Crimson Glory

#834: Top Five Masked Artists

GETTING MORE TALE #834: Top Five Masked Artists

The Masked Singer, you say?  Never seen the show; not interested.  What about real artists who wear, or have worn, masks?  Not makeup, but an actual physical face covering?  Since masks are everywhere today, and sometimes required depending on where you go, let’s have a look at some artists who were already ahead of the (flattening) curve.

#5:  Crimson Glory

Before Slipknot, Mushroomhead, and before Ghost, Crimson Glory were the most famous masked metal band.  Often compared to Queensryche (but more ambitious), Crimson Glory were fronted by singer Midnight.  He wore a half-mask so he could sing, while the rest of the band kept their faces fully covered.  At first, anyway.  The masks were toned down on the second album and eventually dropped.  But when their debut appeared in ’86, they looked like nobody else.  That they are forgotten is unfair — they don’t even appear on Wikipedia’s “masked musicians” list!

#4:  Buckethead

At best, Brian Carroll is a recluse.  He’s rarely been photographed without his plain white mask and a chicken bucket on his head (though you can find pictures of a young unmasked Carroll online).  According to Bucket, the mask was inspired by Michael Myers in Halloween 4.  It is highly likely that the anonymity of a mask allows Buckethead to loosen up and perform live.  In all probability, the mask helps him get into his creative headspace.   It’s not too much of a stretch to say that without the mask there could be no Buckethead.

#3:  Nash the Slash

Nash was very early in the mask game, having started wearing bandages in 1979, the same year the Residents started wearing giant eyeball helmets.   The Slash, or Jeff Plewman, passed away in 2014.  He was best known as a founding member of FM, playing electric violin and mandolin.  His 1980 solo cover of “Dead Man’s Curve” had a music video featuring that bandage mask, and trademark top hat.  It was one of the weirdest videos of its time.

#2: Slipknot

I considered Gwar for this position, but then I remembered:  Gwar don’t wear masks. They are aliens that crash landed in Antarctica. No, seriously, this position should belong to Gwar except that I don’t really consider them a masked band. What they have done takes the idea of “masks” and puts them in an entirely unique category. Gwar might be the top “costumed” band, but speaking strictly of masks, this spot goes to Slipknot. Mushroomhead may have come first, but there is no question that Slipknot commercialised their image much more successfully. They expanded upon the masks with matching numbered jumpsuits. They became iconic. Just as one can easily recognize Gene Simmons as a member of Kiss, Shawn “Clown” Crahan simply cannot be mistaken for some guy in Pearl Jam. When you see Slipknot, you know Slipknot. And only they can take the credit for that.

#1: Kathryn Ladano

Biased? Yeah, so what!  This is where I defend my choice.

All of the above artists are brilliant and that cannot be disputed.  But how many of them incorporate the mask with the music?  Perhaps only Buckethead uses the mask to get into a specific headspace to create.  Kathryn Ladano’s newest album, also called Masked, explores this.  Masks and blindfolds were worn in the studio while music was improvised and captured for the album.  The mask becomes part of the audible art, which you cannot say about Slipknot or Crimson Glory.  Maybe I’m biased, or maybe I’m one of a few people who knows how critical masks were to the creation of this music.  Without the masks, some of this music wouldn’t even exist.  For that reason, Kathryn Ladano is our topped masked artist.  Nobody else incorporated the mask with the music like she did.


Worthy Mentions

 

Hey!  Where’s Daft Punk? Where’s Deadmau5? Not on this list, that’s where!  Neither are Ghost, Thunderstick, the Residents or a number of other groups who wear physical facial coverings.  Narrowing down is the hardest part of any list, but I hope you enjoyed this one anyway.  Check out some Crimson Glory or Nash the Slash and tell us who you think the greatest masked artists are.

 

REVIEWS: Leatherwolf – New World Asylum & World Asylum (Japanese import)

Epic Review Time!  Here’s a two-fer for you!

LEATHERWOLF – World Asylum (2006 King Record Co. Japan)

Leatherwolf were one of my favourite bands in the late 80’s. They had a unique sound, a potent mix of traditional metal, glam rock, and thrash elements. In addition they sported the Triple Axe Attack: 3 lead guitar players, and before Iron Maiden did it.  When they reformed in 1999 and released the live album Wide Open, I was excited for some new music. Then, lead singer/guitarist Mike Olivieri quit, and the band hooked up with Jeff Martin (ex-Racer X, Badlands) on lead vocals. With him they did an excellent 3 song demo: “Behind The Gun”, “Burned”, and “Disconnect”, plus one instrumental called “Tension”. (Track them down!)

Then for whatever reason Martin was out and Wade Black (Crimson Glory) was in. I’m sorry, Glory fans, I’m just not that into Black. His voice is fine, particularly on the three  more melodic songs that they originally did with Martin (Note:  “Burned” has been re-named “The Grail”). I’m just not feeling it.  On some of the other songs, he’s verging on nu-metal territory too much for my taste, like on the downbeat “Institutions”.  And for some reason his voice grates on me after the length of a full album.  Maybe I find it a bit too shrill.

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World Asylum album is heavy, the heaviest thing Leatherwolf have ever done. The guitar solos are highlights, but the riffs are just not as memorable as the old days.  The drumming by Dean Roberts is fast, precise and hit the spot.  The keyboards of old are gone.  I found the first five songs to be excellent, but after that the album tends to slide. At times, those metal guitar harmonies are back. At others, there’s nothing to grab me.  Lyrically the “asylum” theme runs through the record, but I wouldn’t call it a concept album or even that interesting.

This Japanese edition has one bonus track, which is the great “Tools of Discipline”, originally heard on the old Wide Open live album.  (It also comes with stickers!)  Gotta say I prefer Olivieri’s vocals better than Wade Black’s.  I prefer Jeff Martin’s vocals to Wade Black’s as well.  Sorry guys.  If it all came down to the singer, Black doesn’t do it for me.  But in a weird twist, Michael Olivieri returned the following year, and he re-recorded all the vocals. That album was issued as New World Asylum (without the bonus track). The original singer is usually best suited to the job, but more on that in the next review below.

2.5/5 stars


LEATHERWOLF – New World Asylum (2007 Leatherwolf Music)

So Michael Olivieri, the original Leatherwolf singer came back on board to stay this time.  So did guitarist Carey Howe, replacing Eric Halpern.  This restored 4/5 of the classic Leatherwolf lineup.  It made sense to have them re-record their parts on their latest album and re-release it.  No sense promoting a lineup that doesn’t exist anymore, right?  I think it was the right move for another reason.  I’m just not that into Wade Black, the singer on the original World Asylum. He verges on nu-metal teritory too much for my taste. I’ve never liked nu-metal; I appreciate the talent that goes into writing and performing nu-metal, but it’s not music I enjoy listening to, largely due to the vocals. I like traditional metal vocals, in general.

With the new lead vocals, World Asylum was retitled New World Asylum, and released with differently coloured cover art. This is my version of choice, metal fans! Maybe it’s familiarity, but Olivieri’s voice just sounds right.  The character of Leatherwolf feels like it’s in his voice.  I prefer his version of every single track. The melody and recognizable character are there, and he throws in a couple of those old-school screams. The end result is not necessarily a better batch of songs, just a more enjoyable listen.

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Strongest tracks here include “King of the Ward”, a slamming song with a teasing chorus.  Strange how I didn’t like it on the Wade Black version.  I think “Behind the Gun” is probably the best tune here.  Having heard it with three different singers, I have to say this version is champion.  “I Am the Law” and the groovy “Dr. Wicked (Rx O.D.)” are also pretty cool.  But again, I didn’t like “Dr. Wicked” on the Wade version.  It all comes down to the vocals.

The original album’s bonus track, “Tools Of Discipline”, was not re-recorded here, I guess because there is a live version available with Olivieri singing on Wide Open.

My recommendation: Leatherwolf fans, pick this up rather than World Asylum, unless you’re a die hard. Casual fans and the curious, go with New World Asylum as it’s just a better listen.

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Queensryche – “Redemption” (2013 single)

QUEENSRYCHE – “Redemption” (2013 single from the forthcoming new album Queensryche)

Ever since I first saw the video for “Queen of the Reich” back in, oh, ’84 or around there, I’ve been a fan of this band.  I’ve followed them through ups (Operation: Mindcrime) but pretty much abandoned them on the downs (Tribe).  As time went on it seemed that former singer Geoff Tate was in command, and his choices of direction or stage show hasn’t always been to my taste, nor that of many fans.

Hiring a new singer this late in the game is very rarely a good move.  But it seems fairly obvious that Tate was poisoning his relationship with the band and fans, and it was with relief to me when they finally fired him and moved on.  Todd La Torre is completely unknown to me, I had never heard his work with Crimson Glory.  The new Queensryche single “Redemption” from their untitled album due in June is the first time I’ve heard any of his original material.

The verdict?  It’s pretty much exactly what I expected.  It sounds like Queensryche circa Warning through to Mindcrime, but with modern touches.  There’s some solid riffing here, but not so much the audio collages of sound that Queensryche tend to do in the studio.  La Torre nails the vintage Tate vibe without adding a whole lot to it, right down to the multitracked backing vocals.  The track doesn’t expand the Queensryche sound, which is the opposite of what they used to do.  In this case I understand the reasons.  After a decade of more or less disappointing albums and wandering directions, now is not the time to experiment musically.  Queensryche had to return to a vintage sound, as demanded by their fans, and do so authentically.  I think they do this authentically by genuinely desiring to play that kind of music right now.

It’s hard to do a simple rating on a song I’ve been waiting for like this.  Am I underwhelmed?  Slightly.  Is that because I got exactly what I expected?  Probably.  Is it good?  Yes.  Am I looking forward to the album?  Big time.

3.5/5 stars

More Queensryche:

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part I

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part II

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part III

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part IV