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

Friday, November 28, 2008

CD Review: Elder - s/t

Elder - s/t
2009 Meteor City Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

One thing you have to admire about the stoner and doom sects of metal; they keep growing more ingenious by the minute in updating a retro style of Blue Cheer-drenched chaw. The sound is frequently comparable to the soundtrack of haplessly swishing a mop across the floor of the mall corridors in one's teenage conundrum while peers tramp across the wet tiles for the perverse sport of it. The heavier this music is, the more it's reflective of a never-escaping-this-rut emotion that weighs on one's mind, whether they're in their teens or much further along in life. They don't call it doom for nothing.

If a form of metal speaks to its listeners without needing lyrical content to drive the message home, this is it, folks. It's a reason The Sword has gained such favor in the metal community Metallica hired them as openers to try and restore their own street cred. It's also the reason bands such as Boris, Weedeater, Sourvein, High On Fire, Fu Manchu, Cathedral, Ramesses, Indian, Farflung and Spiritual Beggars are what's truly hip in heavy music alongside the art drones of Neurosis, Pelican and Isis.

Granted, the more Sleep, Kyuss and The Obsessed-addicted practitioners crawl their way into the underground, the higher the chance this sanction is going to become old hat. Still, at the moment, there's nothing that spews heaviness than the tonal splooge excreted by these bands and now Boston's Elder.

Elder's cover, which is reminiscent of the psychedelic outer-planetary hijacking of the Steppenwolf 7 cover with the Creepshow spirit of Berni Wrightson exemplifies everything to be said about doom and stoner rock. His Atlantis kingdom brought down to disrepair by the seductive half-flashing snake nymphs, King Neptune clasps his hand to his downtrodden facade in frustration. Drudgery aquatic.

The guitars of Nick Desalvo play a near-funereal cadence of damnation at the seven-minute mark of "Hexe," while "Riddle of Steel Part 1" (as in the flesh-is-stronger epithet Thulsa Doom relays in the first Conan the Barbarian flick) rides a stamping metallic two-step for half of the ten-minute journey before turning to a sprial perplexion dreamscape filled with whispering synths and an ultimate building back up to a loud 'n proud headbang fest. For good measure, Desalvo tops off this booming cut with some greasy wah-wah all the way to the finish line.

"Ghost Line" is so heavy it's almost sickening, even when it strays away from the song's poundingly poky thunder rhythm and begins dicking around in jam fashion in search of an aural high through acid-head note injections. There's a methodology to Elder's song structure where they arrange their tunes around two large sections of primary riff blasts before searching for an elevated (and sometimes downplayed) noise space between.

They aren't always on the dime, but in Elder's case, occasional sloppiness does this album a great big service, much as the reason sixties rock is as guttural and emotionally-powerful as it is: imperfection is sometimes the charm.

Of course, if this stuff really isn't for you, there's always Britney Spears' Circus...

Rating: ****

Monday, November 24, 2008

Take 5 With Matt "The Lord" Zane of Society 1

Following the departure of two of his Society 1 band members including face man guitarist Sin in a controversial move to Ministry, Matt "The Lord" Zane fell into a momentary despair. Having already embraced the role of antihero on the road with Society 1, Zane elevated his stature--literally--as a metal performer by embedding hooks into his flesh and singing while in suspension overtop the stage. Zane's most memorable live performance would be the Download Festival from a few years back, that was, until he recently broke Criss Angel's suspension feat at six-plus hours.

To that point, Matt Zane had been largely known as a rabid porn director and a fierce mongrel onstage who would just as soon dick with his audience as much as playfully spank their ladies' asses backstage. Times have changed and as the music industry has grown monstrously competitive since Society 1's original romp during the "nu-metal" phase of the late nineties, Zane has been forced to adapt. He has had to address the loss of a record label, the adversity of watching half of his band split on him and even an overall lack of enthusiasm for his creative passions.

Sit with Matt Zane for awhile and you'll get a brother who will talk gently and comradely--antithesis to his raucous stage persona--and you might come to the conclusion he's had to pay a dark penance for some of his previous' life's debaucheries. On the other hand, the times are slowly coming into a golden age for Matt Zane and Society 1 again. The band is reinforced with a new guitarist Eric Franklin and drummer SikRick, they have a download-only concert album Live and Raw available to their fans, much less a new studio album in progress, Sadist Messiah.

Zane has also returned to the bread-and-butter porn industry, which he has utilized to cross over heavy metal and sex in a video digest format, Radium, plus his other series Tattooed and Tight and Punk Your Ass. Society 1's calling card song "This Is the End" is hardly thus; one might say Matt Zane's second coming has only just begun...

MM: Some may see the art of suspension as sensual, some as gratifying, some may even see it as puritanical, but to me it reminds me of old native rites of passage where a male would submit himself to say, suspension from above the pectorals. Has the suspension art been a sort of rite of passage for your own being?

MZ: I don’t know; I would’ve answered this differently prior to my six-hour suspension. A lot of people talk about these experiences and having these revelations because they’ve suspended and they think they’re a step above the average human race because of the things that they’ve done. I have to say that from doing them it’s a very positive experience and it can lead to self-confidence and a better understanding of one’s own capabilities. I don’t necessarily think there’s that many spiritual experiences being had by people performing suspension unless they’ve really pushed their bodies to the limits as the Native Americans did. You’ve got to remember, those rituals I believe were done for days at a time with a shaman or some leader whispering stuff in the person’s ear as a passage into manhood. The Sun Dance, which was developed later, they used to dance around that pole with hooks in their chests until they ripped out and it was an offering of flesh. They actually had to perform that four years in a row! It was an offering to all directions, North, South, East and West. The Hindus used to use suspension and they would incorporate fasting—as well as Native Americans—and all of these various other things. So I think prior to my six-hour suspension I definitely had a sense of accomplishment and confidence and I guess awe for the mere fact that I was able to conceive and actually be able to commit myself to something and go through with it. But the six-hour suspension I think was definitely more along the lines of somewhat of a spiritual experience. I mean, at certain times I was having auditory hallucinations and forgetting where I was and perceiving the objective world very differently. It was almost as if a dream state and the objective world was crossing over each other, so on and so forth.

MM: I know you usually do some meditation prior to suspending, so I imagine you had to do even deeper meditation in order to prepare yourself for six hours!

MZ: There’s a video on my YouTube channel showing me a day prior to the suspension and I don’t really seem that nervous, and even ten minutes before I go up, for whatever reason I wasn’t very concerned about it. I don’t know why. It was something that didn’t really move me in a way that led me to being fearful of any of the experience. It wasn’t until I actually got into the situation and I hit the fourth hour that the reality of the situation started to set in, and that’s when the autograph sessions and pictures had to stop. I really couldn’t talk to people at that point; I had to really focus within myself and use all of my breathing and powers of the mind or the ability to meditate.

MM: When you talk about Society 1 existing to sort of create a new image for you outside of porn director, obviously the suspension act has become a large part of your public identity now. How do you feel about that?

MZ: It’s kind of interesting, because I really went from being the porn rocker guy to being the suspension rocker guy. It’s almost as if it was like I went to rehab and found religion, you know, it’s like I stopped doing drugs and started loving Jesus! That’s what happens with a lot of those people. With me, it was almost like I traded one for the other. There really wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision on my part, but it nevertheless became something very apparent and it’s very associated with who I am and what I do. I don’t mind talking about suspension and performing it, because if it was something I really wanted to get away from I would’ve stopped doing it after the first couple or even after Download. A lot of people didn’t think I’d ever do anything crazier than performing on four hooks during a whole set in front of 40,000 people, but opportunities arose and I managed to do a couple of different things to push it even farther. I don’t necessarily think that bothers me. I’m in a different spot in my life than I was back then. I guess ultimately back in the porn days I was just feeling somewhat apprehensive about being pigeonholed as one type of thing. Now that it’s been ten years I can openly say yes, I direct those films; it’s a part of who I am and I enjoy it. Yes, I sing in a band and yes perform suspension.

MM: Let’s talk about the title Sadist Messiah a minute. You’ve talked about people believing in and throwing themselves at a hypothetical messiah in many of Society 1’s songs, and I’m gathering that trend’s going to continue on this album?

MZ: Sadist Messiah is going to be more speaking about an abstract individual rather than a very specific person. It’s going to be talking about primarily the situation that was created for me in my life with the ex-guitar player and the agent and everything that happened, being let go by Earache, and all of these obstacles that were created and put onto me. In doing so, hopefully the way I’m perceiving it, these things were messengers in a sense, but they were teaching and showing telling me things through causing pain. So the Sadist Messiah is actually an abstract form of circumstances that kind of aligned themselves and you’re subjected to them to learn something and to be saved in a certain sense through emotional—and in my case physical—pain. Everything that happened was bad and you add to that a neck injury to the point where it got serious.

I don’t do drugs anymore, and I haven’t really said this publicly, but it got to the point where the pain was so bad I got actually addicted to a painkiller because of my condition in my neck, though I’m not on them anymore. When I got to that point I realized there had to be something wrong and I really pursued going to the doctor and x-rays and so on and so forth in order to find out what was wrong with me. You’ve got to imagine dealing with all of the psychological aspects that’s happening to you and then you have to deal with all the hassles happening to Society 1 and then all of the physical and subjective things that are happening because of the pain and all the outside things that are happening as well. You add all of those together and it was definitely a very interesting journey of which I hope to be on the tail end of now, and coming up for air to tell the tale. So the record really deals with a lot of that, with the people that I’ve dealt with and again also just reaffirming my lack of faith in God! (laughs) As well as the devil and the plague and the interaction between the two; I guess the opening track “On Earth as in Hell” really sets the mood for the entire record.

MM: The last time we talked, I got the impression the whole sexual part of your life was getting mundane to you. Now you have the Radium, Punk Your Ass and Tattooed and Tight series going, so that naturally leads to ask how much sex excites you these days. Given your tone, it sounds a lot better.

MZ: Yeah, I went back to the industry and I’d been out of it for six, seven years because I was doing that whole push with Society 1 and the industry is completely different than what it used to be. It’s turned into a whole different animal. One of the things that’s very different is there are so many girls you couldn’t shoot them all if you wanted to! There’s something that’s kind of exciting, and there’s a whole bunch of new faces, new people and it’s just kind of exciting to me again. Plus the opportunities that were presented to me in terms of the types of things I’ve been able to create is exciting as well. I’m not a total nympho or over-the-top with sex, but I’m not disgusted with it like I was towards the end of my last run.

Copyright 2008 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Friday, November 21, 2008

CD Review: All That Remains - Overcome

All That Remains - Overcome
2008 Prosthetic Records/Razor and Tie
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Nothing should probably be made of the fact that Adam Dutkiewicz, Killswitch Engage guitarist and producer omniscient, was traded for Jason Suecof, mastermind of Trivium’s rise to fame when it came to do up All That Remains' fourth album, Overcome.

Success begets success, particularly when one producer is as equally respected as his predecessor, but for All That Remains' purposes, their moniker couldn’t have held truer following their breakout third album The Fall of Ideals and This Darkened Heart beforehand. When you’re on a roll, it’s hard to justify changing the script or at least the script handler, but Trivium themselves were without Suecof’s services on their latest album Shogun and that ended up being their most spectacular effort to-date.

All that remained for Phil Labonte and his merry metalcore posse-—which changed bassists on the road in support of The Fall of Ideals to Jeanne Sagan—-was to figure out how the commercial rock-minded Suecof fit into their own ideals as heavy musicians. The answer ends up being largely positive as Overcome is All That Remains' most accessible album in their now-decade-long career.

At times, Overcome sounds close to being primed for FM format rock with pop-laden hooks scattered on the album’s choruses—largely in attendance on “Forever In Your Hands” and “Two Weeks.” Of course, the heaviest wussy FM radio is permitted to get in the interest of maintaining ad revenue is Nickelback and perhaps Accept and Judas Priest during their lunch hour dedication to the old school. Still, you can feel All That Remains pushing the boundaries between extreme metal and mainstream rock throughout Overcome, which is not to say the album isn’t bestial when it wants to be. “Relinquish” is a fierce thrasher upon which Phil Labonte tears his esophagus clean through, while “Do Not Obey” largely rides a pumping throb before fusing clean-sung vocals and melodic down-tempo supplements, bravely taking some of the starch out of the song’s breakdown.

You knew Phil Labonte meant business by the time he drifted from Shadows Fall and started All That Remains. His band follows metal trends just close enough to be hip for the in-crowd, but he doesn’t allow his music to drown in pop metal syrup. Even as his impressive dashes between clean and hard vocals has made him a near-superstar of his genre, Phil Labonte knows when ballady-stuff works (as on the closer “Believe In Nothing” and the quixotic “A Song For the Hopeless,” which may be All That Remains' finest-written tune) and when to turn loose his cannons in the form of Oli Herbert and Mike Martin. As usual, Herbert’s leads are supreme (have a go with the one on “Chiron,” whew) and they help legitimize All that Remains from the scores of flash-in-the-pan posers looking to chomp on their heels. Fortunately for Phil Labonte and his talented troupe, Overcome is miles ahead of the competition.

Rating: ****

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ray To Join Dee Snider's House of Hair Online

It doesn't get any better than this...

After sharing my review of Twisted Sister's Live at The Astoria CD/DVD set for my farewell column in AMP magazine, House of Hair Online ran the review. Subsequently, I have now been offered a golden opportunity to do reviews and interviews for House of Hair Online in the upcoming future.

My gratitude goes out to Dee Snider and his behind-the-scenes staff at House of Hair for giving me this privilege.

See you over there soon! House of Hair Online

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

CD Review: Unearth - The March

Unearth - The March
2008 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Everyone wants to be Unearth in today's metal scene, and with good reason. This band bears an unbreakable flock of followers who make up everyone from 16-year-old teens bouncing angrily in their four corners to people twice their age slinging 9-5 (and in many cases casting the same odes of disaffection from the unemployment lines). Unearth enjoys a rare universal respect from their peers, the press and especially their fans. In turn, Unearth reciprocates to their listeners (I can attest having personally spent an hour on the band's tour bus) and frequently when you poll the audience on a large bill who they've come to see, Unearth's name is uttered from well over half of the contingency.

It doesn't hurt Unearth is talented beyond all words, so much that metalcore is legitimzed by their presence alone, even if there were no Trivium and Bullet For My Valentine to speak of. Together, this triumvirate does for metalcore what Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motorhead have collectively done for power metal as the indisputed lions of their classic heavy metal. Of course, you can't discount Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall from the legion of metalcore superheroes, and Lamb of God are in their own class they can be looked upon as the crown jewel of popular American metal today.

Though Unearth lost drummer Mike Justian after the band's furious third album III: In the Eyes of Fire, they now have in their possession Derek Kerswill of Seemless (a hell of a band in their own right) and there's no denying his presence has changed this band. Justian was an animal on the kit but Kerswill's leaner approach has an adverse effect on Unearth's songwriting for The March, which is what the doctor ordered.

What can you say about The March? This thing at times is so breathtaking it's hard not to be affected by the band's gleeful enthusiasm. Whereas III: In the Eyes of Fire is perhaps reflective of the inner turmoil swirling in the band preluding Mike Justian's departure, The March is a blaring sigh of relief from the band as extolled through Trevor Phipp's passionate barking (turning in his best vocal performance to-date), while Ken Susi and Buz McGrath are to this band what Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu are to Trivium. Listening to their magnificently winding note loops on "We Are Not Anonymous," it's evident Unearth with Kerswill at their backs have been inspired to drop the chains and cut loose. Check out that ridiclous solo on "Anonymous" that spills into the monstrously chugging shredfest thereafter. If that doesn't get those horns up, you might have arthritis.

If Unearth has stepped anything up on The March, it's the fact they have opted to play more to the metal side as opposed to the hardcore end of things. For this writer's purposes, a complete abandonment of the band's breakdowns is thus perfectly warranted. Unearth has far too much going for them to simply play into skidded breakdown sequences just because that's what the kids wanna hear today. Unearth can't resist tossing them in there, however, the further the album plays, the more risks they're willing to take in moving away from those breakdowns that are unfortunately a part of their identity. A song like "The March" is far heavier because it rides the base of the song on the primary riffs, which sound almost cybernetic, even if the tune drifts home on a breakdown fadeout.

Still, "The Chosen" goes right to old school textbooks and Unearth pounds out a kickass straightforward jam with terrific riffs and a perfectly harmonious pair of solos, while "Letting Go" might be Unearth's diciest move to-date, one that pays off big-time at its creeping tempo and and piercing six string shrieks, which chirp like metal sonar. Even the slow breakdown at the end works advantageously because it serves the main melody, as do the varied breakdowns on the 11:12 "Truth Or Consequence," a bestial track creatively spliced in half by an extensive slosh of white noise.

Unearth still thrashes and crashes on "Hail the Shrine" and "Grave of Opportunity," the latter of which is so powerful on its speedy duckets there's hardly reason to dally with breakdowns, particularly when the acoustic interlude and the steadily increasing bridge are all the song needs to be articulate.

While it may sound like dart-throwing on the band's breakdowns with The March, the only reason for it is because Unearth simply do not need them. Point blank, they have evolved on their own merits as songwriters and executioners. The March has a spiritual grace to it with messages of hope (a direct antithesis to the dank gloominess of their previous album) and it even takes on the story of pioneer Jeremiah Johnson and his bloody revenge upon the Crow nation on "Crow Killer." For the record, Jeremiah Johnson the film is probably Robert Redford's best picture after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid if you really want to get into Unearth's mindframe on that song.

All quibbles aside, Unearth has come into their own as a genuine leader for their sheer guts on this album, and in the grand scheme if they continue to evolve in this direction, consider them upper echelon material from here on out.

Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One From the Vault: Armored Saint - "Can U Deliver" video

Rock this shit...

Friday, November 14, 2008

CD Review: Canvas Solaris - The Atomized Dream

Canvas Solaris - The Atomized Dream
2008 Sensory
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Proving that not every band coming out of Georgia are down-tuned sludge-proggers or screamo metalcorists, Nathan Sapp, Hunter Ginn and their enduring project Canvas Solaris have been working far below the radar, although their electro-prog is just as busy as any of their contemporaries. Interestingly enough you will hear jagged guitar screeches and squeals ala The Chariot and Norma Jean as you will also be submitted to chunky chords, blast beats and even periods of thrash. Add to the pot moments of fusion, jazz and soaring guitar rock and Canvas Solaris isn't your prototype prog unit.

Granted, Canvas Solaris have grown more talented at their eccentric and often wondrous craft as a strict instrumental band, after chucking the vocals ages ago. Always worth a listen, their previous outing Cortical Tectonics was chock full of fusion sways, tribal rhythms, harmonious syncopation and of course metallic bursts of loudness. "Interface" from that album was soothingly cosmic even as other moments on the album were busier than President-elect Obama's publicists.

When you get right down into it with Canvas Solaris, you have to think they've been working damned hard towards realizing a metalhead's interpretation of Yes' Songs From Topographic Oceans. The chirping mini-Moogs and ambient Mellotron aside, Canvas Solaris' fourth full-length album The Atomized Dream takes one step further in articulating their psych fugue.

With three new additions to the lineup following the deparature of guitarist/bassist Ben Simpkins, The Atomized Dream certainly bears more texture courtesy of the expansion to the band's rhythm section. It also bears the potential for more quirks--both good and downright weird (like the high fidelity feeback ostinato swirling on "The Unknowable and Defeating Glow" for a length of time)but there's always a payoff on The Atomized Dream, be it the calypso and electronic hip hop beat loops lurking beneath the Alan Howarth-esque synths and guitar lines on "Chromatic Dusk," densely layered like an eighties Herbie Hancock jam gone prog metal.

As always, Canvas Solaris' beats and tempos are calculatedly whipped and jabbed with near stop-go delivery, which allows the guitars to soar and strum and the synths to float. The songwriting on "Patterns Spiral Into Swarm" is shrewd enough to allow the song to build into contained strumfests despite the subdued organs and keys providing outer world ambience.

Canvas Solaris still operates with a singular-strike mentality outside of the frequently gratuitous coats of electronic fuzz and near-geeky keyboard glosses, as a song like "Heat Distortion Manifest" builds from near-nothingness into an out-of-control notefest.

Perhaps The Atomized Dream lays one thumb on the trigger at times before letting it--and their tailspun music--wildly loose. Always technical and proficient, Canvas Solaris nevertheless seems more intent on building the perfect machine instead of letting the machine fly on autopilot. With each album they've gradually taken appropriate steps to fly just a bit freer than before. Of couse, The Atomized Dream has a lot to prove for a band that now sees five in its camp versus three. Not that it needs to be another Cortical Tectonics, The Atomized Dream is sometimes playful, sometimes dreamy and often full of looming anxiety that randomly comes out in increments. Look out when this band really pulls the trigger...

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

CD Review: AC/DC - Black Ice

AC/DC - Black Ice
2008 Sony/BMG Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Back in Black to this day remains AC/DC's last truly great rock opus, even if there's been random moments of coolness throughout Brian Johnson's regime as the band's mike squealer. The name of the game with AC/DC ever since the late icon Bon Scott disappeared into the ether of his final drink has been joy in repetition. Even Back in Black, as harsh an album as it is, it's simply a few singular riff sequences rearranged over ten songs to make it the rock classic it is.

Call Back in Black a great rock 'n roll swindle or an unexpected payoff inadvertently reaped from frustration and despair. The album is one of the angriest hard rock albums ever recorded, so much you can hear the remnants of AC/DC in 1980 growling "Fuck you, Bon," transparently beneath Brian Johnson's anxious throat swills. The latter had something to prove back in 1980, while AC/DC as a whole were simply carrying on, unaware they would become halcyon legends of modern rock.

If you believe it when they talk about their fame and fortune being the least of their concerns, you can at least take it to the bank that AC/DC is just gonna play what they want to play and with the least amount of ingenuity possible. Angus Young is one of the grittiest guitar players of all-time, and it's amazing he doesn't carry a few hematomas on his balding noggin from decades of spasmatic head thrashing. Unfortunately, his famed schoolboy alter ego image now makes him look downright perverted and sleazy, which may be an intentional joke at this point, considering AC/DC were once thought of as the most dangerous band in the land. Were he not Angus Young, he might easily make it on the crime watch list.

That being said, you can step up to an AC/DC album and know by attrition what you're getting, much like you will with a Motorhead or Overkill slab. Some bands do what they do, damn the world if they're on board or not. That being said, AC/DC's latest album Black Ice contains two minute surprises: one, the album yields 15 cuts and two, they do try to stretch their sound out on a few occasions, be it the nearly-uncomfortable pop swings of "Anything Goes" and "Smash 'n Grab" or the Zeppelin-esque bluesy shambling of "Money Made." While he's in a Jimmy Page kinda mood, Angus Young slides and twangs with chunky tugs all over "Stormy May Day."

Give the lads a little credit, albeit Black Ice is largely about finding 101 new ways to rewrite Highway to Hell via some admittedly thumping rockers like "Rock 'n Roll Train," "Spoilin' for a Fight" and "Big Jack," the latter of which also betrays some Rolling Stones nuances, particularly in the choruses; Angus Young practically replicates the Stones' melody on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in his own picking.

At times Black Ice dips even further into the Bon Scott era punchbowl with nasty ladles such as "War Machine," the album's best tune, and one Brian Johnson seizes the opportunity to mix Scott's sexual machismo into his working class stiff growl. Hell, even the band's backing vocals seem intent on replicating that chaw-infested drag of yesteryear and for some reason it rings a bit more harmonious in their elder years.

If you listen to Angus on this album, you can tell he teleported himself directly to Powerage, Let There Be Rock and High Voltage ("Wheels" and "Decibel" being solid examples) as his riffs are parlayed with more fang than he's been willing to show on AC/DC's past few albums, while a couple of his solos haven't sounded this filthy in ages (surprisingly he tosses out a highly raunchy solo in the middle of the otherwise yummy "Anything Goes").

Otherwise, Black Ice is straightforward business as usual. Cliff Williams thrums his low end bass rhythms with the exact patterns you're accustomed to; both he and Michael Anthony might be the most understated players of their time but no one's going to get on their cases for simply doing their jobs. Phil Rudd is happily still hanging around camp and not to knock any of his stand-ins, but there's something just snug and agreeable to his playing that helps make AC/DC what they are.

There's nothing overtly special about Black Ice since AC/DC doesn't necessarily seek anyone's approval. They know their fans will line up to buy this thing much as they'll be there in the arenas to howl their guts out the second the hallowed chimes begin for "Hells Bells." For Black Ice's purposes, this is the most settled AC/DC has sounded in the long-standing Brian Johnson period at least since Flick of the Switch. There may not be anything gate-crashing to this album, it certainly is nowhere near as inherently evil as AC/DC used to be and yeah, at times the boys appear to be dragging ass, but Black Ice sits comfortably nonetheless like Jack on the rocks.

Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Take 5 With Damon Fox of Bigelf

Photo by Michal Johansson

Bigelf are skirting on the thread line of becoming superstars of the underground. Of course, their implausible hybrid of doom, prog and seventies rock and pop on their fifth album Cheat the Gallows may not be for all tastes, or as vocalist Damon Fox would say, "some people don't want their Queen mixed with Uriah Heep."

As both bands figure into Bigelf's madcap genius on Cheat the Gallows, the omnipresence of the Beatles looms overtop the album as much as the cheeky horror rock spectacle of Alice Cooper and scores of other big-timers of yesteryear. Sounding like a big top of chaos with ten classic rock stations booming at once, Bigelf's calliope of Mellotron-coated retro rock rings as one of the coolest vibes of this year.

Fox took some time out with me after rushing his son to football practice to discuss Cheat the Gallows for an upcoming piece in Unrestrained magazine. Excerpted here at The Metal Minute is bonus footage you won't find in that article. Enjoy...

The Metal Minute: It might be said that Cheat the Gallows is gaining Bigelf some recognition, yet you guys have been in the game since 1992 with your roots stemming as much from doom as late sixties and seventies theatrical and prog rock. Doom and stoner has blown up in the underground lately, and with Bigelf commonly strung into the doom and stoner sanctions, how do you feel about its recent explosion, considering how long you guys have been playing?

Damon Fox: I don’t know if anyone’s ever given us credit for being a part of the doom and stoner thing. Bigelf started in ’92 and we played Money Machine at our first show and “Closer to Doom” was also one of those first songs. I think it’s a good thing that over the course of these ten years stoner and doom type of music has come out and been getting bigger with bands like The Sword. It’s definitely good because that means this music is growing. I put the whole doom thing into perspective by saying it's just a kind of metal. It gets to the point where it falls under one umbrella and starts pushing the whole thing forward. Honestly, I think we’ve always been a little bit of the black sheep of that genre, just because there’s so many other things going on in our music. Some of those early bands, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, we were never really a big part of that desert stoner sound because never really had that sound. Our thing from the get-go was always something more of a retro, classic sound. I think Bigelf was more of a Sabbath thing from the very beginning more so than the stoner bands were. Those bands weren’t really Sabbath; it was more like garage music, tuned down and much slower. Those albums were recorded really well. Our stuff has much more of a production value to it, more of a progressive rock mentality from the beginning. In a way, if prog rock is to hit again, we would be on the crest of that tidal wave because we would be a band that’s been doing it for awhile, although there doesn’t seem to be that many bands attacking the prog rock thing from a vintage angle. It’s mostly from a modern angle in the Mars Volta or Fall of Troy category. Ours has a classic psychedelic prog feel to it; that’s our thing. We’ve always had that since we started the band. I was happy to hear that The Sword is going out with Metallica, which is a very good thing. It means that this kind of music is getting bigger again. People are actually desiring it again.

MM: I know you have a wide variety of music tastes, just by listening to Bigelf's music. Cheat the Gallows is like a larger-than-life rock circus with so many influences and sounds coming into play such as Queen, the Beatles, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd and so on. I'm even crazy enough to say I randomly hear seventies-era Elton John...

DF: Elton John was never a big influence for me, but any time you get into that grand seventies music, to my mind you have to bring some Elton into it. I read a review recently where it seemed like they were slagging us a little bit, calling us an Elton John band doing the least bit of service to an Ozzy song or something like that. I thought ‘Yeah, that’s cool and I hear what he’s saying,’ but if anyone ever wanted to compare me to Elton John I’d be like, ‘Bring it on!’ That guy is world-class to the hundredth degree! He is the greatest songwriter and composer; he’s amazing. I think some of that stuff in our music is unintentional; it just gets in there and comes out. I’m a huge Beatles fan obviously and anytime you start crossing those same avenues with iconic artists, you’re going to cross paths and influences with other people like that. It’s not a genetic DNA thing like the Pink Floyd and Sabbath stuff; that’s been done since day one. Every album we hear ‘You guys sound like Pink Floyd and Sabbath,’ and that’s pretty elementary, and that’s what Bigelf brings to the table, but it’s nice to be compared to a couple other people like Elton John or Arthur Brown. Hell, Arthur Brown’s amazing! Alice Cooper ripped all of his shit off of Arthur Brown; it’s all in the same chain of life!

MM: I understand you have a massive vintage instrument collection, and of course the Mellotron plays a signficant role in Bigelf's retro prog resonance. Which of your instruments do you feel gives Bigelf its prime motivation?

DF: Definitely a tie between the Mellotron and the Hammond organ, because I think that is the quintessential difference between Bigelf and most bands, all the keyboard blaring. The blaring is done in a really odd way because I’m not a keyboardist. Usually bands that have keyboardists, if you write a song and you’re playing Mellotron or organ, you have to play from a John Lennon or a Paul McCartney point-of-view. The Mellotron is a fundamental instrument for us. If you look at the way I write a song, there’s so much of John Lennon’s point-of-view. I sit down, write a song and sing it on guitar or piano, whereas if you look at Gentle Giant or Yes, Rick Wakeman’s not singing the song like he’s playing. It’s a different mentality, so for me the way I play the Mellotron really relates in the sense of more of a song kind of feel and I definitely scope the sound of Bigelf, but I think there’s also an original slant because it’s not your standard prog fare either. If you wanted that, you’d be talking more of Yes kind of vibe or Kansas. I will do a lot of overdubs on the record but a lot of my playing, the rudiment is in my singing since I have to sing and play at the same time.

MM: How would you define progressive?

DF: Those key bands and those key records, In the Court of the Crimson King is an island record for me and it’s a complete zenith record for me in prog rock. The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow is really progressive to me. Rush, when I listen to them I feel the boundaries being pushed. Revolver is like that for me. You just listen in and you feel, ‘Holy shit! What were those people thinking about when they were first listening to this?’ It’s just expanding your mind, but of course later on progressive got so many jazz and classical elements going on that it just became more of a technical thing and more notes-per-second. Gentle Giant is one of my top progressive bands and Acquiring the Taste is one of those records.”

MM: Bigelf has been affiliated with corporate labels and even your current label Custard--which is of course run by Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes--that label has ties to Universal Records, yes? Do you think Bigelf is too dangerous for the mainstream?

DF: No, I think Bigelf is a definite breath of fresh air for people. That’s my gut feeling and my heart says that The Elf is something that is needed. If it isn’t needed, then best begone, but I feel in today’s marketplace you need bands that want to go out there and inspire people about music, bands that believe in what they’re doing and they’re not all about the almighty fucking dollar. It’s not about record sales, it’s about fucking music, getting people into it again and I think if there were bands like Bigelf--not that we’re the only band--but speaking from my mentality, young kids, if they believe in something, they might buy the music. They might get behind something if they actually believed in it. I don’t think kids believe in it. I don’t think they believe in anything anymore. I mean, there’s stuff here and there, but it’s going to take a lot of revolution to get rock ‘n roll back into the big piece of the industry music pie. Rock ‘n roll used to be this huge glob of the pie, but now it’s just this tiny little sliver, though it seems that things are kind of suffering without it, I think. It’d be great if it could be a bigger piece. It doesn’t have to be as big as it was. The way I feel, there’s a lot of people out there who like this kind of music, maybe not necessarily Bigelf but they like this kind of music and just aren’t getting it. If they just knew about it, they’d be down."

Copyright 2008 The Metal Minute/Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post Election Tune: Living Colour - "Cult of Personality" live, Aresenio Hall Show

Time will tell if President-elect Barack Obama will usher in the winds of change he has made a literal platform upon, but the resoundingly loud rejection of the current administration (albeit the popular vote was closer than meets the eye) by Americans seems to justify a spin of this hard rock classic.

A hefty thumbs-up to John McCain for having the class to exit the race with dignity and unnecessarily taking blame unto himself. Unfortunately he inherited a losing cause from the gate. Congratulations to Obama; this unprecedent shift of racial enlightenment in American politics has the potential for something special if handled appropriately.

May the United States once again find the bouncing, confident rhythm of Living Colour's pivotal tune here and may it be as declarative in optimism as Vernon Reid's spellbinding solo in this performance from The Arsenio Hall Show. Remember we are one unit within a global society...