heavy metal

REVIEW: Ratt – Invasion of Your Privacy (Part Two of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Two of Five

RATT – Invasion of Your Privacy (Originally 1985, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Going triple platinum on their debut album, Ratt had a lot of expectations going into a followup.  They resumed working with producer Beau Hill and didn’t change up much in their formula.  The result was a double platinum second record, another sales success.  But what about the tunes?

Lead track “You’re In Love” was chosen as a speedy, sleek, metallic and melodic single.  A step up in songwriting, “You’re In Love” packs power and horny Stephen Pearcy passion.  Wicked solo by Warren DeMartini.  The simple riff/melody combo was all the rodents needed to score a hit and a career highlight.  As an album opener, it revs the engine but it is also the fastest track you’ll get on Invasion of Your Privacy.

A tasty heavy riff opens up “Never Use Love”, a nice chugging album track.  Nothing here in terms of a memorable chorus, so strictly album filler.  Not road tape worthy without a decent chorus.  Great Robbin Crosby solo though.  Fortunately the slick first single, “Lay It Down” comes in for the save.  Take “You’re In Love” and slow it down to a sexy locked groove, and you get “Lay It Down”.  Pearcy was not one for subtlety.  “I know you really want to lay it down,” he beckons, and no points for guessing what “it” is.

Track four, “Give It All”, is a decent album cut, with the hooks and chugging Ratt N’ Roll style riffs that people expected.  A track with single potential, had they released another.  Another pretty good album track, “Closer To My Heart”, slows it down but not quite into ballad territory.  More like a slow dirge to close side one.

The second side opens on “Between the Eyes”, a disjointed tune that needs some tightening up.  Some cool hooks but nothing to tie them together into a song.  “What You Give Is What You Get” boasts a cool, tough little chorus and some quality guitar.  Great tune other than a misfitting pre-chorus.  It has a dark, foreboding vibe that Ratt rarely nail this well.   “Got Me on the Line” is a pretty solid deep cut, typical uptempo Ratt N’ Roll.  The solo in particular smokes.  “You Should Know by Now” is a bit clunky, but you can hear what they were going for.  They were trying for a big pop rock chorus, but they welded it to the wrong song.

Closing on “Dangerous But Worth the Risk”, the album comes to a strong ending.  It chugs along with that Ratt N’ Roll groove that embodies the sound of Motley Crue assimilating all of Hollywood California in a single night.  Though Ratt’s sound is not something as unique as they used to sell it as, it does have a niche.  It rarely squirms out of that niche.  Invasion of Your Privacy does not stray far from the debut, and doesn’t add any new wrinkles.  It’s the next batch of songs and all but equal in strength to the first batch.

Each CD in this box set comes with bonus material from singles, and this time it’s a single edit for “What You Give Is What You Get”.  The guitar solo is sadly trimmed by 20 seconds for the radio, but no problem hearing this cool song twice.

3.5/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: Ratt – Out of the Cellar (Part One of The Atlantic Years series)

Part One of Five

RATT – Out of the Cellar (Originally 1984, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Ratt’s first full-length Out of the Cellar was a multiplatinum smash.  The band didn’t come out of nowhere, with a successful EP already under their fur.  Though an undeniable commercial success, was Out of the Cellar that great?  Let’s listen with fresh ears to the recent reissue in The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set, and see if we can hear with objectivity what those rodents were up to.

The disorienting sound of backwards drums heralds in opener “Wanted Man”, an inventive way to make their introduction.  These Ratts were cowboys, although they wore too much makeup for the ranch.  A simple, slow, chomping riff is menacing enough while Stephen Pearcy growls though.  The capable harmonies of the band and especially Juan Crocier help nail the melodies that Pearcy alone can’t.  A great track worthy of a multiplatinum album.

“You’re In Trouble” is…less worthy.  Clunky bass, chaotic guitars.  But “Round and Round”?  Still as great as ever.  As regal as these rodents are ever likely to sound.  A keen sense of melody, rhythm and vibe mixed together with a sweaty Stephen Pearcy.  Brilliant solo work from Warren DeMartini, and perfectly layered harmonies under the production of Beau Hill.

A nice choppy guitar bodes well on “In Your Direction”, a slinky number that serves Stephen’s style well.  Square, head-bangin’ rhythm from Bobby “Da Blotz” Blotzer.  Decent song, but with only one trick.  “She Wants Money” is more fun, a fast upbeat blast on a familiar theme.  Robbin “King” Crosby on lead guitar here.

The second side opens “Lack of Communication”, a biting track just missing one key ingredient:  a decent chorus.  The saw-like riff smokes, the verses are great, but it never resolves into a definitive hook.

“Back For More” is a little disjointed but salvages it with a killer chorus.  Screamin’ Pearcy and the rodent choir give it the final polish.  Brilliant solo work here by Warren.  Then, one of the best non-singles “The Morning After” will leave you drenched.  It has a bit of a Quiet Riot vibe (Carlos Cavazo ended up in Ratt much later).  “I’m Insane” is mindless fun; just bad boy rock with the popular “I’m crazy” theme that their pal Ozzy was milking for millions.  Finally the album closes on “Scene of the Crime” which has a neat guitar hook that unfortunately is all but unrelated to the rest of the song.  Some cool melodies with the patented Ratt harmonies here.

The box set comes with minor bonus tracks on each disc.  This one has a single edit (3:46) of “Round and Round”.  No problem hearing “Round and Round” twice, but missing most of the solo?  Ugh.  Really bad edit.

Good start to the Ratt The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set, and better than memory served.  Rest in peace to Tawny Kitaen: the cover model on this album, the first EP, and the box set itself.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Metal Mad (2008)

“Forever, carry on!  Turning up the sound and let it roll.  Raise your fist up in the sky!  The spirit of metal will never die!”

LOUDNESS – Metal Mad (2008 Tokuma Japan)

Loudness reunited their original lineup in 2000, but little did they know it would not last a full decade.  Drummer Munetaka Higuchi was diagnosed with liver cancer only two months after the release of the 2008 album Metal Mad.  He passed away in November of that year.  Although they had enough drum tracks recorded to make one more record with Higuchi (2009’s The Everlasting), Metal Mad was the last in his lifetime.

Metal Mad is the 21st Loudness studio album, recorded in the midst of a flurry of studio activity, as Loudness never slowed down, and guitarist Akira Takasaki was pounding out solo work on top of it.

One certain thing about Loudness:  just because they reunited the original lineup doesn’t mean they wanted to backtrack musically.  Metal Mad is heavy.  It continues the sonic experimentation that Loudness began in the mid 90s.  Though it does contain one undeniable anthem, this album is a heavy grind of metal styles, all very loud.

The opening instrumental “Fire of Spirit” sets the tone with a heavy riff that could have come from one of Loudness’ thrash contemporaries like Megadeth or Metallica…but with far more weight, and with an absolute master on the drums.  There’s a hint of the St. Anger snare, but it does not persist through the album.  Instead the track fades into the anthem of the album:  “Metal Mad”!

“Metal Mad” is a fast, simple track, but damn does it get the job done!  “Forever! Carry on! Turning up the sound and let it roll. Raise your fist up in the sky! The spirit of metal will never die!”  Custom built for the festival crowds.  Akira takes a couple bananas solos as the perfect icing on this sweet piece of metal cake.

But that’s it for that style of metal on this album.  They thrash through “High Flyer” with singer Minoru Niihara’s voice filtered through distortion.  Then it’s a hint of rap metal on the very aggressive “Spellbound #9”.  Funny thing is, Minoru can pull it off.  This is heavy stuff, certainly strong enough to compete with the big name heavy bands that Loudness inspired in the first place.  “Crimson Paradox” takes on groove metal, with a touch of exotic guitar added for spice.

The metal is heavy on “Black and White”, but with lyrics like “bullshit bullshit”, it’s a little too much of the “nu” variety.  Same with the droning guitar and vocal of “Whatsoever”, though the melodic chorus isn’t bad.  “Call of the Reaper” takes things back to centre with a riff similar to “Be Quick Or Be Dead” by Iron Maiden, but within a song that goes in a different direction.  Mental solos!  “Can’t Find My Way” starts promisingly, with quiet experimental guitars, and focuses strongly on vocal melody despite the heavy riffing going on.  In fact the only thing wrong with it is one particular riff that too strongly resembles (ugh) “Loch Ness” by Judas Priest.

The end of the album is heralded by two interesting final tracks, “Gravity” and “Transformation”, both experimental with grooves and great guitar work.  Akira uses so many different tones on this album, often within the same song.  “Gravity” is guitar player nirvana, while “Transformation” even goes a little funky.

Metal Mad ain’t bad.  Its strength is the musicianship.  Metal Mad has the title track going for it, but not a lot of actual memorable songs besides that.  By focusing so much on being heavy, it loses distinction between the songs.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Once And For All (1994)

LOUDNESS – Once And For All (1994 WEA Japan)

When Loudness released their first live album with new singer Masaki Yamada Once And For All, they took the oft-misguided step that many bands with replacement singers make.  Much like Van Halen, they dropped the majority of their earlier material from the set and focused on the new album.  Unlike Van Halen, this wasn’t done due to ego, but because of changing styles of the 90s.

You hate when bands do that, don’t you?  Well allow Loudness to open your mind on the concept.

In 1992, Loudness released their self-titled new album with Masaki on vocals.  It is excellent.  Like many late-period self-titles, it sounds like a new start.  Masaki was a very different kind of singer from either Minoru Niihara or Mike Vescera.  Truthfully his voice was not well suited to the old material (shades of Blaze Bayley).  Focusing on the fine, new songs for their first live album together was a wise move.

Loudness opened this live set with some smokin’ guitar licks and the first two tracks from the new album:  “Pray For the Dead” and “Slaughterhouse”.  Masaki was in great vocal shape, able to hold it steady and belt.  The slow, exotic groove of “Pray For the Dead” screams “early 90s” but in a good way.  “Slaughterhouse” has a faster tempo and more “metal” vibe.  Drummer Munetaka Higuchi (R.I.P.) has this song by the balls.  He gets a wicked solo at the end, too.

The sole Mike Vescera song that lingered in the setlist is “Down N’ Dirty” from 1991’s On The Prowl.  A little dated-sounding, its persistence in sets over the years is surprising.  New bassist Taiji Sawada (R.I.P.) has the opportunity to shine on the slinky opening.  The Masaki-era version is heavied-up, but that chorus can’t be saved.  Never cared for it.  But personal favourite “Everyone Lies” comes next in the set, a punchy fast groove with an angry vocal.

Masaki’s old group E-Z-O were not unknowns; they put two albums out on Geffen and are something of a cult band.  Their “House of 1,000 Pleasures” is deservedly visited for track five.  Akira Takasaki takes a wicked solo here, in a song that definitely owns its place on the album.  It’s also nice to get tracks that are not on regular Loudness studio albums when you pick up a live disc.

Track six would fall where “side two” should begin — the single “Black Widow”.  This menacing groove is performed to perfection.  All the tracks are.  Album accuracy is not an issue, but the live versions do have more energy.  “Black Widow” kills, as it should.

Two more of the newer songs follow before they finally dip into classics: “Twisted” and “Waking the Dead”.  Akira blazes for a bit before “Twisted”, just a prelude to the extended jam in the middle of this funky rocker.  The three instrumentalists Akira, Taiji and Higuchi really get a chance to show off their chops as the song goes on for 10 minutes.  After that workout, the straight-ahead riffing of “Waking the Dead” is almost a relief.

The two classics from the Minoru Niihara days are the two most obvious songs:  “Crazy Night” and “S.D.I.”.  Masaki’s style transforms “Crazy Night” into something more 90s.  He simply isn’t the kind of singer to belt out a melody.  Masaki tortures the melody and bends it to his range and growl.  It is not a bad version of “Crazy Night”, but it is a different take than Minoru’s.  “S.D.I.” is the encore, a blitzkrieg of metal that fares well with Masaki leading the charge.  It was always a bit of a screamer.

Once And For All isn’t easy to find, and is often prohibitively expensive.  This isn’t the kind of album you’re likely to just find sitting on the shelf at your favourite used CD store.  It’s the kind of thing that must be sought.  If it were a 5/5 star live album, I’d say “seek it”.  But very few live albums are an 5/5.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Pandora’s Box (1991)

AEROSMITH – Pandora’s Box (1991 Columbia box set)

Aerosmith were out of the gates fairly early into their career when their first anthology style box set was released in 1991.  They were still going strong, at the peak of their popularity.  Their career had two distinct eras marked by the record labels they were signed to:  first Columbia, and then a resurgence with Geffen.

There was also a long gap between Aerosmith studio albums.  Pump was released in ’89 but it took them four years to come up with Get A Grip.  While Geffen waited for Aerosmith to complete Get A Grip, their old label Columbia was allowed to release compilations.  In late 1991 they put out a brand new video for a remixed “Sweet Emotion”, although ironically the remixed version wasn’t included in the forthcoming Pandora’s Box set.  Regardless, there was a stop-gap.  November saw the release of Pandora’s Box just in time for Christmas, with three CDs of music, including a whopping 25 rare, unreleased, or remixed tracks.

Disc 1

They hit you right from the start with a rarity:  Steven Tyler’s “When I Needed You” from 1966 and his band Chain Reaction.  You can barely tell it’s the same singer, but this quaint number is a great opener for a box set with this kind of scope.  Basic 60s rock with a hint of psychedelia.  Onto the first album, it’s “Make It” with an unlisted false start — another cool touch.  “Movin’ Out” is a completely different take than the one from the debut.  It’s superior because it’s harder and more raw.  (Did Pearl Jam rip off part of the guitar lick for “Alive”?)  “One Way Street” is the album version, but an unreleased “On the Road Again” is a fun laid back jam.  Clearly B-side material, but it’s Aerosmith and light and loose.

A sax-laden “Mama Kin” from the first album is the first bonafide hit presented, and like most of the hits in the set, it’s the original version.  It is immediately obvious from the upbeat groove just why it was a hit.  Up next, it’s the slick “Same Old Song and Dance”, the heavy “Train Kept A Rollin'” and haunting “Seasons of Wither”, all from Get Your Wings.  Major props for including the underappreciated “Seasons of Wither” in this box as the song has never had the exposure it deserves.  According to the liner notes, it was written by Steven Tyler on a guitar found by Joey Kramer in a dumpster.  The fretting on the guitar was “fucked” but it had a special tone.  The tuning of that guitar “forced” the song right out of Tyler.

An unreleased live version of “Write Me a Letter” from 1976 is overshadowed by the song that follows it.  It’s the “big one”, the ballad “Dream On”, and usually the centerpiece of any side that it’s on.  The random placement on the second half of CD 1 is a little puzzling.  The title track “Pandora’s Box” follows, a dirty slow funk.

The first disc closes on a trio of rarities.  A 1971 radio jam on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake”  goes on for 10 awesome minutes and dominates the disc.  They swiftly follow that with “Walkin’ the Dog” from the same radio broadcast.  Finally, a slinky “Lord of the Thighs” from the Texxas Jam closes CD 1.  Two more Texxas Jam tracks can be found midway through CD 2, which is mildly annoying.

Disc 2

The second disc represents the musical growth of Aerosmith.  A massive “Toys in the Attic” builds on the past:  more energy, better production, more speed.  “Round and Round” is Sabbath-heavy, a sound the band rarely explored.  Only “Nobody’s Fault” (which comes later on this disc) stands as a heavier Aerosmith monolith.

Behind the scenes Aerosmith were suffering from drug-induced absences in the studio.  One day when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler were late, the core trio of Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton just  jammed.  The result is “Krawhitham”, a menacing unheard jam.  It’s a testament to the “other three” guys in the band and features some stunning playing even if the riff is a bit lacking.  This rough and ready track is followed by four slick Toys in the Attic hits in a row:  “You See Me Crying”, “Sweet Emotion” (the original mix), “No More No More” and “Walk This Way”.  Each song different, each song perfect.  “You See Me Crying” may be the most underrated Aerosmith ballad ever released.

Two more Texxas Jam tracks occupy the middle of disc two:  “I Wanna Know Why” and “Big Ten Inch Record”.  These jams are a blast, but why not bunch all the Texxas tracks together?  Next, “Rats in the Cellar” from Rocks has the same energy as “Toys in the Attic” but with a nastier bite.  “Last Child” is a remix, a slight one at that.  The bass sounds deeper.  An unreleased Otis Rush cover follows called “All Your Love”.  This electric blues is fully formed with a satisfying mix and could easily have made an album.  Why didn’t it make Draw the Line?  That album already had a cover, “Milk Cow Blues” (included here on disc 3) so it is unlikely they wanted two.  Did they choose the right song?

The aforementioned “Nobody’s Fault” is preceded with a snippet of the demo, called “Soul Saver”.  It truly is a monster of a track and one of the band’s few true heavy metal songs.  Nuclear holocaust is a perfect theme for metal, but Tyler’s lyrics are more thoughtful than many of his competitors.  His tormented vocal is one of his career best.  “Sorry, you’re so sorry, don’t be sorry.  Man has known, and now he’s blown it upside down, and hell’s the only sound.  We did an awful job, and now they say it’s nobody’s fault.”

“Lick and a Promise” is a necessary speedy shot in the arm.  Though “Adam’s Apple” is replaced by a live version from 1977, it is the sonic blueprint for a million bands that tried to copy Tyler’s sleazy antics.  Two Draw the Line tracks close the CD:  the title track itself (remixed), and “Critical Mass” .  Again the remix is slight.

Disc 3

The final CD is the decline, but not without plenty of high points.  (“High” points, get it?)  The first high point is a 1978 live version of “Kings and Queens”.  “Good evenin’ boss.  Been a long time coming,” greets Tyler to the hometown Boston crowd.  Live versions don’t usually surpass their studio counterparts, but this one might for its seasoned, raw vibe.”  Joe Perry’s backing vocals make it.

The previously mentioned “Milk Cow Blues” from Draw the Line is an upbeat shuffle, getting the blood pumping once more.  A snippet of a demo called “I Live in Connecticut” leads directly into “Three Mile Smile” from Night in the Ruts.  It allows you to hear how a tune evolves from an idea into a complete song.   You get to hear that again on “Let it Slide” and “Cheese Cake”.  If you love when Joe Perry pulls out his slide guitar, then you will love this pairing.  We’re well into the Aerosmith stuff that doesn’t get enough credit when it’s good.  “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” is another unsung gem…and the liner notes will tell you exactly what a “Coney Island white fish” is.  The autobiographical “No Surprize” is pretty fine too.

The Beatles cover “Come Together” was one of the very few worthwhile tracks on the awful movie soundtrack Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Fortunately for Aerosmith fans, it has long been available on their 1980 Greatest Hits.  And it’s not the last Beatles cover on this box set.  But it’s the last real hit before the disc takes a serious detour.

“Downtown Charlie” is really ragged; punk rock energy with nobody at home in quality control.  It sounds like one of their “drunken jams” according to Joe Perry in the liner notes.  Wicked playing but no cohesion.  And then they split — Brad Whitford with Whitford/St. Holmes, and Joe Perry with the Joe Perry Project.  Even this is documented.  “Sharpshooter” by Whitford/St. Holmes is a box set highlight, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb by sounding nothing like Aerosmith at all.  This is straight hard rock, with Derek St. Holmes on lead vocals.  Though an astounding vocalist, he is the Antityler and the song does not fit in any way on the tracklist.  Too bad since it’s such a great track.  More at home is Joe Perry’s “South Station Blues” from I’ve Got the Rock N’ Rolls Again.  It’s preceded by an Aerosmith demo called “Shit House Shuffle”.  Aerosmith didn’t use the riff, so Joe did on his solo album.  It totally works with his lead vocal, though it’s a shame Aerosmith never used the idea themselves.  Another wasted jam, “Riff and Roll”, had potential as the kernal of a song, but Tyler’s voice is completely shot.  You can hear what they were going for.  It could have worked on Done With Mirrors had they finished it.

Aerosmith carried on in 1982 with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay replacing Perry and Whitford.  The resulting album Rock In a Hard Place was inconsistent but not without some gems.  “Jailbait” doesn’t indicate anything was out of place, a worthy followup to frantic manic blasts like “Rats in the Cellar”.  But they only lasted one album before cooler heads prevailed and the classic lineup reunited.

With Perry and Whitford back again, Aerosmith began recording new albums for Geffen.  Columbia still released Aerosmith albums regularly, like Classics Live and Classics Live II.  A previously unreleased oldie from the Get Your Wings days called “Major Barbra” was included as a bonus on Classics LivePandora’s Box includes a second version of “Major Barbra”, a rougher alternate take.  It’s a full minute longer than the version of Classics Live, including harmonica solo.  Another track Columbia released was the classic “Chip Away the Stone” (written by Richie Supa), on 1988’s Gems.  This obscure single never had a proper album release until then, despite its awesome nature.  The Pandora’s Box version is an alternate version, with noticeably less piano in the mix.

The penultimate track is the unreleased Beatles cover “Helter Skelter”, dating back to 1975.  This one got a bit of airplay in 1991 when the box set was released.  It is undoubtedly rough but with suitably aggressive and heavy hitting groove.  The box set is then closed by “Back in the Saddle”, an apt way to describe Aerosmith’s career since.

But wait, what’s this?  “There now, ain’t you glad you stayed?” asks Steven Tyler after a few seconds of silence.  Why, it’s the hidden bonus track!  The unlisted instrumental was written by Brad Whitford and actually titled “Circle Jerk”.  It is very similar to the previous “Krawhitham” instrumental on disc two, but heavier.

Now, what about that remixed “Sweet Emotion” that was released to promote the box set, but wasn’t actually on the box set?  The remix was done by David Thoener and featured some structural changes.  The music video was a smash hit.  You could buy it as a standalone single, with “Circle Jerk” and another unreleased instrumental bonus track called “Subway”.  All three were re-released again as bonus tracks in 1994 on the massive Box of Fire.  The Thoener remix has been issued many times over the years on compilations and movie soundtracks.

There’s little doubt that Pandora’s Box was good value for the money.  For the fans who didn’t have the albums, most of the hits are included in studio versions.  The remixes are minor enough for them not to notice.  For the rest, the wealth of unreleased bonus material justified buying three CDs.  Unlike other box sets like Led Zeppelin’s four disc airship, Pandora’s Box is not designed to be an ecstatic listening experience from start to finish.  It is a study in early Aerosmith from the roots to just before the reunion.  It is the rise and fall, and still fighting to get back up.  It is uneven with mountainous peaks of spontaneous rock and roll chemistry, and also the tired struggle to keep producing music.  Much like its subject, Aerosmith, Pandora’s Box is a flawed portrait.

3.5/5 stars

#893: Damien Lucifer

RECORD STORE TALES #893: Damien Lucifer

My mom used to teach ceramics classes in the basement.  Our basement was split into two rooms — a finished rec room, and an unfinished work space.  There were craft tables and chairs and I liked to use it for building model cars and airplanes.  My mom had a kiln in there for her classes and everything.  On Saturday morning were the “kid classes” when my sister and her friends would paint ceramic teddy bears and balloons and God knows what else.  During the week, the neighbourhood adults and other friends came over to create.

The “rec room” area was more for us.  That’s where the big TV and VCR were.  That’s where I watched, recorded, and re-watched my Pepsi Power Hours.  Naturally the two adjacent areas sometimes clashed.  I had to “turn it down” from time to time.

I generally tried to avoid other people especially when they were close to my space.  We didn’t cross paths much, but on Power Hour days, I would race home from school and be waiting in the basement to hit record, as all the ceramic students were filing out.

I’m territorial but not confrontational.  More passive aggressive.  I know my mom had these hardcore Catholic friends across the street.  I couldn’t stand them.  They wouldn’t let their kids play with GI Joes, because they carried guns.  Yet they were allowed to play with Transformers, because the kids were smart enough not to tell mom and dad they carried guns.  They used to come to the ceramic classes and having them near my precious personal space irritated me more than anything else.  “Hate” is a strong word, but I really disliked them.  I knew they hated heavy metal music (the parents at least).  And I know in my passive aggressive way, I liked to leave my heavy metal stuff visibly on display in my space.

Rock and roll is about defiance, isn’t it?  It was very rock and roll of me to leave albums and magazines down there for them to see.

I loved buying new magazines all the time, and not just rock.  Sometimes it was WWF Magazine, and occasionally I’d buy something like Starlog.  The rock rags were the backbone of my collection, but every once in a while, I’d buy MAD.  If MAD was sold out, I’d buy Cracked.  Who didn’t love MAD and Cracked magazines?  I used to have a pile of favourites.  The March 1991 New Kids on the Block MAD was treasured; it came with an entire sheet of anti-New Kids stamps.  Another classic was my October 1984 issue of Cracked, a Michael Jackson issue.  I wish I’d have kept them, but I say that about a lot of things.

It probably wasn’t an accident when I left out, in plain view, my copy of MAD number 288.  July 1989.  The special Heavy Metal issue.  On the front: Alfred E. Newman in a suit of armor, flanked by Tommy Lee, Axl Rose, and a guy who looks like a cross between Don Dokken and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  But I didn’t leave it out with the front cover showing.  I left it out with the back in plain view.

The back cover was a “fake front” to a faux magazine called “Metal Sludge”, a clear satire of Metal Edge.  The top right corner featured a fat guy named “Damien Lucifer”, lead singer of “Antichrist”.  On his cheek, a pentagram is drawn.  He wears red devil horns and proclaims that “Heavy metal music is not about Satan!”

On another panel, a picture of Poison with a caption about “our confusion over sexual identity”.

There is a contest for the chance to be trampled at a Motley Crue concert.  The panel below that is about Anthrax getting deloused by Tipper Gore.  Another advertises a “life size poster of Gene Simmons’ tongue – special six page fold out”.

Eventually, it happened:  one my mom’s students saw the magazine and was offended enough to tell her that I was reading something “satanic”.  I have my suspicions who it was.  (My mom remembers none of this at all.)  Mom did her due diligence and asked me about this “satanic” magazine that had been seen in the basement.  I laughed at how ignorant that person had to be to think my MAD Magazine was a real rock book!  It seemed so obvious by that picture of Simmons’ “tongue”!  (Six page foldout, don’t forget!)

I couldn’t wait to tell my best friend Bob about this.  After all, it proved everything I thought was true about those neighbours.  How self-righteous, how nosy, how sanctimonious, and how ignorant.  As far as I was concerned, I had won a battle between heavy metal and the religious right.  And I did it with a MAD Magazine.

 

 

 

 

#891: Condition Critical

RECORD STORE TALES #891 Condition Critical

Allan Runstedtler was looking at my tape collection.  This was something kids did.  Every kid had a few tapes.  Maybe they even had a nice tape case to put them in.  I started the year 1985 with only one tape case.  It held 30.

Allan reached for my Quiet Riot.

Condition Critical?  What’s that?  I only know ‘Situation Critical’ by Platinum Blonde.” said Al.

I was never one of the cool ones.

There was this kid from school named Kevin Kirby.  One day I was in his neighbourhood and he introduced me to a friend of his.  Kevin asked me to tell him what my favourite band was.  I answered “Quiet Riot” and they both laughed.  I still liked Quiet Riot?  They were so 1983.

Not much time had passed, but Quiet Riot were already toast.  I felt cool for all of 3 months when Quiet Riot were big.  Metal Health was my first hard rock album.  I loved that album.  I still love that album.  I was the anomaly.  All my classmates (the few that liked Quiet Riot in the first place) had moved on.  Platinum Blonde were huge.  And rightfully so.  Standing in the Dark was a great album.  Their followup Alien Shores was also successful, going to #3 in Canada.  Platinum Blonde, however, were not for me.  They were not a hard rock band.  I didn’t even consider them to be a rock band.  I labelled Platinum Blonde with the same label I used on everything I didn’t like.  These loathsome artists were all dubbed “wavers”.  There was no greater insult to me than “waver”.  You were either a rocker or a waver.  There was nothing else in my eyes more wretched than “New Wave” music.

Quiet Riot were not wavers, they were rockers.  They had songs like “Party All Night” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”.  But they had made a “Critical” blunder.  They followed Metal Health with an inferior carbon copy in Condition Critical.  It was a collection of leftovers and it was obvious.  It even included a Slade cover like the prior album.  It still went platinum.  But Metal Health sold six times that.  It was seen as a critical and commercial failure.  Dubrow earned Quiet Riot no favours when he decided to trash other bands in the press.  That stunt misfired, gloriously so.

No wonder Allan had never heard of Condition Critical.  I tried to get him into some of my music.  I showed him the video for “Death Valley Driver” by Rainbow, which I thought was really cool.  He wasn’t as impressed as I was.

Going back a bit, I received Condition Critical for Easter of 1985.  Almost a year after its release.  I can remember a conversation with my mom about what kind of gifts I would like, and I answered “the new Quiet Riot, because I want to have all the albums by a band.”  Hah!  I had no idea, none whatsoever, that Metal Health was their third, not first.  In Japan, Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II were released in the late 70s.  These featured the late Ozzy Osbourne guitar wizard Randy Rhoads on lead guitar, but I had yet to learn all these important details.  I wanted to have Condition Critical so I could have a “complete” Quiet Riot collection.  Something I’m still attempting to have.

Easter of ’85 was spent in Ottawa with my mom’s Uncle Gar and Aunt Miriam.  We all stayed in their house.  They were amazing people.  Uncle Gar was injured in the war, but always had a smile on his face.  He didn’t like my growing hair or my rock music, but I think he was happy that I turned out OK in the end.  I stayed in a little spare bedroom.  I brought my Sanyo ghetto blaster and my parent’s old Lloyds headphones.

I hit “play” on Quiet Riot not expecting to like every song, and I didn’t.  I enjoyed the two singles, “Party All Night” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”.  I thought the lead track, “Sign of the Times”, as as strong as the first album.  But I didn’t think much of “Scream and Shout”, “Bad Boy” or “(We Were) Born to Rock”.  And the ballad?  I was not a ballad kid, and I thought “Winners Take All” was even worse than “Thunderbird”!

I’ve softened on the ballads since (pun intended), but it’s true that this is just an album of soundalikes.  It’s not outstanding.  I knew I’d have to give it a bunch more listens, but even then I knew a “sequel” when I saw one.  Similar.  More of the same of what you like.  But not as good.

I kept giving them chances, though.  I had to.  They were the first band I wanted “all” the albums from.  When my buddy George told me that Quiet Riot were back with an awesome new song called “The Wild and the Young”, my excitement was restored.  “Kevin Dubrow even looks like Paul Stanley in the music video,” he told me.  Cool!

Of course we know how that ended.  A sterile, keyboardy comeback that fizzled out with Dubrow’s ousting.

There are bands I have given up on and never looked back.  Yet I keep buying Quiet Riot, loyally, album after album.  If they release another, I’ll buy that too.  And it’s all because of what I told my mom when she asked me what I wanted for Easter.  “The new Quiet Riot,” I answered, “because I want to have all the albums by a band.”

 

#889: The Dreadnoks

RECORD STORE TALES #889: The Dreadnoks

I’ve always had trouble letting go.  Even though rock music was my true obsession, there was some overlap.  Even  into grade nine, I still bought GI Joe comics and figures.  It was always hard letting go of an obsession.  My “favourite things”, in order of discovery were:

  1. Star Wars until its natural end in 1983-84.
  2. GI Joe/Transformers from 1984 to 1986-87.
  3. Rock music from 1984 to present.
  4. WWF Wrestling from 1985 to 1990.

You can see how the evolution of this worked.  A GI Joe figure was in the same scale as Star Wars, but with far more articulation well suited to an older kid.  The first wave of figures even featured real-world accurate weapons.  They were a natural step for a kid still wanting that action figure experience, but geared for someone older.  Transformers went hand in hand, since Marvel were producing a comic line to go for each.  Transformers resembled the die-cast cars that older kids (and adults) collected and displayed.

I discovered heavy metal music on December 26, 1984.  A  few months later, wrestling appeared on my radar with the very first Wrestlemania.  A lot of those guys looked like rock stars, with crazy costumes, long hair and male bravado.

As my interests shifted and evolved, so did my collections.  The Star Wars toys were put into storage in the crawl space.  I was given tape boxes, Christmas after Christmas, to store my growing music collection.  A typical Christmas would see me receiving some new tapes and action figures.  I’d sit in my bedroom reading GI Joe comics while rocking out to Long Way to Heaven by Helix.  I was a weird kid but I liked what I liked and didn’t much care.

The Joe characters diversified along with me.  In 1984 they got a little more outlandish with the introduction of Zartan and the Dreadnoks.  Zartan, the master of disguise, was a deluxe action figure whose skin colour turned blue in direct sunlight.  This gimmick only worked outdoors, which meant we played with Zartan outside in the summer while giving him a rest in the winter.  His backup didn’t arrive on toy shelves until 1985.  They were three bikers named the Dreadnoks:  Buzzer, the Brit with a ponytail and a chainsaw, the mohawked Ripper, and the flamethrower Torch who had a bit of a Lemmy beard going on.  Their Mad Max inspired outfits would have allowed them to fit into a rock band quite easily, if only they came with musical instruments instead of weapons.  They’d make a cool punk trio.

The Dreadnoks expanded their lineup the following year.  On explosives came Monkeywrench, bearded and obsessed with Guy Fawkes.  Then in a deluxe set came the vehicle driver Thrasher, and his definitely Mad Max inspired Thunder Machine car.  Made of bits and pieces of scrap, it hit the same post-apocalyptic notes as the other Dreadnoks, as well as rock bands like Motley Crue, Kiss, and Armored Saint.  Thrasher had a punk rock streak of green in his hair.  And now they were a quintet.  They were literally begging for me to make them custom musical instruments.

There were always wooden match sticks in the house, so I used them for guitar necks, drum stands, drumsticks, and a microphone.  Cardboard boxes were cut up to make the bodies of guitars and a few drums and cymbals.  Black electrical tape held them all together.  And so the Dreadnoks became a five piece band, and I put them on display in my bedroom on a shelf with my Kiss cassettes.

If only I had a picture of my Dreadnok band.  Not everybody had a camera back then.  Even if you did, it seemed film was always out!  You can imagine what they looked like!

 

REVIEW: Accept – Too Mean to Die (2021)

ACCEPT – Too Mean to Die (2021 Nuclear Blast)

Tornillo-era Accept has been a pretty even field; a level grid of Sneap-sharp production and Hoffmann’s razor-riffs.  If you expected change just because there’s a new bass player for the first time ever, you’d be wrong.  Accept may be down to just one original member (Wolf Hoffmann himself) but it doesn’t matter much.  What Accept deliver on Too Mean to Die is the same as they have done for every album since 2010’s Blood of the Nations.  Reliable, like AC/DC…or a comfortable leather jacket.

Nothing wrong with this.  Accept found a formula that works in their post-Udo world and it works well.  It’s difficult to remember what songs are from what albums, but Accept haven’t stopped putting out solid quality metal.

There’s the song about zombies (“Zombie Apocalypse”), one about never giving up (“Too Mean To Die”), the mid-tempo one (“Overnight Sensation”), the one about the media (“No Ones Master”), the single* (“The Undertaker”), the one with the funny title (“Sucks to be You”), the classical influence (“Symphony of Pain”), the ballad (“The Best is Yet to Come”), the one about the state of the world (“How Do We Sleep”), the angry one (“Not My Problem”), and the instrumental (“Samsom and Delilah”).

The riffs keep hammering in the capable hands of Wolf, and Mr. Tornillo on lead vocals never stops givin’ ‘er.  Hooks on every track.  The energy is no less than their first together.  Wolf’s guitar tone remains as tasty as it has been for over four decades.  One more album to add to your collection, as the Tornillo era blends together like a monolithic five-CD box set.  Too Mean To Die could have been titled Disc Five, so if you need to complete your set, do it now.

4/5 stars

* The single for “The Undertaker” features a non-album live track on its B-side, of a non-album single called “Life’s a Bitch”!

 

REVIEW: Brant Bjork – Jalamanta (Remixed and Remastered 2019)

BRANT BJORK – Jalamanta (Originally 1999, Remixed and Remastered 2019 Heavy Psych Sounds)

When the needle hits wax it won’t be long,
You got your radio tuned but it won’t play this song.

20 years ago, Jalamanta was one of my favourite albums in the world.  This is my third copy.  Partly instrumental, partly vocal, but 100% Brant Bjork.  It was his first solo album, and he played virtually everything himself.  The laid-back desert vibes are perfect for a summer evening chill-out.  Humid, sparse, exotic, varied compositions take you across a hazy landscape.

In 2019, Brant and engineer Tony Mason remixed Jalamanta, to take it the place they “always wanted it to go”.  The remixes are largely subtle, just making the album sound bigger in your ears.  The vocals might be a little less buried.  It’s still raw, and sparse, and all the things you always liked about Jalamanta.  Some songs have more noticeable differences.  More guitar on “Toot”.  Tracks tend to run longer than their previous fade-outs.  But there are things I enjoyed about the original that aren’t here.  The echoey lead vocal on “Toot” — “Cat scan, cat scan…”  That echo is gone, maybe so the sonic field wouldn’t be too crowded with that louder backing guitar?

This remix will never replace an original, especially when it was one of my favourites 20 years ago.  What is “Jalamanta” made of that makes it so tasty?  Only the most basic of ingredients.  Rolling bass and drums, simple unaffected guitar parts, and Brant’s laid back singing style.

Yeah, the man shakes me down and that’s why I’m broke.
The rich man’s got all the green but it ain’t the kind you smoke.
So we turn up the rock, and we roll it slow.
We’re always flying high, and the ride is always low.

Snakey guitars jab in and out of the speakers — one song is even called “Cobra Jab”.   Other tunes are more aggressive.  “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians” has a relentless and simple riff, with the snakey guitars carrying the melody over it like a wave.  Brant’s quiet vocal is hypnotic.  By contrast, “Defender of the Oleander” has a barely-there main riff while the snakey licks do all the brilliant melodic work.  Brant goes for hypnotic again on “Her Brown Blood”, a speedy run through the desert, with a cool monotone vocal right in the middle of your head.

Whichever version of Jalamanta you happen upon, you are guaranteed an incredible listening experience.  The new remix is certainly more three-dimensional, and will sound better on your big system.  But you will lose some of the charm of the original.  The 2009 vinyl used to be the way to go, with a beautiful full-colour booklet and Blue Oyster Cult cover “Take Me Away”.  But now you can get “Take Me Away” here on CD, albeit remixed.  Another bonus is exclusive to this CD — “Bones Lazy”, which segues out of “Defender of the Oleander” into the brilliant rocker “Low Desert Punk”.  And with the title “Bones Lazy”, you won’t be surprised that it is “Lazy Bones” backwards!  Like you’re watching Tenet.  Cool though.  Even though I knew what was likely coming, I felt like it fit right in.

Get a load of this, man.

Well I’m gettin’ up when the sun goes down,
And I shine ’em up and I hit the town.
Well I trim it clean and I roll it up,
And then I take it nice and slow…so what the fuck, man.

Jalamanta makes me feel that California sun way more than any Desert Sessions CD ever has.  You can taste it.  Let it sink into your lazy bones.   And as great as this new CD is sonically, it also makes me want to hear the original.  Nothing can truly upgrade a 20 years love affair with Jalamanta.  As a complimentary piece, I don’t regret owning or listening to it at all.  Hearing guitar parts that used to be beyond the fade is the kind of bait that we nerds line up for.  The 2009 vinyl, with the gorgeous embossed cover and all that delicious photography inside, will remain my preferred way to experience Jalamanta.  The 2019 remix will be the one to play when you want to examine it in more thorough detail.

(still) 5/5 stars

 

Original CD and vinyl releases seen below.