Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Stone Free!

BLINDSTONE – “Freedom’s Calling” CD ’08 / “Manifesto” ‘03(Grooveyard, Swe) – Denmark. That country used to really mean something when it came to guitarists, Jack. C’mon, you know what I’m talking about, Mercyful Fate. Hank Shermann & Michael Denner were the names that used to set this amateur axe slinger’s dreams alight when it came to devastating, brain-melting riffs, scalding leads and a kick-ass attitude that meant you couldn’t imagine how heavy the next song was going to be. Sure, King Diamond was the front man and the larger-than-life figure everybody talked about, but to me it was those Danish guitar Gods. With that in mind, it sure was nice to receive these 2 BLINDSTONE discs from Grooveyard Records featuring the formidable Danish talents of one Martin J. Andersen. I’m not going to mince words, this guy is a motherfucker. First off, boy’s got a voice on him. Check out “Waste A Little Time On Me” (“Freedom’s Calling”) for one: smooth and bluesy, yet still powerful. I’m reminded a bit of Grand Magus’ JB, if he had a few more vocal lessons and maybe a couple more bourbons. Secondly, and surely not least, this guy is one helluva player. You can basically let laser hit disc anywhere you want on either disc and this notion will slap you in the face harder than a dump truck full of rolled-up quarters. “Hang On To My Love,” from “Freedom’s Calling” will have you pulling out “Rio Grande Mud” to make sure this isn’t something The Reverend Billy G. laid to wax in the early ‘70’s. Just a luscious guitar tone, all thick, raw & in your face but that’s not all: the guy is good! Everywhere there are riffs on top of riffs and smoking leads that just say “kick ass.” Another thing about both of these albums is the way the rhythm section locks in organically with Mr. Andersen’s fretsman fireworks and brings the funk-i-fied git-down to the forefront. Jesper Bunk (bass) & Anders Hvidfeldt (drums…along with Benjamin Hove on the first album) fuse to Martin’s riffing and damn if I don’t hear the spirit of Funkadelic rising through tracks like “Unifunk (It’s Time)” and (yes!) the bonus track “Funkadelic Medley” (“Manifesto”), not to mention “Freedom’s” blistering “Sugar Room.” Still, my favourite comes near the end of “Freedom’s Calling,” a massive cover of Frank Marino’s “Had Enough.” Talk about something that will get every Hendrix, Trower, Randy Hansen & Eddie Hazel fan foaming at the mouth, this is it. Joined on dual leads by another bluesy maestro, Lance Lopez, Martin Andersen really opens up the jets on this one and pays tribute, not only to the Canadian six slinger but to everyone who’s ever fired up an electric guitar. What a cool couple of discs and high points in the Grooveyard legacy. And, no songs about Satan (sorry, Hank & Michael!).
“Freedom’s Calling”9.5
“Manifesto” 9.0

ISTHMUS – “Land Bridge – 41:06” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Post-metal is one of those terms that always seems funny to me. I mean, I understand it, being thought of as a form of music derived from metal and so-called post-rock, but there you are again: the post thing. I know, I know, metal involving rock instruments but not necessarily using the same kinds of technical aspects traditionally associated with rock. I guess it’s just that the “post” thing makes me think somebody is saying “this is what comes after metal.” So you would be telling me then, that Pelican’s “Australasia” is not metal, after all, but something that came after it. Anyway, my issues with a genre name are my issues, I guess, and that brings us to ISTHMUS. A band I’m happy to report hails from my neck of the woods (Baltimore), ISTHMUS is surely one that falls into the broad musical brushstroke as the aforementioned Pelican, Isis, etc. There are a couple things that make “Land Bridge” stand out, however. One is the fact that for a young band’s first foray into the waters, this is a surprisingly mature and well-arranged record. The pacing of the songs is varied and even the 3-part “Perihelion” and 2-part “Red Shift” never wear out their welcome. Think superbly-produced (another high point here), layers of heaviness that still find melody seeping out from memorable corners. The other factor that puts “Land Bridge” on the map here is the math-like, fusion-y (is that a word?) elements, at times calling to mind some of the more exploratory moments of Sieges Even. In all, ISTHMUS has impressed very much with this record and any fan of the…ahem…post-metal genre would be well to check them out now. 8.0

ALKALINE TRIO – “Agony & Irony” CD ’08 (Sony, US) – Every now and then I have an interesting surprise. A major label actually sends me a disc to review. What typically happens then is that the skies open up, it snows a shitload in July, The Orioles win a World Series and the IRS sends me a check for $ 100,000 saying “Sorry, I think we owe you this.” Well anyway…it isn’t often and for whatever reason, Sony decided to send me this latest outing by ALKALINE TRIO. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been living behind the door when it comes to these guys. Truth be known, I didn’t even know how many albums they had out (6, apparently, including this one, beginning with 1998’s “Goddamnit”) until I did a little research. The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter to me, because unless the earlier ones are a helluva lot better than this, I couldn’t care less. From what I read, ALKALINE TRIO is a punk band who started out snotty and raw, then polished up their sound in the process of shopping for a major and now, by golly, they really are polished up! Sound like Green Day to anybody? You betcha, as that’s seriously the vibe I got from this ash tray, with only the song “Love Love, Kiss Kiss” doing anything to keep me from drooling in my Jello. Such a pity to see a band like the Koffin Kats unknown to so many people while watered-down pablum like this lives in the name of “punk.” 1.5

BLIZARO – “Blue Tape” CD ’08 (Private, US) – There were a couple things about John Brenner’s Declaration of Doom Festival this past July that didn’t surprise me at all. One was the massive generosity shown by everyone involved, in terms of the contributions to our son Nathan’s service dog cause. I’ve always known the people of the metal/doom scene were great individuals, simply wonderful & nice people and this only confirmed that belief. I also was not surprised at the level of musical quality rendered by each of the bands involved. John knows top-notch, innovative & heavy music and assembled a cast that was 2nd to none. I was a bit stunned, however, by the sounds emanating from the club during BLIZARO’s set. Now, I’ve known for a long time that John Gallo & Mike Puleo are absolute doom masters. They’re main band, Orodruin is about as right-on a trad-doom band as you can get, easily right up there with masters like The Gates Of Slumber & Revelation. Still, those sounds and now, these that escape my disc changer as “Blue Tape” plays show me these cats on a whole other level. The comparison game is often a dangerous one, but in this case, I think the easiest way I can describe the music on “Blue Tape” is to say that Gallo & Puleo, here, are the American Paul Chain. They take the foundation of crushing, doom-inflected metal, the old Iommi-an plunder and somehow fold it into a lush, dark Italian horror soundtrack mode to create some truly scary and impressive stuff. Naming individual tracks here would probably be silly but to make a long story short, I’d have to say this: If you know who Paul Chain is and love him, this is your ticket. If you aren’t aware of Mr. P.C., but find things like Goblin occupying your music library along with Sabbath, get to ordering right now. 8.5

DR. HASBEEN – “Signs” 2CD ’08 (Black Widow, Eng) – My heavens, this is some kind of package: 2 CD’s, a tri-fold digipak, a detailed booklet with killer artwork. You really have to hand it to Mass & the people at Black Widow. When they get behind an artist, they do things up first class, spending time & taking care…a joy to see. And, for fans of the British legends Hawkwind, this mammoth set by DR. HASBEEN should be a joy to hear. I’ll be the first to admit that the Hawkwind style of driving space rock is surely an acquired taste. I’ll also admit that, while I can give it a listen at certain times, it’s not always my cup of tea. But there’s no question in the world that DR HASBEEN play plenty of homage to their heroes here and then some. Through a marathon session comprising studio and live cuts, these guys offer a bevy of numbers like “The Time Watcher,” “Apollo 13” and “Axis Of Evil” rife with driving guitar rhythms, pulsing electronics and enough sci-fi overtones to fill a whole bookstore. Making appearances as well, are nods to HW in the form of renditions of such classics as “Sonic Attack,” “Silver Machine” and “Master Of The Universe.” Truly a trip worth taking at least a few times. 7.0

UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA – “The Magus” CD ’08 (Black Widow, It) – Occupying a landscape far into the outer reaches of what is known as rock are Italy’s UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA. If you’re thinking these outer reaches include things like early Yes, Radiohead or Dream Theater, you really had better run…very hard and far and duck because, in that case, you truly have no idea how far into the realms of “different” UTO forge. On the other hand, if you realize that the expression “RIO” does not necessarily mean a warm southern destination and names like Present and Magma are not something you get for Christmas or that which spews out of a volcano, maybe you’re ready for this. Simply put, UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA remind me of what would happen if someone were to take the greatest chamber music players in the world, give ‘em electric rock instruments, bring in a host of top operatic vocalists and then yell “Fire!” And that’s no put-down at all, brothers and sisters. I’m just trying to give you the low-down on how intense and eyebrow-raisingly over-the-top “The Magus” is. Could I listen to this album all the time? Definitely not, but there are moments in my week that this could be a real kick in the ass and those very open to experimentation and something quite different should take note! 8.0

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