Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who's Your Daddy

"Sleeping Sickness" CD '09/'00 / “Rumdum Daddy” CD ’09 (Kung Bomar, US) – The late Phil Baker, record dealer and partner in Monster Records / King Klassic Magazine originally turned me on to JPT SCARE BAND. I remember him calling me up and frothing wildly at the mouth about some tapes that he’d recently received in the mail. Shit, this was back in the early ‘90’s sometime I guess, as memory has it. Now you must understand, frothing wildly at the mouth was something that Phil was wont to do but it was never without a singular, vital cause. Reasons that he’d had in the past before this unbridled enthusiasm had been names like Slauter Xstroyes, Winterhawk and Ordained Fate. So, you tended to listen. And, listen I did, especially back in those dark ages, when things arrived in the Realm-box in the form of TDK 90’s slapped with hand-written labels. Make a long story short (God, that was bad English…and I don’t mean the suck-ass Neal Schon debacle), JPT SCARE band ended up being a perfect fit for me. I remember the first time I heard their “Sleeping Sickness” disc back in 2000. My reaction was “Holy shit!” Here was a power trio in the tradition of Cream, Cactus and The Jimi Hendrix Experience who probably were on hand when the word “organic” was crafted into stone by the music gods of eternity. You had Paul Grigsby (bass, vocals) & Jeff Littrell (drums) laying down the business in a rhythm section that could have you in traction with it’s immense monster groove. Over top of it was the guitar of Terry Swope. I’ll say it again, the guitar of Terry Swope. That’s ‘cause it bears repeating. I’m now going to say some names to you: Leigh Stephens, Robin Trower, Jim McCarty, Leslie West, Tony Iommi. The big boys from “the day.” The first time I heard Mr. Swope administer the 6-string beating he does in the title cut, names like that came to mind. Of course, I’m not one to hand down immediate praise, so I listened to the rest of the album. And, the praise was forthcoming. This was the real deal. This cat not only could come up with groovy riffs that sounded like molten lava, he could then go off on 8, 9, 10 minute solos that would tell you a story…the story of how your ass had been kicked, motherfucker.

Which brings us some 10 releases down the line and the latest by JPT SCARE BAND (Got the name yet? Jeff – Paul – Terry? JPT?), “Rumdum Daddy.” You know what I love so much about this bunch? Well, I’ll tell you. One thing I love about ‘em is the fact that they sent me this seething, scorching ass-plastering vile of aural butt-kick after I’d already done my Top 10 for 2009. Reason I love that is, had I gotten it before I compiled that list, something on it would’ve had to go and, more than likely something near the top. Another thing that gives me a musical boner about this bunch is that, like all the absolute greats, they have evolved without compromising their roots in the least. I mean, dude…and I mean, DUDE!!! Check out the first 3 cuts here as the “Rumdum…” begins to flow. Right off the bat, we see the development of JPT SCARE. “You Don’t Wanna Know” has the kind of balladic emotions you remember from Zep classics like “The Rain Song,” fueled by Swope’s smooth, overlooked vocals. Listen then, at around 2:10 to how Terry begins to draw you in with his lyrical and gorgeous soloing. He begins it in such a melodic fashion and then somehow by around 4:00 is tearing your face off and you can’t figure out how he did it. “Rat Poison For The Soul,” besides having a simply bad-assed title throws down the hard-rock riff gauntlet to anything ever concocted by God-figures like West or Montrose. The title cut itself once again sees the band delving into new areas of overdubbed guitar lines, but similar to a master like Page on “Physical Graffiti,” rather than diluting the heaviness, an even richer and more expansive tapestry is woven.

And then, in glorious JPT SCARE style, we go down the rabbit hole! “Intro/E Minor Exploration/Theme From The Monster’s Holiday” weighing in at just under 14 minutes is jam-time supreme! This is Jeff, Paul and Terry taking it to your ears the way Bill, Geezer and Tony did on Side Two of “Black Sabbath.” It’s the way Pagey did every time he dove into the massive seas of “Dazed & Confused” live and it’s the way Trower had his “Daydream.” It also indicates just how these guys have evolved, the depth of their work, in the way they can slip back into their old clothes without ever skipping a beat and without ever disrupting their expansion as a group…move outward, think inward, it all works. And so follow the twin 9 ½ minute monsters, “I’ve Been Waiting” and “Bit Of A Minor Jamm” (clever muthas!), living & breathing epics of pure heavy psych nirvana. It all comes to a close in the short (5:43!!) “Bookends Jamm,” a keg-o-dynamite microcosm of all that has become JPT SCARE BAND to this day: lethal 3-piece smolder, segueing in and out of simply haunting layers of melody. Without any doubt, “Rumdum Daddy” is a mandatory piece of listening for anybody reading Raysrealm. And, so is the new re-issue of the should-be-legendary “Sleeping Sickness.” The choice is not your’s, I’ve made it for you. You simply must buy. Now. Scarey Good


Saturday, March 27, 2010

If Rock Is Wrong, They Don't Want To Be Right

SUPERCHIEF – “Rock Music” CD EP ’09 (TFTC, US) – “Rock Music.” Me thinkin’ you’ve gotta have some pretty serious stones to call your record that. Let me see…Zep? A song called “Rock & Roll,” but no album called “Rock Music.” Stones? Well, it is only rock & roll and they liked it, but no “R.M.” in their discography. But you know what? While I’m not ready to anoint Iowa’s SC into either of those leagues, they’ve done a damn nice job of raising such a lofty flag. “Georgia Trucker Fun” gets things crankin’ right away with some mid-paced riffs that scream more ‘70’s than “stoner.” Hell, I can just imagine The Great Fatsby smiling at this one, Ricc Terranova’s wah-wah leads the perfect foil for JT Strang’s truck stop roar. “Sweat” opens with an open-chord march, almost as if Kashmir suddenly relocated south of the Mason-Dixon. It’s here you see these cats are more than a one trick pony. With “Amen,” Da CHIEF adopt the time-honored dynamics of Bourge / Iommi with a short acoustic segue before blasting into another seething boiler. “Rock N’ Roll Living” is like a Kentucky (make that Iowa) Fried “Starstruck” before “Bus Ride Messiah” brings it on home. This one takes the SC rock taffy and pulls it out over 6 minutes into a heavy psych landscape with a lyrical twist and sinuous leads from Terranova. Five songs, not a minute wasted and your butt kicked to boot. Sounds like “Rock Music” to me. Chuffed


Grand Halls 47

OMEGA – “The Prophet” 1985 (Rock Machine, Eng) – I can say without hesitation that the NWOBHM produced some of the greatest metal ever. Never once before or after has one small geographical area given rise to such a humungous amount of great music in such a short period of time. And while it’s no knock at all against bands like Maiden, Tygers, Angel Witch, etc. my favourites from that era were always those acts who offered sounds that were a bit quirky and afield from the greater multitude. Names like Legend, Witchfinder General, Shiva, Saracen, Split Crow, Limelight and others issued records that ranged from ‘70’s doom to southern rock to progressive, all the while retaining a good hint of the feel of that magical movement. While certainly emerging far later than any of this stuff, OMEGA’s “The Prophet” has the distinct feel of one of these NWOBHM oddities while occasionally rising to even greater heights.

Released in 1985, “The Prophet” is, as far as I can determine, OMEGA’s only work. They are not to be confused with a prog/rock band, much more worldly-known, who put out several LP’s in th ‘70’s. The record features a jacket which just screams “RARE!,” the front cover bearing a spacey silhouette of a gunman on a hill and the back looking like it was almost typed up at somebody’s house! Basically, this album is a dream-come-true for anyone who likes heavy metal with progressive, epic songs, shredding lead guitar and commanding vocals. In fact, wile it doesn’t sound like either, I’d say that if you’re into Saracen’s “Heroes, Saints & Fools” or the Connecticut Legend’s “From The Fjords,” this one will clean your clock!

Side One of OMEGA’s lone effort contains only 3 songs. But what a trio! They are all fantastic, epic-type works, building up in a scale of grand melody and heaviness and each featuring lead guitar blow-outs by Steve Granger (also keys), who’s soloing reminds me a lot of vintage Gary Moore. The vocals of Nick Brent (who also handles rhythm guitar and is joined in the line-up by Graham Roberts on drums & Dave Robertson on bass) are sometimes reminiscent of Greg Lake. Hence, as with the American Legend and Saracen, I could see these guys being considered a sort of metal version of ELP (a mantle that would later be picked up by New York’s Mastermind). Even that description, however, does not do justice to something like the title cut here, a 9 minute epic work of gorgeous power that leaves me breathless every time I hear it. It's overwhelming and quite impressive that a record this obscure was produced so well in the studio. It’s a trait it shares with Winterhawk’s “Revival.”

Side Two of “The Prophet” opens with, yes, another epic killer, “Yesterday’s Children.” At this point, I have to wonder how many bands would die to be able to write one cut like this to use as the centerpiece of an album. Yet here are 4 in a row! The next two songs are sort of odd bedfellows to the rest of the platter. “Drive Me Crazy” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” are both cool, to-the-point rockers, striking me not as filler but more so a way to draw the casual listener into the web of the other material. Another thought: Could these 2 have been the substance of an even more obscure single? With a picture sleeve? Alright, I might be dreaming but if anybody has any info on this possibility, let me know! Finally tying the record together is “The Child,” another magnificent 9 minute opus, sort of the sister song to Side One’s title track. If you don’t have gooseflesh by the time this one ends, you probably have ice water flowing through your veins.

Yes, OMEGA’s “The Prophet” is a truly superior release and holds it’s own with the very top sacred obscurities: Winterhawk, Survivor, Slauter Xstroyes, Poobah, etc. Once you hear it, you’ll know what I mean. A Prophecy Fulfilled

NOTE: If I’m not mistaken, I’ve seen word on the internet about an LP and CD re-issue of this bad boy, so get a-huntin!

Grand Halls 46

RELEASE – “A Requiem For The World” 1984 (Private, Denmark) – While probably the most well-known Danish metal export of 1984 was Mercyful Fate’s “Don’t Break The Oath,” the nation also produced several top-notch but obscure rippers that year. One, of course, is that dark and dastardly LP by Wasted, “Halloween…The Night Of….” Another is this very private, very primitive-looking (see inset) release by…RELEASE (Ok, I’m a smart-ass). My best description of “A Requiem…” would be a more hard-rock-based version of Pretty Maids’ “Red, Hot & Heavy” LP. Like that record, this one has nothing complicated, just lots of damn good riffs and one of those gut-level type singers, namely Charlie (that’s all they list!) who also reminds me of the dude in Bodine. Coupled with that are some rhythms that give a late ‘70’s hard rock vibe to cuts like the swaggering “Ghetto Child.” For the real gems, however, check out “You Don’t Care No More,” “Valley Of Witchcraft” and “The Damned Lake,” 6-7 minute epics that still never get too complicated for themselves. Some nice Schenker-ish lead axe work dominates the proceedings in these. Oh, and listen to “Killer Rabbit!” Hilarious! Dead But Not Forgotten

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Banjo Power

SEABROOK POWER PLANT – “Seabrook Power Plant” CD ’09 (Loyal, US) – Think about a power trio with bass, drums and…er…banjo. Ok, well you might say WHY think about that, right? Strictly speaking, I can see your hesitation but you may be changing your mind once you hear this quirky little disc coming at ya out of New York City. SPP is composed of two brothers, Brandon (banjo, guitar) & Jared Seabrook (drums) and Tom Blancarte (upright electric bass). Their record doesn’t begin so much as explodes with “Peter Dennis Blanford Townshend” (gee, who do you think that’s dedicated to?). Jared’s drum cacophony introduces Brother Brandon’s staccato banjo shredding, as Blancarte joins the fray with his wooden thud. A nearly immediate reaction from this listener is how in God’s name would I ever describe this stuff to somebody. A later, more thoughtful reaction from this writer is how in God’s name will I ever describe this stuff to somebody! Imagine an instrumental version of old Texas math-metal gods Watchtower running amok in a bluegrass music store. Something that really makes Brandon’s Banjo (sounds like an underground art film or something, doesn’t it?) stand out is the fact that the instrument, by nature, features zero sustain. This only serves to make his playing that much more cutting and edgy, something that continues into numbers like “Ho Chi Minh Trail” and the more lengthy “Waltz Of The Nuke Workers” (6:08). Stretching out even further toward the 8-minute mark, “Occupation 1977” plies a more pensive, yeah, kinda noodling feel until at around the 5 minute mark, something entirely more sinister begins to creep in. That dark demon can only be Brandon’s electric guitar, and loaded up with distortion as it is, adds a completely new feel to the proceedings, marching in like a riff that tumbled out of King Buzzo’s pocket. “Base Load Plant Theme” ups the avant-garde ante into Vernon Reid Decoding Society territory. A metal guy like me can’t help having a soft spot for “I Don’t Feel So Good,” however. If this doesn’t start like something from St. Vitus’ “Hallows Victim,” I don’t know what does, and the crazy lead guitar shredding is Iommi-on-acid. “Feedlot Polio” is another swath of Coltrane-banjo-etequitte until things come to a close with the feedback laden wasteland of the aptly titled “Doomsday Shroud.” Coming as a real left-field surprise to good old Ray, SEABROOK POWER PLANT’s eponymous debut comes off at first as one of those records that’s perfect for a certain kinda mood. Funny thing is, I’ve spun it quite a bit lately. Powerage


Friday, March 19, 2010

Heathen Song

HEATHEN – “Evolution Of Chaos” CD ’10 (Mascot, US) – HEATHEN’s Russian-born guitarist Lee Altus once said something to me that made me truly understand the depth of his metal pedigree. We were speaking via phone back in the days of the band’s last album, “Victim Of Deception” and the topic rolled around about Ron Quintana’s Rampage Radio show. I had mentioned that Spon Q used to play all sorts of great stuff, everything from The Dead Boys to Return To Forever, from Mentors to Legend. And that’s when Lee spoke the words that would be immortal to me: “Oh yeah, he played Legend all the time! They were awesome, just awesome and he played them all the time.” Do you understand how important, how fucking vital a statement like that is? Legend (from the Channel Islands) were not only (in this writer’s estimation) the greatest NWOBHM band but one of the finest metal outfits of all time. Between Mike Lezala’s haunting vocals and Peter Haworth’s dazzling axe work and massive songs, they came over like a cross between Rush, Sabbath & Motorhead. The problem was that few people recognized this. The fact that Lee Altus understood it was enough to make me realize this guy knew his shit. The material on the first 2 HEATHEN albums only confirmed it.

To this day, HEATHEN is my favourite thrash metal band ever. Their ability to concoct ripping, killing riffs and strap them to intricate & memorable songwriting, face-melting lead guitar and throaty vocals that veer smoothly between NWOBHM-styled melody and gruffer aggression puts them in an elite level. The problem was, after 1991’s “Victim…,” they kinda went the way of the Edsel. I knew they’d reformed in some form or fashion in the early oughties but the only “new” material was some sorta recording of old stuff & with Altus’ permanent involvement in Exodus, I figured the Goblin’s Blade would never swing again. I was wrong. And motherfriggin’ how! Some 19 years on, HEATHEN has issued their 3rd album, “Evolution Of Chaos” and brother, it brings a tear of pride to my eye that I once had a magazine called Chaos after hearing this bitch! Let’s be plain about all this, shall we? The new HEATHEN album completely kicks ass. From beginning to end, Altus and new 6-string partner in crime Kragen Lum (Doug Piercy has been gone a long while) plant hacking thrash riffs everywhere like tank treads on your face. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the kind of lead guitar fury they unleash everywhere, shards of Bay Area axe death raining down in a sonic torrent. Are the songs long? Hell yeah, they probably average 7 minutes in length, with “No Stone Unturned” topping the 11 minute mark. Unlike some bands who trod that “proggy-thash” path, however, this crew makes every downstroke, every plundering riff worth it’s weight in gold. Add to that the vocals of David White, which have only gotten better and more emotional over the years and you’ve got an album that makes me feel like going out and knocking a couple poseurs (remember that word, old school people?!) around. The loud, semi-dry production is just what the doctor ordered as well, making it sound like this age-wizened bunch have dragged their Marshalls right into your living room.

Bottom line is this. HEATHEN kicks ass, pure and simple and with their 3rd album have succeeded in making themselves nothing short of a metal “legend.” That Lee guy sure as hell knew what he was talking about! Chaos Realm


Friday, March 12, 2010

DEADLOCK Rules! All The Best, Gray & Doug!

(Photo of Gray, Doug & Don-stage man for DEADLOCK courtesy of Ami Markle)

Over my relatively short (ahem!) span of 52 years, one thing has occurred to me as being more important than any other: family. True, I love music, as this blog and the zines before it have demonstrated but those things take a distant 2nd to the love of my wife and children, my parents, even my extended family. With that in mind, I feel the need to take time to talk about some people I’ve come in contact with this past year. Through Jennifer’s (my hot, sexy wife!) urging, I went to see local Maryland cover band DEADLOCK last July. Since then, I’ve gone to see them at least once a month. Sure, a lot of that is because of their music. Anybody who knows me also knows that I don’t suffer sucky bands well. DEADLOCK (along with Facedancer, in my younger days) is one of the very best cover bands I’ve ever seen. They absolutely nail numbers by Tool, Pantera, Sevendust, Metallica, etc.

It’s not just that, however, that’s drawn me to being a real fan of these guys. Interestingly, I discovered the first time I saw ‘em that drummer Chris Lembach (ex Mystic Force) is an old record store buddy of mine from back in the ‘80’s. Beyond even that, however, it was obvious to me very early on that these 5 guys are all just genuinely nice people. Unlike many standoffish musicians I’ve met, they’re all very warm & friendly and always have time for a conversation that can go well beyond music. This is a vibe that spreads in a couple directions as well. You see it in the way the band members (Jeff Caudle – vocals; Doug Guthrie – guitar; Steve Shaffer – guitar; Gray Manna – bass; Chris Lembach –drums) interact onstage, where their sound is defined by a super-organic connection, an understanding among a combo that’s quite uncommon. It’s in their obvious companionship off-stage as well. It’s also something that has branched outward, into the very people who come out and support them each time there’s a DEADLOCK show. Rather than disconnected individuals who happen to drift into the same place at the same time, you feel as though you’re part of…yes…a family who share what they love and really care about each other.

All of this brings me to news that is bittersweet. After DEADLOCK’s show at The Barn in Carney MD on April 16, Doug Guthrie & Gray Manna will be stepping down from DEADLOCK. The reasons are not the “typical” we’re so familiar with, “musical differences” or “personal clashes.” No, Doug & Gray both have young children and have decided that they need to take some time to be with them. What a lot of people who haven’t been around bands don’t realize is that it isn’t just the few hours onstage on a Saturday night once or twice a month. There are many, many more hours of practice during the week involved in raising your art to the level that you and your fans expect. Just as well, what a lot of people who aren’t new parents don’t realize is that you don’t get those years back if you miss ‘em. The reaction of the rest of the band to this comes in typical DEADLOCK fashion. “We’re brothers,” says Chris Lembach and rather than usher in a couple plug-in replacements, they’re laying the name down for now, with the grace & dignity of a knight resting his sword on the mantle. As Gray himself said, and I paraphrase, he's not hanging this stuff up for good. Somewhere down the line, I have a very strong feeling that DEADLOCK will take the stage again. But for now, let’s not rush anything like that. Let’s be grateful for the killer shows these guys have done and tip our hats to Doug & Gray for doing what they need to do. The DEADLOCK family will always be here.

NOTES: DEADLOCK’s last show, again, will be at The Barn in Carney, MD (I-695 Exit 31N), April 16, 2010. SHIFT (Jeff, Steve, Doug & Chris’ all-original metal band with Rich Davis on axe as well) are actually working on new material as a follow-up to 2006’s massive “Creating A Monster”). In addition, CORE (Jeff, Steve & Chris) will continue to do some shows. Their 3-piece format is excellent, culling material from the likes of Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Police, etc. and are playing next @ Reckless Rick’s in Glen Burnie, MD on March 26, 2010. As even more good news, Jeff Caudle & Steve Shaffer will also be doing more of their acoustic shows at venues around the Baltimore area.

SHIFT review on the Realm: http://raysrealm.blogspot.com/2009/09/montrous-discovery.html

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Top 10 Discs Have Been Mailed Out!!!

The Raysrealm 2009 CD has been mailed out to all of those who sent in a Top 10 and included their mailing address. You will see it in your mailbox presently, and the track listing is in the order below (which basically represents a track from each of my Top 10 albums of the year). Enjoy and explore! Let's see what we come up with for 2010! It's already started out good and there's still nearly 10 full months to go!!! I'm hoping to get more and more people interested in reading Raysrealm, so keep contacting bands and letting other's know about the site. Any questions you have, any comments or suggestions, just keep 'em coming in. This site is as much your's as it is mine, so I'm all ears...well, my nose is kinda big too.....

1. ADMIRAL OF BLACK – “High Noon” from “The Hand Of Chaos”

2. ANVIL CHORUS – “Man Made Machines” from “The Killing Sun”

3. THE CHURCH – “Deadman’s Hand” from “Untitled # 23”

4. RIPPER – “Driller” from “The Dead Have Rizen”

5. OSIBISA – “Ayioko” from “Osee Yee”

6. CORY CASE – “Dressed In White” from “Waiting On A Remedy”

7. MORGLBL – “The Monster Within Me” from “Jazz For The Deaf”

8. THE MISHAPS – “Thorr Hammer” from “The Mishaps”

9. THE GRAVIATORS – “Keep ‘Em Coming” from “The Graviators”

10. COLOSSUS – “The Mountain That Rides” from “Drunk On Blood”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Grand Halls 45

C.I.A. – “Top Secret” 4-song 7” EP – (Fatdaddy, 1981) – Whoa! This is a small package, but man is it killer! When I heard “Top Secret,” I was floored, not only by the heaviness spewing out of the speakers but also by the super-obscurity of the piece itself. A little background is in order. Way back when, in the 1980-era, a Baltimore (hometown!) cover band called Rock-It ws slugging it out on the bar circuit. They featured blonde-haired guitarist Fred Vanover, bassist William Walker and drummer Rich Beavers. They were also fronted by a singer named John Bieski, who used to work at Record & Tape Collector, your’s truly’s former place of employment. Rock-It was a cover band and they did some totally jacked-up versions of great classics like “Wishing Well” and “Too Rolling Stoned.” The latter would go off on a 7-8 minute guitar solo by Fred that would make the hair (I actually had some then) stand up on end. The guy was a god and, although it’s almost 30 years back, those nights down at the Rocky Point Inn were special. Time went by and Rock-It seemed to fade from the scene but about a year later, word came down about a new band called C.I.A. with Vanover, Walker and Beavers being joined by a new vocalist. With very little warning, this group issued a 4-song EP and did at least a couple live shows, one that I luckily attended at Coast-To-Coast in West Baltimore.

Looking at the “Top Secret” EP, it’s amazing now, how rare it looks! To begin with, it comes in a 7” sleeve that is at least ¼ inch taller than the standard size. The thick cover is strangely made, in that it’s kind of hard to tell what is supposed to be the front and back. On the side where the opening faces the right (usually the “front”) is a black & white photo of the band members (plus some other dude!) sitting around a conference table and dressed in suits. They’re also sporting short haircuts, I guess to live up to the C.I.A. image. Below the photo is the title “Top Secret” in a rectangular box. Flip the cover over and there’s a large, round logo in blue. It’s a take-off on the official C.I.A. seal, with an eagle in the center clutching a guitar & bass and with a Ludwig drum logo emblazoned across it’s chest. This cover alone would make for a killer piece but reach inside and you’ll find a 10-page booklet revealing not only the lyrics to all 4 cuts, but great b/w photos of the band in the studio. Other pertinent information is listed as well, such as the name of the new vocalist, Randy Meadows.

Of course, the music is what counts however, so what’s the story there? The answer is GREAT! Side One kicks off with “Devil Cashes In.” This is a ripping, fast-paced assault, perfectly mirroring the NWOBHM that was flourishing across the pond at that very moment. Hacking riffs and searing lead runs merge with Meadow’s rough-yet-melodic vocals to mark one of the very few times true metal emerged from Baltimore at that time. After this 4-minute call to arms, C.I.A. finish off Side One of the EP with one of the most gut-level grinders you’ll ever hear, “Scramble Out Of Town.” The riff here is likely to peel the paint off most walls within a 100 mile radius. Side Two opens with “What Did I Do,” a more hard rock & roll number that, while probably the most uneventful cut on offer, is still head-and-shoulders above a lot of other tracks you’ll hear called “great.” But, as you may have guessed, C.I.A. saves the best for last with the 6+ minute “Heavy Box.” Telling an eerie tale about finding a buried Pandoran artifact, this one stands among some of the greatest doomy metal classics of all-time, right up there with the best of Legend, Pagan Altar and April 16th. Fred Vanover and Randy Meadows are godly on axe and vocals respectively and you will get guaranteed chills every time.

Sadly, C.I.A. faded into total obscurity after issuing this massive local private gem and doing maybe one handful of live shows (in which they actually played in business suits!). If anybody, anywhere knows of this band or their record or, better yet, has any contact info on band member, I’d really love to hear from you. As a rather sad (for me!) footnote, I also am in need of another copy of this masterpiece myself, as the one I’d kept became a victim of water damage a few years back. I Spy

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Prize In Every Box

CORSAIR – “Alpha Centauri” CD EP ’10 (Private, US) – Funniest thing anybody ever mailed me anything in was a cereal box. And not just any old cereal box, mind you. It was a CD sent to me by a cat in Japan about 15 year ago. He’d packed that bad boy up in a single-serving-size box of whatever the Japanese version of Cocoa Puffs is. Here’s this yellow cardboard thing with an illustration of a bright-eyed Japanese child eating his wholesome breakfast doused in milk and on the inside was a recording of caustic black metal. Talk about false (but cool!) advertising! Anyway, it’s been awhile since a package gave me pause right as it came out of the mailbox. CORSAIR’s did. Now don’t get me wrong, this was no Oriental breakfast food, but when you’ve seen as many brown padded envelopes as this old soul has, it stood out. Basically it was a CD-sized object, but wrapped in green construction paper so bright I wasn’t sure if it was radioactive or just the product of an overzealous Irishman early for St. Paddy’s Day. Glued to the front was what seemed to be a purposely oddly-cut mailing label. My instincts immediately told me “These guys are different.”

Upon opening the striking parcel and playing it’s contents, I amended that prediction slightly: “These 3 guys and a lady are different.” CORSAIR are from Charlottesville, Virginia and are made up of: Paul Sebring – guitar & vox, Marie Landragin – guitar & vox, Jordan Brunk – bass & vox and Leigh Ann Leary –drums (Aaron Lipscombe took up the drum stool some time after this recording). The former 3 were members of a Black Sabbath tribute band called Mass Sabbath and being able to crank out the Tony-written riffs is surely a jumping-off-point. Believe me, however, that’s not the half of it.

“Alpha Centauri” opens with the instrumental “Skykrakken” and with it’s myriad changes, it serves as a sort of overture for what will follow. Beginning on a rawkin’ riff laced with harmony lead flourishes, it then segues into a groove worthy of Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Believe A Word” before morphing to Sabbathy plunder just bathed in melody. Fellow VA natives Valkyrie come to mind in the rustic overtone here.

Without skipping a beat, CORSAIR advise us to “Beware, The Black Fleet.” This one starts on a heavy Southern rock-style crunch and throaty vocals that combine for an early Point Blank feel. Think “Free Man.” Yes, it’s that good. A way-cool rhythm shift points the way to a lead guitar trade-off where Sebring and Landragin each adopt clearly distinctive tones, just like Glenn & KK in the old Priest days.

If CORSAIR don’t have you hooked by this time, it’s now that they’re going to…and reel you in like the helpless metal mackerel you are! “Last Night On Earth” begins subtly, in the tradition of all the great dark metal ballads, with masterful acoustic work and vocals draped in feeling. A poignant tale about an astronaut bidding a final farewell to his home, it features a chorus so friggin’ emotional that the hairs will stand up on your arm. If that isn’t enough, however, the entry notes into the guitar solo are just beyond-ridiculous heavy and the lengthy lead itself gives a nod to the classic handed down by Tipton in “Beyond The Realms Of Death.”

Next comes “Space Is A Lonely Place,” obviously the next chapter in the concept of “Alpha Centauri.” Having it’s birth in a haunting, yes, spacey intro, it then explodes with a kick-ass Lizzy-styled riff, angling into a slower burn with more searing twin guitar harmonies. The individual soloing to follow is devastatingly plaintive, again alternating between a sharp Gibson bite and the sweet liquid tone of a Strat. Why am I thinking of Priest’s “Run Of The Mill?!”

CORSAIR bring their voyage to a close with the instrumental “Starcophagus.” Somehow, they manage to combine guitar lines that are both dazzlingly intricate and yet super catchy all in one impressive package. Again, I’m reminded of Valkyrie’s “Man Of Two Visions” here. The eerie spoken-word section at around 3:45 only serves to heighten the depth and mood.

Without a doubt, CORSAIR’s “Alpha Centauri” is the biggest out-of-left-field surprise of the year so far. But don’t think my admiration stops there. It may also be early 2010’s best overall. Now, where are those Cocoa Puffs? I’ve worked a hell of an appetite with this one! Highway Corsair


Rise Unto Martin

BLINDSTONE – “Rise Above” CD ’10 (Grooveyard, Den) – I think I alluded to it before, but it bears repeating: there’s a helluva lot of “blindness” going on around The Realm these days. From the Blindside Blues Band to me being blindsided by the Gallows Pole LP to now, this newest release from Denmark’s BLINDSTONE, I’m starting to think about Laskik Surgery. Well, the fact of the matter is, it’s pretty clear that we’ve had some real visionaries lately and Martin J. Andersen (guitar, vocals) is no exception. (BLINDSTONE is completed by Jesper Bunk – bass & Anders Hvidtfeldt – drums).

See, (oh come on!) I’d love to say that the 3rd time’s the charm for BLINDSTONE but if you’ve read the reviews of their previous 2 records on this site (see November ’08 blog), you’ll know they hit the ground motoring. That’s not to say that “Rise Above” doesn’t see this trio continue to stoke the fires even higher, however. Put an ear to the title cut and see what I mean. It’s a smokin’ cross between classic Mountain and something a lot more current-day, and the meeting of the ages works wonders in it’s 10-ton riff. Plus, right off the bat, I love the fact that axeman Andersen is cool enough to let King’s X man Ty Tabor (who also mastered the disc) take the solo in the very first song. Ty’s laid-back lead action here smolders like a campfire at an Eagle Scout convention & opens the door for Martin, who let’s loose like mad on the rest of the disc.

“New Direction,” for instance, brings a stop-start Zep “Presence” groove to the table. And, like that one, “Sonic Motor King” fuses the styles of ‘70’s git-down blues-rock with a modern edge that speaks of melodic thumpers like King’s X and Galactic Cowboys. Even a song like “Horizontal Activity,” with it’s kinda sophomoric lyrics is rendered fresh and vital by the funked-up riffing and Strat-wah lead beating administered by Martin Andersen. And while some might criticize the inclusion of 3 covers on an 11-track album, I’ve got nothing but green lights for these. First off, The Isley’s “Climbing Up The Ladder” sees Martin just set his fretboard on fire…3 different times! Man, this cat can blow! Hendrix’s “House Burning Down” (a real bitch of a number to tackle, as any player will tell you!) sees M.A. teaming up with Paul Halberg to hand down the solo business and “He’s Calling” (Frank Marino) is a surprising AND wicked entry.

Tying the whole thing together are Andersen’s vocals which, while maybe not as devastating as his Strat destruction, are steeped in a rich, bluesy vibe. In conclusion, I can say that BLINDSTONE’s “Rise Above” is not only another 6-string salvo from the guns of Grooveyard but is also the brightest star so far in Martin Andersen’s rising universe. Buy it and “see” what I mean. Third Sight


Priority: Re-Focus!

PRIESTESS – “Prior To The Fire” CD ’09 (Indica, Can) – PRIESTESS kinda came flying in from the north and grabbed me by the balls in late ’05. Their “Hello Master” secured my Top Album spot at the 11th hour and in truth, it looked like there’d be no stopping ‘em from being perennial favourites. To say I was looking forward to Album #2 with baited breath was like saying our neighbors above the border are ok with Molson.

Change scenes quickly to my stepson’s community college. I drop him off there every day and the things that drive me crazy are the…um…traffic calming devices. That is, speed bumps. See, I understand why they have ‘em. Out of a couple gazillion people, a handful think they’re starring in “Death Race 2000” and so…speed bumps. And, my friends, that brings me back to PRIESTESS and their new CD. The point is, while I don’t think “Prior To The Fire” is an unmitigated disaster, it sort of reminds me of driving through that college campus. Every time PRIESTESS gets going, something comes along to slow the progress or send ‘em off course. With “Hello Master,” the band played to their effortless strength in concocting metal songs that were viscerally intense and yet disarmingly simple. It’s a combination that’s fueled some of the very best records since time immemorial – or at least since 1971 – and these guys’ unique blend of stoner/thrash put them in that elite. For some reason, though, with “Prior…,” the band are insistent on showing that they are somehow “progressive.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against some rippin’ prog. After all, I’m buddies with Rick & Roll and I haven’t found “Hemispheres” on a format I’m not in love with, even 8-track. Yet perhaps something PRIESTESS should understand is that just because you’re Canadian it doesn’t mean you’re Rush. So, instead of the hot, punchy classics like “Two Kids” and “Talk To Her” that Mikey Heppner and crew delivered the last time, we now have to sift our way thru overly ornate and frankly confusing fare such as “Communication Via-Eyes,” “It Baffles The Mind” (yes, it does) and the frankly bloated “The Gem” (7:59). An especially irritating thing about this album is the way some of the segues & rhythm changes seem lashed together clumsily with no flow whatsoever. Tony Iommi, for example, was a genius at stopping on a dime, heading off in another direction and still having it groove like mad. Go back to the fast part of “Snowblind” sometime to see what I mean. PRIESTESS try this several times and leave the listener confused by a case of audio whiplash.

That’s not to say that the album is a total failure. It fires up early on with a nice tandem of “Lady Killer” and “Racoon Eyes,” mirroring “Hello Master”s unwavering power. Only too soon, however, the whole thing opens up into a convoluted maze that, at times, disappears up it’s own ass, for lack of a more polite description. It’s puzzling to me why PRIESTESS has taken the route they have with this long-awaited sophomore album. I still believe they could right the ship if they just re-focus on writing good, memorable songs the next time out. If they don’t, however, the 3rd record might just as well be entitled “After The Crash & Burn.” Call For The Priest…Maybe


Top 10 Discs To Go Out Next Week - Finally!

Yeah, I know, I know. It's been over a month now since the results of the 2009 (and most successful yet) Ray's and Readers' Top 10 Poll came rolling in and now...finally...the "thank you's" I promised you all will FINALLY be going out in the mail next week. I thank all of you for not only taking part in the poll this year, but for your patience in waiting quietly by your mailbox for your gift to arrive. What you'll find in the packet will be a CD with one song each from my Top 10 albums of the year. Hopefully this will not only strike you as a pretty kick-ass listen but will also turn you onto some bands you may not have heard before and, in turn help everybody in the food chain! I'll publish a track-listing for the discs as soon as they hit the Post Office this coming week, so stay tuned...