Thursday, May 28, 2009

Your Mother Sucks Roosters In Hell!

BLACK COCK – “Robot Child With A God Complex” CD ’09 (Australian Cattle God, US) – I’ll start by, once again, thanking the good folks (Mark & crew) over at for turning me on to this one via their recent “10 Most Dangerous Bands” article. Stop over there if you get a chance, you won’t be sorry. You also probably won’t be sorry if you nab this tan little sucker out of the bin of your local recorded music emporium. Hell, I found a used copy, which makes this an even better bargain as “Robot Child…” is one helluva interesting piece of spinning plastic. See, I see the words “BLACK COCK” and the first thing I’m thinking is some basement bunch of teenage angst-ridden, snot-dripping punks. Not that this would be a bad thing, you see. Angst-ridden, snot-dripping teenage punks have often issued recorded works of epic proportion. And yet, this BLACK COCK is crowing an altogether different tune. Slide it in and the hammering drums and thudding bass immediately give off a real Jesus Lizard vibe. Then come the frantic female vocals, ragged guitar riffs and keyboard figures and all bets are off. You truthfully don’t know what the hell you’re in for! What comes next is the crawling, harrowing darkness of “Harvey’s Machine.” Left turns keep swinging your way with the B-52’s-in-a-padded-cell bounce of “SkullCop,” only to be followed by “Starfleet Destroyer,” another haunting, inching climb through dense & disturbed dreams, the guitar figures just being brilliant here. Highlights continue, far and wide, from the grinding motor of “Crickets” to the funk-laden “Flatline” & “Octagon’s" shimmering keys. All through this brilliantly original album, a couple things continue to impress consistently. First, the vocals of Whitney Lee are just great. While she has a definitely feminine voice, it’s also one that is certainly anything but cutesy. She has a power and verve that range from frenzied to ominous to simply passionate. Couple this with the keyboard & guitar inventiveness supplied by Chico Jones, as well as Jordan Lee’s keys and Ben Kent’s pounding, nearly tribal drums and you’ve got a very special band. It’s a unit that constantly creates a super-organic feeling that ranges from threatening to just this side of insanity and keeps the listener on the edge of his/her seat while grooving like a mo-fo from beginning to end. In all honesty, I’d say buy this album or suck my…well, no need to bathe the entire review in humor. BLACK COCK is no joke! Big 10 Inch

No Monkey Business Here

SLOUGH FEG – “Ape Uprising” CD ’09 (Cruz Del Sur, US) – I remember back when I slid the first LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG disc into my player many years back. My first thought, after being pretty battered by the twin guitar Maiden-Lizzy-Celtic-folk-metal assault was a slightly sobering one. “With as many killer riffs as they used here, they’re going to have a hard time coming up with any next time around!” Well, touche’, Mike Scalzi, as 7 albums in you’re still mining the mother lode. Right off the bat, SLOUGH FEG (Scalzi - guitar, vocals; Angelo Tringali – guitar; Adrian Maestas – bass; Harry Cantwell – drums) catch the listener off-guard. “The Hunchback Of Notre Doom” eschews the usual galloping FEG fare and pulverizes the listener into the ground for 5 minutes with pure, plundering doom. Seriously, the title is no empty threat here, as Scalzi & Tringali let loose a series of riffs that would have names like Chandler, Wartell & Franklin raising their eyebrows, capped by a stirring vocal performance from Mike S. From there, the band careens into a faster, Lizzy-ish “Overborne” before tackling one of the most ambitious works of their career, the 10+ minute title cut. Filled to the brim with one nicely-segueing riff after another, SF show what the term “epic metal” should really mean. This cut, especially, calls to mind one of my favourite bands of all time, Manilla Road, not only in song structure and blistering lead guitar but in the pipes of Mr. Scalzi who often fondly reminds me of Mark “The Shark” Shelton. From there, this 4-some rampage through 5 more varied numbers with the skill & panache of Helio Castroneves tooling his car through the turns at Indy. From the crushing “Simian Manifesto” to the lead-guitar frenzy of “Ape Outro” and on to the finish line of ‘70’s hard rock nirvana, “Nasty Hero,” this is simply what SLOUGH FEG never fails to deliver: killer, top-level guitar-drenched metal with imagination to boot. 9.0

LE FACE – “Isolation” CD ’09 (Dead Beat, US) – From Whittier, California by way of Cleveland’s Dead Beat Records comes LE FACE and their debut full-length, “Isolation.” With song titles like “Urinating Fest,” “Tylenol Killer” and “Christian Cunt,” there’s a pretty strong indication that this band has their roots in punk and it’s an accurate one. Still, the album does rise beyond the genre-typical with the jaunty melodies that pop out all through the bouncing, pogo-ing rhythms that abound. The slightly upper-range vocals, while a bit off-putting at first, settle in with me after the first few songs and, again, act as a signpost to mark “Isolation” as something that stands out from the crowd. For a band I knew nothing about prior to injecting this disc into the Realm-o-Matic, LE FACE have gotten my attention. I’m curious to hear more from these guys and I’ll bet they’d be a blast live. 7.0

CRAICMORE – “From Hill & Hoolie” CD ’09 (Private, US) – Been a long time since I got a really good Celtic folk CD. Been a long time since I did the stroll through a Celtic festival, though, so I guess it’s good that California’s CRAICMORE sent me this, their 3rd CD. In all honesty, it doesn’t surprise me that this band has delivered a sterling piece of work. Their last disc, “Too Bad For Heaven, Too Good For Hell…” sparked a good review on these pages a few years ago. Still, I think “From Hill…” is even better. Bolstered by a shimmering-yet-crystal-clear production courtesy of Grammy-nominated engineer Scott Fraser, the band’s eclectic blend of ideas comes through with a powerful punch. All you have to do is listen to the opening pair of “Rocky Road To Dublin / Butterfly / Foxhunter’s” and “Star Of Munster / Gravel Walk.” In the former, Nancy Johnston’s rich & full voice takes command right away as the multi-instruments of John MacAdams (guitar, Didjeridoo, banjo, etc.), Dave Champagne (flute, pennywhistle, great highland bagpipes, etc.) and Sean Faye-Cullen (bass & vox) lay down a simmering accompaniment. With the latter, Champagne gives a veritable clinic with whistle as he then does with the Highland pipes on “Dark Isle / Glasgow City Police.” Elsewhere, the band’s willingness to stretch out into other ethnic reaches is never as apparent as on the traditional Chinese folk song, “Crescent Moon.” There’s no question that CRAICMORE have announced “From Hill & Hoolie” that Celtic-inspired folk music is a very live and vital animal. Recommended. 8.0

LIGHTS OUT! – “Destroy / Create” CD ’09 (Dead Beat, Ger) – “Lights out, lights out, Berlin”…ok, stop Ray, you’re not Phil Mogg. This LIGHTS OUT! (complete with the exclamation point) is not a UFO song but, rather, a punk band from Germany who have released their latest effort “Destroy / Create.” They have a sound that will remind you of some classic early ‘80’s punk luminaries like Circle Jerks, Reagan Youth & Negative Approach. The fast-paced garage-y guitars, angry vocals and songs like “Contempt” and “Be Quiet And Obey” will take you back to those times, for sure. The only problem, and it’s a bit of a stout one for LIGHTS OUT! is that they often “remind” too much. There simply isn’t a ton of personality or panache there to make their stuff stand out or apart from those early punk icons. So, while this may be a decent listen when you’ve had your fill of life’s bullshit, it’s not something you’re going to remember next Tuesday. Take some more time with the songwriting next time, guys. 5.0

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stone Deaf Forever

IRON MAN – “I Have Returned” CD ’09 (Shadow Kingdom, US) – Metal is a funny thing. How do you describe it? Is it defined, as some say, by a single band like Judas Priest? Is it’s frame of reference a particular guitar player, a certain guitar sound? Is it indicated by a lyrical style? Smoking/drinking, the devil, fantasy, leftist politics, etc.? Who the hell can really quantify it, right? And yet those of us who have been into it forever know immediately when we hear something whether it’s “metal” or not. With that in mind, I have one thing to tell you, a very basic truth that is not up for discussion or debate. Maryland’s IRON MAN is metal as fuck. Period. The fact that they are back with a new album (the first full-length since 1999’s “Generation Void”) makes me a very happy man. The fact that “I Have Returned” is as seriously damn great as it is makes me giddy with the feeling of all sorts of endorphins running through my body. I understand that this is my problem, but for the next several minutes, as you read this, it’s going to be your’s as well, so settle in.

IRON MAN has always been Alfred Morris III, since the days when he was doing a Sabbath cover band thang. On forward from that point, the man has kept his vision of doing heavy music steeped in the Sabbath tradition and yet putting his own stamp on things. IRON MAN issued their debut disc in 1993, “Black Night” and followed it the next year with “The Passage.” Several years later, “Generation Void” emerged (1999). Along the way, Morris worked with different musicians, further honing the band’s sound. The current line-up recorded it’s first disc in 2007, the excellent 5-song EP, “Submission.” It is with this crew that Al took to the studio for “I Have Returned:” Alfred Morris III – guitars, Joe Donnelly – vocals, Louis Strachan – bass, Dex Dexter - drums. The results are fabulous!

There’s one thing I want to put on the table first, and it involves Al Morris’ guitar sound. It seems that, over the years, all you have to do is mention Morris or IRON MAN in general and the first thing people say is something like “Oh, he’s the guy who cloned Iommi’s guitar sound.” Let me say this: Al has got one of the most thick, leaden rhythm sounds I’ve ever heard in my life. That includes, yes Tony I and also people like Dave Chandler (Saint Vitus) and King Buzzo (Melvins). Here’s my thing, though. I’ve seen Sabbath live more times than I can even remember. I’ve also seen IRON MAN quite a few. Similarly, I’ve listened to albums like “Vol. 4” till they’re etched into my brain…and I’ve also given those like “GenerationVoid” more than a couple spins. With that as a backdrop, I’ve gotta tell you…If anyone listens to any of those and walks away calling Al Morris III simply an Iommi-clone, they need to see an ear doctor pronto. This guy has got a sweet tone for sure, babe, but he also has got his own thing going on and in a seriously big-time way. Same way I like to call Against Nature’s John Brenner the “tone master,” I like to think Morris is a “groove master” and it’s never shown through more so than on “I Have Returned.” Take a listen to “Curse The Ages (Curse Me).” You wanna talk about something that swings?! Jesus Christ, this thing swings like Benny Goodman on steroids with a mace in his hand that’s plugged into a mountain of Laneys! And that’s not even getting into the cool little melodic section that comes up just after the 2 minute mark. Man, that reminds me of something a band like May Blitz or Toad did back in the day!

Looking elsewhere around this album is just top-level and it’s where Morris and IRON MAN really set themselves apart from the doom standard. How ‘bout the “Stained Class” gallop of “Blind-Sighted Forward Spiral.” What a cool song title and if you can stand still not grab your air axe when Al rips into the super catchy melodic line before he pastes your ass with the nasty solo, then you’ve got no soul, honcho! Everywhere you turn on this beast of a metal monster there’s highlights: the grooving crush of “Run From The Light” (while Trouble’s running to it?!), Morris’ bluesy acoustic ode “Days Of Olde” or the flattening mid-paced riff monster, “Gomorrah Gold.” Still, I think IRON MAN have saved the best for last with the double shot of “Fallen Angel” and “Among The Filth And Slime.” The former opens with a haunting melodic guitar figure that rivals one of the absolute greatest songs of all time, Priest’s ancient “Run Of The Mill.” It also includes gigantic vocal performance from Joe Donnelly (who puts on a master class clinic all album) and a wonderful, phased solo from Al, somewhat reminiscent of early Alex Lifeson. The latter sees Mr. Morris open the deal with a howling rain of feedback a la KK’s “Deep Freeze” (Hey, a lot of “Rocka Rolla” references here! Can’t be too many of them!) that lasts over a minute before the band tear into a rhythm calling to mind Purple’s “Highway Star.” Morris’s soloing in this one is just filthy!

Jesus, Jesus, JESUS!!! What a hot-ass metal album and although (especially for me as a guitar player) I can’t help focusing on the breathtaking axe work delivered by Al Morris III, it would be purely wrong not to say that this is easily the best line-up IRON MAN has ever sported. As stated above, Joe Donnelly has been just what the doctor ordered for this band on vocals, both on the previous “Submission” and now even more so here. His mid-range voice is just fantastic and I just have to say, he made me a fan at Declaration of Doom when he made his disparaging between song pirate-like rants about Hannah Montana. Go Joe!!! Similarly, the rhythm section of Louis Strachan & Dex Dexter murder from one end to the other, nailing down a bottom that’s both heavier than lead casket and organic as your favourite ‘shroom. How good is this record? The bottom line is that if you’re into metal and don’t own it, you completely suck. Period.
This One Goes To Eleven
NOTE: Special credit should go to Shadow Kingdom Records for releasing this bad-assed mofo and doing such a fantastic job with the booklet, etc. Awesome!

MORGLBL – “Jazz For The Deaf” CD ’09 (Laser’s Edge, Fra) – And to think, I wasn’t going to go. See, about 2 months ago, my prog-rawk bowling teammate Rick mentioned to me that MORGLBL was playing at Orion Studios in Baltimore on May 9. Having never heard ‘em, I was assured by Rick that they smoked & so I jotted the name down in my calendar: “MORGLBL.” I tried to pronounce it, then gave up, meant to look ‘em up on YouTube, never did. Anyway we got into May & I opened that ol’ calendar one week. Let’s see, Friday night take my oldest to his prom. Pick him up from the after-prom party at 4:00 AM Saturday. Get together with relatives to celebrate Mother’s Day 2:00 PM Sat., then go to dinner after. Sunday 1:00 PM go to dinner with wife for Mother’s Day. 5:00 PM Sunday go to theatre with son.” Then, I saw the additional note for Saturday night. MORGLBL – Orion. Jesus Christ, I thought. Talk about a full weekend. And, as it turned out, on the way back from taking the kid to the prom Friday my van broke down & I stood at roadside, irate drivers blowing their horns as I waited nearly 3 hours for a tow truck. So, by the time Saturday rolled around I was already pretty damn burnt and was about to call Rick & beg off on the show. For some reason, however, I hesitated & figured “Ah, what the hell….” I think God guided me this time and his name is Christophe Godin.

Christophe Godin, you see, is the guitarist for MORGLBL and that evening as I sat on my metal folding chair in front of him at Orion, he did indeed rise to deity status. Funny thing was, on entering this intimate studio/venue that evening, before even taking my seat, I snagged a copy of MORGLBL’s new disc, “Jazz For The Deaf” (released officially in June). I thought, “Ok, could be $15 down the drain.” By the time the 1st song was over, I was checking my wallet to see if I had enough to pick up their other 3.

What I saw live that night was a revelation, not only for those who love fusion and heavy prog but metal as well. It’s the same revelation you’ll have when you slide “Jazz…” into your CD player. This is an album that is relentless. It is relentless in it’s wickedly dexterous musicianship. Together, Godin, Ivan Rougney (bass) and Aurelien Ouzoulias (drums) form a mega-organic trio who constantly push each other to playing that not only borders on the ridiculous but barrels right on thru to the middle of crazy. It is relentless in the quality of the material. With their stuff being of the oft-dreaded “instrumental” variety, MORGLBL are never in danger of being boring or directionless. One reason is because they are also relentless in terms of heaviness. While their output ranges from all-out metallic assaults calling to mind (but far better than) Cynic (US) to Primus-like-funk to Cobham-styled fusion, there is never any shortage of overdriven intensity that can alternately shake the walls and raise a smile. That’s another thing. Even though these 3 cats have the chops to bring Steve Vai, Stanley Clarke or Terry Bozzio to their knees, they’ve got a Zappa-like sense of humor that keeps it all real. Check out opener “Morglbl Circus,” with it’s, yes, circus theme that may end up seeming droll if the whole thing weren’t just so crushing. Or the nearly whimsical off-time rhythms of “Borderline” that dissolve into a heavy-ass riff mid song. Mostly, however, MORGLBL as a band are a musical house afire from one end to the other.

And frankly, I’ve gotta talk some more about Christophe Godin. Is the guy a shredder? Sure. My hands actually hurt just listening to some of the manically-note-riddled lead lines he lays down during this hour of metal-massacred-funk-fusion. Yet, unlike so many well-schooled players, he doesn’t give you the impression of being some lab technician or Julliard grad. Rather, there’s an under-lying blues feel and a very over-lying vibe of just coming out and kicking complete and utter ass. Envision, if you will, Dimebag Darrell (R.I.P.) after he listened to a Mahavishnu record and you might have an idea.

Best cuts? I don’t even have a clue where to start. “Jazz For The Deaf” is an album that continues to unveil great surprises every new listen at the same time it’s stomping all over your face with tank treads. If your appetite for amazement is as wide as your desire for a butt-kickin’, order this bitch yesterday. Acoustic Earplugs Anyone?
NOTE: It also must be added that my listening to the previous MORGLBL discs I purchased (“Grotesk” ’07, “Bienvenue A Morglbl Land” ’99 and “The Morglbl Trio II” ’98) yielded similarly orgasmic musical results with this listener.

Jersey Mob Hit

THE PARLOR MOB – “And You Were A Crow” CD ’08 (Roadrunner, US) – New Jersey has produced it’s fair share of mainstream artists, The Boss & Jon Bon Jovi most notably. It’s also laid claim to some more heavy-handed native sons, Zakk Wylde for one and a bevy of ‘80’s metal disciples like Overkill. Current times see THE PARLOR MOB stepping out from that fine state and their debut “And You Were A Crow” is a worthy listen. From tracks that build their foundation on names like Free, The Faces & Zep this …MOB should put an instant smile on the face of any classic rock fan. The downside is that more than once, riffs stray uncomfortably close to clone rather than influence. Still, if you don’t analyze it too much & just roll down the windows, it’s a nice spin and I’m hoping they find their more original feet on #2. 6.5

THE TREWS – “No Time For Later” CD ’09 (EMI, Can) – I was pretty impressed by THE TREWS’ last disc, “Den Of Thieves,” receiving the tip-off on that bad boy from Geno Desi of Generations Underground. It was an instant & catchy bunch of tracks that skirted the fine line between hard barroom rock and yes, Nickelback-esque FM melodies. While “No Time For Later” treads these same boards, I’m not feeling quite the love for 2 reasons. First off, the band seems to have tipped the scales slightly in favour of the high-gloss production here, despite the more edgy “nude-ass” cover artwork. Secondly, while all the songs are decent enough, nothing stands out quite the way “Makin’ Sunshine” & “The Traveling Kind” did on “Den….” THE TREWS seem to be on the way to broader appeal, as their position on my local store’s “Up & Coming” rack indicates. I just hope they give the songwriting a jolt in the ass next time. 6.0

THE UNDER – “Mercurial” CD ’09 (Private, US) – I love it when a CD from a band I’ve never even heard of comes sliding out of my mailbox and is…voila…damn good! The possibility of that is one of the carrots that always keep me going with this foolhardy venture and it happened with THE UNDER. Looking at the cover of the disc, I slid it in with all the trepidation of it being a paint-by-numbers stoner yawn. Imagine my surprise when the damn thing sounded like early Rush combined with The Sab Four! Hmm…I thought, as I let tracks like “The Shield,” “Anaximander” & “No Great Divide” wash over me. The musicianship on offer by this Massachusetts trio is outstanding, particularly guitarist Daniel Costa, who’s riffs & runs often call to mind an early Lifeson with a touch of Against Nature’s John Brenner as well. Similarly, Costa’s vocals are melodic enough to compliment the subtlety of the music and yet he’s not afraid to issue a semi-growl when necessary. Moreover, for a band with a prog-ish bent, THE UNDER don’t let the song lengths get away from ‘em, keeping the “epics” here within the 6-7 minute mark. My only caution would be that with the complexities involved, there could be a few more memorable “landmarks” in a couple songs near album’s end. All in all, however, “Mercurial” is a great surprise and I’m anxious to hear what these guys do next. 8.0

WOLFBRIGADE – “Comalive” CD ’09 (Deranged, Swe) – D-beat crust punk. I guess I’m just getting old, but rather than a style of music it sounds more to me like somebody’s password for something. Or maybe something someone would argue about in a Scrabble game. Anyway, you can call Sweden’s WOLFBRIGADE whatever you want when it comes to genre, but the fact remains that when you throw on one of their records you’re going to get a serious ass-whupping and “Comalive” is no exception. Here’s the skinny: If you love the days of ripping and destroying albums that used to belch power like some out-of-control chemical fire from the hands of Bones / Discharge, Varukers, etc. you’re probably gonna like WOLFBRIGADE. These guys have been around for quite awhile and I think they’ve developed to a point that they’ve got it all over better-known acts like Tragedy. Just check out the massive riffing in “Unknown Road.” Is there any way you’re going to keep control over your beat-up Mazda when you’re tooling along 695 and that comes on the CD player? And how ‘bout the ending of “Reality Lashes,” the album’s “epic” at 4:49? The upward, spiraling guitar figures stop me short every time and make me realize these guys are far from simply noise-makers. Excellent shit, and check out their back catalog as well. You won’t be sorry. 8.0
NOTE: In Baltimore , you can get this sucker from Celebrated Summer Records on CD and vinyl. Check ‘em out:

PULLING TEETH – “Paranoid Delusions / Paradise Illusions” CD ’09 (Deathwish, US) – You know what’s really cool? Waking up one morning to find that an uncle you never knew you had has just left you a fortune, Jill Hennessy is in the bed of your Riviera-side villa and there’s a Ferrari in the garage. Would you believe a $ 100 lottery ticket, a copy of Penthouse in the mailbox and a car out front that actually would work? I digress…. What’s really cool is having a young band evolve into something special & I think that’s what we’re seeing with Baltimore’s PULLING TEETH.

Having opened their story with the riveting hardcore assault of “Vicious Skin” (’06) then “Martyr Immortal,” (’07) they have now followed with a striking evolution called “Paranoid Delusions / Paradise Illusions.” Just the opener, “Ritual,” is a clarion call of this band’s progression. Beginning with an eerie intro, the band then plunge into a crushing, Vitus-like doom riff. No sooner has that made your hair stand on end than they floor it for a high-speed death metal segue, only to find the song ending in what could only be described as a gothic Melvins-fest. “Unsatisfied” continues to satisfy at a slow-paced mangle before we get to “Bloodwolves,” simply an amazing track. Starting at warp-speed-destroy-mode, complete with concussive riffs & harrowing growls, PT really up the ante part way through. They shift into epic doom, highlighted by brilliant melodic double guitar leads. Picture Trouble playing a funeral march and you may have an idea.

“Paranoid Delusions” continues the stately pace and features a surprisingly melodic Middle-Eastern-type guitar solo that could be at home on a track by Turkey’s Pentagram (Mezarkabul). It’s then all brought to a close by the 9 ½ minute “Paradise Illusions.” Inching into progress with a bass run complimented by delicate guitar figures and cavernous spoken-word, the track then takes a decidedly electronic feel for a few minutes. It then plunders to a conclusion on more sludge-like Melvins riffing and clean, spoken-word vox. Truly, PULLING TEETH have pulled no punches here with a release that is not only surprising in nature but startling in scope. The only thing separating it from a perfect rating is it’s rather short length (24 minutes) but that means 2 things to me: It’s a some damn 24 minutes (!!!) and a full-length by these guys could be a no-holds-barred all-time classic. 9.5
NOTE: The CD package is remarkable as well, with the disc housed in a sweet LP-style digipak complete with a mini-poster of the striking cover artwork tucked away inside.

THE HOLD STEADY – “A Positive Rage” CD ’09 (Vagrant, US) – It’s been an interesting climb to watch THE HOLD STEADY go from being Minnesota unknowns to young upstarts to indie media darlings to, now, a pretty darn big deal. And, in large part, I’ve liked what they’ve done, especially their last studio disc “Stay Positive” (’08). On that one, Craig Finn’s lyrics & voice gelled completely with the rest of the band to develop a heady amalgam not unlike Larry Kirwan (Black 47) fronting a punkified classic rock band. While others have found Finn’s vocals hard to stomach, they’ve always sat well with me…until now, for some reason. I think the problem is the production of this live record. To it’s credit, the album is a chronicle of one show (at Chicago’s Metro), which gives it a nice flow rather than the annoying fade-ins/outs marring some live discs. On the other hand, however, the band here, rather than sounding on point and vital as they did on “Stay Positive” wash together in the background to form a sort of Spector-ish wall of sound. Only here it’s more like a curtain as Finn’s voice tends to barge on through, often too dominant in the mix and becoming, quite frankly, annoying. The performances by THE HOLD STEADY are tight and spirited and the material is a nice cross-section. I just wish it had been recorded differently. 5.5

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Justin Is A Leg Man

HOT LEG – “Red Light Fever” CD ’09 (Barbecue Rock, Eng) – I didn’t like The Darkness’ first CD “Permission To Land” when I first heard it. I was mainlining High On Fire at that point and at first blush, Justin “Dave” Hawkins’ voice hit me as “Jesus Christ, whoever is strangling that fucking cat, please stop!” I wrote the band off completely, including a pretty hand-washing review on the older version of this site. I have to admit that it did give me pause (not paws, although my wife has called me a dog a couple times) when some friends who I really respected were saying good things about ‘em. But, I more or less filed it away and said what the hell, who cares.

Then, a couple months later, something odd happened. “117” came up in the lottery. Well…ok…that would have been “odd,” but that’s not what I mean. I was listening to 98 Rock (local corporate rock FM) and they played a track from “Permission….” My first impression was “Hey, who is this, that riff is pretty good!” Then Hawkins went into that falsetto and…I didn’t recoil. I sat back, listened and lo & behold, it struck me as pretty cool in a Mercury-esque kinda way. But then, it happened….the song ended and the DJ completely went off: “Can you believe some dickhead would actually request that?! That’s the only reason I played it! Screw you, buddy, call back when you know what rock really is! I’ll bet this band doesn’t even take themselves seriously!” And, in my own 40-some-year-old mature way, I thought “Here’s some DJ wank who thinks Linkin Park rocks, dude, and he’s going to dis a British band who have guitar solos. Um…er…they’re MY fucking band to hate, not some mainstream prick! Er…except I didn’t hate that, I kinda liked it.” Not long thereafter, I found a used copy of “Permission…” for like $ 3. On 2nd, 3rd and even 4th spins I found it to be, no, not an instant classic but still pretty decent. Some real potential here, I thought. It was with The Darkness’ 2nd album “One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back” that I embraced the band. I was impressed with their ability to run the gamut from simple Acca-Dacca-styled rockers to seemingly goofy send-ups to Queen-styled epics & all with a feel that was quintessentially English. To be honest, it’s still not a record I can listen to everyday but at times, nothing other than watching “The Holy Grail” and listening to “Queen II” simultaneously might hit the same spot.

So, the news that Justin Hawkins had split from The Darkness not long after the release of “One Way Ticket…” disappointed me. I already had high hopes for what would be their 3rd record and now it seemed these guys were a 1-and-maybe-a-half-shot meteor. The splintered faction of the band went on to release the debut Stone Gods album, an excellent collection of material with arms stretching as far as Metallica-styled aggro. Meanwhile, Hawkins was sidelined with mental health issues & when he came through that dark spot, he began telling the press about his new band HOT LEG. Was there a reason to take him seriously?

I now have “Red Light Fever” in my hands and it’s time to answer that question. In short, HOT LEG’s debut is silly. It’s silly-good. It’s fucking silly-great. Let’s face it, an album that opens with a track called “Chickens” is either going to go into quick interstellar overdrive or crash in a horrifying flame-out. What “Chickens” does is to start with a riff the likes of which Angus Young hasn’t written in 20 years. By the time Hawkins takes falsetto-flight in the chorus of “There’s nobody here but this chicken,” you’re in one of 2 places. You’ll either hate this with a purple passion, press “eject” and fling the disc against the wall or you’ll be dancing in the aisles. And if you don’t, you’ll be too busy building the whole damn barn in the backyard and inviting the neighborhood to one mother of a barn-dance to worry about the CD player. So tell your bud to put the sucker on “repeat,” buy a case of Guinness and read on!

“Red Light Fever” is just a non-stop bad-assed rock & roll record that won’t stop. From the born-again-bashing “I’ve Met Jesus” to the hilarious (you can guess why) “Cocktails” to the building balladic “Kissing In The Wind” (Axl my ass) this is the album Mr. Hawkins needed to make and by God, he’s done it in spades. He’s somehow taken the pomp of “One Way…,” stripped it down and merged it with a straight-ahead rock dynamic The Darkness introduced on “Permission To Land.” Here’s how:

First off, Justin’s new band mates are a cracking lot, at least! Pete Rinaldi’s lead guitar work is nothing short of blinding. Think if Brian May played on the first Kix album. On the bottom end, Samuel SJ Stokes and Darby Todd (bass & drums) hold down a stiff rhythm with ease. Secondly, in terms of his writing, Hawkins has not abandoned the lavish English pomp by any means. Rather, he’s bent and shaped it perfectly to fit the basic rawkin’ goin’ on. Check out the Sparks-y keyboard section at the end of “Chickens,” the brilliant FM rock of “Gay In The ‘80’s” or the pastoral intro to “Kissing In The Wind.” Best yet, however, is “Trojan Guitar,” a remarkable tour d force that wraps everything from barroom sleaze rock to Celtic bard-ship into a neat 5-minute bow.

Will “Red Light Fever” make HOT LEG a household name? Will we ever hear “Prima Donna” pumping out the open windows of a Nissan in the next lane, like we did with “I Believe In A Thing Called Love?” Hard to say, as the business side of this stuff is cruel and fickle. Either way, Justin Hawkins and crew have delivered an album that’s as defining a collection of great rock songs as that aforementioned Kix debut. Fucking spectacular. 10.0

HEAVEN AND HELL – “The Devil You Know” CD ’09 (Rhino, Eng) – I went to a Catholic high school. Ok, there’s really no punch line to that but it leads me to another round-about entrance to an album review and you all know how much I like them, so pull up a chair. The principal of the high school in question was named Father David. He was a 40-some year old guy who had dark hair in a sorta Johnny Cash way, wore black boots with his cassock and bore a stunning facial resemblance to Rare Earth’s Pete Rivera (a.k.a. Hoorelbeke). What I liked about this dude was that he was as real as shit. Not your typical priest who hid behind the altar or office, or worse yet (and, understand…the minority) who use their collar to take liberties with kids that are unspeakable, this cat was real. He was a real guy who would say “shit!” when he hit his hand with a hammer building a manger scene and yet when he said a prayer, you knew he was genuine & respectful as can be. And the bottom line? You didn’t cross him. You were a stand-up guy at school, played your cards right, he’d be the guy going the extra mile to write a college letter of recommendation for you. But you screwed around, you fucked up? Especially stupidly? He’d nail your ass to the wall. I remember one time in particular, a bunch of us had been given the task to clean up the auditorium. We pushed the broom around for 10 minutes and then, because he said he was going to run an errand across town, we decided playing football in the aisles after smoking a joint made more sense. Thing was, he had walked up the hall a few minutes then came back. Caught us red-handed and the next thing we knew we were in his office, sitting in a row, looking at our shoes while he tapped his boot heel on the hardwood floor and gave us a dressing down that would’ve made a Marine drill sergeant blush. The one thing I’ll remember that hurt the most was his statement, repeated twice in an understated & yet powerful voice, “You bring me bring me grief.” And, that, my friends, is what this new BLACK SABBATH album does.

Call them HEAVEN & HELL if you want, but let’s cut to the chase. This band is the Dio-fronted version of the band called BLACK SABBATH. The last studio record this line-up did before committing this atrocity to plastic was 1992’s “Dehumanizer.” In my opinion, “Dehumanizer” was a pale, flaccid attempt to recreate the decent records this same bunch did in ’80 and ’81 with “Heaven & Hell” and “Mob Rules.” If it helps you any to understand the depths that the band has sunken to this time, let me say this. “The Devil You Know” is a pale, flaccid attempt to recreate the half-assed album that was “Dehumanizer.” Say the names slowly to yourself: Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, Vinnie Appice. The fact that those 4 people, with their lineage, their reputations, their undisputed talent could produce nothing more than this dull, thudding, and wholly boring piece of manure is a damning indictment of where they stand at this point. From stem to stern, there is nothing about this disc that is even bordering on memorable. It is recorded with a mid-range, bland and faceless production that lends an even more listless air to songs that are of virtually no impact on their own. The riffs are cut-and-paste, the lyrics are among the most inane and hackneyed of Dio’s career and there is truthfully nothing that makes one of these numbers stand out from any other. To say that “The Devil You Know” is horrible would probably be just as forgettable as it’s very contents. To me, it is a complete non-entity and that is far, far worse. It brings me grief…it brings me grief. 1.0

ASSEMBLE HEAD IN SUNBURST SOUND – “When Sweet Sleep Returned” CD ’09 (Tee Pee, US) – San Francisco has certainly produced it’s share of good music over the years and ASSEMBLE HEAD…is no exception. This latest release sees them really coming into their own and producing an album that’s a cool listen. And “album” is the key word here. While the disc is divided into tracks with individual titles like “Two Birds” and “Kolob Canyon,” the overall effect here is that of a day spent wandering through the wilderness. Sure there’s the heavy deep-space blues “Two Stage Rocket,” a bit like that side-trip into a dark cave where the furry thing you can’t identify slips past your leg. A good percentage however, “By The Rippling Green,” for instance, is a lazy & warm afternoon wandering through the fields of west coast psych folk, the mildest of ‘shrooms guiding your barefoot journey. Nice. 7.5

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grand Halls 24

OBLIVION SUN – “Oblivion Sun” CD ’07 (Prophase, US) – At times, I can be very foolish. Just ask my wife. On second thought, don’t ask my wife ‘cause she’ll tell you that “foolish” is the norm and that, on some rare occasions I can actually have some sense. Ok, she’s not that bad…ask her anyway. Thing is, there are times I can overlook shit and then wonder where the hell I’ve been. Such is the case with OBLIVION SUN. Yeah, I had some Happy The Man records like the self-titled & “Crafty Hands” (’77 and ’78 respectively). I listened to ‘em, but for some reason back in those days, my prog of choice was stuff like Rush’s “Hemispheres” and HTM’s more measured and melodic material skated by me without as much of an impact. Later, when the band reconvened for 2004’s “The Muse Awakens,” I bought the disc and was into it more, although my excitement with the growing stoner scene at the time had put a bit of a damper on my forays into prawg rawk.

Now, it’s 2009 and my bowling/music crone Rick says to me the other week, “How’s about going to check out OBLIVION SUN at Orion in a few weeks.” A little research on this here net led me to the knowledge that this OS crew in fact included Stan Whitaker (guitars / vox) and Frank Wyatt (keyboards / sax) of HTM, as well as 3 other musicians (Bill Plummer – moog / keys), Dave DiMarco (bass) & Chris Mack (drums). As luck would have it, a trip to the local CD shop (not many of them left!) landed me a used copy of the solitary 2007 OBLIVION SUN CD and after some long listens, I’m now really looking forward to seeing these guys live.

From the get-go, it’s obvious that OBLIVION SUN are well-steeped in being “prog.” The unusual song structures of opener “Fanfare” indicate that this bunch is not gonna be treating the listener to 40 minutes of 3-minute pop affairs. It’s with “The Ride” that you realize the…er…ride is going to be rockin’. This number is unabashed, hard-assed rock. In a sense, it reminds me of some of the obscure ditties I listen to from the ‘70’s by bands like Marcus, Rhapsody and Neon Rose, the guitars leading the way and yet supported by an undercurrent of keys below. Whitaker’s vocals are mid-range, self-assured and simply quite good. His guitar work on the other hand, as throughout the record, smokes. His Schenker-like leads, combined with the occasional rhythmic surprises make this one come off like a cool cross between UFO and Crack The Sky. Not ones to keep beating the same horse, however, OBLIVION SUN then shift gears with “Noodlepoint” a cut that Wyatt’s sax makes me think of something from the debut Chicago Transit Authority LP. And so, the wide-yet-flowing variety continues. The lengthy “Catwalk” is surely laid-back, but it’s no cocktail lounge fair. Whitaker’s insistent vocals and the great key work keeps it an interesting 7:40. Elsewhere there’s lots to hear. “No Surprises” actually has several. While opening with a chord progression a tad like Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded,” the band quickly (and smartly!) move onto a song-proper that’s more in line with some of the later Crimson material. “Re: Bootsy” could for all the world be a prog-fusion child of “I Ain’t Superstitious,” DiMarco’s bass lines paying a nice tribute to Mr. Collins. The album continues to spread it’s wings, finally ending with a wonderful “Golden Feast” in which Stan Whitaker lays out a devastating, scalding axe solo, his most metallic on the disc.

Like I say, sometimes I’m a freaking fool. But at least I found this kick-ass prog gem within a couple years of it’s release and am going to get to see the band in the flesh. I’d recommend you do the same. 9.5