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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Take 5 With French of Palmerston

If there’s one thematic principle to the music of Hollywood alt punk band Palmerston (pronounced Palmer-stone, for the record), it’s to live in the moment. Even with a debut album that carves slices of life sometimes wedged out of a nostalgia pie, the here and now serves as the proverbial Cool Whip dome, served only slightly chilled with a not-too-thick sugar coat. Some of Palmerston’s songs are brisk and edgy, others airy and melodic. Lead singer French will attest that Palmerston’s primary mission is to usher their listeners into an experience, one culminated beyond mere music, which is constituted in their deliberately awkward CD packaging as well as their animated live performances, which reputedly features onstage painting and spoken word litany from French. A one-time bad boy now fronting a trio of pop-minded rockers with his woven articulation, French and Palmerston have discovered a nurturing unity that conjoins unconventional media together to propagate an in-the-moment experience for their audience.

MM: I understand you had a bit of a rough background coming up. If you could, take us a little through your journey growing up into an artist.

French: Life’s an interesting deal, you know what I mean? (laughs) I started reading a lot of poetry and more expressive writing, plus I was drawing and painting from a really early age. I was starting to get into music pretty early on, playing guitar and writing songs since I was 11. It was probably 13 or so, early teenhood, when I started getting into drugs, into crime and some of the other alternative and illegitimate ways of making cash; I got pretty heavily into that. I grew up around Santa Cruz and the Bay Area in general and I ran with a couple different crews of some crazy ass kids! (laughs) I was making music and working with a couple of different bands and we’d write songs and play shows, stuff like that, but the rest of my time was pretty much taken up by my illegal acts! You know, being a crazy ass kid, it just started getting progressively worse with the need for cash especially with music and the ability of what I was trying to do, growing and creeping, so I was trying to compensate for that. I pretty much kept at that, I dropped out of high school in sophomore year, though later I got my GED. I was basically doing my stupid ass thing! (laughs)

MM: (laughs)

Music and art in general--I’ve been writing and painting for a long time--they’ve remained my passion. I kind of just got lost in the drugs and crime, but I was always into art, especially in the heart of the Bay Area where the Bohemian culture migrated to after the sixties. I grew up with the idea of freedom, total liberation and just doing whatever the hell you want. It was a bit of a confused deal, but I ended up getting caught up in some other stuff and I did about a year in a couple of different facilities. I came out of that, did some house arrest time, whatever I had to do to get out of that and continue on with what I’m really passionate about to begin with. I ended up making it out of that period of time a little bit more unscathed. The way I see it, if you’re passionate about something and you can continue to follow that, even with the craziest shit, you can end up alright through it.

MM: In Palmerston’s lyrics, I feel like there are a lot of moments in time or nostalgia themes, if you want to use the song “Death of the Real World” for example. Do you feel that’s an important part of the band’s lyrics, much less your own personal writing?

French: Absolutely, man, especially with this record. It was an interesting process, because some of it had come from stuff that I had written prior to Palmerston and stuff that Fernando and Gabriel had written prior to this culmination of Palmerston. It’s all kind of stuff that had come about from a specific period of time. A lot of my personal writing on this record is also a lot of what Fernando and I are especially inspired by, a specific moment and then bringing the moment to life and kind of expanding it to be something you can really get into and figure out. A song like “Misery” or “Death of the Real World” or even a song like “Addicted,” it’s very specific to a certain experience as opposed to kind of putting something together that ends up talking about a whole bunch of stuff. For example, a song like “Misery” being in the moment of a relationship that has just gotten too damned difficult or “Death of the Real World,” where you’re talking about struggle and you’re talking about the efforts to overcome a journey or a part of life that’s a pretty intense kind of experience. I think that’s probably what a lot of this record comes down to; it’s an interesting mosaic put together of different little moments. I see them covering the majority of the range or the spectrum of life.

With “Misery” you have something like bliss, in a way being the opposite sort of deal, like rising above everything, whereas “Addicted,” you’re talking about an intense ordeal, an intense relationship kind of thing, dark but comfortable. It’s pretty interesting; one of the things I love about this record is it’s so diverse. The songs are all fairly different but it all kind of just ties into the moment itself. I would say that’s what the majority of my writing comes down to. I carry around a notebook with me most of the time and if there’s some stuff going on or I’ll be going through something, I’ll just throw it down poetry-wise. It mostly comes down to the experience of a moment.

MM: “Black and White T.V.” is a song I can relate to since I spent a lot of my childhood with a black and white television in my bedroom. What I detect here is the theme of an era lost in reminiscence.

French: That’s one Fernando had a fair chunk floating around in his dome piece for awhile. We sat down and revisited it and I lent my influence into it and we just really got into it. It’s an interesting song, because some of “Black and White T.V.” is fairly literal. Fernando had lived across the street from this girl in central Hollywood and a buddy of his would come over and hang out and they’d drink some beers out on the balcony and this girl lived across the street who had this black and white t.v. going constantly. They didn’t have their own t.v. or something like that, so they’d watch the t.v. through her window! They’d check in with whatever she was doing so it’s pretty interesting. So then I went with the song in a sense to where it’s kind of about this whole window into another life. Sometimes we meet people for an instant or we’re walking past people on the street and we don’t necessarily have all that much of a chance a lot of the time to get to know anybody or to take a look into other people’s lives and share parts of our lives. It’s kind of coming down in a way to the idea of pausing and opening up or taking a look into someone else’s life and grabbing somebody’s hand and just running with it. It’s kind of breaking down the social barriers and just sort of connecting with somebody in a bit of a dark way!

MM: I love how you guys inverted your lyrics on the CD inlay where one mostly needs a mirror to read along! It challenges the listener, depending if they’re just there to consume the music or to actually spend some time with it. I was wondering if you guys were intentionally trying to make listeners work hard for the lyrics so they could discover all of the elements of this album.

French: Yeah, that’s funny because originally Gabriel came up with that idea. We were talking about artwork for the record because I’ve always been the kid that would get a new CD and I’d spend more time looking through the inlet of the record than listening to the record itself! (laughs) You know, really getting into what people are doing and the other aspects of the mediums available with music in the inlet. I’m a big fan and believer in the hard copy CD as opposed to digital downloads. It’s all good since digital downloading makes things easier for the listener, but as far as really being able to get the picture, in order to get the whole idea of what a band or what an artist is saying, to be able to really look in and check it out, the record artwork and everything is a big part of that. Whenever we work on a record, every aspect of that gets attention and of course the songs and the actual production of the album, but we really wanted to be able to put some time and effort into what we’re really saying, how we can exemplify what we want to say with this. So we took our time and put some ideas together and Gabriel came to me with this idea that he’d had for quite some time about mirrors and how there’s a necessity of mirrors in our lives and being able to reflect upon ourselves. It’s also about how all of those aspects affect us, the idea that in the end you’ve got some interesting photos of moments in time or moments in people’s lives. The lyrics being backwards kind of ends up making you have to look at yourself and the moment you’re in, the life you live as a person. It’s kind of this hall of mirrors thing where moments are very reflective and then being able to reflect upon yourself, even by reading the lyrics. I was blown away by the concept, so we just went with it. In a way, it kind of ends up working to having the listener make that extra step towards listening to what everybody’s saying, and it all ties into the reflection.

MM: I know you guys have a reputation for theatrics onstage. Tell us a little about that.

French: (laughs) Our main objective--as I like to say--is that anytime we get onstage, we want to destroy it completely. As we’re getting up onstage I’ll look at everybody and get a little bit of a pound going and I’ll just say “Destruction!” (laughs) Really what we roll with in that sense is to completely bring the moment to life to the point where there’s nothing standing in the way whether it’s monitors or what-not. I’ll end up crawling around the stage like a fucking animal or Fernando will end up jumping off his speakers and kicking some crazy shit around or something. We really intend to allow each show to take us in a way, and it ends up working well because we’re getting that across to the audience and it allows them to be taken by the show as well. It ends up being this kind of beautiful moment where the audience and us as a band are all at the whim of the moment. We end up doing some different stuff at times when the ability allows itself as far as specifics and technicality goes. I’ll set up and paint during a show or a lot of the time I’ll toss some poetry out here and there and really let that everybody feel in that moment. It does get a little bit strange, like chicks up front I’ve made out with! (laughs) It’s kind of one of those who knows? things. Every show is pretty different and that’s part of what we try to do. Part of what ends up being beneficial as far as my experience goes is that I used to use a lot of psychedelics growing up and one of the things I ended up learning from my experiences is that life is an improvisational deal. Nothing can really be expected in a certain way, so it ends up floating into our music in a way that the songs are there, the new stuff we work with is there and everybody just lets go so the experience can really take hold.

When you’re out there touring and playing the same fucking songs (laughs) over and over again for two-to-three months straight, it gets a little bit tough. It’s different every time, the audience is different, so you let those differences roll, whether you’re in Boston or Wichita, Kansas. You figure if every place is different to lend enough of itself to a different kind of a show, it ends up making much more of a difference than you would’ve expected. It definitely keeps it fresh enough for us to love it each in a different way.

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Metal Minute's 2008 Up to the Minute Awards

Welcome to The Metal Minute's first annual Up to the Minute Awards!

This is the time of year when everyone turns in their best-of and worst-of lists and since that business has already been handled here at The Metal Minute, I wanted to acknowledge various distinctions in a bizarre and challenging year personally, but one filled with terrific music and other modes of entertainment-related escapism. Without my alternate life, well...

As another year ends, I want to thank as always the bands, the publicists and the labels who have serviced The Metal Minute with continuous promo material to keep it afloat. I'm excited as hell for the next few Take 5 interview sessions, beginning with French of Palmerston this week. Be on the lookout for two very special guests soon thereafter. I'm beyond grateful to these individuals for agreeing to grant interviews to The Metal Minute.

As always, I thank each and every one of you for reading and bestowing your praise and even your condemnation. I thank my watchdogs out there who spotted an error or two; my mantra these days is blame the baby, ha! Every so often I feel inclined to put The Metal Minute to rest in the interest of time and pursuit of other projects lying dormant, but the enthusiasm from you readers and the bands who chase me down for reviews and interviews make me realize this little blog does pretty danged good for itself. Were The Metal Minute a traditional 'zine, it might not have the expansive readership it currently boasts, and for that, I thank you so much.

Now, on to the categories!

Best Album: Of course you read my selection of Byzantine's Oblivion Beckons already. I have to make mention that the members of Byzantine are true gentlemen for recording the album of the year, the album of their career and an album for this generation of metal, then stopping the machine at a skid to do their fatherly duties. Incredibly stand-up and worthy of The Metal Minute's ultimate praise.

Best Instrumental Album:

Don Airey - A Light in the Sky
Jeff Loomis - Zero Order Phase

Best Live Album: Living Colour - CBGB OMFUG Masters: August 19, 2005 The Bowery Collection

Best Song: "Statement" by Boris - Wata's guitar solos alone are the most killer thing I heard all year

Best Reissue:

Gore - Hart Gore / Mean Man's Dream
Rigor Mortis - Rigor Mortis Vs. The Earth
Cyclone - Brutal Destruction

Best Comeback: Testament

Album I Didn't Get to in 2008 But Should've: Grave - Dominion VIII

Best Live Show: Well, I'm gonna come clean and say this year was disastrous in terms of my live show attendence, considering I was making 30-40 shows the past few years, so the two I saw were nothing short of phenomenal, those being Iron Maiden and Boris. A hats off as well to Boris' opener Growing, who were freakin' cosmic...

The Metalcore Band to End All Metalcore Bands: Unearth

Most Riotous Band Name: Total Fucking Destruction

Most Metal Moment: Rob Halford passing his condolences to the late Adrian Bromley during our interview.

Best Non-Metal Albums:

Zebrahead - Phoenix
The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath
Flogging Molly - Float
Microtia - Distance Is Oval
The Cure - 4:13 Dream
Here Comes Everybody - The Veronica Project
MUCC - Shion
Electrocute - On the Beat EP
Underoath - Lost in the Sound of Separation
Beck - Modern Guilt
Hank III - Damn Right Rebel Proud
Blue Skies For Black Hearts - Serenades and Hand Grenades

Best Making Good On Old Promises: Axl Rose came through with Chinese Democracy and it wasn't the joke everyone expected it to be. Salud...

Biggest Surprise of 2008: Metallica's Death Magnetic and AC/DC's Black Ice

Biggest Disappointment: MTV2 and Headbangers Ball. Bad enough MTV2 litters the screen with scores of distracting pop ups, which is very disrespectful to the bands they air, but now they've taken an hour off the show and bumped its slot into the wee hours of the night. Take this as an omen, folks. If MTV is serious about keeping it on, give me a ring; I can make this show a winner!

For The Honor: Saxon - Beautifully heavy for the third album in a row. Into the Labyrinth gives hope that trad metal still rules.

Best Music DVDs: The Maiden reissue of the immortal Live After Death is the DVD moment of the year, without question. The extra packaging alone tells Maiden have their fans' interest first.

Iron Maiden- Live After Death
Opeth - The Roundhouse Tapes
The Who - Live at Kilburn 1977
Punk's Not Dead
Hirax - Thrash and Destroy
Hanoi Rocks - The Nottingham Tapes
Twisted Sister - Live at The Astoria
Down the Tracks: The Music that Influenced Led Zeppelin
Clutch - Full Fathom Five: Video Field Recordings 2007-2008
Tori Amos - Live at Montreaux 1991-1992
Lair of the Minotaur - War Metal Battle Master

Most Indecipherable Black Metal Band Logo: Spell Forest (good luck, ya'll)

Best TV Show: Puh-lease, television sucks so bad, however two shows on network are incredible breaths of fresh air, and the latter is perhaps the best-written show since Six Feet Under, and the addition of the smoking Lucy Liu makes this one even hotter than last season: Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money

Damn You Bastards For Canceling: The Batman

Funniest Thing In a Book I Read This Year: Mike Daly's intro to his book Time Flies When You're In a Coma: The Wisdom of the Metal Gods.

Coolest Movie: The Dark Knight was beyond the hype and as a Bat-nerd, I'm going out on a limb and saying this is the best Batfilm to-date. Hoo-wah! Just watched The Incredible Hulk last night and kudos for a tremendous effort that makes us forget Ang Lee's gamma-frozen snorefest from a few years back.

Best Film to DVD: Lust Caution. One of the finest Chinese films ever conceived. Pushes the envelopes and more.

Holy Surprise Endings, Batman! Return to Sleepaway Camp

Holy Fucking Shit Ad Nauseum, Batman! Most Curse Words in One Film: Return to Sleepaway Camp

Celluloid You Know Is Bad and Doesn't Fail You: Wrestlemaniac

I Hate You, No, I Love You! The Angriest Album in the Name of Peace and Love: Spitfire - Cult Fiction

Can I Get Some Neil Young In Here? Nils Lofgren - The Loner - Nils Sings Neil

Best Improved in the NFL: Though my Stillahs finished the regular season at 12-4 (yay!) and have the number two seed in the AFC, I have to give props to the Baltimore Ravens for revamping, getting into shape and putting a winner on the field. What can you say about those Dolphins and Falcons? Zeroes turned heroes. Also have to give the Tennessee Titans a big hand for being the most solid all-around team this year, despite the fact I disapprove of their lack of respect towards their opposition. Fisher and his team need to learn a little more grace in winning. Perhaps Indy blanking them this week put things into perspective, despite resting key players. Nevertheless, I predict the Super Bowl will likely see the Titans and Panthers.

Still Crazy After All These Years: The Simpsons

Another Reason Why America is Hated: Tila Tequila

Hottest Celeb MILF: Jane Seymour

Diehard Dickswinger of the Year: Bret Michaels

Best Bands to Hunt Me Down: Boneshaker and John Wilkes Booth

Coolest Interviews I Conducted This Year:

Alice Cooper
Rob Halford
Bruce Campbell
Atsuo of Boris
Joey Eppard of 3
Dan Lorenzo of Hades/Non Fiction/The Cursed
David Coverdale
Jon Schafer - Iced Earth
Sebastian Bach
Rat Skates
Matt "The Lord" Zane - Society 1
Ivan Moody - Five Finger Death Punch
Damon Fox - Bigelf
Jeff Waters - Annihilator

Interview I Shit the Bed in Scheduling: Marky Ramone

Best Beer: Guinness, duhhhh! Of course, Spaten Dark, Negra Modelo, Sam Adams Winter Brew and Miller Chill are all worthy contenders as well.

Best New Meal I Learned How to Cook This Year: Chicken Parm

Most Frustrating Food Price Hike: Pringles

Coolest Song the Baby Picked: "Chocolate" by Snow Patrol

The Baby's Album Pick of 2008 (empirically proven): Sinner - Crash and Burn

Best Way You Can Lure Angelina Jolie Away From Brad Pitt: Forget it, the guy's too perfect. He's gold onscreen and he's willing to raise an entire nest of other people's and his own spawn. A hearty Guinness toast to Brangelina...

Best Album I Chased Down After Waiting Far Too Long: The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

Coolest Album Coming Into 2009: Sepultura - A-Lex

Who The Metal Minute Has Its Eyes On In 2009: Isis

Sunday, December 28, 2008

25 Immaculate Receptions of 2008

It's that time of year, gang. In case you're interested, here's The Metal Minute's (and "Death From Below" column in AMP magazine originally) 25 Immaculate Receptions for 2008. I am also including a few honorable mentions as this list was originally compiled to make press time for AMP and some highly worthy candidates trickled in after-the-fact.

Please also note The Metal Minute is participating in a joint venture with other rock and metal blogs for a weekend Year-End-Best fiesta. A roll of these fine blogs are listed beneath the album picks. Please take a few minutes and visit them as well; it's fun to see what other folks are selecting as their best of choices.


Ray Van Horn, Jr.’s 25 Immaculate Receptions of 2008

1. ByzantineOblivion Beckons
2. BigelfCheat the Gallows
3. BorisSmile
4. EarthThe Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull
5. Cavalera ConspiracyInflikted
6. EnslavedVertebrae
7. Keep of KalessinKolossus
8. NachtmystiumAssassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1
9. MasterSlaves to Society
10. Bullet For My ValentineScream Aim Fire
11. Trivium - Shogun
12. Alice CooperAlong Came a Spider
13. Iced EarthThe Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2
14. WetnurseInvisible City
15. OpethWatershed
16. Amon AmarthTwilight of the Thunder God
17. The SwordGods of the Earth
18. Exotic Animal Petting Zoo I Have Made My Bed In Darkness
19. The Acacia Strain - Continent
20. The RottedGet Dead Or Die Trying
21. CatastrophicPathology of Murder
22. Dead to FallAre You Serious?
23. Bison B.C.Quiet Earth
24. TaintSecrets and Lies
25. WhitesnakeGood to Be Bad

Honorable Mentions:

Granted, these runner-ups are better than Whitesnake's Good to Be Bad and probably deserved inclusion in the final cut, but again, press time for this list dictated and I suffered the guilty pleasure syndrome with Whitesnake. Can't help it, period, the end. Of course, Motorhead and Testament get honorary nods because of who they are and how much balls they still put into their music. Hails!

Unearth - The March
Guns n' Roses - Chinese Democracy
Boneshaker - Start the Race
Jucifer - L'Autrichienne
Bloodbath - The Fathomless Mastery
Motorhead - Motorizer
Testament - The Formation of Damnation

Other Blogs Participating in Year End Picks:

Heavy Metal Addiction -- Heavy Metal Addiction

Hard Rock Hideout -- Hard Rock Hideout

Heavy Metal Time Machine -- Heavy Metal Time Machine

Bring Back Glam -- Bring Back Glam

Rock And Roll and Meandering Nonsense -- Rock 'n Roll and Meandering Nonsense

All Metal Resource -- All Metal Resource

Imagine Echoes -- Imagine Echoes

Metal Excess -- Metal Excess

The Ripple Effect -- The Ripple Effect

Rock Of Ages -- Rock of Ages

Layla's Classic Rock -- Layla's Classic Rock

Hair Metal Mansion -- Hair Metal Mansion

Friday, December 26, 2008

Book Review: The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx

The Heroin Diaries - Nikki Sixx with Ian Gittins
Paperback edition 2008 MTV Books / Pocket Books
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I'm going to be honest; every now and then I suffer from "wannabe syndrome," where I wish the band I was in for maybe three months had somehow pulled itself together and we'd gotten to play some shows, maybe do the unthinkable and hit the road for a month or so. That never happened of course, though my one-time bandmates remain friends for a lifetime, while time itself pushed me away from music for a short spell and into a suit working for less than twenty thou and foolishly thinking I was making big loot.

Funny how disillusioned you are when you're young.

Perhaps Nikki Sixx nowadays might use the same term if you've read his debauched and frequently cryptic memoir The Heroin Diaries. Disillusionment in Nikki Sixx's world as a figurehead of heavy metal was his potential ruin, but his history bears more gaping holes and running tracks from spiking the dragon when he wasn't merely chasing it through Motley Crue's run of infamy during the mid-to-late eighties.

While reading The Heroin Diaries, I put myself into Sixx's time and place, in this case 1987 on the road in support of their commercial hit Girls Girls Girls. More of a bona fide road anthem than a smutty toe-tapper, Motley Crue at this point in time found more willing receptacles to deposit their sperm than even Gene Simmons (whom Sixx has some amusing things to say about) could handle in one evening. I have to admit, had I ever stuck with my drums in the eighties and become part of a national touring act, I doubt highly that drugs would've been my undoing. It would undoubtedly be the sex, and though I'm now 38, married and in care of a foster child, on occasion I wonder what it must be like going into strange towns where you forget the names of people you've slept with.

Completely unnerving, though you might remember how fast or slow it took you to come with that person assuming the face at least registers with you. Look at Nikki Sixx, who describes getting a blowjob by a beautiful redhead, only to forget not only her name, but her actual being to the point she literally haunts him thereafter at his former boudoir of sin in Van Nuys.

Still, is rock 'n roll about sex? Well, yeah, it is, even if you're so serious into your craft you carry the tag of "artiste." Sex is perhaps the ultimate form of self-expression beyond art, thus we're all creatures of varying habit thusly. The key is control, which becomes the operative word to The Heroin Diaries. Nikki Sixx may have been one depraved mofo in 1987, but you can't argue the cat writes some hooky tunes and he's one of the main ingredients to Motley's success stew.

It's hard to imagine past the sneering facade, the sprouty spikes sagging past the brow line and the cheekbone stripes that Nikki Sixx was anything but a highly forward party animal who drank and fucked as good as he toked in carousing spirits via whatever atmosphere accommodated him. According to his blunt Heroin Diaries Sixx was a bona fide junkie and thus internally resistant to social functions. On the other hand, he was a relayed pissant and the guests who testify in The Heroin Diaries (including the other members of Motley Crue, Sixx's family, Slash and record industry names such as Tom Zutaut and Doc McGhee) paint a portrait of--which Sixx himself validates--a complete asshole. Nikki didn't get high to feel good in the company of others, though he frequently woke up next to others without recalling their reason for being there. Asshole? You be the judge.

Nikki Sixx's escapism might've been music while in the creative phase and while slamming bass onstage (and willing ladies backstage), but smack and heroin were the only things able to put Sixx into a proper out-of-body experience, going to such extremes as facing a bona fide exit from this life from which he miraculously returned to testify about. Like his former roommate and close friend Robbin "King" Crosby, Nikki Sixx had nearly let addiction rob him of his fortune and health. I can't help but think of Motley's prophetic "Use it Or Lose it" from Theatre of Pain in this instance.

It's utterly heartbreaking to read in The Heroin Diaries that Crosby, beloved guitarist of Ratt, dwelled on the streets of LA after his band--as nearly all bands in America usually do--tanked on the rock circuit in the early nineties. Terrible to imagine that towering axe slinger reduced to a shriveled caricature, junked-out, penniless, unrecognizable and eventually taken from this life by AIDS courtesy of used needle sharing. To read Nikki Sixx's morose description of Crosby's downward spiral and gradual demise is enough to make you scream frustratedly at the Sixx of '87 as you read each journal entry where he describes his torment at needle's point.

To put it into a personal perspective, Girls Girls Girls hit a sour note with me in 1987. I was a pissed-off metalhead teenager struggling between antisocialism and a desire to fit in with the student body, but only without changing who I was. In 1984 I ran a gauntlet of peers who called me "devil worshipper" for wearing my Motley Crue Shout at the Devil t-shirt. Despite being a then-devout Catholic who prayed at least three times a week (not bad for an adolescent whispering the chorus to Maiden's "Number of the Beast" well over quadruple the amount of times), I have to admit, you want to call me a grit or call a scumbag, no worries...I took those as a compliment.

Devil worshipper, though; that was personal, and I grew even more incensed when the same popular in-crowd were parading around school in 1987 wearing Girls Girls Girls shirts. "Hey, Ray, check out what I'm wearing!" I heard quite often, as if they were joining my club instead of vice-versa. How could I overlook such hypocrisy, particularly when the album that won their favor is, in my opinion, the band's weakest effort and hardly worthy of bestowing my approval to a crowd I then perceived as sellouts?

I was 17, dating a girl completely my opposite, skulking around the mall with my middle finger in the air at passersby, preaching the elitist "more metal than thou" ethos and somehow working myself into the jock crowd courtesy of weightlifting. A weird time but in retrospect, some of the happiest times of my life despite my incessant anger and surviving a proving ground almost as bad as the one I'd fought my way out of in middle school. At the time, I considered Girls Girls Girls an insult to myself and Motley's original fans who paid everyone else's dues, while the band themselves had already paid their own dues and were rewarded passage into a rock 'n roll babylon as decorated Caligulan generals.

Funny how much I was pissed at the Crue in 1987 (as I was at Metallica later on after the immaculate three), only to return to them with Dr. Feelgood and beyond. Hell, I was one of the few who supported the self-titled Motley Crue album featuring John Carabi. Not so funny, however, is to read how much pain Nikki Sixx was in at a time I dismissed his and his band's one album I couldn't get past. "Wild Side" was and still is a cool track admittedly, but to discover one of the lyrical voices behind that pumping cut was jabbing liquid death into his arm (even his penis at times), pissing anywhere but in toilets, refusing to shower, wishing his mother dead and throwing chicks out on their asses after drilling them as part of a bizarre preliminary ritual just to get to the grand finale of the evening, a drug fix... I mean, wow...

Kind of selfish of me, I guess, to cast such scorn but yeah, we original Children of the Beast exchanged gross stories of Motley Crue parading their cranks out of their leathers (sometimes slapping them on tops of bars and lighting them on fire, as testified by Sixx in this book) and part of it cheesed us off royally since the music took a back seat to the Crue's instant grafication whims. On the other hand, we envied these dudes, despite the fact Vince Neil had already done time for vehicular manslaughter. He was forgiven by the rock society at large, mostly because rock and metal needed a Motley Crue to check the deluge of pop hairball metal that was killing the scene. Nevertheless, we could see the arrogance written on three of the four Crue faces, while we accurately pinpointed Mick Mars as a recluse, albeit we had no idea the reason was due to tremendous pain.

The Heroin Diaries is a bitter pill from start-to-finish as Nikki Sixx bravely puts his most notorious year as a rocker into the public forum. From day to day we can begin to see that Elektra Records (whose reputation is frequently marred by its spiteful former roster, many of whom I've listened to personally) had pushed Motley Crue onto their path of destruction by recognizing addictive personalities at the gate. Feed them the money, grant them access to all that dirty young men crave at the height of their insecurity as individuals, and it's not hard to see why Sixx and the Crue fell for the dangling hook. When that hook has a discarded bra and an acid pack dangling from it, it's pretty easy to chase the line and fall into the proverbial net of addiction.

I can imagine the internal revulsion Nikki Sixx must've felt when reading his memoirs of 1987. Not everyone can say they had a relationship with one of Prince's former flings Vanity (now known strictly as Evangelist Denise Matthews), but at the time both Vanity and Sixx were at their lowest point as human beings and thus inseparable despite the hatred that both glued and separated them. Sixx's treatment of Vanity is simply crass, while her insane ravings under drugs made you wonder how much exploitation she'd undergone herself in Vanity 6 to delve towards such a loathesome state.

As Sixx describes what it feels like to be on drugs and off in failed attempts to get clean on a monster world tour that demands you keep pace with its sordid details, if this doesn't serve as a warning manual to how closely you can destroy your entire life with junk, you're missing the message.

Sure, Sixx was already in a fragile mental state from a confused childhood where he read the actions of one side as abandonment while embracing the only family he knew while growing up, his grandparents. Even the principals in the war over a young Nikki Sixx block the truth from each other, leaving Sixx to sort through his anger. Was he left behind from a jilting father and an assumedly footloose mother or did his loving grandparents twist and contort the facts to lure him to their side? Only the truth is known amongst them, but the speculation is left to Nikki Sixx and that speculation created such instability even when he reached the pinnacle of mainstream success that he was doomed to lash out via drugs, alcohol and sex. Of course, during the Girls Girls Girls recording process, Sixx lost his beloved grandmother Nona, who was the recipient of a brief tribute song on the album. Alas, Sixx was so dependent upon his drugs he was too ashamed to show up at her funeral.

As Sixx has now forgiven his mother and most importantly, forgiven himself for his past atrocities, he continues to reap a fortune (though smaller these days in light of a tougher economic and music distribution climate) via Crue's resurrection and tell-all books and albums. Saints of Los Angeles is primarily soundtrack to the band's best-selling book The Dirt, and also this one with the song "Chicks = Trouble," which becomes a mantra in The Heroin Diaries. Meanwhile, this book has a soundtrack of its own courtesy of Sixx: A.M., Nikki's side project, which features two of the best-written songs to his association: "Life is Beautiful" and "Pray For Me."

Nikki may have recently gone through soured marriages, brief relapses and harsh times in his adult life, but one thing's for sure: meeting Death at the taut knot of the gallows gave Nikki Sixx some proper perspective and the one-time agnostic now opens channels with The Almighty.

In this very intense story, I found forgiveness for Motley Crue and the Girls Girls Girls album. It's not my business to tell anyone what to do with their lives, merely to express my opinion or critique bodies of work which readers can take to heart or dismiss. I simply do my job and let its value go to the wind. At the time, Motley Crue recorded Girls Girls Girls in 1987 and as you can read in The Heroin Diaries, it was done well under the influence. The album is a reflection of those wild child personalities and honestly, so long as Motley Crue had new product to pimp so they could get out on the road (in the eyes of their management and Elektra Records), then all was as it should be, Too Fast For Love worthy or not.

The Crue hit the bricks with Whitesnake and a newly-discovered Guns n' Roses on the Girls tour and it might surprise you reading The Heroin Diaries how much venom Nikki Sixx at that time begrudged towards one and held an embracement of the other as younger, corruptible brothers (one of whom pissed in his guest bed). It might surprise you to read that Sixx had intimate relations with a highly-respected metal vocalist's then-wife, though Sixx today disclaims the advancement was on her part and he was unaware of the connection.

The sins of the past remain the past and the rudeness extolled between members of a lurid rock society is hopefully rectified and atoned for now at a time where politeness of exchange allows them all to return to the scene in the hopes of a second chance. Nikki Sixx knows all about second chances...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Take 5 With Richard Hoak of Total Fucking Destruction

You're likely already familiar with Richard Hoak from Brutal Truth, yet the energetic and well-versed vocalist also fronts another gig you might've heard of by now, Total Fucking Destruction.

While the band name encounters you with blunt shock value, it's the searing pace of Total Fucking Destruction's confrontational hardcore that hails the make your point in under a minute ethos of early DRI. What Total Fucking Destruction attempts to do in such reckless abandon is to stimulate an apathetic society already growing more stagnant in the face of a demoralizing war, as well as a population unwittingly surrendering itself to the machine on a daily basis, both proverbially and literally. The more our nation becomes obsessed with technology--or better yet, the latest upgrade of a given technology--the more we surrender our free will. Forget The Terminator as high-octane sci-fi entertainment; the shit is a prophecy...

Peace, Love and Total Fucking Destruction is the latest album from Hoak and his commandos in 'core chaos, and you best have your ears primed for song breaks, because they're barely there. These guys do not wait for you to catch up, but they do play so ridiculously fast you're wont to figure out the meaning of each song (all 23 of them on Peace, Love and Total Fucking Destruction), which suits Richard Hoak's intent just fine, as you'll read in this Take 5 piece with The Metal Minute...

Metal Minute: I can imagine you guys cranking some DRI, SOD and Napalm Death amongst other stuff back in the day. Seriously, though, you guys and a couple other bands in the grind and art metal sanctions are bringing back the kamikaze short-timed songs ala Dealing With It, which is still a classic today. Take us into your teenage bedroom and the music you were consuming that contributes to Total Fucking Destruction.

Richard Hoak: I saw DRI the first time in 1984. They were filthy, had a set list with 30 or more song titles on it, and totally fucking busted-out hardcore punkmetal. I wet my punk rock pants. I saw them again the next year when they toured with Nuclear Assault. Me and my friends thought it was nuts for DRI to be touring with a metal band, but Nuclear Assault was pretty good. I stole a "Live Suffer and Die" demo cassette from the Nuclear Assault merch guy and then barfed on some chick's couch later that night.

MM: (laughs) Good times! I want to talk about this statement from your MySpace page: "Grind 24 hours a days, 7 days a week. Some days I don't eat or sleep, only grind. Time is running out, the future is now and we are participating in the end of history. It's fucking awesome." There's some truth to this since I think the downfall of modern civilization began when the world went 24-7. All of this instant gratification bullshit in society makes everyone self-important and only turns life's spindles at faster intervals, hence the sound of grind metal and Total Fucking Destruction. Let's have your thoughts on this.

RH: Make no mistake: grindcore and similar underground DIY music scenes are simply obscure-to-the-multitudes artistic concepts and self-defined subcultures that exist because of the privilege and power provided to selected citizens by the global corporate economy that allows the leisure time and extra income to make such art and noise. Grindcore's relation to the slow motion apocalypse that we are all privileged to celebrate is coincidental and insignificant.

MM: Well, still, Total Fucking Destruction is obviously set at jackknifed hyperspeed with the intent to musically comment on the defragmentation of our world through technology and moreover the misappropriation and exploitation of technology, using songs like "Fuck the Internet," "Electromagnetic Pulse" and "Non-Existence the Self" from your current album Peace, Love and Total Fucking Destruction. Is technology too much for society at-large to handle, in your opinion?

RH: Like the other 27.8 billion humans on Earth in the year 2065, our family was completely compartmentalized by an artificial reality, detached from the geopolitical ramifications of our animal existence by the complex systems of the techno-military entertainment megaplex. Worldwide standardization of consumption protected corporate wealth and power as the masses of humanity traded the ability to consume at will and without implication for their passive acceptance of the global economic meta-culture. I never worried that peace would suddenly break out all over the planet.

MM: Voivod has Killing Technology of course and now you have the new album and Zen and the Art of Total Fucking Destruction beforehand, both of which are brutally fast albums. Do you think it takes blunt velocity to force people to stop and listen to what you're trying to say since breaking it down slowly seems to have no effect upon our generally stubborn populace?

RH: Total Fucking Destruction is a direct, undistorted connection to the poetry in us that speaks to the questions post-modern crazy fucked up daily life asks of all people. So that energy and the power of idea is channeled in various ways to write songs. Total Fucking Destruction uses humor to reveal the emptiness and contradictions of modernity. Our songs are true stories of life in the global
techno/military/entertainment megaplex and represent the future and present of human civilization. Our music is a message of energy and strength.

MM: Definitely, my friend. The topics of war and nihilism are undercurrents running through songs such as "Necro-Anarchist," "Wounded Unit," "Bio-Satanic Terrorist Attack," "Nihilism, Emptiness, Nothingness" and "Nonsense" from Peace Love and Total Fucking Destruction. I've always said the concept of peace, no matter how just and righteous it may be, is nonetheless too sophisticated for an apathetic and misinformed society that would soon as fuck their neighbor's wife in the ass in front of CNN while mulling over headlines of casualties in our global wars. What are your thoughts to this? Are we just a bunch of bloodthirsty barbarians when you cut the fat away from the muscle and bone, so to speak?

RH: There will always be war, even if just so that peace cannot be. Without war, there is no justification for violence. Without war, there is no illusion of power created by violence. Without war there is no power and no need for order. the absolutism of cosmic war defines our very humanity! Good Luck!

(c) 2008 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Sunday, December 21, 2008

CD Review: Guns 'n Roses - Chinese Democracy

Guns 'n Roses - Chinese Democracy
2008 Geffen Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

First off, I want my free Dr. Pepper as I've been a consumer since my early childhood and Axl Rose finally made good on what has been a suspicious rock 'n roll swindle over a decade in the making.

At the very least, Chinese Democracy has carried a stigma of both mystery and condemnation. Ever since Axl and the quintessential Guns Guys drove the iron spike of separation between themselves, everything related to the name Guns 'n Roses has been the punchline to a grossly unfunny joke, beginning as far back as 1993's uninteresting The Spaghetti Incident. It was apparent at the time that one of modern rock's most gifted and debauched acts was going to end on a queef, as well as a live retrospective and greatest hits album that kept the tinder flowing but did nothing to stimulate the possibility that Guns 'n Roses was going to do anything substantial ever again. Funny that the mere inclusion of guitar phenom Buckethead as a roster member on an album that had become for all intents and purposes, a rock 'n roll myth, launched himself a tidy career in the underground by gift of assocation. If Buckethead hadn't played some of the Guns gigs (the ones where Axl wasn't at a basketball game instead of onstage), the legend of ol' KFC Noggin might've really been something to talk about, most notably the implication of being a part of something that never was.

Suffice it to say, when the news was released earlier this year that Chinese Democracy was at long last going to surface on the market (or at least in Best Buy and online peddlers), rock and metal fans met it with the same sequestered distrust as Metallica's Death Magnetic.

Equally sequestered and reclusive has been Axl Rose, who has spent well over a decade mulling obsessively over these songs. When I interviewed Sebastian Bach earlier this year, I asked him bluntly what he felt was the delay with Chinese Democracy since Rose came out of exile to wail overtop three of Bach's songs from his recent album Angel Down. In Bach's opinion, label red tape was the impeding culprit to Chinese Democracy's release, which you can take to heart or you can listen to these 14 purgative songs where Axl Rose not only seems intent on rectifying the album's long recording process but also the band's reckless demeanor on the path towards fame.

For Rose and Chinese Democracy, there is no Spaghetti Incident or Lies. Chinese Democracy dwells straight back into the Use Your Illusion sessions which remain to this point Guns 'n Roses' high artistic statement as a band. In particular, the album is mostly like an extension of "Estranged" and "November Rain," filled with an isolated conundrum of expressionism not so much concerned with kickstarting the fast and furious Guns 'n Roses that blitzed their music and their audiences with "My Michelle," "Think About You" and "Nighttrain." Those days are gone, even if Chinese Democracy does kick at times with the uptempo rockers "Shackler's Revenge," "Scraped" and the title song.

Despite the street-fused beatdown these songs deliver (each bearing a cyber upgrade courtesy of a massive Pro Tools layering job), Chinese Democracy is by and far, an open diary testifying Axl Rose's addled need to create art instead of pure rock 'n roll. Perhaps Appetite for Destruction was Rose's necessary evil to draw himself closer to the two Use Your Illusion albums since the mindset between these two periods of magnitude in the band's history couldn't have been more diverse than The Beatles' Please Please Me and The White Album. Even when "Riad N' the Bedouins" seeks to recapture that bluesy cock rock essence of Appetite for Destruction, Axl changes the melody to something of a more plying nature, not to mention swerving his vocals as if in an inner city Baptist church.

You get one impression that Axl has tried to create The Wall to complement his own Dark Side of the Moon. You also get the feeling Rose has had a Brian Wilson epiphany where the clouds around his head have lifted enough to take inspiration to put the wraps to unfinished business with Chinese Democracy. In some ways, Rose has gotten the monkey off of his back with combined measures of self-cleansing and continued flaggelation with songs such as "Better," "This I Love" and "There Was a Time." For sure, Axl Rose is one step out of his private hell but that foot is missing a shoe and he has to make the cautious decision whether to turn back and retrieve it or to simply let it go and move forward.

Chinese Democracy is painful at times, as in downer painful. For sure, the album's songwriting is largely fabulous and you have to wonder if the adamant refusal to let the maudlin vibes of "Estranged" drift away is one of the primary separating factors between Axl and Slash, much less the rest of Guns 'n Roses. As Slash and the remaining ashes of G-N-R have gone on to create one straightfoward rockout endeavor after another (the most notable obviously being Velvet Revolver), Axl Rose has been wallowing rebelliously to himself and against himself. As if exorcising the laced-out devil that controlled Rose at the height of Guns 'n Roses' popularity, Chinese Democracy serves almost to answer in atonement for the temerity of the past.

The danger element to Guns 'n Roses is so far remiss on Chinese Democracy you either have to appreciate it or lament what once was. This may not be a true G-N-R effort since the bands' stage occupants are as indecisive as a Floridian head count. Put together on the same stage, Buckethead, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and Nine Inch Nails' Robin Finck would be one hell of a spectacle, so we have to settle for what is delivered on record. Despite the proficiency of each and the exciting chops we're treated to on this album such as heard on "Prostitute," "Riad N' the Bedouins," "I.R.S." and the morose "Street of Dreams," let's face the facts: Slash's reputation on guitar is largely due to an instinct you either have or you don't. On Appetite for Destruction Slash went on his gut. On Chinese Democracy, Buckethead dazzles at every turn, but his licks are simply part of the machine that turns this thing, and as long as it took to process this album, that machine has been refined to a point that is less interested in pure rock 'n roll as it is finessed melodrama.

The Guns 'n Roses of the past would hardly settle for the soul and funk syncopation of "Sorry" (which Sebastian Bach lends a vocal hand to) and "If the World," much less the latter's flamenco intro by Buckethead that lends the track further elegance. Even as "If the World" turns a heavy trick, the song is slinky and feels like an edgier soul cut of the eighties featuring a singer belting out the majority of his vocal range. G-N-R of 1988 might also not be quite as interested in the coldwave and trip hop laces Axl fuses into Chinese Democracy, but they fit snugly in place now better than they would've on say, "Rocket Queen."

By all means Chinese Democracy is The Axl Rose Show despite the hiring of a plethora of studio musicians, arrangers and engineers to help him realize this rock symposium. Honestly, without the caliber of Buckethead, the zone-ready Brain on drums, Tommy Stinson on bass, a willing string section and G-N-R holdout Dizzy Reed, Axl would've been left to daydream further along on his piano, which he brings to life explicitly on Chinese Democracy on the Illusion-reinvented "This I Love," "Prostitute" and "There Was a Time." In turn, Axl shows he still has severe mike fortitude, even if he turns syrupy at times on "Street of Dreams."

You can hear Axl almost pleading for a benevolent touch of redemption on "Riad N' the Bedouins" as he scrapes the ceiling with piercing falsettos begging for "sweet salvation" and a declarative end to his frustrations. That's the dominant aesthetic to Chinese Democracy, coming up with a rock opera texture grand enough to live up to a voice seeking to restore its authority.

Chinese Democracy could've been the cold turkey most people expected it to be. No longer "The Most Expensive Record Never Made," Chinese Democracy does indeed sound like as much money was invested into it as time and ego. This is the direct antithesis to Appetite for Destruction, but give it some credit; Chinese Democracy is a very fine, if internally confusing, rock album left independent of its gutter-courting past.

Rating: ****

Saturday, December 20, 2008

CD Review: Kataklysm - Prevail

Kataklysm - Prevail
2008 Nuclear Blast
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Now comes the part of the year where I trickle to the backlog of promos that were mistakenly missed and I excavate a few shining gems from the rubble. Why it took me so long to tackle Kataklysm's Prevail when I really dug Shadows & Dust and In the Arms of Devastation is my bust, but thank the mallrat kid with the shaggy hair wearing a Kataklysm shirt who looked at me like I was the social misfit for wearing a Hades t-shirt to jolt my memory I had this disc.

Now that Prevail has generated a few rightful spins to ease the tension of a dreadful week, let me just use that same kid to make a point. In the mid-to-late eighties, I was that kid, albeit you'd find Metal Church, Overkill or Megadeth on my chest. The swagger I carried around the mall I used to haunt was bounced not only upon regular Joes, preppies and princesses who looked at me like I was trash, but also against people a tad older than I who were wearing (even then) faded Van Halen and Priest shirts. The attitude was "Hey, this is my music, old man..."

Well, now the tables have turned and I have young kids calling me out in reviews and others staring at me like I'm eligible for geriatric care. I even had a bunch of hairball youth whoop and yell sarcastically at me this past summer when I was blasting Opeth from my truck. Goddamn, I remember when I was that disrespectful! Thus when I see a teenager vamping around the mall wearing Kataklysm on his chest instead of Slipknot (whom I also dig very much despite their popularity), I just want to rap knucks with the lad because of all the bands to parade with on your chest, fucking Kataklysm? Hails to you, metal brother...

Prevail is the sound for an angry generation and the hangers-on to a scene that belonged to them originally. Kataklysm are not pretty whatsoever, but what the Canadian metallers do is ram the barriers down with blunt-forced death crushes. Each album these guys churn out, you hear shades of Death and Possessed from yesteryear with some At the Gates and today's contemporary modes of metallic execution. Prevail moves with motivation, slowing down only to be articulate, if not to give their own members a momentary respite from the wicked fast velocity they challenge themselves with.

Prevail can rock through slower grooves such "Blood in Heaven" before the track propels a sonic bottlerocket towards the end. Still, the name of Kataklysm's game is fierce, mostly-unrelenting thrash on songs like "The Chains of Power," "Tear Down the Kingdom" and the headbanger's delight, "As Death Lingers."

Treading closer to black metal velocity for much of the multi-tempoed "The Vultures are Watching" as Kataklysm double-times the pace and Maurizio Iacano mingles Stygian wisps to his otherwise grumbly vocal chops, Kataklysm continues to exhibit versatility instead of cramming 40 minutes of predominantly one pounding rhythm. At six minutes, "The Vultures are Watching" is one of Prevail's most adventurous songs, even as it wraps with a funeral march and a wailing guitar solo from Jean-Francois Dagenais.

Just to throw their listeners one more curveball, Kataklsym finishes Prevail with an ankle-prodding trad metal (bearing just a mere hint of Manowar) instrumental "The Last Effort (Renaissance 2)" which trails into a whispery sequence of hushed note threads and a rousing guitar solo before vanishing into the proverbial ether from whence Prevail begins.

You can't argue with Kataklysm's dedication to the scene with 11 studio albums in 14 years. Though little discertains Prevail and In the Arms of Devastation from Kataklysm's earlier work such as Temple of Knowledge and Sorcery (save for much superior production these days), if you've been following these guys for most of the ride, all you want is right here in Prevail. It's a pissed-off death machine that knows when to lay off the thrusters in the name of artistry.

If I see that kid again, I'm stop him and thank him for being purely metal and then recommend him the new Bloodbath album The Fathomless Mastery.

Rating: ****

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Take 5 With Christian Wolbers of Fear Factory / Arkaea

As the metal world waits for new epic cybercrust metal from the legendary Fear Factory, the band's constituents are keeping busy in side ventures varying in extremes. Former guitarist Dino Cazares has made the biggest splash with his ratchety offspring Divine Heresy following his side explosive side projects Brujeria and Nailbomb. Vocalist Burton C. Bell has been quietly lounging behind the scenes, cropping up for a brave and enigmatic mood rock venture, Ascension of the Watchers. Meanwhile, Fear Factory's drummer Raymond Herrera and guitarist Christian Wolbers have formed an alliance with Threat Signal singer Jon Howard and bassist Pat Kavanagh in a new entity, Arkaea, which brings what you already know about these performers and yet changes the scheme to include more melodic and straightforward variables.

Christian Wolbers produced Threat Signal's debut full-length album Under Reprisal, and one might infer the working relationship was a premature audition for Arkaea. Sampling the fledgling hybrid's in-progress demo tracks, certainly there's plenty of snap-tight rhythms as Wolbers and Herrera deliver precise shots and strums straight out of Fear Factory's Soul of a New Machine. You can also hear atypical next-gen harmony-driven metal not far off in theory from Linkin Park. A mixture of brutality and tunefulness is heard on Arkaea's working tracks tentatively titled "My Redemption," "Awakening," "Gone Too Far," "Break the Silence" and "Blackened Sky." Perhaps Arkaea can thus be considered to be Fear Factory reinvented for a more mainstream generation of headbangers.

Wolbers took a few minutes to sit with The Metal Minute during Arkaea's strict recording schedule to give a little insight into the band's doings, as well as pimping his new customized Randall Archetype amplifier.

The Metal Minute: Let's start with Arkaea, which features yourself and Ray with Jon and Pat from Threat Signal. I'm detecting small elements of Fear Factory based on the online sampler, but I'm also getting a stripped and melodic feel to this project. What is your take on things as Arkaea is progressing towards your debut release date next year, as well as your gig with God Forbid at The Whisky in January?

Christian Wolbers: Well, there are Fear Factory elements because some of this material was originally written for Fear Factory, and there's actually a Police influence, which was always one of my favorite bands. Playing for some years with Stephen Carpenter always rubbed off on me. I always give my boy credit for that. We still need to do Kush together. There's a Threat Signal influence because of Jon and Pat, although I feel they brought a lot of different elements to the record from what they would normally do in Threat Signal. It's still a new sound for us so we didn't sit in the studio trying to over-think everything, if it had a good vibe and it worked so be it. We just kept writing and until one of the last songs we wrote we think we found our vibe and sound.

I wanted Arkaea to be a band that has room to expand. Some songs are very simple others are more complex. We did write some songs with 20 different riffs and it seemed too weird and wasn't coming together as solid. The songs with more vocal room and more of a solid platform musically seemed to work really well and sounded epic. What's online is a demo that was created on a 2 track live and Jon did vocals on a 57 microphone in his laptop on tour. It was just thrown together to see if Jon could write to the songs and if it was gonna gel. It was never meant to be a demo to be put online for people to hear. Now things sound a lot more together and solid.
I think the record is gonna come out late May or June now. Yeah, we have our first show January 15th at the Whiskey in Hollywood, California. That's gonna be awesome!

MM: I'd say the past three Fear Factory albums have kind of started what I'm hearing in Arkaea. Sometimes you and Ray cut loose with heavy detailing in Arkaea, but it appears the prime motivation is groove and soul within the metal construct. Is that how you've been seeing things going?

CW: Honestly, when I realized that I was writing for Arkaea and not for Fear Factory I felt like I could do what I wanted to do. I didn't have to stick with the Fear Factory formula. I think because I was hearing different ideas. Same as for Raymond and Jon. It's healthy creating music with a different mindset. That’s when you learn new things.

MM: Let's hear your story on hooking up with thrash legends Cyclone. I reviewed the Brutal Destruction reissue here at The Metal Minute and it was like an old friend coming home to visit once I got that sucker in my mailbox!

CW: In 1991 Cyclone needed a fill-in guitarist for an upcoming European tour with Sadus. I had previously tried out for the group but I didn't have my down and triple picking up to par. So I went home practiced for a few weeks and came back to ask them to try out again for the band. This time I got the gig. They just seemed to have a hard time finding guitarists. Stefaan Daamen, Cyclone's guitarist, really taught me how to down pick, how to hold a pick properly so you could do triplets, etcetera. He showed me and I took it home and studied it and came back to hit the European leg with them. They were the first classic Belgian Thrash metal group. Cyclone first did a demo in 1983 called In the Grip of Evil. Guido, the singer, used to trade New Wave of British Heavy Metal tapes with Lars Ulrich back in those days and turned him on to Jaguar, Iron Fist, and Diamond Head and all those other bands. Cyclone's sound on that first demo is very much like Metallica's early sound. I think Cyclone started playing in 1981 and I was 9! (laughs)

MM: How about plugging your signature Randall Archetype amp you designed? I like the postmodern look of the insignia above the knobs, but what really looks awesome is its apparent multifunctional output features.

CW: Well, I took the existing V2 Randall design and gave it an overhaul and added more gain to the Solid State Channel and a tighter bass response for tighter palm muting. I changed the color to a black chrome and replaced the green and red lights with all blue lights. I was going for that Terminator 3 look. And we named it the Randall the Archetype V2. It’s a smoking 3-Channel Head, Height Gain Tube Channel, High Gain Solid State Channel with the MosValve Technology and a Clean Channel. I'm really happy with The Archetype and I can't wait to take it on the road soon.

MM: You guys are doing the Arkaea gig, Dino has Divine Heresy and I'm really digging Burton's guts on that Ascension of the Watchers project. First thing, do you guys anticipate doing any more Fear Factory in the future, and second I'm a big sushi guy myself. To me, it's about ambience, much less the cut of fish. Where in your travels is the best sushi you'd recommend?

CW: That's the big question! (laughs) I’m always down to make records. That’s what I am here for. Sushi is my favorite! You are taking me to go get some when I see you, by the way! (laughs) It’s all about the Philly roll!

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

CD Review: Mudvayne - The New Game

Mudvayne - The New Game
2008 Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Mudvayne possesses one of the most talented rhythm sections in modern rock. Thing is, ever since ditching their outlandish stage theatrics and scaling back the slap-happy funk metal from the days of L.D. 50 and at least parts of End of All Things to Come, Mudvayne has lately been treading as close to AOR rock as they can politely inch.

Of course, Chad Gray is still one of the most twisted lyric writers on the scene as well as possessing the capacity to expel some of the best delivery in the business. Since cleaning up his deep throat swills to alleviate an esophagus ready to tear itself asunder with the same dramatic effect as the punishment Gray manifests inside his prose-bombed head, it's not wholly out of line to say his vocal charisma has been checked by a routinely-plodding tempo scheme in Mudvayne's recent music.

Since expanding their audience with 2005's accessible Lost and Found, the Mudvayne clan take very few steps away from that album's script, on occasion stepping on the gas and flooding their latest album The New Game's darkened muse with a mixed bag of power prog, crunch core and ankle-chained slavery to a mainstream rock tandem that seldom varies.

Honestly, this band is far too gifted to be masquerading in format rock for too much longer. When set free of the midtempo shambling that has dominated Mudvayne's music lately (and especially all over this album), these guys can rip amplifiers apart with gleeful savagery. Even though Chad Gray took a side foray with Hellyeah, you have to admit Mudvayne these days sound like a snazzily-oiled rock machine that's nevertheless a bit too extreme (due to their low end chunk chugs and sonnets of borderline nihilism) for on-the-take playlist programmers.

The New Game is indeed a well-played album and Mudvayne is the tightest band they've ever been here. To create a bit of intrigue for The New Game, Mudvayne weaves a concept about a character who has killed his best friend and is going through the motions of guilt and cover-up. A little nod to The Shining manifests on "Dull Boy," while the narrative on the CD inlet is particularly chewy and gets you into the mood for this thing, as does the palatable opening licks of "Fish Out of Water."

Problem is, Mudvayne's indefectible security is threatened by a subliminal distress in which the band sounds like they could just break loose like the old days and that's a little sad, because they need to allow themselves to go on the gut instead of on the dime. These guys aren't Pazazu's version of Nickelback or Trapt, however songs such as "Have It Your Way," "Do What You Do" and "Dull Boy" would lead you to believe otherwise. Is it coincidence a song called "Same 'Ol" checks in on this album, depsite its appreciably meaty outpouring and kickass guitar solo?

Yes, The New Game's concept is chilling and quite nervy. Greg Tribbett's willingness to peel off more traditional guitar solos gives the album some articulated fang. Ryan Martinie remains one of the genre's forgotten heroes on bass (who wouldn't want to see him in a duel against Les Claypool?). Chad Gray is still dwelling on the frayed edge between loose cannon and canonized archangel.

"A New Game" gives us a hearty reminder of how emotionally maniacal Mudvayne used to be. A dangerous (dangerous for their chosen mode of operation these days) merge between thrash and chomping agro bits with an undermined soulful finale makes "A New Game" the finest cut of the album, largely because Mudvayne sees fit not only to shake up the album's safe status quo for five minutes, it boasts loud and clear that the reckless and exuberant Mudvayne is still clawing around somewhere. You get to hear it a second and third time on the pumping punk funk of "The Hate In Me" and "We the People," where Martinie and Tribbett are simply lethal.

Granted, The New Game is enjoyable enough for its sense of professionalism, but there's going to be a dead-end spot anytime now for these recycled riffs and overused melody patterns. Mudvayne probably believed the sacrifice for deeper melody and less insanity to make for snug compatability, considering Chad Gray plays his dual vocal personae into it effortlessly. Still, you have to think Matt McDonough is soon going to soon want to double kick madcap for three or four minutes straight ala "Dig" and for sure, those who have been following Mudvayne all of this time are going to be wanting the same exact thing in exchange for their continued loyalty.

Professionalism is one thing. Sharp execution is another. Deliberately holding yourself back from your true potential is sadly suspect...

Rating: ***

CD Review: Microtia - Distance is Oval

Microtia - Distance is Oval
2007 Exigent Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Here's one that slipped through the cracks from earlier this year and desperately needs a rescue...

I love an album that presents so much of a challenge to describe it that you almost feel tempted to simply utter a singular superlative such as "exquisite" or "emotional" or "proficient."

Lemme tell you something, there's something truly special going on in Portland, Oregon because it seems there's a new eclectic rock wonder trickling out from that region at least every other month, if not every one.

Let me see if I can get some appropriate comparables for you and let that suffice as a description: how about some Mouth of the Architect, some At the Drive-In, some Catherine Wheel, some Radiohead, some Sonic Youth and a few shades of Botch, Refused and Kitchens of Distinction? Sound good?

It damn well should, because Microtia is one the hottest indie rock and metal bands you've probably never heard of. How this band isn't lighting up the entire country, much less the northern hemisphere with their sonic grandeur is beyond comprehension. Am I guilty of being an overenthusiastic rock geek critic? Absolutely, but if what I'm saying here makes me thus, let tape up the center bridge of my glasses just to make the point.

Simply put, Distance is Oval is one of the most urgent EPs to come along in years. They say some bands have only the cost and effort of an EP with which to decide their fates. If said position is true, Microtia damn well ought to be controlling their future with the superlative art distortion they produce on "Organ Harvest," much less the spaced-out guitar pods jettisoning from the core rhyhtm on "Stay Down."

Each one of these songs are sculpted with admirable patience and detail. They've been labeled by some folks as "shoegazer rock." I can get the inference since Distance is Oval is enough to stop you in your tracks and concentrate with a haze in your ears as to what Microtia is doing, just for the attention-grabbing intro to "Ligature Signature" with ear-tugging sequencers, some snazzy snare and high hat trickery and aquatic guitar lines that propel into a Radiohead-heavy ascension that bequeaths nearly-intense crescendos. And "The Pluto Revival?" People, you're going to be collapsing in exhiliration by this overtly impressive outpour of guitar threading.

Distance is Oval is going to move you on the first play, don't worry about that. The thing is, your subsequent spins are going to be in an effort to grasp and assimilate all that Microtia expounds even at a decidedly mid-tempo pace all the way. Any faster than this and we surely would've had information overload.

Beautiful work, to say the least...

Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

CD Review: Ross the Boss - New Metal Leader

Ross the Boss - New Metal Leader
2009 Candlelight Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

You know the man's blood had to be pumping proudly when Ross the Boss (aka Ross Friedman and Ross Funicello) ventured into Germany with his old buddies from Manowar at the 2005 Earthshaker fest, depicted triumphantly on their booming DVD The Day the Earth Shook - The Absolute Power. Throwing a guitar clinic for the metal devout, jamming with a German Manowar cover band and taking the stage with his old demolition crew after a hell of a long hiatus--returning at show's end for an incredible alumni rendition of "Battle Hymns" with everyone who's ever played in the band--how could Ross the Boss not be rekindled by it all?

Perhaps he'd grown jaded from an American audience that embraced Manowar through the late eighties then dumped them not long after Kings of Metal. Sure, Manowar has historically been brash chaps and the more popularity they garnished with Fighting the World, the more of a hardline anti-poser stance they took, which many happy-go-lucky Americans at the time gave a Roman-esque thumbs-down to. Of course, it didn't help heavy metal was on its way out the door courtesy of the hairball pop rockers Manowar vehemently detested in public. Fact of the matter, though, Ross the Boss' departure from Manowar was a sting only if you were a devout follower of the group.

Other people could've cared less in light of the David Lee Roth band versus his Hagar-led mates of Van Halen audile skirmishes that were raging and smoldering by the time Ross the Boss left Manowar. At the time of his departure, Manowar was on the same popularity level as Raven, Metal Church, Anvil and Overkill. Of course, the nearly-commercial sway Manowar had somewhat hypocritcally flirted with via "Blow Your Speakers" and its subsequent failure to capture the same crowd who showed up for Ratt, Priest and Iron Maiden was enough to deter Ross the Boss from continuing on.

Still, you have to appreciate Ross' importance to Manowar (not to mention punk legends The Dictators), in particular his on-par capacity to drill in the trenches with lightning-mad bassist Joey DeMaio. Considering Ross the Boss initially founded Manowar, the fact he packed his axe, sheathed his cutlery and hung up his battle leather was disheartening to power metal addicts. Manowar, however, continued on and as history reveals, they only got heavier and sometimes faster. Though Manowar still sadly lacks a solid backing on their home turf of the U.S.A., they're considered upper tier elite throughout Europe, Japan and South America. The stages are still massive, the lights still blaring and Manowar is still pounding ears savagely. America, who?

Somewhere in the midst of all of the Earthshaker hoopla, Ross the Boss found his stride again and if he's trying to prove a point by returning to a metal scene more ready to embrace him now than in 1988, consider it made with New Metal Leader. Though his vocalist Patrick Fuchs is by no means in Eric Adams' league (and sometimes more than a bit shaky, particularly on his squabbled falsettos) and though Ross the Boss challenges his fans later in the album with some wild curveballs nobody is likely going to see coming, New Metal Leader is nevertheless and example of a guy finding his nerve again and making the most of it.

Largely with one foot stuck in Hail to England, Battle Hymns and Into Glory Ride, New Metal Leader is completely irresistible if you grew up with this stuff in the eighties. Right out the gate on New Metal Leader, Ross the Boss and his new power pack (including Carsten Kettering on bass and Matze Mayer on drums) call up the vintage stuff on "I.L.H.," "Blood of Knives" and the strident "I Got the Right." Ross then steps on the gas with "Death and Glory" while pulling the gear back into fourth on the bopping trad rocker "Plague of Lies."

"Constantine's Sword" is hit-and-miss with a chugging rhythm, solid riffs and a funky base to its favor and some irksome, wallowing vocals and a thumb pressed on the trigger to its detriment. Ross had the potential to make this song thunderous, and perhaps he can jack it up to proper amplitude onstage, but it mostly skulks around as if looking to end as quickly as it started, even at four-and-a-half-minutes. The biggest surprise of New Metal Leader is the rather tame "May the Gods Be With You" and its yummy sun-soaked rawk feel. Is this Ross the Boss or Y&T? You be the judge, but Y&T make a much better Y&T.

Fret not, because New Metal Leader comes back to its purpose with heavy slogs on "We Will Kill," even if the foundation of the song likewise assumes a hard rock stance instead of blunt power metal. In other words, Ross is experimenting a bit with his album after hitting his listeners hard with the obvious.

Ross takes a shot at Maiden-like metal hero tributizing with "Matador," although the riff lines come off more like Accept. Still, Ross makes this one count as one of the heaviest and most crisp tunes on the album, even tossing some articulate flamenco at the end, hails to that. It sets up New Metal Leader's "Battle Hymn" stab, "Immortal Son," which mostly works despite a squib or two. For the most part, however, "Immortal Son" is a well-tailored six-minute epic that shows Ross the Boss still has heart.

Already the fans are declaring this one a winner overtop Manowar's recent album Gods of War, though Eric Adams is naturally far-superior on the mike and Gods of War boasts the firepower production of Joey DeMaio (not to mention his cracka-lacka bass). Ross probably won't have a bunch of bare-chested girls onstage to French kiss and dump beer on their tits, but he does have the respect of the Manowar faithful and that'll continue easily with New Metal Leader...

Rating: ****

Monday, December 08, 2008

RIP Adrian "The Energizer" Bromley

Five minutes before I got on the horn with Rob Halford this evening, I learned of the unfortunate passing of a friend, editor and colleague, Adrian "The Energizer" Bromley. He was only 37 years young.

Adrian hired me to write for Unrestrained magazine earlier this year and prior to that, we got to know each other when he repped The End Records. I feel like Adrian was my connection to Crisis and Subterranean Masquerade after my buddies at the label initiated contact on those and many more of their high-caliber artists. Adrian recently started his own publicity house, Ixmati Media, and it already hurts to look at the pile of albums I've yet to spin and review under his banner.

For my getting to know Crisis alone, Adrian, thank you. For calling me on Saturdays with excitement about something I wrote for you, thank you. For agreeing to let me interview Atsuo of Boris for you, a hell of a thank you; that was an enrichening experience. Ditto for Lemmy; I can't thank you enough for opening a spot at zero hour for me to get him for Unrestrained. Thank you for letting me bring you Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth, Ihsahn and everybody else to those pages I've been a part of for so short a time in the grand scheme, but feel like I've been a part of much longer.

For being a brother of metal, mega thank yous. I'm very upset to learn of your passing and will see you again on the other side. Rob passed his condolences to you and your family; that's about as metal as anything I've ever been privilege to...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

DVD Review: Lynard Skynard - Sweet Home Alabama

Lynard Skynard - Sweet Home Alabama
2008 Eagle Vision
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

A number of things come to my mind when coming to Lynard Skynard. First, the obvious, which you have to shake your head in wonderment at what might've been if fate hadn't sent yet another plane into the ground, robbing the music world of some of its brighter musicians. Sad enough Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens were tragically cut down in the fifties. Losing John Denver in a plane crash was equally unbearable for his songwriting prowess alone, much less his gentle candor and willingness to step up for metalheads and rockers in Washington, DC during the infamous PMRC hearings. But to have an entire chunk of your lineup taken from you as Lynard Skynard suffered when Ronnie Van Zandt, Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines (not to mention band manager Dean Kilpatrick) fell into the Mississippi delta... It's amazing Skynard found it within themselves to pick up the pieces later down the road and have a go once again with brother Johnny Van Zandt leading the way.

I also think about Skynard's formidable triple guitar attack, originally with Gary Rossington, Ed King and Allen Collins, and what a precedent they set for rock music. Even today the triple threat in rock and heavy metal is still a somewhat rare occurence, though Iron Maiden are twice the band since adding Janick Gers to the six string front line. Lynard Skynard's music may not always bear the aura of all three guitars in simplistic melodies on familiar cuts like "Gimme Three Steps," "Simple Man" and of course one of their biggest calling card tunes, "Sweet Home Alabama," but once you disseminate their harrowed "Free Bird," it's fun to hear each guitar chime in like echoes from a Louisiana bayou during the swaying verses, much less the traded solo bonanza during the uptempo second half.

Talking about "Sweet Home Alabama," I'm not sure this hasn't become our true national anthem since you can't go a single day without hearing it, whether you're relegated to FM classic rock stations or you're watching t.v. and KFC snips a piece from the tune to sell its Southern-based fried chicken. Unity and all that jazz...or country rock, if you will. Of course, the local Pizza Hut I waited tables at throughout college had "Alabama" pre-programemd in the jukebox along with a handful of Bad Company tunes and Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart," oi... Dark times they be...

I also have to note that people today, whether they're a bunch drunken old farts or young teens still in the nurturing phase of their live concert experiences, somehow feel the need to holler out "Free Bird!" between songs of any band. It's as much a cliche as "Play the song!" though the latter has seen fit to make a deserved exodus from live venues. Tactless it may be to yell "Free Bird!" considering nobody laughs anymore and bands performing just roll their eyes up or tune their instruments silently before launching into the next song, we can nonetheless say that Lynard Skynard are still beloved by many. Hell, the most poetic use of "Free Bird" in contemporary media has to be the finale of Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects. Weirdly poignant.

Let me be honest and say it took me a long time to warm up to Lynard Skynard. When I moved to the country in late 1982, I'd become so urbanized in my transition towards headbanger status that to see my co-students in middle school who were largely farmers and rednecks-in-training, the resistance they showed people like myself left a sour taste in my mouth. I can now understand their sense of intrusion and violation, but honestly I've lived in this rural county for over three-quarters of my life, even as a child. Still, the hick kids didn't tolerate punk rockers (whom I sympathized and sometimes hung out with), much less anyone they even suspected were gay. Headbangers were given passage to a certain extent because Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and Rush were considered front runners to heavy metal, along with the hallowed Black Sabbath. Still, for myself, I couldn't get into Zeppelin, Rush, The Allman Brothers and Lynard Skynard simply because I regarded them collectively as redneck rock.

As I got older and began to really dive into various non-metal forms of music during that dead zone for rock in the mid-nineties, I discovered Rush was one of the greatest bands ever conceived and Zeppelin are the legends they are for a reason. You might say I felt like an absolute fool upon this realization. Later on I began to realize that Lynard Skynard has contributed far more to rock 'n roll than piss 'n swill confederate twang.

I kept all of these things in mind while watching Sweet Home Alabama, a rare performance from 1996 as the remnants of Skynard, Johnny Van Zant, Gary Rossington, bassist Leon Wilkeson (and his motley array of towering head gear) and keyboardist Billy Powell deliver a staunch through-the-years hit list of their best-known work to a devout German crowd in the Loreley Festival.

Rockpalast is a German-produced rock series apparently on a long stint as Sweet Home Alabama gives us this 12-year-old concert in addition to lost archive footage of the vintage Skynard lineup circa 1974 at an early show played in Hamburg.

One of the striking oddities about the Loreley Festival gig is the fact the barrier between the audience and Lynard Skynard is sadly massive. Perched atop a stage with concrete steps leading to a wide berth apparently reserved for the television cameras and then the still photo press behind them, there's a slight bit of coldness between band and fans as a result. It doesn't stop the German faithful from bouncing around joyfully to "Workin' For MCA," "I Ain't the One," "Call Me the Breeze," "Double Trouble" and of course, "Sweet Home Alabama." The audience looks every bit ready to declare themselves distant honorary Southerners as Johnny Van Zant skulks along the front of the stage and issues Skynard's catalog with professional diligence. Occasionally he calls up the memory of his brother to the crowd, which acknowledges the reverence politely.

Undoubtedly Lynard Skynard were up to the task in this 1996 performance as guitarists Rossington, Rickey Medlocke and Hughie Thomasson peel off every lick and jerk as their fans remember them, freestyling only in certain spots, and like the past, taking turns letting one another show off their chops. Though Rossington remains the last original guitarist of Lynard Skynard, his cohorts shamble admirably through "Down South Jukin'" "Swamp Music" and naturally, "Free Bird." In what is one of rock's top-five solo jam sessions, "Free Bird" still sounds rousing in this show, even if Skynard in 1974 reveals a lot more passion and willingness to float without restraint, just by way of comparison of the two versions shown on the DVD.

Which is what it all boils down to at the end of the day after you've watched all of Sweet Home Alabama. Drink a shot or two to the departed and take one more as you snicker even today at the slick snidery of "That Smell." Lynard Skynard still had plenty to offer the world in 1996, but the specters of their past continue to hang about the stage, playing in silent shadow while the current regime does its best to honor them.

Rating: ****