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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Finntroll - "Solsagen" video

Thursday, April 29, 2010

CD Review: Airbourne - No Guts. No Glory.

Airbourne - No Guts. No Glory.
2010 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If you want blood, you of course have AC/DC.

If you want Tom Kiefer pulling on a bloody mary at the fore of what is essentially a tribute band penning their own original lyrics, there's Airbourne.

Very tempting to roll out of this review with a 'nuff said because there's no other way to describe the Melbourne AC/DC acolytes. Sure, there's hints of the Scorpions now and then, but like Kix, Krokus, Rhino Bucket and Rose Tattoo before them, all roads lead down the emulated gutters of Young Boulevard in Airbourne. And England has the original Shambles.

Airbourne's 2007 debut Runnin' Wild was an AC/DC variety of The Darkness, less over-the-top, more to the point, but unequivocally a throwback novelty. When your purpose for being is to replicate instead of salute, well, that's flattering to the original source, yes. However, when a second album manifests with every single nugget out of the trick bag straight down to the licks, the solos, the singular bass thrums and the caterwauled backing vocals, it's overkill.

AC/DC at their height is an unstoppable force. The term "piss and vinegar" applies better to them than pomp and circumstance. It's easy to see why so many newer bands like Sound and Fury and Airbourne get excited when standing in the midst of Let There Be Rock and High Voltage. For Airbourne's purposes, those two albums are staked on jumpy ditties like "Raise the Flag" and "Back On the Bottle." Yet No Guts. No Glory. takes more than a lion's share of Razor's Edge era and beyond AC/DC for its so-so pride ride.

By the time Joel O'Keefe wails about getting out on "Bottom of the Well," the lazy drag of the tune (which sounds perfectly snug on AC/DC's ehhh Blow Up Your Video or Ballbreaker albums) coaxes you right out with him. That is, unless you're buying into what Airbourne has to offer, which is a younger, jacked-up version of the original. Where the banner may one day fall, let he with swollen jeans take up the cause.

Seriously, No Guts. No Glory. wears out its welcome by the time "White Line Fever" struts into play. Cool groove, nice rhythm, catchy hook. Too bad the lyrics are the only thing original about it. "Raise the Flag" is a peppy number on the faster side and "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" is a smoker, but you already have Powerage, Highway to Hell and Let There Be Rock in your collection and they're faster to get to if you alphabetize your shelf, A's be damned.

Simplicity speaks, there's no getting around it. Airbourne serves up to the common man, the working stiffs, the downtrodden backbone keeping the world turning. It's why you're looking at artwork featuring rigs, steel workers (Airbourne even gives them their own tip of the hardhat on the pandering "Steel Town" and "No Way but the Hard Way"), knocked over whiskey bottles and of course, chicks. "Blonde, Bad and Beautiful" may not sound like "You Shook Me All Night Long," but it's Airbourne's sequel outlaying what happened once Brian Johnson began his cuckolding business. "Armed and Dangerous" calls out to a worldwide clan of rabble rousers, while "Back On the Bottle" is self-explanatory. Was Bon Scott right to check out at the end of a fifth? According to this song there's no more righteous death.

In other words, all the fundamental demographics which have made AC/DC the commercial sensations they are.

Bitch that Airbourne hoists everything that is AC/DC on No Guts. No Glory. No beating around the bush, it exceeds compliment. Granted, AC/DC was never a complicated bunch of rogues. Their sweaty boogie traces further back to Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Turner and Leadbelly, yet it was their brash kissing cooze demeanor which has amplified their legend. Airbourne can call the bandwagon to arms in the name of sex, booze and rock 'n roll all they want and there are plenty of nostlagic party animals who will follow. You can't take away Airbourne's energy, which is why you keep letting yourself be suckered all the way through No Guts. No Glory. More than likely, though, you'll feel cheated by album's end, like you might as well have listened to Flick of the Switch if you were seeking out monotony.

Airbourne has their schtick down perfect, no denial there. Too bad they're wasting their energetic talents posing in the mirror instead of branching out into something real. A thousand Beatles clones can't be wrong, but in this case...

Rating: **

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 4/28/10

Paint it Black (c) 2009/10 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Welcome to Blursville, faithful lot! If anyone can tell me where the past week went, oy...

Banging my eyes more than my entire head with manuscript in lap, striking pen at the helm. The novel has really found its heart and soul and I'm excited about the clean up effort while consulting some old manuals and pep talk books my grandfather gave me a lifetime ago when he predicted I'd become a writer. I'd like to think he's especially been with me the past couple days during these rewrites, wow. Miss you, Grandpa. As I posted at my Facebook page (come on by and say howdy, y'all), when the heart and the mind bleed as one, the pages runneth over spectacularly.

Of course, when your two-year-old locks you out of the house and you're put into a desperate position, the mind unlocks hidden treasures which crop out once the situation is resolved and the adrenaline quelled. Good times.

For our purposes at The Metal Minute, be on the lookout for more goodies. Had to reschedule your next Take 5 guest and prayers of health and healing go out to his family. It'll be worth the wait, readers, and with that, it's a new day and loud vibe to carry it forth. Thanks as always for your unyielding support.

The Ocean - Heliocentric
Jon Oliva's Pain - Festival
Jon Oliva's Pain - Maniacal Renderings
Jon Oliva's Pain - Global Warning
Led Zeppelin - III
Led Zeppelin - Zoso
Them Crooked Vultures - s/t
Devo - New Traditionalists
Devo - Duty Now for the Future
Keep of Kalessin - Reptilian
Black Robot - Baddass
Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis
Bob Dylan - s/t
Bob Dylan - Slow Train Coming
Modest Mouse - No One's First, and You're Next
Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
Airborne - No Guts. No Glory.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

CD Review: Keep of Kalessin - Reptilian

Keep of Kalessin - Reptilian
2010 Nuclear Blast
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

One of the best black and death metal hybrids in the world is Norway's Keep of Kalessin. If ever such a monolith of a band could be thought of as representative of the fantastical Hyborean Age of Conan, more specifically the cult of Thulsa Doom, this is your band.

What Obsidian C has accomplished after a failed launch in 1995 with Mayhem's Frost and Atilla is remarkable. Perhaps his time touring with Satyricon unleashed a capacity for finesse amidst brutality, but the later-reborn Keep of Kalessin is one of extreme metal's finest units. Their 2008 effort Kolossus may have taken their original cult of fans by surprise since the shift in songwriting was abrupt as it was triumphant. Kolossus reached for a less-strenuous, melodically-focused agitation beyond 2005's Armada and to more obvious measures, their earlier output, Through Times of War and Agnen: A Journey Through the Dark. It worked, suffice it to say.

Kolossus, simply put, was a breathtaking effort, within striking distance of the elegant artistry of Emperor, albeit Keep of Kalessin's approach is a bit different. With a tad more Darkthrone and Satyricon, Keep of Kalessin has always kept to their roots as much as they've strived to extend the sound of the genre. As of their newest album Reptilian, Keep of Kalessin shows even more moxy and stretches their parameters again.

Their blast beat inferno rhythms serves Keep of Kalessin well on Reptilian, a pounding, mythical ode to dragonfire. What's different this time around, at least for much of the ride, is Keep of Kalessin fuses more rock, power metal and prog in-between their riotous mayhem on Reptilian.

The album cover is like an entrance sign to a rollercoaster and Reptilian would be a perfect attraction ride moniker. The opening number "Dragon Iconography" weaves an acoustic intro which then strikes a series of power chord tones and swirling synths. Don't shoot the messenger, but it sounds like Dokken or Keel in the beginning. It appears strategic on Keep of Kalessin's part, because "Dragon Iconography" then roars into action like the initial propulsion of a blast coaster and swims through corkscrews of blazing speed.

Reptilian embraces the fantasy element Obsidian C and his wolf pack is enamored with, though the first half of the album employs streamlined rock gorges through "Judgment" and the mid-tempo bop of "The Dragontower." Though "The Awakening" and "Leaving the Mortal Flesh" stamp down on the bpm pedals and Keep of Kalessin begins to lavish their velocity with grandeur as Kolossus did so brilliantly, there's an overall leanness to Reptilian.

You will hear more NWOBHM and classic heavy metal strikes abound in this album ("Dark As Moonless Night" especially carries a slow-grinding Priest and Slayer vibe) until Keep of Kalessin turns things up considerable notches on their couplet of mini epics "The Divine Land" and "Reptilian Majesty." Both are equal to the opulence of Kolossus and in some ways they take another evolutionary step up with fabulous clean vocal syncopation between Obsidian C and the band. The effect elevates the primal savagery Reptilian excavates into alluring aggression, and the choruses of "The Divine Land" are stunners. Stand ready to be wowed.

The shift from direct and blunt to tapestried and refined tells Reptilian's story like a metalhead's reinvention of Homer. Keep of Kalessin dares to concoct their charbroil with meaty hooks and sizzling guitar solos before gravitating back into Emperor territory with dizzying aplomb. On "Reptilian Majesty," a hypnotic electro trance and supplemental symphonics are Floydian in nature, particularly with the John Waters-esque solo afterwards. It worked for Nachtmystium; why not Keep of Kalessin? How about the Bach fugue segment immediately following before "Reptilian Majesty" reaches its blaring crescendo? The synth-splashed outro like a Goblins score, for that matter?

Kolossus is perhaps a mightier album overall than Reptilian, but Keep of Kalessin proves there's huge transcendence beyond Stygian whispers and serpent standards which slither throughout their craft and merely inspire other bands who haven't quite figured out the charm this band has mastered. They swoon as much as they punish and Reptilian is going to turn heads. Keep of Kalessin has evolved into one of the gutsiest bands out there and they're on a roll.

Rating: ****

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Take 5 With Johnny Anguish of Dirt Mall

Photo courtesy of Dirt Mall and Nicole Anguish

Metal Minute: Dirt Mall took an extended break between your first album Got the Goat By the Horns from 2007 and this year’s Pacifuego to do your daddy duties. Tell us about being new fathers playing in a rock ‘n roll band that’s gaining momentum. You hear of so many musicians dropping out altogether when they have children, but you guys are back now after a couple years’ separation from the business. Do you feel any time was lost as a band to focus on your family obligations?

Johnny Anguish: The only reason Dirt Mall exists is to have fun playing some loud rock n' roll. Having two awesome little boys at home doesn't make me want to have less fun! The day of the big Pacifuego record release show, my 3 1/2 year old son was walking around the house singing "You've Got The Whole Thing Wrong." That was the best feeling. Better than the first time I heard one of my songs on the radio--and that feeling never gets old, either. We're not kidding ourselves thinking we're going to be huge rock stars. We just enjoy getting together and making music.

Obviously, things get a little more difficult when you've got kids. Time is the big issue. We didn't play any shows for just over a year around the time my second son was born. We recorded the record during that time, working off and on as our schedules allowed. The guy we recorded the record with had his second child during that timeframe. Our drummer, Derek, got married. It was a busy time. In the end I think the time off did us some good. You get a renewed excitement for things when you've been away from them for a while. We're really happy with the way the record came out and the shows we've been playing have been a lot of fun.

MM: When I think of a dirt mall, I’m thinking of a flea market or one of those farmers markets which were hip in the eighties and you still see now and then in some pockets of the country. Give us a tour of your dirt mall which gave the band its moniker.

JA: No single mall inspired the name. You can always tell when your at the dirt mall, though. If a cigar shop or a locksmith has prime retail space, it's probably a dirt mall. "As Seen On TV" stores, fabric and sewing shops, beauty supply discount stores and dollar stores all take up residence at the dirt mall. If you're walking around and you see any of those, you know what's up. If there's a Frederick's of Hollywood instead of a Victoria's Secret that's usually a dead giveaway.

MM: (laughs) Between both albums, I’d say Dirt Mall is representative in sound of years soaking up bar bands, rock bands, metal bands, plus punk and glam bands. You guys are all over the board on Pacifuego. For instance, “Pearl” has a bit of AC/DC, Rose Tattoo and Faster Pussycat. “Building a Case” has a little bit of Foo Fighters, as does “Rats,” though to a dirtier New York Dolls effect. “Buried By You” shows some Stooges and Dead Boys in there. “I Am the One and Only” is part White Stripes to me as well as Social Distortion. What are some of the coolest live gigs you’ve witnessed over the years which have helped mold Dirt Mall’s widespread fundamentals?

JA: That's tough because I love seeing bands live. Growing up it was mostly metal shows. Guns n' Roses played one of the best and one of the worst shows I've ever seen. Soundgarden opening one of those Gn'R shows was amazing. Metallica was always right there. Faith No More put on the best show during the ill fated Gn'R/Metallica tour. GWAR shows are always a blast. Faster Pussycat and Little Caesar--Ron Young is such and underrated singer--did great sets opening for Kiss.

Since then, my tastes have gone all over the map. The Hellacopters and The Soundtrack of Our Lives are unbelievable live. The very first songs I wrote for Dirt Mall were all about aping the sound of the kick ass rock bands from Sweden. The Dictators and X are two legendary bands that always blow me away. Dinosaur Jr. was easily the loudest show I ever saw. Seeing a Superdrag show always feels like you're hanging out drinking beers with some good friends. Priestess just played here with High On Fire and they were awesome. Don't get me started on all the local Boston bands that have floored me over the years.

MM: Who are the titular clowns in the greased-up “Calling All Clowns?” What are some of the characters in society you’ve seen who might’ve contributed to this sarcastic jam?

JA: Boston has a fantastic music scene. Most of the bands around here are supportive of each other. Heck, most of the people that go to shows these days are the people that are in bands. Every once in a while, however, people forget the old adage "a rising tide lifts all boats."

"Calling All Clowns" was written about an incident on a local music message board where one band that was getting a pretty good national following started getting slagged mercilessly by a few bad apples. Instead of hoping that their success would rub off on some other local bands, these clowns were on a crusade to let everyone know they didn't want said band representing Boston. It wasn't the first time someone acted like an ass on the internet, and it certainly won't be the last.

MM: Amen, brother. You and I had a side discussion earlier this year about music and comic stores, namely their malleability in today’s tech-driven society which is helping driving many to the grave, music stores especially. In your area, you have the Newbury Comics store, which is both for the comics medium as well as music. Not everyone had the foresight to diversify, yet the writing seems on the wall for hard copy music sales if trends continue as they are now. What are your thoughts to these stores being able to hold on today?

JA: Well, it sure does seem like hard copy music is all but dead. It really bums me out, too. Obviously, the music is the most important thing. In that regard, the ability to download just about anything at a moments notice is incredible. It's instant gratification. Plus, it doesn't take up any room on my shelf. The downside is that there is so much new music out there that it's hard for anything to rise above the noise.

Personally, I love having a tangible music product--storage issues aside. Holding the album in my hands and reading through the liner notes is all part of the experience for me. I think the recent resurgence of vinyl is partly because of this. There's just something about seeing a 12" record cover that's infinitely cooler than a 500 pixel image on your computer screen.

A truly great record store would help on both of these fronts. A store with a friendly and knowledgeable staff to shoot the shit with would be fantastic. Ideally, they'd have a great selection of music on hand to browse through as well. I love to flip through CD and record racks. Even then, I'm not sure that would be enough. Newbury Comics is great, but their music selection keeps getting marginalized as they diversify their products to stay in business. They sell just about every knick-knack under the sun these days. I applaud them for doing what it takes to stay alive. I hope independent record stores everywhere can figure out creative ways to meet the needs of music fans.

Copyright 2010 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 4/21/10

Greetings brothers and sisters of the faith...

Hope everything's in Kosherville for y'all and hope you enjoyed the most productive week The Metal Minute's seen in a bit of time. This even with my wife having to be taken to the hospital plus a condensed juggling act of duties I won't soon forget.

Best wishes to my European audience as I'm sure it's been chaos and disorder with the Iceland eruption. I have family just now getting out of the UK after being grounded past their stay and will be ecstatic to see them. It really touched a nerve in me to see a lot of travelers sleeping under escalators in the airport terminals. Hope all of Europe and especially Iceland get back to normal. Also prayers out to the souls lost in the recent Chinese quake. Is it just me, or is the movie 2012 and the Mayan prophecies beginning to get a little too real for comfort?

Over at Dee Snider's House of Hair Online, my interview with WASP legend Blackie Lawless is up and running. Special thanks to Frank Delgado of the Deftones for a cool interview last week. In the latest Hails & Horns is my interview with Whiskeytown's Mike Daly about his metal book Time Flies When You're in a Coma: The Wisdom of the Metal Gods. Over here at The Metal Minute the proverbial burners are warmed with more good stuff on the way for you.

On a final note, rest in peace, Peter Steele. The man had a very quiet but diverse fan base, who are all now making themselves heard following his passing. Sad it was no joke this time...

Type O Negative - October Rust
Type O Negative - Dead Again
Type O Negative - World Coming Down
Carnivore - Retaliation
Carnivore - s/t
Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power Legacy Edition
Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist
Deftones - Diamond Eyes
Ratt - Infestation
Blue Oyster Cult - Secret Treaties
Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
October File - Our Souls to You
Mouth of the Architect - The Violence Beneath EP
Exodus - Exhibit B: The Human Condition
Devil's Whorehouse - Blood & Ashes
Bruce Springsteen - Working On a Dream

Monday, April 19, 2010

Take 5 With Gary Holt of Exodus

Photo (c) 2010 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Metal Minute: The past couple years Exodus has been road-dogging with Kreator, Megadeth, Testament and Arch Enemy in advance preparation for your latest album Exhibit B: The Human Condition. I caught you twice on these legs and saw a very devout audience mixed with old schoolers and youngsters going berserk during your set. Brought a smile and a warmed heart to watch them whirling the trad mosh pits as we came up with during the eighties. Give us a general tour diary from your perspective being on the road with your peers and Arch Enemy.

Gary Holt: It's totally awesome touring with bands that we like and admire, and Arch Enemy are certainly at the top of that list. We're fortunate to have a whole new generation of kids into the band now, as well as the old diehards, so times have been good to us. And with the old guys and their bad hips and knees, it's good to still have some young kids with healthy joints to get the pits raging!

MM: (laughs) I read enough interviews lately between you and Tom Hunting and it seems like a lot of your hosts are actually surprised Exodus is still playing at breakneck speed on Exhibit B: The Human Condition. I’m sure that has to be getting on your nerves, since Exodus has hardly slowed down throughout the years, though maybe in spots on Impact is Imminent and Force of Habit. Listening to you and Lee (Altus) rip some beautiful solos amidst the pounding thrash of “The Ballad of Leonard and Charles” on Exhibit B, you can see why people are geeking out, yet you have to wonder if people have truly kept up with you guys over the years? Is it passé at this point for people to rave how Exodus is still a fast band?

GH: It doesn't get on my nerves at all, because I think it has more to do with how aggressive we are after all these years, when most bands would be seriously slowing down. It's more about how amazed people are that we not only keep things blazing, but we keep pushing the pedal to the metal more with each record.

MM: A lot has happened in society--in particular within the spiritual realm--since you released The Atrocity Exhibition in 2007, which leads us to your sequel, Exhibit B. We’re looking more at the foibles and fallacies of mankind on your newest album, but tying into The Atrocity Exhibition, what have you seen going on between Church and State and subsequently Church, State and Man which helps tell your story on Exhibit B?

GH: Well, in the US, seperation of church and state really only exists on paper, because the evangelic right holds so much sway with the running of this country. On Exhibit B we chose to focus on mankind's many weaknesses, and our historical ability for cruelty, ignorance, arrogance, plus our sheep-like need to be led.

MM: Let’s break down “Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer).” I love this track for its speed and Rob’s spit-flung delivery, but I think it’s the flashpoint moment of Exhibit B: The Human Condition, where everything else afterwards is going to be considered effect from cause. Tell us what (or who) inspired this song of a love-deprived nihilist venting his announcement to wreak havoc.

GH: The obvious influence for this song is the American pastime of heading into the halls of learning loaded for bear and releasing one's rage on the students. From Charles Whitman to Columbine, to Virginia Tech and many others. I just wanted to write it through the eyes of the shooter, and because of that, some think it glorifies school shootings, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It's just another dark part of this world of ours I chose to explore.

MM: Colin Marks worked on the album cover for Exhibit B and you guys turned to Leonardo DaVinci’s “Vitruvian Man” for inspiration. All the weaponry extended from the mandibles of the skeleton really sums up a postulated theory how mankind is inherently destructive. Given the artwork and the brutal realism of the album’s lyrics, where do you find redemption in mankind, if at all?

GH: I'm still waiting for man to redeem itself, but I don't think it will happen in my lifetime!

(c) 2010 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Sunday, April 18, 2010

CD Review: Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power Legacy Edition

Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power Legacy Edition
2010 Sony Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In honor of Record Store Day weekend, a little indie shop story. Fitting it would be centered around Iggy and the Stooges, whose seminal album Raw Power is re-emerging on the market in a slamdango Legacy Edition.

I have two modes of conduct in a music store: talkative engager of album literati and silent stalker in search of that next great vibe I'm missing out on (or previously missed). Either fashion is suitable to me on a personal level because music consumption is both private and subjective. Open to discussion and held close to heart in the same breath.

One afternoon I was sampling a stack of indie rock albums which seldom come my way in the promo mailings and out of the entire hoarde Bat For Lashes made it to the register with me along with a used copy of Yes' Relayer and Thrice singer Dustin Kensrhue's debut solo album, Please Come Home. Don't ask how I remember my purchase selections on one random visit to the record store; gift of osmosis from the music gods, perhaps.

By the time I'd hung up the listening earphones in my sequestered sanctum of the record store, my ears were raked by The Stooges' "Search and Destroy." It made me smile as if Iggy Pop, James Williamson and the Asheton brothers had wandered into a chance independent store and set up shop to whip out an impromptu anywhereman gig. That's how loud the store was and how stunned I was people continued to float about in a zombie shuffle as if a bloody nocturne was playing instead of Iggy and the Stooges.

This somnambulist play in the store offended me as a rocker. Worse was a conversation at the register after the store clerk turned the volume down on "Gimme Danger," thus robbing the air of its electric urgency. A younger guy wearing a HIM t-shirt was engaging the store clerk (who looked maybe one generation shy of mine, thus we usually got on well between patron and employee) and asking why Raw Power was considered a cornerstone of punk. "I don't hear it, man," HIM-Boy said. "That's just noise, not punk." A High Fidelity moment if there ever was one.

I could end this writing right there on that point, slap down a 4.5 star rating to Raw Power and have no reason to talk further. An album which helped define punk rock ahead of Never Mind the Bollocks and Rocket to Russia which needed justification? Well, goddamn, that's dandy, isn't it? Wouldn't Iggy and his glam drapes find joy in this?

The fact "punk" was only a derogatory term used to throw down between greasers and socs in the fifties and later on, from parents scared out of their minds the youth brigade in leathers and chains were gaining stable footing in the gutters tells you why Raw Power is revered as much as it is.

Sure, the self-titled Stooges album and Fun House surpass Raw Power on the level of execution--particularly since the late Ron Asheton is the guitarist of The Stooges despite being relegated to bass to make room for James Williamson--yet the primal snarl of the latter album is the reason it's a true punk album. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" may be one of The Stooges' crowning achievements of slop art, yet Raw Power as an entire body of work is a stocks and bombs affair which both separates and unifies The Stooges to The Velvet Underground as one of the most important counterculture groups bred in America.

Keeping in mind "punk rock" was still a term yet to be coined amongst the music underground, Raw Power was a spine-raking wakeup call filled with glitter trash poetry and a call to arms directed at every single listener. Iggy Pop balking into his mike at people telling him what to do was seldom achieved in 1973, despite the anti-draft rock turbulence preceding it in the late sixties.

Raw Power is a post-Vietnam aftershock felt on the first grab with "Search and Destroy" and sustained by the quaky "Gimme Danger," "Penetration" and of course the nervy title track. Raw Power declares a farewell to the Fabulous Fifties which intially sparked this band on the jivy Little Richard and Larry Williams-flavored clap-along "Shake Appeal." "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell" might be the most unnerving title The Stooges ushered (considering it was originally called "Hard to Beat") and every distorted riff and twang instigates claustrophobia.

Sure, Raw Power bears on its rolled-out shoulders the weight of yielding the most ham-fisted sound of their four albums, partially because of the lineup shift putting its star guitarist into the bass man position (following the death of original Stooges bassist Dave Alexander) and partially because Ziggy Stardust himself David Bowie championed The Stooges into a spiffy recording contract with Columbia Records. Bowie assumes an unfair shake of blame for the grimier tone of Raw Power, (and this special edition features his original cut of the album) but do consider the title of the album: Raw Power. We're talking raw, not fully-cooked. On this, the album is a tremendous success and it's taken this generation of underground metalheads and punkers to acknowledge both the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges as forefathers of multiple genres: punk, garage rock and glam. All raw, all off-the-cuff, all gloriously catastrophic.

We need not flog Raw Power's amplified dick any further because it is what it is. Iggy and the Stooges never recovered from their own quake following Raw Power and it wasn't until 2007 when we saw an official Stooges release, The Weirdness. Of course, that album is a gleeful nostalgia ride instead of flat-out weird like one of the bonus songs presented on this Raw Power Legacy Edition: "Doojiman."

"Doojiman" defies description with its voodoo chile scatter tempo and toked-up guitar jam backing up Iggy, who gives new meaning to the phrase "mumbo jumbo." He scats, shrieks and twists his tongue into perverse lunacy. A perfect addition to an already jacked-up album.

The Raw Power Legacy Edition also throws in a rehearsal performance of another previously unreleased song "Head On," a tune which rides on the primary bossanova riff in the breakdown of The Doors' "L.A. Woman." "Head On" also appears in a raucous live section on the second disc of the Raw Power Legacy Edition. The concert presented here, titled "Georgia Peaches" is a superior live documentation of The Stooges prior to their melting point. Everything's clicking in this performance to the point Iggy's taunting his audience to eat his ass. At one point, he stops the action and goads someone in the crowd into a fistfight. Reckless, confrontational and flamboyant. In other words, pure Iggy Pop.

Iggy writes a gorgeous ode to Raw Power and The Stooges in the new liner notes of this double album, comparing it to a barn dance of old and his writing is off-the-chart. Also featuring anecdotes from Scott Asheton and James Williamson, all of it is a fitting tribute to their fallen comrade Ron Asheton, who passed away last year. Journalists Brian J. Bowe and Kris Needs paint the story of Raw Power and why it is held on the same mantle as the MC5's Kick Out the Jams.

It's ironic both MC5 and The Stooges are best-known for their messiest output, even if Kick Out the Jams to this day bears the single-greatest moxy for a rock band by releasing their debut slab as a live album. Back in the USA is the MC5's gold nugget and depending on who you ask, Fun House is the same for The Stooges.

It's the bare-bones knuckle drags of Kick Out the Jams and Raw Power which audiences and critics relate to. Both are the ultimate statements of "fuck you" and if that isn't punk, then wander cluelessly in a HIM shirt all you like and wait for enlightenment.

Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, April 17, 2010

CD Review: Ratt - Infestation

Ratt - Infestation
2010 Roadrunner Records/Loud 'n Proud Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

2010 has become a time warp for metal music. The good news is very little of the output released from the old school has sucked. In fact, most of it has been a pinpointed nudge towards returning to the real, or at least returning to the mark of what gained bands their yesteryear prominence.

Would you think in 2010 we'd be citing new albums from Megadeth, Testament, Ozzy, Slash, Overkill, Heathen, Forbidden, Exodus, Scorpions, Armored Saint, Slayer, Keel, Trident, Lillian Axe and Krokus, all in succession and plenty more hairball heaven on the way? Pinch me, are you sure it's not '87 again?

Sure, a handful of these groups have delivered a steady stream of albums with almost no layoff along their courses. Still, there's a conspiracy at work this year amongst the old school bands. From the tawdry memories of fadeout failures in some cases, they are collectively rising to reclaim their legitimacy.

Even these bands of Metal Mania know only a handful of tried 'n trues stand to cash in on their burned-away fame. At one point in time, Ratt was considered a tried 'n true hard rock band. At least through Reach for the Sky, Ratt was a commercial powerhouse who'd sunk their own ironsides by the time 1990's Detonator arrived to a mostly disinterested audience. "Shame Shame Shame" and "Lovin' You's a Dirty Job" being two of Ratt's most memorable tunes, they nevertheless became one of the first casualties in the Great Grunge Kill-Off.

11 years following their ill-fated self-titled album, a myriad of legal skirmishes and the loss of guitarist Robbin Crosby (who broke many rock fans' hearts with the news of destitution preceding his death), Ratt comes back for more with 3/5 remaining of their core lineup. Infestation is their 7th official studio album and while it creeps in a few spots, there's no arguing the Ratt pride is back at its raunchy best.

Added to the Ratt 'n Roll funhouse for 2010 is Quiet Riot ace Carlos Cavazo and hangabout bassist Robbie Crane, along with charters Stephen Pearcy, Warren DiMartini and Bobby Blotzer. Frankly, if we're to stomach another lineup overhaul at this point in Ratt's sometimes bizarre career, at least there's a family familiarity on Infestation, which is why it rocks with ease. And of course, sleaze.

The primary vibe of Infestation is a corraling of their first four full-lengths, even if "Last Call" comes off like a merge between the Ratt EP and Reach for the Sky. The album settles into its acquainted platinum leathers with "Eat Me Up Alive," "Best of Me" and their pole-dancing number "Look Out Below." The first two tracks are the album's best, but the closing cut "Don't Let Go" and "A Little Too Much" stamp out any preconceptions Ratt is trying to fully hijack their past catalog.

Granted, the opening chugs of "Lost Weekend" are heisted straight outta "Lack of Communication," yet the new jam takes on its own party-hearty identity, though still sounding at home in an eighties bikini waxed sex comedy. Nothing new from the Ratt trick bag, which comes filled with condoms, trophy thongs and little black books guarding past and present hookup digits.

In some ways you want to tell Stephen Pearcy to grow up as he slavers about digging tight ass and pokes through his pants on "Look Out Below" and "Take a Big Bite." At least he packs enough vocal punch to back up the songs' erecticle superciliousness. He delivers his trademark pining candor on Infestation with convincing machismo he's bound to lure a few ladies into his den of sin--MILFs and a few twenty-somethings alike. The fact he sounds as sharp as he did on Invasion of Your Privacy and Dancing Undercover is remarkable at this point. Stephen Pearcy sells it on Infestation like Klaus Meine does for the Scorpions on Sting in the Tail.

Warren DiMartini and Carlos Cavazo swing with synergy, even if that was already well-established with John Carabi preceding Cavazo's arrival. DiMartini and Cavazo trade spotlights with equal aplomb as the Crosby years, if not with extra refinement. These are a pair of pros who can fiddle out snazzy guitar solos in a half daze.

"Take Me Home" is a brave step out of the center for Ratt. Some will look upon it as a power ballad, something Stephen Pearcy didn't need to field until his time in Arcade. On Infestation, "Take Me Home" grows merit on the light airy synths hidden behind the gradually heaped amplification.

"As Good as it Gets" is pure throwaway, yet misnomer aside, Infestation is a fist banging, coochie trolling pleasure trip down Sunset Strip Memory Lane.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, April 16, 2010

One From the Vault: Type O Negative - "September Sun" video

RIP Peter Steele...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Take 5 With Chris Amott of Arch Enemy

Photo (c) 2010 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Metal Minute: A lot of people have made a big to-do about your brief departure from Arch Enemy during the Doomsday Machine cycle. Where’d you drift off to and what made you want to come back?

Chris Amott: I joined a religious cult! No, I’m sorry, there was no dramatic thing that happened. Being in a band for ten years, when you’ve done one thing for more than ten years or a long period of time from when you started, what else is there? I’d never done anything else. Plus the business side of it was bad; we weren’t making a whole lot of money. We didn’t have any insight to the business side of it. The manager (at the time) wasn’t really working out. You’d play in front of 200 people in Germany or something, then you’d go to Japan and play in front of 2000 and still make the same kind of money. There wasn’t a lot to it. When I came back, it was a different situation. I was hungry again to play and tour, so it’s better now.

MM: With Arch Enemy’s latest release The Root of All Evil, you guys give Angela (Gossow) a chance to bridge her era to the old days, which is the whole foundation to this project, right?

CA: Yes, those first three albums had a different singer (Johan Liiva) but there was a lot of good material on those albums and it’s nice to bring them back. Some of the fans have been wanting to hear the old songs and we’d play them, but some fans would ask what they were because they were from the pre-Angela period. We just wanted to get those songs out there again because there’s a lot of good stuff from those albums.

MM: You just toured with Exodus on the Tyrants of Evil Tour and they also took advantage of modern technology to re-record some of their analog back catalog as Let There Be Blood. Both projects, I think, turned out strong. The songs I think came out really superb on The Root of All Evil are “Silver Wing” and “Demonic Science.” Which of these re-recordings really sticks out for you?

CA: All the songs came out really good. I wasn’t really there when Angela did the vocal tracks but she changed it around a bit and did it in her style. I can’t single out any one track, although “Pilgrims” stands out. I really like the mixes on this album; I think it’s better than Rise of the Tyrant. I know it was much cheaper.

**At this point in the conversation, Chris makes note of liking my handheld cassette recorder used in the interview, prompting the next question

MM: So what gives you a better feel for working with tapes and analog instead of say, Pro Tools?

CA: Until two years ago, I used only tapes for riffs and ideas, but now I use my computer. It’s kind of cool, because when I started doing albums, the first album was on a tape. There was nothing digital, really, and there was no sending email then. Michael and I would send letters, maybe a fax then, so I’ve seen the transition into the digital era. In about ’99, it was more emailing and stuff like that. Still, not much has changed; it stays the same. Some people like to talk it up too much. Some producers we’ve worked with make it too un-organic, you know? It’s getting too perfect now. You can see it in the music; you can see if it’s uneven, something you maybe wouldn’t hear that well if you did it with a tape. Nowadays you can zone in on stuff too much, I think. You’ve got to get used to that, too. Nowadays it’s all perfect. You can lift whole sections in a song and move them around, which is creative in a way too. You can rearrange a song afterwards. It would be really weird putting out an album like Black Earth. No, we’ve got our style with Arch Enemy now and we want everything to be audible. Everybody plays well in the band, you know, so we want everything to be heard. So I like the sound of it now.

MM: Your Armageddon projects Embrace the Mystery and Three are being re-released. You’ve been singer, guitarist, songwriter in Armageddon, so how did it feel being in control of everything versus being part of Arch Enemy?

CA: Well, Armageddon was never a band, really. We only did two shows in 2001 and I sang on the second album, but Arch Enemy’s my band, you know? Armageddon was just a studio project. The songs I wrote I rehearsed and recorded them like solo albums. My brother helped me with the first one back in ’97. He wrote the lyrics, a bit of sci-fi, about the destruction of planet Earth, Armageddon, you know? It was all good because I wanted to do some more music outside of Arch Enemy. Two years later our manager said I should keep the name Armageddon instead of just my name. I thought it was a good idea. I have a new solo album, Follow Your Heart, which is going to be released in Japan. There will be all clean vocals and it’s not metal at all.

(c) 2010 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 4/14/10

Dang, ya'll, another Wednesday's upon us? I'm up late streaming the new Deftones album Diamond Eyes in preparation for a scheduled interview this week. Sounding really good; crunchy yet melodic and airy at times. Very solid songwriting as well. I've always loved this band and I'm happy to hear them sounding this confident.

Over at Dee Snider's House of Hair Online, check out my interview with WASP legend Blackie Lawless. And while we're on the interviewing front, come back here to The Metal Minute tomorrow for a Take 5 session with Chris Amott of Arch Enemy. Reviews are stacking up on me like the old days...looking forward to the new October File album especially. I've already previewed the tracks and burned a copy...smokin' stuff from those UK Killing Joke-esque crushers.

Last week was a slacker one for me site-wise, but double-crushed overall. I have some killer things pouring on tap here for you, so be your groovy-cool selves and stay tuned...

Dirt Mall - Pacifuego
Dirt Mall - Got the Goat By the Horns
Jon Oliva's Pain - Festival
Deftones - Diamond Eyes
Deftones - Around the Fur
Deftones - White Pony
Obituary - Darkest Day
Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void
Keep of Kalessin - Reptilian
The Ocean - Heliocentric
Dio - Master of the Moon
Howard Jones - Dream Into Action
Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo
Devo - Freedom of Choice
Devo - Duty Now For the Future
Devo - New Traditionalists
Krokus - Hoodoo
Ratt - Infestation

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One From the Vault: Keep of Kalessin - "Ascendant" video

In honor of their upcoming album, Reptilian, a drift back to 2008 and one badass song from Keep of Kalessin...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

CD Review: Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void

Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void
2010 Century Media Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Who's the gothiest of these bands: Opeth, Katatonia, Type O Negative, My Dying Bride or Dark Tranquillity?

Most bets will land on Opeth, but the dark horse runner (pun intended) of these well-established artisans of atmospheric metal has to be Dark Tranquillity. Perhaps their international fanbase has taken a little longer to corral than their contemporaries, but Dark Tranquillity has lurked, sculpted, thrashed and woven a sometimes-overlooked legacy hailing back to 1989. Thus are they equal to their Goth metal brethren or should they even be held accountable?

Opeth, In Flames and Soilwork may be the most prominent Swedes on the metal scene right now but Dark Tranquillity has reserved a loyal following of their own and it is their fans who hold them accountable.

We Are the Void is Dark Tranquillity's ninth studio album, holding true to the adage of quality over quantity in a career surpassing two decades. Initial feedback to the We Are the Void's debut single "Shadow in Our Blood" was dicey. By now most of Dark Tranquillity's legion have had the opportunity to get their ears wrapped about this disc, which insiders say is the connector piece to the band's previous album Fiction.

Hopefully the fans found merit in We Are the Void, because Dark Tranquillity--minus a couple of dragged-out tunes--cascade their work on this album. The closing track "Iridium" might be one of the most textured and opulent tunes Dark Tranquillity has ever penned. Ditto for the titanic din of "Arkhangelsk," not far in mindframe from Enslaved's Isa album. What worked for their Norwegian kindred ought to pay out for Dark Tranquillity as "Arkhangelsk" writhes on hypnotic skeins of bleakness. Martin Hendrikson and Niklas Sundin's solos on "Arkhangelsk" are on par with Ivar Bjornson on Enslaved's brilliant "Neogenesis."

"Shadow in Our Blood" shows a Dark Tranquillity ready to command a wider, longer-coming audience as it opens We Are the Void similar to Arch Enemy's more recent output. Hell, put Mikael Stanne next to Angela Gossow on this tune and you might have to second-guess who's who. "Shadow in Our Blood" comes to play with its speed and hooks. "The Fatalist" also takes a shot at a mainstream catch, but the main piano melody from Martin Brandstrom is engaging and beautifully sets up the thrash parts with surreptitious linchpins.

Those concerned about Dark Tranquillity slackening the fierceness they've established on their past few albums (Damage Done, Character and Fiction) will have nothing to worry about on We Are the Void. The title track is a bottlerocket of thrash even with a sparkling scaleback and detailed breakdowns. Parts of "Surface the Infinite" usher the fastest outlay on We Are the Void, even with melodic drops on the choruses. "The Grandest Accusation" grinds on occasion against it's dominating slow weaves and gorgeous aggression.

It's the tempered "Dream Oblivion" and "At the Point of Ignition" where Dark Tranquillity overthink themselves. Both songs have strong synth supplements from Martin Brandstrom and "At the Point of Ignition" does rage in spurts. However, there's something cautious to these songs which slows the album's momentum in their respective places. Subsequently, "Her Silent Language" might've fallen on its head as a Type O Negative rip if not for its slick harmony and effortless tempo.

When this album is on (which is most of the ride), it's the mark of a veteran metal act who know all the rules of their art, many of which they helped established--even if At the Gates gets most of the credit. We Are the Void tries too hard in a couple spots to branch the likeability of this band, which is unnecessary. When your main identity is a Goth-death-thrash act, it takes more than wherewithal to change things up, and here is where some of their hardcore are flagging them.

Nevertheless, We Are the Void is as smart and entertaining as any metal record you'll get with this year.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 4/7/10

Howdy, folks, hope everyone's getting a little extra in their hump day however they get it...

Spring's finally here, shorts are out of the dresser (actually, they never really went away for me since I wear them year-round in the house) and that means heavy duty on the outdoor action. Staining, mowing, preening, trimming, running, grilling, chasing the boy around, taking pictures, writing observations about the world for future and current material. That's living life. Amazing there was any time for music, honestly. Well, in my world it's not too hard.

Been quite busy on the phone talking with colleagues and people giving me generous time and advice about marketing my novel, which I'm editing like a demon. To each and every one of them, thank you for shooting straight and helping me stay focused on what's real.

Stephen King issues the wise "kill your darlings" motif in his brilliant mini-manual On Writing and it's served me well chopping pages down, trimming the fat, removing unnecessary adverbs you unconsciously (ha!) spew in a flurry while in creation mode. The first sweep is halfway finished, then I'll be going back to decorate certain spots. I'm ahead of my personal deadline and feeling great about this project.

With that, stay tuned for more reviews and overdue flotsam headed your way this coming week.

Hell, let's make this fun, readers. You pick my next review amongst the following: Dark Tranquillity, Finntroll, Raven, The Ocean, Exodus or Krokus.

Blue Oyster Cult - Secret Treaties
Bob Dylan - Bringing it All Back Home
Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding
Bob Dylan - Desire
Fates Warning - Parallels
Icarus Witch - Draw Down the Moon
Grace Jones - Nightclubbing
Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um
Beatallica - Masterful Mystery Tour
Orange - Phoenix
Devil's Whorehouse - Blood & Ashes
Brown Jenkins - Dagonite
Patti Smith - Horses
Iggy Pop - Lust for Life
Finntroll - Nifelvind

Monday, April 05, 2010

Saturday, April 03, 2010

CD Review: Beatallica - Masterful Mystery Tour

Beatallica - Masterful Mystery Tour
2009 The Oglio Entertainment Group, Inc.
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The art of the rock parody requires a skilled hand if it is to become the stuff of legend. Most cases it's not. The Spinal Tap lads, genuises in the beginning, overkilled themselves with a few "comebacks" since first gaining notoriety through Rob Reiner's 1984 classic spoof film This is Spinal Tap. Nevertheless, "Big Bottom" "Gimme Some Money" and "Sex Farm" remain chuckle-rock tideovers, which opens breathing space in the rock and metal underground for more comedy.

Humorist musicians have run amok in their clown shoes of rock over the years, the most prominent being "Weird" Al Yankovic throughout the eighties and Tenacious D the subsquent decade. There's also been gonzo groups such as Dread Zeppelin, Psychostick, Bloodhound Gang, Mojo Nixon, Altar Boyz, ApologetiX, Dub Side of the Moon and even S.O.D. and Gwar. Let's not forget Napoleon XIV's claustrophobic tambourine stomp from 1966, "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!" Even better the song is played in reverse on the flipside of the 45! Now that's comedy!

Then there's Beatallica. What else can you say about a band mashing Metallica and Beatles songs together in laud 'n lard fashion? Did anyone expect this goofy riff ride to last a third trip? Seriously?

By all rights this should've been the underdog's friar club enjoying a good raspberry at the expense of the majors. After all Beatallica went through to gain an unexpected following and keep themselves on the clean side of a potentially sticky settlement with Sony/ATV Publishing, they should've clocked out with a happy ending to their hard day's night.

Their debut album Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub is essentially mission accomplished, grab some brewskis and start making plans to get real. All You Need is Blood came around in 2008 with Beatallica's rip on The Beatles' groovy love-in "All You Need Is Love," repeated in 13 different languages...and justice for none.

Now the Beatallica brigade have decided their mission is hardly accomplished. Given none other than Lars Ulrich bailed their smarmy keisters out of trouble by lending them Metallica's attorney, one would've thought Michael Tierney (known as his stage de plume "Jaymz Lennfield") satisfied with clean hands.

Granted, "Leper Madonna," "Ktulu (He's So Heavy)," "Anesthesia (I'm Only Sleeping)" and "Hey Dude" from Sgt. Hetfield's are absolute riots, but some argue the joke should've stopped there.

Negative. In for a third haunt (and haunt is a pretty good word to describe this alter-band), Beatallica brings out the blender once again on their latest spoof, Masterful Mystery Tour.

By now, you get the gist of what Beatallica's about. They enjoy a monster following and yeah, they're clever as hell at what they do. Still, a novelty is a novelty, albeit in Beatallica's case, one with surprising staying power.

At times, Masterful Mystery Tour is a freaking hoot. Just hearing the gang vocals woof "OOOOOOOHHHHH!" on "Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice" along to the main melody of The Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life" is hilarious. So is the psychobilly stance emerging through "I'll Just Bleed Your Face." Awesome guitar solo on that one, to boot. "I Want to Choke Your Band" will cause you to spit up whatever you're eating or drinking when it comes on, it's that damned silly.

"The Battery of Jaymz and Yoko" picks the locks of Beatallica's rock sanitarium with an insane bash and splash merging Metallica's "Battery" and The Beatles' groovy rocker "The Ballad of John and Yoko." It's perversely crafted as Beatallica smuggles more than its share of Metallica with an intentionally loose recreation, and you question where it's going. That is, until you hear The Beatles leak into the chorus and damn, it gets kinda hooky!

"Masterful Mystery Tour" itself is a gas in theory, hokey in execution. With Tierney fusing in a beer-laced cadence to his mostly-convincing James Hetfield mimickry, the title track is sheer looney tunes, particularly when it uses the solo section of "Master of Puppets" as its breakdown.

The cut which is likely going to cause the most laughter (and probably a bit of provocation) is "And I'm Evil?" Beatallica not only sticks it to their famous muses, but The Misfits as well, to the point a Glenn Danzig impersonator howls all over the track. Give Beatallica extra credit points for taking their farce to such levels as to roast Metallica's early years favorite band. "And I'm Evil?" is a risk (set largely to the melody of The Beatles' "And I Love Her"), even as Tierney sniggles a series of "Die Die Die! Die Die Die!" shouts straight out of The Misfits' "Die Die Die, My Darling." Dicey, but funny stuff.

"Everybody's Got a Ticket to Ride Except for Me and My Lightning" is sure to become a instant fan favorite because of the madcap switch between thrash bursts and knuckle-dragging verses. Ditto for "Hero of the Day Tripper," which is pure bar band slosh and guaranteed to get bottles tipping and shaggy man-fros flopping in midair.

If Beatallica weren't such detail-oriented musicians, Masterful Mystery Tour would have to be dismissed as an overplayed knock-knock-orange-banana tease. As convincing as Tierney pulls off his James Hetfield homage, and as delicious as his nutty lyrics come off, all of it does wear and grate after awhile. There's only so many times you can hear deliberately yanked "Yo-oh-ohhhhhhs" and "Yeeeeeeaahhhhhhhs" no matter how solid the playing is. And "The Thing that Should Not Let it Be?" Ouch. Cute try, but it sounds more like Prince's "Purple Rain" played at a high school talent show. Oh, wait a minute; that was the in-joke, wasn't it?

Okay, so Beatallica has the blessings of their "masters" to continue riding as the Fab Four Horsemen. That's good news for their fans, and let them eat cake in harmony with this sugar and sludge nonsense. Bad news once Tierney and his lightning riders have beat the core catalogs to death in search of the next great metallic nyuk. Somehow you just don't see "Dirty Window" snuggling up to "Across the Universe," but hey, it's a brave world Beatallica dwells in.

Shudder to think, you get the feeling there's a clan of Morrison 'n Mustaine worshippers calling themselves MegaDoors secretly stashed in some hidden nook of the world, spit-shining their chopshop ditty, "Break On Through to Hangar 18."

Rating: ***

Thursday, April 01, 2010

CD Review: Armored Saint - La Raza

Armored Saint - La Raza
2010 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Of all the old guard metal bands to resurface this year, one of the most-embraced is Armored Saint. One thing's for sure, ever since the passing of Dave Prichard, Saint fans have only gotten small doses of the group, but when they have, it's counted for much. Both Symbol of Salvation and Revelation are treats for their fans, even if released in hard times for American metal. Symbol of Salvation is regarded by many Armored Saint fans as equal to their breakout classic March of the Saint, if not better.

The story behind the short-sailing of the Saint through latter-day red times falls upon the shoulders of John Bush, who still today carries more burden than he should for taking Anthrax in a bold direction. Granted, of the Bush era 'thrax releases, the best are inarguably Sound of White Noise and We've Come for You All. To the naysayers of John Bush-era Anthrax, look out. There's some legal mumbo jumbo to attend to, but it's possible he might be rescuing Worship Music in part or even the entire endeavor now that Scott Ian and company have parted ways with Dan Nelson before that new regime even got its chance.

There's a reason John Bush worked in Anthrax. It's because he's a damned good singer who, like Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford or Udo Dirkschneider, has a signature cadence to any project he lends his pipes to. Bush is fluid, on-the-dime, occasionally soulful and all you'd want in a classic metal frontman. He's a clockpuncher of his trade, which is meant as a compliment. John Bush checks in, puts in a hard shift and the output is always exemplary. Thus his place in Armored Saint is irreplaceable, which is one reason we've waited a decade for the band to issue new product.

Of course, everyone knows Joey Vera enjoyed a healthy stint in Fates Warning, as well as Engine, Chroma Key, OSI and of course, a fill-in gig for Frank Bello in the 'thrax alongside his good buddy John Bush. Thankfully, Vera reached out to Bush following the Belladonna-in-Belladonna-out chaos and confusion in the Anthrax camp, a quirky fallout which also left Bush himself a casualty.

Wrangling Phil and Gonzo Sandoval back onto their mounts for another metal brigade charge out of Los Angeles, Armored Saint, 4/5ths represented from their glory days prove there's plenty of magic and stealth after a ten year layoff with their no-nonsense latest album, La Raza.

Translated from Spanish as "the people" or "the race," and ironically the handle of Los Angeles radio station 97.9, Armored Saint imports a few flamenco nods in the form of acoustic intros and backing percussion on La Raza. Otherwise, this album plays straight to Armored Saint's strengths between March of the Saint, Delirious Nomad and Raising Fear, only with a modern spit shine buffed out by vets of the scene.

"Head On," "Get Off the Fence," "La Raza" and "Blues" are dialed up straight from the vintage Sunset Saint catalog, yet there's a refinement and spiffier production courtesy of Joey Vera, Bryan Carlstrom and Alice in Chains' Dave Jerdan (who also helmed Symbol of Salvation) which makes the analog Chrysalis years of Armored Saint seem primitive. "Get Off the Fence" and "Blues" whip up a Guns 'n Roses and L.A. Guns nuance in addition to their own brand of rope-skipping power metal and it's thrilling how easy they make it sound.

La Raza makes no pretentions about remaining true to Armored Saint's past, yet the opening number "Loose Cannon" is one the group's finest-penned tunes ever, building from a War-esque calypso tap-tempo and a harrowing acoustic intro before galloping with a knowing pride they'll hook their audience instantly. "Loose Cannon" wields a fabulous chorus, a hard-driving beat and riff strikes which will have forty-somethings air guitaring with misty eyes. It summons a rare case of back-that-sucka-up which will make it hard to let the rest of the album come forth.

Let it ride, because "Left Hook from Right Field" is metallic genius in its stationary chord changes, set to rolling toms and wicked wristing. A reserved bridge allows John Bush to soften up his vocals in preparation for a raunchy guitar solo and finally a double-hammer slam-dunk from Gonzo in the finale. They should've called this one "Crunch Hooks from Our Peavey Stacks."

"Chilled" is another LA-bled rock tapper with shadowy verses, high hat spritzing, slick vocals (both on the front and back) and a steady bass throb from Joey Vera. It's as much Keel and Dokken in feel as it is Armored Saint, which is more agreeable than one might think. Santana-felt percussion slaps and bass lines usher in the title track. It rumbles on the legs of Gonzo, who stays behind-the-beat on the verses then shifts tempo altogether on the slower, uplifting choruses. Hang out for a terrific series of conga and string washes in the middle section of the 6:40 mini epic. This branching out on "La Raza" shows Armored Saint eyeing an inspired future while never losing sight of their identity.

Recording in today's scene with fancier equipment and the marks of long-standing professionalism, Armored Saint demonstrates a willingness to be true to themselves and to their roots instead of huckstering their respected name in a false guise. La Raza is exceptionally smart in its business and it comes within striking distance of Symbol of Salvation and March of the Saint.

If you were foolish enough to ask if Armored Saint could deliver after all this time, spin and hear for yourselves. Plainly stated, La Raza is one of the finest pure metal albums of the year.

Rating: ****