Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Killer Four-Way

THE MISHAPS – “The Mishaps” LP/CD ’09 (Wallride, US) – Interesting, how I ended up crossing paths with THE MISHAPS. Sometime last summer, I was overjoyed to learn that North Carolina upstart metal gods Colossus would be playing at The Talking Head in downtown Baltimore. That was all I needed to hear and my buddy Andre’ and I were there at the door. Upon entering the club, we caught the last couple of songs by a band who’s name we didn’t catch. They struck me as pretty OK and I left it at that, as I was stoked to see the next band on the bill.

Flash forward to just this past May, when an ad appeared in the music local for Colossus playing, of all places, the Golden West Café in the Hampden section of Baltimore. I’d had no clue that this artsy little eatery in artsy little Hampden would offer metal shows, yet once again, myself and Dr. Dre’, this time with my 18 year old, Chris, showed up to get our faces melted. As we walked up to the door, we were greeted by an engaging dude who informed us that Colossus had experienced car trouble, were running late but would get there eventually. He went on to add that he’d set up the show as a benefit for a friend of their’s who’d been injured severely when attacked by a dog and that his band, THE MISHAPS, were playing as well as another, Pilgrim. I thought the guy looked vaguely familiar for some reason, yet chalked that up to having met so many people in the music scene over my 51 years.

The long and the short of it is that, after a decent set by Pilgrim and prior to a blistering one by Colossus, THE MISHAPS took the…er…floor (there is no stage, per se) and all the pieces fell into place. Once I saw the guy from the door up there with his band, I remembered…. This was the same bunch that opened for Colosssus the past year. And over the next 45 minutes, something became very obvious to me: THE MISHAPS are a very, very good band. Good enough, mind you, that in talking a little after their set, I asked ‘em for a copy of their newly-released album to review on the ‘Realm and here, dear readers, we are.

To begin with, and especially for a local band, this baby is a super-sweet package. What I’m holding in my hand is a VINYL RECORD which also comes with a CD of the same album included. It’s all housed in a jacket laced with beautiful artwork (made to look like a time-worn cover!) and an inner sleeve complete with lyrics that, for once, you can actually read! When laying the record down on my turntable mat & letting the stylus meet “Sun City,” the first thing that hits me is the warmth of the sound. Of course, as all of us old farts know, records just sound better. However, even on playing the CD behind this, “The Mishaps” immediately draws me in because of it’s warm, luscious production. Those analog days of the ‘70’s don’t seem so far away anymore. Musically, these guys…and a girl (Neal Page, Johnny Bungalow, Beth Harper, John Twining & Jason Wiggs) are not trying to be the next Mastodon or Dillinger Escape Plan. They’ve crammed 13 songs worth of blazing hard rock into just under 35 minutes. But don’t let that make you think this is any mindless romp through drunken party ditties. Far from it. In fact, if I was put under threat of being hung, drawn & quartered and ordered to describe THE MISHAPS, I’d say that someone took “Grande Rock”-era Hellacopters, stirred in Blue Oyster Cult around “Secret Treaties,” ladled in a dollop of Thin Lizzy for extra spice and then ran like hell.

The fact of the matter is, these guys (Ok, ok! And a girl! Sorry, Beth!) have put together an album that is chock full of killer songs and is fun to listen to repeatedly & at top-volume either in the comfort of your home or behind the wheel of that ’69 Camaro in your garage. The tunes are short (3-4 minute range) yet super-engaging, there are guitar solos and yet none that turn indulgent, the vocals have just enough of a punk overtone to drip personality and Beth’s keys add a layer of icing on the cake, much like Allen Lanier’s did in B.O.C. I could make this into a book by going song-by-song: the opening NWOBHM rifferama of “Sun City,” the brooding & serpentine guitars of “The Wheel Part I” and “The Wheel Part II” or the Lizzy-ish rabble-rouser “Lay’N Low.” But what’s the point? Any band who has both the smarts, humor and balls to follow something called “Prelude Of The Valkyrie” with “How The Mishaps Came To Conquer Rock And Roll” and have it rawk like mad is more than ok with me. Recommended!
Rawk Happens

ARGUS – “Argus” CD ’09 (Shadow Kingdom, US) – I have to admit, when I first heard band name ARGUS, my immediate reaction was “Wishbone Ash.” Of course, Argus Panoptes was the hundred-eyed giant from Greek mythology, so I certainly realize that Andy Powell & Co. didn’t coin the word. It had it’s origins a few years before 1972. And yet, being 51 years old, coming up in “the day” and having that record emblazoned on my mind as one of the finest ever lain to wax, well, the thought does cross this ol’ geezer’s mind. At the same time, I knew that ARGUS’ pedigree included that of former Penance vocalist Butch Balich, so I figured the letters d-o-o-m would be spelled out somewhere in this Scrabble game. What I didn’t expect was quite how good this album would be.

Opening with “Devils, Devils,” the listener is immediately greeted by an ornate, ascending melodic harmony guitar lead by Jason Mucio and Mike Wisniewski. It actually calls to mind a heavier, more metalized feel for the early works of, yes, Andy Powell & Ted Turner. Already I’m in love and the song proper has not even started. When it does, I’m ready to call my lawyer, head over to the court house and file divorce papers as I wanna move in with this baby. (Just kidding, Jenn, in fact I’ll even act like I know you if we go to an ARGUS show together…inside joke). The point is, after that stately intro, ARGUS explodes into a titanic bombardment of riffs that just keeps unfolding. Balich’s commanding voice announces himself as a “phantom & demeanor” as Andy Ramage (bass) & Kevin Latchaw (drums) supply a thunderous bottom while Wisniewski & Mucio continue to unload the riff machine. Multiple scalding solos fly in from every direction as well as layers of those wondrous harmony leads I love so much. And the cool thing? We’re only 5:40 (the second-shortest song here!) into 54:15 of pure metal nirvana.

See, that’s the thing. While, yes, there are elements of “doom” to the proceedings, periods deliberate and slow, ARGUS is first and foremost a METAL band. In truth, rather than names like Vitus, you’re a lot more in the ballpark if you start thinking Slough Feg or Solstice . Throughout the lengths of opuses like “Bending Time” (7:09), “From Darkness…Light” (7:04) and “The Damnation Of John Faustus” (8:15), ARGUS manage to perfectly balance the art of intricate songwriting with the staying power of catchy riffs, emotional vocals courtesy of Balich and dual lead guitar work that will rivet 6-string aficionados of any age. The band even find a way to make a 5-minute instrumental (“The Effigy Is Real”) captivating and cap it all off with “The Outsider.” This 10 ½ minute monster not only raises the bar even further musically, but includes a devastating spoken-word section by Balich, based on the original story by H.P. Lovecraft.

You know, it takes some stones to give your band a name like ARGUS, which for a long-time music fan like me has become such an iconic reference. But with their debut album, this Pennsylvania band has created an icon all their own. The Eyes...And Ears Have It
NOTE: Since the recording of this album, Mike Wisniewski has been replaced on guitar by Erik Johnson, a previous member of the band.

THE BEAUTIFUL MOTHERS – “Chikara” LP/CD ’09 (Tsurumi, US) – It was back in 2005 that a review of THE BEAUTIFUL MOTHERS’ “Half American Serviceman” appeared on the site. Having learned that The Pooch is a man to take seriously when it comes to “da rawk,” I was more than happy to take his cue in contacting these guys back then & was glad I did. After all, any time an album grabs you by the throat with it’s raw-assed rock & roll, it’s worth the effort and I played that sucker relentlessly. Time passed, though, and while I continued to blast “HAS” over the years, I pretty much figured TBM (Ray’s on an abbreviation kick) had…er…moved on to grandmotherhood…or something. Anyway, a month back & here’s a review on the Dogsite again, extolling the virtues of this new “Chikara.” I flew to the keyboard and there arose quite a clatter as I pounded out a babbling email to bassist Joey Lazerhead. Next thing I knew, this package was in front of me. Interestingly, “Chikara” is put together in a similar style as The Mishaps debut: that is to say, a vinyl LP housed in a gorgeous jacket and completed by a CD version of the album as well. While I understand the costliness of doing this, it’s something that speaks volumes to be about bands, on this grassroots level, going way beyond the call of duty to produce a top-shelf product for their fans.

So, what do you get when you actually play “Chikara?” The answer is: your ass kicked! While the truth of the matter is that the 13 tracks here are culled from 5 different sessions from different places & times, the master Jack Endino has drawn them all together into one sizzling work of power trio pummel. From “Cold Sweat” (one of 4 tracks from the “Hikikomori” demo CD) straight through to “Sheltered” (from “The Seattle Garage Session”) the songs flow seamlessly. Eric Balaban lets loose cannonades of haggard, saw-toothed riffing & Rob Wheeler (drums) & Lazerhead (bass) join in a living, breathing lock-step to deliver the mail like a pick-axe to the forehead. For those who think Shinedown kicks it pretty hard, beware. But, for anyone who loves nasty-ass loud & vicious rawk that sounds not only like it’s being played in the same room but inside your cranium, order now. A Beautiful Racket

DRUDKH – “Microcosmos” CD ’09 (Season Of Mist, Ukraine) – If you’ve read this site over the last year or so, you’ll know I’m a Johnny-come-lately to this Ukrainian band. The first exposure I had to them was their 2006 release, “Songs Of Grief And Solitude.” Apparently a departure for them, that one took me with it’s pastoral acoustic vision, often drawing to mind, in very sharp relief, the season of autumn: crackling fires and trees awash with earthen colours. “Microcosmos” begins in that same season with “Days That Passed” and yet quickly moves into the harshness of winter, as the music shifts to black metal, complete with scathing vo-kills and frantic albeit melodic guitar solos throughout lengthy songs. Still, like the real experience of winter, there are times when the bleak ice storms give way and these can be found here in the mellow sections of numbers like “Decadence” and “Ars Poetica.” “Microcosmos,” like this groups other discs (for instance their previous one, ‘07’s “Estrangement”) is an album that needs to be heard in one sitting, as it’s more of a thematic piece rather than a collection of songs. In short, I’m pleased with it for two reasons: 1) It’s release on Season Of Mist will get this somewhat obscure band’s material into more hands and 2) it’s also DRUDKH’s best work so far.
You Need A New DRUDKH


The RIpple Effect said...

Nice! Argus sounds cool.

raysrealm said...

Very, very good stuff indeed.