed-off mastodon stomps and then outdistances Megadeth, beating them at their own speed game.
Winner: "Damage, Inc."


Given that my results produced a tie, I'll attempt to settle this in a war with the musicians and their respective roles.

Dave Mustaine vs. James Hetfield: This one's going to make me very unpopular, I can just see it. Without a doubt Mustaine kicks the crap out of Hetfield on guitar. Dave's got a quicker wrist, thus he can strum faster and he dances note circles around Hetfield, who is normally a straightforward strummer with some good solos here and there. Mustaine, however, is far more accomplished on his solos. Vocally Hetfield is better for the most part, yet Dave Mustaine has more charisma with his squeals and growls. He has more range than Hetfield and isn't afraid to extend himself even when he occasionally goes off-key. To me, that’s part of his appeal.
Winner: Dave Mustaine

Chris Poland vs. Kirk Hammett: Kirk Hammett is considered metal royalty in many guitar circles and I will never, ever take away his talent. He is definitely one of the genuine greats of guitar and his proficiency pales only to a few select people. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden, for example. Chris Poland, like Dave Mustaine, is a rapid string player. He shreds better than Hammett and helps carry a tune with his angry strumming. His Return to Metalopolis album is a damn fine solo piece, but in the end sheer artistry prevails.
Winner: Kirk Hammett

Dave Ellefson vs. Cliff Burton: No disrespect to Dave Ellefson, but there's a reason Cliff Burton's death hit home as hard as it did. People are still mourning the loss of Dimebag Darrell, but Cliff Burton could make his bass sound like a vibrating low-tuned guitar. Cliff was absolute genius and his loss still hurts today.
Winner: Cliff Burton

Gar Samuelson vs. Lars Ulrich: I'll go ahead and commit an atrocity to many eyes and take Gar Samuelson. Even though he too has left this life, if you're going to focus this battle between these two albums only, Gar's jazz background and monster strikes helped make Peace Sells the classic it is. The recent remaster of Peace Sells criminally downplays the resonance of Gar's drumming and it's inexcusable. Take Lars all you want on the other Metallica albums (although Nick Menza certainly makes an argument for his lightning exactitude on Megadeth’s Rust in Peace). In this particular battle Gar makes Lars his bitch.
Winner: Gar Samuelson

Alright, so again I ran myself into a tie. Empirically we could say the albums are dead even. If you didn't read this far, you obviously took Master of Puppets based on metal gospel. However, I will offer these closing arguments and select my personal winner. The rest is left up to you, dear readers...

While Master of Puppets is certainly an iconic album of heavy metal and I will forever endear myself to it as lovingly as anything else I hold precious within the genre, if you want to cut through the fat and define heavy metal in terms of aggression, spirit, angst and righteous fury, then, sorry folks, but Megadeth wins out. Peace Sells leaves you exhausted in its wake and yet you want to listen to it once again. The song "Peace Sells" appeals to me on a base level that I believe peace is too sophisticated of a concept for the general population at large. Dave Mustaine and company remind why peace is so precious and dear, and yes, they strike their message in such an angry fashion one might consider it nihilistic, but in the end, Peace Sells is symbolic of what true metal means at its core. Of course, by the end of the year these albums were released in 1986, Slayer made it a moot point by unleashing the greatest thrash album of all-time: Reign in Blood.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Crisis show with M.O.D. and Jacknife

I've only said it to a few people because I hate to be a frigging poser or name-dropper, but after this week I can feel comfortable in saying that I consider the band Crisis to be good friends of mine. I've interviewed them four times and after Tuesday I've seen them live three times, and with three different drummers, as guitarist Afzaal Nasiruddeen pointed out to me. We have a funny history, which I doubt I'll ever really get into, but suffice it to say I really relate to most of the members of Crisis. Lead singer Karyn, who contains a massive amount of raging energy inside of her tiny frame is one of the most literate people I've ever spoken to. She'll be appearing in my forthcoming metal book and I trust you will reach the same conclusions I did. Beneath the astonishing drape of ankle-length dreadlocks is a very sharp and motivated mind.



Then there's my main go-to guy, Afzaal. We've come to know each other pretty well in a year's time. Afzaal is a fearless interviewee who shows integrity and honesty. I can always count on Afzaal to give me a hell of a chat for my readers. Additionally, Afzaal has looked out for me by trying to promote me to some of the larger music magazines out there. He is a classy individual who knows the meaning of hosting. The past two times I've hung with Crisis he's had a cold beer in my hand and warm anecdotes from the road, along with a good music suggestion.

Jwyanza Hobson is Crisis's other guitarist whose dreads always swing artistically, a great photo op which I was able to capture this week in black and white. I have to admit I was astonished by the pics I got of Crisis in black and white. There really is something to be said for using that medium. Jwyanza and I got off on the wrong foot when we first met, but I always have a hug and a peace sign for him ever since and I consider him my brother in metal like anyone else. Jwyanza, Afzaal and I had an engrossing chat about Malcolm X, Public Enemy and the civil rights movement after their gig opening for Kittie and Otep, and I consider it one of the highlights of my music journalism career.

Bassist Gia Chuan Wang is rather quiet. I have yet to be able to talk to him for more than a few seconds. He's got an infectious grin when he shows it and his bass thrums with conviction that adds to Crisis' sonic bombardment onstage.



On Tuesday I went to The Ottobar to catch Crisis as they rolled into Baltimore on the (stupidly named, sorry) Killith Fair to get photos for my most recent interview with Afzaal, and it was like seeing old friends return after so long, even if it's only been since November. Alas, Jwyanza was sick and Karyn needed to be taken to the hospital earlier on the tour. It never fails to amaze me to see sick road dogs get up onstage and belt it out like nothing's wrong with them. Norma Jean was like that, where 4 out of the 5 guys were sick as hell; you could see it, and still they gave me a great interview and really hammered their set with impressive fortitude.

The turnout for the show was extremely poor, but that didn't deter Crisis, or the other bands, for that matter, from delivering knockout performances as if the place was packed to the hilt.

I can start off and say that after Afzaal introduced me to members of M.O.D. and local native J.R. of Pig Destroyer, I did some other networking around and I have to make note that Jacknife's inclusion on the bill was surreal as I'd reviewed their forthcoming CD Moment of Reckoning the very same day and I was mostly impressed with what I'd heard. My review will post at Live4Metal.com sometime in the upcoming future in case you care...



I didn't know Jacknife was playing tonight, so it was pretty wild to see them and wild is an accurate statement for their stage prescence...very exciting, good choreography, lots of midair jumps and loud passion in their music. With about 40 people in the house altogether, Jacnkife seemed intent on impressing each and every one of them. I began to snap off a lot of pictures, unaware I was depleting my digital camera battery since I forgot to recharge after taking pictures of my friends Matt and Sandi's little girl Mary after her dance recital. Hey, Homer, give me a DOH!

This, of course, put me in a dilemma once Crisis was on the stage. My camera was pooped out and I was really upset. I knew I had some good shots of Jacknife, but this was the third time I was seeing Crisis and my pics in the past ranged from barely adequate to absolute crap. Fortunately, I had my backup camera and two rolls of film, which I peeled off 50 shots rather quickly. If you've never seen Crisis live, you're missing out. The way Karyn works that stage with her dreads floating in her wake is something to see, believe me, particularly when she brings out her wings, which she had for the first time since I've seen them live, and naturally I was out of film! Praying in the back of my mind I'd be able to develop some good shots, I tried to ease off and enjoy the M.O.D. set.

Friends, if you know Billy Milano, you know what to expect. P.C. the man is not. They're likely his most hated words next to Scott Ian and Charlie Benante, who he naturally had choice words for, even he spewed out many S.O.D. classics. Jwyanza called Billy the dark comedian of metal or something to that extent, and sure enough, Milano turned his set into a standup comedy hour with random musical bits thrown between. He heckled the audience mercilessly and was hilarious every time. Whenever they'd shout back, he was a quick-wit to dish it right back. Absolutely nuts. I did an email interview with Billy last year for my book that was very outspoken and it was nothing compared to this evening. He even made fun of himself and Kirstie Alley in one fell swoop before launching into "Bubble Butt," which the couple handfuls of people who were left after Crisis implored M.O.D. to play.



Billy's brother Bob Milano is in the band, and M.O.D. was well on, particularly with the S.O.D. material that consisted of half of their playlist. I admit I lost control and headbanged like a fool while air-strumming the floor speaker. Bob Milano caught sight of it and brought his guitar down to me and we "riffed" together. Afterwards he ruffled my head and later told me to keep headbanging. As Billy shook hands with everyone he razzed, there was an overall sense of comaraderie in the club. That does tend to happen in really small crowds; everyone gets to know one another and makes the most of an awkward situation. It helps when the bands give their very all, much like Joey Belladonna did on a solo gig at the now-closed Thunderdome, where he delighted all 35 or so of us with an enthusiastic performance.

Prior to M.O.D.'s set, I went up and introduced myself to Jacknife's lead singer Joe Ortiz. I was won over by his excitement and the fire in his eyes when I told him I'd reviewed their disc prior to the show and that I'd taken shots of the band and intended to send some to AMP Magazine and Rough Edge.com. Joe gave me his contact information and said I could interview him directly, which I plan on taking him up on in the very near future, while Jacknife is still energized by being on the road. Afzaal also gave testimony as to Jacknife's road demeanor and it was all complimentary.

After the show, I was enjoying meeting everyone including Billy Milano, and as he called Afzaal over to discuss tour strategy, I took it as a cue to head on out. I had met Crisis' new drummer, Justin Arman who is an excellent fit for them. Justin used to play in Society 1 and with his monster afro-like hair, he was an instant target for Billy Milano and good-natured about every minute of it. Justin surprised me with how accurate his playing of Crisis' complex Like Sheep Led to Slaughter album material is despite the short time he's been in the band. Afzaal and I have had a running joke about Crisis suffering from a Spinal Tap affliction with their drummer issues. Let's hope Justin is finally the one to break the jinx.

In all, a very strange night but one I wouldn't trade for the world. I met two more bands, talked to the sound engineer who has worked with and produced Trouble in the past, I met a nice local friend of Jwyanza's, Lisa I think her name is. I am continuously humbled by Afzaal's generosity, especially as he introduced me to many people in the bands and toted me as a good writer, feeding my ego, that kind of heartwarming and uplifting stuff you can't put a price tag on, not even for a five minute exclusive with Prince...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Witchcraft - Firewood review

Classic rock fans rejoice...



Witchcraft
Firewood
Candlelight USA
Ray Van Horn, Jr.




So imagine a jam session to end all jam sessions: Black Sabbath in the same halcyon studio with Led Zeppelin, Cream, Canned Heat, The Guess Who, Van Morrison, Santana, early Stones, Cathedral and Pentagram. Now imagine a young Swedish doom rock act that has these bands’ components wrapped nice and snug into their own groovy microcosm, and you get the splendiferous retro sound of Witchcraft.

Only the second album from this astounding quartet, Firewood is a culmination of heavy blues rock, 70’s thumping metal and acid-fueled riffage. From the opening licks of “Chylde of Fire,” you won’t be sure what era to embrace inside your head as Witchcraft peels off montages of inspirations that creates an overall spirit of monster psychedelia that can be seen in their mod attire and heard in their 60s and 70s crush grooves.

While Sabbath plays a large part in Witchcraft’s classic rock sound (the main riffs of “Queen of Bees” and “I See a Man” for example), Firewood is a visceral journey that will force you to headbang after merely bobbing along. “If Wishes Were Horses” will make you blindly strum your steering wheel as hints of even The White Stripes sneak into their verses. Butler and Iommi-like licks close this one out before jumping into a Swinging Era London-type jam, “Mr. Haze.” Guitarist John Hoyles displays some exceptional Carlos Santana-like chops, which shifts the track into a psychedelic slammer that would’ve sounded right at home in Woodstock. His proficient solos vary and are inspired by some of the best rock n’ roll has ever produced; you’ll hear shades not only of Santana and Tony Iommi, but also Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Adrian Smith.

Of all things, you’ll hear hints of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Santana and America in many segments of the fantastic-but-brief “Merlin’s Daughter.” Try not to double-take as “I See a Man” shifts unexpectedly from a lumbering Sabbath pace to a breakneck funk rock explosion, then back again. It’s truly killer, as is the Maiden-like punch of the closing minute of “Sorrow Evoker,” or the blatant-but-gleeful Zeppelin homage of “You Suffer.” And the hidden track “When the Screams Come” is worth sitting through the dead air, believe me.

As guitarist/vocalist Magnus Pelander howls with ranges that call a bitch’s brew of distant Jagger, 70’s Ozzy, Robert Plant, Van Morrison and even Glen Danzig, you can tell much love and honor has gone into Witchcraft. Pelander, along with his bandmates accomplish their tribute with well-versed principles and nary an ounce of cheese.

Rating: 5/5

Witchcraft band website

Sunday, June 19, 2005

S.C.S. (the anniversary mantra)

My wife and I just celebrated out 10th anniversary. A decade of marital debauchery! Who figured it would last?

Because of my current lack of work situation (which may be changing very shortly, pray for me, friends), we had to scale back our original plans of a four-day excursion to one day only. Glad we didn't go ahead and book the trip to Ireland we'd originally planned! Guess everything happens for a reason in retrospect...

To keep it simple and less expensive, we decided to forego giving each other gifts and instead stayed at a bed and breakfast an hour away in Charles Town, WV. We lucked into a beautiful Victorian room with a jacuzzi. Quite the lap of luxury for a reasonable price and certainly wonderful for a currently unemployed bastard like myself.

Despite the fact I was fighting a urinary tract infection that was miraculously cured with a bombardment of juice, wine, exercise and Marian intervention, you couldn't have asked for a more pleasant way to spend a landmark anniversary, and done all in a day.

As we came in on Route 340, I spotted a footbridge that was connected to the main bridge that looks straight into Harpers Ferry. I decided I wanted to take the digital camera out onto the bridge and snap off some pictures. It was with this decision that we were inadvertently rewarded with a bonus sight for our trip. After we took the pictures, we heard this heavy rushing water sound that indicated a waterfall nearby. Sure enough, I scouted the top of a cascade and then a steep path that led to the bottom. It was a serene and beautiful moment to our little trip, a spontaneous moment of beauty that I gave thanks to God for bestowing upon us. We spent a quiet period of time alone before a river rafting excursion landed when we were ready to leave.

On our itinerary was a winery we'd located on the web, the Hillsborough Winery, which we had to decipher some pretty bizarre directions to find, but we got there and were treated to a wide-open view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a long vineyard which appealed to my camera's eye. Inside the tasting barn was the vineyard owner, who might've originated from Italy. He was a kind and humorous man who waived the sampling fee in light of our anniversary. It was a quiet and relaxing way to wander about his vineyard with a couple of bottles of vino clinking at our sides. Personally, I can't think of anything more romantic.

We'd spotted another nearby vineyard, Breaux, and took a drive to it. Apparently Breaux is a very famous vineyard in area, as is Hillsborough. We continued our sampling and left with more wine for ourselves and our family. We'd specifically chosen wine to celebrate our anniversary with at the bed and breakfast. With no glasses or corkscrew it seemed kind of silly, and that inadvertently led into our mantra for this trip: "S.C.S."

That evening we had a nice dinner at an Italian restaraunt called Avanti, which may not have had anyone else there, but the dinner was excellent and we shared a carafe of wine and combined with our tasting adventures, we started getting loopy. Wondering how we were going to drink our celebratory wine, we figured we could shag down the bed and breakfast proprietor and ask if she had one; in a place so elaborate, there couldn't not be a simple corkscrew, I said. But as we began getting silly, I started thinking of The Police's "Message in a Bottle," and developed these ridiculous lyrics at the dinner table:

"I hope that someone opens my...I hope that someone opens my...bottle of white wine, oh..." As we snickered like morons, I butchered The Police's line "sending out an S.O.S." to "sending out an S.C.S.," which, in my twisted lingo, stood for "send cork screw." So there we were, singing "sending out an S.C.S." along the quiet streets of Charles Town, which were really dead for a Friday night. As I took a picture of a building that was 80% engulfed in kudzu, we were obviously quite a spectacle, laughing like idiots on the way back to the bed and breakfast.

Suffice it to say, our proprietor got our "S.C.S." and we killed two bottles in the jacuzzi while watching King of the Hill reruns. It was as wonderful a way to celebrate our anniversary on the cheap as I could've hoped for. When I sobered up, I prayed to Mary and God and thanked them for looking out for us and for providing such a perfect day when we could very well have had nothing, given the circumstances. Blessings come in strange and unexpected ways, needless to say.

Static-X - Start a War

Static-X – Start a War (Warner Brothers) Reviewed by Ray Van Horn, Jr.




One of the last few remnants of the nearly-forgotten nu-metal scene, Static-X was one of the best and brightest bands of that period. A personal favorite of mine, I was fortunate to catch Static-X on the launch of their Machine tour when they were just breaking in Tripp Rexx Eisen (now departed due to legal problems I won’t rehash here; innocent before guilty, I say). Had I known the path Static-X would follow on their depressingly commercial Shadow Zone album, I could say in retrospect that I saw Static-X at their last height of greatness before selling out, similar in the way I saw Metallica on The Monsters of Rock tour in 1988 when they were about to release …And Justice for All. Metallica was breaking in Jason Newsted then, and I consider that thrash-heavy concert (at the risk of condemnation around the world) the last time Metallica was truly great. Getting back to Static-X, the aforementioned Shadow Zone, while boasting some pretty good material overall, was a blatant ply for the mainstream, and alas, this disturbing trend is continued on their current release, Start a War.

The best news for Static-X and their fans is the return of original guitarist Koichi Fukuda, whose programming skills were just as important to Static-X’s sound as his heavy strumming. No disrespect to Tripp Rexx Eisen, who handled his duties in Static-X with precision and flair, but after the stripped banality that littered Shadow Zone, Fukuda is exactly the right antidote to keep this band chugging in the midst of Eisen’s controversial exodus. For example, Fukuda’s programming prowess reinvigorates Wayne Static’s keyboard fundamentalism on the exciting electronic jam “Brainfog.” Welcome home, brother.

Despite the fact that the opening track “The Enemy” is an obvious rehash of “I Am” from their monstrous debut Wisconsin Death Trip, it still kicks the album off righteously enough. The successive songs “I’m the One,” “Start a War,” “Pieces” and “Dirthouse” pace the first section of Start a War nicely. “I’m the One” has a particularly fastidious rockout groove and a memorable chorus to boot. It’s when the ho-hum “Skinnyman” arrives that Start a War begins to submerge into a hit-or-miss affair. The dragged-out “Just in Case” might be one of the worst songs Static-X has ever written. They attempt a Nine Inch Nails grinding dirtiness that is almost unforgivable, save for Fukuda’s surreal keys. As an uninspired breakdown assumes the track, one can see Static-X is playing to today’s breakdown fanatical audiences and it’s truly sad. Their first two albums alone are worth more than a breakdown contest with 100 participants, and those albums featured no breakdowns! Get the picture?

It’s become apparent by the repetitious chord structuring that have been recycled from their previous three albums that Static-X, despite the reunion with Fukuda, nevertheless needs a new lease on life. Even though bassist Tony Campos appealingly drives the lamely titled “Set if Off” (someone please declare this phrase officially dead!) and head honcho (pun intended if you’ve seen his skyscraper hairdo, and chances are you have) Wayne Static still makes as an ideal frontman as anyone out there, the main reason Static-X has been floundering on their two most recent albums is this: Ken Jay.

While Nick Oshiro is a solid drummer who can carry just about any hard rock band, serious Static-X fans have to miss Ken Jay. I sure as hell do. There was something about Ken Jay’s double-tipped attack that amped this band to mega proportions. When he was lost, so was the hard danceability of Static-X. Therein lied the band’s niche; heavy music you could groove to. “Night Terrors” comes quite close to restoring the beloved Static-X formula with its hammering riffs and head-bobbing harmony. This is what made Wisconsin Death Trip such a sonic near-masterpiece and Machine a heady follow-up. This is what we expect from Static-X. Even as “My Damnation” is laid back in comparison, it is still a steady breaker chock full of the band’s zest and a welcome addition to Static-X’s repertoire. Nonetheless, if Static-X wants to recapture what it had on Wisconsin Death Trip and Machine, Ken Jay is so obviously the key. With Koichi Fukuda back in the fold, it stands to reason Jay’s presence is now the critical missing element. I personally believe all else would work itself out by having Jay back in the band.

To compensate, we unfortunately get the jughead nihilism of “I Want to Fucking Break It.” Despite the amusing carnival sampling, this song is grossly beneath this band. Wayne Static presumes to vent with “This one’s for the assholes, this one’s for the freaks, this one’s for the stupid fuckers, trying to keep me incomplete…this one’s for my enemies, you know who you are, fuck off, please.” God, say it isn’t so, Wayne! When did you become Fred Durst? Come back now, while there’s hope for salvation! And while you’re at it, consider laying your “Otsego” series to rest. While “Otsego Amigo” certainly rocks like a bitch, the lyrics are so strained it’s throwaway, especially when rehashed within the hidden track. Even Overkill knew when to put their four-album-spanning “Overkill” epic to bed when it was plain it had been tapped dry. To be fair, at least Wayne Static does some pretty killer scat to offset his “Otsego Amigo” nonsense on the hidden track.

Static-X will undoubtedly continue to fly high amidst their fanbase, but if they want to remain in the game beyond Start a War, it’s evident they need to take a Wisconsin death trip and rediscover the magic of that sabbatical before they wander into such obscurity, not even Wayne Static’s towering coif can be traced.

Static-X band website

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Flotsam and Jetsam

Flotsam and Jetsam
Dreams of Death
Crash Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



This is all starting to feel surreal, the fact that the majority of the bands I knew and loved in the eighties are either reuniting or releasing new albums. So the Great Big Cash-In is officially on, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been bands from the old metal scene keeping the faith well before the sudden metal revival we’re currently experiencing took shape. There’s W.A.S.P., Overkill and Motorhead of course, just to name a few. It’s been at least since 2001 since Flotsam and Jetsam released My God, a particularly strong album, and now, on their ninth studio album, Dreams of Death, the thrash legends throw it back to their roots, as well as Queensryche’s prog roots.

“Straight to Hell” spews out a thrash strike that settles into a steady power metal attack guided by underappreciated guitarist Edward Carlson and bassist Jason Ward, as well as guitarist Mark Simpson. They sound absolutely confident in the transitions, particularly with the artistic way guitar and bass follow one another on the solos. Do keep in mind that Jason Ward has done a hell of a job for this band since he joined in 1991. If you’re still longing for Jason Newsted at this point, hang it up; he’s doing wonders for Voivod, another great band that deserves your attention.

“Parasychotic” will re-endear Flotsam and Jetsam to their old cotillion of fans and give a sampling of how thrash was done in the eighties to newcomers. The drumming of Craig Nielsen is particularly effective here, even as the mixing extracts too much of his bobbing bass pedal, but that’s old school and therefore suitable, as are the searing guitar solos that deserve your most enthusiastic horns-up.

It’s when Flotsam and Jetsam hits “Bleed” that they suddenly sound greatly like Queensryche, particularly on the latter band’s past few efforts. It’s almost no coincidence that vocalist mainstay Eric (A.K.) Knutson (he was only absent during part of 2001), a thoroughly competent vocalist in his own right, sings very much like Geoff Tate on this track. It’s almost hard to shelve Doomsday for the Deceiver, No Place for Disgrace and Cuatro in your mind, but you have to. At least sterling tag solos and a monster crush during the bridge stamps the Flotsam and Jetsam seal upon what would otherwise be a very plain track. The clever “Bathing in Red” seems more at home on Queensryche’s Q2K or even Fates Warning’s FWX, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song for Flotsam and Jetsam. It takes getting used to, but it’s quite well-written.

“Look in His Eyes” maintains a brisk mosh pace, while the instrumental “Nascentes Morimar” features some absolutely gorgeous guitar leads and psychedelic backwashes, again with a heavy influence by Queensryche and Fates Warning, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen to chill out to.

“Childhood Hero” is possibly the biggest brow-raiser on Dreams of Death. It is possibly the best progressive piece Flotsam and Jetsam has conceived. It’s a little disquieting from the standard Flotsam and Jetsam formula, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s the song you will pay most attention to, guaranteed. Again, it’s very much Queensryche oriented in the acoustic-driven opening all the way through the elevated heavier parts. Flotsam and Jetsam eventually separates itself as the song grows in strength and eventually goes where Queensryche has never dared to go; into a thrash blitz. Dissecting “Childhood Hero” is quite fun and it’s a song you will likely go back to after spinning Dreams of Death all the way through.

The timing is right for Flotsam and Jetsam to get back in the game with Dreams of Death. I suspect they’ll pick up some new, curious fans who want to learn about this band while entertaining its existing scattered fanbase. It may not be one of the year’s critical releases, but Dreams of Death is a fine addition to Flotsam and Jetsam’s catalog.

Rating: 4/5

Flotsam and Jetsam band website

New Dead Radio

Seems like there's a lot of bands incoporating the words "death" and "radio" in their names lately. This one's probably the best.


New Dead Radio
Avalon Bridge Will Burn
Mediaskare Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Upon first listen, I thought this group was an Every Time I Die knockoff, which may or may not be what you conclude yourself. Certainly vocalist Sam (who might be worthy of the dub “The Lungs of Los Angeles,” to coin the title of one of New Dead Radio’s earlier songs) subscribes to the same school of extreme oral chicanery as Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley, and there’s a similar jackknife approach to both bands, but taking a closer listen, New Dead Radio has quite a few of their own tricks which they exploit to unremitting jaggedness like they’re in serious hot pursuit. If Roscoe P. Coltrane had this band’s spunk, the Duke boys would be doing long, hard time. When New Dead Radio bothers to slow down, it’s quasi-artistic and quite effective like the end section of “…From the Leaning Tower” and the powerful sway of “Belage 723” or even the hypnotic crush of track “Gift Horse,” but for the most part, this album is all systems go.

“People are Pigs” is especially reminiscent of Every Time I Die but there are also sonic bombasts of The Refused as well, on this track and in scattershod splashes like on “The Burning of Avalon Bridge,” which also incorporates a little DRI into their choruses and steady, pounding verses, kind of in the gristly, throbbing way Vaux does. The galloping tempo to “Wish Them Well” allows New Dead Radio to groove and they capitalize with heavy strumming, particularly on the choruses as “Live the Lie (Desire)” explodes from it not with absolute precision, but speedy assurance nevertheless. Particularly strong is the song’s punk-like anthem choruses and Jason Christopher’s revving bass.



“Reject Flag” blasts a wrist-breaking series of strums as the song becomes a foreseeable pit mover with each successive second. Then there’s the 1:26 hilariously titled “Selfish Song,” which rips the shit out of everything in sight in classic hardcore fashion. Holy shtoikies, what a barnstormer! Selfish? Maybe, but it’s worth the self-indulgence! But they’re not done yet; on “A Blacker Ink” they pound it for all their worth, and that worth is considerable. Technically brilliant? Nope. Full of outrageous passion? Damn skippy. Drummer Glen Crain leads his mates with absolutely possessed drumming and in the end you might be as tired from listening to Avalon Bridge Will Burn as New Dead Radio likely was after recording it.

New Dead Radio is more relentless than a summertime ant attack. Trust me when I say that’s relentless as hell. In this fiercely competitive business, you gotta love that.

Rating: 4/5

New Dead Radio band website

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

new Clutch album

Clutch
Robot Hive/Exodus
DRT Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Clutch is like that girl you’ve been banging the better part of a year. You’re so comfortable with her grooves to give her up at this point just seems…well, just plain dumb. Clutch is a lay that never gets crusty. If you’re unfamiliar with this Maryland native band, you’re in for a monster treat. If you like your rock sticky and sullied with top-shelf lyrical content, Clutch is where it’s at. Clutch’s down-tuned blues rock is for sweathogs as it is for intellectuals. Masters of the riff with panache for real out-there lyrics that read like alternate universe vignettes, Clutch’s appeal is undeniable and infectious. Whether it’s the downhome sludge of their classic Elephant Riders album to their open-studio invitation on Jam Room to last year’s brilliant Blast Tyrant, Clutch knows its swampy territory and it flings the mud and the algae, partially with a firm tongue in the cheek, but mostly with grass-roots affection for simply rocking out. As if there was any worry, their new album Robot Hive/Exodus delivers Clutch at their best, mostly due to a maturation process that has led them to this point which finds them reaching beyond their boundaries and succeeding resoundingly.

From the instant “The Incomparable Mr. Flannery” struts out self-assuredly, Robot Hive/Exodus is vintage Clutch, as is the head-bobbing sway of “Gullah,” in which vocalist Neil Fallon replicates his proficient writing skills with the opening line “Ain’t no doubt Jesus sees us acting foolishly on American Bandstand.” The crunchy stomp of “Mice and Gods” allows guitarist Tim Sult to peel off his trademark greasy licks, as he does all over the album, mostly with stripped but thunderous delight. Sult sounds like he’s having the most fun he’s had in ages.

If you’re a Baltimore native you will easily get the titular reference of “Pulaski Skyway,” and it’s as raunchy as the strip bars, porn shops and crack whore motels that call Route 40 home. I posed an off-the-cuff question to Neil Fallon about how cool it would be to rescore the original animated movie Heavy Metal with an all-Clutch soundtrack. The horny riffs of “Pulaski Skyway” and its spacey skin-trade subject alone make the argument. Fallon replied that such a project had been considered in the pipeline. After all, he’s a sci-fi buff. If you’ve been a longtime fan of Clutch, how righteous would that be?

The most notable element of Robot Hive/Exodus is the addition of the funky organs that makes Clutch sound like everything from Steppenwolf to Supergrass like on “Never Be Moved,” where Neil Fallon invites everyone to “get their evolution (and revolution) on.” The organs lend Clutch a soulful element on the loud-as-fuck “10001110101,” as they do on the ultra-cool instrumentals “Small Upsetters” and “Tripping the Alarm,” which harkens back to the appetizing Jam Room sessions and one-ups them in the process.



“10,000 Witnesses” will blow you out of your reeking socks with its transition from stomping rock grooves to gospel revival, while the soul syncopation on the verses of “Land of Pleasant Living” sets up an Aerosmith-like rockout chorus fest. Then there’s the watery honky tonk savoir faire of “Gravel Road.” All of these are different excursions for Clutch, but they are so seamlessly natural and most welcome.

For some pessimistic fans who might’ve wondered if Clutch was going anywhere beyond Blast Tyrant (and if you fall into the latter category, consider these words from a devoted Clutch fan: “if you can’t listen to that album and not rock out with a grin ear to ear, then just kill yourself”), the answer is indisputable this time around. Robot Hive/Exodus is an inspired and confident masterwork. It restores the “might” to what many local and distant fans have lovingly referred to as “The Mighty Clutch.”

Rating: 5/5

Clutch band website

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Slunt

Slunt
Get a Load of This
Repossession Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



You gotta love the name Slunt. It rolls off the tongue in a dirty and lascivious manner, not as shockingly caustic as the rhyming “c” word, but still, when you say “Slunt,” you just know you’re pushing someone within earshot’s buttons. Along with the throwback glee of Blare Bitch Project, the punk rock girl-o-rama pastiche of The Eyeliners and the sex-packet airs of Cycle Sluts From Hell, Slunt is rough-and-tumble, riff-minded, one-leg-up, girl for every guy eighties-styled raunch rock.

Simplistic punk and blues rock with a tad more melody but loads of stripped-down veneer than their contemporaries, Slunt is raw and possibly more corrosive. When you consider Slunt’s first EP features songs about screwing a boyfriend’s dad, well, even Wendy O. Williams might’ve ripped the industrial tape off of her nipples in one-upped frustration.

When you hear the pop choruses of “Loved by You” or “All That I’ve Got,” it’s possible you’ll think of Lita Ford in her earlier years before she broke big. On the other hand, the wallowing verses and choruses of the roughneck jam “I Wanna Be Your Only One” ring partially like The Breeders while at the same time jettisoning at a speedy tempo that endears Slunt to loud and greasy punk ranging from Nashville Pussy to The Misfits.



As much as I’m growing weary of the incessant eighties covers by today’s generation, Slunt deserves props for a snazzy rendition of Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never.” Whereas the original is cocky and cool in its slinky sexual aggressiveness, Slunt’s version is bawdy and perhaps more titillating as a result. After all, when Abby Gennett chants the notorious chorus “I might like you better if we slept together,” she makes a more tempting siren than Romeo Void’s Debora Iyall. You appreciate Iyall’s confidence, yet it’s plain you’d rather be dominated by Gennett, particularly when she sneers “I’m the best thing you ever had, you know you want it and you want it bad” a few songs later on “The Best Thing.”

What’s cool is listening to this style of hard rock that is so blatantly perverse in a dicks-out manner that has traditionally been reserved for guys. While Slunt may not be perfect, they don’t have to be. Their cock rock stylizing hammers as well as any dude (it does help there are two guys in the lineup), no matter what dangles between their legs or not. The pissy riffs of “Not About You” sounds surreal when sung by a female, but that helps their cause, particularly when Slunt gets to the chuggy “Fast City Girls,” where Abby Gennett delivers her shtick with the machismo of Vince Neil backstage on the Girls Girls Girls tour. If you don’t believe me, then sample these words from Abby Gennett herself: “We want to put the sex back in rock and roll. We don’t like to bring it down. We just bring it.”

Bring it they do, judging by this pic from their website:



Imagine a bit of role reversal and who a guy would have to service in order to get backstage to meet Slunt. Hoo wah…

Rating: 3/5

Slunt band website

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Bane show at The Ottobar

On May 27 you will find a copy of my review of this hardcore band that really knows where it's at. I went down to the Ottobar in Baltimore to get pictures and an interview with lead singer Aaron Bedard and I could go on about how energetic Bane's live set is and how the preceding bands Cursed and Verse were both excellent openers; in fact, Cursed was flat-out amazing, even if I got gobbed on by them in the process. :) Suffice it to say this was a very solid trio of hardcore bands and as I transcribe my interview with Aaron Bedard, I wanted to pause a minute and share with you all the highlight of the show and an excerpt of my interview that supports this point.

In between Cursed and Verse was an unusually lengthy set change. The Ottobar is always top-notch when it comes to maintaining a schedule and ensuring bands strip their gear in split-second time for the next band to set up. I took this opportunity to rewrite the introduction to my side project book on metal and punk bands, since that has really taken a backseat in light of all the here and now band coverage I've been doing ever since. Anyway, the reason Verse took so long getting their gear to the stage is because they broke down on the way to today's gig. I have to mention the word today instead of tonight, as the gig started early around 4:30. It reminded me of the CBGB's weekend matinees, which Aaron and I reflected in our interview. But I digress...

By the time Verse was tuned up, I heard from behind "You've got 7 minutes," which I didn't want to believe was the amount of time allotted to Verse, but sure enough it was. After 3 raucous songs that had the kids in the crowd dogpiling to shout into the mike of Sean Murphy, Verse's set was over. It was a stunner, to say the least. They immediately took control of the crowd and were forced to stop their set. Anticlimactic doesn't begin to cover it.

During Bane's set, I saw the classiest gesture I've seen in ages. With the crowd in its hands and stage dives prevailing, Bane took a moment to comment on how Verse had been wronged, particularly with their breakdown situation, and they turned their instruments over to Verse and let them play a couple more songs.

To me, this selfless gesture is something that needs light cast upon it. It states what is absolutely right about a scene that nurtures its own and one thing you can say about Bane if you read their lyrics, particularly on their latest album The Note, is that a scene exists for people who care less about themselves than they do the scene itself. What follows is an excerpt from my forthcoming interview with Aaron Bedard, and I think you will understand why I was so impressed:

ROUGHEDGE.COM: I thought that was really classy of you guys to let Verse get back up there and play a little bit in the middle of your set. That was really cool. To me, it sends a message of unity.

AARON BEDARD: Right. Yeah, that’s real important to us. This is the first day of the tour with them and we just want them to know, we wanted everybody involved to know that what they’re going through we’re going through too and that there’s a way that we think things are supposed to run and they were definitely supposed to play more than four songs. We didn’t need all the time the club allotted to us and it would be silly not to do it since the kids were really excited by that band. They had a really rough day today; their van broke down and they had to haul ass down here, so I think our band has a pretty good knack of sort of sensing what the right thing to do is, even if means giving up a little bit of ourselves to do that.

ROUGHEDGE.COM: Yeah, I think people are going to remember that.

AARON BEDARD: I hope so. It was just the right thing to do. I want those dudes to feel real comfortable on this tour and when things go wrong for them we’re going to have their backs because it’s a long road out there a month on your own. It’s just good to know you’re not going through it by yourself. It went well and the kids were stoked and that’s what we’re always gunning for, you know? It’s all about everyone having the best time possible.

(c) 2005 Ray Van Horn, Jr. and RoughEdge.com


I also feel the need to point out the hospitality Bane showed me today. Within a minute after I'd checked in with the Ottobar staff to ensure I was on the guest list, bassist Pete Chilton attentively validated me to the door bouncers. During my interview with Aaron, they offered me Gatorade, which I openly took them up on. I couldn't be as thirsty as they were after performing, but my wife and I did a yard sale today as well, and well, it's hot as balls out there!

My interview with Aaron was relaxed and a hell of a good conversation. Consider the above selection a preview to a damn fine interview. Sean Murphy of Verse showed up during the interivew, as did many members of Bane and Verse; it was a chill time that was made even more so in the parking lot as I conversed with the other members of Bane before leaving.

I'm sure most music journalists take this kind of thing for granted, but it never fails to impress me when a band acts as true hosts to their guests. As you can see by the way they treated Verse, it should've come as no surprise that Bane are a bunch of regular homies with old-school values, and I'm not talking Christian Coalition kind of values; it's a basic respect level and comfort zone they show to their fellow bands and even to journalists.

As I said in my blog on May 27th, the scene needs a band like Bane right now... Below you will find one of the pics I took at the gig...

Friday, June 10, 2005

Best of... audience participation

I'm going to steal my friend Bob's cool Best and Worst of... blogs, which I invite you to check out at the link for Rock 'n Roll Meandering Nonsense, and I also invite you, my readers, to give me some feedback as to your opinions to some random Best Of categories...below I'll chime in with my picks...


1. Best Guitarist

2. Best Drummer

3. Best Bassist

4. Best Vocalist

5. Best Metal Record

6. Best Metal Band

7. Best Rock Band

8. Best Punk Band

9. Best Soul Artist/Band

10. Best Rap act

11. Best movie soundtrack

12. Best cartoon

13. Best reality show



1. Prince. I have a tough time selling this on people, but you will all learn (probably when he's dead) why he's the greatest guitarist currently alive. When footage of some his live blues stuff surfaces alone, you will all say "Damn, Ray was right!"

2. Buddy Rich. Some of you might go "Who?" and if so, that's unfortunate. Buddy Rich was the drummer on the Mickey Mouse Club show back in the 50s and as he got older, he got postively lethal on the skins. Ask any serious drummer you might idolize and likely they'll cite Buddy as an influence. I'd love to take Neil Peart or Dave Lombardo, but Buddy's the absolute master. I'd be honored to play my drums in his downwind...

3. At one time I might've said Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That was until I saw Sly and the Family Stone's Larry Graham play a 40-minute funk fest on the bass right before he joined Prince's band. In fact, Larry opened for Prince on this show and he strutted all along the arena floor in the crowd, slapping away madcap. It was one of the greatest live spectacles I've ever seen.

4. Very tough to pick. Not that he's as credible as Marvin Gaye or Bruce Dickenson or Aretha Franklin, but nobody brings it home down and dirty like the late Bon Scott of AC/DC. All you need in life is "Whole Lotta Rosie." To this day I still think it's sacrilege to hear Brian Johnson slosh through Bon's work.

5. Either Iron Maiden's Powerslave or Slayer's Reign in Blood. The latter started a whole new trend in metal, so it might get the title by deferment, but you can't get a more perfectly executed metal slab than Powerslave. Absolute precision.

6. Iron Maiden, 'nuff said.

7. The Beatles. Everything in their wake would be nothing without them. You can take just about any band out there and dig up something out of The Beatles that serves as influence.

8. The Ramones. It's cliche to like them now, but for so long The Ramones went unappeciated in their own country while they were gods overseas. What does that tell you? Never mind the bollocks, The Ramones are the tried and true punk godfathers. Often duplicated but never with the same passion. RIP Joey, DD and Johnny...

9. I could cheat and say Prince since he does it all: soul, funk, R&B, blues, dance, hip hop, rock 'n roll...he's the absolute master who should be deferred to, yet even Prince has a deferment and that's James Brown. I love funk so much, especialy late 60s and early 70s funk. It all birthed out of James Brown.

10. Hands-down, Public Enemy. Never before, not since has rap been so compelling and thoughtfully written. Public Enemy had a chance to change the world and dropped the ball along the way, not that their music suffered except on He Got Game. Read Chuck D's "Fight the Power: Rap, Race and Reality," then slap on Fear of a Black Planet. It should also be noted Terminator X is possibly the greatest DJ and scratch artist of all-time.

11. John Williams' Star Wars: A New Hope soundtrack. John Williams is perhaps the only composer of the modern age who will one day stand along the likes of Mozart, Mendellsohn and Beethoven as one of the acknowledged symphonic masters and this soundtrack explains why. Every ounce bursts with orchestral excitement and though it helps if you've memorized the movie, you don't necessarily have to as the music alone puts you right in that X-Wing fighter or on the Rebel ship as it gets spanked by the Empire's Imperial Cruiser.

12. Bugs Bunny and Looney Toons. I'm a serious toonhead, but to this day nothing is worth watching repeatedly ad nauseum and still retains its hilarity with each viewing like the Looney Toons. It's gospel.

13. Absolutely none! Make your own reality! Chances are, it won't be scripted.

Slik Helvetika

Slik Helvetika – Slik Helvetika (Screaming Mimi Records) Reviewed by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Philly is a real hotbed for metal in case you’ve never been there. A few mentionable regional bands off the top of my head are Polterchrist, Omega Lords and Circle of Fear. Then there are the grimy but cool venues like the famous Trocodero and to a lesser extent, The Theater of Living Arts. And their independent record stores are amongst the best I’ve dropped money at (particularly the one I found the ultra-rare first Ratt EP for cheap). Of course, I’m a Flyers fan (damn the NHL for a wrecked season, ya selfish bastards) and I do a fair share of coverage in what I like to call The City of Non-Brotherly Navigation, so I’m always pleased to see bands out of Cheesesteak Nirvanaland given a shot. Led by guitarist/vocalist Mikhall Myers (I wonder if that’s his real name or a scalp-twitchy twist on Halloween’s Michael Myers), Slik Helvetika takes off after a couple of sketchy ditties and throws out every subtle nuance of eighties hard rock you’ll find this side of VH-1 Classic’s Metal Mania, and this may or may not appeal to you. It depends on whether or not you feel obliged to pay top dollar to upgrade your Black n’ Blue and Keel collections from tape to CD.

“Scream” is exactly what the title implies. Myers screeches off-key (think of Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett on a really bad day) and annoyingly all over this standard metal anthem that sounds tailor-made for eighties hairball heaven, but at least his solo saves it from being a complete toss away. To be fair to Myers, his gravelly vocals are mostly credible in a pale shade of Jon Oliva manner.

“High on You” and “Skies” are actually pretty nifty jams with their rocksteady presence and pop rock feels. “Ride” and “Swine” are quite cool too with their steady riffage. Myers’ 31-second acoustic piece “Departure” sets up the grumbling “West Bound Train,” which gives him a chance to amp out the remainder of the album. It should also be noted that the high-flying guitars of Myers are supplemented here and there by Ernie Carletti, who astute old schoolers will recognize from Tora Tora. For the record, Myers himself is a former member of the underground metal troupe Destroyer.

And what would any hair metal retrospection be without the obligatory ballad? Luckily there’s only one of this disc. “September” checks in shamelessly but harmlessly. It’s nicely written and less cheesy than what appears on the aggravating eighties metal compilations that have cropped up in bargain bins and infomercials alike. I swear, if I hear Slaughter’s “Fly to the Angels” one more time…

For all of you parents out there, not that I necessarily picture your young ones listening to this album for more than two songs, Slik Helvetika gives friendly warning on the back of the case as to which songs feature explicit lyrics. It kind of reminds me of the nefarious days of the PMRC where record labeling all started; God bless Slik Helvetika for bringing back that memory. A fair chunk of Slik Helvetika resurrects the tried-and-true sex metal motif, so I have to mention this little lyrical gem from “She Kills”: “I hope she fucks me to death, I’ll be a sexy corpse, stiff, ready for intercourse.” Ram that one up your dry cooter, Tipper.

Simply put, you know who you are when I say that fans of eighties hair metal are going to have a field day with Slik Helvetika. Though it suffers a few spotty problems, it’s a noncommittal throwback that will either make you laugh yourself silly or it’ll have you begging for a Rough Cutt reunion. www.slikhelvetika.com

Quell

Quell – One Man’s Struggle With the English Language (Goodfellow Records) Reviewed by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Seems like chaos and disorder metalcore runs only behind straightforward black metal for reigning champ of the up-and-coming metal genres. Bands following in the wake of Zao and Dillinger Escape Plan like Norma Jean, Into the Moat and Fear Before the March of Flames have sprouted up like black orchids (or weeds, depending on your tastes), and you can add North Carolina aural slaughterers Quell to the list. On first play, One Man’s Struggle With the English Language seems like a total frigging mess, but a second helping of this album is as savory as next-day Hawaiian-style pizza out of the microwave.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about these sonic splicer bands is the overt intelligence their writers posses, and Quell is no exception. Quell manages to credibly weave tangible melody beneath the outright cacophony that dominates their songwriting. On “The Start of An Unfinished Chain Reaction,” their mastery stops a jutting forefinger from pressing the off button. On “Final Transaction and End Balance” it quickly legitimizes Quell despite the tawdry vocals that convey a blatant frustration befitting of the album’s title. Is all of this mayhem an outcry of discontent at Americans’ superiority complex? God, I hope so, because that elevates the genius level of what would be ordinarily dismissed as boisterous pig slop, but like the best amongst Quell’s peers, their rambunctious ear scorchers are intelligently written, both lyrically and instrumentally. A song like “Mindset of the Average (Person/Culture/Nation/Father)” obviously has more to say than just a loud bellowing of noise. When it carefully ceases its madness to construct a melodic springboard for the final stanza to screech from, it proves that Quell are indeed musicians beneath the forthright lunacy it heaps in large doses on the table.

The furious guitar riffage on “Requiem for Purity” is good enough to get some necks courting torn cartilage. The flotilla of notes throughout this track and the ensuing one “The Tedious Relay of Sand and the Pendulum and/or Hourglass” are really something to behold, despite whether or not you can stomach the skullcrushing insanity. The main reason for this successful recourse is the fact that Quell boasts three guitarists. Whereas some may consider it overkill, the extra guitar lends the potential for deeper texture and Quell exploits it to their utter capacities. The untitled ninth track is a fuzzbomb of epic proportions, settling into a disarming quietude that amplifies the smartness of Quell’s writing, realized in full on the poignant closer “Circumventing Language Barriers by Speaking Louder.” Nifty stuff.

Quell reportedly plays sonic-crammed 20 minute sets. I can attest that Norma Jean, Zao, Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die are blistering live bands. I can only imagine Quell’s stage propensity. If you’re into this off-the-cuff metalcore mania, get yourself around Quell immediately. I personally find the practitioners in this subgenre hit or miss, but Quell is most decidedly a hit. www.goodfellowrecords.com

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

the new Black Dahlia Murder album

Black Dahlia Murder – Miasma (Metal Blade) Reviewed by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Seldom does anything promised, no matter what business you’re talking about, fully live up to its pledge, but when Black Dahlia Murder reportedly claimed that the follow-up to their crunchy debut Unhallowed was actually going to be heavier, there naturally had to be a degree of skepticism. After all, Unhallowed is a pretty damn fine slab of dark thrash in its own right. Could it be possible that an album as heavy as Unhallowed can actually be considered an afterthought? The answer, my friends, is definitely.

It only takes the opening song “Charming” to realize Black Dahlia Murder delivers as forecast. Like the rest of Miasma, this band steps up its game from Unhallowed by coating its product with heavier tempos, heavier riffs, heavier delivery, and, most importantly, heavier melody amidst their gory mayhem.

Through the gusty tempest beats of Zach Gibson comes deeper texture than on Unhallowed, particularly in the way Brian Eschbach and John Kempainen sling beautiful solos and classically-oriented rhythms atop the amphetemized grooves. The solos on “Satuatory Ape” and “Files” for example are assuredly going to wow you while the blinding speed of “A Vulgar Picture” will leave you wondering how Black Dahlia Murder can go back and rip out material from Unhallowed ever again.

“Dave Goes Hollywood” sounds hilarious at face value, but the complicated time signatures of this track make it blisteringly serious. The opening sequence of “Miscarriage” will leave you dizzy with its delicacy, even as it slips into an old-school gallop beat that makes the song even more entertaining as a result. Then there’s the precursory death march on “Spite Suicide” that launches a mean mofo of a thrash attack. As the title track gloriously fades with an artistic farewell, you get the impression Black Dahlia Murder has made an unholy pact in order to leap forward in such staggering fashion.

I mean, come on, did anyone actually expect an already good band like Black Dahlia Murder to get this much better? They’ve grown a steady fanbase and it only stands to mount in legion after they’ve sampled Miasma in light of Unhallowed. The transition between the two albums is nothing short of startling and impressive. Black Dahlia Murder has been stimulated in its writing process and on Miasma, they unleash the torrent force that has pent up inside the eye of its metallic storm like hellion’s breath and you’d best be prepared for this. The battened hatches be damned…

The year is only halfway through, but Miasma stands to be one of 2005’s most critical releases. I’ll go one step further and announce that Miasma may be destined to be a death metal classic. My word is bond. www.theblackdahliamurder.com / www.metalblade.com

Rock School

Not to be confused with Jack Black's School of Rock. This is an entirely different venture and pretty damned cool, it seems. I like the message of putting the music into future generations' hands...


Rock School Soundtrack
Trillion Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4

The word on the street about the upcoming film Rock School is that it is not Jack Black silly, but Paul Green harsh. More in line with reality t.v. than a daydream believer comedy vehicle, Rock School is reported to chronicle the Paul Green School of Rock Music, an after-school emporium of monster riff tutelage. Judging by the movie trailer, Paul Green seems equal parts prick and equal parts music motivator as he molds a horde of aspirant ragamuffin rock musicians into viable players. The accompanying cover tune soundtrack is an audio display of these kids’ accomplishments, which is made more impressive by the inclusion of many of the actual artists associated with the songs whose waters are tested in the great rock stream.

For instance, you will hear Ann Wilson sing along with a fast-tempoed backup on “Barracuda,” and you will hear Ian Gillian shriek for all he’s worth to a steady rendition of “Highway Star.” Billy Idol checks in with the Paul Green prodigies on “Rebel Yell,” as Marky Ramone accompanies “I Wanna Be Sedated,” along with guest-star Tyson Ritter of The All-American Rejects, and even Santana cohort Gregg Rolie reprises his vocal duties on a pretty accurate redo of “Black Magic Woman.”

For the most part, the cover songs of these remarkable young musicians are the selling point of this soundtrack. If you’re not awed by the lightning quick prog following on their cover of Yes’ “Heart of the Sunrise” (coupled by none other than Jon Anderson who still sounds vital today), you’re a bit hopeless. It’s an outstanding facsimile, as is “Peace Sells,” which is only missing the double-time rolls on the song’s finale. Dave Mustaine sounds like he’s having a ball lending his throat to these kids’ cause and it’s the coolest track on the disc.

Unfortunately, not even Stewart Copeland’s rock godly percussive omnipresence on “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” can rescue this cover from its dreadful choruses, but you know what? It’s the message beneath that counts, that Copeland, along with all of the other established professionals who give themselves to help make the dreams of these kids a reality is a genuinely noteworthy thing, that it effectively passes the torch unto a new generation of appreciative listeners and performers and hopefully more beyond the young talent of the Paul Green School of Rock.

If this soundtrack wasn’t a mere novelty, it would have absolute staying power, but more than likely you’re going to give it a single spin, then leaf through your collection for the original material. Therein at least lies the subtle brilliance of this concept: keeping the power of rock alive. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Heavy Metal Reunion Weekend Part 2: Testament

Sore and tired we traveled from New Jersey to Springfield, Virginia. I was supposed to cover an all weekend metal festival in Allentown, PA this past weekend, but naturally my layoff forced me to readjust my plans. The reunion of Testament was the headlining moment of the festival, and I was initially bummed about having to throw in the towel and admit defeat that finances prevented me from covering that gig until I discovered that Testament was playing two shows at JAXX in Springfield, Virginia, which is less than 2 hours away from home.

A special thanks to my homie Al Stavola for getting me realigned at the last minute and for putting me in contact with Testament's management, who were outstanding in getting me on board for the JAXX performance, as well as a band interview.

More traffic woes, more exorbitant tolls, a sore back and some grogginess from only 4 hours sleep as we made our way down the world-famous Interstate 95 to Virginia. After one hell of a lunch at Cracker Barrel that was plenty enough to extend as our dinner as well, we decided that I would be too wiped to attempt the drive home after the gig, and we found a cheap hotel that was made even cheaper after Ardisse made pals with a woman who had multiple coupons for the hotel. As I said in my last blog, I've learned to try and let go of certain things and put my trust in God. Undoubtedly we'll ever find a hotel deal this cheap outside of a crack whore flophouse.

I had virutally no time after getting checked in as, like the night before, I had to rush down to JAXX to meet Testament. After checking in with the tour manager and the club, I was asked to go down to Testament's hotel and interview them there. Despite the loss of a precious parking spot and knowing I'd unlikely get a good spot in the club for pictures, the interview was far more important to me, and rush down I did.

The hotel was rather swanky, and as I trudged in wearing cargo shorts and a Mastodon t-shirt, I felt like I was 16 again as uniformed porters, posh desk clerks and gucci patrons snootily looked upon me like I was scum. There was a wedding party there, who also gave me condescending looks. The guys were dressed in kilts and torso portion tuxes, which I'm sure will have many of you laughing. The only reason nobody gave me any grief was the fact I had my camera, notepad and tape recorder on me, but deep inside I felt great that I was being looked at with absolute scorn and disdain. It reminded of the old days when I used to wear ripped jeans, Overkill and Iron Maiden shirts and I had long hair, giving the finger to people and walking around Saks Fifth mimicking the rich. Perhaps I was a bit more mature now to avoid the latter behavior, but the discomfort I was obviously giving these snobs was no less satisfying.

I had no idea at first, but I was looking right at Chuck Billy, lead singer of Testament, who entered the lobby. Because of his monstrous size, it didn't register until he walked by me and looked at me square in the eyes. He must've known who I was since we were the only dressed-down dudes in the hotel, but something about his expression told me to give him pass without making any sort of scene, that he wanted to be left alone. I quietly whispered "What's up, man?" and left it at that as he nodded to me. Given the amount of times Chuck and his wife glanced at me, I'd like to think he understood my gesture.

In due time the tour manager appeared with bassist Greg Christian, and after Greg summoned returning guitarist Alex Skolnick to join us in the hotel bar, I enjoyed a relaxing interview with them. Greg kept asking if I wanted a beer or soda, which I was genuinely appreciative of, but I turned him down, given how tired I was. A beer would simply put me out. I'll save the details of the interview for when it runs in AMP Magazine. I know, call me a cheap bastard...

We were constantly interrupted by a sweet, well-meaning waitress who said her brother was a big Testament fan, though she had no idea who they were when Greg told her. To me, that's sad, but it's also part of the generation gap; you can't fight it. One big tidbit was the fact the waitress told us that a current big league band (who shall remain nameless here, but I was stunned by this information having interviewed them) had come into the bar recently and were "real assholes," according to her. She claimed she got their food free for them and their drinks half-off and they only left her a three buck tip and an invitation to get laid on their tour bus. She vehemently yelled how much she hated this band and if it's true, I have to say that I really am surprised, given the well-rehearsedness and stature of this group.

After departing Greg and Alex, I got back to JAXX and stood three quarters deep in line, wondering how I was going to get up front once inside the club. I was blessed to get a parking spot again, which is a real commodity there, and sure enough, when I got into the club, most of the people were lined at the bars and I found my open spot on the rail in front of the stage. Despite my layoff, I truly feel God and company really have had my back!

There were three opening bands, the first one being quite good, the second one being average, who miraculously won over a hostile crowd who taunted them by playing "Creeping Death" by Metallica, which strangely made them heroes. The third band deserves mention because they kicked serious ass. They were called Meat Plow and they were from Norfolk, VA with obviously a fair chunk of local fans in the crowd. How else to describe them but by calling them "Cracker Core?" I'm calling it; that's my phrase, alert the copyright office! These guys were absolute rednecks who played metalcore with more conviction and downhome dirtiness than even Beaten Back to Pure or Nashville Pussy. Meat Plow, simply put, is the shit. In some odd way, they're quite special and their set was electric. I hope to see more of these guys.

When I asked Alex and Greg how the previous night's gig went, they mentioned it was okay, but with a lot of sound issues. Sure enough, they were plagued again this evening, Alex in particular, but that didn't stop Testament from delivering a powerful set. Like Anthrax, the returning members Skolnick, Christian and drummer Louie Clemente recalled their licks from the eighties and just hammered away. Alex Skolnick was simply amazing. His solos sounded plucked from their original source material. Considering that Alex has a jazz trio he normally fronts, it was a real spectacle to watch and hear him pluck his metal solos with such exactitude, while Chuck Billy, who is more gargantuan since beating cancer, sounded as imperative as ever.

Everything you would expect of the classic Testament lineup came roaring out like "Souls of Black," "Trial by Fire," "Practice What You Preach" and "Over the Wall," but it was unexpected moments like "Raging Waters" and "Alone in the Dark" from their imperative debut album The Legacy as well as a daring first-time rendition of "Let Go of My World" from their underappreciated album The Ritual that made this reunion more than just a cash cow. To me, the most poignant moment of the night was when they peeled off one of my personal favorite songs, their ballad "The Legacy," which is one of their most intense songs despite the soothing acoustic verses.

Whatever angst existed in Testament before, it was basically out the door this evening. Chuck Billy smiled all over the stage and he constantly put the mike out to Greg and Alex in an attempt to get them to talk. There was a relaxed candor amongst the band members and they even toasted one another with beers between songs. At one point, someone climbed onstage, who appeared to have been slightly mentally challenged. He was wearing a Jason Voorhees t-shirt and Testament attended to him, not having anyone shove him off, but having the dude sit on the stage in front of Louie Clemente's drum set riser. It was a classy gesture and the fan headbanged the majority of the time while undoubtedly enjoying the time of his life up there.

Before I sound like I'm slagging the bouncers at JAXX, I have to say that I'm indebted to the main bouncer who at least took care of his staff who were all crawling up my ass about taking pictures. Because the guy at the front door didn't give me a photo pass but said I was good, I kept getting taken for an average fan sneaking off pictures. I had to constantly say I was cleared at the front door. One bouncer irately reached for my camera and ordered me to give it to him. Fuck that! My digital camera is a $500 5 meg beauty I could only afford because we got an overage of our property taxes sent back to us! Luckily, the head bouncer beelined when he saw this going down and cleared me, but this is a bit of hazard I have to at least vent a little bit about! I know these guys have jobs to do, and I normally get extended much courtesy, but facing the prospect of my camera being pinched by someone who doesn't know I'm cleared is just disturbing, but it goes with the territory, obviously. In the end, all was well, since I let the owner of JAXX get in front of me to get a few pictures for their website, and I ended up with a batch of very strong pics, and a memorable concert, to boot. Now, the pain in my ribs from being smooshed into the amp stacks is something I could really do without, ha!

I remember when I last saw Testament, it was again with Mark and they were opening for Judas Priest and Megadeth. Because we were following some friends I knew in college whose girlfriends took all damned night getting ready, and only Mark and I saw the imperativeness of getting to see Testament, we only caught the final song of their set, a point of contention neither of us really mention to one another, but I can safely assume Mark is as equally pissed as I am to this day at missing Testament back then. I would've loved to have had Mark and anyone else who cares for Testament with me, because this show, like Anthrax, was one for the ages.

Not even the fact that 395 was shockingly closed off from 95 and I was forced to figure my way back to the hotel spoiled my good mood. Out of sheer or divine intervention (depending on your outlook), I chose an exit to make an about-face to take and sneak onto 395 from the other direction, and at first I screamed out loud in my truck because I was unable to turn back, but amazingly, the off-ramp connected to the road where our hotel was! Strange, but true...

I consider myself absolutely privileged to have had the opportunity to see these bands again with their quintessential lineups, and to have had the intimate pleasure of conversing with them and capturing them for posterity. It reiterates inside my head how strange it all still seems to me this day that I'm talking with bands who hung on my walls as a teenager...I wish everyone had this kind of opportunity. There's nothing like this feeling, believe me.