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

Friday, May 30, 2008

Interview With Boris in Unrestrained # 37

The latest issue of Unrestrained is out and I have an interview with Atsuo of the coolest band on the planet, Boris!

Also check out stories from my fellow interrogators with Soilent Green, Testament, Death Angel, Cavalera Conspiracy, Hate Eternal, Sculptured, Pagan's Mind, Earth, Pharoah, Atrocity, Woods of Pyres and many others...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

CD Review: Sirhan Sirhan - Blood

Sirhan Sirhan - Blood
2008 Anodyne Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Though not everyone is on board the Amen angst train, there's been a large rut in the hardcore and punk scene without Casey Chaos, although the bitter pill on two legs has been raising hell in the metal ranks with his equally abusive death metal collaboration Scum. Still, despite talk of a new Amen record finally surfacing, there's been a space in punk that Amen vociferously occupied while only a handful of bands have been able to match Amen's shatterpoint nerve cutting integrity. 400 Blows comes to mind as does Fight Amp and It's Casual.

Though they're nowhere near as prolific as Casey Chaos and Amen, San Diego's Sirhan Sirhan brings their listeners equally close to the edge with their tenacious and violent debut album Blood. This SoCal punk unit has previously won Best New Artist in 2006 and subsequently Best New Alternative Band last year at the San Diego Music Awards, and certainly these guys are on the hair's edge of brilliance with their unabashedly jagged and forcible hardcore. Pushing their manic punk tones to sheer brink of tonal destruction, Sirhan Sirhan lets no moment go to waste on Blood, so much the album is an experience, much less a hostile listening session.

As Sirhan Sirhan swirls an old school slam dance with "Time to Bleed" with verses reminiscent of The Adolescents or JFA before bringing things into a more contemporary ping pong bounce, they likewise go berserk on cuts like "Remove My Eyes," where the song is so chaotic you'll need to process a double-time beat beneath the main drag until it adopts a massive riff mentality ala Black Flag from Cap'n Blackie--also the group's vocalist--who throws his yowling pipes into an shivery echo chamber. The process is repeated on the haunted and hollow "The Maggot Sings," which Cap'n Blackie peels off a sick and twisted Jonathan Davis wail of vulnerability with the "spread your wings the maggot sings" lyric in the song's outro. Truly gloomy and nonetheless full of rockout disorder that will have listeners probably backing up the track to take it all in.

In fact, the majority of Blood is going to require second spins because this trio of punker mad dogs crunch and cram as much loud lunacy as they can into songs like "All Aboard," "Blood" "Chop Chop," "Decapitate Disintegrate" and "Burn it Down." A proper punk album is one that is so confrontational the listener feels he is being thrown down against, and assuredly Blood assumes such a feel. Said album is also one that is so fierce and relentless the listener isn't thinking twice about putting the thing on repeat in order to uncork the album's subtleties. Of course, Blood is hardly subtle; it possesses more bluntness than a sharpened rapier and it will leave swiped scars, beware.

Still, for all of the schizophrenic gulping, huffing and howling Cap'n Blackie barfs throughout Blood, his group has for themselves a contentional spot as holders of the gap space in fuck you punk still waiting to be reclaimed by Amen.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/28/08

How goes, everyone? Hope you all had a nice, relaxing Memorial weekend! Ours was pretty fast-paced but in the midst of it all, some wonderful and kind moments surfaced to take the edge off of things.

First, raise your hand, class, if you went and saw Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull! Though we're broke all the way to end of this week, the family generously took us out to see it and though I'm hearing some random grumblings from people out there, I'm also hearing a lot of positive feedback and I personally enjoyed it quite a bit. Harrison Ford is an inspiration to be gallavanting and submitting his body to such a physical display, considering he did a lot more of it than people realize. Though the film is only better than Temple of Doom, in this day and age when most action films are utterly artificial thanks to the gross embellishments of CGI, it's refreshing to see a traditional action movie that only uses CGI intermittently when absolutely called for. Go on and check it out if you haven't already; it's a blast from the past worth engaging...

So our big news this week comes in the form of a five-month-old boy named Troy who will be coming into our home in a foster care situation. While the state will attempt to reunify the boy with his estranged mother and we will have to be supportive of those efforts, who's to say where it might lead down the road? We are overjoyed to finally have a child bless our home, and I'm humbled beyond words that my family and friends rose to the occasion with immeasurable generosity to ease the burden of this sudden development. Frankly, with having to skim by for ten days with just about nothing in the account after paying the mortgage and other bills, and then being told at the last minute this little guy would be joining us, I was scared out of my mind, so much I was going to ask to bargain a few days until pay day!

But the day has been saved with the incredible kindness we've been shown as family members and dear friends stepped up and provided us with a crib, stroller, pack 'n play, mattress, portable high chair, blankets, car seat, a giant saucer playset and all of the basic essentials with which to get started. We were also extended invaluable kindness from the local church, which handed us an entire bag of boys' clothes and socks, bottles, a diaper pail and other supplements so that come pay day we'll be able to focus on formula and diapers. We've also been handed financial donations to the cause and I'm simply overwhelmed by all that the universe and the almighty has provided through the charity of our loved ones. Frankly, I'm honored to know so many people with such caring hearts and my gratitude goes out to each and every one of you for your support!

Okay, moving on to the topic of music before this turns into The Baby Blog, suffice it to say getting the news of Troy's upcoming arrival superseded other things, though I've managed to sneak in plenty of music outside of Sirius. I even managed to blast out a bunch of reviews late Friday night and received some of the most gracious feedback and praise from the artists (a few well-known, some not so much yet) and their publicists that it made me feel my efforts are so worthwhile. I'm a little stuck on the new Filter album Anthems For the Damned along with a mixed bag of The Pretenders, The Kinks and Pelican, along with the zany fun of jazz trio bastardization from Here Comes Everybody. That being said, cough 'em up, kiddos...

Filter - Anthems For the Damned
The Kinks - Well-Respected Kinks
The Pretenders - The Singles
Pelican - The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw
Pelican - City of Echoes
Meat Beat Manifesto - 99%
Paris Combo - Live
Billie Holiday - Greatest Hits
Elvis Presley - 30 #1 Hits
Puscifer - "V" Is For Viagra - The Remixes
American Speedway - Ship of Fools
Totimoshi - Milagrosa
Melvins - Nude With Boots
Deadbird - Twilight Ritual
Electrocute - On the Beat EP
Here Comes Everybody - The Veronica Project
Blue Skies For Black Hearts - Serenades and Hand Grenades
The Secret - Disintoxication
36 Crazyfists - The Tide and Its Takers

Sunday, May 25, 2008


This coming week, we may very likely be expanding our little family from two humans and two kitties with the addition of a 5-month old boy in a foster care situation.

If there's anyone out there with any new or used items for this infant, please drop me a line at once. Will gladly barter in exchange or whatever you deem fitting...

Your generosity is appreciated...

DVD Review: T.S.O.L. - The Early Years Live

T.S.O.L. - The Early Years Live DVD
2008 MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In some respects, T.S.O.L. was America's answer to Killing Joke. Both were formed in the late seventies and both were considered pioneers of punk and hardcore. Another likeness between the two bands was their willingess to outsource from different moods, perspectives and instrumentalization to step beyond the smash mouth rebelliousness each began with. What this translated to be was a pair of punk acts with a dark affinity for Goth textures who thought nothing about throwing their audience curveballs in the name of exploring their art. Let themselves be damned if need be...

Both bands sadly expanded themselves to the point of stretching themselves so thin that little-to-no resemblence of the core infrastructure could be said to exist. Killing Joke confusedly turned altpop on synth-drenched and way-out pantomimed albums in the mid-to-late eighties like Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, Outside the Gate and Jaz Coleman's huh? spoken word album, The Courtald Talks. In the same timeframe, T.S.O.L. had been shorn of its singer Jack Grisham and drummer, the late Gerald Barnes in what had to have been sheer rebellion in the suddenly lost and confused sound T.S.O.L. would eventually spew with the moody and nearly Cure-like Change Today? and utltimately their pop rock and straightforward heavy metal courtships with 1986's Revenge and '87's Hit and Run respectively. If anything was generated for T.S.O.L. in their awkward glam and leather days during the original heavy metal explosion, it was exposure from having "The Name is Love" from Hit and Run played a couple times on Headbangers Ball.

The soup-to-nuts about T.S.O.L. (or True Sounds of Liberty in case you're wondering) is that they, along with other hardcore bands of the day like Agent Orange, Circle Jerks and the Dead Kennedys, initially formed the lately-revered So-Cal punk scene that has now erupted with everything from stoner bands like Fu Manchu and High On Fire to metalcore darlings like Avenged Sevenfold, Eighteen Visions and Bleeding Through. T.S.O.L. showed bravery to alter their anarchy in the streets mentality on classics like "Abolish Government/Silent Majority" and "Property is Theft" from their blistering self-titled E.P. to a Goth-laced (and ironically far more driven) angst demeanor on Dance With Me, Weathered Statues and Beneath the Shadows, albums that challenged their listeners as well as all existing precepts about punk.

T.S.O.L. - The Early Years Live takes us back to that delicate moment in the band's career when their days as Vicious Circle had already passed but the members who transferred to T.S.O.L. had taken with them that snarling punk attitude along with an adopted view of enlightenment blossoming throughout the British punk and alt scenes with future legends like The Cure, Bauhaus and Siouxie and the Banshees, tapping into fugue and Goth to supplement their disaffected punk roots.

So was the motif of T.S.O.L. in 1983 and the footage shown on this DVD from the seminal punk magazine and record imprint Flipside and Target Video77 archives reflects a band in the midst of tapping into their identity as a razor's edge Goth punk band. If their allegiance of fans were confused by the constant directional changes T.S.O.L. were exploring at this time, the college kid crowd assembled to watch the band on the Flipside footage look positively droned, save for a handful of punk rockers who meander about in front of the stage while T.S.O.L. belts out "Beneath the Shadows," "Love Story," "Darker My Love" and "Man and Machine." There's a decided tension to this performance, despite the casual way Jack Grisham skulks about the stage. The punkers don't seem to get with the program until T.S.O.L. rips into "Superficial Love" when they finally press up to the stage (and disrupt the audio feed in the process). Meanwhile, those surrounding stage who are not of punk appreciation simply stare in bewilderment. In some ways, T.S.O.L. may have inadvertently helped define what would be called "college radio" later in the decade as they could be found (like many punk rock bands of the day) pounding out shows at local campuses in order to spread the word, usually at low cost or outright free.

The Target Video77 footage in contrast, albeit brief with only three songs, gives us a more accurate punk rock facade with slam-dancing, diving and a high octane energy level from T.S.O.L. that is more befitting of the "mega-intense" tag sported on the DVD.

An extensive interview with original members Jack Grisham and Ron Emory on the DVD is actually the biggest bonus item because we get some insight into issues that punk rock bands faced back in the day (and even in its current state as well), such as pay-to-play venues and accusations of selling out from fans. Rather humbling to listen to Grisham relay that he was still living with his mother and barely had enough money to pay her rent as well as other minimal life expenses while punk fans were deriding T.S.O.L. as being cash-hungry. Considering the group played a ton of freebies as they were coming up, the frustration of misperception is grossly affective, particularly in light of a band that would soon be marked in the rock books as a formative band in a scene that would hypocritcally become as much of a cash cow as the popsters it fashionably ridiculed.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, May 23, 2008

One From the Vault: Laaz Rockit - "Fire in the Hole" video

Some classic thrash for yo ass...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday 5/21/08

Howdee do regular readers! Hope the week is treating you well. I'd bitch about how unseasonably cold and continuously wet things have been lately, but then when you read headlines about five million Chinese left homeless on top of the tens of thousands who perished from their own weather hell (and let us not forget the ravaged zone of Myanmar), it kind of forces you to buckle down, take your licks and shut your ungrateful mouth. At least our local reservoirs, which had gone bone dry in recent months, are starting to replenish.

Call me a tree-hugger, though I don't have a ton of love for Al Gore (or especially his hypocrite spouse), I think he's at least done the world a valuable service by speaking up about ecology so we can begin to attempt to patch up this mucked-up planet. In fact, I heard someone yesterday complaining that he spends $130 in gas to fill his Hummer and it only lasts two days, thus he's selling the wretched thing that has no business being in the hands of the average consumer. Hummers are irresponsible and the sign of arrogance; fuck the makers and their owners, you posturing pricks! You're one of the reasons we're all paying out the ass for gas these days (not to mention the fuel keeping the war machine running, but let's keep it to one central gripe for now), so wake the hell up!

Okay, enough of that. This past week might be considered a huge overload of music consumption, perhaps done with a happy vengeance. Since visiting the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, I've been spending a lot of time in the fifties and sixties along with the blues. I've been stuck on The Hollies and the British Invasion as well as the golden age of rock 'n roll as I've also been watching The History of Rock 'n Roll on DVD, one of the most affluent documentaries on the topic I've yet seen, even if it was done 13 years ago. On top of it, those cool folks at Sirius replaced my receiver for free and I'm back in business and have been spending most of my time since Saturday checked in at the Underground Garage and Sirius Gold (their fifties and sixties station) along with a visit to the Punk channel and the voice of Marky Ramone, who leaves me pining for Joey, still the only celebrity whose death I took really hard.

Of course there's been time for plenty of metal as I knock out some reviews and other various weirdness, but those Hollies, they won't go away! In fact, I can't quit spinning "Bus Stop," what an addictive tune! It was pretty sad when I was working on my metal book the other night and I just kept spinning The Hollies' Greatest Hits album on repeat and snickering how "Carrie Anne" is actually a love letter to Marianne Faithfull but changed on the spot so she wouldn't know. Too cute...

Okay, I'm officially getting weird now, so bring out your dead, people...

The Hollies - Greatest Hits
Leadbelly - Hey Irene
Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues Singers Vol. 2
The Ventures - Walk Don't Run: All-Time Greatest Hits
American Graffiti soundtrack
Elvis Costello and The Attractions - Armed Forces
Mos Def - The New Danger
David Bowie - Changes
Puscifer - V is Viagra: The Remixes
Cruisin' 1961
Ihsahn - The Adversary
Ihsahn - Angl
Emperor - IX Equilibrium
Fates Warning - No Exit
Arcade - S/T
Megadeth - So Far So Good So What?
Kiss - Dynasty
The Hives - The Black and White Album
Filter - Anthems For the Damned
Lizzy Borden - Appointment With Death
Static-X - Wisconsin Death Trip
Manowar - Hail to England
Lion's Share - Emotional Coma
MSG - In the Midst of Beauty
Third Degree - Punk Sugar
Kings of Leon - Youth and Young Manhood
Distorted - Voices From Within
With Dead Hands Rising - Expect Hell
God's Revolver - Little Black Horse Where You Going With Your Dead Rider

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ray Interviews Bullet For My Valentine, Between the Buried and Me, Bruce Campbell and More in Hails & Horns magazine

The lastest issue of Hails & Horns magazine is out and yours truly has the cover story featuring an interview with Matt Tuck of Bullet For My Valentine. Also be on the lookout for my stories with Between the Buried and Me, Richard Kruspe of Rammstein/Emigrate, Lizzy Borden, Roy Khan of Kamelot and everyone's favorite slapstick horror icon, the inimitable Bruce Campbell...

You can also find my reviews of current releases and reissues by AC/DC, Heaven and Hell, Overkill, 3, Amon Amarth, Electric Wizard, Hellhammer, Divine Heresy, The Great Kat, Lillian Axe, Isole, Gorgoroth, Intronaut and the Masters of Horror episode "Dream Cruise."

Also have a go with articles from other Hails writers spotlighting Sevendust, Death Angel, Sworn Enemy, H20, Overkill, The Sword, Grimbane, Paint it Black, Warbringer, Genghis Tron and others, including a column penned by Black Sabbath's own Bill Ward...

Get thee hence!

Monday, May 19, 2008

CD Review: God's Revolver - Little Black Horse Where Are You Going Without Your Rider?

God's Revolver - Little Black Horse Where Are You Going Without Your Rider?
2007 Exigent Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Where in fuck is Provo, you might ask? Assuredly it's not the island otherwise abbreviated from Providenciales. Nope, we're talking Utah, site of the HBO polygamist series that beat recent headlines in Texas, Big Love. Of course, there's hardly anything fundamentalist about Provo's own God's Revolver, a loud and deliberately obnoxious crew of Southern rock-fused hellraisers who play with wreckless punk abandon and yelp with glass-choked caterwauling apparently inspired by late night isolation and the hairs of a three-legged dog.

Somehow, though, God's Revolver manages to glue their smash mouth rowdiness with external influneces ranging from alternative to North American tribal, both exemplified in "The Holy Breath" where you get Pixies-like guitar screeching and a lumbering tempo along with native fluting and brackish vocals from Reid Rouse, who sounds like Jim Morrison on a peyote trip and forced to slog through "The Crystal Ship" to a disaffected 10-member audience.

What's especially cool about God's Revolver is their blatant unpredictability. Go on, I dare you to peg these guys into a snug category; they're like that plastic trepezoid piece little kids are fooled into thinking goes into the diamond hole on their bumble balls until they learn better. As "Scratch Dealt Me a Dirty Hand" is like the soundtrack to a bar scrap between skinheads and truckers, "Iron Fuck" itches along nervously with an anxious mid-tempo rhythm while guitarists Trey Gardner and Jon Larsen pick, pluck and twang accordingly, leaving Reid Rouse to wail insanely by himself until joining him in a soaky gang chorus later on.

Be prepared, because Little Black Horse Where Are You Going Without Your Rider? is intentionally nutty with its bluesy chain gang ode "Boxes Done Buried," which comes off almost spiritually with its acoustic verses, hand claps, haunted whistles and steel rattles until Rouse vomits all over the damned thing. You're either going to laugh or you're going going to go "What the bloody hell?" In fact, the longer this album goes on, what you're hearing is on the borderline of brilliance as God's Revolver coughs up some shrewd and slick melody lines while their vociferous frontman who sounds like a bottle-captured Glenn Danzig and Bobcat Goldthwait swill just coughs his ever-loving guts out.

Personification in full on "Drown Your Fucking Sorrows!" as God's Revolver's rhythm section produces steady grooves and occasional nerve splinters, while Reid Rouse goes berserk in response. By the time his band ups the ante on the opening bars of "Eagle in Reverse," Rouse has figuratively spewed his load before the song scales down in tempo and allows him to savor his vocal climax, jerking off in tandem with string tugs and echoey reverb. All in preparation for the album's finale "Roca Del Desierto," which begins with a serene acoustic intro and finishes brutally and bombastically as if suffering a case of inflicted snakebite.

In some ways, Little Black Horse Where Are You Going Without Your Rider? is going to require a patient ear, but it's the textures beneath the bluntness that makes this one worth the trip. Do a shot or two of tequila while watching an old Jack Palance western before listening and you'll probably get right into God's Revolver's mindframe.

Rating: ****

Death Angel - "Dethroned" video

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Metal Minute Celebrates 100,000 Hits With a Threat of Infringement

Image courtesy of Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

Normally I keep behind-the-scenes nonsense out of the public forum mostly out of professional respect for myself as well as the industry I serve, but this morning the gloves of courtesy must come off.

Without names or participants identified, The Metal Minute begins the day with a milestone 100,230 hits. Even at a scaled-back publication schedule, you readers have made this modest music site a monster success and I thank you as always for your support. For those of you I've neglected to respond to in email, I humbly apologize; my life is hardly my own these days. We will converse in due time.

Which leads me to an email received from a corporate entertainment attorney who issued The Metal Minute a cease and desist regarding a specific review conducted at the site, denoting copyright infringement as their platform for removal of the review.

At first I chuckled and shook my head. In a day and age where press of any sort for bands becomes key to survival in a deadly-fierce market that is already on the hair's edge of implosion due to format changeover and file hijacking, despite the potentially adverse effect of gaining an audience through piracy or otherwise legal audio feed, one would have to assume bands today could use all the help they can get from the press. In a modern music scene where there are very few megastars much less artists and bands who can muster 75,000-100,000 units sold, it is word-of-mouth and industry assistance that helps them survive.

Where my review of a particular album by an anonymous band should be constituted as copyright infringement, I really am at a loss. I've studied business law to certain degrees, but I'm no expert assuredly. What I would say is that I feel I've used my marketing degree in a way I don't always get to in my daily profession by writing up reviews and conducting interviews with bands and musicians who have been connected to me by record labels and publicists. In good faith, when I select an album to review (particularly one from an artist I respect and have identified demographically through my readership to be of public interest), I feel as if I am doing that artist and the label a service. Brand awareness and brand recognition, particularly in the infancy stage of a product life cycle is not only preferable, it's mandatory to the product's survival, much less its genesis.

I soon lost my sense of humor the longer I dwelled on this correspondence because I feel personally insulted that I should receive a notice of infringement pertaining to a standard album review. Perhaps this corporate huckster is offended by the inclusion of said review in an online format, but I feel it's a judgment call made by the limited space available to me (much less my peers) in the magazines, as well as through interaction with The Metal Minute's readership that this specific review was of particular interest to those reading this page.

What it boils down to is a matter of censorship, which is the prompt for my commentary here today. It would be justifiable from the position of this attorney if unauthorized streaming of the album existed here at The Metal Minute, however I've always taken a position in good faith to protect the investments of the artists and their record labels, thus only public domain and label-authorized videos have been featured here. When a state of confusion and gross overzealousness, however, leads to blatantly forced remotion of printed word, of course that is flirting with the constitutional rights our brothers and sisters overseas are spilling their blood in the name of.

What is freedom, but an overhyped trump card phrase utilized to rally people in the name of war, if its parameters are stretched to the point where an industry journalist faces threats in light of acting as reputably as possible to the representatives he or she serves?

Suffice it to say, The Metal Minute acts in the best interests of its readers in addition to the promotional efforts of the musicians and record labels who generously supply materials to sustain this venue. We all feed on each other, but when an intermediary steps in with Stalin-like mandates and edicts, then we might as well consider ourselves starved at that point.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Impressions of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame

For my 38th birthday on Monday the family and I ventured up to Cleveland and the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. After sloshing through a few torrents along the way, we first took a detour on the outskirts of Cleveland to find the house where the exteriors and some of the interior shots for A Christmas Story was filmed. Undoubtedly the renovations to the house and the neighborhood which had obviously been scarred by drugs and crime has brought back much of the feel of that throwback thirties essence you sift from the film and assuredly there was a nostalgic you-are-there essence, which you can probably derive yourself from this picture:

A lot of us hipper-than-thou rock snobs have turned our conceited noses over the years at The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, and the heftiest portion of our contention derives from the fact that it's irresponsible to quantify music and musicians on the same merit system that sports icons achieve their status and immortalization in records annals and halls of fame. For all of the good music and performers showcased in The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, assuredly there are 10-20 equal or better performers at the minimum who would likewise deserve mention and credit.

Is that what rock 'n roll is all about, though? As Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen point out in one of the documentary films inside The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, the genre in its purest form has no rules. Why then, all the pomp and circumstance each year when The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame does its annual induction ceremony, particularly in light of the fact that it's a peacock affair in which attendees dress formally? Is that not a bastardization of rock 'n roll at its core? Sure, The Beatles and those who made up the fifties rock 'n roll and subsequent British invasion scenes were all clad in double-breasted suits and ties, but by the time the turbulent sixties declared an end to the squeaky clean charade, the gestation effect upon rock 'n roll had finally nurtured it into the state of rebellion that was promised earlier from the coiffed, pressed and pompadoured rockers who ushered the sound out of the Mississippi deltas and the midwestern dustbowls. All en route to a genre that has now been glorified in a post modern construct that some may argue has put a price tag on something that needs no quantification.

After a long aversion to The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, I decided that it was important to me as a lifelong music fan to confront my occasionally elitist being and seek out the artifacts and treasures that are gathered inside the hall. Obviously there's a sense of surrealism that rock 'n roll has been going on for 50 years plus, much less the fact that a building exists as a tribute to it. To think of guitars, drums, stage costumes, archive photos, high school diplomas, vehicles, 45 records, jackets and various paraphenlia hiding behind glass as time capsules is slightly mind-blowing. As music is inherently an audile experience that is given visualization depending on the outgoing nature of the performer, it's a Catch-22 to fathom an experience based upon a hearing medium that is in this instance, largely visual.

Within 20 minutes of crossing the threshhold of the bottom level (and main artifact wing) in The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, I was immediately transfixed and for the most part relieved that the museum has its heart in the right place. With a salute to the thirties and forties blues, country and folk performers such as Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Bill Munroe, Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie respectively, as well as gospel and jazz performers such as Mahalia Jackson and Billie Holliday, I began to appreciate the tributary nature that The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame exhibited. Sweeping straight into a pair of 15 minute films that are featured in adjacent rooms, The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame manages the impossible, which is to tell the story of rock 'n roll in a compact form to be utilized as a primer to all that is housed within. Establishing the state of starchiness that existed in early fifties pop culture, I drifted back to fun lectures from my parents who used to give me the history of fifties rock 'n roll every Friday night in my youth, and echoes of "All we had was Perry Como and 'How Much is That Doggie in the Window' before rock 'n roll came around..."

Sure enough, the mini film plays the haunting echoes of "Doggie" to reinforce the stories I was given by my folks, but more importantly, the first film especially utilizes a train as its central muse to bring out static-laced recordings of sliding blues riffs, melancholic piano twinkling and Texarkana twang before the abrupt social change came about through Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. As the film shows the economic depression of downtrodden blacks versus the a-okay life is peachy white boy culture, I really admired the chutzpah in presenting the conflicting misnomer that The Fabulous Fifties were fabulous only for a select demographic.

By the time the two films were finished, I was eager to dive into the artifacts and exhibits in the hall, feeling better that this place was actually existing in a historical context. After all, The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame is actually a tribute to Alan Freed, the radical disc jockey who daringly played black honky tonk and ultimately coined the term "rock 'n roll," then was ridden out of town by social bigots on trumped-up payola charges. It is in this respect where I maintain that the hall should be called more appropriately The Rock 'n Roll Museum instead of a delineating Hall of Fame.

After a long pitstop in the listening booths where you can cue up 500 Songs That Shaped Rock 'n Roll from the forties to the nineties, I'd have to say that The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame was massive sensory overload from all the items that have been donated by the artists or those representing their estates. To see high school diplomas of Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers to one of Bo Diddley's trademark squared-box guitars to the actual suits used by The Temptations and The Shirelles, along with actual cars driven by Elvis, Janis Joplin and Roy Orbison (who sadly died months after purchasing the cherry red beauty shown below), not to mention a slew of Jimi Hendrix's most famous wardrobe pieces as well as his childhood drawings that marked a prodigy in the making... Wow, I can't use enough superlatives to describe it all.

Of course, for me, one of the highlights was the punk exhibit and Joey Ramone's leather jacket, as well as Handsome Dick Manitoba's gear. I was likewise transfixed by Joe Strummer's banged and spray-painted six string as well as Paul Simonon's splintered bass, which put me right in the moment of The Clash onstage and how much chaos and energy went into their performances. I was also pleased to find another showcase on a different floor dedicated strictly to The Ramones, where Marky signed his torn jeans, beat-up high tops and drum head, and there were original lyric sheets for "Beat On the Brat" and other songs.

Other highlights for me in The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame was seeing John Lennon's original lyric sheets for "Beautiful Boy" and "Just Like Starting Over" as well as his 1964 12-string, not to mention some of his wardrobe and those of the other Beatles, such as Ringo's grey suit. There was naturally a small floor dedicated to Help! and behind-the-scenes pictures and artifacts, and for true posterity, a screening of the movie in its entirety. One level up is a psychedlic penthouse wing for The Doors, in which all four members are draped from the ceiling on each wall while live footage pumps loudly. At one point, I was creeped out with the feeling that someone was approaching me out of my periphery but it was Jim Morrison, appropriately larger-than-life and catching in his regal Lizard King clutches. Whew. Even more poignant was seeing actual letters to Morrison's father announcing Jim's death, along with a letter to the military asking Morrison's dad what he intended to do about his rambunctious son following the infamous penis waggling incident onstage. Then there's a letter from Jim himself to his business manager indicating he and Pamela wanted to stay in Paris but they would need credit cards to live on. All of it putting a human touch on a superhuman figurehead.

Of course, overtop the atrium in The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame are giant replicas of scenes from Pink Floyd's The Wall as well as a titanic steel rendition of the halved faces from The Division Bell.

If there's any gripe about The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, it's their anti-photography policy. The stance from the hall is that the artists and their families donated the items to the museum and therefore it is their wish that the items not be photographed. My mother made an excellent point that Janis Joplin would be utterly offended by the fact that visitors can't take pictures of her psychedelic Porsche (which is an amazing work of art) without express permission from her estate, which is managed by her siblings and thankfully not her parents. Still, you have to question whether or not this policy is from the musicians' standpoint or the hall's, which of course wants to sell continuous tickets to subsist on.

I was also disappointed there wasn't a lot to do with heavy metal, though it was pointed out that most of the heavy metal run hasn't yet reached the inductee inclusion period. Why then, an exhibit case for grunge? Neat to see Mudhoney, The Melvins and Sonic Youth get some mention along with Nirvana and Soundgarden, but um, hey, did someone fall asleep at the wheel? Yeah, it was cool to see some of Joe Perry and Steven Tyler's gear, and the ZZ Top display was utterly amazing, including the Terminator-like guitar and bass used in the "Rough Boy" video, as well as their hallmark Eliminator Ford coupe, and likewise it was great to see a hefty portion of Queen memorabilia. You can even find, of all things, a couple of stage props donated by Mushroomhead and one of Marilyn Manson's capes. You can even find a busted out Cramps drum head as well, which I believe these are all planted in various spots to try and give the hall a bit more street cred. It's fun, but not necessary. I will admit to finding the Madonna costumes utterly fascinating as well as the Michael Jackson, David Bowie and U2 costumes. They even have one of Flavor Flav's stopwatches, Queen Latifah's garb and even Outkast, for you hip hop heads. Talk about trying to be more street.

Maybe it's appropriate that a skate park lurks behind the hall, though no kids were using it when I tramped through and took pictures of graffiti and slopes of the ramps. A pair of cops on unicycles scooted by and were apparently going to chase me out until they saw I was taking photos, but if there's one statement I really dug about the skate park, it's the fact that it is almost like the butt ugly eyesore behind the glossy hall, kind of like CBGB's in relation to Madison Square Garden, and likewise, the skate park encased the attitude of the streets (which were remarkably bare in Cleveland's otherwise clean-cut harbor), as implied by this photo:

Asshole or not, I can honestly say The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame was a genuine pleasure that marks the birthplace of Alan Freed and hypothetically the birth of rock 'n roll. The depressing afterthought to me has to be the fact that Freed--who has his own exhibit next to an amazing corridor dedicated to Les Paul including the genesis of his guitars and some old fifties' television shows in which he pulls out some amazing licks--may have been given credit for bridging cultural gaps between blacks and whites in the fifties and for coming up with the term "rock 'n roll," but he died penniless and utterly destroyed by a society that was so jaded the swirling tides of change that they inadvertently killed him in the name of the status quo. Amazing how some things never change, but at least rock 'n roll perseveres. Here's to ya, Freed...

Friday, May 09, 2008

CD Review: King's X - XV

King's X - XV
2008 SPV Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

For all of the longtime industry respect and appreciation from their fans and peers, KING’S X ought to be seriously wealthy. They certainly had their shot in the late eighties with their commercial breakout (and two of their finest) albums Gretchen Goes to Nebraska and Faith Hope Love, while later albums such as Tape Head, Dogman and Ear Candy are all frequently overlooked underground gems that have marked King’s X as a world-class rock band. While they may not have reaped the rewards of their long and substantial efforts, the baby boomer trio possesses a rare quality of musicianship that is its own reward. King's X is thusly a band asserting and feeding themselves from an intrinsic value and payout that has made them one of the most esteemed hard rock bands of our time.

Keep in mind King's X has never been overtly flashy, but what they have been consistently since 1988’s Out of the Silent Planet is real. Part of it has to do with King's X’s affinity for merging Beatles nirvana vibes with more contemporary snub-nosed riffs, while more than a fair chunk has come from the expressive wailing of dUg (formerly Doug) Pinnick, lending an element of funky acapella to his shotgun rider guitarist Ty Tabor as well as offering a rare state of rock sedation at times, so that King's X is as much about country and soul as it is about independent and heartfelt rock ‘n roll. Though it seems not long ago that King's X marched confidently forward with the demonstrative Ogre Tones, a couple years have passed already and now we have XV, a King's X album recorded by veterans who are so settled into their craft and so on point with what they do it’s hard not to admire the ease in which they pull it off.

At times XV is jumpy and driving with songs like “Pray,” “Rocket Ship,” “Move,” “Alright” and “Go Tell Somebody” while at others it’s laidback and even hangdog on stray and sway tunes likes “Julie,” “Repeating Myself” and “I Don’t Know.” The way “Pray” starts XV with an uplifting spiritual bounce then skids dramatically into a slackened drawl on “Blue” is rather slick, as is the way the swampy and mildly jaded rocker “Broke” gives way to a steady mid-tempo lean on “I Just Want to Live.” In other words, XV is another prototype King's X mood swing collection, but the way these guys shift vibes with barely a thought in the same way dUg Pinnick and Ty Tabor trade off vocal duties (not to mention Tabor’s habitually crafty and instinctive guitar solos) makes for a reliable and trustworthy listening session. More proof positive of the sheer class King's X brings to a fringe rock table that always has seats reserved for them.

Rating: ****

Thursday, May 08, 2008

CD Review: Soilent Green - Inevitable Collapse in the Presence of Conviction

Soilent Green - Inevitable Collapse in the Presence of Conviction
2008 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

By every right did Soilent Green deserve to call it a day a few years back, considering the terrible adversity they've faced which would've understandably put the brakes on future work together. In 2004, bassist Scott Williams left this life in a confusing exit that was questioned between murder and possible suicide. A year later, original vocalist Glenn Rambo was killed in Hurricane Katrina.

Certainly nobody would've begrudged the remaining members of Soilent Green to have declared enough is enough and gone their separate ways. However, following a lengthy regrouping period, the Louisiana grindcore gurus have surfaced once again with Ben Falgoust II coming back home to Soilent Green on the mike after a long sojourn with Southern black metallers Goatwhore. Of course, Soilent Green has now been pared down to a quartet with just Brian Patton as lone guitarist, which does and doesn't make a difference in the overall grind belch this band has been reknowned for.

On their first album for Metal Blade, Soilent Green still brings the goods as raucously as they can muster on Inevitable Collapse in the Presence of Conviction. Whereas there might be a few less fills and a few less side brouhaha that makes albums like Sewn Mouth Secrets and A Deleted Symphony For the Beaten Down senses-addling metallic cannonade, by no means does Soilent Green slouch on this album.

If anything, Patton sounds even more determined given the fact he's covering two positions now. However, the addition of new bassist Scott Crochet (from Hostile Apostle) has given Patton a bit more dexterity, which he seizes with every opportunity he has on cuts like "For Lack of Perfect Words," "Lovesick," "Mental Acupuncture," "Antioxidant" and the nervy two-minute-plus bit-smashing on "Blessed in the Arms of Servitude." On all of these songs and others, Patton and Crochet fuse as much external Southern-rooted influence as they can get away with, so fear not, even as a foursome, Soilent Green still has much of the same hip-shaking groove amidst the mind-melding thrash their fans crave in the same instant-gratification increments as a can of Pringles.

For good measure, Patton tosses in a clean-picking acoustic intro to "In the Same Breath" as he fuses some funky distortion feedback to greet "Superstition Aimed At One's Skull." Still, the main motif of Inevitable Collapse in the Presence of Conviction is to hit 'em fast and hit 'em brutally, so much that if you're not as familiar with Soilent Green, the album sounds like it's set on constant speed with handfuls of greasy and swampy breakdowns to break up the pounding velocity. Hell, even for longtime Soilent Green fans it's going to sound that way, and undoubtedly that suits 'em all just fine...

Rating: ****

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesdays - 5/7/08

Glory be, another Wednesday, and perhaps if I had a theme song for the week, it'd be the Circle Jerks' "World Up My Ass." Sometimes things and people hit you from all directions without realizing you're being bombarded and while I wouldn't say this has been an overtly stressful week, the different voices and different demands have caused a lot of internal mindsweeping, to the point where I'm ready to just say, "Check please, see ya next time after all this has been digested!"

So I have to give props to Sirius radio. Seems like everything's been breaking down around me the past couple weeks and as I attempt to piece what I can back together, a long night yesterday and multiple calls to a very patient customer service rep named Arthur who handled me like a New York concierge, my Sirius console has bit the dust. Damn thing comes on but won't do much afterwards, and after downloading and upgrading software out the kahooney throughout the night, to be told there's nothing that can be done about my Sirius S50 after my wife triumphantly snuck attacked me with it a couple Christmases ago when Sirius was still getting its kicking legs... Well, I'd just as soon tell her a pack of zombies are lurking at the door and we're positively fucked.

All that work for nothing and still Arthur and Sirius stepped up like gentlemen and offered to replace my S50 for free. Seriously, in a day where gas prices has caused a hedging effect upon commerce be it food, beer (also hit recently by a hops shortage, God help us all), electronics and postage stamps, to hear the words "free of charge" in a time when we're all collectively struggling as a nation... Then that, my friends, is the spirit of freedom and fairness our brothers and sisters are laying down their lives for. It's not the material aspect I'm referring to, but the standup essence of doing the right thing when a still-fledgling corporation like Sirius (which has had its own share of water treading) absorbs the cost of hardware in the interest of preserving good customer relations. So a pint goes to Sirius, assuming there's enough hops to make the brew...

So far the week's been filled with lots of stories, many I'll hold off for the interim, but I will say that this past Sunday we went to Gettysburg and found the spot where my great-great grandfather and great-great uncle fought and as many times as I've been to the battlefield, this one was perhaps the most poignant after a genealogy trace revealed our family has blood ties to the battle. Where they were positioned was near Culp's Hill and directly adjacent to Spangler's Spring, and they formed a wall that repulsed attacking Southern forces. Had this line collapsed, the Confederates would've smashed straight through and possibly captured Meade and sandwiched the Union forces that were fighting off Pickett's charge. When put in the moment, you can appreciate the fact that any slight twist of fate could've altered the course of history. Cheers to you, States and Rufus Dell and the 1st Maryland Potomac, 12th Corps and all of the supporting regiments that held the line...

Now that I've blabbed your eyes off, let me get to work here. Lots of music spun throughout the week, though I was rather settled on Opeth's Blackwater Park. If you really study these guys, they tidily write their music in steady four counts, so seamlessly you can dreamily tick off the fours in tandem, just using "The Drapery Falls" as an example, which I've come to now judge as a metal masterpiece. I hate to make hasty decisions like that, but apparently I'm not alone in this opinion the more I come across Opeth fans. It's definitely within striking distance of Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" for glorious metal epics.

Thoughts and prayers to the countless people who lost their lives this week in Myanmar. As they say when the chips seem stacked against you, and you think you have problems?

Opeth - Blackwater Park
King's X - XV
King's X - Dogman
Motorhead - Another Perfect Day
Motorhead - Bastards
Megadeth - Youthanasia
Puscifer - "V" is For Viagra - The Remixes
Scorpions - Love at First Sting
Clutch - The Elephant Riders
The Melvins - Stoner Witch
The Melvins - Nude With Boots
The Hives - Veni Vidi Vicious
Gods Revolver - Little Black Horse Where Are You Going
King Diamond - Give Me Your Soul, Please
Ihsahn - Angl
Electrocute - On the Beat EP
Coverdale/Page - S/T
Whitesnake - Good to Be Bad
Richie Havens - The Millenium Collection
The Mooney Suzuki - Electric Sweat
Crimson Glory - Transcendence
Crimson Glory - S/T

Monday, May 05, 2008

Opeth - "The Drapery Falls" live

Because I can't get off of Blackwater Park, one of the most sophisticated metal songs ever written...

Opeth - The Drapery Falls

Saturday, May 03, 2008

CD Review: Crimson Glory - S/T and Transcendence Reissues

Crimson Glory - S/T and Transcendence reissues
2008 Metal Mind Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Lo, the tale of one Crimson Glory, the lore of one of America's brightest prog metal hopefuls in the eighties. Imagine having the rare opportunity to release your material on three powerhouse labels MCA, Atlantic and a then-fledgling Roadrunner. One can consider the fact that for each Crimson Glory album that was released in their original run featuring the screech-erific Midnight on the mike, they were a band on the verge of busting loose commercially. One can also take the more jaded position that Crimson Glory was so complex that none of the labels who briefly housed them knew how to market them properly. Save for 1988's Transcendence, which received a proper promotional push the first few months after its release, Crimson Glory was nevertheless doomed to relegation just below the mid-tier ranks of the original heavy metal pecking order. By the time Atlantic got their cash-minded mits on the band for 1991's Strange and Beautiful, the metal-friendly label had seen the opportunity to transform the Queensryche and Iron Maiden-laced prog wailers into what they'd hoped to be the logical Mindcrime successor.

In effect, Atlantic had committed Bandcrime in their edict to Crimson Glory to streamline and essentially downplay all that made them underground legends of the day, so much that even Midnight complied with the corporate manifesto and cut down most of his piercing falsetto shenanigans on Strange and Beautiful. It didn't take long for Crimson Glory to fall out of favor amongst their core legion and ultimately out of the scene altogether until the core triumvirate of Jeff Lords, Jon Drenning and Ben Jackson resurfaced with Savatage drummer Steve "Doc" Wacholz and the "War Machine," Wade Black (also of Lucian Black and Leash Law notoriety) for 1999's Astronomica.

In the interim between Strange and Beautiful and Astronomica, the central trio of Crimson Glory dabbled about in various projects. Lords and Drenning formed Erotic Liquid Culture with Michael Schenker, while Ben Jackson started the cult band Parish along with his on-occasion solo band The Ben Jackson Group. Midnight bowed out of the metal society altogether though be briefly resurfaced in 2001 with an acoustic EP called M and then again in 2005 for his Sakada album.

For many heavy metal fans, the lingering question about Crimson Glory, even though they're officially back on the touring circuit featuring the main allegiance with Wade Black and original drummer Dana Burnell returning to the fold is nonetheless, what the hell happened that Crimson Glory didn't make it big?

When turning back to their first two albums, Crimson Glory and Transcendence, one has to listen with a mind turned back to the years in which they were conceived. In 2008, both albums sound dated, particularly from the analog recording methods utilized back in the day. Certainly there's a primitive nature to these albums (more so the self-titled album than Transcendence) given all the gloss and embossing music production standards that have evolved today. If you really stop and think about songs like "Dragon Lady" and the Maiden-esque "Azrael" from Crimson Glory or "Lady of Winter" and "Lonely" (Crimson Glory's only true shot at crossing over into the mainstream) from Transcendence, to relegate these songs from scratch into a digital capture, they would sound appropriately thunderous as well as crisp and robust.

Still, put yourself if you weren't there originally, into the bedrooms of a typical teenaged headbanger from 1986 and holy hell, what mind-melding stuff this was! Listen to Ben Jackson and Jon Drenning shred and scorch on "Dragon Lady," "Mayday," "Heart of Steel" and "Valhalla" from their self-titled album, while Midnight peels the paint of the walls with his puncturing squeals. Not so easy on the ears these days, admittedly, but goddamn what an impressive display it was back then! Seriously, the guy could've stood toe-to-toe with King Diamond at one point. Sad that time robs and ushers in truths that aren't so apparent when you're in the moment years earlier. To think that "Queen of the Masquerade" sounded so sinister and yet sophisticated back in 1986 only to come off a bit lackadaisical two decades later is a bit heartbreaking.

That minor quibble aside, listening to Crimson Glory these days is a step back, yes, but it's a fun, nostalgic trip down Metal Memory Lane, and for this writer's journey, the big payoff comes on the melancholic acoustic dirge "Lost Reflection" that is the largest demonstration of Crimson Glory's progressive artistry that only had so much opportunity to nurture itself given the bidding war that would come their way in 1988 with Transcendence.

What Crimson Glory had already been sculpting using The Warning and Rage For Order era Queensryche and NWOBHM (in particular Paul Dianno period Maiden) in 1986 was existential again on Transcendence, yet at this point Crimson Glory had come far in quick succession, on par with Armored Saint and Lizzy Borden at this point, though Queensryche was already further along the path en route to their masterpiece Operation Mindcrime and their commercial juggernaut Empire.

Some might say that Crimson Glory was behind the metal queue just a hair by the time Transcendence came out, but reflective of the spectacular Heavy Metal (the magazine) artwork on the cover of this album, Crimson Glory had elevated their own craft in response. While still adhering to the Queensryche-Maiden prog-power metal script ("Lady of Winter" an example of the former, "Red Sharks" of the latter), the gradual morphing of Crimson Glory in 1988 found more elaborate songwriting, superior shredding and guitar solos from Drenning and Jackson, terrific roll-happy drumming from Dana Burnell and even Midnight by this time had managed to incorporate a little Rob Halford into his scale-driven projection.

As Transcendence drives rhythmically on striking mini epics like "Red Sharks," "Masque of the Red Death" (listen closely for a note sequence hoisted straight out of Maiden's "Powerslave," the song), "In Dark Places" and "Eternal World," one of Crimson Glory's biggest assets on this album comes from a tight-knit purification effect. They plug in the few gaps from Crimson Glory with deeper fills and sometimes astonishing progression, the finale of "Eternal World" being one example, the cross-cultural merge of Zeppelin and Medieval Times on the title track in a gut-wrenching, anticipatory blend of acoustic and electric wizardry that carries the mysterious track without the assistance of a beat.

In some ways, "Lonely" is the isolated castaway song from Transcendence, which is perhaps why it was selected as a single. Cousin to Queensryche's "The Lady Wore Black," Crimson Glory builds "Lonely" with a forlorn intro that builds into a chugging rock jam complete with straightforward (for him anyway) vocals from Midnight that dives headfirst into rousing, pseudo-uptempo choruses.

Most assuredly "Lonely" is the reason Atlantic Records hoisted Crimson Glory because with a better push from MCA, it would've scored huge for the band. As worthy as anyone else to be a Metal Mania selection, "Lonely" is a shrewdly-written tune with memorable lyrics, and as it spills into the wounds-cut-deep disaffection of "Burning Bridges," (another song bearing conflicting choruses that border on bright) one can feel the struggle already existing in Crimson Glory, the decision on whether to be prog metal purists or to carry the tuneful magic of "Lonely" into the future.

Naturally Atlantic was banking on Crimson Glory following suit on the path of "Lonely" by the time Strange and Beautiful arrived. Bad enough Crimson Glory had such pressure to conform when they were already seeking a different path, but as the metal scene in North America was on its last hinges in 1991, Crimson Glory nary stood a chance whether they released another Transcendence or if they abandoned ship altogether and became the next Slaughter or Firehouse. Of course, Crimson Glory's rhythm section is far too music-oriented to just dumb themselves down, although Ben Jackson's All Over You is about as close to straight-laced rock as we've yet heard from this ensemble.

If there's one feather in Crimson Glory's cap after all these years with a handful of albums and an almost-hit-big legacy, it's the fact that enough people from the day remember them and even bigger, the younger generation has become aware of these guys. There's excitability in the air from progheads and metal purists that Crimson Glory and Transcendence are back in our midst. Make no mistake about it; Midnight's vocals can be off-putting to the untrained or the conventional ear, and they sometimes antiquate Crimson Glory's material, but beyond the over-the-top high octaves, he can be a wonderful, classically-trained vocalist and as the band responds accordingly, this is when the band is at their best. They might not've reached the same heights as Queensryche, but nobody can say Crimson Glory didn't give it their best shot.

Rating: ****