Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Man Of Many Visions

KELLY CARMICHAEL – “Queen Fareena” CD ’09 (Dogstreet, US) – If the name KELLY CARMICHAEL resonates with any fans of especially heavy music who are perusing this update, then well it should. KELLY is the guitarist for Maryland doom metal standouts INTERNAL VOID, a band who have several top-drawer platters to their name, most notably the massive “Matricide,” released just a few years back. His name is also legendary in that he was the six-string killer in PENTAGRAM when the band recorded their “Show ‘Em How” disc. All that is important to know because when you use that as a backdrop in listening to “Queen Fareena,” it only emphasizes how versatile and truly wonderful a musician this guy is. CARMICHAEL branched out in 2005 with his debut solo effort, “Old Stock.” It sported a very nice & surely different sound than we were used to hearing from his leaden Gibson/Marshall vibe of doom. That one was a stripped-down, bare-bones walk into the back room blues of old and we got to see a man pay homage to some of his aged influences while putting his own stamp on ‘em. With “Queen Fareena,” KELLY has not only upped the ante but laid down a record that surely must be among the most original and unique to come through the RAYSREALM mailbox in some time. This time, Mr. CARMICHAEL has taken that old tyme blues feel and used it as a springboard to reach another level. Within the 11 tracks present here, genres like Cajun, country roots, ragtime & Dixieland explode into a Technicolor panorama. Borne on the wings of classics from 80 years ago by names like Robert Johnson & The Rev. Gary Davis, KELLY adds in originals that blend in so well that they show a young man wise way beyond his years. His work on guitar and 6-string banjo here is majorly smokin’ and his vocals are a joy to behold, like Brian Setzer if he was born in 1930 and then got real, real good. Joining him on “Queen Fareena” are Clutch-man Jean-Paul Gaster on drums (always a monster) as well as a well-rounded cast who dish up the upright bass, squeeze box and a brass section to absolutely die for. Highlights abound. I mean, everywhere you turn there is a gem, from the awesome Robert Johnson-penned “Last Fair Deal Goin’ Down” to “Salty Dog” and “Guitar Rag” to the hilarious “Operation Blues” plus Kelly’s own compositions that sit quite comfortably among the awesome history lesson. Funny, like I alluded to at the beginning, KELLY CARMICHAEL may be known to most who read this page as a metal guitarist and the first reaction to him doing this kind of a disc might be one of surprise. On longer listens, however, when you think about the depth and soul to the man’s playing on virtually everything he’s touched, it makes a whole lot of sense. 9.5

FROST* – “Experiments In Mass Appeal” CD ’08 (Inside Out, Eng) – Having already issued a debut record that garnered wide-spread approval in the prog world, FROST* now strikes with “Experiments…,” my first encounter with them. So, dear reader, you ask if I’m ready to line this one up with my dog-eared copies of “Animals” or “Hemispheres?” Probably not, but I like what these guys are doing. Right off the bat, from the opener on, FROST* cast their prog-o-scope as far in the direction of Steven Wilson as they do Steve Hackett and the dichotomy works throughout the 9 numbers included. Similarly, when the band does let the prog metal tweedling off the leash a bit, around say, mid-album, the elder atmospheres of the ‘70’s decade reels it back in. Along with Pure Reason Revolution (who’s sophomore effort I eagerly await), FROST* proves prog can be prog and…well, have some mass appeal. 7.5

DECEIVER – “Thrashing Heavy Metal” CD ’09 (Pulverised, Swe) – Gee, I wonder what this is going to sound like?! Ok, perhaps that’s a bit unfair but it was a good start to a review, wasn’t it? The thing is, it’s not utterly untrue and to go a bit further, that’s not exactly a bad thing. Have you ever longed for the days when the calendar read 1986, you’d worn your “Reign In Blood” & “Bonded By Blood” (geez, lotsa blood there!) tapes to a frazzle and you hadn’t picked up the new Artillery yet? Well, wouldn’t this new CD by DECEIVER been a nice thing to pull out of the glove compartment ?(er…what’s a CD?) Songs like “Blood Of The Soul” (yup, still bloody) and the godly-monikered “Coma Of Death Toxication” rule the day and hey, this guitar cat Pete Flesh (I shit you not) throws in some melodic stuff that actually reminds me of Backwater. Remember them? 7.0

JORMA KAUKONEN – “River Of Time” CD ’09 (Red House, US) – Ah, good ol’ JORMA. Damn, I remember checking the Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pilllow” out of the Baltimore County Library a couple lifetimes ago. Hated it at first ‘cause it didn’t sound like Sabbath. Then I hit a spliff, listened again and dug the West Coast vibe. A few blue moons later, I flipped on Don Kirschner’s and thought for all the world I’d stumbled on a vintage ’72 ZZ Top show. Short-haired dude, distorted Les Paul, blues licks & a set of pipes that were…uh…weird. Kicked ass, man and I learned it was Hot Tuna. What was up with that bass player’s eyebrows, though? Then just a few short years back I wandered into the Ram’s Head in Annapolis when I saw JORMA’s name on the bill. Solo acoustic show & to make a long story short, I went home & put my own Epiphone in the closet for nigh on 6 months. Showed me who was boss, that’s what good ol’ JORMA did & on “River Of Time,” he does it again. No, I don’t own every Airplane, Hot Tuna or solo record Mr. KAUKONEN has laid a hand on. Funny thing is, every time I run across the guy he kicks my butt. “River Of Time” extrapolates upon that same stripped-down acoustic music I witnessed in the state capital. Then it goes ahead & adds in some accompaniment like mandolin, drums, and bass. JORMA & friends run the gamut from trad songs to Merle Haggard & Rev. Gary Davis covers to sweetly spun originals. They all feel wooden, timeless and carry the air of a man who cares and that might be all for you. I said excuse me! That boy can play. 8.0


SLADE – “Alive!” 1972 (Polydor, Eng) – Listen, I’ve got nothing against early Kiss. Shit, I saw ‘em open for Sabbath in 1976 and if it hadn’t been for a certain Mr. Iommi bringing me to my knees with new numbers like “Hole In The Sky” and “Megalomania,” I’d’ve been in full-blown Simmon-worship. Still, when it came to bands bringing the hard-assed pawty rawk while perched atop stack-heeled boots, SLADE were the men and “Alive!” was the shit. Heck, I remember turning on “In Concert” or whatever the hell it was and seeing Noddy Holder & Dave Hill, all top hats, platforms and one crunching power chord after another, melodies galore and the crowd going nuts…and me going nuts!

Translate all this over to vinyl and it comes up aces on 1972’s SLADE “Alive!” With a bright red cover (oddly reminiscent of Grand Funk’s 2nd studio album) this one is nothing but green lights all the way with the proverbial foot to the floor. 7 songs long, it’s opener is a blistering rendition of Alvin Lee’s aptly titled “Hear Me Calling.” Boogie-for-sure yet barroom-heroes-no-more, SLADE was taking the British rock world by storm. The infectious stage demeanor of Noddy Holder (guitar/vox) shines through like a beacon in just the audio here as Dave Hill (lead axe), Jim Lea (bass) & Don Powell (drums) lay down a persecuting rhythm. The party time, riff-city ruckus raises another notch with “In Like A Shot From My Gun” before SLADE brilliantly turns the tables with the John Sebastian tune “Darling Be Home Soon.” Holder’s vocals here, while admittedly not causing Van Morrison any worries, are emotion-wracked enough to elicit the response: Damn, boy’s got some pipes! “Know Who You Are” & “Keep On Rocking” represent ass-busting, crowd-pleasing and hook-laden anthems from the boys’ own pens. Then it all comes home with the double-barreled masterpiece of “Get Down & Get With It” plus a blinding cover of “Born To Be Wild.” During all this, the supreme crunch of Holder & Hill’s guitars is balance perfectly with the riotous fever pitch of the crowd as the whole thing reaches a deafening crescendo.

The live album was a ‘70’s staple and SLADE themselves recorded another later in the decade (as well as 2 more even further down the line). Still, I’d be hard-pressed to find another by any band to match the pure rawk fury of this one! 10.0

NOTE: Check out the superb 2-disc set featuring all 4 SLADE live albums including this monster!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Please BEAR with me!

I've been experiencing some unfortunate $*(*#&*# computer problems these days and my main machine is in the shop for a couple weeks. I'm going to try to update via remote locations to some extent, but the updates may be less frequent. So, don't think I've gone away. Hang in there, keep checking the site and look for much more soon!

Like A Bird Of Prey - The FALCON interview!

There’s something about a good pedigree. You start out a band with people from Staind, Disturbed & Whitney Houston’s back-up band, well…eh! Ya know?! So, how’s about we start one with people from CIRITH UNGOL & DESTINY’S END? That might work a little better, you think? Methinks so too. And with that, we have the driving forces behind one of the most killer bands to have released a couple discs over the last few years, FALCON. Sporting Perry Grayson (ex-DESTINY’S END guitarist & Metal Maniacs writer) and Greg Lindstrom (bass & guitar for CIRITH UNGOL), FALCON sports a landmark brand of ‘70’s styled hard rock metal that touches on everything from Pentagram to Thin Lizzy to Mountain. Their intriguing 2nd record, “Die Wontcha?” occupied enough time in my player last year to make me think a conversation was in order…and, here we go!

RAY - Perry, earlier on in your career you were involved with technical power metal like DESTINY’S END. Now for many years you’ve turned your attention to ‘70’s-styled hard rock both in FALCON and the journalism you’ve done. Are you simply a man of many tastes or do you feel you’ve found your true calling with the ‘70’s stuff like Gary Moore did with the blues?

PERRY - Yeah, many tastes. But since I was a kid I’ve always been drawn to the ’60s-70s heavy rock tradition. I like(d) my share of full-on metal, even went through a death metal phase from about the tail end of ’89 to ’93 or so. Plenty of epic, progressive and thrash metal stuck with me, but a lot of the bands with growled vocals began to grate on me. I’ll be a Death and Control Denied fan till the day I die. Chuck Schuldiner had class and a firm grasp on catchiness as well as heaviness. The raw old heavy rock stuff is one of my true callings for sure. Whatever music I’m playing, I approach things more as a creative songwriter than some kind of strict shredder clinician. I’m more of a loose, sloppy and choppy (as in not smooth) type of player. That fits better in a rock context.

I still consider myself a metalhead, although I’ve paid more attention to proto-metallers like Blue Cheer, Bang, Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore, Budgie, Buffalo (Australia), Pentagram, Head Over Heels, Highway Robbery, Ursa Major, etc., for well over a decade. Destiny’s End was the first band people heard me in, so they really only witnessed one side of my playing. I definitely feel my calling is with Falcon and this sort of archaic dinosaur rock. The more common bands like Sabbath, Rush, Aerosmith, Purple, Heep, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, Cream and Jimi were always in constant rotation. When it dawned on me that there were as many obscure and killer vintage heavy rock acts as there were current extreme metal bands of the day, I started dredging up these long forgotten gems. I got a lot of help from friends like Rob Preston (Doomed Planet Records), who has the most amazing collection of rock and metal I’ve ever seen. Rob Garven (drums, Cirith Ungol) turned me on to a lot cool stuff in the mid ’90s. Greg Lindstrom has hooked me up with more cool vintage tunes than anyone.

To be totally honest with you listening to cassettes of Pentagram and Bedemon while on the Destiny’s End Rebirth of Metal tour in ’99 with Iced Earth and Nevermore helped keep me sane. People just automatically think you’re a one-dimensional guy when you play in a metal band. That’s not me. When I’m in the mood to rawk out, there are always tons of killer vintage platters to pick from. If I’m in another mood I might throw on one of the ’80s to ’90s Rush LPs. Totally different vibe to the early Rush, but Neil Peart’s lyrics and the songwriting just blow me away. There’s something very emotional that ties me to that stuff, lots of memories attached to the tunes. The reggae rhythms and Neil’s little rap in “Roll Bones” grew on me. Likewise with Free, who were only together for a brief time. Started off as more of a blues rock band, but evolved. Some find their mellow stuff sappy, but I’m a sucker for them.

Heavy rock ’n’ metal journalism-wise? I did plenty before I joined Destiny’s End, but it was for smaller zines. I didn’t write much while I was busy with D.E., because I didn’t want to come off as some prick in a visible band criticizing other bands. I didn’t really have many “ins,” so interviewing someone I really wanted to from a ’70s band was out of the question. I think my first interview was with Steve DiGiorgio (bass) from Sadus. As the net grew it became easier to contact some of these old acts. A lot of them put up their own websites.

RAY - I know you were in a band called ARTISAN for some time before FALCON.

PERRY - Yup, that was from ’00-’03, basically I formed Artisan with my friends Mike Bear (bass/vocals) and Ana Greco (guitar/vocals). It was technical and thrashy metal along the lines of Death, Cynic, Sacrifice, Anacrusis, Sadus, Atheist, etc. Lotsa progressive elements. Unlike Destiny’s End I actually contributed vocals to Artisan. They were mostly aggressive vocals. We spent tons of time looking for a singer, but most of the guys who auditioned were growlers and couldn’t even pull that off well. I wasn’t necessarily hell-bent on playing super technical, speedy and deathy metal at that point. Artisan was more an opportunity to play with two of my best friends. Mike Bear had been filling in with local death metal upstarts Inhuman Visions for a while and wanted me to take a vacant guitar slot. I checked them out, but came to the conclusion that if I was going to play that type of metal I wanted to lay the foundation with Mike and Ana instead. I wanted to write tunes and collaborate with my good pals. Mike and I had a long history of jamming together, but never got to play gigs and hit the studio. It was awesome to finally have the chance to do that with Mike in Artisan. He’s a top-notch musician. But it was clear after a while that I was burning out on playing super-fast technical metal. Every time I picked up a guitar I just wanted to rock out.

RAY - How did you & Greg Lindstrom (ex-CIRITH UNGOL) cross paths?

PERRY - I met Greg through Rob Garven, the old Cirith Ungol drummer. I knew Rob for years. He still lives in Ventura, CA, and I used to go up that way a lot. Rob’s a super cool guy. There were never any bad vibes with him. He was always up for a chat. After a while I was ready to pursue the vintage heavy rock thing, so I hit Rob up to play drums. Rob had retired from drumming. The biz really embittered him. But he told me Greg was very interested in returning to music after a two decade hiatus. I initially met up with Greg to interview him as a follow-up to the Critih Ungol Rewind article I did for Metal Maniacs in ’99. We hit it off, and the rest is as they say history.

Greg is the perfect partner in crime for Falcon. He’s one of my all-time fave songwriters and an all-around cool person. Totally down-to-earth. No nonsense. Amazing bassist, guitarist and keyboardist!

GREG - Perry and I first started jamming and working on songs together in late 2002. I was scared shitless when Darin came out in the summer of 2003 for the first time to jam with Perry and myself and record our demo. I hadn’t played with a drummer for almost twenty years, and I wondered if I could still cut it with the youngsters! Come to think of it, I was still scared shitless when we recorded our first album in November 2003, but luckily Chris Kozlowski is a very calming influence in the studio. He has a subtle way of getting the best performance out of you: “Are you sure you wanna keep that solo??”

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Hot girl in bell bottoms & a Nehru jacket or a vintage Les Paul? What’s turning your head more? By the way, what sounds better, a Les Paul or a V?

PERRY - Hypothetically speaking... If I was single, not married, I might be tempted to go for the hot chick in bell-bottoms. Wait a minute!? My wife is a total bell-bottom ’70s rocker. Is this a trick question like Cheech & Chong’s “Let’s Make a Dope Deal”? Chong goes for the reds instead of what’s behind Door No. 3. A vintage Les Paul is almost like investing in oil these days. They really hold their value. Me, I’m a player, not a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t have the kind of dough to blow on vintage Gibsons. The old Lesters are bloody amazing, and if I’m sad ’n’ lonely, I can always pick it up and chase the blues away.

Les Pauls and Flying Vs are both incredible guitars. I absolutely love ’em both to death. I have two LPs and one Flying V. I was lucky enough to get a ’76 Deluxe when they were still reasonable. The Les Paul has a crushingly heavy tone and is physically a weighty axe. The Flying V is feather-light with a unique tone—warm, but with a little bit of a high end bite.

GREG - Worst Les Paul related incident of my life: I’m almost too embarrassed to admit this, but I sold my ’69 Goldtop (with P90 pickups) in the early ‘80s to buy a Jackson Randy Rhoads. Just kill me now.

Worst Flying V related incident: Selling my pristine ’76 Ibanez Korina V (see the back of “Frost & Fire”) in the mid ‘80s for some reason I don’t even remember. I still think those mid ‘70s korina Ibanez guitars are the nicest V’s ever made. They’re still around, but it’s hard to find one that hasn’t been dinged up, dented, or modified in some ghastly way.

RAY - “Die Wontcha” … “Why Dontcha” - Has Leslie West’s attorney called yet or anything?

PERRY - Nope. Hey, you can’t copyright a title! And it’s all about paying homage, anyhow. Love Leslie’s playing, his tone and his work with Mountain and West, Bruce & Laing. I didn’t have a very good interview experience with him, but his impeccable axemanship more than makes up for it.

RAY - One thing I noticed on “Die Wontcha” as opposed to the first FALCON disc is a very apparent Thin Lizzy influence on some tracks. Had you listened to a healthy dose of Lynott & Co. before that?

PERRY - I liked what little Lizzy I heard on the airwaves as a small kid, but it took years till I owned an album. I went slightly backwards. I was a die-hard Maiden fan in the late ’80s, but didn’t get into Lizzy and Wishbone Ash until the early ’90s. I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the older dual axe attack bands like Lizzy, Wishbone Ash and Bubble Puppy/Demian than Maiden for a long time now. Maiden popularized the twin harmony leads, but the older bands were a little less one-dimensional. Once I got Jailbreak back in the ’90s I went nuts, snagged Lizzy’s entire catalog. Even the Eric Bell-era stuff. I found myself writing those Irish and Celtic inflected melodies and dual harmony parts. What about my tribute to Phil Lynott on the S/T Falcon album? “On the Slab” is an enormous nod to Lizzy. Specifically the Brian Robertson/Scott Gorham lineup. Phil penned amazing lyrics and was one of the best pick-playing bassists ever. He was a poet, a bad-ass and tortured at the same time. The junk may have made him manipulative, but otherwise he was one of the true geniuses of rock.

GREG - From their first album on, Thin Lizzy has been one of my biggest musical influences, although it may not always be obvious. And even though their early albums are a bit spotty, I’ve got a special fondness for the Eric Bell lineup. Cirith Ungol played covers of “Gonna Creep Up On You”, “Vagabonds Of The Western World”, and “Return Of The Farmers Son” for quite a few years. I’m sure at least one of those songs will end up on the Cirith Ungol box set someday. As soon as we were old enough to drive, Rob Garven and I would make the 60 mile drive from Ventura to Van Nuys to go to the original Moby Disc record store. They carried exotic items known as import LPs. Dana Madore, who was one of the managers there, turned us on to a lot of UK and German bands like Hard Stuff, Stray, Three Man Army, Night Sun, etc. He used to call Rob and I the Thin Lizzy brothers, since we would come in wearing our own homemade Thin Lizzy shirts.

RAY - What do you do about the harmonies live, being in the 3-piece format?

PERY - I play the main part, whichever line sounds best alone. Sometimes a harmony part sounds bizarre by itself.

GREG - We make up for that by making funny faces when we play.

RAY - That’s something I wanted to ask you about: the differences between working in a power trio format as opposed to with another guitarist. Take us thru the differences in the dynamics of that?

PERRY - It’s very different. For one thing you have to carry the band a lot more. There’s nothing to hide behind, especially if you’re having a bad night. I’m human, so I’ve had a couple. You definitely need a bassist who can hold his weight as well. You can’t have things dropout when the guitarist goes to solo. Greg Lindstrom is the perfect man for that job. He’s a mean bassist, just has the knack like Andy Fraser, Geddy Lee, Geezer, Felix Pappalardi, Kenny Aaronson, Tim Bogert and guys like that.

When you play with another guitarist you have to work harder to make sure everybody’s staying in time for one thing. It forces you to be a stronger rhythm player, because you have to keep up with someone else. You also have to pay more attention to details if you do a lot of dual lead work. Sometimes nothing’s worse than hearing a harmony part that sounds like cat’s screwing. Dan DeLucie, Ana Greco and Rich Walker are all great players, and I feel very fortunate to have played alongside them.

GREG - Speaking from the bassist’s standpoint, you do have to adapt your style of playing somewhat. With a trio playing live, there’s a lot of space to be filled, so I tend to play more chords on the bass and maybe show off a bit more. In our case, when we record we add a second and sometimes third and fourth guitar track, so I tend to restrain myself a bit and play more for the song.

RAY - So you moved “Down Under” not long ago!? What caused such a drastic geographic upheaval & compare life there to that in the U.S.?

PERRY - The high cost of living and ri-fucking-diculous real estate market in L.A. was probably the main factor. My wife and I couldn’t seem to get ahead on that end of things in L.A. We wanted to stop paying rent to “the man,” so we decided to move to Sydney. Tanya’s originally from Sydney. She moved to L.A. in the early ’90s to get closer to the rock/metal scene. Everyday life is far better down here. As in working conditions, more vacation time, etc. I’ve been all over the U.S., and I can safely say I think it’s beautiful in Oz. The music scene is fairly healthy too. I kinda dig the pub culture. If you want to, you can usually head on down for a few pints or schooners of ale and chat up your friends. People rag on the public transportation in Sydney, but it eclipses L.A.’s shitty, non-existent system by leaps and bounds.

GREG - Ironically, with the precipitous decline in home values lately in SoCal, Perry could afford a place here now!

PERRY - Greg’s right about house prices going down. Had I stayed in L.A. I’d also be faced with the unemployment thing. Doesn’t matter if homes are slightly cheaper when you either don’t have a job or have one with crap pay.

RAY - What the fuck is a Vegemite sandwich & why were those Men At Work cats so into ‘em?

PERRY - Vegemite is spreadable dark brown yeast extract. Marmite is similar but has animal fat in it. I stick to Vegemite. It sort of tastes like spreadable Guinness minus the alcohol. Dunno much about Men at Work, although they were part of the whole ’80s new wave explosion that I was force-fed as a kidlet. I instantly recognize their tunes when I hear ’em in on the radio, the tube or in a bar. I always had a soft spot for Oingo Boingo, but they’re bloody Yanks.

GREG - I’m glad you mentioned new wave, Perry. Finally! An opening for me to own up to my love of power pop and new wave – stuff like 20/20, Code Blue, The Pop, Pezband, The Beat, and newer stuff like the Smithereens, Posies, etc. You can imagine the other CU guys being less than thrilled when I would show up at practice not with the latest Judas Priest or Sabbath LP under my arm, but with the latest Elvis Costello! But it’s always been my contention that if you listen to nothing but Judas Priest, your own songs are going to sound like second rate Judas Priest (or Primal Fear). Quite a few of the songs on CU “Frost & Fire” were written under the influence of new wave.

PERRY - Hey, Code Blue ain’t bad! I’m more drawn to the dark side. Boingo always had a morbid sense of humor. One of my fave ’80s bands is very far from metal—Red Temple Spirits. Some might call them goth or post-psychedelic. Whatever. I just think they were incredible. Speaking of the ’80s I’ll throw on the early Dead Can Dance records when I’m in the mood, especially if I’m writing at home.

RAY - What’s on the agenda next for FALCON? With you in Australia & Greg in California, does that put the brakes on things completely?

PERRY - We aim to record another album in the near future and hopefully do a couple of weeks in Europe and perhaps a handful of U.S. dates too. The distance thing shouldn’t affect us too much beyond making it harder to play local SoCal gigs.

GREG - We’re working on a new batch of songs now, plus we have a few demos we recorded in our rehearsal room a couple of years ago with Andrew Sample on drums that some folks might like to hear, like our version of “Johanna” by Iggy & the Stooges.

I would love to be able to jam together every week, but Perry and Darin are such gifted musicians that we can learn new songs individually at home, then get together and practice for a few days, and be ready to record.

RAY - Between Greg & yourself, regale us with a crazy, wild, inappropriate or simply dumb story from the annals of FALCON. That’s the annals, not the anals!?

PERRY - Sorry I don’t have any groupie tales for ya, Ray. I went from one long-term girlfriend to another while in Falcon.

Dumb? Perhaps the lamest story involves the one and only gig we did at the Ventura Theater in Cirith Ungol’s hometown. It was meant to be a benefit for a local non-profit organization run by the brother of old Cirith Ungol roadie Kevin Sage. We did it for free as a favor. Three pro bands were meant to headline in the evening after a bunch of the band camp kiddies did their shtick. We played second to last. The band before Falcon was respectful, but the crew and members of the “act” after us were complete and utter jackasses. The crotchety so-called soundman cut the lights and the P.A. on us after 15 minutes. We were there to help our friend Kevin out with a supposedly good cause. We thought it’d be cool to play Ungol’s hometown, but it was just typical wanky music biz bullshit we encountered. Greg Rolie and his clueless soundman buddy commandeered the gig for his son’s Marilyn Manson thing. Falcon was just there to rock and help our pal and the kids out. We’re the most unpretentious dudes. We rock in a very raw, heavy, loud way. There are no gimmicks. The truth hurts. And the truth is that Rolie and his cronies didn’t care about the kids. He sure gave the children from Peace Thru Music a good glimpse at the bad side of the biz. They also decided we were showing his kid up. This burnout of a soundman had the audacity to tell me that my stage volume was louder than Hendrix. (“I worked Hendrix!!”) Excuse me while I kiss the sky, buddy, but I only play through one Marshall stack, not 3 or 4. I may be half that age, but I adhere to a far more hippie ethic. There just isn’t any reason for that kind of jealousy, especially at a benefit gig. Take your ’tude back to the guard gated community, man. Not to mention this was a large venue. You know Ray, the truth hurts when you’re a burn-out. Hey, where Journey’s concerned I always preferred Steve Perry anyhow.

GREG - It’s funny how with all the shows we’ve played in supposedly cutthroat, dog eat dog Los Angeles, we’ve never had problems with other bands, but in laid back, Surf City U.S.A. Ventura, we run into assholes. On a lighter note, I have gotten numerous letters and emails from men who say they love me – in a manly sort of way I can only hope.

RAY - Final comments?

PERRY - Ray, mega-thanks for your support and the space to ramble. It’s always a pleasure chattin’ with someone as knowledgeable about music as you. Also a big cheers to the readers of Ray’s Realm for voting Falcon into their Top 10 of 2008!

GREG - Thanks Ray, for devoting the space and time for Falcon and thanks to your readers for supporting Falcon! And thanks for the Crack The Sky articles- I’m a fan from way back!

What a cool coupla dudes, eh? And not only that, those honchos can play like a bitch. Get out, get up, put on yer bell-bottoms, grab your Flying V and grab both FALCON discs with both hands! You won’t be sorry. And if you don’t, well, die, wontcha?!

Friday, March 20, 2009

WORDS FROM THE ELDER - Nick DiSalvo Speaks!

A reporter once asked Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk how he was feeling at the end of a particularly grueling season. Fisk sighed wearily and said, “Like a New England maple: all tapped out.” Well, one thing’s for certain & that’s that Massachusetts’ ELDER is far from all tapped out. What we have here are a trio of quite young guys who have issued a pulverizing debut that calls to mind the best works of Yob, early High On Fire & Electric Wizard & then ratchets it up with a dose of melody and surprisingly mature song writing. Read on to find out more about this crushing crew as I converse with guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo.

RAY - I am a little fuzzy on exactly what has gone on with the release of the “Elder” disc. I thought I’d seen mention of it online with dates going back to 2007. Then I see a release listed as 2008 and finally, a release on Meteor City shown as Jan 13, 2009. What’s the story?

NICK - Well, we initially recorded the disc in I believe July of 2007 and sent it around to some labels and zines and whatnot, hoping to at least generate some interest if not get it released by someone. The songs are by now actually pretty damn old! We ended up sitting on it for about a half a year until MeteorCity got in contact with us about releasing it. Then, due to some artwork delays and whatnot, the actual disc didn't get pressed until sometime in 2008. Finally, the release date in January was the street date, the disc was actually available online at for some time beforehand. Phew...

RAY - What’s up in Massachusetts? Have you always lived there? I’m told you guys are pretty young, what are your backgrounds/influences in music?

NICK - In Massachusetts? Hardly anything, unless you live in Boston (and even then in my opinion not much). Although I'm a fan of the coastal scenes around here, and the old colonial style architecture. I guess as far as the States goes, it's not bad. The other two guys have always lived here but I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so I've kind of been all around. As for our age, admittedly we are pretty young (twenty) and we've actually got kind of a shared background in music. We met about at the onset of high school, though Jack and I had known each other since earlier, and played in a shitty metalcore band, a thrash band, and some other weird projects together before we started getting into good music (ha ha). I guess I consider it good that we've gotten a little experience in playing different styles of music before, it kind of gave us another perspective on what we definitely do and don't want to play. Oh, and what scene to avoid.

RAY - How’s it feel being in a part of the country that has some pretty damn good sports teams? Somebody offers you season tickets to either the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics or Bruins, which do you take?

NICK - You know, I personally don't give a shit. I think the other guys are more into sports but none of us exemplify the notion of the typical New England sports douche bag (I guess that actually says a bit about how I feel about sports fans around here). I'd definitely take the Bruins tickets, though, I don't think I've ever even been to a hockey game.

RAY - ELDER is a 3-piece, the old power-trio format. What appeals to you about that kinda line-up? Have you ever played in a 2-guitar setting? Can you comment on some of the differences as a player?

NICK - I'm glad you mentioned this! I love playing as a three piece because of the simplicity behind it. We initially chose to keep a simple lineup because (1) we didn't need any other instrumentalists, so it seemed, and (2) band practice was made simple. I always hated having to plan practice around like 5 peoples' work schedules. But later on I realized bands who are three pieces and can really pull it off are just totally badass. Look at bands like Colour Haze, Dead Meadow, and Sgt. Sunshine. They have a totally full, amazing sound with just three people. Admittedly we're far from on par with any of those bands in my opinion, but it's something to strive for. Also having only one guitarist keeps us focused as a rock band, as there's only so much noodling possible. We've tried jamming in a two guitar setting before, but for me personally it just never works because I'm sort of a control freak and I feel like the character of the lead guitarist gets kind of lost when competing with a rhythm. Other than that I have found myself trying to tell them exactly what to play and how to play it, which really isn't fair and is probably very annoying.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: A woman comes up to you at an ELDER show. She’s hot as shit, looks like one of the “Desperate Housewives” and says to you, “I’m your elder. What can I do to educate you?” How do you respond?

NICK - Hahaha. I think in all honesty I'd probably laugh and look around nervously. But in an ideal world I think I'd pull something like "I don't know, how about we fuck?"

RAY - “Elder” contains 5 quite long songs. The interesting thing is, none of them even verge on boring because they include a ton of changes and riffs that keep the listener’s attention without ever becoming too chaotic. Is this simply a natural way of writing for you or do you have to consciously think about balancing the song-length with making things interesting?

NICK - Thanks a lot for the compliments. That style of writing is sort of half-natural, half-planned. When working on a new song, we try to never put a riff in if it doesn't feel like it belongs, or if it's forced, or if it's just too generic sounding. It doesn't always succeed, but I'm satisfied with the way the album came out as a whole. Generally we have sort of an editing process where we trim stuff or decide where something new needs to be created, and the songs just end up being long because for me a song just can't fit into 3-4 minutes. It's an idea that needs to be refined and built upon and developed until it's more of a story or something, if you follow.

RAY - The album includes “Riddle Of Steel Pt. 1,” then “Ghost Head” then “Riddle Of Steel Pt. 2.” Can this be seen as some sort of concept piece?

NICK - Conceptually, yes, Riddle Pt.1 and Pt.2 follow a common theme but Ghost Head is just in between to break up the two and doesn't follow the concept. Musically, the two weren't really written to have anything to do with each other and came out pretty different.

RAY - Give us a “gear” rundown. I’m assuming you guys are pretty fucking loud, eh?

NICK - Yeah, but never loud enough! I play a Jackson DXMG (my beloved guitar that I've had since my more "metal" days... I'm just too broke to get something better) through a 70's Sound City 120 modded to a Hiwatt DR103. I route it through an Avatar 2x12 and a Marshall 4x12 and use a ProCo Rat, some Boss wah, and a Carbon Copy. Jack's got a Sunn 190L and just runs it through a Muff and Matt's got a Ludwig set.

RAY - What’s the deal with gigs for ELDER these days? Do you play live a lot in the New England area? How much touring have you done outside your home base? Aren’t you playing in Maryland later this year at some kind of doom fest?

NICK - We play fairly often around in Providence and Boston, but other than that we don't travel around much because we're all in school and I'm the only one with ample transportation for our shit. We tried to piece together a week long mini-tour a few summers ago and it totally fell apart aside from a few shows, and it ended up being really shitty. This summer we're hoping to plan a small tour, possibly with Black Pyramid, and we are playing at the Stoner Hands of Doom Fest in Maryland this upcoming September, which we're all stoked for.

RAY - What kind of deal do you have in place with Meteor City? Are there any new ELDER epics you can tell us about?

NICK - MeteorCity just released the self titled album and nothing more at this point, though we've gotten a pretty good reception from the album and hopefully we will continue to have a good relationship, maybe even with another release on the label. But it's really too soon to say... As for the new epics, we've got about 3 new songs finished and as you know that's about 3/5 of an album, and I've got a few more in the works. I'd say it's safe to expect another Elder cd recorded this summer, and with a bit of a departure from the old sound. I'm sick of hearing about how akin to Sleep we sound, and it hasn't caused me to try and write differently just to avoid those kind of references, but I'll say the new stuff definitely won't draw the standard stoner metal comparisons. I'd like to think its more mature, more focused, and certainly more melodic, and we may scare away some of our doomier fans but I think those with an open mind will understand that progression is natural (and healthy, in my opinion).

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Someone says to you, “I’ll give you _______ for free if you shave all your hair off.” What would have to be in the blank?

NICK - A 1960s Klemt Echolette. I'd even go skinhead for one of those. Other than that, I think you'd be hard pressed to strike a deal!

RAY - Story time! Something weird, disturbing or hilarious has to have happened during the history of ELDER! Tell us about it!

NICK - I mentioned earlier that we tried to put together a tour of sorts by ourselves a few years ago. Well, one of those shows that was hooked up by a friend of a friend was supposed to be in a warehouse, which I understood to be a practice space, in Holyoke, western Mass. We pulled up to the address some time in the afternoon in one of the shittiest neighborhoods in one of the shittiest cities I had ever been to, but that was no deterrent. The strangeness started when we met up with the guy who owned the warehouse and loaded in. He was actually quite a nice guy and all, but it turned out he had done apparently no fliering for this "show" whatsoever, and the other "bands" with whom we played were some acoustic/noise groups made up of what appeared to be meth addicts who just wandered in off the street. That might be a little harsh. The "show" took place in this enormous 3rd story warehouse space filled with garbage everywhere, there were no audience members, and the entire thing was serenaded by the sound of rain off the roof. I just remember looking at the other guys and not knowing if I could hold off from shitting myself laughing as this one dude sat in the middle of this ridiculously huge space on the floor playing acoustic guitar and moaning to himself.

RAY - Any final comments?

NICK - Thanks for the interest and support of the band, keep your eyes peeled for a new release in the near future!

So, hey out there, what are you waiting for?! This is one young band who are surely wise beyond their years and you could do well to show your own brains by hurrying on down to your local heavy music emporium and procuring their disc!

Friday, March 13, 2009


GOD’S REVOLVER – “Little Black Horse Where Are You Going With Your Dead Rider?” CD ’07 (Exigent, US) – It’s days like this, my friends, that I love my job. Well, ok, maybe this is a 2nd job at best and one that I don’t get paid for in cold hard cash but, well it’s days like this I love it. Here’s why. I’m stumbling around the internet and somehow find myself looking eye-to-eye with a startling drawing of some skeletonized Old West dude in front of twisted, gnarled trees. Yes, it’s the cover art for a CD and the band responsible is called GOD’S REVOLVER. Now I remember Velvet Revolver. They weren’t any damn good. But, this is GOD’S REVOLVER. Wouldn’t a REVOLVER belonging to GOD have to be pretty damn heavy? You would think, surely a helluva lot more than some pansy-assed one made of velvet. Hmmm. The album title is “Little Black Horse Where Are You Going You’re Your Dead Rider?” Besides being one of the longest album titles I’ve heard, dude, that is just impossibly cool. Let’s see, five piece band, two guitarists, song titles ranging from “Scratch Dealt Me A Dirty Hand” to “Iron Fuck.” Time to hit Amazon. And, there it is for $1.75. New. Christ, I paid a buck 75 for the CD and 4-something to ship it. Be that as it may, 3 days later it’s sliding out of the brown envelope and into my CD player. This is a “how can you lose?” It sucks, you forget the $5 and throw it in a sell pile. It’s good, you basically got it for free. I press “play” and some a somber bit of slide guitar comes creeping out of the distance. “Maybe it’s a country-rock thing?” Slam! Crash! Marshalls jacked up to 11 and Les Pauls roaring out of the gulch to take you to the mulla fuggin’ judge! No, this ain’t no country nuthin’, this is Western RAWK! As “Dead Rider Theme / This Long And Lonely Drive To Hell” ends and “Justify” begins, I’m reminded for all the world of a metalized, steroid & Jack-ridden musical variation on the HBO show “Deadwood.” I have no flippin’ idea what singer Reid Rouse looks like, but I’m imagining some big, burly & sweating bearded hombre as he absolutely roars from stem to stern, growling out lyrics laced with tumbleweed and “fuckin’” every other word. Seriously, this cat sounds like somebody stole his GTO, shot his horse and had their way with his woman while he was away. Now he’s ridden back into fucking town and just slammed open the barroom doors, standing silhouetted in the high noon sun at the front of the saloon. Guitar slingers Trey Gardner & Jon Larsen stand, dressed in black, axes smoking like 6-guns as they carve out the raw, overdriven riffs running roughshod through monster crushers like “Preacher’s Flask” & “Cantina Poetry Blues.” Meanwhile, bassist Elliot Secrist & tubsman Adam Loucks unite to form a rhythmic beat-down as deadly as shoot-out on Main Street. That would be good enough, my friends, good enough to have me singing the praises of this snarling, spitting piece of vitriolic ass-kick from the mountaintops. But then, GOD’S REVOLVER go ahead and up the ante. Check out the restrained melodies in “The Holy Breath,” the dusty backroom blues of “Boxes Done Buried” and the absolutely haunting guitar melodies interwoven in the punk-length “Eagle In Reverse” & epic closer “Roca Del Desierto.” Marvel at a lyricist who can somehow resolve concepts that range from “Whose fuckin’ bed are you sleeping in tonight?!” to “Behold a pale horse with a dead man riding, my little girl, don’t be afraid. We’ll meet again someday.” From Alpha to Omega, GOD’S REVOLVER have created a tour d force here that has become, almost instantly, one of my very favourite ablums…period. God, I love my job! 10.0

NOTE: Word has it that GOD'S REVOLVER has signed to Translation Loss Records. Good. More than a few people need to hear music as potent and lethal as this. The fact that you can get this for $1.75 on Amazon while American Idol losers's discs roll out of Best Buy at $12 a clip makes me nauseated.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pure Gold For The 18th Time!

KEVIN K – “Deutschland” CD ’09 (Kicking, US) – Damn, this is good! I mean, Goddamn, this is good!! Should that be a friggin’ surprise? I mean, go back & read the reviews and interview I did with this dude in the January/February ’08 blogs. I was impressed as shit then and man, am I even more impressed now because it’s clear to me, after about 10 trips through this spiffy little disc that Mr. K has just delivered his best record (# 18 in his career!) thusfar. This album is amazing because of the blinding dichotomy KEVIN has been able to achieve in it’s creation. If you talk to this man for awhile, you’ll become very aware of the special relationship and feelings he has for the city of Berlin. It’s the kind of thing I realize I can’t fully appreciate as, unfortunately, I’ve never been there yet, but at the same time it’s a vibe communicated in vivid, living colour by this killer release. The tear sheet accompanying this release throws some hefty names around: David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Iggy’s “Lust For Life.” Those are things you don’t mention unless you’ve got a pretty wicked-assed album on your hands and KEVIN K has just that in “Deutschland.” Now I’ll go back and refer to the dichotomy I mentioned before. Somehow, KEVIN and his band (Ritchie Buzz, Ricky Rat & Fabien Tolosa) manage to take the dark timeless feel of the city and put that straight into the heart of hard-rawkin’ power pop songs that include some of the deepest hooks you’ll ever get lodged in your brain. There’s top-shelf quality everywhere you turn on “Deutschland,” from “American Sector” through “Kim” & “The Red Haired Girl” this is music that gets into your head and, more importantly, your ass. Yeah, baby, you’ll pause and consider the personal struggles on offer here all the while riffing up those sweet chords on your air Les Paul or banging on the coffee table. It all ends somewhat somberly with the title cut but not before you’ve fallen in love with this sterling slice of pop-infused rock pie. The icing on the whole thing is KEVIN K’s voice, the irresistible melodic edge of which is wrapped securely around an inner raw street knowledge that’s been honed to a razor edge over the years. Yeah, it’s true, I’ve never been to Berlin. But I kinda like the music! 9.5

ROSS THE BOSS – “New Metal Leader” CD ’08 (Candlelight, US) – Well, well if it isn’t good ol’ Ross Friedman, aka Ross Funicello. That is, he of Dictators, Shakin’ Street & Manowar fame and here we find him in the full-on ROSS THE BOSS mode of the latter. Heck, even the cover artwork of this disc looks like something those dastardly loin-clothed warriors would have given us circa. 1985. Here’s the skinny. This is a decent metal album, consistently-driven by mid-paced to fast rhythms and, as you might guess, titles replete with terms like “Blood Of Knives,” “May The Gods Be With You” and “We Will Kill.” ROSS’ guitar playing is solid as always (he never was a flashy player, leaving that to people like Joey DeMaio), and the production of the record is crisp & clear. It does verge uncomfortably close at odd moments to more current European power metal, due in chief to the vocals of Patrick Fuchs. Still, when you consider the fact that the last few Manowar albums have consisted of little more than one over-blown intro after another, this is worth a listen. 6.0

THE BAKERTON GROUP – “El Rojo” CD ’09 (Weathermaker, US) – You know, it’s awfully hard to find groovin’ heavy rawk records any better than the last few by Maryland’s CLUTCH. Whether it’s the riffs of Tim Sult swinging like a heavy barn door, the mega-organic rhythm undulations of Jean-Paul Gaster & Dan Maines or the endearingly puzzling bluesy vox of Neil Fallon, you simply can’t rock much better. With THE BAKERTON GROUP, CLUTCH takes on an alter-ego that finds them in all-instrumental territory, with Fallon eschewing his pipes to concentrate more on sparring with Sult. The results are an excellent albeit jazzier style that stretches out into jammy creations such as “Chancellor,” “Last Orbit” and “Peruvian Airspace.” The only problem I see with this incarnation of the 4 CLUTCHMEN is that without Fallon’s quirky lyrics & vocal mile markers, the songs here aren’t going to stick to your ribs as well as those produced by their day job. Still, a fine listen especially late at night or early in the morn.

RUMPELSTILTSKIN GRINDER – “Living For Death, Destroying The Rest” CD ’09 (Relapse, US) – If I hadn’t already had this band’s previous release, I’d probably be surprise to find out there was a metal band dwelling in the state directly north of me who was trading riff-spars with Kreator, Exodus & the like. That’s right, our friends in Pennsylvania have birthed this bunch who go by the unlikely moniker of RUMPELSTILTSKIN GRINDER and, while the name may indicate a joke band, I can assure you they’re not. Simply put, this is prime aggressive thrash metal that holds it’s own with any of the modern day output by the aforementioned units, in addition to others like Sodom, Destruction, etc. So, understand what I’m saying: this is not on the level of the formative albums of this genre from days gone by. You’re not going to be trading in your dog-eared copy of “Bonded By Blood” or “Pleasure To Kill” for this one. Then again, you won’t be doing that for “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” either and you still jam out to that, don’t you. Pretty good stuff. 7.0

SERPENT THRONE – “The Battle Of Old Crow” CD ’09 (Vessel, US) – I always find it interesting, how people come about finding good records. Hence, I always enjoy stories about that kinda thing. You may not. If that’s the case, not sure what to tell you so here goes Ray’s sorry ass again on the story-telling bandwagon. See, me and my old buddy Andre’ got together not long ago. Went out to Hooters, ate some freaking awesome wings & burgers and then made a night of going through every bin at Record & Tape Traders in Towson. I know, I know. Boys-nights-out when you’re 51 get pretty damn lame. But listen, I did go to that Pentagram show last weekend. Still anyway, I digress. During our foray through the CD bins, I was knee-deep in the metal section when I stumbled upon this disc. Honestly, the cover woulda never made me stop but what did was the sticker that said “For fans of Sabbath and old Scorpions.” Now, the Sabbath reference wasn’t a clincher by any means. Let’s face it, how many times have bands been compared to the Sab-4 over the years. But “old Scorpions?!?!” How often do you hear that?! So, I plunked down $12 in my devil-may-care chance-taking mode and made it for home & the headphones. The hell with my buddy Andre’, I had jams to check out! Well, not really, I did at least give the cat a ride to the nearest bus stop but that’s another story. Thing is, when I did listen, my findings were that while “old Scorpions” was not the first thing that jumped out at me here, so many good things did that I’m now officially in love with an instrumental metal band. That’s right, SERPENT THRONE (from the heart of our northern neighbor Philly) operate sans vocalist. While some of you may be cringing, thinking in horror of Satriani-ish leads, swirling keyboard flourishes and songs that…um…aren’t songs so much as exercises, put those worries in a fucking rowboat and cast ‘em out to sea. SERPENT THRONE are one serious kick-ass hard rock/metal unit who, in the way of ‘70’s masters, put so much time & thought into their mountains of riffs that you never miss all the yellin’. Guitarists Don Argott & Demian Fenton not only create rhythms that grab you by the balls & don’t let go. They also are masters of the time-honoured Ray-loving dual harmony guitar shit that endears me to those like Wishbone Ash, Maiden, Lizzy and Valkyrie. Sure, numbers like “Speed Queen,” “Red Moon Harvest” & “Thirteen Mountains” may not feature a multi-octave human voice, they speak volumes with double lead axe, bass & drums. This is truly excellent stuff and I can also highly recommend their almost-as-good debut record “Ride Satan Ride” from a few years back. Moreover, it might behoove you to check out SERPENT THRONE live as I found out they’re pretty damn kick-ass in that format too, as their set at the Pentagram show proved. Now, where the hell did Andre’ go? 9.0

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sign Of The Wolf!

(Pic. by Mike Westbrook)

Ok, here’s how I’ll admit my thought process went on this whole thing when I first heard about it: Bobby Liebling may either a) not show up or b) if he does, will be in no shape to do a show and may even keel over during the set. So, the reality of the situation is that while fearing a PENTAGRAM meltdown, I took a look at the rest of the line-up and said “Hey, why not, at least 3 or 4 good band for less than $20.” So, without further ado, let’s get to the nitty gritty.

Philladelphia’s SERPENT THRONE hit the stage first at this 1,000-ish capacity club in downtown Charm City and proved that I’m on the money in being impressed by their new CD, “The Battle Of Old Crow.” To say this 4-piece is a throwback wouldn’t be fair but they sure have been influenced by great bands of the past. They are completely instrumental but before you get ready to ask me how boring they were, don’t. These guys know how to do it and boredom is never a problem. Mingling together all the best aspects of early Maiden, Sabbath, Wishbone Ash and Uli-era Scorps, they come up with some absolutely killer riffs that are as catchy as anything you’d ever hear wrapped around a vocal line. Laced atop this heavy backdrop are as gorgeous harmony leads as you’d ever hope to hear and live, they really pull it off, obviously getting into it like hell. I also picked up their 1st disc “Ride Satan Ride” at the show and found that it’s a scorcher as well. Look for an interview on the REALM with these cats soon.

Next up was local band MOONSHINE and I have to admit, their set was a bit of a head-scratcher for me. Based around a heavy sludge platform, the band featured a female singer who alternated between clean vox and a sort of black metal shrieking. The two guitarists also added in gruff growling at times as well as some fairly head-turning axe leads. Despite all that (and, like SERPENT THRONE, great sound) I couldn’t help getting the feeling at times that this crew are often trying to be weird for the sake of it, as far as their arrangements go. In all fairness, that impression could stem partly from my unfamiliarity with their material and I’m doing what I can to locate a copy of their CD. I actually attempted to buy one at the show but while a band member told me they were for sale at the merch table, there were no signs of them anywhere. (??)

Onstage next were The Netherlands’ THE DEVIL’S BLOOD and, having listened to their “Come, Reap” disc a lot in late ’08, I was anxious to see what they were all about live. Ironically, while having heard rumors of everything from Satanic rituals to an actual black mass onstage, this band had at very best, no stage presence whatsoever. Truly I have never seen a band who stood as stock-still as these five guys and one woman did over the course of their show. This stationery playing was broken up only by the constant head-banging of the one (of 3) lead guitarist and the occasional move by the female singer to turn around with her back to the crowd during some of the instrumental sections. In fact, there was nothing even said to the audience by the band between songs. Now, I must be fair and say that with all this complete inactivity, the music was fantastic! Creating a quite original blend of psychedelic rock along with metalized chords and intricate 2 & 3 part guitar harmonies, THE DEVIL’S BLOOD then put a musical cherry on top with the gorgeous Christine McVie-like vocals of their equally visually gorgeous vocalist. In fact, I really loved the way this band sounds and as a guitarist was more than impressed with the 6-string artistry on display. But, fer Chrissakes, at least move around a little bit! Tony Iommi has the metal moratorium on kicking ass while motionless. Don’t try to match him in that regard!

So far, a pretty decent night for music and also a great “reunion” atmosphere for getting together with some old friends like Eric Dixon, Jim Powell, Dave Wright, Pat, etc. I meandered around the venue drinking Cokes (yeah, big partier that I am…taking heart rhythm medication’ll do that to you) and talking metal, family, etc. I was disappointed at the 2XL size PENTAGRAM shirts being sold out, but the copy of the 1st SERPENT THRONE disc in my pocket eased the pain.

At any rate, next to take the boards was Montreal’s PRIESTESS. I heard some people bitching & moaning about these guys not “fitting in” with the rest of the bands but that was a bunch of shit, as I think they fit very well. They’re unique combination of stoner, thrash & traditional metal went down really well on these ears and was a nice contrast while still kicking butt. To be honest, PRIESTESS’ “Hello Master” album was my top record a couple years ago and the new songs they did this night sounded even more intense. Can’t wait for the new one, guys!

And so, the time finally came to see exactly what was going to go down under the name PENTAGRAM. The house lights went down and an eerie intro began to play as we stood, our ears sobered for what might come as we gazed upon the 3 Marshall stacks at stage right and the enormous bass rig to the left. One crony of mine was heard to comment, “Glad I brought my ear plugs.” I had not, however, and yet like a moth to a flame I eased my way through the crowd & closer to the stage. Then, before I knew it, Gary Isom had taken his seat behind the drums, Mark Ammen appeared bass in hand and directly in front of where I stood, Russ Strahan got ready to unload the pain with his Flying V. Within seconds, the band launched into a crushing, leaden “Wheel Of Fortune” and Bobby Liebling took the stage. Now, let’s be realistic. The man is surely no spring chicken and does not look like one. Sure, he’s been through some shit and it shows. But understand something very clearly. I have not seen Bobby look as well as this since the time I saw them down at the Paragon in College Park, MD probably 20 years ago. Gone was the orange hair from the last few times but back was a man who was driven & focused from the first note that came out of his mouth till the last of the evening. He sounded great, whether it was on newer material or older classics and there were notes on the upper end of the register that, again, I haven’t heard emanate from his mouth in 20 years. I was not only pleasantly surprised but delighted with Liebling’s performance. As for the rhythm section, Isom (who also served a much earlier tenure in PENTAGRAM as well as Spirit Caravan) and Ammen (part of the MD doom family, having been in Unorthodox, for one) were heavy as hell and solid as a freaking rock. Last but not least, however was the “X” factor, guitarist Russ Strahan. A member of the band LAND OF DOOM, Strahan was not familiar to me but he sure as hell is now. The simple fact is that this guy is a guitar god! Not only were his rhythms heavier than a ton of witch’s tits tied to bricks, his lead tone was clear, high-pitched and nasty! Combine that with his searing, liquid Trower-like playing & you’ve got the makings of a new doom legend. This was a fact obviously not lost on Bobby Liebling as, when he introduced the band, he referred to Strahan as “my secret motherfucking weapon!”

Basically the new PENTAGRAM opened up an imperial-sized can of unadulterated whoop-ass on Sonar this night, from chestnuts like “All Your Sins,” “20 Buck Spin” & “Sign Of The Wolf” to a couple new scorchers such as the plundering funk/doom monster, “South Of The Swamp.” Prior to the show, some people had speculated that this (and the gig in NYC the night before) were basically set up as Bobby’s farewell to his fans. I am here to say that the gig I witnessed did not look like anyone’s goodbye to anything except the crowd’s hearing! PENTAGRAM in general, and Liebling in particular appeared for all the world to be a heavy metal outfit who were announcing their ongoing life in no uncertain terms. All I can wait for now is the new studio album, tentatively entitled “Last Rites” and 2009 should be quite a new beginning for one of the greatest bands of all time!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Never Turn Your Back...On The RIPPER!!! Interview with Rob Graves!

Well, shit, this is an easy one! There isn’t a whole lot more I can say to sing the praises of Texas horror metal gods that I already did in the review of their brand new “The Dead Have Rizen” disc (Black Widow Records) posted just a scant few weeks ago. The top-class, crunching metal ass-kicking it delivers puts it way up top for consideration in the early 2009 album sweepstakes and made wonder why on God’s green earth it took them till now to release this monster, seeing as it’s predecessor hit the shelves over 20 years ago. Here’s the whole story from RIPPER main man, Rob Graves.

RAY - You guys have a history…Christ, do you have a history! Give us some background on this thing we call RIPPER! Be as detailed as you want, lie some if necessary but tell us what you can.

ROB - Ripper was conceived in the minds of Sadie Paine and Animal Axeman, the bands original bassist and drummer, in the mid 70's...Even though we didn’t know each other at the time, we were all HUGE fans of KISS, Alice Cooper, and horror movies...They spent the remainder of the 70's trying to find a guitarist that fit their particular vision, but to no avail...One day in 1980, I was in a music store buying some guitar strings when I saw their ad, done on yellow parchment, burned around the edges, and hand-scripted in old English calligraphy...There was also a glossy black and white 8x10 of Sadie and Animal in costume, and in an old cemetery...I was entranced to say the least, so I snagged one of the tear-away phone numbers, asked the clerks if anyone knew anything about them, and left...I called them that night and we talked forever, eventually arranging a meeting...The idea was to take the darker elements of the KISS image ( like 4 Gene's ) and combine it with a heavier type metal, more in the Sabbath and Priest vein...We adored KISS though, make no mistake about it...To us, they were *the shit*, but our tastes in music had gotten heavier and more aggressive...Without them though, there would have been no Ripper...The 4 character aspect of Ripper had been designed and established before I came along, it just so happened that I agreed with it whole heartedly...They had some original material, but we soon decided that the writing direction was going to have to get alot heavier if it was going to work...We all loved the 70's Sabbath and Priest, and that style soon became the focus...We had worked up about 10 or so songs, gotten tight as hell, and began the search for our second guitarist, but before we found him, Animal quit the band...The timing was awful...We had just booked time in the studio to make a demo and couldn’t cancel...Frantically, we searched high and low for a drummer, when finally our good friend Stephen Bogle ( guitarist for Tokyo ) said he'd ask his drummer ( Don Ramirez ) if he would do the sessions with us...Don agreed, and after one rehearsal with him, he went in with us and laid down the drums to 'Sinister Minister'...Before we went back in for the next one, we found J.D. Shadowz, and he completed the remainder of the 4 song demo with us...This was late 1983...I was resigned to the fact that I'd be doing all of the guitar work on the demo until J.D. suggested that we talk to his former guitarist from Angelust, Johnny Crystal...We hit it off with Johnny immediately, with him joining just in time to sing the lead, and punch in the guitar solo on 'Death Awaits You'...We were finally complete...We almost immediately hooked up with Josh Blyden ( son of Larry Blyden, of the 'Whats My Line' 60's TV game show fame ) and J.C. Matalon, who had formed a company called Technifex...They were both licensed pyrotechnicians and trained special effects makeup artists, and they loved Ripper...We already had a road crew of 6, our own box truck ( a retired Ryder rental ), professional equipment ( Gibson, Ludwig, Marshall & Sunn ), and were actively seeking permanent management...A friend of mine ( Ron Miller ) where I worked part-time had taken our demo tape home and played it for his wife ( Gail E. Miller of GEM Entertainment Management), and she told him she HAD to manage us...We were set and ready, and hadn’t even played our first gig together...The 4 song demo was an introduction to the 4 permanent characters of Ripper, with each of us singing lead on our song...Through word of mouth and fanzine trading, these cassettes ended up in the lucky hands of people all over the world ( we recently discovered a few of them in pristine condition ). We found an office warehouse w/kitchen for rent, had a shower installed, bought a washer & dryer, and moved in...It had 4 rooms that we converted to individual living quarters, and a 20x20x12 warehouse room that we had professionally soundproofed...We carpeted the floor, but left the drywall bare, and the sound was incredible...We had our own P.A. but hired a professional sound crew ( L.D. Systems/Houston ) for live performances...We were cranked to a minimum of 100 decibels in clubs and showcase venues, with an average capacity of 500 to 1,000...We were fuckin' LOUD man! From 1984 to 1986, we literally owned Houston...We were never allowed to open for anyone, and could seldom find an opening act either, forcing us to headline our own 90 minute, all original concerts...Ripper was the top drawing act in the city, and no matter who was in town, we outdrew them...This was a time when Helstar, Kings X, WASP, Saxon, Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Savatage and Pantera were on the same circuit as we were...We did alot of hangin' and partyin'...Dime and Vin were a fuckin blast, although they were all cool in their own way...Life was good and we were movin' on up the ladder...It was nothing to see celebs from bigger bands in our audience...Ripper was the 'Texas KISS', for lack of a better term...We were a solid wall of metal death, unrelenting, unfathomable, and absolutely unstoppable...Our makeup was latex prosthetics, made from molds taken from plaster casts of our faces, to actually alter our appearance ( like Lon Chaney ), but it was pliable and moved with our own facial expressions...Ripper was an atomic assault on the senses, with fire, smoke, fog, bombs, lights, costumes, and a ton of heavy metal...We were as 'in your face' as it gets, with no apologies and certainly no remorse...Gail would negociate with the club owners and say: "We'll play here tonight for free, and the next time, you'll pay us whatever we want!" They did...They turned 'em away at the door man, religious groups protesting outside, the whole ball of wax...We packed every venue, even on Monday nights...We were poised to make it, right along with the rest of 'em...Life was good!

RAY - A guy I knew told me Texas was a hotbed for hard rock in the ‘70’s: ZZ Top, the Winter Bros., etc. and he told me bands like Sabbath, Riot, etc. always did well in that state. Was that true? Did it forward into the ‘80’s.

ROB - It was true alright, and it most definitely carried over into the next decade, and beyond...I was one concert goin' MF! If you came through town, chances are I was there, Purple ( in the Astrodome ), The Who, Jethro Tull, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Uriah Heep, Yes, Kansas, Styx, Aerosmith, KISS, Motorhead, Maiden, Sabbath, Priest, AC/DC, Led Zep, Van Halen, you fuckin' name it...Stayin' out all night in line for the best tickets...It was a wild time man...I'd see these shows and be filled with a resolve to make it! I'd go home and practice my ass off for hours and days on end...I learned from my records...Lessons weren’t for me...Texas spawned not only ZZ Top and Johnny Winter, but Bloodrock even earlier on, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Omar and the Howlers, Watchtower, Cannibal Corpse, Deadhorse, S.A. Slayer, Helstar, Kings X, The Hunger, Pantera, and countless others...From what I could tell, everyone that came through loved it here...I dont remember seeing an empty seat at any show I attended...It was a great time...Reagan was bitch-slappin' the commies, and all was right with the world in Texas!

RAY - Rob, you’ve obviously got a deep interest, not only in metal/music but also in horror. What inspires you from the past and what do you like now? What sucks? Music, film, etc. Bro, you’ve got an open forum…let us have it!

ROB - Dude, I really REALLY got off on the old black & white horror flix w/Chaney, Lugosi, Karloff, Lee and the rest...There used to be a show that came on TV every Friday night in the 60's called 'Weird', and they showed every horror flick known to man over the years, then an all-night show called 'Paw's For The Night' came in during the 70's, and I saw more sci-fi and B shit than I had ever seen in my life, plus long blocks of 'The Outer Limits' and 'The Twilight Zone'...I remember seeing 'The Amazing Collasal Man', 'Night of the Living Dead', and all of the stuff from Japan too, and I worshiped it all...There were also a lot of drive-in theatres during the 60's and 70's, and I loved that the most...There’s nothing like you and a bunch of your buddies, smokin', drinkin', trippin' on 'shrooms or whatever, and seeing 'The Exorcist' at a fuckin' drive-in man...LMFAO! We were so freaked out by that movie ( I was 14 ), that everything we heard and saw for a week was a demon...We had a ball! My earliest musical inspirations from the past were definitely Hendrix and Trower, with Pink Floyd and Travers not far behind, with perhaps Trower being my favorite guitarist...That boy is a monster, so cool, so soulful, so dynamic, so fuckin' fluid...'Bridge of Sighs' is number one on my top 10 list, followed by the first 'Montrose' album, 'Aqualung', 'Whos Next', and '2112' among others...I loved British and American rock equally...To me nothing really sucked, because my world was what I loved, and I paid precious little attention to anything else...I was, and still am a Beatles fanatic...My parents are big time music lovers, and just about every day when I got home from school, I'd find 2 or 3 new 45's strewn on my bed...Mom hit the neighborhood record stores often, and would always get stuff for me too, things that she thought I'd like...I loved 'em all man...'House of the Rising Sun', 'Purple Haze', and alot of good old R&B stuff too, Clarence Carter, The Ojays, Billy Paul, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Earth Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers ( Ernie Isley is BADASS ), and Barry White ( now THAT was one cool motherfucker )...Wanna score on a date, have a Barry White 8-track in the deck! I could go on and on, hell, that’s what I'm doin' ain’t it...Wishbone Ash, ELP, The Ramones, HELP ME RAY...I'm havin' a flashback meltdown!

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Can a woman have such large breasts that she would be scary?

ROB - As Tigger would say: "Why, tha'thh impothibibble, hoo hoo hoo!" You fuckin kiddin' me or what Ray..? The only thing that could possibly be scary about women would be a lack thereof, my friend...I was bird-doggin' chix in Kindergarden, and goin' steady with 'em by the 3rd grade...Back then I got a little ID bracelet with my name engraved on it, and if I clasped that MF around yer wrist, bitch, you was mine! Being Sicilian, I been sniffin' around for it forever man...All I can say about the question Ray is, warm in the winter, shade in the summer...Got milk MF..? We love 'em because they're there ( not to mention the hypnotic bouncing and swaying ( * )( * )...Food for thought! I guess I do understand Uncle Ted's agony after all...Da poor bastid!

RAY - “…And The Dead…” came out in 1986 &, from what I understand, “The Dead Have Rizen” was written only a year later. Why the 22 year wait?

ROB - We made a second 4 song demo in 1985, and that along with the first, became 'ATDSR'...Iron Works/Azra Records suggested that we put the two together and let them release it, so we did...Before long, Bill Metoyer from Metal Blade Records was courting us, so we decided to pack up and head for Los Angeles in 1986 to negotiate with them for our next release...Not long after we were there, J.D. and Johnny left the band, for reasons I still dont fully understand...I'll go ahead and blame myself...I was very rigid and anal about perfection, and could be a real killjoy when it came to band business...I guess that, along with some other things that I'm not really at liberty to discuss, pretty much did us in...Anyway, they were gone, and Sadie wanted to attend The Makeup Institute of Hollyweird and work in films, so we stayed for another year while she did that, and I just sat in my apartment and wrote 'TDHR' to keep my mind off of the reality that we'd never really be able to truly replace J.D. and Johnny. Metal Blade wanted us, but our inability to permanently replace those guys made them lose interest, and thats why it was never recorded until now...Bro, I've been carrying that music around in my head all this time, never really believing that I'd ever get to record and release it...In 1990, after moving back to Houston, Ripper officially disbanded...Dream over...

RAY - Is there anything possibly cooler than a RIPPER album on the Black Widow Label?!?!

ROB - The only thing I'd add to that would be insanely HUGE royalty checks...Other than that, we have a good thing going...Their product is always first rate, they're very pliable to my wants and desires, pretty much giving me free rein to do whatever I want to do, and for that I'm thankful...I guess if what I wanted sucked, they'd speak up and tell me so...The love Ripper so much, and man, that’s kinda hard to compete with, ya know...They put up with a lot from me, but at the same time, they truly do understand where I'm coming from, and I feel fairly certain that they know whatever I give them will be of high quality...They pushed for me to include a cover on the album...I threw around a few things until we all agreed that covering KISS would be the most logical...BWR loves KISS, I love them, and KISS fans love them, and they're starting to dig Ripper too...I've received a lot of support from The KISS Army for doing the cover, and that’s a very cool thing to me, for I also am a part of them...I'm proud of my musical heritage, and if you dig Ripper, you gotta pay some respect to the influences also...They raised the bar so high man...They did for rock music what Muhammed Ali did for boxing, and thats change it forever, how its done, how it sounds, the packaging, the merch, everything...It is what it is...Smart MF's! Luckily for them, they made their fortunes before it became legal to steal it from them...That has changed the record business forever too...An artist’s work is no longer his/her own...Shall I stand beside you when your boss hands you your paycheck, and just snatch it away from you, simply because its there, and I can..? I, like you and BWR, simply love the real deal, the product man, the package, the booklets, the LP's too...Its sacred...An artist gets paid from what the distributors order, but they're not gonna take a bath in your product when they know people are gonna download it for nothing, and I don’t blame them...I hope someday someone figures out a way that makes it technically impossible to do it...Didn’t mean to rant, but labels and their artists are suffering...Nuff said!

RAY - The songs you come up with, from “Hemicidal” to “U.S. Tank” are brilliant because they are so simple & yet so impossibly catchy and heavy. What is your songwriting process, music, lyrics together, one first before the other, etc.

ROB - I always write the music first...The musical part of the song puts me in a certain vibe, and that’s when a title is born, and once I know what it’s called, the lyrics come easy...I'm hardly ever without a guitar in my hand...I play it daily, be it 30 minutes, or several hours...I must play my guitar...It calls out to me wherever I am, and whatever I'm doing...If I'm not playing, then I'm thinking about it, and always trying to make time to do it...The guitar is who I am, its an extension of me...Words I could never utter come out of that instrument...Its spiritual, like speaking in tongues, but with your hands...There’s a power there that only players know about first hand, and yet, the music lover and listener understand this too as the power of it moves them...If I hear something awesome, I get chills, and that kind of power is not genre specific...That power can exist in any form of music, for any number of reasons, and to any number of people...Frequency man...It vibes with your spirit and your bones...Its as important as breathing...Without music, the world would go insane, I know I would! The catchy part of the songs comes from my desire to hear a groove over and over again, and being raised on good music showed me how to construct them in such a way...Its like Dio's 'Rainbow in the Dark'...Thats what I'm talking about...That structure...You feel the chill when you write it, and you figure a way to expand the song, but all the while making that chill factor element repeat itself...I listen to Ripper alot...I'm a fan of it...I enjoy it immensely...If I don’t like it, you'll never hear it...

RAY - What do you think of all the radio metal shit without guitar solos? Is this all part of the dumbing down of America? It’s either that or, like the new G&R, techno-weenies with a zillion notes and no soul, eh?

ROB - Well, you can either chalk it up to differences in taste, or what you said...I personally dont understand the dumbing down of America theory...I think people live in fear of having no voice, or worse yet, being lumped in with someone else...We scream for individuality, and demand to be noticed...In that regard, I'm no different...To me, the absence of lead guitar is *punk*...A rebellion against what they consider to be a cliche'...Now, there’s no doubting that some of it is indeed metal with no lead, like Mudvayne or Korn for example, heavy, complex, but no lead guitar...For some reason, the 80's and hair-metal left a bad taste in peoples’ mouths...Think about it...Every one of them could shred, and wrote songs about goofy cherry pie, bubblegum, schoolyard bullshit...Real metal was sort of driven underground, but it festered and broke free again, especially in Europe...Today, Killswitch Engage, Slipknot, Godsmack and others are carrying on the tradition of metal with lead guitar...Its metal man, no trumpet or violin solo, it has to be done on a guitar...There are those with a zillion notes that *do* have soul...Yngwie for example...He's not just doing it because he can, that MF means it, feels it, adores it...Yes, he's classically trained, but without the natural talent he possesses, there'd be no emotion at all...He took the training, but it was his raw talent that morphed it into what it is...Its his, its signature, and no one else can do it like him, no one...Same deal with Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and a host of others...But I do understand how the abandonment of this prowess makes it *seem* like a dumbing down...For one thing, the drop tuning requires a much heavier gauge of strings to stay in tune, which in turn, might make it more difficult to bend the strings, and then there’s the other side of the coin that suggests that they just plain *cant* do it...If they really cant do it, then of course they're gonna shout it from the mountain tops how stupid they think it is...For the first time in the history of music, a superior technique has been all but abandoned...I'll always solo, its what I do...I don’t give a fuck who likes or doesn’t like it...*I* like it!

RAY - Does RIPPER incorporate a lot of visuals live? Or is the music scary enough?

ROB - The music could have always held its own without the visuals...You can’t see the visuals when you listen to the CD...Like playing lead guitar, we presented the image because *we* loved it, and we never really entertained the thought that somebody might not...We were playing for *us*, getting *our* rocks off doing what *we* enjoyed doing...Luckily for us, others dug it too...LMAO! I think that Ripper music represents horror-metal pretty well, I mean, that’s the intent and the drive behind it...The costumes, the makeup, the 7 inch platform boots, the smoke and fire, that’s just icing on an already damn good cake...I've always considered Maiden a horror-metal band of sorts, because of the themes and their mascot Eddie, and they had no image whatsoever...Did it lose its effect, hell no...I recently saw their 'Live in Rio' DVD from 2001, and man, I was just fuckin' blown away, and a lot of their stuff does have that creep vibe to it, Priest and Sabbath too...I think you got what we gave you because of our immense love for horror and theatrics, but there was never an accusation that we were hiding behind the image for a lack of musical substance...We can definitely play.

RAY - Let’s play word association!

ROB - Well, why not...
a. Iommi
Proof positive that it took the son of Italian immigrants to create heavy-metal...Ay yo!
b. George Dubya Bush
Forwent his legacy to keep us safe...Got in *their* face to keep them out of *ours*...What balls!
c. Angelina Jolie
Isn’t it ironic that her Dad was told that *he* had a *pretty mouth*...Peaked in her looks as the peroxided, tatooed, thrill seekin' ho' in 'Gone In 60 Seconds'...That evil lil' look in her eyes...Brad tamed her down too much...She needs that Cher-like independence to become the immortal vixen she dreams of being! Just my opinion, but hey MF, you asked, dint'cha!
d. Lemmy
The Mike Tyson of heavy metal...He doesn’t give a rats ass what anybody thinks, he just soldiers the fuck on!

RAY - What’s next for RIPPER? Any live shows planned? If you play Baltimore, I’ll buy you a beer…or at least a can of Old Bay.

ROB - There are definitely things in the works, most of which has to stay under wraps for now, but since you're in the inner circle so to speak, you'll be kept informed as things begin to unfold...Time, schedules, and financial matters are the key elements we're dealing with at the moment, but there are things that have been set in motion to remove the obstacles and create the flow of momentum...When we were 20, it was nothing to sleep in a van for a week, not knowing where our next meal was coming from...It was water off a ducks back...Now however, we exist in the realm of the almighty mortgage amidst a multitude of financial responsibilities...Suffice it to say that if there’s a way, we'll find it!

RAY - Well there be another RIPPER album? Will it take till 2031?

ROB – That’s funny MF...Actually, I have the next 2 albums already written and ready to be recorded...Its hard to sit on this much material until such a time as it can actually be loosed, but hell man, I've been doing it all of my life...There will be more Ripper albums...Mass and da boys will set the time table for product and release, its our job to have everything ready when they call...If I had a while to sit down with you and recap the last 30 years, you'd know and understand why things went down the way they did, and why this process has been so difficult...

RAY - Tell me the most outrageous story you can muster in association with your time in RIPPER?

ROB - It was 1985 when KISS came to Houston on their Animalize tour...We pretty much had carte blanche wherever we went, so we decided to see if it would work on a much larger scale...Gail made some phone calls, including one to Ritchie Wise ( the producer for the first 2 KISS albums, and her cousin )...She had the makeup crew come to our headquarters and get us into full deck, as if for a show or photo shoot...We had everything arranged, time, place, transportation, you name it...Then the unthinkable happened...A massive Canadian winter air mass blew through and collided with our typical ocean breeze conditions, and it fuckin' snowed sideways...Needless to say, if we were still going to venture out on this escapade, we were on our own...LMFAO...There we were, ready-n-deadly with no place to go...We carefully shuffled our way across the frozen parking lot in our 7 inch platform boots, to Johnny's old car ( he had the only sedan )...I drove as we slowly and dangerously made our way to the downtown arena where they were playing, and we were the ONLY idiots on the streets...It was bad man...We had the heater in that old beater maxed...It was getting dark, and all you could see anywhere was the glow of traffic lights...I'm a native Houstonian, and I had never seen the weather so bad, before or since, but nothing had ever come easy for Ripper anyway, so we just accepted the fact and went on about our business...After an hour or so had passed on what should have been a 20 minute drive, we arrived at the backstage entrance, and it looked deserted...At this moment in history my dear friends, Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Lion pounded on the massive doors of Emerald City, and they opened...The backstage area was full of warmth, soft lighting, and people everywhere...You could have heard a pin drop...KISS had taken off the makeup a year or so earlier, and there we stood, like 4 Terminators...The band had come out of their dressing room to mingle and take pix before the show, and were surrounded by the press...To his credit, Gene $immon$ was the only one who walked over to greet us, shaking our hands and making small talk...When he reached out to greet J.D. Shadowz, a Ripper EP cassette was slipped into his hands...Gene knew we looked killer, but he was very gracious and friendly...Paul, Eric and Bruce kept at a distance, but continued to turn and look our way...Finally, we were escorted to some private seating to the side of the stage to watch the show, and they kicked some major fucking ass that night...During the drum solo, Paul made is way to the curtained off edge of the stage, about 20 feet from us, and shined a flashlight at us to get a better look...There we were, for all intents and purposes, the old KISS watching the new KISS...It was surreal, but we had a fuckin' blast...Everyone treated us extremely well...I don’t know if they remember that night, but none of us will ever forget it, that’s for sure! I'm sure Gene still has the EP somewhere in his archives...The boy is a packrat!

RAY - Any final comments?

ROB - Ripper was like a big hyped television series that only aired for a few seasons, and then fell apart, and for that, I apologize to everyone...But even in the midst of all that, our fans remained loyal and true, and kept our name circulating on the web, without our knowing...By chance, I decided to do a Ripper search in 2003, and there it was, page after page, remembered, documented, cemented in history, and none of it was our doing...I started contacting a lot of these people to say thanx for remembering, and before you know it, record companies were contacting me...Tobi Piwek of put me in contact with Mass, at which point he and da boys flipped out and told me how they had been searching for us for years to do re-issues and make new albums...It was like finally getting rescued from Gilligan’s Island...This new album was originally designed as a gift to all of those who remained faithful to something that we thought was long gone and dust...They were moved by the power, and kept the lights on for us, and I'll never forget that...They encouraged me, sent me well wishes, and helped me every way they knew how, to remind me of who I was, and what I had once been a part of...Its like a fairytale, but it happened...I wanted them to have what would have been, and now is the actual sequel to 'ATDSR'...They made Ripper more than just a curiosity or a myth...They breathed life into us again, and waited and waited and waited...Man, that kind of loyalty doesn’t come easy, so there you have it Raybo...We honestly had no idea that we had left such an impact...I owe them everything, and little by little, they'll get it too! Our fans, TheRIPPERCorpse, yanked us out of the grave, dusted us off, and kicked us in the ass and said: "Go and wake the dead again!

What a fun interview and a real candid look into the world, not only of one Rob Graves but into the forces behind the band RIPPER and the pulse that makes this timeless American metal band tick. What’s that, you haven’t heard RIPPER yet?! Well, poor soul, get going!

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Light In The Black

FREEDOM HAWK – “Sunlight” CD ’08 (Magic Lady, US) – Man, this is nice stuff. I really dig this kinda find, ‘cause it’s simply all good from the git-go. You can start right from the tan, rustic-looking digipak, the widely varied song titles, "Sunlight" to "Executioner," and the fact that there's 2 guitarists in the line-up. You finally pop in the disc and things just keep on getting better. I hear these cats being called the East Coast Fu Manchu and while I can’t fault the guitar tone comparison, FREEDOM HAWK has more in common with the mighty Zep than Scott Hill’s unit. Just listen to the way T.R. Morton stretches his vocal pipes over a number like “Land Of The Lost". Check out the thoughtful-yet-crushing guitar layerings of Morton & 6-string co-conspirator Matt Cave on “Stand Back” & “Lightning Charge.” Here the work of Jimmy Page definitely comes to mind. And, digging even further into “Sunlight,” witness the last few cuts, “Palomino,” “Grab A Hold” and “King Of Order,” with it’s hidden-track groovin’ ending. Here the band expands like warm honey, opening doors to everything great about hard rock from the ‘70’s and now. Still, all that aside, the dual guitars and vocals consistently rule here, perfect implements for doling out songs that are at once riff-laden and draped with an alluring psych overtone. It’s a very impressive and confident sound indeed and had I received this disc before nailing my ’08 Top 10 in stone, it may have just made the cut. Word has it that FREEDOM HAWK have recently signed to Meteor Cit for a new long-player due later in ’09. If “Sunlight” is any indication, we’re witnessing the dawn of a special band. Rawk! 100 Watt Bulb

Not For The Elderly!

ELDER – “Elder” CD ’09 (Meteor City, US) – The name of this Massachusetts band is ironic on a couple levels. To begin with, the record was originally recorded nearly 2 years ago, having finally seen it’s official Meteor City release date on January 13, 2009. So, in one sense, you could say these guys have grown old waiting for their debut album to see the light of day. There’s an even deeper irony, however, in that while these 3 chaps are very young (early 20’s at most), they have created something that rivals the best work of their elders. It took me forever to get this disc, finding it nowhere in Baltimore and finally having to order it online. Initial reports compared the trio to the fledgling works of Sleep/High On Fire and Electric Wizard. So, that’s what I had in mind, pleased as I was to open the envelope and find I’d gotten the cool LP-styled gatefold. It was in listening to the opening cut, “White Walls,” however that I realized ELDER was a lot more mature than I’d expected. For an album that features just 5 cuts over nearly 42 minutes, there isn’t a trace of boredom in it’s length. This young 3-piece comes at you with, yes, the heaviness of a Sherman tank and, sure, the pendulous groove of early Pike units but there’s way more. ELDER know exactly when to change the pace to make things interesting and the thoughtful playing, ‘specially that of guitarist Nick DiSalvo is startlingly good. This guy comes up with a wealth of riffs that flow together so well & incorporate enough melodies that songs in the 9-10 minute range seem no more than 4 or 5. Not only that, his lead work is perceptive and downright musical to the point that it sometimes snows under that of Pike or Justin Osborn. Add in his gruff-to-clean vocals & an organic dynamo churning around him in the names of Jack Donovan (bass) & Matt Couto (drums) and you’ve got plenty of reasons why ELDER are wise beyond their years. Crush! 2000 Pounds Of Talent