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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Repeated Rotations Wednesday

Gads, is it that time already? Wowzers. Hope everyone had a great three-day weekend! Luckily it's a four-day workweek this time around, and already I spoke with Udo Dirkschneider yesterday for about 20 minutes, though I caught him in a round robin of interviews and missed some of my questions. Oh well. Real nice guy, though. I've got Melissa from Visions of Atlantis this evening and better get working on my questions, eh? Tomorrow is the second meeting with the foster/adoption people and my wife has graduation day at her day care on Friday, and I have two weeks to turn in 9 assignments for Pit and Hails & Horns. Cue up some Eagles, because it's life in the fast lane...

So I'll make this nice and easy. After my blog entry on Prong, it was Beg to Differ that became my most-played disc of the week. Just the intro riffs of the title track had me pumping, so much I'd back the track up a few times to hear that awesome sequence repeatedly. And to follow-up my Headbangers Ball tirade, anyone remember that the original Ball used a bunch of riffs from this album after using SOD for a long time? Crush! My 400 Blows CDs came in and they're terrific. Isis crept back in for a few spins and the new Korpiklaani, those Finnish funsters are back with new stuff, and Tervaskanto not as crazy as their previous two, but I just love these guys. Finnish folk music put on thrash tempo. Check 'em out if this is a new name to you. Beer and woods/nature themes; how can you go wrong? And then... Talk about lunacy is Sweden's Birdflesh. 25 songs at breakneck grinding speed with lots of tempo changeup to give it some groove; this thing is fucking nuts; it's like early DRI meets Circle Jerks meets Mr. Bungle. You've been warned...

1. Prong - Beg to Differ
2. 400 Blows - Black Rainbow
3. 400 Blows - Angel's Trumpets and Devil's Trombones
4. Isis - In the Absence of Truth
5. Korpiklaani - Tervaskanto
6. UDO - Mastercutor
7. Oingo Boingo - Boingo
8. Omnium Gatherum - Stuck Here On Snakes Way
9. Ensiferum - Victory Songs
10. Birdflesh - Mondo Musicale

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What's Wrong With the 2nd Generation Headbangers Ball

You know, I don't even sit and watch Headbangers Ball in real-time anymore, which may be a sign of being 37 and married, but I think it's more a case of the fact that the show I loved so much in the eighties, one I missed only one single weekend in its first run (vacay, ya know, and I flogged myself for not having access to it, a poor excuse by my measures then) is just a soulless two-hour formatted video slot that is a pale shade of the original, but is starting to follow the same pattern that killed the original.

Now don't get me wrong; with my marketing degree I don't overlook the fact that having any kind of widespread promotion of the music myself and most of my readers here love is indispensible, but metal will always be, no matter what extent it grows in popularity, as fringe music. That's why MTV will only devote two hours a week to the isolated promotion of this stuff. Rap sells, corporate rock and pop sells, but metal only sells to a certain demographic, God bless us all...

Still, let's disseminate the differences between the eighties Headbangers Ball versus its bastard offspring that, I will gladly admit, has lasted far longer than I expected it to.

First and foremost is the fact that the original Ball had killer interviews and guest appearances by the bands they were pushing in our faces on a weekly basis, and lo, the bands usually stayed the duration of the show! It was fun to see Motley Crue hang out in the studio (before they sold out, that was), because their shaggy and er, motley appearance obviously unnerved the New York studio, but to their credit, MTV knew a good thing and kept bringing guests on like WASP, Anthrax, LA Guns, Faster Pussycat and so on, and while the bands often stared into space from the drugs they'd ingested prior to air time, that was part of the charm. No wonder Penelope Spheris was inclined to document the whole era for us with Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.

What the fuck happened in the reincarnate version of Headbangers Ball? Where are the guests? Host Jamey Jasta used to have a couple of bands in the studio with him each week, or if they were big enough, the whole show. For awhile, MTV was letting a group run the whole thing while Jasta and Hatebreed were on the road. I have a great episode taped where Kittie hosted the show and devoted the whole thing to the history of women in metal. A fine moment for the new HBB. I believe Shadows Fall got to host one week, and both Vinny Paul and Dimebag Darrell did it together one week, which is probably a collector's item in the grand perspective, considering the fate of Dime not too far down the road from this particular gig.

Headbangers Ball now is nothing but two hours of videos with Jasta's voiceovers in-between the breaks. The man isn't even on-camera anymore! I've interviewed Jasta and thought he was a real pro, considering he was really under the weather when we interviewed, and I know how proud and happy he is to have this weekly hosting gig, but you have to wonder how angry he must be quietly because he can't even have visual presence anymore, much less having guests in the studio. I will say this; the bands who came into the studio often had little to say, and if you've done this sort of thing before, you can read on Jasta's face that he'd be very frustrated that the bands weren't giving him a good show, but he had a good way of covering it up most of the time.

That leads us into the second point between the differences of the two eras of Headbangers Ball. While Jamey Jasta is a well-respected musician in the industry (which was not the case in the original version), the ringleaders of the first run are more memorable, some for good reasons, others not. Who all remembers calling Adam Curry a poser or a douchebag back in the day? The man reportedly had no real love for heavy metal and it showed, but God bless his powderpuff ass (back then anyway), he had the chutzpah to pretend the part and give us some hard music to look forward to each week! The biggest mistake MTV made then was allowing Dave Kendall (normally the nasally and hoity toity host of the alternative show 120 Minutes) to handle HBB in the interim between Curry and everyone's favorite metal doofus, Riki Rachman. Kendall made us want to choke the shit out of him becaues it was plainly evident he was rebelling at his temporary post, only getting excited when they played Motorhead. Still, the man had something about him that made us care, even if it was loathing.

Rachman might as well be considered, for better or worse, the Grand Poobah of Headbangers Ball. The poor guy took his lumps from all of us because we accused him of being a poser, but worse, a looney tune ass-kisser. If you watch The Arsenal of Megadeth DVD, you'll see some priceless footage of Dave Mustaine skydiving during the Rust in Peace era, and Rachman is so far up Mustaine's ass it's shameful. But you know what? Rachman did care. He owned his own sleaze rock club in LA, and though it took us awhile to accept him as a hardcore metalhead when it was evident he was more a glam fan, we did accept him eventually and when he was hanging with Queensryche at a listening party for Promised Land on a memorable episode, I knew quietly I wanted to be him, lucky bastard.

The fact that HBB was three hours long after an initial two is a big differential, even more so when you consider the fact that there are triple the amount of bands today than there were in the eighties. Still, the similarity between both eras is the fact that MTV selects a handful (in the grand perspective) of "chosen one" acts and pimps the shit out of them until they're no longer useful, sneaking in some lesser names here and there to make themselves look more legit to the underground sanction. Anyone remember that strategy from before? It was called sneaking in a random thrash or traditional metal band amidst the commercial metal bands who dominated the airwaves each week, much less the regular playing rotation of MTV in the mid-to-late eighties.

Okay, so metal today in general is heavier than it was back in the eighties, or so the new Headbangers Ball purports itself. To show their respect, at least once a week a classic metal jam gets shown. Last week, it was Kiss' "I Love it Loud," for example. This is probably the only thing the new generation of HBB can boast over its predecessor, is that it features louder, faster and more brutal metal bands, but here's the final argument as to why Headbangers Ball today is just not right...

The majority of you old-school metalheads who had cable in the house will agree with me that HBB was flat-out religion. I kept my metal sabbath every damned weekend at midnight, regardless of where I was or what I was doing. If I was out, I'd hijack the tv from whomever's house we were at. Most of the time, though, I'd be at home, either returning for the night, or coming home to watch and then going back out in the middle of the night. Despite the grumblings we had about Poison, Warrant and Def Leppard softening up our sacred show, we were there, holding out for a Metal Church video or Overkiil or King Diamond or Saxon, what-have-you, anything that resembled metal in its purest state, and it was worth watching "I Want Action" or "Still of the Night" every fucking week, because those scant few releases were just so exhilirating, as they were shouts from the underground that we'd pirated the airwaves in the name of loud and heavy metal. We were represented.

Can you honestly say the same thing about today's Headbangers Ball? I think not.

By attrition I tend to tape Headbangers Ball at least a couple times each month, mostly so I can keep up with what's going on outside of the promos I get sent to me, and then watch them when I can. I have to note that for awhile, MTV's advertising was so off-target they'd be pimping rap albums, body spray and chick flicks on the commercial breaks for Headbangers Ball. Now they're back to pushing metal albums, as it should be, even if the money is so sparse in metal marketing today that we see the same fucking ad over and over and over each break. Obviously Metal Blade, Roadrunner and for awhile, Victory Records, have the bank to promote. Just the past two weeks, Roadrunner has blockaded every commercial slot for Megadeth's United Abominations, so while I'm ecstatic the old school is getting such a monster push, you gotta wonder about where the scene is heading when there's no loot to be spoken of for other bands who could use a push.

The end point of all this is that if you want to see Headbangers Ball as it used to, head on over to VH-1 Classic and tune in to Metal Mania, which has gotten so popular it seems to be the most-run slot on that channel. On Saturday's it's on a whole four hours, starting at midnight. I love the purity of using the original Ball's witching hour here. Ironically, as I took my tape out from last night's Ball, I glanced over at Metal Mania, and there was Manowar's anti-MTV tirade "Blow Your Speakers." It's in the stars, I tell ya...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Was Rude Awakening Ahead of its Time or a Point of No Return for Prong?

As fans can speculate as to whether or not Tommy Victor is ever going to resurrect Prong again after doing stints with Glenn Danzig and then Ministry, I keep coming back to 1996's Rude Awakening despite the fact that Cleansing and Prove You Wrong are far superior albums.

Rude Awakening is one of those anomoly albums that baffles me a lot. Part of me says this was a groundbreaking album when you consider that many nu-metal bands propelled out of Prong and Korn's wake. Rude Awakening in particular has so many different components of industrial and electronic outside of the main riffs that make Prong a beast sound-wise. Songs like "Caprice," "Avenue of the Finest" and "Without Hope" laid groundwork for the brief late nineties nu-metal surge in bands like Orgy, Static-X, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed and Chevelle. Call it for better or worse, though of this lot on Static-X remains a truly viable band, and they actually have the most direct influence of Prong, which Wayne Static told me in an interview a few months back. Of course, Prong's shredding on "Mansruin" on this album is a telling correlation between the two bands.

On the other hand, Rude Awakening was such a radical departure from the progressive crush nature of their earlier work, much less their neck-popping tempos of Cleansing. "Rude Awakening" the song is actually terrific and is one of the songs I'd love to cover if I had a band, because it clings to the basic drives of Cleansing while making it more tuneful. Surely it's one of Prong's best-written and catchiest songs.

One thing that has to be mentioned about Rude Awakening is that a lot of Killing Joke spilled deeply into this album, most noticeably on "Unfortunately," "Dark Signs," "Face Value" and "Innocence Gone," so much this is actually one of Prong's darker works as much as it is one of their most effervescent and ultimately mainstream recordings.

The thing is, however, how much further did Tommy Victor want to take Prong beyond this album? Besides the numerous tours with a rotating lineup, all Prong managed to eek out in the interim was Scorpio Rising, a pretty damned good album, but certainly one most fans forget exists. In other words, since Rude Awakening, Victor has essentially made Prong his weekend bitch when he sees fit to give it a lube. The man is one of metal's greatest riff monsters, so much I think both Zakk Wylde and Dimebag Darrell learned a trick or two from Tommy, particularly the trademark note pulls that bellow "whoooo-ooooooooo" and have now become a huge staple with modern metal guitarists.

So my opinion about Rude Awakening is that it is Prong's most diverse and controversial albums, some of which I think is brilliant, some I think is less than. "Avenue of the Finest" is particularly weak, however, there's no denying the core rhythm and crunch chords were adopted many times over afterwards, so Rude Awakening probably was ahead of its time. No matter how hard I try to resist it, I keep coming back to it frequently. Another rude...awakening...the hard life...that's been our school...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Repeated Revolutions Wednesday

Since the Unsane gig Friday night I've been listening to two of the bands on that gig, while placing orders for a couple of 300 Blows discs; ought to be fun hearing how they match up to their insanely wild performance.

This week sees a lot of change-up in Repeated Revolutions. Nine Inch Nails is sticking around, but with a different album. Air is still my reigning champ for chillout music. Overall, though, I can't break away from atmospheric art metal, which dominated the top three repeat plays. If you know Pro-Pain, their new album might surprise you with a lot of the deviation from their standard script. Eagles of Death Metal are good for repeat revolutions at any given moment since that one is just to slick to be good. Check out my list for this week:

1. Mouth of the Architect - Ties That Blind
2. Mithras - Behind the Shadows Lie Madness
3. Transmission 0 - Memory of a Dream
3. Art Blakey - Drum Suite
4. Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth
5. Eagles of Death Metal - Death by Sexy
6. Unsane - Visqueen
7. Pro-Pain - Age of Tyranny
8. Gene Vincent - Capitol Collectors Series
9. Air - Pocket Symphony
10. Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos

And how about you, friends?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Unsane show with 400 Blows, Mouth of the Architect and Wooly Mammoth

Some things are so worth your time, particularly when a higher-profile offer exists out there. Last night I covered the Unsane show at my regular haunt The Ottobar (I swear, it seems like I can't recall the last club I've seen a show at that hasn't been Ottobar for quite some time and I get around, to say the least) in Baltimore. In the suburbs was the Heaven and Hell tour with Dio and Sabbath, Megadeth and Machine Head. I had two outstanding invites to that gig, one professionally to interview Machine Head, and then a last minute open ticket from a co-worker.

However, I'm a man of my word and when I agreed to do the Unsane gig to their publicist, I made a commitment. Sure, I could've blown this one off, lied and snuck to the Heaven and Hell show, which I really wanted to see. However, I believe in integrity, and I feel I made the right decision because I was rewarded with one of the best all-around shows I've seen in almost a year, Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs notwithstanding.

I sat outside the club before open, writing in my pad, just as some hapless soul tried to turn into side entrance of The Ottobar which is blocked for the bands' use, when a loud horn blats from one of those irresponsible gas hogging SUVs, and then I hear a pipsqueak teenager say in the most pathetic voice "Fucking asshole!" Real tough driving Mommy and Daddy's tax writeoff, eh, kid? That's a good way to get jacked, too.

I was already excited that Mouth of the Architect was the bill, and I'd been kind to Unsane's current release Visqueen in my column, so as the doorman and I talked about the Heaven and Hell tour and how it might affect the turnout last night, I was already saying hello to the bartender, who's in the band Trephine, and a little chit chat and quickly enough, the show was under way. Very unusual, considering most bars prefer to open their doors an hour prior to show start so they can prime the alcohol sales.

Opening with a thunder was a local act, Wooly Mammoth, and it seems like there's a hell of a lot of undiscovered Baltimore talent lurking around here, much as there are hacks and wannabes. The players of Wooly Mammoth have backgrounds in hardcore, jazz, reggae and stoner rock, and it was the sound of Blue Cheer and Pentagram colliding with Soundgarden at their heaviest and while there wasa scant few glitches, this trio crushed as few sacrifical lamb openers do. I'd forgotten to put in my ear plugs and damn, were they loud! Already I was excited for the way the evening was turning out.

Mouth of the Architect is an Ohio art metal band not unlike Isis, Pelican and Red Sparowes. I've reviewed their past two albums and kept an eye out to see where they were heading scene-wise. I was a little surprised they were 2nd to bottom of the four bands on the bill, but I soon found out why later. Mouth of the Architect was poignant, steady and confident and the audience literally swooned to them. They fill their sound with airy guitars, subtle keys and ostinato that grow in strength, much as this style of progressive metal calls for. Here's a kinda trippy photo I got, very apropos to their sound:

Mouth of the Architect, (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The surprise of the night came from 400 Blows. I was totally unprepared for what came out onstage and I was won over big-time. This trio came out wearing military/cop shirts and they wrecked havoc onstage with jaw-dropping accuracy and passion. They boast one drummer, one vocalist and a guitarist who might as well be considered a hardcore Jack Black. The dude was an entire rhythm section unto himself, and 400 Blows just ripped the place apart. I was also impressed by the rapid beat sequences the drummer had in his possession, taking note he stripped his kit clean of the roll toms, but still managed to load his sequences with snaps and twists that kept the rhythms chugging. I didn't realize these guys had a nice following, because The Ottobar went ape over them and called for a curtain call, which they almost didn't oblige, but soon did. The look of confusion on their faces was the same as Time Again's when they were harkened back to the stage at the Nekromantix gig. Obviously the openers sometimes have their due. Here's a shot of vocalist SKOT, who literally owned his side of the stage:

400 Blows, (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I kept thinking as the night went out that Unsane really had a challenge on their hands because their three openers all delivered high-caliber performances, and having to follow the octane-fueled performance of 400 Blows, but during Unsane's sound check, the place began to thrum. Hoo, mama... I kept thinking back on Unsane's history, since I've spent much of it lately around the promotion of Visqueen, but then I remembered their painfully hilarious video "Scrape" featuring a ton of skateboarding wrecks, and I knew we were in for something special.

Drummer Vinny Signorelli brought out some of the band's beer stash and passed them out to the crowd, a really nice goodwill gesture, when you consider Unsane is from New York, playing in a Baltimore club. If you're knowledgeable of east coast sports etiquette, you'll know Baltimore Oriole fans loathe New York, particularly the Yankees. Thankfully none of that jughead rivarly shit was a factor, and if there wasn't a dance floor above our heads, Unsane might've blown the frickin' roof off.

No doubt about it, Unsane is the live act to beat at the moment. These guys are tight as hell, and Chris Spencer often looked like the Cro Mags' Harley Flanagan with his snarls and gnashing mouth, and damn if he didn't push the hell out of the neck of his guitar to cough up some killer Duane Eddy twangs. Have a look for yourself...

Unsane, (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I've always said Unsane are one of the smartest punk/hardcore bands out there, but I didn't expect them to be so commanding. Then again, they've been around since the early nineties, so they're to be considered grossly underrated at this point. If they come to your town, I'd suggest having a go with them, particularly if 400 Blows and Mouth of the Architect are still in tow.

Sabbath who?

Friday, May 18, 2007

From Prog Metal to Street Punk in One Fell Swoop

So today I have an interview with Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, which I'm excited about. I really do respect the man's chops and can't wait to see if he thinks he's more rigid or free in his playing, since he's usually playing in time with John Petrucci. As a side comment, I'm fascinated by the amount of prog metal that's cropping up all over Europe and both North and South America. A lot has to do with Dream Theater, but also Helloween and Gamma Ray, which I think is the fuse to this powderkeg of intricate metal that's so abundant all of sudden. Used to be you could count the prog metal bands with Dream Theater, along with Savatage, Queensryche and Fates Warning, along with the aforementioned Helloween and Gamma Ray. In fact, there were many tour packages featuring DT, FW and Queensryche in the nineties. Kinda wished I'd partaken one them. Incidentally, the new Dream Theater album Systematic Chaos is a damned fine one, since they're concentrating on a lot more rock and metal grooves that simplifies the album, although they do jettison off into their technical capacities on a whim.

Then tonight I'm covering the New York punk band Unsane. I've never been able to describe these guys accurately, but I described them in a review as punk as a soundtrack for the NYC Subway. They're a very smart band and possess little to none of the punk and hardcore cliches of the younger revivalists who have themselves run into a corner with emo and gang-minded hardcore, just as the metalcore sanction has nowhere left to go either. I'm pretty excited for the gig, especially since progressive-doom sludgers Mouth of the Architect are opening. Sweeeeeeet. I love a bill of diversity, especially when it's a really smart choice like this.

So from the polished studio sound to the gutters I shall dwell today, and in-between I'll be spinning the new Mithras album Behind the Shadows Lie Madness, which was a hell of a good album I reviewed yesterday for Metal Maniacs. The guitars are positively astral...

To quote Clark W. Griswold on his way to a saucer ride from hell in Christmas Vacation, later dudes...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Repeated Revolutions Wednesdays

We'll see how long it lasts, but I think I'm going to designate Wednesdays as Repeated Revolutions day, which is a mamby pamby dressed-up way to say "playlist." I'll share with you CDs I'm listening to more than others and ask for you all to chirp in with your own. Sound alright? Groovy. Let's get started for this week...

1. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
2. Air - Pocket Symphony
3. Type O Negative - Dead Again
4. UDO - Mastorcutor
5. Tori Amos - American Doll Posse
6. Slayer - Diabolus in Musica
7. John Legend - Get Lifted
8. Daath - The Hinderers
9. Steppenwolf - Steppenwolf
10. Manowar - Battle Hymns

The new Nine Inch Nails is unbelievably good, a real return to form, even though I really dug With Teeth prior to this one. Year Zero may not endear Trent Reznor back to the public at large, but it does show the man can write again. Brilliant stuff.

Air is one of the most soothing bands I can think of and it's the sound of peace I crave amidst the continous ruckus that emanates from my speakers most of the time. The new UDO is a real ass-kicker; Udo Dirkschneider is now in the hallowed ranks of bands who can get away with releasing same-sounding albums. Mastorcutor is unapologetic and it executes hard with ramming speed. Crank it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rock 'n Roll Confucius

While I'm taking shots at Lynard Skynard (though I do like them overall), here's a verbage worth penciling down in the great book of Rock 'n Roll Confucius:

He who thinks yelling "Freeeeeebird!" at any live band other than Skynard is fashionable concert etiquette has fewer leftover minutes of fame than Paris Hilton.

Monday, May 14, 2007

If I Never Hear THAT Song Again, Life Would Be Grand...

I think classic rock and adult contemporary radio stations are primarily to blame, mostly because they specialize in niche marketing and limit themselves to a miniscule (in the grand musical perspective, that is) batch of songs that are going to be heard every damned day without fail. Woe be the drone who settles for format rock and roll because there's a diverse musical world out there begging for ears to partake of its uniqueness like a Whitman's sampler box. Don't just settle for the caramels, not when there's almond, cherry, pistachio and vanilla nut at your leisure!

I find it sad sometimes that songs of inarguable greatness just have no punch anymore because they're part of a daily playlist fed to people who have listened to them for their entire lives--often thirty to forty years' worth. I think mainstream radio has done music a disservice more than its done it justice. While there's no denying that Jimi Hendrix never gets old despite repeated plays, or the same for The Doors, Crosby Stills & Nash or Pink Floyd, there's also something soulless and empty about the way they're mindlessly presented, so much it's no longer a gift from these artists as it is a sound of a daily grind, and friends, isn't that depressing?

Even more so when a song crosses media lines into television, sporting arenas, tribute bands and advertising that we're literally having this music rammed down our throats. The excuse is that it's "claaaaaaasic roooooock," so how can you argue, Commie? Ahh, go ahead and plug one of those idiotic mini phones into your ear, you Borg, since it's obvious you have no discernment as to what you'll accept into those tasteless canals.

For many reasons, here's a handful of songs that if I never heard them played again, I wouldn't miss them:

"Sweet Home Alabama" - Lynard Skynard - This IS, without a doubt, the most overplayed song on American shores, so much it might as well be an honorary anthem in case Francis Scott Key ever goes out of vogue. I pledge allegiance to Ronnie Van Zant... Yeesh.

"Rock 'n Roll All Nite" - Kiss - Don't you remember how fun this song once was before radio gave it a second life and choked the shit out of it? I never, ever remember hearing it anymore when I listen to Dressed to Kill, and I'm dead serious, that's how starchless this song has become. Thanks, FM.

"Sweet Child 'O Mine" - GNR - I know this sweet ballad of sentimentalism resounds with an overwhelming demographic, and a year before Appetite for Destruction was discovered by mainstream audiences, I really appreciated the charm of this tune. I hate it more than "Welcome to the Jungle," which I hate just for the fact that we have to listen to the opening notes at every goddamned kickoff, faceoff or jerkoff in sports. Fuck it.

"Janie's Got a Gun" - Aerosmith - Nice intention behind the song and video. However, not really one of their best songs, although contemporary radio and MTV disagreed. Janie, put that gun to my head and skin that smoke wagon...

"The One That You Love" - Air Supply - At one point I admit to liking Air Supply. I was younger, dumber and slave to AM soft rock that surrounded me. The older I get, the more I realize that if you're not wearing a gumby gold medallion overtop a thatch of exposed chest hair while clad in polyester, you're not gonna score, you're gonna snore. Cue up the Barry White, please...

"18 and Life" - Skid Row - Terrific song, the first 200,000 times I heard it. The song is so dated VH-1 Classic can't seem to snag a copy of the video that doesn't sound garbled and warped like it belongs in the trash. I'm grabbing Subhuman Race off the shelf and remembering that Skid Row is a good band, at least.

Peter Frampton - "Do You Feel Like I Do" (Frampton Comes Alive version) - I like Peter Frampton (lest I suffer the wrath of my cousin), I really do. I listen to him a lot, but I'll be damned if I'll suffer again this bloated 14-plus minutes of "Youuuuuu, you!" and shameless wa-wa pedaling that astounds me by its antiquated dino-din, much less how people are screaming in appreciation for it. Maybe if he cut the solo back by seven more minutes. Damn youuuuuuuu you, classic rock radio...

So what about you guys? I know there's tunes out there you'd love to scrub clean from your eardrums!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Come Visit Our New Blog: Whole Lotta Album Covers

As I alluded to earlier, there's a new blog in town, and The Three Amigos of Album Art, which includes Metal Mark, Bob Vinyl and yours truly have come up with a concept dedicated strictly to the appreciation (and denunciation when necessary) of album covers, Whole Lotta Album Covers.

Part of what offends me about this MP3 generation is the lack of interest in the visual aesthetics of the packaging. Don't you remember anticipating what the cover of your favorite band's next album was going to look like? Don't you recall getting burned from time-to-time because that album with the glorious artwork on the front had to mean the music was equally stellar, only to discover it was crap? Come on, there's a subtle charm to this deception! Even better when the music matched up to the artwork, making it an undeniable classic!

We're on our way at WLAC and here's a few samples of what we've uncorked for admiration and discussion:

So come join us as we discuss the best and the worst of contemporary album packaging at Whole Lotta Album Covers! Click here:

Whole Lotta Album Covers

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Comment on Music Purveying Today While Getting Propositioned at MySpace

Bob Vinyl has a good little thing going on at his blog regarding MySpace and finding good bands there, which really emphasizes the strength of the popular networking site. The access to so many popular and unheard of bands is one of the most valuable tools the music industry has at its disposal, particularly in an industry that is at a crossroads on how to market new material, much less format it.

In this cyber age, I'm hearing more and more people tell me they're not interested in buying albums or even listening to them in full because they have their IPods and why should they clutter their lives with hard plastic cases and silver discs when they can jam a wire into their ear and carry thousands of tunes on their hip?

Okay, I'm not so much a fossil that I can't understand the allure of this, particularly in this hurry up society that wants its quick fix faster than a Starbucks machiatto. I'm just as busy as the rest of them--at times even more so, but I'm growing depressed that as a nation, people are starting to care less about the art of music and albums than they are loading those pipsqueak pixel players with singles, filler tunes and ear rot just to say they have a great music library. Rubbish, I say. I had a buddy at work play his random shuffle of ITunes, that was filled with chillout electronic and lounge that I admittedly like. When I heard a couple of Thievery Corporation songs, I just so happened to have their album The Cosmic Game on-hand as I love that album. I said "Anyone want to hear the whole thing?" Needless to say, I spent my evening commute listening to The Cosmic Game by myself.

Personally, I'd rather see the world put its efforts into developing technology to cure diseases or something that'll benefit mankind, not just make people's lives more conveniently entertaining as they surf MySpace in search of cyber meat to flirt with. Besides, the rat bastards in charge of our entertainment devices are just going to keep developing new shit and make the previous versions obsolete within a year, and everyone is brainwashed enough to have to have the latest tech gadget just to keep up with Mr. Jones, who's stylin' and pimpin' and giving us the false illusion that life must be this way. Frankly, I'd rather pull off a PJ Harvey CD off my wall rack and contemplate the universe.

The bar and club scene has no immediate threat, but let's face it; MySpace allows people to anonymously approach one another in a confusing and risky mating game that has led to a few disastrous results. I think overall people know better than to arrange meetings with strangers for sex or whatever, but the fact that we're possibly connecting with someone who is obviously not the person in the picture is kinda freaky, and it actually hurts what is overall a cool concept for people to meet and network, particularly in the avenues of media. MySpace turned into a meat market in no time, unfortunately.

Yes, I have my own MySpace page and I constantly get requests for friends, mostly from bands, which is the reason I keep my page. On occasion I'll get blasted with a gratuitous shot of a near-nude thonged asshole from some anonymous babe, and of course I may find it titillating on immediate contact, but my intelligence is insulted right off the bat. I know there's plenty of horny jugheads out there clicking on that page and unzipping their pants while grooving to some piece of shit iTune contemporary rap jam that talks about how fucking great and stylin' the so-called rapper is, and how much tail he's ramming his cock in. Thug life, baby...

Today I got a bunch of nice birthday wishes from some of my heavy hitters and a couple of random bands, God bless them all. But then I got a private message from some lass baring only that cliche thonged rump of hers and she told me she's been keeping tabs on me, that she's had a crush on me and wants me to come visit her page so we can consummate this out-of-nowhere suddenly disclosed love.

Well, for my birthday, I'm spinning some Nekromantix, their first CD Curse of the Coffin, not some scratchy MP3 downloaded from the internet. The sore throat I've fought all week has finally relented. My cats sense today is special and they have not left my side at all. Wifey's taking me to see Spiderman 3 today and later on it's a party with the family Cajun-style. You see, this is what's real, and for anything that's not real, that's what's so deliciously wonderful about a delete button. After that, a smack on my Staples Easy Button tells me all I need to know thereafter...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ranking the Catalog: Slayer

In honor of my interview with Tom Araya yesterday, I started mulling over Slayer's considerable catalog of albums since they're undeniably one of metal's greatest units ever. Tom was a terrific interview, very congenial, full of jokes and he's beginning to feel comfortable about hinting at his underlying spirituality that counters everything many people draw out of Slayer. I personally always felt like Slayer and Venom were always playing people for saps as to whether or not they're satanic, and both have proven thusly. Venom was perhaps more dangerous than Slayer since they came first and have a rawer sound, and between the two, Slayer is obviously a more technically proficient band who has stood the test of time by releasing a steady influx of consistent albums. Some people gauge a few lesser than others, but when you sample them all together, Slayer's legacy is undeniable.

So here's a little exercise I will probably do from time-to-time, which is to rank a band's existing studio catalog by my personal preference, from first to last:

1. Reign in Blood - Still the greatest thrash album of all-time. Not opinion, it's gospel. Reign in Blood will likely never be dethroned of this status as it holds up remarkably well. Where were you when you first heard this masterpiece?

2. Hell Awaits - One of the most genuinely terrifying death metal albums ever put down. While Slayer were on the verge of creating something utterly timeless, Hell Awaits was a screaming nightmare of dirge metal that likewise holds up.

3. Diabolus in Musica - In my opinion, this is Slayer's most underappreciated classic. I think some people were put off by some of Slayer's experimentalism, but I applauded them because it gave us a new, fresh perspective of what Slayer could do outside of breaking our necks with top speed and blistering our ears with Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman's hellish solos that to this point were getting a little redundant. Diabolus rocks out hard.

4. Christ Illusion - Admittedly I sold this one short in my year-end picks for last year. The official recorded return of Dave Lombardo is sheer triumph of speed and aggression, one of Slayer's most brutal outputs ever.

5. Seasons in the Abyss - There are almost as many detractors as there are supporters of this album, but it's undeniably one of Slayer's best as it features some of the band's best and most progressive songwriting of their entire history. Seriously, though, how many of you feared the worst once Dave Lombardo left after this album?

6. Divine Intervention - After staving us for four years with live albums in 1991, Paul Bostaph answered the call and kept pace on the highly demanding Divine Intervention, an album I think Slayer did in response to some of the hardcore fans who accused them of wussing out. This one hardly wusses out; in fact, it's a crushing blow to the skull.

7. God Hates Us All - If there's any detriment to God Hates Us All, it's the fact that it's one noisy sumbitch, but Tom Araya is vocally at his most diabolical and it does throttle you proper.

8. South of Heaven - It must be nice to have one of your most popular albums fall this low on the tier and still be better than the output of most bands' best efforts. This album is the one most fans debate over. If there's a weakness, it's the fact that it's uncertain of itself at times, but the title cut is still one of Slayer's greatest songs, particularly with its anticipatory build-up. Any complaints aside, this is still a great album.

9. Undisputed Attitude - Slayer's full-on cover tribute to punk and hardcore is one of the few all-cover albums I can stand, much less love. Slayer puts an obvious love into these renditions of DRI, Minor Threat, Iggy Pop, TSOL and the forgotten Dr. Know. A very entertaining disc.

10. Show No Mercy (w/Haunting the Chapel) - The only fault of these first releases by Slayer is that they're clunky in comparison to the greatness that would unfold. Every band has a humble beginning, as I discussed with Tom, and these are certainly humble, though critical albums of the genre.

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Quick Hello and the Top 5 Metal American Metal Bands Today...according to Ray

Whaddup, amigos y amigas? Your friendly neighborhood blogman here... Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until week on my birthday to check out Spiderman 3, which is getting all sorts of talk since this weekend will be consumed entirely with a yard sale and finishing getting this house into order since we're going to be invaded on Tuesday by the foster/adoption agency looking to see whether or not we're worthy parent material. Christ, can you imagine if even natural parents had to face such criteria before they were physically allowed to conceive?

Anyway, before I get into a pissy rant, I want to keep the good vibes rolling since I'm seeing Nekromantix tonight w/Bob Vinyl and I have an interview with Otep coming as a breather hopefully during the weekend. Last week I interviewed Glenn Danzig, and while he was initially hard to warm up, everything went well overall and he told some funny stories, particularly how he and Rick Rubin made a Def American exec's life a living hell with the threat of a satantic song for Danzig 4 that never made it, but is now part of his Lost Tracks of Danzig, which comes out this month.

I should probably give my quick-shot topic a bit more time and energy, but I've been watching the Stanley Cup almost religiously the past two weeks--at least the 2nd games anyway--and I've been sleeping with just enough time to get started and get out to work. But anyway, I've put a little thought the past week or so about who the best of the best in American metal is right now. My list probably won't jive with many people, and maybe I should dabble deeper, but for my money as it stands on May 4, 2007, these are the top-five US metal bands as my ears hear them:

1. Mastodon
2. Byzantine
3. Lamb of God
4. Pelican
5. Cannibal Corpse

I know Shadows Fall ought to be in there, but I'm holding judgment until I hear their new album and wait to hear how the new Pelican and Byzantine albums sound before I consider a shift. Byzantine is a band that blew me away on impact, and I think they're the lone band that uses an abundant amount of breakdowns that I can forgive, much less love, particularly because they layer the breakdowns and keep it fresh and moving, instead of halting the tempo abruptly like 99% of metal bands who feel obliged to use them do.

Byzantine are from West Virginia and have a remarkable pedigree of musicianship that'll surprise you if you've never heard them. And then there's Pelican, who usurped Isis out of the throne as far as their particular brand of art metal goes. The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw is just an incredible clinic on how to sculpt melodies and there's a hopeful sound to their bombast instead of a death dirge, that I cannot help but take excitement from, much as I love Isis, Neurosis, Red Sparowes, Knut and such. Pelican are the masters of the game and I'm drooling for their next album.

Lamb of God has been nothing but consistent, even as they've hit the mainstream and even taken a Grammy nomination for their silly but infectious "Redneck." You want relentless intensity, LOG is it. Mastodon, what else needs to be said? Cannibal Corpse have been around for ages, but they've only gotten better in sound, and while their over-the-top gore lyrics and offensive artwork put some people off, I consider them a not-to-be-taken-seriously death metal band with a love for splatter films. Alex Webster is one of the funnest interviews I've done, particularly since I spent much of my teenage life as a gore film fan.

So when I'm not on the run, maybe I'll re-analyze all of this, or maybe I'll just be satisfied with these picks for now, since things change all of the time. If I had to pick an album to beat in 2007 for American metal, it'd probably be the self-titled Year of Desolation album, or more likely Titan's A Raining Sun of Light & Love For You & You & You. Hoo, mama...

And why narrow this topic to American metal bands? Because on occasion I feel guilty of bashing my country, as much as it needs to be bashed--or at least its current administration and the jughead nihilists who follow it like sheep. I do love the USA, and I could easily say that the best metal comes from outside of these shores, but let's give our homies some love.

I'm real lax on the blog and the visitations elsewhere, but life is nuts and I do enjoy having your eyes here. I'll be around as soon as I can. And when I can get my lazy ass to dig up the link code, I'll link you all up to a new blog myself, Metal Mark and Bob Vinyl are doing together, a blog that discusses album covers, A Whole Lotta Album Covers. I already have my first ten picks, and I can't wait to see what my buddies come up with...