Originally published in: Jersey Beat Magazine
Random thoughts: Pretty much a way to wrap around a bunch of reviews of metal CDs sitting on my desk at the time, I quite enjoyed writing this heavy metal reviews column for Jersey Beat.
METAL UP YOUR BUM
by Jason Schreurs
I’ve been a heavy metal nerd since I was in Grade 5. Whether it was pure happenstance or some kind of devil-horned fate, I’ll never know, but I vividly remember staring at the cover of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell as the evil elf himself, Ronnie James Dio, whispered dark somethings into my ear for the first time. I was at a friend’s house and his older brother, back from a stint in juvenile detention for beating up his mom (lovely guy, and with a mullet too), was showing us his Judas Priest and Ozzy memorabilia, and spinning Sad Wings of Destiny and Speak of the Devil. Being a geeky kind of dude with thick, way-too-big glasses, metal seemed like the coolest, most bad-ass thing in the world, what with all that evil imagery and chest hair staring up at us from the album artwork, and the speaker-busting heaviness that would damage our eardrums from that day on. Fast forward to the end of the next year; it’s the Grade 6 year-end party and our school’s first ever air-band contest. Me and said friend get together a couple of other fledgling bangers, practice some choreographed metal stage moves, and then proceed to send the teachers and students into a state of shock by lip-synching the quintessential metal tune, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Did we win? Well, no, actually; we were suspended because of the song’s reference to Satan… they gave the honors to some preppies doing Twisted Sister (posers!). From that day forward, we were outcasts. Fast forward. It’s the summer before Grade 9 and I’m shopping for school clothes. Instead of perusing designer clothes stores at the mall, I’m at the rock shop picking out metal t-shirts; 15 shirts should do me for the whole year. I also pick up a Metallica Kill ‘Em All full-size back-patch to cover the vulnerable side of my black acid-washed jean jacket. I spend the rest of my academic years in Slayer, Kreator, DRI, COC and, yes, Metallica t-shirts (later it would be The Exploited, Suicidal Tendencies, Anthrax, Celtic Frost and Misfits tees) and wear my jean jacket until it sheds off my back in tatters. My haircut is an under-shaved Kentucky waterfall and my glasses are now unreasonably proportioned to my face. No one tells me, and I spend the next five years holed up in my room listening to death metal cassettes, only going outside to skateboard. Luckily, I had built a 12-foot half-pipe right outside my bedroom window, so I didn’t have to go far. Fast forward. I’m 30 years old, with a wife, two kids (and baby on the way), living in a house of our own. I host a radio show that plays metal, write CD reviews (see my batch of metal reviews below) and obsessively collect metal cassettes… Sometimes, when I can get out with the boys, we play a heavy metal trivia game called Metal Mental Meltdown, and obsess over how bad the first Scorpions or Pantera records were, or debate about which Anthrax singer is more annoying. No matter how extreme heavy metal has gotten over the years, and how goofy it can be sometimes, I think metal reminds me of simpler times, and of my youth. I may not have been popular or cool, and people definitely scoffed at my morbid t-shirts and fervor for skeletons, but I was proud to be an outcast, and it’s something that’s stuck with me through all of these years. Sure, there’s always more productive things to go against the grain about, but heavy metal has always been the one thing that can make you bang your head, laugh like a maniac, and scare the hell out of the establishment at the same time. Punk and hardcore are similar, but without the chest hair.
(Here’s some of the recent metal releases that have found their way across my desk and left a lasting impression.)
AS I LAY DAYING Frail Worlds Collapse (Metal Blade Records - 2828 Cochran St., PMB 302, Simi Valley, CA, 93065-2793, http://www.metalblade.com/) - Metalcore by way of Swedish thrash, except, like a lot of hardcore bands now doing the Gothenberg thing, these guys are from US shores. And they are doing the Swede thing well; the rapid-fire double bass drums propel As I Lay Dying’s twin guitar attack and full-sounding vocal screams. Recorded by some dude who usually chills with POD and Blindside (ick), Frail Worlds Collapse sounds great, and bands playing this kind of hardcore/metal need an expensive, large, full production sound. What stands out the most is the high-octane drumming of Jordan Mancino; although at times his kit sounds like a mousetrap of triggers. “Collision” is probably the most anxious track on this album, with its gallopy riffs and raging guitar licks. More metal than hardcore, and fans of both will appreciate the fury of As I Lay Dying. -JS
THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER Unhallowed (Metal Blade Records, http://www.metalblade.com/) - Another US band heavily influenced by the Swedish thrash sound, as well as a little Florida death and Carcass gore-grind added in for good measure. Too bad they’re from Detroit… Anyway, it’s hard to tell if these guys were hardcore kids at one time (as a lot of these “metal” bands nowadays were); this is unabashedly metal, from the growly death/high shriek combo vocals to the hyper-speed guitar crankery. Listening to a song like “Funeral Thirst,” it’s almost impossible not to think of Carcass (that main riff is very familiar), and the same with a track like “Thy Horror Cosmic,” which is total At the Gates/Gothenberg thrash, but that doesn’t stop Unhallowed from being an ass-kicking metal album. It will be nice to see them fully develop their own sound, but for now it’s horns up and head banging. –JS
BLINDED BY FAITH – Under an Occult Sun (Galy Records – 5100 De Verdun, PO Box 28544, Verdun, QC, H4G 3L7, http://www.galyrecords.com/) – I missed the boat on the whole black metal phenomenon. By the time bands like Mayhem, Burzum and Cradle of Filth were starting up, I was immersed in the punk/hardcore scene and wasn’t too interested in listening to a bunch of face-painted trolls sing about Norse gods. Truth be told, I’m still not fond of the genre; something about that treble-heavy production sound and rapid-bpm drone. Quebec’s Blinded by Faith are pretty cool though, combining that trademark black sound with some power metal and classic thrash elements. Even the keyboards work here (I’m decidedly anti-keyboard when it comes to metal, unless it’s in a Dio song), adding an excellent melodic quality to thrash greatness like “A Perfect Imperfection.” Maybe it’s time to pay more attention to black metal. Anyone got some fake elf ears they can part with? –JS
BLOOD RED THRONE - Monument of Death (Martyr Music Group - PO Box 42323, Pittsburgh, PA, 15203, http://www.martyrmusicgroup.com/) - A lot of the current death metal stuff goes in one orifice and out the other for me; and it might just been the mood I am in, but this CD is pretty killer. Once you get past the blood-splattered layout, pictures of band members in various states of dismemberment and the fact that these guys are named Dod, Erlend C, Mr. Hustler and Freddy B (what is this –- extreme metal or gangsta rap?), Monument of Death is a damn fine solid death metal album. The lyrics are typical end of the world, devil-may-care pseudo-Satanism and violent fantasy style ditties that don’t add much to the music and tread over the line of good taste more than once, but we’re here to thrash, right? Or in this case bang our heads repeatedly against a large rock. -JS
CHINCHILLA - Madtropolis (Metal Blade Records, www.metalblade.com) - German power metal, like Manowar without the overt machismo. In some ways the lack of testosterone is welcome, as Chinchilla elect to tackle social issues and pump out unity/world peace-type fist shakers, instead of grimy songs about breaking in nubile virgins and lopping off warriors’ heads with battle axes. With a lack of balls, however, comes a void in the songwriting punch, causing the band to lose a lot of steam about halfway through this album. By the time the goofy five-minute power ballad "Satellite" comes to a painful close, it’s pretty much impossible for Madtropolis to redeem itself. Still, for a real kick in the ass, crank "Heavy Metal" (a song about, you guessed it, listening to heavy metal) at 11 and crack open some German stout. Or, in my case, ginger ale! –JS
CIRCLE OF DEAD CHILDREN - Human Harvest (Martyr Music Group, http://www.martyrmusicgroup.com/) - Now here’s a real kick to the head. It’s a gore-grind band that steer clear of the blood and guts lyrics and imagery in favor of a more global vision of decimation and destruction. Angry as fuck about the state of the world, Pittsburgh’s Circle of Dead Children give us 19 songs in 35 minutes and tackle political, social and personal topics in their 90-second blasts. A lot of the trappings of the grind genre remain, from the unreadable band logo (they actually print their name below it for clarity’s sake) to the evil gnome in a wind tunnel vocals, but it’s always nice to see a band at least trying something different. Like vegan grinders Cattle Decapitation, this band should be commended for turning a tiring style into something all the more meaningful. Plus, they grind away faster and heavier than most of their gory counterparts. –JS
GORGUTS - …And Then Comes Lividity/Demo Anthology (Galy Records, http://www.galyrecords.com/) – Anyone who followed the death metal scene in the ‘90s should remember Quebec’s Gorguts. Starting as a straight death metal band, they later warped into a more progressive animal, influenced by the space time continuum of Quebec metal forefathers like Voivod and DBC (Dead Brain Cells). This recent re-release treads on both eras of the band, including demos from 1990-95 and a live song from 1993. Songs are tracked from the earliest material to the latest, and they show the band maturing and transforming from a generic by-the-numbers death band into one of death metal’s most ambitious deities. This particular CD has that “fans only” kind of feel, but there’s no reason why metal fans unfamiliar with Gorguts couldn’t get a nice skull-pounding here. –JS
IN FLAMES - Trigger EP (Nuclear Blast Records - 2323 West El Segundo Blvd., Hawthorne, CA, 90250, http://www.nuclearblastusa.com/) - Anyone who was thrown by the new direction of Reroute to Remain, the latest by Swedish thrash biggies In Flames, will be doubly confused by this new EP. Combining the excellent “Trigger” single with one new song (“Watch Them Feed”), a cover song and two remixes, this band seems to be following the same career path that Fear Factory took before they imploded in a combustible personality crisis. And while Fear Factory modernized and did only good things to Gary Numan’s “Cars,” In Flames absolutely brutalize “Land of Confusion” by Genesis. Ouch. A “club connected” remix of “Cloud Connected,” one of the better thrash metal anthems of this year, might have seemed like a good idea in the studio, but the result is alienating and confusing. Perhaps this is a sign of much alienation and confusion to come? -JS
INIQUITY – Iniquity Bloody Iniquity (Mighty Music – Skelmosen 1, 2670 Greve, Denmark) – Totally insane death metal with a bad-ass sense of humor that only peeks out of the musical grind, but overwhelms the collage-heavy disc booklet. Iniquity Bloody Iniquity (great title!) is a sort of greatest hits for this Danish band who’ve been thrashing like mad since the early ‘90s. The collection includes previous album standouts, compilation songs, some unreleased stuff and other hard to find tracks. Most notable for fans is the inclusion of the two songs from their Revel in Cremation 7”. An oddly placed Pestilence cover (“Extreme Unction”) hits us over the head three tracks in, but also sets the tone for the remainder of the punishing originals. Iniquity’s deal is a quick-paced flurry of double bass blasts, growl/shriek combo vocals, and a thick guitar/bass sound to die for. And, strangely enough, the production values remain pretty constant throughout different recording sessions, so some effort was put into re-mastering this puppy. Throw in some mid-song audio clips that (for once) actually work and this death metal collection is a nightmare of precision and annihilation. In other words, ‘tis excellent! -JS
KING’S X – Black Like Sunday (Metal Blade Records, http://www.metalblade.com/) – The bad hair day Christian rockers are back for another full length of inspirational, funkified metal. Perpetually ignored by the mainstream rock set that should have fully embraced them years ago, King’s X keep slogging away in hopes of some kind of recognition. For those who can only vaguely remember their passing MTV hit “Over My Head,” this Texas-based three-piece have spent the better part of 25 (fricking) years crafting original, groove-laden and hummable songs. Black Like Sunday doesn’t offer anything exceptionally visionary or new from the band; instead opting to stick to the King’s X formula of hard rock positivity. Laughing these guys off as washed-up holy rockers would be the easy thing to do -– hell, I’ve done it myself with their few albums –- but this album shows King’s X deserve a fairer shake than that. Or at least another 15 minutes of fame. –JS
KREATOR – Live Kreation Revisioned Glory DVD (Steamhammer/SPV Records, www.spvusa.com) – When one of the all-time best thrash metal bands puts out a DVD, it’s hard to remain calm. When this showed up in the mailbox, it went straight into the DVD player with shaky hands and a pumping heart. German metal-ers Kreator have gone all out with this DVD which features a live set from last year’s Violent Revolution tour, an impressively complete history of the band since their early ‘80s demo days as Tormentor, and tons of extras. While the history of the band is a real blast and includes all of their music videos and some ultra-rare footage, it’s the live show that pushes this way over the edge. With remarkable sound quality, many different camera angles and the set list of my dreams, this is the kind of top-notch concert film to be expected from thrash royalty like Kreator. –JS
LYNCH MOB – REvolution (Deadline Music – PMB 251, 13428 Maxella Ave., Marina Del Ray, CA, 90202, deadlinerecords.com) – Oh, now this is sad. Former Dokken guitarist George Lynch is still flogging the ‘80s glam metal horse, sinking to new lows by releasing this greatest hits package of Lynch Mob material (his post-Dokken mediocrity) and, ahem, classic Dokken songs. And while singer Robert Mason ain’t no Don D. (who is?), his whiskey sour screech ain’t half bad on bluesy rock versions of Dokken staples like “Tooth and Nail” and “Breaking the Chains.” But the idea of reworking and “revolutionizing” (ya right!) these songs now, coupled with the hilariously egotistical liner notes, will only get these aged rockers pangs of embarrassed sympathy. Also, Mr. Lynch, if you’re trying to hide your gray hairs, bleaching just isn’t gonna cut it anymore! Try some Grecian Formula. –JS
MALEFACTION Where There Is Power There Is Always Resistance (G7 Welcoming Committee Records - PO Box 27006, 360 Main Street Concourse, Winnipeg, MB, R3C 4T3, http://www.g7welcomingcommittee.com/) - Holy motherfucker of god! Winnipeg’s Malefaction are back with their unparalleled grindcore damage. This time we get a stripped-down, no-frills basement recording done by Propagandhi/G7 guy Chris Hannah, and it works wonders for this uncompromising band. While their last record, Crush the Dream, was probably the heaviest/fastest thing on the planet since it came out in 2001, this new record actually lays the old one to waste. More cohesive and head-shakingly dynamic and powerful, Malefaction’s new songs really have to be heard to be believed. Singer Travis is in his zone on this one, with the kind of bang-on delivery that most metal/hardcore vocalists could only dream of. And it can’t be easy to be so in synch with the insane chaos pummeled out by the other three spazz-maniacs in this band. It’s just one jaw-dropping song after the next for 25 minutes (we even get an awesome grind version of Death Sentence’s “R.C.M.P.” as a bonus track). I could gush on and on, but it would be better if just you track this down immediately and play the fuck out of it. -JS
MEATLOCKER SEVEN – The Biological Mechanism of Hate (http://www.meatlockerseven.com/) – Every city has that one metal band they can be proud of. For my hometown of Victoria, that band is Meatlocker Seven. They’ve been around for a good 10 years, so to say the release of their second album, The Biological Mechanism of Hate, was a long time coming would be a vast understatement. Definitely worth the wait though, this nine-song album has a precision thrash stomp about it that should take this band beyond regional status. A hot production sound emphasizes this band’s love of thrash, Swedish death and grind metal, and the resulting combo is a new hybrid of extreme sounds. At times it sounds a little mish-moshed and clunky, but on tracks like “Systemic,” where the band are able to lock into a steady groove, they become a precision machine. I can only hope that every city has a local metal band as good as Meatlocker Seven. -JS
METALLICA - St. Anger (Elektra Records) - It’s not thrash metal and, despite reports to the contrary, this is not a continuation of where Master of Puppets left off. What we get instead is a jaw-dropping new breed of proto-nu-thrash; kinda like the album Load should have been if these guy’s weren’t so bloody eager to plunge themselves into the boogie rock cesspool. On first listen, after getting past the ridiculous Bob Rock production sound, the seemingly nu metal production sounds (tin can snare drum, anyone?) and song structures (was that just a wackity wack?) on St. Anger almost made me shrug this off as the old dogs trying to learn some new bad habits. After repeated listens, it actually sounds more like the old dogs are teaching the young pups a thing or two, and I don’t mean how to play dead. Fans of Korn, Slipknot, System of a Down and their ilk will instantly recognize some of these down-tuned bass lines (again, the butchery of session player Mr. Rock) and quirky, circus arrangements. Give St. Anger some time though, and Metallica’s history and long-lost integrity shine through with songs that elevate beyond any current music trends. It makes sense, I guess, for them to embrace the now sounds, but it’s a fucking relief they only dabble in nu and stick to their own, new brand of heaviness, occasionally borrowing from more respectable pups like Meshuggah. I mean, how depressing would it have been if James, Kirk, new bass player Robert Trujillo (who appears in the included DVD) and Lars (eeew) showed up in face paint and fake dreadlocks? Songs like the ball-busting opener “Frantic,” the title track and “Purify” may not sound like the Metallica that forever remains in our thrash metal hearts, but that doesn’t make St. Anger any less intense in 2003. -JS
NUCLEAR ASSAULT - Alive Again (Screaming Ferret Wreckords - PO Box 56, Hillsboro, NH, 03244, http://www.screamingferret.com/) - I’d like to think that anyone who was tapped into the late ‘80s thrash metal/crossover scene holds a special place in their hearts for Nuclear Assault. I know I do. Their anti-mainstream media anthem “Brainwashed,” from 1988’s Survive, is number 12 on my list of all-time favorite metal songs. (We’ll have to save the others for next column, but see my list of fave albums below…) So when all of us Nuclear heads found out the band was back together and putting out this live album (with a studio effort to follow), well, let’s just say it was a happy day. Political in that late ‘80s Reagan-era kinda way, Nuclear Assault were always very outspoken on topics such as (you guessed it) nuclear war, environmental destruction, organized religion and other serious (if not obvious) enemies of a productive world. Combining the thrash metal of Anthrax (with whom bassist Danny Lilker began his thrash stomp) and the hardcore of bands like early D.R.I., Nuclear Assault were one of the forefathers of crossover thrash metal. This live album shows the now aged bashers owning up to all of their classics (including “Brainwashed”) with pretty impressive results, although some of the song tempos are slowed down just a touch to accommodate for years passed, or maybe a bit of rustiness from the band. Singer/guitarist John Connelly still sounds as haggard as ever with what remains one of the weirdest sounding voices in metal. It’s just good to see these guys back, hammering away, and let’s all hope that new studio album pounds skulls. -JS
SAXON – The Saxon Chronicles: Live 2003 DVD (Steamhammer/SPV Records, www.spvusa.com) – One of metal’s oldest group of dinosaurs have proven that they are not planning on becoming extinct anytime soon. England’s Saxon have bled 20-plus years into heavy metal, but watching their live double DVD you’d think they were just youngsters full of energy and aspirations. The Saxon Chronicles features two-discs of pure heavy metal mastery. Disc one is a live show from 2001 and interview with singer Biff Byford, and disc two has some footage of Saxon on tour in the late ‘90s, all of Saxon’s music videos (hilarious cheese!) and some TV interviews. It’s hard to tell where the parody begins with bands like Saxon, especially after all of these years slogging away with the power chords, but when the classic metal song “Denim and Leather” kicks in and the band do that choreographed headbang we all know and love, everything is all right in the world for five minutes. –JS
SINISTER – Savage or Grace (Nuclear Blast Records, http://www.nuclearblastusa.com/) – I guess the most significant thing about Dutch metal veterans Sinister is that they are one of the very few bands in metal who have a female in their ranks. It’s not surprising that metal is male-dominated, what with all the testosterone coursing through metal’s fiber, so it’s always very cool to see women taking proactive roles in the genre. In the case of Sinister vocalist Rachel, it’s a hellish death growl performance that doesn’t really show off her feminine side (she basically sounds like any male death growler). The band behind her storm through a fairly by-the-numbers death metal blur with ripping guitar solos and solid drumming. As far as expanding the scope of death metal, well, Rachel and Sinister fail, but if you’re looking for a competent death metal band, here ya go. Hail to women in metal, but what’s the point if they just try to sound exactly like the men? -JS
SOILWORK Figure Number Five (Nuclear Blast Records, http://www.nuclearblastusa.com/) - If last year’s Natural Born Chaos was this Swedish thrash band’s breakthrough album, then this new set is their solidification in the upper echelon of the thrash metal world. Soilwork pull grooves, riffs and unforgettable choruses out a seemingly endless pool of talent. And, unlike labelmates In Flames, experimentation fits well with this band; the interspersed electronics and lockdown neo-nu grooves only make Figure Number Five a stronger, longer lasting beast. Of course, the wide girth of Bjorn “Speed” Strid’s vocal range gives Soilwork the extra push over the majority of great metal bands with no-so-great singers. Actually, weak points are pretty hard to find with this band; full sounding guitar action, rollicking bass lines and rock solid drumming. Some thrash fans might find parts of this album a little too (how shall we say?) modern, but anyone who’s willing to give this one the time of day will be hooked. –JS
VOIVOD – self-titled (Chophouse, http://www.chophouserecords.com/) - Forget all that hype about this being a return to the Quebec prog-thrash masters’ glory days of stomping heads with the likes of Dimension Hatross and Nothingface. Flat out, this is another chug-heavy rock and roll record from Voivod. Much like 1993’s The Outer Limits, their last record with original singer Snake (making his triumphant, in-your-face return here), this rather lengthy, self-titled opus plays on chunky riffs and almost-too-catchy vocal lines. Add to the mix a high profile bass player in ex-Metallica thumb-basher Jason Newsted, who finally gets his formidable low-end work in an audible mix under the pseudonym Jasonic, and mature Voivod fans should be thrilled with the results. Guitarist Piggy and drummer Away just won’t release their grasp on tech-prog and sci-fi weirdness, and dog bless ‘em for it, but the trickery doesn’t get in the way of a deep, pulsing groove. Diehards who are endlessly awaiting another Killing Technology will be disappointed in the arena rock vibe here, but it’s time to step out of the past and embrace this modernized metal album. –JS
WEHRWOLFE – Godless We Stand (Magick Records, wehrwolfe.com) – Ah, you just have to love metal. The silly band names, hilarious song titles (“MIA2 Battalion of Hate,” “Stainless Steel Lycanthropy” and “Masked Jackal” are the highlights here) and that need for speed and pain that always seems to mask a self-mocking tone. On first listen, this sounds like face value extreme metal, combining death, thrash and black metal into an unholy trinity of chaotic noise and destruction. Taking into account the humor laced deep within Godless We Stand (some of these lyrics could rival MANOWAR for warrior machismo), this becomes a way more fun, sometimes guffaw-inducing listen. Maybe these guys take themselves more seriously than that (judging by the band photos, probably yes), but it gave me a few laughs, and the tunes ripped ass, so cheers to them! -JS
Okay, as promised in the Nuclear Assault review, here’s my top 25 metal albums for you. It should give you some background on the metal albums that have stuck with me through the years. Notice there’s not a lot of new titles on this list, further proving my theory that metal is mostly about the memories.
Top 25 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time
1. Black Sabbath - Paranoid
2. Slayer - Reign in Blood
3. Metallica - Master of Puppets
4. Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
5. Slayer - Seasons in the Abyss
6. Metallica – Ride the Lightning
7. Neurosis - Souls at Zero
8. The Accused - Grinning Like an Undertaker
9. Megadeth - Rust in Peace
10. Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium
11. Voivod - Dimension Hatross
12. Kreator - Extreme Aggression
13. Helmet - Meantime
14. Anthrax - Among the Living
15. Death Angel - The Ultra-Violence
16. Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine
17. Slayer – South of Heaven
18. Carcass - Heartwork
19. Sacrifice - Soldiers of Misfortune
20. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles - Dealing with It
21. Sepultura - Arise
22. Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
23. Black Sabbath - Mob Rules
24. AC/DC - Back in Black
25. Iron Maiden - Powerslave
METAL UP YOUR BUM
by Jason Schreurs
I can thank my friend Greg for showing me that my love for heavy metal didn’t have to be a dirty little secret hidden away in the dungeon. Greg taught me that by recognizing the silly, fun and sometimes ignorant aspects of metal, listening to it could be a guilt-free pleasure (and, heck, sometimes even a learning experience). During my whole inception into the punk/hardcore world I was constantly being told metal was the arch-nemesis of punk. I argued that metal and punk were brothers in arms; both employing a sound that scared parents, took potshots at the establishment and sounded fucking excellent when cranked to maximum volumes. Sure, a lot of metal was sexist, pro-war, homophobic and just generally uneducated, as my punk friends were always quick to point out. Still, I found a lot of similarities between not only punk and metal bands, but their fans. A lot of overlap could be found between punk and metal (isn’t that how crossover, hardcore and metalcore came to be?) and the two scenes always shared a certain kinship. As for the “isms” in metal, as long as we recognize them as such and don’t support those bands over the intelligent ones (of which they were and are still many), it wouldn’t hurt us to listen to a little W.A.S.P. now and then. Funny story: I actually interviewed Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P. on live radio a couple years back and he turned out to be a very intelligent dude (other than the war-mongering bullshit his last album spouted). See, it’s all about being an informed listener, and that’s what Greg taught me. Look for the good things in life; if listening to Guns ‘N’ Roses makes you feel good, who cares if Axl makes a few donkey remarks and questionable decisions? It’s all about context. Besides, metal is pretty damn funny when you think about it. All that hairspray, attitude and posturing; it’s gotta be the most entertaining form of music around. Thanks Greg.
Without further ado, here are some of the heavy metal releases that have crossed my desk since the last issue.
Andrew W.K. The Wolf (Island – http://www.islandrecords.com/) Sometimes it’s just nice to throw on a CD and forget about the trials and tribulations of life. There’s something to be said about a little stupid music now and again. Enter posi-rocker Andrew W.K. and his sophomore blast The Wolf, featuring choice cuts like “Long Live the Party,” “Totally Stupid” and “I Love Music.” Like a metalized Toni Basil, Andrew proceeds to bushwack through 12 more ‘80s inspired party rockers; rolling with the momentum of that John Hughes-brand of unity that made his debut record such a hit (I’m sure everyone in The Breakfast Club could find some common ground in these songs). Anyone who has seen Andrew and his band play live knows this guy exudes more positive vibes than any other rocker, and that sense of fun and energy sweats from the speakers here. Yes, it’s rudimentary. Yes, it’s just plain rude. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and at the end of the day, sometimes that’s all that matters.
EIDOLON Apostles of Defiance (Skyscraper Music – 53512-1135 Decarie Blvd., Montreal PQ H4L 5J9 Canada) Missing that old style Bay Area thrash like Testament, Exodus and Forbidden? Okay, none of us actually miss Forbidden, but those into late ‘80s thrash will go fucking apeshit over Toronto’s Eidolon. Apostles shows the long-running Canuck band perfecting their thrash with a crystal clear production and some amazing chops. It’s like the glory days of Testament, just with killer sound quality. Oh, and why, by the way, did so many of those classic thrash albums sound like utter crap? Has sound recording technology really progressed that much in 15 years? Was Alex Perialas partly to blame? Anyway, it’s nice to be out of the dark ages and actually able to hear the bass and drums on this kind of melodic thrash metal. One storming attack after another (and a bonus video of “Coma Nation”), this album should put Eidolon up there among the best bands doing the retro thrash thing.
Khanate Things Viral (Southern Lord Recordings - PO Box 291967, Los Angeles CA 90029 – http://www.southernlord.com/) Anytime a CD runs 59 minutes long and only has four songs on it, you know it’s time for some aural torture. Khanate (pronounced Con-Eight) pick up where their equally depressing debut left off on Things Viral, an unadulterated endurance test of doom and gloom. This really has to be heard to be believed, but essentially what we have here are four very strange dudes testing our patience with a single note of doom every 10 seconds whilst an evil gnome whispers, whimpers, shrieks and heckles at us. The pure resilience of the three players and their utmost control as they constantly hold back mindblowing deathgasm is duly impressive, but the true star here is “singer” Alan Dubin whose full-on pigmy scream (when we finally get to hear it) is matched only by The Accused’s legendary Blaine Cook. Getting to full climax is the battle though, and what a total mindfuck the ride is! Doom/gloom fans need look no further than this insane epic of noise from the freaks who collectively brought you such similarly strange bands as OLD, Scorn, Phantomsmasher, and Blind Idiot God. What’s wrong with these people, anyway?
KING DIAMOND The Puppet Master (Metal Blade Records, 2828 Cochran St., PMB 302, Simi Valley CA 93065-9385, http://www.metalblade.com/) The man who started the whole face paint metal trend is back with another complicated, eerie concept album. This time the story centers around a gruesome tale of a puppet show gone terribly wrong in 18th century Budapest (I mean, really, where does the King come up with this shit?). As is the case with most Diamond albums, the tale is more interesting than the tunes, although the band seems more amped-up than they have been on the last couple studio albums. King’s vocals are still in top form, with those high-pitched, glass breaking wails that transform into the more standard metal growl. When it comes to range, this guy is among the best. By about song six, the epic of “The Ritual,” things start to take on a humdrum tone, but then the best song on the album, “Blood To Walk” kicks in and everything is alright in the world again. Horror buffs and fans of humorously dramatic metal will be stoked on The Puppet Master, but if you’re not into songs about marionettes, stay the hell away!
PANTERA The Best Of: Far Beyond the Great Southern Cowboys’ Vulgar Hits (Elektra/Rhino) Now that the band is in a swirl of break-up rumors, it’s time for their label to initiate the Pantera cash grab. So comes forth their new greatest hits album/bonus DVD with the horrible title. I mean, check out that long, awkward thing, because there’s no way in hell that anyone in this band would ever green light that shit. Okay, maybe Rex. Bad names and cash register games aside, it’s nice to have all of the Pantera classics on one disc and without all the incessant banter that made their live album such a write-off. Phil Anselmo is a great metal singer but he’s also a loose cannon mouthpiece who can easily ruin a live set. So, ya, we get studio skullduggery like “Cowboys from Hell,” “Mouth for War,” “This Love” (the best thrash metal ballad ever?), “5 Minutes Alone,” “Drag the Waters” and “Revolution Is My Name,” plus a rarer ditty from the Detroit Rock City soundtrack in the form of Nugents’s “Cat Scratch Fever” (what, but not their killer, sneakily non-credited version of Poison Idea’s “The Badge” from The Crow?). Pretty much the two or three best songs from each studio album are on here, although we only get one track from …Trendkill, but is that really much of a surprise? The bonus DVD highlights the many Pantera videos that have spewed forth onto the banger viewing audience over the years, 100 percent of which feature more scenes of the band members grimacing than any kind of pseudo-storyline. Cool enough, as these guys are always a traveling freak show to look at, what with Anselmo’s gradual metamorphosis into the Swamp Thing and Dimebag’s rainbow of goatee dye jobs. Don’t even get me started on the drummer and those silly shaved slits on his beard (shudder). All in all, a greatest hits Pantera set is welcome in this home, but they went and left off my personal fave (“Shedding Skin”) and, as far as I’m concerned, the most complete Pantera song ever. Stick that on here and take off their post-glam era cheese like “Cemetery Gates” and I am one happy cowboy banger.
PREMONITIONS OF WAR Left in Kowloon (Victory Records - 346 N. Justice St. Suite 504, Chicago IL 60607, http://www.victoryrecords.com/) Doing fireside war dances around their previous EP on Goodfellow Records, the debut CD from Toledo’s Premonitions of War is on the scene and ready to break spines. Yes, I predicted their full length may damage some important vertebrae and here we are, heads thrashing and some severe cases of whiplash forthcoming. Another winner release from the much-diversified Victory Records (good riddance to tough guy hardcore), Left in Kowloon sounds like the release that slipped through the fingers of heavy label giants Relapse and Hydra Head. Premonitions of War somehow manage to combine grind, metalcore and a southern fried Soilent Green sort of swagger without making it sound too derivative or copycat. Originality is deeply ingrained in their sound despite having aspects that bring to mind other bands, and it’s nice to see bands using their influences as a launching pad instead of a landing pad. Check out the ramming riff that dominates the second half of “Black Den” (and the unreal drum work) and it’s quite obvious this band is ready to dominate the heavy music scene.
PROBOT self-titled (Southern Lord Records - PO Box 291967, Los Angeles, CA 90029, http://www.southernlord.com/) Here we go! The long-awaited Dave Grohl metal album is here and it rages. On the first couple listens, this sounded too much like a novelty act (Grohl playing all instruments with guest vocals from metal’s elite), but now that I’ve spent some time with this album, it may just stay with me as one of my all-time fave metal slabs. “Whoah, slow down brother banger,” you say, but, shit man, this is the real deal. Grohl’s been a closet metaller for ages (as anyone who’s seen the Foo Fighters live can attest) and it’s refreshing to hear him completely immerse himself in his roots, with some of his heroes in tow. Want a who’s who? Well, we’ve got Cronos (Venom), Max Cavalera (Sepultura), Lemmy (Motorhead), Mike Dean (COC), Kurt Brecht (DRI), Lee Dorrian (Cathedral), Wino (king stoner rock), Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost), Snake (Voivod), Eric Wagner (Trouble) and, last but not least, King Diamond. Sorry to dump that all on you, but it’s a pretty stellar line-up and Grohl is in fine form with chunky metal riffs, sea monster squid drumming (you know, octopus arms, but really fucking big ones), and a uncanny ability to create songs that match perfectly with the chosen vocalist (i.e. – the Lemmy song sounds like Motorhead to a tee, the Snake song is all proggy and tech like Voivod, the Max Cavelera song could have been straight off Roots, etc.). Supposedly the songs were not written with certain vocalists in mind, but I find that hard to believe considering the final results. Maybe Grohl’s subconscious got the better of him because all you have to do is listen to crossover classic like “Silent Spring” with DRI’s Kurt Brecht singing and it’s obvious it was meant for him since the get-go (it’s also one of the CD’s best songs). All 11 tracks are primo, with just enough infusion of Grohl’s gift for melody, and there’s also a continuity to this beast that you wouldn’t expect with the amount of guests and styles of metal represented. Well worth the wait and exceeding all expectations, I’ll be wearing out more than one copy of this Probot disc before all is said and done.
PYREXIA Cruelty Beyond Submission (http://www.pyrexia.us/) The orgy in Hell cover art matches the insane death grind of Pyrexia perfectly. Carnage, chaos, lust, sodomy, mutilation and much more… It’s too comical to be offensive; this complete load-blowing psychosis of gang bang yells, flying-off-the-handle guitar solos and thick-neck rhythm snap. About two or three songs in, we get the idea; hammer, repeat, hammer, repeat, but not before they thrown in some pretty killer Reign in Blood era guitar riffing and early ‘90s death metal grooves. Again, the cover art is way over the top (I had to hide this one away from the kiddies) and the lyrics are questionable at best, but when taken in stride this is some pretty impressive, heavy shit. I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys have a cult-like following in the New York area.
RUE self-titled (Shifty Records - PO Box 13056, Akron OH 44334, http://www.shiftyrecords.com/) Next in a long line of monosyllabic, three-letter name bands playing oppressively heavy stoner rock is Rue. Where do all of these bands come from, and how come their names always sound like caveman grunts? Well, what we do know is Rue features ex-members of such forgotten heavies as Hate Theory, Pillow Humpers (huh?) and the still active Fistula. Jeff Fahl belches out the same tough guy howls as he did in Hate Theory, although there’s a certain mellowness added to his usual one-note attack. Then again, this new band does require he smoke bales upon bales of reefer, so that might account for the newfound attempts at singing. Actually, the tunes end up sounding more like Unsane than one of those fuzz-drenched Sabbath bands; Rue try really hard to get that stoner sound throughout but always end up in noise rock territory. It’s an odd combination of sounds that somehow works, but doesn’t exactly blow minds.
SWARM OF THE LOTUS When White Becomes Black (At a Loss Recordings - PO Box 582, Eastlake CO 80614-0582, http://www.atalossrecordings.com/) It’s been quite sometime since I heard a record this ugly, this punishing, maybe even since Neurosis’ 1992 opus Souls at Zero. If you know me at all, you know that’s about the highest praise I could give. The trick here is Swarm of the Lotus take the Neurosis and Isis sound and stick it into overdrive (somewhat similar to what Mastodon has done), adding hectic, speed-jerk riffery to their repertoire of mammoth sludge riffs. And, unlike a lot of bands trying to cop this noisey sound, SotL know how to write a complete album with peaks and valleys (not to mention bottomless pits) that make it an essential start-to-finish listen. There’s no playing just a couple of songs or picking a choice track on this album, once the disc starts spinning you’re in for the 51-minute long haul. Rewards will be reaped, oh yes, in a headache-inducing adrenalin bash that is surprisingly listenable considering what a racket it is. Fans of Neurosis will be all over this; as will anyone with affections towards the extreme.
VADER Blood/Reign Forever World (Metal Blade) From the barren land of Poland comes death metal masters Vader. The scary dudes carry on the fine tradition of bands like Obituary, Death and Pestilence as one of the last remaining bands with integrity doing the straight death metal thing. The true test of this sound in 2004 is can a band create death metal just as urgent as it was back in the early ‘90s when it gave your parents shitfits whenever they heard such noise blasting from your room. Open the windows and crank up Vader and I assure you the neighbors will be calling the cops before the end of the first song. Blood/Reign in Forever is a collection of two studio sessions, one recorded before and one recorded after their essential 2002 CD Revelations. It’s furious, lightning speed death metal with Cookie Monster vocals that (for once) don’t sound tired after two songs, jaw-droppingly fast guitar riffery, and that awesome “stomping through the graveyard at night” bass and drum sound. When it comes to death metal, Vader are the kings.
YOB Catharsis (Abstract - PO Box 707, Plymouth Meeting PA 19462, http://www.abstract.com/) Holy shite, what a test this one is. A Catharsis it most definitely is; three songs span over almost 50 minutes of drawn out and surprisingly rocking sludge/stoner metal. The incessantly repetitive riff of lead-off epic “Aeons” is a 17-minute-plus endurance contest (with notable pay-off), only topped in excess by closer “Catharsis,” a 23-minuter that takes about five just to get going and then hammers us silly with another gargantuan riff that would make the likes of Sleep and Neurosis proud (although the banshee vocals may not). Sandwiched in the middle of this Armageddon purgatory is an 8-minute breeze called “Ether” that, by comparison, is a quick little sludge metal ditty that just kind of had me shaking my head. Like what’s the point of a normal song when the band can just bludgeon their stringy-haired noggins against the nearest hard, vertical surface for 40-odd minutes. Everyone associated with this band is going to be staring at boxes of Yob CDs under their beds for an eternity.
ZAO Legendary (Solid State Records - PO Box 12698, Seattle, WA 98111, http://www.solidstaterecords.com/) If this was any other band calling their best-of record Legendary, it would come across as pure ego. With the Christian metal beast known as Zao, however, it merely garners a knowing nod of approval. This band has been sitting in the clouds now for a number of years, looking down on all of the other hardcore/metal bands on the Solid State and setting the levels of complication, heaviness and pure impact. Unlike most bands doing this sound, all of the genre elements work; the change-ups stick, the fury is memorable, the vocals endlessly grate (but in a good way), and the melodic breakdowns come across organic rather than forced. I’ve never been able to figure out if these guys were preachy or not (the singer sounds like a possessed troll and you can rarely make out a word), but the music is just so damn good, it’s hard to care. A couple of the included cuts from earlier albums don’t measure up to newer material (like the amazing Parade of Chaos CD from 2002), but any misfortunes of the past are more than amended by the inclusion of three new, unreleased demos. There’s some doubt whether they will continue as a band, but this CD is proof Zao is what legends are made of.
Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal by Ian Christe (HarperEntertainment - www.harpercollins.com) Heavy metal nerds will give holiday hails to Ian Christe and his new book, “Sound of the Beast.” This 400-page look at a tragically misunderstood form of music proves that metalheads are not just brainless bangers. Christe starts at metal’s inception, some 30 years ago, in the dark, damp streets of Birmingham, with the birth of Black Sabbath. He then painstakingly details the evolution of metal. What makes it more than a history lesson is Christe’s analysis throughout. Those things blindly attached to metal -- perversity, violence, satanism, drugs -- are tackled by Christe with a clear composure that blows all anti-metal arguments out of the stratosphere. Even the church-burning Norwegian black metal scene is traced back to the shattered roots of disturbed individuals, instead of simply labeling the whole genre as violent. All of the big names are interviewed (Ozzy, Halford, Dickinson, Ulrich, Mustaine, etc.) and some rare live photos are visual compliment to Christe’s beneath-the-surface reflections. The book also includes helpful chapter summaries and trivia-style lists, something banger nerds are known to obsess over. When it comes to books about metal, “Sound of the Beast” is the perfect book to dive into over the holidays and will have headbangers exclaiming, “Yes, someone finally gets it!”
TALES FROM THE PIT #5 VHS (Metallian Productions - 1926 Contra Costa Blvd. Suite 158, Pleasant Hill CA 94523, http://www.talesfromthepit.com/)
Eighties thrash heads will be popping out of their seats when they see the line-up on this latest metal video magazine, released by husband and wife banger team Jerry and Ingrid Allen. Hosted by Death Angel’s Mark Osegueda and Vio-lence’s Sean Killian (more on him later), this latest installment of metal mayhem, for the fans and by the fans, features such lead-weight luminaries as Iron Maiden, Dio, SOD, Halford, Destruction, Kreator, Nuclear Assault, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, In Flames, Motorhead, and The Haunted. Oh ya… and there’s more! Much, much more, actually. Other highlights include a tribute to original Exodus singer Paul Baloff, a truly one-of-a-kind and sadly missed metal spirit; as well as bits on horror maven Tom Savini; some S&M website dudette; and the hosts of “Brawlin’ Broads,” a new video series that has trailer park gals beating the shit out of each other for no other apparent reason than to be on camera half-naked and kicking ass. The cool thing about this video is the producers’ impressive grasp of all things metal (the culture as well as the music), and their tendency to ask bands the hard questions and dive headlong into controversy instead of just pandering to their heavy metal icon fantasies. We get the sense that, for once, metal fans are equal to the band members, and many of the previously unattainable metal stars come across as being candid and surprisingly down to earth. A few, like co-host Killian, just come across as stupid, spouting their needlessly mainstream right-wing views in awkward moments of ego-driven machismo. I pretty much never want to hear Vio-lence again after having to put up with Killian’s “shut up and play” intros to massively superior bands like Kreator and Destruction, whose common sense grasp of right and wrong will never bow to warmongering bullshit like “Fuck Peace” (coming soon on the new Vio-lence album). But, enough of that, this video is a ripper and will have metal nuts simultaneously hunting down old issues and anticipating the next installment.
Last issue I gave you my favorite metal albums of all time, this issue I’m divulging my 25 all-time favorite metal songs. Consider this essential heavy metal listening and the best mixed metal CDR you could ever dream of burning. Crank it up!
TOP 25 METAL SONGS OF ALL TIME
1. Black Sabbath - "War Pigs" (from: Paranoid)
2. Slayer - "Angel of Death" (from: Reign in Blood)
3. Metallica - "Damage Inc." (from: Master of Puppets)
4. Black Sabbath - "Black Sabbath" (from: Black Sabbath)
5. Celtic Frost - "Circle of the Tyrants" (from: To Mega Therion)
6. Slayer - "South of Heaven" (from: South of Heaven)7. Megadeth - "Hangar 18" (from: Rust in Peace)
8. Voivod - "Tribal Convictions" (from: Dimension Hatross)
9. Neurosis - "To Crawl Under One's Skin" (from: Souls at Zero)
10. Judas Priest - "You've Got Another Thing Coming" (from: Screaming for Vengeance)
11. Saxon - "Denim and Leather" (from: Denim and Leather)
12. Nuclear Assault - "Brainwashed" (from: Survive)
13. Megadeth - "Peace Sells…" (from: Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?)
14. Carcass - "Heartwork" (from: Heartwork)
15. Annihilator - "Alison Hell" (from: Alice in Hell)
16. The Accused - "Bullet Ridden Bodies" (from: Grinning Like an Undertaker)
17. Razor - "Evil Invaders" (from: Evil Invaders)
18. Sacrifice - "Soldiers of Misfortune" (from: Soldiers of Misfortune)
19. Black Sabbath - "Paranoid" (from: Paranoid)
20. Black Sabbath - "The Sign of the Southern Cross" (from: The Mob Rules)
21. Metallica - "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (from: Ride the Lightning)
22. Dio - "Rainbow in the Dark" (from: Holy Diver)
23. Kreator - "One of Us" (from: Terrible Certainty)
24. Helmet – “In the Meantime” (from: Meantime)
25. Suicidal Tendencies - "You Can’t Bring Me Down” (from: Lights… Camera… Revolution)