Monday, September 29, 2008

Oh Shenandoah

VALKYRIE – “Man Of Two Visions” CD ’08 (Noble Origin, US) – I was just having an email chat the other day with super cool guy Racer over at The Ripple Effect about the season of autumn, how refreshing it is to some of us. And, not to steal any of his thunder (as he has some very cool thoughts about it over on his site), but it got me to thinking about that: the coolness in the air, the different smells, the look of the trees, campfires, etc. It also got me thinking about the family weekends when I was younger, when we’d load up the car & drive down to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in October to see the changing of the leaves. It was such a great, pensive time and, no matter how rat-raced-out the city got me, it was a natural purging, a gift of oneness with nature that I’ve never felt anywhere else. So coincidental then (or was it?) that the very next day I received in the mail this 2nd full-length offering from Harrisonburg, VA’s VALKYRIE. Located in that very same Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg is the home to a band who has become one of my very favourites. On both their split effort with Vog (2004) and their self-titled full-lengther (2006), this 4-piece unit has taken the essence of bands like Maiden & Sabbath and infused it with something very special that is sometimes easier to feel than even describe. There is melody there, most notable in the dual harmony guitars of brothers Jake & Pete Adams, that draws to mind artistry from the early ‘70’s, especially the work of Andy Powell & Ted Turner in Wishbone Ash, obviously a big influence on their playing. But there’s something even deeper, a rustic sense of nature and the small-town rural world that imbues this music and it’s felt even more so on their 2nd album, “Man Of Two Visions.” From the very beginning, just looking at this disc gives me a warm, timeless feeling. Beyond the striking cover artwork, when I turn the record over, I see 7 songs. This used to be such a key for me in the old days. Seven songs on an LP in 1971 meant that these were not 2-3 minute pop ditties. This was a band who’s playing was relaxed & deliberate: i.e., there was gonna be some axe work going on here! There is! Interestingly enough, opener “Running Out” is the song that’s perhaps the least in line with the expected VALKYRIE style. It’s a fairly straight-ahead, fast-paced pummeler that serves a very distinct purpose, at least for this listener: Ok buddy, you’re life is on a merry-go-round, you’ve gotta go to Home Depot, Wal*Mart and then pick up the kids…but…you’re going to sit down, lay back and let this album wash over you! Don’t try to resist it! And, you couldn’t anyway because as that 5-minute bomber ends, “Dawntide’s Breeze” begins. This is a sublime 6 minutes. Classic VALKYRIE…opening with a very snaky, psychy riff, harmony leads abound, Jake & Pete’s insistent vocals regard your ears with passion and clarity and you’re swept away on a 37 minute journey that will be one of the best you’ll take this year. Next comes “Green Highlander” and this, my friends, this is one of the many reasons this album is so special. While the record’s shortest number (just under 3 minutes), it is a simply gorgeous instrumental. Had Tony Iommi recorded “Laguna Sunrise” high atop Hawksbill Mountain in the Shenandoah Range, this is how it may have sounded. A regal harmony intro announces “Apocalypse Unsealed” before it quickly shifts gears into a pillaging, galloping ride across a NWOBHM-ish terrain, Jake & Pete once again placing sign-posts along the trail with dual leads as sweet as homespun honey. And, before you think this is a 2-man show, lest I not forget to give credit where credit is due. Will Barry-Rec (bass) and Warren Hawkins (drums) form a rhythm section that is living and breathing, always grooving yet never afraid to embellish ever-so-slightly in ways that artists of the past, Butler & Ward, Turner & Upton would do so effortlessly. And it’s here I think of the past again. Those dusty record shops revealing their cardboard & vinyl jewels, gatefold gemstones called “Argus” & “Machine Head,” those mystical 7-songed hydras where the last 3 songs would be the best…could it continue? “False Dreams” is heralded by an intro so beautiful in melody that I’m nearly physically forced to hit the reverse button and listen again. Then, as the song-proper begins and Pete & Jake hit a certain vocal harmony in the chorus, I’m stricken with a single thought. These guys are members of the very elite. They are not reminiscent of, say, Wishbone Ash or Iron Maiden. They are on the same level because they are creating art at the same high watermark. This is the real deal. And, my hopes continue to rise and are then exceeded. “The Gorge” is an instrumental guitar piece and this time, clocking in at 5:00 minutes, it is a work so singular it could only fit this perfectly on a VALKYRIE album. Combining elements of bluegrass, country, jazz-like runs, this is such special stuff that it’s only natural successor could be what may be the band’s most complete song to date, the stunningly heavy title track. With this one, they have not only ended the record with their most crushing song sonically. They’ve also created a showcase in how something can be elevated well beyond it’s strictly metallic plunder with a sense of atmosphere that’s at once pastoral, perceptive and supremely confident…all while oozing emotion. If you think I’m busting a gut over this new disc by VALKYRIE, you’re right, I am and for very good reason. A precious few times, I’ve had the thought cross my mind to sit with a record, in the same place it was created and try to absorb so much of what the artist felt. I’ve imagined listening to Thin Lizzy’s “Vagabond’s Of The Western World” standing at Giant’s Causeway. I’ve pondered hearing Side Two of “Black Sabbath” as an iron forge banged in the background in Birmingham. And, now, I long to spend an autumn afternoon in a harvest field in the Shenandoah Valley, immersed in VALKYRIE’s “Man Of Two Visions”. 10.0
NOTE: Congratulations to Pete Adams, who has recently taken the vacant guitar position in BARONESS. Great band, longtime friends of Pete and what a cool opportunity. Most importantly, brother Jake Adams tells me that they still plan on keeping VALKYRIE going strong. Stay tuned for an interview with Jake on these very pages!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


SAVOY BROWN – “Hellbound Train” LP ’72 (Parrot, Eng) – This is an interesting one for me. I see it bad-mouthed sometimes, in relation to a few other SAVOY records from the time, like “Street Corner Talking” or “Raw Sienna.” True, “SCT” may have been a little more fiery on the surface & “Raw…” has a spot in Crayola’s 64 box but…. There’s something about this record, which showed up barely a year after “SCT.” SAVOY BROWN has been a cornerstone of English blues rock since I don’t know when, and despite surrounding line-up chaos, Kim Simmonds (guitar) has always been it’s heart & soul. On this record, the man is joined by vocalist Dave Walker, Paul Raymond (yup…keys), Andy Silvester (bass) & Dave Bidwell (drums). Yeah, there was something about this from the very beginning. I remember pulling it out of the sleeve back then, as a 15 year old amateur guitar freak and the first thing that grabbed my eye was that long, wide band of the last song, stretching halfway across the end of Side Two. I dutifully flipped the platter over to it’s first half, but even as I did, and the nearly-Beatle-like strains of “Doin’ Fine” spilled jauntily out of the speakers, it was the spectre of that last cut, that I now knew spun backwards against the turntable mat, that haunted my listening. And, the album itself seems to take on the feel of an alternating waiting game. That’s not to minimize the first 6 cuts, by any means. Each is a quality cut, yet still they seem to be a balancing act, toggling back & forth between mid-paced seething Hammond-driven blues (“Lost & Lonely Child,” “It’ll Make You Happy”) and upbeat boogie rockers (“I’ll Make Everything Alright,” “If I Could See An End”). Each is also underpinned by the stalwart groove of Kim Simmonds warm, creamy guitar, a force that also rises to the top, like on “Lost & Lonely…” in particular. Finally, having turned the record over, the train has finally made it’s way slowly from the platform as the tone arm enters that staunch 10 minute final band. The patient groove laid down by Silvester & Bidwell supplies the churning wheels of a trip headlong into hell, actually, a song Simmonds spoke of in terms of Viet Nam reflection. Gradually building, ascending in both pace and intensity of music, Dave Walker mirrors the anxiety level with his mounting vocal presence and finally, Simmonds takes over in a haunting, spiraling guitar cascade that’s a thing of beauty until the song ends abruptly, like a runaway locomotive barreling off the end of a twisted track and down a cliff into the Grand Hall of Pandemonium. A gorgeous piece of social commentary, personal anguish and musical dynamics, “Hellbound Train” ends the album of the same name in masterful fashion. Is this record Kim Simmonds most blistering lead-laced hunk of plastic? No. Is it SAVOY BROWN’s most complete and overall satisfying album? Probably leave that to “Street Corner Talking.” But as a singular study in setting up tension, then letting it escalate to a boiling point, all in the blues rock format, it can’t be beat. 9.0
NOTE: Some CD issues of “Hellbound Train” feature a version of the title song that, unfortunately, fades out at the end rather than cutting off suddenly, as the original vinyl did. Suffice it to say that this latter brusque ending is far more potent and the song can only be appreciated appropriately with that conclusion.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


IRISH COFFEE – “Irish Coffee” LP ’71 (Triangle, Bel) – Here we have a band who seem to have had a bit of national confusion! They were from Belgium and yet called themselves IRISH COFFEE. Well, perhaps this is because Belgium is not known for particularly great coffee. I seem to remember when my friend from Antwerpen used to visit, the first thing he’d love to do every morning was grab a cup of coffee. So, methinks if he loved American coffee that much, then Belgian coffee might have sucked. Ah well, the avenues I go down to get a freaking review up & running, eh? IRISH COFFEE were a four-piece band composed of: William Souffreau – vocals, bass, guitar; Willy DeBisschop – bass (another bass player?); Raf Lenssens – drums; Paul Lambert – keyboards. The minute the first number, “Can’t Take It” enters the frame here & I’m reminded of the jazzier moments of the first Sabbath record. Not as heavy, mind you, but then here comes “The Beginning Of The End.” Hmm…this is proggier, more keyboard-laden. Must’ve been a bit of a downer day for the singer, his vocals taking on a very somber tone, laced with a bit of desperation in this one. Think Peter French in Leafhound, if that helps you a little. “When Winter Comes,” the little tickle in the back of my mind makes the connection I’ve been trying to make with the production comes into focus. Pastoral, organic…Roger Bain! Well, it isn’t produced by Roger Bain but sure as hell could’ve been. The 2-part “The Show,” on it’s surface, ascribes a rock & roll, positive feeling to things but there’s a bit more complexity going on underneath if you listen closely. And heck, “A Day Like Today” is a minor epic, once again with that darker, bluesy, backwater vibe making itself known. I’m not sure how good of a drink Irish Coffee really is, as truth be known, I don’t like coffee at all. Still, this is a pretty damn nice early ‘70’s obscurity that pops up on a sweet LP-styled CD sleeve edition. If you’re into the jazzy 1st LP Sabs, Rooster, Leafhound or such this is worth grabbing. 9.0

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Soldiers Just Came Back!

BLACK WIDOW USA – “Soldiers From Hell” CD ’08 (Private, US) – One thing I can tell you is that I’m Ray. Surprised? Don’t be, I have been all my life. See, I’m not Nostradamus. That’s not even my middle name. Hmm…Ray Nostradamus Dorsey….Well, I digress. Point is, while I may not be history’s most legendary prognosticator, I do know some things ahead of time. At least, I’m pretty sure of ‘em. For instance, new BIBLE OF THE DEVIL album comes out, top-shelf ass-kicker. The 2nd COLOSSUS album will come out and the world will be kneeling before the entire state of North Carolina. New IRON RIDGE bluegrass album comes out, all stringed instrument players weep. The 2nd BLACK WIDOW USA disc hits the streets and…well…um…this prophet didn’t have an answer. See, BWU’s first effort “Satan’s Playground” showed up in a local CD store a few years ago and, noticing a metal band with a Baltimore imprint, I decided to snag it. It was pretty good, nothing to write ma about, but decent ‘80’s style metal (think “British Steel” Priest without the production values, a bit of Maiden, a touch of Iced Earth). I was pretty unimpressed, though, by lead singer Cat. To me, her voice had a kinda nasaly, annoying quality that actually detracted from the rest of the music. But, in the way Ray’s mind works, I filed the band’s name away until just last week, when ambling around the same audio emporium, I spied a brand new effort by BLACK WIDOW USA. I picked it up…sat it back down…picked it up…sat it back down…finally, I said, “You know what, it’s only $ 9.99, let’s see what’s happened with this bunch.” Turns out a lot! In truth, “a lot” may be the understatement of the year, for, in my 40-some years of listening to music, there haven’t been many times I’ve heard a band and, in particular, a vocalist make such dramatic strides. Seriously, after my initial listen to “Soldiers From Hell,” I went back and re-listened to “Satan’s Playground” and shook my head in admiration because “SFH” sounded for all the world like it would’ve come 2 or 3 (or 4!) albums after that initial effort, rather than next. To begin with, the first thing that hits you is the production here. While the first record sounded ok, “Soldiers…” sports the kind of in-your-face full-metal sound that was born in the early ‘80’s and could have names like Tsangrides or Birch tacked to it’s lapel. The drums are cacophonous without being too arena-like and John Anthony’s guitar has that awesome BC Rich/Charvel kinda crunch that was so cool back in the day. And, speaking of guitar, John has really stepped up his game on this disc. All through the album, he laces the tracks with copious amounts of melody and lead, especially his work in the lengthy title cut, where he gives you a real feeling of…hm, let’s say Mark Shelton playing Tipton’s solo from “Run Of The Mill.” The songs themselves see the ante upped once again, seeing the band emerge with deep chorus hooks and melodies that will stay alive for the listener a long time. Listen to practically anything here, “Comfort In The Dark,” “The Serpent” and the aforementioned 11 ½ minute “Soldiers From Hell.” This is damn good stuff. So, last but not least we come to Cat’s vocals. I cannot stress, once again, the kind of job this lady has done here. She has taken her vocals and done what can be only be called a mammoth job in raising the bar to where I honestly have to say this is one of the best female-fronted metal albums I’ve heard in many a year. Listen to her work throughout and tell me if she does not sound like a completely powerful and yet feminine take on Manilla Road’s great Mark Shelton. One of the greatest things to me, in writing about music, is watching a musician apply themselves and do something completely special and Cat has done just that here. My friends, there is very little else for me to staple, lash or tie to this review. The bottom line is that if you like’80’s metal, and want to hear one of the truly most UN-trendy records you’ll spin all year, buy this now! 9.5
NOTE: BLACK WIDOW USA is from Baltimore MD (yeah, hometown!) and if you’re from around here, their disc can be purchased at The Sound Garden in Fells Point.

GREY DATURAS – “Return To Disruption” CD ’08 (Neurot, Australia) – Aussies, GREY DATURAS are noted for not practicing…just getting together to play and create soundscapes that combine drone, scathing aural assaults and such. And what they have created here are…drone, scathing aural assaults and such. See, that’s the problem. Whereas a collective such as Sunn O))) makes this kind of music interesting by interspersing captivating sign-posts along their journeys upon which they then embellish, GREY DATURAS simply make varying degrees of noise. That can be ok in passing, but it does nothing to make me want to come back for a repeat. Boring. 3.0

GRAAL – “Tales Untold” CD ’07 (BloodRock/Black Widow, Ita) – From Italy comes a band called GRAAL and their debut effort has just reached my desk, although it came out in 2007. Better late than never, and I’m glad I finally got it because these guys are pretty dang good. Through a series of lengthy cuts, GRAAL issues a nice brand of ‘70’s style hard rock, filled to the brim with Wishbone Ash-like guitar harmonies, dashes of keys and throaty vocals that cast a nostalgic eye to a day gone by. The only minor complaint to me is that numbers such as “After,” “Silver Wings” and “Knife Edge” would have an even stronger impact were the production here something that called more to mind the work of Roger Bain than the apparent modern studio values. Still, that’s a relatively minor gripe when it comes to a damn enjoyable slice of hard rock. 7.5

PRESENCE – “Evil Rose” CD ’08 (Black Widow, Ita) – Mention the word “PRESENCE” around a bunch of rock/metal aficionados and more than likely, you’ll get a host of opinions on one of Led Zeppelin’s heaviest albums. It’s actually my favourite Zep piece as well. Still, I wonder how many people are aware that there’s an Italian band called PRESENCE who have released not 1, not 2…but 6 albums, the latest of which has just seen the light of day on Black Widow Records. Does PRESENCE sound like Led Zeppelin? No, not at all, but as much as I like Page, Percy & crew, that’s not a bad thing because this 3-piece surely has their own deal goin’ on. Composed of Sophya Baccini (vocals, piano), Sergio Casamassima (guitars) and Enrico Iglio (keys, multi-instrumentalist) PRESENCE has a sound that is progressive at it’s very core. I say that because this bunch definitely is not any kind of Genesis, Gentle Giant or Yes clone, no siree, they really don’t sound like anybody else in particular. That’s not to say that there aren’t some nice frames of reference. PRESENCE turns on musical dimes, but not necessarily in the chaotic, neck-snapping sense. More so, they morph from overdriven metal chords lain down by Casamassima to ethereal, dark washes of sound generated by Iglio. Through these chameleon-like movements, Baccini’s vocals float, bob and weave, almost like Kate Bush if she had maybe one Valium. This carries through a series of songs that are very long (“Cassandra” 7:03, “Orphic” 10:39, “Evil Rose” 18:35!!!) but never over-stay their welcome. If there’s any drawback to this album, I’d have to say that I’d prefer the production to have slightly more balls but this is a fairly minor gripe and I have to remember that everything shouldn’t sound like new Metallica with Rick Rubin at the knobs. In all, if you’re interested in music that is certainly progressive and heavy in both sound & mood, your PRESENCE is requested. 8.0

Friday, September 19, 2008

In Living COLOUR

COLOUR HAZE – “All” CD ’08 (Elektrohasch, Ger) – It’s true that COLOUR HAZE began as a unit steeped in a German interpretation of the early Sabbath sound. They had the feel, the vibe of guys who had found a copy of Hairy Chapter’s “Can’t Get Through” and Scorpions’ “Lonesome Crow” and forged an amalgam of these. Good stuff, yet the band weren’t content to rest on these 1971-styled laurels. Instead, over the last several years, they’ve evolved in a way that’s allowed this heavy base to remain while freeing themselves up to shove off into the universe as major astral travelers. In a sense, the COLOUR HAZE of today reminds me, not so much in style but in exploratory ease, of an English band called Ozric Tentacles. Both units are so comfortable in their skins as musicians that they can move into deep space directions with an effortless glide. With the ‘HAZE, they really love that trippy, psych-y feel indicating they may not have heeded the acid warnings at Woodstock. Hmm…come to think of it, they’re probably too young to have gotten that memo anyway. But listen as Stefan Koglek’s guitar leads the shroom-a-ganic trio (completed by Philipp Rasthufer – bass and Manfred Merwald – drums) into lengthy workouts like “Silent,” “Lights” and the sprawling title number. And the truth of the matter is, “workouts” is probably not the best word as there is such a calm, flowing continuum here. This is floating, pulsing music that somehow retains enough of a form and shape to be both calming and invigorating at the same time. Koglek’s liquid guitar lines stretch like strands of plasma and mingle with his mid-to-high vocals in a way that the entire thing fuses as one cosmic instrument. Don’t get the idea that this music is boring, though. While it’s not going to be in rotation at a party where people are screaming for the first Van Halen album or The Chuck Norris Experiment, you might find yourself spending several hours with it, reclining on the couch the next morning. Sweet stuff. 8.5

TESTAMENT – “Formation Of Damnation” CD ’08 (Nuclear Blast, US) – It must be an interesting time for a band like TESTAMENT. They’ve surely been through their fair share of down times, what with Chuck Billy’s cancer, and now they’ve come back with “Formation Of Damnation.” The dumb title aside, they’ve assembled a classic line-up, released this record and what happens the same year? Metallica has climbed out of a long, deep hole, dusted themselves off, laid the wood to 74 minutes of recordable plastic and asked a very simple question of other bands in this genre: Who’s your daddy? While it took them 20+ years, the fact remains that they’ve raised the bar and bands like TESTAMENT, Exodus, Death Angel and such are left looking a bit like deer in the headlights. Sure, these groups all took up the gauntlet during the nearly 2-decade period that Metallica schlepped around from rehab to shrink and released some pretty damn good records in the process. Nobody on my watch is gonna dis scorchers like “The Gathering” and “Shovel Headed Kill Machine.” The problem here is, despite it being nice to hear Billy actually singing again at times, TESTAMENT sounds largely tired and by-the-numbers on this release. Sure, “More Than Meets The Eye” and “Fear” get the juices flowing a bit but in all most of the songs on “Formation…” seem to congeal into a formless blob of riffs that have been heard one too many times and all the Alex Skolnick lead fireworks in the world just can’t raise the excitement meter. Simply put, in the wake of not only the old masters’ return but also fresh & energetic new blood on the thrash scene like Fueled By Fire, it’s simply got to be better than this. 4.5

GROUP DU JOUR – “Listening In…To The Past 25 Years” CD ’08 (New Weave, US) – I just love “genres” sometimes, and the creative descriptions people have for them. In the case of Oregon’s GROUP DU JOUR, they consider themselves to be “experimental-techno-ethnic-rock-based.” That’s quite a mouthful but, despite the awkward label, I understand what they’re talking about. Think, on a known scale, the Afro Celt Sound System or perhaps, for those who’ve read this page awhile, Mawwal (keep reading for news on them, by the way). Now I’m not going to kid anybody into thinking that GDJ is on the level of that New England outfit. Still, this unit, formed in 1983 by Daniel Crommie, Bo & Paul Parker has put together a worthy career and this “best of” disc is a nice overview. While the band’s beginnings can be traced to a more folk/pop leaning (listen to “Romance Demystified”), the style alluded to above can be heart mightily in “We Built The Machines” & “Listening.” All in all, this is a good collection and introduction for the open-minded listener to GROUP DU JOUR. 7.0

AIRGED L’AMH – “Ode To Salvation” CD ’08 (Private, Gre) – I remember back in the days when I used to collect a lot of rare metal vinyl, man, the Greek guys were really somebody to talk to. Sure, they knew about records from their own country, like Vice Human & Vavel but they could also talk a blue streak about stuff like U8, Sorcery and White Boy & The Average Rat Band as well. That’s why I was a little excited when I read something online about this here Greek band AIRGED L’AMH, who were supposed to combine classic/power metal with a Celtic vibe…hence mixing a couple genres that I’m just a little fond of. So, I contacted the band to ask them to send out a CD. Of course, as always happens, in the middle of a splurge of similar contacts, this one, which I anticipated the most seemed to take the longest to arrive (does anybody else have this happen?!). As it turned out, this band had a reason for the delay as they were taking the time to assemble for me a really nice promo pack, including the CD, a DVD, etc. Was it worth the wait? Oh, yeah! Too many times, you wait by the mailbox for shit you think will float your boat and too many times, the boat takes on a likeness disturbingly similar to the Titanic. This time, thank God, we get a supercharged hydroplane. First off, the cover artwork of this thing has the look of a rare metal LP from 1984. Secondly, they’ve got 2 guitar players. That’s generally good, but the proof is in the pudding and this pudding is being stirred viciously. Without a hesitation, this 6-piece charges into an album replete with 5-7 minute tracks that simply captivate the listener. There are lots of things going for AIRGED L’AMH throughout this disc. First, the guitar work of George Sofikitis & Alexander Vasilopoulos is great, and at times breathtaking, as they move from heavy-handed riffing to elegant lead harmonies with a deft finesse. Secondly, I’m always a bit skeptical when I hear the term “power metal,” thinking I’m going to be in for a teeth-grinding trip through Bland Guardian “national anthem” metal. Fear not, here, though as the aforementioned guitars are way heavier & ornate than that, and Steve Vanardo’s vocals are everything from deep to mid-ranged, adding to the fierce power here. In fact, even the keys of Manolis Gaudlas do nothing to lighten things, actually helping to lend some of the more haunting, Celtic vibe to the proceedings. As a metal fan, you simply can’t lose as cuts like “The Hunter’s Path,” “Dine In Hades” & “The Ritual Lair” chug & crunch by, and I can even see those into a more doom-laden path being taken by some parts of this superb record. In all, “Ode To Salvation” is a smoking, top-notch metal ripper through and through, with tips of the hat to everyone from vintage Manowar to Thin Lizzy. With that in mind, I have no qualms in giving this one an extremely high rating (it’s a grower every time), and saying, with horns held high: BUY! 9.5

MAWWAL – “This Is All There Is, There Is No Other Place” CD ’08 (Ancient, US) – When it comes to ethnic, world, etc. whatever-ya-wanna-call it music, there has been no single person who’s impressed me over the last several years than Jim Matus. His bands Paranoise, and now MAWWAL have been head & shoulders above everything else I’ve heard in this area, doing so by gleaning the essence of music from the world over, then somehow fusing them to modern rock in a seamless flow. His ability to then go further and add an element of forward-thinking intelligence, based on the world condition makes his stuff truly appealing to me and, that trend continues on this latest release. Always an innovator and one to surprise, this time Jim has taken the sound that was present on MAWWAL’s last amazing effort, “Black Flies” and given it a different spin by removing the electric instruments and going for a far more wooden sound. It’s a move that works well and reaches it’s apex in numbers like “Ho Gaye,” replete with instruments like mandocello & violin, plus the title cut & “Agg Damen.” I must admit that I miss the sting of Matus’ electric guitar that spread a Gilmour-esque tone over a lot of “Black Flies.” Still, don’t take that as a detractor, just personal preference on my part, as there’s plenty here to get excited about if you’re an adventurous music fan. 8.5

MOTLEY CRUE – “Saints Of Los Angeles” CD ’08 (Eleven Seven, US) – I won’t make any bones about the fact that I really liked THE CRUE’s “Dr. Feelgood” album…back in 1989…the year I married my first wife…yikes! Anyway, unlike a lot of metallers, who’ll give the band props for the first 2 records but never admit to liking any others, I thought “…Feelgood” was…er…pretty damn good, driven along by a killer production job and some truly kick-ass songs like the title cut and “Kickstart My Heart.” In fact, show me a time the latter comes on the radio & I’m not pounding the dashboard along with it. The point is, all things considered, this is probably the first “real” CRUE record since then and…well, they shouldn’t have bothered. From stem to stern, there isn’t one song I can remember here after 4 or 5 listenings. Granted, “Down At The Whiskey” isn’t bad but that’s absolutely all there is. Other than that, “mediocrity” would be a good-day compliment to “The Animal In Me” and the frankly embarrassing, “Girls, Girls, Girls” wannabe, “Chicks = Trouble.” Sure, “Motherfucker Of The Year” may be a great title, but it fits this album perfectly. Style over substance. 3.0

DARSOMBRA – “Eternal Jewel” CD ’08 (Public Guilt, US) – DARSOMBRA is basically a one-man project from Baltimore native Brian Daniloski, who also serves a guitar post in the angular heavy prog band Trephine. With his most recent effort under the DARSOMBRA name, Daniloski lays down 5 tracks that have the word “atmosphere” written all over them. Take a bit of Thrones and even some of the more audibly clear moments of SunnO))), then perhaps stir with one of the more disturbing horror soundtracks you can find and you might be on the trail of this dense, threatening music. DARSOMBRA is surely not for the faint-hearted and it’s also not something I can listen to every moment of the day, for instance, like I might pull out a Thin Lizzy album. Still, there are times, possibly more than you think, that a journey into a dark, deep forest of sonic fear like this might be well in order. 8.0

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Shimmer? Or is it METALLI-HEAD?

MOTORHEAD - "Motorizer" CD '08 (SPV, Eng)
METALLICA – “Death Magnetic” CD ’08 (Warner Bros., US)
What the hell am I doing? Two reviews in one? It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping! You got chocolate in my peanut butter! But hey, you know what, Charlie Horse? The M & M Boys just go together, don’t they? I mean, fer Crissakes, didn’t James & Lars get together in the first place because of their mutual love of Lemmy & Co.? Ok, I know Diamond Head played a role in that too, but we’re not going to split hairs over this shit, are we? The bottom line is, these 2 metal legends have just sent their new discs in for a landing on the Realm’s desk and, although they’ve taken quite different routes, they’ve both arrived with very comparable results held high in hand. Wait, isn’t that part of a Rush lyric? Anyway, let’s talk for a minute about MOTORHEAD. I was just reading Mr. Kilmister’s book, “White Line Fever” a few months ago and you know what really twists Lemmy’s lug nuts? When people say crap like, “MOTORHEAD, cool, dude, ‘Ace Of Spades!’” He’s like, “Yeah that was 27 years ago or whatever, where the hell have you been for our last umpteen albums?!” The man has a point. The Lemmy-Phil Campbell- Mikkey Dee line-up has been around longer than any other now, by far, and contrary to a lot of people’s paltry knowledge, has emitted a long, strong series of some of the band’s finest emissions, going by names like “Bastards,” “Inferno,” “1916,” etc. That is, of course, up until now. I say “up until now,” because I believe one could make a very strong case for “Motorizer” being THE best album the band has done, rather than simply “one of.” I know, I know, I’m making a Goddamned fool out of myself, you say, with a band like MOTORHEAD, how can you really say that one album is their best and, really, dude, how could it be better than “Ace Of Spades?!” Bite me. From the opening salvo of “Runaround Man,” through a pounding thrasher like “When The Eagle Screams” in all it’s 2:07 glory, to the gnarled blues of “One Short Life,” this is metal not forgetting it’s rock & roll & rock never forgetting it’s dangerous as hell. Truthfully, it’s as balanced a record as this band has ever made, all the way to the incising slide-laden “The Thousand Names Of God” and the massive production job just nails it. Yeah man, MOTORHEAD has stayed an even, consistent course over the last…damn!...20 years and their persistence has paid off this time in spades (sorry!) as “Motorizer” is a real sumbitch…even by the usual Lemmy-Phil-Mikkey standards.
And what of METALLICA? Well, let’s see…those Bay Area Boys! That’d be James, Lars and…Robert…yeah, he’s the bass player now. In fact, it was funny, after listening to the first song here, I had to stop for a minute and think: Ray, you’re getting old but what is that high-pitched instrument doing all that squawking and wah-ing and who plays that? Oh, that would be Kirk, apparently he’s back in the band now. Actually, know what? The truth is that after that first song, “That Was Just Your Life,” I was in no position to be thinking about anything other than trying to get the license number of that fucking truck that had just run over my head. Suddenly, I’m back in 1988 and METALLICA are full-grown men playing thrash metal and all’s right with the world. But, it’s a tease, we all know that, and the country twangs, the Seger cover’s and the angst-ridden horseshit is going to start…but then comes “The End Of The Line” and not only are METALLICA still a thrash band, but I’m noticing, as I’m shaking my damn head off my shoulders, that they’re back to using the “old” logo. Then comes “Broken, Beat & Scarred” and I am. Dang, the guitar solo in “Cyanide” must be 2 minutes long itself! There are more killer, ripping Kirk-explosions on this record than there have been actual METALLICA songs in the last 20 years. Sure, there are 2 ballads, “The Day That Never Comes” and “The Unforgiven III” but the former is more akin to “Fade To Black” than “Nothing Else Matters,” ripping into riff action in it’s 2nd half and the latter is way, WAY better than the name implies. It all ends with the pure aural assault of “My Apocalypse,” one of the absolute greatest 5 minutes of thrash-violence this band has ever conceived. I mean, when Hetfield growls “Split apart! Split apart! Split apart! Spit! Spit it out!” and Kirk leans on the wah-wah and just unloads, well, if you aren’t close to having a musical orgasm, you need to stick with the training wheels. Best thing I can tell you? Yesterday I heard “Enter Sandman” on the radio and the hacking rifferama on this record made that sound like a pop hit.
So, what the hell am I doing? Two reviews in one? So MOTORHEAD took the direct road, METALLICA took the scenic route but both got to the same point here in the late summer of 2008. That point is kicking your pathetic ass. Buy or die. Every Numerical Rating Higher Than Everything Else

Monday, September 15, 2008


CONNEMARA – “Beyond The Horizon” CD ’93 (Blix Street, US) – Most people who know me, know me to be a rocker, a metalhead. See, I’m this 280 pound guy with waist-length hair, a gnarled beard, tattoos from neck to ankle, huge wallet chain and jacket with logos of Death, Entombed and Celtic Frost emblazoned all over. But in reality, the people who really know me know I’m far more than a rivet brain. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but I kinda lied before. I’m really 200 pounds, basically have no hair and a tiny (albeit often long) facial growth that my 6 year old daughter ridicules as my “goat beard.” And, when it comes to fashion, while I do own some band shirts like Highbinder, Thunderlip and U.S. Christmas, I’m more often seen sporting one of my “zoo” t-shirt collection or a Washington Nationals “t.” (I know, no accounting for sports taste). Point is, with everybody, there’s more than meets the eye and with me, musically, that’s definitely the truth. While I try to bring that out in the pages of RAYSREALM, sometimes I think not enough and that’s why today, in a fit of who knows what, I decided to regale you with a bit about one of my favourite Celtic folk albums, CONNEMARA’s “Beyond The Horizon.” This one is a big one for me, in one sense, because it’s the one that got me bit by the Celtic folk bug. On the advice/insistent urging of a friend, I made the drive many years ago to the Potomac Celtic Festival to check out CONNEMARA, a semi-local band consisting of Grace Griffith (vocals, guitar), Cathy Palmer (fiddle) & Tracey Brown (Celtic harp). What I was immediately stricken by that day (other than a fecal horror beyond human imagination in one of the port-a-pots) was the correlation between Celtic folk and the hard rock/metal that’s so dominated my listening hours. This was driven home to me not only by seeing CONNEMARA perform live then, but upon repeated listening to this disc, which I purchased from their merch stand. Just the energy level alone was quite a shocker to me. When the band launches into the reels & jigs, fast instrumental numbers like “Christiana’s Jig” and “Lark In The Morning,” there is no way you can resist banging the ground with your feet and bobbing your head along to the fast-paced rhythms. Seriously, put this through a Marshall, add a little distortion and you’re not going to be that far off from some of the instrumental parts of Maiden songs. The musicianship is another factor. You can hear it anywhere on this album, but check out the “Fiddler, Play The Light” featuring Cathy Palmer’s killer playing. Huge comparison to a metal guitarist going off, really, and I was amazed by my instantly being dragged into the wake of a new instrument for myself: air fiddle! What really got me going, however, was the vocal prowess of Grace Griffith and the songs themselves. Throughout “Beyond…,” Grace puts on a world-class vocal performance that fans of nearly any style would appreciate. Whether it’s the soaring “My Heart’s In The Highlands,” the hook-laden “The Scholar” or the hopeful “Free & Easy,” Grace’s interpretations are borne on such a pure, smooth and glorious voice that she immediately elevates herself beyond the genre to a status as one of the best vocalists these ears have had the pleasure to hear. This all reaches a mind-blowing apex on the devastating “Tha Mi Sgith/All Soul’s Night/Seann Triubhas Uilleachain.” Listen to this haunting, ethereal masterpiece and tell me that music has to be highly amplified & over-driven to be heavy. In all, will every person who’s I-Pod is crammed with Testament, Judas Priest & Slayer be able to make the connection to Celtic music? Possibly not, and yet I still think the answer may be a higher percentage than one might initially think. If you’re ready to open your minds, there is no better place to start than the magnificent “Beyond The Horizon.” 10.0

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chicago Freedom!

BIBLE OF THE DEVIL – “Freedom Metal” CD ’08 (Cruz Del Sur, US) – I’m beginning to understand the dilemma of having been a music writer in the hey-day of the ‘70’s. Bands like Sabbath, Lizzy, Priest, Wishbone Ash & Purple were putting out one bona fide classic after another. I mean, think about it…somebody like Sabbath puts out the first album, “Paranoid,” “Master Of Reality,” “Vol. 4.” By the time you get to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” how many superlatives do you still have up your sleeve? You’re going to need to do some vocabulary gymnastics that would have Nadia Comaneci slack-jawed just to keep from repeating yourself when under stress-I repeat myself when under stress – I repeat myself when under stress – I repeat… Ok, I’m ok now. I’ve had the Demerol and the morphine & there’s an empty bottle of Jack on the table. Nikki Sixx is standing in front of me in a paramedic outfit, so I know I’m alright, but you see my issue. Even though my mind has been set at ease by Jack Bauer administering a pharmaceutical package, I’m not sure of my next move. For see, even though it’s in small part representative of the daunting task faced by those early writers, Chicago’s BIBLE OF THE DEVIL has put me behind the 8-ball. It’s nasty trick by those dastardly White Sox fans! First “Firewater At My Command.” Then “Tight Empire,” “Brutality Majesty Eternity” and “The Diabolic Procession.” They peppered in a few raging 7-inchers as well, and now have foisted upon me the brand new “Freedom Metal.” I sit in front of the stereo, eyes sunken into my head, ears ripped to bloody raw stumps and my thesaurus in flames, burning to ash before my very eyes as I attempt to explain how, once again, this band has raised their own seemingly impossible bar. So, having spent the last 46 minutes being beaten to death by a non-stop barrage of Flying V riff detonations, impassioned vocals telling tales of everything from highly personal to epic tales and harmony guitar leads that would have Robbo & Gorham saying “What the fuck?!” I’ll pull myself up by the bootstraps and do this. I’ll tell you that, as is their practice, a practice that mirrors the greatest bands ever, they have not tried to turn the world on it’s ass. They have taken what they do so well, create absolute top-drawer heavy metal songs that are super-catchy, monstrously executed and...contain TONS OF FUCKING GUITAR SOLOS! It also doesn’t hurt that each time around, these boys (Mark Hoffmann – lead guitar, lead vox; Nate Perry – lead guitar, vox; Darren Amaya – bass; Greg Spalding – drums) just keep making the songs more interesting. While ‘06’s “…Diabolic…” was a definite concept piece, this one is simply a collection of metal/big rawk for the ages. I mean, first song, you’ve got the 7+ minute “Hijack The Night.” Boom, instant classic. Talk about a chorus you’ll be humming, Jesus Christ, and the leads in this?!?! Hoffmann & Perry are going to be nursing the friction burns off those babies for the next year. Just listen to the variety in the next several songs: the crunching riff-machine of “Night Oath,” the interesting melodies in “Turning Stone,” the unique musical & lyrical bent of “Womanizer.” And then, the album really starts getting interesting. “Heat Feeler” may honestly be BOTD’s greatest song thusfar. Try to even describe the opening couple minutes of this! The striking clean guitar joins the insistent rhythm in what I can only begin to imagine being the results of Van Morrison joining early Nazareth at the pub. Then, fire up the distortion pedals for what might be the riff of the year! With “Ol’ Girl,” the BIBLE boys have come up with the best song that Thin Lizzy never wrote. What a nice vocal performance from Hoffmann here, showing a side quite a bit removed from his more usual metal-man howl. The guitar solos and harmony work here is simply to die for, it brings a tear to my eye…reminding me once again that I really do need to sell my axes. The record then ends with the twin bludgeon of “Greek Fire” and “500 More,” a duo of epic, harmony-laced metallic pillars that should probably be the cornerstones to the soundtrack of an as-yet-unmade classic battle film. There it is, I’m spent. My ears are gone, my brain is toast and the thesaurus has completely imploded like a devastated neutron star. A couple years ago, I implied that BOTD had achieved their “Stained Class” with “The Diabolic Procession.” This is the album that may, years from now, have another band achieving their “Freedom Metal.” Godly. 10.0

Before Our Ears! The J.C. CINEL interview!

J.C. CINEL – “Before My Eyes” CD ’07 (Lonestar*Time/Black Widow, Ita) - I’ve always loved Italy’s Black Widow label. Good ol’ Mass & the guys there have a real knack for coming up with the kind of music that’s about as heavy in feel as you can get. We’re talking dark, eerie stuff that’ll make your skin crawl as much as it’ll hammer your butt. Imagine my surprise, then, when I slid in this disc from my latest goodie bag from the BW cats. Was it dark? Nope. Was it eerie? Uh-uh. Thing is, as songs like “Ships In The Wind” and “Feel The Moment” floated out of the speakers, borne on lush, pastoral acoustic guitar and rich with uplifting vocals and lyrics, I was at first confused. Then, as I moved on through such special nuggets as “Dear Old Friend” and “Before My Eyes,” I felt a smile creeping across my face as my spirits lifted with the arrival of a new top spinner in the Raysrealm Disc-a-rama. Music like this may not be the antidote for world problems or even troubles in your own life, but it sure can make things go down a bit easier. Nice stuff and to get a feel for the man who’s behind it, wrap your head around the following interview with J.C. CINEL. 8.5

RAY - Well, should we start at the beginning? What was your early life like & how did you come to get involved with music? Who were some of your influences?

JC - I started out playing the guitar at a very early age..i was ten years old....i remember being in love with The Beatles all those clean harmonies and melodies....i thought that's exactly what i want to do in my life to write songs and be on the went time by i realised that singing and playing a guitar would get me to know girls much easily than most of my friends....i said that's the way.....My early influences were the Beatles, Eagles, the Band, Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Doobie Brothers, ..America, Crosby Stills and Nash all the California sound,but even Supertramp, Billy Joel....let's just say all of my brother's records...But little by little i started to be into the British classic rock and prog rock and other styles...the Who,Led Zeppelin,Bad Company,Eric Clapton. and the Cream,Humble pie but also Yes ,Camel,Styx ,Tom Petty.....i always loved great performers with great songwriting......

RAY - Am I correct that “Before My Eyes” was initially a self-release and that Black Widow is now distributing it? When did it originally come out & when did BW take over distribution?

JC - Yes you are right...i was writing all this material that was supposed to be on "Before my eyes" and record was almost finished i had so many songs...then i was asked to join Wicked Minds as a lead singer and consequently we got signed to Black Widow records and recorded two albums and toured all around i had stop for a while and let the record unfinished...Black Widow guys are now friends..they have always been very kind and supportive and sure they have always been great fans of my singing and art...."Before my eyes"came out in 2007....i had few contacts with labels but it was taking so long and i had the need to put the record out.....after a few months i proposed to them if they could take care of my distribution and they accepted....

RAY - I’ve got to say, your disc surprised me. The reason is, when I slip in a Black Widow disc, I’m usually expecting something with a dark, even scary sort of vibe. With your disc, I’m hearing bright, even uplifting acoustic-based rock. How did you hook up with Black Widow?

JC - Yes i know what you's not really Black Widow style...but as i told you before they always showed interest and appreciation in my way of being an artist and even though it was maybe risky to put out something so different they were happy to do it. I tell you that it was really rewarding to me to read great reviews and get so much positive feedback in a musical environment that's so distant from what "Before my eyes"comes from ,i am really happy and means that if the music plays upon your heart and sensitivness strings .then there's no wall between musical styles........
Yes "Before my eyes" has got a very positive and sunshine sound....With this record i wanted to put together all of my influences without sounding redundant but with a musical .strong personality

RAY - Dude, you’ve got better hair than most ‘80’s metal bands put together. What’s the best “hair” story you’ve got? Have you ever poured your soul out onstage, only to have a woman come up and say how cool your hair is? Did that make you want to pull your hair out?
JC - Ah thank you…I must admit that for all of us born with the Robert Plant or David Coverdale’s syndrome , hair is much more than it is for a normal human being. Of Course on stage it becomes your flag to wave and fortunately there s still some girls around willing to touch……your hair… at the end of the gig… long as they gonna be around we will have one more reason to go on playing and believing in our rock’n roll dreams…..

RAY - Back to “Before My Eyes,” obviously you write all the material. Do you have a typical process you follow, such as music first, then writing lyrics to fit it? Or do you just “wing it,” each song done differently?

JC - I don't have any typical process i follow....i mostly write on my acoustic guitar and try to find good harmony progressions.......and then try to think about a good melody to fit in...but sometimes it comes challenging to have already lyrics written down ....words give different and sometimes unexpected rhythm patterns to melodies you couldn't think of if you're working on a melody that still has no lyrics.
The writing process is so important to me and it's a real hard work because i write all the parts for other instruments it takes a while to figure out how put all sounds and arrangements together...So this why i am not a one record every year kind of guy....
RAY - Your lyrics have a personal feel throughout the disc and yet, I can’t help getting a very positive feeling of my own when I listen. I mean, I had a bad day, was getting ready to go home, yell at my wife and kick the dog. Then I listened to “Before My Eyes” on the way home, stopped and bought my wife jewelry, toys for the kids and hell, even a bone for the dog! How do you explain that?

JC - Ah that is funny.....unfortunately dogs and wives don't buy records.....just kidding....I think this is a great compliment......and i think you really got it all....i love to think that my music can take you down to your personal self and to talk to him and communicate....our emotional balance is hard have to work on it everyday and if you can talk to your demons instead of yelling at them maybe they won't yell at you...I like to think that people can listen to my songs while driving and feel that in end life is good to be living.....there's always hope in a better chance that maybe hasn't showed up yet...but soon will be on our way...
i think sometimes we forget that present time is all we got....I like to think that my music is about living and loving the present time..
RAY - Do you see a guitar as more of an instrument or a song writing tool, as Pete Townshend once called it?

JC - Yes and no...It's a tool of course.....but just the fact you have to embrace it, it gives you a direct connection to your emotions...the more you love it the more it will give you back.....sometimes good ideas come out of playing just for the pleasure of doing re not thinking about writing....they just come because you called them....

RAY - Do you see a chainsaw as more of a tool or a party device, as Leatherface once used it?

JC - I think it could be a party device too...i 'm thinking about big corporations or big record company guys....sometimes it might be the only way to convince them to listen to upcoming bands demos and not throw them immediately in the dustbin....thanks for the suggestion....

RAY - What’s it like where you are for doing live shows? Do the guys who played on the disc play with you live? Do you typically do pub gigs or bigger places?

JC - Not all of the musicains who played on "Before my eyes" are still with me playing during live shows. Being a solo artist i often change musicians to meet different musical needs. Of course a few of them are following the project since the beginning. My guitar player Davide Dabusti is there since the beginning and it's a great musical partner...we ve been touring together all over the world from Spain ,to Crete,France ,Germany and USA....he's always been there,,,,he's very important for the sound of my songs...,My bass player too Luca Balocco has been with me since the beginning...Besides drummers who often come and go out of the band..i have got quite a steady line up the last few years...Andrea Barbieri is the other guitar player playing with me for so many years even in other bands...
The last seven years we have been playing all sorts of venues : from pubs to big festivals, theatres and palatendas...i tried to bring my music everywhere following the old school way of meaning music and life on the road.

RAY - A guy once told me that it’s a really bad idea for anyone, especially a American, to try to hold his own drinking with a local guy at the pub. Any truth to that?

JC - Being in Nashville Tennesse for 4 months I learned how to deal with local people sittin on barstools…..if you don’t want to party you better stay home….

RAY - What’s on the agenda for JC CINEL? Any new recordings coming down the pike? Will Black Widow be involved?

JC - I have just started the writing sessions for my new record which i’m planning to put out by the end of next year. There’s going to be many important.special guests on my new album Johnny Neel for instance. ex Allman Brothes band , has already played organ and piano on four of my new songs, Mike Stergis,guitar player with Crosby Stills and Nash for 7 years, will be probably part of the gang and many others. I am not in a hurry anyway.”Before my eyes” is still receiving great feedback all over the world that I’m planning to go on promoting it with gigs in Europe and maybe America too.I
I don’t know at the moment who ‘s going to produce the record or distribution…’s going to be a very articulated album and I was thinking about having a good label supporting the whole project…we’ll see…

RAY - Please, if you would…Regale us with some story of insanity, wanton debauchery or just plain stupidity from your years as a performer. Don’t hold back, the readers are fond of the hideous and the obscene.

JC - Yeah I remember on of our first tour in France Cote d’Azur…we played for 3 hours and half in a big pub for 7 days a week…it was devastating… .our wild “apartment”(see rathole)was turning into a nuthouse…you had people falling asleep on the corridors after the gig…you had girls screaming(not with pain…)in the other rooms……the wc was in a closet and you had to stand to do what you were in need to….there was booze and girls everywhere….one of the longest, exhausting, but rewarding week I have ever lived in my life…….

RAY - Any final comments?

JC - I would like to thank you Ray for your interview and especially for your interest in my music and record….supporting the underground circuit has nowadays become the only way to get in touch with true people feeding their dreams with no big structures behind….just with great passion and aware that arts and music especially, need people that speak the same language as musicians to get their word heard far from the business world that seems to have always less to do with music.

To buy my new cd order it at
for more info and reviews

a few distribution points:

Black Widow records
Just for Kicks – Germany
Rockcd – Germany
caru dischi – italy – Sweden

I’d like to add a witty ending to this one, but since I used up all my jokes at bowling last night, I’ll just say that J.C. CINEL’s “Before My Eyes” is a disc that has at least one song that would resonate with nearly everyone in the world. Chances are, even more. Get the addresses above and do what you need to do.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dirty Deeds...Done at the DIRT MALL...The Interview!

DIRT MALL – “Got The Goat By The Horns” CD ’07 (Daykamp, US) – I’m a Baltimore Orioles fan. Kind of a tough admission for the last, oh say 11 years or so, but they’re the hometown guys and I’ve always followed ‘em. And, this year, I have to admit having been caught up in Rays Mania…hard to resist that ol’ “worst-to-first” appeal. So, given that DIRT MALL is from Boston, home of the Red Sox, I’d usually meet them in a spate of aggression that would involve bared teeth, shouted invectives and gunfire. The problem I’m having in summoning up such ire based DM’s point of origin is the fact that on this disc, they’ve somehow channeled the collective spirits of Angus Young circa. ’77, Tony Iommi and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. The results of all that have been taken, lovingly shoved in a meat grinder seasoned with their own charm & style and come out the other side with one of the best rock albums I never heard last year (2007). True enough, Maynard, the minute “Hello Los Angeles” comes thundering out of the speakers, driven as it is with it’s super-panned AC/DC riffs & snotty-cool vox, you just know you’ve got a winner. Not hurting their chances one bit for Heroes Of The ‘Realm status are the further-reaching nuggets that pop up. See, while the album is chock full of more straight-ahead, bash-your-face rawk, some oddities crop up that raise it to the next level. For instance, how ‘bout that driving yet vocally-eerie BOC-styled “Rows?” Or pause to consider the lengthy, nearly doom-laden epic “The Demons & The Damned.” And then, listen as the disc finishes with it’s strongest song, the massive “Ghosts Descend,” in which Johnny Anguish and Jason “Jay” Murray let loose a riff mid-song that Mr. Iommi would have given his left hand for in 1972. Good stuff? Oh yeah, this is that & then some. The only thing I can add to the “buy now” recommendation is read the following interview with Johnny and Jay to learn more about rawk and laugh a little. Do ya good, son. (DIRT MALL is rounded out by: Jamie Griffith – bass & Derek Madeiros (drums). 9.0

RAY - What are the origins of DIRT MALL? Did someone just roll up one day with a huge dump truck and unload your sorry asses like a pile of potting soil on steroids or was there something vaguely musical, concerning influences, trying to impress women, stuff like that?

JOHNNY - It was a better band name than 'Beep Beep I'm A Shiny Blue Car'. Marginally.

JAY - 'Shit Truck' was already taken by some dudes in Worcester.

RAY - There was an edict handed down in the early '90's that guitar solos were no longer allowed in rock music. Didn't you guys get that memo?

JOHNNY - Metallica dared us to do a record with lots of guitar solos, so we did. The success of "Got The Goat By The Horns" is the whole reason Metallica went back to having guitar solos on "Death Magnetic".

JAY - We're not playing these solos for us, or even our children or their children. We're playing them for our children's nieces & nephews, but only the cool ones, and only on Wednesdays.

RAY - Is "Got The Goat By The Horns" the first album you've done? How quick did the songs come together? Is your writing a natural, smooth flowing process or did Angus Young come in and, at gunpoint, say "Show me what a good album is! Now!"

JAY - Actually, that's exactly what happened. Dude is tiny.

RAY - Do you guys use all Gibsons thru Marshalls? If so, where did you get such a novel idea? If not, what kinds of equipment do you generally beat the shit out of?

JOHNNY - Pretty close. We use Gibsons through oddball Mesa Boogie amps that don't have the typical high-gain sound you think of with Mesa amps. The secret to our sound is Jamie's Gibson Les Paul Triumph bass. Don't tell anyone.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! What is the difference between a woman's adam's apple and the number 51? Don't be bashful, even though this one addresses tough issues.

JAY - One is caused by unicorn bites, the other is the year (A.D.) that governor Publius Ostorius Scapula defeats Caratacus and the Silures in the territory of the Ordovices in central Wales.

RAY - "Got The Goat." provides an interesting dichotomy, in that on one hand you've got the straight-ahead rock cuts like "Hello Los Angeles" & "Medicate Today." Then, you've got the more left-field stuff like "Rows" (I'm reminded of Blue Oyster Cult here, lyrically), "The Demons & The Damned" (surely your epic!) & "Ghosts Descend" (Tony Iommi would have killed for the riff that comes up part the way thru this in 1972). What can you tell me about the lyrics of these couple, they are quite intriguing! But remember, I found the movie "American Pie" intriguing. Just kidding. I think.

JOHNNY - I almost always write lyrics that are very personal to me. The weird thing is that the more specific I think I'm getting, the more abstract the lyrics become. I guess it's a defense mechanism. It's also the reason I hate talking about the lyrics I write. "Ghosts Descend" is one of the few exceptions. We had the other songs finished, but we wanted a new tune to close out the record. Something a little different. As we were kicking around some ideas, I pulled out this poem that I never thought would become a song. I liked the way the music complimented the visuals of the poem. It seemed to fit, so we used it.

RAY - Did you finance "Got The Goat." yourselves? I take it that it's a private, self-release? What do you think is going to happen in the music industry? Are CD's themselves going the way of the Edsel? Is downloading the future? Or, are there plans to release your next album as a box set of 5 vinyl 7-inchers?

JOHNNY - Yeah, it's a DIY release. With the technology that's out there today, I think dedicated well organized bands are re-inventing the business of music. It's even changing for those of us that do this more recreationally. There are sites out there that impact just about every aspect of band life. Social networking sites provide communication and discovery outlets that didn't exist before. Blogs are a great way to get reviews. Digital distribution can cut down on manufacturing costs and make your music available to just about anyone. Personally? I like physical music products. I like browsing at record stores. I like reading liner notes and checking out the artwork. These things somehow make the music less disposable to me. It makes a connection. That's what scares me about downloads. I feel like they may be creating an environment where music is a disposable commodity.

RAY - What is the climate like in your area for live gigs? I don't mean that if you play outside is it freezing, but are there clubs that allow you to play? Furthermore, are there any that actually pay you? How far outside your general locale have you ventured to bring the auditory pain?

JOHNNY - Boston is a tough place to book shows because there are about two million bands in this town. There are some really good clubs, but all of those other bands are trying to get the same nights you are. Most of those bands will bribe the local booking agents with gifts of baked goods and designer sunglasses. We're above that. We haven't played outside of the Boston area due to Derek's over-developed sense of smell. It's crippling.

RAY - Do you any of you guys have kids (my wife & I have 5)? How does a family life affect what you might be willing to consider in terms of touring? (I'll have you know I just won a bet that I could ask an entirely serious ? with that one!)

JOHNNY - Derek and I each have a kid. Not together. Two different kids - one each. It was easy to tour when they fit in the kick drum, but it's getting harder now.

JAY - I have a dog that kills small animals.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! What is the phone number of the finest looking woman who ever attended a DIRT MALL gig? Describe her in agonizing detail.

JOHNNY - The gag-order for Jay's upcoming trial doesn't really allow us to talk about this.

RAY - Any new songs happening in the DIRT MALL pipeline? What "dirt" (ouch!) can you give us on any new stuff? Should we expect a concept piece called something like "2113" in the future?

JAY - Lots of new songs, if only we could play them well.

JOHNNY - Jay doesn't play them well better than any of us.

RAY - In the long and storied history of this band we call DIRT MALL, what is the most odd, bizarre, stupid or disturbing event that has ever taken place? Be careful, my mother is reading this. (Not really)

JOHNNY - Again, the gag-order for Jay's upcoming trial doesn't really allow us to talk about this.

RAY - Any final words, phrases or even complete sentences for the RAYSREALM world?

JAY - Plastics.

So you say you like rawk?! Well, I say your collection would be a little more legitimate if it included the spanker of shiny circular media by DIRT MALL called “Got The Goat By The Horns.” Like AC/DC with a dash of doom, like COBRETTI with a pinch of BOC, hell maybe like Red Sox fans if they didn’t smell funny. This is a good ‘un.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Riding ACROSS TUNDRAS with Tanner Olson

Atmosphere is a funny word. Well, in some cases it is. What I’m talking about here doesn’t involve the moons of Jupiter or some Weather Channel geek running on at the mouth about the upper level disturbance plaguing the Midwest this week. No, atmosphere in music is an altogether different thing and it’s funny in that it’s often hard to quantify. Let there be no mistake, however, in the fact that ACROSS TUNDRAS, a band from Tennessee (by way of Colorado) are loaded with atmosphere. Take their “Western Sky Ride” disc (from earlier this year) for example. While this record is surely powered by modern instrumentation, and quite freaking heavy at that, I don’t recall another album I’ve heard that gives me the feel of the wide open of the American Old West. From beginning to end, this CD has a vibe that conjures up not only the windswept plains and Badlands, the sagebrush and cactus…but the lives of the people who trod there. In listening to this music, I can feel the ghosts of those who walked these lands, good and bad, with stories to tell that are often somber and inspirational as well. It is a rich and gorgeous palette on which ACROSS TUNDRAS paints with a brushstroke that is at once volatile in it’s heaviness and deft in it’s emotional touch. To learn more of the origins of this rich aural art, I spoke to AT main man, Tanner Olson.

RAY - I know you started ACROSS TUNDRAS in Colorado (I do have the correct big rectangular Western state, correct?) and now are located in Tennessee. Was this a case of not being given the keys to the Coors factory, not being able to compete with the memory of John Denver or was there more involved?

TANNER - Across Tundras spent nearly 5 years as a band in Denver, CO. We had a lot of great times, shows, and memories... but it got to a point where it just started to feel stale for myself personally and musically. We moved to TN for a new start and to meet some new friends and musicians who share the same passion for music. So far, things are going great. Life in the South is more laid back. Nate & Micah (new drummer and bassist) kick ass musically and as people.

RAY - What was your early motivation for becoming involved with music, your influences and all that and how did it get to you creating the kind of music you do with AT? Everybody’s got a story, let’s hear your’s!

TANNER - I have played guitar since I was about twelve and been singing songs since I could talk. It has been one of the most constant things in my life. I never grow bored of it or lost inspiration. Music is without boundaries and constantly challenging and expanding, and I drawn to that. We make the music we make as a tribute to all of our influences past and present. Carrying on a tradition and doing the best we can.

RAY - I was turned onto AT all at once, meaning that I opened up the mailbox one day and there was a huge package with all your stuff in it. After I went to Home Depot & rented a fork lift to get the bloody thing into my house, I listened to all the stuff in order, several times. It became apparent to me that your music has expanded very naturally from “Divides” to “Dark Songs…” to “Western Sky Ride.” It’s almost like watching something go from a black & white snap shot to a colour photo to a 3-d image. Care to comment on any such progression or am I just blowing smoke.

TANNER - Across Tundras main focus as a band has always been to keep challenging ourselves as well as the listeners. We are always working hard on our playing and songwriting because there is so much to always learn and new ideas. I am glad you can hear the progression in the albums!

RAY - I like to bowl tenpins. That, in and of itself, may be an odd admission but trust me, it’s going somewhere. When you bowl, there’s such a thing as “waiting for the shot,” meaning that you don’t want to release the ball too quickly on your downswing or you’ll lose all kinds of leverage. One thing that strikes me about the playing in AT, particularly the guitar work is the incredible patience…that is, waiting, letting the beat stretch out and just waiting, even that extra half-second to hit the next chord. It seems to allow the music to expand and reach even higher dynamics so well. Any thoughts? I know, I’m a wimp because I talk about bowling.

TANNER - Dynamics are a huge part of what we do musically. We put a lot of thought into the changes and chord progressions, to try to convey many different feelings and emotions. I also just love the sound of a nice chord ringing out through cranked vintage tube amplifiers and getting that beautiful drone, harmonics, and feedback. We use those sounds very much on purpose as parts of the songs.

RAY - What kind of songwriting process is involved in AT? I’m thinking that you’re (Tanner) the main writer, is that right? The reason I’m asking is 2-fold. The music has such a wide, expansive feel that really has a Western feel, but it’s more than that…or is it? Lyrically, something like “Carrion Crow” seems to be talking about this imagery of the man, the crow, his wife in the literal sense but it also seems like imagery on a deeper level. Is there anything to what I’m saying or is just the rambling of someone who’s had too much Dr. Pepper? As an added thing to muddle up the mix, I really dig the fx-loaded, kinda cavernous vocals. How do you feel that plays into what you’re trying to do?

TANNER - We strive to create a total listening experience; something you can get lost in and search through the many layers of sound and feel different emotions and see different pictures in your mind. We use alot of different production and lack of production techniques to get the varied sounds on the records... but none of the sounds are created digitally, they are organic room sounds, analog effects, ect.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! What would you trudge more miles across a tundra to see? Frank Zappa rising from the dead to perform “Hot Rats” in it’s entirety? Or, Sarah Brightman posing like Sharon Stone’s “interview scene” in “Basic Instinct” while singing her entire “Symphony” release? Or how about the Titans winning a Super Bowl?

TANNER - I would take Neil Young playing "On the Beach" in its entirety at the half time show of another Denver Broncos Super Bowl Championship!

RAY - I’m really interested in the visual aspect of your releases, especially “Western Sky Ride.” The copy I have is very unique in that the booklet, rather than being stapled together includes a series of individual, loose pages detailing the lyrics, the Western theme, etc. Who’s idea was this? It’s very innovative…or possibly, I just have a fucked up copy? Just kidding, excuse my French.

TANNER - haha... your copy is how it should be. We really just wanted to do something a little different for the booklet than a traditional stapled insert. I think the individual pictures give you some ideas of the imagery we see when we play the songs. Plus when you open up it you have can't help but have the pages fall all over and you are forced to read some lyrics, which I think a lot of people overlook!

RAY - Gear-geek time! What kinds of equipment do you all use? Ya know, guitars, amps, pedals, fx, additional instruments?

TANNER- Two '59 Fender Bassman 4x10 combos - Old Marshall 4x12 w/ Vintage 30's- Yamaha T 100 watt tube head (Mike Soldano design)- Ibanez Analog Delay, Stereo Tremolo, Effector 13 Dark Boost, Keely Mod Boss Distortion, Boss volume pedal *Effects ran in various stereo configurations- Two chopped, hot rodded,and rebuilt Fender Telecasters *both w/ 1 humbucker and 1 single coil + three way toggle

MICAH aka GearWitch- Ampeg V 4- Sunn Coliseum Slave- 800 Watt Power Amp- Two Sunn 2x15 cabs- Ampeg 8x10 cab- Acoustic 2x15- Fender Precision Bass w/ active pickups- Big Muff, Fuzzface, BuzzBox, and like fifteen more I can’t remember!

NATE- Premier 22" kick drum- Premier wood snare- Drum Workshop rack and floor toms- Zildjian Cymbals- Gibraltar hardware

RAY - Seems you AT guys have been busy bees. I see that there’s a new record, “Lonesome Wails…” in the offing very soon. What can you tell us about it?

TANNER - Its a much more chilled out record than Western Sky Ride for sure. It has a lot of different instrumentation and Shannon Murphy sings on many of the songs. Rather than having the heavy and loud influences be in the front... this time the folk, country, and classic rock influences really shine through. It doesn't sound like anything we have done yet and I think that’s a good thing!

RAY - I know you face the age-old problem of a smaller label and distribution. How has that gone so far, and how is it looking for the future? Any ideas of how you’re going to be able to get the AT stuff in front of great-music-hungry folk like my selves and my readers? To be honest, no store in the Baltimore area has any AT stuff in stock.

TANNER - We just keep pushing forward and working hard. Across Tundras and the labels we work with do everything in our power to promote our music and get it out there. I think it really just takes time and dedication. Honestly, so much of that stuff with labels, good distro, getting on good tours, ect is out of your own hands... you can't get too wrapped up in it or its easy to get discouraged and frustrated. We still struggle to get live bookings and often get paid nothing for playing... and that is a bummer. But ultimately we don't do it for recognition or money.

RAY - What do you do for a living? How hard is it to work in time for the band? I assume that ACROSS TUNDRAS is not the thing that’s put you in that country manor and paid for the Viper you’re driving? Do you have family issues that come into play as well?J That’s something I always wonder about bands, as people tend to forget that the band members are also…wait for it…PEOPLE!

TANNER - I bounce around part time jobs and playing in the band. I have a non toxic earth friendly house cleaning business that pays some of the bills. I have worked as cook/chef my whole life... but those hours are hard to make work with the band sometimes. It is a struggle at times, but I can't complain... I am not chained to a 40 hour a week a job.I have also two dogs: an American Bulldog and American Pitbull Terrier, they are like children to me and take alot of love and care. Its hard to find people to watch them when I am away, so they usually come on the road with us. They do a really good job handling the traveling and make alot of friends on the way!We all have girlfriends/wives, Nate has kids. Micah has two other bands. You have to juggle sometimes... but if you care about it and are dedicated... you can make it work! We jam quite a bit and play out, so I think we balance it out pretty well.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! If a polecat = half of 7/4, then what is Neil Peart’s favourite colour?

TANNER - Orange and Blue.

RAY - One of our favourite ?’s around here. Tell us some kind of story/anecdote/etc. that involves your work with ACROSS TUNDRAS, either on the road, in the studio, at home, etc. that is either violently funny, ridiculously disturbing or patently obscene. Anything will do!

TANNER - Wow, I feel alot of pressure here. Driving home from Seattle, lots of rain and sleet... van for some reason is sliding sideways on the downhills and almost losing control. We finally get into Idaho and stop and notice the insides of the front tires have the wires poking out and are ready to blow. The alignment and front end of the van is real messed up... but it could of been much worse had a tire blown in the mountains of Washington. So we head over to get two new tires to get us home. We are sitting in the grass with our two dogs and a guy gets out of his car aways away. He all of the sudden yells over to me that I had better keep ahold of my dogs or he will shoot them (they were laying down in the grass 20 ft away showing no aggression at all!). I told him to chill the fuck out and he flashed a gun at me. I was like what the fuck! I asked him if he wanted me to call the cops on him and he then flashed a badge at me. "I am the cops." Needless to say we got the hell out of Idaho ASAP with visions of their backwoods justice patrol chasing us down and doing unspeakable things with us.

RAY - Any final commentary for the reading public?

TANNER - Support local business, art, music, etc. Recycle. Grow a garden. Love the earth.

ACROSS TUNDRAS surely makes some of the most deep, resonant and powerful heavy music that you’ve never heard. And, when you think about that, you no longer have an excuse for not checking it out. Do the right thing and head on over to the AT myspace site. You’ll be the richer music fan for the effort. All the band’s fantastic releases are available there for a very reasonable price. Don’t wait!

Monday, September 1, 2008

This Sun's Burning Strong!

THALAMUS – “Beneath A Dying Sun” CD ’08 (Grooveyard, Swe) – First off, I know someone is going to tell me that this disc says “2007” on the imprint. Yes, I know and the reason I’ve got it listed as 2008 here is that both the band and the label owner have told me that it actually became available at the very dawn of ’08, so there you are. I’ll also tell you that the very dawn of this record, the track “By The River” is a master-blaster of cacophonous proportions, calling to mind Dio-era Sabbath/Spiritual Beggars crush, coupled with a mammoth dose of organic groove that has the great works of the ‘70’s written all over it. It surely doesn’t end there, either, my friends. Check out cuts like “Can’t Live Without Your Love” & “Ride.” Guitarist/vocalist Kjell Sjostrom leads the way in laying down the business on these, both with his powerful & vibrant voice, sometimes reminiscent of Spice, and his thundering axe technique. He’s joined in the latter 6-string strangling by Jan Sederlund and together the 2 deliver all meat & no filler to the listener all the way through the final especially somber number, “Falling.” I really like, in particular, the way these 2 guys play together. One minute, they can lock together in a massive groove that reminds me, somehow all at once, of Tony Iommi and Jerry Cantrell. Then, they’ll hover together, suspended by a melodic harmony that harkens to both the works of Thin Lizzy and Trouble. THALAMUS is not trying to re-invent the wheel here, and that is so much to their credit. Too often in the world of heavy rock, bands lose focus and direction when they get all artsy & cutesy and the results lack conviction, power and balls. There is no such lack on “Beneath A Dying Sun.” THALAMUS has balls of iron and they are landing on your head with this stellar release. Buy! 9.0

MUSTASCH – “Latest Version Of The Truth” CD ’07 (Regain, Swe) – Man, this was a confusing one, visually, as it came bouncing into the ‘Realm offices somewhat belatedly. Let’s see, you’ve got a band called MUSTASCH. That already has me in the mind of maybe some kind of stoner clone. I mean, it’s like the facial hair thing, man…you know, Fu Manchu, Mustasch? Right? Hmm…Then the album cover is all black with a picture of a jet on the cover, which now has me thinking they may sound like…Jet? Well, no, but maybe Airbourne or something which, no doubt, has me pretty damn bummed because Airbourne sucks donkey balls. Then I put the disc in and the first track sounds like something that coulda been on “Back In Black.” Say what? Now I’m on the 2nd track, and I’m hearing heavy rock again, but this time with strings! I’m kinda befuddled but after a 3rd time thru, I’m grooving heavily on what these Swedish cats are doing here. Pretty polished but heavy metallic hard rock is the order of the day, and they aren’t afraid to try something different with the orchestration, experimentation with different volumes of guitars going in & out and vocals ranging from clean & melodic to near-gruff. The only thing that still doesn’t wash for me is the kinda silly dub-overview of all the album’s songs in the last, 9-minute cut but songs like “Double Nature” and “Falling Down” keep me spinning this one. 7.5

OPETH – “Watershed” CD ’08 (Roadrunne, Swe) – We seem to be on a Swedish theme here, actually bolstered by the fact that I took the family to Bengies Drive-In last night for a movie and bought a bag of Swedish Fish! The fact is, however, that while OPETH may be the most popular of the 3 Swedish bands I’ve reviewed here, in my opinion they are by far the least interesting. Unfortunately, this crew strike me on “Watershed” the same way they hit me on their plethora of albums that have gone before it: a decent band for what they do but so far over-rated and overblown as to inspire nausea through pure mediocrity. OPETH are basically a death metal band who have augmented their sound with a nod in the ‘70’s prog direction. This is ok…and there’s the rub…it’s just ok…at best. From the opening acoustic shortie of “Coil” through the quite heavy “Heir Apparent” and on to the epic length tracks to follow, there is simply precious little to hang onto here. In listening several times to this, I keep getting the feeling that something exciting will happen soon…and yet it never does. If you like OPETH’s previous works, I suppose you’ll want this, but otherwise, check out the catalog of a truly great outfit, The Gathering. Or at least grab a bag of Swedish Fish, you’ll remember it more. 4.0

LAZERWOLFS – “La Bruja” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Did you ever look at a map of the United States? Check out Montana. Not Joe, silly, the state. Pretty damn impressive, size-wise, eh? Yeah, and lil’ ol’ Rhode Island may have a denser population but I wonder if they have a band like LAZERWOLFS. See, when you’re talking LAZERWOLFS, you’re talking about a bunch that wear their commitment to heavy-ass rock on their sleeves. This is a band who dished out their last opus “Navaja Automatica” free of charge as a download after having to go through a world of hurt to get it out. They just wanted to get hell bent & deliver the damn goods. Now, having put decibels to tape once again, the results are this brain-basher called “La Bruja” and brother, it’s another killing machine. So what is this band like? Simply put, they frickin’ bring it. Uncomplicated, raw and in-your-face, somebody with a few years in the bizz might want to call this stoner rock, but to me, it’s got too many killer hooks, riffs & leads. Stuff like “The Deed Will Be Done,” “The Pugilist” and “Bloodbath” actually remind me of what might’ve happened if Leslie West was transported out of the studio where “Climbing” was being recorded & zapped into 1981. Yeah, it’s got that kinda great crossover metal/hard rawk thing going on as guitarist Jimmy Rolle blasts out the Les Paul crunch and Chris LaTray (bass) & “Bubba” Warne (drums) manage the roiling undercurrent oh so organically. Helping the album really round out nicely are that 2 of it’s strongest songs finish things up, namely the pause-giving melodies of “Jack O’ The Green” and the thundering opus “Drawing Down The Moon.” Strong mid-range vocals all around also contribute to making this an album that any heavy rockin’ fan will place near the top of their rotation and can be obtained from the band for a very nominal price. So, go support ‘em, ‘Realm Readers, what’re ya waiting for?! 9.0