Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grand Halls 44

GALLOWS POLE – “In Rock We Trust” 1982 (CBS, Austria) – Blind-sided. (Seems to be a theme around The Realm lately!). That’s what I was by this record. I had no idea of it’s existence until around 1997 when it showed up in my mailbox but since then I’ve probably played it a couple thousand times. It struck me, after the first few of those myriad listens, that my thoughts began to revolve around the notion that I had my all-time obscure Top 10 to do over again. I wasn’t sure what would get the ax, but I was pretty sure this one would knock something clear out of the Top 5 anyway. But enough of all that happy horseshit. Let’s get to the real deal. GALLOWS POLE was from Austria and they released their debut “In Rock We Trust” on CBS Records (out of Holland, catalog # 25009, for what it’s worth) in 1982. The first thing you’re probably thinking is “Ok, if this came out on CBS, why didn’t I see copies of it all over the place back then when metal imports were selling like hotcakes in the early ‘80’s?” Well, much like the exalted 1980 Brats LP (pre-Mercyful Fate, which saw issue on CBS as well), “major label” does not necessarily equal “large press.” In truth, while I don’t have exact numbers, it’s a fairly certain that this was one of those limited issues that the label never really got behind, was lost in the shuffle and probably got deleted quickly. Despite the great gatefold sleeve, the cover of the album provides a frustratingly meager amount of information. There are not even any band members listed! The following IS stated, however: “All songs written by A.M.B. Produced by GALLOWS POLE and R.S. Recorded at Workhouse Studios, London. Recording engineer: Laurie Latham.”

But what about the music itself, the very work that has made this record such a favourite of mine over the years since it’s arrival in my collection? Let’s take a tour. Side One starts with “I’m A Loser,” and the song certainly is not one either! Opening with an acoustic intro, the first thing that stands out is the singer’s voice. This guy does not have any kind of operatic, Geoff Tate-inspired tone. What he does possess, however, is just a killer mid-range, augmented by a rich European accent. Within seconds the band kicks in. The cut is sure as hell nothing complicated, merely comprised of straight-ahead chunky riffing. The lyrics tell a woe-be-gone story of being “drunk again” as the band powers through an immensely catchy 5 minutes, nicely appointed by some scorching albeit to-the-point lead guitar. We’re talking ‘70’s styled metal at it’s best. Up next is “Abyss.” This one begins in a totally doom-inflected manner, with the vocalist singing over a slow eerie riff. Lyrics about such things as the “banner with the sword” lend a very medieval feel to the proceedings and the band easily shifts back and forth between the aforementioned slow rhythm and an up-tempo one. The lead guitar work is burning in this 5 ½ minute classic. Make a careful note that when I say “burning” I don’t mean that in the sense of the “million notes a second” modern style. What I do mean is fewer but more meaningful notes, played with a passion and intensity that says a thousand words. “Whiskey” follows next. It’s a short one, at 3:13, but killer just the same, kind of a funk-metal riff with more great guitar work. Then, drawing Side One to a close is the awesome “Welcome Song.” Clocking in at 6:02, this is one of those magical ballads that, because of it’s atmospherics and deep, timeless feel is actually “heavier” than the hard-riffing cuts other bands produce. More intriguing lyrical themes dwell within this gem, delivered with pure feeling by a singer who’s talents seem to grow exponentially with every utterance. He’s like a lot of the great ‘70’s crooners who were not technically perfect but who made indelible marks the minute they opened their mouths.

The track that opens Side Two is not only the album’s tour de’ force but is, quite honestly, one of the greatest songs I have ever heard in my entire life. It makes me think of a description that Rudo Anvimeister, editor of the late/great ‘80’s metal zine Suck City used once when speaking about a big fave of his. Yes, “In Rock We Trust,” weighing in at 10:44 is an absolutely massive tree stump of genius. There it sits, a long, wide grizzled piece of art, sprawling half-way across Side Two, spreading twisted and gnarled roots into every area of pulverizing heaviness and melodic acoustic fare. I could try to break this number down into all it’s various components, going into detail about mellow sections, crushing riffdom, all the rhythm changes and so forth. However, I’ll boil it down to the “fist in the air” quotient, a stage that I am seldom taken to by things musical, especially these days. Somewhere around the halfway point, during which “I.R.W.T.” segues into one of it’s heavier riffs, the singer most forcefully intones “Hang ‘em from the highest tree, is all I’ve got to say!” As many times as I’ve heard this song, I cannot be present for this part without singing along, my fist pumping in the air. At 52 years old and with all the records/songs I’ve heard, it takes a lot to bring that out and this masterpiece has it in spades.

It would be a good guess that after a devastating presentation like “In Rock We Trust,” the rest of Side Two would probably come off like a humungous let-down. The truth is that while the remaining three cuts here are all short and to the point, they are all varied, interesting and great enough to supply a fittingly strong denouement. “Lonely Road” is the first to pick up the gauntlet laid down by it’s intimidating predecessor and it equals the charge by going in a totally different direction. This one is a short (2:51) hard rock boogie, driven on by it’s butt kicking guitar solo. The lead axe here reminds me a little of that by Andy Powell in Wishbone Ash’s “Blowin’ Free.” Following hot on it’s heels is “Only The Night,” a 3 ½ minute late ‘70’s styled goodie that could act as a sister song to Side One’s “Abyss.” Maybe not quite as doomy as the latter, it still displays a feel that is quite moody and heavy at once. The record is finally brought to a mighty conclusion with a pounding three minutes entitled “Memories.” The guitar soloing here is arguably the best on the record. In fact the point during the lead break where the backing rhythm changes from fast to grinding is one of those moments that raises the goose bumps every time. It’s a physiological effect that’s hastened on additionally by another frighteningly powerful vocal performance.

In summary, GALLOWS POLE’s “In Rock We Trust” is just “one of those albums.” Truthfully, it’s somewhat difficult to present a clear and fair description of it in the context of a review for one very good reason. You may have noticed that, throughout the course of my write-up, I didn’t give many comparisons to other bands or albums. It’s for the simple reason that I really can’t think of that many and that is about the highest compliment you can pay to any record – originality. In fact, creating music that is straight-forward enough in structure to be memorable, yet still highly unique may be the most difficult thing to do of all. GALLOWS POLE managed to do this in 1982 at the highest level of their art. The record is absolutely, completely and utterly indispensible for any hard rock and/or metal fan! Pole Axed Out And Burnt

NOTE: Of note is the fact that, during the period of 1989-2008, various line-ups of GALLOWS POLE produced 3 more albums, each of which was decent but nothing on the level of “In Rock We Trust.” However, the greater news is that 2010 is seeing the release of a brand new record, “Revolution,” which has reportedly brought back the style of the masterpiece above. If that’s the case, it would be awesome and I’m waiting for a copy of this with baited breath.

See what GALLOWS POLE has available for your purchase at:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Blindside...NOT The Movie

BLINDSIDE BLUES BAND – “Raised On Rock” CD ’10 (Grooveyard, US) – There was a problem that I had as a teenager which I will now briefly discuss. It developed shortly after I began attempting to play guitar and continued on for quite a time. The gist of the issue was the fact that I wanted to be Leslie West. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was of a slight build back then and any effort I would have made to actually look like The Great Fatsby would’ve involved eating an entire additional human being. No, I wanted to play guitar like him and so, long summer afternoons were spent in my bedroom, studying a bootleg 8-track tape of “Flowers Of Evil” that I’d bought at Ocean City for $ 2. I hung on every squawking false harmonic, every blistering distorted rhythm, every bluesy lick and tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to emulate them. A shocking time came for me when Mountain fragmented in the early ‘70’s. Leslie & Corky Laing (drums) hooked up with ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce and I bought their ’72 debut “Why Dontcha” with some trepidation in Pappalardi’s absence. The trepidation vanished when I heard what would become one of my favourite tracks of all time, the monstrous “Love Is Worth The Blues.” It was a seething, heavy slow-paced crusher that, in truth, borrowed heavily from The Stones’ “Play With Fire” (enough that WBL would later do the song live using Mick’s lyrics). It’s caustic riff would also burst forth from my own guitar more than any other during 1972.

And so, that brings us to the BLINDSIDE BLUES BAND. You see, a quick gander at their new disc “Raised On Rock” will yield the knowledge that sitting at Track # 10 position is none other than a cover of “Love Is Worth The Blues.” What this does is instantly make me a fan of Mike Onesko (guitar, vocals and mastermind of this unit). Let’s just say that “L.I.W.T.B.” is not going to show up in the all-time top 10 of most-covered rock songs. Therefore, the fact that this cat understands what a motherfriggin’ beast it is made me want to buy a t-shirt with his visage emblazoned on the front before I even heard the record. But, I did put the CD in and instantly got my ass kicked by the title track. Ironically, the spectre of things Stone-ish raises it's head pronto with the “Can You Hear Me Knockin’” slide intro…and we’re off to the races. “Night Train” follows right behind with a mean, almost Montrose-kinda riff. Tasty lead fills abound all over the place, highlighting the powerful mid-range vocals belted out by Mr. Onesko. The dueling lead breaks by he and co-six-string conspirator Scott Johnson are lethal and Emery Ceo (drums) & Kier Staeheli (bass) are Church/Carmassi-solid. Listen to the section where they step to the fore around 3:39. That’s tight, bro! Through 12 cuts here the quartet builds on a solid blues base but mixes things up so as to produce a widely varied and immensely entertaining butt-kick of a listen. Check out the rambunctious & scorching “Bury The Axe.” Holy shit, Mike & Scott are ripping here. How ‘bout the grueling “War In The Streets” or “Take You Down,” where I’m hearing more vintage Montrose-styled riffing again. Still I can’t stop jamming on the 17+ minute climax of “Born With The Blues” (the guitarists both HAD to need treatment for friction burns after this one!) and the aforementioned “Love Is Worth The Blues.” Maybe I’ll get out my guitar again, cause after hearing this one, I think I want to be Mike Onesko…at least I won’t have to eat as much. Raised On Leslie

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grand Halls 43

HELLTRAIN – “Rock ‘N’ Roll Devil” CD ’08 (Jimmy Franks, Swe) – What is it about some things? I knew a guy from New Orleans, ya know, it wasn’t Drew Brees or anything, but it was this dude and he seemed to have some kinda backwater, Cajun vibe. He told me “Ray, some things is just what they is. They’s got more than dem other things, yup?” That ain’t no double talk, honcho, that’s real and I know exactly what he meant. Some things almost take on a life of their own and this CD by Sweden’s HELLTRAIN is one of ‘em. Some of it involves Ray being a fucking idiot but then again, a lot of things involve that so pull up a chair, sit down and grab a brew. We’re gonna have us some fun tonight.

Sometime in the late spring of 2009, me, myself and a guy called I made one of our few pilgrimages to The Sound Garden in Fells Point, MD. Now don’t get me wrong. I love The Sound Garden but it’s not that close to where I live, the parking can be iffy if you can’t get on the lot and I have to set aside a good 2 or 3 hours when I go so I can look thru everything. Music-aholic here, you understand. I’m addicted to music-ahol. Ok, what-the-fuck-ever. Thing is, I’m in there, hunkering down over the “Metal” section. I can go fast, too, flipping CD’s like a demon and still seeing every one. But now I’m stopping and looking at this one: HELLTRAIN. Anything with “hell” in it is usually worth a 2nd look, right? Red & black, that’s their color scheme. And a picture of a goat! Goats are always cool, aren’t they? Just ask Cronos. So, I do the logical thing and…keep right on going and forget about HELLTRAIN. Next thing you know, I’m driving home and thinking to myself, “I read about that HELLTRAIN band somewhere…” So, the months roll on, the summer comes and goes, then there’s autumn with it’s chill in the air & swirling leaves…and another trip to The Sound Garden. Damn if I’m not brought up short by that same disc again and…damn if I don’t keep right on going again, this time picking up a few things from the “Psych” section, etc. “Gotta keep that HELLTRAIN in mind, though” I think. Now we flash forward to current times. I’m trolling around the net and suddenly find myself staring into the unblinking eye of a review of HELLTRAIN’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Devil” on my buddy Racer’s Ripple Effect. THAT was where I’d seen that review and, dang but I must’ve had my thumb up my ass and all the way to my brain the first time I read it or I’d’ve had the sense to buy this sumbitch by now.

So, no problem, right? Now I know that daggone CD is good, I’ll just call Traders (about 10 miles closer to my house), see if they have a copy, put it on hold and grab it over the weekend. Um…one problem. I call over there and find out that “we don’t even think we can order that anymore.” Shit! All the sudden, it doesn’t seem to matter that I need to take a check to our tax people in Towson by 2:00 PM. All the sudden, it doesn’t matter that I have to pick up my son from school in Essex at 1:30. All the sudden, it doesn’t matter that the new High On Fire came out today and Best Buy has it for $ 7.99. Well, it does matter about the HOF, but that’ll be there…all 1,000 copies that BB Sales Associate Brittany just put up on the rack. Now, Ray is a man on a mission. I’ve been briefed! I’ve yet to even hear one note of HELLTRAIN’s repertoire but Racer has spoken. I’m convinced that the only copy of this fucking CD anywhere near my gnarled clutches is sitting on a shelf in Fells Point, MD and even as I speak, some clueless dolt is about to pick it up and buy it as a First Communion gift for his girlfriend’s nephew. I race back to the computer, desperate, and check Amazon. “Currently unavailable.” I look at my watch. I eye the door and my van in the driveway, teetering as it is without an exhaust system, ready to break down and riding on tires with the cords showing. “Why the hell not?!” I yell and race to the helm, armed with the knowledge that if I get every green light, watch for every cop, that I can make it down there, save this disc from a horrible fate of being bought by a non-deserving “layman” and still make my afternoon appointments by the skin of my pathetic ass.

Of course, you know the outcome, right? I made it. I FUCKING MADE IT!!! I got the CD, got home that night, threw it in the Realm-O-Matic and…fell fast asleep, exhausted from driving about 200 miles in an hour and a half in a minivan belching smoke and rubber. Now, it’s one night later and I’m awake…wide awake. I press “Play” and all is right with the world. HELLTRAIN don’t so much as come rawking out of the earbuds, they more so take a rusty dagger and plunge it into my ear canals, grinning like undertakers as they do. Pardon me while I digress, but have I ever told you about my dog? He’s a mixed breed, part Border Collie, part Shepherd, part…oh sod it, he’s just a dog and his name’s Kalle Metz. That is, he’s named after the original voice of one of Sweden’s greatest bands (and one of my all-time faves), Tenebre. My friends, the singer for HELLTRAIN sounds like Kalle Metz if he gargled rusty screws that fell out of the carburetor of an old Studebaker. The guitarists have all the subtlety of desperate men wielding chainsaws at a Baptist revival and the rhythm section play as though this is what keeps them from murdering on a regular basis. But you know what’s most amazing? From the title cut on, these 10 songs have all the melody and catchiness of the most engaging pop song you’ve ever heard. Taking a recipe of whiskey-soaked rawk, pouring a fifth of death metal all over it and then dousing it with a liberal dose of rock-a-billy hot sauce, HELLTRAIN have made THE best record of 2008 that I never even heard that year. From the very first knuckle-busting downstroke of that title song, through the gloriously-titled “Great Halls Of Fire,” coming down the homestretch with “I Am The Misfit” and finally slamming into the wall in a hail of broken glass, amps cranked to 11 and flames from a sonic meth lab explosion, this is pure genius. I guess I’ll pick up that High On Fire disc someday. A Real Rock & Roll Train, Angus
NOTE: Look at these guys’ myspace address below…Jesus, is that great or what?!

Irritation Factory

FEAR FACTORY – “Mechanize” CD ’10 (Candlelight, US) – I’ll be the first to admit that I have very little history with FEAR FACTORY. In fact, it would not be incorrect to say that I knew nothing about them before hearing this disc. The descriptions I’d heard of them being very clinical, technical and well, yes, “mechanized” sounding had done little to inspire my interest. And so, finally 2010 has come along. I happened to read a pre-release review of this one and, learning that the band’s original guitarist had returned to the fold for what was to be a “real return to form” I suddenly had the urge to part with $ 9.99 at Best Buy and bought this. To this date, after 3 listens, I am convinced that I actually must’ve been confused, shuffled into The Home Depot and purchased some sort of power tool. “Mechanize” is, without question, one of the most aptly titled records I have ever heard in my entire life. From pillar to post I do not hear one note, one single iota of sound that indicates it has been produced by human beings. Every single song sounds so cold, emotionless and sucked dry of feeling that regardless of how “heavy” it is, it is completely devoid of impact except to be massively irritating. I defy anyone to sit and listen to this damn thing all the way through and then tell me truthfully that they enjoyed what they heard. Damn, Gene Hoglan (drums) was a god in Dark Angel and I absolutely loved “Darkness Descends.” And yet here…Christ, he is probably the most annoying thing of all, his ridiculously stupid drum histrionics sounding more like someone running a riveting machine than playing a musical instrument. If you like this band, for whatever reason, I’m sorry to have burst your bubble but after taking a chance and spending $ 10 on this unmitigated piece of shit I felt like I needed to get this off my chest. Can’t See Their Error

Monday, February 22, 2010

Grand Halls 42

XCURSION – “Ready To Roll” 1984 (Rampage, US) – First of all, I have to preface this by saying that this is one of the odder rarities that has come my way over the years, but also surely a great one. If I said the name “Mark Slaughter” to you, what would come to mind? Probably the commercially-oriented hard rock band he fronted during the late ‘80’s who made quite a splash on MTV, right? So you’re saying “How does that fit in with the usual Grand Halls fare, Ray? What’s coming next, reviews of White Lion & Poison records?” My answer would be, if anybody in those bands has something like this hanging in their closet, I’ll sure as hell write about it too! Actually, XCURSION made their vinyl debut in 1983 with a self-titled EP (on the Rampage imprint) that was issued in a limited edition red wax format. The band includes: Mark Slaughter – guitar, vocals; Rex Rumley – bass, backing vocals; Anthony White – drums, vocals. The EP is composed of 4 cuts that are ok ‘80’s metal, nothing to write home about, with kind of a light guitar sound. It’s now still fairly common, going for small numbers in catalogs. I wouldn’t spend $20 or anything, but if you see it for a few bucks, it’s probably worth it for a cut like “Mouthful Of Steel.”

XCURSION went on, however, to issue the full-length album “Ready To Roll” in 1984 (once again on this Rampage label). The cover photo here is quite interesting in that it shows the band (same 3 guys) looking quite the prettied-up rock stars, in white suits and piles of hairspray. In fact, you’d probably be expecting the 2nd coming of Angel but there are no keyboards here. The title cut gets things going with some up-tempo riffing, plenty of melody and a chorus that reminds me of a bit more mellow version of Riot’s “Hot For Love.” The backing vocals here and throughout the album, pop-like mingled with hard rock guitar, remind me a lot of some of the vintage Sweet material, something I instantly like. “Until We Meet Again” is one of the only 2 real “commercial” cuts on offer, a bit rock-&-roll-ish but with quite a heavy pre-chorus riff. With “Too Fast,” however, all hell breaks loose! This is ripping power metal at it’s best, fast motorized riffing and a totally shredding lead guitar solo that kicks major butt. It’s amazing to know that this is Mark Slaughter, playing metal guitar like a madman…apparently most people only knew one side of this guy! “Over The Edge” continues this break-neck power assault with more scalding riffs and leads. Think back to Sweet cuts like “Sweet F.A.” and the like! Cool as hell. Side One comes to a close with “Ladies Of The Night,” kind of a cross between mid-period Priest and Starz around “Violation.” Slaughter goes off big time on the solo here and the bass work is not far behind.

Side Two of “Ready To Roll” opens with “Never Again.” It starts with a deceptive acoustic ballad-style intro then turns into an excellent melodic power metal gem. Next, XCURSION opens up the jets again and kicks into another butt-kicker, “Tear It Down.” Fast and furious, you look at the album cover again, then listen to this song and say “What the hell?!” “Solid As A Rock” is easily the most commercial song on the record and it’s kinda obvious that it, along with “Until We Meet…” were aimed at possible airplay. Not bad, just not killer. “Mind Over Matter,” however, is killer!!! This is my favourite cut on the album. It starts as a mid-paced chunker with a super catchy chorus, then midway it erupts into a hell-bent fast paced rhythm over which Slaughter lays down a completely wicked, ear-splitting guitar solo. At the end of his finger-frying run, the rhythm kicks back into the mid-paced grind and Mark continues to wail for awhile longer, proving just what an unknown fretsman he was. “Ridin’ High” brings the record to close and it reminds me of what it would’ve sounded like if Sweet had done a version of Priest’s “Steeler.” Really great stuff, I love it!

All in all, I must be honest in saying that if all you love is doom or death metal, this album is probably not going to be your cup of sunshine. But if you’re like me and love melodic power metal (among many other things, which is why I’m fucking broke!) XCURSION’s “Ready To Roll” is a real treat. Of course, as you might expect, this record is super rare and you can figure on paying in 3 figures for an original copy. On the other hand, there have been at least a couple re-issues (legitimate or not) that can be tracked down cheaper or, think about it this way: you could go out and buy 15 or 20 current-day CD’s and, in a lot of cases, have nothing but a pile of worthless plastic in your hands, know what I mean. High Roller, Baby, She Is

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Power Soak

MOUNTAIN OF POWER – “Volume Two” CD ’10 (Grooveyard, Swe) – “My mind rolls back the years, long time ago.” These were the words sung by Steve Walsh on Kansas’ plundering “Lonely Street” from 1975’s “Song For America” and they come to mind when thinking about this 2nd disc from MOUNTAIN OF POWER. Wanna know why? Wow, I thought you’d never ask! See, back in the mists of time…let’s say the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s…I used to get together with the ol’ posse…Andre’, Doug & Dan…after a hard day of work in the record store. That day would typically have included eating a couple large pizzas, drinking 3 large Cokes and maybe 6 beers and trying to chat up the tight-jeaned, halter-top-wearing female metal fans who would wander in. Having been suitably exhausted by such a trying day, I’d ring up the other 3 musketeers and we’d go out cruising in the ’79 Malibu. Our search was simple: good-looking women and better-sounding music. We rarely found the former. Or should I say, we found them but they ignored us. Of course, when you consider the fact that we looked like a motley collection of a male version of Tracey Chapman, Dave Holland, the keyboardist from Quarterflash and some bit actor from an Italian western, it was no wonder. We did, on the other hand, occasionally find the latter. It came in haunts with names like The Seagull Inn, The Sandbar or Mack & Myers and took the form of bands like Deceiver, Rockit and Attack. These groups would man the boards with set-lists that included the heavy rock fare of the day, songs like “Hell Bent For Leather,” “Three Mile Smile” and “Highway To Hell.” What upped the ante was that every so often, once or twice a set, they’d reach back into what seemed like Ray’s own magic juke box and pull out a more obscure gem that would flatten our asses. Just knowing it was possible to witness the brilliant performance of an underground classic like Saxon’s “Dallas 1 P.M.” or Montrose’s “I Don’t Want It” was enough to keep our rapt attention. On the drive home, then, we’d relish those moments and then wonder what it would be like to find a cover band who did full sets of such wondrous non-mainstream crushdom. It’s now 2010 and MOUNTAIN OF POWER has risen to complete our Marshall-driven fantasy.

It’s not really fair to say that MOUNTAIN OF POWER has just shown up in 2010 as their eponymous disc hit the streets 4 years ago. Still, with this 2nd installment, the mountain is rising to epic proportions. MOP has it’s foundation in Janne Stark (guitar & bass) and TrumPeter Svensson (drums). Savvy rawkers will recognize Stark’s name from his tenures in brilliant bands like Overdrive & Locomotive Breath where his scalding guitar work has presided over albums like “Swords & Axes” and “Change Of Track.” Svensson also has served in Loco Breath, besides killing the skins in ‘80’s doom kings Mercy, Faith and a host of other drum summits. Along with James Collins (drums on 3 tracks here), the MOUNTAIN also brings to the table the talents of a host of guitarists & singers that read like a who’s-who of the heavy rawk elite. Crooners who lay down the business involve names like: Paul Shortino, Jarrod England, Martin J. Andersen and David Fremberg, among others. Some of the axe slingers who join Stark in solo frenzy include luminaries such as: Craig Erickson, Joe Romagnola, Ty Tabor & Clas Yngstrom. You’re getting the idea already, right? To quote David Byrne, this ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.

See folks, if just the axe-ripping, lung-busting line-up isn’t enough to send you scurrying for your wallet, wait until you take a gander at the list of bludgeon riffola these cats are rolling out as ambrosia for your kick-ass ears. Sure, some will be more apparent than others, especially to those who haven’t plied the deep underground. Sammy Hagar’s “Urban Guerilla” and the medleys of UFO’s “Reasons Love” / “This Kids” and Pat Travers’ “Makin’ Magic / Makes No Difference” probably bent the FM airwaves a time or 2 back in those late ‘70’s. The real joy for me, however, comes in the lesser-known stuff, handled with such wonderful care here by Stark and Co. “Checkin’ It Out / Sister Madness” by Ozz, Trigger’s “Deadly Weapon” and Uli Jon Roth’s “Indian Dawn.” Are you kidding me, this is fucking awesome! Add to that the phenomenal 11+ minute version of Blackfoot’s Southern opus “I Stand Alone” (the true father of “Highway Song”) that ends this disc and you have a hard rock collector like me in an orgasmic state that could barely be equaled by finding Jill Hennessy in my bed. (Easy, Jennifer, as Aldo Nova would say “Just a fantasy!”). Now of course, the musicianship is top-drawer, the vocals are brilliant throughout and the lead guitar work is something that would beat the word devastating like a red-headed stepchild. Still, the thing that makes this record such a positive joy to listen to time and time again is the way the songs are treated with such immense respect. Through every chord, every note you know that these guys feel the tunes and relate to them and their history with every fiber of their being. Listen to Yngstrom’s lyrical little slide at the beginning of the ZZ’s “Bedroom Thing.” Check out the way Stark & Erickson (among others) speak conversationally with their leads at the end of “I Stand Alone.” This is the pinnacle of obscure hard rock, written by the masters and played by the masters who have not only followed them but understood fully and taken the baton with the utmost reverence…and the desire to kick ass. Funny, but my only regret is that MOUNTAIN OF POWER didn’t lay down the business a lot earlier than they did. Instead of making all those mixed tapes for the car those nights I could’ve just brought “Volume Two” along for the ride. Then I’d’ve had more chance to chat up that blonde from the liquor store. Mountain Climbing
NOTE: Make sure you don’t pass up MOP’s debut release either, featuring some massive takes on cuts by bands you know like Budgie & Mountain not to mention some you may not (but should) like Marcus and Goddo!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Grand Halls 41

FLATBACKER – “Senso” ’85 (Invitation, Jap) – If you’ve heard the mid-period Japanese Loudness CD’s like “Engine” & “Ghetto Machine,” you’ve heard “The Voice.” Find this baby and hear where he came from! “The Voice” is that of Masaki Yamada, easily one of the greatest metal vocalists of all-time. Like a twisted cross between early Klaus Meine and Udo Dirkschneider in his glory days, this guy combines power and emotion in one awesome package. FLATBACKER was Masaki’s band (before his tenure in Loudness and even before his American debut in E-Z-O, who were also quite good) and there was quite a wallop to them, even besides the man’s killer pipes. From the Motorhead-ish “Hard Blow” (sounds either great or painful, depending!) to the grueling “Banishment” to the Sortilege-like “Camouflage,” these Easterners kicked it. The overall sound is very much that of early ‘80’s Euro-metal and, for that reason alone it’s a winner in my book. On CD from Japan, this should be on the want-list of anyone into bands like H-Bomb, “Restless”-era Accept and yes, early Loudness. FLATBACKER’s 2nd effort, “Esa” is available also and equally kick-ass, so buy, buy, buy! Smoke This Senso

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Watch Your Mailbox

Well, as we spoke about below, 2009 is now in the rearview mirror and we've completed yet another edition of Rays Top 10 Albums and, most importantly, the Reader's Top 10 Albums of the year. As you'll remember, all of you who were so kind as to send in your Top 10's along with your mailing addresses will soon be receiving from me a special "gift" in the mail. This is to thank you all for your participation and interest as well as to spread the word of The Realm and, more importantly to get some exposure for music that may not otherwise receive it. Bear with me for a short time while I get these together and then keep an eye on the old mailbox for your's soon!

Friday, February 5, 2010


You know what is tremendous fun to me? Having my wife walk in and say, “You know, The Rock came into my work today and asked me out to lunch. But I told him I was married and that my husband is a lot better looking than him anyway. And by the way, I brought us home Ruth’s Chris steaks for dinner and, instead of getting my nails done after work I stopped by Traders and dug through all the bins to find you this copy of BTO’s ‘Street Action’ on CD.” That’s tremendous fun, right there, when that happens. But you know what else is? It’s when I realize I’m into a whole lot of different really good music and can reach into a bunch of different genres to get my jollies. Such is the fun I had when I found out the new OSIBISA album “Osee Yee” is as good as their old stuff. I was turned on, originally, to African music in general & OSIBISA in particular by my old buddy Andre’, and when he told me the latest one was more than a nod to the past, I was there. Brother let me tell you, he was right. The songs all have that insistent rhythmical structure that just makes you wanna jump out of your seat and git-down and the musicianship is right up there with the best, just like Santana did in back in “the day.” It was after grooving heavily on this, one of my favourite albums of 2009, that I decided to contact sax wizard Teddy Osei and get his take on the band, their past, present and future. Teddy proved to be a man of direct words and spirit, so let’s see how it went.

RAY - I’m going to play dumb here. Because, when it comes to the history of OSIBISA, I guess I really am! Am I correct that you’re originally from Africa and then moved to England? Could you give me a little background on yourself as well as how it all led to the formation of the band. Also, what is the origin of the name OSIBISA?

TEDDY – I’m originally from Ghana / West Africa. And so is Sol Amarfio (drums) and Mac Tontoh (trumpet). I was born in Kumasi (the garden city of Ghana). My interest in music started at an early age in school. In my late teens, I formed a highlife band (Comets). Comets recorded several highlife music hits from 1959 to 1962. Then I went to London, UK. I started working on fusion music with Sol and Mac, mixing highlife, jazz, rock, R&B and we were joined by 3 Caribbean musicians: Spartacus R., Wendell Richardson and Robert Bailey and then added Lasisi Amao (from Nigeria). The origin of the name OSIBISA is from Akan rhythm and a song, a tribe in Ghana… OSIBISABA.

RAY - I was turned on to the first 2 OSIBISA albums by a friend of mine and loved not only the songs but also the Santana-esque feel to some of it. Were Carlos & company an influence on you? Maybe you were an influence on them? Who are some of your influences from the past and who do you think is doing interesting music these days?

TEDDY – It’s really magical that SANTANA (US) and OSIBISA (UK) took the world music by storm at the same time. A lot of influences from jazz and rock musos plus the highlife greats.

RAY - For whatever reason, probably just my own stupidity (!) I lost track of OSIBISA for quite a long time. So, when I saw “Osee Yee” in the store earlier this year, it was like meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. When I heard the disc, it sounded right in step with those first few albums. How do you see the progression of OSIBISA over the years? Do you feel that “Osee Yee” is a return to an older style, as some have called it?

TEDDY – “Osee Yee” is a continuation of the OSIBISOUNDS and more into world music as it’s originators.

RAY - Of it’s 14 tracks, 11 are originals. What can you tell us about the 3 that aren’t? (The 2 traditional pieces you arranged and the George Harrison cover, “My Sweet Lord.”) What made you choose those? What do you think an artist should bring to someone else’s song to make doing their own version worthwhile?

TEDDY – The traditional pieces are arranged as musical styles from Ghana. I have always loved the song “My Sweet Lord,” by George Harrison. As far as a cover goes, an artist should bring his own feel to someone’s music, to make a difference.

RAY - The songwriting credits on the originals show participation by many different people in the band besides yourself. How does it work? Is everyone free to contribute and then you pull all the ideas, including your own, together?

TEDDY – Everyone is free to contribute to the song writing. Then, it is all put together.

RAY - On of the things I love about OSIBISA is that while there is a wide variety of music, from laid back & melodic to extremely high-energy, there is such an overwhelmingly positive feeling all round. Do you feel that’s important in music? Why?

TEDDY – You really have to feel positive and love the music you are doing. That’s the best way your listener will enjoy the music.

RAY - Pick 3 of the originals from “Osee Yee” and tell us something about their lyrical themes. That is, if you don’t mind. I have met some songwriters who don’t like to explain their lyrics.

TEDDY – “Life Time.” You see, time waits for no one. “Osee Yee.” This is the Akan Dialect. It is the jubilation of a successful encounter. “Ayioko.” Well-done, the power and energy of the music to make you think of The Motherland.

RAY - I understand you guys have played with a lot of artists like Stevie Wonder and The Stones, to name a few. Who stood out as making the most unique impression musically?

TEDDY – Musically, I would say Stevie Wonder. He is an all-round music-man. He jammed with OSIBISA playing drums at a London college gig in 1970 and on keyboards at FESTAC in Lagos in 1977.

RAY - What kind of touring has OSIBISA done recently, in support of “Osee Yee?” Any chance of you guys ever getting to the Baltimore Maryland area? Is there a lot of opportunity for you guys to play in Africa?

TEDDY – In support of “The Best Of” and “Osee Yee,” OSIBISA did a tour of India in late 2009. This year we will start with a launch party of the 2 albums on February 27, 2010 at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and follow-up festivals in Germany. OSIBISA would like to have a show in Baltimore because the last time was in the ‘70’s. There are lots of opportunities for the band to play in Africa. African countries we’ve played in are: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Gabon, South Africa, Senegal, Liberia and more.

RAY - Have you been able to make a living with OSIBISA or do you do other things to supplement your income as well?

TEDDY – My source of income is OSIBISA… live performances, performing, song writing and music publishing (Osibisounds Ltd.)

RAY - Big halls and crowds or small, intimate venue? What do you prefer as a performer and why?

TEDDY – For performances, I actually don’t have a preference, big halls or small…just to make the people happy.

RAY - What’s next for OSIBISA? Any new recordings on the agenda?

TEDDY – Let’s see how this new one goes. And see what the good Lord brings. OSIBISA FORWARD EVER.

I really love hearing the kind of focused, driven vision a guy like Teddy has for his music and his band that’s been treading the boards and working the studio for this long, having rubbed shoulders with people like Stevie W & The Stones and who is a contemporary of Carlos Santana. Believe me, you need to do yourself a favour and if you’ve never heard OSIBISA, go out tomorrow and buy the new album “Osee Yee,” the new “Best Of” and while you’re at it, the re-issued first 2 albums. Chances are, you’ll fall in love with a whole new genre of music. That’s tremendous fun!

Thanks For The Reader's Poll Response!

Well, as you can see, below are my choices for the Top 10 albums of 2009 and below them are the results of the lists you guys & gals sent in. Once again, as with each year, we've gained new readers and a bigger response to the poll. It's really encouraging to see and it's the kind of thing that makes me want to continue this. Of course, one thing I would definitely like to see more of, as we begin moving through the early months of a new year, is more commentary and interaction during the year. Agree with a review? Disagree? Use the "comment" feature after every entry. Have a hot tip on a band / artist you think would benefit from being reviewed on Raysrealm? Let me know. Anything and everything is fair game. Use the "followers" section at the top right to become a follower of Raysrealm. Tell more people about the site and encourage them to read and get involved. Here's hoping that 2010 will be another year of excellent music, shows and conversation. Let's RAWK!!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ray's Top 10 of 2009 Revealed!

1. COLOSSUS – “Drunk On Blood” – A little over a year and a half ago, North Carolina’s COLOSSUS came flying out of Chapel Hill with a debut album that rocketed to #4 on the Raysrealm Top 10 of 2008. There were songs that hinted at the best of Mercyful Fate and Maiden. The vocals called to mind “Stained Class.” The lyrics spoke of a world of gnashing teeth, blood-ridden demons &…well, yes, “Ghost Fuckers.” And then, there were those guitars. 3 of them. They rode in together like the Dalton gang, sporting swaggering riffs, dizzying Lizzy-like harmonies and solos that are dreamed of where names like Downing, Tipton, Smith & Murray may even fear to tread. Then, this year, COLOSSUS went ahead and recorded 5 songs that even snowed that shit under. And they put it out on vinyl, yet. Case closed.

2. THE GRAVIATORS – “The Graviators” – Holy shit, this album kicks ass! Really, that’s my reaction every time I hear this relatively late entry that bulled it’s way up my 2009 list. See, THE GRAVIATORS have 3 things going for them: 1) While heavy as a rhino’s ballsack, they still throw a chockblock of melody into every song. 2) They plant surprises in just the right spots, from the Sir Lord Baltimore-style coda of “Keep ‘Em Coming” to the “Dreams Of Milk & Honey” style solo at the end of 9-minute epic “Planet Gone.” 3) They have an awesome, killer maniac guitarist who rips like a total axe God. This album is everything Sabbath’s “Devil You Know” piece of shit wasn’t.

3. THE MISHAPS – “The Mishaps” – How about treating yourselves to a combination of The Hellacopters and Blue Oyster Cult? Crazy, you say? Not so much, when all you’ve gotta do is throw in this little disc from my hometown’s (that’s Baltimore to you, honcho!) very own THE MISHAPS. Part of the gig of the year (them paired with Colossus at The Golden West CafĂ© in July), this band comes on with a hard rawkin’ sense of melody, not to mention a clever sense of humor and the panache to package this as a LP/CD combo. What a deal!

4. MORGLBL – “Jazz For The Deaf” – A recommendation from my bowling buddy Rick & Roll (The Rickter Scale show on Delicious Agony Radio), I was told their guitarist worshipped Dimebag & Coltrane in equal parts. Having to see / hear this for myself, I trundled out to see this trio at Orion Studios earlier in the year and after picking my jaw back up off the floor, I proceeded to buy not only this one but their entire back catalog. Oh yeah, I got a t-shirt too so either I’m a sucker or they’re really good. Hint: I only suck female parts and there’s no girls in this band.

5. CORY CASE – “Waiting On A Remedy” – When I used to sit up in that stifling bedroom on those long August afternoons and plunk out sour chords and reedy solos on my 4-pick-up (yes, 4!!!) Lafayette Electronics guitar, I was trying to be Leslie West. Or Mark Farner. Or Tony Iommi. Point is, I wasn’t about emulating the subtle crowd. Louder was better. Accept when I’d have a go at a couple of Jim Croce’s gems like “I’ve Got A Name” or “Time In A Bottle.” See, even for a true-blue rawker like me, there was something fresh and brutally honest about the late Mr. Croce’s soul-bearing laments. Such a shame that he was taken so young, and his loss left a gaping hole in the singer-songwriter camp that never was filled. Until now. CORY CASE has a wonderful gift and I’ve played this album enough times to know that.

6. OSIBISA – “Osee Yee” – I remember one day when I was a kid riding my bike back Dale Avenue and I passed a guy carrying a copy of the Carlos Santana / Buddy Miles “Live” album that had just come out. I remember how bad-assed-looking the cover was and thinking Santana looked like a long-haired version of my favourite ball player, Frank Robinson. I also wondered if anybody else had ever taken music from their own culture and made it groove like a bitch the way Carlos did. A few trips to the record store later and Africa’s OSIBISA had answered my question. Now it’s nearly 40 years later and they’ve released their best album since 1971. Frank Robinson hit 28 home runs that year.

7. RIPPER – “The Dead Have Rizen” – Having blithely walked past RIPPER’s “And The Dead Shall Rise” LP in 1986 with all the streetwise savvy of a rock, Ray actually finally got his act together one day. Suffice it to say, this miraculous happening wasn’t greeted by God mixing up the red matter and ending it all in shock, but he did settle for sending the Realmsman a few more brain cells on down. He rested and Ray, lo and behold recognized the long-awaited 2nd RIPPER album as the metal-banging motherfucker that it is and wrote a suitably kick-ass review about it that appears early on in 2009’s entries. And, all was good.

8. THE CHURCH – “Untitled # 23” – If I were a good liar I’d say, “Yeah man, I’m a big CHURCH fan, man, got all the unreleased stuff, a couple box sets…hey how ‘bout that show from Brisbane ’95 that’s been circulating, eh?” But the problem is I learned not to lie in my sophomore year of high school. That was when I failed 3 subjects, forged my parents signatures on the report card and…got caught within a week. So, I’ll come clean. I didn’t know diddlysquat about THE CHURCH until Bowling Rick asked me to go see ‘em live earlier this year. After being mesmerized by (for me, live performer of the year) Steve Kilbey, I immediately bought this and played it 10,000 times. If Wishbone Ash, Radiohead and David Gilmour had a baby, it might grow up like this.

9. ANVIL CHORUS – “The Killing Sun” – Back in the heyday of San Francisco’s thrash metal scene, clubs like The Old Waldorf and The Mabuhay Gardens were the stomping grounds of young whippersnappers like Metallica & Exodus. These guys discovered that if you combined the aggression of attacking the low e-string on your guitar like a rabid mongoose with the catchiness found in UFO & Diamond Head, you had the DNA of an exciting new genre. Funny thing was, ANVIL CHORUS was trodding the same boards but with a much different tactic… super-melodic, progressively structured songs, well-crooned vocals and guitar and keyboard work that would give Rush reason to question themselves. Sad fact of the matter was, the band never got anywhere and left the legacy of a couple massive demo tapes as their epitaph. Well, justice is sometimes served and in 2009, this slumbering giant awoke and recorded those songs again, this time in the form of an album that’s a blinder from start to finish.

10. ADMIRAL OF BLACK – “The Hand Of Chaos” – Thanks to the good people over at, this one bites the Top 10 hard at the last minute and just won’t let go. One of those rare near-perfect balances between hard rock & metal, Chicago’s ADMIRAL OF BLACK also finds a beautiful balance between in-your-face Panteraggressions and haunting pensive moments that would have Pearl Jam running jealous. You may also want to get the hell out of Dodge if you have any aversion to bad-assed guitar playing, because the solos here are nothing short of brutal. Check out the way their axe man let’s it rip so deftly over the rhythm changes, something the old guys used to do. Beards, long hair & Flying V’s rule!

RAYSREALM Readers' Poll For 2009 Revealed!

1. ASTRA – “The Weirding” – This year, you guys dipped into the NWOPR (New Wave Of Prog Rock?) to select the debut from California band ASTRA as 2009’s top pick. What we have here are a bunch of young guys who are not afraid to take the word “Prog” to it’s extremes: long and involved song structures plus extended soloing and organic interwoven musicianship. It’s all fused together by a warm, analog-style production that brings about visions of 1971 without sounding dated, dusty or irrelevant. While a million guys take the Drek Theater route to Chop City, ASTRA prove there’s more to being progressive than winning the notes-per-second sweepstakes. Surprisingly heavy guitars are the icing on the cake of a release that surely hit my Top 20. Nice choice, people!

2. SIENA ROOT – “Different Realities”

3. COUNT RAVEN – “Mammon’s War”

4. ELECTRIC MARY – “Down To The Bone”

5. GOV’T MULE – “By A Thread”

6. BLACK BONZO – “Guillotine Drama”

7. ANVIL CHORUS – “The Killing Sun”

8. ARGUS – “Argus”

9. SLOUGH FEG – “Ape Uprising”

10. LITMUS – “Aurora”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Grand Halls 40

ALBERTA CROSS – “The Thief & The Heartbreaker” CD ’07 (Geffen, US) – Having recently acquired the new, 2nd CD from New York band ALBERTA CROSS it might seem the most apt thing for me to get reviewing that one post haste. But you know what? Doing the most apt thing has never been a prerequisite here at The Realm and so I’ve decided to take a different tack. Let’s rewind then to two year’s prior and 2007’s EP, “The Thief & The Heartbreaker.” It sees the band composed of: Petter Ericson Stakee – vocals, guitar, Rhodes, piano & percussion; Terry Wolfers – bass, vocals, piano & percussion; John Alexander Ericson – organ, Rhodes & vocals; Sebastian Sternberg – drums. “The Thief & The Heartbreaker” takes wing on the insistent rhythm of it’s title song. An ethereal, respectful homage to Neil Young, it burns like “Down By The River” meets The Church. “Lucy Rider” is an echo-y alt.-rocker that could’ve been at home in Athens GA back in the ‘80’s and, in being so has an easy familiarity while still sounding fresh enough to be new for 20 some years down the line. The up-tempo “Hard Breaks” comes next and jaunts along on a sprightly Fogerty-style guitar figure. The spring-in-it’s-step feel comes as a nice dichotomy with the melancholy lyrical overtone of heartbreak / hard break. But as nice an opening trio as this record sports, it’s the final 4 numbers that really see ALBERTA CROSS elevate themselves into something unique. Petter Stakee’s vocals are just glorious in “Low Man.” There’s still the face of Neil smiling over the proceedings but it’s raised here to near-choral elegance. The acoustic chords strummed with measured control offer a sturdy base for the eloquent vox and the sweet Strat fills that bathe the ears. “I’ve Known For So Long” is another plaintive lament with a simply gorgeous chorus. Here’s a melody that could be sung anywhere from a cathedral to a corner bar and be equally at home. The CD is brought to a close by the double shot of “Old Man Chicago” and “The Devil’s All You Ever Had,” the latter’s 6-plus minutes a nearly orchestrated sounding piece belying the number of those in the band. With the follow-up to this disc, ALBERTA CROSS has added a few band members…and upped the ante even further. You’ll read about that one on this site soon enough but in the meantime, start here. Alberta Clipper