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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

upcoming topics

This is more of a visual for me to keep on top of things I want to yammer about, but in the upcoming future of posts, I have the following few items to discuss:

1. The Bad Brains Live at CBGBs 1982 DVD

2. Thoughts on Bobby Keneddy after seeing the movie Bobby last night

3. Ray's year-end metal picks for Metal Maniacs and AMP magazines

4. It's time for another round of Random Shelf Review! I know, cover your mouth when you're yawning, please... The CD has already been blindly picked and I came up with Rainbow's Rising. Hot damn!!!

The Big Slamola

I remember the first time I ever got into a slam pit was back in 1987 at local punk rock show headlined by Government Issue. Not everyone knows G.I., but they were seminal to the American punk scene, particularly the famed DC hardcore scene also familiarized by Minor Threat, Rites of Spring, Dag Nasty, while ahead of them were the Bad Brains, who later flocked to New York City.

I have a blog piece to soon write about the Bad Brains' Live at CBGB 1982 DVD, particularly since it documents perhaps better than most how intimate slam dancing and stage diving was to punk rock and eventually heavy metal. When you see scores of fans mob H.R. on the stage then jump back off, it's pretty amazing stuff. Yeah, the Andrew WK shows where people mobbed the stage during "Party Hard" was ridiculous fun, but that lacked the raging energy that H.R. willingly shared with fans.

I think it was Megadeth's "Wake Up Dead" video that inspired me to hit the pit, because that was so damned exciting to see all those bodies thrashing around and diving like lunatics. The older you get, the sillier it all looks, but since we're coming up on the holidays, I'm thinking of when MTV had a cool little skit with a cartoon Santa Claus slamming in a throng of metalheads, and I think it was captioned with "The man, the myth, the slam-dancer..."

Again, all of this was exciting as hell, so when the opportunity arose to enter my first slam pit, Metal Mark happened to be jumping in right behind me, and Bob Vinyl was at the gig too along with a number of people we still know, and instantly I got knocked to the floor. However, there was a creed back then where it mandated that if you see someone in the pit tumble or fall, pick that person up right away! It worked, trust me, because a punker had me on my feet instantly, never mind I was a metal dude; this was right before crossover put an end to the bickering between the metalheads and the punkers.

As violent as the slamming may have looked, we still found order amidst the chaos, so much that we ganged up on a skinhead at the same Government Issue show who split open the head of one of our mutual friends and tossed that prick to the bouncer, who in turn threw the douchebag out.

What I'm seeing today is a gradual return to the classic circle pit, or whirlpool as we called it then. However, most of these young bucks still have yet to learn that shoving each other as hard as they can, running headfirst into another person instead of bouncing off the arms and waist area of a fellow slam-dancer, and worst of all, doing bullshit chop-sockey windmills and spin kicks...none of this is appropriate slam-dancing etiquette!

Photo copyright 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Of course, I'm now 36 and I'm a big wuss when it comes to the pit. I get mauled at certain shows where I'm photographing the band and there's no barrier, which doesn't feel quite the same as it did twenty years ago! I've had my share of slamming over the years and one stage dive, though I can't recall what band gave me that distinction, but I officially retired a few years ago at a Static X show when I jumped in after waiting for the main jugheads to pulverize each other into exhaustion. Of course, one of them got his second-wind and tried to head butt everyone in sight, including me.

I forechecked the son of a bitch out of the way and when we all spun around again, he was reaching out for me, so I pulled my fist up, ready to nail him. Thankfully, my friend saw the whole thing and grabbed me out of the pit before anything serious occured. Nothing sucks more than getting thrown out of a venue with no ticket refund.

I realized then that I was about to break the cardinal rule of slamming, which is to never start a fight. Yes, the act is aggressive, and yes, you're supposed to relieve yourself of your anger and frustration, but in a controlled, disciplined manner. That night at Static X, I nearly punched someone. Of course, it would've been out of self-defense, but I realized it was time to hang up many slamming sneakers. Soon thereafter, I decided it was more fun to go behind-the-scenes of rock 'n roll and I find that most of my interviewees feel the same way I do about slamming, but they're certainly not going to complain about kids getting riled up to their music.

The problem with resurrected scenes is that they're reinvented with new players and younger minds, which means that they have barely a clue of what existed beforehand, not without the proper research. When you look at it, the slamming phenomenon of the eighties was an extension of the original New York and London punk scenes of the late seventies, which gets the credit for beginning slam-dancing, along with me, if you don't know what that is, you're better off... How it streamlined into swirling disorder in tandem with punk, hardcore and thrash, who knows, but it became known as "moshing" instead, and if you were a serious metalhead, you moshed, plain and simple. Today, "moshing" is used lightly by the younger generation, but kicking and pummeling does not constitute a proprer mosh, sorry.

And when you see a band like Chimaira pull of their "Walls of Jericho" stunt where they make the crowd divide the floor into two halves with a large gap in-between, then run at each other like warring clans...the carange is an amazing spectacle, but somehow I think it misses the point. Of course, the kids would probably call me a pussy for saying that. All I can say is, been there, done that...

Monday, November 27, 2006

What song best describes you lately?

With my wild mood swings these days (a co-worker made me laugh by saying I had PMS) and music being so expressive of who we are as human beings, partcularly on an individual level, what song do you feel best describes your current state or mood?

For me, it's "Free" by Chicago from the Chicago III album. This is when Chicago was a rock and funk band, not the sappy pop sensation Peter Cetera usurped them as later on. This song is filled with uplifting rock and jazz fusings played at a quick, funky pace, and I think of being a child in the early seventies and how the world looked and felt like then, where funk and wa-wa pedals were en vogue in music and I'm comforted by the vibe.

Then just the lyrics about not only being free as one race without divisions, but being free on a personal level, mentally liberated, God, you have to shout those choruses.... "IIIIIIIIIIIIII.....just want to be freeeeeeeeee!" I want to be free of all that's dragging me down lately, free of the pain, free of the depression, just plain free, baby....

So how about it, friends? What song is describing you these days?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

March of the Penguins and human society

So we went to my folks' house last night to decorate their tree and we watched March of the Penguins. I'm really surprised it took me so long to see it because I love animal documentaries and I'm always searching for parallels between the animal kingdom and human's society and to perhaps see if the animals are doing something better than humans, something we could learn from them. Well, March of the Penguins teaches a viable lesson, actually, a couple.

I think the biggest lesson is the spirit of cooperation and strength in numbers. As much as an individualist I am, I do recognize that life is often about team efforts. I can be shy, introverted, a little quietly rakish at times, and I am a strong independent worker that often has trouble relinquishing work, but I do realize I can't do it all in a work environment or even in my personal writing work. I do most of the housework here, but that's because we're on such oddball schedules, but when it's crunch time, my wife gets with the program by instinct and we nail it all out.

The emperor penguins show us that those who straggle behind or refuse to keep ranks in such a harsh element at the Antarctics hardly stand a chance at survival. Interesting that human beings can be loners and still survive, but would that be true if we were further due north or extreme south? We're in a climate that promotes both individualism and teamwork, but when you strip it down to the bare bones, humanity cannot survive wholly independenly, not without contact with the outside world and other humans. Our mental capacities collapse without interaction or access to goings-on outside of our microcosm. No matter how ideal it may seem to be alone sometimes, one's mental health depends on other penguins, so to speak, in order to cope with an isolated existence, and that's what the Antarctics are; extreme, hostile, frigid isolation.

When you see the penguins huddle together in a huge mass in order to generate body heat in the midst of a powerful storm that registers a chill factor in the minus one hundreds, that's a huge lesson to learn, that with unquestioned cooperation and no ego, this is the key to survival. You don't see the male penguins worrying about looking gay and resorting to homosexual jokes; they just do it because they know that without each other, they're all as good as dead.

The other thing of value we can learn from the penguins, and humans have gotten much better at this in contemporary society, is the willingness to accept some role reversal in the mutual interest of protecting new life. The fact that male penguins hover in the water for 3 months then pop out to begin the march towards the mating pool, then be expected to take over the developing egg so that the females can go search for food, knowing it's going to be a couple of months before they themselves eat again in the midst of harsh's pretty astounding how again there's no ego about it. It's an amazing level of cooperation that goes into this. We're sometimes worried about looking effeminate if a guy is doing the dishes or the laundry or butch if a woman operates a jackhammer.

Are humans' minds too sophisticated that we overprocess? Do we lose sight of basic interdependence and cooperation because there's so many options out there, so many consequences to think of? Has society placed too much structure or not enough? Certainly mankind's parameters are equally our downfall as they are our salvation. One can argue this structure is why humans are the dominant species, but if a plague that only affected humans wiped us out or at least the majority of humans so that other species would rise up as the dominant makes you wonder what kind of parameters they'd come up with themselves...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Who - Live at The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 DVD

On the face it looks like England’s version of Woodstock. Six hundred thousand bodies crammed on the shores of the Isle of Wight, The Who tromping out onstage at an ungodly 2 a.m., the time most bars close up shop, much less an outdoor festival! Frizzy-mopped John Entwhistle in his skeleton jumpsuit as history reveals it wasn’t Glenn Danzig and The Misfits who originated that underground rock fashion statement now fanatically used by the Japanese punkers Balzac. Roger Daltrey in tight trousers and an opened jacket adorned with frills with a newfound outlay of self-expression. Embrace me, don’t fear me, he says with his inviting gesticulations. Keith Moon going positively berserk on the drum kit, making you realize only Brann Dailor of Mastodon could remotely keep up with his maniacal rolls and fills. Pete Townshend leaping, arm-twirling and tweaking the massive throng that gets unruly from time-to-time. As Townshend mentions in the interview section on Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, it was just another gig.

One might wonder how he could be so blasé (not to mention calling the Who experience at one point in time as being total hell) in the midst of one of the biggest rock crowds of not only the sixties and early seventies, but in rock history altogether. Apparently the subversive behind-the-scenes goings down at the legendary Isle of Wight Festival partially undermined the spirit of peace and music prevalent at least within the first fifty feet of the stage. Pete Townshend mentions on this DVD that his electric feedbacks and angry guitar thrusts were primarily out of crowd control, which makes one wonder how the other 595,000 spectators kept it all together. For our purposes, however—particularly since I was only three months old when this concert went down—this examination of The Who’s performance at the Isle of Wight reveals a band at the height of their confidence, shirked of their tempered mod sound, so much that “I Can’t Explain” played in 1970 is less bubblegummy and now a bit more gnarled in the transition from The Who as Britpop with attitude to The Who with just plain attitude.

You can hear it in their renditions of “Young Man Blues” and “Summertime Blues,” both attacked more than played. “Magic Bus” is transformed from an experimental piece of Norwegian wood into a springboard for a raucous jam session where Townshend, Entwhistle and Moon rampage all over the place in their improvisations you constantly key in on each member with dizzying exchange.

It’s when The Who belt out the majority of their hallmark Tommy that Live at The Isle of Wight 1970 becomes stratospheric, though you will likely have to tinker with the DVD’s sound settings in order to extract the depth of Townshend’s playing. It’s the only detriment to this concert, that the audio mix somehow downplays Pete’s performance, but considering the footage is 36 years old, we’ll take it! As The Who whirls through “The Acid Queen,” “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and then brings the show to a climactic finale with “See Me Feel Me/Listening to You,” this concert discloses The Who at their best, delivering to a mega-sized crowd with the acumen and comfort level of being in a 2000-seat amphitheater. The only thing more striking is the revelatory remarks from Pete Townshend in the 45-minute interview on the DVD. His honesty is just as special as this retrieved concert footage preserved for rock history.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Everyone in their mother will probably be writing about what they're thankful for and it's a shame we need a holiday to remind us to be thankful for what we have. I mean, I'm just as guilty as anyone else because I'm caught up in the 24-7 usher yourself quicker to the grave lifestyle. Our society demands we keep pace at a time designated by commerce, economics and capitalism, and we've already lost sight of ourselves as a nation because of it, so the only saving grace we have is try and not lose sight of ourselves in the madness.

This is obviously easier said than done, particularly if you're a parent or a workaholic or if you're like me, pursuing a dream when you already have a full-time job that is filled with lots of responsibility to begin with. Finding your spiritual self and nurturing it is frequently as difficult as remembering to praise your child for throwing away the trash or to scratch your attention-worthy pet on the head. If I were to call myself devout, I'd be a total liar. I always forget to pray and often pass out in the middle of my prayers. It's part of the vicious cycle. You need to work at prayer as much as you do working at finding the time to enjoy a sunrise or for me, to simply read a book. I used to read 25-30 books a year. Since I've become a serious writer on top of my professional life, that figure has been drastically cut to 5-7. I miss it, honestly.

But in the midst of all this, I'm quite grateful to have a job, because I remember what it felt like being on the unemployment line for a month and a half after 6 years of loyal dedication. That was perhaps the most sobering moment of my life, to realize that you're expendable no matter how much overtime you put in and how many times you sacrifice your morals in light of appeasing your boss. Thankfully I'm not in that kind of position anymore, but the business itself constantly questions my ethics, and for that I am not grateful for in the least, but it's a part of living and learning the ways of the world, and that I am grateful for, because experience cultivates the mind and prepares you better to react to how other people think. Keep a quiet mouth and a studious mind; people underestimate you that way and it serves you well if you have the time to process all that comes to you.

Let me get off that tip and just say I'm thankful that I have a lot of friends who look out for me, some who care more about me and what I do more so than others, but the measure of a genuine friend is one who accepts you regardless of their own personal agenda and I'm fortunate in that matter. Whether it be my office manager who fought like hell to get me three days off in December (the first time I've taken that many days in a row in like five years) or someone willing to talk to me about my ideas for the charity I want to establish, or someone willing to help me open a website so I can service my music clients better, or simply someone sending me an email saying "Worried about you, man..."

Top it off with a house, two cats, a wife, family I'm deeply close to, food, a lot of material possessions that aren't necessary but help me on my journey regardless, a country where you can speak your mind and not necessarily get locked up for it (Lord knows I've put some interesting writing out there in the magazines in the past two years), editors who get you assignments and some who trust you enough to give you latitude to be who you are as a writer, and then to have an audience who cares about what you have to say, then wow...

When you have that, you have it all.

Have a great and hopefully introspective holiday. I'll be visiting your blogs over the course of the weekend. Peace...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Other bands play...


I used to roar that lyric from the song "Kings of Metal" by Manowar in my bedroom. I remember back then how I respected Manowar for rebounding from the negative press and the MTV shunning of their "Blow Your Speakers" video after a couple of obligatory plays by putting out a heavy-as-bricks album like Kings of Metal after their near-commercial breakthrough with Fighting the World. Joey DeMaio plucking that bass like a madman on "Flight of the Bumblebee" and Eric Adams hitting higher octaves than ever before, while the band just got heavier in the process. It was one of the ultimate "fuck you" moments in metal, at least to my perception...

I have one surviving videotape from the original Headbangers Ball--and I'm mad at myself now for not taping the interviews, given the side career path I led--and in-between Whitesnake's out-of-control Led Zep homaged hit "Still of the Night" and the rowdy rock 'n roll of WASP's "I Don't Need No Doctor," which some might argue put WASP on a path where their commercial success was sent on a tailspin (minus a brief flirtation back up with The Headless Children album), comes "Blow Your Speakers," and damn, is that video crazy! Watching those headbangers walk into the store and break shit up in the quest of the latest Manowar album, followed by footage of the stomping metal mashers beneath the second-greatest stage lighting spectacle behind Iron Maiden...damnation, you either thought it was corny as all get-out, or like me, you were impressed by it for its brashness, and brashness is what Manowar became equated with. In fact, here in America, it was the hypothetical dagger in their hearts.

I find it ironic that Manowar outside of the United States are conquering heroes to the European and South American audiences. The fan base in those spots more than rival Slayer's werhmacht and believe it or not, folks, Manowar have gold albums in Europe, as they also hold the 1985 and 1994 Guinness Book Records for Loudest Band On the Earth.

So there's something campy about Manowar if you're an American, while overseas, these conduits of pure power metal might as well be full-blooded English Saxons or at least modern representations--if not heralds--of L. Sprague de Camp's Hyperboria and Conan the Cimmerian, whose bloody conquests fuel the fantastical imagery Manowar conveys in their cement-heavy metal music. "Hail and Kill!" yell their legion, and they send out amped blasts in response. It's a chemical dependence between fan and band you seldom see anymore.

I had the pleasure of talking with vocalist Eric Adams tonight and while there's a temperament to the old battle cries of "Death to false metal!" and "Fuck the posers!" that 27 years in the business has produced, Adams and his gang of ironhorsed hellions still believe in the purity of and saving grace of honest, working man's heavy metal. This isn't the breakdown-manic metalcore prevalent in today's scene. This isn't such an artistic endeavor you need to pay strict attention to each note. Manowar pounds the shit out of every tune, and you can hear the zeal in Eric's voice as he talks proudly about the longevity of the band and their fans overseas. Yeah, there's a lingering frustration that Manowar can't resonate on a broader scope in their own home territory; it's quite similar to the scourge Anvil has faced in Canada. Yet they plow on, and I was refreshed to hear Eric talk postiively instead negatively. The dude is genuinely happy and if you've seen Manowar's over-the-top Hell On Earth DVDs, you'll understand why!

Of course, there was a recent first-ever Manowar convention in Germany where past soldiers like Ross the Boss and David Shankle returned for a class reunion onstage that Eric described as phenomenal, and we're going to be treated to that full concert on DVD shortly. People from Australia, the US and South America made the trek to Germany for this thing, and if you get Manowar's latest EP Sons of Odin with the DVD, you'll witness a girl from South America who lost her job because it meant everything to her to get to this convention. Pretty hardcore...

The thing that stuck out the most with me that will appear in my interview when it runs in my metal column Death From Below in the February issue of AMP magazine, is the story Eric told about a weightlifter in Detroit who was recovering from a near-debilitating injury, and it was Manowar's music that got him throught the turmoil, that made him not only fully recover, but also win a bodybuilding contest. This individual walked up to Eric and gave the band his trophy, indicating they were responsible for it. Eric said the trophy sits in Manowar's studio as a reminder that anything is possible, to never give up, to always keep fighting.

So when most of the accounts you read in North America slag all over Manowar, keep this in mind. I've always believed in the power of music, and it's truly something to see what an underdog band like Manowar means to some people...

Albums so good it hurts

Got a double-shot blog tonight as I just got off the phone with Eric Adams of Manowar, but first I wanted rebuff my topic from last week about albums you wouldn't be caught dead with and this time chat about albums that are so good it hurts like a sucker punch.

On occasion a body of work is so good it makes your stomach hurt and you feel like bawling like a baby because the music is so powerful it connects with you, as if someone musically understands who you are and how you feel...

As I've mentioned I've been feeling both up and down lately, but one of the marketers at work gave me a little gratuity, so I bought my wife and I dinner and I got a couple of CDs and the Bad Brains Live at CBGBs 1982 DVD which is total annihilation in itself, but I got Pelican's Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw and as I drove home with that album playing, I felt such inescapble joy that such sonic splendor was possible. Full of both angst and hope in the intertwined melodies, this album expressed fully the way I've been feeling lately, and I can say it's become an instant classic in my life.

So let me toss out a few other albums that shook me to my core over the years and let's have some of yours out there...

1. As long as I mentioned Bad Brains, I have to bring up Rock For Light. I never thought hardcore punk and reggae could intersperse so intensely. Yeah, The Clash and The Jam had some ska and reggae going on, but nothing compares to the outright propulsion of Bad Brains' righteous rastafarian anger that throttles you senseless then forces you to relax on those slow reggae tunes like "I and I Survive" and "The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth." Messages of peace and unity in the ultimate musical mindrape...I was never the same, especially once I then heard I Against I... The Bad Brains may just be in the top 5 most important American rock bands in history. I also began to think at this point that Jah and God (as perceived by Christians) are one and the same, that we're all worshipping the same deity. I am now resolute in that opinion.

2. I remember as a kid saying that I only liked the first half of The Beatles' catalog, the early Liverpool pop rock stuff. I then detested the later-year albums, but then I grew up and if The White Album, Let it Be and Abbey Road shook me up, then Sgt. Peppers flat-out devastated me. There are plenty of detractors of this album as there are supporters, but this album literally teleports me away, whereas the other Beatles albums either make me rock out or get on my platform. Sgt. Peppers is just beautiful from start to finish, all the way the poignant piano strike at the end of "A Day in the Life." I read the news today, oh boy...

3. Though Powerslave will always be my favorite Iron Maiden album, and Killers was my official introduction to metal, Number of the Beast and then Piece of Mind made me realize that heavy metal was the hardest form of music to play in the eighties. For a long while, I turned my back on eighties pop music after being addicted to until 1982...once I heard Number of the Beast, nobody could convince me that any other music form had validity. Of course, I was turned on to punk a little later on and realized it had even more validity...

3. The Ramones' Road to Ruin saved my life, literally. I was already infatuated with The Ramones' simplistic three-chord nirvana, but Road to Ruin is their biggest artistic statement, and as Joey began to touch into his more emotional vocals, it resonated with me when I felt like giving up on life, unsure of who I was, why I was there, why I kept searching for love in a lot of places and with a lot of people and made numerous mistakes. Though my wife doesn't know it, I secretly dedicated "She's the One" off of this album once she accepted my proposal. Bless you, Joey, I miss you tremendously; your soul touched mine.

4. AC/DC's Let There Be Rock made me want to stand up and fight for metal. It sounds so freaking corny, but it's true. The meanest riffs Angus ever peeled off are scattered on this album and "Whole Lotta Rosie" is still my favorite song ever. Dirtiest chords I've ever heard.

5. I remember raking leaves for two weeks on the nights I wasn't working at the grocery store after school and I kept playing Megadeth's Peace Sells But Who's Buying? on a tape player outside over and over and over and over until the neighbors complained. It was here, followed by The Exploited and GBH where I started hating the government, hating Reagan, hating the norm, the whole nine yards. Yeah, I was already a non-conformist that flipped people off in the malls for looking at me like a scag, but Megadeth opened the doors to my mind and my mind wasn't too happy with the data it received.

6. I wish Metallica was the same band that made me run along the train tracks to the record store after hearing Mark's copy of Master of Puppets. We both laughed at the store owner, a biker who used to steer us into a number of bad albums, when he said Metallica would rule the world one day. With a name like that? Please. Master of Puppets made me realize that you can play fast and be artistic. I felt superior to my peers for liking this album until the day Cliff Burton was killed. I remember there was a day's truce between the straights and us grits...even they seemed to understand how tragic Cliff's loss was to us. Very interesting how that played out. Those clowns were later the ones Metallica sold out to...

7. Candlebox's Happy Pills probably sold jack shit because I think I and the guy who turned me onto it are the only ones who own it, but this album literally speaks to me. Such elegant lyrics amidst those quasi-psychedelic rock tracks. Feels like today 10,000 horses dragging me down...I can't tell you how many times I've sung that lyric in my head, sometimes on a daily basis. It's nice to know someone's suffering the same way you are. I mean it when I say I need this album.

8. For a long time I couldn't be convinced The Cure was worth anything. In fact, I borrowed Head On the Door in high school from someone trying to convert me and I shat all over it. Ironically, I love The Cure and Head On the Door is my favorite albums of theirs. However, it was Disintegration that just poured itself on me, and I think most of you have heard this album and will attest that it just cascades in sound all over you. The Cure have never duplicated this textured resonance, much I like the other albums. Disintegration was a bona fide awakening to a whole new sound of music. Metal died and I went to the alternative scene.

9. Sisters of Mercy's Floodland was another one of those out-of-nowhere oddities that just bowled me over with its dark Gothic feel and Andrew Aldritch's deeply masculine vocals that were a direct counter to the screeching and wailing I was accustomed to in the eighties. I think "This Corrosion" from Sisters of Mercy and some of Manowar's epic stuff like "Defender" and "The Crown and the Ring" helped pave the way for all of this epic orchestral rock and metal we're enjoying today. And of course Iron Maiden!

10. I equated the first time I heard System of a Down's Toxicity to when I heard I Against I. Such rhythmic perfection, such anger, such lyrical ferocity....goddamn, this album made me feel alive, just like I Against I. I couldn't take Toxicity out of my player for weeks. People will argue with me on this, but System of a Down is one of the most important bands of this generation.

A few others that just socked me in the gut:

Isis - In the Abscence of Truth
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
American Beauty soundtrack
Prince - Sign O' the Times
Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
Voivod - Killing Technology
Slayer - Reign in Blood
The Police - Synchronicity
Lush - Split
Depeche Mode - Songs of Faith and Devotion
Dead Can Dance - Aeon
U2- War
Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium
Cocteau Twins - Heaven Or Las Vegas
GBH - City Baby Attacked By Rats
Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
Yes - The Yes Album
Rush - Grace Under Pressure
Death - Sound of Perseverence
Cradle of Filth - Nymphetamine
Mastodon - Leviathan (this might be the best metal album of the decade)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

DVD Review - Classic Albums - U2 - The Joshua Tree

For a headbanger of the eighties, to admit to liking U2 was considered treason if not blasphemous to the heavy metal cause. Not that U2 asked for their skyrocketing success in the late eighties, but I remember vividly in high school that you were considered hip if you were wearing a U2 shirt, particularly a tour shirt from The Joshua Tree. It was almost Sneetch-like the way kids in my school paraded around in them, even by the posers who really weren’t there but had their friends pick them up a shirt so they could pretend they were there. It was worse than when Tears for Fears toured for Songs From the Big Chair; if you weren’t wearing a Tears for Fears shirt that year, you were a geek or an outcast. Thusly, these pop phenoms because targets of our heavy metal wrath. I even remember the girl I sat next to in homeroom bellyaching that U2 was “stolen” from her since she’d been into them from the beginning with the Boy album. Years later I would say the same thing about Metallica.

Though I’m still that headbanger at heart, I’ve broadened my musical views and one of the shattering realizations to me once I opened my ears and heart to U2 was that I’d had my head up my ass. Boy and War suddenly became two of my all-time favorite albums and as I developed a passion for civil rights, the more I realized that U2 deserves Nobel Peace Prizes for all that they’ve done in the interest of humanity, not only towards the depressive conflicts in Ireland, but throughout the world. When I finally sat down with The Joshua Tree, I took myself away from the summer of ’87, where my girlfriend and I bickered over the value of “With Or Without You,” which I despised back then. It was because it became a hit here in the States and I automatically scorned anything the consensus agreed on. What an amazing song, I thought, once I finally listened to it with mature ears. And “Where the Streets Have No Name,” Lord, what an uplifting song despite the bereft lyrical themes... And criminey, how could I have overlooked the overt heaviness of “Bullet the Blue Sky?” The menacing bass line from Adam Clayton, much less The Edge’s wicked note slides and bluesy solos? Wowzers. Metal bands later on would be covering this song in their live sets and P.O.D. did a studio remake of it on their Fundamental Elements of Southtown album.

Where The Joshua Tree won me over was the non-radio hits “Red Hill Mining Town” and “In God’s Country.” These two alone made me understand that The Joshua Tree was, in its inception, a protest album that somehow resonated with pop culture. The Edge’s quick wrists on “In God’s Country” are inspiring themselves. Maybe the world was waiting for something with a real vibe amidst the synthesized pop oeuvres that was dominating mainstream music in the eighties, or maybe U2 was just bigger than anyone—including themselves—ever realized. If there’s been any contemporary rock ‘n roll band equivalent to the widespread appeal of The Beatles, U2 has certainly earned that distinction.

On Classic Albums: The Joshua Tree, this album is dismantled to its bare bones and disseminated in front your eyes. All four constituents of U2 lend testimony to their contributions to the album, while producer Brian Eno leads the narration in front of his console to break down each member’s parts, as well as providing original demos and old recordings that paved the songs on The Joshua Tree. It’s pretty compelling stuff because it’s revealed that U2 weren’t trying to go for a pop album whatsoever. That may have come later with Zooropa and Pop, but The Joshua Tree in its infancy stages was a logical extension of The Unforgettable Fire and there was nothing pop-oriented about its intentions.

Watching The Edge call up cues of his old licks on tracks like “”I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Exit” show that he was in an otherworldly—perhaps cosmic—place, so much that the other members fought like hell to come up with reasonable arrangements around his complex lines. Some of Bono’s demo vocals show that he’s human after all--despite his figurehead presence--even as he quietly sits at Brian Eno’s elbow and occasionally looks mystified by what he’s hearing from twenty years ago. For any musician to find wonderment in a commercially-successful endeavor is pretty humanizing stuff. Even more astonishing is to learn that the original masters of “Where the Streets Have No Name” were nearly destroyed out of frustration.

And the footage of U2 performing “Mothers of the Disappeared” live with the Chilean mothers who inspired the song standing behind them onstage to the ovation of the crowd is quite intense and it all makes you forget that the summer of ’87 was built around the unintentionally vogue sways of “With Or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” When you hear the gospel origins of the latter song, along with a modern studio reworking of it with a gospel ensemble taking the choruses, it’s devastating, and the final summation of The Joshua Tree is that it is one of U2’s most spiritual bodies of work that inexplicably went mainstream, for better or worse…

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Headbangers for Humanity

I've been a bit bummed lately, feeling like I've accomplished a lot and accomplished little. Much of it stems from the kind of work I do during the day that drains me dry and the only ones who really benefit are the washroom executives. I pay my mortgage and put some food in our bellies, otherwise I go into debt like everyone else in the working class.

It's not that I'm consumed with money; I would be satisfied with making just enough money to sustain a decent and manageable lifestyle through writing. But is that really enough? Is there much more to life than wanting this? To me, it's an ideal situation, but I have to reconsider what it is I want to really accomplish with the short time I'm on this earth.

I've been reading a book called The Future of Peace by Scott Hunt and it's been invigorating the desire inside myself to do something I've always wanted to have a go with: philanthropy. Obviously if you feed the harbingers that keep certain sectors of the world oppressed (through poverty, crime, war), then all you do is create and sustain climates of hatred that lead to conflicts that give rise to potential global repercussions.

Where I'm going with this is that I felt so wonderful inside this morning when I thought about Ronnie James Dio's charity work with the Hear 'n Aid project in 1986 that followed the Live Aid and the Band Aid and Farm Aid charity gigs that went towards relieving the Ethiopian famine, I thought that we have a such a large metal community and I personally have access to certain avenues and parties who may or may not be down with a grass-roots campaign in the name of peace, charity and metal of course!

I'm only in the tinkering phase, but I would call it Headbangers for Humanity and basically what I'm thinking about is establishing a call-to-arms for interested participants to self-fund a charity that would go towards helping in various places in the world, be it overseas or domestic. Such measures I'm thinking of would be to see if there would be interest in a benefit CD from bands willing to donate a song to the cause.

I don't know, maybe I'm out of my mind, but there has to be more to life than getting my head kicked in at a job where I'm making money for other people's profit. I'm not trying to be self-righteous, just thinking/writing aloud, if you get me....

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Albums You Wouldn't Be Caught Dead With

So here's a rock list with a twist...

I think it's safe to say every one of us has been asked the dreadful "desert island albums" question at least once in life. To be perfectly honest with you, there's no frigging way I could just choose ten or five or, God kill me now, just one desert island disc! I mean, it's a cute proposal and all, but if you're a serious music head, you'd rather fling yourself to the sharks then do one lousy day without a piece of music, much less your entire wall full!

So instead, I thought of this question: What albums wouldn't you be caught dead with?

Some of my choices are grossly obvious. A few, well, maybe I'll end up striking a nerve or two...

1. Warrant - Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich - as much as I used to villainize Bon Jovi for destroying metal in the eighties, let's throw the dart where it belongs; Jani Lane himself even said on VH-1 "Hi, we're Warrant and we single-handedly killed metal!" Ye-bang.

2. Milli Vanilli - Girl You Know it's True - girl, you know it's true that regardless of who's doing the singing, this just flat-out sucks...I'm utterly offended there's a greatest hits for this sham

3. Linda Ronstadt - Living in the U.S.A. - known in my universe as "Linda Remake" You have to love Van Halen for throwing down at her with their own redo of "You're No Good."

4. Britney Spears - Oops...I Did it Again! - I don't mean to kick the girl when she's down, but I didn't buy into that Catholic girl slut persona....who says she's Catholic?

5. New Kids on the Block - Hangin' Tough - I mean, really...

6. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - Music for the People - well, hell, while we're on that least he's finally realized he's a better actor than prefab pop poser; at least he also had the sense to get out of New Kids before the point of no return; I'm fascinated that this once would-be "rapper" was a criminal and a racist as a teenager...good vibrations my ass...or better yet, under my ass when talking about this album

7. Motley Crue - Girls Girls Girls - biggest letdown in metal history, followed closely by Judas Priest's Turbo and Def Leppard's Hysteria - yeah, I said it

8. MC Hammer - 2 Legit to Quit - you know, I tried to give the guy a fair shake, but the song alone is one of the biggest pieces of shit ever put down; the fact it featured the egotistical Deion Sanders, who later sued Hammer for his cameo appearance duckets...shit begets shit, I say...

9. Hanson - Middle of Nowhere - Mmm bop you right in f-ing the mouth... Jesus, is the most annoying song ever recorded? Kid groups are novelties unless you're The Jackson Five, The Flairz or Anti-Flag

10. Jewel - Pieces of You - this girl offends me all over the place; maybe it's because she sold out and blatantly went pop (as if all the ridiculous remixes weren't hint enough) after trying to sell us on this young Bohemian poet shtick, or maybe it's because I found out she was accused of stealing the melody of her biggest hit "You Were Meant For Me" from a songwriter she met while performing in a coffeehouse; it makes you question the validity of her impoverished upbringing, or it sustains it; you be the judge...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Favorite Albums - Yes - 90125

There are some albums you shouldn't listen to with a critic's ear because what you once perceived to be flawless and inarguably magnificent suddenly unravels a few things you've shut your perception to.

As far as prog rock goes, suffice it to say that Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer are the quintessential bands to turn to. Some people don't have the stomach for the gratuitous note sequencing and frequently complex arrangements and time signature shifts. I've heard many musicians and rock fans turn a cold shoulder to prog, which is being nice when I say that. I am personally fascinated with prog though even I will admit there's a certain musical ejaculation effect to prog that does becoming wearing. I would never go to the lengths some listeners do by crucifying prog artists as egotists, which may or may not be the case. Normally such ranting is the cause of frustrated musicians who envy such capabilities. Then again, some of it is warranted.

When you think of Yes, just about anyone will cough up "Roundabout," which may be rock's most perfect prog rock song. You think of The Yes Album, Closer and Fragile, some of the immaculate of the genre. My cousins really dug Yes in the seventies, so I was always looking at a Yes door poster every time we got together.

When 90125 came out in 1984, I had begun my metal transformation, though I was still silently clinging to certain pop and top-40 elements, but the damage had been done with Iron Maiden, and as I was fascinated with Twisted Sister, Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Van Halen, along came 90125 and suddenly I was devastated yet again.

As Jon Anderson returned to Yes on the Drama album, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes in turn took off and formed Asia, which was a solid rock band for its time. If you listen to Asia today, only the nostalgia keeps you glued. In 1984, many fans bitched that Jon Anderson had a lot of creative control and as a result, 90125 became an uncharacteristic rock-driven album of mostly straightforward tunes. I don't know about you, but I thought it was pretty damned smart. If Yes had not discovered a rock orientation in which to survive the eighties, survive they would not.

I could not get enough of 90125 and when my aunt and uncle gave it to me for Christmas, I played it obsessively. Genius, I said. Untouchable, I braved. I found company in the father of one my friends who likewise took to this album and we frequently overrode my friend who was horrified by this album. Of course, he was delving into rap and thought Yes undid his cool factor. Well, what about the funk groove of "Owner of a Lonely Heart?" It's a very straightforward rock jam with some sampling and a smidge of hip hop tossed into the breakdown. Of course, this is the very thing some listeners were at odds with.

I kept wondering why I declared 90125 a perfect album and thus took the task of listening to it with my journalist's ear. Such dissemination reveals that 90125 is not a perfect album after all, and frankly, that's heartbreaking to a degree. Particularly the way Yes became a synth-oriented rock band instead a key and organ prog juggernaut makes all the difference in the world. I mean, if you want to be really discerning, "Our Song" can be looked at as a sickening synth-happy pop song. I realized now that the lyrics of "Changes" were just another scrawl about being lovesick, typical of the eighties, and how could I never have known this before? When you listen to the verses, both the guitar melody and the vocals scream Dokken before Dokken became established.

So it was a shattering thing to realize that Yes were actually capable of deeper textures than they produced on 90125. I kept thinking that as triumphant as the guitar strikes on the choruses "It Can Happen to You" sound, an accompanying guitar would've given a bigger wall of sound to the track.

In the end, I realize that 90125 is not quite the indisputable masterpiece I've held it to be all these years. The biggest parallel to Yes at this time to the Yes that made them legends is the very incredible two minute instrumental "Cinema" that restores most of the quadrophonic quality Yes is known for, and it is here when I said to myself "Quit being an art fart critic!"

Sometimes you can't explain why you consider a piece of music to be perfect or at least perfectly suited to your tastes. I let 90125 go again without scrutiny and lo, I immediately started singing along as I always do. I always fall deep into the sarcasm of "Hold On," which attacks consumerism and self-absorption. I always feel my chest swell up with the message of peace and equality on "Hearts." I felt that sense of being alive with that tough-as-bricks riff from "City of Love," and I sang loudly along with "Leave It," grateful that I had no audience. I remember when MTV premiered the "Leave It" video on a rainy Saturday night, they really fucked with it by playing it on loop for almost two hours, in the process shifting the screen from horizontal to vertical, flipping and screwing with the transmissions. It was pretty hilarious, in retrospect, if not annoying as all hell.

So while Fragile and The Yes Album are two of Yes' indisputable masterpeices, there's no escaping 90125 for me. It was the perfect eighties rock album, and that's all that needs to be said. It rings the eighties all over, and you can praise or pan them for it. I will never listen to this album like it's a review assignment ever again, because some albums just make you feel, regardless of its perfection or faults.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Favorite Albums - Voivod - Dimension Hatross

I received a promo in the mail last week by a Quebecian technical metal band called Martyr that has been on the scene awhile but has only put out a few albums total. It might be said that quality supersedes quantity in Martyr's case, because it is quite a special album and the more I listened to their new album, Feeding the Abscess, the more I kept thinking of Voivod. It's not a blatant thing that Martyr does, you see; it's all quite subtle, particularly if you're a deep Voivod fan, which I am.

My whole music journalism career could stop all of a sudden and I'd be satisfied because I've interviewed Iron Maiden, which was my ultimate goal, but along the way I interviewed Denis "Snake" Belanger of Voivod earlier this year and when people ask me if I get nervous and stammer through interviews, I always say that a few of the bigger interviews like Nicko McBrain, Ronnie James Dio and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest had me feeling pre-game jitters but I always got it together by the first question. My chat with Snake was a little different because I've respected Voivod so much that I once predicted them as the band of the future when I had a music column in college--which nobody read, for the record. I felt the willies all the way through and took at least one second to tell Snake in a slightly fanboyish way that I've loved Voivod and how much of a positive effect they've had on my life. At first I thought I was being dorky, but hey, if you write about music, it's because you were a fan first, it's that simple.

Snake poured out his emotions about the death of Denis "Piggy" D'Amour and he mentioned that his vocals are so much louder on Voivod's latest album Katorz because he was venting his anger over such a loss. For me, Piggy's death hit me almost as hard as Joey Ramone's death. I took Joey's death so hard because The Ramones literally saved my soul at a critical point in my life, while Voivod got me to question everything in life, to seek outside the box. Just the mere sound of Voivod's cyberpunk yelled "Think!" because nobody could play that fast and with such mathematical precision and still unravel a new dimension of thought and music. When I heard Killing Technology for the first time, it just blew my mind. Then came Dimension Hatross.

I don't know what shattered me more about Dimension Hatross, the slow, tense and note-winding opening sequence of "Experiment" that left you wondering what was going to happen next, which was a bottlerocket of speed that boasted more melody and musical accuracy than Killing Technology, or the doomy opening tom pounds by Michel "Away" Langevin that starts "Tribal Convictions," one of metal's greatest intros. To this day, I still feel the anticipatory shivers from that song, even as "Tribal Conviction" goes through a couple of winding verses before flinging itself into a breathtaking thrash attack that takes the listener on a literal ride. What a drug can give you that...

From here Dimension Hatross is just one metallic soundscape after another, and though Voivod should be credited as metal's first true prog band after King Crimson and Celtic Frost, their shifting time signatures and cybernetic sensations on "Brain Scan," "Technocractic Manipulators" and "Psychic Vacuum" make Dimension Hatross an unparalleled listening adventure.

I also never trusted the government again after hearing this album. Sure, the Dead Kennedys, GBH, Bad Brains, The Exploited, Discharge, all of the important punk and hardcore bands of the eighties--in addition to Megadeth--had already tinkered with my head, but the line "no more control, leave minds alone!" from "Megasolutions to Megaproblems," Jesus, what a life-altering experience... I've always thought that true anarchy is anarchy of the mind, not a physical overthrow of the establishment. Unleash your mind and start to question everything around you, then you're free from the manipulative forces of the world. It may sound hokey, but Dimension Hatross really did that for me and it was great to listen to Snake talk about "Megasolutions to Megaproblems," and hear him say that the world at large hasn't changed a whole lot from when Voivod released this song. Indeed, Snake and the boys were looking to pick a few mental locks in the process of revolutionizing metal as an art form.

It's incredible to think that in two years Dimension Hatross will be twenty years old. In light of what followed this album, Voivod's acclaimed masterpiece Nothingface, it's a bit devastating that they never recaptured the overall intensity of Dimension Hatross and Nothingface, despite the grossly underrated The Outer Limits and the Piggy's posthumous adieu Katorz. Voivod could've ruled the world, but some audiences were pissed at Voivod for covering Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine," perhaps because Voivod thoroughly upstaged Floyd in one the truly great cover tunes in modern rock, and they took another stab at Floyd with "The Nile Song" from The Outer Limits.

What it really is, is the fact that Voivod were ahead their time and a lot of it intimidated the mainstream hard rock and metal fans who want their music more simplistic. These are the folks who want the riff, the groove and the memorable chorus, which definitely has a place in music, but when you have a complicated band like Voivod. it's perhaps too mind-blowing and complicated for those about to rock.

Voivod lost a lot of their mojo during the nineties, particularly after Snake dropped out to clean up, and prior to that, bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault merely recording bass tracks for Angel Rat and The Outer Limits but never truly returning to the fold. It took Jason Newsted to abandon the cash cow Metallica to return to his real metal roots and with Snake back from rehab, Voivod sounded potent once again, if not overly progressive as Dimension Hatross and Nothingface.

I don't think the average metal fan is going to understand this when I say that Piggy's influence on today metal scene is subversive and blatant. There are so many bands today trying to emulate his otherworldy chords and there's a lot tinkering with foot pedals in an attempt to recapture what Piggy departed this life and left us with. I can say that easily 1 out maybe 5 bands that hit my desk have something borrowed from Piggy's arsenal, thus Voivod has finally fulfilled my prophecy of 1990... Metallica may have won the fans and in the process put themselves in a chance for a Led Zeppelin-like rock icon status, but how much influence they have over today's metal leaves one to question. I think a lot of us have seen the sham that Metallica has become, and a return to the real has been taking effect, bolstered in a generous way through Piggy and Voivod.

And to bring it all full-circle with Mayhem, despite the fact I was doubting my Voivod correlation, perhaps trying to use the Montreal connection to justify what I feeling off of Mayhem, the last song of Feeding the Abscess is a cover of Voivod's "Brain Scan." Playing bass on this track is none other than is the returned from exile Blacky himself. I think that tells it all, don't you?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Three's Company Season 8

Behind The Twilight Zone, Three's Company would be my next all-time favorite t.v. show. As a young boy, I was briefly infatuated with Suzanne Somers, particularly when she wore those adorable pigtails down the sides of her head. As I watched much of Three's Company in syndication and as my hormones started budding, I instead started falling for Priscilla Barnes. (For the record, Pamela Susan Shoop from Halloween II trailed immediately behind Priscilla) Some Three's Company fans debate over whether or not Barnes' character Terri Alden was the best of the "third" or "blonde" roommates. I'd have to be one of those stating the affirmative. From the first episode where Jack Tripper and Larry Dallas try to sabotage Terri at a party in the apartment to try and dissuade her from moving in, the minute she bravely sits in front of Jack with black circles under her eyes and blue ink all over her new dress, inviting the water dousing you think Jack is going to nail her with, it was that facade of both defeat and determination that won me over. It did the same for Jack, apparently.

Perhaps Terri was exploited a little bit throughout her time on the series because she was both athletic and subtly voluptuous, but the best part about Terri is that she had more of a brain than Chrissy or Cindy Snow. And she had a sharp wit that allowed her to be the instigator of a few jokes instead of the butt-end. I found that more attractive and the rest kind of it fell into place. It was Terri all the way for me. Guess what? It still is. I interviewed Rob Zombie recently and we discussed Priscilla's appearance in The Devil's Rejects. I mean absolutely no disrespect towards Prsicilla and her family, but a few adolescent fantasies were entertained in that movie and moreover, she still looks fantastic! Zombie made mention that he felt Three's Company grossly underused her. Maybe he was right, but I figured she was the only one given a chance to keep up with John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt, to be a well-meaning, loving foil instead of a jokingly persecuted ditz.

I remember Season 8 of Three's Company as being the only season I saw in real-time back in 1983 and 1984, thus I was catapulted back to my 13-year-old self when this DVD hit my mailbox (special thank you to Anchor Bay and M80) Considering I'm only missing Season 7 from the entire series, I found myself trying to study the final season of Three's Company to figure out why all of a sudden the writers had to marry Janet off, find Jack a serious love interest and send my beloved Terri off to Hawaii. Reportedly the ratings for Three's Company had dropped off in 1983 into 1984 when it had been such a ratings thoroughbred for ABC. Alas, the stats of that season showed that only five episodes of Three's Company in that fateful finish cracked the Nielsen top 20.

Perhaps the country at large had grown tired of the swinger's Cali paradise that was a large part of Three's Company, especially at the height of the Reagan administration. Perhaps the moral right had finally penetrated the heads of America, guilt-tripping them that Three's Company was too risque for anyone's good. It was all over my head at the time, because my life was filled with heavy metal, pro wrestling, Stephen King books, horror films, cartoons and of course Three's Company. Hand-in-hand, you know?

As I watched Season 8 with my wife in three sitdown sessions, I really found it hard to accept that anyone could think the show had lost its funny entendre by then. I roared just as much as I ever did at "Hearing is Believing," the episode where Janet misinterprets (a staple during the entire series, beginning right off the bat in Season 8 with the "Jack Be Quick" episode) Jack's current girlfriend, a psychologist who tries to keep her profession a secret, for being a hooker. As she's downing fries at the Regal Beagle in a severe sweat that Jack has sold himself out to a streetwalker, you can't help but laugh. Usually by that point, the gag has already expired and everyone has a fast chuckle before moving into the next part of the story. Not here. The way Jack, Janet and Terri (and past roommates) look out for one another to such ridiculous measures is an enviable bond that I felt superseded the suggestive sexual connotations that were more burlesque instead of raw blatancy.

The "Itching For Trouble" episode where an old high school friend calls Jack out of the blue to request his help in saving her marriage to a jealous jock from their past, the way they dive into the bushes out of fear the husband has spotted their incognito meeting is priceless, considering it's only Mr. Furley, who gets roped into the whole mess. Naturally, it all goes kerplooey when the jock invites Jack and the gang over for dinner in an attempt to get Jack to "talk" to the wife, citing proof of her accused infidelity as being poison ivy. The whole exchange of Jack and Mr. Furley scratching themselves like loons from their own giveaway poison ivy is sheer hiliarity, and it's why Three's Company worked so well.

Season 8 had all sorts of surprises before it ended, particularly with the way Jack repeatedly comes close to telling Mr. Furley he's not gay (to hilarious effect in "Baby, It's Cold Inside"), as well as when Jack falls for a new tenant who's an artist in "Jack Takes Off" and gets stuck modeling in the nude for her class. Of course, right before then is the "Jack's Tattoo" episode where he is so drunk with his navy buddies that he doesn't realize he has a tattoo on his ass that reads "The Love Butt."

Of course, Larry and Jack together are more doltish than ever in their miscues to help each other score, when you consider that in the "Alias Jack Tripper" episode Jack ducks out on a date arranged by Janet by having Larry pose as him, not realizing one, the date is gorgeous, two, his own date stood him up, and three, that Larry and the date actually hit it off. The natural chaos ensues. Then Larry convinces Jack that one of the girls wants to have an affair with him by reading a completed magazine poll left in the apartment in "She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not," and with the added flair of going into the mountains to possibly consummate the indecent proposal, naturally all hell breaks loose to comedic effect.

I remember how all of a sudden, it seemed like Three's Company was in a rush to get to its finale once it was announced Season 8 would be its last. The final string of episodes "The Heiress," "Cupid Works Overtime" and "Friends and Lovers" probably seemed like it was paced properly when you had to wait a week between episodes. On DVD, it's almost like, 'Wow, this all happening so fast!' Janet's about to get married, Jack has fallen in love with an airline stewardess named Vicky Bradford (Mary Cadorette) and poor Terri acts as mediator when everything looks like it's all going to fall apart. My favorite part of the finale "Friends and Lovers" is how Jack is supposed to be giving Janet away at the wedding being held in the apartment, only to have phone calls and doorbells interrupt Janet's procession. Brilliant.

John Ritter won an Emmy for "Cupid Works Overtime," and despite the immediate (and convenient) fall-in with Vicky, his story and Janet's provide a sad sense of humanity that made the series finale of Three's Company almosst as unbearable to watch as the series finale of Family Ties, which t.v. history will remember for the cast bawling on television along with the audience. Considering that when Three's Company was announced as dead, only to be replaced by an immediate successor Three's a Crowd, John Ritter was the only original Three's Company cast member being offered a role on the spinoff. I'm detecting that some of the teary moments when the trio are suddenly realizing it's time to move out of the apartment are actually genuine in light of the sudden news that the cast would be disbanded.

Unfortunately, Three's a Crowd is just as forgettable as The Ropers spinoff series that at least had a few good moments. Having Three's a Crowd the week after Three's Company ended probably seemed like marketing genius back in the day, but in the grand scheme, it's just a meaningless cash cow that didn't work and really, almost no one ever brings it up. To be honest, as my wife wiped a few tears away herself during the finale, we both sighed once the Three's a Crowd logo bumped out the Three's Company logo during the final winkout. Not quite the glorious finish it should've been.

Obviously we need to get Season 7 to be fully complete in the Three's Company collection, but once we do that, then naturally we'll go back again over time and relive it all yet again. One thing--at least for me, anyway--is that despite the fact that many people consider Three's Company lowbrow humor, you can't take away John Ritter's timing genius and his goofball physical humor, and you can't take away how Norman Fell would always look the camera straight in the eye as if being omniscient of his viewers every time he got a zinger off on Audra Lindley, and you can't take away those old jeans of Janet's from the first couple of seasons with the silly patch on the butt, a symbol of being poor along with being a free spirit. You can't take away the fact that Richard Kline played the ultimate bungling gigolo with charming sleaze, you can't take away how Don Knotts thought he was oozing machismo in the gadliest of getups, you can't take away how you still wanted Ann Wedgeworth as Lana to bed Jack at least once because she was the original MILF and hot as balls...

You can't take away the fact that it's Suzanne Somers wearing a black wig in the famous opening sequence to the first three seasons, where the hottie in the tight denim shorts causes Jack to fall off his bike, nor can you take away Suzanne's charming snorting and bubblheadness. You can't take away the fact that Jenilee Harrison could match John Ritter's physical pastiche in a bunch of zany bumps, crashes and knockdowns. And of course, despite the fact that Priscilla Barnes sported an eighties Olivia Newton-John do a number of times in Season 8, she was the finest roommate of them all, though obviously the most financially bereft nurse in history! And you can't take away the fact that though she wouldn't wed him, and though she gets the stigma of killing off a franchise, Mary Cadorette flashed her well-to-do deer eyes and became the one girl that grounded t.v.'s most famous playboy.

Three's Company may or may not be your favorite show in the world, but I'll tell you what; I can't find a comedy today that I'd watch over and over on DVD like this one. Maybe Sex and the City...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Trouble - Psalm 9 and The Skull reissues

This is another review I did for AMP. Don't worry, I won't make a habit of cheating my entries like I did when I started this blog, but Trouble is a band that Metal Mark really pushed hard on me back in the day and I'm grateful to him for it. I'm even more grateful that these reissues have surfaced...

Psalm 9 and The Skull reissues
Escapi Music

Now is the time to right a grievous wrong of the past. Because TROUBLE was a spiritually-based metal band that confused the underground by playing on a traditionally BLACK SABBATH and BLUE CHEER course, much of the metal world was confused and ultimately turned its back to these legends of doom rock.

Perhaps it was because STRYPER had streamlined the God Metal thing to the point of accidental mockery, and because metal fans in general never fully warmed up to PETRA that TROUBLE was swept away, but the fact of the matter is that Psalm 9 and The Skull are two of the best metal albums released in the mid-eighties. Like SAINT VITUS, TROUBLE was lodged between the power metal, the LA hard rock and the thrash scenes that were already subdivided enough that it took being a real head of metal in order to find these guys.

But now that metal has become somewhat more cosmopolitan and its students a bit more learned, it’s perfectly fitting that Psalm 9 and The Skull make a return in two nice packages. As the doom underground has thickened in ranks with both fans and practitioners, if you’re not tripping on TROUBLE, then now is the time to get hip. Without TROUBLE, VITUS and PENTAGRAM before them, there might not’ve been a CATHEDRAL or a CROWBAR or even a YOB or ACID KING. Though you have to pay attention in order to unravel the spiritual messages TROUBLE relayed through its heavy doom orientation, songs like “The Tempter” and “Revelation (Life or Death)” from Psalm 9 sound positively evil, yet they are anything but. TROUBLE’s themes of God’s triumph over Satan (particularly on “The Fall of Lucifer”) make this an exciting listen because it’s normally vice-versa when hearing this style of music. Call it a mind rape if you like, but it was brilliant for its time.

Maybe some metal fans didn’t want to be preached to on songs like “Wickedness of Man” and “The Truth Is / What Is” from The Skull, but let’s face it; TROUBLE rocks like hell (or rather, heaven) and if you’re not down with their litany, give them props at least for being a proper metal band. It’s the same as being a Christian and still listening to bands like VENOM, POSSESSED and EMPEROR because the music supersedes the black messages, most of which are farcical to begin with. Does that mean in turn that TROUBLE’s Christian faith is farce? You’d have to confront them with that, but before you do, have a go with Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin’s guitars on “Bastards Will Pay” and “Endtime” and you’ll realize that TROUBLE was grossly overlooked in their day. Lucky for you, Escapi has unearthed a bonus DVD for each release, one a gritty live show from 1985 with The Skull and then, even cooler, footage from a 1982 cable access show for Psalm 9. Megahails to Escapi for taking an interest in this band…

Michael Schenker Group: Tales of Rock 'n Roll: Twenty-Five Years' Celebration

From my upcoming December metal column in AMP magazine:

Tales of Rock ‘n Roll: Twenty-Five Years’ Celebration
Armageddon / Locomotive Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

One of the highlights of my interviewing career is the night I spent four-and-a-half hours on the phone with Michael Schenker, who had agreed to talk to me for a book project I’ve been long at work at. I took a chance on approaching Michael, because I was advised that he was a quiet-natured individual, one whose troubled past most people know about, but I was undeterred and for my risk-taking, I was rewarded with an intimate and deeply personal sit-down with one of hard rock’s iconic guitarists.

As eager to talk to me as Michael Schenker obviously was, he is obviously far more eager to speak long and familiarly with his music as demonstrated on Tales of Rock ‘n Roll: Twenty-Five Years’ Celebration, a unique endeavor in that Schenker presents nineteen news songs with a round table of past and present MSG vocalists such as Graham Bonnet (also of RAINBOW), Gary Barden, Robin McAuley, Kelly Keeling (also of HURRICANE and BLUE MURDER), Leif Sundin, Chris Logan and current howler Jari Tiura, who handles the majority of the tracks. Also on board for this project is none other than Schenker’s former UFO mate Pete Way on bass and former RACER X drummer Jeff Martin. In some ways, this is even cooler than Schenker’s collaborations with Leslie West, though not every journalist has been sold on this concept.

In this one’s opinion, the passion exuded on Tales of Rock ‘n Roll: Twenty-Five Years’ Celebration makes you happy for Michael Schenker, because it’s evident he put everything he has into this album, and the songs are inspired bits of ravenous rock ‘n roll from the catchy “Angel of Avalon,” “Love Trade” and Gary Barden’s knockout “Life Vacation” to the stomping rhythms on “Dust to Dust” and “Freedom.” Likewise, Graham Bonnet absolutely slays on “Rock ‘n Roll” and Robin McAuley warmly takes us back to the late eighties when it was known as the McAuley Schenker Group with his nostalgic “Tell a Story.” Indeed.

The only real pisser about Tales of Rock ‘n Roll: Twenty-Five Years’ Celebration
is that the songs are presented with no space breaks, so you’ll have to either be on your toes to discern the songs from each other or you’ll just simply enjoy the looped ride of Tales of Rock ‘n Roll: Twenty-Five Years’ Celebration that is Michael Schenker’s best solo offering in quite some time. This is the sound of a man who has finally shaken the monkeys off of his back and is enjoying playing solid music once again.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Favorite Albums: GBH - Midnight Madness and Beyond

So I had a blast reviewing horror movies throughout October and it won't stop there, but it's time to get back to the music a little. From time-to-time, I'm going to talk about some of my favorite albums and what they mean to me. Oddly enough, I yanked two off the shelf without even thinking, Iron Maiden's Somewhere in Time and GBH's Midnight Madness and Beyond.

My mother's "anger music" would be The Who. It was enough at one time that when I'd come home and hear The Who cranking, I'd make an excuse to go back out. I mean, I love The Who, but I also knew that my mother would be unapproachable because she was in a zone you didn't want to breach. Of course, my mom is the sweetest person on earth and we're best friends, but I think you get the point.

We all have certain music that alleviates our anger, and GBH has always done that for me. On Halloween I got into a discussion with a young Republican, and I really respect this kid because he's very intelligent and he brings facts to support his argument. He's well-prepared and ought to be a politician himself one day. Strangely enough, he dons a Goth appearance and we both like a lot of the same music, so I'm very much at odds with his political views and his embracing of the president and when I say the country needs to get off of its Canada bashing, he supports the jugheads. If I say we need a global outlook, he looks at me and calls me a liberal. Of course, I'm neither conservative nor extremely liberal; I have snippets of both but want to see both parties dismantled and started anew with more parties this time to reflect a true democracy.

Of course, my friend here has a touch of racism about him that he's completely oblivious to, and he's a very devout person, which I respect. I too love God, but to love God is to love all of his creatures, which my friend cannot relate to.

The reason for this spiel is that is just upsets me greatly that young people are selling out to the right well before their time. Right wing is for the old guard, not the new, or at least that's my take on it. It's because I refuse to grow up, plain and simple. I acknowledge my adult responsibilities and do my best to meet them, but I don't want any part of being an adult if I can help it, if you take my meaning. Republicans in general tend to rouse the firebrand inside of me, or at least the anarchist and here is where GBH presents a soundboard for me.

Midnight Madness and Beyond might be GBH's finest moment as musicians, even if City Baby Attacked By Rats is their finest hour overall. I really get fired up over the three opening tracks "Limp Wristed," "Future Fugitives" and "Too Much," because the riffs and chops on these songs are so British and yet so American that the endearment is more than obvious. Punks from both sides of the pond in 1986 were united through GBH and when I hear "Guns and Guitars," "How Come" and the title track, my chest swells with anger, but it's a righteous one, not a destructive one. It makes me want to tear my hatred of conservative thinking away, because there's certainly enough logic on that side as there is on the liberal side. It makes me stand firm as an independent political thinker (and I'm not much of one, trust me), because I think both parties are at fault as to why the American political system sucks. When two parties controlled by cash are allowed to pick two numbnuts for the American public to vote and there's no real say from the American public in this candidacy, then bollocks, I say!

So to me, Midnight Madness and Beyond is a very political album, even if Colin Abrahall told me that the song especially is about GBH's first tour in the United States, specifically in New York, and how obsessed Americans are with the 24-7 lifestyle. The term 24-7 wasn't even around when this album came out, so GBH might've been ahead of their time here.

My copy of this album comes with the 1986 EP Oh No! It's GBH Again, another of my favorites. "Malice in Wonderland" alone rocks it for me...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

October Horror Festival Finale: Halloween and Halloween II

If it wasn't a work night, I'd have gone for the original silent version of Nosferatu to wrap this month up with a bang, but the tradition has at least been honored and that'll have to suffice.

Hope you all had a good Halloween. After feeling miserable most of the day, I got home at a decent hour, ran into a bad accident jam during peak Trick Or Treating hours (someone not only got tricked, they got flat-out skunked) and finally I got home to what was really a low turnout compared to Halloweens past. I know our neighborhood usually draws a solid amount of kids, and in my old neighborhood, nobody trick or treats there anymore despite it being prime territory; this is because of the townhouses that went up nearby, making it easier on the kids and parents to do a fly-by round of trick or treating. I don't know, I thought part of the allure of going trick or treating was seeing other neighborhoods and having license for one night to tramp through someone's yard. Could be me or it could be that the trick or treating part of Halloween is very slowly becoming a trend we'll soon see disappearing. After all, we're all busier as a population and we're all more paranoid about creeps and bad guys in houses we don't know, versus the ones haunting our screens.

Then again, maybe it had something to do with the fact that I donned one of my ghoul masks and let my neighbor borrow my Pinhead mask and we ran around like idiots for awhile. I think my cats were more scared than the children. Like I said in the Silver Bullet post, we've all just become desensitized.

But anyway, the tradition has been to hold off the first two Halloween films until the actual night, and though it was hard-fought for this year with my wife being in a bad mood and not up for our usual quiet celebration of horror tonight. So I carried on by myself and what's to say about Halloween that hasn't been said already?

I was eight years old when the original film came out and I remember at the drive-in theater near us (yeah, they were still around in '78), I saw the marquee that blared "HALLOWEEN" and thought it had to do with witches and monsters and werewolves and vampires and yes, boogeymen. I appealed to my mom to take me to see this movie because I had no idea of what horror lied behind that almost nondescript and broad title. I kept rationalizing that a film called Halloween had to be nothing but fun. Of course, I kept trying to get my parents to take me to see Saturday Night Fever because it sounded like a wild time, as I did The Amityville Horror and later on, Blade Runner. Of course the trend here was that these were all rated R movies. I think my first rated R film was the first Police Academy film in 1984, and what a difference two years made between that and Blade Runner, as far as being 14 versus 12... In fact, I was able to get my friends and I in to see Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (and the award to biggest misleading film title in history goes to....) at the same age!

When I finally saw Halloween, it was the famous t.v. edit that features the additional footage showing Michael Myers' court hearing, along with footage of Dr. Loomis in the sanitarium with Michael telling him that he's fooled everyone but him, along with some other bits and pieces. It's only been broadcast a couple of times to my knowledge and it was a fierce collector's item amongst real diehards out there until Anchor Bay released this version as Halloween Extended. But that first sitting really defined my love of horror, because in every damn frame you're looking for Michael to pop out of a shrub or from behind a car or off someone's porch, you name it... This is the definition of modern horror as Halloween posited by carefully filming Michael's stalk and pursuit of Jamie Lee Curtis and her friends played by Nancy Loomis and PJ "Totally" Soles.

This still remains my favorite horror film, even with glitches and flubs and continuity flaws. I always thought it was funny that Donald Pleasance holds vigil at Michael's dilapidated house for hours then suddenly spots the stolen car right down the road. Um, hello? And then I always wondered if Laurie and Annie were just joy riding around Haddonfield since the Doyle residence is presumedly near the Myers house, as is Laurie's house since they pass it in the opening minutes, and then if you put Dr. Loomis' positioning and how quickly he spots Tommy Doyle and Lindsey bolting out of Tommy's house...why Laurie would need a ride from Annie to go down the street, I dunno.... It's all silly, just like the notorious scene with Annie being locked out of her car, turning back for her keys, then suddenly the door is unlocked when she returns to get slashed by Michael. Obviously she had a real itch in her loins she was too obsessed to realize all of this...

Regardless, you can't beat the way John Carpenter positions Michael in various places, so much you keep expecting him to be in places he isn't. To this day I still look for Michael in phantom spots! I know he's there, dammit, you can't fool me!

Halloween was reportedly conceived originally by Bob Clark (A Christmas Story) after he did his nasty Black Christmas movie that is a pale shade to its more brutal imitator Silent Night, Deadly Night. Carpenter picked up the ball and ran with it, so much that a sequel was called for a few years later, and thus a bona fide horror franchise was born, one that is still being milked every so often.

I talked my mom into letting me buy the novelization to Halloween II in 1981, despite the fact that I wasn't going to catch the film in the theater. Just all of the gross imagery in the book had me whimpering silently to see how they translated on screen, specifically how the needle in Dr. Mixter's eye was going to appear... Let me tell you something; if you saw this scene in the movies, you're lucky. If you have the widescreen DVD, you're lucky. How the hell the full screen video version manages to rob that scene of its true impact with Dr. Mixter's corpse bearing the needle in his eye in the bottom corner while Ana Alicia takes another hypo to the temple all in one frame is criminal! This is one of the most horrific images of the series that loses its impact on a full-frame version, just as the widescreen version of the original Halloween shows Michael's shoulders in other frames that are missing in full-frame, and worse, you don't know what you're missing when Michael grabs Annie in her car if you're not seeing it in widescreen! When I saw it wide for the first time, I fucking jumped because Michael suddenly snaps out of nowhere on the left side of the screen that is cut off on standard frame, and his lightning-fast snatch of Annie is unbelievably scary!

But anyway, Halloween II is a better sequel than it's given credit for, even if we're stuck with a continuity problem out of the gate with Michael's fall from the Doyle house, most notably the lack of grass in Halloween versus a fully green lawn in Halloween II. Overall, the second film has a lot of balls about it, even if it cannot compare to the original.

Most critics attacked the goriness of Halloween II, but it is a pretty scary little vehicle, especially when you consider that most people look at a hospital as a place where you go to die, and to have a monster like Michael Myers prowling around, Jesus wept... Now, Haddonfield Memorial does seem to be a bit scarce on patients, honestly, which implies a bit of cheapness, but with Dick Warlock assuming The Shape with mostly skillful and slowly menacing panache, he's damned unnerving, particularly when he's hunting down Jamie Lee Curtis, who we now learn is his other sister adopted out of the Myers family before he killed his other sister, Judith. Is this connection a bit sappy? Yeah, perhaps, but it's a good enough excuse as to why Michael would stray from the center of Haddonfield to the hospital. Funny enough, Warlock also appears a patrol cop in this film.

For you guys, I think we can all be in agreement that the hot tub scene is numero uno in this film. To this day, I don't think I've seen a more perfect bosom onscreen than Pamela Susan Shoop's. Many a fond teenage night alone did I spend with that image in my head. If I were interviewing her, I don't know how I couldn't not approach that subject. You do have to wonder just how impenetrable Michael is when he plunges Pamela face-first into the scalding water with no concern or damage to himself. But then again, he takes rounds into his chest and eyes and keeps on chugging...

And I listened to the soundtrack for Halloween II on the drive in this morning becaues I just love Alan Howarth's creepy synthesizers that really escalate this film to heights it might've felt lesser of without them. Let's just say in conclusion that he and John Carpenter have produced the creepiest horror anthem of our time, befitting of the original concept known on the screenplay as "The Babysitter Murders..."