Friday, December 21, 2007


Well folks, it's that time again! We're reaching the end of yet another year of music and with that in mind, it's time for us all to go on record & make fools of ourselves salivating over a handful of the better platters of '07. So, send in your Top Ten long-players (CD's, albums, whatever you want to call 'em). The only requirement is that they were released in 2007 (I know there is sometimes a sticking point over the date on the back of disc... e.g., sometimes something is dated 2006 and actually isn't available until 2007. What we're looking for is things that became available during know what I mean. Anyhoo, send in your Top 10 list to my email: The cut-off date is Jan 31, 2008 for the simple reason that we give you till the end of the year and then a little time to get your thoughts in order. Then, right after Jan 31, I'll publish the results of the poll, plus my own Top 10 for those of you who give a dern. BE SURE TO INCLUED YOUR POSTAL MAILING ADDRESS IN YOUR EMAIL! Anyone who sends in a Top 10 by Jan 31, 2008 will receive a kewl surprise from me in the mail shortly thereafter! So, list away! Again, send the Top 10 and your mailing address to:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Have a Happy Holiday or Be Possessed By Satan!

HIGHBINDER – “Moreneverthanever” CD ’07 (Private, US) – I had a freakin’ feeling this was going to happen. Ever just get one of those? Back in 2004 when I got a package in the mail from Sin Klub Records, I listened to a couple OK discs and was about to sit ‘em aside for a bit when I stuck in the last one and got a pleasant surprise. Well, that was the understatement of the year, actually. HIGHBINDER from Michigan/Ohio had delivered “All The Way To Hell,” a sterling CD full of metalized rawk and laced with interesting lyrics & mega-cool guitar work. While I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, that’s about when I got “the feeling.” While “ATWTH” sure was fine, I thought the next one could be “the bizz.” Nearly 3 years later, HIGHBINDER has self-released their sophomore album & it is “the bizz” to about the 10th power. Are the nasty, metallic riffs still there? Yup. How ‘bout the sharp lyrical sense? Sure ‘nuff, just take in “Ebony & Irony,” Hang ‘Em High” & “Whaler.” Still, the factors that raise this album to an exponential level are different. Check out the far more aggressive vocal style that hits right between your eyes on “Burning The Camel At Both Ends.” Listen to the light & shade present in “I Never Sleep,” incorporating a decidedly country feel into the heavy proceedings & having it work. Then you’ve got the nearly industrial “W.L.I.E. TV,” the dark, swirling 8-minute maelstrom of “Whaler” and a truly scary version of John Entwhistle’s “Boris The Spider” closes things up. Through it all, I’m super-impressed by the guitar work of Andrew Clark & Jon Kuhlman. These guys are great because, without dishing out oodles of traditional solos, they raise the bar very high with an awesome blend of crushing riffs & subtle melodic underpinnings. It’s funny, with most bands we tend to worry about the “sophomore slump.” With HIGHBINDER, however, I’m wondering how they can up the ante even more next time around, as these guys are on a massive upward curve that’s already reaching stratospheric heights. Stunning. Rawk. Buy. Now.

BRAIN POLICE – “Beyond The Wasteland” CD ’07 (Small Stone, Swe) – What is it my 13 year old geography wiz told me? Greenland is ice & Iceland is green? Seems I also recall a buddy giving me the heads-up on saving a boatload of cash by taking Icelandic Air to Europe. So, I was thinkin’…dangerous, I know, but wouldn’t it be cool if this 4-piece from Iceland really rawked? Well, it would’ve. As it is, BRAIN POLICE are ok and that’s about it. “Beyond The Wasteland” is smack-dab in the middle of mediocrity. Competent playing, by-the-numbers riffs & so-so vocals make this sound like the Son Of The Return From Beneath The Planet Of Kyuss’ Younger Brother. And, as Van Morrison would say, all the tea in China can’t change that.

PUNY HUMAN – “Universal Freak Out” CD ’07 (Small Stone, US) – Much better of a release for the Small Stone folks is this new effort by PUNY HUMAN. Having spent awhile attending to personal issues must’ve been good for these guys as “Universal Freak Out” is the best of their 3 efforts thusfar. Sure, there’s a generous dollop of what could be called “stoner” here, but in the case of PH, it falls more on the Deep Purple side of the fence than the over-done Sab-aping area. Moreover, the PUNY bunch inject songs like “Wake Of Williamsburg” & “The Bus Will Eventually Crash” with a definite punk ethic, rising to near-Devo levels of kewl quirkiness at points. A nice surprise.

HAUNTED GEORGE – “Pile O’ Meat” CD ’07 (Hook Or Crook, US) – Ok, here’s the deal. Should a small, padded brown envelope show up in your mailbox with the return address of one George Pallow, don the following: Carefully…VERY CAREFULLY, open one end of the parcel &…LISTEN TO ME, DAMN IT! ARE YOU BEING CAREFUL?! You cannot move quickly and possibly jar this thing. Now…like I was saying…gently slide the jewel case out of the envelope. There you go. Now take your time and open the lid slowly. Remove the CD and…JESUS!!! HOLD IT STEADY, WHAT ARE YOU CRAZY??!!! Now lower it into your player. Take your remote and walk like 50 feet back &, yeah, that’s a good idea, better move to one side or the other. Ok, raise the volume as high as it’ll go, pull on your flame-retardant visor & hit “play.” Duck. Seriously, this one man wrecking crew called HAUNTED GEORGE is probably the most sonically devastating solo act out there and could easily not only hold his own with, but obliterate most 3 or 4 man combos on the planet. See, HAUNTED GEORGE takes a guitar, plugs it into an amp thru a few effects, adds a kick-drum & a microphone and proceeds to unleash a torrent of honkin’ musical proportions that could snow under a freight train. Blasting distorted rockabilly riffs that sound as if they were ripped from an open wound, he howls over them in a voice that could only come from the woods deep in the night and sets it all in motion with an insistent, nerve-rattling drum-slam that would wake the dead if they weren’t scared silent already. As vile as the first Venom album and as honest & real as Johnny Cash, songs like “Torture,” “Moaning Behind The Door” and “Pit Of Death,” not to mention “My Penance” (Jesus, this one is immense) are beyond what the word “lethal” was ever intended to describe. The fact that one guy with modest equipment could make a band like Opeth run crying to their mothers is at once awesome and terrifying. As an aside, keep this one close to the player next October 31 as you could have some fun scaring the hooligans away from your house with it. At the same time, I have a feeling that if you’re of the intense musical ilk, “Pile O’ Meat” will still be high on your playlist by then anyway. I need more of this guy’s stuff asap, as I have a new hero and his name is HAUNTED GEORGE!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Here's 50-year-old Ray with more REVIEWS!

SKELETONWITCH - "Beyond The Permafrost" CD '07 (Prosthetic, US) - Ohio used to have a good rep back in the '70's with monsters like Poobah & Morly Grey hailing from there. SKELETONWITCH are rumbling down the same interstates these days, but with a musical pedigree that is a bit different from bluesy '70's hard rock. If you think in terms of technical-yet-powerful Bay Area thrash, add in a generous dollup of head-turning double lead guitar work and finish it off with vocals that sound like a completely insane person locked in a rusty cage without food or water for a day or two (um...that's a good thing), you may end up somewhere "Beyond The Permafrost." What I especially like about these guys is the fact that while they really know how to play their asses off from a technical standpoint, they also cut right to the chase and blast out songs that are all real immediate. No wandering down 10 minute blind alleys for these skeletons, they take care of business in highly memorable 2-4 minute bursts. Ripping stuff!

TRETTIOARIGA KRIGET - "I Borjan Och Slutet" CD '07 (Mellotronen, Swe) - To begin with, TRETTIOARIGA KRIGET is from Sweden. And, no, they are not black metal nor are they sleaze rock nor do they sound like HELLACOPTERS (R.I.P.). They have been around since the '70's and they also have a band name, the pronounciation of which may leave most readers scratching their heads. What they additionally have, however, is quite a nice little album here. Now, if you're familiar with this band's early works, let me say this straight out: "I Borjan..." is not the frenzied, fuzzed-out, proto-metal-psych guitar shred of the past. In actuality, it's a powerful work by a super-impressive bunch of veterans who still have more creative fire and lust for playing that a lot of newer bands will never know. Broken down into sections that are then composed of 12 cuts, this album brings the feel of the heavy European progressive scene of the '70's straight thru to '07 and does so with great aplomb. Whether it be the liquid Strat tones sliding effortlessly from rhythm to lead, the bubbling keys or the insistant bass & drum interplay, this is a wonderfully organic recording, fueling cuts that vary in volume but never in intensity. If you miss the days when names like Jane and Nektar sat proudly in the bins of real record stores, TRETTIOARIGA KRIGET is for you.

TOKYO DRAGONS - "Hot Nuts" CD '07 (Escapi, Eng) - My first impression upon looking at the cover of this 2nd disc by England's TOKYO DRAGONS was "Damn, they've turned into the freaking Scorpions!" I mean, hey, you've gotta give me a break as those age-old computer-style letters were part & parcel of those wacky German's hey-day. But, if you've ever heard the DRAGON's debut opus, "Give Me The Fear," you should probably know better. Simply put, this bunch of English blokes are everything that's great about the term classic rock. I mean, only the best have ever been able to take three or four chords & constantly re-arrange them into an endless array of songs so catchy that the neighbor's dog could remember them 3 years later. And then there's the matter of being able to write lyrics that matter, not because they are trying to save the world or the harp seals or be transcendental or some such shinola but because they're cool. AC/DC did it, STATUS QUO did it, SLADE did it...and hey, I'm not ready to put TOKYO DRAGONS in that kind of company just yet, but grab a listen to this sophomore effort & don't expect no slump. Cuts like "On Your Marks," "Rock My Boat" & "If I Run, You Run" call to mind names like early Kiss (especially notable this time around), Thin Lizzy & even melodic Metallica, all being influences, not copies. Sure, there are a lot of bands cropping up flying the "classic" flag, but TOKYO DRAGONS are one of the few really putting the "rawk" in it.

MOUNTAIN - "Masters Of War" CD '07 (Big Rack, US) - Leslie West & I go way back. See, when I was first trying to play guitar back in about 1971, I stumbled upon a bootleg 8-track (yup, I said 8-track) of "Flowers Of Evil" in a bin down in Ocean City. Not knowing a thing about MOUNTAIN, but feeling kinda risky, I plunked down the $3 it cost and then proceeded to play that ghastly-sounding nth-generation recording into submission, sitting in my room & learning "Dreams Of Milk & Honey" till my fingers were raw. Shit, I even went so far as to post a "Best Guitarist - Vote For Clapton or West" poll in the hallway of my high school Sadly, The Great Fatsby took a serious ass-whuppin'. Now, 37 years later & a truck-load of Les Paul Jr.'s lighter, Mr. West (along with his constant drum cronie Corky Laing) continues with the name MOUNTAIN & it's all good, people. This time around, Leslie & Co. opt to lend their wares to a collection of cuts by the folk-rock bard Bob Dylan. A bevie of cool selections ensue, with some special guests showing up in the form of Ozzy on "Masters Of War" & Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule/Allmans) on "The Times They Are A-changin'" and the seething "Serve Somebody." I must admit that Laing's vocals/drum rap-style "Like A Rolling Stone" was probably an ill-advised idea but overall, this is a nice & surprising treat from the big man & as, Billy Gibbons would say, damn that boy can play! Squawking false harmonics & big, phat-assed riffs coupled with vocals, the underlying sensitivity of which belie their gruff exterior make this a winner.

LUCIFER WAS - "The Divine Tree" CD '07 (Transubstans, Swe) - There are bands who like to play like they understand the past. And...there are those precious few that actually feel it in their soul and let it guide them into a completely vital & original future. LUCIFER WAS is (was is?)...yes, IS one of the latter. Some 4 albums into their career, these Swedes have come up with yet another corker. While the last LW effort, "Blues From Hellah" was a clear tip of the hat to decidedly bluesy rock of the '70's, this one sees them return with a much more metallic edge once again, akin to their 2nd killer, "In Anadi's Bower." Now, when I say metal & Swedish, don't be thinking black metal. No, think about something like Tull's massive "Aqualung" platter. And, brother, if you don't call "My God" or "Wind Up" metal, then pity the fool! LUCIFER WAS takes super-catchy heavy-assed riffs & then stretches 'em over pure, organic production that'll remind you of the 2 words everyone should have on their mind at all times, Roger Bain. Check out "On Earth" or "Determination." Who comes up with riffs like that? Well, Iommi did on Sabbath's first album & Randy Palmer did in Pentagram...pretty nice company. Thore Engen is the axe-meister here and he also goes ahead & overlays some extended Blackmore-esque leads to tracks like this. Additional instruments like Mellotron, Hammond, flute, etc. colour & shade things nicely and it all culminates in the 11 minute "Crosseyed." I doubt the little girls understand, but I know LUCIFER WAS does.