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

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Cult Hits Point Blank

The Cult - Choice of Weapon
2012 Cooking Vinyl Limited
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

When it comes to The Cult, you've either fallen amidst the groovy-alt Love gaggle, the AC/DC-kissed Electric camp or the mainstream league of Sonic Temple worshippers.  This band has found little necessitation in answering to any of those dynamic albums, though some eighties party diehards and strip joint habitues are still laying in wait for another sexfunkrawk jam like "Fire Woman" to come along.  Fat chance of that, since The Cult have all but since rebelled against that 1989 commercial juggernaut.

Interesting enough, the tune this band now answers to (at least from the opinion of their enduring fans) is the crunky "Rise" from 2001's Beyond Good and Evil.  You can hear it and read it across message boards and Facebook posts these days.  Following the lukewarm reception cast towards The Cult's 2007 outing Born Into This, the band's listeners come to the propsect of a new album with "Rise" as the standard to meet--and henceforth, beat.  It's like U2 being called upon to outdo "Elevation" instead of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" or Metallica to outslug "Until It Sleeps" instead of "Enter Sandman," or "Master of Puppets" for the old brigade's purposes.

Not every band sustains itself on two core members and manages to stay relevant, yet this year Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy engineer one of the most worthwhile recordings of The Cult's considerable lifespan.  Ushering Born Into This carryovers John Tempesta and Chris Wyse back for the band's ninth full-length, Choice of Weapon, The Cult once again restructures their method of attack.  There's a pleasurable swing amidst the fuming power plays at work here, and the payoffs on Choice of Weapon are superfluous.

You may hear shades of the happy-go-lucky "She Sells Sanctuary" sprinkled about "The Wolf" and you'll detect a nervy tread between sorrow and tranquillity on "Wilderness Now," but make no mistake about Choice of Weapon.  This is one of The Cult's most aggressive and confident albums in their entire catalog.  An automatic third best ranking behind Love and Electric, Choice of Weapon plays to win and it's an instant grab.  Full-frontal tone blasts, harmonic, eco-championing angst and soul-tagging histrionics are the foundation blocks to Choice of Weapon.  Moreover, this album is a proud restoration of the Astbury-Duffy alliance yielding some of the touchiest and ultimately gratifying rock rumbles of the year.

Ian Astbury rides the snake once again and sets his mojo free in a forceful vocal performance you can't help but label iconic.  Astbury's recent dabblings with Japanese distortion lords Boris unchained something cuffed on Born Into This (aside from the held-back production layers on that album), because his pipes are the figurative embodiment of the title Choice of Weapon.  He's shamantistic on "Elemental Light" and his combined roughneck-cavalier guidance through the rocksteady "Honey Like a Knife," "For the Animals" and "Amnesia" is almost unbelievable.  "Amnesia" alone is one of Astbury's finest hours on the mike.  Likewise, his snarling bravado on the fangy "Lucifer" sends shivers from the clavacale down to the tailbone.  Carrying a shivery Morrison hangover on the morose anti-ballad "Life > Death," Astbury reminds us why he was hauled in for The Doors 21st Century and this tune might be the best cut The Doors circa L.A. Woman  never wrote.  "Life > Death" is tormented by the otherworldly shadow of The Lizard King and exquisite in transition.

Billy Duffy will always be adored by contemporaries and followers for his upfront riffs and Choice of Weapon's mix (fielded in chief by Queens of the Stone Age producer Chris Goss and finished by Bob Rock) throws Duffy back into the limelight at the hip of Astbury.  As ever, the two are as synonymous with their performances as their songwriting.  Tempesta and Wyse, far more resplendent on this album than on Born Into This, elevate Astbury and Duffy as any seasoned rhythm section should.  Tempesta throws a clever spin on Flea's flowery bass lines from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Pretty Little Ditty" towards the end of "Life > Death" and it's to Astbury and Duffy's credit for giving Tempesta the opportunity to improv.  Astbury himsef has credited Tempesta and Wyse for pushing him and Duffy to a new brink and that teetering edginess resounds on Choice of Weapon.

All of it combined spells an album saluting the coolest chops of The Cult's vintage years as interpreted by a wiser collective.  This is a Big 80's album devoid of the glam and nostalgia.  It rocks with a purpose in the here and now on behalf of the planet and in condemnation of the de-calibration of society.  In part, Choice of Weapon wields the piss and vinegar and the polished guitar wizardry that Guns n' Roses purists have been hankering decades for.  The Sonic Temple straights will only be partially satiated here, but Astbury, Duffy, Wyse and Tempesta jack the wattage and stamp the skins from their respective stations for the band's truly devout.  "Rise" is one of The Cult's fiercest songs, but it hardly needed replication.  Nor did "Edie (Ciao, Baby)" or "Sweet Soul Sister" and you can expect none of it on Choice of Weapon.  Seriously, folks, that's a good thing.

Coupled with a four-track compilation from The Cult's 2010 Capsule EPs, Choice of Weapon is a citadel of rock refinement for a fragile period in music appreciation that has all but forgotten what a monster rock album sounds like.  Love begets Electric begets a latter-day rare diamond cut from artists who care more about the edges and grooves than the luster.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Stoner Opus Returns

Sleep - Dopesmoker reissue
2012 Southern Lord
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

You know the legend of Sleep's Dopesmoker, namely that it is an hour-long haze ride through distorted ostinato.  You're also probably aware Dopesmoker was a four year process, which may stun neophytes and the inhibited, given the singular, perpetual crunk of the album.  It takes a special ear and even more special patience to hang with this album, but if you've been through Boris' Absolutego and Green Carnation's Light of Day, Day of Darkness, you're acclimated to the visionary concept of a sixty-minute contemporary track.  Dopesmoker (and its twin sister Jerusalem), by attrition, is beyond visionary.

Perhaps you're familiar with the fate of Dopesmoker, namely that it was shelved by Sleep's one-time label, London Records after the imprint sunk a fair chunk into it then cried foul when Al Cisneros, Matt Pike and Chris Hakius delivered the most inaccessible album any band could.  Satanic majesties returned to London Records that year.  For certain, Dopesmoker was wrung out of more than one cannibis leaf during the nineties, even if to this writer's ears, it could've been recorded on a stray fishing boat in the Mekong Delta post-Vietnam. 

Dopesmoker is (by modern lexicon) a classifiable doom and stoner epic, but when Matt Pike is allowed to step out of the primary laggard grind of the composition, his soloing is exquisite, far-flung and translucent.  His psychedelic solos are the reward for letting the entire trio hammer down on your ears for so long and be warned, you will experience ringing on the first go-round with this album.  The aquatic bridge (finally appearing around the 45-minute mark) is acidy yet beauteous.  Though it may enchance the overall listening session of Dopesmoker if you're carrying a buzz, the precision of Pike's ghostly strumming, Cisneros' grumbling bass lines and Hakius' restrained rat-a-tats are better savored sober.  Dragged snarling out of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Saint Vitus' Born Too Late, Sleep found their muse in doom chords and doobies on Dopesmoker.  Yet it takes skillful hands to command a listener's attention with something this massive in scale and Sleep may have been toked up through the entire jaunt, but it's evident pot was inherent to the creative process.  They used it as a construct versus an embellishment.  Indeed, Dopesmoker might not have been the same album without marijuana.

In 1996 when Dopesmoker was first embarked and recorded, metal was still underground in the United States, and stoner music was a cult phenomenon relegated to Kyuss, Orange Goblin, Fu Manchu, Weedeater and Bongzilla.  This was ambitious yet private music Pike and company bravely undertook, particularly when you factor the original backlash handed to Dopesmoker by London.  Just rewards, the album soon took a life of its own thereafter through the metal underground. 

We can thank Josh Homme and Clutch for exposing this low-tuned vibe to a larger audience, and now we can thank Southern Lord for bringing Dopesmoker back to life this year with new artwork and a bonus live track of "Holy Mountain."  Best of all, this reissue of Dopesmoker makes use of audile cleaning technologies to produce the most definitive (by the band's and label's analysis) tone of the album yet heard.  By all means, the crispness of Dopesmoker's audio wash magnifies the hapless vibratum and the swirling inertia Sleep intended to project through analog.  The album remains dirty in execution but far more homogenized in conveyance.  It's perhaps even heavier now than ever before.

I need no further commentary at this point.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Metal Massacre Lives

Christian Mistress - Possession
2012 Relapse Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I'd like to think everybody has a Christian Mistress in their hometown. You know, a retro-minded sludge metal unit that never mentally left the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and L.A. power rock scenes but have stepped forward enough to place a brackish yet charasmatic female roller front and center. Said band is likely to toss out an obligatory Maiden and Heart cover within their repertoire of developing originals. These bands are usually ferreted out by incoming metal bands on tour and presented as endearing warm-ups for ravenous headbangers who still can't get enough of Judas Priest, Omen, Fates Warning, Coven, Saxon, Hallow's Eve and Tygers of Pan Tang.

Where I live, that band is Scarlet Angel. Local favorites who throw it down old school and feature three ladies to one dude including badass mike maven Kim Yates, Scarlet Angel may never penetrate the masses beyond the Delmarva territories (local speak for the central eastern coast), but damn if that band doesn't fight the good fight. If you find them at a venue, you can also count on them approaching you and pimping the band.

Olympia, Washington has Christian Mistress, and this band has struck the fancy of many a metal writer and listener in 2012. Christian Mistress is possibly better than Scarlet Angel or whatever comparable you may have in your nook of the metal community and that's to everyone's good. Christian Mistress awkwardly has become the throwback darlings of the year to this point and for old school metal freaks, the future looks no different than it did in 1982. That's a pleasing proposition for many.

Following up their 2010 full-length debut Agony & Opium, Christian Mistress jacks the amps through analog channels to hedge a vintage metallic clout on Possession that convincingly takes their audience into the days where Metal Blade comps were all the rage. There's no doubt Christian Mistress would've appeared in the Metal Massace series and rubbed elbows with Lee Aaron and Betsy Bitch. Christine Davis is nowhere near over-the-top as her femme-banger predecessors, but cadence-wise, she shaves a masculine alto beneath her cloudy sopranos and metal fans dig that by default. There's an asphalt toughness lurking beneath Davis' feminine swoons which suits Christian Mistress and keeps their throwback mission lofting instead of tumbling.

Barreling might be the best trigger phrase, because Christian Mistress has more than a few tendencies to steamroll Possession with breakout twin axe soloing from Oscar Sparbel and Ryan McClain and abrupt deviations from their mid-tempo verse structures. The clever rhythm shifts and galloping outtros (especially on the near-spectacular "There Is Nowhere" and "Haunted, Haunted") plus the unexpected thrash-happy closer "All Abandon" elevates Possession beyond its inhibited, dirge-filled imitation of past heavy metal glory.

Nostalgia is the main ingredient to Christian Mistress' out-of-nowhere favoritism by the metal press. "Over & Over," "Conviction" and "Black to Gold" will throw old leaguers straight back into their teenage bedrooms, while the dual scorching of Sparbel and McClain bring listeners straight to Iron Maiden's formative years with Paul DiAnno. "Pentagram & Crucifix" is likely to become a cult hit for its title alone, but the writhing chug of the tune is its bigger notable. By the time "Pentagram & Crucifix" is wrapped, if you don't already own some Witchfinder General, you'll be surfing to hunt them down while bobbing along to the remainder of Possession. Of course, the headbanging is countered by an inexplicable jive and shuck on "Black to Gold," which hails as much Southern boogie as it does inflictive power metal. Then Christian Mistress has the good taste to tip their hats to Zeppelin on "There is Nowhere" through its ethereal drag. It thus becomes the perfect set-up to the Maiden-esque crushing titania in the song's second half. Salud...

This is the reason why Christian Mistress have made such an unexpected vault past countless other revisionists. They're on the radar because of Christine Davis, sure, but giving the band as a collective their due, they're A-plus students of their curriculum and it's hard to dismiss them as a throwback novelty. It will be a challenge, however, for Christian Mistress to stay viable over the next few years in their present mindframe, but their never-say-die attitude is precisely what never-say-die headbangers want to hear today...even if it's been presented many times before.

Monday, May 14, 2012

In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Barf

Municipal Waste - The Fatal Feast
2012 Nuclear Blast Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Most of us in the metal community were weaned on eighties thrash and hardcore and ultimately the combination of the two. You were either a supporter of crossover or you condemned it. There wasn't much of a gray area to it all back then, unless you stage dove at a Suicidal Tendencies show while wearing a Warrant tee.

Of all those blistering metal-punk crossover acts such as COC (sorry, Corrosion of Conformity will always be known as COC to me, get over it), MDC, DRI, Crumbusckers, Suicidal and Broken Bones, the one band which always seems to be modeled and mimicked these days (outside of Fistful of Metal era Anthrax) is Nuclear Assault. Richmond, Virginia's Municpal Waste at this point (along with Skeletonwitch) might be the best representative to plant the crossover flag down into the retro-thrash battle front. Lineage is certainly the operative word as Municipal Waste could be considered this generation's Nuclear Assault, as well as Tankard and Gang Green. Party thrash they've been called, and certainly there's been a thrash 'n crash motif to their throwback blaze. You're pussy if you haven't pounded at least two pints within one of Municipal Waste's rambunctious two-minute drills, so get chugging, wanker.

All clowning aside, Municipal Waste hasn't so much refined crossover and classic thrash as they've perfected what was once there. Sure, Sodom, Destruction and DRI are still kicking, Tankard and Grave Digger too. Somehow, though, Municipal Waste makes it feel as if moshing never went away; it just took a powder while the genre reinvented itself. There's no proto-math-grind-prog at work in Municipal Waste, just unapologetic speed and a vocalist who throws down the most convincing John Connelly out there. If you're old school, this is gnarly fun if nothing inventive. For newcomers, Municipal Waste is one of the fastest bunch of mofos on the planet.

On their latest album The Fatal Feast, Municipal Waste continues their trend of suds 'n slam, only this time they throw their gonzo act onto the promenade of an alien ship where getting shitfaced isn't how the hosts entertain themselves. Dipshit humans have been swept off of Mother Earth to be served as the main course, and really, that's all you need to know concept-wise about The Fatal Feast.

The rest is a reckless speed zone with moments of hilarity where alien abductors do our planet a favor (in Municipal Waste's eyes) by ridding us of wasteoids, lamewads and "Jesus freaks." Of course, the latter category gets its own tune on The Fatal Feast. If you grew up in the eighties, there's an undeniable hail to the days of Jerry Falwell and hypocritical televangelists ripped up by the likes of Nuclear Assault and Suicidal Tendencies, amongst other speed demons of the day.

In some ways, Municipal Waste pokes fun at themselves and their reputation by having the aliens attempt intervention steps before goring their victims...or so it would seem with "12 Step Program," "Covered in Sick/The Barfer" and "You're Cut Off." Or maybe we shouldn't read into it so deep. The Fatal Feast is about as serious as Wendy O. Williams' Maggots: The Record only without narration and sound effects. Cannibal Corpse is far more brutal in sound and lyric, but Municipal Waste are hardly the slackers they'd purport themselves to be.

The main point is The Fatal Feast has less to do with inebriation and tomfoolery and more to do with flawlessly-processed thrash performed in the old style. Crossover is hardly controversial today as it was in the late eighties since modern punkers and metalheads have very little common ground with which to unite. At least our generation realized we were cut from the same cloth and did something to bridge the sanctions together. Municipal Waste plays their cards as if they stepped out of an Adreanlin OD album and took a sharp right into the noisesome acres of Nuclear Assault's Game Over.

Works for me.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 5/2/12

Alrightee then, chummos, let's try this again...

Stay tuned for an upcoming blast of Metal Minute picks for May.

Yes - Drama
Yes - Fly From Here
Yes - Songs From Topographic Oceans
Ministry - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Ministry - The Land of Rape and Honey
Shadows Fall - Fire From the Sky
Stormcrow - Enslaved in Darkness
Christian Mistress - Possession
Municipal Waste - The Fatal Feast
Accept - Metal Heart
The Memorials - Delirium
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
The Flaming Lips - Hit to Death in the Future Head
The Flaming Lips - Transmissions From the Satellite Heart
Kraftwerk - Radio-Activity
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads
Boris - New Album
Can - Future Days