heavy metal

REVIEW: Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe (2018)

FU MANCHU – Clone of the Universe (2018 New Damage)

First the first time in a long time, “I’ve Been Hexed” by the brand new Fu Manchu album.

Clone of the Universe sounds cut from the same cloth as classic albums such as King of the Road and The Action is Go.  Aside from the mind-bomb that is the 18 minute track “Il Mostro Atomico”, each song is short, riffy and to the point.  “(I’ve Been) Hexed” is an immediate thumbs-up, a reminder of what we liked about Fu Manchu when we first heard them.

You can’t tell if “Don’t Panic” has anything to do with Douglas Adams, but it’s as fast and relentless as the UFO-themed “King of the Road”.  Maybe the Sabbath-crawl of “Slower Than Light” is also about space travel; maybe it’s not.  The fun is in the guessing, but by the end the song is at moving at warp.  Both “Nowhere Left to Hide” and “Intelligent Worship” boast riffs carved from the stones of Mt. Iommi, contained with in the Fu Manchu groove.  The title track “Clone of the Universe” is like a heavy metal hammer, or a stoner rock Mjölnir.

Despite the strong Fu Manchu grooves throughout, it is undoubtedly the side-long “Il Mostro Atomico” that is the centerpiece.  Suddenly from somewhere left of center comes the “Snow Dog”; Alex Lifeson of Rush with his own style of lead guitar.  Lifeson always had a knack for finding cool artists to work with outside his normal sphere.  Hearing him rip and make noise with Fu Manchu is so right.  Not to mention, this jam which keeps going on and on has plenty to offer when you listen all the way through.

Clear winners:  “(I’ve Been) Hexed”, “Il Mostro Atomico”.

4.5/5 stars

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#714: Born Again

GETTING MORE TALE #714: Born Again

They probably thought I was going to hell the day I showed up on the first day of school in that Judas Priest T-shirt.  Mrs. Powers was a devout Catholic, with a judgey side to go with it.  She enjoyed publicly humiliating her “misbehaved” students.  I can only imagine what she really thought.  Here was her “A” student, and over summer holidays, he’s got himself a T-shirt that says “Judas Priest” on it.  He’s drawing pictures of guitars in art and doing his class speech on a band called Kiss.  What the devil is with that Ladano kid?

If Catholic school was ever too sedate or solemn, this was magnified 100-fold in the lenses of the 8th grade.

It was the year you made the choice of which highschool to go to.  You’d undergo the Sacrament of Confirmation.  It was their last chance to make sure you didn’t go off the rails and do something stupid, like do drugs or leave the church!

There was a weeklong Catholic retreat to an old convent in Ancaster called Mount Mary.  “Every student I ever had who did not go to Mount Mary grew up to do drugs, or killed themselves,” said Mrs. Powers.  Holy shit!  I didn’t want to be there and it was obvious.  It was the middle of winter and every day had extensive outdoor activities, but worse, you were not allowed to bring any of your music.  No Walkmans, no tapes.  There was a radio tuned to an approved radio station in one of the activity rooms.  I didn’t know what to do, so before we left, I listened to and memorised as many Kiss songs as I could.  Double Platinum worked for my last minute Kiss cramming session.  The song I was most successful with was “Love Gun”.  I had just received a taped copy of The Elder but did not have time to investigate it much.  I had to go to Mount Mary instead.  This intrusion into the wants and desires of my musical passions kind of pissed me off.  I had to wait a week to get into The Elder.  Stupid retreat.  I was so scared of being caught with any contraband that I flushed my candy before getting on the bus.  Humming “Love Gun” in my head, we were off.

Mount Mary conjures up some real discomfort.  They were trying to teach you to be open minded about it but all I can really recall are negative feelings, and some disgusting hot chocolate.  I was isolated from everything I loved and stuck with a bunch of people who I didn’t particularly like, and felt the same towards me.  I knew this because we had to form circles and tell everybody something we liked about them.  Nobody seemed to know much about me at all.  “You like Star Wars, uhhh…and I don’t, but that’s cool.” was the most memorable.

There was a day spent outside in the snow as “hunters” and “hunted”.  I don’t remember the moral of this activity.  The hunters had wooden sticks as rifles, and my bully Steve Hartman was one of them.  The role playing had a bizarre shade of reality.  There were no explanations to us as to why people were selected for their roles.  The hunted were supposed to find some specially marked trees, but I spent most of the time just hiding in the woods from hunters and teachers alike.  There was another day including a long hike up something called “Agony Hill”.

The day we were released from Mount Mary and sent home was cold and wet.  The snow was melting, but it was just dirty slush.  My parents were supposed to pick me up when the busses arrived at the school, but I didn’t see them and vice versa, so lugged a giant heavy suitcase home through the snow.  At least when I got there, a brand new Marvel Transformers comic was waiting for me with my mail in the kitchen.  #17, “The Smelting Pool”, considered one of the best of the series.

“Well that’s over,” I said to myself.  “Now I just have to get through the rest of this school year and it’s freedom.”

That teacher just had a bad impression of me.  There was the rock and roll devilry which seemed to bring humiliating public interrogation.

“How many of you went to church this past Sunday?” she questioned the class.  “Put up your hands.”  She was determined to find out just how devout our behaviour was.  No excuses.

About half the class raised their hands.

“How many of you were there last week?”  A few more hands went up.

“And the week before?”  A couple more.  “How many have been to church in the last month?”  She noticed me, and I noticed her.  My hands were in my laps.

“MICHAEL.”  Radar locked.

“WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WENT TO CHURCH?” she boomed.

My sister dubbed it “The Hell Hole”.  The school and church are right across from each other

It had been a couple years.  Powers had her “no excuses permitted” policy regarding going to church, so I didn’t even try to explain.  (Essentially her policy was:  You are old enough to go to church on your own now, so don’t tell me your mom was sick.)  I just endured the firepower of Mrs. Powers.  What else could she do; send a note home to my parents?  If I wasn’t going to church, chances are they weren’t either.  And there was a reason for that.

It was an Easter service a couple years prior.  Good Friday mass, very busy, and the church was packed.  My dad always liked to get an aisle seat so that’s what he did on Good Friday.  That was his mistake.

My sister and I had better instincts.  We preferred to hide somewhere in the middle of the pews.  Do you know what our least favourite part of service was?  The part where you have to shake hands and greet your neighbours.  We were shy and would rather not, so we just turned to face each other.  We’d shake hands and say, “Hello sir how are you today?”  “Oh, I’m good sir and how are you?”  We’d do this for as long as we could credibly ignore the adults around us trying to shake our child hands.

On Good Friday we tucked in down the pew while dad sat on the aisle, when the Priest announced that for this special service, volunteers would come and wash your feet if you were sitting on the aisle.  John 13:34:  “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”  My dad has a hard time saying no.  He kicked off his shoes and socks and politely pretended not to be hating every second.  And the family simply stopped going to church after this.  Coincidence?

Mrs. Powers, you can judge all you like.  Maybe my dad was sick of church and I was sick of your shitty school.

One of the heavy metal albums from my childhood that reminds me most of that period is Born Again, by Black Sabbath.  Boy, Powers sure would have hated those lyrics. “Good life is contradiction, because of crucifixion.” You can only imagine, if she knew what was I was hearing!

The devil and the priest can’t exist if one goes away,
It’s just like the battle of the sun and the moon and the night and day,
Force of the devil, that’s we’re all told to fear,
Watch out for religion when he gets too near, too near….

Of course Ian Gillan isn’t a satanist; he’s just a singer!  But those lyrics would have set her head on fire, if the album cover didn’t do that first.  Do we mind “Disturbing the Priest”?  The truth is, the words were inspired by the rehearsal sessions for the album.  They were receiving noise complaints from the local church.  Do we mind “Distrurbing the Priest”?  “Not at all, not at all, not in the least.”  Once you know the genesis of the song, the lyrics fall into place.  Not exactly Catholic-friendly, but certainly not evil.

Evil-sounding though?  Absolutely.  Born Again might be the most traditionally evil sounding metal album in the history of the genre.  That’s why the original mix is so important even though it sounds like the refuse of the Golgothan excremental demon.  The lack of clarity, the muddy haze, and the echoing bottomlessness of it just add to the mystique.  You should not be able to clearly hear what the singer is saying.  It should remind of you a bad hazy dream.  Hell, it’s not the lyrics that make it evil; it’s Geezer’s fuzzy bass!

This article was produced after discussions with friends and acquaintances from different faiths and backgrounds.  Some had similar experiences.  Some are still dealing with residual Catholic guilt.  We were talking old church stories, and all this stuff came flooding back.  The sitting, the kneeling, the hand-shaking…my sister and I singing “Stars” by Hear N’ Aid instead of the hymns…the good and the bad.

One of the school bully kids was killed four years after Mount Mary, riding his motorcycle to work.  I morbidly wondered what Powers thought of that; he went to Mount Mary yet he was on her dead roster.  Would she add that detail for next year’s class?

It’s obvious I still hold a lot of resentment to those school years.  I wonder if that’s why I have such a strong attachment to the heavy metal music of the era.  Let the psychoanalysis begin!

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.

REVIEW: The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith (2018)

THE DARKNESS – Live at Hammersmith (2018 Canary Dwarf)

“Gimme a D!  Gimme an arkness!”  It’s long overdue, but the world is now the better for it:  the first live album by The Darkness!  Including a few quality B-sides, The Darkness had enough strong songs for a live album back in 2006.  Time waits for no band, but now they’ve got an even hotter selection of hits and deep cuts to draw from, and Live at Hammersmith boasts 19 of ’em on a single CD.  Sorry Japan, no bonus tracks for you.

All five Darkness albums and some classic non-LP singles are sourced, and what a collection it is.  A lot of the newer material on stage consist of the heaviest songs:  “Buccaneers of Hispaniola”, “Southern Trains” and “Barbarian” are like lead, but propelled at the speed of sound!  The oldies span all shades of Darkness, from the hardest cut stones (“Black Shuck”) to the cushioning of a ballad (“Love is Only a Feeling”).

It seems to be, by and large, all the best stuff.  “Givin’ Up”, “Growing On Me”, “One Way Ticket”, “Friday Night”, and the two big hits “Get Your Hands off My Woman” and “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” are present and accounted for.  The last three albums are also represented, and as good as they are, it’s the old stuff that thrills most.

That includes “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” from this seasonal Hammersmith gig.  Maybe it’s those giant dual guitars, but this one has always seemed to work all year ’round.  It’s just a glorified Thin Lizzy riff with a high-pitched singer, and that works winter, spring, summer and fall.

Speaking of the singer, Justin Hawkins has maintained his one-of-a-kind voice and range over all these years, unlike virtually every other homo sapiens on the planet.  Let’s start a conspiracy theory right here that he is an alien, because the voice is just inhuman.

Would have loved “Last of Our Kind”, though that’s a minor complaint.

Hammersmith fell to the Darkness that night.  Now you can relive it in your headphones, or home theatre, as it were.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Styx – Caught in the Act – Live (1984)

For Deke’s review at Arena Rock, click here!

 

STYX – Caught in the Act – Live (1984 A&M, 2018 BGO reissue)

“Hey everybody it’s Music Time!”

Sorta, anyway!  Styx were just about toast after “Mr. Roboto“, and Tommy Shaw didn’t want to sing any more songs about androids.  (Mars, however, was fine.)  He departed to check out some Girls With Guns, but not before Styx put out one more product before hiatus.  That would be the traditional double live album, which was actually Styx’s first.

Styx have lots of live albums now, but only two with Dennis DeYoung.  Caught in the Act is essential for a few key reasons.  It sounds great although there are clearly overdubs in places.  It is the only one with the classic lineup of DeYoung/Shaw/James “JY” Young/Chuck Panozzo/John Panozzo.  And it has plenty of classic Styx songs that still shake the radio waves today.

Like many live albums, Caught in the Act contained one new song.  Dennis DeYoung wrote the uppity “Music Time”, a very New Wave single without much of the punch of old Styx.  Shaw was so nauseated that he barely participated in the music video.  “Music Time” isn’t one of Styx’s finest songs.  It’s passable but clearly a misstep.  No wonder it was a final straw of sorts for Tommy Shaw.

With that out of the way, on with the show.  Styx opened the set with “Mr. Roboto”, a mega hit that got a bad rap over the years until nostalgia made it OK to like it again.  Fortunately only two songs from Kilroy Was Here were included, the ballad “Don’t Let It End” being the other.  Live, “Roboto” pulses with energy, far more than you would expect.  The disco-like synthetic beats complement the techno-themed lyrics.  Every hook is delivered with precision.  With the human factor that comes out in a live recording, “Roboto” could be one of those songs that is actually better live.

Styx have always been a diverse act, and this album demonstrates a few sides of the band.  Shaw and Young tended to write rockers, and “Too Much Time On My Hands”, “Miss America”, “Snowblind”, “Rockin’ the Paradise” and especially “Blue Collar Man” are prime examples of the best kind.  Long nights, impossible odds…yet a killer set of rock tunes.  Then there are the ballads.  “Babe” is a slow dancing classic, and “The Best of Times” is even better.  Finally, the tunes that verge on progressive epics: “Suite Madame Blue”, “Crystal Ball” and “Come Sail Away” have the pompous complexity that punk rockers hated so much.  This album is a shining live recreation of some of rock’s most beloved music.

The 2018 CD reissue on BGO Records sounds brilliant with depth, and has a nice outer slipcase.  You’ll also get a nice thick full colour booklet with photos and an essay that goes right up to 2017’s The Mission.  BGO is a well known, respected label.  This reissue is a must.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

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.

REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 3 – Various Artists (1992)

RAW M.E.A.T 3 (1992 M.E.A.T Magazine)

Raw M.E.A.T 1 and 2 were released simultaneously, but I stupidly didn’t buy 2 because it was all thrash, and I hadn’t grown into metal that heavy just yet.   I missed out on an early Varga track and who knows what else.  Raw M.E.A.T. 3, released a couple years later, had a bit of all metal styles.  Even a Christian metal band!  15 new groups (and one repeat) put their money on the line to prove that Canada had world class rock bands.

Unfortunately this CD will simply not play (or rip) correctly in any computer.  Try it yourself and good luck with that.

Russian Blue were the lone band who also appeared on Raw M.E.A.T 1; an excellent band who easily could have been the next superstars.  From their second self-titled demo tape is “Mama’s Love”, a brilliant groove that explodes on the chorus.  Russian Blue were just a little ahead of the times, and “Mama’s Love” eschews any trappings of outdated hair metal.

Another established indi band on the CD was Deadline, second up in the running order.  A new version of “Friction Addiction”, originally from their self-titled CD, was slickly produced and blew away the original.  Singer Tim Wood was certainly versatile, here doing his best Mike Patton circa The Real Thing.

As usual, Raw M.E.A.T CDs boast plenty of highlights.  Raw Trixx, from Calgary Alberta, had the glam rock chops and impeccable harmonies.  They were just a little behind the times, or just sticking to their guns!  Similarly with Slam Glory who clearly had a Skid Row thing going on.  Another goodie is the Cult-like “Blackhearted Man” by No Morals.  Lead singer Beau appeared on Raw M.E.A.T 1 with his previous band Trouble In Mind.  With No Morals, there was a darker edge involved.  He just sounded too much like Ian Astbury to avoid comparisons.  Then there’s Hamilton’s Overlord, with a very cool track called “Never Enough” that could have been a breakout song.  Solid groove, no compromises, and yet could have been played on the air in the grunge era.

There’s only one female member in any of the Raw M.E.A.T bands.  Tryton’s Nina Zzo had a Lee Aaron vibe, and their song “Burning the Cradle” absolutely kills.  World class indeed, with groove and hooks.  What happened to all these talented people?

The most impressive song clocks in at almost seven minutes.  It’s a very 90s, somewhat progressive epic called “Illusion” by Justin Sane.  This mysterious quartet recorded their track at the legendary Metalworks in Mississauga.  This is the kind of rock and roll that really hit the spot for me at the time.  It combined the trappings of the old with the style of the new.  Blazing hot solos are mixed with groove, key changes, melody, and complexity in a potent whole.  If there was only one winner on Raw M.E.A.T 3, it was Justin Sane.

But there are lots of winners actually, and so if you like hard rock and heavy metal, you’d do well to seek it out.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Yngwie Malmsteen – Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad (1989)

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – Trial By Fire:  Live in Leningrad (1989 Polydor)

Walk up to the well-schooled rock fan in your group of friends and ask, “What do you think of Yngwie J. Malmsteen?”

Even the ones who don’t like the Swedish Speed Demon’s albums will admit, “except for that one with Joe Lynn Turner; that was pretty good.”

The short-lived Turner lineup did release a live album in 1989.  Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad was accompanied by home video of the same name with more tracks.  By 1990, Malmsteen already had a new album and singer named Göran Edman, but only Joe Lynn Turner had the marquee value to bring Yngwie a Billboard top 40 charting record (#40 with Odyssey).

Although Turner can act as a gateway to hear Yngwie for the first time, his stuff can still be pretty off-putting.  Just look at the pompous “thank you’s” on the inside sleeve.  Sprinkled in with the regular names are da Vinci, Bach, Beethoven, Paganini, HP Lovecraft and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Come on, Yngwie!

Joe is a versatile singer, which is one reason he’s always been sought after.  He effortlessly imbibes the old Yngwie tracks with his own attitude:  “Liar”, “Queen in Love”, and “You Don’t Remember” are better with Joe singing.  Unfortunately this is marred by a too-loud audience and Yngwie’s always excessive shredding.  More often than not, he overplays.

When it works, it works.  “Heaven Tonight”, “Queen in Love” and “Deja Vu”, the most melodic songs, click.  The instrumentals are good too, like demonstrations of immaculate neo-classical rock.  “Far Beyond the Sun” is tightly composed and arranged, though live Yngwie lets the strings fly even more.  Listen for some Deep Purple right in the middle of “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”, and some Rainbow on “Crystal Ball” too.

Yngwie produced Live in Leningrad himself, and it’s a rather shrill affair with obvious backing tapes on some of the choruses like “Heaven Tonight”.  The problem with many Yngwie albums is that you can only listen to so much before ear fatigue sets in.  Live in Leningrad is one such album.  By the end your brain is exhausted and you have to listen to something from a different end of the spectrum.  Even Joe Lynn Turner can’t blunt the aural razorblade effect.

3/5 stars

#S18-2: Day One is Done

I sit here writing this on Saturday morning, the coldest I’ve ever been at Sausagefest.  From heat wave to chill.  Uncle Meat slept in the car.  No tent for him.  Too cold.

7:30 am.  As the sun moves into position, it’s starting to warm.

We had a great first night, though I had some lower body pain and had to lie down.  I spent two hours in the tent listening to the Countdown.

Tool.  Priest.  Willie.  Rush. Sheavy.  ‘Tallica.  Beasties.  Five Alarm Funk.  Much more.  Amazing tunes last night.

There was one hiccup.  My brand new tent broke immediately out of the box.  Not impressed.  Gorilla tape to the rescue.   My tent looks like the stunted stepchild of everybody else’s tent.

I slept well, and I will do better tonight.  Let’s do it!