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

Saturday, June 28, 2008

CD Review: Judas Priest - Nostradamus

Judas Priest - Nostradamus
2008 Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

A cultural Renaissance interested in the prophecies of the renowned apothecary and philosopher Nostradamus has crept its way into mainstream society, largely from hypists and propagandists looking to tag the defragmentation of our world upon a series of ancient foretellings. Everything from the Middle East wars to 9/11 to The Greenhouse Effect to El Nino to the rise and collapse of the Soviet regime to the Bush Administration Part Deux has fallen under the microscope of modern thinkers who would like nothing more than to tie all of it to Nostradmus' civilization-altering collection of writings, Les Propheties.

Les Propheties was written largely in poetic quatrains, which heightens the romanticism factor pinned to Nostradamus. The French healer, consort and seer of a possible future (originally known by his familial name Nostredame before refurbishing it Latin-style) bore a life filled with both fame and scrutiny. The bourgeoisie were largely favorable to Nostradamus and it is their goodwill and support that initially gave the soothsayer his notoriety. Catherine de Medicis was one of Nostradamus' staunchest supporters and she soon ushered him to the court of King Henri II as horoscopist and eventual Counselor and Physician-In-Ordinary to the crown.

Using the bible and astrology as a guide to his almanacs and prophecies, Nostradmus' appeal centuries later is derived from a global fragility that is afraid to admit it is collectively seeking answers. The spiritual grounding of Nostradamus' works is one of the reasons he is less dismissed as a heretic and more of a revered finder of a purported second sight. Still, in a skeptical society as we live in today, it is easier to balk at Les Propheties, which you can sit in and listen upon any collegiate philosophy or debate class or from the leisure of your own office chair, via the internet. Not a bad stay of reputation 442 years after death...

What would Nostradamus think about 2008's complicated, tech-driven world, a world many contemporaries claim was posited in a pre-French Revolution existence? Moreover, what would he think about the evolution of music and the arts so much that a 20th century and beyond heavy metal band would create a two-hour ode to him in song? If there is an active afterlife, Nostradamus would probably find a two-disc album bearing his namesake and his life's story to be more than a bit surreal. Or if you're an optimist, you'd take the position that he foretold it in his mind, just as he foretold the date and hour of his death, July 1, 1566, to his secretary in King Henri II's court.

The bigger question, however, for the devout fan base of Judas Priest--who would just as soon ravenously scrape pittance to buy an ode to Bozo the Clown so long as the album bore their hallowed name--is what are they going to think of this marathon metal excursion into history?

Already the legion of Priest fans are murmuring amongst themselves in a state of confusion by Nostradamus, an album that might as well be subtitled "A Night at The Priest Opera." Ambitious beyond words, Nostradamus is easily Judas Priest's most mature body of work ever conceived, which of course puts a large chunk of their audience at immediate odds. Hard to wrap one's head around constant orchestral interludes and largely whispered crooning from Rob Halford, who breathes life into a first-person narrative of the esteemed philosopher, especially when most Priest fans come to the table ready to rock out with nothing on their minds, save to headbang fast and hard to the tempest of a skullcrushing British typhoon.

Well, the typhoon still exists in Judas Priest's woven arsenal, but on Nostradamus, they want you to wait for it...and wait you will, even as they create a tension-filled doom march filled with metal and symphonic supplementation on "War" that is like a Lord of the Rings battle prelude before it settles back once again into the wistful "Sands of Time" and then a mid-tempo stomp ala Defenders of the Faith-era Priest on "Pestilence and Plague."

The thing with Nostradamus is that it's going to require monster patience on behalf of the listener to appreciate what they're attempting, which is to bridge almost every era of their existence into a conceptual enterprise. Granted, the first spin of Nostradamus is going to be a huge chore, particularly if what you're seeking out of this thing is a charging metal masher like the heavy-dosed "Persecution," which arrives at the tail end of the first disc. Finding a way to make good use of their commercial-minded eccentricities on Turbo in the opening bars of "Persecution," the song pounds away with an agreeable mix of heavy strumming and tightly-woven synths, along with escalated vocals from Rob Halford (including some screeching dubs mixed within) and shredding solos from KK Downing and Glenn Tipton. Suffice it to say, "Persecution" is the payoff track on the first album, though it depends largely if you're a Sad Wings of Destiny Priest fan or a Screaming For Vengeance Priest fan. By all means Priest fans at-large love both albums, as much as most of the entire catalog, but a Sad Wings and Hero Hero Priest fan will at least bear through the unconventional nature of Nostradamus to hear where it goes next.

The manifest answer upon opening of the second disc of Nostradamus is of the Sad Wings variety with "Solitude" and "Exiled" as Rob Halford paints a morose and stirring subjectivity into his muse, concentrating upon the time Nostradamus lost his first wife and children to a plague and likewise faced suspicion of heresy for his interests in the occult. For dramatic purposes, Judas Priest focuses upon the bitter irony of Nostradamus' creation of the "Rose Pill," which was reputedly a combative agent against the plague, only to lose his first family despite his best efforts to protect them. They also touch upon the fact Nostradamus was imprisoned for a brief period of time on their would-be opus, but at-large, the album tries to headshrink a bit, encapsulating a postulated swirling madness and disorder to the great thinker that would have the listener infer a Faustian subtlety to the man's reported spiritual-groundedness.

At least the second disc grows a bit heavier and more exciting if you've simply had enough of the dallying and narrative building on the first one with the Ram it Down-esque "Visions" or the lumbering and tone-dense "Alone" and "Future of Mankind," much less the booming sub-finale "Nostradamus."

The overall picture with Nostradamus however, it that it is the band's most layered and adventurous album yet put together. Its grandiosity and inherent beauty, however, is going to be grossly lost when most fans are going to be wanting something along the lines of "Freewheel Burning," "Electric Eye" or even "Touch of Evil" instead of the audibly picturesque acoustic interlude "Shadows in the Flame," the trippy Hendrix sqwawks of "Calm Before the Storm" or the lofty and spritely "Hope" that leads into the Pink Floyd-akin "New Beginnings."

Push comes to shove, selling Judas Priest as high artisans instead of ambassadors of hard-driving heavy metal is going to be like selling Slayer as emo for many people. In time, the underlying impressiveness of Nostradamus will reveal itself with repeat listens, but the real trick is going to be mastering a tolerant ear for what Judas Priest has attempted with this heavy metal symposium. Though British Steel, Hell Bent For Leather and Stained Class will assuredly find their way to your player quicker than Nostradamus, perhaps one day the latter album will eventually charm if nothing else, as Judas Priest's attempt at fine art.

Sure, the concept album and the grand epic is second nature to heavy metal. However, Judas Priest may be a slight bit naive to think everyone is going to hang around through Nostradamus in our current retention-drained society. At least they believed in themselves enough to pull this stunt off, which you have to admire them for their bravery. Nostradamus is not in the league of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or even Operation Mindcrime, but there's a certain brand of heavy metal that is all Judas Priest's, so when they create nearly-jokey rally cries using their muse's name on "Prophecy" and "Nostradamus," it's still inherently Judas Priest as much as "Leather Rebel" from Painkiller or "The Sentinel" from Defenders of the Faith. Filled with sweet melancholy, Bach-adorning fugue and random blares of traditional heavy metal, Nostradamus is a very inflated affair, not that the tale of a figurehead such as Michel de Nostredame can be so compactly contained.

If Judas Priest is guilty of anything with Nostradamus, it's their presumption that their fans will instantly take to this upon-greeting befuddling and later-gratifying effort, much like the Democrat party assumes the world is ready to have race and sex barriers broken down overnight in a new millennium presidential campaign. Both are noble causes, but both must also take into consideration there's too much radicalism behind their intentions that it'll take some time and consumption for the desired effect to be properly appreciated.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, June 27, 2008

CD Review: Motley Crue - Saints of Los Angeles

Motley Crue - Saints of Los Angeles
2008 Motley Records/Eleven Seven Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Sometimes a long layoff is just the right medicine in terms of finding your motivation if you're a band like Motley Crue that still manages to call the beacon light unto yourselves despite revolving social changes and taste swings. As it's been eight years since the Motleys last took a shot at a rock 'n roll comeback with 2000's pretty entertaining New Tattoo, the rowdy ones find themselves in a more favorable market now than they did the last time around when even a smidgeon of their hardcore fans turned indifferent to them. Honestly, there hasn't been this much buzz about a Motley Crue album since the self-titled album with John Carabi that blitzed the charts then tanked immediately thereafter once the fans cried foul that Vince Neil wasn't holding court. Sad to say in hindsight, that 1994 album is unfortunately bashed more than is perhaps justified.

Saints of Los Angeles finds Motley Crue in the peculiar role of elder statesmen when 27 years ago they were the young punk trash savantes of the Sunset Strip, setting a mold for many of the future hard rockers of the scene that debauched themselves and the City of (Arch)Angels on survival instincts to pony their ambitions on the shoulders of strippers and newcomer A&R reps willing to put up with their footloose fuck-off shenanigans. The L.A. metal culture of the eighties is worthy of its own filmed sociodrama, but for now, we have Marc Canter's Guns 'n Roses expose book The Making of Appetite For Destruction and of course the Princes of Plastered Motley Crue are making their own documentation with their guilded book The Dirt and what could be looked upon as its musical companion, Saints of Los Angeles.

In the time Motley Crue has been floundering around a hard rock scene that's given them just a few inches to dicker with side projects and random television appearances, the new generation of headbangers and punkers can be seen wearing Too Fast For Love t-shirts, much as they could back in the eighties. One of the few unifying metal albums that the two sanctions of fans ever could see eye-to-eye upon, Too Fast For Love remains a grime classic and there's a certain excavation effect from that album along with spots from Shout at the Devil and Dr. Feelgood on Saints of Los Angeles. The trick is it is all concocted with a contemporary denseness of sound that Motley Crue has happily brought into Saints of Los Angeles, something they couldn't have done during the times they recorded Generation Swine or New Tattoo. Sometimes one has to live life a little further to find some introspection, if not inspiration, and for sure Saints of Los Angeles is the most inspired Motley Crue has sounded in two decades.

Apparently Tommy, Mick, Nikki and Vince have found a way to exorcise the demons that have crept into their camp repeatedly over time, something that can occur almost by nature when you have four varying personalities caught in the midst of a jading limelight. Saints of Los Angeles may not be as deeply confessional as The Dirt, but certainly the cracked glass of whiskey bottles and filled condoms has its own soundtrack amidst the largely pumping vibe of this album on songs like "Face Down in the Dirt," "Chicks = Trouble," and "MF of the Year."

Appropriately rowdy when trying to convey the life and times one of modern rock's biggest studies of depravity, Saints of Los Angeles is nostalgic, more for Motley Crue and their original followers on Sunset than the public at-large, while their worldwide audience gets the benefit of a loud and shouting rock album that hypothetically has its eye on the money all the way through. Motley Crue jives along in retrospection on "Down at The Whiskey," where everyone who's everyone in rock from The Doors to Velvet Revolver has splashed and crashed in an everyman's showcase.

While Vince Neil reminisces about the glory days of 1983-85 on "What It's Going to Take" (borrowing a tad from their cover of The Beatles' "Helter Skelter") and "Down at The Whiskey," he and the boys peel the paint with "Welcome to the Machine" (not of the Pink Floyd variety, fret not) and their ballsy closer "Goin' Out Swingin'." Along the way, the Crue sarcastically bobs along on cuts such as "White Trash Circus," "This Ain't a Love Song" and of course the title track.

The metal resurrection has obviously brought the majority of the old school's constituents out of retirement like dogs to the hunt, and while some may dismiss this madhouse clamoring as a cash 'n stash ploy, so long as there's some sort of crediblity to the effort, then we can forgive a good bit of it. Saints of Los Angeles could've been an utter disaster; in fact, a fair amount of fans were predicting it to fall flat on its face. Fortunately the Crue have found a way to make their leathers fit and to dust some of the burrs from their street cowboy facades. Saints of Los Angeles is the album Motley Crue's fans have been waiting a long time for and undoubtedly deserve.

Rating: ****

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Thursday - 6/26/08

Yeah, I'm a day off, but my schedule's wrecked, my stomach is wrecked and my entire life is wrecked until I know for sure I have full-time work, which I've been trying to procure in the way of a temporary situation. Between the baby, an hour commute and a hard-hitting stomach bug, things have been hellish, to say the least. Very little sleep, lots of time spent trying to keep the baby happy, nothing on the tube except for Noggin for the little sprout, zilcho energy-wise and next to zero on the writing tip. As they say, you bring a child into your home, it's not about you anymore.

Suffice it to say, I listen to most of my music anymore on the road, though I snuck in some random listening and reviewing time last weekend. After the Journey faux pas this week, I'm just ready to move away from that and get into the next thing, which is the new Crue album, Saints of Los Angeles. I was pleasantly surprised to see that promo hit my mailbox and even more so to hear that the thing rocks pretty hard! I'd have to say it's their heaviest album since Shout at the Devil, if not the self-titled Motley Crue album with John Carabi. By all means check it out and stand by for a review here at The Metal Minute.

Of course, after seeing Maiden last week, I had a heavy dash of them as well. I was tickled that a friend of mine who ended up at the show and had never heard them before came out wowed and converted. Up the Irons! Prayers go out to another friend of mine whose father has terminal cancer; I have nothing to complain about in comparison...

Motley Crue - Saints of Los Angeles
Iron Maiden - Number of the Beast
Iron Maiden - Killers
Iron Maiden - Powerslave
Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind
Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death
Journey - Revelation
Journey - Greatest Hits
Boris - Smile
Tears For Fears - The Hurting
Mr. Bungle - S/T
Carnivore - S/T
Carnivore - Retaliation
I Shalt Become - Requiem
Belphegor - Bondage Goat Zombie
Equilibrium - Sagas

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Journey Review Disclaimer

I'll take my lumps and impending further hostility for erroneously referring to Arnel Pineda of Journey as both Latino and a young twenty-something. As my readers were quick to point out, Mr. Pineda is Philippine and aged 40. My apologies to Pineda and Journey for the uncommonly lax research on my part. Depth of research is something I normally pride myself in and I regret not exercising it more fluently in this matter...

CD Review: Journey - Revelation

Journey - Revelation
2008 Nomata LLC
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The departure of league-established power vocalist Jeff Scott Soto from Journey so quickly after joining was perhaps as unpopular for many fans as the original split with Steve Perry so long ago. What some people forget is that Soto bears a support group as devout as any. Though Steve Augeri had for years aptly carried the illusion that Perry had never left with dead-on accuracy (so much to the point you heard unwitting casual rock fans actually call him Steve Perry), Augeri had to bow out for medical reasons, which left the time-honored rock band in stasis once Jeff Scott Soto had subsequently crossed back through the turnstiles which he'd entered.

One thing about Neil Schon and Journey, they refuse to let that principal butterfly crooning resonance that Steve Perry made his own stray from their core sound that largely made their best-known albums Infinity, Evolution, Departure, Escape and Frontiers some of mainstream rock's best offerings from the late seventies through the mid-eighties. One might accuse the remaining trio from Journey's glory years, Schon, Jonathan Cain and Ross Vallory (with Schon and Vallory being the remaining two from Journey's formative days) of having continued sour grapes that Steve Perry ever took flight from the band; that, or they just know even a reasonable facsimile of Perry's then-youthful exuberance and vocal fragility is the way to stay alive in a competitive game that embraces its pasttime heroes, though frequently from afar in a cyclical business that usually has no time to check its shoulder for the past.

Enter Arnel Pineda, a Latino whiz-kid who appears almost waif-like in relation to his veteran charges that includes former Bad English drummer Deen Castronovo, who has held camp in Journey since Schon and Cain rode Bad English to their satisfaction. For Pineda's purposes, he comes to a band with everything to gain. Though Journey's last commercially-accepted hurrah came with the powerhouse rock smash Frontiers and a contribution to the Tron soundtrack beforehand, they briefly (and some argue quietly) exited the scene with the top-ten selling single "Be Good To Yourself" from Raised On Radio before resurging for a nostalgic run in the mid-ninties with Augeri. Of course, Journey, even in a shaky North American rock scene discovered they could sell a few albums, though it wasn't until Generation X had hit its thirties that Journey would score with 2001's Arrival and 2005's Generations.

Not a bad prospect for a young buck who can both sell "The Perry Factor" as well as his own repertoire of twenty-something budding maturity, and this is one reason why Journey's Revelation works as well as it does. However, it's the inspiration Pineda's seniors derive from his presence that largely accounts for the album's strength. If there's any inhibitant to Arnel Pineda's vocal delivery, it's an occasional timing squib in which he'll jump the gun in minute spots. Otherwise, the dude recognizes the opportunity he's been given in Journey and he's savvy enough to play himself into the decidedly old school rock structuring of Revelation. When most singers in his age bracket are full of jacked-up adrenaline with something to prove, Pineda allows Journey to dictate the pace to which he follows suit. He can milk the slow curves of Revelation's ballads like "What I Needed," "Turn Down the Night" and "After All These Years" with convincing romance (though no one will ever match Steve Perry's uncanny ability to reduce ladies to tears and guys to hopeful midnight trysts with those blubbering babes). Pineda can also confidently carry Revelation's steady rockers like "Never Walk Away," "Change For the Better" and "Faith In the Heartland," all songs that would normally befit a singer almost two generations beyond him.

For Journey's purposes, they have recruited a disciplined junior gun with which to stick to their scripts of formula-driven power rock. While Journey over the years has somehow lost their ability to find the mega-hook that catapulted them to superstardom with classic songs like "Open Arms," "Separate Ways," Who's Crying Now," "Wheel in the Sky," "Any Way You Want It" or "Don't Stop Believin'" this doesn't stop Revelation from throbbing along respectably. Naturally there's a throwback feel to Revelation with its thick, arena-ready production and attentive tendencies towards a Big '80s sound. "Wildest Dream," "Where Did I Lose Your Love" and especially "Change For the Better" sound like tracks ready-made for an eighties action flick or teen comedy, a fine art lost in today's films, that heavy-duty soundtrack arsenal that splashed atop the former decade's celluloid. Jonathan Cain's molasses-thick keys on "Change For the Better" especially makes you want to grab Vision Quest or Iron Eagle off the shelf and just get lost in retrospection.

While Revelation may be too retro for modern A&R reps looking to gloss their fabricated tech-hacked rap onto the payola-driven exclusive MP3 playlists of big boy radio programmers and while there's no monster hit lurking here (despite a hefty push of "Never Walk Away" and "After All These Years") the album as a whole shows major heart, be it the pulsing drum rolls from Deen Castronovo at the end of "Wildest Dream" or the way Journey tosses out some jam-minded prog at the end of "Faith in the Heartland" reflective of their Next and Look Into the Future albums.

Though Revelation tends to shimmy towards its conclusion instead of maintaining the balls-out hunger of the first two-thirds of the album, including a not-bad Satriani-like guitar-droned instrumental, "The Journey (Revelation)," the end result is a Journey album that is largely dialed in and assured of itself, which gives them the hope of a continued career with worthy rock material fronted by a soulful kid who just may be their future. Journey banks on this so much they decided to include a bonus CD with Revelation in which they give Arnel Pineda the opportunity to re-record a large chunk of band's most-revered hits.

In some ways, this is terribly disrespectful to Steve Perry, but for touring purposes, Journey obviously wants their fans to know that Pineda can field "Only the Young," "Faithfully," and "Open Arms" with barely an effort. The kid's a natural and it'll be interesting to hear how he does with this writer's favorite Journey ballad "Send Her My Love."

For triple pack fun, Revelation also comes with a live DVD and ye-bang, Journey is back in a way they haven't been since Steve Perry crushed the charts in 1984 with his solo album Street Talk. Though Journey have always been stalwart veterans, the doubt cast in their camp the second Perry broke rank and returned only in fleeting passage shook them to a lie they've been living with ever since. Revelation at least sounds like the monkey is officially off their backs.

Rating: ****

Friday, June 20, 2008

CD Review: Carnivore - Retaliation reissue

Carnivore - Retaliation reissue
2008 Metal Mind
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Some albums carry their own legend and preceding reputation and in 1987 a slew of underground metal classics were being nurtured (or already had been) by bands like Testament, Death, Dark Angel and Possessed to name a few. Let us not forget of course the prevailing insanity of the raucous Carnivore and their Brooklyn-minded nut busting thrash/hardcore cornerstone Retaliation.

I'll give everyone here the benefit of the doubt and assume the connection between Carnivore and Type O Negative is considered rudimentary metal knowledge, but for sake of posterity, the history lesson has to be acknowledged, particularly in light of the fact that the briefly-lived Carnivore had unknowingly molded the face of hardcore before embarking on the more serious and frequently gloomier Type O Negative. Where Peter Steele and his compadres that followed along into Type O found it within themselves to reinvent from a tooth-dislodging brand of moshing into a largely lumbering and ominous projection of metallic density is perhaps an interesting study in psychology, but two decades after Carnivore's Retaliation infested the metal community, we can turn to "Race War," "Ground Zero Brooklyn" or "Five Billion Dead" and hear the gestation effect taking place in what would become Type O Negative. Even moments of the self-titled debut album Carnivore now reveals touches here and there of what Steele and company would evolve into later down the road.

Beforehand however, there was Carnivore, once a Gwar-esque brand of power grime that took virgin stages in outlandish Mad Max-type of mutant garb and then doused their audiences with blood for shock value in an effort to bring the issue of a then-potential nuclear holocaust to the eyes of an unheeding public. Somewhere between Carnivore and Retaliation, however, Steele got real and let the hounds out with far more speed, heavier aggression and accordingly a nastier attitude.

Retaliation is the by-product of a post Cold War climate in which the world had already braced itself for the inevitable button-pushing showdown that loomed atop our heads subversively beneath the great big party that bounced along the idealistic eighties. Still, you had Ozzy Osbourne crooning "Thank God For the Bomb" in protest of the fragile existence between the United States and the formerly-known Soviet Union, while Dokken took a softer, plea-based stance with "Will the Sun Rise." Nuclear Assault had shown the way towards governmental policy objectionism thrash-style following the breakout success of S.O.D.'s Speak English Or Die, but it was Carnivore's Retaliation and the simplistic silhouetted cover artwork that put a ghostly and more realistic facade to the issue of uncertain annihilation than even Nuclear Assault's hauntingly expressive Game Over art.

Moreso however, Retaliation's internal guts are churned and barfed the minute your stylus (or in today's case, CD laser beam) hits the oval with the riotously sickening "Jack Daniels and Pizza." Only the sound of Mike Patton dropping the mike and bolting for the can in a captured gross-out diarrhea fest at the end of "Slowly Growing Deaf" from the self-titled Mr. Bungle album can top Carnivore's blunt chunk projection. Still, despite the sheer nastiness of "Jack Daniels and Pizza," it's a declaration that Carnivore means business with Retaliation, and they take a largely faster approach to their music on now-classic songs like "Angry Neurotic Catholics," "Jesus Hitler," "Technophobia" and "U.S.A. For U.S.A."

The thing that belts into the ears when listening to Retaliation today versus 1987 when admittedly this beast sounded like an out-of-control rocket crash, is how much of this album has festered into repeat patterns by today's hardcore youth. Just the way contemporary hardcore bands adopt Keith Alexander's wicked wrister guitar swipes in isolation as precursor to a thrash blast sequence is something that was perhaps taken for granted until recent years. Study the multifaceted "Race War" alone and you'll hear a hundred newer bands taking liberty. Certainly the far more popular Biohazard carried a lot of Retaliation's spirit in their own music as did Terror and Throwdown, but really, sit down and listen to Retaliation with a more scrutinizing ear and then play a few of today's hardcore offerings and wowzers, what they haven't borrowed from Agnostic Front, the rest comes from Carnivore!

The refreshing thing about Retaliation is that it holds up even better today than it did two decades ago. Though deliberately played with a chum-strewn mentality (especially on the debut Carnivore album), Peter Steele and his wrecking crew laid an assload of groundbreaking punk-heralding reverb, and even though they treaded dangerously close to The Exploited on their own "Sex and Violence," certainly the rip-and-tear thrash mentality Carnivore extols is worthy of examination, as is "Inner Conflict," "S.M.D." and their own brash cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression." "Manic Depression" as put through Carnivore's meat grinder comes off as a rare expression of individuality from the original source, and it is a great deviation from the stout clout effect of the rest of the album.

The reissue of Retaliation of course boasts more detail to the already cryptic album cover, and for artistic purposes this is pretty schway, however, it's probably safe to assume the original's soulless and blackened threatening posture is the better rendition. No matter, though; it's the content inside that matters most and happily Retaliation is the same reliable outpouring of hostility perfect for settling nerves on a bad day while treading boundaries of taste and goodwill. If an album says "fuck you" better than this one, then hand it over right now!

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesdays - 6/18/08

Hola, crew. Been lax on this segment at The Metal Minute as I am posting in general, but let's just say my life has been turned upside down with the arrival of a foster baby named Troy who is the cutest thing but is also tremendous work. Then four days after we get him, I get laid off from work. Suffice it to say my time has been consumed looking for work and trying to be strong for a little kid who could use a more present male figure in his life at this point in time. Quite likely he'll be reunified with his biological parents, but for now we're doing our best to keep him safe and happy. Double the pressure, you might say, as this year has easily been the most trying I've ever contended with. 'Nuff said.

Of course my reviewing and music journalism output is down considerably as I'm prioritizing my life until it gets put back into a semblence of order. I've listened to a lot of Underground Garage on Sirius and a smaller handful of albums while in the back of my mind I'm trying to piece together a hypothetical soundtrack of music to my fiction project I've had on the burners. After contacting the eighties rock band The Fixx and receiving their generous consent, said project is going to be called "Saved By Zero." Thus, The Fixx's Reach the Beach is my most-spun album these days along with a little attack of the eighties, shall we say... I dunno, maybe I can do a sequel after this one and use Minor Threat's "Salad Days."

The Fixx - Reach the Beach
The Go Go's - Beauty and the Beat
The Go Go's - Talk Show
Elvis Costello - My Aim is True
Elvis Costello - Spike
Flogging Molly - Float
Grief of War - A Mounting Crisis... As Their Fury Got Released
Black Sabbath - The Rules of Hell
Boris - Smile
Between the Buried and Me - Alaska
Jon Oliva's Pain - Global Warning

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

CD Review: Grief of War - A Mounting Crisis... As Their Fury Got Released

Grief of War - A Mounting Crisis... As Their Fury Got Released
2008 Prosthetic Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

One thing about the Japanese; if they didn't invent it already, they're damned fine students who frequently demonstrate their knowledge of an existing concept in entertainingly affluent fashion. Boris still remains the coolest band on the planet, while Balzac has proven to be more than capable with their Misfits-bred punk aesthetics. Back in the eighties, Loudness was considered one of the premiere underground metal bands on the scene while E-Z-O followed suit but sadly lost their instant recognition. Into the metal fold with their proclaimed "Samurai Crunch" comes Tokyo's Grief of War, and as silly as that rally banner sounds, this band demonstratively embodies a front line of slashing wakizashi through thrash patterns, power grooves and wicked guitar work on their debut album A Mounting Crisis: As Their Fury Got Released.

While the principles of classic thrash are being excavated and reimagined by a new generation of speed freak acolytes, it's at least a fresh deviation from the norms of current metal trends...for the time being, anyway. Bands like Skeletonwitch and Warbringer have already caused a buzz through the North American metal underground, and their credo that the old school is the better school is happily reflected in Grief of War's rapid-paced hello from the east.

If you're not convinced that traditional thrash metal is back in a big way, then spin A Mounting Crisis: As Their Fury Got Released and if the blitz-breathed "Hatred Burns and "Rat Race" doesn't have your attention out the gate, then stick around and see if "Eternal Curse" doesn't toxic waltz like your favorite Exodus pit stomper through rearranged riffs and a dead-on rhythm that deviates on the song's bridges. Otherwise, get up off your ass and you-know-what, and if you hit the floor you can always crawl...

While A Mounting Crisis: As Their Fury Got Released does exercise plenty of power metal flexing on primarily mid-tempo cuts like "Sown By Greed," "Blind From the Facts" and "The Judgment Day," the theme and the scheme is to shred your face at the jawline at top flight with "Resist," "Blood Lust" and "Distrust."

Playing with every ounce of conviction as any Bay Area madmen, Grief of War, led by Manabu Hirose, dares you not to headbang like a retard through A Mounting Crisis: As Their Fury Got Released. Unless your brand of metal falls under different camp flags, there's almost no reason to dismiss Grief of War. As impressive as Death Angel back in the eighties with their critical debut album The Ultra-Violence, Grief of War is equally fierce and full of red-flagging global controversy in their artwork and their lyrics. Assuredly Hirose and his crew were spinning plenty of Death Angel, Nuclear Assault, Sadus and Carnivore while concocting A Mounting Crisis: As Their Fury Got Released because this album moves with a purpose and they only stand to get even better.

Rating: ****

Friday, June 13, 2008

DVD Review: Attitude For Destruction

Attitude For Destruction
2008 MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Ahh, the ever-continuing quest to create the perfect heavy metal horror movie... Trick Or Treat, Black Roses, Rock and Roll Nightmare, the hit list just keeps on rolling. We'll give Trick Or Treat its due for being rock solid for the first 45 minutes or so before dipping into guilty pleasure schlock, but really, if you see a horror film called Attitude For Destruction and flip the case over to see an Axl Rose impersonator atop a cluster of cheeky gore still shots and you're still going to watch at that point, then caveat emptor, my friends...

Granted, Ford Austin's Attitude For Destruction doesn't attempt one iota at seriousness. There's more camp to this ridiculous Z movie than a row of bunkhouses bearing Native American tribe names. The fact Austin creates a mockery of Guns 'n Roses in his cluttery horror film Attitude For Destruction shows chutzpah as it does some admittedly decent splatter effects, but in the same breath, Austin's film falls somewhere between the lowbrow grossout geekery of Bill Zebub's films (Kill the Scream Queen, The Crucifier, Dolla Morte) and Jerry Silva's low budget laugh 'n slash Sleepaway Camp sequels. Take it to heart when reading the scrawl line "Rock 'n Roll, Blood, Guts and Sluts" at the bottom of the DVD artwork, becaues Austin is plying for no one's attention but a cult audience addicted to chum bucket horror and heavy metal, the same lot who could be depended upon in the eighties for cross-marketing purposes.

Outlining the very base plot of Attitude For Destruction, a Guns 'n Roses sorta tribute band called Hollywood Roses (an actual band on the circuit, believe it or not) comes to a crossroads when their gruff and pissy Axl Rose-cloned frontman Drake (Colby Veil, also real-life vocalist for Hollywood Roses and Dopesnake) tries to undermine a record deal, which seals his own fate when the label reps (Jed Rowen of Saw Blade and Witch Sabbath and Bloodmask's AnnMarie Lynn Gracey) threaten to renege their offer if Hollywood Roses doesn't eject Drake from the band.

Naturally this doesn't sit well with Drake, who has a shit fit that prompts the rest of the band to kill him and dispatch his body behind their rehearsal studio. Drake's girlfriend (Laura Lyon) latches onto the remaining members of the band as their liason and manager, but unbeknownst to the guys and Rowen and Gracey, Lyon has made a pact with Satan and serves up human sacrifices in order to generate necronomicon-like power to resurrect Drake into zombified action. One-by-one everyone falls in nutjob grue fashion as Lyon seduces new Hollywood Roses vocalist Monte Hunter before springing her trap utilzing her revived tearing and chomping beau.

Attitude For Destruction is just wrong on many levels, be it the nude sacrifice scene set to a lumbering Goth band (which gets whimsically snuffed in the finale) in the film's opening or Lyons' cannibal dwarf buddy (Mighty Mike Murga) hungrily waiting for his offal serving. Bearing no pretentions about its cement-headed cause, Appetite For Destruction is underground horror for catered tastes. At the very least, Ford Austin offers a chuckle-filled script in which the real Axl Rose and Slash ought to be laughing at their L.A. plunged and flushed former selves, much less the impact Guns 'n Roses has left upon a rock society that has crazily enough made room for farcical trash horror.

Rating: **1/2

Thursday, June 12, 2008

CD Review: Third Degree - Punk Sugar

Third Degree - Punk Sugar
2008 Selfmadegod Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

One thing about Poland; their underground chews with sharpened incisors set to a bit-grinding crunch tempo that has nearly become a definitive resonance all to their own. Vader and Behemoth are Poland's two most-recognized metal destructors, and along with Morbid Angel and Napalm Death, they have churned a tumultuous strain of grind-happy thrash acolytes throughout Poland such as Antigama, Decapitated, Dies Irae and Aion.

Now that you have the right sound conjured up in your mind, let's dick around a bit and introduce some punk and hardcore chugs and riffs amidst the core script of blast beat rhythms and headache-inducing yowls. Welcome, then, to Third Degree's Punk Sugar!

If you're familiar with the deathgrind band Herman Rarebell (not to be confused with the ex-Scorpions slammer, of course), you'll recognize guitarist Szymon Czech, who has split his time in Rarebell and of course Third Degree, even taking time out to produce Antigama along the way. The spiraling chaos that is Herman Rarebell is minutely reflected in Third Degree, the latter of whom has been in the game since 1997. If there's anything Czech brings out of Rarebell to Third Degree these days, it's the tendency to explode with gleefully obnoxious crunch, as evidenced by Punk Sugar's "Where is the Consummation?" or the hilarious eight-second screech salute of "So Long Bastards" and the ten-second blast furnace that is "Manipulation."

Otherwise, Third Degree harnesses the inherent double-timed rowdiness of grind (somtimes sounding dead-on like Vader) with perhaps more discipline and certainly more groove with fierce punk-mindedness on "From Simple Punks," "Thoughts," "Twelve Millions" and their Monty Python-heralding "...And Now Something Completely Different."

At times vocalist Piotr Bartczak sounds like a mad-as-hell-and-not-taking-it-anymore Jaz Coleman, while most of the time he simply barks and screams like someone set his pubes on fire. At the time of this writing, however, Third Degree has a new vocalist in the fold, Jarek Mielczarek. In response, Third Degree's rhythm section winds and punishes with mostly-unrelenting speed on tracks like "Millenium of Recycling Christ" and "Surrounded by Victims." Constantly weaving jacked-up double-timed algorithms with occasionally straying beat bobs, Punk Sugar is a pretty creative mix of Vader Meets Killing Joke Meets The Exploited. Certainly nothing saccharine in these guys' cotton candy...

Rating: ****

Monday, June 09, 2008

Machine Head - "Halo" video

Friday, June 06, 2008

CD Review: Bret Michaels - Rock My World

Bret Michaels - Rock My World
2008 VH-1 Classic Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Of all the heavy metal figureheads from the eighties who have reclaimed a hefty portion of their past glory, numero uno has to be Bret Michaels. Up until his monster success with the televised melodrama of bouncy vixens clobbering each other for his presumed affections on the two Rock of Love series on VH-1, only Sebastian Bach had managed to crawl out of the grave where past rockers had been left for dead by a Generation X audience that had grown up and out of their puppy love crushes and fantasies about tour bus servicing to the tune of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and Skid Row's "I Remember You."

All things being equal and reality t.v. actually living up to its purportions, Bret Michaels' choice of 37-year-old Ambre Lake on Rock of Love 2 would seem to be the most logical if Bret was genuinely seeking out his be-all-end-all through the lens of a roving camera outlaying his continuously puckered lips and stuck-in-Teenland phallic engagement with his catty cast members. After all, if you can't penetrate the mind and the soul beyond the flesh, then it's all for naught and should be considered exploitation.

As lead vocalist for Poison, one of the most recognizable glam slammers of the eighties, certainly Bret and his posse have acclimated themselves to a road dog lifestyle exceeding the masturbatory idealism the average Joe processes through imagination. The fact an early-forties Bret Michaels is still carousing and pulling down buttsteak on Rock of Love only creates an envy factor for those who have grown up with him, much less a younger generation that witnesses a refuse-to-grow-up rocker still bearing enough external charima to maintain the airs of success that once surrounded Michaels and Poison before American heavy metal died out in the early nineties.

Poison today is still a good live draw (as this writer witnessed last summer on tour with Ratt), and it stands to reason that their last tour and covers album Poison'd were manufactured and boosted by the architecture of Rock of Love. There's no such thing as coincidence, the universe teaches, and the fact that Poison made a run immediately after the first Rock of Love only stands to reason that Bret Michaels could pliably sketch out a solo album released on the heels of Rock of Love 2. Call it cashing in or slick marketing, but one thing about Bret Michaels as evidenced by his solo album Rock My World, the man wastes no opportunity to feed his rock persona with near-Roman indulgence.

The good news about Rock My World is that Bret Michaels certainly knows how to entertain. Of course, the man has been proficient at it for over twenty years now, having trekked from Pennsylvania to the career-grinding streets of Los Angeles, and while there's been a ton of glam flash-in-the-pans in rock history, few bands outside of the originators like the New York Dolls, Twisted Sister and Hanoi Rocks had the wherewithal to back up the over-the-top image with equally over-the-top rock. At their best, Poison was appropriately obnoxious in sound to match their sneering macho dominator facades. Look What the Cat Dragged In remains Poison's best effort because there was still some bit of street left to a band destined to become MTV poster kids. Over time, Poison settled comfortably into a poontang party band, which was suitable for their largely-female-based demographic, but come judgment day in the nineties, they were ousted as quickly as they'd been embraced by a fickle American music public.

Rock My World gives us an audile glimpse at a Bret Michaels who has seen the ups, downs and ups again, and at times it's far heavier than anything Poison ever recorded, while at others, it's reflective of a rock dude who knows how to write songs with simplistic chord arrangements and a lovesick troubadour's plea-bargaining. It worked in Poison, thus it works mostly the same way on Rock My World.

Though the production of Rock My World is a bit slack and far more hollow than the usually-polished Poison albums, it's Bret Michaels' ability to sell memorable choruses that lends his album a fair degree of charm. Though he's still lyrically a tail-chasing muff hunter on songs like "Go That Far," "Driven" and "Strange Sensation" (the latter song being an amusing and pretty addictive love-hate ditty), Michaels does manage to mix in the bittersweet to salvage Rock My World from turning into a bitter pill.

"Start Again" was played on Rock of Love 2 and for sure it might as well be the encapsulation of Michaels' series in song, whether or not the events run true. Ironically (or maybe not so much if you consider Poison's biggest hits), Michaels is at his most appealing on Rock My World with his ballads "Fallen," "All I Ever Needed" and his amped-up love letter to his daughter, "Raine." The most endearing attribute to "Raine" and its delivered impact is to show there's more to Bret Michaels than the public portrayal of professional dickswinger. If this is the bona fide Bret Michaels at work here, then let's see more of that guy...

Though "Right Here Right Now" starts off with a vicious guitar chug, unfortunately the song's mix is utterly out-of-whack to where the riff clutters and sounds astray to the rest of the song. It doesn't help that a poorly layered sample likewise squanders the core drive of the tune. On the flipside, Michaels' flirting with country on "Songs of Life" works fabulously in the same manner Ron Keel has effectively made the transition from metal to country.

Featuring a cluster of guest musicians including Cinderella's Eric Brittingham on organ, Rock My World is by no means perfect, but it's a mostly nonsensical retro rocker's album with more than a handful of guilty pleasure tracks. Let's hope Ambre is Bret's true Rock of Love, because Flavor Flav is starting to look pretty damned ridiculous on his third go-round, and the already-engaged jester is fooling no one. Reality bites...

Rating: ***

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 6/4/08

Not much to yap about this week, amigos y amigas... Life is double-timed as I pound out reviews, catch up articles, sling out the bills and most all, prepare to receive our little visitor for an indeterminate period. Barring any further red tape noise, I should have more to talk about the following week. Hope everyone's having a great one!

Music-wise, The Pretenders refuse to go away from my playlist; there's something pefectly comforting about them and well, not much else needs to be said about that, right? The new Bret Michaels solo album Rock My World came and it's better than expected, and then there's G.G. Elvis and The TCP Band, which is all punk covers of Elvis tunes and quite the riot, I assure you. While I've not had a ton of time to wrap myself around DVDs with the Stanley Cup winding down and little other time for television, I can tell you I've started doing some work for DVD and I have two reviews up of Mad Money and The Lather Effect. The latter film is a really fun Big Chill movie for Generation X and the message about letting nostalgia get the best of you is the film's biggest asset, much less charm.

And of course, let us not forget to observe a moment of silence for Bo Diddley...

Running late, cheers, everyone!

The Pretenders - The Singles
American Speedway - Ship of Fools
Puscifer - "V" is For Viagra: The Remixes
Filter - Anthems For the Damned
Bret Michaels - Rock My World
Mindless Self Indulgence - If
G.G. Elvis and The TCP Band - Back From the Dead: A Punk Elvis Tribute
The Mooney Suzuki - Live June 29, 2001 CBGB's: The Bowery Collection
The Toasters - Live June 28, 2002 CBGB's: The Bowery Collection
Sirhan Sirhan - Blood
Charlie Parker - Deja Vu Retro Gold Collection
The Pretty Things - Rage Before Beauty
Bo Diddley - His Best
Pharoah - Be Gone
Between the Buried and Me - Colors
X - Los Angeles
Sly and the Family Stone - Dance to the Music
KMFDM - Tohuvabahu

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Take 5 With Metal Sanaz

In the eighties, journalists involved in heavy metal were largely behind-the-scenes people you may have known simply by name; for instance, Lonn Friend comes to mind for most Gen X 'bangers. Of course, the original Headbangers Ball on MTV had the benefit of actual faces planted before the show's guests such as Riki Rachman and Adam Curry before him. Still, with print media being a dominant format of the day in a cyberless world, the anonymity of journalists covering heavy metal was nearly as protected a secret as the original foursome of the kabuki-shielded Kiss during the seventies.

In today's metal revival scene the internet has not only turned the average band into potential underground stars, it has also boosted the face value of hosts and journalists. Until recently, Mistress Juliya was the most-recognized female hostess of metal music on Fuse and her oft-watched show Uranium. Unfortunately, the powers that be drummed Juliya out though now she can found continuing her work online.

Metal Sanaz is now perhaps the most-recognized metal maven in cyberspace, given a monster boost as ringleader of A Place For Metal at MySpace and soon her own internet channel will be coming online. Cue up anything metal at MySpace and Sanaz is usually front and center with her microphone as one of the genre's top visible reporters. As much a character in her own right as her many guests, Metal Sanaz may go down as one of the figureheads of the revival scene at the relentless pace she keeps. The Metal Minute caught up with the always moving Sanaz for a quick howdee-do in light of her recent post at A Place For Metal...

The Metal Minute: What I feel even as a journalist that has been missing in heavy metal coverage is the one-on-one televised interviews with bands. The original Headbangers Ball was great because of its memorable interviews and for awhile the next-Gen HBB had interviews done by Jamey Jasta of course, but now they just run the same random question spots over-and-over to the point where I feel HBB has lost its soul. Where in the world has all of the interpersonal coverage gone these days? As you get to do your interviews in a video format, do you nevertheless feel that we're grossly missing out as a scene by the lack of real-time coverage?

Metal Sanaz: Yeah, I agree with you that we don't really have full coverage interviews with bands these days. The problem is most interviews are done while the bands are on tour and they have about 10 to 15 minutes with the journalist at the most and that's never enough time to get personal and get deep into what's going on. I have been working on doing more shows with bands while they are recording or on their time off. Now that does limit the interviews, but spending a few days with them and getting to know them personally helps a lot and brings up things that we never even know was going on!

MM: I agree with you, naturally! Extending that last thought, yourself, Tera Wray and Mistress Juliya are relegated primarily to direct-to-video and online video segments for your interview slots while of course the mainstream is only interested in corporate-churned paper doll cutouts for TLR. Do you feel insulted in any way that the work you do hasn't been extended into a broader televised broadcast situation?

MS: I've been upset about this way before I started what I am doing. It hurts to see the media not care about the metal lifestyle and people who are involved in it. I wish there was more people to push the genre and get it out there. Metal has helped me through my life with all the issues of growing up. It made me strong, gave me power and helped me understand life in a new light, and kids these days should be exposed to it as well, rather than thinking life is only about being beautiful and living a certain way of life with money and shit. There is way more to it then what kids see on TV nowadays.

MM: As you and I and our industry peers have been fortunate enough to learn for ourselves firsthand! So, congratulations on your MySpace slot at A Place For Metal! How much more responsibility do you feel this has added to your already busy schedule?

MS: Being the host of MySpace Metal has been a great honor. Having MySpace back metal is a huge deal to me even if I was not the host of it. As far as adding to the responsibility, there has been nothing I wasn't willing to do and everything is well worth it.

MM: Right on. I enjoyed your one-on-one with Dave Navarro and one of the points I especially found amusing was you guys discussing reactions from fans who get demanding about being included on your Top Friends list. First, how does all of this manic attention at MySpace make you feel and two, what's the zaniest piece of fan mail you've received since starting your post with A Place For Metal?

MS: Ah, Dave is a great guy. I always enjoy his company and his thoughts on everything. The top friend thing is a pain in the butt! (laughs) I would love to give everyone the opportunity to have a spot there, but it's impossible. My friends and fans are amazing! I would not be here with out their support and love. They are the ones who cheer me up when I am down and make me get up and deal with shit, when I don't want to. As far as crazy... I have had gifts delivered to my mailbox from kids as young as 13! I have even had cookies and candies and little stuffed animals in my mail. I have kept them all and I love them all.

MM: Too cute! Go to Japan once, from what the musicians tell me! Obviously you're twice as busy as the majority of us metal journalists, but I can tell you I seldom get any time or place to check my head with my own itinerary. For yourself, how and where do you go to check your head from all of this, since the metal revival has gotten hotter and hotter the past few years?

MS: There is really no time to do that. My life has become work pretty much 24/7but sometimes I hide from everyone for a couple of days. I don't answer calls, I don't do nothing. I just sit at home and listen to music. Wish I could take a week and go to a hotel and sit in a hut tub 'til I can't stand it anymore but that ain't gonna be happening any time soon! (laughs)

Links: Metal Sanaz MySpace Page

Copyright 2008 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Monday, June 02, 2008

CD Review: American Speedway - Ship of Fools

American Speedway - Ship of Fools
2008 Prophase Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Though they hail from Philadelphia, American Speedway sounds almost legitimately Southern it could thus be said they are the North’s answer to Nashville Pussy. With the aggressive energy of the latter band’s chronically hopping Let Them Eat Pussy album setting a standard for raging punk as interpreted through the bottom of an emptied Jack Daniel’s bottle, American Speedway dips straight into the same hellraiser’s glass neck in relentless pursuit of a heavy-handed and randomly vulgar punk stampede.

Undoubtedly Ship of Fools can stand toe-to-toe with Let Them Eat Pussy using the energy gauge alone. Not once does American Speedway let off the steam that drives their manically-strummed rockout session on Ship of Fools. Even rowdier than Dirty Rig or Artimus Pyledriver, American Speedway throws its yelling, riffing and pounding lines into a roughneck stock car of rock and sends the thing round and round for angular loops as if racing in Pocono.

At times coming off like the Circle Jerks on “Far Behind” and Twisted Sister on “Cocaine” (think upon the main riffs of “Burn in Hell”) or even later-era Ramones (Animal Boy or Halfway to Sanity days) on “No Control,” American Speedway rips and snorts like a brew crew of persistent punk chugging. Heaping just enough pressure upon themselves to keep their pistons grinding on cuts like “Don’t Tread On Me,” “American Speedway,” “One Foot In, One Foot Out” and the loud ‘n proud metal/punk anthem “Make Some Noise,” Ship of Fools is a hellafun beat down with a snaggletooth confederate mentality. Blaine Cartwright and his posse might have a drag race on their hands with these guys.

Rating: ****