Friday, April 30, 2010

In The Meantime...

In the meantime, I'm posting things on my Facebook page when I get a chance, so keep in touch over there!!/profile.php?id=1224450917&ref=profile

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Important Announcement

I regret to announce that at this time, I'm going to have to take a step away from Raysrealm. I have some very serious, extenuating personal circumstances that have arisen that I need to devote my full time to. With that in mind, I realize that I cannot guarantee that I can do regular updates, nor would I be able to insure that my writing be up the the standards I hold. At this time, I am expecting 2 more interviews in that the participants have already given their time for and in courtesy to them, I will post these interviews as soon as they arrive. In the meantime I thank everyone for supporting this site. I apologize to any bands who have sent material which will not be able to be reviewed at this time and will do my best to pass it along to other sites who could give it a timely review. I do hold hope to see you all back here again in the future when I am able to once again devote the time required to do Raysrealm the justice it deserves. Sincerely, Ray Dorsey.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pole Vault

GALLOWS POLE – “Revolution” CD ’10 (Karthago, Austria) – If you’ll remember, back in February I talked at great length in Grand Halls 44 about a 1982 release by Austria’s GALLOWS POLE. That slice of metal greatness not only featured a stone-cold 10+ minute classic in it’s title cut, but was a non-stop butt-kicker from start to finish. As also reported (Christ, what am I Wolf Blitzer or something?!), the band is still in motion, having issued 3 records since that were ok but nothing on the level of that immaculate debut. What I also learned not long after posting the piece was that GP had just completed their 5th full-lengther and a copy was winging it’s way to me from across the pond. What would the results be? Let’s find out, as the package has landed….

There’s one thing I like about GALLOWS POLE that has nothing to do with their music. It’s their cover art. While some bands feel the need to tap into the tired, hackneyed, trite (any other words for this, Rick? lol) heavy metal thesaurus and slather their records with either demons or naked women, this Austrian bunch takes a different tack. Now before you get me wrong, let me explain. I’ve got nothing against demons. I mean, hey, I really like Demon from the NWOBHM. Perhaps far more importantly, I’ve got no problem with naked women. The more the better, especially when things like whipped cream are involved. Still, I prefer mine in the bedroom (ok, ok, my wife is reading over my shoulder…I just mean you, babe!) to album covers. No, GALLOWS POLE takes a very minimalistic route. In fact, up until this record, only the “We Wanna Come Home” album featured an actual drawing, the band preferring simple words and maybe a straight line or two (like the cross on “IRWT”). “Revolution” is a bit less reserved, with the image of a rose in the center and a fiery explosion radiating out from it. The point is that even still, the band avoids telling their whole story with the art, instead allowing a bit more of a timeless feel to grace their works.

The real question, of course, is the music and I wondered just how GALLOWS POLE were going to sound in 2010. The same as 1982? The answer is yes and no. And that is a cool thing. “You’re In My Way” opens proceedings and for a scant minute, I think I’m listening to a re-working of J. Geil’s “Centerfold,” with the “Na-na-na-na…” chorus. Thing is, while hard and driving, this is as catchy as hard rock can get without crossing over into an area called pop and you’ll probably have this doing laps in your mind for weeks. Immediately following are “Hell Again” and “Dirty Love,” each taking on a more decidedly AC/DC feel. They both remind me of what a band like Airbourne would be like if they actually had the talent to write riffs that were both hard AND infectious. Through each, main man Alois Martin Binder let’s his lower-mid-ranged pipes work with just enough swagger and ease to indicate the work of a guy who’s been around a long time but still wants to rock. Gotta admit, the opening line of the latter, “Wanna fuck you in the streets” cracks me up every time.

With the initial riff of “Falling Rain,” I’m transported back to the “IRWT” era with the hacking mid-paced riff and dark, sinister lead fills. Binder’s vox carry a threat here that is palpable without ever losing their intense emotion. The outro guitar soloing is vintage GALLOWS POLE: spare and economical but damn effective. “Always” dawns on the ears with a mellow acoustic intro, overlain by some plaintive soloing. As the song-proper comes in at 0:30, this one settles into a slow & doomy atmosphere. The lyrics tell a despair laden tale and again, the lead guitar is used, in many cases, to mirror the vocals and embellish their melodies. Up next is “For Lovers” and I’m lovin’ it. Man, I like the melodies in this one. Again keeping true to the doomy pace of it’s predecessor, this is a really unique song. The combination of the heavy guitars, Binder’s vocals and a melody that has an almost religious-hymnal texture is just excellent, as is the guitar solo that calls to mind a certain Leslie West.

For the final third of it’s 40-some minute length, “Revolution” picks up speed again with some more rawkin’ numbers. “Lonely Heart” has a “No Place To Run”-UFO taste, “Early Days” is like mid-period Rush in bed with The Church and “Baby Come On” marries latter day AC/DC to something I just can’t place but the “Hmmm…hmmm…hmmm” chorus is deceptively simple yet, once again, stuck in my brain.

For quite some time after getting it in the mail, I listened to “Revolution” and it reminded me of something, not so much in sound but in it’s downright basic coolness. Finally I figured it out. The NWOBHM’s very own hallmark band Diamond Head issued an album well into their career entitled “Death & Progress.” While not as raw or brutal as their legendary debut, it had a feel that on the surface didn’t seem especially epic but after a few listens began to reveal itself as something quite impressive. It was a superbly-written, massively catchy hard rock album, charged with a huge, killer production. Had they heard it, both the mechanic down in the garage and the exec in the corner office would both have been hard pressed not to crank it up. Say You Want A Revolution?...Not Always Necessary

Friday, April 9, 2010

Grand Halls 48

BLACK HOLE – “Land Of Mystery” 1985 (City, Ita) – I remember when I first found a copy of this one several years back. I was always pulling it out, lowering the lights, putting on a black robe and lurking around the house, setting out candles and chanting. Ok, maybe not (well, at least only on weekends) but the point is it’s a very atmospheric record. If you try to comprehend Paul Chain, old Sabbath and throw in some left-field prog stuff like Amon Duul II, Asphalto or New Trolls around “Concerto Grosso II,” you may come up with BLACK HOLE. Just don’t forget to add in a pinch of “Last House On The Left,” because there is also a definite element of Grade B horror film hysteria involved, making me love it all the more. BLACK HOLE is the brainchild of one Robert Measles who, besides playing bass and a bevy of other instruments, sings in a voice that can only be described as wildly original. While these pipes may put some people off to a level where they can’t get into the album, I’d urge you to try as this is a record that makes most doomy music look like child’s play. Truthfully, if just a song like “Obscurity In The Ethereal House” doesn’t make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, you should probably go back to your “The Devil You Know” CD anyway because you’re a wuss. The same can be said for the brilliant title cut and, actually, every one of the 7 somber, ghastly tracks here. Lovers of the good old days of long songs that aren’t simply for length-sake will dig this too, as every song is over 6 minutes and while nothing here is fast, it’s anything but boring. “Land Of Mystery” isn’t the easiest thing in the world to track down but crazy and atmospheric as hell, it’s worth the search and price (there has been at least one CD re-issue). As an added note, BLACK HOLE recorded a 2nd album in 1988 called “Living Mask” that wasn’t released then, but was issued in 2000 and can be found on CD issue. A lot of people don’t like this sophomore effort as it’s even weirder and less metal, but I think it’s quite interesting and worth searching out as well. Mystery, Italian Style

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lips In The Hills...That Suck

WHITE HILLS – “White Hills” CD ’10 (Thrill Jockey, US) – This new CD by WHITE HILLS (at least their 3rd, I believe) is put together in a really nice package. It’s one of those mini-LP sleeves, with the insert in one side and the CD in the other side, actually housed in a mini paper inner sleeve, just like an LP in the old days. The real shame of it all is that, for all this, the album sucks…and how. I did acid once in my life. One friggin’ time. On one hand, I didn’t see whirling cosmic spirals, become in touch with my inner “oneness” and hear Santana or Black Sabbath at 78 or any of those holy-grail-type trips everyone wanted at the time. On the other hand, I didn’t freak out and begin to eat my own hands or run naked into traffic either, nor did I experience years of nightmarish flashbacks. However, now having heard this self-titled release by WHITE HILLS, I think I may have my finger on the pulse of what a bad trip could be. This is basically an hour of distorted white noise that drifts in and out of coherence, albeit mostly out. It is bad music, played by even less-talented people and unfortunately a complete waste of time, hence the relatively short review. Beam Me Up, Scotty

Damn, My Fingers Are Stuck In The Strings

JOE PERRY – “Have Guitar, Will Travel” CD ’09 (Roman, US) – One thing I’ll tell you right away, I’m no insider. I mean, hey, all the stuff going on with Aerosmith, Tyler being thrown out, you hear all kinds of stories. Magazines & blogs are full of all kinds of shit: Stephen’s been ousted because he relapsed and the rest of ‘em are squeaky clean; other members are using also; Perry’s girlfriend is running the band. Jesus, who even cares, you know, the last good album they put out was “Done With Mirrors,” right? So I’m hearing maybe this JOE PERRY solo record might be something and then I listen and realize that I’ve just gotta say something. This dude must be one of the most criminally OVER-rated guitar players of all time. Look at the picture of him on the cover! Damn, it looks like this dude is playing the lead at the end of “Three Mile Smile” there (but wasn’t that Jimmy Crespo, anyway, if you believe more of the stories?) Then you look at the back…more PERRY guitar hero poses. And every time you see this joker in a magazine, he’s all fashioned-out in the same heroin-chic duds he was sporting in 1977. Thing is, you then play this album and it sucks. Sounds like drum machines on the first song and a lame-ass speed-up part at the end to ape the live version of “Train….” 2nd song is a patched together one-ball take on the already-over-played classic rock staple, “Same Old Song & Dance.” Let’s see, what’s next? “Do You Wonder” is and now the song matches the clothes, a crappy try at replicating the Stones’ country-smack-genius on “Sticky Fingers.” Everywhere you turn, there’s just more mediocrity and, unfortunately a wealth of sloppy, lousy guitar playing. Cringe your way through “No Surprise.” The hideous talk-box slide here makes George Thoroughly-Bad sound like Brother Duane. Like I said, I don’t know what’s going on in the Aerosmith camp these days but then again, with one of it’s chief protagonists cranking out pablum like this, who the fuck cares. Have Guitar, Will Play It Badly

My Boy, Elroy

ELOY – “Visionary” CD ’10 (The Laser’s Edge, Ger) – I walked into the record store awhile ago and came across this disc with some surprise, thumbing through the ELOY section (great to have a record store that would even have and “ELOY section,” but that’s another matter). I wasn’t even sure, despite the “2010” imprint, whether this was a new release or a re-issue of something from several years back, having lost touch with the German progressive band sometime during the late ‘80’s. I decided, “What the hell?” if this is in fact new, I’ll see what Frank Bornemann and company are up to these days. With that thought in mind, I approached the young lady at the counter and asked if she could look it up in their system. She took the CD from me, began typing in the name and, as God is my witness, said these words: “Let’s see, ‘Visionary’ by ELROY!” ELROY. Ok, I know. The girl was probably 20 years old and we’re talking about progressive rock band that opened for customers some 40 years ago. Still, ELROY! That’s fucking funny!

But anyway, that 40 year thing and the first ELOY album is something that’s always been a bit of an obstacle for me. See, ELOY’s debut in 1970 hit right in my wheelhouse at the time. By far the heaviest rock album the band ever would do, it featured that “Conny Plank” sound. Think Scorpion’s “Lonesome Crow” & the first Sabbath as references, or more obscurely, Nightsun’s “Mournin’.” So, with my heavy rock heart embracing this style, I was always liable to perhaps unfairly compare everything ELOY would do to follow with that blaster. The real truth is that this band (always the brainchild of guitarist Frank Bornemann) would develop a very consistent vibe, involving dreamy Floyd-like space explorations, strung together on Bornemann’s jazzy guitar and lush keyboard travels. Occasionally, Frank’s guitar would raise up to distorted levels, not as the destination but simply as one of the vehicles. And, this theme would carry the group through some simply superb records during their mid-period: “Inside,” “Floating,” “Ocean,” etc. which saw them achieve what most artists dream of. They were able to play music that they loved, under no pressures to change or conform from the outside and established a loyal fan base all the while. Even I, with my predilection for the more metalized debut, dug what Bornemann & crew were doing and I picked up nearly ever record they did, up to around “Metromania” in ’84, when my forays into thrash, death and the like saw me skew away from the more melodic stuff.

Which brings us to 2010 and “Visionary.” I may be handicapped in a sense, admittedly having not heard the 4 albums that came during the years 1988 – 1998. Still, even with that in mind, “Visionary” picks up very nicely where I left off with ELOY. Are there any massive surprises here? No. There are 7 lengthy cuts here, mostly in the 7 minute range and they all glide along at the Waters/Gilmour pace that implies no one is rushing to catch a train. Frank B. has enlisted some old ELOY names from the past to join him here: Klaus-Peter Matziol (bass), Michael Gerlach (keyboards), Bodo Schopf (drums) and Hannes Folberth (keys) as well as a handful of other assorted musicians. As is generally the case, none of them takes center stage for long, each simply becoming part of a tapestry that’s often dream-like. I’ve heard some say that they wish for more of Bornemann’s lengthy guitar solos, and that would be ok with me too, but in truth I never thought of the man as the next coming of Robin Trower. In fact, probably the most dominant single instrument on “Visionary” is Frank’s vocal delivery. Often considered an acquired taste, his somewhat reedy mid-range actually hits me on these tracks like meeting an old friend after a long absence and is quite welcome. While most of the cuts here blend, again, like the “Atom Heart…”-era Floyd work, I do find the within-the-album bookends of “The Secret” and it’s 9-minute sister, “Mystery (The Secret, Part 2)” to be highlights.

Bottom line? “Visionary” is not going to have most prog hounds frothing at the mouth, nor is it the album that will get your punk-only friend to set aside his Jay Reatard records to begin his new foray into progressive music. Still, for me, it’s been and continues to be a very nice listen and one that takes me back to some good old days with fresh tunes. That’s a cool thing. Frankly Good

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Saints Come Marching In

ARMORED SAINT – “La Raza” CD ’10 (Metal Blade, US) – All-timers are a tough thing to tussle with. I’m talking about the ones that occupy that special wing of the Grand Halls…the room with the extra security guard who used to be a Green Beret, the state-of-the-art system that monitors the levels of dust in the air to the millionth of a particle. And let’s not even talk about the inch-thick bullet-proof glass. Point is, for me, the names include things like “Stained Class,” “Vol. 4” and “Black Rose: A Rock Legend” and talking about them is often wordy, difficult and full of circular references. I suppose that’s because trying to encapsulate records that have had such a massive impact on me over time is a mammoth task, a bit akin to describing the Grand Canyon in a sentence. California metal band ARMORED SAINT was the author of another of the Raysrealm all-timers when they put their signatures on 1991’s “Symbol Of Salvation.” I can’t think of another record that has taken the leave-it-in-your-car-forever-roll-down-the-windows-and-crank-this-mutha-up factor to a higher level than this monster. Featuring a wealth of music previously penned by their fallen (to leukemia, sadly) guitarist Dave Pritchard, “Symbol…” delivers one bad-assed classic after another: “Reign Of Fire,” “Dropping Like Flies,” “Last Train Home,”…ok, the entire track listing. Since then, SAINT vocalist John Bush (once considered by Metallica as a frontman) has gone on to enjoy success in tenures with Anthrax, appearing on a couple quite decent albums like “Sound Of White Noise.” SAINT reconvened with the “Symbol…” line-up for 2000’s “Revelation,” a record that, while not nearly as good as it’s predecessor, still showed that some fire remained. Now, some 10 years later, we see the same line-up again come together to deliver another platter. The question is, is it the goods?

Part of the point of my lengthy (yeah, I know, typically Ray-like!) intro above is just that. Sometimes delivering the goods involves more than just a Judas Priest title. Sometimes it involves understanding that it’s never a good idea to try to replicate past glories. Too often, you end up with a…um…replication of past glories, that is, a lesser-than shadow of something that simply can’t be duplicated. In a sense, I think that’s what happened with ARMORED SAINT’s effort on “Revelation.” They tried, even if subconsciously, to do “Symbol’s” sequel. There seemed to be a feeling in that record of emulating Pritchard’s songwriting style and the result, while still decent (likely because A.S. is such a good band anyway) was not even nearly as fulfilling to the listener. Well, my friends, I think that ARMORED SAINT has found their lesson well learned with “La Raza.” The point is, you are not going to be hearing something that sounds like “Symbol Of Salvation II” when you press “play” on this thing. What you are going to find waiting for you is a record that is fresh, vital and ARMORED SAINT in 2010, comfortable in their own skin and better for it. You don’t have to wait any longer than “Loose Cannon.” Sure, John Bush’s vocals come roaring out of the box with the same throaty, mid-range swagger they’ve always had. But listen to that layering on the pre-chorus, the nifty little guitar fills that put a smile on my face. Different and I like it. Same with “Head On.” The organ (!!!) intro is something new and sets the mood perfectly and only makes the riffs of Phil Sandoval & Jeff Duncan that much heavier when they crash in. Bush sounds like he’s having the time of his life at the cool funky break (3:42) when he croons “Like an old dawg,” and when he hits the super-hook-laden chorus, he’s flying. Somehow this all merges as smooth as silk with the blistering guitar solo that dominates the middle of the song. And, sign-post moments like these abound. “Chilled” has a sort of old-Doobies-meets-metal vibe, massive chorus included and the title cut could almost be a clandestine meeting of SAINT with Santana circa. “No One To Depend On!”

The beauty of it all is that with “La Raza,” ARMORED SAINT have kept true to their metal roots while letting their sound breathe and grow. In the process, they’ve created what can only be described as a diverse and even panoramic rock album that nearly anyone you know, from underground to mainstream would dig. In addition, there is also a very nice thread of acknowledgement to some of the band members’ Hispanic culture and urban background and how it relates to the entire human race, lyrically as well as musically. In short, “La Raza” is an album that should be getting massive airplay on your local FM rock station right now. It’s great and if your next door neighbors heard it, they’d probably think so too. So, play the sumbitch for ‘em – now. Who Dat Gonna Beat Dem Saints