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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thank You

Steve Harris - Iron Maiden (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Well, chums, I'm afraid it's come to that point where I must wind down The Metal Minute.

I've had to step aside once before, but I've reached an impasse where my familial obligations and new avenues of opportunity have forced me into this decision. I'm not trying to pull a Brett Favre here, folks. I simply lack the personal time as a working man, father and husband and I find myself with continued pressure to find compensating work in order to protect my family and nurture my growth as a writer.

I have multiple projects in progress and a couple of decent leads to hopefully push me forward in what I love doing. At the same time, I must continue to hunt for extra income in order to scratch out a living. Those who've read me a long time know the past few years have presented more challenge than reward and this year is no exception. Sorry, but the starving artist method doesn't work for me. The bills need paid and my son is growing so quickly as kids do. I have to be his father on top of a writer and therein lies the rub. I love music and I've cherished the opportunity to be a rock journalist all these years, but I love my family more and they must come first. Thus The Metal Minute must take an indefinite nap.

The site will remain live, of course, but as mentioned last week, I do have a new blog I would like to coax you over to, The Crash Pad of Ray Van Horn, Jr. Simply click here:
The Crash Pad of Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The Crash Pad of Ray Van Horn, Jr. will be updated regularly. In fact, there's plenty of material there for you to gnaw on right now, so please visit and bookmark the site as you have so generously with this one. I will gladly trade links with you. The tone of the new blog will be less regimented but I'll still talk about film, music, books and life. Its primary purpose will serve as a homebase for all of my writing projects and announcements, plus whatever's lurking inside my twisted cranium. As support for the site grows, I could foresee throwing up archive excerpts of a few old interviews I've done and perhaps new ones. For instance, I have chats with Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, Laura Pleasants of Kylesa and Viveca Hawkins and Thomas Pridgen of The Memorials that I've had stashed, two for Retaliate #2 before said venture was derailed.

I will remain connected to the entertainment industry. If anything, I've only just begun to grow with it. I welcome any proposed assignments, gigs, collaborations and grant opportunities. Please contact me using the email address noted here at the site and pitch away! Or simply let me know what you folks are up to and bounce on over to The Crash Pad.

As always, I thank each and every one of you for making this site a success. All of the bands, labels, video distributors and publicists have kept me fired up when coffee doesn't necessarily cut it in the mornings. Thanks to Devin Walsh, Alex Gilbert and those donating their writing talents to give me a break now and then when I needed one. Special thanks to Sheila Eggenberger for more than a year's worth of off-site camaraderie. Her social network cheerleading of this site was mega. Thanks to my regular commentators and playlist playmates. The Negative Nancies and potshot artists were thankfully kept to a minimum here at The Metal Minute, always a good thing when you're building your rep. I'm honored to have all of you in my stable of friends. To the thundering tune of Black Tusk and Chthonic this morning, I'm with you always.

I'll see you when I see you.

Visit me at: The Crash Pad of Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Album/DVD Review: Doro - 25 Years in Rock

Doro - 25 Years in Rock
2011 Nuclear Blast Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Gads, can Doro Pesch throw a party. No doubt the memories of her 25th anniversary bash are still fresh in Doro's mind, to which she must be clinging in the aftershock of losing her Long Island home from the remnants Hurricane Irene. Hopefully at this point, the metal queen is licking her wounds watching the playback of her CD/DVD combo pack, 25 Years in Rock, because it was one hell of a show. As if her 20th anniversary concert wasn't memorable enough.

Five years have swept by since Doro's famous double decade gala (i.e. 20 Years a Warrior Soul) in her hometown of Dusseldorf, Germany. That outrageous revelry included guest appearances by Lemmy and Mikkey Dee of Motorhead, Udo Dirkschneider, Saxon, Blaze Bailey, Jean Beauvoir and a stint with her old Warlock running mates. It was a metal gig for the ages, yet for her quarter century celebration, Doro ups the ante with a major league stage set, pyro tech, metalhead cheerleaders, backing vocalists dressed like monks and an unbelievable cavalcade of guests.

Back to Dusseldorf we go for 25 Years in Rock and this is one of the loudest crowds you'll ever witness in a near-capacity-filled auditorium which Doro and her band pummels with tenacity. Even better that the two-and-a-half hour, 27 song set comprising 25 Years in Rock is loaded nearly halfway with Warlock songs on top of some of Doro Pesch's mightier solo cuts, including some from her most recent album, Fear No Evil. A generous portion of the Warlock tunes are fielded by Doro's current ensemble featuring Johnny Dee (drums), Oli Polatai (keys and guitars), Luca Princiotta (guitars and keys), Nick Douglas (bass) and Joe Taylor (guitars). While these guys are well-versed in the Warlock catalog having played with Doro for so long, it's still a giddy thing they whip out "Earthshaker Rock" and "Hellraiser" from Hellbound on top of the usual round of Triumph and Agony cuts "East Meets West," "Metal Tango," "I Rule the Ruins," "Fur Immer" and of course, Doro's perpetual rally cry, "All We Are."

Even better the True as Steel lineup of Warlock joins Doro onstage once again for a blistering mini set of "Burning the Witches," "True as Steel" and "Fight For Rock." Peter Szigeti and Niko Arvanitis are demonic shredders as ever, while Frank Rittel and Michael Eurich haven't lost a step either. This Warlock quasi-reunion is nothing short of spectacular, even more so than they were for Doro's 20th anniversary set. Next time, though, we want to hear "Mr. Gold," chums.

Speaking of spectacular, Doro's guest list for 25 Years in Rock is going to remain amongst her finest moments onstage. You have Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth joining Doro for a rocking duet on "Always Live to Win," Jean Beauvoir making a second shindig appearance on "Burn it Up," Chris Boltendahl and Axel Rudi Pell riding shotgun on "East Meets West" and even Warrel Dane steps up to the plate during the Warlock set on "True as Steel." The centerpieces of Doro's guests are of course, her femme rocker vocal section on "Celebrate," including Sabina Classen of Holy Moses, Floor Jansen of After Forever, Jackie Chambers and Enid Williams from Girlschool, Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull of Leaves' Eyes, Liv Jagrell from Sister Sin and Ji-In Cho of Krypteria. Doro unintentionally overpowers her party-down backing section, but you can chalk that up to Doro's enthusiasm and her guests' graciousness to keep the spotlight where it needs to be. As it is, Doro and Tarja Turunen just about bring Dusseldorf to its knees on their duet for "Walking With the Angels."

All pretty incredible stuff, but nothing compared to Klaus Meine and Rudy Schenker coming onstage with Doro's band to rip out a pair of Scorpions covers, "Big City Nights" and "Rock You Like a Hurricane." This suddenly-iconic joining of forces ignites 25 Years in Rock with profound intensity. Meine and Schenker escalate the show with their mere presence and while Doro gags in a couple of spots (no doubt due to the unbelievable pressure set before her to throw down with the kingly Klaus), she soon revs it up along with her band and without a doubt, this will go down as a watermark in Doro's prolific career.

Happier still is how thunderous Doro's Fear No Evil selections sound live. The frequently tinny final cut of the studio album robbed much of its power, now retained in a live capacity. "Night of the Warlock," "Herzblut," "Celebrate" and "Walking With the Angels" are punchy, occasionally rowdy and perfectly punctuated.

25 Years in Rock comes as a triple pack with the live DVD, a hefty behind-the-scenes film (not to mention a huge gaggle of extra live video from Doro's 2,500th concert, Wacken 2009 and more) and a 40 minute audio accompaniment of selections from the show. All-told, one massive replay of a metal fiesta for the ages. Once the stage fills with more metal personalities than you count (Lemmy Kilmister, Tom Angelripper and Alexander Krull amongst them) during "All We Are," it's sheer evidence of how treasured Doro Pesch is to this scene. God bless Doro for as long as she can rock us with her majesty.

Rating: ****1/2

Monday, October 10, 2011

Album Review: Death - Individual Thought Patterns Reissue

Death - Individual Thought Patterns 3CD reissue
2011 Relapse Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

1993 was when I graduated college and entered a crummy, recession-driven job market not altogether unlike the one we're in now. In some ways, I find irony that Death's outrageously memorable Individual Thought Patterns surfaces in both markets. This year, Relapse Records brings us Chuck Schuldiner's fifth album under the Death moniker in a special three-disc reissue featuring live material, a studio outtake of "The Exorcist" and four track demos amidst the bonus features.

Wish I'd tripped across Individual Thought Patterns in 1993 instead of later in life, but you see, the American metal market had been driven underground by apathy and an effective determination to rid the world of hairball heaven. I had already drifted away from metal to explore other genres, though still keeping an ear out for exciting things in the heavy underground. Too bad this one missed my radar initially. As rash a statement as this will be, I now find little in the grunge movement (except for maybe Mudhoney and early Soundgarden) which killed American metal that stands up from a craftsmanship standpoint to Individual Thought Patterns, not to mention Schuldiner's work surrounding this pivotal release. Had the metal world embraced Human, Individual Thought Patterns and Symbolic--not to mention the likewise brilliant Sound of Perseverence from 1998--would the genre have gone down so easily? There's plenty of excuses to dismiss metal and hard rock with Slaughter and Firehouse as its facemen. No excuse whatsoever when you had music as powerful as Death still chugging along beneath the fluff and the glitz.

Consider the superpower lineup flanking Chuck Schuldiner in '93 to record Individual Thought Patterns: Andy LaRoque, Steve DiGiorgio and Gene Hoglan. Of this triumvirate, only LaRoque was a metal household name at the time for his stature as King Diamond's six string impresario. Set against a shredding god like Chuck Schuldiner? Criminey, that's worth your ticket alone. While DiGiorgio and Sadus had farmed a cult audience, the hotshot story of the Individual Thought Patterns ensemble is naturally Gene Hoglan, today one of the hottest drummers on the planet.

If you're reading this, you're more than likely well-acquainted with Individual Thought Patterns, but the quick skinny on this album is that it remains one of Schuldiner's most supreme efforts--and metal's, by attrition. The logical evolution stemmed from 1990's Spiritual Healing and '91's Human, Individual Thought Patterns cultivates an intricate and effortless mash between death metal, thrash and power punch. This is undoubtedly what Schuldiner envisioned before there was ever such a thing as 1987's Scream Bloody Gore.

While Schuldiner has his share of critics (namely those he'd shown the gate over the constant fluctuation of his creative designs), this is one of his statement pieces as a music writer. Even if you don't have the constitution to roll with such ferocity and careening speed, you have to admire Schuldiner's fearless outlining on Individual Thought Patterns. He was one of the first metal freaks aside from Voivod to allow for prog and jazz elements amidst the careening speed, which Individual Thought Patterns well embraces. "Destiny" is a prime example, but you hear it all over the place on this album, thanks in large portion to Steve DiGiorgio's subliminal funk-a-matics.

You still get plenty of velocity throughout this album along with a then-strange musicality. It's so much you understand Schuldiner's ralphing and permissive signature veers which invite periods of scale-driven harmonies on "Out of Touch," "In Human Form," "Nothing is Everything" and "Mentally Blind." Let's not forget "Trapped in a Corner" and "The Philosopher," the latter of which actually made the cut at MTV. "Trapped in a Corner" features some insane jazzy bass from Steve DiGiorgio, even while the song bursts with faster thrash than most anyone playing metal in 1993--though Napalm Death and Morbid Angel would soon change those rules. "The Philosopher" may be the slowest cut on this album (you know MTV wasn't going to take one for "Overactive Imagination" if Schuldiner had cut a video), but it's an ornate distortion bomb dashed by heavy riffs and more of DiGiorgio's say what? Herbie Hancock-esque note plunks.

Of course, the most savory details of Individual Thought Patterns are shared between Chuck Schuldiner and Andy LaRoque, yet the collective efforts thrown into this album are why it is now revered--if not back in 1993. MTV was cool enough to throw Death into its confused rotation, though they disrespectfully served "The Philosopher" up for Beavis and Butthead's verbal cannonade after the cartoon rejects find out that's not the kid from Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" video. As if. No disrespect intended to Pearl Jam, but they couldn't light one of Chuck Schuldiner's farts in the technicality department, though no doubt Beavis and Butthead would welcome such a prospect with maniacal huffing and hawing.

This edition of Individual Thought Patterns is remastered by the illustrious Steve Douches and comes with two CDs of bonus material including a live set from 1993 in Germany. Amongst the live tracks are "Leprosy," "Lack of Comprehension," "Zombie Ritual," "Flattening of Emotions," "Suicide Machine" and "Living Monstrosity," along with "Overactive Imagination," "In Human Form" and "Trapped In a Corner" from Individual Thought Patterns. The third disc contains Individual Thought Patterns demos noodled by Chuck and Gene Hoglan on a four track in December, 1992.

We may living in a recession again, but the times have changed for metal. It's still underground but there's an unspoken respect factor from artists playing other styles, while the late Chuck Schuldiner is now one of the most respected musicians of his time. He may have invited bad karma unto himself by naming his band Death, but his music has become immortal. Individual Thought Patterns is but one chapter in his massive legacy.

Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Van of the Dead DVD Review: The Howling Reborn

The Howling Reborn
2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Of all the franchises to reboot, they just hadda go to the turd cutting Howling series...

Never mind the fact Joe Dante's original film The Howling in 1981 is mostly considered a genre classic, even though it veered away from Gary Brandner's original novel. Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is the closest to Brandner's vision, yet the six sequels following Dante's began a chain of abysmal wretchedness beginning with Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf, one of the most despicable movies ever shot, pick your genre. Not even the heavenly rack of Sybil Danning nor the appearance of Christopher Lee could rescue that turkey. It never really got any better along the way, festering to pointlessness by the time 1995's cruddy Howling VII: New Moon Rising hit the video shelves. Even the interminable Witchcraft series was slightly better than those Howling sequels, and that's saying very little.

Yet here we are again in 2011 with The Howling Reborn, another attempt to breathe honor into a miserable slew of horror dreck. For the second time, Gary Brandner's The Howling II novel is consulted and promptly abandoned. Howling II the film resembled almost nothing of Brandner's vision and while it's a surprisingly decent entry for the first hour anyway, The Howling Reborn takes inspiration from Brandner in the slightest sense and creates its own contemporary stamp upon this series.

Starring Landon Liboiron (Terra Nova), Lindsey Shaw (10 Things I Hate About You) and Ivana Milicevic (Casino Royale), The Howling Reborn offers nothing in tribute to any of its predecessors. It is its own beast, pun intended. For awhile, The Howling Reborn plays like a teen angst Twilight vehicle for werewolves, but ultimately it falls to pieces in a slipshod finale with lame-o wolf digs and a Nowheresville battle resembling the hopeless ending of The Wolf Man remake.

Landon Liboiron plays Will Kidman, a pencil thin high school senior whom, we learn immediately, has a serious problem. He's a freakin' werewolf, borne from a mother who's supposedly killed in an attack from a lycanthrope. As Will nears graduation, he finally bonds with Lindsey Shaw's edgy punkette, Eliana Wynter--whom Will has maintained a longtime crush on. He's sketched her numerous times but has never had the nerve to approach her. Of course, the big reason for that is Eliana has a mad dog Russian boyfriend who routinely kicks the crap out of Will. Will, however, soon flips out and kills the boyfriend en route to the discovery he carries tainted blood.

The Howling Reborn tricks its audience into thinking Eliana is allied with the creepy teen wolf pack skulking around an urban parochial-esque school--one heavily guarded with steel doors. Really, her dark jaggedness is a ruse to push Will into finding his confidence and making his move in her direction. Eliana happens to be falling for him from a distance. Despite a couple of continuity flubs, the bottom line is Eliana's vampish tough girl persona is an act as her refusal to commit body and soul to a man is held in check in wait of the purest form of love. Naturally Will represents this higher love, even as a werewolf. Consequently, Eliana becomes so dedicated to Will she offers him a pact to let him transform her into a werewolf so they can be together eternally. Never mind Eliana never really grieves for her ex-boyfriend, whom Will has shredded. None of it matters after Will puts himself on the line for her once challenged by the werewolf pack hell-bent on recruiting him into their throng. Eliana will face Hell itself with Will at this point.

It's when Will's mother Catherine (Ivana Milicevic) resurfaces in a slinkier image and as the alpha leader of this werewolf clique where Will is forced to make the choice between Eliana or surrendering to the wolfsbane summoning him to the next phase of evolution.

Again, the first hour of The Howling Reborn is relatively well-crafted and for the most part, intriguing. A plus, the acting is tight, the occasional humor (mostly provided by Will's best friend Sachin) is spot-on and for awhile anyway, it seems like director Joe Nimziki has his act together. You allow him the suspension of disbelief hall pass because Nimziki really does seem to want to give horror fans a memorable werewolf flick. With Will videotaping his transformation as evidence lycanthropes exist, all set to go viral as a global warning, this is a pleasant twist upon a beat-to-death genre.

Will is somewhat sympathetic, his widower father is reasonably tragic (later getting picked up and pummeled by his own wife in an unrecognizable form) and Eliana is a plain Jane with an attitude who rocks a plaid skirt and you actually believe she's in love with Will. You're disappointed she doesn't shag him in the library once breathlessly testing his limits, not so much for the nudity scorned, but because you actually care. Point to Nimziki, also one of the film's principal writers. Even though the rave scene where Eliana coaxes Will out to finally meet her face-to-face is unstable due to some overly shifty maneuvers where Nimziki clouds who is who in the werewolf underground lurking at the dance party, we still want to see these kids that point, anyway.

It's when Catherine and her werewolf brood entraps her son and Eliana inside the school with the graduation ceremony going down outside when this film takes a downward spiral. The creatures are bland and unexciting, while the edits of the werewolf attacks are choppy and dizzying. You can tell this is low budget horror by the quick and annoying framing of those ho-hum werewolves. It has nothing to do with establishing fear and paranoia. It's because the costumes stink. God, for the awesome dinner party scene from The Company of Wolves... Strange, though, how the brief but effective slivers of CGI-aided transformations of Catherine's lycanthrope army come long after the hokey showdown. A case of being too much, too late once they come. We needed them far earlier in the film instead of being part of a rush job in an uninspired deneumont.

The film's messy closing finds Eliana emphatically coaxing Will to make love to her and turn her into a werewolf. He does surrender and rakes her back with his claws in partial transformation. By this time, we no longer care about watching them hump, because it's all so clumsy and dumb--especially with a handful of lycanthropes circulating about the school on their trails. Even though Nimziki takes precaution by having Will and Eliana throw discarded pieces of clothing to "throw off" their scents, you just don't buy into it any longer. This is supposed to be looked upon as Eliana's penultimate sacrifice and there's a noble offscreen narrative from Will while he plunges his face into her breasts (sorry fellas, they don't come out) about his generation having no concept of what true love is. Unfortunately, its placement within a high tension moment is just out of rhythm. We needed this revelation in a more intimate setting for us to give a damn.

Eliana naturally later arrives in the nick of time, herself a werewolf, to save Will an inglorious dispatching at the paws of Mommy Wolfie. Meanwhile, the graduation ceremonies are ensuing outside the school in a downpour while all of this stupid carnage ensues. Say what? It's a real shame, this implausibility, because the majority of Joe Nimziki's storyline inside the school is plenty plausible, save for the fact nobody (along with Eliana) seems to give a rat's ass the Russian boyfriend bit it in the stairwell. Even though you suspect there's something awry with Ivana Milicevic when she briefly soothes Will outside school, there's something promising in her prediction of his revenge that doesn't get capitalized on. Yeah, a later scene of Will being served the finger of Eliana's ex on a hot dog roll by one of the clandestine werewolves in the school cafeteria is hilarious, but it's also indication this film is going straight downhill from there.

The Howling Reborn becomes so much of a cheat you don't even care about the epilogue snippets within the end credits. Will's video goes viral across the planet, the world prepares to stand down against a werewolf invasion, electricity goes out to the tune of know what. Whatever.

Seriously, The Howling Reborn might've stood a better chance directly remaking Dante's film, even if it deserves props for trying to roll on its own merits. The merits keep your attention for awhile, but in the end, we want Dee Wallace Stone to show up and rain havoc with a spray of silver-tipped ammunition to lay the whole enterprise to rest, permanently. We'll never get that lucky, though.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Book Review: The Armageddon Chord by Jeremy Wagner

The Armageddon Chord by Jeremy Wagner
2011 kNight Romance Publishing
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

You might know Jeremy Wagner, guitarist from Broken Hope and Lupara. Over the years, you might've read Wagner in the pages of Rip, Terrorizer and Metal Edge. The guy's a metalhead and he has some cred, suffice it to say. He has the qualifications to pen a novel about a metal shredder pit against the forces of evil in a guitar throwdown for the end of days.

The Armageddon Chord is Wagner's debut novel and therein lies the caveat. Wagner's expertise on guitar gear and stage and studio mechanics are par excellence. Also sharp is his knowledge on Egyptian and biblical history. These collide in a quirky R-rated Tales From the Darkside episode, The Armageddon Chord, a story where an unsympathetic guitar wizard is forced by a slimy corporate villain and his deformed Nazi sidekick into opening the gates of Hell.

Wagner's lead, Kirk Vaisto, is considered in this novel's cosmos, the God of Guitar. Kirk, former guitarist of a sleaze rock band, Cardinal Slynn, is running the ruts of a prolific solo career. The most we know of Kirk Vaisto is he rose to fame as a teenage prodigy and currently lives in swank without someone to love, save for his one night stands. Vaisto is relatively comfortable as a loner despite his fame, which leaves him ripe for the wooing by a pair of satanists, conglomerate overlord Festus Baustone and his Hitler-worshipping Egyptologist, Helmut Hartkopff. Helmut has unearthed a lost papyrus of music, the key to raising the devil from his underworld chamber. Helmut's hated financier Baustone simply craves immortality and considers no monetary figure high enough to achieve eternal life, even if life consists of a wasteland thereafter. As we learn, Baustone is so depraved he'll sell out his own offspring to get what he wants. The powermad partners in sin thus seek out Vaisto as a musical medium to finish the translations into playable music form and to expound them as a death sentence against mankind.

The plot of The Armageddon Chord is as nutty as it sounds. Vaisto unwittingly discovers the evil powers lurking behind the music once he scorches them from his bleeding fingers. His studio fries after playing it the first time and possessed by the music, Vaisto is introduced to horrific visions of death orgies, demon armies scalding the earth and his own carcass strapped to a giant guitar. Though he wants nothing to do with the music after learning its destructive capacities, Vaisto is coerced by Baustone and Hartkopff into fulfilling his contractual obligations and worse, extending them to their devious whims. Like Vader to Lando Calrissian, the deal just gets worse.

Along the way, Vaisto finds his former bandmate, Jack Slynn, who was reported to have died, though we learn Slynn has gone underground in fear of of his life. Slynn attracted Baustone's undivided attention after getting his daughter Mona, pregnant, then using her like a piece of trash, going so far as to kick her the gut while carrying their child. Wagner's introduction of Slynn is more the excuse to bring Mona Baustone into the picture. Mona oversees Kirk's translation progress and, go figure, they do the hump-dee-hump and fall in in love. Their bond is "cemented" when Daddy Baustone treats her like a pawn, worse than Jack Slynn ever did.

Vaisto is also confronted by a strange old priest, Father Zacharelli, who brings Kirk a guitar made of fragments from the sacred cross and nails used to crucify Jesus Christ. Though Vaisto is dubious of it all, Zacharelli convinces Vaisto enough to accept the holy guitar, which becomes an instrument of salvation once Kirk has unleashed Hell in a concert spectacle that rattles the entire planet.

To Wagner's credit, he has the guts to show Satan as pure evil and he, better than Stryper ever did, shows the glory of God in the name of metal. As Lucifer really is just a mascot of heavy metal, The Armaggedon Chord taps into the deceiver's vile propensities and exploits them for his story almost as effectively as Mercyful Fate's Don't Break the Oath. A lot of folks reading this story are going to chuckle when Helmut turns into a demon and literally pisses on the dismembered remains of his former benefactor. They're also likely to squint when Wagner has Satan declare himself the brother of Christ and morphs his image into a like representation of Jesus in the attempt to manipulate Kirk.

On the other hand, however, Wagner's novel is full of faults, the sign of a developing writer. You don't really buy into the romance between Kirk and Mona because there's not much glue between them before they skin it and shag one another. You would think Kirk is dubious of Mona, reported by Jack Slynn to be a stalker extreme, albeit the argument could be made Kirk has a soft side for the troubles she'd endured by Jack. Yes, people meet and are smitten by instant attraction, but to have Kirk suddenly cave in to Mona just because they got vertical? There could've been more potatoes with the meat to make us understand why they fell for one another. Love at first fuck? Only in Bon Scott's microcosm.

Worse, you have to wonder how a non-believer suddenly converted after God has chosen him to eradicate the devil has the wherewithal to continue his filthy conduct of speak after all he's been through. Vaisto is literally saved in the story's climax and embraces God's will to act as His channel. There's something virtuous God saw in Kirk Vaisto that Wagner implies but doesn't follow up on. We're to assume Vaisto's God-given gift of virtuosity was bestowed upon him as God's future knight specifically for this showdown. Okay, so we don't expect Vaisto to go puritan afterwards, but all of the excessive profanity in the final chapter tells us Vaisto isn't better off whatsoever for his traumas. Sure, he's reaming out his scuzbag manager for getting him into this mess, but you would think Vaisto learned a little humility.

A lot of the names of things, people and events are schlocky, as if Wagner subconciously mashed Mad and Hustler magazines with Hit Parader in his brain stew. Those, and Spawn comics. Consider band names like Korncobb, Snothole and Armored Darlings, a singer named Dizzy Letchfield and a guitarist named Bag 'O Shit Boggs. Seriously? At one point, the devil speaks like an old woman as he badgers Vaisto. Umm, does anyone else start saying "Why you do this to me, Dami?" in their heads? That's from The Exorcist, in case you miss the reference. While The Armageddon Chord has been compared to Joe Lansdale by one reviewer, Writer of the Purple Sage and Bubba Ho-Tep this is not. Wagner has a minute touch of Lansdale's bizarre hands, but they still need mucho mojo refinement.

Though The Armageddon Chord is a stealthy 253 pages in large print, there are times when Wagner smothers us with more tekkie information than needs be in order to keep things rolling. Wagner is astute in creating a rock 'n roll hell and in many spots he writes compelling passages that turns the book into a steamrolling juggernaut. Unfortunately, there are many cliches and skids that are the mark of a beginner. Aside from Mona, we don't really care too much about any of these people, and many of her lines are just the stuff of male fantasy. When Wagner explicitly describes the sex between Kirk and Mona, it's juicy but it's also Penthouse Forum. Flashing her tits at Kirk when they are separated from one another in trailers prior to the big hellraising concert? Yeah, you get why Wagner uses it as a tension breaker, but would people under such duress really act that way? What happens backstage doesn't always remain there, as Wagner implies in his writing.

Suffice it to say, The Armageddon Chord is absolutely silly, but Jeremy Wagner does demonstrate the ability to pen a start-to-finish concept with enough historical and technical decoration to flesh the venture out. Left with its bawdy elements intact, The Armageddon Chord would make a riotous episode in a Masters of Horror-themed cable anthology.

Not to rip on Wagner too much, because we want to encourage him as an author. Musicians today aren't allowed the luxury of artist development as they flub and flaw on the voyage towards their ultimate voice. Wagner as an individual artist is engaging himself and his audience on the same flux as his associated bands. Let's see what he dishes out next before further tattooing his work or praising it.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Album Review: Wayne Static - Pighammer

Wayne Static - Pighammer
2011 Dirthouse Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

So now we have something we might subtitle "Otsego Solo," the debut album from Wayne Static as an individual artist. Pighammer is the album in question and if your main question is how much different this album is from Static-X, well, not much, honestly. That ends up being a good thing since Static-X is one of the few bands from the long-dead "nu metal" explosion that still carries any weight.

In a concept stewed beneath his electro-shocked tower coif, Wayne Static masterminds a humping 42 minute groove metal album that (on the front) comes off as a ripping merge between Motel Hell, Autopsy, The Human Centipede and Bride of Frankenstein. Pighammer is Wayne Static's intentionally demented quasi concept album about a fetish-oriented plastic surgeon who likes to sew pig snouts to beautiful ladies. For the disarming artwork of Pighammer, it's no surprise Wayne Static utilized his wife, ex-porn star Tera Wray Static.

There's no love dumping on this album, only random bits of Wray Static's sex panting ("Static Killer") and her other haunted vocal plants, while Wayne engineers the guitars, bass, programming, synths and beats. Though this brings the Pighammer enterprise down to a more singular, rawer method of attack, Wayne Static's capacity for hip-shaking furrows does him favor. Start a War and Shadow Zone began an age of stripped for Static-X, so it's only natural Wayne Static follows suit on his own. He keeps the album on a throb for much of the ride before slinking to the finish line on an intentional drag. In other words, very much like a Static-X record.

While the contributions of Koichi Fukuda and Nick Oshiro (and before he split for Soulfly, Tony Campos) create more depth in tone and tempo, at least Wayne Static proves on Pighammer he can assemble a largely entertaining "evil disco" record on his own. The whole pig hammer ethos is a metaphoric smoke screen for Static's actual underlying message: his getting off of drugs.

Sometimes the message is blunt, such as "Get it Together," which you can get the gist in title alone. No doubt Tera has helped Wayne Static do just that, and though the insinuation of a solo record hints possible dischord within the main band, there's no doubt Pighammer is Static's personal purge. He's got it together on the driving "Around the Turn," "Chrome Nation," "Assasins of Youth" and the double-tripped "Thunder Invader," all worthy of a Static-X album, much less this one. Wayne Static's rhythmic scat-huffed vocals are as sharp as ever on these cuts, as are his riffs and electro washes.

Even though Static is relegated more to drum machines on this album, you don't mind it so much since there's still a swing to Pighammer that separates it from industrial and commercial metal, two tags forever heaped upon Static-X but not wholly accurate. Pighammer might've stood better to carry some extra momentum into the final third of the album, once "Shifter" turns the speed knob and sequencers backwards. Still, Wayne Static pours out some nasty riffage and wallowing vocals (drifting into Jonathan Davis territory on "Shifter's" bridges) along with a heaving bob that would steer other bands directly onto FM hard rock radio. "Slave" could have no problem banging out on today's FM next to Nick Oshiro's former band, Seether, while Wayne's chilly synths give the track a trippy shake.

As Koichi Fukuda is romping around with Drugstore Fanatics in the duration of Static-X's hiatus, Wayne Static throws a pretty cool rip 'n rave on Pighammer. It's been 12 years since Static-X's Wisconsin Death Trip, and much of that album's (and Machine's, for that matter) scorching density has been traded away for leaner drives. Pighammer is no different in mentality and is overall impressive as a one-man-jam. Wayne Static has kicked his assassins of youth to the curb through his marriage and his music and that's the bigger picture.

Rating: ***1/12

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 10/5/11

Literally late for the road, so a quick howdy, everybody.

Adding the new Wayne Static solo record and possibly The Howling Reborn to the master list of stuff coming up.

I have a new blog, The Crash Pad of Ray Van Horn, Jr. which I invite you to jump over at More later on what the new blog stands for.

Be true, gang...

Mastodon - The Hunter
Mastodon - Crack the Skye
Opeth - Deliverance
Opeth - Damnation
Opeth - Blackwater Park
Opeth - Ghost Reveries
Opeth - Heritage
Wayne Static - Pighammer
Sleep - Sleep's Holy Mountain
Black Sabbath - Master of Reality
Deep Purple - The Shades of Deep Purple
Deep Purple - Come Taste the Band
Alice in Chains - Facelift
Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
Orange Goblin - Frequencies From Planet Ten
Bitches Sin - The Rapture
War - Anthology 1970 - 1994
Steve Miller Band - Young Hearts: Complete Greatest Hits
Grateful Dead - Wake of the Flood
Janis Joplin with Big Brother - Live at Winterland '68
The Raveonettes - Chain Gang of Love
Run-DMC - s/t
Run-DMC - Tougher Than Leather
Run-DMC - Raising Hell
Givers - In Light

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Van of the Dead Blu Ray/DVD Review: Scre4m

Anchor Bay Entertainment/Dimension Films
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The arrival of Scre4m (or Scream 4, if you prefer) last year was met with mixed reviews and fewer box office returns than Dimension Films and The Weinstein Company had hoped for. After all, Rob Zombie's Halloween cookouts brought them enough duckets to count on a Scream revival. We are living in harsh times where the economy dictates film attendance, yet the critical element to a movie prospering or floundering is what it has to offer jaded, video-addicted audiences stubborn to part with ten bucks a pop.

The thing with Wes Craven's decision to once again helm the horror franchise he began in 1996 is Scre4m knows precisely where we're at as a society. The key is matching up its trademark villain to a world more technologically advanced and more desensitized than when Scream first haunted theaters. By now there's very little jolt and juice behind Ghostface. He/she shows up so frequently in a Scream film the audience is even more benumbed to the Edvard Munch-inspired death persona than a Jason Voorhees romp.

You'd think everything Ghostface has to offer us has been exercised to full elasticity through the first three Scream films. Really, there's very little dynamic to Ghostface. Some young neurotic soul dons the shroud and the ghoul mask, calls all of the victims ahead of time and badgers the piss out them via a voice scrambler. The running gag since Drew Barrymore immortalized frame one of the original Scream has been to query victims about their favorite horror flicks before carving them up.

Suffice it to say, this is exactly what you're going to get in Scre4m, yet the banner phrase "New Decade, New Rules" applies not only the techno dweeb overhauling to bring the series into modern times. It specifically applies to the running farce throughout the Scream series. In the spirit of Scream 2 and large chunks of the original film, Scre4m roasts today's horror realm which is dictated by remakes, reboots and recycling. Indeed, Scre4m deliberately recycles itself in the interest of satirizing itself.

While Scre4m doesn't wholly deliver the impact of its predecessors, you do have to give it props for a blaster cast of refugees from the first three films, i.e. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, mingled with current generation teen sex symbol Emma Roberts and a game gaggle of newer names: Hayden Panettier, Rory Culkin and Adam Brody. Moreover, you have to give Scre4m further props for having the moxy to declare itself a reboot within a reboot. In other words, Ghostface is going old school by recreating the events of the first Scream, only this time, ol' pale puss gets to do it through the world of 4G smart phones, webcams and the internet. Remember, the worldwide web was still relegated to mostly dial-up when the first Scream hit theaters and this film was in danger of similar antiquity by association. At least Generation Tech was around to upgrade it. Otherwise, why bother?

In Scre4m, Neve Campbell's enduring lead Sidney Prescott has done well for herself in the world as author to a non-fiction recount of the traumas she's faced at the multiple hands comprising Ghostface. Why in the world she'd ever want to return to Woodsboro where the previous carnage has ensued is left to the realm of suspension of disbelief, but Sidney's homecoming for a book signing kicks Ghostie back into action. As mentioned, Ghostface's rampaging is designed to mimic the original slayings as a twisted tribute and revamp.

Scre4m begins with a nutty sequence of fakeout intros as part of the ongoing Stab film series which inflates Ghostface's gory macro world. As you'll remember, the spoofy Stab movies within the Scream series were created out of Sidney's bloody encounters with Ghostface. As of Scre4m, we've now come up to Stab 7 (a blatant nyuk nyuk, of course) and a group of horror film geeks at Woodsboro High throw a Stab franchise party which does and doesn't become a focal point for Ghostface's hack 'em manuevers.

Instead of going for the obvious slice up at the party, however, Ghostie shows up in other spots designed to mirror scenes specific to the original film. Always keep in mind with this film that it is intentionally spoofing the whole enterprise even down to the more minute details.

Emma Roberts plays Jill, Sidney's distant cousin who has never met her until Sidney's arrival in Woodsboro. David Arquette's bumbling cop hero Dewey is now the town sheriff, while the sizzling Courtney Cox reprises her reporter with a 'tude lead, Gale. Whatever reported personal problems Arquette and Cox may have had in the time between Scream 3 and Scre4m are professionally put to the back burner. They're nearly as chemically sharp as the previous films, though Dewey takes everything serious to the point of critical mass while Gale just wants him to respect her investigative prowess. After all, she too has written books about the Woodsboro murders and both are put into action in apposite directions while Ghostie does what he does.

While Scre4m tries to fake you out with Jill's hyper-obsessive ex-boyfriend, Trevor (Nico Tortorella), you can pretty much figure out who Ghostface is and who the partner in crime is, since once again, this film is a pointed provocation of the original film. There isn't much amplitude to Scre4m's finale, though you do find yourself shaking your head at how long it takes to wrap up business.

Scre4m is more or less a popcorn horror film in which its characters laugh all the way through Shaun of the Dead and of course, the snarky Stab series. A hilarious jibe from the script comes when the kids at the Stab party are reciting every line in unison. Scre4m wants to be from-the-hip clever like Scream 2 and its genre in-jokes are admirable but not overly riotous. Sometimes Ghostface lingers too long in the midst of a killing, in full pause as if waiting for Craven to yell cut. Somehow, you don't imagine that was part of the intended humor. Still, Scre4m has fun with itself and if you're old school, you have to laugh at the film's torching of contemporary horror "rules," one of which includes using CGI-aided gutting sequences.

Hopefully there's no Stab 8 lingering about...

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Album Review: Mastodon - The Hunter

Mastodon - The Hunter
2011 Reprise Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Mastodon has now reached a critical point in their careers, not that one would assume it to be the case. Riding high on a major label yet commanding the respect of the underground which gave them flight, Mastodon is still one of the mightiest metal acts of this generation--if not the mightiest.

For a band that has written its own rules, Mastodon finds themselves in a precarious position marketing-wise. Normally no one recording a second indisputable masterpiece as Mastodon did in 2009 with Crack the Skye would have to answer to any powers but their own. Yet, where Mastodon finds themselves as of their fifth album The Hunter is in answer to their label--at least to an extent.

"Curl of the Burl," the first single off of The Hunter, is so atypical of Mastodon one automatically feels the band was compelled to write a straightforward rocking ditty to appease Reprise/Warner Brothers. After all, the megalabel conglomerate has invested a fair chunk into Mastodon and eventually the check comes due. In this case, Mastodon has to pay up with a potential hit single--or at least a sincere attempt at one. "Curl of the Burl" is a rhythmic chugger that takes some getting used to if you're still hung over from the dizzying sludge prog Mastodon has thrown at their listeners from Leviathan on up. "Curl of the Burl" is FM friendly and thus the track has nudged its way through the airwaves. We're happy for Mastodon, but still leery. Motley Crue and Metallica were never the same after FM gobbled them up.

Would we say Mastodon has sold out? Absolutely not. Would we say they've crossed over? Well, at least through the first few tracks of The Hunter we could say they've made a case for mainstream acceptance. Albeit the safe and steady radio hawks are likely going to be tailspun by the time "Stargasm" and "Octopus Has No Friends" start whirling like the Mastodon we know and love.

The sure shot statement about The Hunter, however, is that Mastodon has dipped back into the gargantuan riff structure and prog patterns of Leviathan and replicated them with a veteran's polish. While there's a curious perfection to this Leviathan update, this also permits Mastodon to include occasional sublets of Led Zeppelin (i.e. "Octopus Has No Friends") and Yes ("All the Heavy Lifting"). Hell, we get a blatant though tasty rip on the Steve Miller Band at the beginning of "Creature Lives" with a Lucas-esque THX overhaul of the spacey synth intro to Miller's "Jet Airliner."

While "Black Tongue" retains Mastodon's trademark heavy stamping and note bobbing, there's a hair more musicality to it and therein lies the primary mojo to The Hunter. Hard-edged musicality versus climactic thunder. Safe to say Brent Hinds is snug with his mountain man clean wailing, because The Hunter's songs are tailored for maximum impact yet with enough restraint to let Hinds color them vocally. He is Ozzy-esque on the psychedelic title track, while Hinds, Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor harmonize together on the snakebiting "Dry Gone Valley" to create a gnarly Josh Homme-Layne Staley cadence. Then again, there's no way to describe the band's chuckly yipping on "Creature Lives." Did we honestly foresee this as far back as Remission? Not really.

Speaking of Brann Dailor, the man deserves Drummer of the Year accolades without challenge. Only Dave Lombardo can surpass this cat and yet, Dailor's supreme tommy gun snares, rumbling rolls and perfect floor tom strikes (at double or single beat) offer the metal drumming performance of 2011. Dailor is always money, yet The Hunter might be his comeuppance--as if he already hasn't had it with Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye. No matter how tempered and driven the songs are on The Hunter, be it "Black Tongue," "Blasteroid," "Dry Gone Valley," "Thickening" and "Curl of the Burl," of course, you can count on Brann Dailor to give them all more excitement and flair with his detailed skin work.

If The Hunter has any guilty offenses, it's simply giving their label what they want, which is a shrewdly-focused album still with their massive hooves planted in the scene giving them life. Outside of Slayer, Mastodon is the heaviest act the majors will bank on (almost nobody in the big leagues would sign a band based on the mashing detonation Mastodon dishes on "Spectrelight") but it's to the band's credit they remain progressive artists in the process of keeping their employers happy. They dash "Bedazzled Fingernails" with enough weird electronics to remain heavily quirky, while the gorgeous yet trippy "The Sparrow" still runs as the most accessible tune Mastodon has ever written, "Curl of the Burl" notwithstanding. On "The Sparrow," Mastodon professes to pursue happiness with diligence, and the sludgy guitar solos make their point amidst the song's dreamy swoon.

In the end, The Hunter is another huge success for Mastodon. "Curl of the Burl" is a grower but it is a sign to take note of as Mastodon continues to hammer the metal scene with its prolific might. However, for all the commercial plying Mastodon employs on The Hunter, they respectfully counter it with blazing prog and the occasional bit of nuttiness to prove they still have their metal hearts where they're supposed to be.

Rating: ****