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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Potpourri - Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack

Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack
1982 Elektra Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

See, proof positive that Generation X stakes claim as the original Vans loafer culture before there was a checkerboard revival and the Warped Tour...

Every generation has a film that defines it so accurately that to pop it on is like confronting your younger self, or if you weren't on the ground at that point, it's a time capsule to reflect a lost age so people might get a sense of appreciation for where others came from. The fifties are defined by Rebel Without a Cause while the sixties have Woodstock, Easy Rider and The Graduate. The idealistic eighties had some strife and adversity to contend with including the slaying of John Lennon, other figurehead assassination attempts, the Challenger disaster, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the Cold War which was prompting itchy trigger fingers from two different hemispheres. Overall, though, for the United States, life was a big party for its youth, even as its generation was amongst the first to subconsciously subdivide into so many diverse sanctions there was more gray areas than black and white within teenage civilization.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Breakfast Club are probably the two biggest defining films of Generation X and both rank in my top 10 films of all-time. Though I was likely closest to Judd Nelson's outcast persona in The Breakfast Club (though with less fang and far more overt cavalierism towards the ladies even as a scuzzbag headbanger), I've always loved the bounce and honesty of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, from its concerns about getting caught masturbating to lasting only a few seconds on a guy's first time (despite posing on the front as an experienced swinger) to dealing with the fear and anxiety of a girl's first time, particularly when taken from an older guy in the unromantic dirt boudoir of a baseball dugout. I love Judge Reinhold's elder statesman role in the film as a frustrated senior who can't keep a job, much less a love interest or identity. He's one of the coolest cats on the scene, well-liked by the student body and he's at-heart an honorable guy, but he's also a closet fuckup. I never could pull off his ultra-rad 90 degree aerial hand slap with any of my buddies, but I did wash my car once with The Ravyyns' "Raised On the Radio" playing just to get his point of view and I indeed got it.

The Breakfast Club speaks more to me as I was the right age of those characters, while I was only 12 when Fast Times came out. Still, the runamuck pacing of the latter film is comedy genius that knows when it's appropriate to scale back the sex and the pot in exchange for sensitivity. All of the characters of the film are vulnerably exposed as much as they try to project their coolness (or in the case of Marc Ratner, he's trying to break out of his guilded lack of hipness and become the purported suave sophisticate of his unscrupulous pal Damone), a trait The Breakfast Club also excavated with deeper psychological measures.

Both films boast a memorable soundtrack which likewise define Generation X. "(Don't You) Forget About Me" by Simple Minds from The Breakfast Club may be the decade's theme song if you stop and think about it, while Wang Chung's "Fire in the Twilight" is a seldom-mentioned tune from the same film that'll make a handful of people go "Oh yeah, I remember that one..." assuming it gets spun these days.

However, the music of Fast Times at Ridgemont High is nearly as much an event as the film itself. The minute Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" coolly slides into position (if you own a turntable you can picture the agreeable pops and hisses of the stylus greeting the vinyl as the song begins), if you've been there in the eighties, you're instantly at home with it. You're in your bedroom with no responsibility save to get out of bed and go to school, which then seemed to be an edict issued by the Nazi Party. Whether you made out to this song or you just kicked back and daydreamed about secret crushes and life desires, "Somebody's Baby" is one of the sexiest and lofty pop songs recorded in rock's modern age.

The fun part about the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack is you can put the song to the scene (which I'm sure writer Cameron Crowe digs more than all of us combined), such as a young Forest Whitaker cleaning house on the football field to Billy Squier's "Fast Times (The Best Years of Our Lives)" or Judge Reinhold strolling into All American Burger for his shift, tonguing his sweetie in the ear and dumping old fries into the trash can, all to the tune of Joe Walsh's "Waffle Stomp." You can see the timeless Jeff Spicoli and his jive-talking running mate speeding with Forest Whitaker's souped-up 'Vette to Sammy Hagar's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" before wrecking the thing and then sabotaging it to appear the rival school trashed it in order to cover their otherwise-doomed asses. Of course, Jimmy Buffet's persnikkity "I Don't Know (Spicoli's Theme)" is the perfect stamp not only for the laced-out surfer bum that Sean Penn turned into a cross-cultural phenom--much less his adult foil Mr. Hand's brazen cut-down of Spicoli's reply "I Don't Know" when asked the reason of his perpetual tardiness--but also for all of the high-strung kids during finals week. Great stuff.

Strange that The Go Gos appear on the soundtrack with "Speeding" instead of the song they're best known for, and which opens the film wonderfully as a bopping sign of the times, "We've Got the Beat." One has to assume licensing issues with their label IRS played a hand in that, much as we should figure the same for a lack of appearance of Tom Petty's "American Girl," which by all rights should've been included, not to mention The Cars' "Moving In Stereo," made immortal through this film as the ultimate jerkoff jam. "Speeding," however, is a cool little stand-in that brings you into Quarterflash's samba-paced love letter "Don't Be Lonely."

By the time Poco's "I'll Leave it Up to You" comes up late on the 19-song soundtrack, its placement inside the film and the suburban Cali mall (no longer standing, sad to say) is a perfect laissez-faire statement of the decade, and what an important role consumerism played in our society back then. The song is breezy, pop-roasted and slickly addictive, and more likely than not, you'll start reminiscing about who you hung with at the mall and who you flirted with, just like the characters in the film did. Amazing what a social gathering hub the mall used to be, and still is to some extents, though nowadays, we're drifting away from traditional foot gatherings and relegating ourselves to instant messaging online and via phone texting. No wonder there's no Fast Times at Ridgemont High for Generation Tech. It'd be the most abbreviated bit of celluloid ever filmed, and hopelessly thus.

Other cuts like Donna Summer's "Highway Runner," Stevie Nicks' "Sleeping Angel" and Don Henley's zipper tugging "Love Rules" (Gerard McMahon's "The Look In Your Eyes" isn't too shabby in the makeout department, either) all have their locales in the film and though you get just a few seconds of each in the film, they're instantly recongized and heartfelt on this soundtrack. Maybe the soundtrack could've been trimmed by a song or two, but for Generation X, this is one of the finest audile collections of music that filled our ears and guided our lives.

I was still into pop music in 1982 before turning to the dark side later that year when one of my cousins turned me on to Iron Maiden, Dio and Ozzy. Ironically enough, my other cousin wanted me to come into his room and listen to Fast Times at Ridgemont High the very same day. Unfortunately, Louise Griffin's girly "Uptown Boys" was spinning at the time, thus the transformation to metalhead was preordained...

Of course, time changed me and opened me up to much music I'd snubbed previously. The mere fact I'd ignored the brilliant and underrated Oingo Boingo for years until I caught on in the early nineties was a grievous error, particularly once I learned it was they who coughed up the peppy closer to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "Goodbye Goodbye." As much as that song wrapped up the film, it subliminally wrapped the teenage lives of those characters as it did the living teenagers of 1982.

We still laugh at Phoebe Cates teaching the naive Girl-Next-Door Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) how to give head with a carrot and we still chuckle at Judge Reinhold's droning "Aye aye, Captain" at his loser fish 'n chips job, much as we've already yelled "Right on, brother!" after he rails a flagrant customer. I personally laugh how Marc Ratner is so uncool he can't even put the right Led Zeppelin album on when directed by Damone to play Led Zeppelin 4 (or Zoso if you will), instead churning out the lumbering "Kashmir" from Physical Graffiti on his date with Jennifer Jason Leigh. Riot.

My old friend Jason and I re-enacted Jeff Spicoli's in-class pizza stunt in college to piss off our professor who had humiliated us many times beforehand. Luckily, the rules in college are different, so we ate our pizza happily and deliberately turned the nozzle of the 2-liter soda to spritz loudly when the professor started writing on the chalkboard. Spicoli, you have been righteously avenged, Aloha...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

CD Review: Exotic Animal Petting Zoo - I Have Made My Bed In Darkness

Exotic Animal Petting Zoo - I Have Made My Bed In Darkness
2008 Mediaskare Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Goddamn, the youth of the day have proven their worth in hijacking metal and punk modes of the past and slinging their own creative spin on it. While Exotic Animal Petting Zoo isn't going to be the last band to trickle out of the inspirational shadow of Dillinger Escape Plan and Between the Buried and Me, both of whom have bent, skewed and altered the face of metal forever, so very few are going to match a full-length debut this shattering.

Scramble together a mix of the aforementioned plus Isis, Mr. Bungle, Botch, Today Is the Day, The Fall of Troy, Fear Before the March of Flames (now Fear Before) and Sigur Ros and this excitable trio from Indiana have put out an electrifying performance falling into the tag of must hear now. Fusion jazz, liquid tension and cascades of various pitches collide with brackish noise bursts on I Have Made My Bed In Darkness. Instantaneously on "Seeds" you get the impression these lads are out to crush your nerves within nanoseconds and then set you on your back for a chillout with their sedentary prog sessions. Kind of like dusting off your opponent after kicking his teeth in.

Exotic Animal Petting Zoo has officially been worming their act together since 2004 and if it took them this long to produce an album of this much significance, then I Have Made My Bed In Darkness is well worth the wait. Had this band rushed to get a full-length album (despite generating a 7-song EP) they might've emo'ed their way ala a heavier Coheed and Cambria, but the patience is obvious in this camp just by the way "Anniversary Psalm" and "Hairdresser" slip comfortably into each other like itchy feet into beaten and slightly muddy sneakers. The way Scott Certa lays down a slick bass line with wicked reverb and Brandon Carr plucks effervescent notes and coos dreamily for a minute and a half on "Anniversary Psalm" leaves a seamless thread for "Hairdresser" to grab onto, even as it grinds and twirls the subsequent rhythm patterns with sheer anxiety. This is literally tugging one's audience along and skidding them to an abrupt halt with spacious guitar echoes in a forced moment of quietude before going berserk all over again.

Whether creating hypnotic trance rock odes with a savory stew of Isis, The Cure and to small latitudes Thievery Corporation on the lofty instrumental "A Balloon Enters Kyoto City" or creating hyper alter realities on "Moonshoes" and the ridiculously titled "These People Refuse to Believe that the Lake is Bottomless" and "Richard Dead Anderson One is in Sheol, the Pit," Exotic Animal Petting Zoo is full of multifaceted superblasts and cool downs and every bit of their interceding thought sprawlings within their music is downright impressive.

I Have Made My Bed In Darkness is as complex as counting infinitum on abaci, however Exotic Animal Petting Zoo are wise ahead of their years to know what it means to build and sculpt within their music instead of cheating by blowing the ruts with omnipresent chaos and bombast. When these guys thrash and caterwaul, it's from the gut but it's also from the brain. The fact I Have Made My Bed In Darkness has the discipline it does to trade constant speed and boom for slow to midtempo sequences serving the interest of atmospherics indicates that Exotic Animal Petting Zoo are either masters of their art already or we can expect them to blow the hinges off with even more force the next time around. Jesus...

Rating: ****1/2

Friday, September 26, 2008

DVD Review: Black Metal Satanica

Black Metal Satanica
2008 MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

When it comes to black metal, the subgenre is so deeply intense one cannot help but stake some sort of emotion to it, be it embracement or revulsion. I, for one, neither support nor condemn the practitioners of dark arts and satanism. Live and let live, say I, particularly since my path of spirituality has been undeniably revealed to my eyes and I have chosen my course of action accordingly. I have many friends claiming to be satanists and atheists, and part of our harmony as human beings is to simply not "go there" with each other and to respect one another's private essence and belief systems. If there's one principle to black metal I salute, it's that.

Despite certain aversions, I do hold a bit of fondness for black metal, at least the instrumentation part of it all. Outside of Black Flag, I don't think I've heard anything so deliberately hateful and angry in my 38 years, which makes it dangerous as much as terribly liberating. The no rules aspect to black metal (which is beginning to become a point of contention between purists and those trying to push the genre into the mainstream) appeals to me, however, this comes with a deadly price if you take it too much to heart. The form's messages can be as corruptive as any capitalist regime. Lyrically, black metal has nothing to offer me on a personal level, however this site is not a forum of ideology, even if the new DVD Black Metal Satanica is very much about ideology.

As the parting shot in Black Metal Satanica states, black metal isn't for everyone. It also leaves in its tenebrous wake the statement that black metal, as practiced with the most far-flung commitment, goes beyond than just the music. Whether you're in deep with the lyrical bond to Satan or you take the blasphemous creeds of war against Christianity to a higher level with desecration, black metal has various tiers of duty and obligation that can transcend into hedonism, self mutilation and a profession (and sometimes execution) of murder.

One can take the stance that black metal is a joke in the way Venom and Slayer have posited their deliberately over-the-top devil hucksterism throughout their careers, however, most people who dive headfirst into black metal take it very seriously, practically to the point of it being a twisted form of the fundamentalism they seek to reject from Christianity.

Black Metal Satanica stakes its fiery inverted cross into the cold mountainous terrain of Scandinavia where the purest form of black metal is largely thought to have originated. The narration outlying the origins of black metal treads dreadfully close to Mike Moore's overcooked propaganda spiels by noting that force-fed Christianity in the Scandinavian regions is so oppressive it is the fuel of the black metal counterculture. Using historical points of references of paganism and the Vikings' sometimes bloody lore, the turnaround "crusade" from tormenting Christians upon an afflicted Scandinavia is embellished to the tee on Black Metal Satanica. In fact, this pinpointed Christian hypocrisy (which is accurate to certain points) is the instigation effect for Satanism, much less a modern-day crusade of its own to corrupt the world through scathing music and scourging ideals.

Black Metal Satanica takes you as far as you can stomach into a world you're likely best to avoid, because to understand the motives of Watain, Vreid or Shining is to propel yourself beyond every manmade scruple you've had inscribed yourself. You will assuredly need to prepare yourself for the sheer confrontationalism of Shining's body cutting, violent "purification" modes and sheer revulsion for women, much less the human race at-large. In turn, you will need to accept the fact that the haughtiest black metal devotion calls for absolute delineation from the mortal plane. In other words, if that doesn't appeal to you, steer clear with a 180 degree turn.

These practitioners, whether they've burned churches, tipped over gravestones, carved themselves to ribbons or submitted their entire beings to a base form of ethics, are to be heeded. If you want to understand where black metallers come from mentally, be ready to trade in your personal comfort zone. Black metal artists of the most extreme nature don't want your empathy, nor do they wish to be understood. It's amazing Black Metal Satanica excavates as much as it does, considering most who practice it will not talk about it, except maybe to spit on the ground in contempt for ordinary citizenry, and especially those who have tried to twist the form into what is idiotically called "Christian Black Metal." One can see their point in the latter's case.

As the DVD outlines the genre's history from Bathory's reign of musical terror to the most guttural of crimes such as those perpetrated by Emperor's Faust, Black Metal Satanica is full of sadness and loss of its most notable characters, however, it is a very frightening look into an underground you're most likely unprepared for. Caveat emptor, to say the least...

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 9/24/08

Trying times these are, with sick baby, sick Ray, sleepless Ray, frustrated Ray and somehow this bitter year has just got to turn around or at least blow off the calendar altogether and place the karma back onto a more even plane if not to the positive. I swear on this page whenever I make my break, I'll turn into an eager philanthropist.

Though I only got 2 hours' sleep on Friday night and not a lick of sleep on Sunday night, I'm hanging tough, fighting through the days even when bad news keeps on coming like a pressing game of "Can You Take It?" At least in this time of an incessantly screaming infant, shattered nerves and insomnia I managed to enjoy very cool chats with Damon Fox of Bigelf on Friday night, then Matt Heafy of Trivium last night. Damon's as real as it gets (and also a father as the poor dude had to rush and pick his son up from football practice before keeping his appointment with me) as we spent half our time talking about music that influenced and inspired us both, while it's very warming to hear what a strong young man Matt Heafy has become over the years. I first met him and Corey Beaulieu a number of years back when they were 18 and opening for Iced Earth and I had that gut feeling they would break. This was my third time chatting with the Triv and I'm happy they've accumulated so much success and are developing as both musicians and men. What I've heard from their newest album Shogun is pretty danged good. I also had an online back-and-forth chat with Nachtmystium's Judd Blake for Hails and Horns mag, so life skids to a halt in many aspects, while staying in fifth gear otherwise....

I have unfortunately come to the decision that a few cuts in my schedule must be made to accommodate for the new additions, the backlog of commitments and new opportunities that have been presented to me. Thus, I will be resigning from my column "Death From Below" in AMP magazine in order to keep things on track in my life as best I can. It's a very difficult decision, but considering all of my responsibilities, this is a necessary evil. I also feel it will keep my writing fresh for the outlets I am still dedicating myself to, not that I felt my column was hurting me in that regards. If anything, calling my own shots (except for having the interview sections removed along the way) kept my attitude invigorated in that column and I feel a good chunk of my best reviews reside there. I will be doing a year's end farewell column before dropping it altogether. Sound the funeral march...

Been pounding a literal onslaught of music as therapy and sanity control, a mix between promos (the new Rudimentary Peni EP is slamming and the new Exotic Animal Petting Zoo is pretty jaw-dropping) and shelf items. A lot of these were spun repeatedly at my day job desk, so it's hard to pick who gets top dog honor, so I'll go with Nashville Pussy and their crushing debut Let Them Eat Pussy since it's a total hoot and I never grow bored with it. Go motherfuckers go, and eat my dust!

Nashville Pussy - Let Them Eat Pussy
Nashville Pussy - High as Hell
Nashville Pussy - Get Some
Bigelf - Cheat the Gallows
All That Remains - Overcome
Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion
Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True
Elvis Costello and The Attractions - Armed Forces
The Cult - Love
Scars On Broadway - s/t
Bad Religion - Suffer
Nachtmystium - Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1
Bleeding Through - Declaration
Hank III - Damn Right, Rebel Proud
Godhead - 2000 Years of Human Error
The Modern Jazz Quartet - Pyramid
The Cure - Head On the Door
The Cure - Bloodflowers
Gojira - The Way Of All Flesh
Rudimentary Peni - No More Pain EP
Exotic Animal Petting Zoo - I Have Made My Bed In Darkness
Living Colour - Vivid
Green Day - American Idiot
Like Black Holes In the Sky: The Tribute to Syd Barrett
Caves - Get On With It

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ray Reviews Punk's Not Dead at DVD

Zip on over to DVD for my review of the underground documentary that's caught a buzz in the punk and metal ranks, Punk's Not Dead.

The film features many interview segments with guests like Waddie of The Exploited, Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks, Charlie Harper of the UK Subs, Jock of GBH, Brian Baker, Billy Idol, John Doe of X, Fat Mike of NOFX and Dick from the Subhumans, plus a zillion others. Very well-done, slightly controversial, resolves none of its posted issues, but in the end is a worthwile endeavor for old punks and new, plus metalheads who crossed over...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Potpourri - Bad Religion - Suffer

Bad Religion - Suffer
1988 Epitaph Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Bad Religion may be one of the first truly sophisticated punk bands. Everything about these guys was dialed-in and largely on-point from their scathing sociopolitical views that make albums such as No Control, Against the Grain, Recipe For Hate, Into the Unknown and of course Suffer some of the best (and largely cherished) catalog items in the genre's history.

It might also be because Bad Religion were rock-solid musicians with spit-shined aggression and strict production values. Distant from the grimy club fuzz of most of their peers, Bad Religion, like Social Distortion would eventually become, were near perfectionists. Their chord progressions were on-the-dime, their beats ceaseless and rhythmic and vocalist Greg Graffin possessed an angry charisma that alotted for disciplined melody. Best of all, Bad Religion had the tact to make their point on each song then get the hell out of it.

Sure, a lot of their albums sounded similar, but there was a rare comfort in familiarity, particularly when Bad Religion sounded so damned righteous in their dealings. When you have a cover like Suffer and a torched youth angrily confronting Conservative Suburbia, the message rings loud and clear, stamped authoritatively on songs like "How Much is Enough?" "When?" "1000 More Fools" and "Delirium of Disorder." Even as Suffer jumps the gun with their brazen political slag "You Are (The Government)," the intensity of accusation Bad Religion stakes is later hoisted a notch like a swift kick in the ass on "Give You Nothing." Punk rock at face value is supposed to proclaim angst, and a lot of that is left to be debated in today's revival scene, however "Give You Nothing" wields so much angst you can imagine the middle finger going straight up from Greg Graffin at the muse who instigated this venomous tirade.

In 1988 when Suffer came out, I was graduating high school and stuck in the zones of thrash, punk, hardcore and power metal. Perhaps because I was on the east coast I was more tuned in to the New York, Boston and DC punk scenes along with the British hardcore sect that filled my bedroom with the sounds of Agnostic Front, the Ramones, Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, All, Pailhead, Slapshot, Gang Green, Government Issue, Youth of Today, Bad Brains, GBH, The Exploited, Discharge, UK Subs, The Damned, Killing Joke, DOA (from Canada, of course), the Misfits, Cocksparrer and Broken Bones. Looking back at the places punk rooted itself, I tend to disseminate east coast and British punk as urban sprawled, working class choleria, while I look at the west coast punk and hardcore region as being generated from suburban disaffection.

Being from the west coast didn't make its punk rock any less urgent, when you consider the Dead Kennedys may be the most important punk band of all-time with Bad Religion not far from that distinction. Still, there's an air of silicone boredom cast from Los Angeles and Tinseltown that spills into the region's punk of the day like Angry Samoans, the Meatmen, Agent Orange, The Germs, Dr. Know, TSOL, The Adolescents, Circle Jerks, MDC, Suicidal Tendencies and DRI. On the other hand, Black Flag remains the angriest punk band ever to plug in and shriek for their worth, and not only is the intellect and furious delivery (not to mention his body sheath of tattoos) of Henry Rollins influential 20-plus years after the fact, we're beginning to hear more punk guitarists borrow from Greg Ginn, one of the genre's finest ever.

All territorialism aside, it took me awhile before Bad Religion got into my mits and that may have simply been a matter of submerging myself in so much music while preparing for college, yet all of the scenes I followed devoutly were starting to die out and I would ultimately get hipped to The Cure, Bauhaus, New Order, Depeche Mode and The Psychedlic Furs. By the time I heard Bad Relgion's No Control a short time later, I was blown away by their precision and their forthrightness. When Suffer got into my possession, I kicked myself for having inadvertently delayed my exposure. I was schooled by the best punk rockers I knew from 1986 on, but missing out on Bad Religion was something that made me wonder if it was my oversight or theirs.

I used to guffaw at DRI's ode to ennui "Couch Slouch" but when I heard Bad Religion take the same concept on Suffer with "Do What You Want" and broaden it with a fingerpointing jab stating get-off-your-ass-and-stop-whining, then suddenly for me, the picture was opened like widescreen presentation. For a brief time in my very busy life, I had no direction or clue what to do, much less wondering if it was worth living. The Ramones pulled me out of my rut and re-energized me, but a song like "Do What You Want" was so brutally honest and in retrospect I fully appreciate where Bad Religion were coming from.

Bad Religion of course grew to be unintentional darlings of the alternative rock scene, toasts of the town by the same crowd touting the Hoodoo Gurus, King Missile and Dinosaur, Jr. Some argue Bad Religion lost a portion of their urgency on 1992's Generator and 1994's Stranger Than Fiction but the band persevered and remained street icons, even recruiting Dag Nasty/Minor Threat/Junkyard guitarist Brian Baker into the fold. To this day, Bad Religion are considered old guard lions of a SoCal scene that has gotten monster hype these days from metalcore giants Avenged Sevenfold, Bleeding Through, Atreyu and Eighteen Visions. The area is also host to some of the coolest stoner and doom rock available today such as Fu Manchu and High On Fire. Still, none of it reflects what Bad Religion and their beach brethren established for punk rock in their time.

I had the chance to see Bad Religion live at the Warped Tour a few years ago and two things stick out in my mind. One, their apparent annoyance by the fact NOFX went over their half hour set by roughly seven minutes due to impromptu stage cameos from other bands looking to get in on the NOFX shenanigans Fat Mike was swirling in his usual demeanor. Secondly, the thing that sticks in my mind with Bad Religion in the mid 2000s was that they were the class elite of the entire show, even though The Damned had put on an amazing spectacle themselves that the hoity toity young hipsters were too ignorant to give the time of day for. Bad Religion had only 23 minutes to play, but they wasted not a lick of it on crowd banter and they whipped up a tsunami of punk excitement that only Flogging Molly, Tiger Army and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were within reach of matching.

Classy to the end, Bad Religion stopped on their cue, though a massive crowd had arrived to see them, and to me, that leave 'em wanting more ethic (reflected on their vintage albums as well) is a statement of their prowess. One of the other bands to play Warped that year, Millencolin, put on a hell of a set of their own, and their presence is testament to all that Bad Religion laid down for them to run with later. That, my friends, is what you might call progressive punk...

Ray Interviews Lemmy of Motorhead, Ihsahn and Belphegor in Unrestrained # 38

In the latest issue of Unrestrained magazine, I had the privilege to chat with the legendary Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead as well as former Emperor vocalist Ihsahn, whose solo work including his latest album Angl has sparked controversy amongst the black metal contingency. A brutally honest defense of his soulful solo work plus some reflection upon his days in Emperor, this was one of my favorite interviews of the year. I also take on Belphegor's Helmuth in a very colorful interview. Honestly, would you expect anything less from Helmuth?

Check out other pieces from the Unrestrained staff with Opeth, Nachtmystium, Hail of Bullets, Grave, Misery Signals, Venomous Concept, Cult of Luna and others...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

CD Review: Bleeding Through - Declaration

Bleeding Through - Declaration
2008 Trustkill
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

A lot of bands like to pimp their latest product with a hefty buzzword title and frequently end up delivering pussed-out fluff hardly indicative of the implied force. Take your pick of hypothetical titles such as Defiance, Retribution or Confrontation. Naming your album Declaration is a bold move, and especially when you've been in the game awhile as Bleeding Through has, perhaps there's a bit more to live up to with such a move, particularly when your previous three albums have gradually unraveled your inner essence bit by raging bit. Not that Bleeding Through has ever skimped in their fast-moving affairs, particularly with their 2003 breakout album This Is Love, This Is Murderous and 2006's fanged follow-up The Truth, but the SoCal sextet aren't kidding this time around. When they issue their fourth album Declaration, they're prepared to back it up down to every line, stanza and preamble.

Bleeding Through in six years have become masters of metalcore so much that by now Declaration is expected to raise the bar on the thrashers' previous efforts. Were it not for the breakdowns and three songs fused with melodic choruses ("There Was a Flood," "Death Anxiety" and "Sister Charlatan") as well as magnificent orchestral fills, Bleeding Through could easily pass for a Western bloc grind band, that's how much they've stepped on the gas with Declaration.

Brandan Schieppati and his demolition crew literally ravage everything in their wake with blaring songs like "Sellers Market," "Orange County Blonde and Blue" and "French Inquisition" and the difference maker on these cuts, aside from the increased velocity and the denser production tones is keyboardist Marta. In the past, she has astutely textured Bleeding Through's manic odes of hostility, but on Declaration, she is so graceful in her sublets the songs take on a majestic quality, even as Brian Leppke and Jona Weinhofen shred the bejesus out of their instruments on "French Inquisition" and the apocalyptic "Germany." In turn, Marta's omnipresence throughout Declaration leaves lofty airs of grandeur amidst Bleeding Through's relentlessly punishing pace.

Would that Bleeding Through would have the confidence in themselves to dispense with their equally relentless breakdown chunks on these exceptionally-written thrash blasts, this album would earn even higher praise. If there's any band ready to stray from the base principles of metalcore and move the genus forward, Bleeding Through has announced that loud and clear. Seriously, this band is way too good now to be wasting their time on trendy breakdown sequences that's going to do them and their ilk in one day, even though they get tricky now and then by letting Marta sprinkle delicate notes overtop the chugging tempo interruptions.

The exquisite "Sister Charlatan" is Bleeding Through's finest hour as a band, and it proves that a metalcore act can sustain an eight-minute epic without surrendering to monotony. It is beautifully sculpted, particularly in the cardinal dirge melody that introduces the song and reprises itself while Bleeding Through otherwise scorches the track as if paying a fiery penance in full. The airy melancholia of the chorus as delivered by bassist Ryan Wombacher offers enough dignity to this powerhouse composition, but the finishing touches from Marta and the band's rhythm section adorns it to the point of excellence. This crew has naturally come miles since 2002's Portrait of the Goddess.

Truth revealed how brute ugly Bleeding Through can get, while Declaration is even nastier, though not in the same vicious vein as, say, The Acacia Strain's latest gory album, Continent. Nevertheless, Declaration more than substantiates its brash title and it elevates Bleeding Through to their pinnacle as songwriters. Impressively layered and wickedly driven, Declaration, like Brandan Schieppati himself, roars with another -tion word: constitution.

Rating: ****

Friday, September 19, 2008

CD Review: Hank III - Damn Right, Rebel Proud

Hank III - Damn Right, Rebel Proud
The Sidewalk Records
2008 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I used to laugh at my folks as a teenager when we they'd warn me I would one day like country music. Such a prospect to a devout headbanger was as foolish as proposing Republicans would one day turn pro choice. Welp, the times are a'changin' and a bunch of repeatedly-spun psychobilly albums later, I found myself digging Brian Setzer, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, pre-rock 'n roll Buddy Holly, a bunch of Texas bop and of course the elder Hank Williams. Sure, I was raised on Hee Haw as a kid and I thought bluegrass banjo picking was really freakin' cool, but not as cool as the cacophonous racket of six-string shredding. I will even admit I got really into pure western music when hanging in Colorado. Then one day, into my mid-thirties...

Hank III has long been embraced by the punk underground and to some extent, the metal contingency. The junior of the three-man Williams lineage is reportedly the biggest hellraiser of them all, which is funny considering his brand of country is largely in tribute to the more conservative sticking and picking of his late grandfather, albeit there's plenty of piss and swill from his father's take-no-shit ramblings to be found in Hank III's music. In the III's case, it's his rambunctious, take everything to the edge flair beneath the hokey pokey country twang that endears him to the darkest fringes of modern culture. Punkers appreciate Hank III's rebel-to-the-core ethos, while headbangers can appreciate the largely brisk-paced note-jerking to young Hank's revisionist country music. Somehow, in the midst of producing conventional beer-tugging country rock, Hank III manages to mix things up just enough to be pure country and at-heart metal and punk.

On his latest album Damn Right, Rebel Proud, Hank III opens the festivities with his lambasting "The Grand Ole Opry (Ain't So Grand)," a venomous tirade against the reputed hoity-toitiness of the Opry that, according to Hank, has snubbed and stubbed his grandfather, long considered one of the founding fathers of country music. The mistreatment is as shameful as if the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame had willfully neglected to bring Jimi Hendrix in, not that either venue should be so uppity as to judge and discriminate music according to their own standards. Here is largely what Hank III is getting at, however he pushes his point to the extreme with profanity and verbal abuse in his furious campaign to get his grandpappy proper due recognition.

Along the way, Damn Right, Rebel Proud pokes here and there with prototype cry in your empty mug ditties (though in Hank III's case, you know there's a shtick to it all), along with random edgy topics such as pondering killing one's self ("Candidate For Suicide") and the declaration of refusal to settle down in life ("Wild & Free," "Me & My Friends" and "Stoned & Alone). Not only rockers and metal slingers life the crash and burn lifetstyle...

At times, Hank III lets his affnity for punk music slip into "H8 Line" and "P.F.F.," the latter of which is dedidcated to GG Allin and full of fast-picking and dirty-slung F-bombs. "Shades of Black" is inherently metal even with the singular acoustic shambling, because Hank III caterwauls here and there and even fuses a jokey backwards message.

What's great about Damn Right, Rebel Proud is that you hardly have a clue you're listening to a metal and punk album in the guise of highway-dusted country. At times this album flies like a slide guitar-soaked wildebeast, and others it just puts you in a hick bar where everyone's your buddy for the night. Hank III may still have some odds with his sire, which you hear him grumble every so often about on this album, but at least Hank Williams, Jr. had the foresight to tap into rock measures at points in his career, so much that he's respected by the music community at-large. Hank III may not be for everyone's tastes in both the country and rock circuits, but he's brave, headstrong and reckless, perhaps the most noteworthy country antihero since Conway Twitty, much less Johnny Cash.

Rating: ****

Thursday, September 18, 2008

DVD Review: Nashville Pussy - Live in Hollywood

Nashville Pussy - Live in Hollywood
2008 MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

They may not be the biggest name in the biz, but they sure have one of the most memorable. In case you've never heard of this group, Nashville Pussy is one of the rowdiest-sounding punk and metal hybrids hitting the circuit. Their blazing debut album Let Them Eat Pussy from 1998 is somehow lumped into the psychobilly pack, but the foursome (always consisting of two scruffy dudes and two badass ladies, though the bass spot has changed four times including current pounder Karen Cuda, who appears to have the job locked now) are simply straight-up Jack Daniels-fused country rockers with lyrics featuring even more T&A than their notorious bouncing rhythm section.

Live in Hollywood finds the Pussy Brigade slinging bombing track after bombing track, 10 of them from their most recent album Get Some. The husband and wife team of Blaine Cartwright and Ruyter Suys belly up, sling hair, cut some wicked riffs and in Ruyter's case, nearly tumbles out of her top the more into the set she lets herself get. In fact, you're more than likely going to want a cold shower after watching Live in Hollywood as Ruyter, who is a severely underrated guitarist, swishes her blond curls enthusiastically and lets her flesh accentuate her blistering solos and heavy-handed chord strikes. When this gal does a solo, she tends to assume the on-the-back rock god pose, only in her case, it's almost as if she's letting the notes and beats of her band make maniacal love to her and she expresses herself orgasmically through six strings of howling satisfaction.

As Nashville Pussy tosses out some of their famliar cuts like "Go Motherfucker Go" and "I'm the Man" from Let Them Eat Pussy, "Piece of Ass" and "Shoot First and Run Like Hell" from High as Hell and "The Bitch Just Kicked Me Out" from Say Something Nasty, one can detect how Nashville Pussy has over the years scaled back their aggressively fast pace from the early days, gauging tunes from Get Some like "Come On Come On," "Lazy White Boy" and "Pussy Time." This doesn't mean the band has, er, pussied out, but rather they've settled into their snotrag and broken bottle rock 'n roll twang, particularly with the addition of Karen Cuda, whom Blaine Cartwright wastes no time in acknowledging as his choice for the band's best bassist, also noting that it is her presence that allows Nashville Pussy to take on a cover of Ike and Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits." Cuda may not be as colorful (and brazenly willing to pull her top down past her nipples as original bassist Corey Parks could do at times), but certainly the tradeoff for Nashville Pussy is having a steady thrum guiding their otherwise jacknifed beer bong blasts.

Included on this DVD are behind-the-scenes interviews, lots of live footage from around the world (including a gang up with grime rock legends Rose Tattoo) and an interview segment conducted by none other than Lemmy of Motorhead. Considering Nashville Pussy might be America's understated answer to Motorhead, it's unlikely coincidence we get this little on-camera tryst. Though The Pussy doesn't keep the exact same pace of "Somebody Shoot Me" or "Eat My Dust" from Let Them Eat Pussy, they do let their audience eat something else, which is a fuzz-distorted sammich, and that's all they need serve up for Live in Hollywood to be a carpet munching good video affair...

Rating: ****

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 9/17/08

Hi ho, all...

Don't know my foot from my wrist these days there's so much going on and my mornings are non-existent and about to get worse. Love it. The choices we make.

On the other hand, can't complain wholeheartedly since I got to do that zombie film on Saturday and I got wind of another casting call for a reshoot on a different movie, so I'm considering doing the midnight run to participate in that.

At least in the day job we got relocated to new space in the building, which gives me freedom to spin tunes while working, which is what I need to cope on the day job. The silence before was turning me suicidal.

That being said, Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan's Scars On Broadway project is the big repeat winner of the week. Only a little departure from System of a Down, but still showing the core mentality of it. Still, it bounces like a bitch and if you're into System, this one will be no problem getting into. Also got sent the new Hank III album, Devil's Slingshot featuring Tony Macalpine, Billy Sheehan and Virgil Donail and many others including Science Faxtion, which includes Buckethead, Chuck D and Bootsy Collins, amongst others. Weird, but pretty cool. Thrown your horns in the air, or is it the Funkadelic sign? You be the judge...

Scars On Broadway - s/t
Science Faxtion - Living On Another Frequency
Gojira - The Way Of All Flesh
Trapt - Only Through the Pain
Government Issue - Complete History
The Jam - Compact Snap
LL Cool J - Walking Like a Panther
Motorhead - Iron Fist
Living Colour - Vivid
The Haunted - Versus
Hank III - Damn Right Rebel Proud
Neuraxis - The Thin Line Between
Devil's Slingshot - Clinophobia

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nuclear Assault - "Radiation Sickness" video

WARNING: This video contains gore, violence and nudity, which is probably why you'll watch it...


Monday, September 15, 2008

CD Review: Neuraxis - The Thin Line Between

Neuraxis - The Thin Line Between
2008 Prosthetic Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Neuraxis is a band you can just feel about to break through any minute now like Scar Symmetry or Into Eternity, though the latter band is the closest with their fingernails digging into the prize. In the case of Neuraxis, a change in vocalists with Alex Leblanc has only a subversive effect on the mike since a growl is a growl though some barkers are more finessed than others. However, when delivered confidently and within the timing structures of the songs themselves, the band itself tends to respond with escalating effects.

The Thin Line Between brings Neuraxis one step closer to their own pinnacle of songwriting. Though the Montreal death squadron has always been respected in the deep metal underground, they've taken footsteps towards reaching this point with past efforts such as Truth Beyond and Trilateral Progression. As former vocalist Steven Henry abruptly departed Neuraxis in 2006 after Trilateral Progression truly announced the band to a receptive press and listening audience, Neuraxis could've gone into stasis as one might expect. In that regard, Alex Leblanc's true debut might as well be considered on last year's Live Progression, while his formal introduction is hereby issued with The Thin Line Between.

In response, Neuraxis pulls out all of their tricks with complicated melody sequences, technical rhythms and chunky blast tempos that makes The Thin Line Between their most intricate release to-date. Before getting too cumbersome in their gnashed beat patterns courtesy of Tommy McKinnon, Neuraxis writes weaving interchanges that forces McKinnon to slow down at times, then jump back into speed mode at their command. A competent drummer to say the least, McKinnon's hammering strikes are nonetheless captured almost to fault at times as guitarists Rob Milley and William Seghers lay down textbook performances behind him, showing off nicely in spots such as the delicious tilt-a-whirl intro to "Versus" (or is it vertigo?) or their rapidly-processed note shredding sessions on "Phoenix" and "Oracle."

If there's any fault to The Thin Line Bewtween--and it isn't much of one since this band has begun to really come into themselves--it's finding an unyielding congruency between the front line and the back beats. For the most part, this unit is tight and cohesive but at times, the chinks in the armor are bore if you're scrutinizing the work. Regardless, Neuraxis have a lot to be proud of with this album and if they keep some stability to their lineup (a dilemma needling these guys throughout their 12-year history), then there's no reason these guys can't claim a potential spot of deference in a compact subgenre as they're operating in.

Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ray Plays a Zombie in the Horror Film Bane

Cue up The Misfits' "I Walked With a Zombie..." This weekend I played a zombie in the upcoming horror film Bane. Check another item off of my list of must-accomplishes; I've always wanted to stalk in a film and it was certainly worth the wait. Made some new friends, chatted up with a fellow writer and a librarian doubling as a zombie cast wrangler. The kids thought nothing of us "adults" and younger folk parading around as the undead. In fact, one of them was playing The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack on a toy CD player as we got made up. Puts you into the mood, actually, though I was booming some Neuraxis on the drive in.

Hopefully a lot of the scenes they filmed make the final print, especially one where I shamble off and randomly try to break a brick against the wall. They said do what a zombie would do, lol... Got muddy, dirty, ripped up and pretty bloody, and then the gnats ate us up later in the day. At first the count on the shoot was zombies 20 humans 0, but eventually that became skewed in favor of the gnats. One scene we did was us gnawing on a character bound in a rolling chair, which we did three takes of. During the second take, the chair snapped and we had to push and prop the guy up before he tumbled to the floor. That would undoubtedly be one for the gag reel.

A great experience for sure...

Friday, September 12, 2008

CD Review: Soulfly - Conquer

Soulfly - Conquer
2008 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The first time I interviewed Max Cavalera was on his bus during Soulfly's tour in support of Prophecy. I always think fondly that we were both wearing the exact same Bad Brains "Banned in DC" shirt and since then, we've had a nice rapport each of the times we spoken. Each time we've touched on the fact that Max is one of the gentlest dudes removed from his music. It's almost startling that Max has such a laid back personal candor when onstage and on albumhe has the fiercest and manliest growl of any metal vocalist in history.

For all the slaggers of Soulfly throughout the years, particularly those Sepultura purists who have been teeing off on Max for fusing more tribal, rap, ska and reggae overtures through the first four albums, certainly there's been no excuse lately to trash the guy as Max and his Soulfly brethren are gallavanting through red times once again with 2005's brutal Dark Ages and now this year's blistering Conquer.

No doubt Max's reunion with his brother Iggor in Cavalera Conspiracy has lit his fires, as that entity's album is a shoo-in for a Top 10 year's end finisher, and now with Conquer, Max Cavalera can be said to be an emperor of metallic rage, because this album hardly settles down in its majestic delivery. Sure, there's some tribal sublets and earthbound percussion scattered throughout Conquer, which for this writer's purposes, has always been the group's charm. The first Soulfly album and Prophecy were especially terrific vehicles in using Cavalera's external washes, clangs, twangs, clouts, soothes and various syncopation. Even moments of Primitive and 3 bear fun variances away from Max's traditional agro stomp methodology; in fact, "Tree of Pain" from 3 is Max's most personal and most intense song ever written, especially if you're familiar with the story of its conception.

Though Max will frequently joke about half-assing through 3 (he humbly cracks up over the title these days), there's no half-assing on Conquer, and if you're looking for a solid thrash album that pulls few punches, then this is your huckleberry. Pick a song at your leisure, "Blood Fire War Hate," "Rough," "Doom," "Unleash," "Fall of the Sychophants." Double-timed, hardly faltering, breathless and maniacally-executed. Conquer is a mission statement in title as it is on record. When the album doesn't thrash, it keeps a heavy toe on the fuzz sequencers and the pounding rhythms.

The X-Factor from separating Conquer from most thrash albums today, aside from the presence of its senior lion is guitarist Marc Rizzo. If this guy isn't considered one of this generation's greatest slingers and shredders by now, then you need to visit Cavalera Conspiracy's Inflikted and then Rizzo's astounding solo work. On Conquer, he's called more upon to complement Max's chugging guitar tones with his own, and together they're one of the most formidable duos in metal. Rizzo flashes and dazzles with disciplined withholding (you know Max could've let him commandeer this album if he wanted to) and swims almost in isolation on the cascading "Soulfly IV. " Most importantly, Rizzo leaves you begging for more on this album, an excellent way to pimp your calling card.

In other words, Conquer blasts down the door, coaxes you to "Scream, motherfucker!" (as "Doom" incites) and then gets out again. Giving you just enough reggae and tribal interludes (particularly effective on "Doom") between the insane and methodic thrash that whizzes through your ears on Conquer, there's no doubt that Max Cavalera means business these days...

Rating: ****

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesdays - 9/10/08

So, peeps, hope everyone's hanging in there. Glad it's Wednesday already, though I'm so smoked it feels like Thursday already. I've kept a mad dog pace between work, baby, music assignments and now I'm a part-time reporter and photographer for a small local paper. Covered a steam engine show event and then a town meeting last night that was actually quite animated from the locals who were pressuring the council to re-route traffic that has just been ushered through their neighborhood. Small town politics can be interesting from time-to-time...

Had an interview with Paul Speckmann of the old school death metal unit Master. If you haven't had the opportunity to check out Master's Slaves to Society, this one's a goodie; classic death and thrash with no bullshit. May be a top 10 finisher at year's end. Paul, who has been residing in the Czech Republic after leaving the U.S. to join Krabathor, had a lot of interesting comments about life in both countries, as well as a few anecdotes about his former job in a storage place in Hollywood that put him in connection with Philthy Phil and Mikkey Dee of Motorhead, amongst others. Be on the lookout for that piece in an upcoming ish of Metal Maniacs.

Sad to report I've had numerous friends in the mortgage industry inform me they've been let go, even as the stock market jumped in reaction to the federal takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. My opinion, too late to help the industry in the immediate future, and there's been a lot of irreparable damage to families in foreclosed homes as well as those working in a dying industry. Glad I'm employed, though life is a constant struggle in that respect. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would've said.

Spin-wise, I couldn't enough of Bigelf, especially now that I've been assigned an interview with Damon Fox, which should be fun. Did a fair amount of reviews while the baby took his naps on Saturday and have crammed what I could here and there. Tripping on the new Soulfly, which is beastly, and I'm still snickering over the Austrian Death Machine album. The new Acacia Strain album is also very brutal, so have a go with that one. The baby and I watched the new God Forbid DVD together and he was excited beyond words, which makes me a proud foster papa, though I had to turn his back to the t.v. and keep him playing while I ran some Dario Argento horror films that I'm overdue reviewing. The things you do to make it all work...

Speaking of horror stuff, yours truly will be turning into a zombie this Saturday as an extra for an upcoming film called Bane that is shooting locally. I've always wanted to be a film zombie, so I'm stoked to say the least...

Bigelf - Cheat the Gallows
Master - Slaves to Society
Slipknot - All Hope is Gone
Soulfly - Conquer
Austrian Death Machine - Total Brutal
Uli Jon Roth - Under a Dark Sky
Bahimiron - Southern Nihilizm
Wetnurse - Invisible City
The Acacia Strain - Continent
Rigor Mortis - Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth
Chrome Division - Booze, Broads and Beelzebub
Dead Man - Euphoria
Blackmore's Night - Secret Voyage

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Austrian Death Machine - Total Brutal

Austrian Death Machine - Total Brutal
2008 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Not since The Exploited copped a sample of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "fuck you, asshole" from the original Terminator flick on their song "Police Informer" has a Schwarzie roast in music been so hilarious until now.

Perhaps it seems improbable that an entire send-up of Schwarzenegger in metal form would come out of the warped mind of Tim Lambesis from Christian metalcore superstars As I Lay Dying, but ye-bang, like an S.O.D. for this generation with Arnold Schwarzenegger films (and the inherent machismo especially) as the central muse, here comes Lambesis with his riotous and quite slammin' side project Austrian Death Machine.

Lambesis is practical mastermind and executioner of Austrian Death Machine, with a handful of renowned guitarists and producers laying down solos, names like Jason Suecof, who helped make Trivium household names behind the console, and Killswitch Engage's Adam Dutkiewicz, whose behind-the-scenes persona is just about omnipresent.

Using an over-the-top impersonator going by the moniker "Ahhnold" in intercut squabblings, grunts and gut-busting "rawwwwwwws!" on Total Brutal, Tim Lambesis takes cue and rips out thrasher after thrasher on Total Brutal, in the process lovingly torching Schwarzenegger films on songs like "You Have Just Been Erased" (Eraser), "Screw You (Benny)" (Total Recall), "Here is Subzero, Now Plain Zero" (Batman and Robin) and of course plenty of Terminator-raked cuts.

While there will never be another full-out S.O.D., Tim Lambesis gives everything he has from both his funny bone (his self-inflicted teasing about every song sounding the same is dead-on chuckly) as well as his considerable instrumental skills. Speak English Or Die was one of the greats of the original metal movement because it first had the stones to bridge punk, hardcore and metal, and as you examine Lambesis' project, there's a small parallel in the way he riffs both in punk and metal motifs ("Get to the Choppa" and "Screw You (Benny)" being prime examples) that's at least in the spirit of S.O.D. Hell, if you want to quibble about it, Lambesis even tosses in a casual photo collage in the CD inlay exactly as S.O.D. did.

The difference, however, is that Speak English Or Die was remarkably cut in a few days and for the production values of the day it's a masterpiece of thrash, though far from spit-shined. Total Brutal, on the other hand, is almost perfectly polished and could stand on its head as a thrash revival piece from Skeletonwitch or Fueled By Fire, minus the roaring send-up factor.

At the very least, Total Brutal shows that Tim Lambesis has more up his sleeves than breakdown sequences and fine-tuned metalcore scripts. As I Lay Dying is one of the best of their ilk, but honestly, how can you resist this silly nonsense that has obviously been gestating inside of Lambesis like a transient resistance leader named Kuato? Total Brutal is a total scream and totally tubular, thrashly-speaking...

Rating: ****

Monday, September 08, 2008

Trivium - "Down From the Sky" video

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday Potpourri - Blackmore's Night - Secret Voyage

Blackmore's Night - Secret Voyage
2008 Minstrel Hall Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

We are living in an age of nostalgia, where the times have become so tough and so hopeless for many that escapism is not only fun, it's therapy. We fantasize about living in times that don't belong to us because there's an unspoken romance factor about it. Centuries-distant periods such as the Victorian age, the Civil War, ancient Asia and most especially Medieval Europe hold a certain charm because, judging by old time art standards that had never thought of abstract art and bended expressionism (not counting the frequently nightmarish surrealism of Renaissance painter Hieronymous Bosch), the people of the times lived in periods of purported refinement, judging by the articulate wardrobe, fire-blown glass and fist-hammered steel, and thus we are to be subliminally jealous. Yes, our values at-large have decayed, so much that going to church is like going to the mall in terms of the lax dress of most parishoners. And yes, our society has become so industrialized that food, products and once again wardrobe are expected to be manufactured at top speed so that the final quality ends up being questionable. Not to sound snobbish, but we are a far cry from the suggested cavalier candor of what Old Master, Flemish and Rococco paintings would imply.

That being said, giving the capitalist times we live in, to carve an experience that is astray from the cybernetic breakneck pace humanity is setting its course upon, this naturally gives way to market exploitation. Whether you're attracted to the Medieval ages from a viewing of Excalibur or you read the Arthurian book it was based upon, Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory, once the bug is in you, it's there, and you'll find yourself donning replica garb and tossing pints in wooden flasks at your local Renaissance Festival. I say this from experience, because the Renfest holds one of those rare opportunities to get out of the hurry-up or get-out-of-the-way demands of life, and sure it's fabricated and artificial, even as you cross paths with grounds actors you've probably stood in line at Burger King with on an ordinary day, and when they drawl in pretend Cockney accents and make playful jibes, or they drag you smack into the middle of a mandolin dance, yeah, it's silly beyond words, but sure enough, you're ready to plop down your cash for a turkey leg, a freshening up of the ale and if the money's there, an overpriced dagger to mount next to the rest of the cutlery on the wall next to a Hamlet poster and overtop a half-sized aluminum knight holding sentry over the home's keep.

It's no wonder then, that Ritchie Blackmore found an entirely new audience with his wife Candance Night amongst the new age and RenFaire crowd, a group that has made Blackmore's Night a Billboard-topping success of its particular genre. Meanwhile, the rockers and the metalheads who still spin old Rainbow and Deep Purple albums almost in mourning for the headbanger that Blackmore used to be have largely turned their backs to Blackmore's Night. In some ways, this gives me a lot of respect for Blackmore, knowing he was blatantly discarding his rock audience and turning old salt into a new form of expression. Like Uli Jon Roth (or presumedly Judas Priest as of Nostradamus), Blackmore has seen fit to lend his electric and acoustic prowess to a lost in retrospection air duct courtesy of the Renaissance, and whether you dig it or not, his troupe has done perfectly fine for themselves in playing it up to Medieval Times. Credit where it's due, Blackmore's playing by his own rules.

For my money, the best Medieval revisionist album ever put down is Dead Can Dance's Aion, but for Ritchie Blackmore's purposes, there's still a hint of the rocker lion inside, or at least a tamed pop kitty in this case. While Blackmore's Night has never plugged in and screeched and hammered beyond their will, at times you will hear Ritchie Blackmore yank out squealing electric notes and tempered note strings. Still, the order of business for Blackmore's Night is that self-empowered escapism through imaginary fields and grottos of honor in a feudal period that had far more against it than for it, when you consider the average life expectancy alone was half than what it is today.

Of course, on the troubadour ensemble's latest album Secret Voyage, you get plenty of sweet-laced faraway odes and sonnets such as "Sister Gypsy," "Gilded Cage" and "Peasant's Promise" that whisk you straight into the sophistication of old Europe, and if you're not into this stuff, then it's easy to discard it all as nonsense. However, if you are, then Secret Voyage grabs you hook, line and sinker.

If anything, Blackmore's Night has gotten stronger at their craft, and certainly Candace Night makes for an alluring siren to commandeer the lofty vehicle. Though we could've done without the elctronic-aided cover of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love," at least it's pleasing enough to hear Ritchie Blackmore pluck on acoustic 12 strings, mandola, mandocello and various string and percussion like he's giving a chamber fugue clinic. The instrumental "Prince Waldecks Galliard" especially is delectably daydreamish. Yeah, most people wish he'd assume his rightful mantle as Dean of Rock School, but if this is what he wants to do with himself, and more importantly, with his spouse, then let him fulfill his life's desires. It's easy to throw darts at people for changing their courses when we want them pegged snugly where we prefer to look at them like those aforementioned paintings locked down for posterity.

Our lives are so dependent on order and structure, even as the winds of change force us to move on. Some go with the sails into the great unknown, but a lot of people resist it or at least baby-step their way through. When you stop and think about it, Blackmore's Night is simply a pocket portal to jump into when you don't much feel like going with the tide, or least not letting it carry you faster than you want to go. Secret Voyage is harmless escapism, so fill your stein, as the opening track declares and get thee whence... God Save the Keg, indeed...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

CD Review: Bigelf - Cheat the Gallows

Bigelf - Cheat the Gallows
2008 Custard
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If there's one album that's created the most buzz this writer's heard in the underground this year, it's by far Bigelf's Cheat the Gallows, and it comes with good reason. No, make that excellent reason.

Though the eighties presents a threshhold of collectively influential groups and musicians, the seventies have come to bear abundant musical fruit decades later as the sheer bravado of thundering arena rock is the stuff of legend, a legend that has affected many newer groups of the 2000s who operate in a music scene that yields very little of the larger-than-life boom found in the seventies and eighties. Looking back at things, the seventies embody the last truly great era for pop, soul and country (particularly since those sanctions largely blow chunk monkeys today), and while most people below the age of 30 have no idea who Gordon Lightfoot is, much less 10CC or Paper Lace, there's undeniably a fascination with period throwback. Then again, when you manage to embody a Who's Who list of seventies power rockers with a detonative effect checked by swimming strings and keys, and an underlying Beatles and Britpop sensation to it all, then dipsie doodle all you want, for Christ's sake!

If Bigelf are close to The Beatles, in particularly the rock 'n roll innovation begot by Sgt. Peppers, then Bigelf would actually be more akin to the seventies schmaltz film featuring Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees, though thanks be to God Bigelf possesses nothing of the latter's gaudy shamelessness. Still, Cheat the Gallows is perhaps what should've come in place of that celluloid travesty since Bigelf are inherently a grandiose big theater rock interpretation of The Beatles, along with many classic rock constituents such as Alice Cooper, Queen, The Doors, Kiss, Golden Earring, Electric Light Orchestra, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Boston and even vintage Elton John.

Cheat the Gallows is unabashedly technical, preposterously zany at times (for all the evidence you need, have a go with the eleven-minute-plus "Counting Sheep") but high and large, it plays itself to the tune of early seventies Alice Cooper meets later year Beatles, even as the album high kicks to its circus dance motif on "Gravest Show On Earth," "No Parachute" and "Blackball."

While Bigelf's single "Money, It's Pure Evil" and "The Game" are spirited in a Lenny Kravitz rock and soul revisionist fashion (largely since vocalist Damon Fox has no trouble striking some of Lenny's higher and smoother octaves), they are addictive songs that keep the largely shambling pace of Cheat the Gallows moving tunefully, while "Superstar" mockingly undermines whatever purpose Bigelf is trying to establish from its intentionally bubblegum nature and snicker-filled lyrical jibes.

What's so cool about Bigelf is listening to hear as many different tones, riffs and tempo switches as they can cram into one song (since these guys layer their plate better than authentic Italian lasagne) like the almost hilarious "The Evils of Rock 'n Roll" where they wallow in a psychedlic dopesmoke before stamping off with a monster rock groove that screams of Deep Purple, complete with organ smashes and a Blackmoresque mega riff and solo section. Or listen to the way "Blackball" sways in thundering swishes between the methodic rockout punch of the song before switching to a jazzy Floydian breakdown that even accommodates for some interloping sax. It's as if someone decided to cram Dark Side of the Moon with Alice Cooper's Love it to Death and capped the bastardized creation with a blistering Edgar Winter-reminiscent solo. And "Hydra?" Let yourself be your guide, whew...

Like The Dark Knight, Bigelf far exceeds the hype surrounding them and though there's a heavy dash of cheekiness beneath their burning seventies-adored rawk fest, Cheat the Gallows is the must-hear event of the year.

Rating: ****1/2

Friday, September 05, 2008

CD Review: Wetnurse - Invisible City

Wetnurse - Invisible City
2008 Seventh Rule Recordings
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Refused quit long ahead of their time, yet in leaving behind a transitional breed of punk and hardcore hedged from Botch and Today is the Day, Refused made the statement of the nineties simply in title with their farewell prophecy album The Shape of Punk to Come. Of course, before them, Steve Austin had almost single-handedly laid out the imprints for manic, screech-filled hardcore that grabbed Greg Ginn riffs and the entire Black Flag ethos of angst and paid the whole thing forward with distortion-laced masterworks such as Today is the Day's self-titled album and Willpower.

What Refused ran to the bottom of an American backwoods basement and nearly left for dead in their final hurrah has been picked up like a fallen baton by many hardcore revisionists, most of whom get the Ginn/Austin principles and fine-tune them to their own advantage. While some projects have failed to capture the blistering magic of their heroes or have outright had their hardcore hybrids blow up in their well-intentioned faces, there have been plenty who have successfully paid the style forward in their own right, while the splintered sage himself Steve Austin continues to operate, having released Today is the Day's Axis of Eden last year, as well as his brilliant side project Tai-Pan.

Blaring like the electric steel whines of a downtown subway train bypassing the Staten Island Ferry dropoff and running straight for a midnight run to Brooklyn is New York's Wetnurse. At times bearing the frolicking sound of a fuzzbombed joyride on their full-length debut album Invisible City while most of the time pushing themselves to their sonic limits, Wetnurse has created one hell of an audile urban sprawl bearing outrage as well as tempered purpose.

Wetnurse's bold and intricate songs scream tantrums in addled time signature swaps, using "Not Your Choice" as an example, or the schizophrenic exchange between a shaky state of calm and melodic, beat-driven hysterics on "Life at Stake," one of the trickiest songs you'll ever hear that hijacks everything from Isis to Botch to Days of the New (check out that isolated acoustic finale on this sucker).

You don't even need to see a live action picture of Gene Fowler to see the cordons of his neck popping beneath the flesh as he roars, grunts, squeals and delivers a massive array of wailing projections, while his rhythm section of Greg Kramer, Garett Bussanick and Curran Reynolds raise him to his capacity with interchanging grooves filled with mathematic insanity for a few bars then settling into jacked-up rawk measures. "Missing Lion Returns" yields raw guitar fills that jettison into a futuristic cyberpunk sound, thus expect to be dazzled by Wetnurse one second, throttled stupidly another then subsequently prompted to pump and pogo, all in the blink of an eye and a tweak of the ear. Let's not forget to mention the vocal accompaniment of Stephanie Gravelle, who provides a soothing delicacy atop the pounding mayhem and harnessed chaos. Also worth mentioning is the impressive swaying jam session of "Slow Your Spell, Miss Hell," worth all 12 minutes of the ride.

Wetnurse may grab you upon first listen or they might take a spin or two to figure them out, but by all means give this band your ear. Invisible City is intelligently written yet still fierce and grimy beneath the clamoring artistry. Though Refused left us after issuing their decree of impending cacophony, a newly crowded 'core scene bears witness to the prediction with its constituents elbowing each other to live up to Refused's edict. A band like Wetnurse edifies said proverbial shape of punk to come, and they show off some metallic fang, to boot. Highly recommended...

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesdays - 9/3/08

Good gravy, Wednesday already, September already, the year is winding down (in some ways, thank God for that), football kicks off this weekend and wowzers, does time speed up the more you acknowledge it.

Hope everybody had a good Labor Day weekend. Casual over here, with a couple of birthday parties over the weekend, a little empty space to myself by watching The Blue and The Gray miniseries on DVD, and trying to keep my ears from smarting by that screaming spud, who's growing so fast and letting us know about it. Such a happy little kid the majority of the time and I feel we've done a solid job in protecting him and preparing him for the next stages of his young life, but when he wants to cry, his lungs are as strong as his legs. I dare any death metal vocalist to take this kid on! Also did a rough draft of a horror story I want to send out for consideration on Labor Day, which felt great to get those creative juices flowing once again. Can't waot to polish the sucker up.

Last Friday I had a terrific chat with Iced Earth's Jon Schaffer. Very talkative, always the gentleman, and I recall originally meeting him in person in Baltimore when I interviewed The Ripper the second time, and Schaffer was so good to his fans he went out of his way to get to a fan in a wheelchair to give him an autograph, knowing he was going to get mobbed thereafter. Jon and I concluded our talk with our thoughts on the Gettysburg battlefield since I live about 15 minutes away, and that to me was the best part of our chat since the dude is passionate about history and Gettysburg especially. Good stuff.

Plenty of music mixed between promos, classic rock and oldies. Baby really seems to love fifties rock 'n roll since he made satisfied coos during Larry Williams and Elvis as he's done with Little Richard and the American Graffiti soundtrack. He's on his way as a rocker, considering he gets a CD full of lullabies every night at bed, which I recommend all parents use because the music triggers the recognition in the baby that it's time to drift off. In our case, the little guy either grabs onto you and settles in, maybe plays sweetly a few times before nodding off, or on the flipside, he'll just tee off in your ear because he's overtired and in refusal mode. And we sign up for this why?

If I had to pick a heavy rotater this week, I reckon it'd be the Misfits-inspired Plan 9. I did get a nice package of DVDs and CDs yesterday after a rough day, and though I have no hope whatsoever of covering everything that gets sent to me on a regular basis, sometimes it's really nice to get a bunch of packages that has Slipknot and Soulfly in one, Bigelf in another, a Tori Amos DVD in another, and so on. It's one thing I never take for granted, the niceties bestowed upon me from my industry reps, and if any of you are reading, please accept my continued thanks...

Plan 9 - Manmade Monster
Master - Slaves to Society
Iced Earth - Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2
Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti
Motorhead - Rock 'n Roll
Pink Floyd - The Wall
Larry Williams - Bad Boy
Elvis Presley - 30 #1 Hits
Wetnurse - Invisible City
Orange Sky - Dat Iz Voodoo
Hand to Hand - Breaking the Surface
Uli Jon Roth - Under a Dark Sky
The Moody Blues - Best of The Moody Blues

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

CD Review: Orange Sky - Dat Iz Voodoo

Orange Sky - Dat Iz Voodoo
2008 Star City Recording Company
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Chances are if you're familiar with Trinidad's Orange Sky, you likely caught these reggae-splashed headbangers opening for Yngwie Malmsteen a couple years ago as this writer did. In fact, I was sent to the show specifically to interview Orange Sky and they were up to the task of warming over Yngwie's crowd, even with their decidedly apposite style of sun-baked hard rock compared to Malmsteen's Bach-laced stage conservatory.

In what was one of my favorite all-time interviews, the Orange Sky guys hung with me at the bar after the gig and we had a terrific chat in which the Rojas brothers took most of the lead and these fun-loving ambassadors of peace were such the hit they were constantly asked for photographs as we interviewed. Nigel Rojas struck me as a powerful bear of a man with a gentle soul, while his younger brother Nicholas was still the more party-minded of the siblings. Still, the dominant attribute to the dreadlocked rockers was their message of hope through straightforward, calypso and rasta-tinted heavy music. Lots of laughter and even a slipped fart (the guilty party won't be flagged this time) as my tape rolled and I left the venue in a great mood, which is how I originally left Orange's Sky's debut album from 2005 Upstairs the first time I spun it. The scene could do well with more laidback spirits like these.

Three years later, Orange Sky are back with their follow-up album Dat Iz Voodoo and instantly the differentiating factor to this band rests on the fact that Orange Sky is now a much harder band. Still maintaining their vibes of goodwill, Orange Sky nonetheless amps things up considerably on Dat Iz Voodoo, which may delight a lot of newcomers to these guys, much less their existing fanship. With less overt reggae and island nuances to Dat Iz Voodoo, Orange Sky adds more meat chunks to their sound on cuts like "Alone," "Roses" and the beat-laden "Psycho World."

This is not to say that Orange Sky has turned purely metal this time around, but Dat Iz Voodoo has more teeth in the way eighties rockers 24-Z Spyz flashed for the metal community to take notice of. Even digging into the Bad Brains' arsenal of riff destruction on "Dark Room," Nigel Rojas uses the bobbing groove of the song to scat along quick-lipped like a house vocalist, much as he does throughout Dat Iz Voodoo. Despite the fact "Never" comes off like an erratic ballad with reserved, whispery verses, the song erupts with a tremendous and beautiful guitar solo section from Nigel Rojas and Dion Howe, the latter who replaces the departed Adam Murray.

Orange Sky also takes on the Scorpions' "Is There Anybody There?" with near-perfect accuracy, particularly since the original song's reggae-ska skritch lends itself snugly to a tropical band like Orange Sky.

One thing about Dat Iz Voodoo is that it searches for melody wherever the Rojas brothers can expoit them and for the most part, the retooled Orange Sky for 2008 have turned into better songwriters. Though not always on-point, Dat Iz Voodoo is an agreeable sophomore album that exchanges its organic roots for a much louder throb with which to continue building their audience.

Rating: ***1/2