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

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fondest Van Halen memories

This one's for OnMyWatch by way of thanks for her extensive participation here at PVOF...

It seems to me that if you're a purist, Van Halen is more of a feelgood party time band than Motley Crue. I guess that depends on your affinity for debauchery and hedonism, but I feel more good times by spinning 1984, Van Halen II and Diver Down and even the darker Women and Children First than I do Dr. Feelgood. I suppose I'll never let the Crue off the hook for Girls Girls Girls, so let me make this entry brief and let you readers chime in (yes, I'm cheating today because I'm tired from the Powerman 5000 and Isis shows this week along with a brutal work week). So here's some dumb fun Van Halen memories of mine:

1. First and foremost, it would have to be the time I switched tapes in my Spanish class when I pranked my good-natured teacher by slipping in 5150 in place of her lesson tape. The screech of Hagar's "Hellooooo baaaaby!" was priceless and a crowning moment of high school tomfoolery, and the teacher laughed and simply handed me my tape back, knowing without a doubt who the guilty party was.

2. The first time I saw the "Hot For Teacher" video was in 1984 at my neighbor's house. He'd called me up and said he'd taped Friday Night Videos (anyone remember that?) on NBC and we horny little bastards watched that video like seven times in a row, laughing at Waldo and trying to smother our boners from those bouncing "teachers!"

3. Even thuogh Diver Down is Van Halen's weakest album, I used to lounge with my head upside down during "Cathedral" and just soak that stuff up. I'd sometimes pick the needle back up (anecdote for you vinyl heads) and have a second go. It was kind of a legal high, tripping on those notes with a blood rush to the head!

4. Somewhere in the world some poor bastard has my tape copy of Fair Warning and has to hear me whisper "Hell yeah!" at the end of "Sinners Swing." I had exlpored my curiosity of being able to tape over a factory recorded copy by taping over those holes. I found out the hard way it's true. I was never more thankful to replace an album onto CD than Fair Warning, but I snicker over the chump who had to listen to my 16 year old voice on there!

5. The David Lee Roth vs. Van Hagar was the fans who won out on that one, and I remember the extensive debating over who's better. We true rock fans took Eat 'em and Smile over 5150. It was a way of separating the posers from the rockers. For even more style points, you had to effectively argue why Steve Vai was a better guitarist than Eddie Van Halen. Time may change that outlook depending on who you are, but what glorious times those were!

6. Having someone draw the "VH" logo on my book and have the rest of the letters of my name cleverly written beneath the stripes... Van Horn...Van Halen...huh? huh? huh?

So anyway, let's have 'em, people....what are your fondest Van Halen memories? Watch, I'm depending on you, sister...

Sunday, September 24, 2006


So now that the cats have tap-danced on my head to stir me awake as they always do, and I've shagged the sleep off by reading other blogs, I'm sitting here on a Sunday morning perturbed to a certain degree that I'd factored in a possible interview with death metal extremists Belphegor as I'd received a surprise email indicating I'd been assigned the article from a magazine I'd sent proposals to who at first told me they liked my writing and qualifications, then mysteriously backed out on me. I'd thought it weird becaues no editor--regardless it they're supreme or Bush league--would ever just blindly tag an assignment on a writer without initial contact.

Fortunately for me, I put out responses noting I was going to be running around most of the weekend but would try and squeeze an early Sunday morning interview with Belphegor if it was my gig. Turns out that as of this morning, I finally got an email from the editor who said it was all a mistake.

Now fortunately for me at this point in my writing career I've already suffered the customary chain of rejection letters and there are still a couple of magazines today that I've pitched and pitched and pitched but haven't been able to put something snugly into the catcher's mitt, so my ego can handle something rudimentary like this. After all, I have a column to wrap up on and I have 3 assignments already interviewed to turn in for one magazine, one for another, and I turned in two the other day. Plus this week I am meeting with the editor of the entertainment section of our city's biggest newspaper for some freelance work, so I'll let you faithful readers know how that pans out! Then I have the Powerman 5000 gig to cover on Tuesday and Isis on Wednesday. Plus, there's a small backlog of interview requests I haven't said yes or no to. And those CD promos just grow and grow, despite my best efforts to belt them out.

The point of the matter is, I'm starting to learn that everything I do outside of my day job is so wonderful and meaningful and it defines who I am as a person, much less a writer, but I can't let it consume my entire being. I could quit now and realize I've interviewed the majority of my heroes and have enjoyed the unique perspective of covering a scene as it unraveled to its blossoming stages. I've enjoyed privileges not so many people--writers especially--get to enjoy. I have had more free music put into my hands than I ever imagined was possible, which my wife is grateful for, trust me on that! I never, ever thought I'd be able to say I was on anyone's guest list, much less appeared at the top so many times as I have! Not to sound like a pompous ass, but it's just so surreal to me. I used to sneer and snub the journalists of the eighties when they'd cut around the line with their credentials, and it's something I make a big note of today, to wait my turn in line with everyone else, and I'm glad to see clubs enforcing that as a rule. We're no bigger or better than the average fan who has likely broken budget to be at the show.

When something like this incident happens, yeah, I'm insulted a little bit, yeah, I'm kinda miffed that I had to devote a little attention to it...last night I was spinning the new Belphegor album at 2:30 a.m. in case the word came that I needed to be prepped this morning. This is what I do, this is my life. After my wife nods off, frequently my other life tends to begin. In the past, I've been assigned last-minute weekend reviews and even concerts, but I realized that this weekend I was not going to surrender and stress out over it.

We were originally going to our local Renaissance Festival, but my wife had a hard time sleeping, so I let her doze and I watched Saturday morning cartoons for the first time since last year, and when I got this correspondence, I instead decided to plow ahead with our day and not bend ass-backwards over something that "might" be. I love my contact there at Nuclear Blast as I do all of my record label contacts, but I just had the sneaky feeling something wasn't kosher. Why add to my chest pains from my day job over something that was a slim chance anyway?

Instead, my wife rebounded and we spent a very nice day we seldom get together anymore. We went to the library of all things...well, she's a teacher, so goes all the time, and I love libraries, but I'm so damned self-absorbed in my own world, and this is the point I'm trying to get to with today's post, that I'm as much a hurry-up, run 'round the clock, sacrifice sleep and everything else in life kind of person I am to meet my objectives, I don't stop and smell the roses like I profess as a prescription to life to other people.

I checked out some CDs of music I don't normally get to hear, just to give my ears a break from the screaming, the power chords and the blast beats that really do need intermission a lot more lately now that redundancy has taken hold in this scene, and I checked out High Fidelity on DVD after reading a nice post on it on Metal Mark's blog and then my wife and I had lunch at our favorite haunt in town. I think the locals are starting to get to know us finally; the teenagers seem to know me without speaking to me because I'm friends with a couple of young dudes and I think nothing of our ages. The quality of humans is gauged in other measures. I wish I'd had more cool people in their thirties to bullshit with when I was teenager. Somehow I feel like the teenage network in town knows who I am and what I do; so much that a group of teens gave me a honk and a wave when they saw my truck. Of course, I'm probably known as that obnoxious asshole that blares satanic music all around town, and I know our postal carrier is due a huge gratuity for all of the promo he faithfully delivers every day!

But anyway, we'd decided to see The Black Dahlia and our show time was coming up quickly. I'd suggested we do lunch on the fly instead of going to our favorite place, but my wife commented that we could go to the next show afterwards, enjoy a nice, quiet lunch and putz our way to the theater instead of breaking our necks and a few speed laws to get there. I saw her point and while I was internally anxious to get to the movies, I think we made the right choice.

We took a long drive into the mountainous region of Pennsylvania, going nowhere really, just admiring the scenery, the small towns I sometimes get envious of for their laid-back refusal to progress, and eventually we ended up in a region we knew and then we spotted a large park that we drove through and realized it had a wonderful camping set up, so we agreed to go camping within the next few weeks, and then we finally made it down to the movies. Of course, I got a little antsy when we got caught in a town festival in the middle of Gettysburg, but all was well and the movie was creepy good and afterwards we stopped at the outlets and for the first time in ages, I took my time in the book outlet and enjoyed the feel of the books, the look of the books, relishing what it used to feel like to pick up a book and wish I was a writer too. In my life, I'm so consumed with what I do, I've forgotten to take the time to read. Of course, I do have a home library with more unread books that I'll eventually get to before I die, but it didn't stop me from buying a discounted book on the future of peace and another on a writer's confessions as a metal fan.

I told my wife I appreciated all of the non-hectic simplicitiy of our day and then we came home, snuggled and watched High Fidelity. It was afterwards when she nodded off that I gave any concern to this interview. Normally I would've panicked that I hadn't heard from the editor or the label and feeling it was my duty to be prepared just in case that call came through, but I decided to attack it at my own pace and though I was still up late and the cats drug my sleepy butt out of bed earlier than I would've liked, it's all good. This is our life, and I'm thinking I might want to mow the lawn before the rain hits and I'm hoping my Steelers are going to beat those wise-mouthed Bengals (who obviously forgot the humility of being cellar dwellers for years), but after last Monday night, who's to say?

I'll put a tape in for the game and enjoy the company of my family, who we're having dinner with, and if the Steelers win, I'll watch the tape. If they don't, then I have more than enough CDs to get off of my desk! I can't say I'll always be this calm and collected, but it's a state of mind to strive for....

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Music that turns that frown upside down

More so than not during the weekdays lately I'm in a funky or downright foul mood. This is when I'm on the job getting my head knocked in and being hocked to death by demanding brokers who don't understand at all they're not the only client I'm responsible for, that no matter how I double my efforts to appease them, it's frequently difficult. Add to a lack of support (except from a few good people) and some suspicious behind-the-scenes treachery and I can honestly say I only smile once I'm home or at least on the road home with music that satisfies my burning soul. I know where I'm destined for in this life and year by year I've battled to reach the goal and each year the prize gets a hair closer, but I'm impatient. I get depressed often and it's exacerbated by everyday life matters that makes me no different or unique from anyone else just trying to get by on terra firma.

Music has always been my salvation, from when a 7-Up transistor radio soothed me when I was a baby to a bunch of 50's 45s and Kiss albums were my sanctuary as a child of the seventies. My mother and I frequently went for drives whenever she was stressed out or just in the mood to drive and get me some fresh air or to escape the wars fought against my dad. Seventies pop nirvana tickles my ear all the time when I reminisce about Carly Simon or Carole King or even (gads) Shaun Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers. It's a wonder I became a metalhead, but my saving grace as a music aficianado has been my willingness to embrace all sorts of music. It is the reason that when I need sanctuary from my troubles or pain, I have a variety of music to beat them down with.

When we lost my uncle a short while ago, the new Isis record In the Absence of Truth became my rock. Currently Mastodon's Blood Mountain and Celtic Frost's Monotheist have been soundboards for my aggression when I need them just to deal with 8, 9 or occasionally 10 hour days at the office. Sometimes I hear from people at the job they can't understand why I love something that would make them want to go out and kill somebody. They don't understand. I think most of you reading my blog who dig heavy music will agree that we love this stuff because the anger of the music expresses how we're feeling inside ourselves and it's a healthy release, so much that the more evil it sounds, it has a contrasting cleansing and cathartic effect. If I put on Enslaved or Grave or Satyricon or Emperor, it doesn't mean I want to disembowel you and make a pentagram with your intestines! It just means that the darkness of these groups is what I need to feel a little better about myself and my daily activities that normally cause despair.

On the other hand, I do crave music that casts "light" into my mind and body, so much that it could be anything from Orff's Carmina Burana to the Butthole Surfers' Independent Worm Saloon that's going to do the trick. Frequently The Beatles have been able to make me happy with "Taxman," "Paperback Writer," "Nowhere Man" and "A Little Help From My Friends." Hell, the entire Sgt. Peppers album just soothes me as does Dark Side of the Moon or the American Beauty soundtrack or even The Cure's Head On the Door or Japanese Whispers.

To this day, AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie" remains my favorite song of all-time for its dirty riffage and testicular fortitude that to hear it makes me stop in my tracks and want to scream that beyotch with Bon Scott word-for-word, same as with "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock 'n Roll." The Ramones became my favorite band in college because they saved my soul when I felt utterly worthless as a human being, constantly questioning my reason for existence and doubting I had much of a future in anything. The first time I heard Rocket to Russia and then the first Ramones album, that was it for me. I became a three-chord junkie and almost forgot how the Bad Brains' Rock For Light and I Against I gave my life meaning and purpose when I was still a teenager. To this day, I'm so very sad Joey Ramone died because his voice made me happy and while I'm disheartened that DD died an ignoble death and Johnny and Joey feuded to the bitter end and I learned that Johnny was a conservative Republican who thanked the devil in office in one of his final speeches, I love them all for making me happy when I could've danced the razor's edge instead. All of this wonderful music I could've missed out on!

Even crazier I suppose is the dawning realization about two years ago when I was driving 4.5 hours away to Norfolk, Virginia to cover Ill Nino and realized as it played that Chicago III was my all-time favorite album. I kept thinking that many of the songs are indicative of who I am as individual, be it the funky, loud and proud roar of "Free" to the breezy jazz sway of "Loneliness is Just a Word" to the heartbreaking shout for order in a chaotic world on "Mother" to the simplist form of daily self-loathing in a humdrum work existence with the "Off to Work" sequence to the sheer wonderfulness of their jam-based "Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home" and the lovable "da da da da" vocal melodies that make me want to weep with all comes because I affix it to the early seventies with my mom playing it on the turntable and I think of pineapple juice, Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots and Fat Albert. This album is beyond therapy; I kept thinking "When I die, screw that somber funereal garbage, I want Chicago III played at my viewing and then they'll finally understand who I was." This is about as powerful an emotion as I can describe how I relate to music.

So anyway, my purpose for this entry here is to maybe invite you all to share in music that makes you happy when you need it the most. What do you "need" music-wise to get you through tough times? I only touched on a handful of stuff here; I didn't mention how System of a Down has repeatedly made me feel proud to be a human being with each album they've released, and I didn't talk about my belovedness for Mozart and John Williams as two of the greatest orchestral composers that their melodies have kept time in my heart... I've failed to bring up how Candlebox's Happy Pills, the album no one knows about speaks to me on a basic empathy level so much that I want to cry along with the lyric "10,000 horses dragging me down..." At the same time, it makes me feel alive, dammit, as does James Brown and Prince, The Buzzcocks and The Jam, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Smiths, Iron Maiden and Twisted Sister, Chuck Berry to Larry Williams, Reverend Horton Heat to The Necromantix, Public Enemy to Jurassic 5, Mars Volta and The Fall of Troy. Music is the great savior, I tell you... wouldn't you agree?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Concert memories Part 2

I was really pleased with some of the comments to the last one, so it triggered many more to mind, so if I can indulge myself and yourselves and perhaps be a little more descriptive this time...

- Ramones - either '93 or '94, right when CJ joined and Mondo Bizarro came out. My wife, then girlfriend surprised me with these tickets since The Ramones are my favorite band overall. Ironic then that I nearly got into three fights at this show because she wanted to stand close to the pit and I warned her what would happen...I recall the fog machine, the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly playing and how mesmerized I was at Joey's height (I still miss you, man) and after the first "One, two, three, four!" my wife got socked in the breast and started crumpling to the floor. Once I got her up, I kneed the culprit in the balls in total anger, then I literally picked her up and got her to safety, only to have her and myself get bashed by another guy who I shoved really hard and it was his friend that stopped us from fighting; then a biker threw beer on us and I shoved him into the bar....basically I lost my freaking mind that night and on such a special occasion to me musically....I rightfully should've had my ass kicked but we ended up on the side of the stage next to CJ and slipped out the fire exit once it was over...

- Kiss - Crazy Nights tour - my cousin Dawne knew how much I loved Kiss growing up as a kid and she once worked for Ticketmaster (then known as Ticketron) and the minute they went on sale, she had front row seats for me, which she gave me for Christmas...that's easily the nicest thing she's ever done for me...I remember making a big bed sheet with all of the makeup and non-makeup Kiss faces on it and I'd spent hours designing it...once I draped it over the rail, the bouncers made me hoist it back (definitely not like the metal videos of the eighties would show), so then I threw it onstage when Gene came over because I wanted them to have it and instead he just nonchalantly kicked it offstage! I was really heartbroken, hoping they would've stretched it out onstage, but instead I got a better thrill; Bruce Kulick saw the whole thing, strutted over, pointed down at me and threw me a pick. I was so intent on making sure no one else got that pick that someone stole my tour shirt! Memories....

- Lollapalooza '95 - I went there about a week after we got back from our honeymoon with my friends Bob and Linda and some of the things that stick out in my mind are the Mighty Mighty Bosstones refusing to play when some members in the crowd started fighting, then I recall Beck being really weird live but awesome nonetheless; Cypress Hill was such a waste because they had an amazing conga section but all their set was about pot (surprise); not that I have anything against pot, but shit, when your whole gig is about pot and when they rolled the giant bong onstage...please...then I recall Courtney Love threatening to stop when people were throwing plastic bottles onstage as they were all day; she even went so far as to ask the crowd saracstically if they wanted her to stick one up her vagina; shortly thereafter during Hole's set, I watched a poor female crowd surfer have her clothes torn--I felt dirty just by what I saw; too bad half of the crowd left after Hole, because Sonic Youth delivered one of the most astonishing performances I've ever seen

- Static X w/Endo - I was so happy to see Static on their Machine tour but it marked the end of my slamming days; slamming in your thirties is a real wake-up call; I recall waiting for the jughead nihilists to wear themselves out and then I jumped in, but so did a lot of others and it was an avalanche of people and one of the thugs in the pit headbutted a few people and tried to get me; I blocked him and cocked my fist up and it was here that I realized my days in the pit were over; that's not what it's about. My old friend yanked me out of the pit and I was more the wiser and perhaps sadder, if you take my meaning.

- Anthrax w/God Forbid/Sworn Enemy/Manntis - I went to NYC in January of this year to cover this gig, which is amazing in an of itself...going into Times Square with my gear and getting my credentials gave me that "made it" feeling; the bouncers at the Nokia Theatre are the best I've ever seen and being past the barrier with Anthrax as close as sitting in a cafeteria across from your buddies...that's just unreal...God Forbid actually stole the show, while Sworn Enemy were given a huge reception as they're from Brooklyn, while Manntis just got flat-out booed...The Apollo or The Nokia Theatre...New York's a tough crowd!

- Government Issue - this might considered my first true concert (notwithstanding Sha Na Na) and it was my first slam pit ever; instantly I fell, but someone had me on my feet immediately, such was the code...I remember all of my friends and people I knew were at this gig and I have a newspaper clipping of most of us pawing the stage in front of John Stabb...I remember a skinhead split one our friends' head open, so first, everyone yelled to the bouncer and then ganged up on the skin and threw him to the bouncer; secondly, said friend got stitches and came back to the show; I swear it's true!

- Every Time I Die w/High On Fire/The Chariot/The Red Chord - what sticks out here is how High On Fire got billed with a bunch of metalcore acts and how nobody except us few old farts were headbanging to High On Fire; the kids didn't get them and even worse, no one recognized Joe Preston of the Melvins on bass! It was so bad one kid yelled "Dude, your bass sounds like shit!" Ugh. I then got trampled pretty badly getting shots of Every Time I Die to accompany my interview with Jordan Buckley; another memory of ETID is the interview I did with his brother Keith Buckley in DC the day after the last election; Keith was not short on words! He's also one of the most intelligent lyricists I've ever interviewed; helps he was a former school teacher!

- Young Fresh Fellows - I know, who? Alt-rock band of the nineties who had an amazing set where the drummer shimmied his wrist all over God's creation and still kept the perfect tempo; I remember the guitarist had a beat up Fender that he wrote "Poop" on it; Young Fresh Fellows was technically the first band I ever met, if even for a couple of minutes.

- Testament reunion 2005 - I had just come from NJ and the Anthrax reunion and trekked to Virginia where I interviewed Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian in their hotel bar, first spotting Chuck Billy in the lobby and since I didn't exactly fit in with the swanky clientele, he spotted me right away but had that look of "don't bust me" so I nodded at him and let him go. The interview with Alex and Greg was fun, particularly since the waitress kept interrupting us and asking if the three of us were in a it....the gig at Jaxx was simply amazing; full of sound issues, but amazing

- The Cure w/The Cranes - I remember thinking The Cranes were awful then I got their CD two months later! The Cure was everything I'd hoped them to be, even in an arena; it was the Wish tour and they were experimenting with some of their familiar songs, so that was really neat stuff

- In Flames w/Devildriver/Trivium - I was supposed to interview Dez Fafara for my book since we already had done one over the phone for a magazine piece; I had a lot of issues hooking up with band and I was told where to hang and wait and I swear, the whole lot of Devildriver walked by me four times! I'm not the overly aggressive type unless I have to be, so finally I kept calling their TM and he instead gave me bassist Jon Miller, who I decided to put into my column as a shortie; dude was awesome, asked if I wanted a beer and pulled me one out of his sweatshirt pocket and I did an entirely off-the-cuff interview with a lot of people watching in; it wasn't my best moment as an interviewer, but it was cool and Jon and I talked about new CDs and he invited me to come to the van after the gig to spin some tunes; Devildriver was nuts live and In Flames was the most confident band I've seen in awhile; the police were making sure everyone the vicinity of the 9:30 Club so I never did get to spin those tunes!

-Iced Earth/Beyond the Embrace/Trivium - meeting Tim "Ripper" Owens on the bus after cocking up our phone interview totally by losing my questions was a very redeeming moment; Ripper and Jon Shaffer are class acts; this show has a lot of stories; during Trivium's set, a woman in her thirties gave Trivium the ol' tit flash, which I haven't seen a loooooong time and not many times overall; Iced Earth were phenomenal live, particularly the full 15 minutes of "Gettysburg" which was unbelievable visually and musically; after the gig, Jon Shaffer showed his class when a disabled fan was trying to get to him even though he didn't want to stray too far from the bus so as not to draw a huge crowd; the fan in the wheelchair couldnt' get to Shaffer, so he risked exposure and came out to the fan; that was stand-up; the funniest moment of the night (though not for all parties) came when one of the openers (and I won't mention who) was in the parking lot and I was talking with them but a member was missing; suddenly one of the vans is rocking back and forth and a bunch of kids with cameras were taking pictures and laughing, carrying on, etc. The whole van bang lasted five minutes, to which the member got teased viciously when he came out, but the worst part of the story is the chick he was banging was the same woman who tit-flashed during the show, and all of a sudden a guy comes running out of nowhere, spots the scene and calls her every dirty name in the book, screaming his lungs out at her and demanding a divorce...I felt terrible for the guy, but it was undeniably a rock 'n roll moment!

Man, there's a lot of shows like Warped Tour 2002, Sounds of the Underground 2006, Amy Grant (God, what was I thinking?), The Hooters, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Korn, Slipknot with Chimaira, some local radio summer fest that I only liked Vanessa Carlton for and I was mad as hell at Ben Folds for blatantly cussing like a sailor and trying to win over the massive amount of 13 year olds in the crowd, the Boris show I've probably mentioned a number of times was just colossal, and I'll take my shots for saying it, but Yanni is a top-10 concert experience because of his large ensemble of world-class players that are some of the most elite musicians I've ever witnessed.

I could dumb it down and mention Motley Crue on the Dr. Feelgood tour, which I saw at the now-defunct Capital Centre in Largo, MD, which everyone will relate to as it being the site where Heavy Metal Parking Lot was filmed. That film is so accurate, and if you want to add a bunch of trendy groupie girls to the goofs and doofs in HMPL, that's what it was like; I won't forget Tommy Lee's solo in the rafters of the arena, nor will I forget being asked by an old friend to jump into a fight and back up one his druggie associates that was urinating in the lot and starting a fight...I said hell no, let the dumb ass take his you can probably gather by this post, you have to cross my line to make me drop fisticuffs and I personally would rather not if I can help it....after all, peace and music are what I live for...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Recent shows and what are your most memorable concerts?

Hails, brothers and sisters...hope I find you all well. Pick up the new Mastodon album Blood Mountain if you haven't yet! What a masterpiece!!!! At this point, I'm flirting with dubbing Mastodon as the best metal band of this generation.

The past couple of weeks have slowed me down on ye olde blog because I'm frankly very tired between my day job and night job, and part of it was traveling a hour and a half one way into Virginia twice in the last two weeks to catch Venom one week and then Celtic Frost this past week.

First, Venom. I'd have to say that I was not a diehard Venom fan back in the day, no matter how hard Mark tried to push them on me. I was frankly frightened of them and felt my spirituality was compromised listening to them. I was like that with most of the black and death metal bands of the eighties until Mark convinced me I was missing out on some high quality music such as Slayer, Possessed, Dark Angel, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Death, etcetera. Venom just always made me shy away until I learned later they were kind of a joke about all of the black metal stuff. I think of them now as the Spinal Tap of black metal, which I'm probably the only one, but still, they're bombastic and on the same day I interviewed Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden I was told at the last minute by the same publicist I was on the list for Venom.

While I would say that the opening band Goatwhore was actually the better band in a very surprising upset (if you want to call it that), the minute Cronos stepped out onstage, it was absolute pandemonium and I consider myself fortunate to get all of the high quality photos I did of the show since it was apparent that a couple of fans were deliberately trying to mess me up by crashing into me. It seemed more calculated than your usual pit maul, so I shifted my stance so my elbow was cocked at eye level and that put a stop to it briefly. Here's one of the shots of Cronos I got:

While I was surprised that Venom toned down the thrash and opted more for the power, crunchy stuff, once "Black Metal" started, I'd wisely put my camera way because it full-on lunacy in that crowd! With the exception of one song I didn't recognize, Venom put on a very tight and loud show that made me forget Mantis and Abaddon were ever a part of the scheme. Venom with only Cronos is perhaps better than Demolition Man with the other two, although I just love the crap out of Prime Evil with Demolition Man. The new unit is much more proficient than Abaddon and Mantis and is one of the few exceptions as to why a single surviving member can pull off a "reunion" tour.

Celtic Frost was, to me, a metal religious experience. I still can't shake it off of my mind and I've listened to Monotheist repeatedly in-between listens to Mastodon and the new Seemless record. Standing in front of Martin Ain, who was in a monk's robe and Tom Warrior to my right, I felt entranced by the two of them, even as my neck was smarting from headbanging to the black metal openers 1349, who had me thrashing my neck at age 36 like I'd shed twenty years away. And of course, the Norwegian supergroup Sagh before them were likewise amazing.

Even though Tom is wearing a black skull cap to hide his bald pate, he looked magnificent and confident up there and his jaw was thrust forward as he was obviously feeling the music Celtic Frost was pummeling out, a mixture of doom, thrash and progressive black metal that was devoid of any Cold Lake material, which Tom told me in an interview he considers is "an abomination."

In the audience was former Celtic Frost drummer Reed St. Mark, which only added to the revered vibe of the show. Tom announced his presence and indicated Frost wouldn't gotten as far without him, much less the fans, and let me just say that this show was an endearment of classic heavy metal that probably climaxed when they played "Into Mega Therion" and it was still felt when Frost abstained from a curtain call. After Boris, Celtic Frost is the best band I've seen this year and then In Flames after them. Of course, I have Isis coming up shortly and I expect a shift in the upper tier for live gigs of 2006.

Below is a shot of Tom I got:

So the second half of this entry is to post the question to you all: What are your fondest concert memories? Here's some of mine:

-Voivod with Soundgarden and Faith No More
-Red Hot Chili Peppers - Mother's Milk tour - the last time the Chilis were still a real funkpunk band, still the greatest spectacle I've ever seen
-Judas Priest with Megadeth (we missed most of Testament, dammit)
-Monsters of Rock 1988
-Prince - Emancipation Tour with Chaka Kahn and Larry Graham
-Reverend Horton Heat
-Southern Culture on the Skids
-Blue Man Group - Dude, it was the shit!
-Gwar with Alabama Thunderpussy and All That Remains - it's Gwar! the other bands were great too and I have a funny pic of ATR goofing on me
-Atreyu with Unearth and Norma Jean - I won't forget it because I interviewed all three bands in round-robin fashion and the show was full of high energy, especially Norma Jean, who were sick as dogs
-Tori Amos
-Andrew WK with Vaux and High on Fire - High on Fire destroyed everyone even though Andrew WK's slot was the wildest of the three times I saw him
-Flogging Molly with Andrew WK - you'd think the crowd would've left after AWK; nuh uh. Flogging Molly is one the best live bands you'll ever see
-Overkill - they gave the opening slots to two local Philly bands who ate up the oppportunity with such glee you had to admire it
-Clutch - I was the only one who didn't think they sucked in our group
-Hot Water Music with Coheed and Cambria and Thrice - we didn't know it was C and C!
-Exodus with Pantera and Suicidal Tendencies - Pantera opened! I lost my glasses too
-Anthrax - the first reunion gig of 2005 gig in Sayreville, NJ
-Joey Belladonna solo - played to 50 people with the heart of a sold-out crowd, and Joey played the drums too!

Those are a few. I'm sure plenty more will come along as the day progresses!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The first time I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Today is really low-key for me after a wild and sometimes difficult week. The best day of the week came when I interviewed Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden for Caustic Truths magazine and before I got on the phone with him, his publicist told me I was put on the guest list for the Venom gig that evening. Nicko was a blast to talk to, a very funny man and a class act; I felt bad because the man gets on a roll when you let him and it was the first time I'd ever been cut off by a publicist in my career, but I understood, all things considered. I wanted Iron Maiden more than anyone when I started doing this and two years through much persistence, I got my wish.

I then drove an hour and a half one way for the Venom gig and while I personally thought Goatwhore was the better band as openers, Venom was great, and I think they are a rare exception to the one-man reunion snub like Gary Holt with Exodus. The current lineup of Venom I think is better than Mantis and Abaddon, just my personal opinion, so it was a solid show and I paid for it the next day at the day job when I'd gotten four hours of sleep and got my ass kicked at work, then again the subsequent day.

But moving on, before I blog the topic at-hand, I want to say thanks to Matt "The Lord" Zane for stopping by my blog. Hopefully we'll be getting a chat worked out in the upcoming future. Matt seems like a pretty cool dude.

Today's topic came about as I was taking a break today from a long morning of weedeating that has wiped me out. I haven't been up on my reading as I should, so I was reading a book by Toure, music writer for Rolling Stone that I picked up the last time I was in NYC and in one of two interviews he did with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. he put a spin on the driving ace by talking about Earnhardt's love for rock 'n roll and rap, specifically Nirvana and the first time Earnhardt heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and how it changed his outlook as an accepting country bumpkin to someone who questioned everything around him upon hearing that song.

I find that proposition very interesting and the more I talk with people, particularly your average music fan, the more "Smells Like Teen Spirit" becomes one of those "What were you doing the first time you heard that song?" moments. Really, that song did revolutionize music when it came out in the early nineties, for better or worse. For us metal fans, it was the official declaration that the original metal movement was indisputably dead in the United States and that the new guard of grunge was about to take over.

I vividly recall hearing "Teen Spirit" when I was in college at Towson University in Maryland. I had already transferred from Carroll Community College where I was the assistant editor of their newspaper and was also the music and movie critic. I had my own music column that nobody read because it was dedicated to metal and punk and it was the first taste of my future music journalist's life and how hard it is to make your voice and opinion heard, especially to an apathetic audience that could give two shits about the latest King Diamond or Bad Brains album.

When I heard "Teen Spirit" I was rock climbing with an old friend mine who I miss dearly, Jason, and it had happened shortly after my grandfather died. We were at a place called Sugarloaf Mountain and Jason had already climbed this one section the locals call "The Chimney" which is dark, cavernous climb that isn't for the faint of heart nor the rookie climber, at least not one without a proper guide to tell you your footing! The same day we'd watched an inexperienced heavy kid try to climb it after we'd finished and the poor dude slid out and cracked his skull.

After the climb, we were both dirty and sweaty and worried about the fat kid who split his head open and since we were still underage at the time, we went to a local convenience store after our climb and bought some O'Douls non-alcoholic beer, which is kind of a laugh now, but it was fun to drive down the street with this fake brew and we couldn't be busted for it. An old-timer gave us shit from behind because all he saw was two smartasses pulling down green bottles!

It was on this trek home that we stopped listening to The Cure and put the radio on. Jason and I had common ground after dissing each other initially because I was a headbanger and he was an art Goth kind of guy who always showed up for class late or not at all. I'll keep the reason to myself, but he introduced me to alternative music right as metal was dying, so I went the route of The Cure, Depeche Mode, Dinosaur Jr., Nine Inch Nails, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Hoodoo Gurus, Flesh For Lulu, The Smiths, you get the picture....

It was at this point when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" debuted on our local alternative station and both of looked at each like 'Holy fuck! Someone's playing punk rock on the radio!' It was the first time something so crude-sounding, so brash, so loud, so anarchic came over the airwaves that it was like the second-coming of rock. It really was an earth-shattering moment for us as music fans as it was obviously for many listeners across the country. We had to have that album immediately and as soon as we had Nevermind in our clutches, so too did everyone else. Nirvana unexpectedly became pop darlings, which was just as weird and surreal as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" simply making the airwaves originally was.

I won't get much further into the history of Nirvana because I have sour grapes about it all. In Utero (or In Uterus as I like to call it) to me failed to capture the exciting post-metal vibe that birthed out of The Melvins and took the rock world prisoner. Nevermind was an arresting slab of music that should never have gone mainstream because it killed the band as it did Kurt Cobain. I'm not pleased that he checked out the way he did, nor that he left his daughter fatherless. I'm not pleased he is worshipped and idolized as much as he is, but I understand why people think he was a rock genius. Such genius leads to tragedy as it always seems to happen, but Dave Grohl has made excellent music with Foo Fighters and Probot and his backstop action on Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf, which is a nice end story to Nirvana.

After interviewing Dylan Carlson of Earth last year and being treated like a true guest by him at Earth's amazing show in Baltimore, so much to the point that he gave me a free t-shirt, I curse the people who have lumped Carlson in with Cobain's death; it's absolute rubbish. Cobain took his life because he couldn't handle the sudden popularity.

I don't think he intended for Nirvana to explode as they did. I think there was a certain ego lying dormant within Cobain that craved acceptance and a certain latitude of popularity, but it was too much too fast for him. That, to me, is the backlash from something that was devastating in its day as when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hammered the country.

Monday, September 04, 2006

RIP Steve-O

I intended to make today's entry a Random Shelf Review but this weekend has produced multiple death stories that are all shocking. First, not that I subscribed to his Satanic beliefs, but I respected his songwriting abilities, and I found it confusing that Jon Nodtveidt of Dissection recently took his life. In the same year after finishing his prison sentence and reforming Dissection, he goes on a world tour with an excellent new album Reinkaos then announces the end of Dissection. Shortly thereafter he snuffs it. Then Jesse Pintado of Terrorizer mysteriously dies a couple of days after the band's prophetic album Darker Days Ahead comes out.

Very sad stuff, but when I woke up this morning, I was shaken to pieces to read the headline that the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray.

Perhaps one might say Steve-O has cheated death more times than any human being should have the right to, that constantly submitting yourself to the most dangerous of God's creatures will eventually catch up to you. Perhaps that is correct, but besides his daredevil spirit, the number one fact about Steve Irwin is that he was this world's number one naturalist and his documentaries were less about showing off his fearless interactions with snakes, crocodiles, Komodo dragons and an extraordinarily diverse amount of wildlife and more so to reduce mankind's fear of these creatures, to make them aware of certain risks but also to point out that these animals, amphibians and repitles have a right to co-exist without blind scrutiny killing them off one species at a time.

Photo courtesy of Reuters

While I'll admit I've watched less of Steve Irwin in the past year or so as my television viewing has been grossly limited overall, I still have about three tapes filled with Steve's adventures because I always appreciated his youthful exuberance and his trademark witticisms such as "Crikey," "Ain't she a beaut?" or "What a ripper!" that my wife and I occasionally yell out loud for fun. Even the Croc Hunter's Collision Course movie, while it may be looked as commercialism, was harmless fun and whether you look at it a cash-in or not, it made children happy, and that's the biggest loss here.

Steve Irwin is a hero, a hero for nature and humanity and so seldom has contemporary society seen a genuine buck like Steve-O who can inspire in the face of danger, but also bring the globe together as he did. Steve belonged to the world, not just Australia, and that sort of celebrity is something Steve seemingly didn't let go to his head. I was furious when the press were trying to mar his good name by making him seem like a bad father during the croc feeding incident while holding his son Bob, and also for accusing Steve of getting too close to the penguins, seals and humpback whales for his Antarctica documentary. Rubbish, I say, and I also say that when someone tries to make a positive statement in a world that embraces its ugliness out of convenience sake, that individual becomes a target and the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head...

I haven't taken a celebrity's death this hard since Joey Ramone and Piggy of Voivod. John Ritter was pretty tough to absorb, especially since my wife and I are Three's Company junkies, but losing Steve Irwin is a low blow and the world just got much darker because of it. On a personal note, Steve Irwin was in the top five of non-musicians I wanted to meet and hopefully interview in this life. I hope Terri Irwin and Steve-O's lineage Bindi and Bob pick up where their courageous dad left off...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sex and rock 'n roll

After covering the Society 1 retrospective The Years of Spiritual Dissent, I was really taken by the accompanying DVD and the heavy dose of sexual debauchery going down for a large chunk of the video. I'd say the only thing missing from the DVD is full-fledged penetration! It doesn't hurt that frontman Matt "The Lord" Zane is a former porn producer which, coupled with a wild bunch of musicians from LA makes for a sinfully crazy time if you're a part of the shenanigans.

Before I did up my review for my column in AMP, I had to go back and watch certain scenes--yes, those scenes, because while the Manowar Hell On Earth DVD series and the Pantera 3 Vulgar Videos DVD are chock full of the good stuff (if you're an oversexed hetero male), nothing this extensive has been pushed and I find it highly interesting because the sexcapades Society 1 delved in rivals Motley Crue, Quiet Riot and Ratt at their collective raunchiest.

My thoughts to all of this, considering that most young bands today have learned the art of discretion almost to the point where you wonder if groupies and musicians still get laid together backstage and on tour buses, is that I sometimes entertain selfish thoughts of wishing I'd been in a band and toured. When I see how easily some bands pin down tailfeather just for playing instruments, I always wonder what it would've been like to have a run of willing flesh surrender themselves to you and I find the proposition utterly erotic. Being in a rock band--particularly a young, hungry and socially irresponsible band--means you entertain your basest hedonistic whims as frequently as your conscience can withstand.

As Zane talked about the entire sex and porn aspect of his life becoming more or less a drag from having so much accessability, it makes you wonder if the grass really is greener.

You don't see or hear about too many journalists getting approached by groupies. The older I get, the less interested the young women at the shows get. I think I missed my one and only chance to score when I covered Ill Nino in Norfolk, VA where a beautiful woman close to my age with Mediterranean features and olive skin hit on me in the balcony, so much that she'd rubbed herself against me and then tried to kiss me. Because this happened during the headliner Sevendust's set, I did my best to convey I was a married man which worked for awhile until the woman handed me a five and asked me to get us something to drink. I knew that this was a test of a man's honor, that I should've (if I wanted to get together with her) handed her money back and bought the drinks. Instead, the only way I knew she was going to get the message was by taking her money and buying her drink with it then handing it to her. Needless to say, my ploy worked and she scowled at me before leaving me be.

I ask myself, if I were single, would I have allowed myself to get picked up by this woman? She was very attractive and in the heat of a rock 'n roll atmosphere where I was told by certain parties backstage earlier in the day that if I'd hung around long enough, I'd see what the real rock 'n roll lifestyle was all about. Seriously, it's hard not to get caught up in the orgy aspect of it. I love my wife will all I have, but the answer to my question here would be, absolutely I would've been receptive to her advances under different circumstances. The interesting ending to this little saga was that out of nowhere, two young boys ran up to this woman and she looked really pissed off and they all left together. To this day I wonder if I was either single or if I'd decided to dishonor my wife, what kind of potential trouble I might've gotten myself into. I feel as though I dodged a bullet that night.

I was invited to come backstage after the gig, but I found out what power a photo pass gives a journalist, which is jack shit. I had the keys to the kingdom earlier in the day, but after the gig, since I didn't have a laminated pass, I was denied entry backstage (where I'd been before, hello) by the bouncers, and even worse, the tour manager who'd brought me in before looked me in the eye and subsequently blew me off. A minute later he was escorting a few bouncy girls past the security, likely to be used as a musician's sex toy.

I called my wife after the show before I went to my hotel and told her everything since my conscience was bothering the hell out of me. What if I'd gone backstage? What might I have seen? Many musicians are wont to hide from the press, so the very few journalists who are privy to the sexual side of rock 'n roll are the ones I'd ask this question: Did they participate or did they merely watch? Were they married at the time or not? What kind of temptation to live the life of a rock star lurks inside of them even to this day?

As the Society 1 DVD continued on, I saw the health of Matt Zane deteriorate from a relentless touring schedule that took them into Europe, but as he explained, the label left Society 1 out to the wolves, so much that they were broke, starving and had no access to proper medical treatment because "no one gave a shit," according to Zane.

I hear of this kind of thing more often than not, particularly with the really hungry bucks living out of their vans on the road trying to sell enough merch to fill up the tanks and their bellies to make it to the next city. Perhaps they're getting their tools wet in the process, or perhaps not. It makes you wonder if the whole play for pussy aspect is truly worth it.

As I look at it, yeah, I sometimes wish I had six weeks on the road in a band just to see the world, drink a little beer, play music people are hopefully digging and getting the lustier part of my loins satiated with wreckless abandon. On the other hand, I have a wife who supports my music lifestyle and she hasn't been passed around a tour bus like a doobie. Sometimes you have to wonder about someone willing to jam one orifice with a musician that had his fill with someone the night before or even earlier in the day, and his bandmate's camera zooming in on the other orifice that will end up becoming masturbatory material for sexually reprieved teenagers...

Maybe this all sounds like penis envy, but still, there's something to be said about the way I'm doing this lifestyle...

Saturday, September 02, 2006


While I would never purport myself to be a close friend to the band Crisis, I can say I have had some memorable experiences with these underground metal legends who have unfortunately split up once again for an indeterminate amount of time.

In late 2003 as I was gathering voices for my metal book project, The End Records was one of the first labels to take a shot on me and here is where I inadvertently got sucked into being a professional journalist, that and my face-to-face with Queenryche's Geoff Tate in the same timeframe. I'll save Geoff for another post because that too is a fun story, but in my first-ever batch of free promotional CDs from The End Records, who were willing to give me their artists for my book, along comes Crisis' Like Sheep Led to Slaughter. You might say this album marks a pivotal point in my music life. I'd heard of Crisis but never got to hear them intimately. Time would change that in ways I couldn't even imagine.

Karyn Crisis Photo (c) 2005 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As 2003 and 2004 was still a testing ground for female singers in metal, when I heard the all-over-the-place pitches and growls of Karyn Crisis set to some of the most undefinable metal I'd ever heard, I was hooked. Seeing Karyn in pictures and videos is nothing compared to her live presence where those floor-touching dreads swing with sheer beauty in time to her dancing that combines jazzercise with tribal. Add to the fact that the band's components were multilcultural and I knew this was a band I was going to giving a lot of attention to.

My first interview with Karyn was for my book. Despite fighting a bad cold, Karyn gave me a solid hour of her time for a project she knew little about--and one that's still in its final stages, Jesus... It didn't long thereafter to get involved with the here and now promotion of music because, frankly, the labels wanted immediate promotion, not a possible run in an unsold book project.

Beginning my ascent into metal journalism by paying my dues with the online journals, I was given a shot with and one of my first assignments was none other than Crisis.

Afzaal Nasirudeen and Karyn Crisis Photo (c) 2005 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I left my day job early to travel to Philadelphia where Crisis was playing The Theater of the Living Arts as openers to Soulfly. Twelve Tribes opened the gig, a band I would eventually interview a week later as the troupe came into Baltimore-- without Crisis, I might add. What'll strike me funny to this day--and it's a story I think endears me to the band--is how I ended up being introduced to Crisis in person.

As Crisis is a self-managed band, I had no tour manager contacts nor any numbers to the band at the time. I had to rely on hovering in the back of the venue near the merch stand until I saw the unmistakeable blond dreads of Karyn even beneath her hooded sweatshirt. I wedged my way over to Karyn and tapped her on the shoulder to introduce myself. Instantly I was confronted by guitarist Jwyanza Hobson who looked ready to shred me on sight. Jwyanza gave me a shove and screamed in my face telling me to keep my hands off of Karyn. Put in a spot where I wanted to naturally defend myself, I surely couldn't trade fisticuffs with my hosts! I remember wanting to swing but instead I yelled back that all I did was tap Karyn on the shoulder to get her attention, nothing more. It was like trying stop a bull from charging the red cape.

By the time I finally managed to get through to Jwyanza that I was there to interview the band, Karyn stepped in and vouched for me. It was here that anger turned to hilarity because the poor guy was as embarassed as you could be in such a situation, apologizing more times than I could count. What had happened was a young fan allegedly pinched Karyn's ass on the floor and when she told Jwyanza about the incident, he assumed I was the culprit. So you might say my formal introduction to Crisis was more memorable above anyone else!

From here, I would have to say that my time spent interacting with Crisis was always congenial, always enlightening. The interviews were always engaging, always well-thought and sometimes venomous for the state of the world, particularly Crisis' place in a young metal fan's game. Let's face it, if you know metal really well, you'll agree that Crisis is unlike any other band, which always tough enough to pitch yourself to, but in a market dominated by breakdown-heavy metalcore bands, it's no wonder Crisis was frequently frustrated.

I saw Crisis live two more times as they came to Baltimore with Kittie then again later with MOD. The Kittie gig is my fondest memory because I was there as their guest and they treated me thusly. After the show, we hung for awhile in the parking lot and though they were low on beer, guitarist Afzaal Nasirudeen and Jwyanza gave me a Heineken and instead of conducting an interview, we spoke about other topics like politics, racism, Public Enemy, Malcolm X, the kind of deep, meaningful conversation I rarely get to have with anyone because no one takes me seriously in that respect. Such an intellectual conversation was matched by Ill Nino's Cristian Machado, who I mentioned a couple of posts ago, but I can't stress how meaningful this time spent with Crisis was to me a music fan, much less a journalist. I did note how Karyn was forced to duck in Crisis' van because of freakazoid fans similar to the one Jwyanza mistook me for were starting to upset her. I respect Karyn in many ways and I know for a fact she'd prefer to be hanging out at the merch booth chatting it up with the fans, but with her enigmatic presence, she was a natural draw for the freaky fans as well as the drunken perverts. I don't think many male performers can relate to this.

You might say I bonded with Afzaal at this point because we stayed in touch and did another interview together when I was assigned the metal column in AMP magazine. At this point, Crisis was having a namesake flurry of Spinal Tap-like problems with their drummers, which became a hot topic between Afzaal and I. Afzaal relayed to me stories about hiring an Australian drummer who ended up having legal issues, as well as other candidates who just weren't working out no matter how hard Crisis tried to welcome them approrpriately.

It was the MOD gig that I last saw and heard from Crisis at The Ottobar in Baltimore, where the above photos were taken. It was a memorable performance to a tiny crowd that was heavily-favored towards Crisis. The moments I spent with Afzaal were brief, but we chatted a little and I got to say hi to the rest of the group and I brought them a 12 pack of Heineken for the road by way of thanks for the free shows, the interviews and the comaraderie. Afzaal had told me in the interview prior to this gig that the band's van got looted when they stopped overnight at a hotel, a rare occurance for a van-traveling band. Then van breakdowns coupled by more drumming woes seemed to be taking their toll on Crisis.

When I read that bassist Gia Wang (who I only had a little interaction with as he is the quietest of the bunch) was leaving Crisis because he and his wife had just had a baby, I pondered as to what was next for the band. The songwriting Karyn and Afzaal told me was coming up on the next album was going to take Crisis into a new Pink Floyd-like direction and I was looking forward to what was on the horizon.

A couple of months ago, I checked the band's website and noticed a statement that Crisis was going on hiatus once again. Perhaps the tolls of the road and the personnel changes defused the spark Crisis regained for itself with Like Sheep Led to Slaughter. Whatever the case, the band has decidedly gone underground and I shall miss them. While they have tons more people who are far closer to them than my insignificant self, I really felt a small bond with Crisis and I hope there's one more spark left within them. Having watched them dismantle both Otep and Kittie by playing strictly back catalog material when forced to use original drummer Fred Ware to meet tour obligations, I know these guys have it within them to put together something truly magical, as if what they had wasn't enough already...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Random Shelf Review - Pennywise - Straight Ahead

So hopefully you enjoyed the last installment of Random Shelf Review with The Flairz. This time, my blind selection turned up Pennywise's Straight Ahead.

Amazingly I've only been to only one Warped Tour festival and it was just as emo was about to break and a lot of punk resurgence was coming up along with metal. Memorable for some very dusty sets by Flogging Molly, Bad Religion, The Damned, Tiger Army, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, NOFX, MXPX and others, this was a year my friend Bob and I ran the gauntlet of stands selling samplers, label comps and full-length artist CDs. Most of it was cheap, hence my overstuffed carry bag, and after awhile some of the bands started sounding redundant as one would expect, but Pennywise really stuck out to me and come the New Year's Day sale at our local record store, I happily found Straight Ahead.

While most Pennywise fans seem universally in-arms that Full Circle is the definitive Pennywise album, Straight Ahead is a slick punk album with lots of fast skate rock energy on songs like "Greed," "Still Can Be Great," "Never Know" and "My Own Way." The biggest striking feature to Straight Ahead is Pennywise's glowing maturity on songs like "Just For You," the Lemonheads-esque "Alien" and the sensible pop and angst combination on "American Dream."

There's a Dag Nasty / Dave Smalley essence to "Victim of Reality" which probably alienated a lot of the younger fans, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why Straight Ahead might get overlooked, because it's an older-sounding punk record in the vein of The Descendents with perhaps more occasoinal melody as on "Might Be a Dream" and "Can't Take Anymore." When you throw in some socially conscious songs like "Greed" and "My Own Country," there's more to Pennywise than quarterpipe cacophony; they have a methodic cadence and smart lyrical sense to their brisk-tempoed punk attack and that is the reason I was initially drawn to them.

So while Pennywise, the nasty clown in IT, played deliciously by Tim Curry may serve as namesake inspiration, or maybe the mustachioed would-be tycoon of Monopoly has a hand it, the fact is that Pennywise has enough firepower for all sanctions of punk fans. Compare it to their other albums if you must, but Straight Ahead is a successful punk jam that's a cut above its peers of its time in 1999 when this came out.