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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Album Review: The Rods - Vengeance

The Rods - Vengeance
2011 Niji Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Absolutely one of the unsung heroes of heavy metal is The Rods. Though bred in upstate New York, those who have closely studied the genre have been obliged to correlate The Rods with both eighties punk and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

It's not just because The Rods recorded one of their hallmark albums Wild Dogs in the UK in 1982, as did Twisted Sister with Under the Blade. Faster than you could yell "The Yanks're coming!" The Rods had quckly entrenched themselves in the English metal scene a year prior with their self-titled album. Though best remembered for their loud 'n rude Let Them Eat Metal in 1984, The Rods had a killer little run. Too bad they weren't able to captitalize on their immediate standing in the early years of metal. Much like Tygers of Pan Tang, The Rods are forefathers who often get overlooked.

Since their heyday, David "Rock" Feinstein, Carl Canedy and Garry Bordonaro have kept somewhat of a low profile. Bordonaro left The Rods, who later became a foursome with mixed bag results. Eventually Feinstein would quietly do his thing after The Rods while Canedy relocated from the drummer's stool to the producer's chair, engineering such thrash classics as Overkill's Feel the Fire, Anthrax's Spreading the Disease and Exciter's Violence and Force.

This year, following his most recent solo album Bitten By the Beast, Feinstein calls his vintage era Rods legionnaires back into action for a new trip down the glory trail. Vengeance is perhaps The Rods' expressive way of making up for lost time, though the bigger connotation assuredly is intended to assuage Feinstein's pain of losing his cousin and former Elf bandmate Ronnie James Dio.

As he did on Bitten By the Beast, Dio lends his enigmatic voice to The Rods on "The Code," presumably recorded before Feinstein's solo album. "The Code" hails a muscular performance by the late Ronnie Dio, much as Vengeance as a whole is a mean machine of unapologetic old school crunch. Fortified by Feinstein, Bordonaro and Canedy, The Rods are well in the pocket on Vengeance. Not every song is gold, but Vengeance does accomplish what it sets out to do, which is to recapture a holistic metal vibe that should've carried The Rods longer than it did.

"Runnin' Wild" is a specialized power trip, while the title song ushers a headbanging pulse matched by "Raise Some Hell," "I Just Wanna Rock" and "Rebels Highway." "Let it Ripp" jettisons off the favorably intense Dio duet and though it takes The Rods a couple of bars in each of a few subsequent songs to regain their girth (the breakdown on "Livin' Outside the Law" is titanic), Vengeance comes off like a testing ground album which largely passes the grade.

Vengeance is superior to Bitten By the Beast, but no doubt ol' Rock is having himself quite a year already. As he maintains family relations with the Wendy Dio-controlled Niji Entertainment, who's knows what other Dio treasures he managed to lock down for future edification?

The bigger story to Vengeance is the solid statement delivered by The Rods as a reunited entity, not so much the fact they boast a selling point single with Ronnie James Dio's posthumous stamp upon it. Certainly it helps to have Dio's blessing on Vengeance, but it's the remainder of the album that's subject to scrutiny. Not much to rail on here. The Rods are back, so crank it up.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, April 29, 2011

Metal Louvre: Armored Saint - March of the Saint



Not much dialogue needed for this one, other than to state I have in my archives somewhere, a looseleaf rendition of these knights from March of the Saint which took me an entire afternoon of freehand to replicate. I, of course spun March of the Saint on cassette over and over, along with Delirious Nomad. Remember, in those days, you had to stop and flip the tape over. Sometimes you had to fast-forward to reach the end of a side before flipping. Sometimes you fast-forwarded if the song sucked. Assuredly, nothing sucked about March of the Saint, one the most metal album covers in the genre's history.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Metal Louvre: Megadeth - Youthanasia



It's not so much that Megadeth's cover for Youthanasia is shocking, per se. It's more a case of "Whoa, now that takes some balls!"

Dave Mustaine landed into a bigger frying pan for the misperceived "A Tout Le Monde" from Youthanasia even though most of his attackers were way off-base by calling it a suicide song. Megadeth's ill-fated MTV performance in support of Youthanasia did nothing to ebb critics of the band, in particular Mustaine's self-loathing tirade that accidentally kicked off "A Tout Le Monde."

Megadeth suffered even more criticism from thrash purists for Youthanasia's more mainstream approach that bobbed straight into toe-tapping, chart-topping Cryptic Writings thereafter. Still, this album has a lot to say for itself musically and the cover is even more provoking than anything Vic Rattlehead has achieved, Rust in Peace notwithstanding.

For me, the clothes-pinned infants on Youthanasia expresses so many issues, be it child abuse or the delineation of our society. If you're parent, it can even be a silent in-joke when the job of child rearing grows stressful, depending on how well you temper your sense of humor.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 4/27/11

Hola, readers, hope you all are faring well in the midst of tornadoes, downpours, floods and all of Mother Nature's temper tantrums.

I want to thank a friend of mine in the biz (you know who you are) for the generous gift of The Return of the Living Dead soundtrack after our convo about my review of The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead book here at The Metal Minute. I have oodles of kind and supportive connections in the music racket, but this was special. If you're a music journalist, you know the thank yous come sparingly and most frequently with just the two-word salutation. Gratification comes from self when you write for the music industry, but in this case, one of my closer clients pulled a stunt I'll never forget. Never did I expect to see a follow-through to my words, "I'm a fool for not owning The Return of the Living Dead soundtrack. I got the score for the third film for a buck in a store closing sale, but the original is boss." Again, you know who you are and I think you're boss. Thank you, with every emphasis of those two words I can force into them.

I'm finally blazing (no pun intended) through Dave Mustaine's autobiography, which I got for Christmas and it's interesting to see just who the guy I was rooting for back in the day between the Megadeth-Metallica wars. If you haven't read it, check it out. It's honest, decadent and frequently hilarious. The Billy Ray Cyrus tirade and the anecdote about a flower delivery boy telling a hospital nurse they had Megadeth in the hospital (moreso the nurse's clueless response) are priceless. As a sidebar, it was my mom who gave me Mustaine as a gift. It's been many moons since I lived at home, but I'm very close with my family and I still marvel how well my mother knows me. Who else in this world had a parent give them a book about a heavy metal figurehead? Mom, you too are boss.

Stay glued here for upcoming reviews of Brian Robertson, The Rods and more fun 'n frivolity. Cheers...



Return of the Living Dead soundtrack
Thomas Giles - Pulse
Brian Robertson - Diamonds and Dirt
Megadeth - Peace Sells But Who's Buying?
Megadeth - So Far, So Good...So What?
Megadeth - Youthanasia
Megadeth - Cryptic Writings
Ghost - Opus Eponymous
Tiger Army - s/t
Tiger Army - II: The Power of Moonlite
Tiger Army - III: Ghost Tigers Rise
Tiger Army - Music From Regions Beyond
Millions - Gather Scatter
In This Moment - The Dream
Tombs - s/t
ZZ Top - Eliminator
Paul Simon - So Beautiful Or So What
Eagles of Death Metal - Death By Sexy...
Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Psychedelic Furs - s/t
Kraftwerk - Electric Cafe
Earth, Wind and Fire - Greatest Hits Vol. I and II
Traveling Wilburys - Vol. 1
Traveling Wilburys - Vol. 3
Go Go's - Vacation

Monday, April 25, 2011

Album Review: Thomas Giles - Pulse

Thomas Giles - Pulse
2011 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



The definition of "prolific" constitutes depth and articulation, but it also indicates vastness, extension and a broad body of work. By now, Between the Buried and Me have proven to be one of the most prolific groups on the planet. It's enough the progressive grind artisans have returned to the scene this year with their lengthy concept EP The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues for Metal Blade, already a success in its Billboard 200 debut at 54.

In the same breath, vocalist Tommy Giles Rogers jumps at the opportunity to make the most of his new label relations by sending out the second album under his altername Thomas Giles, Pulse. If Between the Buried and Me's covers album The Anatomy Of offered their listeners vast insight to their songwriting process, consider Pulse a flexible widening of the sound tube giving the group and Rogers both their assembled and independent loft.

Much has been made about Rogers' (we'll stick with Giles for the remainder of the ride here) option to tone down the metal on Pulse, which is not to say the album doesn't have its share of crunch. Still, if you're going to offer your listeners something they should be buying by association of band loyalty, give 'em a show. That's what Giles delivers exquisitely on Pulse.

Whether he's saluting Brian Wilson on "Mr. Bird," both vocally and in conveyance of the hazy hell Wilson subjected himself to following Pet Sounds or he's tinkering with electro agitation in the vein of Skinny Puppy on "Catch and Release," Giles opens many doors to his own cerebral hallways on Pulse. Often those channels breaststroke in reverie (such as "Mr. Bird," "Armchair Travel,""Scared" and "Suspend the Death Watch"), while others reveal a multilayered alt pop sway ala Air and Death Cab For Cutie: "Sleep Shake," "Hamilton Anxiety Scale" and "Reverb Island" coming to mind.

Giles turns his primal yowls loose only in increments and instead projects Pulse on the waves of his charismatic high and low alto swoops--treading into falsetto only to accent, as he does in Between the Buried and Me. Accordingly, Giles only allows his compositions to heavy up in the interest of igniting instead of conflagrating. "Sleep Shake" and "Medic" are the closest you'll get to Between the Buried and Me on Pulse and the listener feels rewarded when they come, as Giles asks for their strict attention on the remainder of the album. Neither song wields the grinding operatics of BTBAM (save for the outtro on "Medic"), but they do hoist a boisterous audile canvas to help extol Giles' grandly-textured mission.

Even the brief acoustic hurl of "Scared" builds to anticipation then lets loose of its barely-controlled inhibitions as Giles takes his listeners to the teetering edge of schizophrenia. A perfectly nervous build-up to the singular pulsing, electronic skritching and mandolin-assisted paranoia on "Reject Falicon," itself yet another build-up to the explosive "Medic." The amplified second half of "Hypoxia" emerges like a phoenix out of the quixotic strings and reserved hush of Giles in the opening stanza. "Hypoxia" doesn't languish on either side; instead it lavishes in both, creating a breathtaking finish that's over before you have a chance to gasp along with Giles, who whispers the song and his album to close. To say Giles was passionate in the recording of Pulse is well-understated.

Pulse could've been a deeply private, eccentric venture, much as Mike Patton has been wont to do in his non-Faith No More/Mr. Bungle projects. Thomas Giles' solo work hides a deep psychosis (even further planted than the entire collective of Between the Buried and Me) and he dishes instead of erupts. The economic song durations alone are a story, as compared to Between the Buried and Me's long-unraveling marathons.

Pulse is a carefully-constructed theater of histrionics not far away from Beck at his most expressive. Hardly the blue piece of the latter's Sea Change, Thomas Giles does seize the opportunity to bask in varying moods (most of them in a drifting cadence) and he validates Beck, Brian Wilson and everyone else Between the Buried and Me holds dear. At the root of the band's breakaway progression is a soul, and here is the ground level sound space from which Thomas Giles manipulates Pulse. Sometimes manipulation brings a positive connotation and brings us more into harmony with the word "prolific."

Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Stryper - "Soldiers Under Command" video

Happy Easter everyone...


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Spiritual Significance of Music, by Justin St. Vincent




As I write this, I'm spinning the new Radiohead album, The King of Limbs. I've heard people's reactions to this album, pro and con, but I've been quite glued to it because there's a subdued reverie in the spirit of Kid A that calms me, endears me and puts me onto a quiet plane I don't get to as often these days. One might say this connection between myself and Radiohead's aquatic export on The King of Limbs hints at a spiritual connection. I lose myself in this album, whereas I paid strict attention to every detail in my latest review of Duff McKagen's Loaded current album, The Taking. For some listeners, his album might provoke a spiritual connection to his music since Duff does imbibe a bit of his personal experiences into The Taking. If you relate to it on some level, there's a spiritual connection, yes?

Today being Good Friday, if you're a Christian, this is perhaps the most spiritual day there is, if you're talking about reflection upon the ultimate sacrifice. To allow your mind the capacity to comprehend an immortal sending a mortal unit to this world as its representative to show us what a sinning lot we are and how we should seek to better ourselves as humans and to seek that connection with the unseen, well, that's spirituality in biblical terms.

Back to music, I have found a spiritual connection in many genres and styles and a few bands who come to my mind as having the ability to move me and submit my cerebral surrender to their output are Isis, Air, Bad Brains, Iron Maiden, Prince, Thievery Corporation, My Dying Bride, Hank Williams, Leadbelly, Sepultura and of course, Radiohead. Those are but a handful of musicians I can mention. Music is my ultimate sanctum. To violate that sanctum brings dire consequences, not to be melodramatic. You get what I'm talking about if you're deeply affected by music.

Author Justin St. Vincent assuredly does and he's taken this point to the next level in what appears to be a continuing series of books he calls The Spiritual Significance of Music.

New Zealand born and world-traveled St. Vincent has interviewed more than 1,000 musicians ranging from Ravi Shankar to Jerry Casale of Devo to Mike Patton for this project, which doesn't necessarily seek to present the Christian point-of-view to spirituality, albeit you will find interviews with Stryper, Selah, Everyday Sunday, Petra and other Christian bands. St. Vincent examines music from all angles and he has a heavy lean upon metal bands in The Spiritual Significance of Music. Expect to find Napalm Death, Cynic, Dawn of Azazel, Cannibal Corpse, Metal Church, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Faith No More, My Dying Bride and others in this book.

As the Founder and Director of Xtreme Music, Where Music Meets Spirituality, Justin St. Vincent attempts to find the binding agent between music and consumer and the answers he gets from his guests are all varied and largely enlightening. Doubtful you'll think of music the same way again after checking out St. Vincent's work.

Visit www.xtrememusic.org or amazon.com for book ordering details.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Album Review: Turisas - Stand Up and Fight by Devin Walsh

Turisas - Stand Up and Fight
2011 Century Media
Devin Walsh



Turisas is coming fresh off of their newest release Stand Up and Fight, and that’s exactly what I feel like doing even though I don’t have an honorable and just cause. These guys are another solid and unique product of the almighty Finland. I was first introduced to them via the most recent Cradle of Filth tour, and their live show made me take that step and actually pick up their album.

Personally, I love folk metal bands and how they incorporate non-traditional metal instruments into their sound. Turisas does it well with the usage of accordions and violins. Their sound is of epic battle music, as one feels the urge to adorn majestic armor and a 60 pound battle axe. There is a large 80’s influence on the music as it is very grand and, dare I say, fun-sounding.

“The March of the Varangian Guard” is the first track off the album, and I have no idea who the hell the Varangians are, but this song is a perfect match for picturing them march down the green fields of ancient middle earth on their way to battle. The song quickly gets to a big epic chorus that may come across as cheesy, but hey, I like it. The music isn’t overly complicated, but it fits very well with the spirit of their overall sound and image. It really reminds me of a modern day Blind Guardian and Rhapsody mix but with a Turisian twist to it.

“Take the Day” is a very epic sounding song that starts off with a staccato bass line overlaid with a horn section. I can feel the intensity and grandeur in this song from the very beginning. When the song kicks in, I feel like it belongs on a movie soundtrack or something of that nature. It flows into an almost Iron Maiden-like soft and creepy vocal part that leads into the pounding chorus that will instantly make you feel like a warrior. There is something refreshing about their sound that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s almost like feelgood metal.

The following song, “Hunting Pirates” is one that Swashbuckle should watch out for because these warriors are on to you! They set the mood perfectly for a war with pirates as the accordion and grand percussion parts really make you feel like you are on a battleship preparing to pillage and plunder. There are a plethora of songs written by various bands pertaining to pirates, but I find “Hunting Pirates” to be by far the best in setting the mood and really feeling like a pirate song with their unusual instruments and very pirate-like sounds. Turisas doesn’t forget they are playing metal as they have some tasty lead guitar parts thrown in amongst the hunt for pirates.

“Venetoi! – Prasinoi!” is another song thrown at you with horns and an overall very full-sounding mix of instruments. In comparison to many other metal songs with orchestrations and horns, the horns and orchestration in this song take a front seat and really carry the song while being supported by the traditional heavy drums and distorted guitars. If the movie Hook is to ever have a sequel, I vote for this song to be a main staple during one of the battle scenes since I feel like I need to get up and go fight in hand to hand sword combat while being lead by Rufio or Pan himself.

“The Great Escape” is another track that sticks out to me as it combines signature Turisas sounds along with more traditional metal sounds. There are screamed vocals that fit in very well between the pounding drums and folk vibes that permeate throughout the song. Along with all of their other songs, I can almost feel a Broadway type of vibe from it. I think an official Broadway play is in order featuring Turisas as the soundtrack.

The rest of the album continues on in the same manner – battle music that will make you smile at the same time. Turisas certainly have a unique sound as they combine traditional metal elements with folk, while at the same time infusing their own epic end of days battle music. Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in right now, but I walk away from this album with the desire to join a band of pirates or marauders – all with a smile on my face. The music is played very well from top to bottom and I really can’t think of another band who they sound like. There are certainly elements of other bands, but Turisas has their own unique formula that fits just them. I’d recommend to anyone to check out Stand Up and Fight and see if it’s your cup of tea. I don’t think a verbal summary can really give the full picture of what their sound is. Come in with an open mind, no expectations other than you will be checking your local stores for swords, battle axes and armor, and you just may find something unique you never thought you would get in to.

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 4/20/11

Howdy, peeps, as always, glad to have each and every one you supporting this site and if I miss answering your emails, it's because I'm falling on my face most nights due to very long hours in the office. You won't hear me complain, particularly with the alternative, which still rings fresh in my mind. Please be assured your mail is being read and we'll get to you as soon as we possibly can. Cheers to ya'll.

Prayers out to all of the U.S. tornado victims, particularly North Carolina. My heart rests in the Outer Banks and I'm saddened to see so much devastation down there. At home, I'm saddened by the passing of William Donald Schaffer, the greatest mayor the city of Baltimore has ever had. If you're from the area, you know what I'm talking about. The man could always be stopped on the streets to hear people's concerns and he took them seriously. Schaffer also transformed Baltimore's Inner Harbor from a pit to world-reknowned jewel. Mayor Schaffer (who later would become the governor of Maryland and its comptroller thereafter) once pushed his bodyguards aside to give me an autograph when I was a child. God bless ya, Willie D.

A heartfelt congrats to our own Devin Walsh, who tied the knot last week. You go, boyeeeee...

Coming up at The Metal Minute, Devin spins the new Turisas album for our edification and yours truly is all over Thomas Giles' remarkable solo album, Pulse.

Those and more hitting you like a donkey punch...



Nuclear Assault - Handle With Care
Duff McKagan's Loaded - The Taking
Stone Axe - s/t Expanded Edition
Thomas Giles - Pulse
Metallica - Ride the Lightning
Metallica - Master of Puppets
AC/DC - High Voltage
AC/DC - Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Megadeth - Cryptic Writings
Megadeth - Endgame
Totimoshi - Mysterioso
Totimoshi - Milagrosa
Beck - Modern Guilt
Beck - Midnite Vultures
Beck - Sea Change
Repo Man soundtrack
Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die
Traffic - The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys
The Reverend Horton Heat - Holy Roller
Air - The Virgin Suicides soundtrack
Puffy Amiyumi - Splurge
Thievery Corporation - Radio Retaliation
Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Total Fucking Destruction - Zen and the Art of Total Fucking Destruction

Monday, April 18, 2011

Album Review: Duff McKagan's Loaded - The Taking

Duff McKagan's Loaded - The Taking
2011 Eagle Rock Entertainment/Armoury Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



The merry-go-round of Guns n' Roses and its displaced connectors continues ad infinitum. This is a band the world just won't let go of, despite its principals being unable to patch the ruts to put out what might be, at this point, the rock record this sales-slumped industry needs. Axl Rose was able to pass off Chinese Democracy with an appreciable amount of fanfare, while the in-transition Velvet Revolver represents one of few mega-rock bands left to the American music scene. We wait in anticipation of an announcement to Scott Weiland's Velvet successor while Weiland himself is parading around once again with his Stone Temple posse on the summer circuit.

As Velvet Revolver attempts to solve its own frontman puzzle, both Slash and Duff McKagan have been lending their talents elsewhere, be it in collaboration with Macy Gray (also bringing along Velvet drummer Matt Sorum) or in Slash's case, The Black Eyed Peas at this year's Super Bowl. Slash recently issued his self-titled me 'n my pals solo album last year, while McKagan did a stint for fun with Jane's Addiction and he's now back on the prowl. This includes a reboot of his side band, Loaded, which last released the album Sick a couple years ago.

And around a-around a-round we go...

Duff McKagan's Loaded returns this year with reknowned producer Terry Date on the console to whip up their second album, The Taking. In case you're unfamiliar with Loaded's structure, McKagan dumps bass for guitar and fields the vocals. Jeff Rouse from Alien Crime Syndicate takes up the bass in Loaded, while Nevada Bachelors' Mike Squires occupies lead guitar. For The Taking, new drummer Isaac Carpenter (Loudermilk) joins the Loaded squad.

McKagan has described The Taking as something of a loose concept album based on a man's capability to rise from his personal ashes. Not so much a confessional album, The Taking certainly takes its stride from experience, i.e. "Follow Me to Hell," "Cocaine," "Wrecking Ball" and "Lords of Abbadon." Without overtly preaching, The Taking at times rings of street spirituality and human redemption.

While The Taking risks a few off-the-cuff measures such as a blatant Foo Fighters hail on the otherwise uplifting "We Win," it rocks when it's supposed to and tries its hand at establishing empathy between band and listener. "Lords of Abbadon" engages its audience with a rolling set of chunky riffs and a wailing top layer of guitars. You can hear both Velvet Revolver and GNR in "Lords of Abbadon" even with a more gravelly voice that McKagan brings forward.

McKagan switches to alto on "Executioner's Song," while the band digs in with a slow and heavy grinding rhythm setting up a loud 'n proud solo section and a shifty bridge leading into the final verse. "Dead Skin" picks up the tempo and the quick-picking verses indicate Duff McKagan is writing with Guns in mind until he switches the scheme to a more contemporary pop rock slide on the bridges and choruses.

McKagan wallows all over "Easier Lying," which carries a hint of The Beatles on its shambling, murky groove. The song holds its focus upon the stasis of Jeff Rouse's slinking bass, and maintains its melancholic choke which nearly derails until Mike Squires decorates the track in the later segments.

The rest of The Taking is a variance of moods and vibes ranging from angry to frolicky. "Cocaine" an example of the former, the up-tempo shake of "Indian Summer" the latter. Vocally, Duff McKagan shows on "Indian Summer" why he frequently backed Axl on Guns n' Roses' most memorable work. "Wrecking Ball" is performed with an intentional sense of inebriation to convey the haplessness of its drunken muse. McKagan slucks and glubs the initial verses before letting a power groove usurp the track, showing his muse has emerged clean.

The Taking requires patience at times and probably a few spins is recommended in order to properly unearth what Duff McKagan is trying to expel to his listeners. "King of the World" is an attention-grabber with its pounding beat and declarative rawk projection, while "Easier Lying" and "Wrecking Ball" need a chance to roll around in the ears because of their awkwardness in greeting.

"We Win" would be a tremendous success for Loaded if the Foos hadn't recorded "The Best of You" first. Then again, Dave Grohl has borrowed from the Guns manual at times, so fair's fair, right? That, or one can look at McKagan's rip on "We Win" as a tribute to Grohl's massive standing in the rock industry. Either case, it's annoying despite its positive nature. Fortunately, most of The Taking is enjoyable and it further cements the legacy of Duff McKagan as an individual artist, much less an important cog to two of the best rock bands the scene has ever embraced.

Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Album Review: Stone Axe - s/t Expanded Edition

Stone Axe - s/t Expanded Edition
2011 Ripple Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Last year, Ripple Music resurrected interest in Jim Gustafson and the mighty Poobah with the release of the suddenly-seminal Let Me In. This year, Ripple goes after another fuzz rawk debut to bring awareness to Washington's Stone Axe, self-purveyors of "seventies rock preservationism."

While that's certainly an abundant enough description of Stone Axe's booming lilt, if you're new to this group and want a fundamental breakdown of what you're getting, it would have to signal a merge between the late sixties to mid-seventies heavy rock. This includes Black Sabbath, of course, but Stone Axe also gets into some Canned Heat, Cream, Atomic Rooster and Iron Butterfly along with Skynard, Sabbath, the Allmans and early Rod Stewart. If you're wondering "huh?" at the latter comparable, hunker down with the swinging "There'd Be Days" from Stone Axe's 2009 self-titled debut.

It stands to reason a reissue of a two-year-old release is a bit odd, but Ripple believes in Stone Axe and so should you. Even Dog the Bounty Hunter is on the Stone Axe love train, if you caught his March 9th episode that featured the band's "Return of the Worm." Stone Axe takes what they do rather seriously, even when that amounts to simply capturing a moment of spontaniety without any wash overtop. Principal songwriter and guitarist Tony Reed talks about plucking bars and notes into a tape recorder and working out songs from there, which can take as little as ten minutes to lay down and record once written. Thus Stone Axe is a pretty impressive ballyhoo of impulsive amplifier worship that began with just a hairball blues rock lover and a frontman who looks and moves like seventies' era Ozzy and vocally projects like Glenn Hughes.

"Riders of the Night" from Stone Axe is already their calling card live tune along with "Chasing Dragons" from last year's Stone Axe II. Thus you get a heavy dash of both on Ripple Music's Expanded Edition of Stone Axe, which includes the original ten song album, eight live recordings and a bonus DVD filled with homegrown videos, live video, record store performances and radio interviews.

The promo video for "Chasing Dragons" on this Expanded Edition shows Stone Axe who they are, a foursome in a compact studio with Bowie, Beatles and Motorhead posters surrounding them. Frontman Dru Brinkerhoff owns his position and particularly in a live capacity, he unleashes his soul and then lets his follicles swish in his face while he encouragingly stamps and claps in tandem with his band. It's like watching Sabbath go at it with "Supernaut" or Canned Heat through "Rollin' and Tumblin'." The black and white "Beat Club" Sessions in particular is filmed with a superimposed grain and lineup screen flash mimicked in the lettering of sixties' television. The backdrop of the Stone Axe II album cover conveys the band's intent perfectly. It's obvious their throwback sound has a modern man's instrumental fine-tuning, despite Reed's inhibition to play as live and natural as possible. Still, it's a pretty damned cool vibe and visual.

From the original Stone Axe album comes various renditions of "Shine On," "Riders of the Night," "Black Widow," "There'd Be Days," "Sky is Falling," "My Darkest Days" and "Skylah Rae" on the DVD while tossing out some live cuts from Stone Axe II.

If you're interested in what Stone Axe is selling, this Expanded Edition is well-worth the investment since you're getting a fuller overview of what this band has to offer. Stone Axe is rowdy, but they're disciplined. They belt out a din for music heads by music heads and though Tony Reed alludes to a possible progressive upgrade to Stone Axe's future recordings, it all starts here, loud and proud.

Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Album Review: Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising

Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising
2011 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Amon Amarth remains one of the most triumphant and tuneful death-thrash hybrids on the planet. Though they’ve become less blunt and not always as speedy, this band’s name should still automatically roll off the tongue when asked “what is metal?”

Continued proof on their latest album, Surtur Rising. Filled with calling card shredfests such as “Destroyer of the Universe,” “For Victory or Death” and “War of the Gods,” Surtur Rising continues the deck-shuffling trend Amon Amarth has sought as of their last album, Twilight of the Thunder God. They again mix up the scheme on Surtur Rising with mid-tempo punchouts like “Slaves of Fear,” “Wrath of the Norsemen” and “Tock’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II.”

The headbanger’s delight of “Live Without Regrets” should have fans slamming heads in tandem as the band begins their one-man-show “A Night With Amon Amarth” throughout North America--particuarly since Amon Amarth will be playing Surtur Rising in its entirety as the first of two sets.

The much-slower “The Last Stand of Frej” makes use of a daring creepalong tempo and accented drag to create a demonstrative tone of sorrow. In all, Surtur Rising is yet another rousing hail to a far-flung world where hammers fly, swords cleave and fire licks the earth like a lemon drop.

Also available as a digipak with a 28-page booklet and a DVD wailing out a marathon of four hours of live Amon Amarth. Get some and then some...

Rating: ****

Friday, April 15, 2011

Metal Louvre: Slayer - Reign in Blood



It's only fitting the greatest thrash album of all-time be crowned by a masterful album cover. Obviously inspired by the violent Hell On Earth ravings of Heironymous Bosch, Slayer's artwork for Reign in Blood is more Rococo-meets-Old Masters.

While Bosch utilized a brighter color palette in his mankind-doomed triptychs, Larry Carroll's dank color scheme and exaggerated figures on Reign in Blood was more indicative of the political cartooning he is more reknowned for. Who knows what figureheads Carroll had in mind while illustrating Reign in Blood?

One would have to assume the devil is Hitler in connection with Slayer's immortal Auschwitz protest, "Angel of Death." Pope John Paul II was still in the Vatican when Reign in Blood came out, still today one of the most revered religious leaders. There he (assumedly) cowers beneath the pagan goat who could be anyone from Reagan to Margaret Thatcher, if you're hearkening back to eighties politicos. Worse, the pope on this cover is actually a slave to evil as one of the throne carriers.

Slayer always did love to tweak their audiences, didn't they? No wonder Columbia/Def Jam tried to disown Reign in Blood, sending it along to Geffen to distribute. History shows who profited from the gutsy decision to mainstream release an album destined to surpass its controversies as an all-time music classic.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 4/13/11

Howdy-do, readers, and hails from the sopping wet east coast. The yard looks like a toilet bowl in dire need of a flush from all this rain, though I will never complain in light of Japan and all the countries who have suffered tsunami and hurricane ravage. Those are always humbling reminders that certain nuisances of the weather may be annoying as hell, but in the end we should always be thankful when Nature opens the sun later and dries it all up so we can go on with our lives. Not everybody's so fortunate.

Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Dez Fafara of Devildriver for Noisecreep and I'd say my favorite points of our conversation were random sidebars about our families and current movie picks. Dez sent me after the True Grit remake and I returned the favor with a recommendation of Let Me In. Good times. The interview is currently live at Noisecreep.com in their interview section. Get some! A special thanks to Carlos at Noisecreep for the assignment.

Stay tuned for more madness coming up this week here at The Metal Minute!



A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step
A Perfect Circle - Mer de Noms
Ghost - Opus Eponymous
Duff McKagan's Fully Loaded - The Taking
Brian Robertson - Diamonds and Dirt
Pushking - The World As We Love It
Josh Freese - My New Friends EP
Rush - Moving Pictures
Rush - Permanent Waves
Rush - Hemispheres
Rush - Grace Under Pressure
Rush - Signals
Brian Setzer - 13
Lee Rocker - Black Cat Bone
Scorpions - Blackout
Scorpions - Love at First Sting
Cake - Fashion Nugget
Cake - Comfort Eagle
Cake - Prolonging the Magic
Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
Rocket From the Crypt - RFTC
Rocket From the Crypt - Scream Dracula Scream
Rocket From the Crypt - Live From Camp X-Ray
Peter Murphy - Dust
Peter Murphy - Unshattered

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Van of the Dead Book Review: The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead by Christian Sellers and Gary Smart

The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead - Christian Sellers and Gary Smart
2010 Plexus Publishing Limited
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Though filmed and completed in 1984, Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead became one of the horror breakout sucesses of the following year and time would remain friendly to it, marking O'Bannon's farcical zombie romp one of the all-time genre classics. You have to wonder, though, if you were around when The Return of the Living Dead came out, how it got an R rating and made the proper connection with Gen X teens who went in droves to catch it. Return commercially beat out its prime competitors of the day such as Re-Animator, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and Day of the Dead, all of which were released to the theaters unrated and thus ostracized from their core audience. History shows the latter three films were all financial wrecks due to their creators' unwillingness to bend to the MPAA, yet Re-Animator and Evil Dead 2 are likewise considered masterworks of modern horror, while Day of the Dead has both its supporters and detractors.

Return of the Living Dead danced its way to a full recoup of its investment within its opening week. Dance would be the appropriate word as the MPAA allowed a buck naked Linnea Quigley to hip shake atop a sepulchure, clad only in leg warmers and a riotous cherry red punk do. What O'Bannon's film managed to get away with in Return should be enough to fill a book examining his film. You're talking brain munching, cranium tearing, the axe-picking and subsequent sawing off of a head, more nudity than your average R film permits and a talking half corpse complete with shimmying spinal cord and decomposed breasts.

Gonzo stuff, but one might assume the directors of O'Bannon's competition weren't so much pissed his film became a hit, but how the MPAA passed it through with an R rating.

Still, The Return of the Living Dead is a hallmark horror film because it pushed the boundaries between gore and titillation, yes, but moreover, it got away with something very few splat movies have been able to match, save for Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead: playing the satirical trump card. Too bad the same couldn't be said for the dreadful Return of the Living Dead II, one of this writer's personal filmgoing disappointments--albeit Brian Yuzna's third Return film hit the proper mark.

British authors Christian Sellers and Gary Smart take on the enviable task of assembling the big picture, not only behind O'Bannon's landmark film, but the entire five film saga under the Return label. The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead is a horror genre and filmmaking bible which fascinates at every page turn. The photos alone are worth the pick-up, because Sellers and Smart gained access to many behind-the-scenes treasures, complete with a hilarious shot of Clu Gulager and James Karen posing with a topless Linnea Quigley wearing her ghoul mask. Gulager has reportedly been on the hunt for this photo for many years and we're all now privy to it, courtesy of Sellers and Smart, who acquired it from still photographer Rory Flynn (daughter of Errol).

While Sellers and Smart do rely heavily on their transcripts in The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead, this is still a pretty intelligent layout of all five films with a hard lean towards the original, naturally. The authors dig up varying points-of-view behind the aura of Dan O'Bannon. Ofted cited by many as tyrannical and violent (and at one point officially fired from Return, though only on paper), other opinions behind the director of Alien and Return stick up for the man. Sellers and Smart uncork anecdotes stating O'Bannon was subject to temper tantrums which included derision of the actors and chair throwing. He also fired original effects man William Munns, albeit the book finds enough support from O'Bannon's crew to back his decision to hand the zombie reins over to Kenny Myers, who would "return" himself in the first sequel. Only Myers' outstanding zombie sculpting validates Return of the Living Dead II, particularly since the sequel had but a handful of extras who played multiple zombies, including main undead Brian Peck, who played punk rocker Scuz in the original film. Peck also has a quick cameo in the opening of Return III and he pens this book's introduction.

On the flipside, many of the actors found camaraderie with O'Bannon and later, Brian Yuzna on the third film. Ken Weiderhorn had the confidence of some of his staff on the second movie, yet the final results of his attempt to out-slapstick O'Bannon became a genre disaster. Perhaps it was O'Bannon's teetering psyche that gave the first movie its edge and its verve. Shot largely in the same building posing as the Uneeda warehouse, the film crew's offices were likewise encased inside, keeping the sets and internal affairs largely on lockdown. It's no wonder O'Bannon might've been at flashpoint, yet no one will argue his results.

The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead gets into the crafting of the famous "Tarman" and the half-corpse from the original film, plus Kenny Myer's ghoul pals from Return II, including the notorious split ghoul, which was played by an amputee with no legs, and Brian Peck's goofy Michael Jackson zombie. Ditto for Steve Johnson's effective do-ups on Melinda Clarke, who will forever haunt zombie fans as Goth hottie Julie Walker from Return III.

The last two Return of the Living Dead films (Necropolis and Rave to the Grave) are touched upon as a formality, but the summation from co-writer William Butler (who was impaled by Jason in Friday the 13th Part VII) on those two films sums up his anguish over the final turnout of his script (co-written with Aaron Strongoni): "Disappointed can't even begin to describe what I was feeling. I went from being on Cloud Nine to wanting to hang myself because it was a massive deal for Aaron and I." Attempting to bridge Necropolis to the third film by using Julie's parents as zombiological weapons, the film and its successor went with a larger thud then Return II, despite some killer makeup and effects work on Necropolis.

The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead is one of the more comprehensive overviews of a zombie series since Paul R. Gagne's 1987 salute to George A. Romero with The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh. Getting much deeper into the stories behind the first three Return sets and some of the politics behind them is fascinating stuff. You have to feel for Don Calfa who came close to stealing the show in the first Return (there were many scene-stealers in the original) and was rebuffed from joining the cast of the second film when Thom Matthews and James Karen had been called back to reinvent their roles. Calfa had read for Doc Mandel in Return II, which ended up going to Philip Bruns. The sad part is, a controversy still lies (as suggested by Sellers and Smart) over whether director Ken Weiderhorn actually remembered Calfa's audition or not.

While only two of the three Return of the Living Dead films made an actual impact (who wasn't affected by Julie's constant puncturing and slicing of herself in Return III?), the reinvention of George Romero's halcyon Night of the Living Dead--as envisioned by Romero's shotgun rider John Russo--becamse the stuff of legend. While many horror fans of the day were confused by Russo and O'Bannon's titling of the first Return of the Living Dead, history has shown the duo created an effective and affecting piece of cinematic splatter art that holds up today.

The soundtrack for the first film alone with The Cramps, The Damned, SSQ, The Flesh Eaters, T.S.O.L. and 45 Grave is immortal unto itself. The image of Linnea Quigley's death-absorbed "Trash" grinding ass to SSQ's "Tonight (We'll Make Love Until We Die)" is a daring image no one will ever forget. Only Linnea sticking a lipstick tube into her nipple in the original Night of the Demons surpasses such bravado--or being impaled upon deer antlers with her yabbas on full display yet again in Silent Night, Deadly Night, for that matter.

Russo's original concept from his 1978 novel Return of the Living Dead is hardly the same story we got on film. Tobe Hooper had first been contacted to helm Return but O'Bannon later got the job. You have to wonder what if? Had a script been developed off of Russo's novel with Hooper directing it, would it have made film history?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Metal Louvre: Rush - Moving Pictures



In honor of Rush's current tour highlighted by a start-to-finish play of their breakout Moving Pictures album from 1981, let's salute the album's artwork in tandem.

Conceived by regular Rush artist Hugh Syme (who also handled synths for "Witch Hunt" on the album) and photographed by Deborah Samuel, one might say a conjugal colloquialism comes to mind, i.e. "a picture paints a thousand words" when it comes to Moving Picture's artwork. In this case, multiple pictures within a picture, painting a thousand words visually to accent the thousands of notes Rush expunges on this and most of their revered records.

The lush movement of the art gallery's archways lends vibrance despite its cold slate facade sentried by gargoyle heads. The glowing lights behind the gallery's throughway come off like sinister eyes as the crimson clad movers haul off questionable works of art. You have to love Rush's moxy by throwing one of their own identifiable images courtesy of Hume (i.e. the naked man befallen of and paralyzed by a pentagram) amidst the always-lambasted dogs playing poker painting by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge and what appears to be a depiction of Alistair Crowley in the forefront. The heated coloring of the movers' jumpsuits and their hellish (both overt and subliminally-teased) cargo suggests this is the devil's work. Is that Satan behind the gallery doors?

The weepy citizens to the right panel punctuates the joke of Moving Pictures' raucous album cover. One can read into it as if a defining culture is being swept away, either by the winds of change, fascist censorship or a lack of funding to keep the gallery afloat--the latter being resonant with the times 30 years since Moving Pictures was released. Of course, nothing too dramatic should be implied by Hume's work here, but it's a visually arresting bit of work unto itself, a wholesome compliment to the masterpiece Rush painted in sound.

Any implied tomfoolery aside, one of the legends behind the Moving Pictures album cover is the fact Rush was denied appropriate funding by their label to commission Hume to follow up on his vision for the album. Instead, the band fronted the money themselves, a wise spirit of self-investment that naturally paid off huge.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Album Review: Ghost - Opus Eponymous

Ghost - Opus Eponymous
2011 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Yes, the cover of Ghost's Opus Eponymous is a rip on the seventies' horror nouveau artwork for the telefilm adaptation of Stephen King's vampire classic, 'Salem's Lot. There's a bigger reason at-large than meets the eye.

More attention is being heaped upon Opus Eponymous for its devilish haunts, but this isn't quite so much a black rock hymnal for Satan. Okay, I'm lying, it is. Really, though, Opus Eponymous is a sojourn back to the seventies space toaster rawk of Blue Oyster Cult and trash cult horror flicks such as Blood On Satan's Claw, The Devil's Chidren, Satan's Daughter, Touch of Satan and Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby. At least that's the vibe that projects from purported Swedish occultists, Ghost.

The band projects a rather menacing stage presence in cloaks and hoods and a papal-like leader presiding over Ghost's apocalyptic liturgy. So too did Martin Ain project a ghoulish anti-monk presence on Celtic Frost's last major tour in support of their Monotheist album. Ghost, on the front, appear to mean huge business. Who cares, though? It's the music that matters and Ghost says far more in that department.

Forget the themes of Opus Eponymous. You'll either appreciate its lyrical summoning to Countess Bathory (i.e. "Elizabeth"), demonae and Lucifer ("Stand By Him" and "Con Clavi Con Dio") or you won't. Target instead the Blue Oyster Cult, Hawkwind and Pentagram grooves driving Ghost's throwback heavy rock sound. Particularly in the case of BOC, there was always a sinister underworld lurking beneath much of their music that's rubbed off the ears of casual classic rock heads.

It certainly wasn't lost on Ghost, who writes Opus Eponymous partially in the key of Spectres and Fire of Unknown Origin and late 60's psych, only with more blatant hails to Beelzebub and hellish funeral organs pounding overtop their slinking grue. Even the high alto vocals showering Ghost's phantasmagorical crunching signals BOC. All of that's actually paying them compliment. The haunted atmospherics from Ghost suck you in, whether you consider the devil a tool or not. In the case of the later tunes, Ghost amps up and delves out more metallic tones before presenting a well-crafted closing instrumental "Genesis," which strides forward on Emerson Lake and Palmer-styled gusts and a gorgeous flamenco sequence for its finale.

Though the most frightening depiction of Satan still oddly remains the one raising Hell in Fantasia, there's nothing disarming about Ghost's Opus Eponymous. If you're a longtime veteran of horror films, BOC (and an avid reader of Heavy Metal the magazine), you get what this is about, even if Ghost on the front seem to keep blackened bibles tucked in their instrument cases.

Whether or not the players in Ghost are actual satanists doesn't matter. They could be giving us the next Welcome to Hell, as in evil shtick for evil shtick's sake. The only thing you really need to take serious about this album is how well it rocks instead of bludgeons and tortures. Opus Eponymous is a chunky but entertaining nostalgia ride through seventies rock and horror under the guise of black metal. Diatribes be damned, Ghost are highly effective at their yesteryear craftsmanhip and bloody addictive on top.

Rating: ****

Friday, April 08, 2011

Album Review: Josh Freese - My New Friends EP

Josh Freese - My New Friends EP
Self-released
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Don't look now, Dave Grohl, but there's a new anti-hip hipster drummer tramping through the music scene. He's Josh Freese and he's about to wear a proverbial jersey marked with the word "Mr. Ingenuity" across the back. The rambling man skin puncher who has backed A Perfect Circle, Devo, Guns 'n Roses, The Vandals, Weezer, Sting and lord knows who else in the rockaverse has made headlines of late for his one-man-show fundraising skits that has subsidized the recording of his solo work, the latest being his thank you EP, My New Friends.

While more in the vein of tuneful So Cal punk which reflects hanging ten and hanging out at with Mickey and Donald, Josh Freese's My New Friends is as serious as going long with a cantaloupe in the produce section while the manager's back is turned.

Essentially, My New Friends is a recorded document of Freese's gallavanting with his benefactors, non-Hollywood heads who purchased special packaging of Freese's first solo album, Since 1972. While offering downloads of Since 1972 for seven bucks a pop to the average listener, Freese opened his own reinvestment plan by concocting wild and expensive packages of Since 1972 that included a private tour at Disneyland to chowing down at P.F. Chang's and The Cheesecake Factory to blazing the mini golf links with Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and Maynard of Tool and A Perfect Circle. Talk about making the most of your resources!

While the latter package hoisted a cool $20,000.00 for Freese, you have to admire his balls and slick entrepreneur skills. Did anyone purchasing Freese's crazy gimmick packages of Since 1972 expect to find themselves memorialized in song, though? That's essentially the whole kitsch to My New Friends.

Filled with spoonfuls of sugar pop rock and more hooks than a fishing tournament, My New Friends is a fun, noncommittal rockout for the sake of gratitude. While it's more a personal connection between Freese and his newfound comrades in commerce, My New Friends is a groovy listen, particularly the Devo-notched drive on "See You in 2010 (For Thomas)" and the Weezer-spiced uh-huh swing on "All the Way From F.L.A. (For Tom)" and "NY Style Eddie (For Eddie Torres)."

The entire concept of My New Friends is just goofy, but nobody can say (particuarly those who shelled out for the high-end specialty packages of Since 1972) that Josh Freese doesn't show his appreciation nor gives his fans their money's worth.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 4/6/11

Salud! As always, I hope everyone out there in cyberspace is getting on and getting through. Here in the U.S. the thought of another government shutdown is chilling, though state governments have been setting the pace out of necessity the past few years. I've reported on local governments for area newspapers and the common ground each municipality has is the severance of a monster percentage of their state funding. These are questionable times, so keep your spirits high and those tunes rolling.

Hope you enjoyed this past week's activities. Special thanks to both of my Take 5 guests this week, but I really enjoyed Lenny Wolf's candidness. The guy's taken his lumps but he is true to himself, and that's what allows you to stare at the image in the mirror and smile each day. I've already booked a few more Take 5 guests to be coming down the pike pronto, so do come back. Devin and I have our players and hard drives full of new albums, so we're coming to get ya.

My poetry chapbook Goodbye Excellent will be released by Boulder Street Press. I'm pleased they're staying true to my original cover concept and I'm excited to share my words with the reading public. Stay tuned for details...



Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Misery - Evil is Crowned
Between the Buried and Me - The Parallax: Hyperspeed Dialogues EP
Between the Buried and Me - The Silent Circus
Between the Buried and Me - The Anatomy Of
Devildriver - The Fury of Our Maker's Hand
Devildriver - The Last Kind Words
Devildriver - Pray for Villains
Devildriver - Beast
Guns n' Roses - Use Your Illusion I
Guns n' Roses - Use Your Illusion II
The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
Evergrey - Glorious Collision
Kingdom Come - Rendered Waters
Vicious Rumors - Razorback Killers
Deftones - Diamond Eyes
The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come
Peter Murphy - Deep
Peter Murphy - Holy Smoke
The Clash - Sandinista
Depeche Mode - Songs of Faith and Devotion
Bryan Ferry - Boys and Girls
Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell
Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers
Pee Wee Ellis - Tenoration
Musiq Soulchild - Luvanmusique
The Doors - Waiting for the Sun
Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
Stone Axe - s/t reissue

Monday, April 04, 2011

Take 5 With Lenny Wolf of Kingdom Come



The Metal Minute: I was at the Monsters of Rock in 1988 when Kingdom Come opened the festival with Dokken, Metallica, Scorpions and Van Halen. One of my favorite concerts ever. I remember you guys having a solid set, but as the festival began in the late morning, people were still milling in as Kingdom Come was playing. As you recall that festival, what are some of your memories, good or bad? I can imagine there being great camaraderie with the Scorps, whom I thought ruled that tour.

Lenny Wolf: Sometimes or rather often it takes awhile before one realizes what a great thing just happened. That explains my situation. What a groovy experience it was being part of such a traveling fun circus. Life at its peak, coming from Europe and seeing all of the United States from the best point-of-view imaginable. Besides that great moment on stage, it was mainly all those little things on the side which still make me think back with a huge smile on my face. I remember meeting lots of great, warm-hearted and overly-nice folks throughout the tour. All the barbecuing and jet skiing with locals while the circus was traveling to the next city. Not forgetting to mention the sheriff taking us backstage with his helicopter after having had a fantastic meal with his sweet family. I don't wanna bore you with those cliché remarks like "the babes" were fantastic, blah blah blah. Thanks God for letting me live through it. (laughs) The only "bad" thing I can think of was, having to open our set at 2 pm in the morning (for me at least). That was a real pain having to torture my vocal right after breakfast. Being the opening band, no complaint from my end, but we would have enjoyed playing longer, especially as you correctly mentioned, with the people still coming in while we were already playing. Regarding the other bands, I remember Metallica and Dokken being the more relaxed guys in terms of hanging out. Not that we did it a lot, due to the very different traveling itineries.

MM: Tell me about working with Bob Rock on Kingdom Come's debut album. He certainly had the Midas touch in getting the band launched worldwide as he has for many breakout bands of the day, but do you feel in retrospect he helped give Kingdom Come a fighting chance in a market that chewed you guys up as much as it initially welcomed you?

LW: Funny how well you put it into words, but very true. (laughs) Bob was heaven- sent to us. He did not wanna change any of us or try to squeeze us into any particular style. He just knew how to get the most out of each player without any struggling going on. Also privately, a great guy. I will never forget him asking me "Are you sure we can go to a strip joint in the middle of the recording?" We were his first band which he "produced," not just being the guy throwing the switches, and therefore not having to ask anybody for permission anymore. (laughs) Bob's definitely got the Midas touch, not just for us, but as many of us know, he "made Metallica." I do regret not having waited for Bob with the second record. He was busy doing Metallica and after all that Zep blah blah blah, we wanted to prove our point as soon as possible by making the second record fast and therefore, we settled for Keith Olson, who did a great job for Whitesnake. He did not have the Midas touch for us--or mainly my modest self.

MM: (laughs) With Rendered Waters, this is your 13th album as Kingdom Come, though most people are unaware of the fact you've kept plugging along over the years. In your time keeping Kingdom Come afloat, what has been your hardest and your easiest tasks in raising awareness to the band?

LW: There is only so much an artist can do. A lot has to do with timing, the right demand, being at the right place surrounded with the right people. Or maybe in a short cut, destiny. The days where a "good song" always got a fair chance are over. There are those lucky breakthroughs, which are very rare nowadays. With the new technology around--speaking of home recording--soon we have more new releases than we have citizens on this planet. That makes it harder to get noticed unless you're already mega-big. Success to me is a relative thing to look at. I don't think that several million dollars more would make me any happier than I am right now. Without wanting to sound too cosmic now, true happiness and experiencing fulfillment truly lies within yourself, not in your wallet! Or how do you explain so many rich people being so fucked up and miserable?

Of course from an artist's point of view, it is always nicer to play in front of packed houses, but as my manager used to say, you gotta roll with the punches, and keep going! We were unable to build a massive following since the band just took off two years before the Seattle sound killed everything coming from the eighties or even the seventies. That did not make it any easier to continue, but who am I to complain after having achieved what I did already? Life is good. I can only continue my mission which is called Kingdom Come, or maybe other routes which I may not be aware of right now. I will hold up the flag, as long as I can get some sensible sounds out of my vocal chords. Whether it may remind people more into Zep, Madonna or Santa Claus, I'll do my thing, minding my own business and hoping for more fans to come around the corner. Hallelujah.

MM: Right on! Rendered Waters is built upon eight re-recordings of past material and three new tracks. You especially took a heavy slice out of 1990's Hands of Time and the lesser-known tracks from Kingdom Come instead of redoing the obvious choices such as "Get it On" and "Can You Feel It." I think the re-recordings of "Can't Deny," "I've Been Trying," "Seventeen" and particularly "Should I" came out great, as if you really wanted your audience to give these tunes a second chance. What was your core logic in choosing songs from your back catalog to re-interpret on Rendered Waters?

LW: This is something I have been thinking about over the last 3-4 years already. Especially since the band has played them with a different attitude throughout the years, which is something I wanted to capture. Also, the hearing habits have changed quite a lot over the last years. I wanted to give some of my favorite songs a second chance to see the light at the end of the tunnel without ruining the red threat of the old versions. I'm just carrying them into the year 2011. I purposely stayed away from our hits to avoid another blaming phase from the smart press people saying, "Now Lenny wants to cash in on his past." I proved my point with the last 12 records, which unfortunately many of you Americans are not so well-aware of, but the days of having to justify anything are certainly over. This is my calling and not a job.

MM: The new songs on Rendered Waters give us a broader scope of what you're up to songwriting-wise, such as the cheery swing of "It is Fair Enough," the heavy melancholia on "Don't Remember" and the stamping blues rawk of "Blue Trees." For the omnipresent gauntlet of critics razzing Zeppelin over your head throughout the years, what do you want these new cuts to say about Kingdom Come's approach in 2011? Also, why is it so many bands over the years are embraced for cloning AC/DC, yet your band was chastised over your Zep affinity? Do you feel that's gross misconduct?

LW: Thanks for the cool descriptions of the first three songs. When I write, I don't have any "concepts" or "master plan" in mind. During the writing and recording process I'm in a very fragile but frantic frame of mind, having a hotline to the big guy upstairs guiding me more or less through that creating process. It is a very pure and innocent phase. A CHILD AT WORK! Not more and not less.
Being compared to the almighty Zep at first was a compliment, even though I never saw such huge similarities as many have said. I'd rather be compared to them than two million bands trying to sound like Metallica or Nirvana, but hey, every artist, whether you're a painter or a musician, has been influenced by someone in his or her early stages in life.

That's were you (we) start off and hopefully someday being able to make progress into maturing your style and it finally having found your own sound, or at least vibe. Especially as a vocalist, I can only sound like Lenny. I hate when critics look at records like we're running for a political party. Art should always be commented upon as: "Not my cup of tea," not in right or wrong categories, since every human being is perceiving sounds and pictures differently than others. There are so many bands which I think should have never released a ton. That shows that whatever we think we know, may just be the opposite to others.


Copyright 2011 Ray Van Horn, Jr./The Metal Minute

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Van of the Dead DVD Review: Night of the Living Dead Reanimated

Night of the Living Dead Reanimated
2010 Wild Eye Releasing/MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



When artistic property falls into the public domain, to quote ol' Choptop from Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: dawwwwwwwwgs will hunt!

Made on a shoestring and whirled through the drive-in and grindhouse circuit with very little of the fanfare it would later receive, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead has become the mantle piece of the entire zombie ethos. Remade twice (the second as a 3-D romp that received even less fanfare than the original film) and bastardized (I mean, colorized), Night of the Living Dead even inadvertently gave birth to the successful Return of the Living Dead romps by rite of passage through principal writer John Russo. Romero's original is cited, quoted, ripped and soundbyted all over the world. Russ Streiner's iconic taunt to Judith O'Dea "They coming to geeeeet you, Barbara" has been hocked repeatedly through future film and television vehicles, both horror and non. In its strange way, Night of the Living Dead has long become pop culture.

It's why so many nickel and dime video distributors scarf the film up for cheap release--these days usually in a shabby print package deal with Carnvial of Souls or with nine-to-twenty-four other shabby print horror films you can hoist out of the five dollar bin at Wal Mart. Yet, Night of the Living Dead, though only surpassed by Romero's direct sequel from 1978, Dawn of the Dead, remains a subject piece routinely shown in film and art classes and yes, even business classes. It demonstrates to students how one can effectively create a masterpiece with few duckets to start. No doubt many art and film students on their respective campuses have sat down with this film on repeat, their lives and perspectives forever changed. Want the proof?

Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is grindhouse-meets-art house. Is it remotely possible to tell an entire story through varying, interchangeable media, moreover, to recreate an existing piece that is so well-known and well-loved to even make the attempt is to invite the wrath of Cthulhu down upon them?

Well, yeah, actually. Night of the Living Dead Reanimated isn't going to be for everybody, particularly those who've spent more time at parties than visual art schools. Boasting more than 100 artists and an equal number of styles whirling Night of the Living Dead at a pace resulting in sensory overload, this gutsy project satisfies more than appears at face value.

If Dinosaur, Jr. and Sonic Youth had thought of a project like this back in the early nineties, no doubt Night of the Living Dead Reanimated would come off in a similar manner. This loving chiarascuro tribute to Romero's classic plays largely like one of those alt rock videos of yesteryear, only it recreates the film with painstaking accuracy and played to the original film's score and speaking tracks.

The casual viewer might grow weary of the still photos blanketed by abstract video tweaking and the abrupt shifts to claymation to video game slivers to sixties-based cartoons. Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is a showcase of immense talent utilizing oil canvasses, ink sketches, CGI, stop-action manipulation, even puppetry. At times, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is freakin' hilarious, such as the puppet zombie substituting for Bill Hinzman's immortal lead ghoul in the film's opening chase scene. While this film switches between detailed sketches in the heart of Berni Wrightson to the elongated computerized version of Bill Hinzman, once a puppet arrives with the brick to smash down the car window where Judith O'Dea atempts to hide, it's a gut-buster. Ditto for the choppy video game segments where a bearded and beefy Duane Jones goes after the zombies outside the fateful house and stomps them down with the tire iron. The film satirizes modern zombie games as Jones' character Ben wallops away with the original grunts and thuds from Romero's film lending soundtrack by omnipresence.

In the same sequence, however, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated opts for quick social commentary. As Romero bravely put Duane Jones in the forefront of his film as a strong, take-charge black man, which was nearly insane for the racist times it was conceived, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated takes it a step further. As Ben hovers on the porch with the zombies lurking towards him, the undead shirk and shift into tweaked, angular abstracts with pointed limbs and ultimately, pointed heads. For a quick moment, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated turns the zombies into the Ku Klux Klan, thus you really feel it when Ben whacks them down.

Actual segments of Romero's film blend into this one, though you can expect shadings and assorted flotilla to stretch them out a hair or two. There's a breathaking hand-crafted animation sequence of Judith O'Dea's mental breakdown that swishes through like A-ha's video for "Take On Me."

You have to be impressed by the detail and sheer balls of this project. Unlike Team America, this is hardly mainstream and, despite the Ben-Klan showdown, it keeps its personal views to a minimum. Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is a brain stew of fundamental horror storytelling, but with more acid trips and occasional hee-hawing than Romero probably intended.

No doubt, though, Romero has to be honored something like Night of the Living Dead Reanimated has surfaced. To have a creative team even bother to assemble thousands of images into an hour-forty tribute, you can take the scribblings with the megabytes and be happy so many generations have been affected by a single work. Night of the Living Dead Reanimated could've cheated and done a straight CGI reinterpretation. Instead, it brings the outlooks of many visual styles to the table--and even a ghost host to introduce it. If you were raised on the days of UHF, Saturdays meant fright nights, complete with guffawing vampires as your emcees.

Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is a post modern construction of a post modern terror tale and it does so with adoration to the past as much as the future. Once in awhile, bodies of work drifting into the public domain actually serves a purpose.

Rating: ****

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Take 5 With Geoff Thorpe of Vicious Rumors




The Metal Minute: CBGBs had its hardcore weekends and California had the Metal Mondays at the Old Waldorf in the early eighties before the Bay Area thrash explosion erupted later in the decade. Tell me about Metal Mondays. Did you guys draw sizable crowds since metal was only just starting to catch on in the U.S.? What were some of the goofiest moments of Metal Mondays that you can recall?

Geoff Thorpe: Metal Monday was great! We were one of the first bands to get started there. I remember the Scorpions' Klaus (Meine) and Rudy (Schenker) showed up at our gig and the bar was closed. I had already offered them some beer! So we ran around and got two pitchers from all our half empties! I still have photos of us all drinking that nasty beer! We had great shows there. I used to come out of a coffin. Long story.

TMM: (laughs) I'm sure there must be days when you wonder "What if Vinnie Moore had stayed in Vicious Rumors longer?" Not that we need to dwell too long upon the past, but does it ever weigh on your mind what might've been, considering the Bay Area thrash scene came up with a ton of future household names who brought the scene up?

GT: No, not really. He's a great player but a small part of Vicious Rumors history. It's all about the songs.

TMM: Digital Dictator and the self-titled Vicious Rumors album put the band on a crash course of intense touring in the late eighties and early nineties, just as metal was coming through the tail end of its first running cycle in the U.S. Looking back, what would you say were some of your fondest memories of road life at this critical point in the band's career and did you ever go through personal ruts after those touring cycles when grunge relegated metal acts to the far-flung parts of the underground?

GT: We did have some great road trips! Of course, in the underground you have your ups and downs. I'm very proud to have this long run and with this new CD Razorback Killers, the best is yet to come. We are just about to start a huge tour of Europe with 10 major festivals! The CD is getting killer reviews! Plans to tour the USA are in the works! All details are at www.viciousrumors.com.

TMM: As you mentioned, Razorback Killers is your latest album and as with every Vicious Rumors recording, there's a hefty mix of thrash, power metal and NWOBHM. With this being your third album of the 2000s behind Warball and Sadistic Symphony, what do you feel is your personal draw to staying true to Vicious Rumors' unwavering mission statement?

GT: We live for the action! We love what we do and we have a long way to go. Life is short, so live it well. We are living the dream! 33 years of Vicious Rumors for me! It's taken me around the world and it's given me the love of my life. I am so lucky to live this charmed life. We feel are one of the last bands of our kind and we will hold the flag high! With the Scorpions and Priest saying goodbye, Vicious Rumors will still be here to kick your ass!

TMM: Righteous, brother. Tell me, have you ever had any run-ins with an actual razorback? That might serve as a cool premise to a Z-horror-metal flick!

GT: Almost every day with my Dean Razorback guitar and that's as close as I want to get! Keep it metal!


Copyright 2011 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Friday, April 01, 2011

Album Review: Misery - Evil is Crowned

Misery - Evil is Crowned
2011 Megaforce Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



If you're from the Long Island and New York City metal scene, no doubt you spent many weekends at CB's in company with the hardcore greats of the day. You'd also have to think the American incarnation of Misery could stand to rattle some cages on Bleeker if the club was still around.

Unlike the Australian metallers under the same moniker, New York's hardcore Misery has been at it for quite some time--and unless you're from the east, this is a band that has quite likely missed your radar. Too bad, because this Misery brings it with as much snapcase abrasion and bulldog regimen as you'll find straight outta the boroughs. Misery is a little bit Agnostic Front, a little bit Biohazard, a little bit Hades, S.O.D. and Pantera and plenty o' Pro Pain. You might as well as add Life of Agony to the firebrand since Joey Z oversees the latest paint peeler from Misery, Evil is Crowned.

Evil is Crowned may be the most memorable hardcore album in years, because hardcore itself is largely dead. The tiring breakdowns and the join-us-or-die militant statutes have sent most of the 2000-era hardcore acts back to the drawing board, and for Misery's purposes, Evil is Crowned is a fresh, overdue bellow.

Never forgetting that moshing, thrashing and whipping have equal measures in hardcore as the boot-stomping pogo rhythms, Evil is Crowned mixes its tempos in sequences that provoke jives as much as fist bashing. The orderly polyrythm Misery tolls out on Evil is Crowned may betray the occasional clunk and crunk, but overall, this is a band with true grit and genuine cred. Most of the tunes on this album veer between steady crush and double-tripped shredding--using "Bullet" and "Gone Tomorrow" as examples.

Originally formed by the LoCasto brothers, John and Joe, it's a wonder John still has a spleen with his high-pitched woofing and outraged yelling. As always, there's a poetic cadence to John LoCasto's huff 'n puff screeching and Misery feeds off of him, growing agitated right in tandem. "I Hate Your Face" builds off of John, even when kept to a mid-tempo shuffle most of the ride. The quicker spots climax in unison, as does most of the songs on Evil is Crowned. Even with slowdowns, the fierce thrash on "Social Anxiety" is just blistering.

Corey Schaefer and Duane Conlon rip the joint at every possible sound point--when John LoCasto isn't caterwauling overtop them. While there's a bit of repetition to Evil is Crowned, it doesn't stop this album from dumping New York gravel into your ears and upside your head. The production has a thinned-out cadence, which lends to the album's undeniable groove. Denser production would've robbed Misery of some poignant decibels which punches Evil is Crowned home like a hard day's work. At the end of the work comes the play, as in an amusing cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like a Hole," hardly played to script here.

Evil is Crowned slings its sweat upon you with an everyman's belligerence and a defiant mash through the gutters others in the past have merely pretended to swagger through. Misery is legit. If you're not yet on board with this band, plug in, then hop on your brother's Nuke Boy and get vertical.

Rating: ****