Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Farmer Rawks Like Hell

POOBAH – “Peace Farmers” CD ’09 (Alibi-Gustunes, US) – I have a funny story about the way I originally crossed paths with POOBAH’s Jim Gustafson. Well, I think it’s funny and I’m confident you will too. If not, no, I can’t give you the few minutes of your life back that it took you to read this, so sorry in advance. But if you love great hard rock besides wishing for comedy from your favourite music writer, delve in…you won’t be sorry.

Back in “the day,” I started collecting records and the first really “rare” one I ever got was the 3rd effort from Youngstown, Ohio band POOBAH entitled “Steamroller” (1979). All it took for me was Bart at local store Vinyl Discoveries to play me a tape of the 8 minute mauler “Jump Thru The Golden Ring” and I was on a quest for the holy grail. Feeling kind of sheepish, I ended up plunking down a hundred smackers for a cherry copy of this baby and what I learned was that if anything was worth that kinda price tag, it was this motherfucker. Laced from pillar to post with raw, distorted riffing from Gustafson as well as his melodic vocal range, there was more as well. Atop every song, Mr. Jimmy G applied a generous dollop of some of the most cochlea-mutilating, brain-scalding lead guitar known to man…or woman. And being a person who understands the difference in priorities between paying rent and spending another $ 200 on “rekids” (as my dad called ‘em), I quickly sought out “Let Me In” (1972) and “U.S. Rock” (1976). The former was an early ‘70’s gem that espoused that rugged Budgie / Toad / Sabs feel, the latter a mid-decade slice of brilliant FM hard rock complete with the addition of massive organ work. What tied it all together was the fact that not only was each of these platters just as top-drawer as the popular luminaries of it’s age, each was also packed to the brim with a full crate of Gustafson Solo Whoop-Ass. Here was a guitarist who easily took his place among names like Iommi, Page and Bourge in my humble opinion.

As time went on and I developed my printed zine, it became obvious to me that a glaring omission in my cannon of musical script was an interview with Jim Gustafson. The problem was, I had no idea how to locate this cat. So I went back to Bart, the record store guy who’d originally given me the POOBAH fever. Here’s where it starts to get funny. Bart looked at me for a moment and hesitated. He then pulled out a dog-eared book from under the counter and, in a hushed tone, read me a phone number. “Ray,” he began haltingly, “I’m a little worried about this.” His countenance bore the look of a man who was besieged with grave concern. “I was given this number by a guy who knows Jim but he warned me…says he’s not the friendliest character. Might hang up on you.” I have to admit, it wasn’t with the greatest hope that I dialed the number that night, and when the voice on the other end said “Hello,” I introduced myself half expecting to get lambasted over the phone. And here’s where it really gets funny. What followed was a lengthy, pleasant conversation with a man who, over the years has proven to be one of the most friendly, gregarious and humble people I’ve met in the music industry. Don’t know who that record store guy had heard about from his friend but it sure as hell wasn’t Jim Gustafson. Mr. G is one class act who not only produced 3 of the best records of the ‘70’s but has been a joy to work with on interviews, reviews, etc.

And so we come to 2009. Since “Steamroller”’s release some 30 years ago, POOBAH has continued to stomp the boards in the Ohio, Western PA, WV and East Coast area and has delivered some damn nice platters like “Wizard Of Psych,” “Furious Love” & “Underground.” Featuring a wide variety of guitar-drenched hard rock, Jim began to lace the music with a decided psych overtone that speaks of the maturity of a songwriter and musician with a long & storied lineage. Now, POOBAH has delivered their new disc “Peace Farmers” and I have to say that it is an unqualified barnburner. In fact, it may be the best one yet! There’s little doubt that Jim & crew came to bring it as the haggard fuzz riff of “Ripped” comes tumbling out of the speakers. The rhythm section (bass – Brian Muth, Jimmy G, George DiGiovanni, Wood Hupp; drums – Mike Fortino, Wood Hupp) plants the seeds of a smoldering groove and Jim sets his 6-string acid tractor in gear, plowing the rows with an alternation of pillaging riffs and searing lead lines. Elsewhere, everything just continues to turn to gold: the neck-snapping Gibbons-like funk of “It Out,” the heavy SRV shuffling in the verse of “This” and the completely re-worked “Let Me In” classic, “Live To Work.” Still, the crème de la crème are the 3 lengthy epics spaced throughout “Peace Farmers." In “Mood” (8:25), “Fly Away” (8:15) and “86 Times” (9:12) we really get to see the full talents of Jim Gustafson flower as they haven’t since “Steamroller.” Whether it be the former’s upbeat rockin’ vibe, “Fly Away’s” ethereal spaciousness or the insistent plundering heaviness of the latter, Jim’s exploratory guitar work is nothing short of stellar. In each of these cuts, the man’s guitar stretches long, gossamer strands of feedback-drenched lead across seas of musical intrigue that would sit equally as nice at 125 dB in a bar or on headphones at 1:00 AM.

Long story short, POOBAH is not only a band that’s been a going concern for close to 40 years. It’s an American rawk institution and Jim Gustafson continues to guide it into a very special spot in the musical hall of fame. What still has me wondering is who the hell the guy was that Bart told me was “not the friendliest character.” Maybe Jimmy G could give him a call and make him smile! Nice one, bro, this one’s a masterpiece! Peace And No Quiet

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Conversation With ANDREW DUGAN...Music and Life Foretold!

I’ve gotta admit, I haven’t seen the “2012” movie yet. Maybe that’s because I’m too busy writing the articles on this site! Nah, just kidding, I love what I do and every now and then I do get out with my wife and/or kids to check out a flick. To be honest, though, I haven’t been a big fan of the end-of-the-world, disaster things of recent vintage. But I have to admit, after hearing the apocalyptic-yet-oddly-beautiful solo effort by ANDREW DUGAN entitled…wait for it…”MMXII,” I was bitten by the bug. Mr. DUGAN has also been the vocalist in modern-metal locals FORETOLD the last few years and their “Just The Tip” disc got a nice review on The Realm some months back. Still, even that didn’t ready this scribe for the depth of passion & vision present on “MMXII.” Just recently I had a very revealing and interesting conversation with ANDREW concerning his solo music, life with FORETOLD and other assorted topics. Check it out below…

RAY - So, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? What combination of things led to a certain Mr. Andrew Dugan traveling down the road of musician, songwriter, etc. rather than being the guy who turns on the local FM rock station in the car and leaves his involvement in music at that?

ANDREW - I had always wanted to play music. Every year when I was growing up I had some sort of band I was in whether it was real or not. I had a band in preschool my parents told me that I called the “Rockin Rats”. We never really played music but we thought we did lol. After wanting to be in a band and taking guitar lessons for awhile, my parents put me into a camp for several summers called DayJams. This probably did the most for me as making me want to be in a band and make it a serious thing.

RAY - Who were your influences when you first got into music? Do you still look to them for your listening at this point? Who do you like / dislike these days? Why?

ANDREW - Led Zeppelin, I loved the hell out of zeppelin when I was really young and it made me want to start taking lessons in middle school. I started taking lessons and my buddy got me into “SCIENCE” by Incubus. That CD super influenced me to write/do music. I became over obsessed with Incubus before I got into high school and my freshman year. As I moved through high school my tastes changed and I started liking A perfect circle, Mike Patton and all his projects (while not everything he’s done lol), Manson, 311 and Alice in Chains. Nowadays I really just listen to classical more then anything else but the bands I really like right now are Radiohead, Dub Trio, The Grassy Knoll, Fight Amp, Porcupine Tree, Mudvayne. I still love zeppelin but with all the new music out its hard to go back into what’s already been done.

RAY - Why is Baltimore such a miserable and drab place? Or is that just my cynical, 51 year old assessment?

ANDREW - I think it’s in the eye of the beholder. I see a lot of evil in Baltimore and secretly think that some big evil thing is going to happen there but I don’t know what. But besides the evil that lurks in the dark creepy wet street corners I think it had a lot of beauty that goes unnoticed. So to answer your question it’s a little of both.

RAY - At this point, you’re involved in both a band situation (FORETOLD) and your own solo stuff. Let’s address the band thing first. What are the origins of FORETOLD? How did you come to record and release “…The Tip?”

ANDREW - Foretold formed in early 2004 with a totally different lineup then it is now. I tried out for the band in December 2004 on Pindell’s birthday and was terrible but the drummer’s dad thought I had potential. We started playing out in 05/06 and played a lot of venues every other week. These were some of the best times I had with Foretold, before we had to grow up more than anything else. We came up with “Just the tip” because our old drummer Mike Fleagle used to say it at practice sometimes. We thought it would be a hilarious first album and decided “Ballz Deep” would be the follow up album.

RAY - How do you feel about that album, is it everything you’d hoped it would be when you first envisioned it?

ANDREW - I think this album turned out awful personally. We took a long time to track it. Like a REALLY long time, literally recorded over a year and mixed over 6 months. So each time we had someone else track we’d have a totally different view of what the song should sound like. This CD hurt our original lineup and has since seemed to send us into a weird depression. It just sounds bland. There’s not as much punch and bigness as we wanted with the tones and especially with our own performances on the CD. You can easily sense the fighting internally in the band with how it sounds.

RAY - What kind of situation do you have with the band in terms of writing? Does everyone contribute? How do the music & lyrics in FORETOLD typically come together? What makes a band work well together, in the studio and live formats?

ANDREW - Well Pindell would write the main riffs and we would piece together the songs as a band. I would write the lyrics and melody but everyone also had their hands in that a little if they didn’t like something lol. Studio wise we would play live to track the drums and then track separately after that. More recently we have been writing the music with me kind of there and then me working on vocals separately. I know a lot of bands that do this and thought it was lame but I actually like this better I think.

RAY - How much gigging has FORETOLD done? Have you played many shows in the Baltimore area? Ever done any with Shift / Deadlock?

ANDREW - Foretold has played a TON of shows. 2007 was our biggest year for shows as we played probably 30 in MD. We played with Shift a bunch of times at Sonar and at Rams head. One time we played with Jimmy’s Chicken Shack at Rams Head for their DVD taping and we actually brought out more people than they did. Summer of 2008 it begin to die down and we released our CD on 03/07/09 at Sonar. Since then we played the Static X show last minute in April but haven’t gigged since due to lineup issues.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Ok, you’re given the opportunity of one of the following…what do you pick?

a. A chance to work in the studio with Maynard James Keenan
b. A chance to spend an all-night date with a FORETOLD fan who has a strong resemblance to Beyonce?

Feel free to comment as profusely on either as necessary!

ANDREW - I’d pick the Maynard James Keenan thing. I would definitely like to try out Beyonce but I have a girlfriend I love that would not love to see that happen lol. I feel like working with Maynard would probably be a very long and crazy night.

RAY - Now let’s turn to your solo stuff. Musically, “MMXII” has a completely different feel from the FORETOLD stuff…which is good! Sometimes, an artist does a solo record and I’m left thinking, shit, it sounds exactly like another band album, what’s the point? With your’s, that’s not a problem that’s even on the map. I’m hearing things that remind me of some of the more acoustic stuff by Roger Waters on “The Wall.” Am I close or are you going to say that Ray is just some dickhead writer who’s completely off base? Don’t be afraid to do just that, I need somebody to reign me in at times!

ANDREW - I honestly have never even listened to all of “The Wall”. After putting out the Foretold CD and promoting it I realized there was nothing to sell besides the music. I was so turned off by the CD in fact that it made me want to prove myself and write my own stuff for once. I had written vocals to Pindell’s music for 3 years and I just needed a break to remember what I liked playing. And wanted something I could promote as more than just music.

RAY - Lyrically, we’re talking about some pretty dark stuff, I mean even though this stuff is acoustic, nobody’s ever going to confuse it with a James Taylor album! Give me some insight into the idea behind the concept.

ANDREW - I wanted to write an album that was more than just a group of songs that had no association (Just the Tip). I took classes online at Berklee about the future of music and the decreasing value of CD’s. If you want it to sell it has to be more than just music. I anticipate that short DVD’s of music written to stories could replace the regular CD.

I had sort of a premonition with a friend of mine that the 2000-2010 generation was the generation that didn’t give a shit because we all thought the world was going to end. I wrote “0700” that night and finished it the following morning. After I had the idea of what I wanted to do. I then wrote out the story that the album follows and I wrote the music to each scene. As the music came together I wrote the lyrics to make the music more understandable with the concept. I wanted to make each song a different emotion of the prophet and of the people surrounding him. I wrote the CD in 2 weeks and spent about 6 months recording it and 3 mixing it.

RAY - Also, the record is short time-wise, but very “full” in terms of intensity. There isn’t a minute wasted and the effect is larger than a lot of longer albums. Any commentary?

ANDREW - I wanted to write a full length but was so excited with the form and sound of what I had I just felt it necessary to make it short. And also thought it would be cool for the concept to make the CD 20:12 in length.

RAY - How about shows / gigs with the solo stuff? Have any happened? Will any be happening?

ANDREW - None have happened but coming to the grips that it may sell some CD’s im working on getting back into playing the music again and planning a CD release for it sometime in the spring.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: How many steamed crabs could a Baltimore club owner chuck if a Frank Zappa could chuck Edgar Allen Poe? Be as creative as you feel necessary or just tell me to shut the fuck up and conduct a serious interview!

ANDREW - 665 maybe 700 I’ll have to check the stats.

RAY - What’s next for ANDREW DUGAN? The sky’s the limit…where are you aiming?

ANDREW - I want to play some ugly grungy metal. I just bought a Orange cabinet and a PRS a little while ago so as soon as I get a head I’m gonna start writing some noise metal type stuff. And if not that I want to write super pretty delayed guitar kind of stuff.

RAY - If you could give one piece of advice to a budding musical artist who has not yet recorded one song or played one gig, what would it be?

ANDREW - Never give up and never listen to anyone else’s opinions of your music. Its not your music if you make it for someone else’s tastes.

RAY - In all your time doing FORETOLD, your solo stuff, etc. what is the most odd, stupid, staggering or just simply vulgar thing that has ever happened? Studio, live, any place! No censorship or editing here (unless I feel like it…lol)

ANDREW - One time we played a gig at The Black Hole in Dundalk. We (Foretold) had recently found a black on white porno magazine from the 80’s in my buddy Nate’s car shop. Kong our bass player dressed in a giant white fur vest read it on stage in between each song while Pindell changed tunings. The one line that I vividly remember Kong reading was “Reaching for his thick black love snake.”

RAY - Any final comments?

ANDREW - Thank you for supporting me and genuinely appreciating my music.

It’s pretty damn cool when a release makes it’s way across this desk that I find both surprising in style and rewarding in depth. Couple that with the fact that ANDREW DUGAN is a young guy who’s made quite an early statement with “MMXII” and you’ll want to check it out immediately. Get writing!

RAYSREALM 2009 Top 10 Album Poll!!!

Well folks, it's that time again! We're reaching the end of yet another year of music and with that in mind, it's time for us all to go on record & make fools of ourselves salivating over a handful of the better platters of '09. So, send in your Top Ten albums (CD's, albums, records, whatever you want to call 'em). The only requirement is that they were released in 2009 (I know there is sometimes a sticking point over the date on the back of disc... e.g., sometimes something is dated 2008 and actually isn't available until 2009. What we're looking for is things that became available during know what I mean.) Anyhoo, send in your Top 10 list to my email: The cut-off date is Jan 31, 2010 for the simple reason that we give you till the end of the year and then a little time to get your thoughts in order. Then, right after Jan 31, I'll publish the results of the poll, plus my own Top 10 for those of you who give a dern. BE SURE TO INCLUED YOUR POSTAL MAILING ADDRESS IN YOUR EMAIL! Anyone who sends in a Top 10 by Jan 31, 2010 will receive a kewl surprise from me in the mail shortly thereafter! So, list away! Again, send the Top 10 and your mailing address to:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Drinking The Blood Of The Newborn Colossus

COLOSSUS – “Drunk On Blood” EP ’09 (Nice Life, US) – My experience with the North Carolina metal band COLOSSUS began, the way these things do, in an indirect way. I had stumbled one day into The Soundgarden, a record/CD store in Fells Point MD and ended up taking a chance on a disc I found by a band called Thunderlip entitled “The Prophecy.” It ended up being a winner, ‘80’s metal/’70’s hard rock galvanized by a nice dose of Thin Lizzy-inspired harmony leads. Anyone who hasn’t heard it (or the Lip’s debut, for that matter) should take a moment here and go order both. I’ll wait. Ok, that taken care of…. I then did what the Ray-man is prone to do. I embarked upon the ‘net to research more about the band. Catching up with them on myspace, I learned that they were from North Carolina and sometimes jammed with Valiant Thorr (who also kick ass). Scrolling down, I glanced at their top friends and saw something that jumped out, for some reason: COLOSSUS. Hmm…obviously a band, never heard of ‘em. But I’m thinking: You’ve gotta have some serious balls to call yourselves COLOSSUS. And, so a page-jumping I went. The band’s myspace site was: That is also a very good sign. They indicated that they sounded like “Placido Domingo being attacked by a pack of scorpion-men.” They had 3 (three!) lead guitar players. It was time to write to these guy! And so I did, returning from vacation that summer to find waiting for me a package containing the first COLOSSUS release, “…And The Rift Of The Pan-Dimensional Undergods.” To make a long story short, despite having a wonderful marriage, I fell in love. I played the CD 1000 times, put it on my I-pod and played it some more. Without question, it was the best metal debut album in a decade of Sundays. The songs were brilliant, loaded with riffs that were both ball-crushing and catchy-as-hell. The vocals of Sean Buchanan were stratospheric in the best Halford-on-Stained-Class sense and the guitars…my God, the guitars! Bill Fisher, Andy Lewis and Nicky Nixon put on a clinic that would have had a team of Randy Rhoads, Adrian Smith and KK Downing begging for mercy. Read my ranting and raving over this debut achievement here:
Cementing this all in place was the fact that about a week later the opportunity to see this bunch of metallic upstarts in person fell in my lap when COLOSSUS played The Talking Head Club in Baltimore with, yes, Thunderlip and killer Baltimore rock band The Mishaps. They could bring this shit off live! Wow!

I then went on to interview the colossal guys…read here…

Then, as the year of 2008 drew to a close, I went about the business of beginning to wonder what would lie ahead for this 6-piece Raysrealm Rookie-Of-The-Year winner. For a band to deliver such a mammoth opening statement, you had to think…did they shoot their wad? Would they be able to continue, upwards and onwards after this initial volley? My first answer to this came this past July when the COLOSSUS ambulance pulled in to the Golden West Café late one night, once again following their old friends The Mishaps and proceeded to lay waste to the surroundings by unveiling some new tracks from their upcoming release “Drunk On Blood.” As my buddies and I staggered out of the club at around 2:00 AM, pulling pieces of metal shrapnel out of our substantial foreheads (we’re all a bit long in the tooth, of course), we simply could not wait to hear this band’s next effort!

But, as these things go, we did have to wait… 4 more months until just recently when the mailman appeared on my front porch with a large brown package in his hand bearing the return address: COLOSSUS. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat back to listen to such a highly-anticipated record. Was it worth it? Well, let’s begin with the format. This is a vinyl-only release. As someone who was brought up musically in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, I cannot tell you how much it means to me that this is a FUCKING RECORD!!! A 12” piece of vinyl (!!!) that comes housed in a gorgeous cover with artwork that would make any fan of real metal (Maiden, Manilla Road, old Priest, etc.) smile warmly. Secondly, the untrained observer may investigate this record further and express disappointment that it is an EP with “only” 5 songs. Let me put that to rest right now. Do y’all remember the first Mercyful Fate EP? What was that, four songs? Any complaints there, motherfucker? Did you write a letter to Hank Shermann saying “Pretty nice effort, Henry, but how ‘bout some more meat on the bones next time around?!” No, of course you didn’t because you were too busy going to Captain Pete’s T-Shirt Emporium to have ‘em make you some MF swag with those snazzy felt letters. That was for you to wear while you were compiling your 1982 Top 10 Albums Of The Year list with Fate squarely at the top. Point is, like that icon from metal’s past, the 5 songs on this COLOSSUS record are so Goddamn good, so completely and utter friggin’ massive and destructive that they mow under just about any 60 minute CD you can pull out of your collection and call “obsolete.” This is the real fucking deal and I can tell I really mean that by how much I’m cussing right now. “The Mountain That Rides” opens, raising the volume gradually as the band hits a few glorious chords, hangs momentarily on a musical cliff’s edge, then plummets full-force into a headlong NWOBHM-fest. At once, it marries that era’s innocent metallic youth to a 2009 vitality that displays a critical point. In the right hands, which at this moment are the 12 that populate this band, metal is not only NOT a retro-genre but as forward moving as you can get. Sparks of energy and excitement fly off this spinning piece of black vinyl as Buchanan tells tales from a desperate wilderness that would send Mastodon running for their Boy Scout handbooks. “Kill More Better” does. What the hell else do you need to know about this one, man, except for the fact that it may have a catchier chorus than anything on AC/DC’s “Black Ice.” You’ll be walking thru Wal*Mart singing this one and raising the eyebrows of the MILF with the cart in front of you. Just don’t let her see that bloody wolf-leg you’re carrying until you have her back in your lair….

Anyway, “A Year Later (There’s Still Meat Left In The Skull.)” Besides being the absolute greatest song title of 2009 and, perhaps, all time, this one opens with one of the most triumphant metallic guitar figures I’ve ever heard. Sean’s vocals are beyond brilliant, presenting visions of names like Dickinson, Halford and Adams all at once without ever sounding like any of them directly, simply allowing it all to fuse into his own style. As the record then proceeds into it’s 2 longer cuts, “The Operative” and “Wendigo” the guitar prowess on offer comes into simply massive relief. Bill, Andy and Nicky use this record to stake their claim as one of the greatest guitar teams of all-time. The production of Mitch Marlowe, Al Jacob and Jamie King is very important, as it allows you to really understand how great these cats are. Listen, especially to this closing pair. All 3 axe men will lock together in a rhythm. Effortlessly, one will peal off, like a precision jet fighter, taking a harmony to expand the sound. One guy will introduce a lead line and then, one by one, the other 2 will join him applying layers of melody that I’ve only heard a few places before…Wishbone Ash’s “Argus” & “There’s The Rub,” Maiden’s “A Matter Of Life & Death,” maybe a scant couple more, but it’s a short damn list, that’s for sure. Of all the numbers present, it’s the aforementioned 6 ½ minute “Wendigo” that draws things to a close and it’s smartly-placed and fitting. The opening gallop, complete with Lizzy-like harmonies raises the hair on my arms every time as Sean’s vocals are as emotional as they are soaring. Still, masters of dynamics, COLOSSUS save the very best for last. After several changes, the song moves into one of the most majestic codas in memory. The guitarists fuse together in a rhythm as heavy as the riff in the middle of “Stained Class” and Buchanan delivers the commanding mantra “I will lead a thousand men…and take their strength from them…” It’s one of "those" moments and it serves to capitalize the very theme of this spectacular record: North Carolina band COLOSSUS has taken the throne as the best metal band today. I dare someone to try to knock them off! Face Melting Complete

NOTE: For anyone thinking “Shit, this sounds great but I don’t have a turntable…” When you order this album, it comes with a sticker with a free download of all the songs. Right here, you mutha:

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Beautiful Noise

THE BEAUTIFUL CONFUSION – “The Beautiful Confusion” CD ’09 (Private, US) – Call me set-in-my-ways…actually, that would probably be one of the kinder things that people have called me...but when I hear the words “Seattle, Washington” a couple things come to mind. Of course, like my home town’s O-No’s, there’s a bad baseball team, The Mariners. There’s also a wealth of wet weather, beautiful scenery and a Starbucks on every corner. When it comes to music, though, my focus is narrower: Queensryche and the grunge scene of the mid/late ‘80’s. And that’s how this beautiful Confucius say: “Open your mind, son, all is not what it may seem.”

THE BEAUTIFUL CONFUSION are a band from Seattle and they have nothing in common with prog-metal concept albums nor flannel shirts and long hair flailing. In fact, when I slid this one in and the strains of “December Morning” washed out of the speakers, I thought I was listening to an early Eagles gem, maybe off “Desperado,” something like that. Hmm…I thought, haven’t heard something like this in awhile, as the smooth-yet-ultimately catchy country rock of “Heartland Mystery” continued. Much like those California boys (before they took the corporate turn with their later stuff), TBF display a knack, not for anyone named Sharona, but for mixing deceptively hook-laden pop with a nicely-crafted musical base. Eric Sviridas guitars supply an open-air backdrop for Dalen Bakstad’s vox which sport a throaty, emotional Alex Band (The Calling) sort of vibe. Where the band really take off, however is with track # 5, “Campbell Drive.” This slow, hypnotic number may not seem much in theory (it’s basically a verse and chorus repeated twice), but in reality it is a stunning piece that I’ve gone back to repeatedly. Similar in it’s originality is the slow and ethereal glide of “Windows 3.” Here, and increasingly in the 2nd half of this record, Sviridas’ guitar and the pedal steel of Jason Kardong engage in some simply gorgeous musical conversations. While not over-the-top in notes per second, these guys mesmerize in their ability to work wonders within the framework of the song. Never is this more evident than on the lengthy (nearly 6 minutes) “Rain.” With an almost orchestral feel, embellished by some well-placed electronic effex, this one slips on a coat that I’d describe as something akin to “Progressive Americana.” Figure that one out, while you’re then drawn into the bizarre 50-some second noise-interlude of “Casablanca” and led to the conclusion by “Little Co.”’s understated strains. Better yet, don’t try to figure anything out. Just buy this CD, put it on late at night and allow it to wash over you. For a thoughtful, pensive mood this is as nice a record as I’ve heard in many a moon. No Confusion Here

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Peruvian Gold

FLOR DE LOTO – “Mundos Bizarros” CD ’09 (Mylodon, Peru) – A quick tour around the internet will tell you very quickly about the luminaries who have come from Peru. They range from Saint Rose Of Lima (the first Catholic saint to emerge from the Americas) to Paddington Bear (yup, that’s where the character originates). Included in the list are also such notables as Benjamin Bratt (Law & Order actor, who’s mother was from there), 1959 Wimbledon Champion Alex Olmedo and soccer star Nolberto Solano. Well to that interesting role call I’m about to add the name of the 4 dudes who are about to become your new favourite heavy rock band? Doubt me? C’mon, by now you should know I don’t blow smoke. I speaka da truth, son, so sit down and listen to my words.

FLOR DE LOTO are a quartet of Peruvians who have just issued their 3rd album, “Mundos Bizarros” and baby, it’s going to clean your clock. But first…let’s get a sometimes ugly piece of business out of the way. One of you, who is perhaps a bit anxious, is going to read the name of the band at the top of this review and you’re going to do it…admit it, you’re going to Google it before you read the review. When you do that, you’re going to come across those dreaded words, “progressive metal,” and you’re going to recoil in horror. You’re going to imagine visions of a curly-haired muso, sitting on a stool at a Barnes & Noble in-store, peering studiously over half-glasses at the fretboard of a custom PRS, playing some sort of convoluted Phygrian scale. STOP! RIGHT THERE! That’s over, so file it away until the next time Fates Warning reforms or whatever the hell else. No, FLOR DE LOTO is very heavy rock with innovative and unusual song structures. Think of a cross between Side 2 of the first Sabbath record and early Iron Maiden…with flutes! The foursome (Alonso Hererra – guitar, vocals; Jorge Pucchini – drums; Alejandro Jarrin – bass; Junior Pacora – woodwinds) do some wonderful stuff on this record and trying to narrow it down cut by cut over the 13 here would be patently unfair as much as a gigantic pain in the ass, so I won’t try that one. What I will describe is the flowing, organic power that surges throughout the 60-plus minutes on offer. Whether it be one of the many instrumentals (written with a memorability that belie their lack of words) or a vocal selection wherein Hererra lends his smooth mid-range pipes to the mix, there isn’t a weak spot. Hererra is a monster guitar player throughout, something you know this here scribe is just eating up! The guy is a master of going from a soft melodic and acoustic intro to a full-on barrage of metallic riffs with such ease that you’ll wonder how you got there but will be ecstatic you did. His tone is thick, full and powerful as hell and his leads are exploratory enough, with a flair that speaks of an Adrian Smith, yet never over-indulgent. In fact, that points up to something I really love about this band in general. The songs are nearly all within the 4-6 minute range, allowing the band to make a powerful statement yet surely not to wander. True, the final title track runs to the 11 ½ minute mark, but it’s construction is so gorgeous and well-done that it reminds me (in writing style, although much heavier) of the ancient, REAL Genesis. And, as a final point, I have to say that my “other” favourite thing about this bunch is the work of Junior Pacora. This cat lays down some flute work that is right up there with the best I’ve ever heard, and his playing fits the heavy music like a glove, similar to the way Ian Anderson blends his instrument into Jethro Tull's raucous fray.

All told, I may have not yet heard FLOR DE LOTO’s first 2 records but I have to say that I HAVE heard “Mundos Bizarros” many a time now, and it is simply the real deal. You can call it prog rock, progressive metal, or whatever you want. Me, I say it’s not only one of the best exports from Peru…it’s one of the best albums of the year. Bizarrely Good

Saturday, November 7, 2009

You've Got A Doom Friend In PA - The ARGUS interview!

If you’ve been reading this site for awhile, you already know about the lavish mounds of praise I’ve slathered upon the debut release from Pennsylvania’s ARGUS earlier this year. If not, read as noted (it’s the 2nd one down in this review section below The Mishaps), then rejoin us to the right of the below link. Point is, if you dig heavy long songs, harmony guitar leads for the ages and vocals awash in all ranges of emotions, not to mention thought-provoking lyrics, ARGUS are for you…despite their somewhat hard-to-take-for-a-Ravens-fan NFL allegiances. But more on that later. You’ll just have to read the interview. So do it. Now.

RAY - Butch, I know you were in PENANCE previously. That aside, I’m honestly not aware of the whole history behind ARGUS in general or you in particular. Can you give us a run-down of your career in music and how it all culminated (so far!) in this band?

BUTCH - I began singing in bands at age 17. First band was a band called DRUID. Had a lot of fun with that band – short lived as it was – maybe 1 year. That was the building block for all the followed. Played in a few bands in the Pittsburgh area – Lights Out and Child of Fire. When Child of Fire split I found an ad that PENANCE was looking for a singer. I auditioned and at the time it did not work out but we remained friends and eventually we started jamming for fun and from there began writing and that led to 7-8 years, 3 albums, a bunch of gigs and a short European tour. PENANCE finally came to a end/fell apart and I met the ARGUS guys. Erik Johnson is a fraternity bro of mine and I’d get these e-mails from him saying come see his band, ARGUS. Well, I never got out. Finally I get this e-mail – “Come see Erik’s last show with ARGUS”. Now I gotta go since I missed all the others. First things first – I was blown away by Andy’s bass playing. And the rest of the band was great too. I got to talking with Kevin when they were done and we stayed in touch via e-mail. We decided I’d come out and audition and if that worked out we’d work out a rehearsal schedule where I came out every other weekend etc since they were 1.5 – 2 hours drive from me. It ended up working quite well as 3 years, a bunch of shows and 1 album later will testify. That’s the short version. Every band was like a building block for the next. And I learned something new in every situation. I believe ARGUS is the best band I’ve been a part of and this album is the culmination of all my years in music so far. I am very proud of it.

RAY - What are your influences in music? Did you come up in a musical family? If so, how did that steer you toward your involvement in music today? Also, if so, how has your family felt about the heavier end of the music you’ve produced, have they liked it or have they recoiled in horror?

BUTCH - My folks liked music but not like I do. None of them were musical performers – I was the music nut of the family who decided he wanted to be in bands. My father died when I was young but my mother and stepfather were always very indulgent of my hobby as a music collector and very supportive of my musical activities be it chorus, choir, theater and later on my bands. They came to all my school performances and I think a concert or two when I started in rock bands. So, it was good to have folks who were on my side and kind of understood me LOL I’m not aware of how much of my recorded work they’ve heard. I know they heard some Penance because my mother and sister are aware that the song “Drown Me In A Sea of Empty” was about my father’s death. I’m sure the music isn’t up my family’s alley but I never really asked I guess.

My influences ? KISS was the most important. KISS was the band that made me want to be a musician. From the time I was 5 and my buddy and I would play “I Want You” over and over and laugh when Paul would stammer “buh-buh-buh-buh Babe I Want You !” to when I bought “Creatures of the Night” until today, they’ve been a constant in my life and have been a huge influence on me. I’m a KISS apologist – I’m the guy that will try to convince you that “music from The Elder” is a good album and that 80’s KISS is worth exploring. By the way – SONIC BOOM is one of their best albums ever. 2009 album of the year for me.

Beyond KISS I’d have to say The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Angel, Starz, Trouble, Saxon, Savatage, Metallica, Rainbow, Celtic Frost….. I don’t have enough time to list everyone. Metal, hard rock, 70s rock, old school R&B (Marvin Gaye, Funkadelic, James Brown, etc)…. I am a music nut – Johnny Cash…. Been on a big Southern Rock kick lately especially the Marshall Tucker Band…. I’m all over the map. And that’s just the old stuff. I’m surrounded by bands and musicians within this scene and otherwise that inspire me – Revelation/Against Nature, Orodruin, The Gates of Slumber, Pale Divine, Valkyrie, Earthride, While Heaven Wept, Slough Feg, Pharaoh, Apostle of Solitude….

If we’re talking vocalists – the biggest influences on me, or more accurately – my favorite vocalists are: Ronnie James Dio – he’s the tops, greatest metal vocalist ever. The complete package of power, range and charisma. Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Bobby Liebling, Frank DiMino, Robin Zander, Paul Rodgers, Steve Marriot, James Hetfield, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Steele, Biff Byford, Ian Gillan, Brad Delp, Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Johnny Cash, Freddie Mercury, Paul McCartney, Lars Goran Petrov….again, I could be here until next week listing singers I love. I don’t think I sound like any of those guys but that’s a sampling of singers that have really inspired me over the years and made me want to do this.

RAY - I know that ARGUS did a previous work that was released by John Brenner’s Bland Hand Records. How did that go and how did you hook up with Shadow Kingdom for this new self-titled release?

BUTCH - We recorded a 5 song demo and made copies of it which we sold at shows for cheap. In fact the first time we sold them was at the Doom or Be Doomed Festival in 2007 and we charged like $2-$3 and gave every dollar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. But John agreed to put the demo up on the Bland Hand site for download because we wanted people to be able to get it for free and hopefully dig it and spread the word. So, we’re definitely grateful to John and Bland Hand for giving us that platform. I’m hoping to give him some live stuff one of these days as well.

SHADOW KINGDOM came into the picture when our agreement with Tyrannusshit the bed. We knew Tim, had met him previously and it just so happened that as we relieved ourselves of a whole lotta nonsense he liked the band and was willing to release it for us. It was a no brainer – the label is already known for its great releases, it’s up and coming so we can grow with it, and Tim is a Pittsburgh guy so having our label in our back yard so to speak is a big plus. We are very happy things worked out the way they did.

RAY - What is the inspiration behind the band name ARGUS? I know that it is a many-eyed giant from Greek mythology and yet an old geezer like me from the musical ‘70’s can’t help but think of the legendary Wishbone Ash album from ’72 when he hears the name. Actually, the opening guitar piece at the beginning of “Devils, Devils” has that awesome, timeless dual harmony lead feel…yet it then explodes into something completely different. Comments?

BUTCH - Erik picked the name based on the mythological character. Obviously we hear the Wishbone Ash thing all the time and sharing the name of their biggest album plus utilizing guitar harmonies like we do – we’re always going to get asked that. The truth is that the band was named before I joined and before all the guitar harmony stuff really came into play in the band. When I first saw the band they had one song that had a killer double guitar section. That impressed the shit out of me. I eat that stuff up. I put mustard on it and eat it I tell ya ! When I joined and we began writing it was something we all wanted much more of and I’d have to say our influence there was a lot of Maiden and Thin Lizzy.

The intro to “Devils” was actually written initially as a way to start the album and it ended up that “Devils” would be the first song so the two were going to be side by side. Initially that intro was going to be given its own track # on the disc and be title….but we never came up with a title so we banded it with “Devils…” and there you have it. I like the majestic nature of the intro and then how it slams into “Devils, Devils” – I always loved when bands had these cool intros that were linked to their songs – like Judas Priest “Hellion/Electric Eye”…. Big, dramatic intro into that pounding song. Magnifique !

RAY - The “Argus” album certainly has doom metal overtones and yet, to me as a listener, it’s far from restricted to that area alone. There are, of course, those melodic harmony guitar parts and also is very aggressive, up-tempo & progressive at times as well, calling to mind bands like Slough Feg, early Maiden and, at times, even things like Confessor and Helstar, in the guitar dept. Commentary?

BUTCH - For sure, our influences are many and varied among us. It just so happens that they happened to overlap/intersect when it comes to the music we want to write, play and record. One thing we all love are guitar harmonies – Maiden, Slough Feg, Thin Lizzy, Valkyrie….so we look to add them where we can. We definitely also like to mix up the tempos and have some time changes. We don’t really set out to write a particular type of song but each person brings in a certain style and it just gels well. I’m sure if you asked any one person in the band there are things they’d like more of – me, I’d like to be a bit doomier at times…Jay would probably like to be more progressive….in the end, because we work so well together everyone gets some of what they want. It’s what makes us sound like we do and helps us fit in yet stand out with doom metal bands, true metal bands etc – we have a little of all of that working.

RAY - As far as Pennsylvania goes, you guys are from up near the Pittsburgh area, aren’t you? How does it feel to know you’re being questioned by a Ravens fan at this very moment? Does it increase your propensity to lie or simply to say “Your football team sucks!”

BUTCH - I’m a uniter, not a divider, Ray. I say “Love your Ravens fan as yourself”….because no one else will.

I do enjoy smack talk though but it is so much more enjoyable to do it in person when under the influence of many alcoholic beverages tempers can flare and fisticuffs can be threatened and perhaps utilized.

My wife’s sister married a Ravens fan. Imagine the shock in our family. He’s a good guy but…jeez.

RAY - Mike Wisniewski left the band since the recording of the album and was replaced by Erik Johnson. How has that transition worked out? I would think the intricacy of the guitar parts in these songs would call for a lot of practice in this regard? Am I right in that Erik was previously a singer? Did he hear Eric Johnson’s “Ah Via Musicom” album at some point and realize that, with a name like “Erik Johnson,” he oughta start playing the axe?

BUTCH - Erik was actually named after a serial kamikaze cunnilinguist, Erich Schwantz-Johnson. Erik has played guitar for years and he was the singer that preceded me in ARGUS. The transition was very smooth, we haven’t missed a step musically and personally he fits us to a T. The fact that he grew up with these dudes was a huge bonus. We couldn’t have made a better decision than the one to bring him back in.

RAY - Butch, you’re vocals are very melodic and yet quite powerful at the same time. That combination reminds me of, not style-wise, but in assuredness of Robert Plant. Also, Solitude Aeturnus/Candlemass singer Robert Lowe comes to mind. What kind of, if any, training do you have vocally? Do you do any special sort of vocal exercises?

BUTCH - I’ve sung since grade school – chorus, choir, drama, honor chorus/ensemble…. I have had some formal lessons but truthfully I have long been a very lazy student so I have learned some things but mostly what I do is untutored…. But when you have 4 different vocal coaches plus years of singing in school or bands you pick some things up….even some good habits amid the bad ones ! I am flattered by your comparisons – I would hesitate to even mention myself in the same breath as those guys.

For exercises – for years I used a warm-up CD that was a combination of some lip and tongue trills (via Seth Riggs Speech Level Singing course which is what a prior coach, Tim Aymar, used as his base teaching course) and some scales/vocalizes that I had on tape from a voice school I attended at one point. I just bought a warm-up CD by a jazz singer named Ellen Johnson. About a half hour- 45 minutes before I go on stage I do these warm-ups…which means I always miss bands I like that play before us L It does help prepare me to sing…doesn’t guarantee a flaw-free evening but it definitely helps. Otherwise I don’t have any exercises I follow – just superstition and habit – lots of water, trying not to talk before I show (inevitably I bump into someone I’d really like to talk to ….murphy’s law), no smoking pre-show, no alcohol leading up to the show, drinking throat coat tea…… There’s a health-food store in Squirrel Hill that sells these lozenges that I love (name escapes me…but I know them on sight).

RAY - How about lyrics? I know some singers don’t like to delve into their lyrics but if you don’t mind, could you take, say, 3 songs from the album and talk a little about them lyrically?

BUTCH - Yeah – I’m not a huge fan of trying to explain my lyrics because I feel like I know what they mean to me but I like that others can, and have, interpreted them to their own experience. But for you, a fellow traveler in the world of ANGEL, I’ll talk about a few……

“Devils, Devils” deals with the darker side inside us all. We all have traits that we are cognizant of that are not pleasant be it selfishness, jealousy, narcissism… SO basically “I’m a phantom, my demeanor – facade” is basically “Look, you are seeing one thing, the good person but inside there’s this ugliness that might make you feel differently about me…”

“The Damnation of John Faustus” is based on Christopher Marlowe’s EXCELLENT “Doctor Faustus”. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read. The story follows Doctor John Faustus who has sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for power on Earth given him by demons who do his bidding for 24 years (for 4 years and 20 as servants we lay at your feet). Of course the catch is at the end of this period its time to pay up – his soul. And how he is taken is not pleasant – being torn limb from limb. It’s the classic tale that’s been told many ways over the years and this is our version of it. For this one I adapted some of Marlowe’s wording directly into the song itself. I think it came out great and is one of the first things I’ve done based on literature. It won’t be the last.

“None Shall Know The Hour” is based upon the case of the Millerites who were a Baptist group led by William Miller. Miller convinced them that the Second Coming of Christ would be October 22, 1844. Many of them gave up their possessions. There are stories of people digging graves and lying in them waiting for the Lord to take them. They waited on hill tops, dressed in white. When Christ did NOT come it became known as “The Great Disappointment”. The story itself was very interesting to me but so is the other context of the song which is the eternal debate of belief and unbelief and the fact that no matter what side you fall down on no one knows…. No one.

RAY - Can you picture ARGUS ever doing a song about a huge…er…entertaining woman like “Whole Lotta Rosie?”

BUTCH - Somewhere there’s a song about a woman named Bertha, a big sack of flour and a young lad aiming for the wet spot.

RAY - Does ARGUS get a lot of female fans? I mean, hey, even if a chick is a Steeler’s fan, if she’s hot, she’s hot, right?

BUTCH - Have you taken a good look at our band photos ? Other than our wives/girlfriends, who all wear glasses, ain’t no woman-folk throwing their panties on the stage at an ARGUS show. I think the length of our…..songs is not stripper pole friendly enough or something. It inspires sweaty young males with bad skin, worse hair and beer bellies to get drunk and proclaim “I love you man !” or “wooooo!!! METAL !! Fuck yeah !!”

Just as an aside – I take it as a personal insult to my masculinity and birthright as a lead singer that in 21 years of fronting bands not once have a had female undergarments thrown my way. It’s a sad day when a singer, even an ugly one, can’t even come home with a soiled pair of granny panties with the Ravens logo emblazoned on the arse.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: If you had the choice of one of the following, which would you pick:a. An audience with the Popeb. A chance to give Angelina Jolie private vocal lessonsc. An opportunity to join the southern rock band of your choice

BUTCH - By “give Angelina Jolie private vocal lessons” do you mean showing her my oral skills ? If so, answer B. Otherwise – plunk me down in a Southern Rock Band…so long as the set list includes “Blue Ridge Mountain Sky” by the Marshall Tucker Band.

RAY - What’s up with ARGUS as far as gigging goes? I know you’re playing the fest in Frederick MD in early September. Any long-term touring plans or gigs closer to Baltimore? What about overseas? If you have a steady job & family, how does this impact the touring decisions?

BUTCH - Having families and serious, full time jobs puts the brakes on any idea of ARGUS ever being a touring band beyond some weekend warrior type stuff and the possibility of a very short 1-2 week tour once every couple of years. The fact that at this point the costs for that stuff comes out of our pocket also hinders what we can do easily. I’ve got 4 little kids. Jay has one. Andy has one. And Jay and I are the only guys in the band who actually get paid vacation so that aspect makes it really hard for us as well.

That being said – places like Maryland, Eastern PA, Ohio, New York, Virginia, Indiana, Illinois….these are all places we can easily hit on weekend trips so hopefully we can squeeze several road trips in over the course of a year.

As far as overseas – we have our fingers crossed for 2010. Unfortunately nothing solid yet but we’re exploring the possibility of a short European tour. I would love to go to Japan as well but not sure how to go about making that a reality.

RAY - I know it’s awfully early on, so I don’t expect you to be awake…no…I mean, the album has just come out, but is there anything new on the agenda as far as new ARGUS material? Do you see Shadow Kingdom as a long-term home for you guys?

BUTCH - We’re writing the next abum now. It’s coming in in bits and pieces but we have many bits and pieces. The challenge is to write an album that we can honestly look at each other and say it is better than the debut. That’s going to take some time and some brutally frank talk at rehearsal but I think it will be worth it to be very open and picky when called for.

We’re happy with Shadow Kingdom so far. We’ll have to see how the CD sells and how he feels about it when the time comes to talk album 2.

RAY - What do you think of the whole “download” vs. “hard copy” (CD, vinyl) presentation of music these days?

BUTCH - You can’t stop technology so there’s not much sense in fighting against it. It would be like folks who read by candlelight bitching about the light bulb. That being said I am still awfully enamored with LPs and CDs. I think the whole download thing really takes away from the whole experience of listening to the music and reading the liner notes, looking at the album art etc…. I love to have the whole thing. The music is the most important thing so as long as it gets out there – great…but it just isn’t as much fun to simply download something as opposed to spending hours in record stores flipping through LPs and studying the art and band pics and trying to guess what they sounded like. This was how I bought a lot of good albums back in the day. “Hey – who’s this band, Fates Warning? This one is called Awaken the Guardian…look at that cover….it’s gotta be metal. I’m buying it.” Ditto “Run To The Light” by Trouble, “The Warning” by Queensryche…. Just to name a few.

I’m glad vinyl seems to be making a bit of a comeback. And a lot of the labels taking the time and risk on vinyl are really doing a great job with it quality-wise – heavier vinyl. Nice packaging. Extras.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: If a meerkat were to mate with a Gibson Flying V, what kinds of effects would it sound best plugged into if the radius of China is temperate?

BUTCH - Aisha Tyler naked is the obvious answer.

RAY - Always a favourite around the Realm, this one: Tell us a crazy, wild, obscene or just plain grotesque story from the annals (anals?) of ARGUS, either on the road, in the studio, etc.

BUTCH - Honestly dude, we’re pretty boring. We’re pretty well known for our gas, in the van and at practice. Some of it is joke stuff like me whipping Erik in the face with my sweaty underpants or me sitting a short and curly on the toilet paper roll in our hotel room for the next guy to find. But mostly, lots of farts.

RAY – Any final comments?

BUTCH - Thanks so much for the honor of this interview ! It means a lot to us. And to the folks reading – thanks for your continued support and interest – we hope to see all of you in 2010 !

Oh, and….. GO STEELERS !!!

Anyway…. Do me a favour! I don’t care which NFL team you support or hate, if you’re a metal fan you simply cannot afford to go without immediately ordering the massive debut CD by ARGUS. Besides easily being one of 2009’s standout releases (it is Godly!), it is also much cheaper than a Steelers PSL and won’t cause you nearly the heartache this season.

Dark Emerald Crush

KILLING LAZARUS – “Killing Lazarus” CD ’09 (Private, Ire) – I have a list of places in the world that I want to visit before I shuffle off this mortal coil. They are as different as they are distant, locales ranging from Boston’s Fenway Park to Tokyo, from The Great Pyramids to New Zealand. And yet the place I long to plant my feet more than any other is my mother’s homeland, Ireland. My fascination with The Emerald Isle lies not only with my heritage, I suppose, but also with the fact that one of my 2 favourite bands off all-time, Thin Lizzy, called it home. I’m funny, but when I find out that a band is from Eire, my ears perk up a bit more than usual. Interestingly, it’s an instinct that’s generally led me to good places: Celtic Legacy, Cruachan, Mourning Beloveth, etc. Sure there may have been a few duds over the years. All the same, I’m steadfast enough that if a monkey with an accordion and a pair of cymbals sent me a packet with an Irish postmark, I’d give his CD more than a cursory listen.

KILLING LAZARUS do not include any non-human primates in their line-up (at least I think not). What they do have, however, is one hellvua debut release on their hands. Described in bios and other reviews as having begun life as a Dax Riggs tribute band, they guys force me, at once, to be honest. I’ve been actively listening to music for 40+ years and to this day, have no idea who the hell Dax Riggs is, so that description means nothing to me. What does mean something is what I hear when I listen (repeatedly!) to this CD.

KILLING LAZARUS (Chubbs – guitar, Dan McSorley – drums, Al Colohan – bass, Dave Lee – vocals) open this album with “Kill For Fun.” I’m immediately caught by the quietly eerie opening laced with an echoed guitar lead and somber vocals. Somewhere around the 4-minute mark, the guitars segue into a chugging locomotive metal riff as Lee’s vocals rise to a crescendo before then entire thing slips back into the vapor of a coda, haunted by creepy volume swells. The band’s sense of dynamics continues right away with “Split The Sky,” a spare offering of acoustic guitar and vocals. It’s far from what I’d call a traditional ballad, however, as the effect is chilling. In, then, comes the rolling bass-heavy rhythm of “I Wanna Get Fucked Up,” a track as insistent as any you’ll hear, yet with almost pop-like sensibilities. KILLING LAZARUS continue to show a commanding mastery of yin-yang, light-shade with the acoustic “Dream Killer,” featuring whispered vocals in the verse and a chorus highly reminiscent of Neil Young.

At this point, the band has probably touched on more ideas than most do in a full album and yet they’re just beginning to motor. “Hide And Go Eek” is lashed to the sturdy backbone of a raw Motorhead-like rhythm. Unexpectedly and brilliantly, the chugging effex at several points lend a Hawkwind feel. (Perhaps that all does make sense, though, considering the fact that both of those bands featured a certain Mr. Kilmister). Amazingly, KILLING LAZARUS have saved the best for the last 2 songs. As “We Rot” opens, a plaintive acoustic lead nestles atop gentle strumming. Harmony vocals then slide in, providing something the band is quite good at: writing melodies that are left-field and not immediate, but ones that after several listens, become second nature to the listener. That’s not easy to do! Finally, they bring the album to a close with possibly it’s strongest number, “Germinate.” A long (10+ min), slow, seether, it’s based on a series of brutally heavy, serpentine rhythms that bring Tool’s “Lateralus” album to mind. This is the kind of song that’s possibly launched 1000 ships and at least, I’m sure, caused music aficionados to spontaneously buy tickets on Aer Lingus. The sound bites included throughout spike the intensity level up to what I’d call riveting.

One subject I have to broach is the following: I know that some people may find criticism with the rather primitive and sparse production values that are present on this album but I submit that it works very much to the record’s advantage. The raw, garage nature of the sound here only intensifies the dark & threatening yet, paradoxically highly personal feel of these 7 songs. KILLING LAZARUS has created not only a stunning debut here but one that carries with it the confidence and depth of the works of wily veterans. Now, get me back to Orbitz so I can order those damn tickets! They Have Risen

NOTE: I must take the time to thank The Pope from The Ripple Effect webzine for turning me onto this killer band. Thanks, bro!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Especially For The Who

THE SMITHEREENS – “Play Tommy” CD ’09 (Koch, US) – Funny how sweet coco can be. No, that’s not it, that would be a review of the 1971 Sweet album. Or maybe another band’s rendition of it. Huh, you ask? No, children, what I mean to say is funny how we arrive at certain things, like the way I managed to navigate to this SMITHEREENS release. I first heard the Carteret NJ band (Christ, I used to stay in a Holiday Inn there all the time when I made record buying trips to NYC) in 1986. There I was, minding my own business driving to work in my hideous grey/tan (never figured out what colour it really was) Cavalier and suddenly this awesome, jangly REM-like guitar monster was on the radio. Best part yet was that the singer was going on about being “Behind The Wall Of Sleep.” Now, I knew this wasn’t Sabbath but who else would croon those lyrics? Well, I found out said cut originated from THE SMITHEREENS “Especially For You” album and I immediately sought out a copy. I was instantly caught up in the suitably jangly “college” racket raised by the guitars of Jim Babjak & Pat DiNizio, the latter’s immediate and slightly sarcastic mid-range pipes. Mostly, though, I fell for the brilliant indie-pop-rock melodies throughout the record. Much like the aforementioned “Behind…” there were gems like the insistent and haunting “Blood & Roses,” not to mention lesser-known but equally great tunes such as “Cigarette” & “Hand Of Glory.” I quickly grabbed the band’s next effort, 1988’s “Green Thoughts” and was just as impressed. And here’s where it gets funny…. For some reason known only to God, or maybe Bon Scott, I simply never got around to buying any of THE SMITHEREENS’ following records. For years, I was aware that they’d put out several discs and I always had intended on snagging them, but in a fit of some sort of Ray-induced idiocy, just never did.

Now, it’s the fall of 2009 and my prog/bowling buddy Rick says to me, “Hey…Pat DiNizio is doing a solo show at a place right up the street in a couple weeks, wanna go?” I stood stock-still for a moment, squinted into the sun like Clint Eastwood and said, “Yup.” It was then that I finally realized that this band who had so captivated my listening in those ’86-’88 years had been thoroughly ignored by your’s truly since. Still, this was going to be a solo DiNizio show so I stopped by the local store, intent on picking up the latest Pat D solo effort, a tribute to Buddy Holly. My first discovery was that they were out of that one. Shit! But, my 2nd discovery was that THE SMITHEREENS themselves had done their own version of The Who’s “Tommy,” released earlier this year! Wow! That is different! Of course I bought it. Was it a great find or a misguided purchase?

Let’s put it this way, I’ve gotta believe Pete Townshend has a bit of a smile on his face if this one has bounced off his eardrums. At first, I have to say, I was a bit leary. Covers in general strike me as “Ok” at best usually, cool if done off-the-cuff in a live format, ok if put on an album in the right place & time. Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown” done by Judas Priest is a great example. But this, an entire album, particularly one of this stature, that is a helluva leap of…something…by THE SMITHEREENS. The truth is, however, it works famously and here’s why I think it does. In my opinion, the best covers are done by artists who are great songwriters themselves. Think about it…the aforementioned “…Manalishi” done by prolific songwriters Halford-Downing-Tipton. Metallica doing jaw-dropping versions of numbers by the likes of Diamond Head, Budgie & Mercyful Fate. Even on a local Baltimore level, the best cover band in existence is Deadlock…and, by another name, they’re Shift who’s all-original CD I salivated over in the September blog. What I think it is, and what THE SMITHEREENS display on “Play Tommy” is this: intense songwriters respect intense songwriters. They have an understanding of what it takes to craft and love a song, to nurture it and allow it to take shape. They understand the care and love that songwriting takes. And that’s why a band like THE SMITHEREENS, when having a go at something like “Tommy” would never try to replicate the original. In an interesting duality, there is a sincere and fervent effort to both take care with the writer’s original and yet allow their own creative juices to flow over the song and make it something different. Listen to “Pinball Wizard” here, for example. The harmony vocals bring a Beatle-esque feel to the proceedings and when DiNizio unexpectedly takes his voice down an octave for the “How do you think he does it?” section, the effect is startlingly brilliant. “Sparks,” one of my favourite Who pieces begins in ungodly heavy fashion here, Babjack’s lead guitar howling like a banshee and yet then the band manages to toggle back & forth between that jangling they’re so known for and crushing metallic power chords. “Eyesight To The Blind” sounds like a whole new song and then the band smartly stick close to the vest with their take on “We’re Not Gonna Take It / See Me Feel Me”…until the crushing bridge riff they use sounds like a Tony Iommi fuzz-storm from “Vol. 4!!!” Well, Pat Di Nizio has mentioned being such a huge Sabbath fan that he nicked the “…Wall Of Sleep” title from the Sab 4’s debut album.

Gotta say, in conclusion, that I sure as hell didn’t see this one coming. A complete album cover of a icon-level classic by a band that I’d sort of put on the shelf for a bunch of years and yet here it is, currently dominating the Realm-o-Matic play pile. Funny how sweet that coco can be, eh babe? Amazing Journey

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Golden Colorado

SMAUG – “Path Of The Crow” Demo CD EP ’09 (Private, US) – If you’ll recall, last year I did a nice write-up and interview with Colorado metal fiends, SMAUG, giving their debut full-length (self-released) platter “…As My Blood Runs Cold” a helluva review. If you don’t recall, well then, I guess that goes to show you that you’re memory’s shot and you need to take a dose of ginseng or something. But, since I have a tendency to be nice and forgiving at times, I’ll fill you in. SMAUG are from the Rocky Mountain State and in 2008, they produced a platter of lengthy, raw and ass-busting metal epics that took me back to the days of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Beards & long hair flying (well, the pics would indicate this), they filled that disc with gnarled riff-after-riff, mid-range vox and dueling lead guitars that took their cue from the best of Tipton & Downing. So, suffice it to say that a nice warm feeling of…ok, a nice cold feeling of metal from the mountains washed over me when the latest brown package from the return address of “SMAUG” tumbled out of my mailbox recently. This time a 3 song EP, SMAUG have upped their ante in a couple ways. To begin with, while I loved the 8 & 9 minute opuses of “…Blood…,” this time we see the band streamlining things into the 5-6 minute range and the focusing only serves to increase the volatility. “Plight Of The Converts” opens on just a massive stuttering mid-paced riff and what I love immediately is the production. It is as nasty and haggard as hell while still retaining a world of grace and melody. When the song shifts into a galloping coda wherein guitarists Jeff and Keith simply unload the snarling lead goods, my ass is up and bangin’! This reaction (which is being stared at, in a cross of awe and disgust by my kids) only continues with the metal-thrashing mad chainsaw of “Onward To Glory.” This one takes me back to the days of “Kill ‘Em All” and Exciter’s first 2 records (John Ricci was god!). Pounding metal, indeed. It all comes to a super-cool close with the title cut, also featuring vocalist Alton’s best pipes thusfar. Clocking in at just under 7 minutes, “Path Of The Crow” has the feel of a lost jam between old Priest and embryonic Metallica and when the harmony lead kicks in around 5:17, it’s like an unholy marriage between “Stained Class” & Lizzy’s “Black Rose.” How can you fucking beat that?! For a vintage metal fan, you really can’t and all I can say is that after hearing this trio of new SMAUG muthas, I’m mega-psyched for full-lengther # 2. Something To Crow About

Alice In Wonderland

ALICE PEACOCK – “Love Remains” CD ’09 (Private, US) – ALICE PEACOCK is originally from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Maybe it’s just me, but even if I had never heard her music before, there has gotta be a little room in my heart for somebody from a place called White Bear Lake. Secondly, ALICE has made her current home in Chicago, IL. This Windy City is the current home of some of my favourite metal bands like Bible Of The Devil & Imperial Battlesnake, so it’s safe to say she’s set up camp in a cool musical environment. Now understand. ALICE PEACOCK does not play butt-stomping underground metal But also understand that ever since I heard her previous 3 records, I’ve had a soft spot for her music. Interestingly, it’s music that’s had a chameleon-like face and yet, underneath there’s always a special heart beating that is purely ALICE. While her early efforts took on the vibe of an American folk songstress, her 3rd record, “Who Am I” let us see a lady who was taking a look within, borne on the gentle wings of a piano. Now, with “Love Remains,” Ms. PEACOCK has taken a fork in the road leading to the country-rock genre. But don’t think for a minute that what we have down here is some watered-down Shania Twain pseudo-country piffle. Right from the rock of “All About Me,” highly reminiscent of Australian Kasey Chambers, ALICE exudes a genuineness that is real & sincere. Same thing with “City Of Angels,” further on in. You get a jaunty rocker on the surface and running all through it is the determined story of a woman who, yeah, has taken some lumps but ain’t taking no crap either. In the same breath, PEACOCK can slide into a gorgeous ballad like “Lovely” and rip your heart out, not to mention take you on a flight of emotion with the soaring “Fairborn.” Through it all, her voice is clear, vibrant and displays an ease of delivery that bespeaks the best in the field, while her lyrics are real and poetic. Topping the whole thing off is the nimble instrumental work of the band, the players flashing enough chops to make things interesting but never trying to elbow ALICE out of the way. Not that I think this lady would have any of that anyhow. Strictly speaking, I think that ALICE PEACOCK has fully arrived as an artist on “Love Remains.” The only thing that really remains to be seen is how long it’ll take the world to figure that out. Lady Sings The Country