Thursday, July 31, 2008

COLOSSUS Among Us! The Interview!

Here’s the deal, people. A lot of things are complicated. Some are not. This one is simple. COLOSSUS, from North Carolina has burst out of the Tarheel State in 2008 and delivered one of the most ass-kicking, guitar mangling metal albums in recent memory. Seriously, if you dig stuff like the very best Maiden ever did, Bible Of The Devil, Priest, Slauter Xstroyes or Mercyful Fate, you might want to drop that damn latte or whatever the hell you’re drinking while you’re doing this right now instead of your job and order their CD. Then, sit back, make sure your boss is on the other side of the office and read about the men behind the COLOSSUS. Their names are: Sean Buchanan – vocals; Bill Fisher – guitar; Nicky Nixon – guitar; Andy Lewis – guitar (that’s right, 3 guitarists and all of ‘em do lead!); Ry Wilshire – bass; Benjamin Smith – drums.

RAY - What on earth is going on in North Carolina, did someone have a sale on Gibsons & Marshalls? I mean, you guys, Thunder Lip, Valient Thorr, U.S. Christmas…etc. Seems like an awful lot of heavy stuff going on down there. Is there a correlation between heavy guitar rock & college basketball?

BILL - Yeah, i guess there is some cool stuff going on here, but you do need to know where to look. very much bad stuff in nc also. as for the basketball connection, hmmmm, i had not considered it, but, UNC is going to kick everyone's ass this year and colossus hopes to kick ass this year as well, so maybe there is some connection there. yes.

RAY - So how did the whole thing start for COLOSSUS? “…And The Rift…” is the band’s first album, so how did you all get to this point?

BILL - I think COLOSSUS really began as this instrumental 2 piece with Nick Perros(guitar) and Ben Smith(drums), they called it Perrosmith (gotta love that. Ed).not sure about the exact order of things, but a few guys came and went, nick went to high school with Sean, so thats how they knew him, Ry started playing bass(i don't know when the name changed to colossus)i knew Ry from our old bands playing lots of shows together, nick was actually playing bass in my old instrumental band Amish Jihad, but that was winding down, i was looking for a band and they were looking for a guitar player, so i was in. i guess it took about a year and a half to write and tighten up the songs for the record.

NICKY - We all met at a Evanescence concert. It turned out that Sean can sing like a girl and Bill was a really good rapper, so we decided to start a band.

RAY - Influences is always an easy question for a lazy writer. Hell, you throw the word out and can usually sit back & catch a few “z’s” while the band expounds. But I’m really interested. I’d like to hear from everybody in the band, but hell, especially the guitar players! Bill, I know who you are (after seeing you live..so don’t try to leave the country!), I’m guessing you might be the guy who’s into Adrian Smith and also some hardcore? I know the other 2 guys are named Nicholas & Andy, but I’m not sure who’s who, so I’ll do it this way: The guy who had the blue fast-pitch softball t-shirt at the Baltimore show & was playing the Les Paul…I heard some real Chris Poland feel there, as well as those kinda hand positions. The Flying V guy, any KK Downing kinda background there? Of course, you’re going to say I’m completely wrong about every one and that I’m a complete dick but that’s what makes this all fun.

BILL - With me you're pretty close. i grew up on nwobhm stuff (though i actually play guitar because of Van Halen), but at a certain point it was pretty difficult to find anybody to do that sort of thing, so i ended up in punk bands for years. my favorite of those influences was always Stephen Egerton of Descendents and All. so yeah, metal and punk for most of my life, but i find my tastes are broadening a lot.

ANDY - My influences as a young guitarist included kirk hammett, marty friedman, randy rhoads, and eddie van halen. classic rock influences brian may, neal schon, tom schotz. jazz influences al di meola, john mclaughlin, pat matheny, allan holdsworth. love some 80's players like paul gilbert, joe satriani, george lynch.

NICKY - Well, I'm the blue softball t-shirt guy. I guess I should explain that unlike Bill, the rest of us were born in the 80's. In fact, Bill was there that fateful night when one of our more innovative ancestors stretched sabertooth gut across a tortious shell making the insturment known to the neaterthals as a "gut-tor." Being a kid during the high era of 80's metal, my tastes were never that sophisticated. When I was a kid Randy Rhodes was my favorite guitar player. It was pretty much Ozzy, GNR and Metallica.

RAY - I’m not trying to shove you off to the side, Bill, but I wanted to address this ? to the other 2 guitar players. That was a tiny stage at the Talking Head, you dudes didn’t seem like you had room to move next to each other, but the dynamics between you were awesome. You reminded me of Scott Gorham & Brian Robertson, trading solos, laughing, almost egging the other one on to top the killer lead lick you’d done. Is it kind like the fun of healthy competition or did somebody just tell a joke I didn’t hear? There once was a man from Nantucket…

ANDY - i have never been in another band where the guitar solo was a dominant force in songwriting, so its a lot of fun switching/playing off what bill and nick do. Plus i change up my solos every night. improvising keeps it interesting, and not to mention i cant play nick's solos

NICKY - The only inside joke that I know of is what a terrible guitar player I am compared to Andy and Bill. I have to laugh when I'm playing with those guys because I constantly feel like I can't keep up. All that aside, we have a lot of fun when we play. It's fun to joke around and try and get someone else in the band to mess up, even though 9 times out of 10 I just end up screwing myself up.

BILL - Nick is being modest.

RAY - What made you guys end up with 3 axe players? A case of Maiden worship? A case of Molly Hatchet worship? A case of Budweiser? Have you ever considered adding a 4th lead player to just flesh out the sound a little, for Christ’s sake? Seriously, I see big bands with 2 players and one is always louder than the other. You guys were all at equal volume and it sounded totally rad. How do you accomplish that? Do I sound like some over the hill 50 year old trying to sound cool by saying “rad?”

BILL - maybe more like maiden worship, love for skynrd, and many cases of high life. really we just thought we'd try and pull it off and we did, so now we're hooked. about a year ago, nick went off to law school and we got andy to take his place. when nick was free from school his first break, we tried the 3 guitar thing and it worked. we can play either as a 5 or 6 piece depending on that, and that's pretty fun. we did have to work a lot on the volume thing, everybody just has to be a little quieter and solos have to be much louder. and saying rad is rad.

NICKY - I moved away last year and they replaced me with Andy. When I'm back in NC they let me mess around with them, which is great. It's kind of like having really good seats at a guitar clinic!

BILL - This modesty thing is new to Nick.

ANDY - I’m the newest guy in the band. i got lucky because i was supposed to move to nyc to pursue music up there. i got the call from ry about auditoning for colossus. it didnt take much thought about joining the band. colossus is a serious band, but probably the most fun i have ever had playing in a band. as far as live volume sound we got it down to science with adjusting/boosting during solos.

RAY - This is directed to the singer, Sean. Dude, I think that Halford had a dream about the upcoming COLOSSUS album (not really a stretch, it was only 30 years away) when he recorded “Stained Class.” What’s your vocal background? Do you have any formal training or do you just find that you open up your mouth while in the grocery store line and things like the chorus to “Ghost Fucker” roll out?

SEAN - Haha... no, I've never had any training really. Basically my Dad gave me a copy of "Sad Wings of Destiny" when I was a kid and since then I've listened to it about 700 times. Before Colossus I would just drive around and sing along to CD's like Maiden, Bowie and BOC so I guess that was where I figured out I could sing. A few random bands later and I was in Colossus.

RAY - Directed to Benjamin & Rylan…You guys are a pretty slam-tastic rhythm section, organic & yet tight as a witch’s twat. How is it holding down the bottom end with all that lead guitar and vocal stuff going on over top you? Do you ever think “Guys…guys! Enough, already, we know you know how to do solos!” Or do you kinda solo yourselves underneath, like a Geezer Butler/Bill Ward lead/rhythm beast?

RY - I think that a very fortunate circumstance for our band was when Ben and i got shipwrecked on a desert island , during which time my right hand was lashed to Ben's right foot. This helped us "fuse our rhythm" and become equivocally taught as a witches twat. Also, fortunately for me, i have no reservations about turning my amp up way louder then three Marshall half stacks

BILL - by the way, computers scare Ben, so Ry answers for him as well.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE!!! Does anyone in COLOSSUS believe in the Freudian concept of the guitar as a phallic symbol? Have you ever met any women, either on tour or back home in Chapel Hill who would concur?

BILL - i pretty much point my guitar around like it's my dick, so there's something there, and they don't call it cock rock for nothing.

SEAN - Yeah I don't remember what show I was at when I realized, "Wait a second, these guys are parading around on stage with huge fake dongers!" It kinda reminds me of those tribes you see on Discovery channel that strap huge colored gourds to their junk. Which only makes it more awesome.

ANDY - phallic symbol...more like flame thrower to melt your face.

RAY - I have to ask about the songwriting in the band. With 3 guitar players, does it ever get unwieldy? You know, “My riff is better than your riff!” How do you go about it, does everybody bring in a bunch of ideas and somehow it gets molded together? We want to see how the mind of the COLOSSUS functions.

BILL - seems like the songs have come together in lots of different ways. sometimes somebody brings a complete song in and everybody just makes up their parts to it, sometimes somebody brings in a song that just needs a little extra stuff and we all pitch in. i like to start with lyrics and a vocal melody and work off that. once we have a basic song coming together we just fuck with it a bunch, put little touches in. just whatever works. there's really no competition or anything like that, i think we're all pretty much on the same page about what sounds good.

ANDY - being new to the band writing songs for me is still in its infancy. i feel we all bring something fun and fresh to the process. we are all pretty open to new ideas

RY - We just write each idea we have for a song on a little piece of paper and use this paper to bait a hook. After casting the hooks into the sea we use the parts in the order that they catch mollusks and mollusks only. We have always let the fate of our songs be decided by Poseidon.

RAY - Lyrically, there seems to be a lot of fantasy stuff going on. I understand that some
serious artistes (heavy pronunciation on the “ar-TEESTS”) prefer not to reveal the mysteries behind their lyrics, but a couple I was wondering if you’d care to ‘splain yourselves on are “Willow,” “Hoc’tel” and “Salamandastron.” Wouldn’t mind a little discourse on “Ghost Fucker” too, as in my humble opinion, it’s one of the best metal songs I’ve ever heard. Is “G.F. Nocturne” stand for “Ghost Fucker Nocturne?” Or is it dedicated to the late Gerald Ford?

SEAN - Well Willow is of course about the film of the same name. Salamandastron is based on the Brain Jacques Redwall book. Ghostfucker actually came from a weird dream I had while I was trying to come up with lyrics for the song and I just woke up and wrote it down before I was really awake. And yeah, the G.F. Nocturne is indeed the Ghostfucker Nocturne. Our buddy Danny was putting some keyboards on Limit-Break and Willow and he just kinda came up with that and we thought it was a great ending for the album.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE!!! Who is going to win the American League Cy Young Award this year?! Maybe the “fast pitch softball” guitarist can field this one!

BILL - to be honest, i got nothin. i like to get drunk at minor league baseball games, that’s about the extent of my baseball knowledge. hot dogs are also awesome.

NICKY - I live in Boston now, so I'm going to have to go with Josh Beckett.

RAY - Do you guys get to play much in North Carolina? How much have you toured otherwise? I mean, I guess I’ve been behind the door, but you guys seem to have come out of thin air. I found out about the CD, contacted you, had my ever-loving ass kicked sideways to Sunday by it, then a week or 2 later, have you roll into Baltimore and nail my sorry ass to the wall live.

BILL - we play pretty regularly in north carolina, but really there are only so many places that seem to work for us, and you can't overplay a town or everybody gets sick of you, so to be as busy as we want to be we have to get out. we've probably averaged around 2 months of touring a year for almost 3 years. just for practical reasons we have been confined to the eastern part of the country. this last tour we were pretty amazed that we almost broke even(depending on how you look at it) burning tons of $4/gallon gas. it was pretty wierd leaving for this one wondering if we'd get through and if we'd have to pull back to an even smaller territory. but it worked out more or less. the way things are, we will have to be really smart about tour routing to be able to make it work. it's getting harder to make it work but we really love to do it, so we're hangin in there. as for how you never heard of us, i think we do lack some of the savvy that a lot of bands have for promoting themselves. all we really know to do is write songs and get out and play them. we do all our own promo and booking and quite frankly, we're not that good at that side of things. but we try really hard.

RAY - What’s next in store for COLOSSUS? How much of the U.S. are you going to pillage? Any plans to get overseas? How about some kind of tour with BIBLE OF THE DEVIL in the fall when they’re new record comes out. Shit, you ought to contact Mark Hoffmann, your 2 bands together would be sick. THUNDERLIP added to the mix would be ridiculous!

BILL - we're writing a new record for nice life records. after that, it’s more of the same, tour as much and as far as we can manage, have as much fun as we can. we’ve played with bible of the devil before, they rule, and i would love to do more with those guys. put in a good word for us, ray. and we’ll definitely play more with thunderlip, they’re our boys, our vans have totally rocked position 69. you can’t break that bond.

RAY - I’m not familiar with Nice Life Records, is this basically a self-release? Any offers on the table or ideas about doing anything with a bigger label, maybe something like Cruz Del Sur?

BILL - Nice Life is our friends in columbus, ohio, ron and cara. we always play at their bar and it rules so much. they’re doing a bunch of different stuff, most noteably Rebreather out of western PA. I think they may have done a Teeth of the Hydra record too. they are great friends and treat us well. we actually sent a demo to cruz del sur, got no response. that’s a badass label. we are gigantic slough-feg fans and have played with them a couple times. those guys know what’s up, man what a band.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE!!! Is the “hot-ness” of women at shows inversely proportional to the heaviness of the music? I call this theorem The Dorsey/Wilson Law Of Inverse Fuckability.

BILL - i think that used to be true. but things seem to change for the better in that respect. used to be, there was nothing but dudes at metal shows, but i definitely see plenty of girls at shows now. some girls seem to just have been dragged there by their boyfriends, and that sucks, but you know, when you see a girl really rockin out at a kickass show that brings the hot-ness factor up several notches.

NICKY - Hmmm. Depends of whether you are into tattoos or not...

RY - I believe that equation has recently been modified. It is as follows: Hot-ness of women at shows = (1/Heaviness)*K*(Number of Effects Pedals on Stage)/(% Overall band baldness)^(1/2) Where K is the 'rock constant' developed by D.L. Roth in the early 1980's and is equal to 0.

RAY - Ok, here’s one that always brings a smile (either of amusement, regret, consternation, disgust…etc.). Do you have any stories from life in COLOSSUS (either at home, on the road, etc) that you can share with the readers that are either uproariously funny, patently disgusting, weird, disturbing or just plain goofy?

NICKY - Yeesh... When we are on tour we have a box of baby wipes that we call "showers."

SEAN - Oh man, we got so many. The first one that pops into mind is when we were playing in Nashville one time. After the show some friends of ours took us to a party in their neighborhood where we knew nobody. Some random girl came up to Ry and introduced herself and he went around the room making up obviously fake names for all of us and when he got to himself he said his name was Ritchie. The girl looked at him and said, "Oh Ritchie... I'm gonna punch you in the fucking face before the night is over." which made me laugh so hard I collapsed into a fetal position on the kitchen floor. Then a dude comes up from downstairs and says that if you don't know who he is then you have to leave the party. I went up and was like, "Hey, I'm Sean, what's your name?" but no dice, we wound up on the front lawn. So we're waiting out there trying to call our friends that are inside and looking into this huge plate glass window where you can see the whole living room hanging out. Somebody gets the idea to send a shirtless Ben Smith in there and get him to root around like he can't find his shirt. So next thing we all see through the window is Ben walking out from the kitchen shirtless and start searching around in the room full of people for his shirt. He's asking people to move, looking under seat cushions... it was great and we were all really proud of him. He walks outside and some of the dudes that kicked us out before are following him. We're all laughing and Ben walks up to us and the dudes are like, "Oh man, you guys are friends with shirtless guy? You can come back into the party!" So we go in and grab our friends and leave because the party was actually pretty whack to begin with.

BILL - i think that same night was when this girl at the party just takes off her underwear out from under her skirt, really for no reason at all, and says “i’m not even a stripper” (nobody asked), i think i was tying my shoe a few minutes later and i feel something on my head and sean has put that girl’s underwear on my head, which was really fucked up. but clever. i’m definitely going to get him back for that. yeah, there’s a bunch more. could go on if i could remember stuff more clearly.

RAY - Any final comments for the readership?

BILL - ray is awesome. can’t wait to get back up to baltimore. rrroooccckkk!

So, there you have it…words of wisdom from the mouths of one of the absolute corkers of a metal band these pages have ever known. But don’t just read…go to the COLOSSUS site, order up and learn what it feels like to have THE COLOSSUS CRUSH YOU!

www.myspace.com/thecolossuswillcrushyou

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

GRAND HALLS 4

MEDUSA TOUCH – “…Someone To Take You There” CD ’05 (Private, England) – The word “heavy” has always been an interesting one to me. Over the years, man, it’s been used a lot! I saw a band and they were “heavy as hell.” “Man, his guitar tone was freaking heavy as shit!” “That album is so damn heavy.” What does it mean? What is heavier, Slayer’s “Reign In Blood” or Judas Priest’s “Sad Wings Of Destiny?” Really? The first Saint Vitus album or Pagan Altar’s “Mythical & Magical?” Are you sure? And therein lies the beauty of the discussion. To me, for instance, it’s always been more about the vibe than the actual guitar tone, the mood than the level of distortion. And how appropriate, then (if I do say so myself J) having mentioned a band like Pagan Altar when leading into this look at MEDUSA TOUCH. Both are bands from England and both take their cue of “heaviness” from that more moody, ethereal sense of the word.

MEDUSA TOUCH, you see, are a 4-piece unit that etched this glorious recording (their 3rd) into plastic in 2004 and let it see the light of day sometime in the next year. From the fantasy-themed cover art, it would be understandable for a potential listener to think they were going to be swept into a land of Euro power/prog metal upon hitting the play button and yet MT seem to glean their inspiration from things a bit further back in history. The opening cut, “All Hallows Eve” greets the listener with a bit of an ominous chording and a demonic laugh, then it’s on to a simply awesome beginning. Here, as the Hellride writer who turned me onto this gem astutely pointed out, comparisons can surely be drawn to the legendary Pagan Altar, both in the grand nature of the song writing itself and the panoramic subtle “heavy” feel. Listen to the dueling guitars of Trey Owen and Rog Long, hitting harmonies generally reserved for the likes of Robbo & Gorham as they give shape and clarity to this killer. The trump card for the band is the vocal work of bassist Allison Piearce. Her voice is at once powerfully gutsy and smooth as silk, never falling into any kind of barroom harshness that would make the proceedings seem hokey. A great example of this is in the very next number, “Decoy Doll,” a trip down the seamier side of life. Here the band, motoring atop Bryan Beasley’s stalwart drumming, dishes out a grooving hard rocker while Piearce’s voice tells a seedy tale in a golden voice. And, on it continues, through cuts such as the lengthy “20:20 Hindsight,” the melodic “Fallen Angel” and the ‘70’s hard rock feel of “Too Many Times.” It all comes to a fantastic conclusion in the nearly 7-minute epic closer, “Legend” where MT tie everything together in a wonderful amalgamation that reminds this listener of a deft combination of the aforementioned P Altar and another band of British gods, Saracen.

It’s easy to get caught up in the myriad good reviews that float around the internet, where it becomes part and parcel of many websites to laud even the most mediocre records with lavish praise. Here at the ‘Realm, however, I love to find the real cream, whether it be from the present or past and let it rise to the top, singing it’s praises as it does. With that in mind, MEDUSA TOUCH sure as hell represents the best of both worlds. Here’s a stone-classic they issued nearly 4 years ago that’s just reached my desk and…thankfully, the band is still going strong and working on new material. How great is that? So, while we look forward to their next move, grab a copy of this one and let MEDUSA TOUCH “take you” to their world of “heavy!” 10.0

NOTE: MEDUSA TOUCH has 2 albums previous to this one that are currently sold out. Here’s hoping they’re re-issued soon, so get writing to ‘em and give ‘em a reason to.
http://www.medusatouch.com/
www.myspace.com/medusatouchrockband

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Magnificent Release

REVELATION – “Release” CD ’08 (Leaf Hound, US) – As I’ve probably repeated nearly to infinity during my reviews of the last couple Against Nature records, it’s really been a very nice ride watching John Brenner & crew ascend from the ranks of middle-of-the-road doom to a trio so organic, dynamic and down-right good that they’ve not only broken the mold but smashed it into a million pieces of dust. True enough, the band’s (John – guitar, vocals, Bert Hall, Jr. – bass, Steve Branagan –drums) Against Nature format (the same line-up comprises both units) is geared toward a more heavy prog/rock sound while REVELATION is their vehicle into the world of doom metal. And yet…once again, John, Bert and Steve have raised the bar with “Release.” You see, there is no question that this record can stand quite comfortably in the so-called “doom” genre. The leaden crushing of the guitars, the deliberate pacing all point toward a world that began ages ago, perhaps, with Iommi & crew and which has revolved through a universe populated by names like Vitus, Trouble, The Obsessed and Pentagram to name only a few. Still, the absolute gorgeous album that is now playing as I write this suggests that REVELATION have taken the doom format and elevated it into something so much more panoramic and of such a wide scope as to have transcended it’s very meaning. Listen only to something like the beginning of a track deep into the running order, like “Epiphany.” Let the opening guitar figures wash over you and you can only imagine that you’ve traveled back in time to a record store in 1971 where the first Eloy album is playing as a subtle cloud of rich aroma wafts from a back room. And, truly this is only one small example as all through wonderful songs like “Anatomy Of Melancholy” and the audibly delicious “The Provenance Of Clouds” the band do far more than play. Rather, like the very best before them (Rush on “Fly By Night,” Gentle Giant on “Three Friends” or, for God’s sake, yes, Sabbath on “Vol. 4”), REVELATION paint with the firm yet caring hand of an artist who not only enjoys his or her work but is so passionate about it that it surely drips with emotion. All through the 8 songs here, Hall & Branagan explore a rhythm sound that is organic and living to the maximum, reflecting not only so-called heavy musos like Butler or Ward but also those further afield such as Jaco P or Maurice Pert. Tying it all together is John Brenner, who’s guitarwork has reached the realm of masterful. Not only are Brenner’s rhythms strikingly innovative but they also retain a visceral heaviness. His lead work, however, is simply breathtaking. A virtual chameleon of tones, he never overplays yet allows his axe to embellish upon the story being told, the reflection being made in the vocal melody. And these vocal melodies are where John has more than found his feet as a singer. I’m reminded more than once of the great VDGG vocalist Peter Hamill in John’s rich, melodic tone throughout this album. In summation, there is very little I can say about “Release” that I haven’t already effused about above. Simply speaking, this is clearly a spectacular release (pun intended) and another step on the dramatically upward curve being blazed by REVELATION / AGAINST NATURE. Buy and enjoy. 10.0
http://www.leafhound.com/
http://www.againstnature.us/

THE DAILY VOID – “Identification Code 5271-4984953784-06564” CD ’07 (Dead Beat, US) – learned about Devo from of all people, the guy who named Metallica. In case you’re confused already, underground San Francisco metal DJ Ron Quintana supposedly showed a list of names to his friend Lars Ulrich, who was looking for a moniker for his new thrashing combo. Seems Lars was taking a bit of a shine to the name “Metal Mania” but as Ron had his eye on that one for his burgeoning zine, he urged Mr. Ulrich to go with “Metallica.” Anyhoo, I became acquaintances with Quincy over the years and as it went, we’d trade copies of our zines back & forth as well as cassette tapes of prized discoveries. And it was one day that the Q man sent me a tape with the first Devo record on it (something I’d blithely ignored until then) and I was taken by their unique, mechanized, hypnotic sound. It’s such a sound that takes me back to those days when I put in this disc by THE DAILY VOID and am greeted by the short, quick and pulsing mechanicals of “You’ve Been Erased,” “Devil’s Gold Window” and “The Man W/O A Face.” Still, what makes TDV (featuring ex-members of The Functional Blackouts) stand out as something a good deal more than a DEVO clone (not that THAT would be a terrible thing, in this day & age!) is the raw punk aggression and the garage-style distorted vocals & feel that also permeates “Identificaton Code…,’ with echoes of things like The Dwarves, like weird little animals raising their heads momentarily from the aural broth. A very interesting and refreshing record. 8.0
http://www.dead-beat-records.com/

ANNIHILATION TIME – “III: Tales Of The Ancient Age” CD ’08 (Tee Pee, US) – Kinda cool band here from the Oakland area. The basic premise is that they’re ripping through 10 songs of high-energy, obnoxious punk rawk but with the added twist of Thin Lizzy-like harmony lead guitars mixed in as well. It might seem to the unfamiliar listener that this would be a hodge-podge, but surprisingly it’s not. Yeah, by the end of the record, the “fuck” as every other word gets a little tiring, but the guitarwork and melodies that creep through the thrashing save the day. It’s cool when something seemingly incongruous works and for the most part, it does here enough to make me want to hear their next offering. 7.0
www.teepeerecords.com

FORBIDDEN TIGERS – “Magnetic Problems” CD ’07 (Dead Beat, US) – So it’s some point back in the mid ‘80’s and I’m dodging the raindrops on a bleak night in February, bracing my face against the cold as I push through the door and into the old 9:30 Club. The dim hallway is strewn with a veritable host of malcontents, dark ghosts with heroin eyes and black hair and a slightly chemical smell that I don’t want to pause long enough to try to identify. And there, beyond it in the background, coming somewhere from the direction of yonder scuzzy nightclub is a sound. It’s the sound of rock, but of nothing known as rock to the MTV generation of the time. This includes the noise of Fender amps, rather than Marshalls, cranked to their splitting point and what must be a battered, paint-chipped Tele being slashed to an ungainly death with jagged fuzz-chords that imply a certain feral desperation. Below this unsettling palate is the insistent thump of bass & drums, each hit with the force of an unseen hooker who’s finally overcome the fear to beat her abusive pimp to death with a tire iron. The vocals overtop call their siren song of losing, then getting, then losing again and to tell you the truth, it would all be too much if there wasn’t such a deceptively wicked hook of a melody swimming underneath like coy waking up in the spring and trying to get past the thawing ice. Yup, that’s what FORBIDDEN TIGERS sounds like. Good stuff. 8.5
http://www.dead-beat-records.com/

HAUNTED GEORGE – “Bone Hauler” CD ’06 (Dead Beat, US) – HAUNTED GEORGE should be a name familiar to RAYSREALM readers, especially over the last year when his overwhelming “Pile O’ Meat” disc scored a strong finish in this scribe’s Top 10 of 2007. While this previous disc is not quite on the level of the sonic depravation leveled by that sick pile o’ plastic, “Bone Hauler” still…um…hauls some serious ass. This mutha shows some of where the pile o’ premise for last year’s disc lay, with that simple acoustic guitar plugged into some sort of sick distortion stuff and amplified to sound like a jackalope being thrown into a power mower. GEORGE’s howling vocals, the pain-wracked voice of a man who can make John Tardy sound twee, rise like a nasty squall in the proceedings and raise tracks like “Ghoul From The Mine” to something very evil indeed. Scary stuff. 9.0
http://www.dead-beat-records.com/

IOTA – “Tales” CD ’08 (Small Stone, US) – The stoner rock movement. Hmmm…. Man, remember how fresh and vital that was several years back? We were all singing the praises of Fu Manchu & Kyuss as new saviours and looking to exciting new acts like Datura as leaders for a new generation. Funny, over time, how bloated it became, with every other record you’d receive in the mail sporting either a ’70 Camaro on the cover or a bunch of dudes sharing a bong on the insert. The endless parade seems to just continue on, and part of the latest batch I’ve received is this one by IOTA. I have to give these guys credit in that they do pepper their low-end crush with some interesting lysergic jamming, although that does tend to get a bit yawn-inducing in the nearly 23-minute “Dimensional Orbiter.” A decent and pretty well inoffensive listen here, but if you want to hear what a truly great band has done, merely using the stoner style as a stepping-off point to greater things, check out the new Colourhaze instead. 5.5
http://www.smallstone.com/

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

GRAND HALLS 3

Back in 2004, I published the following review of a complete underground metal archive classic, LAZARUS SIN - "Intracranial Mass" on my previous site, Chaos Realm. Having just found the brand-new official re-issue of this lost gem in my mailbox, I thought it appropriate to bring that review to RAYSREALM as part of the Grand Halls Series. Look for the band's myspace site at the end of the review and contact them to find out how to order this monster. You won't be sorry!

LAZARUS SIN – “Intracranial Mass” CD ’08/’88 (Private, US) – This review marks the completion of a long quest of mine, and it’s one that has yielded results even beyond my hopes. Anybody remember the British mag Metal Forces? It was a bible during the mid/late ‘80’s & I used to grab it just to read reviews by people like Bernard Doe & Dave Reynolds. Anyway, I remember seeing an ad for this CD-only album by Eugene, Oregon’s LAZARUS SIN in one of those issues. The band name, title and odd cover photo of a small boy praying the Rosary stuck in my mind. I tried to contact the band several time to no avail, then finally stowed the name away on my want list. It stayed there…for years & years. I never saw a copy and then, as the ‘90’s melted into the ‘oughties, it initially slipped from my cranium (ouch!). Then, a few years ago, I noticed it cropping up on lists and fetching sickly prices. Ultimately, a month or so ago, during internet browsing, my eyes lit up, for there was a copy at a decent price. I went ahead and pushed “enter.” It was an interesting moment when the package arrived. I’d never even heard this album, never even had a tape of it, so when I slid LAZARUS SIN’s “Intracranial Mass” into the ol’ RAYSREALM laser blazer some 16 years down the line, I expected to most likely be let down. Instead, to my delight, I was blown to the wall by an album that made me want to deck my 46 year old body in as much leather & spikes as I could find. I’m warning you now, I am going to issue a very high comparison here but do not doubt me, oh legions of metallic mayhem! When you factor in the ripping ‘80’s metal style, the quirky ‘70’s overtones, the scorching production, the super-charged-Jackson-rifferama & the howling vocals, the best assessment I can come up with is Slauter Xstroyes – “Winter Kill.” Yes folk, this is that good.As opener “Blood For Mercy” reaches the apex of it’s intro and vocalist Joseph Tierney greets us with a commanding “Yeah!” I can just picture him striding onstage, decked in fullmetal regalia beneath a shroud of dry ice. At this point, Edward Cross peels off a barrage of Charvel-toned riff-storming that scarcely lets up for the next ¾ of an hour. After this 6 ½ minute statement of metal intent, the band downshifts slightly for “Apothecaries’ Measure.” Featuring a melodic mid-section reminiscent of “Victim Of Changes,” it also sees Cross unsheathe a scalding solo that, as many do on this album, puts him in the league of Paul Kratky. Next arises the instrumental “7734,” Maiden-ish in it’s intricacies and actually acting as a bit of an extended prelusion (anybody remember Exxplorer?!) to “The Son Of The Jackal.” This 6 ½ minute beauty marks the end of Side A. That’s right, I said Side A. Even though “Intracranial Mass” was exclusively released on CD, these guys were apparently so into the metal vinyl culture that they labeled the track-listing split over 2 sides. To me, that alone makes this thing as cool as shit! Anyway, “…Jackal” is another barnstorming metallic classic, combining aspects of Priest, Sabbath & Maiden plus a thoroughly unique individuality, highlighted by the extended acoustic guitar coda.

Believe it or not, the 2nd half of this record is where LAZARUS SIN really gets motoring! Next to decapitate your sorry ass is the 8+ minute “Author Of Sorrow” (such a cool title!). While these songs are surely all epics, there is none of the pussy-fied Bland Guardian shit here that metal would descend to into the decade following this masterpiece. This is pure metal, like when Priest did “Saints In Hell,” Maiden did “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and Slauter Xstroyes did “Black Rose & Thorns.” This just murders ass, with Tierney wailing, Cross mauling his screeching axe and David Thorne (bass) & Bolund Mace (drums) laying down rhythms like a Harris & Binks all-star team. “What’s this,” I say, “Piano?” as “Monument” opens reminding me for all the world of the “Sad Wings Of Destiny” classic “Epitaph.” Eventually, however, it builds into a melodic 6 min showcase for Tierney’s singing prowess and Cross’ haunting solos. “Intracranial Mass” is then brought to a dazzling conclusion by one of the heaviest ‘80’s metal songs I’ve ever heard (or any decade’s, for that matter!), the devastating 9 ½ minute “Out Of The Box.” Opening with a crushing, doom-inflected riff, the song then follows totally cool, seamless changes into a solo by Edward Cross that just slays me. There’s a lead guitar tone that I worship that’s not been achieved a whole lot. Think of Tipton in “Dreamer Deceiver,” the Marcus guys in “Rise Unto Falcon” or how about Survivor’s “Deceive Me,” from “All Your Pretty Moves?” Yeah, it’s that clean, naked and plaintive Gibson wail and it brings tears to my eyes in the freaking awesome solo it’s employed for here. Finally, with Tierney shrieking “Out Of The Box!” repeatedly, this freight train not so much as pulls into the station, but plows into it at full speed, concrete, steel & diesel fuel exploding into a mammoth fireball the likes of which defines pure annihilation.All too often, albums that are considered rare or obscure end up being much less than they’re cracked up to be, due to the over-hyped quality of their legend. In the case of LAZARUS SIN – “Intracranial Mass,” however, listen to my words carefully, you fans of pure metal. This motherfucker is a Metal Force worth anything you have to do to obtain it. Anything! 10.0
www.myspace.com/lazarussin

GRAND HALLS 2

JUDAS PRIEST – “Hell Bent For Leather” ’78 (CBS, Eng) – Interesting it is, the thoughts we have on going back and reviewing our own writing. At least I know for me it is. Sometimes in doing so, the ideas and tangents that come to mind are surprising. So it was with re-reading my review of JUDAS PRIEST’s “Nostradamus” opus, one of the truly great albums of 2008…and of the band’s career, in my opinion, that I noticed I’d made an allusion to not understanding those who place albums like “British Steel” & “Hell Bent For Leather” above such records as “Stained Class” and “Sad Wings….” In my reading, it struck me that while I continually hear numbers like “Breaking The Law” & “Living After Midnight” (“British Steel”) on the radio, it had been a damn long time since the grooves of “Hell Bent…/Killing Machine” had turned beneath these ears. Was it time to give this old warhorse a fresh listening? I thought so, and with that I felt it would be interesting to do a “Grand Halls” piece on a record that was not one I’d normally place in that category…and yet…. There are a few singularly interesting things about “Hell Bent For Leather” right from the get-go, the first being it’s dual title. The deal is that the record came out as “Killing Machine” in 1978 in England yet the US offices of CBS apparently thought the title too “violent” for America. I’ll let you work that twisted logic out for yourselves. In any case, it’s the “Hell Bent…” version we’ll take a look at here, as it includes one additional song and after all, you know any chance for me to be more wordy is one I’ll jump on any day. J Another cool tidbit concerning “Hell Bent…” is the fact that it is the 2nd of the only 2 studio JP albums to which Les “Feathertouch” Binks would lend his massive drumming skills. (Well, unless you consider “Unleashed In The…ahem…Studio”…but that’s fodder for another article!). At any rate, to paraphrase the age-old ad I remember seeing in Creem Magazine at the time, it’s time to tear off the cloth and put on the leather….

Upon looking at the cover art of “Hell Bent…,” there’s a difference apparent from the previous “Stained Class.” Where the latter featured an image of an elite, arty sort, this one is more direct and visceral. The image of the face with the bullet-shattered glasses and studded headband implies a far more aggressive tone, the logo & title placement indicate a direct connection with it’s predecessor from earlier that year. The band photos on the back of the sleeve show the 4 musicians looking about as expected. Lead singer Halford, however, looks completely different than ever before. Bedecked in a leather jacket, his hair, beard (!) and facial expression look more like a biker/pirate and the silk & satin days seem like a distant memory. On to the record itself and the beating commences immediately with “Delivering The Goods.” If the PRIEST were going to be losing their ability to do just that, it sure isn’t apparent in this tune. The immediate difference noticeable from “Stained Class”/”Sin After Sin” is the thundering bottom-end that’s present here as opposed to the surgical, space-age sound of the formers. Les Binks drums, while still a study in proto-jazz-metal craftsmanship (how could they ever have let this guy go?!) pack a wallop more familiar to the grand ol’ geezer Bonzo on this track & Glenn Tipton’s guitar solo utterly shreds. Next up is “Rock Forever.” Now here’s something different. Talk about a stripped-down approach compared to anything on the previous couple records, the “rock & roll” lyrics harken back to the title track of…wait for it…”Rocka Rolla” and the “Gimme a ride, boys!” before the Lizzy-like double lead solo mirrors a Steven Tyler-type cat-call. “Evening Star” opens with an acoustic guitar figure, almost like it could be another “Last Rose Of Summer” or (dare we hope) a “Beyond The Realms Of Death.” Soon, by the major chord melody and the insistent yet simple rhythm, it’s clear this is something a lot more accessible than either. Originally a song I would skip over (well, cue over in the old tone arm days!) on recent listens, I’ve been taken by the guitar solos, brief though they are by Glenn & KK here. In addition, Binks adds some deft percussion touches that remind me of the Sabs’ “Planet Caravan.” The title track starts like an explosion, with an absolutely crushing opening volley of power chords suspended on Leslie’s rolling bass drums. Then, Tipton announces the song-proper with a riff straight out of Ted Nugent’s top-shelf lost greats and it’s onto 2 ½ minutes of sheer greatness. The solo here by Glenn borders on the ridiculously great. Oh hell, borders my ass, it just is! Finishing Side One is something that has and still is my sticking point with this album, the anthem “Take On The World.” It was a wonderful thing that Queen did something like “We Will Rock You” but I honestly never understood why PRIEST had to do their own version of it. ‘Nuff said.

It’s without a whole lot of who-struck-John that JP get back on track to start Side Two, however. “Burnin’ Up” has always been one of my 2 favourite songs on “Hell Bent…”and on recent re-listenings, it still is. Apart from Halford’s new-found reality-based lyrical bent (i.e. sex, partying, etc.) this is as classic a Downing/Halford composition as there’s ever been. From the strutting funk/metal rhythm (KK’s Hendrix influence) to the searing melodic section, to the solo (you can almost see Downing, head thrown back, Flying V held to the sky), this is as good a song as PRIEST has ever done. Up next is the Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green) cover, “The Green Manalishi….” Part of the band’s penchant for including covers (“Diamonds & Rust,” Better By You, Better Than Me”) this number is given the full-metal-chugging treatment, complete with a slashing Glenn/KK lead trade-off. Following, we find the title cut of the British version of the record, “Killing Machine.” Like “Hell Bent…” itself, it’s short and therein lies one of the things that requires a large adjustment on the part of the listener moving from “Stained Class” to this one. On the latter, there were 5 songs that equaled or topped the 5 minute mark. On “Hell Bent…,” the “epic” is “Delivering The Goods,” at 4:19. Still, it’s pretty hard to deny “Killing Machine” with it’s pillage-heavy chorus and the solo from Glenn, so loud that it pushes the meters into the red. Another riff that could find itself enamouring Terrible Ted opens “Running Wild” and again, while not opus-like in length, this one is a bundle of energy, mirroring the “nightlife” I’m certain Halford has “moved among” many times. Up next is my other fave song on the disc and oddly, a ballad through and through. To say that “Before The Dawn” is a lovely, beautiful song may not be doing it the justice it requires. Having listened to it several times in the last couple days, the first time I’ve heard it in probably a couple years, I’m struck by how well it’s held up and is possibly much better than I even remembered it. This is one of (if not the) greatest vocals of Halford’s career and while he may have done a solo or two equal to this over the years, KK has never bettered it. Scintillating. “Hell Bent For Leather” closes with another complete oddity, for the band at this point, the slow & sleazy “Evil Fantasies.” Complete with a slide (!!!) solo by Tipton (I actually saw him do this live in 1979), this track reminds me of Sabbath doing a Bon-era AC/DC song, or maybe more accurately, something by the under-appreciated Aussie bunch, Buffalo. Is Glenn a closet John Baxter fan?

And so, there it is, JUDAS PRIEST’s “Hell Bent For Leather.” I will fully admit that on my first listen, my first appraisal back in 1979 as a 22 year old, I was aghast and hated it. “This was the follow-up to my beloved ‘Stained Class,’ the sci-fi-laced, embryonic speed metal, death-obsessed dark tour de force?" For years, I suppose, I began to slowly enjoy the album, acknowledging a grudging respect for it, especially in the face of abortions like “Turbo” & “Ram It Down” (and let’s not even get into the Ripper stuff!). But only recently, in reading back my interpretation of the band’s amazing “Nostradamus” masterpiece, it for some reason jarred me to see my own lumping of the record with “British Steel.” In a fit of fairness I also went back and listened several times to that commercial break-through and found the spirit of that & “Hell Bent…” to be completely different. While “British…” still sounds to me like an oddly mechanical, cleaned-up stab at the mainstream (albeit a very successful and, admittedly, listenable one), “Hell Bent For Leather” is an album that, while not the flat-out “10.0” of “Stained Class” or “Sad Wings Of Destiny,” is still one real “Killing Machine.” 9.5

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Colossus Will Crush You

COLOSSUS – “…And The Rift Of The Pan-Dimensional Undergods” CD ’08 (Private, US) – I have come upon a very basic truth in life. You see, I love a great doom metal album. I really dig a well-done Celtic folk disc. And, man I get itchy guitar fingers when I hear a bluegrass guitarist like one of the guys in Iron Ridge peel off a snazzy lick. But you know what? Fair or not as it may be, everything just pales into the background when a band comes roaring out of the wasteland with dual Gibsons, one surging catchy metallic riff after another, and enough raw, scalding lead guitar solos to give Brian Robertson a brain hemorrhage. Why do you think my true desert island discs include things like “Stained Class,” “Black Rose” & “Dirty Power?” Point is, man, every now and then, a true motherfucker comes along and when it does, it simply obliterates anything in my play-pile for months. May I now introduce you to a band of 6 bad-asses from North Carolina called COLOSSUS. These 6 bad-asses (yes, I said 6 – they have THREE lead guitar players) are the authors of a motherfucker entitled “…And The Rift Of The Pan-Dimensional Undergods.” First off, how ‘bout that title? You know right off that these people are either A) full of shit B) crazy or C) ridiculously great. COLOSSUS is B and C. From the very opening guitar salvo of “Limit-Break,” it is obvious that there is nothing being left on the table. These are real men with pointy guitars who have listened to their fair share of THE RAWK and realize that it’s their vocation to bring it themselves. On to “The Message,” “Salamandastron” and “One Was Man.” Four songs in and there is not a hint of any quarter being given. This is like the first damn time you listened to “Stained Class,” really, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Your ass is being kicked and in your sick, twisted metal loving heart, you want the album to just keep getting better as it’s threatening to do but don’t dare ask for such things. Instead, they are foisted upon you like an unrelenting firestorm, in the name of the 11-minute “Willow” that follows. Imagine Bible Of The Devil’s “Warrior Fugue” being injected with the stuff Roger Clemens was using, then being raised to the 10th power. Seriously, I’m a man and I nearly wept when the acoustic section of this one came up. You look at the track listing & realize you’re not even half way in. God help us all because the next song is called “Ghostfucker.” You want this to be the best song so far, just because you think the title is ridiculously great, but that would be too much, right? Wrong! Right between the eyes, up your nose with a Flying V hose! And how ‘bout the vocals of Sean Buchanan? When Halford laid down “Saints In Hell” in 1978 he must’ve had some vision of this from the future. And then comes the rest of the album…without any respite, without any lowering of the intensity or the ripping destruction: “Bubba Zanetti,” “Legends Of The Future,” “Hoc’tel,” “Colossus.” Every moment is a sonic landscape for the axe murdering barrage unleashed by Bill Fischer, Nicholas Perros and Andy Lewis, the 3 guitar wielders who terrorize this disc. Buoyed by the rampaging rhythm section of Benjamin Smith (drums) & Rylan Wilshire (bass), these guys just carve up the proceedings & lay one helluva gauntlet down to any other metal band out there. I could go the usual route and offer a comparison by saying this band is a cross between early Maiden, Watchtower and BotD with Chris Poland, KK Downing & Scott Gorham on guitar & vintage Halford on vox but even that may not be a good sell. I can’t overstate the magnitude of this album, my good readers. If you’re poison of choice is kick ass metal, “…And The Rift…” is as good as anything out there. Anything. 10.0
www.myspace.com/thecolossuswillcrushyou

TYR – “Land” CD ’08 (Napalm, Den) – TYR began their career with a bang a few years back following their sterling debut “How Far To Asgaard” with the even more..um…sterling “Eric The Red.” Taking the folk music indigenous to their native Faroe Islands & lashing it to gloriously original metal songs, they were operating at a very high level indeed. In fact, one knowledgeable writer on another site compared their songwriting skill to that of Budgie. That’s astronomical praise and it was deserved. The band’s 3rd release (and first to debut on Napalm Records) “Ragnarok” (’06) saw them keep the quality high. Whether it was quite on a par with “Ereic…” is debatable but suffice it to say it was damn good. All of which is why “Land” is disappointing. Believe me, I’ve got nothing against intros, interludes, etc. After all, I love “Nostradamus.” But frankly, between those that TYR pepper this record with & the fact that several of the songs stretch on forever…well, “Land” just doesn’t seem to reach shore on a lot of fronts. While the playing is brilliant, the production is spot-on and the digipak is damn cool, many of the songs suffer from that ol’ Metallica “Orion Syndrome.” They take a long, winding road to nowhere in particular. I really hope that this is a blip TYR, possibly record done too quickly & therefore I still hold a good deal of hope for their next effort. In the meantime, get those oars in the water and start rowing back to “Eric The Red.” 6.0
http://www.tyr.net/

SHAME CLUB – “Come On” CD ’08 (Small Stone, US) – I was shooting the breeze with my buddy Andre’ a couple weeks ago & the conversation turned to the fact that the last few years have produced a lotta bands with a Thin Lizzy influence. Nice to see, and of course, some are better than others. Pride Tiger, Thunder Lip & Glyder are a few that rise to the top. SHAME CLUB, while not boasting a host of harmony leads still give a decent nod to Philo’s crew in both song style & especially the vocal tone of John Lumley. Also tipping their caps to names like Poobah & Humble Pie, SC are honestly not going to send anybody screaming “Godly” from the mountaintops. Still, their disc ain’t a bad one to throw in your car case. 7.0
http://www.smallstone.com/

LORDI – “Get Heavy” CD ’08 (The End, Fin) – The funny thing is, I actually kinda liked LORDI’s last album. It was pretty cool, straight-ahead commercial metal with a bit of humor but with enough cool, catchy riffs thrown in to make it a fun listen. This time, around however I am sorry to say that these guys (who’s claim to fame is winning some European songwriting contest) have laid a stinking rotten goose egg. I have to go way back to come up with something that features as many clich├ęd, regurgitated half-ass ideas as this. You know how a movie like the first “Ace Ventura” or “RV” is stupid in a very good, funny way? Well, this crock of shit is stupid in a very bad way. This has all the hallmarks of a bunch of dopes that took Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry,” stole a lick from each song, then went to a middle school and stole every other sentence they heard on the playground to use for song lyrics. Also, it may behoove Manowar & Gwar to check their closets and loin-cloth drawers as soon as they can, ‘cause I think this bunch of dorks have been rooting around in ‘em. “Get Heavy.” Yeah right, “Get lost” is more like it. 1.5
http://www.lordi.fi/

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

GRAND HALLS 1

This is the beginning of what's going to be a periodic thing on the 'Realm in which I visit, re-visit, whatever you want to call it...a classic gem from the past. It could be because it's been re-released currently, as in this first case, or just because I feel like it. :-) In any case, read on!

BLOOD FARMERS – “Blood Farmers” CD ‘08/’95 (Leaf Hound/Hellhound, US) – There was a guy in the doom metal scene that I used to trade cassettes with back in the day. His name was Nigel Fellers and, unfortunately, he’s no longer with us. He was a very cool guy, knew as much if not more about doom, heavy ‘70’s rock and such than anyone I ever knew and I got a wealth of great recordings thanks to him, not to mention had some very nice and educational conversations. The upshot of all of this, however, is the fact that despite all the cool things I got and gleaned from Nigel, nothing ever bettered the TDK-D90 (remember them?!) that arrived in the mail one day from that familiar address in Annandale VA. The tape in question featured the debut release from a New York band called BLOOD FARMERS. I played that tape a lot, at home, in the car, wherever and for some stupid reason, never ordered a copy of the disc per se’ from Hellhound. Of course, the label went out of business, copies dried up but I still always had that tape. Now some 13 years later, Japanese label Leaf Hound (Ogre, Revelation, etc.) have seen fit to release this monster, fresh with a 2008 restoration and re-mastering from vocalist Eli Brown and the results are in my hands. My first reaction to this is complete and utter joy at actually having this on an official circular audio medium. My second reaction is, again complete and utter joy, this time at how damn great “Blood Farmers” sounds. By now, the dear reader is more than likely pulling his/her hair out saying “Ray, enough! What is this album like?” This album is like being on the set of the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” only it’s real and not a movie. Yeah, it’s like being there, in that atmosphere and at the same time listening to both the first Saint Vitus album and Hairy Chapter’s “Can’t Get Through” at the same time, with Paul Chain sitting at the mixing desk. What makes special records are often a multitude of things that conspire to raise them to that level and the BLOODFARMERs’ album is no exception. You’ve got Eli’s haunting, pained vocals that speak of a man in desperation. You’ve got the guitar of Dave Depraved that, at once, will crush like lead and yet paint with so much improvisational emotion as to be another voice. And, of course, you have songs. Where to start? How about the end of “Albino,” where after section after section of raw brutality, a melody emerges in the last minute or two that is soul-searing. You’ve got the Iommi-like mellow guitar pieces of “Theme” and “After The Harvest” that work so well in dynamic with thundering, epic texts on the order of “Y.G.B.” and “I Drink Your Blood.” Then you’ve got the nearly indescribable art of “Twisted Brain (Part 2)” which opens with an-extended melodic guitar section calling to mind Hendrix’s best before morphing into a plundering doom opus that rivals anything ever done. When you add to that the nearly 10 minute bonus doom-jam that fits like a glove at the disc’s conclusion, you couldn’t ask for any more. Unless, of course, it’s the gorgeous re-mastering job, expanding the cavernous production and making the whole thing sound like it was recorded in some demonic cathedral. Bottom line? Anyone who thinks they know “doom” and doesn’t have this in their collection is sadly mistaken and may end up like the girl in the insert picture. Essential. 10.0
www.leafhound.com
For BLOOD FARMERS information: bloodfarmers@earthlink.net

Monday, July 7, 2008

Born Again!

DEAD HOOKERS – “The Burial, The Rebirth” CD ’07 (Dead Beat, US) – My kids tell me I’m getting old since I hit the big 5-oh. You know, I work all Saturday morning building a barn in the backyard. I make 7 trips to Home Depot for lumber after lunch and stick up a split-level deck. Then I barbecue 50 steaks, invite over the whole neighborhood by 6:00 PM and mention under my breath that my back’s a little stiff. “Dang, Dad, you’re getting old!” And so, it seems, my memory’s going as well. Seems several months back Dead Beat Records was good enough to send me a whole packet of discs. I did the obvious: listened to ‘em, took meticulous notes and then…put ‘em in the wrong pile and forgot to review ‘em. Dang! Which brings us to DEAD HOOKERS. No, a serial killer’s not loose on The Block, this is a band and quite a racket do they make, child. Truly, a “racket” may be your first impression. See, while DH add a stong shot of psychedelia to their pharmacy of ‘60’s garage pop, they definitely don’t blend it like an apothecary. Rather, they lay one over top the other in such a way that at first it’s like your old elementary school teacher flopping one transparency over another on the overhead projector. Complete gibberish at first until slowly as one track melts into another, melodies & hooks begin to claw their way through the din and etch themselves into your mind. Like something I’d play loud as hell while shooing the last of those pesky neighbors off the new deck and thinking “This was sure as hell one of the best records of 2007.” (In fact, had I this hit my player before my Top 10 came out, well…just buy this, ok?) 9.5
www.dead-beat-records.com

JUDAS PRIEST – “Nostradamus” 2CD (Epic, Eng) – There are some people I have never been able to understand and, in all likelihood never will. One such segment of our society are the contingent who think JUDAS PRIEST albums like “British Steel” and “Killing Machine” (aka “Hell Bent For Leather”) are better than “Stained Class” or “Sad Wings Of Destiny.” They feel that the band was sort of stumbling around for the first 4 albums and finally got things sorted out after that. See, to me, that’s sort of akin to saying “Well, the 49er’s were kind of a mess with Montana & Young, but damn if they didn’t get their shit together when they ran Elvis Grbac out on the field!” Now, with that backdrop, we come to “Nostradamus.” After all the talk, all the hype, all the trepidations, it’s finally here. Let’s get down to business, as I think most people have their opinions on this album already and more than likely I’m not going to change those polarizing trains of thought. Is this “Stained Class, Pt. II?” To be honest, no. But then again, neither was “Stained Class” going to be “Rocka Rolla Pt. IV.” Here’s what I like, really love about this album. A metal band who’s been around for 30+ years has basically said “Fuck you” to fashion, “Fuck off” to trends and “Screw you” to what a heavy metal record in 2008 is “supposed” to sound like. They’ve said, instead, “We’re doing a concept album, we’re doing 7 and 8 minute songs if we want t and what’s more, we’re putting all kinds of acoustic intros keyboards, interludes, etc. To top that all off, we’re releasing the thing in a hardbound book with a font that looks like something out of the Bible. And, then, guess what? As an added little goodie, we’re going to include one of the heaviest fucking songs we’ve ever done, call it “Death” and several minutes later put on a number melodic enough to rival “Before The Dawn.” So, was this threat a promise? Did they actually do what they said. Yup. It’s long, it’s overblown, it’s high-handed, stilted. It has mostly slow-to-mid-paced songs and it’s one helluva lot to take in at any one time. Halford’s vocals are high, they’re low, they’re all over the place, there’s actually more to them than there’s been since the old days and Glenn & KK augment their more recent sweep-picking antics with some truly bluesy moments. (See “Death” & “The Future Of Mankind”). The truth of the matter is again, no this is not “Stained Class” nor should it be. The truth of the matter is, it’s also not “British Steel” and for the first time since 1978 (yes, including “Angel Of Retribution”) I feel a certain singular delight with a JUDAS PRIEST record. ‘Nuff said. 9.5
www.judaspriest.com

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Poet Among Us...The TIFFANY APAN interview!

Awhile back, when I reviewed TIFFANY APAN’s debut disc, “Poet,” I commented to the effect that this was the best Celtic-oriented release that I’d heard in a long time. To know why, all you’ve gotta do is listen…the songs, the arrangements and TIFFANwY’s wonderful voice make it all happen. Plus, that vibe of a record made for the love of it rather than a major label’s balance sheet add up to one of the year’s best releases. I recently had a talk with Ms. APAN and here’s how it went.

RAY - When I first got your CD in the mail, I honestly had no idea of how busy a person you must be. I know a little bit about busy myself, but when I took a look at your website I’m seeing that not only are involved in doing music, but also have quite an extensive acting background as well as apparently (as the photos indicate) modeling as well. Why don’t you go back & give us a little background…or a lot, if you like…on your early years, how you got involved in music, acting…in the horror genre, specifically, modeling and whatever else.

TIFFANY - Ah, my background:) Well, first of all thank you so much for this interview. I grew up in a family in which there are professional musicians throughout. My grandparents where professional musicians back in the 1950s and early 60s. After settling down to raise my mom and uncle, my grandfather was a radio DJ and taught guitar. My grandma taught accordion and they would still play locally every now and then. I can also say that the famed Big Band drummer Buddy Rich was my great uncle as he was married to my great aunt Betty Jo Brown who was a top model back during World War II. She also hung out with the likes of Jackie Gleason of the popular tv show 'The Honeymooners.' There was inspiration pretty much everywhere growing up. I studied classical piano as a child and even dabbled in guitar, accordion, and organ. I also took dance lessons throughout my childhood and teen years and eventually learned seven forms of dance (ballet, tap, jazz, modern, lyrical, flamenco, middle eastern/belly dance) which I also hope to incorporate into my stage show in the future. I began taking formal voice lessons at the age of twelve and continued them well into college. I studied classical singing and was in my first opera ('The Crucible') when I was thirteen. Over the years, I picked up other forms of vocal stylings including pop, jazz, and rock. I have been involved in numerous musicals, plays, and operas throughout the years including Fiddler on the Roof (in which I played the role of Hodel), Mozart's The Magic Flute (as the Third Spirit), and Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors (Luciana). Film came about much later. Not until I was well into college, actually. I ended up taking some film acting classes during my second semester from Jeff Monahan who has worked with George Romero and Tom Savini (both famous in the horror genre). From that, I sort of segued into film, a little bit of modeling and the horror genre which I didn't mind as I have had a lifelong love of horror films. But I had always had my eye on being a recording artist and music was the number one thing in my life growing up. I didn't much like the modeling and I did not see myself being a 'Scream Queen' for many reasons. I realized pretty quickly that acting in the realm of horror would be more of a hobby for me and the only modeling I do now is to advertise my work or future projects. Sometimes I might collaborate with a company to use my likeness and/or music to endorse their product but that's about all on the modeling front. I did meet Jason English on the set of a film and knew him on and off for about 5 years before we began working together musically. We clicked, the music seemed to do well and we've been a team ever since the summer of 2006:)
RAY - What were your early musical influences and what led you to finding your interest Celtic music in particular?

TIFFANY - My grandparents were my earliest influences in music:) But I was surrounded by a wide variety of music thanks to my relatives. Everything from Led Zeppelin to Pink Floyd to Cyndi Lauper to Huey Lewis and the News to Neil Diamond to Anne Murray to Johnny Cash to Patsy Cline to Hank Williams to all the Broadway musicals and classical composers where always playing in the house. I remember hearing the Phantom of the Opera recording with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman for the first time when I was seven and being blown away by it. As for the Celtic music, I have my voice teacher Eileen Hannisch to thank for that:) She was my voice teacher throughout high school; she mainly had me singing classical music but she also had alot of repertoire and material that included traditional Celtic and English folk songs. This prompted me to research more on the Celts, their music, their culture, and their language. These songs became a big part of my own repertoire and I enjoy singing some of them in my shows to this day.RAY - Am I correct that “Poet” is your first full-length recorded musical venture? It’s a remarkably mature , well-paced and arranged album.

TIFFANY - Yes, you are correct and thank you:)RAY - Jason English seems to have a very integral part in the album with regard to the musical arrangements, the instrumentation, etc. and his work is very impressive as well. How did he get involved with your work? Are you guys friends or is there more to it than that? Just wondering, I’m not trying to see if you have a boyfriend/husband or not, I’m happily married. (lol) As an aside, I also noticed that Persephone’s Dream’s Rowen Poole gets some mention…very cool band.

TIFFANY - Yes, Jason English plays a very big part in my music I am happy to say. As I said before, we met on the set of a film we were working on (and he was scoring) and knew each other for 5 years. Jason came to me after hearing through a mutual friend that I am a classically trained singer as he was interested in working with an opera singer in some of his future film scoring. He was also in the band Society of Sound as their guitarist. It was mentioned back and forth that I would sing some songs with that band, but it never happened as Society of Sound later dissolved. But we are still good friends with those guys and a couple of them (Mark Kapsha, Joe 'The Mook' Ursida, and Csaba Domos) where actually a huge help to us in the production of 'Poet.' But anyway, I was interested in putting out my own album and had been for a long time at that point. Jason and I began just cranking out cheap sounding demos on his then cheap equipment (we've since upgraded our equipment) in the summer of 2006. We didn't really know where anything was going to go at that point. But we had a plan, a love for music, and a will to help each other out as well. But we literally started out with nothing. Along the way came Rowen Poole and Persephone's Dream who we have been very blessed to know. Rowen helped us alot with the conclusion of the album and offered alot of expertise, insight, and wisdom needed to be in this industry. I am happy to say that Rowen and PD will be involved with future projects Jason and I do. Rowen has signed on to produce my second album (now in pre production/ writing phase) and we will be recording the vocals and drums for my second album at his studio, Starglider Studios. Jason will also be recording the bulk of his solo record there as well. As for the relationship between Jason and I, he is in fact my boyfriend on top of being my music collaborator. So yes, for the record I am taken ;) But the most wonderful thing is looking back on how we started this journey in an old shed with cheap equipment. But we had a vision, goals, a plan and a determination to not take no for an answer. That is important in this business. We have come quite a long way in so short a time but still have so much more we are setting out to do.RAY - With regard to the songs on “Poet,” I think one of the reasons I really like it is the way you are blending the Celtic folk aspects with heavier (even metal) guitar and other rock instrumentation. It’s not that Celtic & metal hasn’t been combined before, but it usually ends up being more in the “power metal” vein, with Celtic overtones rather than the other way around. Is this something you’ve always had an interest in doing? That is, was it a conscious decision style-wise or did it just evolve? Feel free to say Jsomething like “Shut up, you wordy idiot” whenever you want!

TIFFANY - Shut up you wordy idiot! Just kidding:P No, but that's a good question. Jason and I have a love for all types of music. We also both have a wide background in music although mine was more formal than his meaning that he is a self taught musician for the most part. Celtic music was a big part of my repertoire for many years in my vocal training and Jason has a 23 year background in rock and metal bands. Plus, I've always enjoyed acts such as Loreena McKennit, Enya, Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, and Celtic Woman. The album was us combining alot of our musical influences (mostly mine since it as my album) and seeing the end result. This album was an album that evolved as we did it. Very organic.RAY - Quick! It’s a Red-Light Challenge! What is your secret or not-so-secret idea for a fantastic horror film plot that you can’t believe has never been done yet?

TIFFANY - Hmmm...that's a tough one because I don't know what hasn't been done. Most things have been done already to an extent. But Jason has a project up his sleeve we are going to do through our production company. Stay tuned:)
RAY - Back to “Poet,” and your vocal style. Your voice strikes me as not only having an exceptional range & tone but also being very original. One of the things I love that you do is to take the melody and then sort of bend it, taking a note to the point where it is almost flat or sharp and creating this wonderful tension which you then release to create a killer sense of dynamics. A great example of this is in the later part of “Free,” the third track. Is this something that you’ve purposely worked on or is it simply natural?

TIFFANY - As I said, this album was very organic when it came to the process of making it. Alot of what we did came naturally including the manner in which the vocals were done. The album is also very autobiographical as far as the lyrics are concerned and much of the music and notes were written to reflect how I was feeling when I wrote particular lyrics.RAY - The last 3 tracks, “Ashes To Dust,” “Warrior (Soldier For Myself),” and “Whispers” are among the strongest tracks in Celtic music as a whole that I’ve heard in a very long time. They end the album with such a powerful statement. Were you thinking about the way the 3 of these flowed especially when you were putting the track order together?

TIFFANY - Once again, thank you very much:) The album is basically my autobiography. The order in which the songs are placed on the album chronicles the order in which certain things in my life took place. 'Whispers' was a song my grandparents originated with their band back in the late 1950s/early 60s. We kept the basic formula for the song, but updated it a little with our own personal touches. It is such a special song that I wanted to have it as the last song on the album. Fortunately for us and the outcome of the album, the songs ended up flowing together very nicely:DRAY - Could you take a couple songs off “Poet” and give us a little background on the lyrics? I know some song writers don’t like to do this, so if you don’t, I may pout a bit but JI’ll understand.

TIFFANY - I could let you in on a LITTLE :D 'Ghost' reflects alot of my mood and feelings toward my life in my early teen years (which was actually when the lyrics to 'Ghost' were written). I also had a fascination with the supernatural at that time. 'Porcelain Doll' reflects a dark point in my life in my late teen years as well as some observations made during that time. The entire album pretty much chronicles my life in the order that things happened in. Jason actually wrote the song 'Run Away and Hide' but it was something that fit so perfectly into my life at one point when I was coming to terms with many things. I chose 'Scarborough Fair' because of the impact Celtic music had and my voice lessons becoming my sanctuary throughout high school and college. There really is an uplifting sense of triumph at the end of my album which reflects where I am now as I have overcome many obstacles. Mainly though, I like to leave the meaning behind the songs up to the listener.RAY - What kind of distribution are you getting for “Poet?” What are your thoughts on the current marketing of music in this day & age? Things have changed so much over the years, with things going from records/cassettes to CD’s to downloads…etc. How does all this affect an artist of your type, do you think?

TIFFANY - We are actually doing our own distribution but have gotten pretty far on the internet as well as some in store sales. Of course we also have the album available at shows too. It's hard to find good marketing in the music business today because there are so many wolves in sheeps’ clothing as of late. You really need to do your homework even more in this day and age and check people out as I have known quite a few people get mixed up with individuals who weren't who or what they claimed to be. We would love a distribution deal, but are holding out for the right one. As for the other changes in the industry, the only thing I have issues with is illegal downloading/trading. I think it's sad when someone can't appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making an album and feel they deserve free access to your work over those who actually did buy and pay for it. The long hours in the studio, mixing room, etc. Alot of money goes into making and putting out an album. Personally, I'm not out to make a million dollars; but I do need to eat, pay rent, not to mention have money to tour and make another album for those who enjoy the music! RAY - I know you’ve been doing some live shows, at least in the PA area that you’re based, to promote “Poet.” What kinds of places have you been playing and how has that been going? Any plans to take things further away? Any shows planned for the Baltimore area?

TIFFANY - We have been doing a small tour in cities around PA and we have also toured in other states such as Ohio, Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. We do hope to venture out to other states, cities, and even overseas in the future. Baltimore is on our list;)RAY - Do you do most shows with a full band? Do you do any all acoustic gigs?

TIFFANY - While we had a couple people besides Jason and myself in our studio band, it is actually just Jason, myself, and our Compaq laptop for live shows. We have live vocals, guitars, and sometimes live keyboards backed with the rest of the 'band' programmed into the laptop. Jason was the one who suggested we do it like this and I have to admit, I was reluctant at first. I was afraid that it would look like karaoke night...lol. But after doing it this way and even seeing that we weren't the only ones who played out in this fashion (the beautiful Danish violinist, Catya Mare, plays her violin while being backed by her composed tracks on her Mac), I've gotten used to it and it's actually quite nice. It's also alot cheaper than having a full band:P Now, we do plan to have a full band at some point down the road but for now this works and audiences don't seem to mind one bit. We also have began the evolution of a full stage show. We are beginning to incorporate some props, lighting, and costume pieces into our show. It's simple to start, but it will grow and evolve. Now, we can't do this at every venue due to lack of space at some of the smaller venues and in store performances. My sites usually indicate which show is a full stage show and which is the 'condensed' show. We haven't done any real acoustic shows, but that is a plan for the future:)RAY - Any plans for more recordings in the near future?

TIFFANY - Well, I am writing my second album. Jason is working on his solo record on which I will make some appearances. I'm also collaborating with Electro/House/Trance producer and DJ, Der Mystik on a track for a CD he is putting out and with Celtic Rock band Bonfire night for a song. I am also collaborating with Persephone's Dream frontwoman. Heidi Engel and singer/songwriter Penny Phillips for duets on my second album. I am also lending some of my songs to upcoming indie films.RAY - Here’s one that people always get a kick out of. In your entire career, singing, acting, modeling, etc….Tell us a story or something that has happened that has been either uproariously funny, crazy, stupid or just plain weird. Please, don’t feel as though you have to hold back, we’re all adults here and have a very odd sense of humor.

TIFFANY - Actually, there is a story to go with our show this past weekend in Niles, Ohio at the Hollywood Memorabilia Expo. We were slated to play at 9pm on Friday and have a meet n greet all day Saturday. I spent much of Thursday and Friday preparing for the show, making checklists, making sure we had EVERYTHING before having it all loaded into our vehicle. Jason and I leave with me very confident that we left nothing behind. We are halfway down the turnpike when I realize that I left ALL my makeup behind at home! We weren't able to turn back, for that would have made us late. I rummaged through my purse looking for ANY makeup I could use finding only lip gloss and a tube of dark lipstick. On this note, Jason and I needed to find any place where I could buy makeup for the weekend once we reached Niles. Fortunately, there was a Walgreens right off of the Niles exit and I ran inside and quickly bought a foundation, eyeliner, and mascara. I used the dark colored lipstick I had as eyeshadow and cheek color and also mixed the lipstick with the lip gloss I also had to put on my lips. I was actually able to create a pretty nice look for the show! Thank God for Walgreens and it's convenient location:D One cool thing that also occurred there was Joyce DeWitt (Janet on Three's Company) was there at the Expo and enjoyed our music. She even ended up getting a CD from us! All in all, it was a great weekend; but what a way to start it out!RAY - Any final comments for the RAYSREALM readership?

TIFFANY - You rock:) Thank you for this lovely interview and hope your readers will check out my music and album. Hope to catch some of you at the next show!


So, there you have it, a look at the artist and the person behind one of the Celtic releases in years and one of the year’s highlight albums for 2008. You know what to do.

www.tiffany-apan.comwww.myspace.com/tiffanyapanmusic