black sabbath

#589: Metal 101 – Learning the Basics in the Original School of Rock (Circa 1984-86)

GETTING MORE TALE #589:
Metal 101 – Learning the Basics in the Original School of Rock (Circa 1984-86)

I started getting really serious about rock and roll in the mid-80s. I was 12. Much Music had arrived. I had instant access to so many great bands. Thanks to the Power Hour, I had an hour dedicated to heavy metal every week.  I also had friends like Bob and George who were willing to let me tape things from their collections.  I started buying rock magazines.  But there was a learning curve.

Take Van Halen, for example.  All I knew of them were a couple singles from 1984.  I had seen the video for “Jump”.  I had also learned from my friends that Eddie Van Halen was the greatest guitar player alive.  Since I didn’t know the difference between a guitar and a bass, I assumed Michael Anthony was Eddie Van Halen.  I don’t know why I assumed that, except I probably liked Michael’s beard.  Bob and George corrected me, but I wondered, “How can you tell a guitar from a bass guitar?”

“A bass only has four strings”, they told me.  And you could tell the number of strings by the tuning pegs.  I got it!  Soon I was able to start piecing the rest together.  George bought a bass a few months later.  There is a local musical legend that lived on our street named Rob Szabo.  He is a very talented player, singer and songwriter.  He was starting to put together his own band, and all he needed was a bassist.  George was adamant that he was that bassist.  He decided this before he even bought a bass.  Rob was too nice a guy to tell George that they wanted someone else with more experience.  He didn’t expect George to buy a bass because of the vacancy in the band.  To his horror, that is exactly what George did.  I think he jammed with them once or twice before they let him go.  Maybe not even once.

Undeterred, George learned the instrument by playing along to records.  He put together a couple bands of his own, like Asylum and Zephyr.  His singing was shit, but his bass playing wasn’t bad at all.  He got pretty good at it.  But sadly, in our neighborhood, George might be best remembered for his attempts at singing.

George’s bedroom window was right next to our front step where I hung out a lot as a kid.  Bob and I would be up there listening to music, or even playing GI Joes on the lawn.  Sometimes we’d sit there in just listen to George.  You’d hear him put on a record, start playing along on bass, and when he got singing you’d think a cat was being tortured up there.  It was horrendous, but he seemed to have no idea how awful his singing really was.

George worked at Long John Silver’s which was about a 20 or 30 minute walk.  In the early hours of the morning, I saw George walking down the street alone with his headphones on, heading for work.  Suddenly he burst out:  “ALRIGHT! LOVE GUN!”  Then came the barely recognizable chorus of one of my favourite Kiss songs.  It was the kind of scene that you’d make sure you got on video today.  Another time, he was singing Judas Priest.  We ran into him that time and asked him what’s up?  “It’s Priest Week,” he answered.  He was only listening to Judas Priest that week, it seems.

One time George was over playing his bass, and he asked me if I knew how to pick out a bass line in a song.  I actually did, and I learned it by hearing him play bass along with his records.

Besides Kiss, Priest, and Van Halen, I was learning about bands such as Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.  Bob had a Black Sabbath tape with a baby devil on the cover.  He brought it over one time, raving about a song called “Zero the Hero”.  We listened to it and it was cool.  I especially liked the spooky music between songs.  That was my first taste of Black Sabbath.  I knew who Ozzy Osbourne was, but I didn’t know he was in Black Sabbath before.  All I knew was the singer of Black Sabbath had long black hair and looked really evil.  Ian Gillan was my first Black Sabbath singer.

George was really cool about letting me tape his stuff, to the point that he’d bring his VCR over so I could even record his videos.  We did this on about two or three occasions, as he had quite a collection of taped videos.  I was interested in getting some more Dio.  I had heard “Holy Diver” and wanted some more, so I got the video for “The Last in Line”.  The clip was a trip to a hellish underworld of monsters and musical vigilantes.  A bit later, we got to a Black Sabbath video for “Neon Nights”.  I recognized the two moustache guys.  But who was that singer?

I timidly asked George, “Hey…did Dio ever have anything to do with Black Sabbath?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

No way!  My brain expanded about six levels that afternoon.

Sabbath had a singer before the long black haired guy.  Unreal.  George told me that guy (Ian Gillan) was the singer from Deep Purple.  Holy shit!

A few months after that, we were in the park listening to Sabbath’s Paranoid on cassette.  “That’s Ozzy singing!” shouted Bob above the music.  I simply could not believe it.  And not long after that, I was watching Much Music again when they debuted a brand new Sabbath video with yet another singer!  A bearded guy!  Some guy named Glenn Hughes?  Never heard of him before.  He had a beard and a suit.  Not really very rock and roll.  Could you imagine my reaction if I knew at that time that Glenn Hughes was also a singer in Deep Purple?

The circle was becoming complete.  This kind of trivia was like candy to me.  I ate it up, every last morsel that I could absorb.  Band “A” led me to Band “B” and Band “C” via these kinds of connections.  Ozzy even connected back to Quiet Riot, the first “metal” tape I ever bought, via original guitarist Randy Rhoads.  He was about the only guy who could rival Eddie Van Halen in the guitar stakes, according to my friends.  But there was a new up-and-comer that Much Music kept talking about, named Yngwie Malmsteen.

Much was an advantage my neighbors didn’t have.  Neither Bob, nor George, nor Rob Szabo had the channel.  I began growing and developing tastes of my own, though still heavily influenced by my friends.  On my own, I found White Wolf, Sammy Hagar, Savatage, Queensryche, Aerosmith…and Spinal Tap.

Yes, Spinal Tap.  “Hell Hole” became one of my favourite songs during the summer of ’86.  My sister liked it.  She hated her Catholic school, and as we’d drive by, she’d sing “Don’t wanna stay in this Hell Hole!”  That school was a indeed a “hell hole”.  Shitty teachers and shittier bullies who did not like heavy metal.

It’s true that the teachers gave me hell for wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt.  It is also true that we went to a retreat for a week, where music T-shirts and players were forbidden.  I have always been drawn to music since my earliest memories.  What did these teachers have against music?  I knew.  It was the old myth that these groups were “Satanic” and would drive us to all do drugs and die.  What those teachers didn’t know was that the music made me feel good without drugs.  I was even expanding my vocabulary.  Bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath were not simplistic with their lyrics.  I learned words such as “pyre” and “pneumatic”.  Through Iron Maiden, I was learning about literature and history.  I knew stuff that they weren’t even teaching in school, about Alexander the Great, the Gordian Knot, and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  How could that be bad?

Fuck ’em.  I trusted myself.  I was smart enough to know better than they did.

I look back at these early days, and I’m not surprised that it’s these bands that the core of my tastes are built around today.  Long live rock and roll.

 

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REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Live & Loud (1993 grille cover)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Live & Loud (limited edition 1993 Epic speaker grille edition)

Ozzy Osbourne has done lots and lots of tours since his “No More Tours Tour”.  It seemed special at the time, because we thought Live & Loud was going to be the last live album.   It was not.   What was supposed to be a definitive and indispensable capstone is just another live album, only really notable for its packaging.

Let’s start there.  If you buy this album, don’t buy the remastered edition in the jewel case.  This album didn’t need remastering a couple years later.  Why would it?  Instead search for the original digipack with the metal speaker grille cover.  Finding one in good shape can be a challenge.  Unfortunately, the metal grille is not removable although the VHS release did have a removable grille.  The release also came with two Ozzy “temporary tattoos” on little 2″ x 2″ sheets of paper.  These are the first things to get lost and you might want to consider that you’ll never find them.

Live & Loud scores an A+ for packaging, but gets mediocre grades for the music.  This is patched together from a variety of recordings, and it sounds like a lot of fixing was done after the fact.  It’s bogged down with over-long guitar and drum solos (Zakk Wylde and Randy Castillo) and too much talking.  There is only so much that one needs to be told to “go fucking crazy”.  Ozzy proclaims that he loves us so often that it loses all meaning.  He’s more of a cheerleader than a singer at times, constantly badgering the crowd to get “louder”!  There is also an annoyingly long intro that means nothing without the visual accompaniment that’s supposed to go with it.  I will admit that my buddy Peter and I were amused when Ozzy said “Let me see your fucking cigarette lighters” during “Mr. Crowley”.

On the plus side, this particular lineup of Ozzy’s band was one of his strongest.  Zakk and Randy were joined by bassist Mike Inez who was invited to join Alice in Chains in 1993.  Another plus is the presence of Black Sabbath.  The second to last song is “Black Sabbath”, performed by the original Black Sabbath, at the final show on the tour.  Fans will recall that Sabbath were touring their incredible Dehumanizer album, which frankly blows away Ozzy’s No More Tears.   When Sabbath (then including Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice and Ronnie James Dio) were asked to open for Ozzy at his final two concerts, Dio bailed.  He was replaced for those shows by a little known metal singer named Rob Halford.  At the last of the two shows, the original Black Sabbath featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward reunited to play a three song set.  It was their first time together since Live Aid in 1985.

Unfortunately, a couple tracks aside, Live & Loud is flat and uninspired.  “Black Sabbath” isn’t brilliant but at least it’s historic.  All the important songs are there, with maybe a few too many from No More Tears.  There is one surprise in “Changes”, the old Sabbath classic.  This is performed by Zakk on piano and Ozzy.  It’s brilliant and was used as the single.  “Mr. Crowley”, “Shot in the Dark” and “Desire” are pretty good, but drummer Randy Castillo was killing it.  He was the perfect drummer for that band.  Rest in peace Randy.

Live & Loud is for the serious fan only, who will really want to get the grille cover.  Live & Loud is not consistent enough for the average listener and gets bogged down in spots making it a very long run.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Dio – Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 (2013)

DIO – Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 (2013 Eagle records)

The King of Rock and Roll rolled into Philly with a new axeman.  Vivian Campbell bitterly departed and was replaced by Craig Goldy of Ruff Cutt.  Goldy had a flashier style, a bit heavier on the shred.  The Sacred Heart tour was a big deal, and I can distinctly remember seeing TV ads for the Toronto show.  They had their big dragon on stage, a crystal ball, and Accept as the opening act.  The Philly gig was filmed, and so today we have this double live album to enjoy.

As it did on Sacred Heart, “King of Rock and Roll” opened the set with a flurry of speed.  Another newbie, “Like the Beat of a Heart” goes over well with an extended solo by Goldy including a nod to Blackmore.  “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is the first Dio classic in the set, though “Hungry for Heaven” was a top 30 single.

Dio had so much material to play (including his past with Rainbow and Black Sabbath) that a lot of the biggest songs are jammed into medleys.  “The Last in Line”, “Children of the Sea” and “Holy Diver” are truncated into eight minutes.  “Rock ‘N’ Roll Children” is joined with the Rainbow classics “Love Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Man on the Silver Mountain”.  It seems a shame that there are guitar solos, a drum solo, and even a keyboard solo, but all these classics had to be crammed together into medleys.  “Heaven and Hell” is complete at least, but Claude Schnell’s keyboards sound out of place on this Sabbath cornerstone.

1986 was one of many prime periods for Dio.  Your perception of this CD set will largely hinge on how much you like Craig Goldy vs. Vivian Campbell.  Goldy was a fine replacement though his shredding often sounds like a green kid just going for it.  There is plenty of great Dio material to enjoy, all killer no filler from start to finish…solos aside that is.  There’s even a live version of the smooth “Time to Burn”, the first new song with Goldy from the Intermission EP.

There is a nice selection of live Dio available on the market.  Finding the Sacred Heart would be a great choice for most, but if you want Dio live with Vivian Campbell, probably best to go for the Donington 1983 & 1987 set.  This one certainly sounds excellent, it’s a beautiful recording and mix.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Stryper – Fallen (2016 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Fallen (2016 Frontiers, Marquee Japanese import)

As far as this writer is concerned, Stryper are the reunion kings.  Their 80s output featured fantastic singles like “Calling to You” and “Free”, but many of the albums were uneven and not as rocking as you knew they wanted to be.  Since their heavy-as-hell (pun intended) comeback album Reborn (2005), Stryper have been off the leash.  It seems they gave up trying to fit in to any specific mold and are just trying to be true to themselves through their music.  2016’s incredible Fallen could be the pinnacle of the reunion era.

Unabashedly Christian, the opening track “Yahweh” happens to be one of the most potently epic slices of rock I’ve heard.  A choir sings “Yahweh, Yahweh…” while lead wailer Michael Sweet spits out of his words as few singers in metal can do.  His range is still remarkable and he has lost none of his lung capacity.  There are Maiden-esque riffs, latter-day Metallica grooves, and some seriously epic solo work by Sweet and guitarist Oz Fox.  And that’s all in just the first 6:21 of the album.  It’s strange to say, but you could compare “Yahweh” to similar epic tracks by Ghost.

“Yahweh” may be the most impressive track on a very good metal album, but it’s certainly not the only one.  The cool descending riff that accompanies “Fallen” bites into your flesh, while Sweet’s chorus lifts the ceiling.  There is also material that sounds like old school Stryper, such as “King of Kings”, “Big Screen Lies” and “Pride”.  These songs boast big and classic sounding choruses and riffs.  Stryper even snuck in a Black Sabbath cover (not their first) of “After Forever”.  The words fit Stryper like a leather studded glove:

Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone,
Open your eyes, just realize that He is the one,
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate,
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes, I think it’s too late.

A lot of people forget how Christian that particular Sabbath lyric is!  Very amusing how much flack metal took from the church in the 80s, all the while “After Forever” dated back to Master of Reality in 1971!  Granted, I’m certain that most Catholics wouldn’t appreciate the line “Would you like to see the pope on the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?”

Whether you are a believer (it’s not a requirement) or just a worshipper at the altar of St. Halen, Stryper serves up plenty of hot metal on Fallen.  The modern grooves of “Heaven” and “Let There Be Light” are two that should appeal to many, and long time fans of Stryper will go bananas for the emphasis on melodies and choruses.  And Stryper didn’t forget their ballad fans, either.  “All Over Again” is a typical bombastic Stryper ballad, but not with the extra saccharine they used to utilize in the 80s.  And if that is too bombastic for you, check out the acoustic version included as a Japanese exclusive bonus track.  I think I prefer the bare acoustic version, but I’m also getting tired of getting acoustic versions as my Japanese bonus tracks.  It seems the go-to bonus track lately has been the acoustic version.

Rest assured, Stryper have not Fallen.  Quite the opposite. They continue to soar on mighty wings of metal.

5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

R.I.P. Geoff Nicholls

2017 rolls on like a mini-2016.  The latest casualty is former Black Sabbath keyboardist Geoff Nicholls who was on every Sabbath album from Heaven and Hell (1980) to Forbidden (1995).  He played bass and sang when need be.  For that period of Sabbath’s history, he was the only stable member excluding Tony Iommi himself.  Geoff passed at age 68, after a battle with lung cancer.  He was rarely pictured with the four “main” Sabbath members, but he was more important than most of them.  Rest in Peace.

#539: Been a long time since I been to Frankenmuth

GETTING MORE TALE #539: Been a long time since I been to Frankenmuth

Frankenmuth Michigan is a small Bavarian hamlet/tourist trap not too far from the Canada border.  Some people love going; I seem to be one of the only dissenting voices.  My best friend Peter introduced us to the Frankenmuth tradition.  His family would typically go once a year, staying at the Bavarian Inn.  The big draws to the town are two.  One is the big “family style” chicken dinner at Zehnder’s, where the food just keeps coming.  The other attraction is Bronner’s, an all-year-round Christmas store.  Some in my family seemed absolutely thrilled to be buying our Christmas ornaments in April.

Frankenmuth seemed a long way to go for some chicken and Christmas ornaments.  However, it’s not too far for a shopping excursion focused on music, so that’s what I turned it into for me.  In the three years I went to Frankenmuth, I found plenty of goodies, and accumulated some entertaining memories.

frankenmuth

My first year was 1992.  I had just finished writing all my final exams for my first year classes at Laurier.  The Freddie Mercury Tribute concert had just aired.  I taped the whole thing, and then recorded it to cassette (three 100 minute tapes).  I tossed that into the Walkman, and joined the family for our first US road trip together.

The Mercury concert was special.  Queen shared the stage with some luminaries as David Bowie (RIP), George Michael (RIP), Mick Ronson (RIP), and many more.  Vivian Campbell played live with Def Leppard for the first time.  Tony Iommi and James Hetfield shared the stage with Queen on “Stone Cold Crazy”.  Guns N’ Roses were there, and Axl got to sing with new friend Elton John.  The excitement in the air was genuine.  There was talk afterwards of someone charismatic, like George Michael or Gary Cherone joining Queen permanently so they could continue.

Our first road stop was a McDonalds in a small town just outside of Flint.  The washroom stunk of piss so badly that my dad couldn’t even use it. Great first impression, Michigan!

When we got to the Bavarian Inn, I had the chance to watch MTV for the first time at length.  After all I’d heard about it, I was disappointed to see it was not nearly as good as Canada’s MuchMusic.  The American coverage of the Mercury concert (which was re-running all weekend) was truncated compared to what we saw in Canada.  MuchMusic had Erica Ehm and others on site at Wembley interviewing the stars and covering behind-the-scenes, while the US coverage cut away to other things.  The food at the Bavarian Inn was incredible, including what I remember to be the best omelette I’ve ever tasted.

I can’t say that I cared for the family style chicken dinner.  “Family style” isn’t my thing (where everybody has the same dinner, all served together on big platters).  If I’m eating out, I will rarely order chicken.  Seemed like a big waste of a night out, to go and eat somewhere that serves chicken dinner just like you get at home.  But I didn’t make these decisions, I just complained about them!

On the way home, we stopped at a Target store in Port Huron.  My first Target store; I had never even heard of them before.  This is where I made my first US music purchases.  In stock was the cassette single for “Let’s Get Rocked” by Def Leppard.  This featured the bonus track “Only After Dark”, a Mick Ronson track, who had just played at the Mercury concert!  The other item I picked up was Slaughter’s new The Wild Life CD, which had a different cover than the ones I’d seen in Canada.  It still appears to be the rarest version today.

The 1993 trip was even better, because this time Peter came with us.  In 1993, Peter was the man with the plan.  He was looking for something.  Something very specific, that as of yet was not released in Canada.  He had read about this new comedy tape called The Jerky Boys, and he was determined to find a copy.  And find a copy he did.

We found The Jerky Boys at a record store just on the outskirts of Frankenmuth.  At the same store, I picked five tapes that I couldn’t get back home:  Savatage’s first albums Sirens (1983), The Dungeons are Calling (1985), Power of the Night (1986) and the brand new Edge of Thorns (1993).  There was also Richie Kotzen’s third album, Electric Joy.  These fine records meant that the summer of 1993 was filled with sounds both heavy and complex.  The Kotzen album was a whole level beyond was I was used to listening to.  As for Savatage, they heavied up my tastes at a time when I was craving faster/heavier/louder.

I spent a lot of time absorbing each of these albums, but it was The Jerky Boys that dominated the car tape deck on that Frankenmuth trip.  Peter and I listened to the entire thing through.  Tarbash the Egyptian Magician, Sol Rosenberg and his glasses (he can’t see goddammit), and the whole gang had us laughing so hard, my sides actually hurt.  When the tape was done, we put it on repeat and played it again.  I’m not sure if my mom and dad enjoyed the Jerky Boys as much as I did.  I started calling people “sizzlechest” and responding to questions with “listen jerky, I don’t need to talk to you.”

What a summer.

This Frankenmuth trip was also my Karaoke debut.  I chose “The Immigrant Song”.  And I fucking killed it, in my opinion!  Like Axl Rose gyrating on meth, I owned that stage.  The heels of my cowboy boots stomped the boards, keeping their own beat.  I asked my entire family to leave the room, but I lost my place in the song when I caught them spying around a corner.

On we sweep, with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore.

That was a fantastic trip.  Mission accomplished, with both the music shopping and the Jerky Boys acquisition.  On my third and final year going to Frankenmuth, Peter really upped his game.  Once again, the goal was to acquire something that we could not get in Canada.

Instead of travelling in one car, we did a convoy with two.  Peter and I needed transportation of our own to run the missions we were planning.

As much as MTV did not impress me on my first US trip, our goal this time was dependant on MTV.

“Let’s rent a VCR and tape some episodes of Beavis and Butthead!”  We didn’t get the show in Canada.

That is exactly what we did.  We drove over to the local video store, and rented a VCR.  You might think renting a VCR in a foreign country might be difficult, but it wasn’t.  We hooked it up to the hotel TV (much easier than doing something like this today — more on that in a future instalment of Getting More Tale also involving Peter).  Tuning up MTV, we watched some music before Beavis and Butthead was scheduled.

This time, MTV really pissed me off.  They gleefully ran the embarrassing 1994 Motley Crue interview that the band infamously walked out of.  But the band didn’t do themselves any favours in that interview. MTV baited them a bit with the questions, but they didn’t have to attack Vince Neil in their answers. “No one cares anyway,” said Nikki Sixx when asked about his former frontman. Pushed further, they were asked to comment on Vince’s recent jet-ski accident that put him in hospital with broken ribs. Laughing, Mick Mars asked “What happened to the coral reef?” Sixx answered, “Hey, when 300 pounds of blubber lands on a coral reef, there’s gonna be some dust flying around.”

The question that killed the interview was about “women, hairspray and fire.” MTV ran the segment complete with Nikki mocking the question, while showing images of women, hairspray and fire from their music videos. Stick in a fork in that lineup; it was done.  No matter how good that 1994 Motley Crue album was (and is), that interview polished off the attempted comeback in one stroke.

We recorded a couple episodes of Beavis and Butthead and called it a night.  The next day we did some music and comic book shopping.  US exclusive once more:  Quiet Riot’s reunion album Terrified found and liberated.  I didn’t even know they had come out with anything new.  A cassette single for “Heaven Help” by Lenny Kravitz also found its way home with me. I scored an oversized Black Sabbath comic (Rock-It Comics) and Transformers: Generation 2 #1 with the silver foil fold out cover.

With another successful trip in the books, we packed our bags and checked out.  The last mission to run was returning the VCR to the video store.  There was only one snag.  We were primed and ready to head home early…and the video store opened at noon.  We had to kill some hours driving around, but when that store opened we got the hell out of dodge.  Not the greatest return trip ever, but at least we had Lenny Kravitz.

I stopped going to Frankenmuth after that trip, although Peter and his family returned yearly for some chicken and Christmas ornaments.  My family too.  My mom tells me of a memorable trip that ended in the hospital!   Four years ago my mother, father and sister made a trip where they did the usual; Frankenmuth chicken and the Christmas store. They also ate a lot of junk food; pizza, hot dogs, French fries and candy. On the way home they stopped along the 401 for more French fries. That night my mother ended up in the hospital with a gall bladder attack. It was serious enough that she had it removed two weeks later.  Thank goodness they were home when it happened as they never bothered with extra insurance for a short trip to the US.

As years went on, I ran into people all the time who had gone to Frankenmuth for a vacation.  Inevitably, they will always talk about three things:  the Bavarian Inn, the chicken dinners, and the Christmas store.  None of them seem to have any stories about cool comic books, or finding rare tapes and CDs in Frankenmuth.  Very few of them have done Karaoke, and none have performed “The Immigrant Song” at the Bavarian Inn.  Nobody rented a VCR to record Beavis and Butthead, and then have to wait hours for the store to open to return said VCR.   Nobody even discovered the Jerky Boys on their Michigan trips.

I guess that means that Peter and I are the only ones who did Frankenmuth right.

#533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan

STOPARRETThe below is a personal non-preachy discussion on living life as a Christian heavy metal fan.  I’m not interested in changing anyone’s personal convictions, just telling a story.  If this bothers you, press “back” now.

 

papa

GETTING MORE TALE #533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan

Any fan of heavy metal music who is also a believer in the Lord above has had to come to grips with this apparently hypocrisy.  How can one follow the word of God and yet listen to Ghost?

Believe In One God Do We,
Satan Almighty,
The Uncreator Of Heaven And Evil,
And The Unvisable And The Visable,
And In His Son,
Begotten Of Father,
By Whom All Things Shall Be Unmade,
Who For Man And His Damnation,
Incarnated,
Rise Up From Hell,
From Sitteth On The Left Hand Of His Father,
From Thense He Shall Come To Judge,
Out Of One Substance,
With Satan,
Whose Kingdom Shall Haveth No End.

I wrestled with this contradiction very early in life. As a young Catholic-raised kid discovering rock music, I wanted to make up my own mind. One of my earliest sources of music via the magic of Sunday afternoon taping sessions was my next door neighbor George.  In addition to the Kiss discography, George had most of the Maiden, Priest and Ozzy catalogue either on LP or cassette.  George wasn’t particularly religious, but one afternoon he did tell me, “I won’t listen to anything Satanic.”  I took that to mean that Maiden, Priest and Ozzy lyrics checked out A-OK.

Many people of faith have found that their religious convictions shake and waver over the years.  That period for me began in the 1990s, although I never considered myself an agnostic or an atheist.  I was in the early years of my University career; that period when you think you know it all.  I remember some fierce discussions around the dinner table with me loudly proclaiming that I was the only sitting authority on whatever subject had come up.  My parents remember them too, as the naive younger me spouted off about whatever I read on an overhead projector.  Meanwhile, I was frustrated that they didn’t seem to be giving my lecture serious enough consideration.  Some dinners ended up with me storming up to my room in anger with my food unfinished.

One of my earliest courses in University was my first year introduction to Anthropology.  The prof, whose name long escapes me now, was an animated character.  His long hair was always tied up in a ponytail on the back of his head.  He wore suits and ties to class, which most profs did not.  Many (especially in the psych department) preferred socks and sandals.  He told anecdotes and moved around a lot.  He always kept one hand on the podium.  The class noticed his storytelling sessions always proceeded with one hand firmly anchored, keeping him in a tight orbit at the front of the classroom.  He was a fantastic teacher and I briefly considered a career in Anthropology before I realized it involved a great deal of travel and going out of doors.

He was most certainly an atheist, which is unsurprising considering that the first semester of the class was about primate evolution.  He was fascinating, and though I never doubted the science of genetics and natural selection, he certainly proved to me that the simple 7-days 7-nights story of the Bible did not happen as simply as it was written.  That could only be allegory for a sequence of events that humanity did not have words for or basic knowledge of at the time.  Knowledge is cumulative.  We know now that we can follow the development of life through fossils, getting older and older as we dig deeper.  Things line up, make sense.  He explained to us why the concept of a “missing link” is a logical fallacy.

None of this bothered me.  Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a spiritual person at that age, I just assumed any God who is truly all knowing and all powerful could easily create the universe as it was, with the laws of nature, physics and all the matter inside it, via the Big Bang.  It would still turn out exactly as He envisioned it to, because that’s the definition of an all powerful God.  There didn’t seem to be any contradiction to me.  I tried to argue this as part of an intro Philosophy course paper that I wrote the same year.  I attempted to go to the quantum scale to explain things and blew it fabulously.  That paper was a C-, if I recall correctly.  The T.A. that marked it suggested that the quantum section should have been axed completely.  (He was absolutely right!)

At the same time, I was very deeply invested in a love of heavy music, having collected at least 400 tapes at that stage.  Stryper aside, none of them were Christian rock.  There were plenty of masters of the dark arts, however:  Alice Cooper, the Ozzman, the Sabs, Priest, Maiden and the lot.  As least, that’s the way many religious folks seemed to think it was over the years.  I couldn’t hear any Satanism in their lyrics.  Look at the words to Sabbath’s “After Forever”:

I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ,
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced,
Will you be so sure when your day is near, say you don’t believe?
You had the chance but you turned it down, now you can’t retrieve.

Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone,
Open your eyes, just realize that He’s the one,
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate,
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes! I think it’s too late.

Because the song also has a line that goes “Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope – do you think he’s a fool?,” some folks are likely to get their panties in a bunch. Context in any art form is important, often true with lyrics.  It’s hard to imagine Ozzy sitting there seriously worshipping Satan when he’d rather be drinking, don’t you think?

At the same time, I was collecting the albums of Savatage, and their lyrics sometimes had a clearly Christian bent.  Their Streets album features a character called “D.T. Jesus” and a full-on Holy character redemption.  This didn’t bother me either.  It stirred warm memories of Bible stories that I learned in school.  Most importantly at that time, I was learning that music lyrics are not always meant to be taken at face value.  Take Poison for example.  You might think that the “Unskinny Bop” might be an exercise regime.  They cleverly disguised their true intention with made-up words.  Ozzy isn’t singing about his belief in the undead in “Bark at the Moon”.  Maybe he’s inspired by some movie he saw as a kid.  Does it really even matter?  It’s just a song.  It’s just entertainment.

OZZYThere is one instance when paying attention to the words does really matter, such as when a vulnerable youth might think “Flying High Again” sounds really fun and cool because Ozzy said so.  But that is where the parents must step up.  It’s not Ozzy’s responsibility, nor the state’s, to monitor what your kids are doing.  Pay attention to what they are listening to and make sure you give them the straight talk on any issues that concern you.  That’s what my parents did (unbeknownst to me).  My mom read over the lyrics when I wasn’t home.  She never had made any musical demands of her son other than “turn it down” when it was too loud.

I felt a stronger return to my faith around the time I met my wife.  Our connection seemed beyond just two random people falling for each other.  It seemed like two puzzle pieces coming together.  Like I’d finally found the one who understands and puts up with my bizarre self, and vice versa.  It’s not about thinking “I was made for loving you, and you were made me loving me,” so much as feeling it.  One thing I learned from Philosophy class is that faith is not something you can prove or disprove.  The definition of an omniscient and omnipotent God means He or She could create the universe we live in without leaving any trace of His/Her existence, nor any purpose we can comprehend.  Maybe we’re all just chess pieces on a big chess board.  You don’t know and you can never prove it one way or another, because how do you know your “proof” isn’t just another move in the chess game?

Faith means you believe something or not.  I think science is pretty bang-on with how it describes how the universe behaves, and will continue to modify and reshape its theories based on what comes flying out of the next particle accelerators.  It’s an exciting time to be following science, as we unlock some of the most elusive particles predicted by theory.  At the same time, events in my life (far more than just meeting my wife) have made my heart lean further in the direction of faith than disbelief.  I think whoever it is that created the universe did so with the laws of nature that we study today.  I think that science is peering into the mind of God, as Einstein suggested.  I came to these conclusions on my own; only later did I realize many got there before me.

As for lyrics about Satan even though I’m on the other guy’s side?  I think it’s all about being a good person in the time you’re given on this Earth.  I don’t care what you call it; that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.  As long as you try to go about your life without being an asshole, sure we can be friends.  For example I’d be foolish to exclude you from friendship just because we don’t share the same opinions on (delicious) olives.  I’d be equally foolish to exclude you just because you have different ideas about how we all got here.  I think, if anything, we’re all here to help each other.  We should do that anyway, even if it’s just holding a door open for your neighbor.  There are some things that some Christians consider hellfire-worthy sins that I could care less about.  It was always important for me to find a balance between my spiritual beliefs and what I know to be right or wrong.  I’ve encountered a few Christians who say that homosexuality in a sin.  A really bad one, too.  I don’t want anything to do with that statement.  I know in my mind and my heart that it doesn’t matter what gender you’re attracted to.  What matters is using your time on this Earth to be the best person you can be.

I like Ghost; I don’t have to sing along to their music if I’m not feeling the words.  That’s free will, and I don’t think I’ll go to hell for exercising it, even though some folks have warned me that’s where I’m headed.  I hope that when it comes to the important choices in life, I’ve made more of the good kind than bad.  At the end of it all, that seems to be more important.

Reverend X.  Much different than Catholic school.  Is that a phone book?

REVIEW: Heavy Metal – Music From the Motion Picture (1981)

movie-soundtrack-weekHere we go with another week of movie soundtracks! It’s a case of the second one being even better than the first, so let’s start things off properly, shall we?

 


Scan_20160706HEAVY METAL – Music From the Motion Picture (1981 Elektra)

I’d never seen anything like Heavy Metal before.  It was a sci-fi cartoon with a bunch of guys from SCTV doing voices…but it wasn’t for kids!  I probably saw my first animated genitalia in Heavy Metal.  It was also the first time I heard Sammy Hagar.

Sammy’s title track opens the now-legendary soundtrack, which like many others was deleted in the 1990s and commanded heavy prices on the second hand market.  When I worked at the Record Store during that period, there were always plenty of names on the wish list for this album.  There were tracks on here that were hard to find anywhere else.  This version of Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” is different from the one on Sammy’s Standing Hampton LP, and it was not the only such exclusive.  “Heavy Metal” is one of Hagar’s best tunes, simply legendary.  It’s a pummelling good time!

The rest of the album is equally awesome.  Riggs (Jerry Riggs, later of the Pat Travers Band) has a Hagar-esque rocker called “Heartbeat” that is definitely good enough for rock n’ roll.  You might not expect DEVO to be on an album called Heavy Metal, but what’s not to like about “Working in the Coal Mine”?  I’m sure more than a few metal fans would have skipped this one back in 1981, but when compared to the next song by Blue Öyster Cult…what’s the big deal?  B.Ö.C.’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” leans just as heavily on synthesizer, so purists be damned.  “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” is a classic, through and through, a dark apocalyptic ballad that can’t be touched.  Some would say it was the last gasp of B.Ö.C. before a long period of mediocrity.  Cheap Trick utilised synth too, but their “Reach Out” is a rocker.  Cheap Trick were another band in a period of decline, following the departure of original bassist Tom Petersson. “Reach Out” was a damn fine tune, and not on one of their albums at the time.  (It’s hard not to notice that Tod Howarth ripped off the verses of “Reach Out” for his own song “Calling to You” with Frehley’s Comet.  Howarth later played with Cheap Trick as a sideman.)

Don Felder from the Eagles isn’t the kind of guy you’d expect to hear do a song called “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)”.  It’s an Eagles-metal hybrid and it’s pretty cool, more metal than Eagles, but you can hear them in there.  He’s followed by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen who presents the interesting “True Companion”.  It’s progressive jazz light rock nirvana.  The punks will hate it, but the same guys who dig Captain Beyond will appreciate it.  Quite daring to include tracks like this on a CD primarily made up of rock and metal, but this helped open the minds and tastes of many metal heads over the years.  Nazareth re-centers it back to rock and roll, with “Crazy (A Suitable Case for Treatment)”.  It’s not among Nazareth’s best but it’s always such a pleasure to hear Dan McCafferty gargling glass.

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Riggs returns with “Radar Rider”.  Heavy riff in hand, it’s a slammin’ good track.  But it is overshadowed by the bombast of “Open Arms” by Journey, one of the biggest ballads in the history of balladry.  You know what’s funny?  Even though I have heard this song 106,941 times as of this morning, I still smile upon hearing it.  There must be something timeless to it that I can’t explain.

Grand Funk were in a decline (like a few of these bands), and “Queen Bee” from Grand Funk Lives was their contribution.  Good track, though it does not sound much like the Grand Funk I know from the 1970s.  And then it’s Cheap Trick again, with a noisy throwaway track called “I Must Be Dreaming”.  It’s a bizarre track from the high priests of rhythmic noise, but they do bizarre just as well as they do catchy.

There’s one band that I think blew the doors off the album.  One band that, to me, is always associated with this album.  One band that defines the phrase “heavy metal”, and that one band is Black Sabbath.  If you listen to fools, the mob rules!  This was brand new Black Sabbath at the time; Mob Rules wouldn’t be out yet for a couple months.  I have always preferred the soundtrack version of “Mob Rules” to the different recording that made it onto the album.  This could be because it was the first version I owned.  Regardless, to my ears it sounds faster and livelier…and more “Geezer-er”.  Not that it matters, because no matter how you slice it, “The Mob Rules” is a shot of adrenaline right to the heart.

Don Felder takes it back to a slow groove with “All of You”, a good rock ballad with some seriously cool funky bass.  All told, the Heavy Metal soundtrack has some damn fine playing on it from all of these bands — just incredible musicianship in these grooves.  Things wind down with Trust, and a very heavy track called “Prefabricated”.  Nicko McBrain was in Trust in 1981, but this does not sound like Nicko on drums.  The song would have been better without the vocals.  Especially when it’s followed by Stevie Nicks, one of the most iconic voices in rock.  “Blue Lamp” was recorded for her solo debut Bella Donna, but not used.  It’s certainly not outtake quality.  In fact it’s pretty damned classic.

That’s what the Heavy Metal soundtrack is:  a classic.  If you like heavy metal, but don’t like soundtracks, then you should still own this one.  Make it so.

4.5/5 stars

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Like many movies with a rock soundtrack, there was also a score for Heavy Metal released.  I asked our friend Rob Daniels from Visions in Sound for a few words on this score in the interests of being complete:

“It’s a great score by the late Elmer Bernstein who is best known for a lot of 80’s comedic scores including Ghostbusters, Animal House and Airplane. His score fits perfectly within the metal music atmosphere, weaving its way through the various stories and songs to the Taarna story. The “Taarna” theme was actually first written for the Farrah Faucett character in the 1980’s film Saturn 3 but was not used. It includes an unusual instrument called a Ondes Martenot, similar to a Theremin but with a physical keyboard. Bernstein used the instrument quite a lot in his scores. While a lot of people know Heavy Metal for the songs in the film the score is of equal note and probably one of Bernstein’s best.”

HMSCORE

 

 

REVIEW: Wayne’s World – Music from the Motion Picture (1992)

MOVIE SOUNDTRACK WEEK

By a weird coincidence, I wrote up this review on the exact same night that Aaron wrote up his for the KMA. Weeeeeeird.

Scan_20160605WAYNE’S WORLD – Music from the Motion Picture (1992 Warner)

Today we’ll take an extreme close up look at Wayne Campbell, Garth Algar, and the movie soundtrack that returned Queen to the top of the charts.

Wayne’s World was a phenomenon.  Not only did it put Queen back on their throne, but it also kickstarted a whole wave of Saturday Night Live movie spinoffs, including the Coneheads and Pat.  The soundtrack was one that “everybody” had to have.   While I had started my Queen collection well before the movie came out, this soundtrack was the first place that I acquired “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  In many regards, you can almost regard “Bohemian” as a brand new song in 1992.  It charted as if it was brand new, and it became a cultural cornerstone only after the movie.  I know I can’t be the only one who head-banged to it in the car on weekend nights during the summer of ’92.  As one of the most campy yet brilliant tracks ever recorded in the history of rock, “Bohemian” deserved everything that came its way.

The soundtrack CD was made up of new and old material like “Bohemian”.  Also dusted off:  “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright.  Though not to the same degree as Queen, Gary Wright experienced a bit of a renaissance thanks to the prominent usage of the song in the film.  The 1975 soft rock ballad is still cheesey fun today.  Then, Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” was given a fresh release in one of the most memorable Garth scenes.  Admit it:  If you are over a certain age, you make the little “fox ears” on your head just like Garth Did when Jimi sings “Foxy”!  I know you do — don’t try to lie.  Although I can’t recall the song being in the movie at all, a mediocre Eric Clapton outtake from 1985 is included on the CD, in “Loving Your Lovin'”.  It’s about as memorable as you would expect a mid-80’s Clapton outtake to be; its just “OK”.  Of course, everyone knows that Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein” was used during the Cooper cameo in the movie.  It introduced Alice to a whole new generation who still remember and love that song.

New tracks included the zippy Red Hot Chili Peppers funk blitzkrieg “Sikamikanico”.  Bass pulsing in time with the racing beats, this is the kind of Chili Peppers I love.   Meanwhile, Black Sabbath unveiled their first new material with Dio since 1981, on “Time Machine”.  This Wayne’s World version of the song is completely different from the one that was recorded for Dehumanizer, although both are included on the Sabbath remaster.  The Wayne’s World version feels faster and more frantic.  It was quite a thrill for fans to hear a brand new Black Sabbath song in a mainstream comedy movie.  (Cool scene too, with Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 fame.)  Although the soundtrack couldn’t resurrect their careers, both Cinderella and Bulletboys had new tunes on the CD.  Bulletboys tackled a cover of Montrose’s “Rock Candy”, perfect for their Van Halen worshipping vibe.  Cinderella had a new rocker to show off, a soul-infused vintage song called “Hot and Bothered”, which was a fine return to form but had no impact.  Finally, Rhino Bucket who were considered heirs to the throne of AC/DC included a new song called “Ride With Yourself” from their 1992 album Get Used to It.  It’s cleaner sounding than AC/DC but it’s in that ballpark.

Finally there are the throw away tracks.  At the time, Tia Carrere was being hyped up for a music career.  They hooked her up with Ted Templeman and recorded a cover of “Ballroom Blitz” (you know the scene in the movie) and a ballad called “Why You Wanna Break My Heart”.  Both are fine in the movie, but not really necessary for rock fans in general to own on CD.  Still, here they are!  (Tia’s version of Hendrix’s “Fire”, also in the movie, was included on the B-side of the “Ballroom Blitz” single.)  Then there is a throw-away version of the Wayne’s World theme song with Wayne and Garth singing.  I’ll take the Aerosmith version any day!

Not on the soundtrack CD, but prominently featured in the film, was Ugly Kid Joe’s hit “Everything About You”.  No big loss; you should be able to find their Ugly As They Wanna Be EP for under $5.  Party on!

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The End (2016)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20160330BLACK SABBATH – The End (2016 BS Productions)

As a Black Sabbath fan since I was old enough to be a Black Sabbath fan, I have amassed a huge collection of official and unofficial Sabbath recordings.  With the exception of one Japanese bonus track (“What’s the Use” from Cross Purposes), I can happily say I have everything the band has ever officially put their name on.  The End has proven to be one of their most difficult albums to acquire, because Sabbath insisted on selling it at their concerts exclusively.  (At least until the inevitable reissue with bonus tracks.)  With only one CD, eight songs, and no booklet, it’s hard to justify a $30 selling price.  Additionally, many concerts were sold out of the CD, because of people buying multiple copies for re-sale.  The proof is on eBay and Discogs.

Thankfully, a fine gentleman known to his friends as James went to see Black Sabbath on a whim on their Calgary date.  He exited the arena with three copies of The End, but none were for re-sale: One for him, one for our buddy Aaron, and one for me!

Ever since the release of the terrific album 13, the band teased that they had plenty of extra material to perhaps do another LP.  It turns out, they had recorded at least 16 songs that we know of for 13.  There were eight songs on the album proper, and an additional four on various special editions.  The End contains four more from the sessions!  Four songs isn’t enough for a whole new album, so for added value, rare live songs are included.  None of these have ever been on a live Sabbath album before.

Sounding something like an outtake from the not-Sabbath album The Devil You Know, “Season of the Dead” has the slow crawl that has become a Sabbath trademark.  A chugging, biting riff and a slightly psychedelic melody are the pillars, but like Sabbath of old, it twists and turns into different parts.  “Season of the Dead” is a grower, but it certainly does sound like Black Sabbath and nobody but.  Doom, gloom and slinky bass.  “Cry All Night” starts as a slow Sabbath crawl but then immediately transforms into a mid-tempo stomp.  These Iommi riffs are by no means leftovers.  Can you imagine what he still has in the vault?  (Note:  Tony Iommi really does have a vault where he keeps all his riff tapes.)

Studio drummer Brad Wilk really stands out on “Take Me Home”, as a precise and hard-hitting player.  The monolithic riff he compliments is simple but effective.  Meanwhile, parts of Ozzy’s vocal melody are reminiscent of his song “Fire in the Sky” from 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked.  Tony’s Spanish guitar solo is a delicate icing on a very heavy cake.  The final studio track is “Isolated Man”, a different and interesting experiment.  At its core it is still a heavy-riffed Black Sabbath refrain, but Ozzy’s vocals are purposely mixed back and heavily layered for effect.  The result is something very much like the oddball shit that they used to do in the 70’s.

Each one of these “new” songs is going to take time to fully absorb.  They are not immediate, but neither was all of 13.  Even without Bill Ward, they managed to rebuild the sound they had 40 years ago, and that’s just grand.  13 easily could have been a full double album, consistent and heavier than fuck, had all 16 songs been included.  It also would have been an overly long ride of doom!

The live stuff is well recorded.  Ozzy doesn’t sound too lively on “God Is Dead?”, but that tends to happen when you read the words off a teleprompter.  He was in good voice that night in Sydney, maybe even great!  It’s great to have “God Is Dead?” in live form, but it only really cooks from time to time.  Oldie “Under the Sun” (from Vol. 4) has long been one of my favourite Iommi riffs.  It’s great to finally have this in live form; it’s just too bad it lacks the swing of Bill Ward.  That is not a swipe at Tommy Clufetos, a great drummer who has done very well under difficult circumstances.  Of the many drummers that Sabbath have employed over the years in the absence of Ward, Tommy has been one of the best fits for an “original” sounding Black Sabbath.

Jetting off to Hamilton Ontario Canada, “End of the Beginning” serves as a main course of doomy metal.  The crowd is clearly into it, as Ozzy gets them riled up.  This track works better live than “God Is Dead?”, being much more peppy and headbang-worthy.  Here is my only beef:  I noticed during one of Tony’s solos that there was rhythm guitar.  Looking at the back cover, keyboardist Adam Wakeman is also credited with additional guitar.  Black Sabbath has always been a single-guitar band, and I definitely noticed this unfamiliar sound.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Sure, it sounds more like the album, but it sounds less like the live Black Sabbath that I loved.

Of course Ozzy has to remind the audience that he loves them all!  “God bless you all, thank you!” he says, showing gratitude for a #1 album in Canada.  “Age of Reason” sounds like a crusher live, and certainly epic enough to act as a closing track on the final Black Sabbath album.  Even if it wasn’t epic, it was a new Black Sabbath song recorded for posterity and now in the collection forever.  That’s enough for this guy.

I am not sure how a $30 price tag is justified, but I have paid more for less.  The score for this review is completely independent of the price.  You’ll have to judge for yourself how much you’re willing to pay.  $30 is high for four new songs and four live songs.  Be that as it may, eBay prices are stupid.  My advice:  Grab it for $40 or less, or sit tight and wait and see if it’s ever reissued.  Final Black Sabbath album?  Perhaps, but expect plenty of Sabbath material to buy in the future.  Up next: deluxe editions of Headless Cross and Tyr!

4/5 stars

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