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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

CD Review - iwrestledabearonce - It's All Happening

iwrestledabearonce - It's All Happening
2009 Century Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

New bands are challenging each other by the minute to reinvent metal. When a band like Shreveport, Louisiana’s iwrestledabearonce can merge so many differing genres into one senses-flogging listen session on their latest work It’s All Happening, you know they’re either going to be credited as innovators or quickly dusted off by the subsequent month’s batch of new arrivals.

Nevertheless, iwrestledabearonce is as creative with their endeavors as Horse the Band, Psyopus and Between the Buried and Me. This band wields an unpredictable mix of deathcore, grind, electronic, coldwave, fusion, rock, math-prog and other assorted flotsam, making for a genuinely engaging listen. At times It’s All Happening will smoke your ear canals with searing grind on the opening sequences to “You Ain’t No Family” “See You in Shell” and “Eli Cash vs. the Godless Savages,” while these tracks amongst the others constantly throw their listeners audile curveballs.

After a couple songs you know iwrestledabearonce is going to dick with you the entire time but the query thus becomes how they’re going to do it. By throwing out cool electro slides here, outraged breakdowns there, funk sections, country jerks and wicked bpms suddenly skidded to a sheer crawl (not to mention a General Lee car horn toot) all for dramatic effect, It’s All Happening has so much going you need to listen multiple times to partake everything. Seriously, this album bears more information overload than even a Pentium II can handle.

Occasionally the songs work themselves into corners and respond with slow, unsatisfactory fallouts, which is really iwrestledabearonce's only flaw; being too creative for their own good they inadvertently find themselves at such an impetus the only option is scream and puke their way out.

As busy as the collision course collage on the album’s cover, iwrestledabearonce crams every niche they can into their raking sequences which give pause at times to let their audience catch their breaths. Meanwhile, vocalist Krysta Cameron is a show stealer unto herself with a ridiculous array of throat textures ranging from Karyn Crisis to Otep to Amanda Palmer to Bjork.

Incensed one second, alluring the next, Cameron’s psychosomatic duality is the perfect accompaniment for music refusing to corral itself into a singular plan of attack. Outlandish, nerdy and supremely disturbed, iwrestledabearonce is modern metal’s answer to the Dresden Dolls.

Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, May 30, 2009

CD Review: Jon Mikl Thor - Sign of the V

Jon Mikl Thor - Sign of the V
2009 Vulcan Sky Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Jon Mikl Thor is one of my favorite people in this business for his generosity alone, much less his refusal to quit. His success runs parallel to his native countrymen Anvil in two resemblences: one, his fame is fleeting and relegated to a period of time well-passed and two, the fact Thor doesn't give a rat's ass how long it's been, he's going to keep getting in your face whether you want him there or not.

As much a cult figure of the metal scene as (until recently) Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner, Jon Mikl Thor (as a refresher course) is a former bodybuilding champion in the one-time elbow-rubbing company of Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno. Thor turned into an underground performance hero as early as the mid-seventies with his chunky rock and metal burps combined with jaw-dropping feats of strength (imagine how hard it was for this guy to get dental insurance) and Valhallian stage brawls.

Beyond the muscular facade of Jon Mikl Thor which has found him in front of the roving lens (including the B-film Rock 'n Roll Nightmare) as well as metal mutants saluting his berserker persona, Jon Mikl Thor's albums at-large are, well... Ears of the beholder, shall we say.

I've always appreciated Thor's chum bucket sound which largely hails NWOBHM chugging and power strikes, and despite the fact Thor's albums are loose cannons production-wise, it's always been another facet to his shtick, whether you're talking about Only the Strong, Thor Against the World, Dogz II or his attempt at a comic-book soundtrack, Beastwomen from the Center of the Earth: A Rock Odyssey.

A Thor album is never pretty and it's never going to make the all-time shredder or power metal greatest lists. You come to Jon Mikl Thor for pure escapism and if he does anything with his muddy mode of metal, he does that. However, on his latest venture Sign of the V, credited to his full name instead of the abbreviated Thor, the Canadian thunder God simply has fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

This album is practically a vehicle for Jon Mikl Thor to goof around instead of focus on anything directly. When you hear local rappers Adam H and Heavy Eric scatting beneath the overdubbed "Power US," you're wondering where the heck Thor is coming from since this is hardly territory he's covered in the past. It's as anti-Thor a tune as he's issued and in the process he appears to be making a cheeky comment about the corporate crush smothering the United States the way he and his backing vocalists literally bark "The power...the power...the power U S!!!" In other words, instead of strapping on the cutlery and swinging at fantastical demons, Jon Mikl Thor is looking to push the envelope just a hair and throw his hammer down at his neighbors' feet while throwing them a party for their patience.

Sign of the V refers to Thor's home province of Vancouver and as the album opens with the Gary Glitter-esque, whoa-ohhhed marching theme "Vancouver Millionaires," you already know by attrition this album going is going to take itself as seriously as Thor must've initially felt way back in 1976 when appearing on the Merv Griffin Show. For the record, the Vancouver Millionaires was a champion hockey team in the early 1900s and whose legacy is owned and protected by Thor himself. See the man about a Millionaires t-shirt; yours truly has one! To keep the puck theme going later in the album, Thor uncorks the very good metal rally, "Eyes On the Cup."

Thor also has a good time raking himself (or rather his character) over the coals on "Pump Energy Man" and the quite pumping "Stay Young, Feel Young" as he preaches dietary mandates and comes off like a parody of Schoolhouse Rock. "Stay Young, Feel Young" is almost jokey in its throbbing gym-bred tempo.

Along the way, Sign on the V mashes the album's coolest set of riffs with "I Want More" and goes into a classic metal throwback motif with "Primetime Hero," the latter of which sees Thor putting more effort into his vocals and well getting away with it considering he lulls, shouts and gurgles nearly everywhere else. Ending with one of his trademark synth-drenched ballads reminiscent of Thunderstuck: Tales from the Equinox, "Crimson King," Sign of the V is another noncommittal bit of rock tomfoolery from a guy whose heart is as big as his biceps.

Neoclassicism out the door, Jon Mikl Thor is a guy ready to burn carbs with you using a less-polished form of flexing rock and at his age, to be sporting both his physique as well as the urge to entertain, he probably deserves his own documentary film akin to Anvil's.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, May 29, 2009

Movie Review: Gothkill

Gothkill (aka Gothkill: The Soul Collector) has clustered a cult camp of horror buffs, satanists, Goths and street vampires in the New York region so much director JJ Connelly has been known to show the film on special theme nights in area bars.

The first thing you need to know about Gothkill is that it's a subtle parody of the underground Goth, vampire and fetish scenes in which a small "elite" tribe calling themselves the "Scorpion Society" are little more than high profile rapists who drug newcomer "initiates" and set up gang bang events under the guise of dark art rituals.

When a pair of out-of-their element wannabes Kate (Eve Blackwater) and Annie (Erica Giovinazzo) are invited as V.I.P. guests to the Scorpion Society--who claim reputation for staking the best parties in the New York Goth scene--they get more than they bargain for amidst a seedy, arcane club run by the Scorpions.

In fact, the entire Scorpions sect get a hell of a lot more than they plan for this evening as the lecherous leader Lord Walechia (who admits to his sadist DJ cohort he's in it simply for the poon) inadvertently summons up the spirit of a fallen Catholic priest-turned-Satanic-murderer Nick Dread (Flambeaux) via a set of ancient scriptures that has fallen into his possession. You'll need to watch the film to see the order of events leading to this redirection.

Flambeaux does a smarmy interpretation of Colin Farrell's Bullseye from Daredevil only with far more sinister motives. Having made a pact with the devil after being hypocritally torched by his fellow witchhunting Catholic inquisitors, Nick Dread dominates Gothkill as the primary focus as well as constituting its narrator. The terms of his bond to Lucifer dictate Dread will host his own legion of disciples in Hell if he slaughters 100,000 people over the course of as many reincarnations as it takes to get the job done.

When Dread has finally amassed his 100,000th tally, he willingly submits to mortal capital punishment by hanging, only to discover he has been deceived by Satan and left in complete isolation as his lying benefactor keeps the souls for himself. Now shifting his vow of vengeance against God to Satan, Nick Dread's soul is quickly looped to the human world as the Scorpions preside a ritual overtop the laced-out Annie, reading the very words Dread has used in his own.

Usurping her body and using it to destroy the Scorpion Society in a ridiculous (though sometimes gory) set of butcher scenes, Nick Dread relents his new charge when her weepy friend Kate implores him to set her free. Having more than his fill of company in Hell, Dread relinquishes his control of Annie and begins his eternal reign of torture over the slain Goths.

Yes, the premise is as nutty it sounds and Gothkill is just wrong on all accounts. The bloody scenes are well-done though the fight skits--particularly the one with the possessed Annie against the child sodomite DJ Demon (Anastacia Andino) will rupture your ribs to pieces it's that awful.

Keep in mind, however, Gothkill is farce and in that context JJ Connelly does a credible job of entertaining his audience with a reasonable script that churns along steadily at 75 minutes. He also has plenty of skin trade and an appropriately sadistic bad guy who will stick out in your mind once this thing has rolled through.

Particularly impressive about Flambeaux is the final sequence where he oversees an erotic orgy of agony with a flaming apparatus strapped to his back. As a well-known extreme performance artist, Connelly does well by tossing Flambeaux into the lead role. Though by no means a fiery actor, Flambeaux's stunts at least ring true of his namesake and with spurting blood and flopping breasts galore (not to mention a quick cameo by Fuse's Mistress Juliya), Gothkill is idiot savantism for genre kindred.

As Gothkill has inspired a group of devotees who parade the New York underground in character (some to the point of public nudity, which you can witness on the DVD's bonus features), expect to hear this film's title quite a bit for the next year or so. The fact Connelly testifies the movie was nearly dead at the door due to a money-grubbing producer trying to siphon more duckets from him, the more motivated he gets to make his film at least a B+ movie. Its score ranges from metal to industrial to techno lounge to psychobilly, which likewise lends an intriguing mix of vibes for its selected audience which appears broader in scope than most realize.

By no means a horror masterpiece, Gothkill at least brings to life a slew of death, black metal and Danzig album covers for a generation growing more obsessed with self-empowering hedonism by the day.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Amorphis - House of Sleep video

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/27/09

Hola, readers, best wishes for a faboo shortened workweek after the holiday weekend. An extended moment of silence for time's soldiers not only of American descent but around the world for laying down their lives under the conviction of protecting their own. Such a sacrifice cannot go unsaluted no matter your rank or where you hail from.

Production came skidding to a halt with the Memorial Day weekend as we were on the go and cleaning up the joint when we were actually home. A good, long weekend with junior going berserk after a happy day at a town festival on Saturday, though he took his first hard spill and scraped up his nose pretty horrorshow. Starting to clear up and he's been taking it like a little man though getting otherwise rambunctious as be inches closer towards the dreaded Terrible Two's. Pray for me, willya?

Spin-wise, I just set up my father's old turntable which he passed down to me along with about 70 albums. A lot of sixties and seventies rock, pop and soul, so I found myself enamored with CCR belting out of those medium-sized speakers and remembering how booming they sounded to my ears 30-35 years ago. Still quite a joy to see it all working quite well and I'll be looking forward to spinning those records for nostalgia sake if not in some cases for historical value.

Megadeth's Peace Sells...But Who's Buying was certainly my rock of the week during a very hard work week coming into the three-day weekend. That album always lifts my spirits like therapy, as I told my friend Bob Vinyl as we drove back from seeing the Anvil movie on Friday.

Stay tuned in the upcoming days for reviews of the new Jon Mikl Thor album as well as Tim "Ripper" Owens and other goodies. The new Pelican and Doro Pesch albums just arrived yesterday, plus the 25th anniversary edition of Twisted Sister's Stay Hungry, boss! Ya'll stay tuned...

Megadeth - Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?
Air - The Virgin Suicides soundtrack
Van Halen - Women and Children First
Van Halen - Fair Warning
Ministry - Adios...
Prong - Power of the Damager
Prong - Power of the Damn MiXXXer
Danzig - Circle of Snakes
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River
Steely Dan - Aja
Amon Amarth - Twilight of the Thunder God
Amon Amarth - With Oden On Our Side
Step On It: The Best of The Ska Parade Radio Show
Jon Mikl Thor - Sign of the V
Gary Wright - The Dream Weaver
Diana Ross & The Supremes - The Ultimate Collection
James Brown - The CD of JB (Sex Machine and Other Soul Classics)
Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
Brian Setzer - 13
Earth Crisis - To the Death

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

2004 answer from Steve "Lips" Kudlow to Ray Van Horn, Jr. regarding Anvil's comical "Mad Dog" video as to whether or not doing it "was as much of a gas as it looked," for Ray's non-fiction project:

"I thought we would have made it really big from this, and it didn't happen. For whatever reason the video was requested and enjoyed by millions but the album (Strength of Steel) failed to sell very well. We made it to the Billboard charts for the first and only time in the 30-odd years of putting out records, however (we were) near the bottom. We weren't and aren't a Top 40 band, and to keep us small we have never really had a real recording contract with a serious major label. In order to get big, you must be properly promoted, and this includes a serious touring schedule opening for a seriously big band. This is how crediblity is built."

As I began assembling the initial guest list for my still-unfinished metal book project now operating with the working title Bonded by Blood: Headbanging Over the Years, I came across Steve "Lips" Kudlow over the web in 2004. I had already grabbed a copy of Anvil's Plugged in Permanent from eBay since at the time digging up Anvil product was nearly as strenuous a task as digging up statistics on the long-ago puck champions the Vancouver Millionaires--though metal and muscle personality Jon Mikl Thor can probably help you out on that now that he owns the team's logo and legacy.

I've always had fond memories of Anvil though admittedly I'd fallen off track with their releases (currently 13 going on 14) which surprised me to find such a superfluous amount of recording output when I unearthed them in my mind a number of years ago. 13 albums and still as underground as they come, you have to wonder what has kept Anvil motivated all these years when North America once strayed from its affinity for heavy metal and hard rock in light of the Aqua Net fog which choked and ultimately disjointed said public's interest.

The hippest of the hip metal journalists and successful bands of the eighties unanimously tout the praises of Anvil. While this group of Canadian hellions might not've reached the plateau of the bands they eventually inspired such as Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica, Armored Saint and a slew of Californian metal in execution or popularity, there's no doubt Anvil, along with their fellow countrymen Exciter laid down serious blueprint material with NWOBHM-era albums such as Hard 'n Heavy, Metal on Metal and Forged in Fire.

It's the the sludgy tones, the reckless speed and the overt ballsiness Anvil projected on these early releases which helped define (if not refine) the then-growing genre, which has made their brief flirtation with success in the mid-eighties something of a tragic anti-comedy.

Certainly a guy parading around in leatherboy straps and peeling of notes nobody ever intended from his strings with dildos might not necessarily be considered a hall of famer profile, but there's no doubt Steve "Lips" Kudlow and his faithful drumming companion Robb Reiner have made a case for themselves where it could be said Anvil was robbed of their due.

Later the same year I did my book interview with Lips, lo and behold, I find a promo copy of Anvil's Back to Basics in my mailbox and ye bang, I'm on the phone once again with the man for over an hour in an interview I conducted for, one of my first journalist gigs.

The Steve Kudlow I spoke with in 2004 had a maudlin tone about him, even in the midst of releasing his 12th album. When you stop and think of the many bands who reached certain pinnacles of success and then drifted into obscurity after releasing a handful of records at best, you have to think of Kudlow and Reiner's dedication to what they love, even in a hangdog state as I found Lips during that second conversation.

Despite the heavy cloud apparently surrounding Lips that day, I could also tell his spirit hadn't been fully crushed and his optimism to be continuing on was the foundry towards keeping the sparks spitting off his proverbial anvil. The cat believed, man, I had no doubt of it.

Which brings us to Anvil! The Story of Anvil, the much talked-about documentary film giving metal freaks another chance at getting reacquainted with the wildcat "Lips" Kudlow (who can still effortlessly whip out that psychosomatic glee grin in his fifties), his running mate Robb Reiner and the contingency keeping Anvil alive including longtime bassist Glenn Five.

You have to wonder how a band historically getting away with lyrical bloody murder over the years with smutty songs such as "Hair Pie," "School Love," "Show Me Your Tits," "Toe Jam," "Bondage" and "Hard Times Fast Ladies" (albeit Kiss were far worse as rock sex offenders peddling rock porn to the kiddos who gobbled up their cartoon image) managed to escape the radar of the sex-crazed metal mutants who were most certainly Anvil's target audience. The movie uncorks a few riotous television appearances from the eighties where Lips is put on parade in front of shocked and gasping females as the hostess reads aloud his raunchy penmanship. You have to wonder how a band this brazen could be quickly forgotten.

Herein lies the proposal behind Anvil! The Story of Anvil. With Lips and Reiner being chased around with a camera in a working class version of Some Kind of Monster and The Osbournes, Anvil! The Story of Anvil doesn't have poster children to work with here. You're talking two fellas of the scene who have regular Joe identities offstage, and who, despite touring around the world, don't have all of the glamourous stories to supplement their travels.

Granted, Lips told me a couple of funny stories regarding Anvil's partying days during the eighties, but Anvil! The Story of Anvil is hardly a sniffing angel dust off of groupies' nipples affair. These are elder statesmen with something yet to prove to the world, much less themselves and their families who struggle to believe in them. It doesn't hurt to have Lemmy of Motorhead, Tom Araya of Slayer, Slash and Lars Ulrich of Metallica singing their praises in the opening montage.

When you talk about bands today scoring record label contracts even on the indie scale, it almost seems magical how quickly the process from actual signing to eventual product release goes. In my experience I've seen young bands score a deal, pimp their debuts with excitability and end up quickly disgruntled and disenfranchised within months of road dogging once the reality of the business hits them. The sales aren't necessarily there, the crowds aren't necessarily there and sometimes the labels aren't necessarily there, to the point these same bands materialize the following year on a different imprint.

In the case of Anvil, they've had to bare bones their entire career. Watching Kudlow meander around his day job in a children's food delivery plant with his co-workers obtuse to his worldwide notoriety is a sobering prospect. You have to understand Anvil released a fair chunk of their catalog on their duckets, Metal Blade and Attic Records notwithstanding.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil puts you right in the midst of Kudlow's anger at what he views as a royal screwing by Attic, even as he continues to dream he and his mates (very much like Jeff Waters and Annihilator) will finally smash through the barriers on their home continent to make a difference in their own rock community. Of course, if Lamb of God is playing the same night in Toronto as Anvil, current trends dictate who's going to sell more tickets.

This is heartbreaking stuff as we watch Kudlow fight tears as well as his best friend in constant intervals. You have to question why these guys won't give up when most men their ages having failed to grasp the proverbial torch could do with depressing abandon. Even more heartbreaking is to see Anvil score a potentially prosperous European tour as Anvil! The Story of Anvil tracks their adventures through continuously missed trains and cavernous club dwellings where small audiences and cheapskate venue owners turn a joyful moment into a frequently dour escapade of Metal Hell. On the flipside, you have to love Lips' ethic of fan before peer as he giddily runs up to say hello to his fellow musicians playing the festival bills such as Tommy Aldridge and Carmine Appice. That alone might've been worth having to sleep overnight in terminals and fiercely chawing for his right to be paid by the sleazy club owner in Prague.

You feel the weight upon Lips' shoulders as his troupe returns home with a handful of successful festival dates behind them but no prospects from label owners or future interested parties. The winds of what's-it-all-for gusts through Anvil! The Story of Anvil as the group express themselves candidly, while Kudlow and Reiner's family testify to a loving patience stretched thin with each Anvil album that fails to be "the one."

Even when Anvil manages to recruit their glory days producer Chris Tsangarides into helping them realize a vision culminating in their current album This is Thirteen, the airs of triumph the film stakes are stilled almost instantly as Lips is seen going door-to-door to record labels with his finished master, only to be told by EMI Canada they don't fit the label's profile.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil briefly treads close to Spinal Tap territory; in fact, you're wont to believe Lips and the boys are going to be half the night trying to make their way onstage as the camera trails behind them for a prolonged amount of time. However, the sweetest emotion posited by Anvil! The Story of Anvil is in the final moments as Anvil has been invited to play the Japanese leg of Gigantour.

As you can feel a nostalgic "made it" texture to Lips and Reiner hugging each other in a Japanese garden, the band is thrown for a small loop when finding themselves the opening gig on a morning slot. Slooping fearfully that Anvil is going to be playing to a meager audience inside a 20,000-plus capacity Tokyo venue (as the viewer, you feel it coming since said phenomenon has already occurred in previous scenes), the spirit of elation when the band is greeted by a massive crowd cheering them on and singing along to "Metal on Metal" is the saving grace and feelgood moment of the film.

I caught Anvil! The Story of Anvil with my longtime friend Bob Vinyl and I think back to who we both were when Anvil actually got played on the original Headbangers Ball in 1987, being flanked by Whitesnake, WASP and Manowar. I was hardcore metal, Bob was close to straight-edge in his punk affinity. The two of us now with our own mileage upon us, I found it unique and warming we would be sitting in an artsy Baltimore city theatre with a fair chunk of people in attendence, some appearing to be old league metalheads, others simply aficiandos of underground film. All of us have obviously come miles along with Anvil.

I can't help thinking upon my time spent talking to Lips in 2004 and how rewarding Anvil! The Story of Anvil must feel to him in retrospect. Maybe a decent repro label will pick up the Anvil classics for reissue, and maybe This is Thirteen might get a sales injection on the group's website, which Lips states in the film is perfectly the way he's happy to spread his music around. With his sister having fronted the money Anvil needed to record This is Thirteen, you'd like to hope it counted for something. Her gesture of love rescued Lips from an awkward situation (in one of the movie's funnier moments) as a flopped telemarketer who made zero dollars towards the investment needed to finance the album.

Can you look at other bands the same way after that?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Take 5 With Henri Sattler of God Dethroned

Ask Henri Sattler his purposes behind starting God Dethroned and he will tell you the moniker relays his opinions against organized religion. In the death metal unit's formative years, Sattler admits shock value was the motivation behind God Dethroned's early catalog releases Christhunt and The Grand Grimoire.

Sattler jokes these days he's learned to be a bit more patient and slightly laid back versus the venomous younger Sattler of the early nineties. The payoff for a more upbeat life transition has triggered a rebirthing effect in God Dethroned where Sattler's music retains its scorching deathgrind intensity. Yet there's a refinement to the band culminating in two of their most polished efforts, 2006's The Toxic Touch and God Dethroned's latest effort Passiondale.

As Passiondale is, musically-speaking, more ferocious than a pack of turncoat wolves baying and snapping at the proverbial feet of their creator, there is nevertheless a moralistic, humane side to Henri Sattler's latest endeavor. Passiondale pinpoints atrocities inflicted upon the Belgian province of Ypres and the neighboring Passchendaele during World War I as Sattler takes his listeners into the haze of the mustard gas spewed by a would-be conquering Kaiser-era German army upon a region still bearing the scars of demise nearly a century later.

A choice topic for a death metal album to be sure, however, Sattler, with his retooled God Dethroned 2009 lineup including a returning Roel Sanders on drums and Danny Servaes on keys, plus the addition of new guitarist Susan Gerls, has created a guttural metallic experience with a rare sense of honor and redemption about it.

The Metal Minute managed to corner Henri Sattler for a Take 5 interview to delve deeper into the horrifying world of Passiondale...

The Metal Minute: God Dethroned’s latest album Passiondale is one of the most mature extreme albums I’ve ever heard. Considering the subject matter of the holocaustic events in Passchendaele and Ypres would require a sensitive approach to tell its story, you took that exact approach and I think Passiondale delivers more impact because of its humanistic approach. Was it your intent to make a death metal album with more redemption to it?

Henri Sattler: Yes, definitely. I've been in Ypres and Passchendaele several times and what I saw there impressed me a lot. So when I started writing the concept story for the album I wanted to describe the war as objective and neutral as possible to respect all nations who were involved. Still, it's a brutal album, just by telling its story as I did and writing the music accordingly.

MM: I believe it was with Jens (van der Balk, former guitarist) you used to venture into Passchendaele for drinking rounds? What was it about Passchendaele that kept luring you back and ultimately inspiring God Dethroned’s latest work?

HS: No, it was with Isaac (Delahaye) our former guitar player. He lives in Ypres so that's why I learned so much about its history. The city literally breathes World War I every day still. You would have to go there to feel the atmosphere. It's something special and hard to describe.

MM: “Poison Fog” is a rather epic track which I think captures the true horror of what went on in this region. Tell us what you learned from a historical perspective which went into “Poison Fog,” much less other songs such as “No Survivors” and “Drowning in Mud.”

HS: "Poison Fog" is about the mustard gas attacks during the war. World War I being a trench war, neither side could win the war. They were just stuck there for years. In order to achieve a breakthrough, a technological breakthrough was needed. First there was mustard gas in 1917 and later came the tank in 1918.

"No Survivors" talks about the soldiers who were stuck in the trenches. Usually their life expectancy was extremely short. Storming the enemy with about 300 men, only 30 would return. This would happen every day, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. "Drowning in Mud" talks about living in a trench, losing all of your friends, starting friendships with rats or things--which really happened back then--and fucking each other up the ass by lack of women around. Right now we're shooting a video for "Drowning in Mud."

MM: Whew, intense, brother, particularly the "Drowning in Mud" ancedotes! For Passiondale you get both Roel Sanders and Danny Servaes back into the lineup and you replace Isaac with Susan Gerl. There’s definitely another new dynamic to God Dethroned with this revamped lineup the listener can detect, but for your purposes in creating the album, how has all of the new changes affected you?

HS: The changes didn't affect me at all, to be honest. I mainly wrote the album on my own, so to me it didn't matter who played in the band with me. Of course it's important to have a lineup again once the album came out, but for the writing and recording process it didn't matter. Roel's return on drums came at the right time as I planned on going back to the roots again. He played on our early albums so the new album would get that old school touch again easily. Also Danny Servaes played on those albums so getting him back was a must. You can hear that the results are there; old school and brutal, but very mature as well.

MM: We get to hear some clean vocals from you on Passiondale, which you know some of the more regimental metal fans are possibly going to give you an earful for. Personally, I agree with your choice to go that route if you’re trying to add a particular drama to your story. What are your thoughts to the occasional vocal changes on this album and what would you say to anyone getting on your case for them?

HS: My lyrics were written from a neutral point of view, with the exception of two parts (in "Poison Fog" and "No Survivors") where the lyrics were written from a survivor's or killed soldier's view. I thought it would be great to have those parts sung with a different type of sound or voice, so we tried clean vocals and in my point of view, it was exactly what those parts needed.

Copyright 2009 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Thursday, May 21, 2009

CD Review: Earth Crisis - To the Death

Earth Crisis - To the Death
2009 Century Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

No one wants to say it, so allow me... Hardcore needs a bona fide hero.

Not to muck with a style of music soldiered by an adrenalized contingency of self-empowering, predominantly Caucasian neo-straight edgers, but if you want to talk about hardcore as a music form these days, you have to relent the sound has become as much a cliche as emo and corporate rap.

Unless you're bethrothed to this stuff, the sad reality is that hardcore in the new millennium is a largely hopeless platitude music-wise, a tablet-written sequence of speed-halt rhythms bearing predictable skids into obligatory breakdown chuffs, followed by a mandatory exodus into the next frame using rapidly-delivered snare-double bass couplets accompanied by a singular-plucked power chord leading to the next verse, repeat mode as needed...

Countless groups owing their entire existences to Agnostic Front, Terror, Throwdown, Biohazard and of course Earth Crisis have clogged the modern day hardcore scene which seeks to embody itself on Ian MacKaye-borne principles walloped out to a now-boring prototype chug-bark-breakdown motif. Unity declarations cautiously bordering on coercion and clean, chaste living mandated by unforgiving guilt trips are a large norm to this contemporary reinvention of a form of music that was tagged in the eighties to a broad range of bands from the Bad Brains to Agnostic Front to The Exploited.

Today veganism has become a literal platform for hardcore, not necessarily as a means to save other species but frequently it's woofed out merely as a posh ideal. Despite the general nobility of hardcore's internally-governing precepts, its music today is simply shackled by its own scriptures, much less a refusal to look outside the box compositionally-speaking.

Naturally the legendary Earth Crisis have long espoused a pro-vegan, environmentally-agreeable and self-cleansed stance furrowing through their abrasive music. Long credited by contemporary and senior hardcore artists as a pivotal band of their scene, Earth Crisis have always been in the role of antihero, if not baldfaced good guys. They are so militant in their straight edge ethics the sentiments they brutally project differ wholly from the frantic salad days of Minor Threat and Rites of Spring.

Nevetheless, Earth Crisis remains hardcore's answer to Cattle Decapitation and Nuclear Assault, always on constant vigil even in the midst of a seven-year-quietude (not accounting for the random gig or two over said course of time) with stinging eyes, clenched fists, fuming attitudes and blaring volumes.

Though Slither was a change of music ideologies for Earth Crisis and their 2001 album Last of the Sane bore more cover tunes than originals, the return of the real is at hand with their comeback offering To the Death.

A more traditional hardcore album in a proper sense for Earth Crisis, To the Death is a ferocious re-announcement with everything that has made them standouts of their genus. Wielding very few breakdowns on To the Death and only using them to prolong moments of searing intensity, Karl Beuchner and his punk wreckers go balls-out with unrelenting heaviness and a ceaseless barrage of mainstream disassembly.

Crushing beats from Dennis Merrick and guitar belts courtesy of Scott Crouse and Erick Edwards pulverize each song on To the Death, inherently bearing the weight of the world upon the band's highly capable shoulders.

To the Death is genuinely inspired, following Earth Crisis' considerable hiatus. These guys represent themselves in both the elder statesmen position as well in the role of having to be up-and-comers once again. Their reputation is what gains them quick access up the totem and To the Death justifies Earth Crisis' iconic stature with melding numbers such as "Against the Current," "Eve of Babylon," "When Slaves Revolt" and "To Ashes."

Proving Earth Crisis are thinkers on their instruments as much as on the lyric sheet, expect a wailing guitar solo and smart tempo swaps on "When Slaves Revolt" or relish in the mechanized crush during the opening of "To Ashes" which continues in pounding verse-chorus schemes thereafter.

One of To the Death's brightest spots is the marching instrumental "Plague Bearers," which is reminiscent of Roots-era Sepultura before launching into the grinding "Control Through Fear."

Earth Crisis plies their anti-drug messages on "Against the Current" and "To Ashes" with differing results. "Current" comes off like a beacon choice to keep sober, while "To Ashes" opts for a more hedonistic approach Punisher-style as Earth Crisis declares a street war on the pushers. Even "When Slaves Revolt" yields a duality that could be said to be a literal herald for its titular muse as much as it could be for drug-controlled weaklings finding the strength to rise up and kick their addictions, even if it means "fighting back with steel" in hand. Smoking guns, indeed.

To the Death attacks the world as Earth Crisis does more convincingly than others of their ilk, even as Karl Buechner wails "Vegan for life, vegan to the death!" on the title song. Most others embracing his and Earth Crisis' life choices would be far more pacifist in doing thus. Not so in this case; it's almost as if Earth Crisis has distanced themselves from meat eaters and plant suckers in elitist fashion.

Nonetheless, Earth Crisis does stand for something in this life and whether or not you share their beliefs, To the Death is one hell of a loud return and by far the most engaging hardcore album in years. Suffice it to say, if you buy only one hardcore record this year, To the Death is the one to get...

Rating: ****

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/21/09

Howdy, rockers, your ragged ol' pal from The Metal Minute checking in with stitches out of his head, neck sealed up, baby with tubes inserted in the ears and too much time chained to the office.

Gonna make this one short 'n sweet as we draw close to a three-day weekend where I hope plans I've made will remain thus. In the meantime, bringing things to a rough and stressful close at the finish line work-wise with hopefully some more productivity culminating in my personal life.

Been swooning to Air's hauntingly gorgeous Virgin Suicides score a good bit while keeping things mostly on the heavy side with random deviations. Sad I'm unable to have any reading time with everything going on, but I've been watching the Stanley Cup plus The Three Stooges Volume 1, Dallas Season 9 and of course Monsters of Metal Vol. 6, shred!

I have to make note over the weekend my father passed down to me his turntable and vinyl collection which has a great deal of sixties rock and soul plus some early seventies stuff as well, kewlness. Perfectly in the nick of time this should come into my life as I found the new Sunn O))) album on my doortstep, vinyl version of course. And to think I was only going to have a collector's item!

Keep it hard, friends, but always leave room in your ears for other vibes. It's a short life, so absorb all you can...

Air - The Virgin Suicides soundtrack
Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Emperor - Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise
Rhino - Dead Throne Monarch
Rhino Bucket - The Hardest Town
Stratovarius - Polaris
Dictators - Blood Brothers
Subhumans - Worlds Apart
Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
Prince - Lotusflow3r
Enslaved - Blodhemn
Avantasia - The Scarecrow
Metalocalypse: Dethklok - The Dethalbum
CKY - Carver City
Kreator - Extreme Aggression
The Clash - Combat Rock
Ministry - Adios...
Tim "Ripper" Owens - Play My Game
Ian Gillan - One Eye to Morocco

Monday, May 18, 2009

CD Review: Rhino - Dead Throne Monarch

Rhino - Dead Throne Monarch
2008 Arctic Music Group
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

It's only fitting some of the most beastly and lumbering animals stomping around the planet have found their way as monikers for sludge and doom metal acts. Of course Mastodon sticks out above them all, but then you also have Woolly Mammoth, Bison, B.C. and now Spain's Rhino.

Led by guitarist/vocalist Javier Galvez, formerly of Burial, From the Cross and Left Hand Riders, Rhino has been long working and touring since 2004 to lead themselves to their first worldwide release after a demo, Name the Horn Blower and the largely Euro-contained Breed the Chosen One.

Now exposed to a doom and stoner audience well likely to receive them, Rhino makes a cacaophonous annoucement of their global arrival with Dead Throne Monarch, an album filled with more chunks than expired milk. As loud as you want it, Dead Throne Monarch literally rumbles at every turn, starting off agreeably with the High On Fire-reminiscent title song and "Reins of the Warlord" before setting its course on prolonged and sometimes repetitive drone chords part of the way.

Undoubtedly Dead Throne Monarch is going to rank as one of the loudest and doomiest outputs of the year and for those witnessing these cats live, there will no doubt be such a tremendous outpouring of sonic bustle half the crowd will be shaking and headbanging spasmatically while others are going to be wont to drop to their knees in deference of music so freaking heavy.

Despite having a large propensity towards drawn-out crush sequences, one of the major curveballs Rhino throws at their listeners is the anti-script "Bahamut" and "Promise of Storm," which cast nervy dice by mixing up nineties grunge ala Alice in Chains (particularly on Galvez's integrated Layne Staley-like cleans which catch you off guard after his dominant bellowing much of the way) with Sabbath and High On Fire forcefulness.

The longer the song on Dead Throne Monarch, the longer Rhino punishes them in a twisted game of endurance, such as the 9:17 "Earth Reclaims the Usurper" and the 15:20 "Funebre." At least on the 8:17 closer "Horned Crown," Rhino picks up the pace and moshes Dead Throne Monarch to a hefty finale filled with unpredictable tempo adjustments coinciding with a beastly array of double hammer beat patterns and windswept chord gusts. "Horned Crown" is as fine a wrap-up tune as any in this subgenre.

While Galvez's sternum-raked hard vocals tend to grate on the ears once in awhile and Rhino dilly-dallies their dirge ostinato ad infinitum in spots, there's still something appealing about Dead Throne Monarch, something that, like Lair of the Minotaur and High On Fire, kicks the dirt into the air and savors the brackish miasma clouding your immediate vision. Better yet, the effort whirling up such a cloud has been done by the hands instead of lazily with the feet to the point a cut like Rhino's "Wolf Among Black Sheep" which is pared to a paltry (by Rhino's standards anyway) 3:57 becomes all the blaring crunk you can handle.

Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, May 17, 2009

CD Review: Rhino Bucket - The Hardest Town

Rhino Bucket - The Hardest Town
2009 Acetate Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The only reason Rhino Bucket gets away with what they do is they make no pretentions about their business. Addicted to the Bon Scott era of AC/DC to the point they have a former AC/DC stool sitter in the form of Simon Wright fanning flames to their retro candling, Rhino Bucket are heroes to some in the underground, namely those who've played Powerage, High Voltage, Let There Be Rock and Highway to Hell with such fervor they still believe Bon Scott is rejoining us one day from the afterlife.

This is no uncommon phenomenon, particularly amongst a cult of young bands nurturing themselves on AC/DC's formative (and assuredly best) years. In some ways one has to think of Bon Scott as heavy metal's Elvis Presley from the standpoint there are so many wannabes and copycats looking to duplicate Scott's unique whiskey-soaked swagger to the point we're bound to have a bunch of ape-draped, snaggletoothed, ball-busting jeans-clad impersonators in our midst.

Granted, Scott and AC/DC didn't alter the course of music in the way Presley did from bestowment of the Delta bluesmen and honky tonk cats before him, yet Scott's regime in AC/DC is pivotal for modern rock's evolution despite its three-chord simplicity. It's no wonder so many groups over rock's history from the eighties Sunset Strip glammers to later-period garage dwellers to Rhino Bucket have made their bread and butter using someone else's shtick.

Finnish guitarist/vocalist Georg Dolivo has always made a reasonable Scott carbon copy for Rhino Bucket over the course of five albums, but fortunately he's never tried to usurp his sovereign's mantle, even though Dolivo went all-guns-blazing on Rhino Bucket's smoking self-titled debut album from 1990. At this point in the band's career with a natural age progression to factor, Dolivo sounds more his own man with a haunted Scott swill about him, which is perhaps the greatest irony of all; had Scott lived, would his own voice have altered dramatically? Perhaps his irresponsible death was decreed from the rock hall of the afterlife, so we would always have that voice the way it was meant to sound.

Though Rhino Bucket has watched one drummer, Liam Jason, roll out to become an entirely new person and return for an album as Jackie Enx, as well as having original lead guitarist Greg Fields drift away, they come back for more in 2009, this time with Kix guitarist Brian Forsythe joining the team. Considering Kix were AC/DC purists at-heart before striking gold in the hairball sweepstakes of the late eighties (even "Get it While it's Hot" is undeniably early AC/DC in its basic compost), the addition of Forsythe is logical, assuming Rhino Bucket wants to stay to their script, which isn't much of one beyond the obvious.

The Hardest Town is exactly what you're expecting, even with only two original members Dolivo and bassist Reeve Downes holding court. Still, the star firepower of Wright and Forsythe is enough to make you at least pay attention to Rhino Bucket's existence.

If you're perfectly settled with what Rhino Bucket has to offer, by all means grab a hold of The Hardest Town. It stays snug in its Powerage and High Voltage blanket, sticking its toes out every so often to dabble as on the British alt sway of "You're Gone," the country-blues yank of "Take Me Down" and even the bonus track "Slip Away" yields a very slight differentiation in guitar chord selections beyond its prototype AC/DC shamble.

Otherwise, The Hardest Town taps along loosely as if culminated by a group of afternoon drinkers only on the third round and barely a hint of a buzz going. "Justified," "Dog Don't Bite," "No One Here" and the title track bob along at mid tempo with little deviation from each other, while "Know My Name," "Street to Street" and "She's With Me" pick up the pace to just below that of AC/DC's "Bad Boy Boogie," the latter of which should be considered biblical litany to Rhino Bucket's (and many other groups) Young-Scott-genuflections. Furthermore, it's hard not to cry "Night Prowler" at Rhino Bucket's replicant, "To Be Mine."

All this being said, AC/DC even at their best hijacked everything they ever did from the same Leadbelly-Johnson-Wolf veins bleeding into the Mississippi river as did Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and a large contingency of the British Invasion. What AC/DC did was no different, just with a lot more jizz. In this respect, Rhino Bucket is merely borrowing from borrowers.

Brian Forsythe does his job well and Simon Wright is always a reliable pounder, but at the end of the day, The Hardest Town is what it is: Powerage 2.9. If you were expecting much else, you might want to head on over to Rose Tattoo. At least Rose Tattoo brings the amps to back up their plunder. Rhino Bucket is more a low-key members-only party in homage to a gifted vocalist who sadly found his personal worth at the bottom of a perpetually-unfinished bottle.

Rating: ***

Saturday, May 16, 2009

DVD Review: Monsters of Metal Vol. 6

Monsters of Metal Vol. 6
2009 Nuclear Blast Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Let's just say that even though here at The Metal Minute you can find tons of cyber-streamed videos of your favorite past and present metal bands, this writer prefers a good ol' fashioned drop on the couch in front the tube with a kickin' feed running to my stereo (a poor man's surround sound system) to purvey music videos. I am a by-product of MTV when it originally began in the early eighties and thus prefer my videos smack on the idiot box.

Of course, times have changed since MTV branched out with alternative programming and expanded stations, plus for heavy metal's purposes, a rebooted version of Headbangers Ball for the second gen of metalheads. Sad to say, however, the new way of things is almost as grudgingly hopeless as the old, even if there's a nostalgia factor to the latter which us old fogies and young 'uns looking to study the genre's history can dwell upon to our delight or horror at Metal Mania on VH-1 Classic.

Nonetheless, today's metal audience is more concerned with the here and now as well they should be, which leaves them at odds when Headbangers Ball today can't seem to find a time slot to stick by, much less designate an appropriate amount of time to cover the new eclectic ways of this reinvented species. Even worse, Headbangers Ball has routinely littered screens with badgering teletype and pop-ups (though they've slightly improved this irksome form of information overload in recent days), which is, suffice it to say, doing as much a disservice to the industry as it does assisting it.

Let's face the facts, though; heavy metal has a larger contingency of fans than what gets acknowledged, although the sales charts have recently borne more metal bands challenging the corporate rap hucksters than ever before. Despite this glowing commercial fact, metal is still treated second class by music promoters, which is why you're hard-pressed to find genuinely organized programming devoted to today's moving and shaking scene.

Nuclear Blast's Monsters of Metal DVD series has been the antidote to this infection. With over four hours of material featuring uninterrupted, uncut and flotsam-free metal videos, the Monsters of Metal series is one of the best ways to get your metal fix properly.

Unless you're a 'puter junkie looking to gain mass consumption in one sitting, you're going to be at odds finding a better 51-cut selection as what Nuclear Blast offers on their sixth Monsters of Metal compilation. Bookending the double-disc set with a pair of videos from Dimmu Borgir's latest album In Sorte Diaboli, Monsters of Metal Vol. 6, as on past compendiums, handpicks some of the hardest, nastiest and fastest bandidos in metal today. Gathering house label acts along with other bands from cooperative competitors such as Metal Blade, SPV and Candlelight, Monsters of Metal Vol. 6 has the fans' interests well at-heart. Moreover, it does a splendid job covering the various modes of metal via thrash, death, prog, grind, power, folk and symphonic.

You get Amon Amarth, you get Kreator, you get Behemoth, you get Job For a Cowboy. You get Kreator, Gojira, Exodus, Obituary, Rage, Keep of Kalessin, Vader, Epica, Korpiklaani, Hate Eternal, Samael, October File, Kataklsym, Soilwork, Eluveitie, Iced Earth, Nile, Arsis, Scar Symmetry, Meshuggah, Saxon, U.D.O., Mantic Ritual, Divinity, Agnostic Front, Type O Negative, Kamelot and Six Feet Under along with many others.

From the pinwheeling hair twirls of Amon Amarth on thier "Cry of the Blackbirds" video to the sultry camera-flirting Simone Simons of Epica teases throughout "Never Enough" to the quixotic savagery of Keep of Kalessin's "Ascendent," Monsters of Metal Vol. 6 is a cram session overview of some of the key independents in a highly crowded metal contingency.

Getting to see Hammerfall's "Last Man Standing" slide between Behemoth and Vader is a fun ride, while Meshuggah's "Bleed" is one of the most visceral videos on the compilation as well as one of the most intense music-wise. Also cool is to see the Black Dahlia Murder's "Statutory Ape" chugging wildly after Iced Earth's "Ten Thousand Strong," the latter featuring the recently-departed Tim "Ripper" Owens.

While Sonic Syndicate's "Jack of Diamonds" video is a silly nod to the sex-selling smutty male fantasy fullfillment of the eighties, even going so far as to toss the camera down the shirt and across the navel of bassist Karin Axelsson, Nile's "Papryus Containing the Spell..." video is a wonderfully brutal antithesis. Prior to, you get to watch Schmeir of Destruction pimp the art of tattoing and partying in limos on Headhunter's hunky-dory "Silverskull." Expect no trad thrash here.

Mixing up old class bands such as Death Angel, Exodus, Obituary and Saxon along with Udo Dirkschneider's pounding "The Wrong Side of Midnight" video with the new breed such as Naera, Scar Symmetry, Legion of Damned and Job For a Cowboy's haunting "Embedded" video, Monsters of Metal Vol. 6 is more than enough to keep you entertained.

This is how you want to watch your metal, folks, even if it'd be fun to have a host running the show. You bet I'm volunteering!!!

Rating: ****

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/13/09

Happy Wednesday, metalheads!

Quite an eventful week over here as yours truly took one step closer to official middle age yesterday hitting the 39 mark. It was a quiet birthday save for some nice celebration from the office marketer and good friend of mine who brought in cake and the new Prince and Bob Dylan albums for me. You rule, Gail... Then Mommy and the spud came home with Hawaiian pizza and the Super Bowl XLIII DVD for me. You rule, family!

The reason for this low-key birthday is due to outpatient surgery I had on Monday which I had two lesions removed my head and then a mass from my neck which turned out to be non-cancerous fatty tissue, so huzzah to that! The pain is starting to go over and the birthday has been pre-empted to the weekend and a little dinner get-together with my Daddy-O this evening. Mother's Day went off without a hitch (save for a very wild and reckless toddler exerting his anger, lol) as I made my best ladies chicken parm and in the same weekend we got to catch up with longtime friends we haven't seen in forever. Good times.

As you can tell if you've been keeping current with The Metal Minute this week, the Subhumans ruled my world music-wise, but I was very impressed with the new Hacride album as well, of which you can find my review at Prince's Sign O' the Times got a lot of spinnage in preparation of the new stuff Lotusflow3r. From what I've heard of the new album, Prince sings with more youthful exuberance and dirties up the guitars. Shit yeah to that...hope the rest lives up as it's a 3-disc album with some new protege of his named Bria Valente getting her own disk. Plus I was quite happy to see this set being offered for $12-14 in various places, good man, Prince. Let's see, the Stones' Aftermath got heavy doses, as did The Clash's Combat Rock, even if the latter is barely above Cut the Crap on the value factor, it being relative crap itself. Oh well, we all have our vices.

But this is The Metal Minute (even with a less heavy spin list for the week), so with that being said, expect a duel of the tusks in upcoming reviews of Rhino and Rhinobucket and if I can heal myself quickly, we'll get that Luna Mortis interview up and running. Thanks as always, faithful lot. Mad love for each and every one of you worldwide...

Subhumans - Worlds Apart
Subhumans - The Day the Country Died
Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave
Subhumans - Time Flies/Rats
Subhumans - EP-LP
Subhumans - 29:29 Split Vision
Prince - Sign O' the Times
Prince - Lotusflow3r
Hacride - Lazarus
GBH - No Need to Panic
Rolling Stones - Aftermath
The Clash - Combat Rock
Beck - Guero
Rhinobucket - The Hardest Town
Marvin Gaye - Great Songs and Performances
Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues Singers Vol. 2
Beastie Boys - The Mix-Up
Air - The Virgin Suicides Original Motion Picture Score
Black Label Society - Skullage

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sister Sin - "On Parole" video

Sunday, May 10, 2009

CD/DVD Review: Black Label Society - Skullage

Black Label Society - Skullage CD/DVD
2009 Eagle Rock Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Zakk Wylde is one in a million. At this point to be considered Ozzy Osbourne's most prolific and longest-standing guitarist (with all due respect to the immortal Randy Rhodes who likely would be canonized with Jimi Hendrix at this point had he lived), Wylde is no longer the stringy-haired kid with everything to prove to the rock community. Long playing by his own rules as the ultimate roughneck celebrity with fingertips graced by God and a bird's nest comprising his chin, Zakk Wylde is a beer-guzzling, iron-pumping, truck-bogging, guitar and piano ravaging gunslinger whose persona outside of the Osbourne castle makes him worthy of character study in his own right.

It's only been four years since Zakk's Black Label Society handed out a best-of compliation, Kings of Damnation '98 - '04 and between then and now two studio albums Mafia and Shot to Hell. One might be tempted to cry foul at Wylde for dumping another compendium on his fans, particularly with material hoisted from his successful Mafia album.

On the other hand, when you smartly jack up a new hits proposition with a bonus DVD filled with live footage, a hilarious ridealong in the days of life with the man himself, promo videos and the presentation of an acoustic performance named "Slightly Amped: Live in Lehigh Valley" done in support of Black Label Society's The Blessed Hellride album, there's your buying power for forking out duckets for another BLS anthology.

It also helps Wylde tastefully repeats only two selections between Kings of Damnation and Skullage, which are both unavoidable as they represent Black Label Society's two best-known tracks "Bleed For Me" and "Stillborn." Whereas Kings of Damnation hijacks a few choice cuts from Wylde's first exterior project Pride and Glory, Skullage likewise grabs a different cut from that era in Wylde's career to open with, an agreeably laidback Hendrix-soaked ditty, "Machine Gun Man."

Skullage absorbs three of its cuts from Mafia, "Fire it Up," "Suicide Messiah" and Wylde's sentimental ode to the late Dimebag Darrell, "In This River." He also dips back to The Blessed Hellride with "Stillborn" and the string-wailing "Doomsday Jesus." Tacking on a couple of Stronger Than Death tunes, "13 Years of Grief" and "All For You" and surprisingly only one from Shot to Hell, "New Religion," Skullage isn't particularly comprehensive but it's nice and meaty on its own accord. Rather than pad Skullage with more studio tracks, Wylde throws on three of the audio versions from the "Slightly Amped" performance, "The Blessed Hellride," "Spoke in the Wheel" and "Stillborn."

Naturally it's the DVD portion of Skullage which gets the polish treatment (even though four pieces are previously-released matertial) as you get five of Black Label Society's promo clips as well as snippets from previously-released BLS live videos, Doom Troopin': European Invasion and Boozed, Bronzed & Broken-Boned. If you've never seen the latter, this is your chance to see Robert Trujillo of Metallica and Suicidal Tendencies lumbering behind the bass with Zakk Wylde and his longtime rhythm partner Nick Catanese.

Aside from the "Slightly Amped" section of the Skullage DVD, the biggest highlight is the "Welcome to the Compound" feature which allows Zakk Wylde to cut up for his fans and bring them into his songwriting mindset. On the one side we see the sensitive Zakk Wylde who professes himself before God on top of a dusty desert mesa and who who also shares his thoughts of the last moments he'd interacted with his friend Dimebag Darrell. This is the Zakk Wylde who takes you into his living room and plays the gorgeous intro to "New Religion" on his piano--which has a Gothic cross as his proverbial candelabra, Liberace be damned. On the other hand, we see a Zakk Wylde playfully dicking with his macho image before his fans. In one moment, he's surrounded by pinup girls and pulling on a longneck between reps in his garage gym. In another, he's plugged in and screeching delicious distortion with masculine savagery.

Out-of-nowhere, however, comes Wylde's twisted sense of humor, in which he's pissing on plants in his backyard, jokingly admitting his "dark place" comes from atop a toilet with no lights on and he's running around in a dress and playing with dollies. His biceps rage in these hilarious segues as saying "I dare you to say something!"

In all, Skullage is guilty only of being too-soon filler product as Wylde and company currently write the next BLS album. It would've been a graver offense had Wylde not jumbled up this songlist to differ from his last retrospective. The fact he lets his guard down for his followers--whether said tomfoolery is a serious part of his personality or whether Wylde is merely hamming it up for a laugh--makes Skullage a fun bit of raging brew-ha-ha.

Rating: ****

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Subhumans - The Day the Country Died reissue

Subhumans - The Day the Country Died reissue
2008 Southern Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

And now we come to the album birthed not only from the continued threat of nuclear holocaust which lingered over the heads of those living in 1982 through the late eighties, but also a punk rock homage to George Orwell's dystopian masterwork 1984.

There's a reason The Day the Country Died is the Subhumans' angriest body of work, despite continued flagrance tolling through their future albums. 16 songs of pure hostility written in a mere five days, The Day the Country Died would've been considered borderline nihilistic in more naive times. This is largely due in part to the hardcore aggression the Subhumans utilized on this album, their fiercest to-date. Recorded in 1982 and released the following year, seldom few albums raged at both the speed and the pot-boiled anger as Dick Lucas and company sieved into The Day the Country Died.

Confrontational to say the least, we can nevertheless recognize The Day the Country Died as a scathing protest album borne of the Cold War era. If you thought The Exploited's Troops of Tomorrow was in-your-face, the Subhumans threw down even harder with The Day the Country Died, particularly with the repeated teletype message of "Think" layered like wallpaper behind the album's lyrics.

Though Dick Lucas was one of the few publicly-spectacled punk rockers of the original punk movement, there was hardly anything dweebish about the mordacious esprit he conveyed behind songs like ""Nothing I Can Do," "All Gone Dead," Ashtray Dirt," "No" and "Mickey Mouse is Dead."

If there was ever an album for Generation X to encapsulate the constant trepidation swarming overtop our heads with combative superpower ego trips representing a potentially deadly manifest destiny, then The Day the City Died is certainly that album. No, it doesn't have the pop yumminess of Michael Jackson's Thriller and it doesn't skank and swerve in idyllic fashion like English Beat (though the Subhumans would eventually dicker in that direction soon after this album). It doesn't gallop with a warrior's charge like their NWOBHM countrymen Saxon; if anything, the Subhumans would've preferred to trip the horse's legs from beneath the proverbial knights and run to the hills with their cutlery lest further violence and bloodshed be inflicted.

With bookend cacophony representing the fearsome sound of a predicted atomic fallout, The Day the Country Died savagely drives its anti-war message home with disarming boisterousness. It's designed to prick your ears into submissive paranoia, all to set you up for the hammering messages on "All Gone Dead," "New Age," "Dying World," "I Don't Wanna Die" and "Black and White."

The Subhumans splinter glass shards at the end of their Orwellian nod "Big Brother," having posited their irked query "And somebody told me 'Big Brother's watching you, and somebody else aid 'You know it's not true.' Who do you believe?" The glass shatter is thus a demonstrative exclamation point. As Lucas relays the riveting narration of being put away for questioning "Big Brother," he next expounds the thought of being locked in a cage for being a free-thinking body in a climate of suppressed censorship on the following song "New Age."

Lucas wails his resistance to joining the file and rank social directives (instigated by the government, naturally) which are sure to lead to his hypothesized demise on "I Don't Wanna Die" only to sneer impudently on "No" about his lack of faith in the state and the church, in particular a system that "thrives on ignorance."

Grabbing hold of the reins of pop culture on "Mickey Mouse is Dead" and "Zyklon-B-Movie" as vehicles to issue his litany of mind control via television, Lucas rounds out The Day the Country Died with a brutal finale beginning with the raucous gang-spewed "'Til the Pigs Come Round" (which begins with a pretty funny flubbed take) then a breakup with a girlfriend yielding further ramifications of isolation on "No More Gigs."

The Day the Country Died drops its final bomb with a white noise detonation at the end with the ratchety and suspenseful "Black and White," the endpoint being governmental control is guilty for sentencing mankind to assured death.

It's hard not to be affected by what the Subhumans left as an imprint for future punk records. The tinny and drum-clumped sound defining British and American hardcore is one aspect, but the theme of manipulation and exploitation by sovereign powers is the bigger stamp the Subhumans left upon the scene.

It's likewise difficult to avoid mulling over the inflammatory statement "U.K. - a disunited kingdom, enquiries - but no solutions, faceless - empty illusions, reasons - are always pushed aside, remember - the day the country died..." The right wing would hardly be moved to say much other than to dismiss this all as leftist propaganda, but you know how Dick and the boys would respond accordingly...

Rating: ****1/2

Friday, May 08, 2009

CD Review: Subhumans - Worlds Apart reissue

Subhumans - Worlds Apart reissue
2008 Southern Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Rare is the album of any genre which achieves not just one but two high standards of excellence and in turn becomes a pivotal recording of its time. Icing on the cake is when said album stands the test of time on the values of unyielding passion and lyrical integrity.

UK punk legends the Subhumans enjoyed a marathon run from the early to mid eighties courtesy of explosive counterculture music redefining the genre in grossly understated modes. Understated when you consider their most-recognized body of work 1982's The Day the Country Died is one of hardcore's earliest prototypes from which it prospered underground through the eighites in the future company of JFA, Agnostic Front, Youth of Today and The Exploited.

The mark of true genius comes in evolution. Thus the Subhumans would have to be considered gifted beyond words to initiate a hypogeal riot of social conscience set to the agitated expedition of their early EPs and The Day the Country Died, only to leave that school of thought immediately behind thereafter.

For this writer's purposes, hearing the adverse direction DC punk stalwarts Government Issue took from the ear-scraping Boycott Stabb to the more melodic upswing of You and Crash was a prime example of savvy reinvention, a maneuver naturally staked out ahead of them courtesy of the Subhumans by the time they released From the Cradle to the Grave and their scene-altering masterpiece, Worlds Apart.

As the Subhumans snugly propped themselves upon the soapbox for societal overhaul during their boisterous career, they became not only more proficient with their asphalt-cracked and chain-fenced preachery, but wowzers, what ardent musicians they became as of Worlds Apart in 1985!

Very few punkers were fielding what the Subhumans bravely--and energetically--stamped down upon the punk scene with the completion of Worlds Apart. Some may argue the sheer ferocity of The Day the World Ended is the true sound of the Subhumans. Certainly the global destruction fear factor lingering over The Day the World Ended makes its own proposal as deciding when the Subhumans were at their best.

Undeniably the thumb-empowered Cold War made the Subhumans their most abrasive and alarming with The Day the World Ended, yet considering the slew of hardcore bands trailing after the Subhumans and other early pioneers, this writer would submit the about-face you hear on Worlds Apart is far more urgent in nature. Listen to the opening bars of aggrandizing commotion of "Carry On Laughing" for evidence.

Though nowhere near as fast save for a wonderful speedy breakaway after two-thirds of steady bump on "Heads of State," Worlds Apart nonetheless moves paces beyond mid-tempo (and with dozens of unpredictable time signature swaps, to-boot) for darned near the entire ride, prompting one of the grooviest punk albums ever recorded.

Still spiking at the handcuffed world around them on snaggletoothed tunes such as "Apathy," "Businessmen," "Fade Away," "Someone is Lying" and "Carry On Laughing," the Subhumans continue their streetwise litanies in deference to the downtrodden while in the same breath concocting a punk album unlike any of its ilk.

The risks taken by the Subhumans on Worlds Apart are relayed by a change from mosh tempo to a ride-cymbal clanging gallop on "Businessmen" to the mixup of Clash-loving reggae-ska to an abrupt sonic din on "Fade Away." The siren-like guitar beacons scattered throughout the verses of "Someone is Lying" is ground-breaking for its time, much less the switch towards crunchy and lofty choruses and the note-inflicted bridge reminiscent of Killing Joke. Either rate, "Someone is Lying" is compactly epic within four-and-a-half minutes versus the 17-minute odyssey of "From the Cradle to the Grave" an album prior.

Particularly thrilling about Worlds Apart is how this album moves and shakes with an unbelievable barrage of hooks and steady throbs on "Can't Hear the Words," ""Get to Work On Time," "British Disease" and "Heads of State." The energy level hardly ceases in the latter part of the album as the Subhumans lay the foundations not only for future punk but also alternative rock with "Straightline Thinking" and the ska struts on "Powergames."

Bruce's guitars are the most stellar they've been in the Subhumans on Worlds Apart while Phil clumps and clangs his bass with his usual snug candor. Trotsky's drum playing is likely stepped up to near-perfection, particularly impressive on the complicated punk-turned-ska-turned-militant march of the sellout indictment "Ex-Teenage Rebel."

Dick Lucas is his usual rowdy self vocally, but there rings even deeper conviction on Worlds Apart than on the Subhumans' earlier work, not that Lucas ever skimped. He historically roasts his own trademark sloshed caterwauling throughout the Subhumans' catalog, which is always one of his subtle charms. Despite, the raw angst sliding out his sniggering pipes on "Apathy" elevates a line such as "Drink, sex, cigarettes, Ford Cortina, household pets. Bombs? War? Famine? Death? An apathetic public couldn't care less" to something Dylan-esque of its kind.

That, friends is the true essence of the Subhumans, relayed to sheer perfection in one of the finest punk albums ever played and sprayed. The scene was never the same once Worlds Apart arrived, even if an equally important title song manifested later on the Subhumans' 29:29 Split Vision. Nearly as important as the Bad Brains' Rock for Light and I Against I...

Rating: *****

Thursday, May 07, 2009

CD Review: Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave reissue

Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave reissue
2008 Southern Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Somewhere in the course of punk's rebirth, disenfranchised future proletariats have been left to grouse in isolation, namely the frightened youth heaped with the burden of carrying society on their strong yet suspicious shoulders. Where is the band to hail their quietly-panicked voices, particularly in a world growing more complex by the year?

Just as you will hear the baby boomers and those within reach of that generation make comment we live in such a politically correct society we've lost our sense of humor at cost, so too has punk rock traded its responsibility towards watchdogging society at the cost of being either mallrat effervescent or conservatively strong-in-numbers.

The Subhumans have somehow in the course of history been forgotten for their contributions to not only punk rock but for being champions of the free-thinking anti-establishment youth brigade. Though most people familiar with the Subhumans know their most-popular album The Day the Country Died, much of what the rest of this intelligent and boundary-pushing group created bears even more substance.

A good friend of mine correctly noted the Subhumans gave punk rock two of its "most amazing albums," those being 1985's Worlds Apart and 1983's From the Cradle to the Grave. The former might've been the album which changed the tide from the Sex Pistols' carefree gutter swine screech to a more artistic yet driving mode with which to deliver their sociologically poignant messages warning against selling yourself out to the soul-grinding machine.

Worlds Apart is hypothetically the catalyst for what All, Government Issue, Uniform Choice and ultimately Fugazi would drift towards sound-wise. From the Cradle to the Grave, however, is still a Subhumans in somewhat raw form yet they were already ascending towards a deeper extraction of near anti-punk theory to include punctuated reverb and progressive swings, largely on the 17-minute title track. A punk rock epic? How absurd, you might think, but sit down and listen to Dick Lucas outlay a prolonged examination of the birth-to-death process--as if the Subhumans hadn't already joyously thrown down at their listeners earlier in the album with the Buzzcocks-kissed story-of-your-life, "Waste of Breath."

Almost never since has such depth been attempted in punk rock as what the Subhumans accomplished with "From the Cradle to the Grave" which is a bit of a genre take on Catch-22. The scared youth grows up under governmental control (i.e. school and religion), according to Lucas, and is forced on a course of conformity which finds his muse courted by the establishment to join rank--in this case a literal one in the form of the army. With lyrics spanning three pages, the Subhumans cast their most venomous indictment against controlled order, positing at "From the Cradle to the Grave's" conclusion that allowing yourself to be dictated begins the cycle anew for the ensuing generation.

This is mind-blowing stuff, particulary for the early eighties in the midst of continued threat of a nuclear holocaust. In this sense, consider the Subhumans one of the genuine Cold War bands who did their part to coax the youth not to fall into the traps leading to annihilation. Changing the modes of musical attack from ripping hardcore velocities to alternative rock chugs and strums and swaying ska (you can count on every Subhuman album to bear at least one ska-reggae tune like their more commercially popular kindred The Police), "From the Cradle to the Grave" is punk rock's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," or psychedelic rock's "Monster" (ala Steppenwolf) only the Subhumans focused their energies towards changing the course of humankind's dialed inclination to destroy at will by the provocation of the government.

The Subhumans have always been considered an anarchy band, yet if you dissect their lyrics and take a good bit of what they say to heart, you will find this band to be one of the most well-meaning of its ilk. Yeah, "Waste of Breath" is insulting in nature with its attack on posers, but in the same breath, the Subhumans serve up "Us Fish Must Swim Together," which rings louder than anything contemporary hardcore's "unity" decrees have to offer. "You need support to keep you alive, us fish must swim together," so says Dick Lucas and he's spot-on. Even us lone wolves who reject the mainstream (as the Subhumans most assuredly do) need to recognize it's going to take cooperation with the mainstream and especially with its own in order to move this world forward into the hands of the next youth who hopefully won't need to make the terrifying decision to enlist with the state, which will forge their hands into harbingers of destruction.

As socially-conscious as any punk band receiving its proper due, the Subhumans deserve far more credit than they're given. As From the Cradle to the Grave rockets through the first batch of songs with wonderfully dizzying and melodic aplomb (such as the blitzed speed representing the inflicted chaos of our hurried world on "Reality is Waiting For a Bus"), its ultimate purpose with the title song is to serve as a bible for the alienated youth and those coming into question what their future purpose is. It's amazing an album almost three decades old contains such far-reaching wisdom...

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/6/09

Someone throw me a life preserver, it's been nothing but freakin' rain for days on end. To my British readers, is this the secret to UK-grown music being so good, the constantly shitty weather?

Because of the incessant precipitation and wifey shackled to her job the entire weekend in making up time pre-emptively for the baby's upcoming ear surgery--and then yours truly going for outpatient surgery the following Monday--it was the little man and myself having quite a bit of time to ourselves. Thanks to Metal Mark for having us over for a couple hours to break up our monotony; it had been months since we got together so that was quite cool.

Despite hostilities (cast to and fro, I'll admit) to bear at the office, I did have an interview with Mary Zimmer of the very-talented Luna Mortis which you all can read here at The Metal Minute in the upcoming future. I also enjoyed a likewise great chat with Leif Edling of Candlemass while the baby napped on Saturday, so it's been the usual rollercoaster ride in Casa del Van Horn with a few nice climbs. However, you can add a broken tub spigot to the dip portions. As I like to say these days, "the shit never ends..."

As a result of largely being shacked up with an energetic 17-month old, I decided now was the time to teach the spud how to play drums and it's scary how quickly he got the basic concept down and which pieces fit together best when hitting them simultaneously. It was a joyous moment, but the kid assuredly hasn't been the same since he's been out-of-control behavior-wise. Now the fun begins...

We did share quite a monster load of music together, so much he kept running over to the CD player when a disc ended and grunted loudly at me to change the music. Brought tears to my eyes...

That being said, I managed to assault the kid with a lot of different vibes and though the labels are all going digital, that hasn't slowed the influx of hard copy promo hitting me lately. Thanks to all of you out there for the continued supply; I've really strived lately to get more of your albums into my ears. A special thanks to my man Dave "Captain Cavebitch" Brenner for the seriously kickass six pack of Subhumans reissues. Already spun half of them and loving the memories of that terrific UK punk unit. Damn, were they underrated...

Top spinner of the week, however, comes courtesy of Metal Mark, who gave me his spare copy of Sister Sin's really fun Crue toast Switchblade Serenade, which I've hit a number of times since Saturday. The Swedes and Germans appreciate old-time American heavy metal more than we do here these days, it appears. Take note, my fellow Yanks.

Sister Sin - Switchblade Serenade
Subhumans - The Day the World Ended
Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave
Subhumans - Worlds Apart
Heaven and Hell - The Devil You Know
Conspiracy - Concordat
Beatles - Sgt. Peppers
Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe
Halford - Live Insurrection remaster
Leif Edling - Songs of Torment, Songs of Joy
Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Kreator - Terrible Certainty
Slough Feg - Ape Rising!
Crescent Shield - The Stars of Never Seen
Robot Lords of Tokyo - Whiskey, Blood and Napalm
Luna Mortis - The Absence
Dodsferd - Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follow
Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium
Celtic Frost - Monotheist
Necroblaspheme - Destination: Nulle Part
Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1
Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2
Blink 182 - s/t
Seals and Crofts - Greatest Hits
The Fifth Dimension - Up-Up and Away
Zombi - Spirit Animal
Zombi - Surface to Air
Black Label Society - Skullage
Thievery Corporation - Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi
Thievery Corporation - The Outernational Sound
Peter Murphy - Deep
Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky - The Grand Partition and the Abrogation of Idolatry

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

CD Review: Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know

Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know
2009 Rhino Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

This is in all likelihood going to be the most-scrutinized metal release of the year and thankfully it's Ronnie James Dio falling under the microscope instead of Ozzy Osbourne in the renamed post-Sabbath entity Heaven & Hell.

Whether or not you're looking forward to this quasi-reunion of the Dio-era Black Sabbath which pounded unsuspecting arenas of their time with decimating doom sludge from Mob Rules and the album lending this unit its namesake Heaven and Hell, this is nonetheless one of the key releases with which to mark the metal year a success or not.

Heaven & Hell, featuring the Sabbath team of the early eighties is the full-encapsulation of the peek given from the Black Sabbath compilation The Dio Years a few years back, chiefly through the recording of new tracks with Dio back at the helm.

Though it takes six songs of mostly slug-paced chord dissection before Heaven & Hell steps on the gas with the lethal, uptempo crush of "Eating the Cannibals," The Devil You Know is well up to the limit as Udo Dirkschneider would croon. Heavier tone-wise than anything Black Sabbath ever did (even with Tony Iommi's mid-eighties hang-on vehicles such as The Eternal Idol and The Headless Cross), The Devil You Know is mostly a nut-twisting, bombastic exercise in classic doom metal with a modern veneer.

What to brag about first? Ronnie James Dio's enigmatic vocals on this thing? Honestly, the man shouldn't possess such effortless grace at this point in his career, yet Dio's inspired performance on The Devil You Know is worthy of anything he's ever slapped his name upon, Sabbath, Rainbow or solo. "Bible Black" especially sounds like one of Dio's own metallic odysseys brought into the company of old comrades for reinvention. It makes you wonder if Dio daydreamed now and then of having Tony and Geezer peeling off Holy Diver and The Last in Line for a special occasion. If such is the case, here it is, realized to the nth with Iommi going straight to the chasms with extensive and poignant solos to luxuriate "Bible Black."

As for Iommi? A veritable six-string dragonslayer with some of the nastiest low-end crunk he's ever coaxed out of himself, in perfect accord with Geezer Butler's slithering thrum. Iommi's solos are sometimes abbreviated yet nothing is ever wasted. Iommi makes every second count on songs such as the aforementioned "Bible Black," "Follow the Tears," "Double the Pain" (which haunts quite a bit of South of Heaven-era Slayer on the verses) and the positively despaired opener "Atom and Evil."

Though "Fear" and "Turn of the Screw" drag keister in various spots, Heaven & Hell seizes the opportunity to prove their worth as one of the heaviest tribes on the scene. Blowing Mob Rules, to smithereens on decibel gauges, The Devil You Know picks up the pieces on "Neverwhere" and "Eating the Cannibals," which hypothetically represent this year's "Neon Knights" and "Turn Up the Night," even if the former are not as agreeably harmonious.

Heaven & Hell's dichotomy in both moniker and their reconfigured songwriting is exposed all over The Devil You Know, which would've been branded satanic upon sight had it been released 25 years ago. This is the most haunted this ensemble has quite likely ever sounded and with Vinny Appice hammering down his tempos with an affliction bestowed from the lyrics and the vicious chords surrounding him.

Black Sabbath has been left to its rightful time and place and as Dio and Heaven & Hell usher their listeners to the outer rims of a purgatory ready to detonate on the album's brutally-riffed finale "Breaking Into Heaven," the new world order for this doom clique becomes firmly established.

While the earlier Dio-assisted albums of Black Sabbath can be considered darker than the Ozzy regime, there was more of a fantasy element woven about them than what Heaven & Hell slams upon the table like a carcass for the carving. Sure, The Devil You Know is escapist material, but this is closer to having your toenails gnawed by demons while suspended upside-down in Faustian perpetua. In many ways, The Devil You Know is the blackest of the black this contignency has seen fit to offer. Run like hell...

Rating: ****

Sunday, May 03, 2009

CD Review: Halford - Live Resurrection Remastered

Halford - Live Resurrection Remastered
2009 Metal God Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

There was a point in the late nineties to early 2000s where Korn was the heaviest music people at-large paid attention to in the United States. I was fogging around in a post-alternative love affair and rap and hip hop were already showing signs of its corporate-cashed sway, thus I began to care less about the latter two genres. I took this opportunity of my music appreciation history to brush up on classic rock, jazz, classical, the sixties, seventies pop and soul, world music and electronica as the American scene floundered in the rut grunge kicked it into and did nothing to raise it out of.

I distinctly recall a late Friday evening in our old townhouse which saw its share of both joy and suffering and I let the tube dwell on VH-1 for whatever reason, perhaps half-watching a Behind the Music special or something. Could've been Ratt for all I remember, but what stuck out that evening was a short-lived attempt at a metal show on VH-1 hosted by Scott Ian and I recall turning my head sharply in its direction as videos from Megadeth and Anthrax spun by but I also caught Rob Halford's solo band and their video for "Cyber World." Now of course I'd followed Fight for the first two albums while I dove headfirst into that long period of varied exploration, but this time we got to see a then-post-Priest Rob Halford belting out trad power metal as if something of the old days was itching in his metal loins and gaddamn was I impressed...

You might say the Halford band reignited my passion for heavy metal even as I was getting turned on to what is now dismissed as the "nu-metal phase" consisting of groups I still like today such Static-X, Primer 55, Powerman 5000, Mudvayne and of course, Korn. "Cyber World" had that old-time kick about it, the steel-shanked boot right up the ass delivered with the working-class fragrance of sweat and leather and thank God it came from heavy metal's greatest singer. Anyone else but Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson (who re-emerged to prominence with Iron Maiden shortly thereafter) and I'm not convinced I would've stuck with that VH-1 show, even though Scott Ian made a homey kinda host you felt comfortable with.

At this point in time, the Halford band has to be considered Rob's catalyst to his reunion with Judas Priest. His appropriately-titled Resurrection album (which has also lately been given the remaster treatment) may not have lit the American sales charts on fire, but Rob Halford's worldwide fame is so regal he was able to headline massive festivals overseas on the album's merits and it just happened to scorch, for good measure.

Names such as Patrick Lachman, "Metal" Mike Chlasciak, Ray Riendeau and Bobby Jarzombek weren't exactly considered household names of metal back then, but in the company of The Metal God Rob Halford, they were an pack of envious lions backing up a sovereign voice, well capable of delivering the Priest and Fight goods along with their own skullcrushing tunes, which were lent writing and production assistance by guitar ace Roy Z.

Live Insurrection, originally released in 2001, is a slight enigma in the fact the Halford band had no clue it would be on short-lived terms considering its leader found it within himself to return home not long after they'd toured the world together. This double live album collects recordings of that intercontinental tour, which explains why some segments have more thunderous crowd din than others, yet there's absolutely nothing lax or wanting in the execution by this band.

Think of 1987's so-so Priest...Live! which was better than it should've been, considering it was captured during the release (and a short-lived reign of popularity, actually) Judas Priest's controversial Turbo album. Got that essence of glossed-over late eighties arena rawk in your head? Now slide over to Live Insurrection and feel the difference.

Sure, you'd rather have the comfort of knowing it's KK and Glenn peeling the licks of "Jawbreaker," "Hellion/Electric Eye," "Stained Class," "Tyrant," "Metal Gods," "Beyond the Realms of Death" and of course, "Breaking the Law." Nonetheless, the Halford band poignantly aces them all as if the mere presence of Rob Halford ushered them the mojo to accurately recreate these Priest classics.

A much heavier band than the Fight crew, Chlasciak and company shred the tar out the Fight tunes creeping into Live Insurrection's exhaustive 28-song playlist such as "Nailed to the Gun," "Into the Pit" and "Life in Black" while projecting furious boom behind their own material such as "Resurrection," "Made in Hell," "Cyber World," "Savior," "Silent Screams" and "Slow Down."

Live Insurrection is long as hell but if you're a Rob Halford fan, how can you get enough? This album is one of the few in the modern age where a live album lives up to the event it depicts, so much you can feel (especially through the audile enhancements of this remastered version) the chants of "Halford! Halford! Halford!" as you can distinctly pretend you're right in the maw of a Rio audience bellowing their oratorial responses to Rob's cues; the effect is like being caught in the midst of a bloodthirsty army about to release their hounds.

You can enjoy the moments of Bruce Dickinson joining his renowned NWOBHM counterpart for the Halford band's "The One You Love to Hate" as you can savor Rudy Schenker's appearance with Rob and his posse on a stout cover of the Scorpions' "Blackout." Live Insurrection also includes a handful of bonus studio tracks, the most ripping of them being "Screaming in the Dark," by far one of the finest the Halford band recorded.

Looking at this album in the context of its original release and what has occurred since, you have to feel a little heavy-hearted for this exceptional band because they undeniably brought their A-game to Rob Halford's cause and they managed to set foot on some world-class stages by his association. For the Metal God's purposes, Live Insurrection has to stand out amongst his vast catalog of recordings as a celebration of more than thirty years in the game. Moreover, it's the sound of a Rob Halford with everything to regain, which he ultimately did.

Rating: ****