At this point in my "Headbangers" project, I had just finished a four-and-a-half hour straight interview with Michael Schenker and prior to that, three days with Joe Lynn Turner. I was starting to feel comfortable chatting with these reknowned musicians to the point I began chumming things up a bit.
I was a huge Overkill fan in the eighties and naturally they were high on my checklist to hit up for this project. I was unable to procure conversation time with any of the current members in 2003, though as I grew into a journalist role, I later enjoyed three hilarious chats with Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and a couple with Rat Skates as well. I even caught Overkill at The Trocodero in Philly in 2006, a flippin' great gig, though as you'll read further, I was glancing upwards in the old theater looking for the water sprinklers and picturing what former guitarist Bobby Gustafson saw in a memorably-doused Overkill gig.
It was Gustafson who kindly opened communication with me in 2003. We'd emailed back-and-forth a number of times before officially setting up this laid-back interview. I remember being thrilled to pieces because like many fans, I'd been bummed back in the day he and Rat took off from Overkill. Life in a rock 'n roll band, as they say...
At the time of this conversation, Bobby was then in a Florida agro-thrash unit called Response Negative. Though I only have their five-song EP, you could tell the changeover from nu-metal to trad and thrash metal was eeking their way back into favor in the American underground just from this blazing EP. Though Bobby's no longer in the band, I recommend shagging down what you can of his time in Response Negative.
You can see I opened a number of different topics with Bobby, getting the dirty work out of the way first and then popping out non-Overkill topics. I was still fleshing out ideas and directions for the book, so I used the very-amicable Bobby Gustafson to try a few out, discussing things such as Headbangers Ball, Megaforce Records and tape trading.
In catching up with Bobby the past week and revisiting our old interview, he informed me he and Blitz have patched a few fences in 2010, this being the 25th anniversary of Feel the Fire's release. With the current inception of Overkill releasing their thrashiest album in years, Ironbound, the years of decay hopefully now mean more than the unfortunate split between Gustafson and his one-time Jersey brothers.
Ray Van Horn, Jr.: You played with Overkill through The Years of Decay album. Overkill was a real powerhouse in the eighties underground, but the press would always write the band off as being just shy of Megadeth, Anthrax or even Metallica when Overkill was still a pure thrash and NWOBHM band. Did it feel like you guys always had something to prove?
Bobby Gustafson: Yeah, it was kind of a weird feeling to feel a little left out behind the other bands since we really all started at the same time. It took us awhile to get to that first mountain. We really got signed in ’84 and Megaforce was doing all of their albums up at Pyramid, so we almost waited an entire year before we got our first album out and it seems just so much behind everybody else that we always felt like we were trying to play catch-up with everybody. We did what did and we felt we were always a little bit different just having the single guitar approach and being compatible with all the other bands, which had two. We didn’t try and outdo everybody else; we tried to outdo ourselves and make each album better than the last. It actually got us to about the fourth album (The Years of Decay) that we finally sounded the way we sounded and everyone would say we sounded so much better live. We always seemed to fall short in the studio, but live we kicked ass just as much as everybody else. We started to catch our groove on the third album (Under the Influence) and then got into that groove on the fourth and then everything kind of just fell apart after that. We didn’t have to prove anything to the other bands, just to ourselves, to get better ourselves, trying to write heavier than each last album.
RVH: It’s called shred now, but was there a lot of pressure on you as the lone guitarist to play in a “shred” style? I’d consider you one of the first metal guitarists to be considered a shredder by modern standards.
BG: As far as the writing, it seemed like it was just mostly me, but I always kind of felt I had to do both jobs. I was fine doing that, doing all the rhythm, doing all the lead and doing about ninety percent of the writing, even myself. I felt got better each time in the studio and everything kind of worked out. We got the right guy with Terry Day, who “got” our sound. It’s hard to say the way you felt so long ago, but I didn’t feel cornered. I didn’t really feel rushed and I got everything done in time for when we needed a new album. It was always there.
RVH: Since you’re on the core Overkill albums such as Taking Over, Feel the Fire, Under the Influence and The Years of Decay, what was that whole experience like for you being in that time and place when metal was in its healthiest stage of the eighties?
BG: It was weird; my part in the band, at least for the first two albums, we had the original lineup with Rat (Skates) and everything from day one was equal. Just because those two (Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and DD Verni) are the only two that are left in the band, it made it seem like it was their band and that everyone else was just a hired hand or whatever. It wasn’t like that at all. We were all four even members until the third and fourth albums where Rat had left, which kind of separated the band into thirds. We all still had equal say; no one outsaid anyone else as far as anything else, but it happened to be that for some of the ideas, the song titles, album covers, the music itself, most of the work was done by me. I don’t know if they were losing control of the band or if I was stepping on their toes. Once we got our management in there, I seemed to work closer with them a lot more than anybody else, and I think they just got intimidated by that.
RVH: I guess that’s essentially the path that led to the falling out?
BG: I find out more and more stuff as time goes on, but initially it seems to me--even if you look at their DVD that came out a year or two ago (then) (Wrecking Everything – Live)--they just seemed to have their minds set on money, and I think that’s what it really came down to. We were going to get a merchandise and publishing deal, which was all going to happen for that next album that I was going to be on. I think Blitz and DD realized ‘Hey, we may not be able to do this forever, so why split something three ways when we can split it fifty-fifty?’ I think that sort of played in their minds a bit, as well as an argument I had gotten into about doing a one-off goofy Halloween show at L’Amours in Brooklyn. I’m not into that. I’m not into that with my current (in 2003) band, Response Negative, and I wasn’t with Overkill. I take the shows seriously and we did a sold-out show at The Ritz and Studio 54 in Manhattan, and that was our last impression of the area. I wanted to go into the fifth album with that impression, not some wacky Halloween show where we play some cover songs and everyone got drunk! That wasn’t what I wanted our final lasting image to be, so that kind of got us into an argument between me and DD. It got blown out of proportion and then I find out they’re trying to get me kicked out and all this other shit, so I said to hell with it, you know?
RVH: The Fuck You EP is something I remember the mainstream actually took note of for the wrong reasons naturally, but it was such an anthem for the rest of us fans. I’m sure this is obvious, but what kind of heat did you guys take for that EP? I personally remember one day buying it with the middle finger cover shown on display in the case, and later seeing it with a black cover overtop. Now that it’s been re-released on CD, they leave the middle finger be. Amazing how society’s moral brackets change over time, eh?
BG: Yeah, I think when it first came out we actually had to put it in the black sheath or they wouldn’t carry it in the stores. We got it on the t-shirts and the shirts were getting banned; kids were getting thrown out of school, that whole bit.
RVH: I remember! Glad I wore the Taking Over shirt! (laughs)
BG: We loved it! Even now, when you think about it, it would be kind of shocking to do it in this day and age, but to do it back in 1987, it was like, ‘Holy crap, we pulled it off!’ We reissued it a couple of years later with a couple more songs on it. I guess when you’re just a young kid, you don’t think much about it, but once you get older and you look back, you’re like ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe we did that!’ That’s the one thing people remember a lot, is that big finger and the shirt, that whole thing. It’s really cool. We had the big banners onstage with the middle finger too and kids just ate that t-shirt up!
RVH: Speaking of a ‘fuck you moment,’ this is my favorite Overkill memory I’d like to share with you...my buddy and I back in the day were at this pretty conservative 4th of July picnic, hot as balls outside, wearing our traditional torn jeans and black metal shirts, real scuzzball appearance. We carried my boom box all over the grounds with “Deny the Cross” blaring! We loved the expressions of people passing us by who were so shocked at us, and then I’d give them the finger for looking at us! That was our fan attitude. How about being in a metal band, when people would walk past you and maybe think ‘Freak?’
BG: Oh, absolutely! It was everything, from the long hair to the black leather jackets, to the music. It was weird; I kind of look at it now from my parents’ point-of-view. They let me get away with all of that, like here’s my kid with hair down to his ass and a big finger on his shirt and everything else--who knows what the hell they might’ve been thinking? That was just the attitude and it was the time. When I graduated high school, I think there might’ve been one other guy in our class that had long hair! You’re still talking back in ’83 and still it was a really strange thing. Once you went out to the club, you realize ‘shit, there’s so many people just like me here,’ and it just took off. It wasn’t such a odd thing to have long hair, leather jacket with spikes and studs and a belt to match, stuff like that. But we were like, ‘Hey, this is what we do and this is metal!’ That was the start of it with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with the leather and studs. You’re not going to take it away from us, this is our youth and these are the clothes we’re wearing right now!
RVH: It’s funny seeing it all recycled by today’s generation, particularly so many girls wearing studded belts...
BG: As if it just got invented! (laughs)
RVH: (laughs) I want to tell these kids, come see my old denim vest!
BG: Or I had longer hair than you! (laughs) Now it’s cool again! Everything goes in a cycle; the only thing that hasn’t changed is Europe, because they never got out of the denim vest with all the patches and the wristbands, the whole bit. They’re just stuck in the eighties, and that’s really what held onto a lot of this, because American MTV and American radio will just go from week-to-week with a new band, these buzz-type bands, and that changes what the kids listen to. They really have no clue. Luckily we have a thrash documentary to show people what it was like back in the day. There’s even a lot of Scandinavian bands that never lost that evil with the black makeup, the black clothes and the studs; they’re still holding onto it. There’s little pockets of the old days that are just holding on and maybe it’ll make kind of a resurgence, because kids are kids! When we were in our twenties, we were indestructible and energetic as well, you know, and I think kids are the same. When they rediscover speed metal or whatever, they say ‘Wow, this is a whole different type of music!’
RVH: Back in the day there was no internet; you had pen pals...
BG: Exactly! That’s another amazing thing about that time period, is that we got ourselves like Metallica did in the magazines and got our name out just by tape trading and doing everything by mail! Now it’s just boom! A whole different age with computers and it’s just so weird to be a part of that. Everything was so slow and full of word-of-mouth. You had to buy a magazine to see what band had a demo out and everything else. (sighs) To be making music in both of those time periods, then and right now, it’s just a very strange thing. We even switched over from vinyl to CD between our second and third albums, which was a major change!
RVH: My European and Japanese pen pals in the day, I remember it took like six weeks to get tapes back and forth to each other, and that was considered a good relay time! (laughs)
BG: And that’s why the shows over there were so diehard because they knew they weren’t going to see you for another year. The contact wasn’t there unless you called someone on the phone or wrote them a letter. Now I’ve talked to people since they’ve found out I’m in Response Negative. I’ve gotten emails from Russia, Germany, Singapore and South America, and I can instantly let all four corners of the earth know what I’m doing and what’s going on with the band, as opposed to before. If you wanted to put an advertisement that your album was coming out, you had to pay for your page in the magazine and you had to wait for it to come out. It was all a matter of timing, and people didn’t know what the hell was going on until you had the announcements in some of these fanzines, you know? It was great. That was our information highway.
RVH: Slow as it was! (laughs)
BG: (laughs) A lot of stuff from back in the day has changed; clubs have changed, the way people advertise has changed. Even down here (Florida) it’s really weird, because up in New York, you used to fight to be the last band, the closing band. Being the headliner was a really big deal. You’d struggle to get big and to get to that point, while down here, it’s just strange. A lot of the time, the headlining bands has one band after them, so if the club is open long enough they want to bop or whatever, the headlining band is going on somewhere between 11 and 12. It’s just really strange to have a band play after, almost to close the show; it’s a real L.A. thing to do, but people just don’t stay out all night like we used to. I think that was strange.
RVH: Also interesting to note is how the guitar solo has found its favor once again after being vilified by kids of the nu-metal scene. I think, ironically enough, it’s been the resurged Headbangers Ball that put choice songs on its playlist a year or so ago to help the guitar solos come back.
BG: It’s a part of this music! I think where the solos disappeared was when all of these buzz-type bands started coming about, with Nirvana just not sticking the solos in there; well, then, that’s the new thing, so everyone just started to not put solos in their songs.
RVH: I always thought of it as a cop-out, with young players trying to learn as quickly as possible to play some power chords and bang, you’re a guitarist!
Ray's note: since 2003, I'll take the stance a considerable number of today's guitarists have excellent chops; this opinion was cast at the tail-end of nu-metal
BG: Yeah, I can’t name anybody off the top of my head, but I wouldn’t doubt some of the musicians were sub-par and never made it to the solo end of playing, to just play chords. I wouldn’t doubt that at all.
RVH: It’s gotten better as a whole recently, but there’s so many bands right now, many with no real prayer to make it because you’re expected to produce right away. You have no development time as a band.
BG: A lot of them are just young, flavor-of-the-week-type bands that they know they’ll sink a little bit of money into, they’re a bunch of little teeny-bop boys or girls they’re all going to go crazy for. They make their money back right away and then boom, they’re dropped! You never hear from them again or nothing. There isn’t the plan on signing some of these bands with longevity, bands that might make a musical statement in the long run. It’s just a quick return, a quick fix for these labels, and then they’re on to the next one.
RVH: Speaking of labels, seeing Megaforce return brings to mind it was one of the most prominent metal labels of the eighties, particularly due to the partnership with Atlantic Records. They were comparable to Roadrunner today, who was as underground as it got back then. What were some of your experiences working with the once-monstrous Megaforce Records?
BG: I think with Megaforce and also Metal Blade--maybe even Metal Blade before Megaforce--were pretty much at the same time the premiere labels. Roadrunner came along a little bit later...
RVH: Mostly in the late eighties...
BG: Yeah, the early eighties was Metal Blade and then Megaforce released the Metallica album (Kill ‘Em All), which I guess was their first release. We were even talking to Johnny Z (Zazula) back then, like ‘Oh, you’ve got to check out this new band from California,’ which we had listened to their demo tape (No Life ‘til Leather) of and it ended up being Metallica!
RVH: And the rest is history...
BG: Yeah. We had a good working relationship with Megaforce. I can honestly say I don’t have any money from the older albums, and I think a lot of that has to do with Johnny Z and I think some of the other bands I keep in contact with are running into the same problem, that I don’t think they’re getting the money they're supposed to get. That’s the hard part about it, knowing that it’s still being out there and it’s still being sold and the money is going somewhere.
RVH: I can imagine.
GB: Just recently Missy Callazzo, who owns Megaforce Records now--Johnny sold it to her--about a year ago, I finally got some information about Feel the Fire by accident that it had recouped, so I’m finally making a little bit off of that album and it’s not our biggest-selling album, but it’s good to see something. Missy’s honest about that. We submitted our demos to everybody at the time; I think we were on Metal Blade for one song when they did their Metal Massacre compilations. Track six, I believe. (“No Holds Barred” from Metal Massacre II) Combat Records, that was the other one at just about the same time. We got a contract from Combat--we didn’t get one from Metal Blade--and we got a contract from Megaforce. Combat’s was like three pages long and Megaforce’s was about thirty!
RVH: (laughs) What a headache!
BG: So we were like, ‘Okay, it seems like Megaforce has got their shit together a little bit more, let’s go with them!’ But he (Johnny Zazula) gave us the money to do the albums and he got behind us as much as he could and then he comes up with Atlantic and we had the second, third and fourth albums on Atlantic. So we had a lot of their staff helping and I think the only downfall was that we didn’t stay out on the road long enough. We did our little four-week tour with Slayer and maybe a little tiny jaunt on the east coast here and there for two weeks and then they wanted another album.
RVH: Literally, band on the run. Overkill had some really classic videos on MTV and the original Headbangers Ball like “In Union We Stand,” “Hello From the Gutter” and “Elimination.” Do you feel MTV helped Overkill break at all, considering it was one of the few thrash acts that got played with any regularity back then?
BG: Absolutely! When we did “In Union We Stand,” we counted it! It was played like sixteen weeks straight, the same thing for Megadeth and “Wake Up Dead.” Those two videos were the most-played videos... Headbangers Ball really helped. It was funny, because when it just started was when Taking Over came out, and when Headbamgers Ball started, not enough bands had videos yet to be played, so that’s why they played ours for so many weeks in a row! Yeah, that really helped, because people got to know those songs. After we did “Hello From the Gutter,” they has something called Smash Or Trash, which would’ve had a video being played in the day and they did that with “Hello From the Gutter.”
RVH: I remember that!
BG: “Hello From the Gutter” got more votes than any other video for being Smash, and they never played it! They said ‘What, are you kidding me? We can’t play this during the day!’ We like, ‘But we won! You just told us we got more votes than anything that you’ve ever had on this contest!’ So we were pissed off! We could’ve broke out into the daytime where more people could’ve seen us instead of 12 -3 in the morning. We were like, ‘You know what? You guys are a fucking sham!’ That’s the bottom line. Then we did “Elimination,” which was the best video out of all of them and they pretty much did the same thing. I was very proud of that because that whole thing was my concept and I also got a chance to sit in, which we didn’t get a chance to do with the other two videos. I actually sat in while the guy edited it. It took like twelve hours to edit it together and that was just a fantastic experience. Even Megaforce came out and said ‘This is the best video we’ve ever released.’ But we got a really good push from MTV, we got to be on as guests three times, and Headbangers now to me just doesn’t have that same excitement. It’s nice to see the heavy bands and I’m all for it, but that whole thing...we would actually sit in and have parties at people’s houses just to watch Headbangers Ball! You know, you were there!
RVH: It was religion, man. For me, it was either hightail it home, or if we were at a party, the straights would go to their side and the grits would go to the other side and put on The Ball.
BG: And that was the music for the party, The Ball!
RVH: And the straights and preppies had to deal with it! (laughs)
RVH: And it was such a big thrill to see bands like Overkill, Manowar, Anthrax or Mercyful Fate break through the commercial bands who I’ve finally in my later years come to terms with. Back then, I was all about ‘Fuck the poser bands, to hell with the hair bands,’ and like everyone else, I’d sit through all of those hours just waiting for Overkill, Metal Church or Slayer and it was worth it. Now that I’m older I actually like the majority of it now. It’s like Cinderella said, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
BG: Yeah, it was like they were invading our territory! It was like ‘How dare these bands be on Headbangers Ball!’ That’s not headbanging music! Being a little older now, you can look at it differently and appreciate it if you look past the hairspray and the bright colors they were all wearing onstage. You know what? Some of those songs are pretty cool if you don’t remember what they look like! You hear it on the radio once in awhile and it’s like ‘Oh yeah, I remember that song! That’s not too bad. I don’t know why I hated those guys that much! I never met them!’ (laughs) But the fact is, you were a metalhead. You wore black and you wore studs and you didn’t look like a girl, because when you did, you hated it! That’s just the way it was! (laughs) It was like you were defending the heavy metal honor, you know? It was like a battle. You couldn’t just let these guys invade your territory!
RVH: It was a huge rivalry, man. The only time I feel bad for any of that was there was this guy we knew who we called a poser because he liked Bon Jovi but also Queensryche, and at the time Queensryche had Rage For Order which was a bit hard for us to accept for some reason. Queensryche wasn’t a big force then, so we slammed this guy merciliessly, and then Operation Mindcrime came along... It changed everything. That guy ended up being right about them.
BG: You can still hate Bon Jovi! Queensryche I have more respect for! (laughs)
BG: But I look back now and not feel so threatened by posers and hairspray and all that stuff. Some it is decent. I can see now why people actually liked that stuff.
RVH: Yeah, things and attitudes somehow change, especially when you’re older and suddenly the youth has taken the scene that was once yours! Everything is relative then.
BG: You really can’t go out there (laughs) in pink spandex and a pot belly, you know? (laughs)
RVH: (laughs) No way, dude, it’s not happening! As long as we’re on this thread, when you think of being in a metal band in the eighties, what automatically comes to your mind?
BG: That’s a pretty wide-open question! God, wow, just the amount of people when we’d play! It was great, you know? Just so many memories, man. Early on, just being tough, sleeping on top of luggage in people’s cars driving down to shows and just slowly getting bigger, then having more fun getting into a camper and having someone other than the band driving us, actually having a driver. Getting guys to lift your equipment and finally getting a tour bus. Every little outing just got a little bit bigger and things got a little bit better and it was a lot of fun. The best time was being on that stage and playing. I loved that. I still love that now. It’s still my favorite thing. Everything else is just a headache and then you’ve got that one hour where you’re playing and it’s just the greatest. The girls and the spiked hair, people lined up down the block waiting to get into L’Amours in Brooklyn to see us and spending every weekend at L’Amours. You’d go there every Friday night and you’d go there Saturday night. It didn’t matter who was playing. If it was a metal band, you were there. The place was packed and it was just really, really cool. There was no place to park, but you’d get 1100-1200 people in there; they’d find some way to park!
RVH: Can’t keep ‘em down, you know? The whole club scene had a million stories and events like that, I’m sure.
BG: The last time I played the Trocodero in Philadelphia, some kid put his lighter near the fire sprinkler system. We got three songs into it and it just started pouring down water. It was flooded out, man.
RVH: Yow! Did your equipment short-circuit from that?
BG: No, it was really strange! It seemed like most of the water came down over the soundboard and the stage wasn’t getting wet. We were still playing, wondering what the hell was going on! (laughs) We still had electricity at one point and then suddenly it was out completely! We came back and rescheduled; water was just pouring down everywhere.
RVH: That’s what the scene was all about, man.
BG: It was a scene, not just a short little fad. It lasted a good ten years almost. I was just fortunate enough to be at the right age at the right time.
RVH: How did you end up in the Cycle Sluts From Hell, man? After all these years I finally picked up the CD just because you’re on it.
BG: I got sick of playing with boys! (laughs) So I joined a girl band! I knew one of the members, Betty (Kallas), who used to come out every once in awhile and come see us play. I just became friends with them and stayed friends through the years. What actually happened was that they were in the studio recording their first album and they had a guy who quit or they threw him out and he was a guitar player. They still had some work left to do on the album, so they said ‘Would you please come in and play a solo for us?’ I said ‘Sure, no problem,’ so I did that and then they wound up having a two-month tour with Motorhead. It just funny that two bands we played with in Overkill were Motorhead and Slayer for some reason, and here I am in a different band and I’m still opening for Motorhead!
RVH: (laughs) Karma, I think.
BG: We had a two month tour in Europe and they said ‘Would you come out and play? Do want to do it? Do you want to do it?’ and I said ‘Sure,’ since at the time I was putting Eye For An Eye together but I didn’t really have anything concrete as far as full members, so the girls were friends of mine and that was tight. That was really fun. I had a really good time with them. I didn’t record on the album or nothing; I just put down two solos, I think. There wasn’t much to do; they had most of it recorded already, and I think one of the songs didn’t even make it to the album, so I really only had the one solo on there. I just helped them play and then they got blackballed from Epic because of someone higher than whoever had Cycle Sluts From Hell wanted someone else to open up for Motorhead, so they got forced into being dropped, which is too bad because they were a good band. They worked really hard; I would’ve loved to have seen them do a second record.
RVH: They’ve all gone way underground to where no one can find them, haven’t they?
BG: Yeah, Betty did something with a band called Hanzel and Gretyl for a little while and that’s about it. I lost contact with all of them completely.
RVH: And after your time in Eye For An Eye, Screw and other projects, here you are now with Response Negative.
BG: I came down here to Florida and I wasn’t really pursuing music at all and then I just happened to make a couple of friends here and there, some who had a band, some that were this and that, and before I knew it I was back into again with Response Negative. I started writing the music for them and kind of stayed with their original pattern of style, which was power metal with death metal vocals, but I just took the whole writing level up to my level of experience, which is what they wanted me to do. We’ve gotten ten times better than when I started. We’ve got a tighter band, the lineup is steady and we’re doing really well. We’ve been pushing the demo around and haven’t gotten any responses yet, but we have gotten such rave reviews from fanzines and internet magazines and everyone who we’ve sent it to or has bought it from us has just flipped out about it saying ‘I can’t believe you guys aren’t signed! What the hell’s going on?’ So we’re kind of just in limbo and amazed at the fact that we haven’t at least had any offers, but we’re just going to continue to write. We’ve got enough songs to do a full album, so we’re just going to play around here and see where it goes.
Transcript (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Photos courtesy of Bobby Gustafson and www.blood-metal-donors.de
Friday, February 26, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Greetings, faithful, hope everyone's doing fine as we come to another playlist checkpoint!
Status quo on this end. I enjoyed a nice weekend out, catching the Benecio Del Toro Wolfman remake and hanging with an editor friend of mine on Saturday. Also nice to note I found some of my old lunch buddies from back in the day at an impromptu high school reunion at a local bar, and it was nice to hear I have some Metal Minute readers amongst them. A special big ol' horns up to Robert (and still the diehard Priest fan I knew in the eighties) for keeping it real.
The ending of the new Wolfman is pretty bad, but overall I thought it was a generally stylish film with nice retro Chaney Wolfman masks courtesy of the modern master, Rick Baker. Caveat, though; it's a bloody mess, so gorehounds will be delighted. Trad horror fans, probably not so much. It's the world we live in.
The novel's taking shape in the remaining handful of chapters I have left and I'm excited to complete this journey so I can begin the editing and get this sucker sprung upon the masses.
I owe y'all some reviews down the immediate paths, but I will say you can expect another installment of the 2003 Headbangers Interview Sessions this week. Our guest: former Overkill shredder Bobby Gustafson.
And with that, pumping down the black pearl tea and running with my ass on fire. Cheers...
Fast Times at Ridgement High Soundtrack
Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void
Icarus Witch - Draw Down the Moon
Fear Factory - Demanufacture
The Pogues - Dirty Old Town
New Order - Get Ready
Prince - Sign O' the Times
Prince - Come
Free Reign - Tragedy EP
Nocturnal Fear - Code of Violence
Coalesce - Ox EP
Brown Jenkins - Angel Eyes
Architects - Hollow Crown
Slick Rick - The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Of all the bands I've interviewed in this scene, Crisis remains one of my absolute favorites. Some of my most memorable stories in metal coverage revolve around this band, even during a misunderstanding between guitarist Jwyanza Hobson and myself at a gig in Philadelphia where an obnoxious fan grabbed a hold of enigmatic vocalist Karyn Crisis and yours truly got blamed.
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and I think the now-laughable Philly incident cemented a solid relationship between Crisis and myself. I'd interviewed Karyn, Jwyanza and guitarist Afzaal Nasirudeen (nka Afzaal Deen) numerous times before the band split up for the second time in the mid 2000s. My fondest moment with Crisis was hanging in the rear parking lot behind a club in Baltimore no longer there, the Thunderdome. Crisis had opened for Kittie and Otep and after the gig, the band shared brew with me and we had a great discussion about civil rights. I only just learned a couple weeks ago from Jwyanza they had gone to another bar in a different part of town that evening and rode a mechanical bull in the wee hours of the night.
I also have to make note their former drummer Josh Florian went to the same college as I, Towson University, which made for a nice chit-chat in Philly.
The deepest discussion I had on-record with any of the members, however, came courtesy of Karyn well before I'd met the band face-to-face. I remember her racing to get home for the interview, while I was just starting to get a rein on my interviewing tempo. It came out to be a very relaxed, intelligent conversation between us. Thus I can't think of anyone better suited to kick off this series of uncovered interviews from my archives than Karyn Crisis...
Ray Van Horn, Jr.: Your early years in music were dedicated to formal training and then you decided what, it was too confining? Did you lean towards singing in metal to tap into unrealized potential?
Karyn Crisis: I’ve never had any formal training. I took cello and violin lessons, but I didn’t have any formal training for art and singing. I’ve always been involved in music since I was younger, singing along to my favorite musicians and “catching my voice at it” as I called it, to different types of music. I found my own voice that way.
RVH: Your vocal range is quite impulsive. I’d cross you between Bathory, Wendy O. Williams, Sinead O’Connor and Mike Patton. How in the world did you come up such a monster range?
KC: It was really all about experimenting. I grew up in a town where it was kind of a football jock town, so I was kind of your typical artist outcast. I took violin lessons from this Russian woman and so I had a lot of time by myself like when walking home from school, experimenting with my voice, singing and going to a lot of shows in Chicago. I’d listen to a lot of music that was left and center, and that influenced the way I heard rhythms. I’d just started when I was in middle school. I was a tomboy so I had a lot of guy friends who had instruments and guitars and four tracks. I started borrowing all of that stuff and I had an analog synthesizer and I just started making my own music on the synthesizer. Cocteau Twins was a real big influence on the more serious side to the sound I was experimenting with my voice. I didn’t really sing so much words exactly than giving my words a soundscape like it was a visual art.
RVH: Right on.
KC: And then a lot of Chicago industrial music—-my absolute favorite being Einstuerzende Neubauten-—was a huge influence on the heavier side of my voice. I would scream, growl and make different sounds. So it was really all about experimenting and recording my own music in my bedroom, in my house, and I just kept at it for a few years, the middle school years, then my high school years. I was never really in any band but I started my own project called Mangle Dorothy, which was me making a lot of samples and loops, kind of performance art music. Then when I got invited to audition for Crisis, I had to sing more metal-type songs, which is something I’d always been looking for. The style I’d developed, which is very instrumental and expressive, going from more ephemeral to angry, rage kind of stuff, was something I’d translated into a Crisis structure.
RVH: I’ve asked a few artists this already, but if you’d please indulge me, what is it about New York and metal and hardcore music? You know, everyone thinks of L.A. or they think of Europe, South America, and even in the heavy metal resurgence in North America, the New England area has become a county seat for the scene, if you will.
KC: I think the city lifestyle and the attitude of the east coast is a lot different. I moved to New York because I loved the whole city’s energy. It really is a concrete jungle in that there are people everywhere, it’s a 24-hour city, there’s always something going on. It can always be alive. It’s not as dangerous as it used to be, but there’s an element of danger in the fact that this is a city where the lifestyle is not as relaxed. You really have to work your ass off for whatever you have. There’s more of a DIY mindset and there’s just tons of little scenes everywhere, whereas out west it’s so much more spread out. I think it’s the electricity of the lifestyle there. In New York, the city specifically, you really do feel like you’re in the middle of the world. The east coast is also more racially diverse, but in general the lifestyle there is more fast-paced, more frenetic, a lot more stress during harsh weather conditions. Everyone’s struggling to survive in a way, and all of that breeds a lot of anger and frustration. I think my experience in New York was that I was so much more in-tune with the speed of the way the world was going. You get so much more in-touch with the electricity of life that you feel like you’re plugging in. I think that electricity lends itself to the whole spark of music.
RVH: I feel you.
KC: There’s music everywhere, first of all. I think a lot of people are drawn to New York because of the whole cosmopolitan situation. There’s a lot of artists and musicians flocking there, a lot of writers, artists and musicians. These are people on a search for truth and answers to their questions in their lives. There’s such a chaos of things going on there and it breeds a lot of interesting, neat-sounding music. Since the cities and towns are now a lot closer together, there’s so much more opportunity to get together with people of like minds. Whereas out here on the west coast, things are a lot more spread out; I mean, any time you’re living in suburbia, there’s still a scene but it’s a lot more spread out. In the city areas like New York, you have so many people your own age interested in a lot of things you’re interested in, so you don’t have anything standing in the way like suburban zones or noise laws. (laughs) There you can let it all hang out and make your dreams come true.
RVH: Believe me, I know its allure! (laughs)
KC: It’s a hard city to live in, you know? There’s a lot of cool things about it, but at the same time it is like a grind. It feels like a meat grinder when you’re there! (laughs) All of your daily frustrations are just so magnified because you’re bumping shoulders with hundreds of people a day and everyone else is angry and everyone’s in a rush, but it is exciting. It’s a place where your imagination really runs wild because there’s so much external stimuli, you know; whether it’s the people or the subway or you’re living above ground or below ground, there’s just so much going on.
RVH: So Crisis was essentially formed with you, Afzaal Nasiruddeen (guitarist) and Fred Waring (original drummer). Take it from there. Put us at that meeting and how it all went about.
KC: I was living in the East Village for about a year and I finally had to escape the chaotic roommate situation. I was renting a room from a photographer and I was making music on my four track in my room. I think I had bars, a set of steak knives and stuff (laughs) and he was like “You’ve got to meet my friend Afzaal and Steve McAllister,” who produced the first few records for us. They lived just down the street by the World Trade Center. So he invited Afzaal over one evening and I played him my tape, he played me his and he mentioned they were looking for a female lead singer. Afzaal and Fred had been in an industrial band called Stalwart. They always liked to do things that were a little different and they really wanted to find a female lead singer.
KC: So he invited me to come to rehearsal and I think maybe a day or two before that he’s giving me a rehearsal tape, a song called “Drilling Me,” which was on our very first album 8 Convulsions. I had worked on the song until two in the morning, learning the words and the vocals until they instantly popped into my head. I was really excited and I called him and told him I was ready. I got a little bit of cold feet before I went in because I was a pretty quiet person when I got started. (laughs) I was thinking ‘How am I going to pull off this vocal style,’ you know? That was the only time I thought about it. Sure enough, I got to rehearsal, I met Fred, I met Gia (Wang, bassist) and the minute they started they asked 'Karyn, are you ready?' I asked them 'Can you play this song (“Drilling Me”) first,' in case they didn’t like what I was doing to it. We just started rocking out and I remember flying, jumping all over the place and I ended up on the floor. Gia was standing above me asking if I was okay (laughs) and I said 'Yeah, I’m great!'
KC: I went to the bathroom, came back and it was dead silent as they stopped talking about whatever they were talking about, looked at me and I thought, ‘Oh, man, they think I’m a loser, a freak!’ (laughs) I think the next day they asked what I thought about the name Crisis and they all started calling me Karyn Crisis because I was jumping all over the place!
RVH: Aside from your voice, your visual trademark is your floor-touching dreadlocks. How long did it take you to grow those suckers? (laughs)
KC: I think about eleven years! (laughs)
RVH: You touched upon multiculturalism earlier, which really resonates with me. Looking at your band, you guys are very multicultural as Suicidal Tendencies was during their crossover lineup. It’s not something I see you dwelling upon, but to me, the diverse ethnicity sends out the right message in an American society that is still subliminally racist.
KC: Yeah, I totally agree. We’ve always contended since the beginning of the band that we’re a multicultural band and especially in this day and age I think it’s a great image being a small cross-section of the world, different genders, different cultures, and we get along great! I don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with the rest of the world that they can’t get it going on, you know? But it’s true, racism is abound, especially with large portions of the country that deny that they may or ever have been racist. We’re all getting along on one level or another through music. Music attests to the fact that it is a common language for most people all over the place. Even lifestyles, you know? We’ve all found common ground with the music and if the band is helping the flows with the individuals so that they can work together, with each other, with different opinions, then you’ve learned a lot.
RVH: Crisis really hit the underground radar with Deathshead Extermination and The Hollowing with, as I would term it, an unorthodox hybrid of doom metal and hardcore, with your roaring vocals setting precedence...
KC: I think it seems there was a moment of time, and I guess it depends on where you stand or what your perspective is, but the things that started happening with Deathshead Extermination, when we started back in ’93, we never really just sat in New York and tried to make it big or to try and make a scene there. When we started off, we were so different that people didn’t know what to make of us, so we had to constantly get out into other towns and different states. That’s how we really built a following, was through our live shows and then we would sell copies of 8 Convulsions and the demo before that album at our shows. Around the time of 8 Convulsions, Marco Fabieri, who worked for Metal Blade, kept an eye on us for a few years and then finally came to us with an offer to sign with Metal Blade. After deciding on a couple of labels we decided to go with Metal Blade and although Marco soon left afterwards, by the time Deathshead Extermination came out, there was already a huge buzz about us because we were so active in the underground. We’d really gone all over the place. So for our first widespread-released album, that was really the beginning in a way.
RVH: How so?
KC: We had press all of a sudden, we had radio coverage, which was much less than bands have today. More college radio and indie ‘zines, even Metal Maniacs. That was what brought us onto the national scene whether we wanted it or not. Then we started touring around the country, so that was when things started as we toured around the country. It was a different thing for people to see a woman fronting a really heavy band, and that was the beginning of that situation in terms of going nationwide.
RVH: In the eighties it was a lot tougher for women to find any kind of respect in heavy metal. Have you come across any sexism in the industry these days? I know it helps having a group of guys watch your back, but in your opinion do you feel the scene is worse or better?
KC: There’s a few things going on. Back when we started in 1993 there weren’t many women touring. There were other underground bands like Fear of God...Dawn Crosby has actually just passed away, but she was there before I was, and there was some local bands like 13. They were doing some doomy kind of stuff, with growly, seething vocals, but I was the only one touring there and it was really hard to get tour opportunities and support in the industry because people thought this was too weird. But we always did amazingly live because people loved our live show. Over time, things have changed where the industry has opened up a little and let more female-fronted bands in, but you know some of them, okay, are created by A&R people; they’re not real bands! (laughs)
RVH: Gee, whatever are you talking about? (laughs)
KC: You know, they don’t write their own songs or play their own instruments on the recordings, but it’s good. It’s a great beginning, because in the underground there are hundreds of women out there involved in this kind of music these days. They’re just not on labels where you hear about them, but finally the industry is starting to open up and give voice to those women, which I think is great. I mean, yeah, we’ve experienced sexism on the road, and you know, even in terms of trying to get tours I’ve had a lot of famous guys in the big metal bands call me and ask me out on dates but they wouldn’t visit the shows, that type of thing. You’re shut out of some of the opportunities that male-fronted bands would get. So there definitely is a different kind of vibe there. I think a lot of guys in the heavy scene don’t know how to deal with you unless they’re dealing with you on a sexual level, but things are changing. It’s been proven that audiences are ready for this heavy music, because the ones that are out there are doing great! So there are a lot of exciting changes happening and people are starting to support it more and more. I think that’ll only grow and I think it’ll be less of an oddity the more female-fronted metal bands who get out there. It’s like the male world of heavy music; there’s bands that suck and bands that are just brilliant and are very unique, there’s a whole variety. We’re going to get more and more people throwing vibes out there and there’ll be such a variety it’ll be a more commonplace thing.
RVH: I agree.
KC: Look at the world of alternative music or even grunge back in the day. There were so many women involved, and for me growing up on a lot of alternative music, I was like ‘Wow, there’s women everywhere!’ There’s Siouxie and The Banshees, Bjork and there’s L7, The Breeders...
RVH: PJ Harvey, Juliana Hatfield, Lush...
KC: All those types of bands. They were everywhere, but if you look at the heavy scene, there hasn’t been quite as many, but there are starting to be a lot. Once that ball has gotten rolling as it has, you can’t really stop it. There’ll be more and more.
RVH: Whether you like them or not, Evanescence has helped break down the door of mainstream acceptance for female-fronted bands, which I think helps the cause for everybody else. Then there’s other groups like Kittie, Epica, Nightwish, Angel, what-not. Before them you had Girlschool, Lita Ford, Wendy O. Williams, The Great Kat, Vixen. The pattern was on the wall before.
RVH: Where exactly did Crisis go in the seven years between The Hollowing and Like Sheep Led to Slaughter?
KC: We moved to L.A. because we just couldn’t find any other labels out east that took us seriously, even though we were touring all over constantly and selling out shows. Everyone told us at that point in time that we were just too extreme. Too extreme for radio, you have a woman in the band on lead, blah blah blah, same old story. So we looked and we looked and we really tried to get another label but it wasn’t working out, so Afzaal kind of came up with the idea that why not have a change of scenery? L.A. is where all the business is; at that point in time, we’d seen so many tours come through the east coast, bands like Korn who had just started playing then and a lot of bands where we said 'Who are these bands? They’ve never played here before. Why are they getting on these huge tours in these big venues?' We found out the industry is a lot more plastic that way. It was also a matter of survival for the band. Our label wasn’t supporting us enough where we could grow to a bigger audience and they weren’t helping us out with better tours and there’s only so much you can do on your own. I mean, you can preach to the converted or you can grow. We’re all about growing.
RVH: Of course.
KC: So we thought that was an option because we could stay back east and maybe things could slowly grind to a halt, or could go out west for new options. Once we did that, we started getting settled into the town and tried to figure out what the scene was because it’s a very different vibe. Not long thereafter our drummer at the time quit. He said he was fed up with the music business and wanted to get out of L.A. So we were stuck without a drummer again. (laughs) It was hard for him because we have really weird time signatures and we’re the kind of band that although we’ve paid a lot of dues, we’ve also paved a lot of ways and we’ve influenced a lot of bands. We’re pioneers at what we do, but we haven’t really gotten the accolades or...we haven’t gotten a lot back, you know? A lot of people didn’t really want to support us. So if you’re in this band, you have to really be in it for the spiritual journey! (laughs)
We’ve always had trouble finding a drummer! So we decided that since Jwyanza (Hobson, guitarist) was actually a drummer for awhile, he started programming a drum machine and we started writing songs for the sake of writing songs and experimenting. There did come the time when we wanted to start playing out again and the music sounded so different from Crisis—-we were going to change our name—-before after awhile that ground down to an end and Gia, Jwyanza, Afzaal and I didn’t want to do Crisis or we just didn’t want to do anything that didn’t feel intense. So we started to search for a drummer again...
KC: I started it this time and I said 'Look, I’m going to find one (laughs) and we’re going to get the right one and we’re going to rock on!' So I started doing phone interviews and what I found out at that point in time is that when we met our then-drummer Josh Florian, he'd moved out to L.A. from the Baltimore area around the same time we did. He was a master engineer as well, so we started on him mastering that and keeping in touch with our website to see what was going on with us, and we found through Josh that our music had influenced a younger generation as well. He'd sat through a lot of old Crisis songs. He showed up at the audition knowing he was able to play a bunch of the old songs, and then it became a part of his vocabulary and so the drummer search wasn’t as torturous as usual because we’d had an influence on, you know, even drummers being able to play different kinds of time signatures, so that’s what brought us back.
RVH: Obviously Crisis’ music is designed to shake things up, and the spinal-fellatio implications on the cover of Like Sheep Led to Slaughter appears to be further extension of that ideal. Was that your intention?
KC: Most of the idea of that cover ties in with the whole title, like sheep led to slaughter. The idea is that we the people, living under the powers that be, are being led to slaughter, like sheep, you know? We don’t always question what we hear, we don’t always get the truth. True history really isn’t written in the books, and currently we’re blind. I wanted to take that idea of a sheep being led to slaughter, but I don’t like to tell you overtly what the idea is; I like to use symbols. I could’ve used a sheep being slaughtered or a knife going through a stud or something, but I stumbled upon the idea of a spine because the spine can be thought of in a way as a control center to the body. A lot of the nerves go to the spine and without a spine or when you have a broken spine, you really can’t walk on your own. You become paralyzed, right?
KC: You have almost no movement and there’s all sorts of bizarre similes for the idea of being paralyzed. When you discuss someone’s moral character, if you’re trying to say someone is evil or a scumbag, you’d use that expression 'Oh, he’s so spineless.' So it’s not a symbol of swallowing a spine, it’s the spine being ripped out. I want to show it as control, as in something’s being done to us by the powers that be at the level of a shepherd they would be.
RVH: Nice, man! That’s deep, and it coincides not only with the lyrical content you write, but also your visual art. I’ve had a look at some of your work and there was one piece that really stuck on me, “Scraping the Pins Along the Skin.” The pasty white skin of your subject and the ethereal stitching of his mouth along reminded me at first glance of the Quiet Riot mask...
RVH: I took it as a faceless identity constricted and yearning to be heard, but we could also interpret that as another form of manipulative control as we discussed regarding the title Like Sheep Led to Slaughter. Whether this was your intention or not is one thing, but I think good art just allows the viewer to interpret it the way they want to.
KC: Definitely! It’s all open to interpretation. I definitely have a message but I like to use symbolism, because when I write the songs where I create the whole subject matter, I go on this journey of concepts and I take down a concept. Maybe I’ll get an idea and I’ll look it up in a thesaurus and see what else is said about it and then I’ll get a storyline or idea and I’ll chase this concept. I feel like there’s a certain message there, but if someone else wants to take a journey and try to figure out their own meanings to the songs, that’s also a form of communication and exploration. With my visual art, the drawings, the paintings, my photographs, they’re very open to interpretation. I tend to have a certain set of emotions that I somehow transfer to my subject when I’m taking a photograph, for instance, and I get what I’m looking for. In terms of what it means, my ideas are pretty open and so there’s even more room for interpretation. I think that’s what’s great about visual art; you can make it whatever you want it to be.
RVH: Time for one of my favorite questions. Especially since you're so animated onstage, take me there with you. You’re getting prepped, you come out to a bunch of raving maniacs in the crowd, and then...
KC: Well, if you’re me and you’re in this band, you’d stretch out a little bit and you start feeling this excitement from the crowd. You feel this energy coming from your bandmates and you feel like you’re ready to go there and just explode into this awesome power. There’s a lot of smiles and good vibes going around and you get onstage and all of a sudden I guess we all turn into superheroes in a way. You feel like you’re plugged into an electric socket and if you like art, you feel like you’re part of a living painting. These lights and people, you feel this electricity and the people are giving this energy back to you and you’re giving it to them. The sweat, the life, the energy...you really lose track of time. You just get caught up in this world and the show itself goes by faster than you can imagine. But while you’re onstage you feel like you’ve achieved the best thing you could ever achieve as a human being at that moment of time and you feel like you have this power you normally don’t have and you’re standing alone all by yourself. You feel really connected, really electric. It just feels like the best thing in the world.
RVH: What I draw off you and Crisis is you have multiple interests, you’re not afraid to take a chance, you throw it all out there and to hell with whoever doesn’t like it!
KC: (laughs) Exactly!
RVH: That’s my interpretation. How would you describe yourselves?
KC: I mean, that’s definitely one aspect of it, especially with the music. The whole band, we really are all about the music, the expression there. Really stripping ourselves down raw and exposing our emotions, letting that shit come out. You really can’t do that sort of thing if you’re worried about what somebody else thinks, because somewhere along the line you might look like a fool. You might hit some really intense nerves and we’ve always been like that. Even growing up when I was younger, I stood out like a sore thumb and I really didn’t give a fuck what anyone else thought. I’ve been on this journey and I’m looking for answers. I ask a lot of questions and I’m always searching. In order to do that, in order to grow and to learn new things, you really do have to take risks. We’re all about that and we enjoy connecting with our fans at our shows and we enjoy connecting with each other. Our deep love is in the rehearsal room jamming, and everything else that happens extra is a complete bonus. Our place is really to make people think. You can love us, you can hate us, but we’re just there to make you think.
Transcript and all photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Front row, Iron Maiden, A Matter of Life and Death tour 2006
Photo (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
In 2003, I began my journey into heavy metal journalism by starting a book project which underwent numerous title changes from Headbangers: An Endless State of Rebellion to Bonded By Blood: Headbanging Through History.
In that period of time, I was blessed to have interviewed 40-50 musicians, DJ's, managers and insiders such as Dee Snider, Geoff Tate, Bobby Gustafson, formerly of Overkill, Leslie West, Michael Schenker, Joey Belladonna, Joe Lynn Turner, Karyn Crisis, Bill Aucoin, Phil Soussan, Joey Vera, Lips from Anvil, Craig Nielsen of Flotsam and Jetsam, Chip Z'nuff of Enuff Z'nuff, Spike Cassidy of DRI, Brian Vollmer of Helix, Ron Keel, Hank Shermann of Mercyful Fate, Jackie Chambers of Girlschool, Mark Gallagher of Raven, Eric Brittingham of Cinderella, Piledriver and the late Kevin Dubrow and Ricky Parent, amongst others.
In order to continue bringing guests to this project, I was inadvertently drawn into the scene by labels who of course requested coverage of their artists' current projects in exchange for my own interests. My first care package from The End Records arrived thereafter and my career as a metal journalist snowballed almost instantaneously. Humble beginnings, yes, but also on the fringe of then-huge designs.
I ended up following my newfound course and fortified my career with some of the finest editors and web hosts who were able to help build my name. To this day I'm proud to have been affiliated with Metal Maniacs, Fangoria.com, Dee Snider's House of Hair Online, Pit, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained, About.com Heavy Metal, Rough Edge.com, DVD Review.com, Caustic Truths, Angst, Loud Fast Rules, Pivotal Alliance.com, Music Dish.com, Pitriff and others.
Unfortunately, my deep involvement in the scene, which I'd planned to use to my benefit to boost my 2003 project kept me so busy other authors sprang up with their own books and with them, a lot of the ideas and concepts I'd strategized for my own. It happens, particularly when you're personally misdirected and focused on the wrong goals.
I have other objectives in my life now including raising a child who makes me laugh just by waking up in the morning, much less dancing like a freak to The Jam. I am of course in the wrap-up phase of the first draft to my second novel, which has taken precedence in my writing objectives while the situations, moods and attitudes are fresh in my mind. I am already outlining the next two novels and later in the year I will begin a screenplay to my first novel "Mentor."
Where does that leave all these voices who generously gave me their time back in 2003? A bit unfair to leave them locked up, right? I've found inspiration from my former Pit colleague Ryan Bartek, who has just released his own novel The Big Shiny Prison for free to anyone wishing to read it. Thus as my appreciation to the devoted readers of The Metal Minute who've stayed with me from its beginning, I have decided to release these interview sessions here on the site throughout the year. That's right, for fuh-reeee...
I believe you all will find enjoyment in these one-on-one chats complete with brief anecdotes to my time spent with these heavy music legends. In a few cases, you'll see me in a somewhat green state as I was interviewing these personalities as a complete rookie. It ought to be fun going back and seeing how I evolved as a journalist.
I will keep you all in suspense to the order these transcripts will arrive on The Metal Minute, but do expect to see the first installment tomorrow.
As always, gratitude is hardly the word for my faithful readership who keep my passion alive...
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Howdy, friends! Hope all's well in Metalville!
Not much to report this week as we've all shoveled our way out from a combined 4 feet of snow over the course of two major storms and tried to move back into a state of normalcy.
Progress on the new novel is going fabulously, now with 24 chapters written and drawing towards its conclusion. Thus the operations will roll into Revision Hell and Agent Hunt.
For Valentine's Day, we kept things low-key albeit my wife and I went to a dance her job was throwing as a fundraiser, plus she gave me My Bloody Valentine 3-D, the sweetie. Not much in the way of story, but MBV3D rocks in the visual theatrics. Even on the tube, the 3-D effects were great fun and a nice diversion from the day-to-day stymie. Of course it called for some playage of the alt-noise-ambient group My Bloody Valentine.
Everyone's raving over the new Fear Factory album Mechanize and I am happily in agreement with the concensus. It's brutal in a beautiful way and certainly the most aggresive FF album since Obsolete. Mandatory listening and be keeping your peepers out for a review here at The Metal Minute.
Keep it loud, people and regarding the Winter Olympics, Go, World...
Fear Factory - Mechanize
Fear Factory - Soul of a New Machine
Fear Factory - Demanufacture
Arsis - We Are the Nightmare
Coalesce - Ox EP
The Jam - In the City
Blue Oyster Cult - Fire of Unknown Origin
Dark Tranquillity - Fiction
Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void
The Sound of Animals Fighting - Lover, the Lord Has Left Us...
The Sound of Animals Fighting - The Tiger and the Duke
2010 Grammy Nominees
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything
Architects - Ruin
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Bill Zebub - Metal Retardation
2009 Bill Zebub Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Under the definition of "politically incorrect," you're quite possibly going to find Bill Zebub's name listed under the antonym bracket. The nation isn't quite the same as it was during the late sixties and early seventies when the Dean Martin roasts were, by today's defintions, as unpolitically correct as a Klan gathering. However, there was always a line of respect drawn between the panel of roasters and of course, the roastees. America was a bruised country in the midst of civil rights violence, and the healing motif as mainstream culture worked itself into a mode celebrating all walks of life, race and creed culminated in hilarious back-and-forth banter at Sammy Davis, Jr. on Martin's roast. Eventually this gave sway to the era of Archie Bunker and George Jefferson, which forever changed the social tide.
History lessons aside, Bill Zebub, mastermind of the east coast underground metal rag The Grimoire of Exalted Deeds, has also released a slew of independent films and documentaries. If you're familiar with some of his homegrown horror videos such as The Crucifer, Kill the Scream Queen, Dolla Morte, Bad Acid, Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist, Dirtbags and The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made, you'll attest there's no experience in underground film like a Bill Zebub experience. Even his death and pagan metal documentaries are unlike most you've ever seen.
Zebub's projects ooze with intentionally nutty gore, flopping yabbas, dimebags, Christian jabs and button-pushing dialogue intended to caricaturize racist America. You either get this guy or you get his videos out of your peripheral view without haste.
Thus it should be no surprise at all Friar Grimoire ushers out Metal Retardation, a DVD choked full of interview footage with a decided slant. Whereas most video interviews would be tweaked and edited for a clean impact, or maybe left with an intentional gag or two to project hipness, Metal Retardation is what it claims to be. This is unapologetic ass-clowning on Zebub's behalf with everyone from Peter Steele to Gwar to George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher of Cannibal Corpse to Calvin Robertshaw, former guitarist of My Dying Bride.
Steele, who has appeared in numerous Zebub projects, gets a hefty round of time on Metal Retardation, in particular older footage which finds him more playful than later video where he's stony and sarcastic, even with a vixen sitting in lap. One of the Metal Retardation's most chuckle-filled recurring gags is Zebub trying to force the younger Steele into singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb," an exercise in futility for most of the ride as Steele jokingly f-bombs his efforts. What does Zebub do in this matter? Knowing the married Steele has girls on both sides of him on the tour bus, he provokes Steele by asking him about his cock size and some very personal information about his wife.
Who in the hell calling him or herself a journalist would go so far? Who else would commit the unspeakable atrocity by tormenting Sanctuary/Nevermore vocalist Warrel Dane by asking if he'd had intimate relations with the late Chuck Schuldiner. I assure you I'm glossing over this exchange; you'll have to watch the video to see how forwardly rude Zebub goes in this matter. Even Dane, who takes most of Zebub's poking with a grain of salt, throws a bit of a flag in this instance. Then again, consider Dane and Nevermore's bassist mercilessly try to coax one of Zebub's on-camera hostesses (who is obviously very green at this point) into pulling off her shorts.
Thus becomes the flavor of Metal Retardation, where taboo is mostly null and void. Zebub literally tortures George Fisher about Cannibal Corpse's gruesome lyrics and tries to get Fisher (who is Jewish) to admit the band has anti-Semetic and racist content. He keeps Fisher on edge with ridiculously dumb questions about breakfast cereal and flatulence before going in for the kill. Are Fisher and Cannibal Corpse what Zebub accuses them on-camera of? Absolutely not, and Zebub knows it, but it doesn't mean he's not going to pull the hot seat lever beneath his guests with asinine questions. This is, after all, called Metal Retardation.
Other guests appearing on this collection are King Diamond, Messiah Marcolis of Candlemass, Tyr, Finntroll, Turisas, Liv Kristine and Alexander Krull of Leaves' Eyes, Ensiferum, Enslaved and Arch Enemy/Witchery/Mercyful Fate bassist Sharlee D'Angelo. D'Angelo, who has been around this scene through numerous bands, gets prime face time on Metal Retardation, as well as continuous smooching and snuggling from Zebub's hostesses.
The always-classy Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull is above reproach and to his credit, Zebub doesn't push her too hard, except to get some thoughts about the remnants of Theatre of Tragedy, which she'd of course founded. Then again, her hulking husband occupies much of frame left, so one would probably be advised not to put Liv into a precarious position.
Towards the end, Zebub captures a zany exchange between his hostess and an inebriated Finntroll which leads to armpit sniffing and a teasing spread across their laps with equally drunken queries about Finntroll's artwork. Earlier in the video, Zebub torments all of his Scandinavian guests by making them speak in native tongue with effeminate tones--or gay, if you're going to let Zebub have his way.
Naturally, he does on Metal Retardation. The project is what it is and as always, Bill Zebub makes no pretentions about who he is and what he seeks to achieve. In this case, it's goofing on the bands he loves in ways no serious journalist ever would. Then again, Zebub taps into the less-serious aspect of metal and rock 'n roll, a less-reverential dimension where questions about song interpretations and musician inspirations simply don't apply here. You have to envy him just a little because he brings a party for crazies and the dumbfounded looks on many of his guests are priceless. They're certianly not accustomed to such tomfoolery, yet something in their eyes speaks loudly, which is to say, they're having ridiculous fun while trying not to be shocked at their host.
One of Metal Retardation's finest moments is a radio interview with Cronos of Venom. Of course, it's hard to fully concentrate on the interview while Zebub spins countless images of nudity from the Grimoire mag, so you might want to go back and replay it, since Cronos is a complete gas unto himself, while Zebub pulls the trigger on himself and plays the interview straight.
While his title is these days as offensive as calling the project Hitler's Teutonic Muff Dive, Zebub comes from an age where the word "retarded" was passed around as casually as the word "idiot" or "moron" or "jackass." Back in the day nobody really took offense at the word "retard" (or "sped," if you're a real Gen X'er) but the times have changed and "retard" is no longer socially acceptable.
Obviously not so in Bill Zebub's world...
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Fireball Ministry - s/t
2010 Restricted Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
There's a reason why Fireball Ministry are so well-loved in the underground. Same reason which has made Fu Manchu darlings of distortion for quite some time. There's a subliminal feeling you get listening to Fireball Ministry that's partially nostalgic and partially optimistic rock 'n roll still matters today. Albeit there's a pinpointed limit to what they're trying to flawlessly achieve.
Part of Fireball Ministry's allure is the vocal swagger of the Reverend James A. Rota, II which frequently sways into Diary of a Madman-era Ozzy, only with a more booming kick as his canvas. Fireball Ministry are less-interested in heavy metal theatricality and more focused on combined agro and goodtime punches with their albums. In their own way, Fireball Ministry are most concerned in bringing heavy music back to the real, particularly back to the rock.
The sound of Fireball Ministry is rooted in tub-swilled rotgut consumed on the swampy banks of a mosquito-choked outer banks people never used to be privy to. Funny part is, Rota and company have reinvented the green death moonshine trade saturating modern southern rawk and punk by tweaking it with a Cali-bred stoner bite. Consider them potential leaders of a surf 'n swamp indie revolution.
Or maybe not, but Fireball Ministry is back once again with their fourth album of heavy drags, stamped-down tempo-kicks and teeth-clenched riffs. Skynard-esque on "Kick Back" and "Sleeping With Angels," riff-truckin' gnarly with Blue Oyster Cult spacines on "Butcher, Faker, Policy Maker" and Zeppelin heavy on "Followed by a Fall," the self-titled Fireball Ministry makes no pretentions about its business. Open the case for a Saturday chug-a-lug, but drown the ears with amplitude well before you drown the throat with malt.
Fireball Ministry opens with the snare-happy, riff-ravaged opening number "Hard Lines" and from there the album varies its pace between poke 'n prod nods and skate rat tubular. "End of Story" rides a mid-tempo rock trot which encapsulates all this group has established itself upon: a good vibe accompanied by volume and a slinky beat. Similar for "Thought it Out," even better with the aid of hummable Fu Manchu/Foo Fighters choruses driving out of a set of classic Kiss strums on the verses.
"In Their Own Right" is a snazzy closer with juicy guitars lashed out between Rota and Emily Burton painting their cool bonged bridge and rowdy solo section. "In Their Own Right" does bang away like a less glossy Ozzy track which might've fit snugly on No Rest For the Wicked. Ditto for "Fallen Believers," a track reminiscent of the entire late eighties before the hairball nation usurped control of good taste in metal.
As dirty as the press has seen fit to drape around the necks of Fireball Ministry, there still remains a slickness to their output which began as early as The Second Great Awakening. They may not be America's next truly great band, but they play like they believe they are. The production gives them more polish than your typical modern-day fuzz rawk band, which is good, yet there's a hint of trigger-thumbing due to their streamlining. Rock of this vein needs no perfection, which honestly, is Fireball Ministry's only guilt.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
To hell with winter and this disgusting marathon of snow...
This past Saturday we got 2.5 feet dumped on us, and now we're currently in the middle of another snow-holing as I write this, 10 inches and expected to go higher. For all of my mountain-based readers, how do ya'll put up with this shit on a constant basis? I live outside of Baltimore and our region just claimed the leader board for total snowfall in a season. Fuck the white shit, is my mantra.
Life this week has been spent shoveling out and dealing with the crummy weather and a little toddler going berserk from it all, plus a nice dose of work on the novel, which should have its first draft ready within 10-11 chapters.
Congrats to the New Orelans Saints! What a beautiful thing to happen in this country. Unless you're an Indy fan, it's pretty hard not to feel good for those Saints and the entire Louisiana region. A special congrats to Drew Brees for believing in himself and never giving up despite the naysayers who tried to run him out of the league. Humble rebellion pays off.
Stay tuned here at The Metal Minute for upcoming reviews of the new Heathen album plus Krakow and other goodies.
To the rack I head, already having scooped one layer out and resigned to having more shoveling fun. Yip yip. Popping the ibuprofen in advance andd lobbying for Punxsatawney Phil's deportment in the morning.
Heathen - The Evolution of Chaos
Krakow - Monolith
Dommin - Love is Gone
Hypno5e - Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre
Milton - s/t
Puffy Amiyumi - Splurge
Death - Scream Bloody Gore
Ace Frehley - Trouble Walkin'
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Dommin - Love is Gone
2010 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Nobody does Glenn Danzig like Danzig himself, albeit no one shared the actuality with Tiger Army's Nick 13 and Volbeat's Michael Poulsen. Or Kristofer Dommin, for that matter.
While Danzig himself is perhaps Satan's bastard offspring to the secretive love tryst between Elvis and Jim Morrison, there's been a marketable niche to his seductive throat flutters and dank romanticism which--love him or hate him--has inspired many successive artists to rape their throats attempting replication.
Kristofer Dommin has built himself a tuneful Goth metal playground not only the vamps, the drapes and the trenchcoat militia can hang out at. After only one self-produced album, 2006's Mend Your Misery, the Danzig-Nick 13-Peter Steele-Jim Morrison disciple scores big with his line-cutting Roadrunner Records debut. While 15 songs on Dommin's sophomore album Love is Gone creates for a gratuitous momentum-halter towards the end, there's no argument Dommin and his alt metal squad capitalize on their good fortunes.
Type O Negative, Katatonia and My Dying Bride might be considered the poster boys of Goth metal at its edgiest. The equally exciting though dancier Lacrimas Profundere leaves little room for other Goth groups to drape yin and yan chiaroscuro shadowing their haunted palaces in-the-making. It's thus sufficient to say Goth metal finds itself in a gray clog of confusion with only a handful of genuine experts practicing the craft.
Dommin, however, possesses the rare ability to transcend the woe-speckled belief system of Goth through hook-oriented singalong gateways endorsing pleasure beneath the inherent pain. They loop some Type O along with the other aforementioned comparables and subtle splashes of Sisters of Mercy, the sovereign lords of Goth rock for all-time. A song like "Making the Most" gives Dommin a resonance of Danzig in search of middle ground between his dirtiest solo output and his dreamy late-eighties offshoot Glenn Danzig and the Power Fury Orchestra. On the other hand, Dommin can stomp on their amp pedals with kick ace rockout sessions like "One Feeling" and their hip two-step to the fugue, "New."
Love is Gone opens with the dense, doomy and luxurious "My Heart, Your Hands," a song with more tunefulness than your average mud-slogged dirge march. Kristofer Dommin fields all of the guitars in addition to the vocals, and his group consisting of Billy James (bass), Konstantine (keys) and Cameron Morris (drums) play effectively into his schemes by plowing volume and tapestried choruses after Kristofer coaxes his audience out of their pants. "Tonight" goes right for the dial (and jeans fastener) as a slick merge of Goth-Pop sensuality. Kristofer disports amorous swoons in breathy seduction to the point "Tonight's" ruddy and spirited harmony becomes instant addiction.
It might've served Dommin's purposes best to have kept Love is Gone blocked at perhaps 12 songs, or even 11 if they wanted to strive for the always-sharp leave 'em wanting more motif. Granted, a couple tracks are short instrumental interludes for mood-staking purposes, such as the Depeche Mode-esque synth strut Konstantine emits on "Within Reach." Konstantine's electro viaduct bridges the bobbing rocker "Without End" to the crashing, emotive ballad "Closure." Depsite Kristofer Dommin's propensity to follow a snaky Danzig vocal line on the tapping, reserved verses of "Closure," he alters his octave to a unique alto which soars gracefully on the amplified and bell-clanged choruses. A rather interesting tryptych of varied affections.
"Dark Holiday" comes off gleefully like a step-heavy cabaret from a padded cell as Dommin assumes a Jim Morrison drawl on the verses to the accompaniment of an Amanda Palmer/Dresden Dolls piano calliope, launching into headbanging Type O Negative-ish choruses. As much as the title song drags with chain-strapped heaviness like both Danzig and Steele, "Dark Holiday" presents a chipper, playful antithesis to the melodic gloom prevailing on this album.
Despite overstaying its welcome in the final round of songs, Love is Gone is a highly entertaining album chocked with more Glenn Danzig impersonations than a Misfits convention. Luckily for Dommin, it's also filled with distinctively-penned tunes targeted straight for the nightcrawlers of the metal underground...
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Hypno5e - Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre
2007 Overcome Distribution
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Yes, this album has been officially released for quite some time, however, French expressionistic metallers Hypno5e are just now generating a buzz as headliners of the Metal as Art Tour currently flogging the American underground. Better late than never, so the idiom goes.
So many sectors of the world are fortifying their metal and alt scenes with attention-grabbing groups who deserve exposure on a global level. France may not possess a legion of metal acts the world has been privy to--yet--however, those who've broken out internationally have really turned heads of the more serious clan of writers and fans who seek depth and integrity in metal's craft.
Gojira has really benefitted from mass exposure, particularly gaining a coveted opening slot with Metallica last year. There's a good reason for that, too; the environmentally-conscious champions of math metal are one of the finest groups of this period. Then you have Hacride, another tech-metal band with major potential. Even though most of the members of Phazm departed, this is one of the genre's bigger hopefuls as well, assuming Pierrick Valence can get those 7 strings vibrating once again with some more antebellum death and roll...
Montpellier's Hypno5e have been around since 2003 and though they're still working the dog ears off of their first official release Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre, one listen divulges the reason why. It's not hard to figure out Hypno5e's songwriting schism because they regurgitate it on each composition. Nevertheless, this is a complex album to get one's head around the first couple listens. Hypno5e embraces the quixotic and the ugly, presenting flashcards of extreme emotions from opposite sides of the spectrum. Luxurious and temporal, bombastic and hellish, Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre employs distorted mind rape with nervy dice rolling.
Okay, so you might say everyone from Neuroris to Isis to The Ocean operate in a similar fashion. What gives Hypno5e a differentiating edge? For one thing, a rawer, chunkier attack to their metal sections, for which you largely have to sit on edge in earnest for as Emmanuel Jessa and his partners force you to drift with closed eyes upon their spiraling lofts as set-ups for Hypno5e's screechy bombs of tonal destruction.
Hypno5e's arrangements may vary with each song, but the intent is the same all the way through Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre. Provide clouds of introspective quietude before dumping their listeners off in a rapid plunge to the gates of Hell. At times, Hypno5e incorporates angelic siren chants from Ilene Grange on the sentient "Maintained Relevance of Destruction, Part II." Grange absorbs the listeners into a weepy trance of empathetic sorrow and she's frankly beautiful in the context you know Hypno5e is going to answer her doom-calling furrow with a booming retort. In fact, set behind "Maintained Relevance of Destruction, Part I," the couplet is Hypno5e's finest songwriting on the album.
Not to say the remainder of Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre isn't compelling, but the "Maintained" duo offers the most confident congruence Hypno5e were capable of when they recorded this album back in 2007. "Daybreak at Slaughter House" and "Scarlet Fever" are also quite strong, but as Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre continues its pitter-pattering as preludes or intercessions to Hypno5e's crushing mania, the scheme betrays the group eventually.
Incorporating prolonged sample sequences (including Norman Bates' "wouldn't harm a fly" closing spiel from Psycho on "Naked Lunch I") and isolated fly buzzes from Jessua and Jeremie Lautier ("Scarlet Fever" being an example), they extend Hypno5e's songs into formulative exercises in noise abstractism. In some ways, Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre will remind of Slipknot when they're trying their damnedest to be legit artistes. Once "Scarlet Fever" breaks out of its cerebrum-swirled setups, the hard-smacking crunchiness is rhythmic and cumbersome. The heavy sections of "Scarlet Fever" are divine, particularly with Jessua's piano sprinkles in the song's middle stanza, which fakes the listener out with pseudo finale.
In some ways, one wants to spin the hand of impatience at Hypno5e with a request to get to the meat, not to disrupt the indulgent mood scapes they're trying to create with Des Deux L'Une Est L'Autre. Nobody's asking them to be direct and carefree like the cabaret-bent Paris Combo or groovy hipster chic like electro-explorers Air, but Hypno5e are well onto something creatively but could use just a hair or two extra focus. The agitated hammers of "Tutuguri" reveal a band who can lift cement blocks from their foundations with pinpointed aggression, yet the immediate payoff is like instant gratification the listener wonders if further fulfillment awaits. Fortunately it certainly comes with Botch-like ear-gouging exactitude (Thibault Lamy's ratchety percussion is especially massive), and cheers to Hypno5e for creating such suspense. In a way, this becomes Hyno5e's in-joke.
However, a little more discipline in knowing when to cut off their trancy theatrics and overdone voiceovers in portions of the album and employing more blunt punctuality like they do with the "Maintained Relevance of Destruction" pairing, and Hypno5e won't just a band to be respected; by attrition they'll have to be feared.