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Monday, May 31, 2010

Metal Louvre: Van Halen - 1984

In its time, Van Halen pulled off one of the ballsiest stunts mainstream rock had fielded with their artwork for 1984. Black Sabbath had already beaten them to the punch with their don't-care, cigarette-tugging sloucher angels on the cover of Heaven and Hell. Yet Van Halen took it on the chin from the conservative right who universally found the idea of a baby-faced cherub pulling on a Winston off-putting, to say the least. Never mind "Jump" became the anthem of its year, booming from cars on both sides of the political spectrum. In the UK, however, an anti-smoking campaign forced copies of the album to be released with removable stickers outlaying the Roman numeral MCMLXXXIV overtop the lit cigarette.

Subliminally you could call this cover, illustrated by Margo Zafer Nahas, "Innocence Lost" in a year that sat on a tightwire of Reagonomics. You could feel the paranoia of Orwell's predicted dystopia, particularly in the deep freeze of a realistic cold war. On the flipside, Van Halen wrote a party-minded rock fiesta to the tune of "Jump," "Panama," "Drop Dead Legs," "Hot for Teacher," "Girl Gone Bad" and "Top Jimmy" as if to snub the nuclear spectre swinging an invisble scythe over our heads. If we were going down in mushroom clouds, Van Halen was going to take us all on a pleasure ride first.

David Lee Roth even claimed "Jump" (conceived in a leap year) was inspired by a news report of a man threatening to commit suicide from the side of a building. Dark humor to a nasty degree, perhaps, but you get the idea. No buzzkills allowed on this party train.

Our infamous tobacco-yanking cherub thus serves symbolic of Van Halen's intentional apathy in a year less gloomier than Orwell or anyone else forecast, armed warhead tips tickling the clouds be damned. The engine gunning at the beginning of "Panama" was recorded from Eddie Van Halen's Lamborghini and it was the sound of "Eh, fuck it all, let's bounce."

Light 'em up before you get lit up.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Metal Louvre: Mastodon - Remission

One thing about Mastodon, they are the masters of expressionism from the cover to the guts. Guts is what you get, spread in horrific fashion on their debut full-length Remission. As optically fun as their other album covers are, Remission yields a painful beauty as the horse torches and decomposes in the midst of a dank backdrop. Call this chaotic clash of baroque/rococo-meets-surrealism a pictorial of society's erosion or call it an ode to mankind's capitalist greed going so far deep as to pinpoint horse owners who are forced to put down their animals when they blow a leg on the race track because it's the "humane" thing to do. With songs called "Trampled Under Hoof" and "Workhorse," there's all sorts of interpretations left to the imagination. That's good art, when it leaves a subjective space for the viewer to derive their own interpretation.

Mastodon used no direct concept for the songs on Remission, yet the legend behind this painting by Paul Romano comes from a nightmare drummer Brann Dailor had. Dailor's sister took her life at age 14 (Dailor was 15) and he conveyed a vivid dream to Romano involving his sister with a burning horse and nuclear fallout. In a sense, the album could've been called Repression as Dailor reportedly never really found a way to express his grief (even when part of bombastic noise impresarios Today is the Day), beyond his fill-splashed drumming. Dailor is ranked amongst the most elite drummers in metal today.

Romano, who has done all of Mastodon's covers, has employed a recurring theme of the five earthly elements to thread the albums together, i.e. Leviathan and water, Blood Mountain and earth, Crack the Skye and aether and Remission, fire. Should be interesting to see where Romano goes to round out the Greek table of the five elements with air on the next Mastodon album.

Friday, May 28, 2010

DVD Review: I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store

I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store
2009 MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In my interview with Frank Delgado of the Deftones last month, I put before him the topic of today's swift killing off of American record stores. I might've caught Delgado off-guard, who'd been professional and straightforward in his answer delivery, because I detected a nostalgic tone in his voice on this subject. Like most diehard music fans, he cited how much the record store served as his personal social hub. Delgado noted he didn't spend his growing up years in sports; they were nurtured in record stores. Delgado can probably take it harder than most people record stores are dying by the month since he uses turntables and sequencers as part of making his daily bread in the Deftones. Hard to imagine others being displaced by MP3 besides record store employees, but it's today's reality. Ironically, this interview with Frank Delgado was conducted on the day Peter Steele passed away, something I mulled over a few days after-the-fact.

While Delgado did make the defense for the current wave of online streaming and downloads as effective marketing tools, the underlying point was staked before he even yielded to modern times.

Whether you accept it or not, we're entrenched in digital warfare. Guerilla filmmaker (and obvious record store junkie) Brendan Toller turned his cameras loose in the underground to back up what Delgado and thousands of loyal record store patrons have lamented the past few years. This writer has likewise written a biased essay or two over the demise of traditional record stores and Toller's documentary I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store hits a mark most of us have been itching over as MP3 has turned the tide of music presentation and stupefied it into a faceless commodity.

Okay, granted, the obscene huckstery of corporate labels and Clear Channel have created a climate where something had to be done. Who the hell can stomach the same 20-30 songs on repeat every goddamn day until Uncle Payola decides when it's time to shift the playlist? Amazingly, a large percentage of the American sheep playing whiny waifs tweaked by voice scramblers on their FM dials lack the freewill to say no to it all. Forget satellite radio and the web, which is filtering hundreds of thousands of artists and artists-in-training for their edification. Music fans may embrace the immediacy offered by the internet, but the true music fans will tell you it's colder than a box of freezer pops compared to lollygagging blissfully in a record store and reveling in the joy of discovery outside of one's home.

Power to the people and all, yet the price paid for privateering albums over the internet is costing us our culture as music heads. Is it really communing if you're gunslinging anonymous insults in online chat rooms? At least hoity toity art farts behind cash registers have the balls to deride others face-to-face. Sure, such elitism has chased more than a handful of clientele into the protective blankets of Wal Mart and Target, who certainly offer value in price, if not a deep selection. Of course, it's much easier to pick up a can of coffee, a pack of diapers and the reissue of Exile On Main Street than it is to drive miles out of the way to pick it up in an indie shop, usually positioned close to if not within urban zones.

Still, if you give a damn about music at all, the independent music store (and sadly, even the mall chains which used to get fat on our coffers but have been whittled down to a meager handful of stores and forced to get real like anyone else) offers an intrinsic value, and we're not necessarily talking about music appreciation.

I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store examines the sociology of record store couture with some hard industry facts to back up its lamenting love letter vibe. Guided on the testimonials of such personalities as Ian MacKaye, Mike Watt, Thurston Moore, Lenny Kaye, Chris Frantz, Legs McNeil, Glenn Branca and Pat Carney of the suddenly-boomed The Black Keys, I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store isn't wholly an hour 17 of bellyaching how the underground has been screwed by the majors. And yet it has over the years, which is why Barnes and Noble became the elite place to buy music, albeit at a premium. Yes, I love Barnes and Noble and have done a considerable amount of music shopping there since their abundance of world music was one of the industry marks to beat. Still, lately I've seen Barnes and Noble's CD racks dwindle drastically as I've since filled in the gaps of my Bob Dylan collection from them, inarguable classics now reduced in price. Why is this?

According to I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store--and it's a valid point--the mass overpricing of records has forced cash-strapped America into finding alternate (and cheaper) means of excavating music. For some, it's a matter of traveling inconvenience, no different than hopping a couple of planes to England to procure some of Yorkshire's finest tea. If a CD costs as much as a quarter tank of gas and the factor of it being in the store is an unknown, then why bother? People would rather pay the shipping charges online for a $10.00-11.00 CD, which equates into the same money big labels hawk their merch for in big chains. Is it any wonder iTunes is running away with a cash cow herd, mooing mad money all the way into rebooted pastures? For all of these semantics, though, the same people at-large have no qualms paying $5.00-6.00 a pop in trendy bars, dropping a couple hundred when the night's drinking is done. Bars flourish in rough times. Record stores, not so much.

Let's face it; not everyone in the world likes to go into a store and be confronted by other people. Even I have moments where I just want to be left alone to take a stack of albums over to the headphones and sample them in private. Still, our society today has grown self-contained and paranoid and there's hardly room for the record store in their lives. Far easier for most to sit half naked in front of a computer and smoke or drink in peace without laws prohibiting them from doing it in the open air and surf for music. For them, preferable to dodging less-than-busy store employees who badger them every five minutes with queries ringing to the tune of "Can I Help You Find Something?" The interactive capacity necessary to communicate is just too much for the average person today. Add to that, a lack of time in everyone's schedules, and we're growing more robotic by the hour. It's why metalheads pass one another on the street yet refuse to stop and chat with one another. Elitism prevails, the clock forces us into working for the clampdown, yet social awkwardness in today's world is more to blame and you can lay that upon the fiber optic trails of the world wide web.

Of course, most people simply aren't going to be familiar with bands such as Pelican, Rum Diary, Minor Threat, Emperor or even long-passed artisans such as Nick Drake. The independent record store is a safe haven where people who know the language can convene and not feel less of an idiot savante because they prefer Black Flag to Rhianna. If the indie store doesn't have the latest Fu Manchu in stock, keep the faith; it's likely on back order. It won't be at Wal Mart, take that to the bank. Sure, you can save yourself the trouble and click it home from CD Universe, or, if you're not of the generation where lingering anticipation of new product was part the bond between musician and consumer, you simply drop anchor with Apple and download to your heart's content.

Where's the interpersonal aspect, though? Can binary code recommend you Bat For Lashes or Red Sparowes albums? Hardly not. Don't get me wrong; I shop online as much as I do in the real world because I'm just that damned obsessed about music and always on the hunt for a cheap deal. However, I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store hit me very hard even though I'm fully aware of the pandemic plaguing the American record store. I've seen some of my favorite hidey holes vanish firsthand, many of them recently. Even at Barnes and Noble I crossed paths with a gentleman complaining it was the only music store in the mall, wondering where he, like many who consider the physical act of leafing through albums therapeutic were going to go in a few years. Good question, sir.

I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store informs us over 3,000 record shops in the country have closed down. Alarming not so much to big chains who stand to reap ostracized customers into their limited emporiums. Brendan Toller hammers the point home in his documentary with his cameras blurring through frosty Wal Mart and Target stores. Rare is the smocked employee running the entertainment section register who knows about Thrice, Paris Combo or Rosetta, much less care. You can guarantee, however, the former occupiers of Trash American Style in Connecticut not only know these acts, they probably have direct access to all known bootlegs.

Or should we say, had.

It's sad when the footnote to a story is its beginning. I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store delivers a ten minute eulogy before the main title flashes up and while the conclusion does offer a glimmer of hope issued to the DIY-minded, you're already wishing High Fidelity had never been filmed. Or you wish it had been played on every channel in the Cableverse just to show the population at-large how important the indie music store is on a cultural level, much less the in-town money it generates.

Brendan Toller pounds this fact as his thesis and continuously puts record store owners and their patrons before his lens. The downtrodden facades are galore, the raised middle fingers aplenty. Stories of music shops being forced out of their spaces to make room for richer merchants who want to expand their spaces truly cut to the nerve. The punchline to this dreadful mistreatment follows with anecdotes of Big Dog business owners subsequently going out of business themselves. Whose interests were served when a gaping space in a strip mall glares like a cavity? Never mind a store like Trash American Style reliably occupied their space for a couple decades and with them, their customers. Perhaps its the bounced checks in harsh times which led to the decision of their eviction, yet the telltale conclusion to be made is economics rule, not art communities nor their benefactors. Sadder still when the former employees are booted to the streets to find work at Trader Joe's or in some cases, nowhere.

Toller treads close to Michael Moore territory with his flashpoint quasi-propaganda, political cartooning and payola vamping. However, Toller smartly threads a story and quickly hustles his indicators to why this crisis is happening. Damn Fraunhofer Gesellschaft to hell if you're a record purist. Yet Toller is savvy enough to flesh out all contributions to the accelerating death of music stores and he's even smarter to keep his film trimmed beneath an hour twenty so it never feels like melodrama. Quite the contrary; you're sucked into what Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth has to say and you find it romantic how Lenny Kaye first met Patti Smith and invited her to the record store he worked at and they danced after-hours in private before starting their band. You're especially glued to Minor Threat/Teen Idles/Fugazi legend Ian MacKaye, particularly how he has made Dischord Records the DIY model for all. His blueprint is so soup-to-nuts you have to scream why others don't use a similar business model.

Music stores are founded on the doctrine that music is life and it freaking hurts to see it devalued by a society which has become singles-oriented versus album puritanical. Okay, there's been too much crap shoved under their noses you can't blame people in general, yet the entire ethos of music production and distribution has turned sour like a jar of pickles left under the sun for too long.

Unfortuntately, people today forget the value of The Midnight Special and Old Grey Whistle Test in terms of fostering an awareness of music. Then again, why should they care when television is formatted to send its faces packing if they don't win the popular vote, their dreams squashed under artifice, judged and dismissed like cattle stock? American Idol is a sham because its only principle is to use a cheaper method of demographic hedging in order to sell records nobody will want in five years like N-Sync and TLC. Where's the chance, where's the development, where's the spontaneity? Gone, like 3,000-plus record stores.

As this film points out, it's the resurge of vinyl which will keep the remaining shops in business, but even wax platters are heavily marketed on the internet and scoffed by the general public as yard sale fodder. For the aspiring band, the key to survival is to take their vinyl on the road and put them up for sale at shows next to their concert shirts. It sure isn't going to come from their labels.

I'm not a bite-the-hand-that-feeds kind of guy since the music industry has been largely good to me. However, I must point out in conclusion that a good music store is like your bedroom amped by the power of infinitum. I sure as hell didn't like my folks crashing in on my room when I lived under their roof, even if I've always loved them with all my heart. Is it any wonder we're collectively taking offense at the calamity presented before us, one record store at a unit?

Time and tide wait for no one, particularly in the name of progress, but let's hope I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store becomes viewed as the fair warning in which it was created instead of an eventual time capsule. The extended interview segments on the bonus features are worth your money alone. The film itself is mandatory viewing.

And for the love of God (and music), support your local record store!!!

Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Metal Louvre: Dio - Holy Diver

As the digital realm begins to dumb down the aesthetics of music presentation, The Metal Minute proudly begins a new feature dedicated to the visual aspect of heavy metal.

Before iTunes and Rhapsody, album covers were just as important to record sales as the product itself. Unfortunately there was a time when the adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" went to such extremes you were potentially buying crap under the guise of eye-popping art.

Nonetheless, imagery is part of the deal if you're a music lover. A good album cover helps sell. A great album cover establishes the connection between artist and listener, solidifying the bond of experience versus merely providing mere air filler.

It's only fitting we begin this tour of a Metal Louvre with the late Ronnie James Dio. This, following Ozzy's Diary of a Madman and Iron Maiden's Killers was my indoctrination into heavy music. I soon won't forget that fateful summer day in 1983 when my eyes couldn't believe what I saw on Holy Diver, much less what it heard within the first few seconds of "Stand Up and Shout." Talk about an experience.

I'd like to dedicate Holy Diver to Pastor Fred Phillips and the Woodsboro Baptists. This is all you see in a beautiful man whom you chose not to know deeper, so let the chains fly where they will. Or as Ronnie sang an album later, the chains are on...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/26/10

Greetings, rowdies, another week of gloom as the death trifecta strikes the metal community, now with Paul Gray of Slipknot. Sad enough that Paul died unexpectedly, even sadder he leaves behind an unborn child.

Even more unnerving is the news of the Westboro Baptist Church, led by the controversial Pastor Fred Phillips, and their plans to protest at the site of Ronnie James Dio's funeral on May 30th in Los Angeles. The pastor is quoted by the mainstream press as stating "Thank God for the dead brute Dio."

In a classy gesture, Wendy Dio is urging all of Ronnie's fans to turn the other cheek against such zealotry and to let them have their say. Regardless of how vulgar and tasteless it is to mar a funeral procession of any sort, much less an individual such "protesters" don't know personally, they are entitled to their American right to free speech. Shame they couldn't see the kindness of Ronnie and how much he loved his life, music and above all, his fans. Is it a wonder Ronnie chose a life outside of organized religion? Ironically, it takes an atheist's wife to exemplify the Christian principles of humility and forgiveness in the midst of such an uncouth and un-Christian act as funeral crashing.

Citing anger over Ronnie's atheism amongst other things the Westboro Baptists find offensive including the horns-up salute Ronnie made famous, let us ostracize Phillips and his clan with an edict befitting of their ignorance: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

'Nuff said.

Deftones - Diamond Eyes
Deftones - White Pony
Rolling Stones - Aftermath
Rolling Stones - Flowers
Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street
Rolling Stones - Some Girls
Rolling Stones - Tattoo You
Bullet for My Valentine - Scream Aim Fire
Bullet for My Valentine - Fever
Icarus Witch - Draw Down the Moon
Soulfly - Omen
Jimi Hendrix - First Rays of the New Rising Sun
The Cure - Disintegration
Danzig - Danzig III: How the Gods Kill
Danzig - Deth Red Sabaoth
Lamb of God - Hourglass
Dio - Master of the Moon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Slipknot - "The Blister Exists" video

RIP Paul Gray...

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Headbangers 2003 Interview Sessions: Dee Snider (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

What can you say about Dee Snider? Legends are born, legends are made, legends cultivate themselves. In Dee's case, all apply. Picture a still-green novice interviewer enjoying a sit-down with one of the greats of hard rock and metal. I talk frequently about having tons of posters and cut-outs from metal magazines on my walls as a teen in the eighties and how I used to daydream about putting a mike in front of any one of them. Little did I know I'd have my wish fulfillment to the nth power later in my life.

Dee was one of the first guests I booked for the Headbangers project and I'm sure you readers have seen well enough firsthand how pro the man is in an interview. Of course, being a frontman for one of rock's most colorful and sometimes controversial bands, a film director and DJ of a syndicated hard rock show probably has nothing to do with it. Still, I can tell you from experience Dee Snider is always on his game and ready to talk. In this excerpt of a two-day chat session, you can taste the humor of Dee Snider, who had yet to rally his Twisted brethren back into action. All to the better he did, because I will never forget my time with Dee, particularly how wounded he was back then that Twisted Sister had faded before its time, and with them their fans.

I remember when Dee called on day one, my wife and I were yelling back and forth to get the phone since I had a toothbrush in my mouth and hadn't realized we were upon the hour. The voicemail Dee left me is a treasure I keep in my taped archives. Such a funny dude and we certainly got on splendidly once he called back a few minutes later. As you'll read, I puttered a bit in the beginning as I was gaining my treading feet in the host's position. I thank Dee for his patience back then, much less his willingness to bring me onto his website House of Hair Online as an interviewer later in my career.

What else can I say but enjoy...

Ray Van Horn, Jr.: What made you want to be the frontman of a high-profile rock and roll band originally?

Dee Snider: I think the very very first thing was The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I hadn’t actually seen The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, my father had decided to ban t.v. from my house in that year (laughs), but I was in third grade and I remember coming up to the bus stop and everybody that Monday morning, everybody was buzzing, talking, and I remember asking--clear as a bells-Russell Biederman, saying “Did you see The Beatles on Ed Sullivan?” And I’m like, “The What-les? The Beatles? What’s a Beatle?” He goes “That’s a rock band!” He says “Everybody was screaming,” and if everybody was screaming, I said “I wanna be a Beatle.” And I found out soon thereafter that I couldn’t be a Beatle, actually, I had to be in a rock band, so, I played crappy guitar, you know, and sang. I went to this front thing when I realized my fronting abilities far exceeded my guitar playing, and a band is only as good as its weakest link, and I could be in a better band if I just fronted. So I dropped the guitar--I was a lunatic on guitar, horrible player, probably because I was jumping around and contorting so much. I could barely keep the chords together.

RV: (laughs)

DS: And just get rid of the guitar and just lose your mind, and you could front the band.

RV: Right, well you can move around as a frontman.

DS: Yeah, there’s no limitations.

RV: The next question I have is...

DS: Is if I’m in the Marines? I say that a lot. A big rumor is that I used to be a Marine.

RV: (laughs) Many casual fans had no clue that Twisted Sister had to work like dogs before you found success. You guys paid your dues more than most bands of the period, so what was this long stretch of hard work like for you before you found some success in the early eighties?

DS: Well, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves, so to speak, you know, because there’s one thing that I hope with this reunion and the shows that we’re doing, I would really like to go on a mission to clear that up. That misconception that we were, you know, sort of jump-on-the-bandwagon kind of people. We were the fucking bandwagon! There was no bandwagon. We were the guys.

RV: Right.

DS: I mean, Jay Jay formed Twisted in 1973, at the height of the glam era. Disbanded in ’74 and reformed in ’76, and continued in spite of the fact that glam was dead as a doornail, to carry the torch for glam. You know, it was over and done in ’76. Kids were the only ones still carrying the torch, but we were a little more originally from the glam school. You know, the feminine clothing, and the feminine makeup, and what have you. I joined the band and I brought with me my armada of metal albums. I was a glam fan, of course, but I also had the metal thing. So we were doing our thing when nobody was doing our thing, and we were playing thousands of shows. Thousands before we had a record deal! We were six-and-a-half years of being together until we got a deal, and that was an independent deal overseas. We were rejected by every company in the U.S. five times.

RV: Geez.

DS: Five fucking times! Yet we were playing for crowds of 1000 to 3000 people a night, five nights a week! Suburbs of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, outside New York City...we could not get record executives to even come see our band.

RV: What do you think drove them away that forced you to go overseas to the Secret label?

DS: Well, it was really a last ditch effort. We had actually taken a series of photos without makeup, and street clothes, to show that we were so desperate. It was like a Have-it-Your-Way pitch to record companies. We were selling out theaters without a record deal. We did a free concert on Long Island, as a matter of fact, on the 25th anniversary of that event here on Long Island. In 1979, a local theme park was having a concert series on the outside of the park; they would do an outdoor show with local bands. They were different every Tuesday night, a different local band, and they would have like 300 to 800 people there. Twisted did one of these shows. Kiss was at the Garden that night, playing to half a house, yet we had 23,000 people show up!

RV: Wow!

DS: Without a record deal, ’79.

RV: Insane.

DS: We were banned from every outdoor venue in the northeast for our careers. They had like five security guys and, yeah, there was pandemonium. I mean, it was what nobody expected! I just recently met with the owners of that theme park on Long Island, because I actually thought it would be cool to do a 25th anniversary, you know, return with better staging this time, a little more security…

RV: (laughs)

DS: But you’re still scarred for life from that kind of experience. (laughs) Anyway, the point was, we had this huge fanbase, yet record executives would not come see us. So in a last ditch desperate move, we followed the footsteps of Hendrix, Joan Jett, The Stray Cats and many others, and we went to England, where we were already getting a little press. A photographer by the name of Ross Halfin for Kerrang had been in the States photographing Ozzy or Maiden or one of those people, and he had an off night. He ran into a bunch of girls who were fans of ours and they said, “Oh, you gotta see this band, Twisted Sister, they’re unbelievable!” Ross came out to a club in New Jersey on a weeknight or Saturday night, and there was like a thousand people losing their minds he said this is like the fucking second coming here, and it was an old bowling alley! (laughs)

RV: (laughs)

DS: He took pictures and sent them home to England and the interest just erupted over there. So thank you, Ross Halfin! Then we got our deal with Secret Records, but that fell apart shortly thereafter. So it was an incredible, tortuous struggle where you just had rejection from the industry, wholesale rejection during the day, yet at night you’d get onstage in front of thousands of freaking-out suburban kids! Well, they know what’s going on!

RV: (laughs)

DS: The guys in the fucking suits who think it’s hip to go down to CBGB’s because his band had fifty people in the house and he was so fucking impressed…

RV: (laughs)

DS: We offered, dude, standing offer in the industry. Standing offer. Free limo ride and dinner if you’d come out to see our band!

RV: And they still wouldn’t take it?

DS: One taker! One taker, the then-president of Atco Records. I remember her name. Came out, saw us, said “Holy fucking Christ, this is unbelievable!” She went back and said “I saw a great band and we’re gonna sign ‘em!” Everybody said, “Great, who is it,” and she said “Twisted Sister,” and everybody was like, “What, are you kidding, that bar band?” All of a sudden the second guessing set in, her peers are going “What, are you nuts? It’s a bar band that plays clubs,” and all of a sudden the memories faded, and there were no more return calls. We got dropped from Secret Records and then again in one of our coming apart at the seams at that point...that was the darkest hour. Secret Records folded and we had done a farewell tour of the area, we were going for our first tour ever, with Diamondhead and Twisted, a tour of the UK. Secret Records folded under the weight of having an American band even though they just couldn’t handle it. We couldn’t play because it was embarrassing to go back out after we had just done a farewell run. I was married with the kids, living in a studio apartment; things were rough.

RV: Salad days.

DS: We got offered a shot on a show called The Tube, the one show we did for Secret, and they wanted us to come on, play three songs live. We went on that show, we borrowed money from everybody we knew, we flew to England, and at the end of the show we had like five offers on the table, including Atlantic Records Worldwide, and not Jason Flomm. He gets credit for signing the band, but he didn’t. The guy’s name was Phil Carson, President of Atlantic Europe. He’s the one who signed the band.

RV: Sweet. You know, I actually used to own a copy of the Secret label version of Under the Blade, and like an idiot, I sold it in a big pile of other stuff, and I didn’t even see, I mean, I ghave it on CD now, but that’s one of the things I’ve always kicked myself for, was selling the Secret version of that. That'll always remain my favorite Twisted album.

DS: Yeah, yeah, that’s the one I have. You know, that record for certain people is their favorite. My son Jesse was a VJ on MTV2 and he ran into the guys from Rancid, and they were like, “Dude, tell your dad, Under the Blade..." since we were on the same label as The Exploited, you know, one of the big second wave of punk bands.

RV: You bet. One of my favorites.

DS: There was a story I told on VH-1, you know, Behind the Music?

RV: Right.

DS: You see the “shite” story I told?

RV: (laughs)

DS: And what’s wrong with "shit?" That was Big John! The Exploited were crewing for us and he was, you know, with a heavy Scottish accent, “It’s all a bunch of shite, mon!" (laughs) And I’m like, what the fuck? What are you saying, man? It's shit, man! (laughs)

To be continued...

(c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

CD Review: Bullet for My Valentine - Fever

Bullet for My Valentine - Fever
2010 Jive Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Every couple years a band emerges over their peers as the official voice of its scene. In recent years, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold, Taking Back Sunday, Killswich Engage and In Flames fit those roles. Now the honor goes to Bullet for My Valentine.

The Welsh metallers know how to make an impression now through three full-length albums. Anyone scoring an opening tour slot with Iron Maiden is headline-worthy enough, but Bullet for My Valentine literally crashed the gates in 2008 with their finessed emo-thrash bonanza Scream Aim Fire. Bullet for My Valentine has been so meticulous in their mission to streamline metal's most popular threads into one homebase they gained the attention of the majors and have surpassed H.I.M. as pointmen of the concert shirt parade.

Granted, cyclicism being what it is, the shirts will change faces along with the demographic as they grow older and for some, out of metal. Bullet for My Valentine at least fortifies their position with a sales chart-scorching effort, Fever. The best-selling album in metal as of this writing is, for its targeted Teenage Wasteland 2.1, the anthem album of the summer.

If there's any complaint about Fever (and it's going to take a few years for most of this group's core audience to hear it once life seizes them and adjusts their overall outlooks) is that Bullet for My Valentine plays it far too safe and unfortunately sets themselves on repeat. Gone is the fireball urgency of Scream Aim Fire and in its place are eleven pandering tracks designed to boom from cars and MP3 players.

In a way this album is for Bullet for My Valentine what So Far, So Good...So What was for Megadeth; entertaining, largely competent, vocally front and center. Yet what did So Far, So Good...So What do for Megadeth when following the speed metal masterpiece that is Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? It sold well, it was showcased prominently on the original Headbangers Ball and it even led Dave Mustaine and Megadeth circa 1988 into Penelope Spheris' socio-documenary Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Yet more people down the road of time have torched that album instead of embraced it.

Granted, Fever is a much more polished effort than So Far, So Good...So What and Bullet for My Valentine are going to capitalize heftily with this album from an audience on the constant search for the one band who stands up and shouts for them. Bullet for My Valentine answers the call with "Dignity" and "The Last Fight," two songs tailored directly for this band's followers. "Dignity" especially raises high the banner for Generation Tech, who like any that's preceded them is simply looking for respect and acknowledgement by the rest of the world they've purposefully ostracized themselves from. Fastway had "Stand Up and Be Counted" in their day, Motley Crue, "Shout at the Devil." Everyone needs an electric roar of what lies dormant inside their frustrated minds, even if said frustration has yet to know its full capacities once they enter the real world. At least Bullet for My Valentine recognizes their position as leaders to offer their listeners booming odes of hope.

Michael Padget and Matt Tuck wield some mighty axes, albeit their American counterparts Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu of Trivium remain the tag team of their time to beat. Bullet for My Valentine has bluntly followed a few of the Triv's paths, yet Fever is nowhere in the class of Shogun, though it damn well had the potential to be. Fever instead has an intentional comeliness to its metalhead coif on neatly-tucked melodic numbers like "Breaking Out, Breaking Down," "Your Betrayal" and "Pleasure and Pain." At least Shogun retains a velocity and brutality elevating its purpose, though some might argue Trivium suffered their own backlash with 2005's scaled-down Ascendancy.

Whereas "Scream Aim Fire" and "Eye of the Storm" from Bullet for My Valentine's previous album bottlerocket and steal your breath away, this time around, the band stamps down more cautiously. Michael Thomas gives a drum clinic on both albums, yet on Fever he's relegated to largely mid-tempo crush grooves instead being allowed to free-float his double hammers like on Scream Aim Fire.

One of Fever's trade-ups is the amplified singing of Matt Tuck. Though he does yelp and growl at times, Tuck's cleans have evovled into world class. You have to applaud the guy for polishing his chops considering the physical adversity he'd suffered through resulting in a tonsillectomy in 2007. Tuck's refined vocals help sell Fever's lighter-jerkers "Bittersweet Memories" and "A Place Where You Belong," a pair of songs that represents this generation far more than the obviousness of "Dignity."

Bullet for My Valentine waits until the very end to step on the gas with the chaotic thrasher "Pretty On the Outside," which skids the blazing verses to push mountain-moving choruses. It's a reconciliation on Bullet for My Valentine's part, because even they have to admit they've played a sturdy hand through the rest of Fever, finally landing on Boardwalk to couple their album version of Park Place. "Pretty On the Outside" is Bullet for My Valentine running past Go into a very certain four-corner trip which has the benefit of the sure thing gusting their movements. Did they land on too many Chance squares to get here, though?

Fever is a slick vehicle and despite its remorseless iteration, it's a fun album to kick back with. Not as mind-melding as Scream Aim Fire, Bullet for My Valentine nonetheless whips up a champion performance to stand tall as the kings of summer, 2010. Do they have what it takes to write their own Rust in Peace, however?

Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, May 22, 2010

CD Review: Soulfly - Omen

Soulfly - Omen
2010 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Max Cavalera’s time spent cultivating Soulfly might as well be delineated between 2004’s Prophecy and 2005’s more extreme Dark Ages. It can be said since Dark Ages Cavalera’s been satiating a manic hunger to wreck aural havoc. Following suit on 2008’s brutal Conquer, Soulfly returns this year with more of the same thrash-grind-punish motives on their seventh output, Omen.

Max’s abrupt changeover of Soulfly’s modus operandi is likely in answer to the hordes of distanced Sepultura fans who have balked at his early-on tinkering with electronics, trip hop, calypso, reggae and flamenco. His first Soulfly album from 1998 and the subsequent Primitive and 3 albums bear little resemblance to the teeth-mashing mayhem Soulfly now delivers since crossing the guilt-tripped threshold of crush.

Cavalera, who is one of the kindest beings considering the hell he’s faced in life has been growing more agitated musically since fans have badgered him and his brother Iggor to return home to Sepultura. That was partially answered by Cavalera Conspiracy, who produced one of the finest thrash albums of this decade by means of introduction. Still, the airs breathe the names of Andreas Kisser and Paolo, Jr. whether Max and Iggor want to hear them or not.

Consequently, Soulfly is now in sound one of the angriest bands on the planet and Omen is as fast and mean as you’ll want from Max and company. “Vulture Culture,” “Mega-Doom,” Counter Sabotage” and “Great Depression” are unapologetic throwbacks to the Beneath the Remains and Arise-era blitzkriegs. The difference here is Max’s sidearm shredder Marc Rizzo’s melodic fret-splashing is far different from Andreas Kisser, not that either man needs comparison. Both weave tapestries overtop Max’s rhythmic riff chugs, albeit Marc Rizzo has become talk of the town these days.

It’s sufficient to say Rizzo is carrying a good bit of Soulfly’s mission statement at this point. Omen, like Dark Ages and Conquer, reaches spectacular dynamics because of Rizzo’s gorgeous combination of salsa and neoclassicism which he translates into static shocks of wonderment. The electric-acoustic finale of “Vulture Culture” especially deserves a great big “Ole!” Rizzo’s a star unto himself and realistically Omen would be a nostalgia ride of thrash and punk-crunk for Max without him. Unlike his first four Soulfly ventures, Max is hardly stretching out songwriting-wise here. Instead, he puts his stock and faith into Rizzo and dials up familiar rhythms switching between stamp and speed. All to the good if you want to mosh proper.

Max brings in a pair of guests on Omen in the form of Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato, who really cuts loose on “Rise of the Fallen,” while the omnipresent Tommy Victor checks in with some woofs and a co-writing credit on “Lethal Injection.” Unfortunately, Max drops us into an unnecessary blood mire ode to cannibalism with “Jeffrey Dahmer.” Even “Off With Their Heads” is lyrically a hair beneath this legend of extreme metal. For one of the classiest men in the business, Max Cavalera hardly needs to go the route of genre mockery; inadvertently he mocks himself. Though different in execution, you can hear his pride in “Bumba” and “Bumbklaatt” from the self-titled Soulfly album, much less Max’s tear-jerking love letter to his slain stepson Dana “D-Low” Wells, “Tree of Pain” from 3. Soulfly now through the past three albums wails a cry of bloody vengeance on every song.

Nevertheless, Omen is a steadfast tail-kicker which establishes its nasty business right upfront with the Sepultura-meets-Discharge ripper “Bloodbath” and it never settles down until the tappy instrumental “Soulfly VII.” The extracurricular percussion and tribal rhythms Max Cavalera excavated in his earlier Soulfly work have been greatly remiss in the later albums, although they make a welcome return in the final stanza of “Off With Their Heads.” Joe Nunez is one vicious cat on the skins, but as Max would say on his second Soulfly album, it’s time to get back to the primitive.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, May 21, 2010

CD Review: Deftones - Diamond Eyes

Deftones - Diamond Eyes
2010 Reprise Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

With a band, adversity can turn you into a vengeful pack of junkyard dogs or it can refine you into the epitome of a show-to-win pedigree. Not that the Deftones have ever been sweetness and effervescence, the reaction they've cast in answer to the near-loss of bassist Chi Cheng is a heroic outlay of controlled mayhem and a polished crunch of Cure reinventionism on their latest album Diamond Eyes.

Diamond Eyes champions the Deftones' own cause, even as as Cheng continues to recuperate from his injuries sustained in an auto accident. Cheng's coma had an adverse effect on his bandmates, who abruptly halted work on their Eros album and in the midst of stagnance tripped across the willing services of Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega.

Thus weaves the legend of Diamond Eyes, the most confident album the Deftones have ushered since White Pony. It is as much an aural stand-up against their inner trauma as it is against their critics tattooing the Deftones' self-titled 2003 album and the subsequent Saturday Night Wrist from 2006. Many people are likening Diamond Eyes to White Pony, though the only real parallels between both albums lies in the hammering riff punches of the title track and "Royal," the verses of "Beauty School" and "Prince," which is a slicked-out, metalhead's cocktail hour regroove of "Rx Queen."

If there ever was an argument for the Deftones' affinity towards The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Smiths, Diamond Eyes is the album to prove it. "Beauty School" might've sit snugly on The Cure's Wish, but all the better for its metallic snarling beneath the aquatic timbre. The jazzy tempo of "You've Seen the Butcher" is straight out of Japanese Whispers, Head On the Door and Disintegration, and Chino Moreno plays his vocal slides with a true Robert Smith shuffle-shamble.

In fact, Diamond Eyes will go down to this point in the Deftones' careers as their most textured and swirling effort to-date. Part of it has to do with Frank Delgado's otherworldly electronics, which have fully redefined this band since the proto-punk fang years of Adrenaline and Around the Fur. Delgado morphs "Diamond Eyes" from dense to beauteous, particularly on the emotive choruses and his prescence is felt all over this album.

Diamond Eyes hardly strays from the heavy despite numerous outreaches which all work to the good. "Royal" is a trad Deftones stomp-n-shout ditty, while "Rocket Skates" is one of the mightiest songs this band has ever penned. On both of these tracks, the always-trusty Abe Cunningham goes apeshit on his snare and toms and his flexible energy raises the Deftones accordingly. The harder Cunningham strikes, the louder Chino Moreno shrieks and the meaner Stephen Carpenter strums. The inflictive groove of "Cmd/Ctrl" elevates from Cunningham's mondo pounding and shimmies the cut into louder pastures beyond the primary Cure schisms guiding the melody.

The surprise track of Diamond Eyes is one of its shining, er, diamonds, "Sextape." This is frankly one of the most gorgeous songs the Deftones have recorded and the dichotomy between self-gratification and confused innocence is established by Stephen Carpenter's romantic and temporal guitar lines. His Johnny Marr-like back fills heats up "Sextape" with a barely-suppressed angst. Never has the urge to wank felt so guilt-free. Tonight, indeed...

Would Diamond Eyes have as much verve if it wasn't created in the heat of near-tragedy? Interesting there's very little flashpoint to this album, only a dialed-in set of tracks which embraces just enough of the dark side to keep it a legit metal album. If anything, Diamond Eyes is the most progressive album the Deftones have done. Chino Moreno turns in the vocal performance of his career (he's wonderfully lost in the moment on "976-Evil" and "Rocket Skates") and Sergio Vega makes a snug companion to Abe Cunningham in the band's snapcase rhythm section. What will Eros do for an encore once the Deftones revisit it?

Rating: ****

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/19/10

Harle, scalawags, welcome to another weekly check-in of your listening pleasures. Unfortunately there's little pleasure to take this week in the metal community with the fall of one of our esteemed knights of the order, followed by the announced breakup of some of the finest artisans of this generation. I'm course talking about Ronnie James Dio and Isis.

A hard couple weeks personally bookended by a pair of fabulous weekends, which accounted for a slowdown in production. Wifey and I got out on date for a change and took in Iron Man 2. As a reader of ol' Shellhead in the eighties I never thought an actor could nail down Tony Stark with the nuances dwelling beneath the narcissism, but Robert Downey, Jr. has claimed the role as his own and Iron Man 2 rocked.

You readers never let me down with your support and there's a very special treat coming your way this week. Normally I'd leave you in suspense, but let's get you salvating in anticipation, yes? Stay tuned this week for the first part of a Headbangers 2003 Interview Session with the Captain Howdy himself: Dee Snider.

No doubt you'll enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed conducting the interview back then. In case I haven't pimped it yet, my recent interview with Blackie Lawless is running over at Dee's site, House of Hair Online. My chat with Bobby Blotzer is forthcoming at the same space. Also expect a review of the new Bullet For My Valentine album, Fever and other num nums (as my boy would say) around the bend.

Spin-wise, well, I'm no different than the rest of us mourning the loss of a legend with a heavy lean on Ronnie James Dio, but I'm especially taken by the new Danzig album. Stripped, dirty, minimalist, sometimes bombastic, this is the guttural yet melodic sound of Samhain crashed with Danzig III. With Tommy Victor serving the tunes instead of overpowering them as on Circle of Snakes, this one's a freakin' winner. Check it out. The new Soulfly album Omen is likewise a smoker. What Max Cavalera has done to this band along with Marc Rizzo is remarkable if you prefer Soulfly on the brutal side.

Rainbow - Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow
Rainbow - Rising
Rainbow - Long Live Rock 'n Roll
Black Sabbath - Mob Rules
Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell
Dio - The Last in Line
Dio - Killing the Dragon
Danzig - Deth Red Sabaoth
Soulfly - Omen
Lizzy Borden - Love You to Pieces
Bullet For My Valentine - Fever
Deftones - Diamond Eyes
Sodom - Agent Orange reissue
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Sisters of Mercy - Floodland
Microtia - Spacemaker
Jon Oliva's Pain - Festival
Bonedome - Thinktankubator
Mouth of the Architect - The Violence Beneath EP
Scorpions - Love at First Sting
Judge Jackson - Drive

Isis Announces Breakup

Photo (c) 2008-10 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

The Metal Minute received this heavy correspondence from the Isis camp. As a major supporter of this band, I'd like to thank the five gentlemen in Isis for all the interviews you gave me and for bravely changing the face of metal in expressionistic fashion. In the Absence of Truth especially got me through a tough spot in life and those vibes will forever be imprinted upon my DNA. You will be missed.

Catch 'em while you can with The Melvins this summer.

ISIS has reached an end. It's hard to try to say it in any delicate way, and it is a truth that is best spoken plainly. This end isn't something that occurred over night and it hasn't been brought about by a single cataclysmic fracture in the band. Simply put, ISIS has done everything we wanted to do, said everything we wanted to say. In the interest of preserving the love we have of this band, for each other, for the music made and for all the people who have continually supported us, it is time to bring it to a close. We've seen too many bands push past the point of a dignified death and we all promised one another early on in the life of the band that we would do our best to ensure ISIS would never fall victim to that syndrome. We've had a much longer run than we ever expected we would and accomplished a great deal more than we ever imagined possible. We never set any specific goals when the band was founded other than to make the music we wanted to hear and to play (and to stay true to that ideal), so everything else that has come along the long and winding path has been an absolute gift. As with any momentous life-changing decision (which this certainly is for the 5 of us), we feel a very dynamic range of emotions about this and cannot express all of it within the space of a few sentences, and perhaps it's best to do what we've always done and let our music speak for us. It is and has been the truest expression of who we are as a collective and in some ways who we are as individuals for the 13 years in which we've been together. The last and perhaps most important thing we might say in relation to all this is how grateful we are for the people that have supported us over the years. It is a lengthy list that would include those who put out our records, those that played on them and put them to tape, the many bands with whom we shared the stage, all of our family, friends and companions who supported us in our individual lives and thus made it possible for us to continue on in the band, and most importantly those who truly listened to our music whether in recorded form or by coming to out to our shows (or both). It is quite true that we would never have done what we have without those people, that is many of you who are reading this. Our words can never fully express what we feel, but we hope that our music and the efforts made to bring it into being can serve as a more proper expression of gratitude for this life and for everyone in it. Thank you.

In more immediate and practical terms the tour we are about to embark upon is indeed our last. We are hoping that these final live rituals can help us bring a close to the life of this band in a celebratory and reverent way, and also provide us with a chance to say goodbye to many of those that have supported us over the years. While there is a measure of sadness that comes with the passing of this band, we hope that the final days can be joyous ones during which any and all that wish to come and join us will do so. It seems fitting that the last show of the tour and of our active existence will take place in Montreal, the site of the very first ISIS show in 1997 (though that was an unintentional move when booking the show initially). After the tour we also plan to follow through with other projects set in motion some time ago - pursuing the completion of a final EP, compiling live audio and visual material for future releases, and generally doing whatever we can to make our music available for as long as there are people who wish to hear it.

Thanks again to any and all,

ISIS, May 18 2010

From Mike Patton & Greg Werckman (Ipecac founders):

"It has been a complete honor to be a part of the ISIS team. ISIS is a major part of our label's foundation. Those 5 talented guys are our friends and we look forward to see and hear what they each do in the future."

Tour Dates:

May 26 2010 6:00P The Casbah w/ Jakob & Tombs San Diego, California, US

May 29 2010 6:00P Wow Hall w/ Jakob & Tombs Eugene, Oregon , US

May 30 2010 7:30P Capitol Theatre w/ Jakob & Tombs Olympia, WA

May 31 2010 6:00P Rickshaw Theatre w/ Jakob & Tombs Vancouver, British Co, CA

Jun 1 2010 6:00P Neumo’s w/ Jakob & Tombs Seattle, Washington, US

Jun 2 2010 6:00P Doug Fir Lounge w/ Jakob & Tombs Portland, Oregon , US

Jun 4 2010 6:00P Great American Music Hall w/ Jakob & Tombs San Francisco, California, US

Jun 5 2010 6:00P The Troubadour w/ Jakob & Tombs Los Angeles, California, US

Jun 12 2010 6:00P Bonnaroo Festival W/ Clutch, Melvins, Flaming Lips, etc. Manchester, Tennessee , US

Jun 14 2010 6:00P 40 Watt Club w/ Melvins Athens, Georgia , US

Jun 16 2010 6:00P 9:30 Club w/Melvins Washington, Washington, US

Jun 17 2010 6:00P Theater Of Living Arts (TLA) w/ Melvins Philadelphia, Pennsylvan, US

Jun 18 2010 6:00P Webster Hall w/ Melvins New York, New York , US

Jun 19 2010 6:00P Music Hall Of Williamsburg w/ Melvins Brooklyn, New York , US

Jun 20 2010 6:00P Paradise Rock Club w/ Melvins Boston, Massachuse, US

Jun 21 2010 6:00P Paradise Rock Club w/ Melvins Boston, Massachuse, US

Jun 22 2010 6:00P Port City Music Hall w/ Cave In Portland, Maine , US

Jun 23 2010 6:00P Club Soda w/ Cave In Montreal, Quebec , CA

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CD Review: Sodom - Agent Orange reissue

Sodom - Agent Orange reissue
2010 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The late eighties and early nineties were a bit of an anomaly for metal and thrash was no exception. Blame it on hairball heaven or blame it on a cash cow mentality by record labels of the day. The indies were a safe haven for thrashers who wanted to remain pure to themselves, but inevitably the style was forced to slow down and mosh to a toxic waltz half-speed rhythm. Blame that on Metallica's Black Album plus And Justice For All beforehand.

Testament, Kreator, Megadeth, Destruction...nobody was spared the manifest edict to produce less velocity and more melody, lest they be relegated to the minors like a pitcher refusing to throw a change-up when directed by his catcher and coach. On the one extreme, this toning down measure produced a few jaw-slackening Cold Lakes, but the savvier bands like Testament and Exodus worked the slowdown mandate to their advantage. Even if Testament undeservedly took a whipping for The Ritual.

Fortunately for Sodom, 1989 wasn't a stake in the heart like it was for some death-thrash bands. Following their breakout Persecution Mania from 1987, Sodom found a way to embrace a few luxuries in embellishment with Agent Orange, one of the crown jewels in the Teutonic horde's catalog.

"Tired and Red" is a prime example of branching out, not selling out, and it's why Agent Orange is one of the most enjoyable albums Sodom wrote. Bookended by insane thrash segments, the centerpiece of "Tired and Red" is a stamp-heavy skid motif and flowery acoustic interlude. This schism was seldom pulled off with ease in metal back then. Revolutionary? In 1989, you betcha.

Agent Orange is still so fast you occasionally hear Chris Witchhunter trip over himself on the hammer strikes, which is part of the charm. "Incest," "Agent Orange" and "Exhibition Bout" are all so goddamned quick your neck tendons can hardly contain the abuse, and yet Sodom inventively wrote backend breakdowns within these songs they accent the speed of the album. They made a compelling argument in 1989 and though studied and blueprinted by today's acolytes of thrashers and metalcorists, there's seldom few who get it as right as Sodom did.

In some ways, Agent Orange is superior to Persecution Mania, though the rabid devout will tell you otherwise. The elemental leap from Sodom's mind-melding debut Obsessed by Cruelty is like a promise delivered by the time Agent Orange came around. The slow march introducing "Baptism of Fire" shows terrific discipline, particularly once Sodom volleys back and forth between two sets of thrash lines, each more abusive than the other and expertly meted back-and-forth.

The Motorhead-meets-GBH ass pounder "Ausgebombt" is one of Sodom's finest moments and is the selling point of Agent Orange, to the point you get a live and German version of the cut on the bonus disc of this reissue. Sure, "Ausgebombt" makes no bones who it tributizes, but Jesus, what a hellish pair of solos Tom Angelripper yanks out, one being a two-second detonation, the next a scale-happy shredfest.

Always keep in mind Sodom is at heart a war protest band, despite their death metal roots. "Exhibition Bout" criticizes bullfighting while "Magic Dragon," "Remember the Fallen" and the title track are open remembrances to both the Vietnam conflict as well as World War II. "Magic Dragon" may be one of the slowest tunes Sodom has ever written, but that's only for two minutes before they open their blast furnaces in destructive fashion. The cataclysms of war seldom rang this convincingly in the eighties, "Disposable Heroes" notwithstanding. Angelripper's quixotic solos jerked at hyperspeed still carry weepy and reserved tones wholly appropriate of the song's subject matter.

The bonus disc to Agent Orange features five previously-released live cuts and of course the German version of "Ausgebombt." A so-so bonus for this package but it's the main guts you're after if you don't already own Agent Orange. If you were put out by the manic slowdown in speed metal back in the day, kick back a second time with Agent Orange and realize not everyone sold their souls. Some gained them.

Rating: ****1/2

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dio - "Rainbow in the Dark" Live, "The Rock Palace" 1983

With heavy heart and fond reminiscence, RIP Ronnie...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Accept - "Teutonic Terror" video

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/12/10

The Batjerk "dies" on the Exorcist steps...

Hullo, Metal Minute devoted!

Today your happy host turns the big 4-0 and it's surreal in a fashion but I'm examining what I've done right to this point and what I might not've, as people usually do on a landmark birthday. What I can say in relation to this site is what I always say; The Metal Minute exists to serve you and the industry and your allegiance is a gift unto itself.

As today is crazy busy, I celebrated over the weekend with a road trip into Virginia and a sit-down with Ratt's Bobby Blotzer, one of the most rewarding interviews I've done. The show afterwards was insane and Ratt was in fine gear. Yours truly was flashed by a pair of drunken ladies like it was the eighties and before I could say "what the hell happened?" the show turned up a notch onstage and the crowd with it. If that stunt with the girls had happened before I got married I might've appreciated it more.

Then a haunt into Georgetown in Washington, DC for a stop at the nefarious stairwell used in The Exorcist. Nothing has changed at that location since 1973, except the graffiti. Quite an experience.

And with that, the Batjerk is throwing his Catwoman and Robin into the Jerkmobile and asking y'all to stay tuned to this Batjerk channel...

Rosetta - Determinism of Reality
Ratt - s/t EP
Ratt - Infestation
Judas Priest - British Steel 30th Anniversary edition
Sodom - Agent Orange reissue
Fantomas - Suspended Animation
Mouth of the Architect - The Ties that Blind
Weezer - Maladroit
Doug Wamble - s/t
Bruce Springsteen - Working On a Dream
Prince - Lotusflow3r
Run-DMC - s/t

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Headbangers 2003 Interview Sessions: Ricky Parent

Of all the interviews I did in 2003, my brief time spent with the late Ricky Parent probably strikes a chord with me as much as the interview I did with Kevin Dubrow the same year. As both men are no longer with us, holding the interview tapes with these voices in my hands leaves a feeling not so much macabre as it is a feeling of fortune I was able to spend time with Parent and Dubrow before they took off for the next life.

Ricky Parent was well-loved by the metal community, principally as the drummer for Enuff Z'nuff, but Parent was also a part of Vince Neil, Alice Cooper and War and Peace's stables. In talking to a handful of Ricky's friends after his passing, I got the impression the man carried a beautiful soul and an aura few of us are blessed with.

As you'll read, my interview with Ricky is very short, but you'll have to consider it was done while Ricky was fighting cancer. In fact, this was done while he was in the hospital in-between chemo treatments. We had to reschedule once because Ricky was too sick to speak, and honestly, I could tell he was fighting hard to keep his words straight once we finally got together. I told Ricky we could postpone it again or simply push it off until he got better. My optimism was one thing, but circumstance overruled.

Ricky insisted we do this at least he got too weak and sleepy to carry on. After 12 minutes, we'd agreed to pick up where we started at another date. Sadly, sometimes the hardest fighters lose. If the next life is just, Ricky Parent should be laying down tom rolls next to John Bonham. A posthumous thank you, Ricky, for your incredible nobility in doing this with me. Your spirit is inspirational and I still think long and hard upon this day--now with fondness.

Ray Van Horn, Jr.: You joined Enuff Z’Nuff after they’d hit their high mark in the eighties and they’d fallen from the mainstream.

Ricky Parent: It was in 1992. The dates are always listed different, but that’s when I joined.

RVH: Good to know. What interested you in joining the band at this stage in their career?

RP: Actually, I’ve always been into that style of music, everything from Sabbath and Zeppelin, that core of music, and also The Beatles, all that kind of stuff. I was also into the more progressive stuff, but I always came back to the melodic Beatles kind of stuff. I was playing in War and Peace with Jeff Pilson (formerly of Dokken) over in California, and I remember going to see Enuff Z’Nuff a couple of times once they’d come through town and I heard a couple of tunes and thought they were a really good band. I think Jeff went and got one of their CDs and I was like, ‘This sounds really good, the songs are great!’ “Mothers Eyes,” (from the 1991 Strength album) songs like that. I then started doing some demo work around town and I was playing with Phil Soussan, who was doing some demo work with Vince Neil, for that first solo record. He said he was looking for a drummer and Phil put in a word for me to play with him. I’d be there every day and we’d go into the studio and record some tunes and one day he wanted to see Vikki Foxx (playing with Enuff Z’Nuff), who was at The Rainbow and said ‘That’s the guy I want to get,’ so he set about getting him. So I said ‘If he’s going to be going for that, I’ve always loved Enuff Z’Nuff, I’d love to fucking check that out!’ That was pretty much it.

RVH: Right.

RP: Vikki went and did that and he was trying to play both bands; he was telling Chip (Z’Nuff, bassist) that he was still in Enuff Z’Nuff and meanwhile I’m telling Phil, and he’s like ‘Oh, no, he’s in the band! We’re going to Japan, we’re doing the MTV Awards.’ Meanwhile he (Vikki) told Chip he’s still in Enuff Z’Nuff, so he’s basically trying to keep them from getting another drummer to see if things would pan out with Vince and if it didn’t he could always go back to the band. So Chip was like ‘Whatever, I know what’s going on,’ so they started calling around looking for another drummer, they even had the guy with the Nelson brothers. He was just calling around asking people ‘How’s this person?’ and how I was as a player. He called Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records and all of these different people. I got a lot of positive feedback and then I was talking to their manager a lot and Chip pretty much every day. He said ‘Come on down, we’ll have you fly out and see how everything goes.’ I remember he sent me a bunch of stuff to learn! (laughs) I had all the records to learn, everything down to demo shit, like a hundred tunes, and I was like ‘What do you want me to learn?’ (laughs) So I went out one weekend and Foxx got wind of me coming out there and so then he was like ‘Hey, man, I want another shot at being back in the band,’ so Chip and the manager called and said ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to give him another shot, he’s the original drummer.’ I was all bummed all week learning these fucking tunes and I understood. Eventually he split from Vince Neil and he didn’t show up for rehearsal (with Enuff Z’Nuff).

RVH: Yowzers!

RP" So I flew in and jammed with them and I looked up and heard ‘You’ve got the gig!’

RVH: I caught you guys a couple years later playing with the Bulletboys, and I was impressed how energetic everyone was, particularly for the mid-nineties, so let’s go to this point in time. It looked like a fun time to be a part of it, for you especially.

RP: Oh yeah, it’s a no-brainer that I don’t really have to think about where I’m playing and I can pretty much do what I want; I could be blowing shots all over the place like I’m Neal Peart or something. I like stuff like that too, but not in this context. As far as it being fun, it’s a little different now--obviously right now with this fucking situation, with me being sick--but Derek (Frigo, guitarist, deceased) wasn’t in the band so it was a depressing thing and Donnie (Vie, vocalist/guitarist) being in the band at the moment. When we were together, we were having a good time, but before Donnie left it started getting a little tired, started getting beat-up because it started to become a little like work. The fun was starting to come out of it. We had to get back to the fun thing, and we ended up going up to this cabin in Wisconsin, writing some tunes, get back to being a band. When it starts to become too much for us, it starts wearing on you, you start thinking about the money, everything. The money takes over and you lose credibility and that’s all you’re thinking about. It’s a tough business, man.

(c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Live Photos: Ratt - Jaxx, Springfield, VA 5/7/10

All photos (c) 2010 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Friday, May 07, 2010

CD Review: Rosetta - A Determinism of Morality

Rosetta - A Determinism of Morality
2010 Translation Loss
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Rosetta may not be Isis, Neurosis or Pelican, but as of now they are scary close.

The Philly art metal unit has been building promise alongside peers such as Mouth of the Architect, Balboa (with whom Rosetta shared a cool split EP), Cult of Luna and Long Distance Calling. Rosetta's 2007 output Lift/Wake was more of an announcement of this group's capabilities than their brow-raising debut The Galilean Satellites. Yeah, there may be another alt rock Rosetta in Michigan, but at this point, Broad Street's won the bragging rights.

Did anyone expect Rosetta to elevate themselves to the proportions they achieve on their latest album A Determinism of Morality? Seriously, Rosetta suddenly find themselves in a class equal to The Ocean and Red Sparowes this album is that good.

Would peeling the paint be declared an official art form, A Determination of Morality would lie somewhere between impressionism and expressionism. Their isolated fragments dotted, streaked and melded onto an aural escapist canvas, Rosetta has engineered an aerodynamic masterwork of ambient chaos.

Declaring a state of urgency with clambering drum flails by Bruce McMurtrie, Jr. which rolls and rolls and rolls on the opening number "Ayil," Rosetta seizes their audience's attention with massive shakes and throttles before wailing a sequence of ear-puncturing guitar tugs in a loud and shivery breakdown by J. Matthew Weed.

Weed brilliantly escorts rails of shoegazing guitar luminescence ala Kitchens of Distinction, My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Sonic Youth on "Je N'en Connais Pas la Fin" and other songs on A Determination of Morality before he and David Grossman stamp on their pedals and blast their immediate space to obliteration. Their tone-heavy anarchy is controlled by tranqulity as soothing heralds to the bombasts following their wake. When Rosetta amps up on this album, you freaking feel it.

"Blue Day for Croatoa" threads above a whisper upon a strong set of chord sequences and a sleek aura susurrating behind them. Rosetta barely turns up the urgency by the six minute mark yet never delivers a climax. Some may consider this a big-time cheat, but before the listener can cry foul, Rosetta thuds down a climax within the first tick of "Release." They hardly extinguish the intensity minus a swervy stabilization to allot for clean vocal foils against Michael Armine's customary woofing. In the final stanza of "Release," Rosetta turns on the brutality switch yet it's done in such grandiose fashion you can't help but surrender to the emotive mood shift. A ballsy maneuver on Rosetta's part to separate the songs with airs of tension and the suspicion of no payoff, but it works beautifully.

Rosetta plays within the precepts of drone, trance and ostinato yet only on the ten-minute title song do they emulate Isis' sculpture modes. Make no mistake, though; this band is pure alt at-heart, evidenced by the Cure and Siouxie-ish hypno-swoon during the opening of "Revolve."

Jesus and Mary Chain and Cure sprinkles are found throughout the dreamy "Renew," which soon erupts with gorgeous thunder, serving perfect justice to all of the delicate measures planted beforehand. Though you know the aggression is on its way, once Rosetta swings their clubs into action, they're so freaking wonderful you want to scream skywards with rapture. Better yet, Rosetta halts the boom of "Renew" after its momentary arrival, leaving a rare gimme more hankering. Fret not space cadet, for you're lifted, propelled and satiated in full on "A Determinism of Morality."

If this was Dancing With the Stars, it'd be goddamned hard not to pull up that elusive 10 paddle.

Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, May 06, 2010

DVD/CD Review: Annihilator - Live at Masters of Rock

Annihilator - Live at Masters of Rock
2010 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Welcome back, SPV!!!

Live documents are, for all intents and purposes, contract fillers. Yes, a true fan of an artist is going to want all the bootlegs and official live documents available...well, just because.

Some metal bands ride the live train harder than others, i.e. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Ronnie James Dio, yet people are going to buy live recordings out of loyalty, but also because some bands are meant for the stage as much as they're meant for the recording studio. Particularly in the video realm, you can nearly charge what you want if you're that damned good onstage.

Had Jeff Waters kept his cool in the early years of Annihilator, there's no telling how huge they might've become. They were on a hell of a roll in the beginning with Alice in Hell and Never Neverland. Of course, if you speak with Waters today (and this writer has twice, enjoying both conversations immensely), you'll find a gentle guy who keeps the past to his back and veers towards an uncertain but optimistic future. It's to the point Annihilator is coming forth with a new self-titled album later this month (with a creepy zombie head on the cover), a maneuver suggestive of a rebirthing process.

Fans and critics have torched the poor guy more than necessary in the 2000s, even if the 2007 Metal album was largely praised by the community. Criteria for a Black Widow, Carnival Diabolos, All for You and Schizo Deluxe have their share of rejecters as much as fans, yet the proof positive for Waters and particularly his saddle rider Dave Padden is past lessons are aced and Annihilator is as much a band today as they were in late eighties/early nineties.

Live at Masters of Rock is a combo DVD and CD pack, which is really the way to go in the modern age of music marketing. Used to be each were sold individually, but this is a hip trend which gives the buyer the best of both of worlds, particularly since the CD in this package doesn't cheat by omitting songs due to space constraints.

Expect a heavy lean of Alice in Hell and Never Neverland on this set as they dominate more than half of Live at Masters of Rock. What you're craving is all there: "Fun Palace," "Phantasmagoria," "Wicked Mystic," "I Am in Command," "W.T.Y.D." and of course Annihilator's lauded masterpeice "Never Neverland." Fielded vocally by Waters and Dave Padden, this set flies and floats because both men are dominant on the mike. More so Padden, who is so poised front and center he looks born to it. He's also using a plug-in amp instead of remote, howza!

You really won't miss Randy Rampage on "Alice in Hell," no disrespect to the brother, who did leave an iconic imprint upon the entire Alice in Hell album. Annihilator's back catalog is played deftly and Padden nails a smidge of Rampage's falsetto shrieks on "Alice in Hell" without going over-the-top. Waters plucks a high-tweaked note to assist Padden on those choruses anyway, so the effect is right there.

Dave Padden's been such a trusty helmsman for quite some time in Annihilator, and whether or not you like All for You, some of his most inventive and alluring chops are all over that album. Here on Live at Masters of Rock Padden also plays rhythm and shares solos with Waters. They're magic together. Bassist Dave Sheldon and drummer Ryan Ahoff keep a tight rhythm themselves and you'll marvel how relaxed Jeff Waters is because of the competence surrounding him.

Performed in the Czech Republic at the 2008 Masters of Rock festival, Annihilator pounds a sweaty set including "Shallow Grave" from Carnival Diabolos, the title tracks "Set the World On Fire" and "King of the Kill," plus "Operation Annihilation" and "Clown Parade" from Metal.

By now most people are off Jeff Waters' back about the past, which is fabulous, because he remains one of the scene's most charismatic-sounding guitarists (and he whips out a Tron-esque red neon guitar to further tantalize his audience) and Annihilator is playing like they have something to prove. Revolving doors or no, Waters and Padden are brothers in arms and Annihilator freaking rawks.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/5/10

Ahoy, followers of The Metal Minute!

The world's going insane with volcanoes, floods, oil spills and terrorism it's no wonder metal is considered the number one escapist form of music. Not that we should turn our backs to the world's problems, but you can see why the genre grows stronger and why so many artists scramble to get in the door.

Pounding down some Sumatra coffee on my way out today and gearing up for a big weekend which will be detailed next week. Here at The Metal Minute expect an upcoming review of the slammin' Annihilator DVD Live at Masters of Rock plus The Ocean's latest (also The Metal Minute's Album of the Month selection for May), and we'll see what other goodies Uncle Batjerk can fish out of the utility belt for your edification.

On that note, cheers, my lovelies...

Ratt - s/t EP
Ratt - Out of the Cellar
Ratt - Invasion of Your Privacy
Ratt - Dancing Undercover
Ratt - Reach for the Sky
Ratt - Infestation
Dillinger Escape Plan - Miss Machine
Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis
Ramones - Rocket to Russia
Ramones - Road to Ruin
Ramones - End of the Century
Ramones - Subterranean Jungle
Pelican - What We All Come to Need
Krokus - Hoodoo
Prince - 1999
Airbourne - No Guts. No Glory.
Gorgoroth - Under the Sign of Hell
Rosemary's Babies - Talking to the Dead
Mouth of the Architect - Time & Withering
Run-DMC - s/t
Weezer - Maladroit
Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Fantomas - Live at Montreaux 2005

Saturday, May 01, 2010

CD Review: The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis

The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis
2010 Season of Mist
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Dillinger Escape Plan is one of a handful of metal artists from this generation whom the chronicles will reflect upon as revolutionary. They sit in esteemed company with Opeth, Mastodon, Isis, Pelican, Nile, Fantomas, Wolves in the Throne Room, Boris, Gonin Ish, Sigh, Nachtmystium, Chthonic and Between the Buried and Me. Some consider Dillinger Escape Plan math metal, some tech grind. Either is appropos along with nerd metal and crunk punk, but the truth about Dillinger is they're so far ahead of their peers no mere label will describe them in whole.

Historically Dillinger Escape Plan is as spastic live as their voluminous, swery, speedy cacophony on slab. Almost nobody owns more real estate onstage than this band, where even the tops of amps are scaled and claimed, whatever venue showcases them. To some fans' surprise, Dillinger's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel during their previous album cycle for Ire Works was a suspect house of cards. Yet Greg Puciato led a furious charge to occupy every nook and cranny of the frame on national television and it was glorious.

A befuddling change of labels for Dillinger Escape Plan (considering Relapse Records made them a flagship band) also brings a change in attitude, songwriting-wise. Option Paralysis is the anti-Ire Works, the anti-Miss Machine. As many listeners like to bring up Mike Patton and Faith No More in parallel to Dillinger Escape Plan, consider Option Paralysis the group's Angel Dust. Get around the slinky, dervish "Gold Teeth On a Bum" from Option Paralysis and it's not just Greg Puciato's Patton chops which proves the point. The choruses are hooky but loud, the verses full of agitation and it's the closest this album comes to producing a red-hot single. The echo distortion of Puciato's mike spikes atop Ben Weinman's chunky riffage, and yet the song extends its own life with further protraction. Not the stuff of single making, but it holds the attention as agreeably as anything else Dillinger Escape Plan has done.

Dillinger's previous two albums, in arms with Every Time I Die, Norma Jean and Between the Buried and Me, proved you could weave art overtop boundary-pushing stop-go ratchet tempos. They transcend the straightforward brutality of Napalm Death and Morbid Angel to create sharp-cutting lava melts instead of direct landslides of chaos. Electro grooves, alt shakes and trip hop have diced up some of the jagged insanity of Dillinger Escape Plan's lunatic creations, and yet tunes like "Black Bubblegum," "Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants" and "Panasonic Youth" revealed a transcendental yearning to expand their framework and lure in new listeners.

Option Paralysis is more akin to the spearheaded blizkrieg of Calculating Infinity than their last two albums. For many, this is going to be a delight, because Dillinger goes back to basics but with the benefit of refined minds and expert hands. Some might think they're actually rewriting and rebuffing Calculating Infinity for much of the ride because you will find very little streamlining on this album outside of the steady groove of "Chinese Whispers," which still allots for snaky polyrhyhtm, plus the tranquil piano nocturnes of "Widower," one of the most eloquent compostions Dillinger's ever penned.

"Farewell Mona Lisa" is practically a farewell to all Dillinger has aspired to this point, as their trademark snub grind flails at breakneck velocity on the subsequent "Good Neighbor," "Endless Endings," "Room Full of Eyes" and "Crystal Morning." Forget what you know on Miss Machine. Dillinger Escape Plan essentially kicks their tricks to the curb on Option Paralysis in the interest of wailing forthright with tremendous speed and snap-shrieking guitar work.

In other words, Option Paralysis isn't fucking around. Get in, get out, kick a few teeth (courtesy of Billy Rymer's insane pounding) and serenade a few dropkicked heads on the way with some Patton-esque wooing to ease the pain.

If Mike Patton wasn't so active himself these days (remember Patton filled in with Dillinger for a stint on the EP Irony is a Dead Scene) Greg Puciato would be his heir apparent. Puciato's delivery on Option Paralysis full of suave staccato and raging whips and he never misses his marks.

The tradeoff for all of the repelling tomfoolery and astounding signature waves on Miss Machine, still Dillinger's masterpiece to this point, is to become a more blunt instrument of fury. Option Paralysis is a blue album when played after Ire Works and Miss Machine, but wow, does Dillinger know how to climax, especially on "Widower" and "I Wouldn't if You Didn't." The latter spirals from ugly nasty to opulent sexy before ripping out an abusive pummel 'n stomp sequence in the finale. "Parasitic Twins" may be the only genuine sign of Dillinger Escape Plan willing to hold onto a piece of their last two magnums with its beat machina, melancholy piano and a Beatles-esque hum-along. Beautifully orchestrated, but way left-of-center to keep them under the metal darlings banner. Therein appears to lie Option Paralysis' point.

Not a disappointment against the free-spirited Ire Works and Miss Machine, Dillinger Escape Plan sheds many extracurriculars and instead flexes their core muscle on Option Paralysis. This is why the term "post hardcore" is utterly bogus. Post, our in-the-now asses! The Dillinger Escape Plan shows no sign of relent and despite a sway backwards in style, they are as relevant as ever. Option Paralysis feels naked in many ways, but the intention to strip down rings loud and clear. If anything, Dillinger Escape Plan exhibits a due diligent harness of their flashpoint cadence while keeping a grip on their never-ending teeter.

Nobody else of this generation outside of Mastodon and Between the Buried and Me makes math metal sound so elementary.

Rating: ****