Thursday, March 20, 2008

Leaving Quite A Legacy!

CELTIC LEGACY – “Guardian Of Eternity” CD ’08 (Private, Ire) – You know, it’s funny. There are albums you feel good about from a strict musical standpoint. You know, the new MARS VOLTA comes out, makes you cream your jeans and you just can’t stop talking about it. But from a personal perspective, it’s not like you can call Omar up and say “Hey, the new record is really smokin’, bro!” There’s other stuff where, even though the record isn’t a world-beater, you’ve known the guys forever and you’re just damn proud of ‘em for keeping pushing till they got the sucker out. That’s cool. But, every now & then, somebody you know who has been through, not a world, but a galaxy full of shit, either personally or industry/band-related hacks their way through the rubble with a machete made of guts, determination and balls and when the smoke clears, checks in with a work of art that nails your ass to the backboard. Enter Ireland’s CELTIC LEGACY, in particular main man Dave Morrissey (guitars/keyboards) & his sidekick, Dave Boylan (bass/vocals). Since their debut, several years back (reviewed on a way-old site of mine, where they were also interviewed), these guys have delivered a couple of the most top-notch, consistent melodic metal albums out there…that nowhere near enough people even know about. I am not kidding when I say that this band’s initial 2 offerings were not only right up there with the best of modern-day Riot but were even better. Great enough, but when you consider the fact that they have faced one uphill battle after another, more trials and tribulations than a card-carrying Mets fan at a Yankees convention…well, it’s admirable that they even made it to the point of recording a 3rd album. Whether it be finding musicians reliable enough to keep a line-up stable for a month or labels who could get their heads out of Staind clones asses long enough to listen to actually good music, Dave Morrissey has refused to give up. He’s kept pressing on and, with Boylan as his faithful compatriot has put together a line-up that has recorded “Guardian Of Eternity” and released the record on the band’s own label. Now completed by Ciaran Ennis (vocals), Keith Hendley (guitar/vocals) & Conor Gillen (drums) CELTIC LEGACY have come up aces on absolutely every front. Throughout the 10 tracks here (clocking in at nearly 58 minutes…think there’s any guitar solos?!), this 5-piece from Ireland put on a clinic here that sees them reach the summit of the melodic heavy metal mountain. From the very opening piece, “The Sentinel,” the first thing that hits you here is the production, handled by Mr. Morrissey himself. This is the kind of work we used to expect in the ‘80’s from people like Chris Tsangrides or Martin Birch. You won’t be able to ignore the guitar playing either. Between Dave Morrissey and Keith Hendley, they must unleash probably, oh 100 solos or so each throughout the course of the disc, including a plethora of harmony leads. Every one slides into it’s respective place perfectly, never overdone, always right between the eyes. Then you’ve got the vocals of Ciaran Ennis. Picture a cross between the apex of Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin & Geoff Tate and you may be on the right track. Through cuts like “King Of Thieves,” “Afterworld” and the mammoth 11 minute closing title cut, this is 5 Blue Angel jets coordinating the upper echelons of power, fury and stunning ability into a sterling work of metallic art. Do we even need to get into the fantastic lyrical concepts, a Celtic tour de force that would make Mr. Lynott himself proud? My thinking is this, friends: Those words you have cluttering up your brain like Riot, Helloween, Queensryche, Jag Panzer…you can go ahead and free up some space in your cranium, you may not need them anymore. And, if you still have some surplus brain cells laying around you might give the Dave’s Morrissey & Boylan a call. I’m sure they’d be happy to meet you down at the corner pub to kill ‘em off.

AGAINST NATURE – “Much In Little” EP/”Descend” EP ’08 (Bland Hand, US) – Well, it’s been off to a roaring start for 2008 when it comes to excellent releases in the “damn good” music category we subscribe to here at the ‘REALM. None too shabby in this department is AGAINST NATURE, who fresh off capturing my 2007 Album Of The Year (“The Anxiety Of Influence”) have already hit the new year running with 2 brand new EP’s! John Brenner (guitar/vocals) sent me the 2 of these together on one disc (they’re available for download on the band’s site…see below), so I’ll review them as such. And, they make such a good pair anyway, they almost seem like an album. Truly, it’s an absolute pleasure to watch a band like AGAINST NATURE develop as they have, going from a decent doom-metal unit to an artful, expressive and unique musical force the likes of which we used to see in the hallowed early ‘70’s. You don’t have to look any further to see what I’m talking about than the “Descend” EP. Numbers like the title track & “Rue” see the band (fleshed out by Bert Hall Jr. (bass) & Steve Branagan (drums) keep their power & heaviness intact while allowing the music to flow into waters often inhabited by the likes of old masters Gentle Giant as well as more modern-day progressive architects like Anglagard or Paatos. The blend is dynamite, especially accompanied by Brenner’s ever-developing vocals, often reminiscent of Peter Hammill himself. Still, the thing that really sends AGAINST NATURE over the top for me is the constant unfurling of John’s guitar work. Much as was Billy Gibbons in the early ZZ Top days (albeit in a differing style), Brenner has become a master of tonal experimentation, as can be seen all through “Descend.” You simply never know what kind of sound he’ll summon forth next when it comes to his leadwork, be it a nasty, Leslie West Gibson bite or a lush, suffocating Trower Strat wash. Anyway at all, it always fits the song like a glove, as do the super-unique ways he launches into solos. One thing many guitarists get trapped in is their predictability in opening a solo. Not John, as he constantly takes chances, veering from where the listener would expect and then somehow making one say, “But…of course!” within a few more seconds. The “Much In Little” EP begins by taking a more direct, ‘70’s hard rock approach with “Touch Me Not”….but then, no! About 3 flowing rhythm changes later, you’re thinking “Wow, how did we get here from there?!” Or how about “Mystic Cynic,” with it’s decidedly oriental opening and reoccurring theme? This is surely top level stuff and, once again, before anyone thinks I’m neglecting to mention the work of Hall or Branagan here, fear not! These guys put together an amazing and super-organic bass/drums tandem that is as heavy-yet-elegant as the work of Brenner. Simply put, AGAINST NATURE is one of the very best heavy and, yes, progressive bands on the planet. Get out there & support ‘em!

PRIDE TIGER – “The Lucky Ones” CD ‘08/’07 (Caroline/EMI, Can) – March 11. That’s Paul’s (my 14 year old) birthday and if the birth of one of your children isn’t enough to make a day special, then what’s your problem? It’s also now a helluva day for rawk, since it’s when Caroline (ANOTHER of my kids’ names! Ok, this is getting freaky…) released this disc by PRIDE TIGER in the U.S. (It came out in Canada in mid ’07). Apparently, a couple people in PT were in metalcore band Three Inches Of Blood. There is one other thing that is very apparent, however. Forgetting all your terms du jour (metal, stoner, prog/power, melodic, hardcore, etc.), PRIDE TIGER have put out an album of nothing but pure, kick ass hard rawk of the highest order. In fact, the more I listen to this CD, and trust me in a little over a week, that’s been a lot, it’s startling to me how Goddamn good it is. The song writing here is on such a commanding level that I’m reminded, not only in style but in quality of Thin Lizzy & the late Philip Lynott. Check out opener “Let ‘Em Go.” It never will…let you go, that is, Maynard! And how ‘bout the welded-to-your-brain rifferama of “The White Witch Woman Blues? More comparisons with Lizzy (and, in a modern sense, a bit of Danko Jones, as well) come to the fore in the guitar work dished out by Sunny Dhak and Bob Froese. I love the tone these cats latch onto & dig their versatility. Sure, they riff like madmen and uncork monster solos & harmony leads in virtually every cut. But then check out something like the dreamy coda of “A Long Way Down (Shine). Sorta like Schenker on “Between The Walls.” Or listen to the haunting interlude, “Wizard’s Council.” (What, were these guys Sorcery – “Stunt Rock” fans?!) That’s on an unexpected & special level you’d expect from Andy Powell/Wishbone Ash. From another angle, I’ve also gotta pay dues to drummer Matt Wood. In the fine tradition of Canadian sticksman/crooners (Gil Moore, Dan Beehler) Matt brings home the bacon by telling his stories in a quite engaging way, in his case with definite Lynott-ian shadows. And why should I ignore Mike Payette? Besides handling bass, he throws in mandolin and harp for good measure. Point is, PRIDE TIGER is a supremely talented bunch who have surprised the living hell out of me with an album that not only pays homage to that golden ‘70’s era of hard rock but even betters some of that decade’s output. Yup, March 11. “The Lucky Ones” comes out in the U.S. and my son was born 14 years ago. Did I mention that his middle name is Philip…as in Lynott? And, my first cousin’s 2nd wife had a baby named Sarah…. BUY!!!

AIRBOURNE - “Runnin’ Wild” CD ’08 (Roadrunner, Australia) – So, just when you thought Ray was going to blow his wad over every disc that came across his desk this time…along came AIRBOURNE. There isn’t a whole lot for me to say about this album except that, on the surface…on the very surface and at first listen, it sounds good. The production is huge, gigantic, in fact, and that’s something that until about, oh, let’s say the 2ND listen, glosses over the fact that this band has nearly nothing to offer whatsoever. They are from Australia, they are oft-compared to AC/DC on this here internet thing, but the truth of the matter is that they lift/steal/beg/borrow every riff they can find from every ‘80’s metal band they can and then splice it together, accenting it with ALMOST NO GUITAR SOLOS! So, what the fuck is the point? What gripes my soul to no end is that all the dj’s on stations like our very own 98 Rock are touting this crew like they’re the saviors of metal. Metal doesn’t need saving, and certainly not by a bunch of weak-sister wannabes like this who then hide behind a pro production job like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Flush City, daddycakes!

JACK BRUCE / ROBIN TROWER – “Seven Moons” CD ’08 (Big Daddy, Can/Eng) – I once saw a show, 1975 I think it was, at the Baltimore Civic Center (later to be re-christened the Baltimore Arena, the First Mariner Arena, etc.) That show featured the Leslie West Band, Montrose & ROBIN TROWER and it cause me great concern for a few days. Not only was I fearful that I’d lost my hearing (it was, especially TROWER, one of the loudest things I’ve ever heard) but also I found myself to be a bitterly defeated amateur guitarist. Now, of course, a week or so down the line, I was actually inspired to continue on with an even greater fervor than before but after seeing Leslie, Ronnie & ROBIN go off for a couple hours, I figured myself to be a hopeless case. TROWER taught me a lot of things in those early days, the most important being that you don’t have to play fast to be impressive and that you also don’t need a guitar with “Gibson” on the headstock to kick complete ass. The word “Fender” will do nicely. Those were the days, also when RT’s album “Bridge Of Sighs” dominated the trusty turntable with blasting jams like “Day Of The Eagle” & “Little Bit Of Sympathy” getting the re-cue treatment. Which brings us all to today. TROWER’s trusty side-kick bassist/vocal master James Dewar has sadly passed on and he’s now still in that comfortable power trio format, yet joined by the legendary JACK BRUCE on bass/vocals and Gary Husband (of fusion fame) on drums. So here’s the lowdown. Will this album make anyone forget “Bridge Of Sighs,” “For Earth Below” or “Long Misty Days?” Don’t be silly. We’re 30+ years down the road. No, this album does not rock harder than those hallowed platters. Frankly, it doesn’t rock as hard, save for a few numbers like “Lives Of Clay” and “The Last Door.” No, but what “Seven Moons” does do is to paint an elegant picture of a guitar player who, this far along in his career, is still very much a “player.” The laid-back yet powerful bluesy content here, evidenced in sterling gems like “She’s Not The One” or “I’m Home” indicate a man who is at one with his instrument and evoke a subtle power that’s a joy to hear. Same goes for Mr. BRUCE, who in no way takes a back seat in the proceedings. Of course he’s not James Dewar, for Christ’s sake, nobody could ever be that perfect a foil for RT, but as on his earlier collaborations with ROBIN, his deep & soulful vocals throughout tell the story of a guy who knows this music better than most guys know their wives. “Seven Moons” may not be a balls-out rock fest but it sure goes down good on these ears.

OVERDRIVE – “Let The Metal Do The Talking” CD ’08 (Lion Music, Swe) – Now THIS is metal. Airbourne should take this CD, go to a deserted island where they can’t hurt anybody but themselves while they try to absorb what this veteran Swedish outfit have done. The first thing they would learn is a very quick, sharp and knife-like instrument to the head called “Lead Guitar.” If anybody here remembers, OVERDRIVE were one of the first real, live heavy metal bands from Sweden and one of the things that put them on the map was the guitar work. Who can forget Side Two of that “Swords & Axes” album?! Jesus! Just when one solo ended, another one took off and it all fit perfectly in the context of all the songs. Axe slingers Janne Stark (he of later fame in Locomotive Breath, Mountain Of Power, etc.) and Kjell Jacobsson open up the floodgates again here, some 24 years down the line & sound like they’ve never stopped. Oh sure, the tuning for the rhythms may be lower, the riffs may be a tad more gnarly than on those ancient texts they scribed in the ‘80’s, but one listen to “Fight To The Finish,” “Trapped Under Ice” & “Sinister Warfare” will let you know these guys mean Business with a capital “B.” Serious “shards of lead guitar death” time, kiddies. With all 4 musicians returning from the olden times, you might ask how new singer Per Karlsson fits in the mix. The answer is…great! Listen to him on “Gravy Train” or “Bring Me To Submission.” This is first class metal, just like you were hoping it would be…no “oh shit it’s a reunion of old folks” here, this is just a bunch of hungry wolves coming back for another feeding frenzy and your auditory canals are in danger of a good beating. Grab it now!

DANAVA – “Unonou” CD ’08 (Kemado, Can) – I still remember being blown away when I saw DANAVA open for Witchcraft a couple years back. So impressed & drained was I by their performance at The Talking Head that I actually left before Witchcraft played. To be honest, I was not feeling well to begin with and had to work the next day…and I did get a chance to see the ‘Craft not long after but the point is, nothing they would have done that night could’ve outshone this whirling dervish from north of the border. To be fair, DANAVA does not make music that you would put on for a Friday night party with the boys. There’s a thought process, an experimentation & psychedelic aspect involved that, while decidedly metal, if they were from the ‘80’s they’d more likely rub shoulders with Sacred Blade than Metallica. And, if you thought the songs on their debut were long & involved, well Charlie Horse, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet (Ah! Another Canadian rock reference!) when it comes to sprawling works like “Spinning Temple Shifting” & “Where Beauty And Terror Dance.” Dusty Sparkles (yup, I kid you not) vocals take some getting used to and this time around, the band have even added a bunch more keys and even the occasional horn to the mix. Still, Sparkles guitar is metallic and bludgeoning enough to lure in the more experimental of ‘bangers and his lead work is a thing of beauty. Think Mark Shelton mixed with a heavy dose of Hawkwind. There’s no doubt that DANAVA may be a bit of a stretch to those who’s idea of complex is the tempo shift in “Let There Be Rock” but if albums like “Warrior On The Edge Of Time,” “Open The Gates” and “Four Times Sound Razing” (Silberbart) populate your shelves or if you just love something new, different and GOOD…nab this baby.

POOBAH – “Underground” CD ’05 (Private, US) – This is a disc I look at with much akin to the Jack Bruce/Robin Trower one reviewed above. While Youngstown Ohio’s Jim Gustafson may not be as household a guitar name as Mr. Trower, he’s by no means any less great. One listen to records from the ‘70’s like “Let Me In,” “U.S. Rock” and the immense “Steamroller” will let the listener know they’re in the presence of sheer mastery on the six-string front as well as in the hard rock writing sweepstakes. Here we have the latest disc to come across my plate in the form of 2005’s “Underground” and it’s definitely a keeper. Much in the same way that Billy Gibbons constantly updated ZZ Top’s sound, through periods like “Deguello” and “Eliminator,” so Gustafson has done so with POOBAH. The modern production apparent on tracks like “Psychic Malfunction” and “Clear” actually goes down quite easily and lends a crystal clarity to the dynamic interplay between Jim (guitar/vocals) and Woody Hupp (bass, drums, vox). Big Jim’s lead guitar work is simply fantastic throughout, leaving nobody to wonder if this guy is still on top of his game. He is, and not only that, the acoustic work that crops up in a few songs is sterling. Is this as raw as “Steamroller?” Of course not, but it’s a new fresh sound for an old face and he’s wearing it well! Keep rocking, Jim!

PULLING TEETH – “Martyr Immortal” CD ’07 (Deathwish, US) – Don’t you ever wish you could go back to the old days in the ‘80’s when thrash was thrash and bands like Slayer, Legacy/Testament and Possessed just loaded up and came at you with all guns blazing? I mean, just for a moment in time, the hell with all the bells & whistles and just stick your head in a meatgrinder for about 30 minutes with the volume at 11? Welcome to the dentist office then, as the teeth pulling shall commence! This band, PULLING TEETH is just what the doctor ordered and this latest record of their’s is to be administered with no anesthesia whatsoever. Through 13 tracks with names like “Shit Eaters,” “Ashes & Dust” and “Basically Dead,” PULLING TEETH basically kick your ass senseless with a verve & vigor I sure admire. Amazing is the fact that, in 2 ½ minute songs, they actually manage to include a host of rip-sawing guitar solos, the effect of which is something like that cranium surgery the Mayans did that the Discovery Channel is always showing…holes in skulls. This is purely killing, ripping metal/hardcore that brings back a time I wish was still here. PULLING TEETH would’ve ruled The Loft! Support local crush!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hey, you want a fat lip?

THUNDERLIP – “Thunderlip” CD ’07 (Lucid, US) – I have to admit it, and this may be a funny forum to do so, but I actually like the movie “The Sound Of Music.” My dad used to always watch it & play the soundtrack on his record player. I remember that one song from it, “My Favourite Things.” Well, what led to this review is one of my favourite kind of things. Would Julie Andrews like this album? I don’t know. I know she did appear topless in a movie not long after “TSOM,” so she may have some rawk & roll in her after all, but that’s beside the point. This is the point: One of my favourite things is to be out working during the day, driving from one place to another and I spy a local music emporium. A glance at the clock tells me I have a few minutes to kill, so I amble in & browse through the budget discs. I’m thinking, “Hmm…I’ve been looking for that used copy of ‘Sabotage,’” something like that. Suddenly, what to my wondering eyes does appear than a strange-looking cover I’ve never seen. It says…what is that, “THUNDER CLIP?” No, looking at the spine it’s THUNDERLIP. Weird name and the skull with the helmet on the front looks decidedly like something off a Manilla Road album from 1982. Turning it over, I see titles that could be from the Scott/Young song-book, like “Backseat Bedlam” & “Denim Destiny.” ‘Course, I also see some darker references like “The Prophecy,” “The Impaler” & well…now, they’ve got me. The last song is “Prophecy II: The Second Coming.” You know I’m a sucker for shit like that and hey, it’s $6. I figure a couple good songs, at least, why not. You know what happens next, right? Of course you do. I wouldn’t be writing a review like this if it ended up being a living piece of aardwolf dung like it is 9 out of 10 times. No, this is that magical 10th time. The mutha starts out great and then just keeps getting better. It kick my ass from front to back. Starting with the balls-out rawk of “Mister Informer,” there isn’t an ounce of let-up…no, it’s a ton of ass-whup. John Manning (another brother of Peyton or Eli?) and James Yopp do as much Les Paul-thru-Marshall-harmony-&-lead-solo dueling as you’d typically expect from a vintage Robbo/Gorham work-out. Chuck Krueger puts down a solid mile-long tract of Souther-fried barroom metal crooning. Hell, check him out in “Backseat Bedlam” when, in best Stevn T fashion, he calls out the guitarists name before a riveting solo. Thing is, this is top-level stuff, Rawk with the capital “R” and it needs to get imbedded with the force of a country wallop deep into the 2007 Top 10. From North Carolina, my friends, we have a damn dangerous crew on the loose and apparently they have 2 albums before this! Lovers of all things related to T Lizzy, Maiden, Bible Of The Devil, Dirty Power and the like (in other words, RAYSREALM gods), get busy writing. And, hey, give Julie Andrews a chance. This is so good, even she might like it!

LOUDNESS – “Metal Mad” CD ’08 (Tokuma, Jap) – Are we really going to have this debate? Is someone actually going to try and argue with me about how great LOUDNESS in general & Akira Takasaki in particular are? Save it. There are some things I will sit down and discuss like a rational human being. Most things, actually. Much as I love Brooks Robinson, I will sit for, oh, maybe five minutes and let someone try to convince me that Craig Nettles was a better 3rd baseman. Much as I think “24” may be the greatest action/drama TV show of all time, I’d probably let someone try to argue for NYPD Blue. For a moment or so. But come talking to me about how there’s been a better overall metal band for the last…hmmm…25 years or a better metal axe-slinger than Akira? Not happening. Sorry, no can do. Once again, Mr. Takasaki and crew have proven why I love them so much. Striking once again with the re-united & better-than-ever line-up of Mr. T (sorry, couldn’t resist that), Niihara, Yamashita and Higuchi, the LOUDNESS guys come up aces in every corner. From the opening salvo of “Fire Of Spirit,” through crushers like “High Flyer” and the more involved “Crimson Paradox” and “Call Of The Reaper,” this is simply metal supreme. Have these guys updated their sound, with a rawer production and more down-tuned, Pantera-styled riffage? Sure, but the fact remains that this is a lean, mean metal machine just as it was in the “Devil Soldier” days when they were just kids. Don’t know what else to tell you. Go on Amazon, plunk down your credit card for $40+ and order this baby. Sure, it’s a tall price to pay for one CD, but in quality per song ratio, it’s pretty tough to top. Here’s hoping for another US Tour!

GRAVEYARD – “Graveyard” CD ’08 (Tee Pee, Swe) – Ok, when you think of Gothenburg Sweden, the first thing that’s naturally going to come to mind is the legendary death metal scene that emanated from around those parts. Point is, after hearing this GRAVEYARD disc, I gotta say that’s missing a nice part of the picture. Now on first blush, it seems a lot of people are comparing this 4-piece (Joakim Nilsson –guitar/vocals, Jonatan Ramm – guitar/vocals, Rikard Eldlund – bass, Axel Sjoberg – drums) to another Swedish outfit, Witchcraft. I can’t say that’s a bad jumping off point but it doesn’t tell anywhere near the whole story. Sure, I’m betting GRAVEYARD have listened to their fair share of Pentagram as well as ancient vinyl treasures like November & Morly Grey. The fact remains that there’s also some other pretty interesting things going on here. Listen to the real & boisterous Stooges overtone that creeps in right from the get-go in opener “Evil Ways” (not the Santana song). Check out the jazzy, Larry Coryell-like lead guitar lines in “Lost In Confusion” and the back-room, smoky “Blue Soul.” Then grab an earful of “Submarine Blues.” This one somehow seamlessly combines that vintage SG-thru-Marshall ’70 crush with a distinct nod to some of the great early ‘90’s leaders like Mudhoney & early Soundgarden. Throw in uncontrolled drum insanity a la the master Keith Moon and you’ve got something that goes quite further than just being called a winner here. Yes, when you mix in emotional vocals along with a super variety of songs, amazing lead guitar throughout and a production job that’s nothing short of superior, you’ve got an early 2008 favourite working here. Excellent, and very nice to see this on Tee Pee Records. Sweet digipak, too.

IGNITOR – “Road Of Bones” CD ’07 (Cruz Del Sur, US) – The first thing I have to admit that I noticed about this disc by IGNITOR is the fact that the vocalist and one guitarist are women. Of course, that doesn’t make any difference to me from a musical standpoint, except to say that once again, this poo-poos the idiots who always are going on about how women can’t rock. IGNITOR sure as hell rocks, as do nearly every band who come flying in on the Cruz Del Sur imprint. This is a label that has to explain their commitment to metal to no one, having become home of some of the best in the business. Joining a roster that includes Bible Of The Devil, Slough Feg, Hammers Of Misfortune, Pharoah, etc. you’d better be able to bring the goods and IGNITOR do, through a series of ass-busting ‘80’s-styled bullet-belters like “March To The Guillotine,” “Phoenix” and “Broken Glass.” Am I ready to say these guys are going to replace BOTD on my shortlist of current desert island disc producers? Well, not yet, but let me say that for anybody who stands at the altar of Priest, Maiden & Accept, this should be a purchase you make.

MOTHER SUPERIOR – “Grande” CD ’08 (Kicking, US) – After giving quite a few spins to 2007’s sprawling MS opus “Three Headed Dog,” it was really a nice surprise to get this thoughtfully assembled collection of re-mixes, live tracks and new songs in the mail from the SUPERIOR crew. Sort of like a nice cognac & smoke after a fine meal. Well, ok, I don’t drink cognac nor smoke, but you know what I mean. Or even if you don’t….MOTHER SUPERIOR, are the band that’s supplied the musical stew for Henry Rollins to croon over in recent years and, in their spare time, they’ve also managed to simply be one of the best rawkin’ bands around themselves. Their penchant for delivering bluesy hard rock, somehow then blended with Beatle-level harmonies & melodies, strikingly excellent writing skills & finger-scalding guitar has always really impressed. Now they’ve issued “Grande,” and while some bands’ decisions to deliver comp’s speaks of spreading things too thin, nothing could be further from the truth here. Listen to the scintillating new version of “Four Walls” or the absolutely blinder live takes on “Five Stars” or “Beg Borrow Steal.” You can’t help but love a band who show so many sides & do it so seamlessly. When you add in newies like “Brain Child” and a ridiculously good version of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” you’ve got a record that stands completely on it’s own. Now, you’ve just gotta go order it so it can stand on your shelf next to all the other MS discs. Real. Good. Music.

WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE – “Kiss The Ground, Curse The Sky” CD ’08 (Underdogma, US) – 2 of these guys have beards, one doesn’t. Ok, so the one dude in WAGD sans facial hair is NOT named Beard. The thing is, right about now, 3 albums into their career, this Massachusetts band is, like Billy F. Gibbons & crew were around “Tres Hombres,” running on all 8 cylinders. One thing that I always use as a rule of thumb in determining the really great bands is when you can’t say exactly who they sound like…that depth of originality. With WAGD, if I had to be put on notice to give a comparison or be beaten to within an inch of my life with a rusty tire iron, I’d might be given to mention a certain Maryland band called Clutch. But even that is just not a fair comparison and, in that lies this band’s charm…the fact that while they surely play a bluesy, grooving version of heavy rawk/metal, they’re easily their own animal. Hell, check out the opening (& mostly instrumental) “Brown Rabbit,” “Burn” (“Kashmir” if it were written in a backwoods garage), the thundering firepower of “The Guns Of August” or the gorgeous ballads “Dusk & Done” & “On The Sea.” The thing that makes a band like WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE stand out is that they have made an album that will matter not only in 2008 but that you’ll still take out to listen to in 2018. That’s truly great stuff. Kudos for the awesome digipak, as well.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

HIGHBINDER - The Highs That Bind - Interview!

A really good question came up over on the site awhile back about “sophomore slump” records. You know, the band puts out a complete blinder for their debut and then, either through brain-lock or bad advice dumps a clinker on us 2nd time around. Well, what about the band that starts out solid enough, hinting at greatness and then proceeds to open up more jets than the Blue Angels on their next one, let’s call it the “sophomore explosion.” Think Priest unleashing “Sad Wings Of Destiny” after “Rocka Rolla,” that kinda thing. Well, this very same sort of Technicolor, panavision follow-up has been accomplished by Michigan/Ohio-based HIGHBINDER, with their massive “Moreneverthanever,” a disc that impressed so much around the ‘REALM that it came in a strong #2 on my 2007 Album of The Year list. Taking a base in pure, raw metal they bring in influences from hard rock, country & industrial and they do so without muddying the waters but rather, stirring them up into a boiling cauldron. Or…well, lets’ just say they’re real freaking good. Recently, I had the opportunity to pose some questions to the HIGHBINDER guys and the results are one of my absolute favourite interviews ever on this site, as well as one of the most entertaining. Handled mostly by drummer Nick, the rest of the band kicked in here & there but due to the sensitive and weird nature of the questions and answers, they will strictly be known collectively as…wait for it…HIGHBINDER.

RAY - You guys are called HIGHBINDER. It was mentioned to me by an associate that this is in some way related to smoking herbal materials. Having never ventured near a substance frowned on by the US Gov’t in my entire life (by the way, I have some swampland in lower Alabama for you to take a look at after we’re done here), I wasn’t sure. Can you fill us in on your choice of band monicker?

HIGHBINDER - In our younger days, working on building the railroad in the old American West, discrimination against us was a common occurrence on account of our rich Asian heritage. While not technically slaves, we were the next best thing. We worked day and night, driving rails. During this time, although we had pretty cool hats, an idea was forming in our heads about what we should do when the rails were all laid. Years passed, and finally, when they drove the golden spike at Promontory, our time had come. All we needed was a name. Enter Highbinder. Where did it come from you ask? In ol' Frisco where the first Chinatowns grew, the local yakuza employed hatchet men, called 'highbinders' by the white folks. They literally carried hatchets and chopped dudes up. A fine tradition that carries on to this day! We wanted to be part of that glorious tradition, and here we are. Yes we smoke dope.

RAY - It was once told to me that the best place to start is at the beginning. Since I’ve already fucked that up and this is the 2nd question, I’ll just say “fuck it.” Then, after I say “fuck it,” since that isn’t a question, I’ll ask this: How did y’all get interested in music? And, yes, I mean from the beginning, for God’s sake. If you’re mother went to a Fred Waring concert when she was pregnant with you (mine did…sheesh!) , we want to know about it. Points for knowing who Fred Waring was.

HIGHBINDER - Knowing that you attended a Fred Waring concert en utero explains your pleasing diction, and I'm sure that if you were to sing your questions we'd understand you completely! No one could stress those consonants like old Fred. Old dead Fred. Back to the 2nd question at hand. It's not easy getting into music, but that's the benefit of being as skinny and pointed as we are. We can fit through holes most people wouldn't even SEE. We can even do that Lethal Weapon strait jacket trick (but only for money, which I think was the main moral lesson of that movie). The problem is, once you get in, you can't get out. Its reruns of “The Prisoner” for the rest of our worthless lives. What I don't get is, after seeing first hand how hard it is to get into music, how can you explain the Fat Bassist Union? It'd be like stuffing an orca down its own blowhole. And yet...there they are...

RAY - By this time, we should know why you’re called HIGHBINDER. What we’d now like to know is why ARE you HIGHBINDER? In other words, what led to the 4 of you coming together and deciding to make the Gosh-darn unholy racket you insist on making?

HIGHBINDER - Andy's dad is Captain Kirk. Nuff said. One song DONE. Actually, to tell you the truth, we're not even sure ourselves. The only analogy I can think of is bread mold. Leave four pieces of bread in your glove box, throw in some cottage cheese, donate car to brother in law. Two years later when you get it back, we'll be in that glove box, wondering how we got there. We are penicillin.

RAY - I understand that 2 of you are from Ohio & 2 are from Michigan. How the hell does that work? My 13 year old son is a geography bee dude, but I’m not. No, he did not actually win a geography bee, he is actually a small winged insect with a map tattooed to his body. Don’t ask…. Anyway, are half of you living in one state & half in the other? Are they that close? Do you practice over the phone? What the hell is going on with all that?!

HIGHBINDER - It's part of our work release program. Community outreach services blow! But yes, two in Michigan, two in Ohio. Southeast Michigan is the net that catches all the garbage coming from Detroit, however the weave is too open, which allows all the used tampons to slide through to Toledo. Toledo is the pearl of the skanky vag that is northwestern Ohio. As you can see, it's a perfect fit! Seriously, we all live like ten minutes away from each other. If they ever build that border fence between the states, we're royally screwed.

RAY - Quick, we have a red-light challenge! (I was just watching Cash Cab). I just did a mad-lib thing based on “The Night Before Christmas” with some friends & what I brought away from that was the following question: Is it possible for one to lay one’s urethra aside of one’s nose? Your take?

HIGHBINDER - Is this some kind of trick question? I haven't been able to detach the damn thing no matter how hard I try. It's always poking me in the eye. I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt, so I'll go off by myself and cry. It's not cool to make fun of peoples' horrifyingly disfiguring genital face attachments. YOU try goin to the bathroom like this; we'll see whose laughing then! That's right, GOD. And when God laughs, puppies frolic, so it's cool.

RAY - Your first album (God, I love saying “album” in this age of the 80-minute recordable medium!), “All The Way To Hell” was pretty damn straight-forward. Now before you start getting all hissy on me, I’m not saying straight-forward is bad. I like straight-forward and gave the album a good review…so good in fact, that you sent me a t-shirt. Still, when I heard “Moreneverthanever” for the first time, it was like you suddenly went from a black & white copy to a full-length feature in Panavision & Surround-Sound. You guys really opened up some new doors on this one! I’m hearing everything from country to industrial. Any commentary?

HIGHBINDER - Actually, we totally agree with you about that straightfoward thing, also that it's not necessarily a bad thing. Dare I say we were rushed into recording the All the Way To Hell... yes I do. Go into the studio, and three mind crushing, ear piercing, foreskin flapping days latter we had our first album. Not bad, quite enjoyable really, but it was clear to us that we hadn't fully delved into what we were capable of yet. The first thing we did when we got out of that studio was start work on the songs for the next album, trying to go places that we hadn't even thought possible for ourselves.
Some bands rally around other bands to form their sound. Not us. Emulation is flattery, but also masturbation. We all love The Who, as one example among many, but for us it would be incredibly boring to even attempt to sound like them alone. Our influences are far too varied and weird (we all love weirdness) to limit ourselves to one style anymore, and you can definitely see the proof in Moreneverthanever. I guess we're one of the few bands whose influences actually don't show up in the music we make. When they do, they're stretched beyond recognition to the point where even we can't say what goes where. When people ask, 'what are your influences?' we have to shrug and look stoned.
Most of the credit for the leap from All the Way... to Moreneverthanever has to go to our producer, Randy Wilson, who had to deal with us for two years, in three different studios, in various states of mental breakdown. Without him it might have sounded just as scattershot, only also like shit.
The answer to this question has been much too serious. Zebra chunks.

RAY - Speaking of what the hell does certain stuff mean, what the hell does “Moreneverthanever” mean?

HIGHBINDER - Its a state of being. Actually, of being in the state of Ohio and playing rock shows in a post industrial city that for all intents and purposes might as well be in the gulag. Crackheads accost you for cigarettes and offer you one tooth blowjobs. The only decent skyscrapers are flooded up to the fourth floor with mercury water. The only good riots happen in polish town. Bars and churches outnumber all the other buildings. Sometimes the bars are in the churches, and sometimes punk bands here write songs about that. As you can see, it’s hard to find a word to describe what it’s like here. After about fifteen minutes of unintentionally huffing gas fumes it just popped out of my mouth.

RAY - I noticed that Andy is listed as playing lead guitar and Jon as baritone guitar. Here is where I become a musical ignoramus. (Well, I’ve been one for awhile, actually). What is a baritone guitar? Is Jon a frustrated sax player? You got some ‘splainin’ to do!

HIGHBINDER - You know that song Sludge Factory? You only need one baritone guitar to play that whole song. All the parts. Imagine how much heroin that one guy would have to do! Jesus... Jon is not satisfied with your normal puny guitars made for pinko commie bastards. Therefore we had to send off to Acme for the fabled baritone guitar of earthly pounding +5. In reality, it boils down to a normal guitar that has been rebuilt by the government into a deadly 1970s killing machine, bigger, stronger, muddier and twenty times harder to record. At last count, Jon is still not satisfied with his tone and is constantly looking for a way to make it sound more like two planets colliding.
In other words, it’s NOT a six string bass...IT IS EVERYTHING ELSE!

RAY - You know one thing I like about HIGHBINDER? I think the stuff the 2 guitarists do is just some of the most refreshing, different & kick-ass stuff this side of grits (you can send my next t-shirt to the same address!). Really, you don’t do a ton of what could be called traditional soloing, but the interplay is, to be frank (although my name really is Ray) staggering. How much time do you take working out some of this guitar stuff?

HIGHBINDER - The idea process is actually very quick. Andy opens his internal database and starts chugging out a riff or melody. Jon reaches into the primordial, unknowable depths of his soul and pulls out the first fish with legs (or tits if you prefer) which gets layered on. It’s the honing of that madness that takes time, but we never obsess over every note and pause. I think the reason it sounds different than what you're used to is down to the simple fact that we don't give a fuck about co-opting the tropes of an overdone instrument. Let's face it, too many guitarists sound like each other. Boring. Andy doesn't even have a favorite guitarist. Now that's freakin freedom.

RAY - Your song titles are eye-catchers: “Codename: Tornado,” “Terracotta Monster,” “Queen Is Bled,” “Death To False Jons….” Your lyrics are also not exactly typical fare. That is, they are unintelligible. No, I’m just kidding. What I mean is that they tend to make you think more than those of your everyday, garden-variety rawkin’ band. Any comments on this? Maybe you don’t like to talk about your lyrics, as some people don’t, but if you do, could you pick say 3 tracks from the new album(!) and tell us a little more about them?

HIGHBINDER - . I'll take unintelligible, that works for me. We like to give the illusion of meaning. Am I giving away our secrets here? Too late. We all write lyrics, as we all write the music, not that I'm going to tell you who wrote what. I'll give you one more secret...all the songs on this album are inspired somehow by zombies. I'm not joking, seriously. Different states of zombie-tude. Let's see...three songs...
The Dead Never Smile - You'll notice here that this song kinda apes a 'normal' song lyrically. Short lines and such. Yet in this case the girl who wants to hold your hand is a flesh devouring mindless monster, who you can never shake off no matter how far you run. Eventually you'll run out of gas, but she'll just keep shambling.
Codename:Tornado – It’s about being in the service of God, only instead of saving people and doling out Hail Mary’s bullets are used. That’s it; nobody ever said I was complex. Ahem …the undead.
Ebony and Irony – At the turn of the millenieum I was living in the flipperpit of an orca named Carl in Puget Sound (that’s in Washington State for you geography buffs). On December 31, 2000 a 9 foot tall steel monolith, resembling the monolith from “2001 a Space Odyssey” mysteriously appeared on top of a hill in a well known Seattle park. Three days later, and after much media fanfare, the monolith was gone. Ebony and Irony is about three people who have never met going about their mundane morning routines and stumbling upon something impossible. Oh and did I mention the Orca I was living under’s second cousin’s neighbor’s great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather fifteen times removed was a zombie?

RAY - I’m really curious also, if you didn’t above to know more about “Whaler.” That is a monster cut!

HIGHBINDER - Ah Whaler, what a bitch. That one almost killed us. At some point we decided that we needed to do a sea shanty, and this is our version of what we'd be singing from the rigging on our galactic pirate ship whilst bombarding. But there wasn't enough outer space in that idea to fully satisfy us. Near the middle, when the song goes underwater, we're also riding in the stomach of a giant space whale on our way to populate a new universe. I just blew my own mind. The lyrics were written in a fit of insanity about ten minutes before going into the vocal booth to record them, believe it or not, after a year or so of obsessing over the fact that we had none. Sometimes it's best to back yourself into a corner and set a fucking deadline people. Basically, it's about colonizing and imperialism...and space whales/zombie pirates. Tell me it gets cooler than zombie pirates and I'll call you a damn liar.

RAY - Red-light challenge! If you were told that there was an entire race of miniature Richard Simmons’ living under your pillow and that they worshipped an upside-down ampersand, how would you react?

HIGHBINDER - Ask George W. He's gotta deal with that shit every day. Makes me wonder if they still have that big red doomsday button. Scary thought.

RAY - What in God’s name made you decide to cover The Ox’s (R.I.P.) “Boris The Spider?” That is a very cool and certainly unusual cover. And…IT’S CREEPING ME OUT!!!

HIGHBINDER - I mentioned The Who a little ways back, and obviously, they are a band we all agree on. Why Boris the Spider? Do I look like some kind of existential guru here? This is a problem for us, we never ask ourselves why. If we did, we'd probably never do anything, but I'll try and answer this. To my knowledge no one had done it before. If you know of anyone who has, please let us know so we can break their kneecaps. Maybe we did it so we could write an obsequious letter to Chris Stamp (former manager of The Who, and General Zod's brother) and bask in his approval. He liked it, and bask we did. All I can say is that we did. Oh. It was such wonderful basking.
We just all really like that song, and it's freakin fun to play! What more are ya looking for in a cover I ask thee, my droog?

RAY - Ok, technophile time. What kinds of equipment do you guys use? Why DON’T you use Flying V’s? Or maybe the drummer uses Flying V’s?

HIGHBINDER - Equipment
Andy - JCM 900 – 2X12 Travel Cab with Celestion Heritage and Vintage, Myriad uppers, downers, laughers, gassers, and an arsenal of Reverend guitars.
Jon – JCM TSL2000 with a shot reverb, buckshot, and a shot of Jagermiester – 4X12 Ampeg Cabinet, ACO2700 Coconut Monkey, and an Epiphone Les Paul Baritone
Keeler - SWR 750 amp - 8X10 Megoliath cabinet complete with auto-erotic Pee-Wee, Epiphone 5-string Les Paul Bass caressed lovingly into submission through a regular regiment of dropping and bouncing off of walls, and an odd scent that has yet to be determined.
Nick - I'm taking a stand against elitist, hard on for hardware, you must buy this new rubber doohickey made by drummers who work at NASA or “you suck” drummers. I look at my drums and think, "I don't give a shit about you. Now I will beat you." And they find it refreshing.

RAY - “All The Way To Hell” was on Sin Klub and the new album(!) is a self-release. Tell us about that. Did you decide that it made more business sense to go it on your own, are you egotistical, what’s the deal?

HIGHBINDER - The short answer is that our former label was in the process of breaking into lots of shiny pieces when they picked us up. Not exactly good planning on their part, I gotta admit! Even if we wanted to be on Sinklub, which did alright by us in the short time we were with them (they hooked us up with you for example), it's no longer an option. It was, for the most part, an amicable split. We're pretty freakin amicable guys.

RAY - So what’s the scene like in Michigan/Ohio/wherever you’re hanging your hat? Are there many clubs that welcome HIGHBINDER with open arms around them there parts?

HIGHBINDER - Toledo and Detroit are really what I would call our home base, and we've definitely sucked out all the juice from those two cities. We're the local go to band; people just throw shows at us here. You'd think that would be pretty cool, but man, let me tell you...this is a hard town. All the bands here agree. I'm trying not to blame anyone. Fuck that, yes I am. Audiences here don't give much back to you while you’re pouring your own guts out onstage, if you're lucky enough to have an audience that night. It's a great place to cut your teeth as a band; it toughens you up and teaches you that you ain't a rockstar. When we go out of town it's a revelation how different people are. We played a show in Newcomerstown OH once. Town looked completely dead, like a horror movie. Let me tell you, those people packed the VFW and ROCKED THE FUCK OUT. i.e. Beer and blood dripping from the ceiling.
Here...not so much. The bartenders love us.

RAY - Have you played much outside the greater Michigan/Ohio/etc. area? When the hell are you coming to Baltimore?!?! We need bands to roll through this way who actually plug their guitars in and turn the volume up when they play?

HIGHBINDER - We'd love to come to Baltimore. Know any good bars where I can get a long island for less than seven bucks? We'll play there!

RAY - Do any of you have hearing damage from playing? Do you use earplugs? Are you as loud as HIGH ON FIRE? What do I have in store when you pull up the HIGHBINDER express into my local watering hole?

HIGHBINDER - WHAT?! We've never actually sat down and compared hearing loss, but I'm sure we're all dealing with it. Keeler (bass) has been wearing earplugs for as long as I can remember, and the rest of us are starting to follow suit now that we can't hear the police sirens behind us. Its not very fun though. So much more rockin just to blow our heads off with volume, but, alas we're not kids anymore. We'll gladly blow YOUR head off with volume.
And none of us wear earplugs onstage. That's just wrong.

RAY - Red-light challenge! What is the difference between George W. Bush and a rock hyrax?

HIGHBINDER - I was going to say that, like the common rat, a hyrax's teeth never stop growing...but looking at Georgie boy I'm not sure that counts as a difference. I'm gonna say two points. IQ points.

RAY - What is next on the agenda for the HIGHBINDER guys? Touring, I’d guess, although I understand you have some personal things going on like a new baby in the “band family?” Any ideas percolating for the next set of slaying songs?

HIGHBINDER - What's next, what's next... Basically we're in standby mode for the moment until Jon's son can learn to lock his own cage. Then it’s ON! For now though, we're really bearing down on our next recording, writing songs, and thinking up cover art. Probably a shorter format this time, five to seven song EP or whathaveya. As for the music itself, somewhere between the driving riff rock of All the Way... and the melodic weirdness of Moreneverthanever.

RAY - Ok, here’s always a fun one! Tell us the most stupid, funny, ridiculous, sad, tragic or just plain weird story that has involved HIGHBINDER.

HIGHBINDER - We were playing a show in Bowling Green, and as per usual our ritual involved a tobaccoless product via a short stop in the van. There we were, just minding our own bidness when one of us gets the bright idea to peer out of the blinds our van comes so readily equipped with. Only a few feet away, talking to a compatriot of ours was a local law enforcer, the kind that would’ve run all 13 of us in like dogs had he known what we were up to.
Needless to say something had to be done, so in a brief fit of panic/genius Andy called the very fellow the officer was talking to. Conversation is as follows:Andy: “Hey (name deleted), is that a cop you’re talking to?Friend: Yeah…Andy: “Can you make him…y’know….go away from where he’s at right now?”Friend: “Oh yeah, okay man, see you tomorrow, then! Nice talking to you!!”Andy: “Alright then!”A few moments later, and with the help of our buddy, the officer left, and we rolled out of the van like a clown car on fire.The rest, as they say, is irrelevant.

RAY - Any final comments for the readership?

HIGHBINDER - Andy – Build an elevator….
Jon – Ice-cold Hamster
Keeler- (Expletive Deleted)
Nick - Come out and see my new band, Fuck Phil Collins.

To be honest, I don’t think there’s a whole lot more that needs to be said. What we have here is a failure to fall into the typical, the clich├ęd or the worn-out. HIGHBINDER is a band who have taken a form of music sometimes known as metal, sometimes known as heavy and have blasted all expected life-forms off the map by making it into something all their own while still producing songs that are exciting, memorable and kick-ass. You simply won’t find an album released in 2007 (and many other years) that’s better than HIGHBINDER’s “Moreneverthanever.” You know what to do.