Monday, November 22, 2010

Psychedelic Java

FLARED – “Debuten” CD ’10 (Unique, Swe) – Psych is a funny genre. Well I didn’t mean humorous but, come to think of it, it actually can be that. I mean, think about it…there have been times, mostly in my deep and far-reaching past, that I may have had a chuckle or three as a so-called psychedelic album played. Was that a reflection on the quality of the music that emanated from the speakers during such a listening session? Probably not. Could it have resulted from the ingestion of some controlled substance at a time pursuant to said listening? Yes, it could. But none of that really matters because it’s not what I meant in the first damn place. Why do y’all have to try to confuse me like this?! NO! What I mean is that psych is a strange one…in a sense like our old storied friend, “prog,” it’s a slippery eel. What is it? Is it Hawkwind? Is it the Elevators? Is it Acid Mothers Temple? You see?! None of these sound the same and yet would anyone deny that any one of them is psych? What the hell long-winded and probably useless point is Ray trying to get to now???

Here’s the point, mofo. You can call psych anything you want or call anything you want psych. Just don’t call me late for dinner and don’t you ever dare say that FLARED’s initial effort “Debuten” isn’t a damn good representation of the genre. I like FLARED. I don’t necessarily like them because they were probably fucked up when they made this record, I like them because they were probably fucked up enough to make this thing groove like no tomorrow. Listen to the opening cut, “Coffee Break.” Now, seriously, how many people are going to write a song called “Coffee Break” (as in, “I need a……..) and have it’s maiden section sound like Chicago Transit Authority after dipping into the bad tabs. And, none of that stops it from completely shape-shifting part the way through and turning into a mind-erasing sonic landscape that would give Dave Brock pause. The next song “Figure Out” will have you saying, “Damn, I can’t figure these guys out,” because all the sudden we’re being battered about the ears by some seriously dirty hard rock. In case you hadn’t guessed, this kinda unfolding and wing-spreading is going to keep happening all thru your listen, with guests as unexpected as soul and jazz making visits along the way. I have to say, FLARED is really quite adept at all this morphing and changing and, yes, I think you will still recognize them when the last cut finishes and your player resets to Track 1. Still, if psych is going to continue to exist and push forward into the 21st Century, it’s a pretty nice feeling to know it’s safe in the hands of people like FLARED. Bell Bottom Blues, Don't Say Goodbye Ray Dorsey

Friday, November 19, 2010

Grand Halls 50

SORTILEGE – “Larmes De Heros” (Madrigal / Steamhammer, 1986) – I know what I’m gonna sound like here but I’ve gotta go ahead and do it anyway. I’m going to sound like the proverbial politician who’s gotten caught red-handed and is backed into a corner, trying to weasel his way out. “See, this is how it was…there were reasons, Senator, I really didn’t…well, you know, I mean…they made me do it? Who? Well, my constituents, they made me…I know, I know, I didn’t really want to do anything wrong, but it was for the good of the country!” Ok, ok, what the hell am I talking about, you ask. Here goes. SORTILEGE was from France. I don’t know if they have crooked politicos in old Paris but they had one helluva lot of good metal back in the early ‘80’s. Trust, High Power, Attentat Rock, I could go on ad nauseum but what’s the point, there were a zillion Killers (ha ha, that’s another one, Killers) and SORTILEGE was top o’ the heap. I remember when their debut EP came out in ’83. The minute I saw it in the store, I knew it was a stone cold lock to rule. Hell, it was on Rave-On Records, the very same label that sported the debut Mercyful Fate mini-album a year before. No further endorsement needed there but like that dastardly Danish disc, the self-titled monster was filled to the brim with scorching melodic post-NWOBHM riffola, piled high with incendiary lead guitar from one Stephane Dumont, already being hailed as the French Hank Shermann! It was only one year later that the band would deliver their 2nd effort, the full-length “Metamorphose.” Expounding upon the aural lashing they’d delivered on the EP, SORTILEGE upped the ante with the vox of Christian Augustin soaring Halford-like into the stratosphere as Dumont set his fretboard aflame. A song like “Majeste” displayed a band who could pen a metal epic with any of their contemporaries and I can’t even count the times Andre’ and I cued back the needle to try and learn Dumont’s absolutely filthy solo in “Civilisation Perdue” (which much to our chagrin, did not end up meaning “Land Of The Chickens.”) Flash forward then, 2 whole years. In that time, for a lot of us, the musical landscape had shifted seismically. A few little names like Metallica, Exodus and Slayer had worked their way into the everyday vernacular. And so, it was with thoughts involving killing posers and raining blood that we walked into Brooklyn NY’s Zig Zag Records one day in 1986. It was one of our legendary record-buying trips, excursions upon which we would skip meals in favor of saving money to buy new metal. This was serious stuff, and so, when I looked up at the “New Metal Import” wall, I spied what could only be a new SORTILEGE album, “Larmes De Heros.” The cover looked cool, a drawing of some kind of Greek or Roman…wait for it…Hero crying. I was about to add this jewel to my “must-buy” pile when I turned the jacket over and felt my stomach turn even more. The pictures of the guys in the band looked HORRIBLE!!! I mean, you have to understand…I still loved traditional metal. The problem was, that cranky infant thrash had skewed my sensibilities just a bit and…well, let’s just say I expected my metal guys to look bad-assed! SORTILEGE looked distinctly UN-bad-assed on this sleeve, all nicely coiffed and rock-starr-ish clothes to the point where one of my buds, who shall remain nameless, looked over my shoulder and was heard to say, “Jesus, they look like pussies.” From that very point I, the sheep, yes Senator…I put “Larmes De Heros” back on the rack and never looked back. Until…

…Not sure how long it was exactly. Had to be years, I’m thinking sometime at least into the early-‘90’s. I was paging through some death metal mag when I spied a picture of Death’s Chuck Schuldiner (R.I.P.) onstage. Nothing odd about that…what was odd, however, was the man sporting a SORTILEGE – “Larmes De Heros” t-shirt. I looked. Then I looked again. I couldn’t figure it out. How could a guy who was in something so heavy, who had concocted riffs to things from “Zombie Ritual” to “The Philosopher” in any way sponsor or support something that had looked as fey as this?! (There’s a key word in that last sentence and you probably already know what it is). And then my mind began to work on scenarios: 1) He’d met the band, they gave him a shirt and he didn’t want to be rude and turn it down. 2) Someone gave him the shirt as a gift. 3) Chuck was a fool and didn’t really know anything about music. Ok, that was enough…time to get to the bottom of this. From the old days, I had kept in touch with Chuck and decided to give him a call. The conversation went something like this in abbreviated form: “Hey Ray, how’s it been going, man?” “Chuck, I’ve gotta ask you something. I saw a picture of you with a SORTILEGE – “Larmes De Heros” shirt on.” “Yeah, definitely.” “Why?” “Why not, man? That’s like the best French metal album ever!” Stunned silence on my end. “Ray, you there?” “Uh…yeah I’m here. I have to admit, I never heard it…they looked so….um…” “Yeah, on the cover, I know. But you’ve gotta hear it man, it completely rules! Stephane Dumont is just like crying, he’s screaming and killing, the leads are insane. Christian’s vocals are sick, he’s singing so good! And the songs are God. There are these 2 seven-minute epics that are…man, give me your address, I’ll record it for you.” True to form (wasn’t the first cassette…yes, I said “cassette” Chuck ever sent me) the package showed up in the mail a couple days later. Did I play that sumbitch constantly for about a year?! Can Geico really save you a couple hundred bux on your car insurance?!

To be honest, I really feel like I ought to just let “Evil” Chuck Schuldiner’s ringing endorsement stand as better than any review I could ever write about SORTILEGE’s 3rd and final recorded output. I will embellish a bit though, as I feel like I owe this band and album quite a bit in terms of the years and unfounded derision with which I showered it. Folks, this damn thing’s got it all…Ass-busting rockers like “La Hargne Des Tordus.” The towering twin epics of “Quand Un Aveugle Reve” and “Marchand d’Hommes.” Christian unveiling a vocal tour de force for the ages and Mr. Dumont setting himself in stone as one of the greatest metal guitarists of all-time. His soloing on “Chasse Le Dragon” and “Mourir Pour Une Princesse” reaches Akira-like levels in friction burn damage. Sadly, this brilliant album would be the last statement issued by SORTILEGE. I s’pose this was due to a combination of deadly errors: the always fickle musical scene, a questionable choice in clothes and hairstyle and possibly worse of all, a bunch of ignoramuses like myself who let those silly pics of the boys put me off from even hearing it. So, yes, Senator, I stand guilty as charged. The good news is, my constituents, you can still go free and enjoy. This bad boy has been re-issued at least twice on CD, so it's out there! Heroes End Ray Dorsey

No, It Ain't The Pink Floyd Album

DWARR – “Animals” CD ‘86/’10 (Drag City, US) – Is anybody else reading this old enough to remember the tape trading days? That’s right, I said tape trading? I’m sure right now a couple of the young whippersnappers are scratching their heads, saying to themselves “Hmm, tape trading? What did y’all do, Ray, head on down to Office Depot and hang out in the 3M Aisle? Hey, I’ll give you a dispenser of double-sided adhesive for two rolls of half-inch masking? Boring days, eh, Ray?” Ok smart asses, enough. By tape trading, I’m not talking about a bunch of Staples groupies huffing Elmers. I’m pining for the times of waiting by the mailbox for a packet to emerge replete with the joys of a TDK-D90 loaded to the brim with 2 rare albums I could never hope to afford otherwise. But, slip that baby in the blaster and I was ushered into a world of…well, things like DWARR. One of my very favorite trading compatriots was a wonderful guy who, sadly is no longer with us, a buddy from Virginia named Nigel Fellers. Nigel had a vast library and knowledge of not only doom metal, but all things remotely associated with it, stretching the boundaries of hard rock, heavy prog, dark avant and whatever else. It was he who introduced me into the world of South Carolinian Duane Warr with one of those D-90’s labeled DWARR – “Starting Over” / “Animals.”

Now while it was true that “Starting Over” was the debut record released by Duane Warr, it became clear to me very quickly that the man’s sophomore effort “Animals” was definitely “the one.” Nigel, in fact, had even made a note in the package he’d sent that I remember like the day I got it those many years ago: “Ray, I know you love Paul Chain. Listen to ‘Animals!’” I did…and listened again…and again…and again. This is how it is, so listen closely people. “Animals” is without question, one of the most unique 40-some minutes of heavy music you’re ever going to hear. If you’re familiar with Italian doom monster Chain, you may have a point to jump from. So let’s just say our boy Paul C took a trip to the U.S. and found himself in some non-descript town in South Carolina in the ‘80’s. It’s fun to imagine that he wandered out of town, down some suburban street on the other side of the tracks and found himself in the last house on the left, surrounded by jacked-up Chevy Novas and some talk weeds…and some other…um…good weed, not to mention some other controlled materials. He was welcomed into the house by our friend Duane and was heard to comment, “Dang, son but your house is kinda listing to the one side there.” (Odd accent for an Italian guy, but help me out here, it makes this concocted story more fun). Mr. WARR was then heard to say, “Yeah, that’s true, it’s the weight of all the Marshalls in that room making it sag.” And without a further comment, PC was seen to vanish right back into thin air yet he left young Duane imbued with his spirit, wherein he really did become an otherworldly rawk demon called DWARR. He then proceeded to inscribe this dark unholy racket onto tape, these 13 texts of metallic horror that now inhabit the CD you’re holding. Now if all things hi-fi and hi-tech are your prerequisite for having a good time, I have two things to say: 1) my sympathies to your girlfriend 2) you ain’t gonna like this. This stuff sounds like it was recorded in a house…and a haunted one, for that matter. And that’s half the appeal. The ramshackle, backwoods production only serves to amplify the psychedelic frenzy and desperation of this music. And “desperation” is a key word. This album sounds as though it was made with every bit of Mr. WARR’s life on the line. This is metal in some sense, but not until it’s been run through something so dark, bizarre and utterly freaky that it will have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. It’s not fast, it’s not thrash…it’s just harrowing. The cavernous vocals and, frankly, absolutely ripping lead guitar that makes many appearances only serve to deepen the darkness that just oozed from “Animals” collective soul. It’s a real snapshot of a guy who was exorcising SOMETHING or at least trying to. The fact that Duane completed this project on his own (with some session percussion from Ron Sparks) only makes it’s genuine passion that much more impressive.

Simply put, if you are a fan of heavy music and have a taste that runs toward the decidedly dark, deep and disturbing end of things, these are some “Animals” you’re going to need to track down. Some Kind Of Monster Ray Dorsey

NOTE: Word has it that after the recording of “Animals” Duane Warr became a very religious man. He continued to record music and produced at least 2 more DWARR releases, namely “Holy One” and “Times Of Terror.” I haven’t heard these 2 yet, but I’m thinking they’d be worth checking out. “Starting Over,” while not on the order of this mutha, surely is.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Resist Or Die!

RESISTOR – “Rise” CD ’10 (Private, US) – Well, howdya like them apples?! I mean, George Carlin’s wisdom notwithstanding, you just never know, do you? Here I am, going to the Day Of Prog in PA this past summer, witnessing slaying sets by the likes of Gravity & Syzygy and little did I know my biggest revelation would come on the ride home. Now granted, said ride would come in the wheels of legendary prog-rock-jockey Rick & Roll (Rickter Scale, Delicious Agony net radio), so you know you wouldn’t be listening to Lady GagHer. Still, I was sure not expecting to have my clock cleaned the way I did. It began subtly enough…Rick sticking a CD in the player prefaced only by the remark, “This is the new RESISTOR.” At that point however, everything changed. The first thing I noticed was the production, the guitar sound. Man alive, the glory days are back! A warm, analog-sounding heaviness with two distinct guitarists laying down wicked riffs, one in the left channel, one in the right…just like KK and Glenn in the ‘70’s! Do you hear me brothers and sisters! Let me testify to the Lord of rawk! But that’s not all! Cool mid-range vox that go from a Palumbo-ish smirk to Wishbone Ash-style harmonies. In fact, just in the 7-minute opener alone, I’m hearing what sounds like a midnight summit with Andy Powell, Ted Turner, John Palumbo, Frank Zappa with hmmm…let’s see, Chris Tsangrides sitting at the desk and maybe Tipton and Downing showing up fresh from doing “Sad Wings…!” Yeah, let’s make it clear that this is GUITAR prog! No army of keys here to throw a pall of wimpdom onto the proceedings, honcho! Whether it’s galloping proto-Celtic-metal of “Spaceghetti” or the volatile build-up of “Ether,” this is top-level stuff and when we get to the 16+ minute “Mimosa,” it’s like “Wow!” You’ve got a new favourite lead guitar duo and their names are Steve Unruh and Fran Turner. I’m not kidding when I say these guys are laying down a six-string clinic that’s on the par with the best of the aforementioned W.A. & J.P. guys, not to mention other gods like Thin Lizzy. This is the real deal! The jazzy guitar solo in “Mimosa” starting around 10:57 is like “Run Of The Mill" in a lysergic dream and as it ascends toward the end of the song, it is God!!!

You want some even better news, peeps? What I’ve discussed is only half of the album. Really. No shit. Because what follows “Mimosa” is a 39+ minute epic called “The Land Of No Groove.” Divided neatly into sub-sections a la the best Neil Peart opus, this one is best described as a metallic distant cousin of Zappa’s “Billy The Mountain.” If you are not completely entertained nor don’t have friction burns from air guitar by the time the “Groove Revolution” segment ends you are truly pathetic and massively incapable of RAWKING! I know I said this before…I’m not senile yet…but RESISTOR not only contains one of the very best 2-guitar teams I’ve ever heard, they have also released what has gotta be one of the hottest albums of 2010. Howdya like them apples?! The Land Of All Kinds Of Groove Ray Dorsey

Note: Seems Mr. Steve Unruh (guitars/vox) also has quite a lengthy prog/rock pedigree and has a ton of great stuff available, all of which I need to obtain asap!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Let's Welcome Andre'!!!

With his snappy review of the brand new masterpiece by LA OTRACINA directly below, I'd like to welcome a long-time cronie of mine, Mr. Andre' Wilson, to the Raysrealm fold. Andre' has been around nearly as long as your's truly (not sure this is something to be proud of! lol) and has a knowledge of music encapsuling genres as widely varied as thrash metal, old R&B, jazz and God-knows what else! Our good buddy Dr. Dre' has been advised to contribute more killer stuff in upcoming times or be beaten severely. We'll see if he complies...or furnishes a photo of himself.... Of course, there is always that Witness Protection Plan thing to consider.

Bring Me The Head Of Reality!

LA OTRACINA – “Reality Has Got To Die” CD ’10 (Holy Mountain, US) – THIS CD UTTERLY DESTROYS!!! We’re talkin’ scorched earth destroys here! A very heavy blend of prog / psych / space / doom-ish metal with a garage feel to it, if that sounds believable. This is definitely one of the most uniquely heavy things I’ve heard in a damn while, Resistor notwithstanding. LA OTRACINA has a sort of Fu Manchu / Hawkwind / Hendrixy (the spacey side of Jimi) thing to ‘em in spots, with lots of excruciatingly heavy fuzz guitar, droning bass, relentless percussion, reverb, echo and presumably a large quantity of uncontrolled substances! “Crystal Wizards Of The Cosmic Weird” sounds like “2001: A Space Odyssey” on acid. The near-20-minute title track, “Reality Has Got To Die” has a middle section that’s reminiscent of “Third Stone From The Sun” on (more!) acid and lastly, “Mass Meteroic Mind” has a very original sound that’s hard (for me, anyway) to describe but if I had to try…a strange, spacey Mahogany Rush or a weirder Wolfmother…maybe and again, on acid! I’ve gotta hear more of their stuff! Tell me if the drummer doesn’t remind you of Mitch Mitchell? In my opinion, this is the album that should have been entitled “Heavy Metal Hippies.” Sorry Akira! Andre Wilson

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Big Steven And His Disciples

SANCTA SANCTORUM – “The Shining Darkness” CD ’10 (Black Widow, Ita) – I have a problem. It’s something that I’ve lived with for many years now and while I haven’t mentioned it a whole lot lately, it’s probably something that’s gonna have to come to the fore. The problem that I have is not one with drink, smoke nor any other ingestible mind-altering substance…. That is to say, unless you consider sound waves entering the ear canal “ingesting.” In a sense, I suppose it is. With that in mind, then, it’s incumbent upon me to reveal the nature of this…ahem…issue of mine. The bottom line is that if I hear the name “Steve Sylvester” mentioned in connection to any sort of sound recording, I immediately get a glazed look in my eye. Things like my children eating, paying the mortgage and going to work recede immediately to some back corner of my mind. I then am seized by a fierce and determined nature and, armed with this passionate verve, I arise from my easy chair, stride to the front door and embark upon my quest to obtain whatever recorded medium it is that bears the name of this underground Italian metal legend. No one is safe. I’ve been known to behead elderly women, throw small children to wolves and raze entire cities if need be in order to insert a new SYLVESTER or DEATH SS disc into the Realm-O-Matic and hit “Play.” So, when my age-old buddy Mass (Black Widow Records) emailed me and asked if I’d like to receive a review copy of the new SANCTA SANCTORUM CD, a band fronted by none other than Mr. SYLVESTER himself, I did what only a man named Ray Dorsey would do. I hunched o’er the keyboard, grimaced like the old Horned One himself and typed those fateful words, “Send it now or die.” Well, I really didn’t do that, I actually said something like “Damn right, bro, send it on over!” Either way, “The Shining Darkness” is now in my hands, in the player and the story is…

You need this! If you have any affiliation at all with hard rock/metal and like your crush-dom dark and evil, you don’t have a whole section of the Bible if this isn’t on your shelf. With SANCTA SANCTORUM, our good ol’ STEVE has assembled quite a line-up! On drums is none other than another legend of the underground Italian scene, former DEATH SS and Paul Chain sticksman Thomas Hand Chaste. Bass is handled by another old cronie bassist Danny Hughes, while keys get their pounding by John Di Lallo. Last but not least, that six-string thing is delivered by a guy with what must be one of the most amazing names of all time, Frederick Dope. (Really!) The result of this meeting of the Italian musical minds is a landmark in heavy doom rawk that has scarcely left my player since it’s arrived. While there is a close connection to the dark, sinister metal of SYLVESTER’s DSS days and his solo output, the sound here also (and quite to my great pleasure!) veers even further into the realm of ‘70’s heavy progressive rawk than STEVE has ever gone. Di Lallo’s keys have a lot to do with this. Never becoming over-bearing, they blend into the mixture like a wonderful secret ingredient being folded into a recipe at just the right time. The added depth is something to behold throughout the album. Moreover, Dope’s (man I love that!) guitar is a massive acid tractor from pillar to post. Taking a cue from Iommi, but more so from the FIRST Sabbath record than any other, his sound is vintage yet timeless and his soloing is nasty as hell. Clearly this young guy has studied at the feet of the masters! Tying it all together of course, is SYLVESTER himself. This is a man who’s voice could never be called a model of technical schooling and yet like most of the true ‘70’s gods, his insistent mid-range poses more of a palpable threat, an distinct evil, than any death metal growler you’ve ever entrusted your cochlea to. STEVE’s big secret? What makes him so great? Melody! It’s never complicated but it's always there, and the man once again displays a singular talent for incorporating melodies of nearly pop-like hook into music that is devastatingly heavy and frankly evil. He simply gets better with age.

In short, “The Shining Darkness” is clearly one of the best releases in the Black Widow labels’s storied history, and that’s saying something! Leave it to STEVE SYLVESTER to put his name on such a release, that’s really no surprise. It’s another of his wonderful works that just keeps flowering more & more each time I hear it. Shine On You Crazy Diamond

Psych With Teeth

BLACK LAND– “Extreme Heavy Psych” CD ’10 (Blood Rock, Ita) – Remember that song “The Way We Were?” Barbra Streisand, right? Hell, my dad loved Barbra Streisand…well, not in the Biblical sense, I s’pose my mom might have had a problem with that although I’m betting he’d have liked it but…damn, I’m ADHD-ing all over the place, now aren’t I? Thing is, that song started out with that line, “Memories, like the corners of my mind….” That’s what I was thinking when I started spinning this little piece of the pie that Mass from Black Widow Records sent me(BW is the exclusive distributor of Blood Rock Rec). (He sent me a ton of shit recently, and I’ll be getting to it all coming up, but stay patient…). See I started listening to this disc from Italy’s BLACK LAND and for some reason, I was hit with memories of a gigantic convention hall in King Of Prussia, PA. ‘twas there, some several years back that, in digging thru a box of dusty metal rekids on the floor, I came face to face with a hunk of vinyl from a British band called Mournblade. “Live Fast Die Young” was a cool find because it ended up being one of those quirky NWOBHM albums I love so much…the ones like Legend, Witchfinder General, Shiva, Split Crow, etc. that DID NOT sound like Judas Priest or Maiden. Now before you go getting your tighty whiteys in a bind, I’ve got nothing against those Metal Gods. Anybody who’s ever seen my shrine to “Stained Class” will attest to that. No, I just really had a fond place for the bands from that era who took a path-less-trodden than all the dual-lead, laser riffing monsters of the day and Mournblade was one. Kinda imagine a cross between Motorhead, Sabbath and some quite odd heavy-handed version of Hawkwind and you might be close.

So, imagine my surprise when I spun this new (and apparently 3rd) effort from BLACK LAND. Now to be fair, I’d say that BL has a lot more of the Sabbath end of the stick up their sleeves than the NWOBHM obscurities I described above but at the same time, my reaction was unmistakable…about three songs in and one word went thru my mind: Mournblade. That’s pretty damn cool and original…I mean, how many bands do you hear who remind you of friggin’ Mournblade?! I just love the style here…. Long songs to begin with, and you know how I like that! These guys will start with a heavy, Iommi-an lick, topped with some spacey electronic overlays and explore that for awhile. Then, just when you think you’ve got ‘em pegged, a rhythm shift snaps into action and your being dragged down the road on a Harley of a riff. Man, you can almost see Lemmy standing under his shower-level mike and nodding with a wart-ridden smile. The strength of this keeps up for an entire album, 8 songs including a triad of 9-minute behemoths that the word “truck” might suit quite nicely. Guitarist Willer steals the show here, not only with his simple-yet-effective riffs but more than once, this dude unleashes a wah-wah lead frenzy that completely takes u by surprise in it’s ferocity and peels some serious paint. Gotta say, as usual Black Widow delivers the goods, this time by distributing another bad-ass CD on the Blood Rock imprint. Just don’t get carried away and start putting out Babs Streisand stuff now, Mass! Extreme Heavy Sucker

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Forbidden Evil!

FORBIDDEN – “Omega Wave” CD ’10 (Nuclear Blast, US) – You know what I’ve been thinking? This has been one helluva year for the SF Bay Area. I mean, think about it. The Giants just won the World Series. Now, as a baseball fan, had somebody told you on April 1 that they would be holding the title in November, would you have bought that over MLB’s nearly pre-ordained Yankees/Phillies match-up? Don’t think so. And, as an Oriole fan, I gotta say it was nice to see at least SOMEBODY wearing black and orange hoist that trophy since, even now in the “Buck Era,” the chances of the O’s doing it any time soon are slim and none. And as Chuck Thompson would say, slim just left town.

So, yeah, SF is atop the sports world right now and we haven’t even begun on music. To put it simply, 2010 has witnessed a hundred megaton explosion in the Bay Area thrash scene. It’s been a confluence of brutal greatness, seeing spectacular new releases from longtime luminaries like Exodus, Heathen, Death Angel and now, FORBIDDEN. Of course, it would be real easy for me to lie right here. I could say that I have been the biggest FORBIDDEN fan since the release of their first album, “Forbidden Evil” in 1988. However, there would be a problem with that. It wouldn’t be the truth. At all. Now let me make one thing perfectly clear: I haven’t had anything against these dudes. It’s not like I found out their albums were the carriers of some strange disease and, therefore, vowed to keep them from crossing my threshold for fear of contamination. It’s not that I have some personal grudge against any of the band members for running off with a wife or girlfriend or stealing any of my shit. I’m pretty sure none of them have ever done any of those things. No, there really is no explanation for it. Sometimes even a guy like me who tries to keep up with everything that goes on in the music scene whiffs on something entirely. I mean, hell, Columbus missed an entire continent when he thought he was in the West Indies and he got a holiday for it, so take it easy people! Thing is, I just never checked these guys out! I have no idea why. Probably was too busy listening to Natas rehearsal tapes or something. So, when I started hearing a lot of talk online, on Facebook and all, people going on about a new FORBIDDEN album, first one since 1997, I went “Hmm…” When the comments began alluding to the fact that this was on the order of a new Heathen release I was like, “Whoa, wait a minute Charlie, either these people are imbeciles or I need to be schooled.” I looked again at the names of said persons, realized they were decidedly not idiots and headed to class. Thus, a crash course ensued in ass-busting records like the aforementioned “…Evil,” and “Twisted Into Form” and with that thrash credo under my belt, I sauntered into Record And Tape Traders on Monday Oct 25 and plunked down $ 11 for “Omega Wave.” As it would turn out, choices don’t come a whole lot smarter than that.

Simply put, this record is an MMF. That is to say, my friends, it’s a monster-mother-fucker. It kicks ass…and then it kicks some more ass. Then it takes what’s left of your sorry butt, drags you behind the woodshed and gives you a fine, sound beating if you need one. And if you don’t, it gives you one anyway, in spades and like a red-headed stepchild. This sumbitch has simply got it all. It takes all the best aspects of the fresh and early thrash scene, ratchets it up with super unique ideas and riffs (pretty hard to do now some 30 years down the line from “Kill ‘Em All”) and laces it with wonderful dollops of cherry topping like great vocals and lead guitar work that will have your head spinning for days. Oh, and did I forget? Simply superb, memorable songs. Interestingly, “Omega Wave” is kind of a tale of two halves and I’ll explain what’s so cool about each. After the soaring intro called “Alpha Century,” filled with some dazzling guitar harmonies that would do Tipton & Downing proud, FORBIDDEN launches into a headlong thrash assault. Borne on smokers like “Forsaken At The Gates” (Why do I miss titles like this so much!) and “Adapt Or Die," this is the sound of a band that despite their…ahem…maturity…are sounding as hungry, pissed and lethal as it gets. Craig Locicero and Steve Smyth pull one nasty, saw-toothed riff after another out of their axes and surgically rivet your ass to the wall as Russ Anderson lashes out with vox that are at once raw, powerful and still way-tuneful. At this point comes a strange little 2-minute instrumental called “Chatter,” after which we go down the rabbit hole…and I mean that in the best possible way! While the first half of this album is a brutal thrash attack (adorned by some Voivod-like progressions in “Swine”) we really see the magical creativity of the band unfurl from “Dragging My Casket” on. Here, the songs begin to spread out, pushing closer (and into) the 6-minute range and the ideas flow like molten lava. Through “Hopenosis,” “Immortal Wounds” and “Behind The Mask,” the originality and light and shade continues to grow, peaking in awesome fashion with “Inhuman Race” and then tying everything together as the odd structures and thrash lasers come together perfectly in the scorching title cut. Matt Camacho (bass) and Mark Hernandez (drums) form a ten-ton foundation as atop their punishing blows, Locicero and Smyth weave guitar riffs and leads that will at once have your head Linda-Blair-ing and snagged by deep hooks at the same time. Anderson becomes a vocal chameleon here, laying down one of the most impressive performances I can remember in this kind of music. The guy can effuse gnarly power one minute and thoughtful melody the next and it all makes sense. Bringing everything into focus is the poitively scintillating production job courtesy of Locicero and Tim Narducci and the eye-popping cover art takes me back to a basic truth: Nothing looks better on the cover of a metal album than a big fucking skull! Remember that “Stained Class” jacket and put this baby in heavy rotation cause Frisco is the capital of heavy music once more! A Fresh Chalice Of Blood

The Pastoral Master

PERSEPHONE’S DREAM – “Pan: An Urban Pastoral” CD ’10 (Progrock, US) – Yup, I know people, we’ve been through the whole “what the hell does ‘progressive’” discussion/argument/back-alley-fist-fight enough times around here. I mean, c’mon, I don’t have this bloody bent nose for nothing. I’ve stood my ground on my hard-assed stance that prog can mean a bunch of different things…and all correctly…over enough years that I can match wounds with Quint any day of the week. But that’s all kinda silly, you know, because what I have in my hands right now is this new disc by PERSEPHONE’S DREAM and there ain’t no doubt this one is a prog masterpiece. It’s interesting to note that a lot of concept albums over time have slipped easily into the so-called “prog” genre: “2112,” “Tales Of Topographic Oceans,” “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” the list goes on forever and it’s clear that “Pan…” takes a seat quite comfortably in the upper tiers of this well-populated theater. That’s not to say that this, PD’s 5th album blurs, non-descript, into a long hallway of similar releases. Sure, you’ll hear hints of things (a bit of a Kansas overtone in “Selene Rising,” some Yes rhythmic in “Youth’s Denial”) but these are only jumping-off-points at best. No, PD brings a lot to the table here…whether it’s Rowen Poole’s guitars, going everywhere from metallic to lush 12-string or Ashley Peer’s sensual, powerful vocal delivery, this is vibrant stuff. The thing that’s so great about it is the way the music incorporates so many lights & shades and yet still manages to flow with a smoothness that implies much thought and care. I’m also very impressed by the lyrical themes here. While I’m not going to spill any of the proverbial beans, I’ll say you’re in for quite a treat when you read the liner notes and lyric booklet. In all, you can call me Ray, you can call me Jay and you can call “prog” whatever you want. The fact remains that with “Pan…”, PERSEPHONE’S DREAMS pipes are calling you home! At The Gates Of Dawn