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

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 7/29/09

Hello, readers, as always I hope y'all are doing well outside of cyberspace.

As I prepare for an interview with KK Downing of Priest later this week, I'm giving pause to evaluate everything going on in my life which includes being a daddy to a child at a very demanding phase in his life as well as hungrily seeking time to work on my next novel which I'm pouring my soul and blood into.

I love this business and I love the bands and all the friends I've made acquaintance with in the industry. It's been an honor to accomplish what I have to this point, but I'm starting to collapse under the weight of juggling it all and frankly, seeking upward mobility as a rock journalist has been as much a struggle as people looking for regular employment. I'm more tired than I've ever been trying to keep my clients happy as well as my family, not to gripe. I do it all willingly. Kept in the context of working a full-time job to offset the lack of income from writing (though a great big cheers to my gigs who do compensate me, bless you), it's become more of a balancing act than ever. What do I hope to gain beyond the obvious? That's the big question.

I enjoyed hanging out with a large group of my graduating class this past Saturday, though we had to contend with the sad reality one of our own was killed in a helicopter crash in Maryland last week which made national news. It was a sobering exclamation point that life is indeterminate so you must make everything you can of it while you have the time on this earth to do so.

That being said, I am making decisions about my future which will affect all avenues including this site. Stay tuned for future updates. In the meantime, as my playlist will demonstrate, life has been on such a rapid pace there's been little time to dive into my promo stacks and keep on target. Voivod naturally got the most spinnage as is consistent with anything they've released; I hit them with full obsession.

We'll see how things go from here. As always, I thank you for your support.

Voivod - Infini
Parhelia - Shifting Sands
Blue Oyster Cult - Agents of Fortune
Eluveitie - Evocation 1: The Arcane Dominion
Kitchens of Distinction - Strange Free World
Curtis Mayfield - The Very Best of Curtis Mayfield
Knut - Terraformer

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Somewhere in Time Tuesdays with Metal Mark: Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Image (c) Iron Maiden

Usually I know where an Iron Maiden album stands the first time I hear it. The one glaring exception was 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

I heard it shortly after it came out and I was not impressed. A large part of that initial reaction was due to the fact that between about 1986 and 1989 I was really into speed metal, so I expected all bands to become heavier and faster. If they didn’t then I wasn’t into it. So I wasn’t immediately impressed when Iron Maiden slowed things down some and took more time building up the song structure.

Even though I heard Seventh Son of a Seventh Son several times that year it never registered with me. It wasn’t until 1990 when I heard the very uneven No Prayer for the Dying that I even thought about Maiden’s 7th album again.

At that point I realized I owned everything except Seventh Son and decided to buy it. I was shocked that suddenly it sounded much better than I remembered it. It’s more subtle and the band took their time, but it’s a great album. Steve Harris has frequently stated that American audiences didn’t get this album. Indeed it sold very well in the UK and not as much on our side of the Atlantic.

Perhaps much of that was due to the rise in popularity of speed metal over here at the time. Whatever the reason, this was actually a huge step for Maiden. This is a much better album than Somewhere in Time and it’s a shame they didn’t follow up on the sound of Seventh Son as it would be well over a decade until Iron Maiden put out another great album.

Ray's note: I fell hook, line and sinker for Seventh Son and hold it on a same level of liking as Somewhere in Time. In fact, when Seventh Son came out, it was glued inside my Walkman at the cleaning job I held during senior year of high school. I played it mercilessly until the Walkman broke and then I brought in a standard radio and cassette player (tapes, ugh!) and still played Seventh Son every night while working. It got to the point I'd get pissed at the office workers who stayed late thus preventing me from booming some Maiden. I have to admit I was absolutely compelled by the songwriting on Seventh Son.

On a second note, during Maiden's recent Somewhere Back In Time tour, I took note of the audience's reaction to "Can I Play With Madness?" which was a big singalong event, however during the encore, looks of pleased astonishment went up as "Moonchild" and eventually "The Clairvoyant" were played. Guess this album stood up better than some figure.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

CD Review: Parhelia - Shifting Sands

Parhelia - Shifting Sands
2009 self-released
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Though one might assume the "post metal" vibe ala Pelican, Isis, Rosetta, Red Sparowes and Mouth of the Architect is an American phenomenon, suffice it to say the theorem has caught on worldwide. Germany's Long Distance Calling have begun a triumphant career through two albums now and while there are more instrumental artscape bands waiting to be unearthed around the globe, take note of a special foursome out of Dublin, Ireland who are prepared to stake their claim with an elegant alt-prog-post metal swoon.

Parehlia is perhaps the most sensuous group yet to arrive in this esteemed subdivision of underground rock and metal. Part Pelican, part The Cure, part an understated Kitchens of Distinction and part War and October era U2, Parhelia's debut full-length Shifting Sands may ride a particular rhythmic wave in their exploratory chasms of sound reverb, but it's their confidence which really shines. When you get offers to open for a variety of acts such as Slunt, Dead Soul Tribe and Guns 'n Roses, you know you're appealing to more than a tailored demographic.

While Shifting Sands never grows too loud and bombastic, merely climactic in building atop their waving bars as on "Inertia," the careful tailoring Parhelia molds with is nearly as compelling as Isis' past two albums, only in a far more understated way. Shifting Sands is decidedly downtempo straight through, reaching close to maudlin on the album's closer "Time & Tide" before opting to rise for a high stride, distorted cadence and ultimately a booming sequence of power chords the more it threads along. Sounding like a Cure track taking one step forward into a more metallic room space to work with, "Time & Tide" rises in spirit yet never with distemperment.

Sounding closely to Pelican on the quixotic opening number "Our Ship Has Sailed," Parhelia demonstrates immediately their ability to captivate with isolated note channels and a dreaminess not quite affiliated with the shoegazer acts of the late eighties to mid-nineties such as Lush or Cocteau Twins, though assumedly these bands helped pave Parhelia's tone. Nevertheless, guitarists Greg and Phil Clarke continuously trade upper and lower melody fills while the other scatters pleasantly drowsy note plucks.

At their most intense, Parhelia could pique the interest of The Edge with their wailing strum weaves, despite an overall propensity to keep a lofty sway to their pinpointed lines. They impressively build atop an opening sequence of psychedelic keys on "Perpetual Motion" with a slight modification of percussion grooves from Andy Clarke while bassist Cathal Rodgers grounds things before the tune rockets excitably in the final stanza.

The title track shifts the scheme by getting right into the meat of the composition then scaling back incrementally before letting an ensuing amplitude carry it the remainder of the way. Here is where Parhelia sound most like Pelican and early U2 in an agreeable marriage of distortion-propelled bliss. Enough to lift you straight into a storm cloud and then drift you into the open ether and pounding piano strikes of the following track "Pacific."

Contemporary yet partially throwback, Parhelia have obviously been working hard at their craft. If you want the heavy concussion of Neurosis, this isn't going to do it for you. However, if you're interested in hearing a meticulously structured set of instrumentals which only signal future greatness, then take the plunge off of the Inishowen coastline and drown yourself in Parhelia's salty ambience.

Rating: ****

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

CD Review: Voivod - Infini

Voivod - Infini
2009 Relapse Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Voivod has long been a part of my music-listening DNA so it's uncontrollable not to put a personal stamp on this review now that Infini is in all likelihood the final trip down their sonic vacuum tube.

Killing Technology was love at first hear back in the mid-eighties while Dimension Hatross became absolute obsession. The earlier Voivod albums War and Pain and Rrroooaaarrr were animalistic slabs of noise exploration within a thrash construct (a crackly vibe resurrected later on Phobos when Denis "Snake" Belanger had briefly drifted out of the band), yet there's no doubt in most longtime metal fans' minds Voivod were carving paths with their first four releases. By the time their less abrasive and far more progressive 1989 masterwork Nothingface came along the pike, one might've considered heavy metal forever altered. If you trace everything happening in metal since, you can see the point.

It was at this point in Voivod's innovative career when I was writing a heavy metal and punk column in my college newspaper. From '89 into 1990 I made it a crusade to expose Voivod to as many eyes and ears as possible, boldly declaring Voivod the band of the future. For my efforts, Voivod's former label Mechanic lavished me with a motherload of a press kit, my very first shoulder-rubbing with the industry. I remember seeing Voivod headline over a quickly-rising Soundgarden and Faith No More, overall the second best show I've been witness to and still Voivod reigned supreme over their equally game openers. I also remember a local FM radio station playing Voivod's cover of "Astronomy Domine" for a Smash or Trash segment, and considering the clientele this AOR station catered to, it still broke my heart to hear so many jughead "play it safe" listeners who thought Great White's "Once Bitten Twice Shy" cover was not only their own song but a killer one at that slag Voivod to death. Those fools...

Though it would be until 2006 before I was able to interview Snake for Pit magazine as the remnants of Voivod had banded together to honor their fallen guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour with Katorz, I never lost my love for the band. Yeah, they took many strange but interesting turns with Angel Rat, Negatron, Phobos, the oddball remix and live compilation Kronik and their self-titled "comeback" album from 2003 featuring "Jasonic" Jason Newsted amidst their ranks. Of course, The Outer Limits is perhaps Voivod's most underrated album in their entire career, while it all comes to boil nicely in 2009 with the release of Infini, assumedly their final output.

The first spin of Infini for me was melancholic and emotional, I'll have to admit, albeit it was a frequently breathtaking experience. It all has to do with the realization of finality knowing Voivod had purposefully divvied out Piggy's recorded guitar tracks to create two posthumous celebrations of the late shredder's contributions to metal. Katorz had a been joyful confrontation, knowing Snake, Jason Newsted and Michel "Away" Langevin were apt enough to build solid tunes around Piggy's archived guitar parts.

Infini, however, is something far grander. Could anyone honestly expect an album whose principal sound generator is no longer with us to come out not only strong, but memorable, an easy contender for one of Voivod's hallmarks? It couldn't have been easy in either the case of Katorz or Infini to work without the physical presence of their rhythm engine, however Voivod has the grace on Infini to put Piggy out there front and center like the actual breathing superhuman of the six strings he was, using the steady headbobber "Deathproof" as an example.

Ever since making the controversial decision to walk from Metallica, Jason Newsted has restored a large bit of his street cred by hobknobbing with Voivod. You can see his attraction. From the get-go when Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault was still in the band, Voivod's resonance has relied on bass-heavy projection to assist with their cybernetic air duct cadence. Theriault was nearly superhuman himself as one of the few remotely able to keep up with Piggy's blinding and constantly interchanging guitar lines, which is why Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross and Nothingface are three of the genre's most eloquent albums ever recorded.

As Voivod has slowed considerably over time, the capacity of Newsted's methodic and personable bass (criminally bleached over many times by his former comrades) has been a no-brainer character to reviving them. It's not necessarily the name, but the punctuation Newsted brings to the table. Infini may be Piggy's salutory farewell, but undoubtedly it's a signature album for Newsted as well, who is loud with a vengeance on "Pyramidome," "God Phones," "From the Cave" and "Global Warning." Never to the point of drowning Piggy's leads, however, which is why Infini is a tremendous success.

With Newsted manning the production console, Infini sounds contemporary, straightforward and heavy, heavy, heavy. Very little prog shows up on Infini, instead directly pinpointing the grooves Piggy injected into his hard drive, albeit "Pyramidome" comes close to the progressive overtones of Nothingface and Angel Rat. Largely, Infini hums on the backbone of Piggy's distinctive, lofty chords (which many guitarists have gone on record stating they're damn near impossible to replicate), plus it pulses with Newsted's focused undercurrents, Away's busy drum fills and Snake's gravelly pipes.

As Snake penned the lyrics to Infini, he's more content with growling his words through the album than attempting to hit the higher cleans, which sometimes foiled him on the self-titled album. "Morpheus" is one of his leaner moments on the mike, which will bring longtime fans a large feeling of warmth, even as the song escalates in tempo and Snake does likewise with his octaves. Piggy's solo on "Morpheus" is utterly cosmic as the tune stays on an uptempo soar.

"God Phones" confidently hails Infini into being with Piggy's isolated riffs before stamping forward behind him as the leader he was. Ditto for the subsequent track "From the Cave," one of the more traditional-sounding Voivod songs bearing shades of Dimension Hatross and Nothingface with Piggy running amok on his solo and the bridges. Perhaps the surprise cut of Infini is "Earthache," surprising only because of its dirty clout and tougher than nails rhythm. Piggy's intro to the headbanging, sometimes garage-oriented "Treasure Chase" could show Queens of the Stone Age a few tricks, particularly in the way Piggy and his bandmates texture their tune atop its gleeful wave.

Whether they know it or not, Voivod gets revenge (at least in this writer's eyes, anyway, considered the aforementioned Smash or Trash story) with "Krap Radio" while "A Room With a V.U." resurrects their unwavering affinity for Pink Floyd. As in the past, Voivod sends Infini on a brisk note with the grungy and hammering "Volcano." Though not as in-your-face as Voivod's other fast tracks in the latter part of their existence, "Volcano" rides way high on Piggy's wristing and da-da-daaaaa note sequences, leaving an indelible impression you've been treated to a glorious and appropriate farewell.

The second spin of Infini for me bore far less personal stakes--other than to determine how high to rate this thing. It's safe to say once you've accepted Infini as Piggy's curtain call, its value skyrockets not just because of his inspirational efforts to leave so much of himself behind before passing away, but because Voivod as a whole come off adrenalized by association. Infini is all about Piggy to be sure, but it's a monster group effort no one would dare accuse of being a cash-in. When everyone in their mother is trying to rope duckets off the death of Michael Jackson, Infini reminds us some people have their hearts in the right place.

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wedensday - 7/22/09

Flying a week at a time, here we are at Wednesday yet again. Hope my readership is all doing well out there. The hits are strong as ever here at The Metal Minute, so bless you all for your ever-continuing support.

Summer's here as is the red hot touring cycle and unfortunately being a daddy means I've lost out on many show opportunities, two just this past weekend, but let me tell you something; building a swingset together with your mate and seeing the look of joy on a child's face for all the aggravation and sacrifice to make it happen... Well, I may be in a concert slump but it's damn well worth it. As I've been invited to cover many shows in the near future, let's hope things open up so I can get out to 'em.

Been making a concentrated effort to catch up on sleep since the physical toll of parenting and working outside every weekend has nailed me to the sheets, but I remain optimistic about the future even when things look bleak or at least stressful. You gotta maintain, you know?

Spin-wise, I just reviewed Bone Gnawer's wild and bloody Feast of Flesh for and it stayed in the player a good bit since it's louder than hell and at times hilarious in roasting zombie and cannibal movies. That always gets my attention quickly. I just nabbed Voivod's Infini and though I have a long list of albums up for review here at The Metal Minute, Voivod has been one of my close-to-the-heart metal bands for eternity, so expect a squeeze-in review for them and perhaps the new Ahab will likewise sneak in. I have to mention bringing out Metallica's Black Album for the purpose of one, hearing how it stands up to my ears after years of non-play, and two, to hear how much recording presence Jason Newsted gets since he's all over Infini like a champ. My findings...well, stay tuned.

Tube-wise, still not much other than Dallas season 11, a couple episodes of VH-1 Classic's Seven Ages of Rock series and I reviewed this movie about Alan Freed, the coiner of the term "rock 'n roll" over at DVD Seriously, I think I might've been watching the inside of my eyes more than anything else lately...

Bone Gnawer - Feast of Flesh
Voivod - Infini
Lillian Axe - Sad Day On Planet Earth
Killswitch Engage - s/t 2009
Valkyrja - The Invocation of Demise
Sweet - Desolation Boulevard
Metallica - The Black Album
AC/DC - High Voltage
Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
Tyr - Ragnarok
Leaves' Eyes - My Destiny EP

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Somewhere in Time Tuesday with Metal Mark: Warrant - Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich

Artwork (c) Iron Maiden

I remember being over at Ray’s house one time in 1989 and we were watching Headbanger’s Ball. Generally it was still a pretty good show at that time. Sometimes they would show the same old Motley Crue and Def Leppard videos all too often. Still, they made up for it by showing the likes of King Diamond, Kreator and Metal Church.

On this particular night a video came on towards the beginning of the program by a band I had never heard of. It was Warrant and the song was “Down Boys.” Like thirty seconds in Ray and I looked at each other with looks that said “What in the world is this garbage?” That’s a question I still ask about this band twenty years later.

A few months after this I had a co-worker who I would trade tapes with. Normally his tastes were decent, but this time he insisted I borrow Warrant’s debut and he went on about how good it was. I grudgingly agreed.

Somehow I forced myself to take in the whole album from start to finish. Afterwards I just couldn’t fathom how this band got a record deal. I also didn’t know who this was supposed to appeal to. It was limp, so metal fans shouldn’t like this sewage; it was dull and not even memorable at all. Yet someone liked it as this band and others like them opened up a floodgate for some other lame hard rock bands that would spoil the scene from say, '89-91.

In recent years I got a copy of this CD for free so I gave it a chance. Same results as Warrant are a band that couldn’t summon up a good, solid hook if their lives depended on it. Jani Lane can carry a tune to some extent, but he has no clue as how to inject any emotion into his delivery.

The CD still sits on my shelf collecting dust. Maybe in another year or two I will take it out and give it another shot, but I have a feeling that the results will be the same.

Ray's note: I rememeber the night in question and thinking to myself, is this where heavy metal is heading? How could so many people buy into this but not Overkill, who more often than not, like King Diamond, were held towards the end of each show in order to keep the true headbangers tuned in while MTV pelted us with rotten egg AOR pop rock. It was a deliberate ploy I still find distasteful today.

Def Leppard had already sold out with
Hysteria, excruciating enough to watch every single week, and Priest was trying to win their fans back after casting them down the river with Turbo. Bon Jovi, well, outside of their debut album and their two cowboy tunes, they were the dagger thrust into our beloved scene. Warrant's arrival, subsequently followed by Slaughter, Firehouse and a watered-down Great White only told me we were in deep, deep trouble and their labels had greased the wheels with plenty of payola to force that tripe down our throats.

I don't have any personal qualms with the members of fact, I was briefly in contact on a regular basis with their later guitarist Billy Morris, who was a stand-up dude. However, this album especially leaves a sour aftertaste in my mouth to the point I remember deliberately holding my whiz during HBB each week until "Down Boys" and afterwards "Heaven" manifested like it did every dirty rotten filthy stinking week. The most honorable thing Warrant did in their cash cow career was to openly get on VH-1 in the nineties and declare "Hi, we're Warrant and we destroyed heavy metal!" That's the gospel, boys...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Take 5 With Phil Labonte of All That Remains

You know the story about All That Remains, particularly the fact its dynamic frontman Phil Labonte was the original singer for Shadows Fall almost a lifetime ago. Not that folks bring it up much anymore as Labonte and All That Remains have come up through the ranks of contemporary metal through four albums to stake their own claim as one of the genre's top draws.

Coming a long way since their debut album Behind Silence and Solitude, All That Remains, now fortified with bassist Jeanne Sagan who picked up with the group in the middle of their tour for The Fall of Ideals, the band is right where they want to be as of their latest release Overcome.

Labonte, whose vocal range has expanded in increments with each All That Remains album, has to be considered at this point one of metal's most diverse growlers and crooners. Overcome is his comeuppance statement as it is the bearing of fruits for guitarists Oli Herbert and Mike Martin who have kept the All That Remains machine thrumming with some of the most sparkling fretwork on the scene.

The Metal Minute caught Phil Labonte for a quick exchange as All That Remains begins the Rockstar Mayhem tour already having to address adversity with the sidelining of their drummer Jason Costa...

Metal Minute: You guys are kicking off the Rockstar Mayhem Fest tour and some temporary personnel adjustment with Jason having broken his hand. You recruited Nile and Dimmu drummer Tony Laureano to fill in for Jason, and certainly there’s no question Tony can keep up with All That Remains, particularly on the double kick segments. First, what happened with Jason, then how did you get Tony locked in for the gig? Do you think his customary bpms might force the band to step up what is already mostly faced-paced music on your part, using “Chiron” for example?

Phil Labonte: Jason is really dumb sometimes when he drinks and he misjudges things. This time he misjudged how hard he was hitting a table. Dummy. I'm not worried about Tony playing; he's a great drummer.

MM: I’m looking at Billboard these days and seeing a lot of metal bands crashing the gates held sentry by corporate rap and pop fluff, Killswitch Engage and Dream Theater being two of the most recent high charters. All That Remains also debuted quite solidly when Overcome was released, much like The Fall of Ideals. I know a lot bands feel they’re not in this game for chart positions and sales ranks, but given the very tough market we’re in with hard copy album sales dwindling as Generation Tech is gradually forcing change in the industry, I’m sure it’s not altogether terrible to see Overcome strike hard on Billboard, right? Also, what are your thoughts to metal making a dent on the charts?

PL: It's great to have people care about the band. It seems to me that if people care about a band, the music they make, how they treat their fans, stuff like that, then they'll go out and buy a disc. I know I personally buy tons of songs, but if I'm into a band I'll buy their whole record to make sure I'm supporting the band. So I feel like it's our fans kinda saying, 'Hey, we want you to make another record!' (laughs) I'm humbled and grateful that people do buy our discs. As for metal making a dent in the charts, it's awesome. I mean top 20 is usually no place for heavy rock, nevermind metal, so yeah, it's great for the whole genre.

MM: I am loving the maturity of Overcome not so much because of the escalated melody gracing the album, which has always resided within All That Remains’ music, but I really appreciate your band taking risks such as the soft acoustic intro and interludes between the harder agro sections on “A Song For the Hopeless” or the aggressive harmonies on “Relinquish,” one of All That Remains' best-written tunes in my opinion. How much effort do you feel goes into All That Remains' work nowadays before you feel you have the proper stamp on things?

PL: We have a pretty good idea what we are looking for when we get started writing. We usually have most of the riffs written and we just get together and arrange it. We try not to over-think things, really.

MM: Pick the song from Overcome you feel was the hardest to, er, overcome from pen to final mix and have the entire band believe in it?

PL: I don't know, I think "A Song For The Hopeless" was rough to get done. It took a bit of work.

MM: You guys covered Nevermore’s “Believe in Nothing” at the end of Overcome, which I think is cool considering most metal covers these days are from the eighties and late seventies. One, since “Believe in Nothing” is almost a decade old already, coming out as metal revived itself in North America, do you feel we’re now at a spot in time where honoring groups of this era is apropos Two, I’d say little has changed in society to make “Believe in Nothing’s” lyrics irrelevant. If anything it’s probably gotten worse as a whole. What are your thoughts there?

PL: We are just into that band. We didn't think about the era too much. We did avoid an 80's song intentionally cause everyone does that. As for the lyrics I feel like Warrel was stating his lack of belief in a god, and that's not really something that is dated.

Copyright 2009 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Saturday, July 18, 2009

CD Review: Leaves' Eyes - My Destiny EP

Leaves' Eyes - My Destiny EP
2009 Napalm Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

EPs can be fun or they can be trivial tideovers in anticipation of groups' next full-lengths. Then again, some are mere standalone projects bearing either strong material or filler a band wouldn't see fit to include on a regular release.

In the case of Leaves' Eyes, this wouldn't be the first time the Nordic symphonic metal unit has issued an EP circled around a larger project. My Destiny preludes Leaves' Eyes forthcoming LP Njord, scheduled for worldwide release in August. That being said, expect "My Destiny" to be the flagship tune for Njord, given the two versions appearing on this EP, similar to the way Leaves' Eyes' utilized Elegy and Legend Land EPs to bookend their Vinland Saga full-length from 2005 as an extended collective project.

"My Destiny," as one would expect from this group, is a hooky pop metal endeavor with temporal synths and samples floating beneath the primary groove and swooning vocals from Liv Kristine Espanaes Krull. If this is a preview of what's to come on Njord, it should be said their fans won't go home disappointed while Leaves' Eyes has essentially played to both their strengths and affinities.

However, the other track represented from Njord, "Northbound," is far more extravagant in composition and it yields just enough of the pop orientation Leaves' Eyes has aligned themselves with to give it a hum. In fact, despite the straightfoward harmony driving this song, it becomes danged near Viking prog in excitable bursts the longer it carries on.

While Leaves' Eyes are obviously in the business to carry out a mission to convey the history of their region with a more entertaining and ear-friendly cadence than their peers, "Northbound" is an exciting, slightly out-of-the-loop prospect. For their future, this expansion of sound is much to their benefit, lest Leaves' Eyes pigeonhole themselves quickly into a formula of no escape which "My Destiny" triggers alarms in this respect.

This EP nicely throws on three non-album tracks to give their fans some buying power. Whereas this writer considers Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair" an untouchable simply for their eloquent vocal layering, much less a primeval texture bearing the ambivalent (and desperately hopeful) wear and tear of the world four decades ago, Leaves' Eyes has a go with it and at least does a respectable job. Where Leaves' Eyes succeeds in their cover is by making the second stanza their own with reed instrumentation and a Scandinavian overture expanding the Renaissance spirit of the original source into a larger Euro base.

Albeit brief, "Nine Wave Maidens" might be the second most detailed song on this EP behind "Northbound," while "The Battle of Maldon" is reverential and daydreamish even when the latter drops hammers atop the swooning piano melody. Here is where Alexander Krull makes his gravelly presence known (only yelling "It's my destiny!" in increments on the title track), personifying the voices of combat while his wife serves as operatic narrator (and an exuberant one, at that) atop. These two EP-only tracks are worth the purchase if you're a fan of the group, while "Northbound" raises questions (in a good manner) what we're going to hear from Njord.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, July 17, 2009

Albums You Can't Live Without: Sweet - Desolation Boulevard

If Desolation Bouleveard isn't a perfect rock album, it certainly deserves accolades as one of the greatest and most influential records of the seventies. Sweet is an entity not quite the same as of Desolation Boulevard what existed before breaking free on their own from a sugarpop-smacked tag-team of songwriters who might've kept the group flying on their jets longer than this album if they'd stayed in the picture. Then again, we would very unlikely have Desolation Boulevard. As they say, things happen for a reason...

The legend of Sweet (originally known as Sweetshop) is the group was originally the brainchild of songwriter/producers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who hired rock guns to whiz out their silly yet edgy pop tunes in competition with the original wave of British glam rockers. "Little Willy," "Funny Funny," "Blockbuster" and "Wig Wam Bam" were some of Sweet's earliest hits, yet the group cried anarchy and rolled out on their own (while some original members simply rolled out period), leading to the pivotal Desolation Boulevard.

Little would anyone realize the far-reaching impact of this gem in 1974. While retaining the hook orientation of Chinn and Chapman's influence, Sweet truly became their own band with far more texture to give their elevating falsettos aerodynamic flight courtesy of reverb, synthesizers, tubular bells and backwashed riffs. This album could've backfired as a Who-whored (you can't deny Pete Townsend's grace all over "No You Don't" and "Sweet F.A.") new Renaissance of modern rock--modern by the standards of the day, that is.

Today Desolation Boulevard sounds appropriately dated as an early seventies slab, yet Sweet were well onto something with this album, taking inspiration from English glam and American acid rock, in turn influencing a wide range of artists from Judas Priest to Elton John. You can hear ticks of early Rob Halford in "Into the Night," while Elton John at his most aggressive is all over "Sweet F.A." straight down to the warbling synth breaks.

Even Ace Frehley, who would go on to cover Sweet's "Fox On the Run" evolved his own gravelly tough guy timbre through this group. Hell, Sweet's version could've been sung directly by Ace it's that effectively translated by the latter. While Sweet would continue to hoist from their original benefactors Chinn and Chapman with "Ballroom Blitz," a tried and true anthem gaining leverage from Krokus' stout remake in the eighties, there's no denying "Blitz" kicks Desolation Boulevard off in rowdy fashion as much as any rock band has.

While we're on the subject of covers, Sweet's "Set Me Free" was hijacked by eighties thrashers Heathen. Sweet's version gets the better end of the duke for bravely setting the original course with rapid strumming, a snaggletoothed rhythm and bottlerocket guitar solos. Heathen did pull off a very savvy headbanger's delight with their own version, much as Flotsam and Jetsam did by ripping the tar out of Elton John's "Saturday Nights Are Made For Fighting."

Desolation Boulevard hardly lets up with complicated progression ala Queen fused into the fabulous "The 6-Teens" while there's almost nobody out there who can resist the old-time rock 'n roll slide of "AC/DC," if not for its steady, amp-decked pulse, but the hilariously rude lyrics about banging a chick who bangs a chick herself. Even "Into the Night" sets its own precedence (and Priest's, for that matter) by shouldering dirty riffs on the verses in one of heavy metal's earliest incarnations, then about-facing with peppermint effervescence on the spritely choruses. Let's not fail to mention an ear candy solo from Andy Scott who might've looked rather comfy next to Brian May on this one.

Sweet would quietly drift into the proverbial night after this rock masterpiece which is only slowed by the overly ambitious "I Wanna Be Committed" as Kiss would go on to rule the planet with more than a few nods taken from Sweet along with the New York Dolls. Despite respectable efforts following this album with Sweet Fanny Adams and Give Us a Wink, Sweet couldn't compete as heavy metal only got heavier (after Rainbow emerged, Sweet might well have packed it in but to their credit did not) and punk, new wave, disco, funk and country buried them into near-obscurity. Ted Nugent perhaps stole some of their thunder for his brazen personality and reckless fretwork which rawked the entire country during his madman campaign in the seventies. Of course, Sweet continued on for many years and were constantly uttered from the lips of metal musicians who followed in their wake.

If you've not yet taken a walk along Desolation Boulevard, have a go at once. As much as Rainbow's Rising, Judas Priest's Stained Class and Hawkwind's Hall of the Mountain Grill (also released in '74), Desolation Boulevard is a bona fide rock and metal history lesson. Chances are you'll get addicted in your studies like the rest of us.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

CD Review: Killswitch Engage - Killswitch Engage (2009)

Killswitch Engage - Killswitch Engage (2009)
2009 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Usually a group releasing albums under eponymous titles are thought to either be starting their careers or rebooting them. Using Metallica's officially self-titled album (though commonly referred to by the listening public as The Black Album), let the evidence be swayed in the case of the latter when Metallica made an abrupt change of pace to a commercially-altered rawk sound. On the other side of the coin, Iron Maiden debuted on a self-titled hallmark, launching a career which only became greater by the album.

What do you make of a band, however, which releases not only one eponymously-labeled album over their course, but two? Certainly laziness comes to mind in this case, not that anyone following metal today are likely to call Killswitch Engage lazy. If anything they've been the exact opposite with End of Heartache, Alive Or Just Breathing and As Daylight Dies ranking amongst the energetic metalcore albums of this generation, as well as some of its most popular.

Killswitch Engage (2009) is an album which decidedly bears a refocusing effort. Granted, the Killswitch guys play to their own script which everyone from The Autumn Offering to 36 Crazyfists have climbed aboard for their own songwriting purposes. Producer journeyman and Killswitch axe slinger Adam Dutkiewicz finds the courage within himself to yield the console on his group's latest effort and it's a move paying off serious dividends.

Of course, when your producer happens to be Brendan O'Brien (Aerosmith, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen and Mastodon--particularly the latter's masterpiece Crack the Skye), you can see why Dutkiewicz and company left their considerable reputation in the hands of another mastermind. O'Brien not only brings out the most commercially-pliable resonance Killswitch Engage has exported from themselves, he trims the fat and presents Killswitch as a leaner, scrappier engine of thunder.

Opening this album with the booming thrasher "Never Again" as Killswitch Engage is fond of doing on each album to shake their audience's attention, the choruses are especially rousing with Howard Jones, the mack daddy of metal vocalists pumping his recording mike enthusiastically. Immediately thereafter, Killswitch smartly dangles their hooks with the endearing pop-laced "Starting Over" which still drops the smackdown in its swooning business.

Gone from this album is the thick density which Dutkiewicz has wisely incorporated into Killswitch's sound in the past. However, it feels appropriate O'Brien has found a way to stream the band's individual capacities into singular threads (with drummer Justin Foley coming out the biggest winner) to the point both Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel have personality individually and in partnership, using the meaty "I Would Do Anything" and the chunky "The Forgotten." "The Forgotten" comes off not only as an aching love letter issued by Jones' combination growls and R&B crooning, it also seems like Killswitch Engage's tributory love letter to Metallica (both the early-on and middle eras) with a monster groove on the verses and an abrupt speed metal catapult before the last stanza.

O'Brien effortlessly juggles Killswitch's penchant for blast rhythms and lofting choruses, using "Reckoning" as a prime example where Killswitch unleashes the hounds with dizzying thrash and crushing tempos, all capsizing like a climaxed lover into Jones' waiting pipes on the chorus. Giving their listeners a break on the slow and methodic "The Return" (boasting one of Jones' standout performances) and gradually working the album back into a kinetic enterprise with the melodic "A Light in a Darkened World," Killswitch Engage strategically employ their wares for a genuinely entertaining ride. Brisk and boisterous or slackened and sensuous, this group can field it all, which O'Brien utilizes both on "This Is Goodbye" and the remainder of the album to make Killswitch Engage (2009) sound like an event instead of just another metalcore slab.

Structurally, Killswitch Engage is business as usual, yet there's a decided differential to the point every member has the opportunity to sparkle within O'Brien's stealthier assembly process. If there's a pliable answer why these guys had to forego the lack of a decent album title for a second time in their honored career, at least the sound reflects their decision.

Tighter execution, shorter-run songs, an agreeable shedding of breakdowns and a rare savviness in blending their extremities congruously are all the signs of a winning combination. When they thrash, Killswitch Engage sounds mighty and teetering on the edge of cataclysm. When they scope and dally about for tuneful airs (which some argue is much of the time), they nevertheless sound better than anything schmucking around in AOR. There's a reason this album charted at #6 on Billboard when it hit the streets last week.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wedneday - 7/15/09

From the crypt I rise, or so it feels, even with a concentrated effort on getting more sleep than I used to in the past. Being a parent of over a year now and recently changing day jobs I can honestly say the latter move has presented more manageability, while the former may be even more hustle and go despite how the kid mercifully sleeps through the nights.

On the other hand, it's been one project after another related to that boy as we're currently in the middle of building him a swingset, which was halted this past weekend due to rain. The running joke around here is if little man ever dares asks "What've you done for me lately?" it's not gonna be purty... Like the Discharge song goes, never again will I voluntarily go through this since this one's all the work we can handle and still have a shot at making other avenues of our lives happen.

So it continues here at The Metal Minute and so it continues as I work on my second novel, which is really starting to blossom after nine chapters. Last night I was out reporting on a local government meeting and taking another step closer to the lifestyle I was born to lead. Look out world, Van Horn's on the move!

Music-wise, I spun the crap out of the new Killswitch Engage album all day yesterday, a very pleasant surprise as it has muscle, testosterone and a pleasingly stripped cadence. No wonder it struck so high on Billboard. Be on the lookout in the immediate future for a review on the self-titled Killswitch album.

Been also spinning The Fixx and a homemade double-disc of tunes related to my novel project to stay focused, plus that new Arkaea album is pretty booming stuff. Check out my review at Heavy Metal.

Firing up the caffeine, packing my gear including the little one for another Wednesday as part of the working class, keeping my mini notebook handy for bursts of inspiration and daydreaming of both Manhattan and The Outer Banks to the tune of Parhelia, a lighter Irish version of Pelican, and whom you can read about in the upcoming days here at The Metal Minute. As always, thank you for your valuable support!

Killswitch Engage - s/t
The Fixx - Reach the Beach
Arkaea - Years in the Darkness
Lush - Spooky
Ex Deo - Romulus
Axel Rudi Pell - Best of Anniversary Edition
Destroyer 666 - Defiance
All That Remains - Overcome
George Michael - Patience
Parhelia - Shifting Sands
Delain - April Rain

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Somewhere in Time Tuesday with Metal Mark: Whiplash - Power and Pain

artwork (c) Iron Maiden

Speed metal was starting to form in the early 1980’s, picking up steam and growing to be its own entity towards the middle of the decade. By 1986 it was exploding. Bands like Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth were taking their sounds to more people, but the underground was on fire too.

New Jersey’s Whiplash had been playing around clubs in the New Jersey/NYC area for a few years and gone the normal route with demos and word-of-mouth. They were even featured on the 1985 compilation Speed Metal Hell which is where I first heard them.

A year later the three Tonys line-up (Portaro, Bono and Scaglione) let loose their debut Power and Pain. It’s a swirling, chaotic monster even twenty-plus years after the fact.

Thrash would soon see definite styles and labels forming like the “Bay Area” sound of Metallica, Exodus and others or the “German speed metal” sound of Kreator, Sodom and more. However, Whiplash had their own style when they started. From the spine-crushing anthems of “Stage Dive” and “Power Thrashing Death” to the blood boiling “Spit On Your Grave,” every song on this album rips into you with its fire and energy.

I listened to every thrash album that came down the pike back then. Many have not aged well as their clunky approach or lack of skills have become evident two decades later. Not true with this band, though. Even thought the rest of Whiplash’s on-and-off-again career has been hit-and-miss, their debut still stands as a fantastic example of early thrash.

Monday, July 13, 2009

One From the Vault: Lush - "DeLuxe" video

Not really metal, but one of the best alt "shoegazer" groups, Lush (and a personal all-time fave band)...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

CD Review: Axel Rudi Pell - Best Of Anniversary Edition

Axel Rudi Pell - Best Of Anniversary Edition
2009 Steamhammer/SPV
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Though his fans are as loyal to him as Doro Pesch's worldwide acolytes, Axel Rudi Pell suffers from the same affliction as the Queen of Metal; both refuse to give up the fight, both are respected well above most of their peers, both give their all into every project tagged to their names and in the end, the deserving spotlight only awaits them in select corners of the world.

Axel's devotees need no rehashing of his career, but to bring everyone up to snuff in light of his new compilation Best Of Anniversary Edition, the German guitar wizard has been operating with a never-say-die solo ethos since the late eighties following his stint with cult metal favorites Steeler, also one-time host to Yngwie Malmsteen, Rik Fox and Ron Keel. While Malmsteen went on to claim notoriety as a Bach-addled neoclassical shredder, thus setting a precedent for heavy metal guitar playing, Axel Rudi Pell's far more understated (though no less talented) style of playing has historically relegated him to the minor leagues of the genre.

Having had in his solo stable vocalists such as Jeff Scott Soto, Charlie Huhn and Rob Rock, Pell by all rights should've enjoyed a heftier career than he has. At times his compositions border on the elegant side while at heart, the man is simply a rocker, plain and true, his Ballads album series notwithstanding.

In 1998, Pell recruited Johnny Gioeli to the front position in his band, a working relationship that hasn't wavered since. This is the focus upon Best Of Anniversary Edition, a collection piece showcasing moreso Gioeli's presence in the band than Axel's.

2000's The Wizard's Chosen Few is by far a better hits collection than this one, simply due to the fact it's a tad more comprehensive with songs represented by Pell's earliest albums Wild Obsession, Nasty Reputation and Eternal Prisoner, also captitalized by a few new and live tracks. The Wizard's Chosen Few likewise bears a few of the same Gioeli-sung ditties appearing on Best Of Anniversary Edition, i.e. "Carousel," "Oceans of Time" and "The Masquerade Ball."

So what else are you getting with Best Of Anniversary Edition? Honestly, not a heck of a lot. "Carousel," one of Pell's more fun tracks, even at a hefty running time of 8:01 is always pleasing to listen to, and "Edge of the World" from Shadow Zone and "Strong as a Rock" from Kings and Queens take you right on home to the days when heavy metal may have been a huge cash cow but it commanded far less respect as an art form than it does today. These aren't exactly artsy tunes, and cool enough for that. One of Pell's strengths is his effortless replication of bobbing classic metal songs which are usually melodic but almost never on the mainstream side.

You're also going to be treated--in case you missed Pell's Diamonds Unlocked covers album--to slightly edgier takes on U2's "Beautiful Day" and Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." While the latter remake is worth checking out for Pell's riffing and wicked cool soloing not to mention a groovy percussion sequence worthy of Phil's own drumming cadence (which somehow got abandoned prior to his squeaky-clean Disney deal, a too-polite vibe appearing in everything he's done since), it's not wholly worthwhile to have two selections from Diamonds Unlocked appear on this compilation. All that Pell has recorded in his career, to relegate two of the twelve tracks on Best Of Anniversary Edition to cover cuts isn't showing much faith, sorry to say.

With a couple of slices from Mystica including the title track, one of Pell's nicest offerings from Ballads III, "Forever Angel (Acoustic)" and a helping from his most recent album Tales of the Crown, "Ain't Gonna Win," if you're unfamiliar with these albums or just beginning to seek out the work of Axel Rudi Pell, then of course Best Of Anniversary Edition is a cozy place to get started.

Then again, considering Pell has enjoyed the rare fortune of being on the same label he began his solo conjecture with, Best Of Anniversary Edition is a slight bit done on the cheap and not fully reflective of this artist's respectable career. A nice tribute to his 11-year frontman, sure, but for the fan's money, not much to get excited about, at least until Pell's next studio work arrives. The rating is only for the lack of buying power, not for the quite excellent content.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, July 10, 2009

Take 5 With Mary Zimmer of Luna Mortis

Photo Credit: Selena Salfen

Fresh off her visit to L.A. and the black carpet of the Revolver Golden Gods Awards this past April, lead vocalist Mary Zimmer of Luna Mortis talked up the event in a phone conversation for The Metal Minute as one of her true "metal" moments.

The classically-trained Zimmer is one component of a well-oiled heavy metal machine which thrashes and bashes then intoxicates and luxuriates throughout their debut full-length album The Absence. A truly cohesive band with outstanding talent pegged in all five posts of the group, Luna Mortis may strike some at first sight as Lacuna Coil ship sailer.

Make no mistake, however; these dwellers under the eclipse ride no coat tails. Defying those who'd shoo them into the cattle chute of coincidental female-led metal groups, Luna Mortis bears little to compare themselves to Epica, Nightwish, Leaves Eyes or the previously-mentioned Lacuna Coil. With the production touch of the in-demand Jason Suecof (Trivium and All That Remains being only two of his well-known clients) assembling spectacular guitar parts from Brian Koenig and Cory Scheider, not to mention Mary Zimmer's diverse pitches, consider Luna Mortis on the fast track for something special.

The Metal Minute proudly welcomes Zimmer to Take 5...

The Metal Minute: Coming from Wisconsin where I imagine the weather can be some of the most challenging in the States, I'm not surprised your group came up with the name Luna Mortis. I've always felt the colder the climate is, the more starlit the sky becomes. Tell us a little about the area you're based in and what it might contribute to the music Luna Mortis creates.

Mary Zimmer: (laughs) That's a nice way to put it! Wisconsin is dark and cold for six months every year and I've seen the Northern Lights a couple times even though we don't live that far north. It is freaking freezing because we have certain polar winds that go through which are colder than other places that may actually be further north, like Washington. It's just freezing here, but I think traditionally in places where it's cold and dark, people like fucking metal! (laughs) It's just how it is, you know? I don't really know why that is, but we have some good metal here; Lazarus A.D. is from Kenosha and they're on Metal Blade now. There's also some good metal from the Twin Cities, Epicurean, who are also on Metal Blade, so if (the region) is cold and dark, then it's about time!

MM: Do you think the environment affects your overall mood when you're trying to perform? There's been studies on winter's tolls on the human psyche.

MZ: Not really. I have to say playing in extreme heat is never comfortable! Sometimes the cold is okay for playing, but man, loading stuff? Forget it, I hate it! Loading gear in the snow is literally awful; I'm just terrible about it, but we do it and we keep a good mindset when we play in the studio or live. We've had our share of blizzards, ice storms, you name it. We don't care; nothing's going to stop us.

MM: Your vocal style is one of the more unique I've heard in modern metal. I get something as a collision between Angela Gossow and Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes to a certain extent if you follow me there. For me, a lot of the modern female vocalists are almost compelled by rule to go towards one extreme or the other; you're either a screamer or you're a neo-classical impresario in the European tradition. I think there's a bit more of a rocker in you.

MZ: Oh, wow, thank you! The irony is I have all of this classical training and what-not because I went to school for music. I trained to be a classical singer but we tried that with the band and we hated it! (laughs) Our music is too aggressive and I definitely like to give off more of a tougher persona onstage. Just because you can do something doesn't mean it always works in music, you know? I'm actually more inspired by male vocalists even though there's a few female vocalists who've inspired me. It's mostly male influences in that way, especially since I have a lower voice. I think for female, the vocalist I was most influenced by is Anneke van Giersbergen of The Gathering; she was a big influence on me vocally. Floor Jansen from After Forever I think is also terrific. Male vocalists, Bruce Dickinson was a huge, huge influence on me for clean singing. For guttural and harsh vocals, Jeff Walker of Carcass and Tomas Lindberg of At the Gates left big impressions on me. They both do it different ways but they do it really well. They have the color I wanted to add to the palette after hearing people like them.

It was actually very easy (to mold a broad range of vocals); because of the classical training, I was able to do it and do it right. I guess you wouldn't say I just woke up one day and it was all awesome; that's not what happened since it's been developing for awhile. Because of the training I think it made my life a lot easier than it would've been otherwise.

MM: Obviously from the press I've read, the attention to Luna Mortis is centered around your vocals, but also your guitarists Brian (Koenig) and Cory (Scheider). Those guys are almost their own show as much as yourself, using "Ash" or "Forever More" as examples. Do you feel both compartments of the band raise one another to excel the entire group as a whole?

MZ: Definitely, it's very clearly a band in that respect. It's very clear this is a band and a group effort. It's great and I love it. I love there's a balance in the spotlight where everybody gets their time to shine because we really are a band, a group unit and a project, you know? Together we function as a unit and the fact I get to be in a band with amazing musicians is terrific. I couldn't ask for anything better. I really like during the live set being able to just have a break (laughs) and let Brian and Corey do their thing and let people pay attention to them for awhile! It's nice, because they add a lot to the show and they're amazing.

MM: One of The Absence's biggest assets I think is its dynamics and change of pace. You have moshing on "Forever More," some prog on "Ruin" and you have the ballad feel on "This Departure." Do you feel exploring different avenues keeps Luna Mortis honest?

MZ: Yeah, Brian is our principal songwriter. If he was on the phone with you, he'd tell you he doesn't like what he calls "same-y sounding" albums. He really likes a lot of writing and I totally agree because it's not too often anymore where you can listen to a whole album from start-to-finish because you get tired of it or whatever. He and the rest of us, we all set out to make sure the record had a lot of diversity and a lot of pulls from different musical areas. It makes it much more interesting and much more enjoyable. There's something for everybody on there yet we still make it all come together.

Copyright (c) 2009 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Thursday, July 09, 2009

CD Review: Ex Deo - Romulus

Ex Deo - Romulus
2009 Nuclear Blast
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Aside from HBO's short-realized drama series Rome and Russell Crowe's Gladiator beforehand, the empire hasn't enjoyed this much crossover media attention since Cecil B. DeMille.

Rome--especially Julius Caesar--is always good for an appearance on metal albums at least a few times a year; the same goes for The Kracken and The Wendigo. Some things are plainly endeared to metal such as blood-dripping swords, nymphs with parted legs, poisonous vipers and of course, underlings and overlords from below.

Kataklysm honcho Maurizio Iacono doesn't settle for merely generating an homage tune within his main stable. Instead, he creates Ex Deo, an entity designed specifically for the purpose of bringing the conquest, the gory spectator sports, the precisioned army with only the word "kill" imprinted on their minds, the backstabbing politics (literally), the heresy, the perversions and all that was Rome in its heydey.

Fitting that Ex Deo becomes a reality in the midst of a shaky neo-Rome that was the United States inflated on a post 9/11 superiority trip until the recission changed everyone's attitudes. As this country begins to reassemble itself with proverbial barbarians knocking at its gates, Ex Deo's Romulus is not just another death metal venture. Iacono's fully-realized epic is nearly The History Channel placed within an extreme music context.

Iacono recruits the talents of his Kataklysm mates JF Dagenais, Stephane Barbe and Max Duhamel (all to be saluted for their security within themselves to rally around Iacono) as well as Martyr's Francois Mongrain and Blackguard's Jonathan Leduc for this booming histrionic focusing on Rome's ascent to power. In addition, Iacono lures Karl Sanders of Nile, Nergal of Behemoth and Arnt Obsidian Gronbech from Keep of Kalessin as esteemed guests to Romulus' honor circle.

For a brief fresher course, Romulus, along with his twin brother Remus, are considered the true founders of Rome with Romulus credited as giving the epochal city of extravagance its namesake. In a duel over which man held favor with their pre-Christian gods in bestowing divine rights to naming the city, Romulus and Remus stood on opposing hills until a flock of birds encircled Romulus. Taking this as his sign of approval from the gods, Romulus slew his twin and became Rome's first sovereign.

Amongst the many myths about the brothers, the biggest is the suggestion they were suckled by a wolf, in particular a female changeling Lupa (aka Luperca), also a prostitute of her time. What history reveals in proof, however, is Romulus created the Roman Legion and the Roman Senate, the latter of which eventually became the world's first Republican party. Romulus, before his death, was documented as Rome's greatest conqueror of his time. Following his earthly exit, he was given deity status, renamed as Quirinus.

Of course, you can expect Iacono and Ex Deo to get far more detailed about the bloody life of Romulus and the building of a future empire. Summarizing the aforementioned back story in the sweeping lead track "Romulus," Ex Deo swings open the gates with fused orchestral sampling and a lurching death march tempo for Iacono's salutory barks.

From there, Romulus impressively assembles the beginning pieces of Rome's raging conquest in the name of the celestial warlords Jupiter and Mars en route to becoming earth's first true superpower. Fitting a death metal project would serve as vehicle to a full-fledged examination of Rome's formative years leading to the reign of Julius Caesar. "Cry Havoc," "Legio XIII," "Invictus" and especially the rapidly brutal "The Final War (Battle of Actium)" cut deep to the bone with sinewy doom chords, exact yet dirty guitar solos and a howling narrator orchestrating the entire matter like a professor of ancient history for an audience with more jagged intake preferences.

As the pulsing "Legio XIII" relays the famed crusader-minded 13th Legion, heralded as one of Rome's most formidable military assemblages, the parable to modern times is unmistakable as Iacono plunges his listeners into the mentality motivating Caeasar's powerful army "we live to fight this dream to unify our world, in dominance we rise..." Accuse certain nations and kingdoms over the course of time of adopting the same cause, the parallel is undeniable and would-be lords, ambassadors and presidents have no doubt studied Rome with the same intensity as Iacono.

While Ex Deo only steps on the gas in increments, opting to keep the pace decidedly at mid-tempo (albeit you have to love the way "Blood Courage and the Gods that Walk the Earth" launches into a thrash propulsion after a deliberately skulking pace) so Iacono's history lesson can be delivered with a better impact, Romulus is undoubtedly the heaviest Roman sanctorium the genre has yet produced. It is triumphant to the point of deliberation on "Cruor Nostri Abbas" and played to such a hilt even the keyboard-assisted closing instrumental "The Pantheon (Jupiter's Reign)," becomes a worthy score to a project nearly as ambitious as the Kevin McKidd-led television series.

While Alex North's symphonic Spartacus soundtrack remains on the opposite end of the spectrum musically, Ex Deo not only shifts vibes, it shifts sympathies from the downtrodden to those stamping down their will with sandals of aggression. Romulus is bloody havoc set to a sanguinary crushing tone. This is intriguing and entertaining stuff which yields something to learn in the process. Whatever it takes to reach and cultivate minds, right?

Of course, if death metal isn't your thing, be well-advised to step aside from Ex Deo's stamping legionairres or be fed to the lions, so to speak.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 7/8/09

The Kiddo in a Union camp at Gettysburg

Hope the 4th of July was good for all of my American readers (and for everyone else I likewise wish each and every one of you well). Spent mine in the company of my family at our annual picnic as is tradition every 4th and I am proud they have brought our soon-to-be-adopted child into the inner circle.

So we come to that part of the week again where I try to pause, catch my breath, look back on what's been going on personally and with those around me and I'm just befuddled by all of the recent celebrity deaths which have come in alarming doses. The funeral for Michael Jackson has been nothing short of a circus but also a fitting remembrance to one of the greatest entertainers the world has ever known.

On another maudlin note, Metal Church just announced their break-up, and I'm equally concerned for their record label which I've sent a query to their upper echelon for a hopeful good return of news. On the other hand, I received correspondence about Slayer's new album World Painted Blood from their press rep and it's bound to cause controversy as well as peel the skin right of out of the ear canals of their listeners. Can't wait for that one.

Been rather busy fixing up the yard and creating a pit for the kiddo's swingset which was donated to us and we'll now be working hard on getting it put together plus tackling the fearsome prospect of cleaning out the dreaded garage. The older you get, the harder it is to dedicate whole weekends to these projects, but the results are turning out nicely. If there's any way I want to grow up in this life, it's to make our property beautiful inside and out so that the child has a good place to live. Then again, I just picked up a couple seasons of Superfriends for ten bucks a pop, so he'll care about nothing but them once he gets a look at 'em. Already he's identifying Spiderman and Batman everywhere; little goof sounded out and pointed to Batman on the Superfriends box, so that makes myself, aka "Batjerk" very happy.

Listening-wise, heavy up on the new Devildriver and I'm way submerged in The Moody Blues. I spent most of the time I had available yesterday analyzing the new Mars Volta album and I'd jokingly stated on Facebook I was going to use that and a big cup of coffee to wake up since the Volta is some of the most caffeinated music out there. Octahedron, however, is more like a comforting carafe of decaf, hardly on the uppity side but still excellent and beautiful at times. I suppose Omar and Cedric (along with the Chili Peppers' John Frusciante and others) wanted to prove they could be just as effective and detailed at slow-to-mid-tempo. Takes some adjustment, but the Mars Volta continues to be as brilliant as ever.

Viewing-wise, wifey and I are plowing through Dallas Season 10 and I managed to review a couple of the music DVDs from my insane pile, Maiden's Flight 666 which you read about here at The Metal Minute and The Moody Blues' Isle of Wight 1970 concert, currently running at DVD I'm also managing to carve out a few minutes at will to read James Patterson's Double Cross; that guy's like a bullet with his snub-nosed chapters and he still manages to be entertaining where you feel like a baby having a toy yanked out of your hands when you have to stop. Hey, kiddo, what's your opinion on that, little buddy?

Despite my schedule and the fact I am diving back into writing my second novel, I'm going for broke itinery-wise so be on the lookout here at The Metal Minute in the upcoming weeks for reviews of Ex Deo, Killswitch Engage, Job For a Cowboy, Church of Misery, Suffocation, Celan, Bury Your Dead, Lord Mantis, Eluveitie, Devin Townsend Project, Vinnie Moore, Devil's Whorehouse, Axel Rudi Pell, Hypnose, Delain, Sunn O))), Khors, Elvenkind, Assaulter, Eagle Twin, Dark Castle, Alex Gilbert & Freddie Nelson, HOD and Leeches of Lore. Plus I am rather late with that Take 5 piece with Luna Mortis, aren't I? Indeed I am, but once I have that running for you folks, be ready for a special Take 5 guest The Metal Minute is proud to bring you, Phil Labonte of All That Remains...

As if that wasn't enough to get excited about, a possible Sunday Potpourri selection may manifest as well as an Album You Can't Live Without. Metal Mark is here to take you Somewhere in Time every Tuesday and a couple other writers answered the call for contributions, so expect to see a few guest pieces crop up in the near future.

Hotter than hell, refusing to be the Sam Krubish of our time, I am humbly yours at The Metal Minute...

Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Devildriver - Pray for Villains
Ted Nugent - Free For All
Dream Theater - Black Clouds and Silver Linings
The Moody Blues - Days of Future Past
The Moody Blues - On the Threshold of a Dream
The Moody Blues - 20th Century Millennium Collection
Novembers Doom - Into Night's Requiem Eternal
Novembers Doom - The Novella Reservoir
Novembers Doom - The Pale Haunt Departure
The Mars Volta - Octahedron
Ex Deo - Romulus
Glittertind - Landkjenning
The Crimson Armada - Guardians
Psychostick - Sandwich
Janis Joplin with Big Brother and The Holding Company - Live at Winterland '68

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Somewhere in Time Tuesday With Metal Mark: Venom - Welcome to Hell

In 1981 the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was in full swing. Of course this scene would be a huge influence on the whole metal world for years to come even if not every band involved would see great financial success.

Like any scene there were good bad and lousy ones. This trio actually showed traits of both ends of the spectrum, but still managed to knock out one of the most influential albums of the time. Really, these guys could barely play their instruments on this, their debut.

Actually, it would be until almost the end of the decade before Venom sounded like they knew what they were doing. Songs like “Like an Angel” sound they just turned on the record button and just banged and bumped their instruments until someone said “stop.” However, what they did possess was attitude and a willingness to explore. That’s how they managed to knock out tracks like the crushing “Witching Hour,” the blazing “Angel Dust” and the raw, yet brutal title track.

They may have stumbled, clunked and hid behind layers of distortion, but this album and its follow-up Black Metal were huge influences on early thrash bands all over the globe.

I can’t remember whether I heard Welcome to Hell or Black Metal first. However, both albums and the debut in particular made me take notice due to the in-your-face aggressive nature. The fuzzy screeching and haphazard, even sloppy stampede of sound was in direct contrast to bands I was used to like Van Halen and Judas Priest who were so organized and depended on strong production values.

I can only listen to Venom in small doses these days, but that first album is still an album that deserves to be played at least every now and then.

--Metal Mark

Monday, July 06, 2009

CD Review: Glittertind - Landkjenning

Glittertind - Landkjenning
2009 Napalm Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Glittertind is the second highest mountain scape in Norway including a glacier nubbed at the peak. Located in the Lom region, Glittertind is named after the river Glitra. Thus by Latin derivation, both are rooted and associated with "glitter," as in sparkling and effervescent.

Torbjorn Sandvik is the driving force behind Glittertind, the Norwegian folk metal entity, who like many of his Viking-enamored peers such as Tyr, utilizes his talents to create stirring metal odes about the Christian cannibalization of the Scandinavian territories in ancient times. As the Vikings are normally portrayed as bloodthirsty war mongers, part of the lore may be true, but Sandvik, his of-late partner in mayhem Geirmund Simonsen and their fellow Viking metallers who can be found lending a hand in Glittertind would like you to know there's a back story.

On Glittertind's third outing Landkjenning Sandvik and company expand upon the former one-man show instigating Evige Asatro and Til Dovre Faller to derive a richer sound to the folk-collision-into-punk modes that is Glittertind.

This time around, Landkjenning does boast some punk riffage but it is decidedly both more metal and more folk-oriented to the point Glittertind now sounds uproariously capricious and downright maudlin in succession. The ode track "Glittertind" is representative of all three facets to Sandvik's thought processes. If you could imagine skaters catapaulting themselves from the thresholds of half-pipes to a stamping punk tempo with heavier tones, fiddling, earthy percussion and Norwegian crooning, you're getting into the nearly-insane spirit of things.

"Varder in Brann" is a hoppity trad tune derived straight from yesteryear complete with spritely reed instruments and the effect will feel as if Viking impersonators have ransacked your regional Renaissance Festival in search of the most expensive brew on the premises. Then again, "Jen Snorer Min Sekk" is a crazy hybrid of streets-meet-forest where Glittertind's punk affinities chaw and snarl ravenously with tin whistles galore. It's not so much the same as what Flogging Molly does since you're talking Scandinavia versus Ireland, but the approach is similar, albeit Flogging Molly (and Korpiklanni, for that matter) moves at a brisker pace.

As the title track opens Landkjenning with a triumphant metallic stride complete with rousing masculine chorals akin to Tyr and "Nordafjells" drops skull-splitting hammers atop the earthbound instrumentalization beneath them in one of Glittertind's heaviest cuts ever, expect the mood to switch later in the album. Almost as a funeral march in sequential order, Glittertind issues an emotional acoustic interlude with "Mot Myrke Vetteren" followed by the gallows-inducing heaviness of "Brede Seil Over Nordsjo Gar" and rounded by a dragged sorrow ushered through the violin and fugue organ whispering through "Overmate Full Av Nade."

It helps if you're deeply familiar with Viking history to fully appreciate what Torbjorn Sandvik (and Bathory before him) is trying to convey. Some may confuse the folk metal and Viking metal genres as directly-associated with black metal due to their recurrent anti-Christian themes, but the direct point to this stuff is the descendents of Scandinavia hold a grudge in honor of their distant ancestors with far more condemnation than the American South. Dragon heads on the prow or stars 'n bars, both were designed in theory to chase off undesired company, which is perhaps why Viking metal has risen in popularity.

Whether they have a right to or not in modern times is the eye of the beholder, yet from a music standpoint, there's no denying bands such as Tyr, Finntroll, Amon Amarth, Korpiklanni, Eluveitie and Glittertind are all entertaining as hell. Landkjenning well stands up to its class of Drekar longship-daydreamt adventurees and if you can decipher the native tongue, it will present an alternate chronology motivating a somewhat-misunderstood race of raiders. Right or wrong in their savagery, you have to admit the Vikings are the best thing to happen to metal since the English knights.

Rating: ****

Sunday, July 05, 2009

CD Review: Devildriver - Pray for Villains

Devildriver - Pray for Villains
2009 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

At this point, if you mutter Dez Fafara's name with Coal Chamber's in the same sentence, expect to be cast direct center into a Parting of the Red Sea with an entire club full of Devildriver fans collapsing on you from both sides.

Also, if you haven't done your homework enough to realize Devildriver's name isn't satanic, that it in fact represents quite the opposite, a driving out of demons and their nihilistic overlord (thus this writer hasn't committed blasphemy by reviewing Devildriver on the Christian sabbath, so ha!) then forget all of that semantic nonsense and get some.

After four albums now to their credit, Fafara and his hurricane squad have come well into their own as a dominant force of modern metal bringing as much heaviness as you're wont to take. With Pray for Villans, Devildriver have stepped their game up another notch they could easily take on a battle of the bands against Dethklok on the southernmost tip of Florida and give Nathan Explosion and his gory anarchists a good once-over.

One band being a genuine touring entity versus a hypothetical fiction group (Brandon Small and Gene Hoglan aside), the fact is Devildriver doubles their efforts on Pray for Villains, a massive album which only has one misfire, the overly-experimental shuffle-jive of "Pure Sincerity" which only fizzles because of the unwelcome double-bass kick smooshing its primarily slow groove flat.

Of course, triple beats, blast rhythms and severely-possessed ankles are drummer John Boecklin's calling card and everywhere else on Pray for Villains the heavy artillery he lays upon his afflicted bass drum serves Devildriver's efforts perfectly. Boecklin summons veritable monsoons from his bulky thrash tempos on the title track, "I See Belief," "Fate Stepped In," "I've Been Sober," "Forgiveness is a Six Gun" and most especially his lethal provocations on "Waiting for November." There's just no way you're just going to sit around with your hands in your pockets with this album--albeit the latter track probably yields a great wanking rhythm.

Dez Fafara has settled snugly into a headbanger's ethos after four slabs he knows when to set his hellions free to be their own show as he has shirked off his fame in the interest of coughing out smartly-delivered and graceful (for growling tones, that is) flow in time with his band. Jeffrey Kendrick and Michael Spreitzer have made a formidable alliance for three consecutive albums since original guitarist Evans Pitts departed it truly feels like Devildriver has (along with bassist Jon Miller) has been an all-original member entity, no disrespect intended towards Pitts.

The solos whirled out from Kendrick and Spreitzer are another reason to sink into Pray for Villains. Whether they're called upon to keep it simplstic and cut short on the doom-laden "It's in the Cards" or they fling out six-string symposiums equivalent to the soundtrack of Zeus' wrath by their relentless fret twirls on "Resurrection Blvd," this tag team may get blown away by only a handful of their peers (KK Downing and Glenn Tipton, Maiden's front trio or Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu being obvious leaders of the realm), but undoubtedly these bucks will give anyone in the business a spirited toe-to-toe.

Produced by Machine Head's Logan Mader, Pray for Villains is both leaner and meatier to the point Devildriver's songs become a bit more anthemic where the listener can easily yell "Break the cycle!" along with Fafara on "Bitter Pill" or "So get your head up!" on "Fate Stepped In." As Fafara's true home is along the world's lost highways (confirmed by this writer in 2005 in an interview with Fafara from his rolling bus), he waxes about the road life throughout Pray for Villains while Mader assembles his band's parts to the point you're feeling perfectly bunked in for the ride.

"Teach Me to Whisper" is another interesting tune, not only from its terrific bobbing thrash groove and articulate guitar lines, but from a lyrical standpoint where Fafara issues a responsible edict to work on the side of the light by striving to keep one's anger harbored and channeled productively. You have to appreciate a man who barks for a living having the wherewithal to preach inner peace.

Whether you've been paying attention or not, Devildriver is fully-equipped at this point to make a stand for themselves as one of metal's more honest and endearing units. The Fury of Maker's Hand was Dez Fafara's announcement of his intentions beyond his past, while Pray for Villains is a headstrong making good on those promises.

Rating: ****

Saturday, July 04, 2009

One From the Vault: Alice Cooper - "Freedom" video

Happy 4th, metalheads...

Friday, July 03, 2009

DVD Review: Iron Maiden - Flight 666

Iron Maiden - Flight 666
2009 Universal Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Indulge me, readers, if you will, another Van Horn personal anecdote leading into this review of Iron Maiden's stellar Flight 666 DVD.

I was blessed to have caught the concert you will bear witness to on Flight 666 a little more than a week after being put on the curb by a former employer. As good as life can get during a time of duress when I was in the fearsome position of scrambling to find work with a 6-month-old infant placed in our care only four days prior to being laid off, I got the call from an attorney friend who had an extra ticket to this Maiden extravaganza. The band notes their dubbed Somewhere Back in Time Tour was for their fans young and old, particularly the younger sect who never got a chance to see Maiden's famed onstage theatrics back in the day. Thus I went on my friend's graciousness, this time as a fan instead of in the photo pit during Maiden's 2006 A Matter of Life and Death tour.

Iron Maiden presented in 2008 one of the most bombastic and eye-pleasing shows I've ever been privileged to attend--and with a gleefully nostalgic kickback to the eighties, a volatile spectacle which made them the hottest heavy metal ticket of the decade. As I'd come to be a fan in 1982 with the introduction to Killers and subsequently Number of the Beast, I can honestly say I (along with more than a million other fans) have now seen Maiden in their fullest presentive capacity via the Somewhere Back in Time Tour from last year. It was not only a therapeutic release to a trying moment in my life, it was a bucket list item crossed off as I'd missed the famous World Slavery Tour of 1985 captured gloriously on Maiden's epochal Live After Death video.

Flight 666 is a novel approach for a band making its bread and butter off of live releases as much as they do with their studio albums. Instead of merely running cameras in a handful of venues to document this landmark event in Maiden's prolific career, Flight 666 puts the cameras on board a Boeing 757 dubbed "Ed Force One" (complete with an Iron Eddie bobblehead on the dash of the cockpit and a vintage mummified Eddie painting on the tail) and takes their fans on a rather incredible journey of the course of two DVDs including the entire show filmed in 16 different venues.

Hitting 23 dates in 45 days over a transcontinental span of 50,000-plus miles, the Somewhere Back in Time Tour was not only a healthy career injection for Iron Maiden, it gave them opportunities to play countries they hadn't seen in decades or even not at all. Flinging the viewer at a rapid pace from India to Australia to Japan to Los Angeles to all over South America then New Jersey and Toronto, Flight 666 zips along even at a heavy two hours on breathless wings piloted by the voice of Iron Maiden himself, Bruce Dickinson.

The son of Royal Air Force pilots, Dickinson not only submits himself to the rigors of ripping his esophagus out for 23 gigs (merely the tour's first leg captured in this film) plus leaping all about the stage as if still in his mid-twenties, dashing backstage for wardrobe maneuvers and fielding press in various cities, he flies Ed Force One throughout the tour. Encasing the entire band and road crew plus Iron Maiden's cumbersome stage gear designed to replicate their halcyon Egyptian panorama from Powerslave, the fact Dickinson has the wherewithal to pilot his charges with only a few breaks to catch his wind is remarkable. At times he pals around with the gang and pre-autographs glossy photos, but as guitarist Dave Murray notes in Flight 666, Bruce's unyielding energy becomes infectious to the rest of the group, which is inhumanly dialed-in onstage.

Not that the greatest heavy metal band the world has ever seen has been anything less than professional even when Dickinson departed for a few years, but there is a renewed passion to the vintage catalog Iron Maiden presents on the Somewhere Back in Time Tour. Adrian Smith, always known for his calculated precision (and verified by his bandmates in the interview sequences of Flight 666) whips out blinding arpeggios and mega scale blitzes, while the fingers of Murray and sovereign bassist Steve Harris are hard to keep full eye upon even when cameras zoom in on their frets. How Nicko McBrain continues to play drums barefooted after so long in the game is beyond comprehension, while Janick Gers reliably fields rhythm and random solos. As the other members of Maiden joke about his duality to be personable and standoffish, there's no doubt Janick Gers keeps the group honest even when at their most serious. You can see him strut and bounce over towards stage right to cut up his counterparts while Dickinson zooms from all ends of the herculean stage, bearing the Union Jack and Royal Palace guard coat during "The Trooper" or his erotic avarian mask for "Powerslave." Amazing how much fun these guys are still having at their ages...

The biggest asset to Flight 666 is enjoying the rare glimpse into how Iron Maiden keeps themselves going on the road, particularly in a high-stakes endeavor set at a mad dog pace while subjecting themselves to differing climates. The deeper they go into South America, the hotter the temperature, while in the Andes mountains, the strained air quality presents an altogether different level of endurance. As South America is one of the biggest hotbeds for metal on the entire planet, you get why Iron Maiden concentrated so heavily from Mexico to Argentina, but even they note in Flight 666 the gigs beforehand were the honeymoon shows of the tour, so to speak.

The fact so many of their South American fans are shown chasing the band's buses and pounding on the windows of their hotels with chants of "Ole, ole, ole, ole...Maiden...Maiden..." are bare facets to the locals' overall fascination. As a region still looked upon by neighboring continents as third world, Flight 666 casts an unintentionally accusatory finger at the region's impoverishments--and in some areas, military oppression. These are fans who camp out for days along the roadsides with barely any food and face a huge risk of arrest lurking over their shoulders, all just to have a shot at seeing their idols perform. Certainly different than the freedom of choice-oriented capitalist countries which tend to devalue artists because of the amount of choices available to them.

Flight 666 is filmed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, the Canadian metalheads who must be having the times of their lives in following up their previous genre films Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and Global Metal. How can you not envy these guys for having the opportunity of a lifetime following Iron Maiden in front of the stage, behind the massive backdrops, on the tennis courts and golf courses, as well recording funny post-show conversations which usually feature Nicko McBrain gnawing on pizza? Ditto for having the opportunity to point the camera at Kerry King, Scott Ian, Ronnie James Dio, Tom Morello and Lars Ulrich backstage at Maiden's gig at The Forum in Los Angeles, or Doro Pesch and Eddie Trunk at the New Jersey concert.

As Maiden brilliantly pulls off their epic masterpiece "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" onstage and the Somewhere in Time cyborg Eddie lurches out onstage during "Iron Maiden," complete with on-board night vision camera capturing the band wailing and flailing beneath him, Flight 666 bears a ever-so-slight upgrade to past classics. Certainly Maiden was much fiercer back in the day when the inflatable Eddie Mummy crashed out overtop the stage (which was recreated at the gig I attended but missing from this DVD, along with the larger-than-life mechanical devil for "Number of the Beast"), but today it might be said this band is back on full thrust if not wholly surpassing themselves.

Nicko McBrain takes a hard ding in his wrist from an errant golf ball and still plays his guts out instead of calling off the show in a country filled with such devoted fans one was noted to have quit his job because it was Maiden's first (and possibly only) appearance. That's showing your audience as much respect as they give you.

Flight 666 is as spectacular and crucial to Iron Maiden's vast catalog as Live After Death, perhaps more so because this is a band that could've easily halted their power metal train--or plane, if you like--yet still yields a bounty of enthusiasm and relevance by attrition. As the film winds on the end point noting Iron Maiden has put themselves in an appreciable spot as ambassadors of hope to a vast worldwide audience, don't expect those iron turbines to grow too cold.

Rating: *****

Thursday, July 02, 2009

CD Review: Psychostick - Sandwich

Psychostick - Sandwich
2009 Psychostick, LLC/Rock Ridge, LLC
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As much a part of every rock, punk and metal scene, there has to be the practical joker anti-band or two watchdogging and roasting the frontrunners if not serving to be utterly sassy, but to point out the simple fact a lot of bands take themselves far too seriously.

Whether you're talking about Tenacious D, S.O.D. and Adrenalin OD, or even Scatterbrain, Bloodhound Gang and Spinal Tap, this cheeky little subdivision of rock has habitually made itself welcome as a referee against the mainstream, so long as there's a point--subtle or blunt--to be made for its baldfaced insanity.

Psychostick may come off as idiot savants considering a lot of what they sing about are everyday common crap such as oranges, hoagies, salsa and taking showers, but the Texas taco munchers who once released an album called We Couldn't Think of a Title in 2006 are smarter than you think.

Their latest album Sandwich is sheer ridiculousness, proposing via the title track this whole endeavor is nothing more than a slab of turkey 'n cheese crammed with whole wheat and a frog (!) wedged between. Or maybe not.

At any rate, Sandwich is a frequently hilarious jibe against the wank machine utilizing booming modes of death metal, punk, funk and crunk. Psychostick operate as if the early days of Incubus, Mudvayne and the Chili Peppers were spent more interested in getting tracks laid down for the payoff of a pizza with green peppers and mushrooms (magic, that is) than getting their feet wet and audiences built with manic funk rock before about-facing for the more demure pastures each of the aforementioned have guiltily strayed into.

Only a band this stupid could have its lead singer Rob "Rawrb" Kersey (who can pull off a convincing Billy Milano when he wants to) wail and puke about citrus in one breath and then literally vomit on the subsequent track, "Beer 2." Albeit nothing will ever outdo Mike Patton's diarrhea attack on the first Mr. Bungle album, this is pretty amusing stuff, especially once Psychostick launches into the nonsensical "Do You Want a Taco?" immediately after nauseating their audience. How about a chili dog to cap?

Jugheads unite as Psychostick go berserk on the laughter-provoking "Minimum Rage," "Grocery Escape Plan, "Caffeine," "Girl Directions," "Don't Eat My Food," "You've Got Mail Enhancement" and "Die...a LOT!"

They also attack corporate chart darlings with lots of rib-jabbing potshots such as "A Lesson in Modesty," "P is the Best Letter" and the knuckleheaded "Attempt at Something Serious" where a lone acoustic interlude in progress keeps getting interrupted by intrusions with squeaky toys and exclamations of "BALLS!" only to be received by a spastic, holier-than-thou primadonna tissy fit. Not far in theory from S.O.D.'s "What's That Noise?" Add to the hate party mix a venomous AOR rock torching in the form of "#1 Radio Single" (as does "The Hunger Within" in music formulation despite talking about nothing more than food, or rather, a lack thereof) where everyone from Staind to 3 Doors Down stands accused.

At times Sandwich overplays its jokes, such as the ten-minute-plus "373 Thank Yous" where Psychostick sings out their credits and thanks with ever-changing metal motifs including hardcore breakdowns and swoon-filled bridges. Funny in concept and execution, the only bitch is the timing of the track. And you thought rap album shout-outs (which this tune assuredly spanks in transition) were tedious...

Psychostick lights up the inherent nihilism of modern hardcore and metalcore with "Passive Vengeance" by threatening to scratch up your favorite CDs and give your dog the runs to the tune of gang-shouted vocal lapses and un-threats of "no direct confrontation at all." At the end of "Passive Vengeance" Psychostick rips on not only their own band name but all of today's three-to-four-word metalcore band names (they would've had a field day with Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky if they'd thought of it).

Sandwich is not as brutally offensive as some of Psychostick's shticky predecessors, but it does get into the gutter when it wants to (the abbreviated, snickerish "Vah-jay-jay" for example) and perhaps only Scatterbrain metalled it up better than these guys. Psychostick does ask if you would like to metal right out the gate and jokesters or not, these guys tighten up frequently, whether they're being serious or not. Then again, when they insert a tinny demo-quality breakdown in the middle of "P is the Best Letter" and issue an apologetic "Just kidding!" before dumbly spelling out the letters of their name with a demand to "get it fucking right or we'll burn down your club," then well... serious is as serious does.

Rating: ***1/2