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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Some of my most memorable interviews to-date

I've been encouraged from time-to-time to talk more about what I do in music journalism. I was always worried about sounding conceited and pompous so I have had the tendency to keep my yap shut about this avenue in my life unless solicited by someone. I've conducted interviews with over 200 musicians and a handful of visual artists, actors and directors for publication and also for a nonfiction book on metal I've been at work for three years now. I really must get that book done sometime, but I've been lured into the world I'm in right now and I've built myself a nice little resume I can cart around with me for future work, so I believe. After talking with Max Cavalera of Soulfly and Sepultura for the second time last night, I thought of our first chat on his tour bus where we both were wearing the same Bad Brains shirt and the ice was immediately broken. Both times I've spoken with Max, he's had a gentle candor considering the emotional luggage he's been forced to carry. He's a man of grace.

So I'm hoping that you will take the tone of this entry for what it is, just a look back at some of the most memorable interviewees I've had in my career thus far. Naturally Nina Blackwood qualifies as a memorable interviewee, but I have a separate post here on that interview, so let me cite a few others for you.


1. Dee Snider - Twisted Sister - Numero Uno memorable interview. Dee is the consummate interviewee; your only requirement is to prime him and then listen attentively. I had two separare hour-long sessions and I think you only hear my voice for about five-to-ten minutes total. Dee is a professional, he covers so many topics that he blows through your question list without you necessarily having to ask them. The man is spirited, funny, occasionally bitter about the fall of Twisted Sister and I have a tape of the phone message he left me when we first missed each other. A real gas, I assure you!

2. Oderus Urungus - Gwar - This summer at the Sounds of the Underground festival, I interviewed In Flames and Gwar, and Oderus is one I will never, ever forget. I had the opportunity to see him and Beefcake out of their costumes and I will let the mystery remain because that's the fun part of Gwar, that they haven't revealed themselves publically....let's just say Oderus out of costume is the same as Oderus in-costume while the tape is running. He's crazy, boisterous, vulgar, and he'll take you out of your game faster than a pissed-off umpire. I had to chuck my notepad to the side and shoot from the hip as he lightly insulted me and pushed me to move on. I won't ever forget it because when you hear the tape, it's the funniest shit you've ever heard. One of the minions brought five girls to the back of the bus while we spoke and then came back out with them five minutes later...I think it was a stunt pulled on my behalf, but when it was all over, Oderus came out of character and invited me to stay for a barbecue

3. Michael Schenker - Michael has historically been noted as a quiet man, so I was thoroughly shocked when he not only agreed to an interview for my book, but we spent four-and-a-half hours on the phone on a weeknight and Michael revealed to me the most intimate details of his life, much of which I will always keep between us. I had the feeling he was treating our interview as a life story situation and while most rockers keep that side of themselves hush-hush before a journalist, Schenker gave me everything as if we'd known each other forever. Such trust meant the world to me.

4. Betsy Palmer - Everyone knows Betsy as Pamela Voorhees from the first Friday the 13th, but so few remember her previous life in television such as Candid Camera, I've Got a Secret, Playhouse 50 and a bunch of others you'd be surprised to know she was a part of. Still, Betsy will always be remembered for the demented Mrs. Voorhees and I roared when she said she didn't know why! Betsy is the sweetest woman and to hear her make the ki ki ki ma ma ma noise when telling me about a fan in Philadelphia making it in her direction, I was so submerged into our conversation. She did Friday the 13th for 10K because she needed a new car that cost $9999.99. She never believed the movie would go anywhere and is amazed how far her fan mail comes from over the world. To this day she has yet to see Friday the 13th Part 2 and she has nothing kind to say about Sean S. Cunningham as she gets no residuals from the first movie, but a few pittances for the second film. I put the icing on the cake to this Friday the 13th experience by traveling to Blairstown, NJ on assignment to photograph the original camp where Friday the 13th was filmed and was thoroughly amazed how much is still there, as I was how people in Blairstown appear to cover up the fact it was filmed in their town. Betsy called me when the article ran and said I was the first one to get her story right. I was ecstatic and even more so when we agreed to get together for lunch in NYC next time we're up there.

4. Doro Pesch - I had a bit of a crush on Doro as many metalheads did back in the day....Doro is the most adorable, respectful woman I've ever spoken to with Liv Kristine Espenaas Krull of Leaves Eyes being a close second. Doro loves her fans and her sweet, breathy German voice melted me the entire time we spoke. I wish I hadn't done it before my day job because Doro seemed eager to talk even after 40 minutes. Kind of a dream come true to chat with one of your former crushes!

5. Dave Chavarri and Cristian Machado of Ill Nino - these were done in separate sessions, but the atmosphere was the same; Ill Nino is one of the classiest bands I've ever met. My chat with Dave was done in Norfolk, Virginia, where I traveled 4.5 hours to get it done. Given that the tour manager tried to blow me off to the next day when the band would be out of town, Dave realized the situation and made time for me. After our chat, he invited me to hang backstage as long as I wanted and then also offered me his hotel room as he mentioned Ill Nino were getting out of town right after the gig...thanks a mil to the TM, Benji...I can't think what mindframe I'd have been in if I'd let him reschedule to the next morning when I had to jet home to my day job....Cristian we did over the phone and we had one of the deepest conversations I've had with anyone for assignment...we talked religion, politics, race and the longer it went, the deeper we both seemed to respect each other...Cristian gave me his cell number and told me to hold onto it for when the article ran...following up when it came out, he told me I'm welcome whenever they come into town...mad love for Ill Nino

6. Joe Lynn Turner - I had three interview sessions with Joe and I think we may have about a good solid hour and a half worth of material...we strayed so much off-topic into different territories it was like bullshitting with your friends and engaging in philosophy with someone with broader knowledge....Joe has a lot to speak about and if you give him audience, he'll enlighten you in ways you wouldn't have imagined

7. Ronnie James Dio and Glenn Tipton - I lump these two together because they were my most nervous moments...you're talking two of metal's titans here! Both Ronnie and Glenn are past-paced talkers but they give you a wealth of information per question...I prayed I wouldn't cock up in both of these interviews and the final result proved otherwise...I'm proud to have spoken with these fine artists and respect the professional way they treated me

8. Mick Garris - director of many Stephen King projects like The Stand, The Shining, Sleepwalker and Desperation, Mick is also creator of Showtime's Masters of Horror. Previously I'd spoken with Stuart Gordon and Don Coscarelli, both of whom were amazing interviewees and both who gave me compliments about my questions. Mick did likewise and we went to town in our interview, knowing I only had a twenty-minute block of time. Mick extended it another twenty and we talked shop, talked about writing, about Stephen King...thoroughly an event for me...Garris has faced criticism with his work, but I love how the man thinks and I respect what he's done... Riding the Bullet is his most understated adaptation but I still love it.

9. Alex Webster - Cannibal Corpse - while we're talking about the horror genre, I had a real blast talking with Alex because he knows horror, as well he should, if you've ever heard Cannibal Corpse's over-the-top death metal...it was like summarizing my entire teenagehood in front of horror films and talking to someone who saw the same stuff I did and put it to use...we had a wonderful chat and I don't think I've heard a more eloquent defense of death metal in my life

10. Amorphis - I even forget who I spoke to, honestly, because this piece never ran...I chose this not to slag the band because I really respect these guys...they're top-notch musicians who have transformed from a death metal unit into soemthing more artsy that reflects their past....anyway, I was not told who I was talking with, so I remember when I went to interview Crisis in Philadelphia (which is another hoot of a story, I assure you), I sat in Talk of the Town on Broad Street and downed two cheesesteaks with my Amorphis CDs spread out in front of me and painstakingly generated questions. Come the interview, I was given one of the recruits who didn't know anything about the band's past as he'd just joined. It ended up being the worst interview I've done--not that it was his fault--and even worse for me, I had an audience listening in! They knew what I was doing and wanted to see me in action. DOH!!!! Naturally, the text I generated was nothing to speak of and it got shitcanned. Perhaps another day.

So there's a handful of memories for you guys. Some more standouts come to mind like Crisis, Joey Belladonna (Metal Mark can tell you about one of the four times I've spoken to Joey since he was with me one of the nights), Scott Ian, Frank Bello, Blitz from Overkill, Bobby Gustafson, formerly of Overkill, Stephen Pearcy, Isis, Fear Factory, Rob Zombie, All That Remains, Trivium, Tim "Ripper" Owens, Eric Peterson of Testament and Dragonlord, Alex and Greg from Testament, Mike Justian of Unearth, Dave Chandler of Saint Vitus, Mushroomhead and tons of others...it's been a great ride thus far and if there's positive feedback to this kind of post, perhaps I'll share more in the future....

Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death preview - revised with my AMP magazine review

Note: I replaced the original text here with my official review of the album for my column in AMP magazine, "Death From Below"


IRON MAIDEN
A Matter of Life and Death
Sanctuary Records

Some may debate it, but IRON MAIDEN’s last in an astonishing string of back-to-back masterpieces in the eighties is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I don’t see the point in rehashing what I mentioned last month here in Death From Below with my review of the Bruce Dickinson Anthology DVD, nor will I harp upon the Blaze Bayley era, which I really don’t think is that bad, folks. Perhaps if IRON MAIDEN had found a way to work around Blaze’s range instead of dragging him into their formula, it might’ve worked better. Still, everything happens for a reason, and upon Dickinson’s return to IRON MAIDEN, the results have produced return-to-form albums such as Brave New World, Dance of Death and now A Matter of Life and Death.

In this new millennium march of IRON MAIDEN, one of the noticeable things is that MAIDEN has strayed away from a previously uncanny ability to merge mainstream accessibility with downright heaviness, so much that even “Wasted Years” is still a skullcrusher as it is a melodic majesty with poppy choruses. Perhaps “Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter” might’ve been a point of no return for IRON MAIDEN because they weren’t quite right after the No Prayer for the Dying album, even if the subsequent “Fear of the Dark” is one of the most singable IRON MAIDEN songs despite its time-span.

Here is where IRON MAIDEN has sought refuge of late, the grandiose allure of the metal epic, and having created the ultimate metal epic with “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and other worthy successors such as “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” “Alexander the Great” and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” this comfort zone has kept IRON MAIDEN firmly entrenched there on the past few albums and it’s a large distinction on A Matter of Life and Death.



It’s going to take a listen or two to acclimate yourself to this album because the initial sampling is going to make you think IRON MAIDEN are going through the motions by bringing every riff, every stanza, every tweak they have in their arsenal and compiling them into a veritable marathon, but upon further review, A Matter of Life and Death unravels more subtleties aside from the blatancies.

As Bruce Dickinson is in amazing form on A Matter of Life and Death and the vibrato of Steve Harris’ bass is back to its proper humming prowess, and the trifecta of Murray, Smith and Gers are as potent as always, the most remarkable facet about the album is its uncharacteristic concept about war and spirituality. Have IRON MAIDEN discovered a blue period or a re-evaluation stage? Whatever the case, A Matter of Life and Death, while chock full of epic songs this time around, have managed to create a memorable album for this stage in their career that heralds all that you’ve heard from them in the past, but with a few bonus tricks up their sleeves.

Whether you’re talking about the cascading note lines of “The Pilgrim” or the protracted build-up on songs like “The Longest Day,” “Lord of Light” and “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg,” the latter of which stomps into an atypical hard rock groove that gives the song some extra character, A Matter of Life and Death is the right album at the right time for IRON MAIDEN.

Almost cast into the ranks of cult obscurity, this album is a resurrection piece that coincides with a rise in metal’s popularity as well as IRON MAIDEN’s favor with their new generation of fans along with the enclave of Generation X diehards. As an older fan, it’s difficult to get used to this predominant epic style of songwriting that IRON MAIDEN has fallen into, but to hear this newfound lyrical enlightenment on songs like “For the Greater Good of God” and “Lord of Light,” not to mention to acoustic artistry that sets up the album’s finale “The Legacy,” well, that’s worth at least a handful of “2 Minutes to Midnights…”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cavalera brothers reunite onstage

After interviewing Tony Nichols of Meliah Rage last night and Skinny of Mushroomhead tonight, both terrific conversations with guys I really respect, I get the news and an invitation to cover a story most metal fans will be piqued about...

Last week it was reported that at a Soulfly gig in Tempe, AZ, a show that was done in remembrance of Max Cavalera's slain son Dana, a familiar face showed up on the drum kit when Soulfly launched into their cover of the Bad Brains' "Attitude."

Joining his brother for the first time in many years was Igor Cavalera. As I spoke to my press rep this evening, I was informed that Igor made amends with Max's wife Gloria since there was a fallout between the rest of Sepultura and Gloria when she used to manage them. I have a pic of the brothers together to confirm this as fact:




I should hopefully be chatting with Max next week for Caustic Truths magazine to get any further news from this event. I last interviewed Max in the summer of 2004 on the road and thought the world of both him and Gloria. Perhaps it was the fact Max and I were both wearing Bad Brains shirts that broke the ice, but the man is a good soul and a wonderful interview. It does my heart good to see something like this go down when there's more than enough negativity in the world...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Best Bets for a Buck: Escape from L.A. soundtrack

My wife and I frequently eat in town on Saturdays at a cool little pad called Country Kitchen. Normally it's for lunch, but on the rare moments we're eager beavers early, we'll do breakfast there, such as this past Saturday when we had my little cousin up with us for the weekend.

After we eat, my wife likes to drag me over to the Mission Store across the street and why I grunt and growl each time, I don't know. Perhaps it's because she takes forever, or perhaps I'm afraid to spot one of my donations on the rack, who knows? I should be grateful, because as far as Mission Stores or Salvation Army or Goodwill stores go, it's a given that CDs for sale are few and far between and most are utter crap no one would be caught dead with. Still, I'm compelled to look every time, and our local Mission Store happens to be a rare exception. The past four times we've visited, I've found a CD I was interested in, perhaps nothing I'd pay top dollar for, but for a mere buck I'd go for Lisa Stansfield or Joan Osbourne or Songs in the Key of X, all pretty cool buys for cheap. Well, it turns out this past weekend I picked up the Escape From L.A. soundtrack for a dollar.

I remember the movie being mediocre overall, not that the original Escape From New York is a masterpiece; however New York has a classic pre-cyberpunk kitsch to it that makes it a compelling bit of sci-fi. I astonishingly didn't pay any attention to the music in Escape From L.A. because if I had, I would've bought this sucker back in 1996!



Even with "Sweat" by Tool being lifted from the Opiate EP and Tori Amos' haunting harpsichord masterpiece "Professional Widow" from Boys For Pele, both of which I already own, there's an abundance of way-cool tracks I had no clue existed out there until now. Despite the fact that the Escape From L.A. soundtrack has songs inspired by the movie in addition to actual feature tracks, which I normally consider a cheap filler ploy, the nuggets they add to the mix are damn fine.

For Clutch's "Escape From the Prison Planet" alone I'd part with a Washington; how can anyone resist the swampy fuzzbucket rock of Clutch? "Can't Even Breathe" by Deftones is a great closer, one I'd never heard before, and one that came out before their watermark White Pony album struck. Already the transition from Between the Fur and White Pony was evident by this song. Throw on some speedy punk from CIV and Orange 9mm and the groovy "Cut Me Out" from The Toadies, and this is all great supplemental material to the film's cuts.

The Butthole Surfers get rowdy with "Pottery" while the remix of Gravity Kills' "Blame" is far superior to the original with its reinvented rock drive. "The One" by White Zombie is pretty cool unless you're a stickler for the La Sexorcisto stuff; it's likewise evident of where Rob Zombie was heading from band member to solo artist. Even Stabbing Westward's "Dawn" is a surprisingly catchy tune, considering their hit is the only interesting song I've heard from them in the past. However, the biggest surprise (to a degree) is Sugar Ray's "10 Seconds Down." Obviously recorded during their Floored days, this song rocks out real hard with one of the album's coolest grooves and heavy-hitting tempos, it makes you remember that Sugar Ray was sorta punk for one album before they went pop.

While Ministry's "Paisley" is the least interesting song on Escape From L.A. it does deserve recognition for its multiple fakeouts through the fully slow rhythm of the song. Often it feels like the song is going to jettison into one of their A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste rockers but it never does and that's actually cool.

Perhaps I'd have overlooked this soundtrack at full price, but it's amazing what a dollar tag will do to your eyes and judgment and despite the Tori Amos and Ministry songs having skips on them, this was the best dollar I've spent in a long time...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Last Week in Promos

As I was of course breaking away to tend to family matters, I only had a couple of days to review new material, some of which need official reviews, but for the hey of it, here's a recap of my two-day cram session of new promos. I can tell you that the new Blind Guardian album just came and a double-shot of new UFO material including a double-live album and the brand new studio album hit my mailbox this week too, which should be interesting.


Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys 1 and II (Expanded Editions) - I still say it's criminal what they did with the video edit for "Halloween." As one of the greatest metal epics of all-time, it's flat-out disgusting to hear it butchered thusly. Of course, the question becomes whether or not Helloween would've risen to popularity in the eighties (here in the US, that is) had they not gotten this video cut and sent to MTV. After receiving six of the other recent Helloween reissues including Walls of Jericho, Better Than Raw, Master of the Rings and Chameleon I was overjoyed to get the original Keepers in my box. I'd forgotten how beautiful the fast songs on Keeper II are and I still love "I Want Out" even as it an obvious commercial hit...still infectious, as is the silly "Dr. Stein" As Helloween has progressed through its trials, they perhaps have the best lineup in their arsenal right now, but how can you not love these metal masterpieces?

Behold...The Arctopus - S/T - Interesting to see how far things have come since Primus hit the scene...this mash of Platypus and Voivod is something of a waste at first with random jam slivers in the opening tracks, but eventually, this band creates cohesive and frenzied prog metal that becomes quite cool, actually

War of Ages - Pride of the Wicked - I understood this to be a Christian hardcore band and while that may be true, they become almost run-of-the-mill due to their overabundance of breakdowns...great album cover, amazing attention to detail, a lot of talent in this band, some truly wonderful moments, but goddamn those breakdowns!

Melvins - A Senile Animal - The Melvins are back, and with a vengeance! It's so criminal how many people have forgotten this band or have no clue that Kurt Cobain spent all of his time in their basement before Nirvana was a reality...he owes everything to The Melvins, and this album proves why

Paul Gilbert - Get Out of My Yard - The former Mr. Big and Racer X guitarist comes out with his first solo guitar album its mostly aces...his love for Eddie Van Halen comes out in random spurts, some blatantly some subtly...as far as guitar rock albums go, this one could've been trimmed by a few songs to make it feel less waterlogged, but the moments that are good are simply superb

SpiRitual - Pulse - If you like Epica and all of the neoclassical metal with the now-tired combo of femme siren/male growler frontpieces, this is for you. I feel the growling is too overpowering in many spots, but overall, this album cleanses in certain spots, lending credence to their band name

Giant Squid - Metridium Fields - the unclassifiable album of the week; this is just all over the place, friends...you need to hear it to be your own judge

Black Label Society - Doom Troopin' The European Invasion DVD - how can you not be impressed by Zakk Wylde playing solos behind his head or with one hand while drinking a beer? Or how about the wonderful acoustic jam that unravels the first listenable rendition of Ozzy's "I'm Coming Home?" This DVD is simply killer and crunchier than a bag of Fritos

The Gersch - S/T - re-released tracks from Isis guitarist/keyboardist Clifford Meyer; they range from doomy to punky to sludgy...all done in the mid-nineties when, as Clifford told me on the phone this week "nobody gave a shit about it."

Red Sparowes - At the Soundless Dawn - Another side project of Clifford Meyers with members of Neurosis and others is a merge between Isis and Neurosis along with classic alternative bands like The Ocean Blue and Kitchens of Distinction....atmospheric and randomly heavy

Friday, August 18, 2006

Return of Random Shelf Review: The Flairz

When I first started doing this blog, I came up with an idea for fun to help me brush some occasional dust off, particularly when I felt the cumbersome weight of the metal and punk promos that are constantly stacked on my desk. In order to perhaps get a recharge from some of the repetition of metalcore breakdowns and throaty megaliths fronting black and death metal units, not to mention the post-pubescent wailing of emo bands, I felt this little exercise was to my benefit, if not my readers'.

The Random Shelf Review works like this: I go down into my music dungeon (I'm not kidding, either) and approach the wall racks of CDs with my back turned towards it. Whatever CD my finger blindly touches first becomes the one I must review. The only qualification is that it is an album, not a soundtrack (unless it's fully scored), no greatest hits compilations or tribute albums. Chaos theory prevails and in the past I've reviewed The Cure and Madball. This time around, to resurrect Random Shelf Review, I came up with The Flairz' Rock 'n Roll Ain't Evil EP.


The Flairz
Rock 'n Roll Ain't Evil EP
Lefroy Records

In 2004, the underground saw a trio of Australian eleven year olds take a stab at three-chord American garage rock. I know, kid acts have limited appeal; look at New Edition or Kriss Kross or those annoying twerps in Hanson and their insidious "Mmm Bop." I first heard The Flairz earlier this year on Little Steven's Underground Garage on Sirius radio. I really appreciated the simplistic loudness of these youngsters, particularly since I had no idea what their ages were! To my initial sampling, the pixie voice of Scarlet Stevens (also their drummer) was a nineteen to twenty-three-year-old hellion playing in her first post-college band.



So does that make the Rock 'n Roll Ain't Evil EP more impressive? Absolutely. I've heard bands three times these kids' ages do far worse...I myself would do far worse! But what's quite cool about The Flairz is that they possess both the laid-back discipline to exploit their rudimentary grooves, they know how to jack it up on occasion. How can you not dig the title song "Rock 'n Roll Ain't Evil?" It has a bad-ass riff and hooky chorus; it doesn't miss. And while Stevens shrieks like the pubescent siren she at the end of the choruses on "Sidewalk Surfer" and also her ear-piercing screech after a couple of opening bars on "Black Fox," The Flairz have more appeal as a trio of preteens rock 'n rollers than the best American Idol has to, which isn't dick, I assure you. And Paris Hilton? Don't get me started.

So the bottom line with The Flairz is that there's a potential to dismiss these kids as a novelty. Sorry, Nelson was a novelty, The Jackson 5 was to a degree, but in this aspect, The Flairz are where it's at. Groovy stuff.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

American bands versus everyone else

Alright, perhaps this is an offbeat and potentially controversial rant, but I want to know what the hell is up with people who have to quantify liking a band depending on its continental origins...

I get really excited about music, no matter where it's from. Okay, so perhaps I get a little giddy when a package comes straight from Italy or Poland or the UK instead of through the American distributors, but that's just me. It reminds me of the old days when we had nothing but tape trading to spread music around to each other across the globe. No internet, no MP3, no burning CDs and shipping them priority FEDEX. This was the day of cassette tape trading that took an average time of a month to three months to cross the waters, be it to Europe, Japan or South America. Getting tapes from your intercontinental pen pals was the most exciting thing about being into music, especially heavy metal, because we all loved the stuff so much we couldn't wait to share it with our brothers and sisters overseas. Likewise, it was great to know what vibes were coming out of their forests, mountains and shores to open up a whole new sound. How else would've Celtic Frost or Mercyful Fate grown in popularity? The taped copies from the European fans made it into North American metal fans' hands before the official imports arrived.

Perhaps this helps accent the point when I say I'm tired of being asked on occasion by a few so-called music fans where a band hails from; more specifically, are they American or are they "foreign?" What the shit, man?

Are you going to tell me that the Japanese drone rock band Boris doesn't kick your butt right out of your American clubs? Are you going to say In Flames doesn't deserve the commendation given to them by their home country of Sweden for being musical export ambassadors? Are you going to say Emperor sucks just because they're Scandinavian? Are you going to say Sepultura isn't worth a salt because they choose to live in their third world homeland of Sao Paolo, Brazil? Are you going to snub that bitchin' electronic group you were dancing a second ago to because...gasp...they're from France?

Excuse me, but this Roman-like pomposity reflects the same egotisitcal ethnocentricity the right wing poses and pimps to its legacy (and inept Emperor)-protecting automatons. Is a band only good if it waves the red, white and blue instead of a Union Jack? Um, hello, the greatest metal band of all-time, Iron Maiden is from E-N-G-L-A-N-D! You know, the only country overseas that the United States can indisputably call its ally? The same country that foiled a bomb plot to protect its arrogant asses? The same country that gave us Motorhead, undeserving conceited Uber-patriot slobs that we are?

I'm not saying American music is unworthy, absolutely not! Well, maybe if you're trying to validate it with Shakira or Gwen Stefani's solo stuff... We can take pride in the big band swing scene with Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller...we can take pride that Chuck Berry and Little Richard blew the doors off of honky tonks and forced all races to to give them their due...we can take pride that Country Joe led the march of protest at Woodstock for a better America...we can take pride that James Brown showed us how to pump the funk and be proud of yourself...there's a bazillion bands born and raised in the United States that we should all be proud of, from the Billboard scrapers to the unsung heroes barely surviving in clubs and juke joints.

Still, if you only like a slice of Don McLean's American Pie and won't consider doing a round of ale with the folk-mosh frivolity of Norway's Korpiklanni, then you're doing yourself a disservice. It's like I've always said; we need each other on this planet; shafting and slighting other countries instead of trying to relate to them (and yes, I will acknowledge how frequently the United States acts charitably towards the third world...no sarcasm behind that statement, either), but there's still that smug Roman snobbery that defines our modern culture. As leaders of the free world, we need to embrace the fact that Greece has some of the most exquisite neoclassicism in contemporary music and not dismiss them because they're not necessarily praising Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen 24-7. In case everyone forgot, one of the most historical and precious forms of musical expression is classical music, and lo, the majority of it was composed in Europe.

Think about that the next time you hear someone say "Yeah, Dimmu Borgir is pretty cool, but they're not American..."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Dickensian kind of week

Yesterday my uncle passed away after putting up an incredible fight. Originally he went into the hospital from a heart attack and a subsequent broken hip as he fell from the shock. Not to drag it out more painfully than it is, there were a number of complications with him that nearly robbed him from this life a month ago. With the best of care, he was given a miraculous chance at recovery. On the day he was going to start therapy, an internal rupture sentenced his fate.

I'm not sure what angers me more about Lee's passing, the fact that he held a deep hunger to live or the fact that the only good man my aunt married was taken so soon from her. My pain belongs to her and my family because I think this is about as cruel a twist of fate as you can imagine. Finally starting to get a sense of normalcy after my grandmother and grandfather departed us, this has to happen. There's a returning darkness in my heart that was starting to lift in my quest for internal peace, and though I do not blame God or cast any hatred towards God, I hold a grudge against fate and circumstance. It is at times like this where the GBH song "Desperate Times" becomes one of my best friends as Colin Abrahall talks about the despair and emptiness in his heart because he cannot control the ugliness of the world around him. So true, so very true. I'll be revisiting that friend sometime in the course of the weekend and all I can say now is you will be missed greatly, Captain...


On to less maudlin matters... I was originally going to be doing this entry with excitement as this was one of the best week of music promos I've had since getting into the business. I heard so much wonderful music it elevated my heart before the dark clouds submerged it last night, and once the anger in me subsides, I'll remember what a terrific barrage of tunes hit my ears this week. Okay, so there was an undesirable or two, but let me do a hit-and-run recap for you all of some upcoming CDs you might want to wrap your ears around.

And before I delve into this, I just want to thank all of my new readers who have made yourselves known to me this week. I'm grateful to have your eyes...


Isis - In the Absence of Truth - What a joy to discover Isis this week...I've always liked what I'd heard in the past, but I never understood how greatly important Isis is to this scene; after listening to this album and checking out the upcoming DVD (thanks, Ipecac Records, you made my week!), then backtracking to Panopticon and Oceanic I'm amazed I was able to listen to anyone else's albums...Isis has the most beautifully layered aggression I've heard in ages...this has a STRONG chance at winning album of the year from me... I cannot wait until their one-off in Baltimore next month

Mushroomhead - Savior Sorrow - For all of you people dissing this band as a Slipknot knockoff, let me set the record straight; Mushroomhead came long before Slipknot donned the masks...they just had a higher profile label to capitalize on the freakshow presentation...after the skullcrushing joy of XIII, Mushroomhead returns in nice form on the revitalized Megaforce label; while a number of the songs aren't quite as layered as the previous albums, the last half of the album plus the opening song "12 Hundred" are prototype alt metal pounders that Mushroomhead does better than most...this one's an ass-kicker once you get over the stripped sensation of many of the first number of tracks

Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain - These guys are being touted as progressive black metal; the progression is more than evident; the black elements are there subtly, but perhaps the tidal wave of Isis in my ears opened up new channels for Agalloch, so I'm calling this album Isis with a slight blackness to it...the songwriting on this album is unbelievable...this is a lock for a top-10 finisher, perhaps a top-three...it's near perfection

Gojira - From Mars to Sirius - I think this one may also be a top-10 lock; Gojira are bricks-heavy with some of the best-timed rhythms for music so extreme; it kicks your butt and then asks to be its dancing partner afterwards

108 - Creation Sustenance Destruction - Equal Vision Records sent me this along with the new Betrayed album, and along with the new SOS album, this trifecta creates the best traditional punk/hardcore set I've heard this year....if you're worried about where punk is heading, this will restore your faith...the aggression is one thing with 108; their underlying passion is what tears at your gut with their music

Superiority Complex - Stand Up - I've given up overall on rap with all of its commercialism and posturing (when middle-aged conservatives are jamming to it--and they are, trust me, I'm witness to it every day--then rap has lost its soul), and I hope the new Jurassic 5 album isn't as much of a sellout piece as the rumors are saying; Superiority Complex is an excellent rap unit from NYC, a minor league player with major league heart; you don't get rap that sounds like this anymore, except maybe from Mos Def

Ani DiFranco - Reprieve - Ani's soulful poetry and acoustic angst sets my own soul on fire; I originally came to her while on the road covering last year's Road Rage tour and we ate breakfast at the Barnes and Noble near our hotel...Ani spoke to me through the listening booth and it's been a subtle love affair ever since...on this one, Ani adds a stand-up bass to give her odes a moody jazz ambience, a real blue album with some of her best poetry yet; I myself created a poem as images and words came to me out of nowhere, all from soaking up her ambience

Rory Gallagher - Live at Montreaux - I'd forgotten what an underrated blues guitarist Rory is...hoo, mama, this is aces...

Sweater Club - Five More Minutes - what happens when you cross emo with ska? the potential for disaster; while this is not a masterpiece, it's quite a pleasant surprise

Ahab - The Call of the Wretched Sea - I was initially peeved when I saw this promo come in the mail, considering that Mastodon covered the Moby Dick angle for the ages with their masterpiece Leviathan. Yes, this is another Moby Dick tribute, but it's sickeningly heavy...if you want a more terror-filled ride with the white whale, Ahab can accommodate you

Drugs of Faith - S/T - this is a band from Virginia whom I met at The Ottobar to photograph Crisis; guitarist/singer Richard came up to me and talked about his monthly metal and punk newsletter and we talked for a few minutes; it didn't occur to me he was in this band; this one is loud, brash, accusatory and lots of fun

Flogging Molly - Whiskey On a Sunday - I've been in love with this band since my friend Bob put them in my hands....I still can't get over the fact Dave King sang in the metal band Fastway, I just can't...Flogging Molly is so much more exciting with their Celtic punk, and on this album, there's a number of reinterpreted songs and live tracks and it's like listening to a new album, weirdly enough

I won't mention the stinkers of the week; I had enough negativity in the beginning of this entry... go get some tunes and live proudly...I'll attempt to take my own advice in the meantime

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How does it hold up now? Bulletboys

My longtime friend and fellow metal maverick Mark came up with a great idea on his blog ages ago (click on the link to the side to his terrific blog), which was to see if certain albums stand the test of time.

My interview with Carmine Appice last week revealed some deep details about the eighties cult metal band King Kobra and he clarified a few things I found a bit startling. Aside from the fact he invested $150K of his personal funds after being canned by Sharon Osbourne from Ozzy's band during the Bark at the Moon years, Carmine founded King Kobra and while I will leave the details for you to read in my interview when it runs in an upcoming issue of Caustic Truths magazine, the most alarming thing Carmine mentioned was not the fact that three components of King Kobra following their second release Thrill of a Lifetime would go on to form an out-of-nowhere surprise hit machine, Bulletboys, it would be something else that rings more of betrayal if it's the truth...

According to Carmine Appice, that first Bulletboys album not only saw Torien, Vincent and Mick Sweda jump the plank from their King Kobra flagship to start their own band with drummer Jimmy D'anda, but Appice attested that half of the songs on Bulletboys were written while the core trio was still in King Kobra, including, as Appice put it "their hit." If you remember the Bulletboys' commercial romp in 1988, you can figure out the song in question. Carmine is still a bit put out by this situation, noting to me that the Bulletboys realized what they had done and they gave him a gold record for Bulletboys by way of finally crediting him songwriting-wise. Not enough, according to Carmine.

While I never caught the Bulletboys live when they went gold with their debut album, I did manage to catch them around 1998 when they played a small club in Baltimore that's no longer there, and opening for them was Enuff Z'Nuff. I was impressed by how energetic Marc Torien was for the Bulletboys, while Lonnie Vincent stood in front of me with a large rebel flag tattoo on his arm dripping sweat beneath my eyes. At the time, I sought out the next two follow-up albums to the first Bulletboys album, Freakshow and Zsa Zsa and I thought then, what a shame; pretty solid band, a little underappreciated after the moo of their debut cash cow went out to pasture.

From my memory in 1988, the year I graduated high school (with Metal Mark, as a matter-of-fact), I recall really taking to the Bulletboys, considering that I found much of the pop metal to be dreck, not including the highly appealing Tesla, Dangerous Toys, LA Guns and Bang Tango. As a serious thrash and hardcore convert, it was rather funny I enjoyed the Bulletboys so much, and throughout the years, I still pull out their first three albums maybe twice a year for nostalgia's sake. So following this interview with Carmine Appice, I will attempt to be objective and see how the first Bulletboys album holds up in 2006.



Appice also mentioned in our interview how Van Halen was largely inspired by his early seventies band Cactus. I never thought of it that way until I received the new Cactus V album from their publicist. Considering that myself, along with most people, considered the Bulletboys to be in the vein of Van Halen themselves, if you thread the Bulletboys back to King Kobra and Carmine Appice, then Appice to Cactus and Van Halen to Cactus, then it all makes sense.

It is when Bulletboys tries like hell to goof it up like Van Halen--or should we say Marc Torien's constant David Lee Roth yelps and howls--that really dates this album and I never thought of it as a detriment until now. Torien, whom I've always respected as a singer, really spoils the fruits from his own trick bag by trying desperately to be Roth with his impromptu scats and "ba-ba-ba-ba-bawoooo ha ha ha!" yells on songs like "Kissin' Kitty," "Hell On My Heels," "Owed to Joe" and "Shoot the Preacher." In fact, on the latter song, musically the Bulletboys take a stab at fusing a few experimental swing elements in almost exactly the same manner as Roth did on his Eat 'Em and Smile solo album.

The energetic "Crank Me Up" is an album-spanning Van Halen amalgam that smooshes "Loss of Control," "Hot For Teacher" and the Sammy Hagar-era "Get Up," which makes it quite shameless, actually. It's an ass-kicker, but its sheer blatancy is a bit of a pisser at the same time.

Of course, we all know the Bulletboys for the stylish rocker "Smooth Up," which pleasantly still maintains the beastly sexuality it did back then. It's still the song you want to grind your lover to and it holds the catchiness it had in 1988. Likewise, their strut rock cover of The O'Jays' "For the Love of Money" still has a tough stride to it, guided primarily by the cockwalk of Lonnie Vincent's bass.

It doesn't help that "Hell On My Heels" and "Badlands" are carbon copies of each other, while the closing number "F#9" is so evidently Van Halen it's nearly cheesy if it didn't have a good rhythm and hooky verses. At least a nice solo by Mick Sweda makes for a signature closing to the album.

In the end, however, I'm not sure if it's a matter of self age and refinement or if the fact that Bulletboys was so slickly glossed in 1988 we didn't know better, but the answer to whether or not this album holds up now is unfortunately no.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Your favorite album of 2006 to this point?

I think I'm feeling a double shot blog coming tonight, friends, so first, before I get swamped into my assignments, let me posit the following question to you:


As we're close to finishing two-thirds of 2006, what is your favorite album to this point?

After getting an advance of the new Isis album and DVD and literally drowning in them, I would've stated with no dispute that my candidate for album of the year--much less my favorite to this point--is Boris' Pink. The new Isis album poses a serious threat, but perhaps the mostly fresh memory of seeing Boris live in Baltimore a couple months ago will keep that fire burning. Then again, I was just informed of a one-off Isis gig at the same venue, so this will be a real test of who might possibly finish numero uno in my magazine top-10 list at year's end. Of course, when the new Mastodon album drops, everything could change altogether...

Chime in, people!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My chat with Nina Blackwood

I think many of my readers were there at the beginning of MTV in 1982 or at least shortly thereafter. I can honestly say that nothing outside of cartoons and horror movies captivated my interest more than MTV. Even as I was strangely absorbing educational television on our local PBS during the summer (who brainwashed me in my sleep anyhow?)when I was briefly a house recluse, all of a sudden my world changed.

While The Buggles' nefarious and prophetic "Video Killed the Radio Star" is historically noted as being the first official video to hit the airwaves from MTV, I came along somewhere a few days later after the launch. It was Billy Idol's "White Wedding" that I saw for the first time and immediately thereafter was Iron Maiden's "Flight of Icarus." Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers entranced me with "You Got Lucky," a song whose synthesizer melody rings in my ears at least once a week, and then The Police da-do-do-do-da-da-daed me into a stupid trance and just like that, faster than you can say Duran Duran, I was hooked.

Many images come to my mind from the early years of MTV as I scarfed the now-defunct bacon-flavored Cheetos on the floor of our old townhouse, the lights out, the curtains closed, my eyes wilting from the cathode barragement all day...as I daydream of those days when artists like The Pretenders, Prince, Rush, April Wine, Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Rick Springfield and so many others that came like an army of pop warriors, I think of how I lived for MTV, even going to so far as to inquire to many people that hosted our family for dinner if they had MTV. Frequently they did, and as I'd already mastered most of my Atari 2600 games, I was ripe to be whored like so many of us young Generation Xers glued to MTV non-stop, refusing to go to bed until at least 3:00 a.m., training that would tune myself up for the future when Headbangers Ball and 120 Minutes ruled MTV on the weekends once the station began to format what was once random and spontaneous.

I remember once when MTV was premiering Yes' video for "Leave It," they played it over and over and over and over for almost an hour, and they would flip the screen each time or tweak it or distort it, anything but leave it... But before I get too carried away here, what's important to me and my formative years as a music aficiando and future journalist is that I was essentially shown the ropes in my early teens by the original five VJs from MTV: JJ Jackson, Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and of course, the charismatic Nina Blackwood. The five of them, who to this day remain the best VJs MTV ever placed in front of the camera, were like your older brothers and sisters sitting in some weird basement you could relate to and moreover, would want to hang out at, and these cats knew what was up. If they thought it was cool, then we automatically thought it was cool. How could you be steered wrong when one of them declared Madness, Adam Ant or Flock of Seagulls as cool?



(pic liberally borrowed from www.ninablackwood.com)


With MTV celebrating its 25th anniversary last week, I jumped at the opportunity to interview Nina Blackwood. I think I might've thought Martha Quinn was cute back in the day, but there was something about Nina that appealed to the more primal masculine instincts, which were completely polished when the ultra-sexy Downtown Julie Brown made her presence known on Club MTV once the original five VJs were on their way out the door.

I remember Nina's teased blond hair and her shrill laughs that were sexy in their own right, and I would hear them again a week ago on the phone as our conversation unraveled. Of course, getting to this point was a story in an of itself...

Having scheduled our interview with what I thought was enough time to get from my day office to the home office, I was confronted with a terrible traffic jam. Naturally, anyone who knows me knows what I think of traffic, and as I hurriedly ducked out in a panic to try my luck with the back roads, I found each escape route thoroughly blocked. With less then a half hour to go and my nerves at their frayed ends, I hustled back to my day office to get an email to my publicist contact to let Nina know I was running late. I found that he'd given me her number finally and once I called Nina to inform her of my delay, I heard the poor woman's joy at thinking I was calling early so she could get on with her evening dull once I explained I'd need another hour to get home.

Getting to the point, Nina informed me she had a cutoff time and I did my best to make it at the appointed hour, hitting another traffic snarl along the way. Feeling dejected this would be the second out of 200-plus interviews that I'd missed (and it being Nina Blackwood, for crying out loud!), I left her a message to go on home. It was here that my respect for Nina grew even more, because we kept phone tagging all the way until I got home and she extended her time to accommodate our interview.

From there, we chatted for a half an hour and all of the anxiety and hatred of traffic jams disippated the longer we talked. Nina had me roaring with stories about studio pranks and she was appropriately deferential when mentioning the passing of her colleague JJ Jackson, who would've been with his four mates at Sirius radio on The Big 80s channel. The remaining four hold vigil there, and I tend to catch Nina's slot on weekends along with Joan Jett's slot on Little Steven's Underground Garage.

As Nina and I talked about music and bands we liked, I felt a great warmth from the experience. Part of it felt surreal since I recalled how seriously young I was when Nina and her comrades hijacked the airwaves at MTV, and now, as a full-fledged thirtysomething, I'm talking with one of the voices I essentially grew up with. Not a bad way to live, I'd say...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Do raunchy lyrics lead to teen sex?

I'm postponing my Nina Blackwood narrative in light of this intriguing question that was posited on MSN and quickly removed before I had a chance to read it in full, but I stopped dead in my tracks with lingering clouds of the dreaded PMRC and Tipper Gore's crusade in the eighties to cockblock (yeah, I said it) artists by imposing "Parental Advisory" labels on albums with questionable and flat-out vulgar content.

Do raunchy lyrics lead to teen sex?

As if. I remember as a kid getting a hold of Kiss' Rock and Roll Over and laughing at the lyrics from the song "Take Me" that went "put your hand in my pocket, grab onto my rocket, feels so good to feel you again...I want to know, do you want to blow..." Alright, so maybe my mom wasn't too happy about that, nor was she happy I used to imitate Paul Stanley's heavy panting on "Do You Love Me?" from Destroyer because I thought it was cool sounding, totally amiss to the fact that he was breathing--no, oozing--innuendo and machismo.

Seriously, none of that impacted me until I had my first wet dream and I knew full well what an erection was. Did it make me want to go out and have sex right away? No. The fact that my father scared me out of my wits as a young boy by teaching me the birds and the bees with a copy of Hustler magazine perhaps delayed my raging hormones by about a year, but the first time I was thrown into a dark bathroom at age twelve with one of the neighborhood girls, it was that moment in time where my sexuality woke up. Was I listening to any music at the time? You bet. We were listening to AC/DC's "Hells Bells" from Back in Black in the living room, but the record was long over and the more sedate Joe Jackson was playing when the incident in question occurred. I came of age to "Steppin' Out" instead of "Let Me Put My Love Into You" by AC/DC which didn't get played that day since everyone only wanted to hear the hits. The incident was more innocuous than I'm letting on. I respected the girl as a friend, she asked me if I was going to do anything and when I said no, that was it.

Personally, I find that vulgar, crude and raunchy lyrics in music only makes listeners laugh, not want to drop trouser and find the nearest body to grind with. If anything, Barry White had the sheer power to make you want to get it on with the nearest warm body, but it was slow, sensual, romantic, and the power of Barry's suggestiveness, along with his enticing baritones that was a bigger stirrer of loins than, say, Soundgarden's "Big Dumb Sex" with its hilarious "I'm going to FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! Fuck you! Fuck you!" chorus. Seriously, how horny can you get with something so blatantly wrong and ridiculous?

Take rap music for instance. Since the majority of today's rap game is more about sex and macho throwdowns to the extreme, it's hard to get all buggered up when most of it is absolute rubbish. The songs are mere party anthems to dance to in clubs, and it is the chemical inducement from the flesh instead of the music that triggers potential sexual activity. Perhaps LL Cool J's "Doin' It" is a sexy mood setter, particularly with his Grace Jones sample that works perfectly with the reggae splashes, but again, it's the connection of the mind and body between two people that instigates sexual activity, not a piece of music that you can just as easily jam to in your car with. The suggestion by the article on MSN would have one believe that someone who hears Kelis' "Milkshake" while driving has to find the closest orifice to gratify one's self instantly.

I think teenagers are sophisticated enough to laugh off a dirty lyric because the thoughts of getting into one anothers' pants is there long before the first note of a deliberately over-the-top song by Gwar or even Sum 41. Teenage lust is something you can't control. It's natural, it's a given. Back in the Renaissance days, it was acceptable for fourteen-year-olds to have sex and moreover, for older men to marry fourteen-year-old girls as betrothed brides, as the average life expectancy was far below what it is now. Shocking to think upon it now, yes, but you have to consider that teenage hormones are ingrained without the aid of raunch rock from Motley Crue.

What it boils down to is determining what is taboo on a personal level. It's not wrong for curious teenagers to fool around, even to go all the way. What's most important is making sure teenagers are fully aware of the potential repercussions to their actions, be it pregnancy or venereal disease. It is the conservative moral majority dominating our current Roman culture in the United States that is trying its best to dredge up McCarthyism once again, trying to tighten its leash on an American society that whacks off to porn more than it admits to on a regular basis. Still, admittedly, there is a large sect of people who adhere to a strict moral code and my hat is off to them. Sex is one of the most maddening emotional forms of expression we as human beings endure.

My point is, it wasn't The Who's "Squeeze Box" or even Little Richard trying to lyrically ball Miss Molly in the back seat or the pulsing dance jam of "People Are Still Having Sex" by LaTour, or Prince's masturbatory delights in "Darling Nikki" or even Kix yelling a mantra ad nauseum in their bluntly-titled song "Sex" that sends generations of kids running with their peckers at attention. There's been a thousand songs about sex recorded and there will be thousands more. If you really listen deep, there's occasional eroticism lurking even in classical music by Mozart, Mendelssohn and yes, Bach. Sex is a constant; it's been with us since Eve swiped the apple and it'll be here even if there's no music to celebrate it with. In fact, without music, there'd be a lot more sex going on, bank on that. How else do you relieve all of the tension we build up inside ourselves on a daily basis?

Final point, it wasn't Madonna's song "Like a Virgin" that produced many a night pulling on myself; it was because I thought she was so damned hot in that teased hair, fishnets and bangles... If anything, that leaves us open for debate as to whether or not sex-driven visual presentations by artists are responsible for teen sex. Yeah, and the original EC Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror comics made their readers want to kill...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Return

So hopefully a few of you might stray back here to this blog after a lengthy hiatus mostly due to an increase of duties in my music writing outlets. Frankly, I never expected to get as busy as I have, nor find myself in the position of interviewing so many musicians and drowning in stacks of promo material. Never in my wildest dreams as a teenager did I envision this happening. Certainly it was far more difficult in the eighties to approach your music heroes, even in a fringe culture such as metal and punk. Naturally the superstardom of heavy metal as a genre took it mostly out of the hands of the DIY and fanzine publishers, while the scene today is more open to writers because of the internet. I will always say if you're looking to break into this game at all, do it on the web, be willing to do it for free and have the confidence and patience to build your rep. You must frequently settle for the intrinsic reward ahead of the monetary rewards because the music industry doesn't provide an immediate cash flow, trust me on that. While I am compensated for some of what I do, my dream to go full-time in this business is slowly coming to fruition but like everything else in life, it's coming with baby steps.

To summarize where I've been and where I'm at these days, I have been devoting the majority of my spare time to writing for eight national music magazines and a number of websites. I am the monthly host of AMP magazine's metal column "Death From Below." I'm proud of the directions I've taken this column from my predecessor, which includes high-profile interviews such as Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed, Stephen Pearcy of Ratt, Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost and Anders Friden of In Flames. I pour my heart into the column, which also includes news and CD and DVD reviews. I do a "Metal 101" section each month where I spotlight a crucial release every headbanger or headbanger at heart ought to have in his/her collection. I also do reviews of horror releases, which I call "Visions From the Black." Each month I award a "Skullcrusher of the Month" to the most-deserving release while making up faux awards here and there to other releases that inspire me to do so.

I write for Metal Maniacs as well, where I do interviews with not only musicians, but horror figureheads. I recently interviewed Betsy Palmer, aka "Pamela Voorhees" from the original Friday the 13th as well as some of the directors from Showtime's Masters of Horror series such as Stuart Gordon, Mick Garris and Don Coscarelli. The time I've worked with Metal Maniacs has been extremely rewarding, not only from interviews with Exodus, Destruction, Anthrax, Helloween, Testament, Earth, Fear Factory and others, but from my relationship with the editress and her husband, one of my closest publicist friends in the business. Recently we went to NYC on St. Patty's Day weekend and got together with these great people, along with the guitarist of Beyond Fear, which is Tim "Ripper" Owens' latest band. Ironically, I was to interview Owens in NYC, but a 2-hour delay at the Lincoln Tunnel botched our interview and nearly caused us to miss our Broadway show of Sweeney Todd. Luckily, the Owens interview was made up at a later date, the third time I've spoken with The Ripper. A guy who knows what's up and who treats the fans as a rocker should, I've been pulling for The Ripper since he stepped down from Judas Priest because he loved them enough to realize that Rob Halford's presence meant everything to the fans.

I've been also writing for Pit magazine where I conduct a quarterly column dedicated to visual medium artists called "Artists of the Macabre." I couldn't have asked for a better debut in that column than with Derek Hess, whose pencil drawings put him high above the notoriety of Pushead from the eighties, who is responisble for some of The Misfits and Metallica etchings, as well as skateboard art. Hess was a fun guest and as he plays hosts to his own metal tour, clothing line and art shows, I was privileged to do this interview. Also in Pit I've enjoyed talking with bands like Anthrax, Black Dahlia Murder, Cattle Decapitation, Bleeding Through and many others. I was honored to conduct an interview recently with Denis "Snake" Belanger of Voivod, which was a personal high for me as I've idolized Voivod since the mid-eighties.

Other venues I've been writing for are Impose, Angst, Loud Fast Rules, Caustic Truths and the newborn Hails & Horns, which is a sister imprint of AMP as Loud Fast Rules is (I did GBH and DRI for them). Out the gate I have interviewed Rob Zombie, Oderus Urungus of Gwar, Eric Peterson of Testament/Dragonlord, Phil Labonte of All That Remains, Derrick Green of Sepultura and others. The excitement of Hails & Horns and being offered choice assignments like Vader and Isis for a forthcoming issue humbles me beyond words, especially a few other well-known guests yet to be confirmed.

Let me conclude this back-patting session by noting that I hope to use this blog a bit more to chat with you all. This past week found me talking not only with Carmine Appice but also Nina Blackwood of MTV. I will write my experience with Nina in the next blog entry. What I can say at the moment is that she is an extremely classy person and a real treat to talk to.

Thanks for hanging once again and may I be a bit more faithful...

Cheers...

Ray