alternative metal

REVIEW: Loudness – Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips DVD

Part Four of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

LOUDNESS – Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips (1999 Rooms DVD, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

The complete Buddha Rock 1997-1999 set comes with the three Loudness albums from that brief era, and also a bonus DVD with the accompanying music videos.  On the back some are listed as “full size” and others “short size” — let’s find out what that means and what Loudness videos looked like in the late 90s.

“Ghetto Machine” opens, with Loudness including a shaven-headed Akira Takasaki performing in a darkened room.  The added static interferance reminds us we are in the 90s when bands like Loudness didn’t have much budget and covered it up with tricks like this.  Masaki appears cold with his big fur hat, but it’s fun to see this version of Loudness on video.  “Evil Ecstasy” has cleaner production, but this is one of the “short size” videos — it’s only about 90 seconds of a pretty cool song.  Too bad because this video is much more watchable.  The funkier “San Francisco” is also one of these short versions, as is “Creatures”.  All of these videos appear to be taped at the same time.  The section of “Creatures” used focuses on the guitar solo.  That’s cool at least.  “Katmandu Fly” is the “full size”, but it’s also only a minute-long instrumental so to call it “full size” is kinda cheatin’.

Moving on from the Ghetto Machine album, all the rest of the videos are “full size”.  From Dragon, it’s two of the best tracks:  “Dogshit” and “Crazy Go Go”.  This time Loudness are playing in a huge, uber-clean garage.  As “Dogshit” demonstrates, Akira was now into his “fly sunglasses” phase.  It looks like the band are having fun here, which makes it an enjoyable watch.  Great song too.  “Crazy Go Go” is more straight ahead, with lights and struttin’ stage moves instead of goofing around.

Apparently they only did one video for the final Masaki album, Engine.  “Black Biohazard” is that song; not a tune that impressed on prior listens.  (Also strange how “Black Biohazard” is the only song not in capital letters on the cover.)  This video is made from grainy outdoor concert festival footage.  From this we can ascertain that live, Masaki was a capable frontman with a cool rock star stage persona.

At 25 minutes, this DVD can not be considered more than a bonus for buying the Buddha Rock box set.  It is not the main draw.  The fundamental reason to get Buddha Rock is to acquire the three albums Ghetto Machine, Dragon and Engine in one place with ease.  As a bonus feature, the Music Clips disc does what it does.  “Dogshit” is the best video by a wide margin, and it remains unclear why “short size” videos were included, unless that’s all that was ever made for those particular songs?

The Buddha Rock box set also comes with photos, complete lyrics (in English) and liner notes (in Japanese).  It’s the obvious way to go to cover those years, an era which ended with the Engine album in 1999.  At Masaki’s urging, Akira Takasaki reunited the original Loudness lineup and released Spiritual Canoe with Minoru Niihara at the microphone.  That put an end to the Masaki Yamada era, which started with member turnover before solidifying on these three albums with Naoto Shibata and Hirotsugo Homma on bass and drums respectively.  Great musicians both who helped Loudness explore new and weird directions at the end of the 90s.

Music Clips DVD:  3/5 stars

Buddha Rock 1997-1999 box set:  3.5/5 stars  (the sum of the whole is greater than its parts)

REVIEW: Loudness – Engine (1999)

Part Three of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

 

LOUDNESS – Engine (1999 Rooms, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

The Masaki Yamada era of Loudness ended with the 1990s.  Masaki felt (correctly) that Loudness would be best off reuniting with its original lineup in the year 2000, and so Engine is the last album to feature Yamada, drummer Hirotsugo Homma and bassist Naoto Shibata.

As with the previous two Loudness albums (also included in Buddha Rock), Akira Takasaki’s penchant for experimentation is at the forefront.  “Soul Tone”, the opening instrumental, makes that much clear with its atypical exotic guitar drones in place of a song.  Then Akira cranks up the string harmonics on the bizarrely rocking “Bug Killer”, a 90s song if there ever was one.  He must have been listening to Rage Against the Machine.  The track descends into guitar mayhem by the end.  It’s incredible to think how Akira transitioned from an 80s guitar hero compared to Eddie and Yngwie, to a 90s master borrowing from Morello and the Middle East.

“Black Biohazard” chugs unremarkably just like much of the 90s did.  Leaning on a groove, “Twist of Chain” has certain 80s delicious metal elements hidden under the distortion.  It’s the kind of song that makes these lost albums really worth hunting down.  Similarly, “Bad Date/Nothing I Can Do” buries its hooks under vocal distortion.  Unfortunate that they didn’t just let it loose.  “Apocalypse” fails to build on this with a forgettable alterna-dirge.  “Ace in the Hole” has more going on, with a menacing far East vibe.  The guitars are like razor blades.

 

A sudden left turn on the partly acoustic “Sweet Dreams” almost sounds like a great lost Stone Temple Pilots song from some unknown era.  “Asylum” focuses on the bass, as a lot of the album does, choosing a heavy psychedelic feel.  A long guitar solo section is the track’s highlight.

Without warning, the oddly titled “Burning Eye Balls” goes to acoustic exotic Zeppelin territory.  This refreshing change is followed by “Junk His Head”, a pretty straightforward headbanger that does away with the distorted vocals.  Hirotsugo Homma lays down a killer beat on this one.   The penultimate instrumental track “2008 (Candra 月天)” doesn’t have any particular hooks to relay which is unfortunate since previous Loudness instrumentals have at least been interesting.  This leaves it to the closing track “Coming Home” to make final impressions, of which it makes few.  It has echoes of the old Loudness track “So Lonely” but without much of the feeling or structure.

These three final Masaki-era Loudness albums all have some cool tracks; enough at least to assemble a good single-disc compilation.  Owning all three is for fans only.  It is fun to sit and listen to a band evolve, and watch them try on all kinds of different hats.  If that’s your obsession too, pick up Engine and check out the complete Buddha Rock box set while you’re at it.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Dragon (1998)

Part Two of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

 

LOUDNESS – Dragon (1998 Rooms, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

Lucky 13th album for Loudness?  Maybe not, but it is an uptick from the prior release Ghetto Machine.  The band just kept on going, with only Akira Takasaki remaining from the original lineup.  Their third singer Masaki Yamada was on his fourth album with Loudness, and by now they had established a heavy alterna-metal 90s sound.  It is the strongest of the three albums of the Buddha Rock era.

Loudness had become fearless, blending thrash and funk together on “9 Mile High”.  Those who don’t enjoy Masaki’s growling style won’t be turned around here.  Those who like it fast enough to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs will not have a problem.  It skips between thrash and funk without warning.

The appetizingly titled “Dogshit” could only have come from the 1990s.  Harmonic drones are substituted for a main riff, and Masaki’s vocal is closer to rap metal.  Yet there’s something irresistible about it.  “Dog shit on my bike boots!” sings Masaki with a heavy guitar backing him.  And that’s why Loudness could get away with doing this kind of music.  It’s the guitar.  Akira Takasaki is one of the best in the world, but he’s more fearless than Yngwie and can play just about anything.  With a virtuoso like that, it’s unlikely you’re going to sound like dog shit.

“Wicked Witches” is heavy, detuned, and it grooves to the max while drilling into your brain.  There’s even a little bit of early Van Halen in the riff.  That leads into “Crazy Go-Go”, a single and album highlight.  Foregoing the nu-metal, this one is wah-wah heavy and just plain rocks!  Flat out, kick ass, rock and roll.  “Backstage go-go babe, like a circus after school, playin’ my guitar like a country horse.”  (Country horse?)  You get the picture!  It’s about groupies!  (Akira makes his guitar whinny like a horse!)

Drummer Hirotsugo Homma gets to have some rhythmic fun on “Voodoo Voices” which is one of the most bizarre tracks Loudness have ever done.  Voodoo voices indeed, as the vocals are buried, ethereal in the mix.  It’s trippy and trip-hoppy.  The instrumental “回想” (“Kaisō”) is made up of backwards guitars playing quietly and hypnotic.  Then suddenly it’s a metal riff on “Babylon”.  Masaki eschews the growl and goes for psychedelic singing.  “Crawl” features a chugging Akira riff, and then some pulsing synth?  This album goes everywhere.

“Forbidden Love” is pretty cool, coming closer to the spirit of 80s Loudness.  Then go for some more 90s funk metal on “Mirror Ball”, which is as hot as Anthony Kiedis’ arm pit.  Another stunning instrumental emerges in “Taj Mahal”, which is not about the shredding but entirely about atmosphere.  A variety of unique sounding guitars are accompanied by exotic percussion and bass.  Unfortunately that leads into a little bit of a dud for an album closer.  “Nightcreepers” doesn’t make an impression.

While this Dragon is an experimental one, not afraid to mess with expectations or traditions, it is still rooted in that 90s nu-metal dungeon.  That is something that dates the disc to certain period in time.  When it rises above that, as it does on “回想”, “Crazy Go Go” and “Voodoo Voices”, it transcends genre and goes somewhere unique.  There are just enough of those moments to make this album a keeper.

3.25/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Loudness – Ghetto Machine (1997)

Part One of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

LOUDNESS – Ghetto Machine (1997 Rooms, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

1997:  Masaki Yamada, the third Loudness singer, was now on his third Loudness album.  Besides founding guitarist Akira Takasaki, the rest of the band was new.  Ghetto Machine is the first with bassist Naoto Shibata, and second with drummer Hirotsugu Homma.  The 90s were chaotic even for Loudness, just like it was for bands in North America.  In Loudness’ case, they now had more original E-Z-O members (in Masaki and Homma) than original Loudness members.  Like most Loudness albums from the 90s onwards, Ghetto Machine was released only in Japan.

The album was self-produced by Takasaki, recently converted to Buddhism, and he fearlessly dove into the 1990s.  Opening with the title “Ghetto Machine”, the riff is low and grinding.  Masaki takes on a growly lower tone, and in place of hooks there is only groove and the drone of guitar.  This is far removed from the regal metal of the earliest days, but seems sincere given the freedom for Loudness to do whatever they wanted.

Track two, “Slave” features an unusual droning riff, with the thrash metal tempos of early Loudness.  At least 90s Loudness didn’t forego guitar solos like some bands.  Akira’s here is as interesting as any he’s done.  “Evil Ecstasy” opts for a nice groove right in the pocket.  Although the riffs are simpler, Akira always does something interesting, either with tone or technique.  Though 90s Loudness seems to be less focused on songwriting hooks, sonics are treated with care.

“San Fransisco” isn’t outstanding, though the guitars always are.  Nice wah-wah on the solo.  Zeppelin seems to be one of many influences on “Love and Hate”, but at this point of the album it is clear that Masaki Yamada will not be delivering much in terms of melody.   “Creatures” has a stinging little whiplash of a riff and biting vocals but little that you can sing along to.  A cool funky groove called “Hypnotized” is preceded by “Katmandu Fly”, a short atmospheric instrumental.  I almost get the feeling that the chorus riff to “Hypnotized” is a twisted variation of “Smoke on the Water”, though it could be my imagination striving to find any kind of hook.

Some crooning during a slow psychedelic jammy break in “Dead Man Walking” is the only melody in that song.  The albums takes a turn back towards melodic at the end.  Second-to-last track “Jasmine Sky” starts the change up.  It’s slow and sparse, and sounds like lead vocals by Akira.  It’s one of the only tracks with an actual vocal melody from start to finish, and sets up “Wonder Man” as a final blowout.  This monolithic riff is accompanied by exotic guitar soloing and a Masaki vocal you can sing along to.  It crawls to a vaguely Zeppelin-y ending.

Ghetto Machine brings me back to that unhappy time in the 90s, when classic bands did what they had to do to adapt, and while the new albums had merit, they were clearly missing…something.  The ’92 Loudness album with Masaki was awesome and represented everything good that the 90s could do to a rock band.  Ghetto Machine is the slide afterwards.

2.75/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cult – Rare Cult (7 CD limited box set)

THE CULT – Rare Cult (2000 Beggars Banquet box set with limited 7th remix CD)

Rare Cult is a feast of rare and unreleased Cult music, for the Cult connosoir only. If you’ve been a Cult fan for a while but have struggled to find those early singles, then this is your dream box set, my friend.  They have a lot of singles and assorted rarities, and acquiring a complete set of them all takes money.  Rare Cult secures a huge chunk of that music in one package.

I’m not going to bother cataloging all the different tunes and where they came from.  They’re too numerous but I will say the following:

1. This set has an enormous number of unreleased demos and otherwise finished songs that nobody had heard before — not previously released on B-sides. The songs range from the Dreamtime era (1984) with some cool, unheard BBC performances.  Over six discs, it spans over a decade to 1995 when the band broke up (for the first time). All tracks are of very good sound quality.

2. There is a humongous (80 page) booklet inside, with complete credits and details for every single song contained within.  Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury provide commentary, and there are lots of photos too.

3. There are a lot of remixes here, as per normal for a band from this era. In fact there is an entire seventh limited edition bonus disc dedicated single remixes, called Rare Cult Mixes.  I don’t know how many copies were released with the bonus disc, but be sure of what you buy before you buy it! Personally I don’t see the point of buying this set without the seventh disc. For example, the “Fire Woman” single had two excellent remixes: The “LA mix”, and the “NYC mix”. The NYC mix is included on the Disc 5 of this box set, but to get the LA mix, if you don’t have the “Fire Woman” single, can only be had on the limited edition seventh Rare Cult disc. If you’re a collector (which I think you are, because if you’re not you probably stopped reading this already) then there’s no reason to buy the version without the bonus CD.  Wait it out and get the full package.

4. Peace. While astute fans had probably collected most of these tracks already, this box set contains the first ever official release of the Peace album, in sequence on disc 3. The Cult were working on Peace after the Love album, and even finished it, but scrapped the recordings for being too Love-like. They hooked up with Rick Rubin to revamp, re-write, and re-record the album, released as Electric. Many of the Peace songs surfaced as B-sides over the years, on singles and EPs such as The Manor Sessions.  While Rare Cult was the first release of the full Peace album, it has since been reissued as part of the Electric Peace two disc set.

5. Warning! There’s more. If you really, really, really want it all, you have to shell out for the single CD Best Of Rare Cult which had five exclusive songs not included here. Oh, marketing.  The five exclusives on Best of Rare Cult are:  “She Sells Sanctuary (long version)”, “Spanish Gold”, “The River”, “Lay Down Your Gun (version two)”, and “Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles) (original mix)”.  Some of these songs, such as “The River”, are B-sides, while some are unreleased.

6. There’s even more! Yes, there are demos here, but that’s not all of them. The masterminds behind this set cleverly left off enough demos to create a whole other box set. You’ll want to pony up for Rare Cult: The Demo Sessions (an even more limited edition 5 CD set of its own) which is interesting in its own right. Look at Rare Cult as scratching the surface.

7. Even with all this stuff available out there, The Cult liked to include live songs on their singles. None are present here. Be forewarned, you may still want to get those original singles anyway, if you care enough!  Maybe they should do a box set called Rare Live Cult.  (Are you listening Ian?)

As a listening experience, Rare Cult is long but rewarding. One thing about The Cult, they were a diverse band, and this set is very diverse. For example you’ll go from a very dancy 80’s remix of “Sanctuary” straight into “No. 13” which is more punk influenced. Regardless of what it is, or what it isn’t, I think this set is worth listening to. Even their demos are better than most bands’ album tracks.  Like many bands who released numerous single B-sides, The Cult put effort into all their songs.  Check out “Sea and Sky”, “Bleeding Heart Graffiti” and “Bone Bag” as ample proof.

The packaging is quite nice. It comes in a sturdy black box. The aforementioned booklet allows you to read through the whole history of the band up to 1995.  The first six discs are housed in three double digipacks, while the seventh disc sits in its own sleeve tucked into the box.

You might not very often have the luxury of 8-9 hours to listen to the Cult, but if you’re a fan, think hard and consider your buying options.

4/5 stars

Sausagefest XII: VIDEO REPORT!

Sausagefest is an annual all-dude, all-meat, countdown of rock.  Five of us from the old Record Store attended!  This year, there were 110 songs (75 countdowns plus 35 “tributes”).  #1 was Max Webster — “Toronto Tontos”.  Other artists who made the countdown included Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Kiss, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Rush, and Tenacious D among others.   For the history of this event, check out Record Store Tales Part 30.

Thanks to Jeff Woods and Craig Fee for your contributions — above and beyond the call of duty!

And of course, thanks to Tom our host, and Uncle Meat, Seb and Dr. Dave for the music.

Uncle Meat will be providing me with the full track list.  Stay tuned for that post, too!

REVIEW: Fight – War of Words (1993)

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Part 1 of a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!

FIGHT_0002

FIGHT – War of Words (1993 Sony)

I was devastated when Rob Halford left Priest.  I was so heavily invested emotionally in the excellent Painkiller album, I couldn’t believe it was over!  Last I had heard, the band were going to be working on two new songs for a greatest hits album (Metal Works) and then Rob would take a break to do a solo album.  Instead, the band split completely!  Halford and drummer extraordinaire Scott Travis formed Fight with guitarists Russ Parish and Brian Tilse, and the bass player from hell, Jay Jay.   (Today, Parish goes by the name “Satchel” when he plays with Steel Panther!)  Regarding Jay Jay, Halford says that he did a number of Rob’s own tattoos.  Rob figured if he could play bass as well he he tattooed, he was in.  Jay Jay also does the grunt-metal backing vocals.

The resulting album, War of Words, is a Pantera-esque thrash-fest, one of the heaviest things Rob had ever done (until Halford’s Crucible album), undeniable brutal, scream-laden, and punishing from start to finish.  Halford had cleverly assembled two shredding guitar players with differing styles too:  Tilse specialized in the noisy speedy solos, while Parrish played the more melodic and traditional speedy solos!  War of Words is solo nirvana for fans of Rob and Priest.  And Rob wrote every single song by himself.

The twin openers, “Into the Pit” and “Nailed to the Gun”, are two of a kind:  they are rip-yer-head-off thrashers with Rob’s patented glass-breaking screams.  The song structures on War of Words are simpler than what we heard with Priest, no doubt since Rob composed the songs by himself.  This simplicity serves to make the album feel even heavier and more relentless.

The lyrics, just as simple and aggressive.  “Into the Pit” doesn’t feature much in the way of poetry:

Conspiring, for sation
Malfeasance, on high
Obstruction, of duty
Disorder, will rise

Rob takes the pace back a bit on the third track, “Life in Black” which I don’t think you can fairly call a ballad, to me it’s more Dio-era Sabbath with a very vintage-Dio sounding solo.  (Rob had just helped out Sabbath live after Dio left, singing lead for two shows while opening for Ozzy Osbourne.)  Meanwhile “Immortal Sin” bears a slow groove with a melodic chorus, downtuned but a bright spot in the proceedings.

The title track opens with the American First Amendment (Rob was living in Phoenix).  It’s another aural assault with Rob keeping his vocals in the upper register.  Travis’ incredible drumming punctuates every venomous word.  Considering that less than three years prior, Rob (with Priest) was in court defending his band during the infamous “suicide trial”, the words are apt.

Dream Deceivers, directed by David Van Taylor, the excellent documentary on the Judas Priest trial

It’s back to dark haunting territory next:  “Laid to Rest” ended the first side of the album.  I find this one to contain one of Rob’s best vocal performances of the album.  It’s reminiscent of “A Touch of Evil” by Priest, but downtuned and slightly exotic.

Side Two’s opener, “For All Eternity” is really the final reprieve.  It is most definitely a power ballad in vintage Priest vibe, but again with the modern downtuned guitars.  A song like this really proved Rob’s songwriting chops.  He’s capable of writing emotive, catchy powerful music completely on his own, and the song is an achievement.  The bridge around 2:25 is just awesomeness, but Tilse’s guitar solo completes the picture.  As if that wasn’t enough, Rob returns to full on scream mode for the end.

“Little Crazy” was a critically acclaimed heavy metal blues, and the second single/video.  I’m struggling to describe it beyond “heavy metal blues”, but this song is definitely a highlight.  Rob puts everything he has into the slinky lead vocal, while band fuse the blues feel with heavy metal’s precision.  I recall reviews of the time saying, “If Rob wanted to drop metal and go full-on blues, he could.”  Now that would be interesting.

The rest of the album is no-holds-barred.  The triple threat of “Contortion”, “Kill It”, and “Vicious” is almost too much.  Each song strips everything down to the basics:  simple riffs, violent words, relentless drums, without much in terms of melody.  This is the most difficult part of the album to penetrate.  In time the three songs grow.  “Contortion” protests what we are doing to the Earth with angry frustration.  “Kill It” is about TV preachers (whom I’m sure had their opinions on Priest during the trial).  “Vicious” was always my favourite of the trio:

You cheating, lying, mother-fucking son of a bitch..

Vicious, vicious,
Fucker, fucker!

I was going through an angry phase at the time!

Rob saved the best track for last.  “Reality: A New Beginning” is a weighty epic, a perfect closer, slightly exotic and successfully combining Fight’s heavy side with Rob’s ability to write great melodies.  This is simply an incredible song, a jewel in Halford’s crown, and a song which definitely deserves another look.  The lyrics seem to be autobiographical:

This time, when I’m leaving,
Who cares where I’ll go?

There was a hidden CD bonus track (not on cassette) after a five minute silence, a jokey song called “Jesus Saves”.  Rob’s voice is electronically manipulated to sound…well, not sure what he’s supposed to sound like.  An angry elf, I guess.

4.75/5 stars

There are some supplementary releases available:

1. This one is on my wishlist, I don’t own a physical copy:  In 1994 Fight released a Christmas CD single called “Christmas Ride” with a message from Rob!  They later reissued this as a free download from Rob’s site, but that is no longer around.

2. The live/remix EP, Mutations (next up in this series of reviews).

3. In 2007, a demo album called K5: The War of Words Demos was released.  This featured demo versions of most of the album, plus five more.  These include four new songs, and “Psycho Suicide” which was later remade for the second Fight album, A Small Deadly Space.   The demos reveal that a much more conventional-sounding metal album was initially planned.  (“The Beast Denies” is a very different version of “Reality: A New Beginning”.)

4. The 2008 Fight box set Into the Pit contains remixed versions of War of Words (again without “Jesus Saves”) and A Small Deadly Space.  But the cool thing it contains is a DVD, Fight Live In Phoenix.  The band rips through the entire album, in sequence (no “Jesus Saves”!) and then Rob’s solo track, “Light Comes Out of Black” (from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie soundtrack).

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer original motion picture soundtrack.  This is the only place you can get the studio version of “Light Comes Out of Black”, featuring his backing band…Pantera.  All of Pantera.

I like “Light Comes Out of Black”, but it’s a lot easier to swallow than Fight is on first listen.  I remember a M.E.A.T Magazine interview with Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, where they trashed it.  “If it were on Painkiller, it would be one of the weaker songs, if not the weakest,” said KK.

KK might have been right about that to a certain extent, but only because Painkiller consists of 10 awesome songs!