Halloween

Redrum! A wickedly scary Top 5 Horror Movie show on the LeBrain Train

Big props to the panel tonight:  Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller, Rob “Chucky” Daniels and Erik “Velvet Voice” Woods!  Any time we cover movies, I am the luckiest host in the world to be able to lean on Rob and Erik.  I truly believe these two guys are some of the top experts on movie soundtracks in the world.  By extension, they also know movies like the backs of their hands.  This was a truly great show because we had three amazing guests on the panel.  Me, all I could do was tell amusing anecdotes!  (Watch the show and find out what my buddy Bob and I “learned” about women’s clothing from the movie Christine.

This is a show you’ll want to watch from start to finish.  The discussion far exceeded just a simple “top 5” list, with plenty of interesting runners-up scattered through the broadcast.  Go get a beverage and get ready to be inspired to watch a whole bunch of horror movies this weekend!


REMINDER:

November 5 7:00 PM E.S.T.: We are joined by the awesome Dan Fila, drummer of Sven Gali and Varga! Co-hosted by John “2loud2old” Snow. Get ready to be pummelled by a double bass master!

Next week I’ll be on Tim’s Vinyl Confessions for a special episode, and 107.5 Dave Rocks, with Jessie David for The Essential Alice Cooper on October 31!

The Horror! Top Five Scary Flicks on the LeBrain Train

The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike and the Meat Man

Episode 85 – Cinco De List-O: Top 5 Horror Films

Topic courtesy of the Meat Man! It’s Halloween so perfect timing for another movie list: horror movies! And any time we’re talking movies, we better have Rob Daniels and Erik Woods on board!

It’s a really simple subject so we don’t need a lot of explanation here. To read up on my history with horror films, check out Record Store Tales #496: The Horror. It may spoil a couple of my picks so be forewarned!

Friday October 29, 7:00 PM E.S.T. on Facebook: MikeLeBrain and YouTube: Mike LeBrain.


Upcoming shows:

I am very pleased to announce next week’s show:

November 5 7:00 PM E.S.T.: We are joined by the awesome Dan Fila, drummer of Sven Gali and Varga! Freeze, don’t move, this show is gonna be Under the Influence! Co-hosted by John “2loud2old” Snow.

I also have an appearance on Tim’s Vinyl Confessions coming up, and will be be on 107.5 Dave Rocks, with Jessie David and my pick for The Essential Alice Cooper, on October 31!

[Re-Post] Part 241: Halloween, KISS style!

Always nice to repost a seasonal classic.  Enjoy this Halloween tale.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 241:  Halloween, KISS style!

Our annual inventory count fell on October 31.  For five years straight, I never got to dress up, hand out candy, or do anything fun on Halloween because I was too busy counting discs and CD towers!  However in the early days, this wasn’t the case.  Halloween 1996 was actually a pretty good one.

Like most malls, ours had a few Halloween contests.  T-Rev entered the store in the Pumpkin Carving category.  He and I came up with the plan to do a Kiss pumpkin.  T-Rev, the store owner’s brother, and myself gathered in my mom’s workshop in the basement. My mom had plenty of paint, and I was good at drawing the Kiss makeup designs.  T-Rev had the idea to make the pumpkin Gene Simmons, and figured out how to make a pumpkin tongue stick out.  I must say he did an amazing job.

The first step was to spray paint the pumpkin white.  One of the guys did the cutting.  Then, I drew the Demon design with a black magic marker.  We thought the nose needed to be more three-dimensional, so I cut it out a bit.  Together, we began colouring in Gene’s makeup.  We needed something to define the eyes of Gene, and T-Rev thought of using pumpkin seeds.  We added a wig, and voila!

T-Rev propped Gene up on the magazine stand outside the store.  Immediately we started getting compliments, and the response was pretty unanimous:  We had done the best job in the entire mall.

Unfortunately, the judges didn’t base their ratings on who had done the best job.  They were only marking the results, whether the store employees did the pumpkins themselves or not!  A store that hired a professional carver won first place.  We came in second.  There was no prize for second.  T-Rev and I considered that to be cheating.  Cheatie-cheatertons.

The contest was over, and not too soon:  the pumpkin had begun to rot, as pumpkins do.  That didn’t stop a customer from coming in on November 1st and offering him $10 for it.  T-Rev accepted his gracious offer, even though the thing would be turning horrific in a day or two.  A fool and his money, right T-Rev?

By 1997, the store had moved out of the mall.  This was our last pumpkin carving contest, but at least we had the satisfaction of winning the popular vote.  As far as I’m concerned, we went out on top.  My personal consolation prize was later on, Halloween 2006.  By this time I had moved on to United Rentals.  They took Halloween very, very seriously at United Rentals!  I dressed up as Paul Stanley, and this time, I finally won first prize!

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

DAVID LEE ROTH – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

This cassette is a second generation, recorded from a buddy (with good equipment at least) in 1992.  My first bootleg.  It opens with a Van Halen-era interview with David Lee Roth about “precision rock”.  The crackle of original vinyl is audible.

A nice fade-in brings Steve Vai’s guitar to the fore, and then it’s wide open into “Shyboy”.  High octane, even though it’s just an audience recorded cassette with not enough volume on the guitar.  Without pause they rock into “Tobacco Road”. Gregg Bissonette’s toms a-thunderin’.  Vai certainly needs no help in hitting all the guitar hooks that he baked into the vinyl, just with more flair and energy.

Dave has never shied away from Van Halen hits or deep cuts.  “Unchained”, “Panama” and “Pretty Woman” are the first three.  The bass rumblings are unlike anything Michael Anthony played on the original.  The backing vocals are far more elaborate.  Like in Van Halen, “Unchained” is interrupted part way, but this time it’s so Dave can ask what you think of his new band!  Pretty hot.  After “Unchained” he stops to talk to a “pretty Canadian girl”.  “Panama” sounds a little odd with Brett Tuggle’s keyboards so prominent in the mix.  And it’s also way way way too long, with Dave trying to figure out who is reaching down between whose legs, but that’s Dave.  You don’t go to the show just to hear the music.  You go to see the whole schtick.  You put in the quarter, you gotta let the jukebox play the whole thing out.

“Pretty Woman” is zipped through fairly quickly (with one audience participation stop), going into Dave’s rabid “Elephant Gun” and the slick “Ladies’ Night in Buffalo?”  “Elephant Gun” features solos galore that would have been pretty awesome to see up close.  It sounds like there’s a vinyl side break before heading into “Buffalo”.  Vai’s guitar is the star here, in an extended solo backed only by Tuggle.  This turns into a dual bass/guitar call-and-answer.

When Bissonette starts on those tribal beats, you know it’s Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”  This great version includes a drum solo.  Next it’s “On Fire” from the Van Halen debut.  Dave asks for the guitars to be turned up – we agree.  “On Fire” with keyboards and Vai noodling is a different animal.  After Dave’s original “Bump and Grind”, it’s time to flip the tape.

Side two opens with some of Dave’s acoustic strummin’, and a story called “Raymond’s Song”.  It’s just an excuse for him to say “Toronto” a whole lotsa times before introducing “Ice Cream Man”.  Which completely smokes.  Vai puts his own space-age spin on it, and Tuggle adds boogie piano, but this is one wicked version!

Dave’s solo track “Big Trouble” has plenty of atmosphere and fireworks for the Toronto crowd, but “Yankee Rose” is just nuts.  Nothing but the hits from here on in:  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Goin’ Crazy!”, “Jump” and “California Girls”.  The heavy riff of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” sounds great in Steve’s hands, who doesn’t go too crazy with it.  Of course there has to be another long break in the middle (too many breaks at this point now).  This time it’s so Dave can get Stevie to make his guitar say “Toronto kicks ass, because the chicks are so fine”.  The rest of the songs are somewhat fluffy, the pop stuff, and rendered a little sweet with the added shimmer of Brett Tuggle.  “Jump” misses the deeper tone of Eddie’s Oberheim OBXA.

It’s worth noting that Roth closes with “California Girls”, not “Jump”.  His solo career is the point, not Van Halen, he seems to be saying.  This is the cherry on top.  Roth hands it to his new band several times in the show — he knew they had to deliver, and they did.  And he wants people to know that he has a band that can compete with his old group.

The show is complete,  and apparently Dave didn’t play “Just a Gigolo” on this tour.  The opening act in Toronto was Cinderella, supporting Night Songs.

Sometimes you wish Dave would get on with it and play the next song, but that’s only because this is a cassette bootleg being played on a Technics RS-TR272.  If you were there in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour, you’d be eating up every word Dave laid down.  He is the master of the stage.  Sure, it doesn’t always translate to tape but that’s the nature of Dave’s live show, isn’t it?  It’s precision rock — visually and audibly combined.

4.5/5 stars (for what the show must have been in person)

 

Halloween Memories with your host, “Max the Axe”!

Thanks for joining me, “Max the Axe”, for this special episode of Halloween Memories! Where’s Pablo? I’m kind of a big deal. Three yolks, two whites, that’s how you make Hollandaise sauce.

If you watch the video below I’ll give you a sneak preview of the new song “Oktoberfest Cheer” and we’ll visit with special guests “Mean” Gene Simmons and Dr. Kathryn Ladano!

To hear “Oktoberfest Cheer” which I played twice, go to 0:02:35 or 1:31:15. Chose your sound quality — shitty or shittier!

To hang out with Dr. Kathryn, go to 0:13:40.

To see what Mean Gene Simmons has to announce, check out 0:34:05.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Everybody Wants Live Streams!! Van Halen Deep Cuts Friday, Halloween Memories Saturday!

For the first time since the very first time in March, I’m doing two shows in one weekend!


The LeBrain Train:  2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano

Episode 34

As suggested by the inimitable Kevin / Buried on Mars, Friday’s show will be the Nigel Tufnel Top 10 Van Halen deep cuts.  Join the panel and I as we run through the best stuff they don’t play on the radio.  Friday October 30 at 7:00 PM E.S.T. 


Episode 35

Halloween Memories!  One thing I’ve noticed this year is that many friends are really bummed about the loss of Halloween. I feel bad about this so I thought I’d throw a Halloween live stream party.  I used to be a real Halloween kid, so I thought it would be a lot of fun to just talk Halloween memories!  I have many good ones going back to the 1970s, and best of all, I will be in costume!  Saturday October 31 at 7:00 PM E.S.T.  

Facebook:  MikeLeBrain  YouTube:  Mike LeBrain

#790: Helluva Halloween

GETTING MORE TALE #790: Helluva Halloween

Everybody eventually hits that age, when they are “too old” to go trick-or-treating for candy.  Highschool seemed like a good age to draw the line. Time to start handing out the candy instead of collecting it.  We all have to grow up eventually.

Do we?

Naw, screw that!

In the 10th grade, a new Halloween tradition was inaugurated.  As told in Getting More Tale #548:

We started preparing for Halloween in late August.  We began by making heads out of papier-mâché. Ours were crude, but when dressed up with sunglasses, hats or wigs, did the trick. Then we would begin working on an audio tape. This was a 60-minute long compilation of scary bits from Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden albums. We hid some speakers outside and would play the tape on a loop for background scary sounds.   Kids loved it.  Really small ones were scared, so we had to stop the tape and turn on the lights for them, but 95% thought it was awesome (including parents).  We’d see kids across the street, and they’d make a beeline for our house as soon as they saw it.  My favourite costume was the one I made in grade 10:  Alice Cooper.

Oh, that Alice Cooper costume!  I painted flames on an old black jacket so it would look something like Alice’s.  I wore his makeup.  I had fake tattoos (not knowing that Alice didn’t have any).  I had a pair of handcuffs on my belt.  Best of all though, was the sword I wore on my hip.  It was actually a fireplace poker, but you couldn’t tell in the dark.

Making the annual audio tape was a long, arduous process.  We’d fast-forward through our tape collections to record tiny bits of songs, and loop them.  The ending to “Children of the Grave” and the intro to “Powerslave” were perfect.  Occasionally we’d throw in the middle of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with the narration and creepy violin.  Black Sabbath’s “The Dark” was almost custom made for our needs.  As time went on and our collections grew, we had more music to choose from.  Any time one of us would buy an album with music perfect for Halloween, one of us would excitedly phone the other.  In later years I was fond of the middle section from “Nightcrawler” by Judas Priest.  But it was tedious work.  You couldn’t just play the same sections over and over again, you had to space them out so kids wouldn’t get the same bits repeated while you stood there handing out candy.  We spent hours upon hours making this tape that would only be used for one night.  Blank tapes were a commodity.  We were always using them up, and looking for something to erase.  Halloween tapes were first to go.  Besides, we wanted to do it again the following year, but better!

Our scary tapes would be augmented by flashing lights courtesy of…a flashlight.  Eventually, Bob figured out how to hook up a microphone to our primitive audio setup.  We could then speak directly to the kids!

“You…across the street…come here for a treat!  Muahahahah!”

Mom & dad didn’t approve.  To them we just made a big mess and a lot of noise.  Indeed, I can remember trying to wash off that Alice Cooper makeup at the end of the night.  I left a black ring around the tub.  But my dad hated handing out candy, so I hope he appreciated that he was relieved of that duty.  Considering how long we prepared, it was actually a long ongoing mess.  Ever made papier-mâché?  No neat and tidy way to do it.  Those heads were the most work, and we left a trail of destruction in the basement, forming and painting them.  But once they were out on the front porch (either decapitated or as part of a fully clothed “body”) they sure were effective.

Bob eventually went to college, and the traditional Halloween House was discontinued.  I did it a few times without him but all the fun was gone.  The idea was briefly resurrected in the late 1990s, at T-Rev’s place. As told in Record Store Tales Part 148:

T-Rev had this cool “alien head” — he got it back in ’97 or ’98 from a convenience store.  It had alien head suckers inside.  He asked the guy at the store, “how much for the alien head?”  The guy answered, “If you buy all the suckers in it, you can have it.”  So he did.  (The candy was awful by the way.  I did my share, trying to help him consume it all.)  But he got this alien head out of it, and with it, made a cool alien costume.   And for the Halloween party that year, I wore the costume.

I would sit in a chair on T-Rev’s front porch, still as could be.  When a child would approach the door, I would suddenly move and say “Na-nu, na-nu”!  The reactions were priceless.  Some were scared, so I had to unmask and show I was just a regular guy.

“Give some candy to the Jedi over here!” I said, gesturing to the kid dressed as Darth Maul.

“I’m no Jedi!” he protested.  I should have got my terminology right.  I apologized to the Sith lord.

Even the Sith story is from 20 years ago.  Not having kids, today Halloween has fizzled out.  There are no trick-or-treaters in our building.  Most people today doing a “haunted house” experience at home buy expensive decorations at chain stores.  They get featured the in newspaper for having done an awesome job.  That’s terrific.  But we did everything ourselves.  Everything.  Nothing was “store bought”.  We improvised everything with what we had, spending weeks putting it all together.  Too bad the newspapers don’t cover kids who do everything themselves!  We would have been featured every year.

Have a happy Halloween and don’t forget to brush those teeth!

 

GUEST REVIEW: Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

Happy Halloween, kiddies!  Here’s guest writer HOLEN MaGROIN with the final review in his series for Halloween 2018.  In case you missed ’em:

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews
Oct 17:  Fastway – Trick or Treat Original Music Score 
Oct 24:  The Shining movie review (?)

And now:

HELLOWEEN – Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I (1987 Noise)

It’s 2AM in my land, and I really need to catch the Z’s. I put this review off way too long, and now I must suffer the consequences. But if you thought I was going to miss the last review of the month (on Halloween nonetheless) you are very incorrect. Sleep deprivation is no stranger to this man, I SHALL FORGE AHEAD WITH MY TRUSTY KEYBOARD TO REVIEW… Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I. This is my review of the power metal classic, it’s going to be just as kickass as the album itself, and I don’t care if no one agrees. I’m right in my own little world, and that’s all that matters to me. Really this is just stream of consciousness, which is impressive because I’m barely awake. Awake as in “I Awake” by Soundgarden. There’s a good Halloween tune.

Holy shit, Batman! I’ve got to stay focused. Anyway, Helloween – We Couldn’t Think of a Longer Fucking Title if We Tried, So Fuck Anyone Trying to Review This You Stupid Pricks Pt. 1 is a classic power metal release. Manowar can piss off; Helloween is the real deal. Unlike Manowar, Helloween knows how to make an album with classics instead of just one to two good songs and a whole lot of Viking poser bullshit ballads (Manowar sux). This album is a real step up for the band in that Helloween finally realized that they needed a good singer, so they got Michael Kiske who basically sounds like a German Geoff Tate with a little less power. I’m talking prime real estate Geoff Tate too, so this is pretty good as far as metal singing goes.

When I first put on this album there were obvious classics, “I’m Alive”, “Twilight of the Gods”, “Future World”, and the epic “Halloween”, but all the other two full length tracks “A Little Time” and “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” revealed themselves to me upon repeated listening to be the genre staples that they claimed to be. There are only six songs on this beautiful slab of wax because “Halloween” is over thirteen minutes long, and two songs are an intro and outro respectively. And I do respect them, because they’re not very long and they add to the tension instead of impeding on the awesome. These are complex, compelling, melodic tunes that don’t get sunk by their European ambitions. “Holy wars… in the skYYYYYYY” the classic “Twilight of the Gods” bridge will have you tapping your fist against the wall in no time, because it’s so good. LOVE IT ALL. It’s worth it. If you’re a metal fan and don’t have this in your collection, you’re doing it wrong my amigo.

5/5 Pumpkins

 

Author’s Note: I’m sorry, everybody!

GUEST REVIEW: Fastway – Trick or Treat (1986 Soundtrack)

 

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

It’s not about the candy!  It’s Halloween Wednesday again, so here’s HOLEN MaGROIN with the next in his series of Halloween themed reviews. 

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews

 

FASTWAY – Trick or Treat Original Music Score (1986 Columbia)

Some albums excel by being excellent; Trick or Treat is not one of those albums. It excels because of its banality. There’s nothing on this album that you’ve never heard before, but the band sells it with such conviction that you buy into about as much as the band itself does. This is the soundtrack to the best forgotten 1986 film starring no one worth remembering, with a couple of cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne. The film was such a dud that once it was released on DVD, they changed the cover to feature the faces of Simmons and Osbourne despite the two of them being in the film for a collective total of about five minutes.  The journey I went through listening to this album impacted me in such a way that I feel obligated to elaborate on it here, and that journey will essentially act as the review. I didn’t intentionally go anywhere while listening to this album; the music was such a powerful agent that it literally shattered the very fabric of space and time. The film is not as strong.

However, this review isn’t about that film. This is about the Fastway soundtrack to the film. You’d think a band taking on a film as gloriously moronic as this one would whip up some tracks that were appropriately tongue in cheek, but nope. Fastway plays it 100% straight, which actually makes it funnier than if they’d been going for laughs. The songs that follow are a complete artistic tour de force that will leave your soul shaken by the depth and insightful words of automatic poetry.

The first time I heard the opening song and title track, I pooped my pants.* The song’s unparalleled emotion and tenacity penetrated the very depths of my being, and left me quivering unequivocally with raw radiant emotion. The spiritual rebirth was enough to temporarily reset my bowels back to their earliest stages, causing a stinky disturbance. Joy mixed with sorrow as the cool tears streamed down my face like a river from the ice caves of the indigenous population of Mars. The deep prose of the chorus commanded deeper attention, as Dave King eloquently belted out the most imaginative lines in all of rock. “Rock and roll! Rockin’ on at midnight, steal your soul!” So much can be determined from the hermetic intangibility of this expertly crafted piece of macaroni and songwriting. Never before has a rock vocalist journeyed to such spiritual and internal truths. This has elevated to a level beyond art, beyond comprehension, beyond all human understanding! It has encompassed all the ostentatious pretension and grandeur of the art world, while maintaining a close link to the blue collar worker! This is a work of God!

By the time the song is over, my hands are bloody from the sheer force with which I was gripping my security blanket. My nails dug through the blanket into my fist. My material possessions (except the stereo and the blanket) had burned up in the intensity, as music so self-aware could only be absorbed by living tissue. I feel so weak that I can barely discern the ends of the blanket from my fragile body. I press pause on my CD player, and I begin to cry. After a healthy drink of water, I decide to venture on to the next potential masterpiece, and continue on with my expedition into the brilliantly alluring tapestry of the Fastway facade. The opening chords of “After Midnight” burst out of my speakers directly into my chest, and they blow me into another dimension.

I awoke in an alternate reality where candy was made of fish, and fish were made of candy in the chocolate river of wind city sticks. A man dressed like a woman and a woman dressed like a woman approached me and gifted me a dishwasher. A balding wildflower called my name and I decided to investigate his store front. He was selling music, but only two albums. Those two albums were a copy of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able, and Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy. Considering the fact that it was Fastway that knocked me into another dimension, it was weird getting this musical inception to other artists’ records. The orange label on the Vai album began to swallow me, and my spirit was floating above my unconscious body as I returned to my room, hovering over my body as Fastway played. My spirit re-entered my body as I discovered I had soiled myself again. What high art!

After a quick attire substitution, and a breeze through the mediocrity of the song “Don’t Stop the Fight”, “Stand Up” began to emanate from the speakers. The ceiling shattered as I was abducted by alien people that looked like Jon Bon Jovi and Sam Kinison fused their DNA together. They drank wine like classy sophisticates. Fastway is the only music good enough to satisfy their cultural needs, and they intended to harvest my Fastway collection, but I was able to fight them off by comparing their acting skills to Rob Lowe’s. As they nursed their bruised egos, I leapt out of the spaceship and slid down the rainbow from the clouds of snow and weather pulses.

I went on a series of comparable journeys throughout the process of listening to the album, with tribal incantations and aristocratic meat loaf simulators, but nothing could prepare me for the climatic showdown induced by the closing track masterpiece “If You Could See”. Apparently, the reason that Fastway was able to lift itself to such scholarly levels of uncompromising respectability is because the band wasn’t a band at all. Fastway was a hype mind suffering from malignant narcissism due to a computer virus uploaded into the mainframe by a ghost bearing a striking resemblance to Herbert Marcuse. The hype mind was designed to make the greatest music imaginable that would only reveal itself to the chosen one. I guess I was the chosen one. Luckily the hype mind was printing dot matrix still, and was running on a Pentium processor from the ‘90s. I was able to overload it by switching the computer date to 2000. Y2K! Escaping the area would manage to be the greatest magic trick I was able to conjure upon the underpopulated document absence of consequential thought and sound devised by the penultimate direct access line to the semi permeable ancestors of the Pagan worship center of healthcare management fiscal responsibility drones. To combat the territorial dipping sauce from the entrée dessert filibuster mustard, swans arose from the pie crust to entrench the moon beams of reflective solar glares in Jimmy Stewart fashion. And that’s how I escaped!

So in the end the album was only a half-baked set of ideas that didn’t quite measure up to the level of the first two Fastway albums, but easily left the third album in the dust. I trust you were able to ascertain that from my last paragraph, but I may as well summarize for clarity’s sake. There are enough inspired moments on this release to merit owning it as a good enough novelty Halloween disc, but if it didn’t have the gimmick of being attached the holiday there would be little reason to own this. It’s pretty generic ‘80s rock, with Dave King sounding like a hybrid between Jack Russell of Great White and Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot. However, sometimes generic can hit the spot if you’re not sure what specific flavor you want, and the holiday connections make it go down with a little less guilt. “Hold on to the Night” knocks off half a point for being maddeningly repetitive, but it gains that half point back for not sucking as much as the movie it’s featured in.

Score: 3/5 (Smashing?) Pumpkins

* There is no shame in that.

GUEST REVIEW: Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp (1987/88)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

SOUNDGARDEN – Screaming Life/Fopp (1987 & 88 EPs, released combined on Sub Pop CD 1990)

I love Halloween. I love autumn. I love horror films. I love metal. When you combine the four of those things that complement each other so well, it adds up to be one of my favourite times of the year. It may be considered a childish holiday, but to me it’s not about the candy. The entire atmosphere of the world seems to change around and on a holiday. The world almost seems to become more surreal, taking on aspects of life that only seem normal in films. There’s no reason Christmas should feel any lighter or peaceful than a regular day, but it does. Halloween has a certain feel too, an eerie one that goes perfect with metal and horror films, the cooling weather, and the waning sunlight. It’s about the deception, the masquerade, the vaudeville, the showmanship that keeps me intrigued by Halloween. Throughout the month on Wednesday’s I’ll be writing reviews of albums that are important Halloween albums to me, finally culminating on the big day (10/31). I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do writing them.

1987 was the peak year for mainstream metal*, but it was also the starting point for an underground movement that would upset the entire genre of rock for good. Some call it grunge, but I think that term is as disrespectful as “hair metal”, especially given that the so called ‘big four’ of grunge didn’t sound alike at all. My favourite of those four bands was always Soundgarden. Chris Cornell was easily the best singer out of the bunch, and the group’s songwriting was also superior to the other bands from the same town. None of the other bands came close to writing an album as undeniably badass as Badmotorfinger. They were also the most metal out of the Seattle scene, and Chris Cornell didn’t seem to be a whiny punk like Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder. Cornell didn’t shy away from success and intentionally sabotage himself like the other two guys, at least not publically. His passing was one of the few times that a ‘celebrity’ death had actually impacted me, and was a horrible loss to the music world.

In the aftermath of his passing, it makes sense to start back at the beginning to see how he progressed throughout his career. Soundgarden made their debut on Sub Pop with an EP called Screaming Life. They followed it up the next year with the Fopp EP, and they were eventually packaged together on CD in 1990 by Sub Pop under the clever title Screaming Life/Fopp. I bought this CD, and Lynch Mob’s Wicked Sensation at the same time in mid October, so both of these albums have a strong mental link to Halloween for me, but the Soundgarden EPs have more than an emotional attachment to the holiday. This is some evil sounding stuff that fits absolutely perfectly with the time of the year. This is partially because Kim Thayil exhibits a much stronger influence on the band’s music than he would on the last few Soundgarden albums. While on later Soundgarden albums, Chris Cornell wrote a substantial amount of the group’s music as well as its lyrics, here a good share of these early songs were written by guitarist Kim Thayil and original bass player Hiro Yamamoto. All the music on Screaming Life was written by one of the two, with Cornell handling only the lyrics. This is a different sounding band than the group that wrote “Black Hole Sun”. There are some punk roots showing with the obvious Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin influences.

The aforementioned Black Sabbath influences are blended seamlessly with the brevity and relentlessness of punk in the album opener “Hunted Down”. This is the group’s first of many classics, and was also their first single. It’s an absolutely evil sounding number, with a hypnotic riff that sounds like the band are summoning demons themselves. The lyrics tell the story of a convict escaping prison and being hunted by the authority figures. He copes by changing his face permanently to avoid detection. The band follows the “Paranoid” single mold by making the song less than three minutes, which gives it a lethal efficiency. The melody is somber, and compliments the music accordingly. Chris Cornell was not yet the consummate vocalist that he would become, but his chops here are impressive for a youngster starting out on his first recording. The song was so good that Sub Pop chose it to be their hold music when people would call the label, prompting the group to call them up just to hear their song on the phone.

That Soundgarden classic is followed up by the much more obscure “Entering”, a four minute song that is so doomy that you think it goes on much longer (before checking the CD again, I had originally typed in the review that it was a seven minute epic!). It begins with slow ringing guitar notes that are enchanting in a dark way. It’s unsettling, yet you’re intrigued by it. This is one instance in which the song perfectly mixes with the stark visuals of the black and white cover. The beginning of this song is actually reminiscent of early 20th century horror films. It wouldn’t sound out of place being played on a grand piano in Dracula, Nosferatu, or Frankenstein, that’s how ominous it is. The song then goes through a dynamic shift and is kicked into high gear by the frantic drumming of the great Matt Cameron as Chris Cornell begins to wail with a slap back delay on his vocals that gives the song an energetic live feeling. The production is rough, but the muddiness only helps enhance the songs.

Following a throwaway screeching punk number, the band turns in one of the best songs in the gloomy and slow drop D tuned “Nothing to Say”. This song can only be described as “Electric Funeral” with better vocals updated for the late ‘80s. The group would never again sound this evil excepting their debut album Ultramega OK, which was actually released on Halloween. Perhaps to break up this seriousness, the band included many joke songs on their early albums. “Little Joe” is one of these, a funked up strange number about a Hispanic kid crossing the border. It’s totally disposable, just like all of their joke songs they just take up space and distract from the better music (except “Big Dumb Sex” from Louder Than Love). It’s still slightly demented in a off-putting way, which keeps it from ruining the mood of the EP.

The Fopp section is much lighter, in content and in mood. It contains just three songs and a remix, with only one original Soundgarden tune. The Chris Cornell’s first sole songwriting credit is with “Kingdom of Come”, a fun little tune, that doesn’t amount to much, but sounds good enough when you’re listening to it. The production on this half of the compilation is much clearer than on Screaming Life. The guitars have much more midrange energy, and the most of the muddiness has been cleaned up. If the first EP sounded like a cult ritual, this seems like the light-hearted after party. The set is rounded off by the covers of “Swallow My Pride” and “Fopp”.  These are a couple of tunes just like “Kingdom of Come”, in that they’re enjoyable in a fun way, but there’s not a lot of substance underneath them.

Overall, the Screaming Life section is the superior EP, but together the shades of light and dark are an interesting insight into Soundgarden’s later, more developed sound. This is an absolutely wicked sounding release that most be listened to on headphones at night at least once around the Halloween season. While it’s not perfect and still shows a band in development, it is haunting and helps to scratch that horror metal itch if you’ve already exhausted Welcome to My Nightmare and your Black Sabbath collection.

3.25/5 stars

 

* LeBrain respectfully disagrees and remembers 1989 as the peak year for mainstream metal.