Saturday, February 28, 2009

Your In For Surprise, You're In For A Shock!

RIPPER – “The Dead Have Rizen” CD ’09 (Black Widow, US) – I was a damn fool once. Mark it down, circle it in red and highlight it with some neon colour, if you’d like. See, I was a damn fool once but it ain’t gonna happen again. My brush with buffoonery came in 1986. For it was in that year, dear reader, that Texas’ horror metal band RIPPER issued the harrowingly cool, frighteningly bad-assed “And The Dead Shall Rise.” That aural monster came crawling out of the slime pits on Iron Works Records some 20+ years ago and, as only he can, Ray blithely walked right past it in at least a handful of record stores, ignoring it’s coloured vinyl, it’s pic disc versions. Ok, yeah I was worshipping records with titles like “Master Of Puppets” and “Reign In Blood” in those days and I’ll be switched if a hallowed obscurity or two didn’t sneak past me, leaving evil encrusted trails all around my house while I sat smugly inside, lost in my delusion of safety. It took my good ol’ buddy Mass at Italy’s Black Widow Records to re-issue “And The Dead…,” bringing it to my attention in hair-raising detail back in 2004. Since then, I’ve been a rabid supporter of said disc’s volatility and have waited with baited breath for the day which would end up being February 25, 2009. That day, my fine fuckers, is when a small white square package arrived in my mailbox with the familiar Black Widow return address showing in the upper left hand corner. Always knowing the quality that emanates from the halls of BW, I eagerly grabbed the packet and…laid it on the shelf till I picked the kids up from school, did a load of laundry and fixed dinner. Like I’ve said before, I need to cleanse my palette, set aside a nice, neat block of time to devote to something I know will be of great quality. Finally, that evening I tore the package open & the first thing to come spilling out was the demonic, blood-red-tinged new RIPPER CD! Here it was, the band’s 2nd album, conceived only a year after “And The Dead Shall Rise” and yet, for a myriad reasons, never recorded nor released till now. And now it went in the player…and 40-some minutes later, my ass was kicked and I had my faith in the real, good…no GODLY horror metal of the ‘80’s restored.

Remember those days? The days of albums like Pentagram’s “Day Of Reckoning,” the Death SS singles, Paul Chain’s “Life & Death,” Mercyful Fate’s 1st two? We’re talking about bands who could take the very essence of darkness, creepiness…vampires & ghouls…the devil & his minions and somehow make it catchy, add a moment of camp & yet still have it kick the living be-jesus out of your sad & sorry face? “The Dead Have Rizen” is that entire vibe 101. Or maybe even 1001! Right from the scary opener “The Grave” (but of course!) the band kicks in and it’s a metal joy ride from that point on. Try to resist the opening pair of “Hemicidal” & “Driller.” Visions of the walking dead & hideous killers driving a GTO down Sunset Boulevard with an open 6-pack on the seat will dance in your head as the guitars of Rob Graves & Stephen Bogle plow into you with overdriven intensity. Don Ramirez & Alan D’Angelo (drums, bass) lay down a pulverizing mid-paced plunder and Graves vocals prowl on top like hell. I’ve gotta say, Mr. Graves does a metal vox performance for the decade on this disc. Not technically brilliant, or anything boring like that, this cat just sounds like he’s lurking ‘round the house and if your sister & her friends from modeling school are there, you might wanna lock the door. Friggin’ brilliant, man. And, now the album just gets silly-good. Songs like “66 Angel Eyez” and “U.S. Tank” will maul your ears with riffs of oddly Raven/Pentagram amalgam (hey, maybe that does make sense, since they both had the same drummer at times). Sheezus, the latter is one of the most appropriately-named cuts in ages as it sounds like damn tank treads running over your head. Can you spell K-I-C-K-A-S-S?! Bringing this long-awaited jewel down the home stretch are a couple more plunderers in the name of “Love Me To Death” and “The Tall Man” before the band have the monumental audacity to attempt one of the greatest hard rock songs of all time, Kiss’ “God Of Thunder.” Things like this generally go one of 2 ways: classic covers or massive train wrecks. Suffice it to say, this one is the former and if your fist isn’t pumping in the air now, you need to lick Gene Simmons…and Rob Graves’ boots! Bringing things to a close are the massive “In The Raw,” segueing into the terrific horror outro of “Dark Dominion.” I have to give special kudos for his work throughout the album to current RIPPER guitarist Stephen Bogle. This dude is the kinda player who will not dazzle you with Julliard chops…and thank God for that!...but would rather take a rusty can opener to your head and give you a direct metallic implant of timeless rifferama.

In short, could there be anything cooler than this? The 2nd RIPPER album (finally!), complete with creepy cover art, a gorgeous booklet and all on the legendary Black Widow imprint. 2009 is off to a fucking bang with a release like this mutha, so send Mass your money! 10.0

NIGHT HORSE – “The Dark Won’t Hide You” CD ’08 (Tee Pee, US) – I often wonder about my ol’ buddy David. See, David was a real cool fellow the likes of whom I used to trade tapes with back in the day. You remember, don’t you? Those small, rectangular plastic thingy’s with the 2 spools where the tape wound from one to the other, then you turned it over & played the other side? Anyway, David & I used to exchange these damn things through the mail and they would typically be chock full of whatever motorin’ stuff we had unearthed at the local record mill…coulda been anything from heavy rock to metal to folk to indie, you name it, we were always regaling each other with something that would blow the other away…or not. We were quick to point out a misguided piece of shit just as much as the latest godly platter. One of the godly platters that crossed my magnetic heads thanks to David was a snappy little EP by Soundgarden called “Screaming Life.” And, that’s where we join NIGHT HORSE…as for all the world, they remind me of the Thayil, Cornell etc. conglomerate before they became a “conglomerate.” Yep, this is heavy, thudding rock with a dark, feral element that makes you sit up and take notice. It’s a short record, no tracks that I’d consider epic and yet a damn fine listen all the way through. Much in the way the aforementioned Garden grew it’s own branches and never floundered under the so-called grunge umbrella, so NIGHT HORSE raise their bluesy hard rock beyond the typical. Tracks like “Shine On Me” and the title number display vocals melodies that stick and guitar leads that cut. A classic? Well, no, but a record you’ll sure as hell play more than once. 7.0

TRASHCAN DANCE – “Doomsday Disco” CD ’08 (Private, Fin) – When I think of Finland and rawk, my mind always rolls around to HANOI ROCKS. Damn, I had some fun listening to rekids like “Oriental Beat” & “Two Steps From The Move.” Michael Monroe and Andy McCoy were about as “toxic” a twins as you could get and ditties like “Motorvatin’” were part of the soundtrack to my years working in the record store. Well, I’m here to tell you that while TRASHCAN DANCE are also from Finland, they ain’t no HANOI ROCKS. In fairness, this is pretty cool trashy-punky stuff, with a slight dose of metal. The herky-jerky rhythms and spastic vocals are enough to keep you awake & liven any party you might be thinking about throwing in your dorm, although the title cut gets too arty for it’s own good & the energy wanes in the latter half of the disc. Interesting band, though, and worth a listen. 6.0

Friday, February 27, 2009


BOULDER – “Reaped In Half” CD ’02 (Tee Pee, US) – There are a couple things you have to realize right at the outset when considering Ohio’s BOULDER: 1. One of their previous releases (yes, a viny rekid!) was entitled “Ripping Christ” and featured a cover photo of Jesus crucified upside down on a mountain of Marshalls. 2. They had a song entitled “DLR (that’s David Lee Roth to you, honcho) Is King.” 3. They have two guitarists who play Flying V’s. Now that we have that background firmly entrenched in your subconscious, let’s move on to “Reaped In Half.” Even though this sumnabitchinbastard is on CD, it’s divided into two “sides,” “Act I” and “Act II.” Are you with me, people? So far, this crew can do no wrong. Now the proof is in the pudding and brutha, throw on the first cut “Krank It Up” and you can feel the fire upon your face! Ok, ok, yeah there’s definitely some true “Stained/Hell Bent”-era Priest glorification going on here, and I’m happy as a damn clam with that. After all, Jamie Walters’ (he of Abdullah, Destructor, etc) vox are a helluva lot rougher than Mr. Halford’s, so we ain’t talkin’ ‘bout no clone here. But dang, wrap those heavy metal ears of your’s around nasties like “Ripped In Half,” the lecherous “Arrest Me” or “Yellow Fever” and it’s just like Mickey D’s, man, you’re gonna be lovin’ it! There are as many dual pointy guitar axe assaults in these tracks as anything Glenn & KK unleashed on any tune from “Heroes End” to “Burnin’ Up.” Complicated? Nope. Classically-inspired? Not a chance. Ass-kicking to the max? Oh, yeah. Play this one in your car only if you have a perfectly spotless driving record and can afford a ticket. Here’s hoping BOULDER come tumbling down from Mt. Ohio again, as this is one rock that’ll roll you over. 9.5
NOTE: You should be well advised to check out any of BOULDER’s recorded product (at least 7 or 8 records)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Exclamation Point

WINO – “Punctuated Equilibrium” CD ’09 (Southern Lord, US) – While the mainstream may stare blankly into space when you mention the name Wino, there isn’t a person in the metal/heavy/etc. underground who doesn’t know his name. Yes, that includes me. I know his name, it’s Scott Weinrich, although Wino will do just fine. One memory I have of this man is one that also says a helluva lot. It was February of 2000, as I recall, and I’d made my solitary way down to a place called Phantasmagoria to check out Matt Pike’s new High On Fire. Opening was Wino’s band of the day, SPIRIT CARAVAN. To say they pillaged would be correct. My moment of reference, however, came shortly into HOF’s set when Mr. Pike, noticing Wino standing approvingly near the stage, yelled “I want to thank Wino for tonight. He’s the stoner messiah!” That was quite a statement. When you think about it, though, the description may not even be adequate. As another example, think about Neil Young. When the early ‘90’s rolled around and everybody at college was wearing plaid shirts, long greasy hair & singing the praises of “Nevermind,” folks described ol’ Neil as “the godfather of grunge.” In truth, Young had been playing music that sounded like this stuff only far better (and many other styles as well) for close to 20 years, yet when the world of youth somehow synced to his vision in 1991, he was suddenly it’s “godfather.” The general pop., in it’s disposable way, would soon move on, leaving names like Tad, Munhoney & Mother Love Bone like tumbleweed on the road shoulder. Neil, however, would continue to ply his trade, issuing plundering records like “Living With War” & “Chrome Dreams 2” spaced nicely with folk records such as “Prairie Wind.”

In great correlation, WINO has been around forever…or it surely seems like it. I remember walking into a roadside bar in Laurel MD, back in the very early ‘80’s. I was there to see the seminal melodic speed metal gods, Deuce. Walking across the parking lot, however, I noticed a flyer slapped on a telephone pole advertising a show by THE OBSESSED. I can still envision the picture, 3 seriously bad-assed looking dudes, all denim, leather & long hair and thinking “I’ve gotta check this shit out.” I did and was blown away by a rugged, nasty amalgam of metal, jammy hard rock and punk. It was music that was feral & pulverizing yet it still somehow embodied a sense of melody that, while foreboding, was also strangely uplifting. This combination emanated directly from the guitar work and vocals of Wino…something that would continue for years in his work with Saint Vitus (albeit sans guitar in that outfit), THE OBSESSED (again), SHINE, SPIRIT CARAVAN, PLACE OF SKULLS and THE HIDDEN HAND. And yes, when albums like Kyuss’ “Sky Valley” & Fu Manchu’s “Daredevil” made noise in the mid-nineties, delivering a similar sound and ethic, it wasn’t long before Mr. Weinrich was going to be called, yes, a “stoner messiah.” Still, while the “stoner” genre has brought along some great music, the Kyuss & Fu stuff joined by worthy contenders like Datura and, even today, Birch Hill Dam, I can easily see the day when those names may be but memories while one man continues on, his vision unwavering. This is all brought to the fore by his wonderful new solo release, “Punctuated Equlibrium.”

In one sense, it might be argued that “Punctuated Equilibrium” is a compilation of all of WINO’s many years of styles. To me, however, that’s a broad brushstroke that doesn’t begin to tell the tale. Rather, I see it as the coming together of a great artists strengths, doing so in a way that’s as smooth-flowing as it is hard-hitting: a man reaching his zenith yet, paradoxically still on the rise. To begin with, WINO has put together a really nice band for this disc. With no disrespect to any of the fine musicians he’s worked with in the past, this is clearly the most organic unit he’s had. Jon Blank (bass) is known for his work in Fragment 37, Soulmower and perhaps more so, Rezin. His style is one of flowing, melodic lines, not unlike Butler in the early Sabs. On drums we have Jean Paul Gaster, from Clutch, and in my opinion, one of the best drummers you’re going to ever dream of in music of any persuasion these days. This cat has the plunder to be as heavy as Bonzo and yet so deft a feel & touch that my money says he could tackle the labyrinths of Coltrane & come up trumps. Listen here to “Wild Blue Yonder,” one of my favourite tracks from an album of highs. The musical interaction between these 3 guys takes me back to Side Two of the first Sabbath disc. Yes, it’s that good.

Elsewhere on this release, the results are equally staggering and, as hinted at before so is the cohesion of the variety. Speaking of a “release,” you can look right to the disc’s opener “Release Me.” Not the smoky lounge number offered once by a seductive Peggy Lee, this one is based on a riff from the old OBSESSED days. It’s a jaunty rhythm not-unlike something Leslie West might’ve unleashed in his “Dreams Of Milk & Honey” days and points out WINO’s understanding of things far beyond the typical power chord. This harkens from a time when guitar players understood that a “riff” was not simply slamming down a barre. Blurring the distinction between lead & rhythm, WINO not only calls to mind the great axemen from the past but puts himself among ‘em! That quick, we’re into the title track and getting a taste of the Motorhead/punk side of things. The melodic guitar breaks in this 2 ½ minute ripper display the kind of unexpected flair this man really knows how to nail. Remember how albums would often be in the ‘70’s? You knew they were going to be good, but didn’t know exactly HOW they’d get there? Check out “The Woman In The Orange Pants.” Man, all the sudden we’re listening to something that could be a lost neighbor of Billy Cobham’s “Spectrum!” And so it goes…the thundering psych-doom of “Secret Realm Devotion,” the “Embryo/Orchid” respite of “Water Crane” or the metallic fire storm of closer “Silver Lining.” It’s all good. No, it’s all fucking great and inasmuch, it’s easy to get lost in not only the masterful guitar work but the serious cooking going on with all 3 musicians. That aside, you need to take time to listen to WINO’s vocals. While some consider the guy to have a pedestrian voice, I submit that’s way unfair. Weinrich’s mid-tone may not have a multi-octave range, but it’s got more of an emotional impact than any power metal screecher I’ve ever heard (well, outside of Rob Halford). Lyrically, especially lately, WINO’s lyrics have been a source of hot-point discussion during THE HIDDEN HAND days, with him delving deeply into conspiracy theories and the like. Personally, I dig it because it’s interesting, well-written and different. Things political & such do take their place in the slicing number “Gods, Frauds, Neo-Cons & Demagogues.” Still, cuts like “Release Me” & “Smili’n Road” tell of a far deeper look into a man’s soul, an individual look at pain, hope and all between. And, tell me, folks, can you imagine a more concise yet lyrical look at life than the words of closer “Silver Lining?” “And as I ride through life I’m gonna keep on trying to bring the love and keep the hopes and dreams alive. On every dark cloud there is a silver lining, the gleaming fortress of spirit, it will shine.”

Special stuff and completing it all is the ultra-cool booklet. Not only does it feature a couple great pics of WINO but also something that raises this guy even higher, in my estimation. Preceding the song lyrics are 4 pages of him talking about the songs in an engaging, entertaining and self-effacing manner. The stoner messiah? Way more than that, WINO is a legend and also a regular dude. The highest praise possible is due here. 10.0

Having A Fitt

THE FITT – “Hawk Eyes” 7” EP ’08 (Big Neck, US) – You come to me, head in hands, heavy in heart. Your eyes are sunken in and your spirit is broken. The problem is one that I’ve heard before in recent years and yet, it always makes me feel a bit sad & crestfallen. Still, after a moment of pensive thought, I have an antidote. “Ray,” you tell me, hands shaking noticeably, like a smoker trying to quite cold turkey, “I just can’t find any records anymore. I mean, shit, bro, I can barely find any CD’s. I try standing on the corner, ya know, asking people…all I can find is teenagers offering me downloads. I’m a fucking wreck.” I pause a moment, then lean forward studying your eyes, the desperation of a lost, hollow soul peering at me nearly devoid of emotion. “How would you like,” I say in a calm, even voice, “To find a record…a new record…that actually completely kicks ass?” I watch as the gloom & horror in your gaze allows a glint of hope to briefly flash through before it turns to disbelief. “Vi…nyl?” you stammer, “Vinyl?! Please don’t make fun of me!” “I’m not, I’m not my friend,” I say, kindly laying a hand upon your trembling one. “Here, I say, take this. Log on. Go.” With that I place a small piece of paper between your frail digits and turn to walk away. On it are the words:

You see, THE FITT are a 3-piece band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a Ravens fan, that troubled me at first and yet upon finding this sweet slice of vinyl in my mailbox, I’m willing to overlook geographical locations. Simply put, THE FITT’s “Hawk Eyes” EP renews hope for me as someone who collected vinyl for years. The reason? I can’t tell you when I’ve heard a more blistering 9 minutes of music on a black, circular 7” piece of plastic since the first time I spun my Discharge singles or Raw Power’s “Wop Hour.” THE FITT don’t waste any time, honcho. You say “9 minutes?” I say “A completely lethal dose!” Opening up the jets with “The Title Cut,” then ripping through “Scholar” & “Visions,” Side One is complete and you are laying against the far wall of your listening emporium, sharp metal fragments embedded in your face & torso and your sad ass starting a fatal bleed-out. This is crushing metallic hardcore that combines the thundering pillage of Motorhead, the oft-harrowing pace of Death Side & the magnificent, out-of-control feel of a night at Baltimore’s Loft in 1986. On to Side Two, the glorious assault continues with the instrumental “M-80” and more viral hell with mega-angry vox in “Gonna Get It Now.” THE FITT then really put the cherry on top this spot-on slice of vinyl (I love to keep saying that word) with the closer, “Killer.” Taking a wild left-turn from the previous 5 trax, Pat (guitar/vox), Davey (bass) & Arron (drums) serve up a thudding rhythmical slice of wonder that takes me by surprise every time. Sounding like the bastard-child of Gang Of Four, Devo & something off Jay Reatard’s “Blood Visions,” this one alone raises “Hawk Eyes” from the level of musical methadone to the real damn deal. Now take this…get out of here. And forget you ever heard my name. 9.0

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CYNIC UK - Interview with the NWOBHM killers!

It may be fairly safe to say that a good many metallers know about the reformation and return of the American band CYNIC, from Florida, who came back after a 15 year hiatus to deliver the creditable album, “Traced In Air” (see January ’09 blog). However, I’d say it’s even a more solid bet that a lot of y’all had no idea about the return of another CYNIC, this one from England. This unit has risen from their NWOBHM past and turned this writer on his ear with their smashing ’08 release “Suburban Crisis” (once again, see the January blog). Drawing on some killer inspiration (Motorhead, UFO, Legend...Christ how can you go wrong there?!) they add a generous slab of their own originality in songs like “Dark December” and in the process issued one of my Top 10 discs of the year. I recently had the chance to converse with Shaun Grant (lead guitar, vocals) and Dom Heptinstall (lead guitar), chewing the metal fat about CYNICAL times past & present.

RAY - It’s funny, most of the bands I interview these days, I ask them to go back to the beginning…and the beginning for them is something like 2003. With you guys, it’s what, 1979? But that’s cool because that was the beginning of the NWOBHM, eh? So go ahead, tell us in detail what was going on then, both for you guys in particular and the scene in general? I’m so curious about that era. What was it like, being in the middle of all that? Or was it not as exciting as I might think?

DOM - Well, it wasn’t quite as exciting as people might think! The NWoBHM is more visible as a movement in hindsight than it was at the time. All sorts of bands have ended up under that umbrella as the years have gone by. We were all just rock bands at the time.

RAY - If you’d like, take us through the following years with what happened with CYNIC, what you guys were involved with in the meantime and what led to the band reforming and, ultimately, this godly piece of plastic in my hand called “Suburban Crisis?”

SHAUN - After Cynic split around 1990 Dom and I played together in another band called Bad Attitude for about five years. After that I joined a band called Sons of Spock and played with them for around 6 years. After that I formed a band called Slackgranny with Toad Seabright on vocals and Gary Curtiss on bass (who went on to play on Suburban Crisis). On drums for Slackgranny is Mark Simon who played for Grim Reaper in the eighties. Tim played in a band called Before the Storm and also a Rush covers band, both with Neil Orgee on bass, ex of Cynic.

DOM - About three or four years ago we started to hear about the fact that Cynic had a following on the Internet with people paying a lot for our single and that it was regarded as a bit of a cult classic. So – we decided to get back together and see how people liked the sound of Cynic 20 years on.

RAY - I like “Suburban Crisis” for a lot of reasons, but one thing that I love is the way you bring a lot of vibes together without ever losing the overall flow of an album. I’d like to touch on a couple songs in particular. “Suicide” has a distinct NWOBHM feel and yet there’s something about the vocals and production that make it immediately viable as a bnd in 2008. Any commentary?

DOM - Shaun wrote Suicide for the single and it was right in the middle of the NWoBHM period so maybe that’s why it particularly has that feel to it. With the album we were trying to achieve that eighties NWoBHM sound together with a more up to date production feel. Basically we went into the studio, plugged in, turned up to eleven and recorded live. Hopefully we managed achieve a slightly more modern feel without sacrificing the hard rock sound we love.

RAY - The title song gives me some of the feelings I used to get when I listened to UFO and then vocally, I’m also reminded of the late, great Bon Scott. Lyrically he was a genius in combining a clever trick of the tongue with deft vocal rhythm. Am I right on any of this, or am I just an aging rock critic who doesn’t have a fucking clue?

SHAUN - UFO and AC/DC were influences on us, both lyrically and musically, so it’s not surprising that there are traces of both in there. Bon Scott was a fine singer and top nutter and is sadly missed. Another influence you might hear is Led Zeppelin.

RAY - One of my favourite tracks is “Dark December.” I’m not sure if you’re familiar with a NWOBHM band from the Channel Islands called Legend. This one remind me of the wa they would create a dark atmosphere and an epic-length song, yet never let it get boring or allow the mood to kill the energy. Once again, your comments are welcome!

DOM - We’ve never heard of Legend but as we sound similar we will check them out. In fact Dark December nearly didn’t make it onto the CD. We only decided at the last minute to include it. We recorded it having only played it twice in the last twenty years! It seems to be many people’s favourite track on the album.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Have you ever seen an American hit by a car when they don’t look the right way crossing a street in England? Shit, when I visited there in 1995, I was paranoid as hell because of the traffic going the other way!

DOM - Have to say we haven’t seen any Americans run over under any circumstances Ray, never mind looking the wrong way crossing the road!

RAY - Ok, I’ve got a few more questions about this “Suburban Crisis” release, because I think it’s notable on several levels. To begin with, how did you end up at Rockfield Studios in Wales and get the Rush engineering guy?

SHAUN - For many years my and Tim’s ambition was to record at the same studio where Rush recorded A Farewell to Kings. Finally Tim decided enough was enough and booked a week at Rockfied Strudios in Monmouth, Wales. Having Matt Butler engineering the album was pure luck in that he was the guy provided by Rockfield. We were just incredibly lucky to get him as he understood immediately what sound we were after and helped us to get it.

RAY - How much money did you have to lay out to get the unbelievable packaging job done on “Suburban Crisis?” Most big-label acts would probably give their left nut to put out a product that looks as fantastic as this damn thing! How did you manage this? I guess it’s a case of, “If you want to do something, find a way to do it right,” eh?

SHAUN - Not sure exactly how much but it didn’t cost as much as you might think as the people involved worked at a much reduced rate to help us out because they believed in what we were doing. Matt and Hugh (Syme) both did a great job to give us a great sounding and looking album.

RAY - What is up with this black CD, what’s the difference, if any, technology-wise? I’m not a tech-geek at all…Not saying you are, or anything. Ha ha.

DOM - I don’t think there’s any technical difference between an ordinary CD and the black one we’ve gone for. We like the black vinyl effect as it fits in well with the concept of an album rather than a CD, which is what we were after. We made it album length so that we could release it on vinyl at a later date, if there’s demand.

RAY - You guys have been called CYNIC for a long time. Have you heard the Florida death-fusion band CYNIC? Oddly, they issued their first album in 1993 and have just now put out a new one. I guess Jboth band proved the “cynics” wrong this year, eh?

SHAUN - We’re aware of the other Cynic. There has been banter from some of their fans on the internet that we should change or name but there are no hard feelings between the two bands. Their music is totally different to ours style wise – I don’t think anyone would mix the two bands up.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Do people really eat sausage & tomato sandwiches a lot in England? I heard KK Downing mention them once, so is this maybe just a Judas Priest delicacy?

DOM - People do eat those over here but not exclusively. I’m more of a bacon sandwich man myself. We mainly spend our time drinking large amounts of beer!

RAY - What’s up with touring for CYNIC? Do you guys do many shows where you’re from in England (where exactly is that, if we don’t already have that answer?)

DOM - We’re from Malvern, Worcestershire, which is about 30 miles from Birmingham. We’re not doing a lot of gigs at the moment as we’re mainly concentrating on writing new material. We’ll give you a shout when we do our next one. Maybe you can come over and eat sausage sandwiches and drink beer with us.

RAY - How are things going for the promotion of “Suburban Crisis?” Any chance of getting bigger distribution, say a label like Italy’s Cruz Del Sur? Any advance work happening for a follow-up to “Suburban…?”

SHAUN - We’re writing new songs for a second album currently, which is keeping us pretty busy. Sales of Sub Crisis are picking up as people get to hear about it (with a lot of help from guys like you Ray!) We haven’t approached any distributors really, we’re pretty much letting word of mouth do the selling for us. We’ll check out Cruz Del Sur.

RAY - You guys have been around a long time, so I’m guessing there have been more than a few incidents, oddities or strange goings-on in the history of the band. Tell us a story from the band’s history that would crack us up, shock us into having to get therapy or simply make us smile in bemusement.

DOM - We’ve forgotten most of what happened in the eighties! One odd thing was how Sub Crisis was plagued by what seemed like a climatic conspiracy as if it was never supposed to be completed. We did the main recording at Rockfield but some mixing and vocal stuff was done later at Yellow Shark Studio in Cheltenham. On one occasion Tim, Shaun and Gary were over there when we had the worst flooding for a generation. Tim’s car was flooded and washed away and they had to abandon ship! Only the hard drive with the album on it was saved! We tried again a few weeks layer and were beaten back by arctic snowdrifts. Oddly, one of the names we rejected for the album early on was biblical flood.

RAY - Any final comments, cynical or otherwise?

SHAUN - We would like to say thanks to everyone who’s bought the album and to the people who’ve given us good reviews. Someday it would be great to get out to the States to do some gigs as I know there are lots of fans of NWoBHM out there.

No matter how many bands/artists I talk to over the years, there’s always a special feeling I get when I look to the, that’s not it...! Sorry about that...there’s a special feeling I get when I talk to NWOBHM guys. It’s a period of music that’s always been very important to me, in my own development as a music fan and it produced some of my most treasured music. Moreover, when a band from that period has continued on in this modern day and is still doing work that’s fresh, forward-thinking and gleans the vibe from that era, well, I’m onboard. You get your asses there too!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


DISCHARGE – “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” 1982 (Clay, Eng) – I love subtlety, really do: the well-structured melodic song, the carefully-placed acoustic passage. However, there are times when subtlety is to be damned and that’s when I turn to this album before all others. Released in 1982, “Hear Nothing…” is DISCHARGE’s finest hour (well, not nearly an hour!) and a virtual masterpiece of aggression and anger. If most of today’s hardcore bands could only capture an ounce of the genuine power and feeling here, they’d improve 100-fold. The interesting thing about the songs on this LP is that they aren’t blindingly fast, as many people began to feel was necessary when hardcore exploded in the later ‘80’s. Instead, this band locks into a sick groove and pummels the listener senseless as cuts like “A Hell On Earth” display. Three major things stand out to me about DISCHARGE on this record and they are: Kelv’s emotional-yet-nearly-monotone vocals, his hard-hitting socio-political lyrics and Bones’ 500 ton wall-to-wall guitar onslaught. “Hear Nothing…” is a classic and is recommended to all lovers of pissed-off hardcore punk and aggressive metal alike. 10.0


LORD – “The Second Coming” 1988 (Golden Bear, US) – When it comes to rare albums that cross over between metal and hard rock, this solitary record by California’s LORD stands near the top of the heap along with Survivor, Full Moon & the like. LORD opens this killer slab of vinyl with “Promises,” a beyond-awesome heavy ballad that reminds me of Full Moon’s “Winter City” (it also has an early Priest feel, as well). Usually a band’ll save a cut like this (the few who can write ‘em anyway!) for later on in the album as an ace up their sleeve. These guys just go for it right out of the box. That’s confidence. Guy Lord’s vocals are rich & totally emotional, while the lead guitars of Anthony Romero and Frank Romero are searing to say the least. By the 2nd track, “Burnin,” LORD is completely on fire. Another one that reminds me of Full Moon or perhaps “Force It”-era UFO, it features a stop-start rhythm, another devastating melodic section highlighting Lord’s vocals and more buzz saw axe soloing. It’s only 2 songs in and this record is already better than most passing for metal releases these days (Battlesnake & BOTD excepted…take it easy, Wes & Mark!). Song #3 is “Mr. Death” and it is a headlong train ride into a hellish whirlwind of “Fast As A Shark”-Accept-style riffing, shrieking vocals & howling leads. Whew! The first ½ of “The Second Coming” is now ¾ of the way over (have fun with that, math students) and it’s now brought to a close by a super-metalized version of The Doors’ “The End,” in which Guy L turns in a great interpretation of Morrison’s original and the band (completed by Morris Gonzalez – bass & Phil Guerrero – drums) kicks butt. The first time I listened to this album I was left breathless by the end of Side One and I figured there might be a bit of a let-down when I continued on. Little did I know that this bunch was only getting warmed up!

Side Two of LORD’s “The Second Coming” is one of those 20 minutes of metal that could not possibly be any better. Think Side Two of “Stained Class” or “Vol. 4,” Side One of “Don’t Break The Oath,” you know what I mean? Anyway, first there’s “Snow,” a rapid-fire riffer to open things, riddled by tons of over-the-top lead guitar, something Romero & Paul never seem to get tired of unleashing. Next is “Love Machine,” a total freaking classic-to-end-all-classics. There are so man heavy riffs, rhythm changes and lead breaks here that it’s enough to make your head spin! Also included is an emotion-wracked vocal section about midway through, augmented by awesome backing vox and some cool Uli-inspired lead. DIE FOR A SONG LIKE THIS!!! Of course, if you didn’t, you’d be instantly killed by the Mack truck of “Back To The Asylum,” a mid-pace crunching monster that just punishes the listener ever so pleasurably. And, speaking of pleasurable punishment, the album comes concludes with “Leather Queen,” another mammoth piece of metal songwriting. It’s catchy, heavy and from the middle guitar solo up through the galloping coda, you’ll be in rifftastic ecstasy.

To sum things up, LORD’s “The Second Coming” is an absolute top-shelf metal collectible. Records simply don’t come any better than this, so start trolling the internet to find yourself a copy. You’ll even fall in love with the bad-assed biker pictures of the band on the back cover! 10.0

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Throwing On The Switch!

SOLENOID – “Solenoid” CD ’08 / ’09 (Buzzville, Bel) – Does anybody else ever do this? You’re poking around on the ‘net and all the sudden you find yourself face-to-face with something real cool-looking. Ok, ok…not that cool-looking…this is just an R-rated site, after all. No, here’s what happened. I’m bouncing around, scoping out bands and lo & behold, I find myself staring at a picture of 2 hairy dudes playing Flying V’s. Oh, there were other people in the band but that’s the image that jumped out at me. You see, over the years I’ve learned one thing: when a metal band’s got tough-looking guys with lots of hair, beards & pointy guitars, you pay attention. Accept, Mastodon, Bible Of The Devil…you get my point. So, I stopped in my tracks & took a look around. Everything looked right: all the influences, the comments and the link: “U.S. Distribution.” How long you think it took me to follow that bad boy? And of course, after selecting 2-day shipping, I realized it was Thursday & UPS doesn’t deliver on Saturdays. Shit. So you do it too? You order something you think might be bad-assed and then torture yourself until it comes? “Tomorrow it’ll be tomorrow,” “What if it was really out-of-stock?,” “What if it sucks?” And then you finally click “tracking” and it says “Out for delivery.” Yes! Now all that’s left is to go outside and get that little brown package off the porch…

I put this CD in, as I have so many times in the past, always fearing the worst…mediocrity. In a lot of ways, if something is a living piece of shit, it makes it easier to take. At least that can be the fodder for a funny review. But, when the first chords of “Out In The Cold” came roaring out of the speakers, I had a fucking feeling. Then, “Down The Dream” followed and the feeling grew strong enough to place sharp metallic fingers around my neck and begin to squeeze firmly. When something sounds like vintage Motorhead and ups the ante with lead guitar work like Robbo supplied in “Another Perfect Day,” I’m all ears. Then comes “Her Peace” and I’m all ears, heart, soul and gonads. This is just a superb, otherworldly song that goes to every visceral part of the human metaller’s body and ravages it with pure greatness. If you can imagine a perfect combination of yeah, Motorhead, but also a tad of Dillinger Escape Plan, Trouble and even Austrian obscurity gurus, U8 (not kidding, motherfrickers!) you’re on the damn trail. The haunting middle section of this song gives me the kinda chills that Santeria’s “Haunted Heart” did last year and the killer production job by Chris Tsangrides (man, it’s nice to hear his name again) only serves to magnify it. But we’re far from done. Through “One Armed Man,” “Angelspray,” “Short But Swell” & “Puppeteer,” this crew simply brings the hard-assed beating, a massive torrent of rifftastic, Flying V-thru-Marshall-driven, post-NWOBHM/thrash/stoner/’70’s hard rawk that is gorgeous thing to be slayed by. One thing this band does in particular, which hardly ever gets mentioned these days, and which I always have loved is the simply nasty rhythms they employ underneath the guitar solos. One guitarist lays down a volatile bed of churning, roiling groove while the other throws open an industrial-sized can of whoop-ass in the guitar solo department. And then, they switch off! Or, they lock together in a Thin Lizzy-style harmony. It’s gorgeous, let me tell you! I’m about to nominate this pair (Arend Hamelryck & Roel Paululssen) for sainthood. And, that’s not to take away from the raw-powered throaty vocals of Frank Homolka, who’s rugged enough to approximate the Lem-meister but still has enough melody in his pipes to make a monster like closer “Divide” his personal stomping ground.

If there’s one thing I hope that you readers take away from this review, it’s not to underestimate the level of how good this disc is. It is everything that the word “rawk” means to me and it is the kind of release that defines what I’m looking for when I troll the net in the name of Raysrealm. In fact, the only thing better than this majestic assbuster of a platter is the fact that, while released in Europe in 2008, it didn’t become available in the States until late January ’09. So, if the spirit moves me (and Colossus doesn’t release 10 albums this year), I could still give this sucker a Top 10 ride. That’s called having your cake and eating it too. 10.0

BIRCH HILL DAM – “Birch Hill Dam” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Stoner rock has a lot of arms & tendrils that spread like either a tarantula…or a disease, depending on your perspective, I suppose. Of course, like thousands of guys & dollies, I loved Kyuss and Fu Manchu (still do) but like many genres, have gotten weary over the years, of the countless semi-flaccid sound-a-likes. Of course, there have been some good ‘uns, like Australia’s Datura & now Massachusetts’ BIRCH HILL DAM. The name was the first thing that caught me on this one. I like it: different, geographical, can stand the test of time, not getting dated. And the music deserves it. These 4 guys take the groove of the stoner realm guide it in the direction of a heavy Southern vibe, bringing names like COC and the NOLA scene to mind. Right off the bat, they impress with “Bed Of Nails.” Sure, Joe (bass) & Matt (drums) lay down a mutha of rhythm for Mike’s ragged vox and Sam’s hammering guitar to lash onto and batter the listener. It’s the tempo shift midway through, however, taking things into a pulsing, leaden breakdown that raise this to a higher plain. All along the way, numbers such as “Soul Giver” and “Gasoline Fiend” continue to capitalize on this deft swing of power, all leading up to the patient, mounting 6-minute monster closer, “Dark River.” I’m reminded of the bluesy class and raw emotion, both band-wise and in Mike’s vocals, of another really cool band Sixty Watt Shaman, who rose above the pack to produce some truly excellent and memorable music a few years back. Buy now. 9.0

SPIRITS BURNING – “Alien Injection” CD ’08 (Black Widow, US) – The Left Coast’s SPIRITS BURNING have all the ingredients working of being a worthy successor to Hawkwind on this sci-fi packaged disc, apparently their 4th. Even adding to the mix are contributions from luminaries like Michael Moorcock, Daevid Allen & at least one member of Hawkwind. Still, I’m left coming away from my several listenings a bit confused and with kind of a headache. Simply put, SPIRITS BURNING have too much going on. Rather than the lysergic-drenched drive that takes you away in the best of the Hawksters, SB pour so many things into their sound that it sounds like Phil Spector gone deranged. Also, some of the vocals/spoken-word passages, especially those by the one male voice here are downright irritating. I love most Black Widow Records stuff but this is one they could’ve done without. 4.0

IL BACIO DELLA MEDUSA – “Discesa Agl’Inferni d’un Giovane Amante” CD ’08 (Black Widow, Ita) – Now this is more like it. Black Widow comes through in flying colors, with this, the sophomore effort from IL BACIO DELLA MEDUSA. Here’s where I come in on this very nicely-packaged piece. I was but a wee lad of 19 or so when I was watching a late night concert TV show in the mid-‘70’s. Suddenly, an Italian band appeared called PFM. The guitarist reminded me, visually, of Tony Iommi on first sight so I watched. Certainly not sounding like da Sabbuff, they instead purveyed a notable blend of jazzy rock coupled with elements of folk. And that’s what IBDM reminds me of here. Not PFM clones, don’t get me wrong, but I get the same feeling of a band who has some serious progressive chops and yet who use it in an engaging, improvisational manner. Everything from searing wah-wah guitar leads to washing organ fills are the order of the day here, coupled with the non-intrusive use of sax and acoustic axe that reminds me of Jethro Tull. It all fits together nicely, used in long tracks that flow, move organically and never wear out their welcome despite their length. Such cool stuff, and another feather in the cap of Massimo and the folks at Black Widow. I want to hear this band’s previous stuff now. 8.0

TALISMA – “Quelque Part” CD ’08 (Unicorn Digital, Can) – This one came to me from the folks north of the boarder at Unicorn Digital. Of course, coming in the same grouping as the blistering new effort from Karcius may seem to set up an unfair way-to-go for the all-instrumental TALISMA. Still, they are a decent band & do some good work here. Actually, one thing I like about their album from the get-go is the fact that, for a modern day progressive rock album, it is not 70 minutes long. 43 minutes, just like the old days. Most of the songs, in the 3-5 minute range, feature a melodic atmosphere laced with often-acoustic guitars and very introspective, calming vocals. The band does occasionally flair up into things more aggressive like “Ibliss” & the 9-minute “Cassiopeia,” which ranges into jazzy areas mid-song and sports some ear-turning guitar work. TALISMA may not send you running to the rubbish bin with your Brand X albums but it’s a pleasant enough listen all the same. 6.0

SARDONIS – “Sardonis” 7” EP ’08 (Electric Earth, Bel) – Well, well, well. The name Roel Paululssen should be familiar to ya’ll as he’s one of the guitarists in stars-of-the-update, SOLENOID! Now, here he is in this 2-man band SARDONIS, along with drummer Jelle Stevens and the results are very good. A 4-song EP released gloriously on 7” vinyl, this record would enter a category called “instrumental doom.” That sound ok? I know, I know, these pigeon-holes. I start my listening here with a small glint of trepidation as I’m always skeptical of duos. Let’s face it, these days you get 2 guys and chances are it’s going to sound more like the White Stripes than early Death. Well, “Nero D’abola” starts and while it’s not bowling me over, I’m still relieved that this is real metal. Spacey doom rumbles along at an even pace that loses nothing in the bass department due to operating sans 4-stringer. “Skullcrusher AD.” Don’t you just love a title like that. Call me the old man metaller, but that just makes me pine for the days of Hellhammer & Master demos. Even better still, the cut shows this twosome developing a personality, as it escalates with some early ‘70’s melody. Moving on to Side B of the EP, “MOR” sees the band upping the adrenalin factor. Think the one of the more ripping Saint Vitus tunes from, say “Hallow’s Victim.” With that, SARDONIS puts a cap on things with their strongest number, “Sick Horses.” This one sees them hitting on all cylinders, bringing in elements of psych-doom, even extreme metal as well. It’s really nice to receive a record that has such a pure DIY ethic as this one and actually comes through with the goods. Reminding me, in that way, of the early U.S. Christmas stuff, I see a nice future in store for SARDONIS. 8.5

Friday, February 6, 2009


FATHER, SON AND THE HOLY GHOST – “In The Name Of” 1984 (Amar, US) – Ok, now we’re talking weird. Are there a Weird Halls, because if there are, this record would be one of the first ones in. Arriving in unsuspecting record stores during 1984, this complete oddity ended up in “Heavy Metal” sections, lodged between “Exciter” and “Fist.” There it probably stayed, it’s shrink wrap splitting & yellowing until it was purchased by someone sick freak (like me) who, eyeing the comedic-grotesque cover art, figured it for something to spin while giving “Show No Mercy” a rest. And yet…it wasn’t. See, FATHER, SON AND THE HOLY GHOST were not proto-death metal, thrash, or even all that heavy. They were an almost indescribable brand of kinda hard rock that was, at times, even laced with a commercial funk vibe and drizzled with a dollop of Jackson/Charvel guitar shred. Even more bizarre is the lyrical and visual aspect. First you’ve got the garish funeral cover art, then combined with a pseudo religious feel, marked by the inside cover photos in a huge cross and the band name itself. Then, figure a lyric like that from “Stayin’ Power”: “White hot, I’ve got all I need. It’s so hard, baby, don’t let me breathe…heatin’ up my rocket and watchin’ it grow…And I’ve got a hot nerve, touch it…Stayin’ Power – thank you, God.” What the freaking hell?! To cap off the left-field factor of this band/release and to partially explain the moniker, the vocalist (Joe Ferentino) and lead guitarist (Mike Ferentino) are father and son! I have no idea what kind of rating I would give this album, except for 3 things: 1) When I sold all my vinyl a few years ago, for some reason (which may be an indicator of mental illness on my part), it was one of the 40 records I could not bring myself to part with. 2) Ozzy Osbourne is the first name in the thanks section 3) One of my most treasured fanzines of the early metal days was Rudo Anvilmeister’s Suck City. It was a mag that worshipped Cirith Ungol, featured an ongoing fictional work about a planet ruled by a race of Uli Jon Roths and once included an article about why Styx was the worst band of all time. So, in Rudo’s spirit, I now pronounce this record: 8 Cents


1980 BRATS – “1980 Brats” 1980 (CBS, Denmark) – Like a lot of other albums that are very important to me, I remember the day I got this one in a very cool trade. I actually remember calling in to work & saying I had a doctor’s appointment so that I could go to the Post Office & pick up the package that I knew contained this motherfucker. As it happened, I’d only been initially interested in the record for collector’s purposes, as it features the embryonic guitar work of Mercyful Fate’s Hank Shermann & Michael Denner. I had heard from a friend that it was predominantly trashy & somewhat pedestrian punk and, on my first listen, that’s how it hit me. Only one problem with that scenario, however. Over the years, it came to pass that 1980 BRATS lone effort became one of my most-played platters. Explaining that may not be as difficult as it seems. To begin with, this LP is easily one of the most weirdly original things I’ve ever heard. Cross some “Hell Bent…” Priest-styled rhythms with a, yes, punk feel and mix in totally over-the-top, ferocious lead guitar. Think BOULDER, in that regard. Then, stir in pure catchiness. The riffs to “Heavy Rocker” and “OY-905,” while being as heavy as a girl named Birtha driving a dump truck, also sport some of the best hooks I’ve heard in life. When you combine that all with Yenz Cheyenne’s in-your-face, “fuck off” vocal delivery, you’ve got a mix that I’ve never heard anywhere else and that defies genres while straddling several. Did I mention the Russian folk song SUNG by Michael Denner?! How ‘bout the impossibly rare-looking silver-foil cover with the band jamming? Both Hank & Michael are playing Flying V’s and Shermann has a Priest shirt on! Lead axe death, incredibly rare, find and die! 10.0


INDIAN SUMMER – “Indian Summer” 1971 (Neon, Eng) – Roger Bain is one of the greatest producers of heavy rock ever. Period. End of story. Well, you know it’s not the end of the story, you know I’m going to keep going, so bear with me. Just listen to all the old Sabbath & Budgie records in your collection. He had a way of combining a band’s heaviness and subtlety, bringing out the creativity in them and taking them to the next level. What people may not realize is that this studio god twiddled the knobs for some lesser-known groups like Wild Turkey and Coventry’s INDIAN SUMMER. This band was composed of Bob Jackson (keys/lead vox), Colin Williams (guitar/vox), Paul Hooper (drums/vox) and Malcolm Harper (bass/vox). It’s clear, however, that the stars of the bunch were Jackson & Williams. Through the 8 lengthy cuts here (all in the 5 ½ to 6 ½ minute range) Bob & Colin trade extended, exploratory solos while Mr. Jackson belts out some wailing that even gets into the Ian Gillan area. The entire feel of this record is not what I would call gut-wrenchingly heavy, so those who can only be satisfied by tuned-down distorted mayhem need not investigate. No, this is a deeper, more pastoral form of “heavy” that permeated every band Roger Bain touched and since I’ve first heard the album it’s been one I can grab nearly any time and enjoy. All 8 cuts are great, but when you listen to Colin William’s long-assed guitar solos in numbers like “Emotions Of Men” and “Glimpse,” you’ll fly your freak flag high. A word of warning is that the original vinyl of “Indian Summer” is horrible in terms of surface noise. So, I’m glad to say that this has been re-issued on CD and is fairly easy to find in listenable condition. 9.0

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


VAN HALEN – “Fair Warning” 1981 (Warner Bros., US) – I’m suspecting all the “underground only” types are circling the wagons upon reading the heading of this article. Cries of “Ray’s gone mainstream!” fill the air like a raucous din as an angry mob with pitchforks & torches marches upon the buttresses of the ‘REALM. Well, ok, maybe that’s a little extreme because any rawker, no matter how far their gnarled tendrils extend into the depths of “obscure” knows that the first VAN HALEN album kicks friggin’ ass. What some may not be aware of, though, is the molten monster that came some 3 albums later. See, “Fair Warning” was not so much of a warning at all, as by the time needle hit vinyl, the storm was already upon you, giving you six-string friction burns.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s try and figure out why this damn thing is such a beast…what events conspired to make this, yes, my favourite VAN HALEN album. Let’s look closer at the band’s recorded history at that point. Not much needs to be said about their 1978 eponymous debut. Non-stop heavy metal party classic with one of the most brash, ass-busting lead guitar performances of all-time. Then came “Van Halen II” in ’79. It was…um…ok. Sort of like everything the first album was…and less. Funny, but you can go through the record & almost match the 2 records up, song-for-song, with each one on “II” being a lesser version of those on “One.” Sheezus, the opening cover of “She’s No Good” is a poorer man’s “Runnin’ With The Devil,” right down to the bass line. There were 3 roaring numbers that could hold their own with the debut’s fare, the scorching duo of “Somebody Get Me A Doctor” & “Light Up The Sky” and a piledriver called “D.O.A.” With 1980’s “Women and Children First,” VAN HALEN displayed an alarming creative dip as well as a serious nod at attracting an even more commercial audience. The opener “And The Cradle Will Rock” sounds tired and plodding. Things don’t improve a whole lot during the next 30 minutes. Tracks like “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Fools” each drag through nearly 6-minute slogs of mid-paced boredom and the only real bright spot is the jaunty blues of “Take Your Whiskey Home.”

So, it’s clear at this point, that VAN HALEN were poised to either shit or get off the pot on the next album. Surely, there was something left of the band that created that brain-crunching debut? Another factor in what was to come next lay in that strange old bedfellow of oft-great recordings: internal strife. Apparently, those were the days that the sparks were really beginning to fly between David Lee Roth and his party-hardy outlook dueling with Eddie Van Halen’s interest in pursuing some heavier, more complex material. Those sparks would extend to the upcoming music. And, finally…remember the year that “Fair Warning” was released: 1981. Think about it! The absolute height of the NWOBHM. Maybe VH were big-time arena superstars by then, but I’m certain the rawer, more visceral sounds from across the pond in the form of Iron Maiden, Diamond Head & Angel Witch were not lost on these guys.

And so, we come to 1981’s VAN HALEN release, “Fair Warning.” Opening with a short, untitled guitar piece, the album proceeds to explode with my favourite VH song ever, the marauding “Mean Street.” Borne on a riff that can only be described as completely classic, Roth surprises the listener by eschewing his usual banter about beautiful girls in the California sun to speak of “stinking streets” & “the living dead.” Midway, Eddie unleashes a solo that, as so many of his old ones do, has the listener’s jaw on the floor but this one is different. It flaunts a lyrical, jazzy overtone that may well speak of his, at that time, growing interest in fusion players like Alan Holdsworth. “Dirty Movies,” while taking a somewhat lighter-handed approach than it’s monster predecessor is still plenty rocking and, once again, takes on a decidedly darker lyrical tenor than we’d come to expect from Diamond Dave. Without a warning (ouch!), then, VAN HALEN bursts into the 3-minute hailstorm of “Sinner’s Swing!” Here, Roth ups the ante by snarling “she looks so fucking good” (no attempt at a single there) and Eddie delivers another corking lead, one he himself described as sounding like “falling down the stairs.” It does! Side One comes to a convincing close with the catchy albeit kick ass “Heard About It Later” and with that, “Women & Children First” is nothing but a bad memory.

Leading the charge into the B-side of “Fair Warning” is another of my very favourite VH ditties, “Unchained.” This song is remarkable in that while featuring a particularly caustic distorted riff, it is catchy beyond all reason…pure genius and again, another sickly hot Eddie V solo. Actually, “Unchained” is the first of 3 consecutive cuts that should’ve been massive radio hits, the other 2 being “Push Comes To Shove” and “So This Is Love?,” again all works of rawkin’ art, pushing the boundaries of the place where butt-busting hard rock meets sterling hook craftsmanship. To be fair, “Unchained” has gotten the most radio play of any song on this record but it damn sure wasn’t enough. Then, as the album draws to a close, things really get weird. First, there’s one of the most left-field curve balls VH has ever thrown the listener, the deceptively titled “Sunday Afternoon In The Park.” While sounding for all the world like it would be a sequel to Roth’s teenage seduction dreams of “Beautiful Girls,” “Sunday…” is actually a creepy 2-minute keyboard instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on an album by Italian doom master, Paul Chain! Finally, taking the whiskey home is “One Foot Out The Door,” another oddly-short cut this time, with somewhat strange vocals, guitar rhythms that seem synthesized and a burst of soloing from Eddie that takes my breath away every time.

Yes it’s true, if you run the words “VAN HALEN” by a lot of underground metal fans, you’re going to get your fair share of derisive laughs. …But that’s hardly fair, especially when you think about the Marshall-driven bottle rocket known as the first album and, even more so this somewhat hidden behemoth from 1981. Believe me, this sumbitch is no warning shot…it’s a direct hit. 10.0

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Putting The Final Wrap-Up On 2008!

The following 2 posts include my Top 10 for 2008 and the one compiled from all you readers who were kind enough to send in your thoughts. Thanks for making this, once again, the largest reader vote turn-out so far! And, remember...any of you who sent me a Top 10 will be receiving a special commemorative Raysrealm gift in the snail mail soon (hopefully by the end of February). Thanks again and let's hope for a great 2009 at the Realm and with all of you!

- Ray -


1. IMPERIAL BATTLESNAKE – “Sentinels Of The Hardland” - This Chicago band’s 2nd full-length album is the sonic equivalent of being thrown in an industrial-sized clothes dryer with a handful of live grenades. The guitar work of Mlodzilla & Ronnie James Theo sounds like Chuck Schuldiner & Tony Bourge dropped into a cement mixer with a 10 gallon drum of horse steroids & a box of wah-wah pedals. Wes Nile’s vocals are the unholy amalgam of Blaine Cook and Zack De La Rocha…if they were both locked in a room and told their mommies did nasty things. The album has songs called, among other things “Funeral Hymn Of The Albatross” and “Priapism.” It is totally awesome.

2. BIBLE OF THE DEVIL – “Freedom Metal” – Show me a band who’s put out 5 albums over the last several years, getting better every time and giving the metal world yet another clinic in Chicago Flying V Attack 101 every time. After ‘06’s concept effort “The Diabolic Procession,” this sees ‘em dishing out a simply riveting set of post-NWOBHM rifferama that starts at the first note of “Hijack The Night” and doesn’t let up until the dying strains of “500 More.” A couple nifty surprises like the super-melodic “Heat Feeler” & the Lynott-like “Ol’ Girl” sweeten the pot. Let all your friends who don’t like lead guitar hear this and watch the melted brains ooze out their ears.

3. SANTERIA – “Year Of The Knife” – Seems SANTERIA’s drummer was involved in a serious car accident after their last album (2003) and it was thought the dude may never even walk again, let alone play the tubs. Do these Louisiana Cajun rawkers snag another stickman & move on? Nah, have a little faith, wait for their bro and sure enough, he’s back on the stool. It’s an even better story because this follow-up, some 5 years later, is enough to make anyone foolish enough to worry about a Led Zeppelin reunion forget it anyway. Much like da Zep, SANTERIA move easily from catchy heavy rock to ethnic exploration to more epic & challenging pieces, all with a singular deftness & class. Show me a more powerful song this year than “Haunted Heart.”

4. COLOSSUS – “…And The Rift Of The Pan-Dimensional Undergods” – Proving that North Carolina has something fantastic besides The Outer Banks & college basketball, this 6-man wrecking crew flew in out of nowhere with one of the best debut metal albums in many a long year. Taking elements from everything from Maiden to Mercyful Fate to early Priest to Thin Lizzy, the quality never dips an iota from one end of this bad boy to the other. It all reaches a double-zenith in the lengthy opus “Willow” as well as the impossibly catchy, wonderfully titled “Ghostfucker.” Oh and yeah…they’ve got THREE LEAD GUITAR PLAYERS!

5. VALKYRIE – “Man Of Two Visions” – Capturing the feel of a place is not something usually expected from an underground metal band, but Virginia’s VALKYRIE do it right on this, their 2nd full length effort. Between the perceptive vocals, the unforgettable melodies and the Wishbone Ash-like dual guitar leads, there’s a rural-yet-heavy vibe here that completely encapsulates The Shenandoah Valley. The songwriting of brother guitarists Jake & Pete Adams is transcendental, as they move from the Maiden/Trouble amalgam of “Running Out” through the rustic guitar piece, “The Gorge.”

6. U.S. CHRISTMAS – “Eat The Low Dogs” – Damn, North Carolina strikes again! This time it’s a band who’s been around for awhile, bubbling beneath the surface with somewhat obscure releases until the smart folks at Neurot decided to give this killer gift to the world. I’ve said it at least once & I’ll say it again, this is music that is truly frightening and yet, in a most delightful way. Thundering & dense metallic chords lay a bed for howling feedback & theremin to lay as uneasy bedfellows as a wave of psychedelic paralysis sweeps over the listener. Hurts so good.

7. AGAINST NATURE – “Accumulus / Natural Blue” – I gotta admit. It’s pretty hard for me to pry AN’s 2007 “The Anxiety Of Influence” out of my player. Those two 20+ minute epics comprised a helluva percentage of my listening time over the last couple years. Still, unwilling to rest on their laurels, this Baltimore band not only graced us with a few EP’s and 2 (that’s right, TWO) full lengthers this year. Forging a melodic yet way-powerful style of ‘70’s heavy rock/prog, they then lace it with aspects of jazz and somehow create songs you’ll never forget. One listen to “…Blue’s” “Lemongrass” & you’ll be hooked and John Brenner’s tone-master guitar vibe is just icing on the cake.

8. BLACK 47 – “Iraq” – I’m convinced that there may not be any band in the broad brushstroke of “rock” who can dance between genres with such a smooth touch as New York’s BLACK 47. For years now, this bunch has created music that begins with a basic beat and then opens it’s arms to embrace everything from Celtic folk to NYC punk to Latin to hip-hop to the vast, panoramic arrangements of The Boss’ E Street band. Topping it off are the riveting & poignant lyrics of Larry Kirwan, this time exploring the myriad feelings of the Iraq conflict from experiences of those who were there. Special stuff.

9. TIFFANY APAN – “Poet” – Having noted the relative shortage of quality Celtic folk releases over the last year or so, it was an absolute pleasure to have this disc come sliding out of the mailbox and into my player. Simply put, TIFFANY has one of those special voices that not only makes a song but completely owns it. Her ability to write top-level songs and then to mold & shape them with a voice like gold is wonderful. Songs like “Ashes To Dust” & “Warrior (Soldier For Myself)” are other-worldly in their depth & soul and Jason English’s sometimes heavy guitar work adds a surprising & welcome edge.

10. CYNIC (UK) – “Suburban Crisis” – I won’t go into the whole odd parallel of two different CYNIC’s taking year’s to release albums, only to both do it this past year. See the January ’08 blog for that. I will, however, take the time to once again sing the praises of this English band who had their origins in the NWOBHM. Sporting a sound that’s surely steeped in those golden years of the past, CYNIC brings the spirit forward in a manner that makes tracks like “Dark December” & “Eight Below” way more than just viable in today’s metal scene. Special kudos go to vocalist Shaun Grant, who manages to find a way to merge aspects of both Lemmy & Mike Lezala (Legend) into his style.


1. OGRE – “Plague Of The Planet”