Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mad as hell!

HEIR TO MADNESS – “The Citadel” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Keller, Texas. I have to admit, I know nothing about it. Google it and you read about it being “part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.” Sounds kinda modern and yet, when I hear the name I’m first thinking of a place where there’s a lot of pick-ups and rodeos. I should be ashamed, first off because I’m probably dead wrong and secondly because I never expected to hear a prog rawk gem the likes of “The Citadel” emanate from it’s boundaries. HEIR TO MADNESS, the “band” involved in the building of this “Citadel” is, as it turns out, one guy named Jay. That may not sound intimidating but, as an amateur musician, I’ve gotta say, his work here is damn impressive. So now you’re going to try & get me to ‘fess up and tell you what HTM sounds like and I guess the jumping-off-point would be Porcupine Tree. Still, there’s a lot more to be found in the 8 mostly-lengthy tracks here. While a the title of a cut like “Arbiter Of Somnolence” may bring horrifying visions of a Fates Warning outtake, this track features jutting guitar riffs alone that would make a band like that wilt in their pseudo-prog tracks. When you couple with it the deft melodies that weave in and out, including a chorus to die for, you’ve got a bona fide winner. This kind of musical blend continues throughout the album, adding in aspects of jazz as well. The melodies are catchy and cohesive and there’s always a generous dollop of distorted axe grinding right around the corner to keep the mood heavy. We’ve debated the “prog” word ad nauseum around these parts, yet with Jay riding his HEIR TO MADNESS project outta Texas & into your speakers, there’s definitely a new sheriff in town. 8.5

GLYDER – “Weather The Storm” CD EP ’08 (Private, Ire) – Funny thing, this music bizz. Some bands take 7,000 years to make an album, piss about a hundred band members off in the process and come up with a pseudo effort that’s weak, tired & uninspired. Then they make a hundred or so mil off said debacle. Others throw 5 songs on an EP between records that they release themselves ‘cause they can’t find a label to even nod at ‘em and the thing hauls motherfriggin’ ass. Meet GLYDER. They’re from Ireland and they’re a lot better than Gums & Noses. In fact they’re so good that the late Phil Lynott’s mother likes ‘em. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Within these 5 songs, these cats go everywhere from a rousing cover of a tune by THE STUNNING to a lengthy title cut that recalls the best moments of the aforementioned Philo’s gang, Thin Lizzy, without ever getting close to aping. The dual guitars of Bat Kinane and Pete Fisher bob & weave like twin jet fighters and Tony Cullen’s vocals tell the respective tales with a wry storyteller’s vibe. Those of you who’ve read this site for awhile know how damn great I considered this band’s last full length opus, “Playground For Life,” and this EP is way more than just a taster for the next one. Buy now. 8.5

THE MANSFIELDS – “Cramp Your Style” CD ’08 (Gearhead, US) – Of course, once you say “New York Dolls influence,” everybody and their brother says “Fer Crissakes, Ray, how many jerkwads have done that?” And I say, “Yeah, maybe so hossy-hoover, this ain’t gonna change the world, discover an element or feed an entire country’s worth of starving children but they do what they do good.” A couple of Elvis (as in The Pelvis) covers as well as the odd nod to Nashville litter the back alley formed here by one zombie punk brick after another. Like I said, this ain’t gonna be the band you sell your Buick to follow around on tour but they sure do make a sweet drunken listen on a Friday night…well, if I was young enough to drink anymore, leastwise.

OMNIUM GATHERUM – “The Red Shift” CD ’08 (Candlelight, Swe) – Damn, isn’t that a mouthful! OMNIUM GATHERUM. It’s the kind of name that makes people smile. I have to admit, I chuckled at it a little. Then again, it sort of pissed me off when the Hives-loving, skinny-jeans-wearing, stupid-hair-cut-sporting dude at Local Record Emporium laughed when I asked him if he had it in stock. Still, all joking aside, this crew are a good bit better than their name might imply. Surely steeped in the age-old (how ancient does that make me feel?) Gothenburg death metal tradition, they rise above the ad nauseum level by injecting some real melody into the proceedings. A very consistent record, aided and abetted by the always-sterling production values of Dan Swano, “The Red Shift” won’t blow you away but it’s surely worth a 2nd or 3rd…maybe even 4th listen. 6.5

SIENA ROOT – “Far From The Sun” CD ’08 (Transubstans, Swe) – Hey know what, this Transubstans label has it all goin’ on, dig me? Yeah man, of course they’re from over Scandinavian way where the geetars rule the world. But there’s more to it than that. You see, besides understanding that rawk runs rampant over everything, they also understand…dig the vibe, man! It’s all about the vibe. SIENA ROOT are from Sweden and, brother do they dig the vibe. Not content to be stoner, not content to be desert, these cats take the deal way back to the ‘60’s and wear their tie-dyed headbands on their shirtsleeves. Hmm…maybe it’s the lysergic dust floating down from the loft upstairs or maybe I’m just old but dang if the names of the songs aren’t hard to read. Who care, though as this here musical combo reminds me of the old days of the Airplane and records like “Surrealistic Pillow.” Guitars like Jorma-before-he-was-a-tuna pervade and luscious melodies waft through the hazy smoke of those “funny” cigarettes. Sweet. 8.0

ULI JON ROTH – “Under A Dark Sky” CD ’08 (SPV, Ger) – At first I got kinda psyched about this newest effort from guitar God ULI JON ROTH and, on initial listen, was kinda smitten with this release. Funnily (is that an adjective for something being “like a funnel?”), however, with repeated spinnings, my assessment began to decline. Thing is, I’ve always really liked ULI. His odd Dylan-on-helium vox aside, the guy has always played a mean freaking axe and the octaves he’s reached on that wicked Sky guitar has cost me a few years off the old auditory nerves in the live format. Still, with each listen of “Under A Dark Sky,” this disc has revealed itself to have less & less actual substance. Sure, the arrangements are classically admirable. Sure, the musicianship in general and the guitar work (natch) in particular are startling. And yet, upon reaching the end of the album, I’m left wondering…what the hell did I just hear? That’s right, can’t remember a whole lot. Nowhere to be found are the either the blustering rhythmic onslaught of old Scorps gems like “Dark Lady” nor the ethereal Hendrixian landscapes of “Firewind.” While ULI still seems like an old friend, his latest disc should perhaps be entitled “Under A Kinda Empty Sky.” 4.5

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Real Live One

CRACK THE SKY – Recher Theatre, Towson MD – December 27, 2008 – For a band I’ve really dug, it had been a long time since I saw CRACK THE SKY. This Pennsylvania crew issued 3 of the most fantabulous records of the ‘70’s (“Crack The Sky,” “Animal Notes” & “Safety In Numbers”) back in the latter part of that decade. Hard rock? Sure, but taken from such a unique perspective both musically & lyrically that they were probably much too good to be recognized by the masses. Whether it be the vertebrate-fracturing off-time rhythms, the searing dual guitar leads or the shrewdly written, mega-thoughtful lyrics of John Palumbo, it was an incendiary mix that I stumbled onto and gladly embraced. After that initial trio, the band went on in various formats to release a series of albums over the years that, while often diverging in style, were at least always interesting. Funny thing was, I sorta lost track of ‘em during that time. I think some of it may have been due to the fact that I was stuck on the original line-up and, in truth, the last time I brushed with CTS in the live format was at Painters Mill Music Fair (Maryland people, remember that?!) in the ‘80’s. So, when Rick & Roll from suggested I join him on a venture to witness CRACK in Towson, I was only mildly interested at first. It was after going online & finding out that, yes the band did feature Palumbo and original guitarist Rick Witkowski, it also had seen bass master Joe Macre return to the fold last year, as well as drummer Joe D’Amico back on board. I too was onboard! (So are guitarist Bobby Hird, not an original but he’s been with ‘em forever now, and keyboardist Glenn Workman).

I won’t beat around the bush (I’ll leave that to Angus…although, not much beating going on with “Black Ice” but that’s another story) but 2 nights ago at the Recher, CRACK THE SKY kicked ass! I have to admit, being in the dark on their activities for some time, I had no idea what to expect from 2nd guitarist Bobby Hird. Suffice it to say, he is a perfect friggin’ match for Rick W. By the time the 2 of them had finished singing the ears off the side of my head with the massive Christmas-song interlude in “Surf City,” I was in the Hird herd! The set list did nothing to disappoint, featuring all the stuff you’d pick out of your first hat like “Hold On,” “Mind Baby” and “She’s A Dancer” not to mention ones I’d kinda hoped for, such as “Rangers At Midnight,” “Nuclear Apathy” and “Wet Teenager.” When the Sabbath-y opening of “Maybe I Can Fool Everybody Tonight” took wing on the guitars of Witkowski & Hird, this ol’ CTS junkie was smiling pretty wide. Other highlights included (of course) “Ice” (with a breathtaking piano solo by Glenn Workman), “Lighten Up McGraw” (complete with a face-melting guitar exchange from Bobby & Rick) and “L’Acte Patriote” (the striking epic from the band’s outstanding new album “The Sale”). Even better yet was beholding the chemistry of old guard Palumbo, Witkowski, D’Amico and Macre, turning back the years and proving that they are anything but a cabaret act, something too many groups with ‘70’s origins are these days. The way Hird & Workman fit in this band is remarkable as well, for a prodigal son like me who’s new to them. The absolute pinnacles of the night for this scribe, however, was twofold in nature. First, watching Palumbo, who looks fantastic, commanding the stage with every bit as much panache as he did in 1977 was a true gas. The 2nd thing that I really got off on was the playing & stage presence of bassist Joe Macre. My memories from the old days always placed him high on my list of favourite bass players and now I’m convinced that if I ever start a band, I’m calling this guy to see if he has some extra time (yeah, right!). Joe was an absolute Mack truck, marauding the stage and pulling out some of the most show-stopping 4-string ripping I’ve seen since the vintage days of Geezer, Geddy or Stanley Clarke all the while fusing with partner-in-crime D’Amico to form a rock solid bottom. No knock against some of the interim bassists CTS has employed, like Carey Ziegler, etc., but this guy is THE SHIT!

Anyway, what a great show and a great time for me to get back heavily into a band who should have been huge but were simply too good for the general population. My only recommendation would be for anyone reading this who’s into killer, hard-assed & intelligent music to check into CRACK THE SKY. Even some 32 years after their debut, it’s not too late…they’re still here!

Highly recommended:

“Crack The Sky”
“Animal Notes”
“Safety In Numbers”
“White Music”
“From The Greenhouse”
“The Sale”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Big coffins and hard pops

BIG COFFIN HUNTERS – “Drive Another Nail” CD ’08 (Private, US) – BIG COFFIN HUNTERS are from Maine. That is a very good sign. Heretic’s Fork is from Maine and they crush. Ogre is from Maine and they slay. To further spread the tendrils of connectivity here, BCH know Ogre, and the latter’s Will Broadbent did some fine artwork inside this CD’s sleeve. As a final piece of the back-drop, BCH did an EP in 2006 that ruled. But let’s stop all this pussy-footing around, shall we? None of that makes this disc any good. What does make “Drive Another Nail” good is the fact that these 4 guys lay down the business here. Sure, there are reminders of metal from the past, echoes of Maiden, aspects of Kyuss and even hints of the better part of modern acts like QOTSA. But, the thing that makes BIG COFFIN HUNTERS stand out for me is a sometime fleeting, hard-to-pinpoint quirk in the songwriting. Oddly, while they don’t have a very similar style at all, this idea of injecting little parts, unexpected chords & such things in songs often calls to mind one of my fave NWOBHM bands, Legend. Now while I’ll be careful in pointing out that this record is not “Death In The Nursery” (what is?!), it is also very clearly the work of an excellent metal band who write & play in a manner that says “we want to be remembered.” In short, an excellent release, one that bodes well for the future and one that comes recommended to most readers of this site. A Mack Truck Of Pine Boxes

TOWERS OF LONDON – “Fizzy Pop” CD ’08 (Vibrant, Eng) – I really dug TOWERS OF LONDON’s first effort, “Blood, Sweat & Towers” back in 2006. It was a way-cool slab of British punk rawk laced with a Pistols feel and enough of a dash of pop to send songs like “Air Guitar,” “On A Noose” and “How Rude She Was” deep into my mind. Hell, even the unapologetically titled “Fuck It Up” was present in both a rawkin’ and wooden version, lending credence to the theory that you can be snotty and hook-laden at the same time. I’ll admit that it sure as hell caught my eye when I read quite some time after that record’s release that the band were parting ways with not only their drummer, but one of the guitarists. I mean, hey, not to minimize the contributions of sticksmen, but let’s face it, Judas Priest & Budgie made an-album-to-album habit out of that in their early days and the quality never dipped. Guitarists, on the other hand, even in a 2-axe lineup are often part of a more tricky equation. Anybody doubting that need look no further than Thin Lizzy’s ill-advised attempt to stick bluesman Snowy White in the Robbo/Moore slot for “Chinatown” & “Renegade.” Umm….ouch. Anyway, it was with some trepidation then, that I approached TOL’s new “Fizzy Pop” disc. Still, pop it in the player I did. What I found is a band who have, yes, re-invented themselves and yet done so with such fun, such panache that the results are scintillating. Is “Fizzy Pop” more polished than “BS&T?” Sure it is. Is it better-produced and in a clearly more pop direction? Yup. Is it great? Oh, yeah! What TOWERS OF LONDON (Donny Tourette – singer, Dirk Tourette – guitar, Tommy De’ath – bass, Ben Henshall – drums, James Phillips – guitar) have done is to move forward without forgetting the past and, in doing so, make themselves even better. To be honest, what I like so much about this record is that there’s less Pistols here and more fucking TOWERS OF LONDON! A pretty wide brush-stroke, sure “Naked On The Dance Floor” has a pop sheen to die for but when the guitar solo kicks in on “Go Sister Go,” you’re thinking that Best Buy should probably choke on all those copies of “The Chinese Dildo.” The na-na’s and sing-a-long parts in “Time Is Running Out” and “Queen Of Cool” are as infectious as a five year old smearing his snot-covered fingers on a countertop, the old-style Slash/Keef guitars in “Avaline” crank & whine and “Beach Bar” is as camp, silly and rawk & roll pawty time as it gets. It's all tied together nicely with the acoustic “New Skin” (complete with “wah-wah” backing vox), a worthy, although stand-alone successor to “Fuck It Up.” “Fizzy Pop” may not be designed to change the world, but then again, neither was “Appetite For Destruction.” A Big Hard Stiff Fizzy Pop

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

LOUDNESS drummer, Munetaka Higuchi is dead

The below report is from the official LOUDNESS website. I've been a fan of this band since 1981 and feel great sorrow reading the words below. I can remember the first time I saw a picture of LOUDNESS in Record Review Magazine and, not even having heard them, could tell from just looking at the live pics of them that they were heavy as hell. I hope that the other 3 guys continue on with their vision but right now, that's not the most important thing. My heart goes out to Munetaka's family & friends and I hope they can all find an inner strength and peace at this time. Again, from the official LOUDNESS website,

Munetaka Higuchi passed away from liver cancer at a hospital in Osaka city in the morning of Nov. 30, 2008.
With permission from his family, we are officially announcing his passing. We realize this announcement came late and we apologize for that.
With his and his family's request, a wake and funeral will be held privately. For the press and the fans, we will make sure that you have an opportunity to say your goodbyes to him at later time.
For the last eight months since he was diagnosed with liver cancer, he had been in and out of the hospital several times for the treatment. For the entire time, he was very positive and bravely fighting this disease. He had this strong desire to come back to the stage to play for the fans again.
His death came very suddenly and was a very immature one.He lived his life to the fullest as a rock drummer who always gave us hopes and dreams. His heart and soul for music will be succeeded for a long time to come.Munetaka, we are grateful for all your hard work and the great 49 years you lived with us here in this world.
We would like to express our appreciation for all your condolences sent here for him.
With our deepest sympathy,
Soul Bread Ltd.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


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 '08. 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 2008 (I know there is sometimes a sticking point over the date on the back of disc... e.g., sometimes something is dated 2007 and actually isn't available until 2008. 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, 2009 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, 2009 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:

Monday, December 15, 2008


DEADSEA – “Deadsea” CD ’07 (Chrome Leaf, US) – Don’t you hate it when some music critic type guy says something like “Columbus, Ohio, known for a music scene involving bands like The Stapler, who completely defy categorization….” I mean, what the fuck is that, right? “Defy categorization!” Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me…except for the fact that it’s the truth, as the Columbus scene really has generated some maxi-wild stuff: Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, The Replacements, Monster Truck Five and hell, yeah, The Stapler in recent times. So, I suppose it figures that a metal band from there might have an air of the different, the odd, the askew about it. And indeed…although that may be a bit of an understatement when it comes to DEADSEA, for I’ve gotta say that this trio probably have the word “askew” stamped in large black, block letters across their foreheads, groins & God knows where else. I never knew George Washington and I know I’m no friggin’ George Washington but I cannot tell a lie. I’m stealing this next premise from the cool dude who runs when I say that other than the sweeping broadstroke of “metal,” I cannot find a genre that can hold these suckers. You see, in the space of the 6:14 of initial cut “Northwitch,” this trio dips their feet in everything from Iron Maiden to Scandinavian black metal to Rush to Slough Feg. Well, perhaps that’s not completely fair as rather than dip their feet, they more so jump in with big boots, sending cascades of ideas raining down on the listener in rivulets of originality that would make most of their contemporaries blanch. And, it doesn’t stop there for these 3, who I’ll now stop to name…shit, I’ve never done this before! Is this breaking new ground? What the hell, here we go!
Adam Smith - electric & acoustic guitars, arp and moog synthesizers, tapes, vocals.
Alex Conley – electric & fretless basses
Jeremy Spears – drums
As a little bit of an aside…have you ever noticed that when album credits list some dude on “fretless bass,” either they are going to seriously nail some butt or completely make pompous asses out of themselves. Here’s a clue…DEADSEA ain’t no asses. This is butt-nailin’ time!
But I digress…and…I repeat myself when I digress, I repeat myself when I digress, I repeat myself when I digress…I repeat…. Anyway, like I was saying, the fun doesn’t end with “Northwitch.” Oh no, people, for then comes stuff like “Coming Home,” “Killing Faith (Crying Death)” and the 1:30 ramrod of “Assault.” Blinding thrash, crazed black metal wailing, and then seemingly incongruous pauses, or should I say…could I say…sinuous melds from blind aggression into gorgeous, swirling melodies such as happens during the 4 minutes of “Vampyre’s Kiss.” Would this be enough? Probably for most people, the laymen, those who walk on the periphery of rock music and are amazed by the intricacies of Coheed and Cambria. Humpf. Would they be ready for the 27 MINUTE BARRAGE of the last 2 songs?!?!? Nah. “Frozen Rivers,” 16+ minutes of twists, turns and switchbacks, hanging on for dear life as the 3-wheeled motor-cart of DEADSEA swerves ever closer to the precipice on each successive hairpin, guitar melodies suspended in the air like a breathy mist, laced over the barbed wire violence of metallic bloodshed. All this and surgical precision, too! It’s like a sweet nightmare you never want to wake up from. Then, to sooth your soul, which has been ripped wide open like a gaping wound by the musically rich carnage that’s gone before, the nearly 11 minutes of “The Morning Frost” arrive on the horizon. Here, Adam Smith (who is clearly the brain trust of DEADSEA…although his 2 mates are no pikers) spreads layers of luscious guitar colourings, harmonies & melodies through the course of this mammoth instrumental…and you feel so calm…until, when you thought it was over, the cut erupts into a final burst of chugging, railroad-spike thrash that cracks every centimeter of your skull that had been left intact and...the album comes to a close.
Listen up, people. This disc came out in 2007 and I just found out about it. And, already I’ve included it on the ‘Realm as a Grand Halls piece. That should tell you something. And, while I’m still very comfortable with my pick for last year’s album of the year going to Against Nature, I’m not sure this one wouldn’t have given it a run for it’s money. So, do what you have to do. The only thing I can tell you is, if you’re from around the Baltimore area, get your laptop out because there wasn’t a copy of this bitch to be had at any record store in the area so it’s Amazon or eBay time. 9.5

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stairway To Canada

MADKING LUDWIG – “Seven Stairways” CD ’08 (Cypher Key, Can) – There’s a long-standing debate about what prog…STOP IT, RAY! We are not going through this hoo-ha again, do you understand me?! You know, that old chicken/egg debate about whether the hell prog is music that sounds like Yes or Genesis, or if it’s something no one’s ever done before. Because that’s what it is, you dick, it IS something original! It is something that’s never been done before. That’s why it’s called…say it with me one time…PROGRESSIVE! MADKING LUDWIG is from Montreal, and damn, are they good! They’re debut was 2005’s self-titled effort and it was a stormer. Here, they’ve followed it up with one as good if not even better and I’m a big fan. The first thing I love about this record is the sound, especially the bottom end. One track in with “Kursk” and the rumbling train of Patrick Falardeau’s bass & Raphael Corbeil’s drums drags you down the track with punishing power. This continues throughout the album, and that heaviness coupled with not only the head-turning arrangements, plus the double-barreled vocal attack of Stephane Bellamare & Leila Jolin-Dahel let you know something really different is afoot up north. From the blistering “Division Sun” to “Speed Of Ice,” a track that might make the late Miles Davis take pause, this is a band pushing boundaries & yet fiercely focused on making great music that goes far beyond the tag “metal” while still being quite “heavy”. Check out the positively fluid flute work by Bellamare, the r&b inflected “Seven Is The Number” or just the vocal prowess of Jolin-Dahel. This is simply excellent music that stretches it’s web well across multiple genres and in doing so, encapsulates that very word…prog. Now, just go forth and listen! 9.5
NOTE: This album is available mainly by download. See the band’s myspace site as well as Bland Hand Records. (Bland Hand Records)

TRUTH – “Machine” CD ’08 (Grooveyard, Swe) – “Hello, Gateway Computer Help Squad, this is Brad, how can I help you?” “Hi, how’s it going? See I’ve got this problem with my laptop. Well, actually it’s a couple things.” “What’s it doing?” “Well, the thing is, there seems to be a problem with the keyboard. I mean, it’s weird. Most of the time it works ok, but then if I happen to type in the word ‘Sweden,’ it’s like the spell-check automatically changes it to ‘guitar.’” “Ok, what else, sir?” “Well…the disc drive seems to be ok most of the time, but for some reason, every time I put in this one certain disc, no matter what I try to type, words like ‘Trower,’ ‘Marino,’ ‘Tabor,’ keep coming up instead.” “Uh, excuse me sir?” “Yes?” “Is the disc ‘Machine’ by TRUTH?” “Yup.” “Sir, there’s nothing wrong with your computer, that’s all perfectly normal. Thank you and I’m glad I could be of help to you today.” The proceeding may be a fictional account, my good friends but it could just as easily be real, so steeped in the rampaging bluesy heavy rock of the master blasters is this disc from Sweden’s TRUTH. Driven by the power-surge rhythm of Jens Lundahl (bass) & Jaime Salazar (drums), then topped with the smooth-yet-forceful vox of David Fremberg, “Machine” is a guitar-lover’s palette for one Sven Cirnski. I’m serious when I say that in one song, opener “Freedom,” Cirnski lays down about as much wah-wah inflected lead as most players might in a year. Remember “fills?” That is, hot little licks that augmented vocal lines in records by UFO, Mountain, etc.? This guy is a master of that, nudging Fremberg musically, conversing with him in the most soulful of ways and then, when the time comes, exploding into solo action that would surely send most wanna-be axe-slingers scurrying home to their mamas, as big-man boots called Robin, Leslie & yeah, SVEN came crashing down on them. Bottom line? From that raucous “Freedom” through “Machine,” “Angel” and “Heavy Rain,” this is Heavy Rock Lead Guitar 101. Listen & learn. 9.0

GUNS N’ ROSES – “Chinese Democracy” CD ’08 (Geffen, US) – So, all the hype is over, the dust has settled and this damn thing is finally out. When you think about this, it’s really amazing, the hype job that was done here. Here’s a guy who, yes was in a band that committed to vinyl one of the most staggering rock statements of a decade…the ‘80’s…with “Appetite…”. That same band (more or less) then went on to deliver an overblown, drawn-out 2 record set a few years later. From that point on, said singer proceeded to assemble and disassemble various line-ups of what would be a solo band and finally, nearly 20 years later, emerged with a record that has about as much to do with GUNS N’ ROSES as the man in the moon. The singer is the same, yet the rest of the band is comprised of a shadowy collective of whoever was not pissed off nor frustrated with this guy long enough to get in & get parts recorded. The result is a half-baked rock record that contains no real highlights, just a bunch of mediocre tunes that, while inoffensive enough, have no real staying power. “Last Child Of Mine?” “My Michelle?” “Mr. Brownstone?” C’mon!!! Top it off with neo-classical guitar leads courtesy of Finky Bamboozle Bucket (whoozat?) that have about as much soul as Yngwie jamming with a HP Laser Jet and you’ve got as flat a platter as the cat just shat. Splat. 4.0

EAST OF THE WALL – “Farmer’s Almanac” CD ’08 (Forgotten Empire, US) – Gotta say, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. The band name itself is giving me thoughts of a someone possibly trapped on the Eastern Bloc side of Berlin during the Wall days. The album title is taking me down rural, pastoral roads and then I’m noticing these guys are from New Jersey. So, with a very wide scope of possibilities, I pop in “Farmer’s Almanac,” to find…even a wider scope of possibilities! One of the first reactions is that, at the very outset…and I emphasize that…I’m not hearing vocals. The most interesting thing about this is my reaction the rest of the way. What I mean is, by the time this 40-ish minutes is over, I have not yet heard a human voice and yet have never again wondered about this absence, so captivating is the sound gracing my ears. Like many excellent albums, this striking debut by EAST OF THE WALL is not an easy one to describe…and therein lies it’s beauty. If I had to start somewhere, it could be the layered soundscapes of bands like Across Tundras or Souvenirs Young America. This aural architecture can be felt in the opening of a number like “Winter Breath.” And yet, how could that explain the Rush-like stop-start dynamic that hits you mid-song? And what about the melodic beauty of the interlaced harmony guitars in “Switchblade Knife?” or the patient yet somehow-insistent melodies of the understated “Unwanted Guest I & II.” Let’s not even try to figure out the building, spiraling structures of “I Am Crying Nonstop Hysterically.” What I like most about these guys is that they really know how to paint with their instruments and not sound the least bit prog-nerdy in the process. Literally without a word, EAST OF THE WALL have created a monster of a debut. Gotta say, I didn’t see that one coming! 9.0

ENFORCER – “Into The Night” CD ’08 (Heavy Artillery, Sweden) – Damn if that ol’ land of Sweden isn’t back again, this time with an entry in the metal-studs-chains field of old. And yet, that’s the thing that makes this debut effort by ENFORCER a winner. Sure, these guys are not trying to re-invent the mouse trap. This is ‘80’s Euro-metal, from the heart of record collections that hold in their hearts names like Mercyful Fate, Gotham City and Baron Rojo. And yet, as songs like “Speed Queen,” “City Lights” and “Evil Attacker” will demonstrate, there’s a vibe of forward-thinking aggression that allows ENFORCER to escape the retro-tag. No, this Scandinavian bunch are not going to set the critics pages alight with breathless talk about innovation in their artistry, but they’ll convincingly kick your butt in a way that it may not have been since you made that last trek to Zig Zag Records in Brooklyn, NY. Nothing wrong with that. 7.0

Sunday, November 30, 2008


DRUDKH – “Songs Of Grief And Solitude” CD ’06 (Supernal, Ukraine) – Besides having a relatively short name that I also don’t know exactly how to pronounce, Ukraine’s DRUDKH have also eluded my detection for a number of years. It seems that they’ve issued 6 full length albums and one EP since 2003 and are on the verge of cranking out another in early 2009, now freshly signed to the Season Of Mist imprint. First things first. DRUDKH were apparently formed, like I said, in 2003 by a couple members of the black metal band HATE FOREST and in doing so, moved away from a…um…hate-filled type of black metal and into one celebrating nature & individuality. I say “apparently,” because this trio seems to be a bit of an enigmatic bunch. One of their very few press releases indicates that they have a policy of no interviews, no photos, no live shows, no internet presence, etc. Hell, I only discovered ‘em by spying this interesting-looking CD cover in a budget bin and taking a chance on it. Supposedly, some of this reluctance to mix with the general public stems from them being incorrectly lumped in with a suspect radical political/social movement that upholds such things as racial separation, etc. This is all a kind of dreary discussion and I hate to have to go into it all here. Still, I wanted to preface my discussion of the album with it because the band has, in tandem with announcing their deal with Season Of Mist, denied any kind of radical political affiliation & emphasized the whole individual/nature thing. I thought it fair to them to make that point here. I also found, much to my great surprise, that this CD is frankly one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in a long time. Now I’m sure I have you really confused, regarding a disc by a black metal band as being “beautiful.” Well, I have a couple things to say about that. First off, black metal can be beautiful…in a sense…beautiful in terms of power, raw emotion and passion. The new HORNA is a superb example of that. Secondly, however, DRUDKH’s “Songs Of Grief And Solitude” is actually beautiful in a much more traditional sense because it is not black metal. Now you are beyond confused, and perhaps rightly so but bear with me. Seems that after the band’s 4th full-length opus, “Blood In Our Wells,” they decided to try their hand at a disc combining their interpretations of folksongs from their native Ukraine as well as themes from tracks on their previous records. This takes shape on “Songs Of Grief & Solitude” with the 3-piece shifting to all acoustic instruments and eschewing the rote black metal shrieks for no vocals at all. That’s right, this is a completely, utterly “wooden” album (how apt, as DRUDKH means “wood” in Sanskrit) of 7 stunning instrumentals. And, yes there are seven separate titles (which I’ll list below, as they are quite poetic-sounding) but this record is surely the type to be played in one continuous listen, as hypnotic and trance-inducing as it is. DRUDKH’s practice here (as I understand it is with their metal material, as well) is to develop a passage and then repeat it, adding small differences & progressions in texture until the listener is drawn away from their own mundane world and into that created by the music. No, you’re not going to hear acoustic shredding a la Paco De Lucia but I submit that the 36 minutes of this disc contains some of the most gorgeous unplugged guitar I’ve listened to in both recent & distant memory. Coincidentally, it’s also come to me at a time that I’ve begun to rediscover & enjoy the season of autumn, something that Racer ( and I talked about a little recently and it mirrors that season spectacularly. In fact, “Songs Of Grief & Solitude” has become a fixture on my nightstand, one of the most perfect CD’s this scribe has ever found for accompanying that late-night crash-out with a cool autumn wind wafting in the slightly open casement. But for all the peace & tranquility emanating from this release, don’t think there wasn’t a bit of a sinister turn at the corner of my smile as I ordered a couple of the black metal DRUDKH discs last night before I turned in. 9.5

Track listing: Sunset In Carpathians, Tears Of Gods, Archaic Dance, The Milky Way, Why The Sun Becomes Sad, The Cranes Will Never Return Here, Grey-Haired Steppe

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The SLAVE TRAITOR review & interview!

SLAVE TRAITOR – “Man Infest Destiny” CD ’08 (Private, US) – They say you should always go with your first reaction. Which begs the question, who the hell are “they” anyhow? See, the problem is, “they” are not always correct. When I first heard the name “SLAVE TRAITOR,” mentioned in passing by somebody at Declaration Of Doom, I was thinking “Whoa! Is this some kind of pro-slavery deal?” Soon, however, I realized the spelling of the name was not Slave Trader, but TRAITOR. A further exploration of this unit from Seattle, Washington revealed that they had just released their 2nd record, the self-issued “Man Infest Destiny.” The first thing I found out, upon slapping this lil’ puppy in my player is that it’s pretty damn short. Six songs and most in the 4 minute range. The second thing I found out is that the length is just about perfect because the intensity level never diminishes through any of the 6 tracks and, if it were longer, the listener just might not survive. So, what are we talking about here style-wise? Take the crushing, deep-toned guitar slabs of High On Fire, infuse it with the 3-pronged vocal attack of Mastodon and then brush-stroke it with surprisingly melodic guitar leads. Combine this all with darn catchy riffs/songs, have legend Jack Endino sit at the knobs and you’ve got a winner. You don’t have to go any further than opener “Wilderness Of Mirrors” to see what I’m talking about. When the NWOBHM-flavoured guitar solo merges with the Pike-like chords in this one, you’ll be hooked just like I was. Also, check out “Pill Cutter” & “The Middle Passage,” each giving way at points to chordal sections that could be out of the Alex Lifeson songbook before slamming back into a sludgy metallic assault. The differences in the 3 gruff vocalists add to the freshness of this record too, and make it an absolute keeper. Check out the band’s previous (2006) effort, “Black Narcissus” as well. 9.0

I was fortunate to be able to arrange for a nice sit-down with SLAVE TRAITOR and all 4 members joined to make this a very interesting conversation! Chief characters include: RAY (some asshole who was asking the questions J ), Steve Hass – drums, Marc Burno – bass & vocals, Eric Kempton – guitar & vocals, Jake Willanger – guitar & vocals.

RAY - The name SLAVE TRAITOR is one that caught me the first time I came across it. Even seeing the name and how it’s spelled, the first thing that came to mind was “Slave Trader” and I’m thinking right off, “ok, what the hell are these guys saying here!” Then I look again & realize the 2nd word is “Traitor” and my thought process changes to “Hmmm…exactly what is that?” So, then I go to your site to try to figure it out and see some pictures and one guy looks like he’s black, so I’m now convinced “I’m sure these guys are not glorifying slavery.” A very provocative and unusual name! What’s the story?

ERIC - We needed a band name. We were at a rehearsal. At that point it was just Marc, Jake, and myself. We had a list of names. Marc loudly exclaimed “SLAVE TRADER!” And he had that same reaction that you did. He thought “TRADER” spelled “T-R-A-D-E-R” like “trading slaves”.

MARC - We tried to come up with the most offensive thing we could think of.

ERIC - We're a metal band! What's the most offensive thing we could do? I realized there was that option, that we could switch the word around, to do a sort of play on words. Instead of “TRADER” like “trading slaves”, it could be “TRAITOR” like “stabbing you in the back.”

MARC - We like plays on words.

JAKE - And that's what we did. And here we are today!

STEVE - People don't forget that name.

ERIC - Each of us definitely has their own take on what the band name means to them. I think most importantly that it inspires a reaction, all kinds of reactions. And it's very memorable!

MARC - You think twice about it. The reaction that you had to it, that's the exact reaction that I would want someone to have from it. They're not just taking the name and going, “Oh it's that band BLAH BLAH BLAH.” They're thinking about it. If they have to think about it, they'll remember it. If they have do any mental process in there and if it provokes thought then maybe they'll actually, you know, buy something other than a cheeseburger.

ERIC - Like our merch.

JAKE - If it's something you see on a t-shirt or in print or on a poster or a flier, people tend to see it and remember it. It kinda sticks in their brain.

MARC - It's like being like a traitor to the slave mindset!

STEVE - Something like that...

(everyone laughs)

RAY - So what led the 4 of you to come together to create the unholy racket you call SLAVE TRAITOR? Please don’t shoot me for asking the “influence” question, I can’t help myself. Plus, I kinda like it.

MARC - We were influenced by the rain. And the gloominess. And the doom of it.

JAKE - Essentially we were all playing in different bands together.

MARC - We've all been in the scene together for a long time, playing around in different bands together. Steve and I played in a band. Eric and Jake have known each other...

ERIC - Since we were teenagers in high school.

JAKE - We've been playing music together since the early 90s.

MARC - I ended up playing music with them, on the drums. Then we all ended up banding together, playing the instrument we're all better at playing.

STEVE - They couldn't find a bass player, so they decided that Marc should just play bass and they got me for drums.

MARC - At one point Eric was playing bass. It's been a shift all-around.

ERIC - We also made a very conscious decision that we wanted to use three vocals. It would let us do vocal arrangements in a way that we'd never had a chance to do.

MARC - And not have a lead vocalist, not have someone that was sitting there just doing the vocals and nothing else. To have us all work together on it and bring something to the table.

ERIC - In terms of over-all influence I would say that it's metal. And that all kinds of metal! There are elements of hardcore, rock, blues, jazz and so on. But our unifying influence is metal and metal bands.

MARC - Especially since we all grew up in the 80s. I mean, early thrash and all the things around it, that came to it, and that came from it. Everybody's got their things that they listened to at the time.

ERIC - Everyone in the band brings their own interests and influences but it's overwhelmingly...

MARC - Metal!
(everyone laughs)

RAY - You’re from Seattle. I’m not sure how old you guys are and I know you formed in 2005, right? Were you around/aware of the whole grunge thing that came into the public view in the late ‘80’s/ early ‘90’s? What do you think of all that, looking back on it? What has been the lingering effect, if any, on the local scene there? The bands that got popularized from that whole time were Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains but there were also some lesser-mainstream like Green River/Mudhoney/Mother Love Bone, Tad, etc. who didn’t make it as far.

STEVE - I'll just say off-the-bat, I'm from Connecticut and I was one of the millions of kids that heard it, dorked out on it, and loved it to death. That's one of the reasons why I moved out here. But these guys, they have a very different viewpoint and a very different approach.

JAKE - Yeah, that stuff I saw from the very start, from the beginning to the end of it, when I was a teenager. By the time I was 21 or 22, it was pretty much over, you know, for the most part. And those bands and those people were very much people that were from my neighborhood. It just seemed really odd when it was exposed on the national level, to me, because it's something you'd never expect to see happen ever. And then after awhile it just sorta faded away like it never happened. It was also a really cool time to be alive and to live through, I'll have to say.

MARC - I grew up in Alaska, so all the stuff that was happening down here was like sort of this distant thing. I kinda got the same viewpoint that a lot of other people had of it, where you see this thing and there's like this band from down there. You know, I liked some bands from down there but I wasn't really into the whole Seattle scene. I didn't listen listen to a lot of it. I came to things after-the-fact, hearing them from a different context from an outsider's point of view, and looking back on the scene instead of being there. I mean, a lot of that stuff survived!

JAKE - Even though the hype has sorta faded away, a lot of these people are still here doing the same thing that they were before.

MARC - Yeah they're still here, they're still doing it. Some of them are more out in the scene and actually hanging out, some of them are just hiding and not wanting to talk to people, you know. There's all that crazy stuff that's influenced so many people and it's still here. It's influenced all of us in certain ways, you know.

STEVE - You can't avoid it.

MARC - Personally I'm a big Melvins fan and that's like huge from around here. Some people don't know who they are, some people don't care.

ERIC - I'm like Jake, I saw it from the beginning to the end. It's one of the reasons that I wanted to live in Seattle and play music. Growing up as a teenager and getting exposed to new bands, seeing the fliers that were around. Everybody was playing music and there was a real atmosphere of anything goes. There was no difference between a person standing in the crowd and someone playing on a stage. They were dressed the same, they acted the same, they were just like you. Everyone was totally approachable. That's a really amazing thing. And there's a lot of music going on now too. The scene here is very supportive

MARC - Grunge may have gone away but it seems like it's coming back.

STEVE - Sooner or later...

(everyone laughs)

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Do people really drink Starbucks Coffee by the bucketload up there? If so, is it because of the rain or having to watch the Mariners? Don’t worry, we also have a bad baseball team here. Of course, you took Erik Bedard off our hands, so I guess we made out there.

JAKE - I love coffee. I drink a pot of coffee every day before I go to work.

STEVE - I couldn't function without the coffee. But not Starbucks, that's only if you literally can't find anything else.

MARC - No one goes to the Starbucks. I mean, there's a lot of people that go to Starbucks here but there's so many coffee shops here, it's like you find the coffee shop that you like and you go to it. When I first moved here, I went overboard on the coffee, so much so that I have a stomach problem now.

(everyone laughs)

MARC - I kinda do that, I go overboard on things.

JAKE - It's surreal going into a coffee shop, looking across the street, and seeing the same coffee shop.

STEVE - That joke about the Starbucks across the street from the Starbucks, that's true. It's here.

MARC - It's true, there's a Starbucks on every corner. Then there's other coffee shops in-between those.

ERIC - There's lots of independent chains plus small coffee shops and cafes up in the Northwest. You can get coffee really easily.

JAKE - Any given block within the city, you can go to four or five different coffee shops.

MARC - It's liquid sunshine, you know. The caffeine keeps you happy.

STEVE - Six months out of the year you don't really see the sun, that is true. You gotta get through it somehow.

ERIC - As for sports teams, if you're a fan of sports in the Pacific Northwest, it's because you love the sports and not because you necessarily love the teams here.

(everyone laughs)

ERIC - We don't have the Sonics anymore. The Seahawks aren't any good.

JAKE - The Seahawks aren't showing up this year.

ERIC - The Mariners weren't any good this year. I think we have a soccer team...

STEVE - The Sounders.

JAKE - The Storm are doing quite well, from what I hear.

MARC - They're doing really well. I've got a buddy who love them. He's got season tickets to it...

ERIC - We need to start a coffee-drinking league!

RAY - Both “Black Narcissus” and the new disc, “Man Infest Destiny” are somewhat short in physical time and yet…they just don’t seem it. I have to say that, especially with the new one, I have very rarely heard 6 songs in a row in which the intensity lets up so little. Any comments?

JAKE - We try to not have any filler on our records. We don't want the intensity to let up or any kind of a lull in the pounding or anything like that. It works well for us.

STEVE - And if it's short, it's because that's the only songs we had at the time. I don't think we intentionally go out to write EPs. It's just what we do. We're trying to get away from that now.

MARC - We try to write really good songs.

STEVE - And that takes time!

MARC - Everything we put out, we want to make sure that it's really good and unfortunately we haven't been able to do more than 5 or 6 at a time. The intensity comes from where we were at when we recorded that thing. We've sorta gotta a little more dynamic since then.

ERIC - All the songs on both of our releases “Black Narcissus” and “Man Infest Destiny” are songs that we tested in front of live audiences, that we played out and then worked on afterwards. They were always works in progress. In the final stages of “Man Infest Destiny”, we worked together on the vocals and the vocal harmonies, vocal arrangements, the lyrics, and so forth.

MARC - It worked really well when we played them out. We refined the songs. Then we recorded them, did preproduction, added new vocal arrangements, and played them out. They went over like gangbusters! We recorded it like that and it worked out amazingly.

ERIC - We want to be able to tell people who saw us at the show, “You can buy the CD and that's pretty much what we sound like. What you heard tonight is probably all here on whatever the recording was from that particular era for us.”

RAY - Even with this kind of bludgeoning assault, the dynamics are outstanding. One of the things I constantly go back to is the way the guitar solo comes in during “Wilderness Of Mirrors.” The solo has such an “old school” sound that, on first take, is so surprising and then, nearly just as quickly fits like a glove. Did a lot of thought go into planning something like that?

JAKE - I had a general idea for the solo already planned out in my head before I went into the studio. And then Endino and the guys in the band were making suggestions about they wanted to hear from me. So we talked about it a lot, then I improvised a lot of things while we were recording, and that's how it came out.

MARC - You had entire solos done before we even went into the studio.

JAKE - Yeah yeah!

MARC - But then you worked those with what we were working on and how we all did it together. It was well thought out.

ERIC - A solo in Slave Traitor isn't just a showcase for a person to display their individual prowess. In fact it's an integral part of the song. For example in “Wilderness of Mirrors” we felt that Jake needed to take a solo there and he worked with us on it. He came up with incredible improvisational as well as organized, very well orchestrated ideas. And there's that old school approach where it comes in and it builds up.

MARC - I think it wails!

RAY - Three of you do lead vocals, which involves in a lot of high-power guttural stuff. Did any of this idea come from Mastodon? To me, your stuff is a lot more raw, direct than their’s musically, more in line with things like High On Fire & even Coffins (Japan), but with some added intricacy in the guitar work.

STEVE - I think we've all listened to Mastodon and High on Fire at one time or another, that's for sure.

(everyone laughs)

MARC - Definitely our earlier stuff was inspired directly from us listening heavily to Mastodon since it was the only thing we all really really liked.

STEVE - And agreed upon.

MARC - Especially when we were going out doing shows, like the thing we can all listen to in the van that we were all really excited about. I think a lot of people were, it wasn't just us that were excited about Mastodon at the time.

ERIC - We all went to Mastodon shows together and thought “Wow! What an incredible band, what an amazing thing they're doing!” It inspired us to changed a lot of our approach, to rethink what we were doing. For example – the triple vocals. That's not just Mastodon, though.

JAKE - Neurosis is a huge vocal influence for us. Where they would use multiple vocalists, no one would take the lead per say, and they'd all have other parts to add during the course of any given song.

MARC - The influence of the three-vocals came from a lot of different things. We had a band where it was just one vocalist. We wanted to do more vocals all the way around, not have a front person. In doing that, everybody has to contribute to the vocals. On the new album honestly we've had different influences on the vocals. I brought something, I mean it's a weird influence, but the Beastie Boys. How they do a change-up in the vocals where they each deliver a line. They don't just do it in just 1-2-3, 1-2-3. They switch it and change it up and it's not just a whole line, it might be as a phrase or it might be an entire section. They think about it. So we kinda started to think about it that way too and approach it from that direction. At least on a couple of songs, we've succeeded.

JAKE - I think that in a lot of ways that like the hiphop MCs sorta trade off one another, we kinda took from that but it's a very much more rock thing that we do. That influence really isn't very prevalent if you just listen to the music but it's there.

ERIC - And it is a direct approach, what we're trying to do. It's very heart-felt, very genuine, it's coming from a very real place.

MARC - The vocal style we came at from doing it in all the different bands that we've been doing over the years. It grew to this. It's not like we trash our vocals doing this, we've educated ourselves. It's a lot of work getting to the point where we're at and it may sounds like whatever but it's been a lot of work and I think it's paid off.

STEVE - From the one member who doesn't sing I've watched these guys work on this and I just shake my head going “Wow, you're really thinking about this!” Because I don't.

(everyone laughs)

RAY - How did you get involved with Jack Endino, as far as him doing the production work for this new disc?

MARC - We wanted to work with Jack.

JAKE - We had for years.

MARC - A long time ago, when we first got together, we put together a list of who we wanted to work with, and Jack was on that short list.

JAKE - He didn't seem very attainable at that point in time, we didn't think it was going to happen.

MARC - That was our dream list. It wasn't like, “Yeah let's go get that dude and everything!” But I mean he's in the scene, he lives in Seattle. He lives right over there, right down the street from us pretty much. We have friends that he plays music with and eventually it got around to people talking. We talked to friends and someone said, “I can talk to Jack about it!” Then Jack said, “Let me listen to your CD.” We gave him a CD!

JAKE - He seemed to like our music.

MARC - He really is into it.

JAKE- And he was more than happy to take our money too. That's pretty much how that works. Honestly, he gave us a screaming deal.

MARC - A screaming deal! He said that he really enjoyed it and he saw potential in us to record something.

JAKE - And he enjoys what he does for a living and he goes out of his way to help local musicians put out quality records.

STEVE - Yeah definitely!

JAKE - He's a really cool guy to work with. It was probably something we'll never forget and we can hopefully do our next CD with him as well.

ERIC - I've loved Jack Endino's work as a producer, that was the first time I ever noticed that credit on a recording. I read all the linear notes on the vinyl, the cassettes, the CDs that I loved. And I saw his name over and over again. We had a good friend who played in a band with Jack, who actually recommended us to him. Jack can afford to be selective about who he works with. Then we had the opportunity to play with one of Jack's bands on a bill with...

JAKE - High on Fire!

MARC - Yeah, that was a really good show.

ERIC - So he got a chance to check us out. Almost a year later we contacted him about doing a record and to our surprise, he agreed to do it!

MARC - It was our easiest, most low stress, no questions, no problems session ever. We came in, we did our part, he did his part. No one questioned anybody on anything. There were questions like “Oh what's this? What's that?” Really simple stuff, no artistic creative head-butting or anything.

ERIC - How Jack wanted to work was exactly how we wanted to work. His comments and thoughts often mirrored our own. We'd turn to each other to make a remark and before we could turn to Jack, he'd already cleared up the issue or took care of whatever.

MARC - He already saw it. He was fixing it as we were talking about it, not even knowing we were discussing it.

STEVE - He was fixing things that we didn't even notice were wrong.

ERIC - We can do nothing but praise Jack Endino and hope that people seek him out for work.

RAY - Did you ever say “Jack Endino” to anybody and have them think you were talking about two people named Jack & Dino?
(everyone): Yes!

MARC - That's the funniest thing in the world because a guy I know, I was talking with him and told him we recorded with Jack Endino and he asked that same exact question. He was like, “I thought it was Jack & Dino you know, for the longest time!” Which is kinda funny...

STEVE - I think it's just a matter of reading his name first or hearing his name first, I guess.

ERIC - Yeah, I had friends that I told that I was working with Jack Endino and they asked me about Dino. No no , it's Jack Endino. It's his first and last name. And then Jack told us stories about it himself, when we were in the studio. He had hysterical stories about the mistaken “Jack & Dino” Productions.

MARC - Where's Dino?!

ERIC - Where is Dino? Where is he at?

MARC - I want to meet Dino! Where is he?!

ERIC - Does Dino operate the tape machine?

MARC - You do a good job but where's Dino?! I know we'll step it up when we see Dino!

(everyone laughs)

RAY - Let’s say the phone rings tomorrow and Donald Fagan (Steely Dan) is at the other end. He says, “I’m going to fly to Seattle to produce your next record as long as you promise to do a cover of ‘Your Gold Teeth II,’” what is your response?

MARC - He's completely out of his mind. What happened in the planet, what has gone on in the universe, what has shifted to cause this to happen.

JAKE - He needs to taking his meds. And get off Myspace!

ERIC - How could we ever brought to the attention of Donald Fagen? Oh man, if he wanted to work with us, that'd be truly fantastic.

MARC - It'd be great because we wouldn't have to play a lick on the album. He'd hire out the entire crew.

JAKE - He'd eventually fire us all.

STEVE - First thing off you're all fired!

(everyone laughs)

RAY - What’s happening with a song like “The Middle Passage,” lyrically? The title reminds me of a Tolkien-type thing. Unfortunately, being elderly, my eyes are poor and I haven’t hit up the Dollar Store for a magnifying glass lately, so reading the lyrics is beyond my grasp.

STEVE - I didn't write the lyrics.

MARC - It's all about being caught in-between, in the middle, “The Middle Passage”. It's like, you know when you're at a party and you're standing there but no matter where you're at, you're always in the middle. There's this crowd of people and they always channel past where you are. You're stuck in the hallway, you're stuck in the doorway. Or when you're stuck in a stadium and you're right in the middle. It's that “Middle Passage” you go between, you're stuck there and everything is like “Thhbbbbbbt!” and you're always moving out of the way.

ERIC - Lyrically we try to tell stories. We try to make it something personal and we're trying to do epic things, big stories. The song “The Middle Passage” lyrically is about purgatory, about being trapped in-between two things. The rock and the hard place. Heaven and hell.

MARC - In-between the New World and the Old World, in the belly of a ship.

JAKE - For me it's about the personal struggles, how to maintain through your daily life. About going from day-to-day, having to make a certain amount of money to be able to do certain things. And how you have to struggle through that, it's constant, and it's not going away anytime soon. It's something you have to deal with for however long you're alive.

STEVE - Yeah, it's a happy song.

MARC - It's a good song, it's got that play-on-words. We like to have titles mean several different things, where you take it anyway you want. With the lyrics you can take it from your own perspective. We all have our own perspectives. With anything that we have, from the name of our band to different song titles and the lyrics within, it's all take it how it is at the moment that you feel. With the name of our band, we can tell you one story one time and tell you another the next time depending on how we feel.

JAKE - That song in particular is more open to the listener's interpretation as far as what the lyrics would mean to them. A lot of our other songs aren't like that at all. They're very blunt.

RAY - Both of your albums have been put out as self-release kind of deals. Do you think this is what best suits you, as far as future projects go or are you in the market for some kind of deal?

MARC & STEVE - We want to sell out!

(everyone laughs)

MARC - This current situation has worked really well for us because we put a lot of work into it. It sucks to be poor and having to put all your money into this. We spend a lot of money on it and it all comes out of our own pockets. But in the end it's our product. We can pitch it and do what we want with it. We would love to have some kind of distribution.

STEVE - Some kind of support. Any support.

MARC - We don't mind spending money, we don't mind doing the work, we don't mind doing everything. We also want to own our material, own everything that we do. That's the benefit, we own everything that we've done.

JAKE - That's the way things work in life. We wanted to start a band, we wanted to write music, we wanted to play songs. If there's something we wanted to do, then we're going to have to do it ourselves. There's no one out there who's going to give us money at this point. That's not going to stop us from being in a band and doing stuff.

MARC - We're successful in our own eyes at this point. For what we've done, we've accomplished so much to get to this point. Monetarily we have gone in the hole you could say.

STEVE - It's all worth it. It all keeps us sane.

ERIC - If someone was to approach us with proposals, we would eager listen to anyone's offer of a deal. We're open to any kind of offer! The reality is we're more than happy to continue at it ourselves until someone else feels that they'd like to work with Slave Traitor.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: World tour supporting High On Fire or a week in a secluded villa with Beyonce: You choose!

ERIC - Jay-Z would have us killed.

JAKE - Yeah, no kidding!

MARC - Yeah, you know I ain't battling with that. And you know, Beyonce is all that but...

JAKE - We're all complete scrubs and she probably wouldn't even give us the time of day. We'd be sitting in this room with this chick who wouldn't talk to us.

STEVE - It'd be a long and uncomfortable week.

ERIC - We'd choose High on Fire world tour support

RAY - When is SLAVE TRAITOR going to get to the East Coast?

STEVE - Now that is a good question! When are we going to the East Cost?

JAKE - Well, Steve's going there for Christmas.

(everyone laughs)

MARC - That counts! I mean he's been out there quite a few times since we've been together.

JAKE - He's from there!

ERIC - The reality of getting to the East Coast from Seattle is a lot of time and money just to get at least halfway there, not even all the way to the East Coast. We had plans to do that in 2009 and unfortunately the economy has taken an absolute nose-dive.

MARC - The economy is crazy! So we're focusing more on the West Coast. Not necessarily just our region but the whole West Coast. To try and do as many tours as we can here, to promote what we can, and to make it viable for us. Still getting out, still touring, still playing shows around, and still trying to promote what we've put out.

ERIC - We'd love to be tour, to be support for someone going East or touring the US. Once again, we'd be open to any kind of proposal that someone had.

STEVE - Don't get us wrong, all we want to do is get to the East Coast.

MARC - We've planned and plotted tours out there. The East Coast is where it's at for touring. Everything is close together and there's a lot of really cool supportive people out there.

JAKE - We actually had one that fell through in 2006.

STEVE - Yeah, we were going to get there.

MARC - We've planned quite a few times.

RAY - What is the absolute most stupid story you can think of, associated with SLAVE TRAITOR?

JAKE - Man, we've got to narrow it down to one? That's hard.

ERIC - Can we do something like a David Letterman Top 10 List?

STEVE - When you say stupid, I think of bad gigs.

MARC - Yeah, we've had a lot of bad gigs.

ERIC - I would say that the stupidest story about Slave Traitor is the aggressive violent reactions we get from people about the band name and it's largely because they can't spell.

MARC - They can't recognize the different between “TRAITOR” and “TRADER”, even when you spell it out for them. Even when you slowly enunciate it for them. I don't know, people are dumb. That's all I've got to say.

STEVE - People are dumb.

RAY - Any final comments?

ERIC - Thanks for the interview, Ray!

MARC - Thanks Ray!

STEVE - Right on, Ray. Thanks for the interview!

JAKE - Yeah Ray thanks!

Well, as you’ve just read, SLAVE TRAITOR are a very cool bunch of guys. They’ve also put out 2 exceptional discs that any fan bands like High On Fire, Mastodon, Neurosis and the like will pee themselves over. Not only that, I think that their interesting, melodic take on this kind of music will make them appeal to a wider audience, including folks who are into things like NWOBHM, prog metal, etc. In any case, check these guys out. They’re another great band with that DIY attitude and a real passion for their craft. Just what we dig at the ‘REALM!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Men Of Two Guitars...The Valkyrie Interview!

At both the Doom Or Be Doomed Festival in 2007 and the Declaration Of Doom Fest in 2008, Baltimore was graced with some of the finest bands that not only the doom scene but that metal in general has to offer. With all that, one of the bands that impressed me the very most was Virginia’s VALKYRIE. Having already been blown away by their demos and self-titled debut album (2005), I was mesmerized by these guys in the live format. Brothers Jake & Pete Adams fused their vocal & guitar abilities into what I could only begin to describe as a metallic take on the glorious harmony work of Wishbone Ash and added a rustic, rural feel to the heaviness that was singularly sublime. They put an exclamation point on all that a few months later this year with their stunning 2nd album, “Man Of Two Visions,” which features, in this scribes mind, some of the most riveting dual guitar work in recent times. Recently, I talked to Jake Adams about this new record, VALKYRIE’s live work, brother Pete’s entering the Baroness line-up and more!

RAY - Obviously there’s a beginning to every story. At least that’s what my creative writing teacher in college told me. So, as not to mess up my belief in that old guy’s greatness, how’s about giving me the low-down on how you got involved in music & how it led to VALKYRIE?

JAKE - I started playing guitar at age 13, my brother started around the same time- he was 11. it was 1993. We grew up playing guitars in punk bands and playing everything from Nofx to Nirvana to Allman Brothers to Sabbath. Towards the end of high school I had a band that played stuff influenced by the Wipers, Fugazi, and Dinosaur Jr. Pete had moved to Richmond and joined a street punk/oi band, then came back to Rockbridge to form a psychobilly/punk/metal crossover band. About four years later I formed Valkyrie out of an interest to play riffs and solos in the tradition of Tull , Sabbath, and Zeppelin. Pete joined up shortly thereafter.

RAY - The whole “brothers” thing…See, I’m an only child…which may explain my bi-polar tendencies, but with you and Pete, how does it work? Do you always get along well? Nearly kill each other? With you both singing/playing lead, do you think you 2 have a kind of connection that you couldn’t possibly have if you weren’t siblings, with the harmony leads & all that? Or am I putting words in your mouth and simply sound like an ass?

JAKE - Hahaha, no , you don't sound like an ass- there is a connection that comes from the genetic link between brothers that is hard to beat- it can be be very cool at times. We usually get along, but every so often we get into it. Usually we don't let it go too far though. But there have been times I have felt bad for our bandmates who have to hear us moaning and wailling from time to time.

RAY - You guys are located in Harrisonburg, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. Is this where you’re from originally? How do you think the rural environment affects your music? To me, even though it’s heavy stuff, highly amplified, electric and all that…well, it has what sounds to me like a very rustic, rural overtone that sort of embodies the feeling of the area you’re from. Of course, again, I may be full of shit. Please tell me to shut up if the thought crosses your mind.

JAKE - I have lived in Harrisonburg for about ten years, I moved up here to go to school, and still haven't quite finished. But we are from Rockbridge County, which is about an hour south of here. Our bass player, Will, is from there as well although now he lives in Richmond. Our drummer, Warren, lives about an hour NE of me in Greene County. I have always tried to reflect a rural atmosphere in the music- thanks for noticing that- I guess keeping some folky elements in there helps that, but I would like to think there a little more to the "vibe" that conjures up a "country" feel.

RAY - Let’s do some “band” association. Give me your thoughts on the following:

RAY - Wishbone Ash:

JAKE - majestic, soulful, mind-blowing harmonized guitars- I LOVE THIS BAND.

RAY - Black Sabbath:

JAKE - heavy, dark, psychedelic, what can I say? the godfathers of doom- and heavymetal 101.

RAY - The Wipers:

JAKE - one my alltime favorites, Greg Sage really captures spirituality and a spacy feeling in his music.

RAY - Thin Lizzy:

JAKE - Another group that comes across with real soul and conviction, some of the best guitars ever.

RAY - The Obsessed:

JAKE - All american doom rock, another one of my favorites, Wino's finest hour- my favorites are "concrete cancer" and "yen sleep."

RAY - Mastodon:

JAKE - they do some cool stuff with their guitars, and they have worked hard to get where they have. much respect, a unique sound, but typically too frenetic for me, it tends to give me a headache.

RAY - Let’s do some “word” association!

RAY - Budweiser:

JAKE - cheap beer, I guess it's good if you don't have money for better stuff, I don't drink anymore, so....

RAY - Sarah Palin:

JAKE - wolf hunting from helicopters

RAY - Marshall:

JAKE - some pretty nice amps. I like my laney though!

RAY - Female Valkyrie Fans:

JAKE - few and far between, but loyal

RAY - Obama:

JAKE - change? Hahahahaha

RAY - Too loud:

JAKE - yeah, you had better turn it down, unless you want tinnitus! haha I have never been an earplug guy- we'll see where that gets me.

RAY - It’s been awhile since the self-titled VALKYRIE disc. What kind of label is Noble Origin & how did you hook up with them? Do you think in this day & age, that a small label or even a self-release can be promoted as easily as signing with a larger label?

JAKE - I started Noble Origin myself, basically because at the level we are, we can tap into the same distro another label would be able to. At the point that we want to do some more touring, we might look for a larger label that can offer more promo etc, but for now this is fine. I think a smaller label can do a whole lot- it just takes time and energy, two things in short supply right now- but we are getting it out there slowly.

RAY - As great as “Valkyrie” was, “Man Of Two Visions” easily eclipses it, in my opinion. How do you think you guys have developed between records?

JAKE - Thanks! Well, my knowledge of heavy metal has expanded a lot, and I listen to a lot more progressive stuff now. I think we have more NWOBHM in there now, and less stoner. Also the sound is more upbeat.

RAY - How does the songwriting work in the band, do you & Pete bring in most of the ideas? How does it then work in terms of who’s going to take what solo? On the harmony leads, do one or the other of you always take the higher part?

JAKE - Usually I come in with a bass line, or main riff and vocal concept, and Pete will put down some harmonies, he has riffs that he has written as well, and we will fit those in . He wrote the intro for False Dreams, for example. Then again, he wrote the main parts of Apocalypse Unsealed, and I wrote the intro/outro. It all depends on nature of the song as to who plays what, but we will trade off solos as necessary, we usually both try to get at least one in every song. But typically I will stay with a lower octave harmony and Pete will find something that sounds good in the higher range. These days Pete tends to write more than he used to, but now that he is playing with Baroness, we will see how that shapes up , I might have to go back to a central songwriting role, like most of the stuff on the 1st album.

RAY - “Man…” seems to be the work of a very patient band. That is, songs like “Apocalypse Unsealed” & “False Dreams” contain what can be called “intros” and the pace never seems to be rushed, although there is still a ton of energy. Commentary?

JAKE - Haha, hmm. Well, what can you do, we try to write "songs," so a lot of it is creating an atmosphere, and that often takes time. You have to "build up" to different parts too. It adds to the overall effect.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! Has VALKYRIE ever played (or would you consider playing) at a Haunted Hayride? Please consider your response carefully!

JAKE - Haha, sure, why not, I imagine it might be a bumpy ride, but other than that, it sounds like something worth doing.

RAY - The instrumentals, “Green Highlander” and “The Gorge” really send the album to a higher level, in my opinion. What can you tell us about the background of these? Who plays which parts? Does the title “The Gorge” refer to a real place?

JAKE - Pete wrote the Gorge and plays it by himself on the album. That was the culmination of a period of time when he was playing a ton of open tuning stuff. When he played it for me in its entirety, I said- "that's going on the record!" I'm glad I had that idea, it is a great tune. The chords for "Green Highlander he wrote, and I wrote the lead for that one. "the Gorge" is one of Pete's favorite fishing holes in Rockbridge, and "Green Highlander" is the name of a flyflishing lure he likes to use.

RAY - I understand that Pete has recently joined BARONESS. What was his background there, did he/you know them or did he just happen to find out they were looking for a guitarist? He seems like he would be a very good fit with them. Do you see this as a potential negative for VALKYRIE, as far as being able to continue that band?

JAKE - We grew up next door to Baroness' bass player Summer out in the county, and we played music all through high school in Lexington with their main guitarist/vocalist John. Allen ( drums) and his brother grew up a block down the street from John and we knew them but not well until later in high school. We had been mostly been out of touch with them for the past few years, on different scenes and taking a different path musically- of course they were touring their asses off. In hindsight it makes sense that eventually they would call Pete to play, but it was a little surprising when John called Pete and asked him to join up. Pete and John have a history of writing together so it makes good sense musically. It may be annoying having to work around their tour schedule at times, but it will probably be fine because I will be busy starting a teaching career in the next year or two so I will be busy with that anyway. Plus Pete's experience on the road will only help him in his role with Valkyrie, and he continues to encourage Valkyrie to higher aspirations- which we may pursue at some point.

RAY - I also understand you’re working toward becoming a 6-12th grade teacher. Besides possibly needing your head examined, tell us a little more about this side of yourself and your plans in that direction. Again, do you see VALKYRIE continuing to fit into your future plans, with this in mind?

JAKE - Well, it has taken me a while to figure out that if anything is my "calling" it would be teaching- I seem to have a knack for it. So yeah, this May (knock on wood) I will be getting my licensure to teach social studies in grades 6-12. Teaching works for me because it is a service-oriented career and in order to sleep at night I think I really need a job that directly helps others. You can't have much more of a direct impact than being a teacher. I want to do my part to help build a better world society, because right now we live in some dark times. As far as Valkyrie, I plan on keeping it going as long as I can, and eventually I would like to do some more serious touring. It might work out that I can tour during summer vacations! We'll see.

RAY - Being a teacher & all that, what the hell do you do when you end up with a classroom full of out-of-control high school senior’s who don’t know about anything other than rap music?! Seriously, what do you think is the best way to approach teaching kids that age these days?

JAKE - Well, you have to make the material relevant to their lives, so if it means having them write a rap song in order to learn it, so be it, Music is always good in aiding learning. No, I know what you mean, and it will be a challenge many times, but I think if I show a genuine interest in them as people they will respond to that. I think part of my strategy will be to use current events and issues to teach history, in order to make the learning more practical. Otherwise, why else would they need to know about what was going on hundreds of years ago unless it has practical implications for their lives now? But yeah, sometimes, pop culture, as much as it may be crap, is the best tie-in.

RAY - I know you guys have played up this way (Baltimore) a few times? How far have you gotten away from home base as far as touring goes? Do you get local gigs on a regular basis?
When I am not super busy with school , we tend to play locally every month or two. We have been as far out as Phoenix, and we have toured to Chicago and Austin, and Portland ME, in the north, so we have traveled a decent amount. We have gotten to where we can do a pretty successful tour of the mid-atlantic/northeast these days.

JAKE - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! Do you think teaching an orangutan to play guitar left handed would make it more likely to be influence by Iommi? Or should hairier primates stick with acoustic instruments, for safety purposes?

JAKE - Ray, this question is too crazy to even be answered. It should stand alone.

RAY - Even with all the things you guys have going on…what do you see down the road for the band? Any new songs taking shape yet?

JAKE - I have a few new songs I am working on, no plans for recording yet, we do plan on doing a solid two weeks next summer, maybe in July 2009 of the east coast.

RAY - Of course, you know I’m not going to let you slide without this one… Tell us an interesting anecdote, a funny story or an utterly obscene tale from the history of your time in VALKYRIE.

JAKE - Well, there are probably funnier tales to be told, but I am drawing a blank right now. But one time we were playing a little bar in Asheville NC, it was our first time playing there in that city. We were playing with a side-project of Chad Davis( US CHRISTMAS,HOUR OF 13) called D-LAB. Anyway, it was getting late, and only a few people were there for the show, so we were sitting at the bar bitching with the bartender about how no one supports good shows etc, blah blah blah. Almost as if on cue, a ton of kids started streaming down the stairs for the show- it was all the crusty "scene" kids basically. We were like, "ok , I guess we can play now- " and it turned out pretty well, everybody had a good time. Actually a couple of girls tried pretty hard to take Pete home with them that night. In a sad irony, it turns out the rumor had been spread that BARONESS was playing, and that's why all the kids came! I think they were pleasantly surprised, but BARONESS had played there before, and at that time played more crust/dbeat stuff so of course they were there for that, not clasic doom rock- but anyway, it was still a crowd. What can you do?

RAY - Any final comments?

JAKE - Ray, thanks alot for all the support over the years. From one true fan to another, thanks. I really appreciate the insightful questions and genuine interest.

VALKYRIE are a super-unique band. They not only write songs that will stand the test of time thanks to an awesome combination of heaviness and melody but also feature some of the best harmony lead guitar work this side of Thin Lizzy & Wishbone Ash. VALKYRIE write music that has enough depth to evoke the feelings of the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley and yet heavy enough to stomp your ass into oblivion. Check ‘em out now & get ready to sell your guitar!

A Truly BLIZARO interview!

There used to be a TV commercial for the investment company E.F. Hutton where they would imply that when this firm talks, people listen. There are some people out there in the music scene that garner the same respect from me. John Brenner (Revelation & Against Nature) is one of them. So, when John mentioned to me that if there was one disc available at the Declaration Of Doom Festival that I needed to check out that it was BLIZARO’s, I listened. When John went on to speak of his great admiration for BLIZARO man John Gallo and referred to him as an American Paul Chain, I really took notice. Having been familiar with Mr. Gallo’s other band, ORODRUIN, and their leveling brand of crushing traditional doom metal, I was anxious to find out more. This led me to diving head-first into “Blue Tape,” the latest installment in the BLIZARO world (see the “Stone Free” entry in the November blog), which features ORODRUIN man Mike Puleo as well. I then got together with John Gallo himself for a nice chat concerning his excellent music. Read on!

RAY - John, I have to admit that even though I’ve been involved in writing about heavy music for quite awhile now (and listening even longer!) I came into knowledge of ORODRUIN after you guys had already been going awhile, and BLIZARO as well. With that in mind, I’m interested in finding out a bit more about your early days, what got you involved in music to begin with, your early influences as a musician, etc. Basically you can give us a history of John Gallo, if you like. That way, when you write your autobiography, you can use this and put me in the acknowledgment section. ?

JOHN - Basically, it all started with my obsession with Iron Maiden back in 1992. I was about 13 going on 14 and was absolutely changed when I heard them. My cousin and I used to copy eachothers Maiden tapes, so it was an equal obsession. Around that year we decided to get a band together so I claimed my dad's acoustic and he got ahold of an old Sears brand electric guitar. Magic Migul was born. The music that we created was pure noise and failed riffs (mostly similar to the bass line in Rime of The Ancient Mariner, and the main riff to Smoke on the Water) with vulgar lyrics placed on top. That christmas I got a bass guitar and started to learn how to play, not good, but it was a start. We continued with our jam sessions, where we'd actually record both sides of 90 minute tapes worth of experimental music. The summer of 93 was spent creating "albums" and going to the mall looking for tapes, mostly Judas Priest, Maiden, Sabbath, Samson, etc. In the case of Sabbath and Priest...not only the good ones, but the cheap tapes for $2.99 and CVS, or Rite Aid. The following christmas I got my first electric guitar, an Ibanez Destroyer II from The House of Guitars, for $150. That was a new dawning of Magic Migul mayhem that would resume up until 1996 and spawn about 13 albums on cassettes. Just about every tape sucked but it was fun and we thought it ruled at the time.
Anyways back towards musical influences. Around 1994 or 95 I read an interview with Dave Chandler in Metal Maniacs about Die Healing and I remember how awesome I thought that band was. I was really into Sabbath and wanted to pick up anything that resembled Iommi's guitar riffs. My first conscious doom metal cd acquisition came when I ran accross Saint Vitus "self titled" in a Media Play. As soon as I heard the first song I knew that this was my new favorite style of music. I believe Paul Chain's Alkahest was reviewed in that same issue of Metal Maniacs but unfortunately I never picked it up. Soon I started to absorb anything that was doom related and went in search of it. This ranging anything from Cathedral, C.O.C., The Obsessed, Candlemass, Witchfinder General, Pentagram, Trouble, etc . I was hooked and eventually started writing riffs in that vein and put together a personal web page called "Born Too Late" dedicated to doom metal.

RAY - As far as your listening goes, anybody these days doing anything that floats your boat?

JOHN - Anything by John Brenner mostly. The new Revelation “Release” is awesome. I’ve always got Against Nature on heavy rotation in my car. Listening to a lot of Paul Chain, “Life and Death“, “Park of Reason” , or “Detaching from Satan”. Saint Vitus, TGoS, Pale Divine, The Argus demo… I spin mostly prog and classic rock at work, Nektar, Syd Barrett, Bedlam, Toe Fat, Wishbone Ash, Budgie, Hawkwind, Atomic Rooster, Arthur Brown, etc.

RAY - How are things going with ORODRUIN and the next recording? I know it’s been quite awhile since “Claw Tower.” What can people expect from the new record, will it follow the path of the killer traditional doom we’ve heard on the band’s previous releases.

JOHN - I know it’s been way too long since our first album, I wouldn’t even count Clawtower as an actual album. We’re currently finishing up a long over due release that’s going to come out on Miskatonic Records. A 10” records called “In Doom”. The drums, guitars, and bass are done. All that is looming is the tracking for vocals by Mr. Puleo which have already started. I am excited to hear the final product and get this out to the masses. I hope people still dig what we’re doing.

RAY - The first time I saw ORODRUIN live was at John’s previous show, in 2007, the Doom Or Be Doomed festival. Besides your super-nasty guitar tone, I was taken with Mike Puleo’s vocals command & stage presence. He has some pretty intense facial expressions, reminds me of Bobby Liebling’s at times (from the old days, back when he could actually stand up onstage). Does this intensity ever scare you or do you figure he’s just trying to impress the ladies?

JOHN - Well he does got that natural ladies appeal goin on, like a young Robert Plant. Hah! He can kick out some doom metal drama in his delivery for sure. I’ve never really noticed similarities to Bobby but I’m sure he’ll take that as a compliment. Most of the time I’m just paying attention to my guitar tone so I don’t see what faces Mike makes onstage. heh

RAY - I am probably more sorry that I missed your BLIZARO set at DoD than any other show I’ve missed this year, after hearing your discs. Obviously, that is a whole different ball of wax from ORODRUIN. The one thing I noticed right off from listening to the CD’s is that you really seem to like experimenting with different guitar tones in BLIZARO. That’s something not many people do any more in rock of any kind. You hear a guy play and regardless of song, he’s still gonna have the same tone. In the “old days,” people like Billy Gibbons, Steve Hillage, Robin Trower, etc. were complete tone masters. I think that one other guy who is great at it nowadays is John Brenner of Revelation/Against Nature. Feel free to comment on any of this, your feelings on it, what kind of gear you use, etc.?

JOHN - The answer is simple, I write riffs based on the way they sound, with the tone I have dialed in. some riffs just don’t feel right unless you got the right sound going on. Well there is no “right” sound, but whatever tone I do have, I try to make the best of it by feeling out the best riff that accompanies that sound. Ofcourse, you can also blame my amateur recording skills on why each track sounds different, even on the same album for instance!

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! Being from New York State, do you remember (or remember hearing about) a show called Summer Jam at Watkins Glen in 1973? Which bands played? As a bonus, see if you can find out from my parents why they didn’t bring me into the world a few years earlier so I could have driven up there!

JOHN - Don‘t let my skullet fool you, I was born too late to remember that( I wasn’t spawned until 1978). That wouldn’t happen to be the show with Deep Purple, Elf, and a bunch of other killer bands? I think we have the original poster at the record store I work at.

RAY - BLIZARO really does embody the feel of stuff like Goblin and their work on horror soundtracks. (Feel free to comment on this, if you didn’t in the first question) The truly great thing about it, though is the way you also bring the metallic guitar sounds and give the whole thing a very original feel that makes it almost it’s own genre. Is this something you set out to do, did it just evolve naturally?

JOHN - I had Goblin in mind when I started Blizaro. I wanted it to be mix of horror soundtrack mood with raw doom metal like Saint Vitus, and Paul Chain. It’s a genre I rarely see anyone pulling off and thought it would be cool to start doing. Ofcourse, I feel the horror moods slipping a bit and myself going into a more traditional doom sound but I don’t wanna lose that aspect.

RAY - With “Blue Tape” now out on CD, what are your next plans for BLIZARO? Any recordings in the work as we speak?

JOHN - Actually, yes. I have a bunch of new material that I’m working on for a new release or 2. One for sure, is a 7” split with Peter Vicar (from Reverend Bizarre) ‘s Orne which should be out on Hellride music sometime early next year. This is a concept record inspired by the Night Gallery episode “The Return of The Sorcerer”.

RAY - WORD ASSOCIATION: Paul Chain. (Ok, hell, you can make is Paragraph Association if you want, anything anybody wants to say concerning this guy, I’ll listen).

JOHN - Back in 2003 this friend of mine, Vera (from Italy), turned me onto his music and since I’ve been hooked. I remember in the mid 90’s when I was only 16 or so, I read a review of Paul Chain “Alkahest” in Metal Maniacs and have always wondered about his music. Unfortunately it took me like 7 years to finally hear his stuff. I think what I like most is the feeling of the riffs intertwined with the atmosphere of the keyboards. It’s definitely the Sabbath inspired riffs mixed with haunting church like organs. Artistically, it’s creative and not limited to any one style which makes it enjoyable.

RAY - It seems like doom metal and it’s related genres has always been an underground proposition. Of course, Black Sabbath made their name very clearly, and groups such as Trouble have flirted with more mainstream acceptance but overall, it seems the domain of the pure artist and that select group of fans that appreciate them…a group that, while small, remains one of the most fiercely loyal and, for the most part, decent group of people around. Your commentary?

JOHN - It’s definitely a style that doesn’t seem to ever go mainstream though quite a few bands are making quite a name for themselves. I mean, The Gates of Slumber are on MTV which is pretty damn awesome! I think there is a lot of potential in this genre because it’s a very real and authentic scene of musicians who aren’t just trying to make it big. Trends come and go but the real doomers will be into this stuff till they die.

RAY - With that in mind, do you have any takers for a label to release the next ORODRUIN release? I imagine it could be even more difficult to get any kind of label interest for BLIZARO, although one I could picture being intrigued would be the mega-awesome Italian imprint, Black Widow. Or perhaps you’d rather go it alone, especially in an age when doing your own releases is a lot more possible with the net, cd-r’s, etc.?

JOHN - I’m not really sure where Orodruin wants to go label wise, we will be recording a 3 song demo with John Brenner this January. Basically we’d like to shop it around to various labels and see what formulates. As for Blizaro, I’d like to find something relatively open to avante garde music that won’t restrict what I’d like to put out. Black Widow sounds like a great label to work with, I’d love to do something with them.

RAY - Sticking to the state of doom & underground metal & music, how far afield have you gone playing live with either ORODRUIN or BLIZARO? Do you get to do much in the Rochester area? How far have you traveled to bring the doom, besides the Baltimore shows?

JOHN - Blizaro’s only out of town gig was in Baltimore, for the Declaration of Doom Fest. Both bands play Rochester gigs quite often, Blizaro not so much lately but I’ll probably book something soon. Orodruin has done a handful out of town shows such as….Toronto, Boston, DC, Cleveland, Long Island, Buffalo, etc. I’d say the longest for one gig would have to be Baltimore or DC.

RAY - In anywhere from 5 to 5,000 words, sum up for us the kind of woman who would attend a BLIZARO show. Or…has a woman ever attended a BLIZARO show? ?

JOHN - Hahah, The girls with the long black boots, crimson capes, and massive amethyst medallions! j/k
Mostly just regular girls, it’s really hard to describe the people who come out to your shows in details. They range from rock/punk chicks, to metal people to indie or even my mother! Don’t forget my beautiful girlfriend Michelle Zingo!

RAY - Funny stuff…or not…? Tell us a story, give us an anecdote about something weird, bizarre, stupid, funny or downright disgustingly gross that has happened connected with your being in ORODRUIN, BLIZARO, or any other band. It can be as ridiculous as you want, or as the truth will allow.

JOHN - This is a pretty lame story, but it’s the only one that came to mind. On Orodruin’s first tour back into 2003 with Mourning Beloveth and The Prophecy we were on our way back home from the west coast and we hadn’t take a shower for a couple days and we all feeling rather slimey. Anyway, I came up with this stupid idea to use hand sanitizer on my face. I ended up breaking out and getting pink eye. The combination of the smell of our combined odor ( including the foot odor of a label manager Mark Hegedus) was pretty damn gross. Plus we still had a day driving to go.

RAY - Any final comments for the readership?

JOHN - To the younger generations……Keep Doom alive, in this day and age it gets loosely tagged on so much crap that I hope the few out there who truly understand it’s meaning will continue to keep it in stable health. Thanks for the interview Ray, Paul Chain Rules!

This was really a great chat with John, and my recommendation is very clear. If you like traditional doom metal in the Sabbath / Vitus vein, grab anything you can with the word ORODRUIN written on it. By the same token, if dark music with the eerie vibe of Italian horror soundtracks and an original nod to the works of Paul Chain gets your blood pumping, John Gallo has got you covered there too! In other words, snag ‘em all!