Saturday, September 26, 2009

Grand Halls 30

TROUBLE – “Warrior” LP ’84 (Artist, Swe) – The first thing people will think when they hear the name TROUBLE is the great band from Chicago. That’s no surprise, as the Wartell-Franklin powered doom/heavy rock machine has long plied their trade and released nothing but top-notch works over the years. Still, there were at least 3 other groups to share this moniker and one was this 4-piece unit from up north in Sweden. TROUBLE’s sole output was this 1984 release entitled “Warrior” and the first thing that would probably draw you into it’s web of intrigue would be the gorgeous cover art. Just take a look at that bad boy. Makes you salivate just wondering what lies housed in that jacket doesn’t it? Well, the first thing you’re going to notice, once needle hits wax (or laser hits plastic…) is a strong Thin Lizzy influence. This is evident enough to surely be noticed but not over-bearing so much as to make you write it off as a clone. Gunnar Johnsson’s vocals are throaty, rich and emotional like Philo’s but his Scandinavian accent gives him a very exotic tone. Also, much has to be said about the guitar work of Tobbe Johansson and Sture Oberg, who weave those much-adored-around-The-Realm double leads through cuts like “Woman” and the title track. I think my favourite number, however, is the stirring ballad “It’s Late” on Side Two. It’s one of those classic HM lighter-wavers from the ‘70’s, when bands realized that playing something with feeling didn’t have to make you a pussy. Finding “Warrior” on vinyl these days is somewhat akin to finding a woman who looks like Jill Hennessy, likes to watch NFL football and who would rather debate Green vs. Marshall amps than go clothes shopping. But don’t let that deter you. Anyone who’s in love with late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s metal complete with Lizzy-like vox and harmony leads will agree that this is a worthwhile holy grail. And, the beauty is, it’s been re-issued at least once on CD, so it’s not an impossible task. Get huntin’! No Fools Gold Here

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hollywood Steel

STEEL PANTHER – “Feel The Steel” CD ’09 (Universal Republic/Island, US) – Let’s be plain here. As far as Hollywood’s STEEL PANTHER is concerned, you’re going to either think they are the biggest pile of unmitigated fly-infested hyped-up horse dung in history or you are going to speak of them in reverential tones, send a letter to the Pope in hopes of their beatification and one to your Congressman suggesting they replace the Presidents on Mount Rushmore. Naw, really if you’re willing to cast aside your Catholic school teachings and any other pesky morals cluttering up the ventromedial area of your brain and embrace STEEL PANTHER for what they are…true and utter gods among men…your reaction is going to be a helluva lot more visceral. Hmm…maybe something like “These sick motherfuckers rawk!” Well, apologies to Dee Snyder, but that’s been my reaction. STEEL PANTHER, you see, arose at some time in the past within the Sunset Strip club scene. Possibly, they have been around forever. It’s quite imaginable that they may have no beginning or end… ‘course, frontman Michael Starr may just have been Ralph Saenz (ex L.A. Guns) in a former life, but no matter. The fact is, this is a band who could very well be the alpha and the omega of everything that is brash LA metal. This is the music of cases of beer, leather pants, industrial sized vats of hairspray and all night orgies with huge-titted blondes. Welcome to the STEEL PANTHER lair….

As you approach your maiden voyage into “Feel The Steel,” another thing should be addressed from the git-go. You are not going to explore the great philosophies of the ages during your 40-odd minutes plowing through this record…and, if you’re easily offended by songs about blatant and detailed sex (except for the couple extolling the virtues of heavy metal), you might as well stop now. Of course, you’ve now activated the “play” button and have been regaled with the first 2+ minutes of utter genius on offer, “Death To All But Metal.” After a cannon volley of razor sharp guitar riffs from Satchel, joined in force by the percussive thunder of Stix Zadinia and the bottom (ok, bass…it’s a guy, afterall!) of Lexxi Foxxx, you are greeted by “Fuck the Goo Goo Dolls, they can suck my balls.” As you’ll see, this is hardly a case of lyricists blowing their wad all at once. It continues…for those 40-odd minutes. Witness the 3rd track, opening with an ‘80’s metal ballad melody that would have heart-strings all aflutter…and your funny-bone(r) hard as a rock with the line: “Cause my heart belongs to you, my love is pure & true, my heart belongs to you…but my cock is community property.” Indeed. And on it goes, as in “The Shocker.” “Two in the pink and one in the stink, that’s called The Shocker.” Short, sweet and to the point. And when Starr concludes his lyrical epistle in “Hell’s On Fire” with the invocation “I wanna party with Bon Scott, Randy Rhoads and John Bonham too,” well, he’s got me onboard his crazy train on the highway to hell and I’m goin’ to California to find out where cats like this come from!

Now, you, like I, may find some of the things I’ve just told you about funny…and they are…but there’s another little thing about STEEL PANTHER that you need to know: these guys can play. While their visual appearances may give you the impression of a 2nd rate Warrant or Slaughter clone, don’t you even go down those cheetah-pattern-scarf-lined avenues. Harmony leads give you pause (paws?) on “Eyes Of A Panther.” The occasional NWOBHM riff makes it’s presence felt among muscular Skid Row-styled rhythms and Satchel’s axe solos are hot, sharp and bad-assed throughout. Same goes for the Halfordian pitch Starr seems effortless in employing as does the rhythm machination of Foxxx (yes, 3 “x’s” is correct – an extra one for “sex!”) and Zadinia, all brought into sharp relief by the sizzling production of Jay Ruston. The whole thing is then augmented in cherry-on-top form by guest appearances by the likes of Scott Ian, Corey Taylor, Justin Hawkins & M. Shadows among others.

Fact is, STEEL PANTHER have the talent and sense of humor to take this thing quite a bit further than the meteoric splash this record is poised to make upon it’s release on October 6. Do they also have the smarts to realize this and be proactive in becoming more than just a blip? That remains to be seen but in the meantime, I for one have already listened to this album about a million times and declare it more fun than a friggin’ barrel of monkeys. Death to all but metal!
All Claws Out

Thursday, September 24, 2009

VAGABOND's Ryan Christopher Interviewed!

When I was a kid, the guy who lived next door to us was an old man named Mr. Gus. He would constantly refer to himself by saying “I’m one of these kind who digs into things. I dig deep! I find out.” Well, as you all know too well, I’m one of these kind who digs deep. And, as I’ve pointed out so repetitively lately, I especially love to do this when I’m in record/CD stores. The “local” sections are my friends and, as you’ll remember a couple months ago, I uncovered a gem in an Orlando, Florida store a few months ago by a band called VAGABOND. I reviewed this debut effort, “The Land Of Misfit Toys” back in August, singing the praises of this vibrant heavy rocker sharing influences from places as interesting as Living Colour, Janes Addiction & Alice In Chains. With a few deft keystrokes, I made the acquaintance of guitarist Ryan Christopher and found him to be quite the fascinating guy. After all, how many times are you going to discuss Disney’s “It’s A Small World” ride and spending the night with a stripper in a hotel bathtub in one conversation. It’s all here and more….

RAY - You guys are from Orlando, Florida, right? I guess there’s more music going on there than miniature figures dressed up in Disney costumes singing “It’s A Small World,” eh? For the record, have you ever been on that ride? What were your impressions?

RYAN - Yes I have, too many times....when I was younger I probably didn’t mind the ride. Now it’s not that interesting anymore, I appreciate the message behind it and I grew up going to Disney every October from Ft. Lauderdale, so I love the place. But now that I live here, I pretty much stay away, that ride is like a rehab scene from "A Clockwork Orange" the repetitive song driving u mad!!!! But my all time favorite is the " Haunted Mansion " I have an affinity to Halloween and the supernatural and I have always luved all the detail and the subject much so that I have a pattern from the wallpaper tattooed on my ribs ( u can check myspace photos to see it)...Pirates comes in a very close second. but Walt Disney is a genius and inspiration all around so I really do enjoy anything that the company puts out except for HANNAH MONTANA! My girlfriend luvs her ,,,,,but i would rather have a root canal than listen to her music, no lie.

RAY - What got you into music? How come you’re the guy writing and playing original rock, not the one pushing “FM” on the car radio and being happy with whatever comes on?

RYAN - Well I started playing music around the age of 5. My parents put me behind a drum kit and then I took piano lessons and then @ 13-14 picked up the guitar. My mom says I was always destined to play music,,,,it’s a scenario of music chose me. She always tells one of those embarrassing stories " when i was pregnant with Ryan he used to kick along to songs on the radio in perfect time"......she tells everyone this story........I just have always expressed myself through music, whether a song has held a moment for me or set the mood. I couldn't imagine a world without music. It means so much to me,,,,it is part of my soul and environment and reality.

RAY - Who influenced you as a player in the past? Who inspires you now?

RYAN - Growing up it was a lot of what my dad would play.....the Kinks, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Floyd, Stevie Ray, and also what was on the radio, Huey Lewis , Madonna, and lots of 80's a kid though I was into Michael Jackson , the Monkees, and lots of pop music at the time......I then moved into rap, then the 90's alternative thing. Siamese Dream till this day is still the album that "changed my life". Like most high school guitar players I went through a huge Jimmy Page " retro " phase as well as Sublime ,311 , and Janes Addiction. I was born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale so the whole beachy reggae vibe was very prevalent in my life I finally moved into a "Slash " movement. I was playing a show and this guy came up to me afterword and said " man I luv ur style ,,,,you play a lot like Slash".....I was confused because I never really listened to then I decided to listen and fell in luv. Then I found probably my favorite guitarist of all time John 5......and then the shred thing happened and I started learning crazy licks and just improving my technique a lot more. For the most part I believe that anything I have heard always stays with me and influences me today in some way whether it be a sunset , movie, smell, sound, whatever. We have so many stimuli around us all the time and I try to look at everything as art. Which helps to get through all the bullshit....but today I try to always keep an open ear and try to learn new things from all types of music. Specifically today I listen to a lot of John 5, Avenged Sevenfold, Escape the Fate , A Day To Remember, Katy Perry( yes i luv her voice, and she is also very easy on the eyes as well ) and of course my own music.

RAY - Where did the name VAGABOND come from? The first thing I think of when I hear it is Thin Lizzy’s 3rd album, “Vagabonds Of The Western World.”

RYAN - The name came from wanting something distinct and we didn’t want a "the something" type band name. We all loved pirates, which were also called vagabonds, and the term also means wanderer, which musicians also are. As a musician u really spend a lot of time just going from city to city and the term vagabond just seemed for us a cool way to incorporate that into the band.

RAY - Speaking of Lizzy, Philip Lynott really attracted the ladies. Say an absolutely gorgeous VAGABOND fan comes up to you after a show and says, “Here’s a Big Muff Pi autographed by Jimi Hendrix. You can either have that or I’ll come home with you.” What do you pick?

RYAN - Ok well if that fan is either Carmen Electra , Dita Von Teese , or Madonna from the 90s, I would have to take her home.....but otherwise I would have to take the Muff Pi. When I was first starting to play guitar I always wanted to solo like Hendrix,,,I loved his emotion and raw energy he put into the to have something personal of his would be the shizz.

RAY - “Land Of Misfit Toys” is the only thing I’ve heard by VAGABOND. Was there anything else recorded before this disc?

RYAN - No this was the first disc recorded by the band.

RAY - Over what period of time were the songs on “Land…” written?

RYAN - Some of the songs were honestly written when I was still in high school....some were carried over from the previous band I was in but the album was recorded in 2004. Then I went on tour as a hired guitar player for an artist named Lennon and then when I came home we finished the album in 2006 and then finally put it out in early 07....

RAY - It’s a relatively short album in actual time, but there’s a lot going on both musically and lyrically, so it’s a very “filling” and complete listen. What comes first for you as a writer, generally, music or lyrics? Or does it differ?

RYAN - Well I generally write the songs as guitar pieces, since I can sing and also play the drums and piano. I always think about other parts but I usually leave that up to the other guys and just bring a fully structured guitar song. Sometimes I will push for a certain type of melody or drum beat but what makes a band a band is when everyone contributes and puts their artistic flavor in the soup. I’m the type to overwrite something. I luv to write a million guitar parts for a verse or chorus and then chop away the fat once other parts come into existence but I always have a general idea of how I want a song to sound. When I write sometimes I think of actions or colors to explain to the other guys how I see the song in my head and how the song came to be. Example “Guns n Vcrs” was written when I was day dreaming about a crazy hovercraft roller coaster that could take u anywhere. Sometimes my inspiration comes from other things than music but I agree. ,It is short but I feel as though from a listener’s standpoint there is a lot to take in for 10 songs. but I do wish it was me I have no shortage of songs and I am always continually writing.....

RAY - How long have you worked with the singer in VAGABOND? Do you find yourself, as a songwriter, thinking about the singer’s voice and how it’s going to work in the songs, as well as your guitar parts and the parts played by the rest of the band?

RYAN - Since 2002. Well sometimes yes ......honestly there will be days where I will write a blues jam and then go well this is not for VAGABOND but it is cool for me to just have in my life almost like a new toy or child that I can see where or how it may develop later on or watch it grow. But for the most part when I write a VAGABOND song , I just know that it is one. But I never think of how the other guys may interpret them. I really look to just let my art flow and come out naturally and not be something I wrote because I knew the drummer would luv it or my singer would fit in well with it..

RAY - To be honest, one of the things that made me put the CD in my purchase pile that night at Park Ave CD’s was the song titles. They are very unusual. I know some writers are reluctant to discuss their lyrics at length, but if you don’t mind, there are a couple I wonder if you wouldn’t mind talking about: “Autumn Lady,” “A-01” and “Right Lane Ends.”

RYAN - Honestly that is a Joe ( singer ) question,,,,,God knows what he is thinking when he writes some of his lyrics LOL.....You would have to tap into his head for that one.

RAY - Another thing that drew me to buying your disc “unheard” was the dramatic cover art. Tell me more about this, the artist who did it, etc.?

RYAN - The artist name is Toxic Toons. He used to work for Disney and we were looking for something that stood out and was creepy, that would catch the eye of a fan/consumer. We love horror and so that was the theme we went for and I have always been a fan of dramatic bright vivid covers. Nowadays it seems a lot of bands go for this as well but we didn’t want a boring cover and we stayed away from having photos because we wanted the music to speak with the artwork, not be about what we looked like.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Is the speed of a car in Florida inversely proportional to the amount of pastel clothing or golf caps worn by the driver? If not, give us an equation for this (or something else important to you) that works!

RYAN - Honestly Florida has the craziest drivers, they either can’t see above the steering wheel or are going way too fast. But it is hot so I would say that a lot of people wear pastel's due to the heat?

RAY - What is the gigging status of VAGABOND? Do you play out much? Mostly local shows or do you travel much? What is the farthest afield you’ve travelled in terms of touring?

RYAN - At the beginning of the year we played out here in Otown a lot and in Tampa as well. And after we are done with the CD we are planning to hit the southern part of the us.....Texas , California, Arizona...the furthest I personally traveled to play a show was to Hong Kong in 04 to play the Wild Day Out Festival when I was playing with Lennon. That was insane!

RAY - What’s up with recordings for the band? You mentioned to me new stuff on the agenda…how close are we to a new VAGABONDS release? Any ideas of what label, how it’ll be released? In a related question, what do you think of the trend toward bands releasing their stuff as merely downloads rather than a “physical” CD, LP, etc.?

RYAN - We are now recording a new label but definitely open to one. As far as downloads well, it is the trend and it saves u money but I think we still have a few hard copies printed up because the album is still a piece of art in itself. That is why we went with. a the art would forever be attached, almost like an old vinyl record where you could enjoy the music and art. I think that will eventually make it’s way back into the heart of fans.

RAY - How crazy has it ever gotten? Tell us a weird, insane, profane or simply downright filthy story from the history of VAGABOND, whether it be from the road, studio, etc.?

RYAN - Well in Jacksonville we played a show and two strippers showed up and then they came back to our hotel to party. The drummer and bass player were on shrooms and there were tons of other party favors going around. We all were parting at the pool drinking and smoking when we almost got kicked out for obvious reasons by security until one of the strippers gave the security guard a bj and then he was cool with us and all The insanity.....then the other stripper and I proceeded to have sex all night in the room with the other guys tripping out of their minds playing video games (very weird). We were in the tub for like hours and ended up flooding the room! As the stripper and I came out of the bathroom we noticed a curtain on fire. My bass player had fallen asleep with a cigarette in his hand and almost set the room on fire. We quickly put it out and needless to say we decided it was a good idea to leave!!!! That was pretty crazy but I have a million other stories as well......

RAY - Any final comments?

RYAN - Thank u so much taking the time to listen to "Land Of Misfit Toys" and VAGABOND. Take care and be contagious.

The only thing I love more than finding a band like VAGABOND is spreading the word of their heavy-riffing artwork to other people. “Land Of Misfit Toys” is a powerful opening statement and, from the sound of Ryan Christopher’s passion for what he does, I think it’s only the beginning. You know what to do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Number Of Good Things

ANDREW DUGAN – “MMXII” CD ’09 (Private, US) – You know what really gets my shorts in a bind? Somebody puts out a solo album and it sounds exactly like their band. I mean, what the fuck is that, right? What’s the point? “MMXII” is a solo album by ANDREW DUGAN, the vocalist for Baltimore band FORETOLD. If you’ll recall, I wrote about their excellent debut of modern metal (“Just The Tip”) several weeks back. So the question is, could I have foretold (ouch!) “MMXII’s” sound by listening to that crusher? Happy to say, no. ANDREW DUGAN has taken full advantage of his own private time to make a record that stands completely apart from that of his band. “MMXII,” you see, is a conceptual piece. It’s a short (20:12) but potent exploration of the last 6 hours of the world as we know it, and while I’m not going to give away the story, let’s just say that the earth itself fares better than mankind. Musically, ANDREW invokes a tremendous panorama of all the less-is-more philosophies out there. While FORETOLD does a killer job of bringing their own vibe into a modern metal scene dominated by the likes of Tool & Mudvane, etc., “MMXII” sees DUGAN tapping into the stark power of riveting acoustics. Often reminiscent of the chilling post-apocalyptic sounds of Roger Waters in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” ANDREW uses the stripped down tones of acoustic guitar and emotive mid-range vox to tell his sobering tale. Before you get the idea that this is 20 minutes of flat and sans variety, think again. Listen to Marlayna Green’s haunting piano in “0800, 0900 and 1100” or Angi Gulino’s plaintive cello in the latter, not to mention DUGAN’s own deft painting with mandolin. It would also be a mistake to think that the story ends in a completely negative way. The last track, “1100” (subtitled “The First New Day”) has a most uplifting feel that makes this disc a powerful listen every time. Surely, ANDREW DUGAN has issued a thought-provoking and unique piece of listening here with “MMXII” and it’s one that’s getting a lot of playing time around here lately. The only thing that has my shorts in a bind is that more people don’t know about it. Change that. Apocalyptic Acoustic CafĂ©

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Four Times Sound Razing

BLACK FRIDAY – “4” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Isn’t it always interesting when something has been going on right under your nose for years and you had no idea? I mean, for instance, your next door neighbor is a serial killer, has 75 bodies buried under his house and you don’t suspect a thing until the FBI brings in a dude with a front-end loader to uncover ‘em. “Gee, officer, he always seemed like such a nice guy.” Don’t you just hate when that happens? But it doesn’t always have to have that kind of negative feel. How about happening upon a disc by a band from your neck of the woods that you’ve never heard of before. You then find out it’s their 4th record in 23 years, all done right in the proximity of your fair city. Maybe it irks your ego a little bit, but the upshot of it is that it’s pretty cool. Such is the case with BLACK FRIDAY.

I happened to catch sight of this one on my hometown store’s “local” rack and the cover grabbed me. Between the title (a shocking one for a group’s 4th effort!) and the background, there was a nod to the Zeps. The $ 6 price made me say “yup” and next thing you know I was spinning it deep in the heart of Realm Central. What could I say to describe the sounds I heard? I’d have to call it a sort of jam-based rock with a kind of Americana-esque feel. The organ solo courtesy of guest-ing former member Kyle Hollingsworth in “Roll On” sucked me in and I kept listening. While Hollingsworth (also of the band String Cheese Incident) only appears on 3 cuts, there’s still plenty going on with BLACK FRIDAY to keep “4” turning. What I found myself really enjoying the more this record progressed were the rich, throaty vocals of Andy Belt. For some reason, while not exactly the same, something about this guy’s crooning makes me think of the legendary Lowell George (R.I.P.) of Little Feat fame. Listen to him in “Unforgiven” & “Slowly Kicking It.” Interestingly, as I dug on the first 3 songs on “4,” I was wondering a bit about guitarist Shawn Heming. Sure, he kicked up the riffing a little on track 2, “Do It Again,” but I was wondering if he’d step out in the lead department. Then, here came “Beat All” and Heming stretches out for nearly the entire 2nd half of the 5 ½ minute number, letting his sweet tone wash over the listener’s ears. For the rest of the album he works creamy, Strat-style leads into songs like “I Want You” and the aforementioned “Slowly Kicking It,” making this listener smile as the CD continued to turn. Gotta admit, “4” has been growing on me even more in repeated listenings. This is good music, deep, rich and full of feeling. It’s the kinda thing I can throw on at night after a hard day and really dig on it’s grooves. And, right under my nose, all along.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More Than A Nice Piece Of Furniture

LIVING COLOUR – “The Chair In The Doorway” CD ’09 (Megaforce, US) – My live experience with New York’s LIVING COLOUR began in 1991 when I saw ‘em tear the house…er…the sun-baked open field down at Lollapalooza. My interest in them, however, had it’s flames fanned long before that when the band issued their debut, 1988’s “Vivid.” Built on a rock-solid metal-riffing foundation most notable in the band’s biggest radio entry “Cult Of Personality,” they also proved to excel at many shades. The funky riffed “Middle Man” & the danceable-yet-rockin’ “Open Letter To A Landlord” made a splash in a bunch of ways. They not only revealed a seriously keen social awareness but musical stalwarts. Rhythm section Muzz Skillings (bass) & Will Calhoun (drums) could lay down a smouldering funk-laden bottom to rival anybody. Vox man Corey Glover had a set of pipes as sweet as anybody and guitarist Vernon Reid came off like a cross between Ty Tabor & John Coltrane. In short, “Vivid” was a blinding debut.

LC then followed up with “Time’s Up” (1990), basically everything that “Vivid” was except a little less in the songwriting department. In trying to spread the variety even further, they stretched the tunes a bit thin on a few cuts, thus making “Time’s Up” a VG+ effort compared to “Vivid’s” EX. 1993’s “Stain” saw the departure of Muzz Skillings, to be replaced by another monster 4-stringer, Doug Wimbish. The results were a notch less again, the songs a tad less developed. It was still a good album but it also marked the next point in a downward curve that would reach an especially disturbing nadir with “Collideoscope” some 10 years later (2003). Simply put, this was a poor-to-fair (and “fair” only in brief spots) release that really made me believe these still-shit-hot musicians had blown their wad in terms of interesting songs.

So, now we come to a brand new album, LIVING COLOUR’s first in 6 years and the question is, did they bring it back from the grave? The answer, most thankfully, is a definite “yes.” You can tell LC are back right from the opener “Burned Bridges.” Granted, it’s not a balls-out rocker but the upward-building, spiraling atmospheric feel of this number puts the songwriting depth back in the red. And if it IS balls-out rawk you’re talking about, you don’t need to listen any farther than the 2nd and 3rd tracks. “The Chair” and “DecaDance,” respectively, this pair opens up a can of audio whup-ass the likes of which Dime (rest his soul) and Pantera would’ve been proud to call their own. But before you go ahead thinking this is just going to be a one-dimensional metal smack-down from stem to stern, plop down in this “Chair” and take in more of it’s diverse upholstery. Feel the street rhythm in “Young Man.” Have your heart wrested out of you with the emotional one-two punch of “Behind The Sun” and “Bless Those (Annie’s Little Prayer).” Feel the message behind the humor of “Asshole.” Can I sit here and tell you this is a better album than “Vivid?” No, I wouldn’t say that, as I still think that debut is LIVING COLOUR’s calling card and “insect-in-amber” moment. Still, “The Chair In The Doorway” is the best damn record the band has done since then and, as such, one you should own. Come And Sit A Spell

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Monstrous Discovery

SHIFT – “Creating A Monster” CD ’06 (Private, US) – As you’ll recall, a few posts back I mentioned my wife in regard to my blistering run, galloping across genres to unearth a myriad kewl local-type albums. Well, I’m about to up the ante, as far as she goes. You see, my wife Jennifer is a completely awesome rock chick. She’s actually a metal chick full-on, because she is responsible for the fact that you’re even reading this review now. How so…you guessed it, Ray’s about to embark upon…Story Time!

Seems a year or so ago, my lovely better half re-united with some of her high school friends and they began a regular girl’s-night-out on the weekends. I was behind this 100%, as I do my music thing. Jennifer mentioned that she and the ladies had been frequenting some bars where live music was on offer, but I wrote this off to her other love – dance music – and didn’t pay it a whole lot of mind. One day, though, she was going on about this “heavy” band they’d seen the night before called DEADLOCK. Said they did stuff by Godsmack, Metallica and Pantera. Now you have to understand. Even hearing my wife say the word “Pantera” turned me on. I had to investigate…DEADLOCK. A quick look at myspace showed me this crew were playing the Barn in Parkville Md on Sep 5, so I put it in my datebook and in fact, the 2 of us went to check it out together. What I found myself faced with was the best metal cover band I’d seen in a long time. Sure, you gotta remember…this is a pretty hot nightspot and they’re trying to bring in the bizz, so you’re not going to hear me regale you with tales about ‘em whipping obscurities by Diamond Head or Legend here. What they did was absolutely get down to the maximum on super-heavy versions of stuff by people like Tool, Sevendust and yes…Pantera, with guitarists Doug Guthrie & Steve Shaffer doing the Dime some serious credit. What really had me were 2 things, though: First they did a massive cover of Metallica’s “Seek & Destroy” that would’ve had Hetfield wetting his pants and secondly, the 2 Tool songs were ridiculously well-played. I wonder if these cats have any original material? And, that’s where it started getting weird…. During the Tool stuff, I was paying pretty close attention to the drummer and I thought to myself…dude, you’ve seen this guy before. I filed that away, though, until the next day….the band was kicking butt, Jennifer was looking awfully good & I needed to pay a little attention to her….

So, you guessed it, it’s the next day and I’m surfing around. I’m looking at DEADLOCK’s drummer’s last name…Lembach. Hmm….familiar. Long story short (and you know I hate to do that, but…)….Turns out, Chris Lembach (said drummer) is the brother of a guy named Jarrett who I used to know back in my old record store days. In talking to him, my mind quickly made the association that his drumming bro Chris manned the tubs in local prog metal unit MYSTIC FORCE back in the day. And, to make the whole thing even more interesting, seems ex-MYSTIC FORCE guitarist Rich Davis also has a metal band called SHIFT which is fleshed out by DEADLOCK members Jeff Caudle (vocals), Doug Guthrie (guitar), Steve Shaffer (bass in this band) and, you guessed it, Chris Lembach on drums. What’s more, they had released a CD in 2006. You already know that within seconds I was out, on the prowl, finding a used copy of this within the hour, right? Ok, let’s get to the chase.

SHIFT’s “Creating A Monster” came out in 2006 and I’ll waste no time in saying that if I’d have heard it back then, it would have been at the top of The Realm’s albums of the year. Yeah, motherfucker, it’s that fucking good! Like Jeff Caudle himself said the other night at The Barn, throw in a couple “motherfuckers” and they’ll pay attention, so pay attention, motherfucker! “Welcome Change” opens this disc with Jeff’s aggressive scream of the title and a machine-like barrage of guitar riffage courtesy of Rich & Doug. Within an instant, however, the whole thing segues into a melodic-yet-heavy feel that puts right on the table just how versatile these guys are. Caudle makes an immediate case for being one of the best metal singers I’ve heard in recent memory and it’s a gauntlet he lays down for all 11 tracks on offer. The thing is, when the guitar solo (not sure if it’s Davis or Guthrie) hits in this song, all bets are off for me not creaming my jeans. This is one of those friggin’ solos that Shermann & Denner used to unleash in Fate and had me running for the repeat button every time just to make sure something could actually kick that much ass. Here’s the skinny, guys & dollies: there’s no let-up the whole way. For 42 ½ minutes, SHIFT gives a virtual clinic in complete nut-busting metal that sucks the breath out of me every time I hear it. Whether it’s the stop-start neck snapper of “Devil Beside,” the spiraling, pounding “Blood” or “To Have You,” almost starting like “Walk This Way” before shifting (ouch!) gears into crush-mode, this is an assault that never loses it’s melody nor it’s lethal power. Once again, from pillar to post, Caudle’s vocals are a masterclass in mid-range power, Shaffer & Lembach handle turn-on-a-dime rhythms like F-1 drivers and Davis & Guthrie hand down more guitar fireworks than Carter’s got liver pills. The bottom line is, if you like any of today’s metal but think it just isn’t good enough, this is. Buy now. And thank my wife, the awesome metal chick. Motherfucker…Got Your Attention?

A Eureka That Definitely Doesn't Suck

EUREKA BIRDS – “Eureka Birds” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Bird houses. That’s what’s on the cover of this self-released CD by Baltimore’s EUREKA BIRDS. Bird houses on top of a couple tree branches, against a tan background. So, you see, I had no idea what to expect, except internet postings about post-post-rock (that’s a lot of posting!). What I found when I played this album, however was a familiar sense for melody & yet a breath of fresh air. And, while it’s probably a difficult mantle to lay around any band or artist’s neck, the first thing I think about when I listen to “Eureka Birds” is The Beatles. Yeah, really. And in the wake of all the media frenzy concerning the release of all the Fab Four’s re-masters and the Rock Band game, it’s nice to hear a band like this actually picking up the vibe and moving forward. That’s the thing that’s so exciting to me about these EUREKA BIRDS. They have gleaned the feel of the later moptop’s stuff like “Abbey Road” and still managed to infuse it with something new, something 2009 (doesn’t that just make me sound so “current” and all that?!). Listen to the opening track, “The Still Life.” Hard to remember the last time you heard a top-drawer pop hook sportin' Lewis & Clark-level exploration like this, eh? Say "Lennon & Mc Cartney". “Ten Words” reminded me of “Killer Queen” at first but with the addition of Caitlin Nethery’s vocals dancing with those of Justin Levy, the effect is something wholly different. “Oh! My Dear” is almost The Turtles “Happy Together” if it was played under a circus big-top. Almost. But then, it becomes EUREKA BIRDS. “Dinosaurs” has a more orchestral “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” blend and closer “Applewood Figure” may be one of the most plaintive ballads these ears have heard in a long while. All told, I was in turn surprised and delighted by this utterly cool debut from yet another local artist, Baltimore’s own EUREKA BIRDS, and of course like the 51 year old teenager I am, I went toddling off to become a fan of them on Facebook. Seems you should too. Off To A Flying Start

NOTE: EUREKA BIRDS are playing The Ottobar in Baltimore on Oct 9, 2009.

No More Tears

THE HERD OF MAINSTREET – “Hearts, Roads & Tears” CD ’09 (Private, US) – In a certain world, I could see where Raysrealm was in danger of becoming “Rayslocal” lately. Seems that all manner of local and private releases have been finding their way into these hands, some from my area (Baltimore), some from elsewhere. The only thing is, I wouldn’t consider that to be a danger. It’s more of a dream come true because nearly all of this stuff has been so damn good. Such is the case with this new CD from Baltimore’s own THE HERD OF MAINSTREET. So what’s the skinny with this 5-piece band? Well, a real nice combination of things, that’s what, honcho! They stir together a rich mixture of Americana, blues, country, rock and possibly touches of other things deep and soulful to produce a collection of 10 songs that will take the listener on a journey far outside the grip of the cold, grey city. This is the music of wind-swept country plains and stretches of open road disappearing into a distant vanishing point. Still, it’s far from feeling nor lacking in surprises. Check out the country-Stones-ish “Wild Horses” vibe of “Cadillac Roses,” the nearly Foghat-like guitar break in the Petty styled “Senorita” or the heartfelt ballad of “Hold On.” And let’s not forget “Rainin’ Down In Georgia,” with it’s Crazy Horse and E Street Band collision that sounds sweet as a hot rod at the drive in on Friday night. Through it all, Peter Wile’s (also guitar, harmonica) knowingly Southern drawl tells stories like a man who’s been there at the heart of every tale and the rest of the band (Gena Smith – guitar, slide, vocals, pedal steel; Corey Zook – guitar; Lance Smith – drums; Kevin Alban – bass) boils or smolders appropriately. In reading up on these cats on the ‘net, I believe this is their debut disc. If that’s the case, it’s one helluva start and I can’t wait to check ‘em out live. Go Into Exile On This Mainstreet Anytime

NOTE: For those in the Baltimore area, THE HERD OF MAINSTREET are playing The 8x10 Club on September 26, 2009.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

More Fun Than Goin' Downey Oshun, Hon!

FORETOLD – “Just The Tip” CD ’09 (Private, US) – The beat goes on. Anybody out there old enough to remember 1968? I’m sure if you are, you remember many things from that tumultuous time. The continuation of the Viet Nam War. The assassinations of Martin Luther King & Bobby Kennedy. But I’m wondering how many of you “older folks” remember a TV commercial for the Plymouth Fury automobile. It included a fairly gorgeous young woman named Cher singing a song called “The Beat Goes On.” Even if you do have a twisted enough mind to remember something like this, the next job for your obviously-over-taxed brain is to figure out why in the blue blazes Ray is bringing all this up now. The reason is simple. I have been on a serious run of picking up killer local releases out of thin air and…well….the beat goes on. Here’s the latest skinny.

Thumbing thru a Baltimore CD place, I see a disc with artwork that, at first blush reminds me of the first Audioslave disc. Then I look closer….FORETOLD – “Just The Tip”…and the sticker says “local metal.” I flip it over…not much info, just song titles. But listen people, you’ve gotta know how to let this stuff talk to you. Titles can tell you a lot. You know, if it looks metal and goes sportin’ a tune called “Eating The Decaying Flesh Of Satan’s Testes” you can pretty much bank on some death metal regurgitatin’ your way. I personally look for things that seem…what can I call it…different, odd, outside the box. The one that caught me here was “The Deer.” Hmm…that’s different. The disc was only $ 5.99 so I said why not and schlepped up to the counter. Would turn out ‘twas $ 6 and change well-spent.

FORETOLD don’t waste any time as they come crashing into “Scarlet Red” with thudding, down-tuned chords trading places with Kim Thayil-like riffing. Some Tom Morello kinda guitar lines snake their way into the business courtesy of Ed “Rattlesnake” Pindell & Andrew Dugan’s gutsy mid-range vox show he’s not kidding. “Come the fuck around,” indeed. I’ve gotta admit I was actually a bit worried about the next number based on the title. “Crab Mango” was hitting me like a little bit of a joke, but honey lemme tell ya…this is some serious shit. The verses sit nicely over a Tool-like mellow musical feel. The band is tight as hell here, with Kong Cameltoe (bass) & Ben McCracken (drums) in total lockstep. Dugan’s vocals here show a much smoother side than the first cut and the wah-wah guitar at the bridge is sweet. FORETOLD continues to impress throughout this album. Check out “Just A Step Away,” with it’s awesome Lifeson / Summers melodic guitar parts and when the band segues into the heavy sections, don’t tell me it doesn’t remind you of old-time CHAOS faves Mind Over Four. Or how about “What I Am?” Dugan delivers some mighty powerful vox, a bit reminiscent of a bit lower range Spike Xavier (M/4) and the melodies shared by both his voice and the guitar parts are going to be attached to your brain like somebody drove ‘em in with a rivet gun. Of the 10 numbers on offer, however, maybe my favourite is the final number, that strangely entitled “The Deer.” Completely acoustic, this one shows an emotion-wracked Dugan handing down a helluva vocal and backed by some strikingly-picked guitar, accelerating near the end of the song before it’s resolution.

It’s interesting to note that it took me to nearly the end of my maiden voyage thru “Just The Tip” before I realized that the album is remarkably free of guitar solos. While that may sometimes be a bone of contention for me, I was so captivated by the songs, the vocals and yes…the guitar work in general that they weren’t missed. Ed Pindell has a style that is thoughtful and lyrical and in that, he is painting with the instrument in a way that would probably make traditional solos seem superfluous. In a sense, although somewhat differently, this is similar to the great stuff done by the guitarist in Scandinavian band El Caco a few years back, as well as Tool axe slinger Adam Jones.

The bottom line is that FORETOLD has, without a whole lot of fanfare, produced a startlingly killer album here with “Just The Tip.” In doing so they’ve also kept alive this somewhat lucky (and, maybe just a tad talented…lol…RD) streak I have of uncovering some bad-assed local-type releases from several corners of the universe…and now from Maryland. (Read on below for a second!). As Cher once said (man, she was a hottie back then!) the beat goes on. Still, I liked Cuda’s better than Fury’s…but whatever. Top Of The Iceberg

NOTE: FORETOLD vocalist Andrew Dugan has also released a solo disc that, on a few samples, sounds very different albeit quite interesting. I’m waiting for my copy to arrive and a review of that shall follow, as well as, hopefully, an interview with Andrew himself.

ARBOURETUM – “Song Of The Pearl” CD ’09 (Thrill Jockey, US) – When I first cast eyes upon the cover art of this release by local Maryland band ARBOURETUM, 2 things came to mind. The first was a less chaotic version of the art that graced “Board Up The House,” the latest album by Ghengis Tron. The 2nd was the view of my very own house from the neighbors’ yard, the pointed roof rising into a cloud-swept sky. When I first cast ears upon it, however, I had a lot of different ideas swirling around and still do. To be honest, as ARBOURETUM moves through the stately “False Spring,” I hear everything from Wishbone Ash to an updated version of The 13th Floor Elevators to Neil Young’s old cronies, Crazy Horse. This 4-piece band (Corey Allender – bass; Daniel Franz – drums; David Heumann – guitar, vocals; Stever Strohmeier – guitar) have a good handle on a blend of rural-yet-heavy psych that’s never in a hurry. Sure, there are pensive moments like the spacey “Down By The Fall Line” as well as cochlea-destroying blowouts when the overdriven guitar solos take over in the aforementioned “False Spring.” Still, ARBOURETUM strolls along at a pace that makes headphone listening in the evening a revelatory experience, and Heumann’s haunting mid-range vocals enhance the proceedings nicely. Very cool stuff. The World Could Be Their Oyster

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Grand Halls 29

TYGERS OF PAN TANG – “Spellbound” LP ’81 (MCA, Eng) – I don’t have to tell anybody reading this page that the NWOBHM movement spawned a helluva lot of fantastic bands. TYGERS OF PAN TANG were one, and while they’ve released a bunch of albums over a stop-start career, their sophomore effort “Spellbound” is the one I’ll think of every time someone mentions their name. The recording of this LP brought a couple additions to the TYGERS’ ranks at that time, namely John Deverill (vocals) and guitar wizard John Sykes (later of Whitesnake, Blue Murder Thin Lizzy). These changes helped create a massive upgrade in sound! “Spellbound” is a virtual study in well-written, exceptionally-played and diverse heavy metal that features a delicate balance of polish and rawness. Cuts like “Tyger Bay,” “Silver & Gold” and the rip-roaring “Gangland” are furious, hard-hitting items that burst with excitement to this very day. Sykes’ guitar work is simply awesome, a kinda “heavy metal Gary Moore,” and he runs rings around Rob Weir, who’s fretsmanship is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Then there are, to me, the most amazing tracks, “Don’t Stop By” and “Mirror,” melodic and very heavy ballads of the highest order. On the latter, Deverill delivers one of the most stunning vocal performances of the entire NWOBHM era. This album is obviously not one of the most obscure of the time, but don’t let it’s relative ease of acquisition throw you. “Spellbound” is a completely essential purchase for anyone into classic metal. Spellbound Train