Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ray's Top 10 Of 2010 Revealed!

1. RESISTOR - "Rise" - A breathtaking blend of Zappa, Sabbath & Wishbone Ash built on super-original songs and topped with clever lyrics and a rich analog production. This album defines Raysrealm, and Steve Unruh has my undivided attention going forward.

2. ZUUL - "Out Of Time" - As metal as it gets, these guys deliver a tour de force of NWOBHM riffing, gorgeous harmony leads and songs to rival the best of Bible Of The Devil or Colossus. A staggering debut.

3. U.S. CHRISTMAS - "Run Thick In The Night" - Perennial Raysrealm favorites, North Carolina's USX do everything right on what's easily their finest hour so far. Dark, heavy and disturbing psych from the rural U.S.

4. CORSAIR - "Alpha Centauri" - Had this 5-track EP been longer, it would've possibly placed even higher in the list. You mix Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Hawkwind in outer space and you've got yourself a helluva band. Full-length platter on the way!

5. LA OTRACINA - "Reality Has Got To Die" - Their name apparently has no definition but this Brooklyn bunch has music that means everything: NWOBHM, psychedelic rock & extended jams collide with "2001: A Space Odyssey." Screw reality, then!

6. GHOST - "Opus Eponymous" - From what I can tell online, these cats are either loved or hated. My opinion's well into the former. After all, how do you expect Ray to react to a cross between Mercyful Fate & mid-period BOC that also sports pop hooks?!

7. TAME IMPALA - "Innerspeaker" - I spent a couple weeks including buying an empty digipak for $27 trying to get this album. Full story in my review, but it was worth every penny and second as "Innerspeaker"'s sweet mix of low-fi psych/prog has spun the Realm-o-Matic as much as anything this year.

8. AGAINST NATURE - "Cross Street / Chasing Eagles" - Once again John, Bert & Steve (that lovable Baltimore trio!) has re-invented themselves with a top-shelf set of bluesy hard rock. Mr. Brenner continues to rival Billy Gibbons in 6-string tone usage.

9. SOUL MANIFEST - "White Season" - France has produced some awesome bands over the years, from politico/Bon Scott rockers Trust to prog-killers Eclat. SM throw their hats into the ring with a riveting take on psychedelic hard rock as a jam band.

10. SOUVENIRS YOUNG AMERICA - "The Name Of The Snake" - Tumbleweed dances across the windswept plains and forms a backdrop for what can only be described as dark, heavy Americana. Music that is beautifully foreboding occupies SYA's latest offering.

Readers Poll Results For 2010 Revealed!

1. STONE AXE - "II" - STONE AXE is one of many proud moments in the early life of Ripple Music and not for any small reasons. You listen to these guys and your mind starts throwing names around like early Zep, the mighty Koss's Free and even things further into prog like Procol Harum and your talking serious stuff. Then, when names like Thin Lizzy get rising, you've got the cherry on top. This year, you guys elevated the band's "II" to the top spot in the Raysrealm Reader's Poll and I've gotta say, nicely done!

2. HYPNOS 69 - "Legacy"

3. MOTORPSYCHO - "Heavy Metal Fruit"

4. GHOST - "Opus Eponymous"

5. BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION - "Black Country Communion"

6. SANCTA SANCTORUM - "The Shining Darkness"


8. FORBIDDEN - "Omega Wave"

9. NEVERMORE - "The Obsidian Conspiracy"

10. ARMORED SAINT - "La Raza"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grand Halls 53

RESURRECTION BAND – “Colours” 1980 (Light, US) – Oh, I was a real know-it-all back then, thought I was so smart and such a bad-ass. I knew what was “heavy” alright, knew what was cool and what was lame. I had my copies of “Stained Class,” “Taken By Force” and “Hemispheres” at the ready in the ol’ ’70 Impala, ready to impress every woman I met with my great and exhaustive metal knowledge. Of course, how many women were actually interested in what this brazen 23 yr old self-appointed expert had to say remains at question, lost in the mists of time. It’s also a little sketchy how much I really knew, especially brought into focus by the day my buddy Doug called me with some…ahem…inside info.

“Hey Ray, you busy this afternoon?” he nearly whispered, with all the shrewd hushed tones of a street dealer.
“Not really,” I hedged warily, fully aware of some of Doug’s previous “great ideas.”
“Was just talking to Ed,” he continued conspiratorially, “You know how he’s into all that religious stuff, right? Well, he says there’s this little bible book store over in the Parkville Shopping Center. Anyway, he says they’ve got a rock record section and some of the stuff looks like it could be heavy. Just think you oughta check it out.”
“Why don’t you go?” I asked, not keen on spending the little left of my paycheck on what would turn out to be some wimpy Amy Grant record with a pseudo-rock backing band.
“You’ve got the car,” he reasoned.
And, it was with that logic that I finished lunch and drove the couple miles to the Parkville Shopping Center.

All the curious anticipation that had built up since I left home, parked and walked across the lot fizzled to a barely palpable ebb when I walked into the tiny religious bookstore. Now, don’t get me wrong. I may have distanced myself from my strictly Catholic upbringing but I still believe in a higher power. It’s just that, walking in that day and casting my eye on the rows of Crucifixes, the rosaries and the ultra-conservative-looking middle-aged woman behind the counter, my hopes of finding anything remotely heavy within these walls crumbled to dust. I have to admit that I actually felt awkward when the lady offered politely “Can I help you, son?” I was about to turn on my heel and pack it in when I saw the records, with a section labeled “Rock and Roll” about halfway through. I decided to hunker down and give it at least a cursory glance. I have to say that very few times in trolling through record bins have I ever felt so out of my element! From the “Various A’s” on, there wasn’t a single platter I recognized. As I’d suspected, a lot of the jackets were inhabited by pictures of fresh-faced youths who’s countenances bespoke looks that implied rapture more than butt-kicking, nice hair-cuts more than ragged long locks and somewhat inert acoustic guitars as opposed to Gibsons. The odd thing, and what kept me going, was that every so often I’d spot something that looked a little “too” interesting for it’s surroundings: guys with longer hair, pictures that included amps (the horror!) and songs that ranged beyond the 4 minute mark. Still, with all that, I hadn’t seen anything that caught me enough to make me want to plunk down cash. I was beginning to tire of the whole seemingly futile operation as I entered the “R’s” and was about to bolt for the heavier pastures of Record & Tape Traders when I was suddenly faced with an album entitled “Awaiting Your Reply” by RESURRECTION BAND. Now, this was definitely something that looked more native to the Planet Ray. Bunch of guys with long (not just long-ER) hair & beards, 2 guitar players, song titles not involving the word “Jesus” and a generally aggressive look. What’s more, they had 2 other records, all of which had the same vibe. In fact, the only thing that gave this young metal moron even the slightest pause was the fact that there was a girl in the band on vocals but then again, I reminded myself, what about Girlschool, The Runaways, etc.? All the records were priced $ 7.99 and with a $10 in my pocket, I had to make a decision so I went with the current year’s (1980) “Colours.” Almost sheepishly, I carried it to the counter where the smiling woman pleasantly rung up my purchase. Riding home, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d just thrown a ten spot in the trash. Little did I know I was about to have my musical world turned upside down.

It’s without the slightest hesitation that I label RESURRECTION BAND’s “Colours” as one of my Top 10 favourite albums of all time. This is the kind of greatness that makes every crappy album I took a misguided chance on worth the wasted buckage. Within about 5 seconds of the opening track, “Autograph,” I knew I’d found a diamond. Rush-like rhythms explode in a crystal-clear production job that cuts like a switchblade. First your sliced by the Lifeson-like 6-string razor of Glenn Kaiser and then his wife Wendi’s vocals take center-stage a la Geddy Lee. The rhythm in the latter part of this number is, like early Rush turn-on-dime-catchy and Stu Heiss explodes on lead axe, for the first of many times on the record. Showing their diversity, REZ (as they’d later come to be known) lay down a mega-catchy groove on the title song. Again the production is simply awesome here, vibrant and yet lethal, much in the way “Stained Class” was recorded. “N.Y.C.” absolutely kicks ass, nothing more needs to be said (but I will!). The part where Glenn (who splits lead vox duties with Wendi) intones “No twinkle, twinkle little star, no one to wonder who you are” is just massive and Stu Heiss’ soloing is ridiculous! Piercing, succinct and nasty as the dickens. It’s as if Angus Young & Glenn Tipton had a summit at the local ministry! It’s also probably a good time to at least briefly address the lyrical content of “Colours.” While over-zealous Bible-beating lyrics are something that always had me wary of so-called Christian rock before this discovery, RESURRECTION BAND show an insightful way to deliver a real-life message that’s powerful for just that reason. The topics they discuss indicate a religious way of life by discussing the world, it’s problems and a positive response to them…something we all can take to heart without feeling like we’re being preached to. “Hidden Man” & “Amazing” finish up Side One with a one-two punch that makes you realize you’ve really discovered something special. The energy level, not to mention the songwriting and…man, the guitars (!) are simply top shelf!.

Side Two’s can be a double-edged sword. Some bands tend to lose steam when it comes to the 2nd half of an album. Then again, the very best often even up the ante and you know that’s happening when “American Dream” blasts out of the speakers. This one takes the ass-busting quotient of “N.Y.C.” and fires an extra adrenalin shot into even that. The section that starts around 1:18 is just massive, recalling some of the best Downing/Tipton and Iommi riffery. “Benny & Sue” displays another mega-vocal performance by Wendy, lyrically highlights the trials and tribulations of a young couple and features a wicked double lead by Stu & Glenn, not to mention a great Uli Roth-type harmony line by the former. “City Streets” marries a riff Mr. Young coulda penned back in the “Let There Be Rock” days to a message roared by Glenn about the dangers of life on the streets while “Beggar In The Alleyway” allows for some more Rush-like experimentation. It also sports a climatic closing with a Stu Heiss guitar solo that raises the goose bumps. In great style, the band saves my favourite for last, “The Struggle.” Beginning hauntingly with ominous chord-strumming and cool cymbal work from drummer John Herrin, the song is quickly propelled into a godly “Stained Class”-like chug accompanying Glenn’s lyric, “I’m tired of this lingering winter.” Stu’s guitar solo here is as lyrical and gorgeous as any Glenn Tipton ever authored and it’s a perfect way to end “Colours.”

The truth of the matter is, RESURRECTION BAND would continue making albums up until 1997 and while some were excellent, none would equal “Colours.” I suppose that’s not really any surprise. Did Judas Priest ever equal “Stained Class?” Did Rush ever match “Hemispheres?” Not in my opinion. Most bands have their magnum opus and a handful produce something that can be considered iconic when they do so. This is one of those cases, and it’s one that’s buried perhaps even below the underground releases you’ve heard mentioned on metal sites ‘round the net. But don’t let being a teenage smart-ass keep you from checking it out! Godly Ray Dorsey

NOTE: “Colours” is available now on CD from the band’s label, Grrrr Records as well as many of their others. All of REZ’s albums up to 1982’s “DMZ” come recommended if you like this one. From that point on, the band did take a more “accessible/commercial” approach and their albums are not as heavy. However, ‘95’s “Lament” saw a dramatic return to form, with a disc that I like almost as much as “Colours” and one that, interestingly features a guest appearance from King’s X’s Ty Tabor who also produced it. It is a concept album that is just fantastic and will be the subject of a future Grand Halls piece on Raysrealm! Additionally well-worth it’s salt is the acoustic album with one of the most clever titles ever, “Ampendectomy” (1997).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

You Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance...

GHOST – “Opus Eponymous” CD ’10 (Rise Above, Swe) – I usually have a pretty even disposition but I have points where it doesn’t take a whole lot to piss me off, especially when it’s something friggin’ stupid. Case in point, a lot of the reaction I’m reading on this here internet thang about Sweden’s GHOST. Ok, I’d better stop to interject about something specific that gets my gonads in a bind: whining. I hate fucking whiners. Take my kids for example. They can fight with each other, basically stage another Tyson-Douglas bout in the middle of the living room and I barely register a reaction. But let them start that blessed whining! “Daaaaadddyy! (Insert kid name here) just took my PSPeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!” At that point, look out. Somebody’s gonna be wearing the damn PSP as a new nose ring and it ain’t gonna be me! But back to reality…I’m on the net, surfing around like a 16 year old and all I hear is this Goddamn infernal whining about GHOST. “Daaaaaaaaaaddyy! They don’t have a line-up listeeeeed!” “Daaaaaaaaaaddddyy! They came out of nowhereeeeeeeeeeeee!” “Daaaaaaaaaadddyyy! It’s not faaaaaaiiiirrr! I think they’re Devil’s Blood under another naaaaaaaaamme!”

Shut up! Shut the hell up! You want to know my take on it? Here it is! Shut up and stop the stinking whining! I don’t care if it comes out that the band is really composed of David Coverdale, Slash, Dave Mustaine, Geezer Butler and Jason Bonham! Look at me and read my lips…is the album good? Yes. Is the album great? Yes. Is the album amazing? YES!!! This is very simple people. I’ve been listening to music since the 1960’s and it doesn’t have to get complicated. You put on an album. If it’s good, it’s good. That’s it, that’s the bottom line. Don’t let it get out of the box on ya! The Count dude from Burzum is a murderer. However, if he makes good music, it’s good music. I don’t know Chad Kroeger but it’s possible that he may be a really cool guy, even if his music licks donkey balls. Do you get my point now? If the friggin’ record’s good, it’s good. And I really don’t think GHOST are murderers or include Whitesnake members. They just kick ass.

GHOST have done an awful lot of things very right on this debut disc and for that reason, I’ve probably played it 100 times since I first received it about a month ago and may double that total soon. I mean, wow, this sucker sounds like a cross between mid-period Blue Oyster Cult and Mercyful Fate. The vocals are melodic, a page right out of the Turner / Powell Wishbone Ash book and the guitars just kill with an analog sweetness that screams “Stained Class / Killing Machine.” Putting the icing on the cake is the most important factor of all, the songs. Each one is in the compact 3-4 minute range and laced with so much melody that you’ll be rushing to the ER after one spin to have multiple hooks removed from your brain. The thing that gives “Opus Eponymous” such an edge is the fact that these very same melodies are married to lyrics that are as militantly Satanic as any ever forged by the mighty King D. It’s not only an interesting dichotomy, but an idea that hasn’t been used with such cool-handed efficiency since Coven’s debut in 1969! Add in the fact that this beauty is the length of an album(!) (38 minutes) and not a typically-bloated, over-stuffed CD and what you have on your hands is an absolute bona fide winner. So do me a favour: don’t piss me off. Buy this SOB now. Don’t Be Scared Ray Dorsey

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Damn, She's A Good Driver

SOUL MANIFEST – “White Season” CD ’10 (Night Tripper, Fra) – Here’s an old joke. Guy’s hitchhiking and this devilishly hairy woman picks him up. I mean, just from what’s visible, she’s got the Sequoia National Forest growing on her, right? But hey, it’s a ride. Anyway, pretty soon they crest a hill and all the sudden there it comes…an 18-wheeler head-on at ‘em, full speed. There’s a car in the next lane over to the right and a guard rail to the left. Faced with his impending demise, he utters the first immortal words that come to his mind. “If you can get us out of this, I’ll eat every hair on your body!” With that she slams the wheel to the left, mounts the guard rail in best Starsky and Hutch fashion and sparks flying, rides the metal track on 2 wheels past the semi with an inch to spare. ‘Bout an hour later, the poor soul’s picked up on the roadside, shaking his head and spitting every time he mutters, “Damn, she’s a good driver.”

Which brings us to SOUL MANIFEST. Damn, this is a good album! Sometimes you just don’t see it coming. Review material comes in waves and there buried in the pile was a small white unassuming envelope from which would tumble this disc. Fresh out of France, these cats take the tried and true genre of ‘70’s-style hard rock and put a twist on it original enough that it becomes a keeper. Whether it’s the Purple-ish groove of “Dead Man,” the “Run Of The Mill”-like strumming of “Do We Have The Same View” or the massive Buffalo-style stomp of “White Season (Part I),” variety and flow are always front & center. It doesn’t stop there either. Move deeper into the 8-song disc and you’re met face-to-face with the blistering “All But My Dreams…,” sporting a hook Mick Box would die for. It all wraps up with a 10-minute heavy psych epic called “The Light” that holds it’s own with any of the big boys you want to name. Ratcheting up my reaction to this sweet 39 minutes are the cherries on top: the unexpected keyboard flourishes in “Dead Man,” the quirky songwriting (“White Season (Part II)” for example) and the deep, organic production. Damn, this is a good album! Rock & Roll Soul Ray Dorsey

Saturday, January 15, 2011


ANGRA – “Aqua” CD ’10 (SPV, Brazil)- I remember ordering ANGRA’s first CD “Angels Cry” from an importer back in 1993. Having been intrigued by the early progressive metal “scene, I was impressed by this Brazilian unit’s insight even in the infancy of their career. As if they could foresee the sleep-inducing clone wars that would grip this bloating genre, led over the cliff by lemming pipers Dream Theater, ANGRA zigged when they zagged. Sure, there were stratospheric vocals and dual shred axe, not to mention a drummer who could’ve been Buddy Rich’s alien nephew on a heavy dose of Stanozolol. What stood out, however, were Andre’ Matos’ ability to actually sing and the surprisingly melodic runs authored by guitarists Rafael Bittencourt & Kiko Loureiro. Not content to rest on their laurels, the band then went on to produce an increasingly impressive line-up of albums, unfazed in the least by line-up changes that included Matos’ departure in 2000. In fact, the latter’s replacement, Edu Falaschi has proven to have an even more dynamic voice and has imprinted his pipes on 4 massive records, culminating (so far) in this year’s “Aqua.” But Falaschi’s sterling vocal delivery is only the beginning to why ANGRA stands head and shoulders above the rest of the “we’ve-got-long-haired-maestros-and-dragons-on-our-album-covers” crowd. I know it sounds like a broken record, but there’s nothing that can top good songs and that’s the most powerful weapon in this band’s arsenal. Check out “The Rage Of The Waters,” “Hollow” and “Spirit Of The Air.” Not only do these guys come up with some mega-catchy melodies but they also stamp a firmly original foot by including some tribal-like percussion and overtones of Brazilian folk. I also see “Aqua” as a sort of third in a trilogy (along with “Temple Of Shadows” ’04 and “Aurora Consurgens” ’06) in which Bittencourt and Loureiro have upped the ante in terms of guitar heaviness & distortion, putting themselves well ahead of the dearth of light-weight prog metal pansies. All in all, ANGRA is the king of this kinda music and all their CD’s deserve your cash. Scream For Me, Brazil Ray Dorsey

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Grand Halls 52

ZZ TOP – “Rio Grande Mud” (London, Texas) – I can clearly remember my name. It’s Ray Dorsey. I can also clearly remember the first time I heard ZZ TOP. It was a quiet evening that a 15 year old Ray Dorsey was dialing his little transistor across the FM band & happened to stop on what I figured was a blues station. A back-porch 3-chord strum and a drummer tickling the rim of a snare. Atop it, what could only be a 90 year old black man with the names “Blind” & “Lemon” somewhere in his moniker leered about a “home out on the range” where “they got a lot of nice girls.” So, there I was enjoying what I thought was a history lesson when suddenly a drum flourish from the Bill Ward songbook thundered in and the guitar morphed into an overdriven beast, mirroring the original lick in Herculean fashion. Let’s not even get into the fact that some 3 minutes later, the guitarist had put on a clinic of tone control soloing for the ages, running the gamut from neck pick-up creaminess to false harmonic squawking that Zakk Wylde could only dream of. I was hooked and the fishermen were 3 Texas white boys called ZZ TOP. I only add that because until later in the month when my allowance came in and I ran to buy “Tres Hombres,” I was convinced that the band must’ve had a age-wizened African American bluesman on vox.

I went on to learn many things about ZZ TOP. The first was that most of the vocals were handled also by the unassuming, short-haired (and, at that point, beardless) guy named Billy Gibbons…who also was the guitarist! I also determined that “Tres Hombres” was their 3rd album, having been preceded by the shockingly-titled debut “ZZ TOP’s First Album” (a subject of future Realm study) and “Rio Grande Mud.” It can often be a mistake to speak in terms of “best” of this and “greatest” that but I have no problem at all saying that along with The Allman Bros. “Fillmore East” opus, ZZ TOP’s sophomore effort is one of the two greatest blues rock guitar statements ever. “Rio Grande Mud” opens innocently enough with it’s most accessible track, the springy “Francine.” Loaded to the brim with catchy major chords and melodies, it also sees bassist Dusty Hill taking one of his 2 vocal spotlights on the record. I always have to laugh at the interview where Gibbons said Hill’s mom used to complain, “C’mon, let Dusty sing one!” Seriously though, the four-stringer best known for his crooning on “Tush” some years later acquits himself nicely on this one.

It’s with Track 2, “Just Got Paid,” however that the trio really gets cooking. Borne on an overdriven riff that just smokes, Billy G. not only takes over on the throat but uncorks a slide solo fit to peel paint off the walls…off we go! “Mushmouth Shoutin” takes us to the back step of the little shack in Texas, as certified blues tumbles out of the speakers and Gibbons unveils another talent, wicked harmonica. Then comes “Ko Ko Blue” and greatness is front & center. The heavy-assed, funky rhythm here is just devastating. While raw enough to slice you open and sporting a groove that could throw anybody’s back out, it serves as the foundation for Gibbons’ sleazy story about a Texas honey I’d love to meet. “Ice cream, you know what I mean. I’ll bet I’ve got a flavor you like!” Indeed. More shredding harmonica plus some Binks-like drumming from Frank Beard fuel this one and Billy G’s slide, highlighting the melody in the coda is a thing of beauty. Side One ends with a song covered a year or so later by another Texas trio, Stray Dog. The rocking “Chevrolet” features Dusty Hill’s smooth pipes as Gibbons adds a sweet solo on the neck pickup.

It’s without any hesitation that I say Side Two of “Rio Grande Mud” is one of the most dominant performances by a single guitarist/singer etched in wax. You wanna know why Billy F. Gibbons is one of my rawk heroes? Listen to these 5 songs. “Apologies To Pearly” opens this in instrumental style with Billy alternating between slide & lead in a blistering fast-blues work out. Up next is the tasty “Bar-B-Q,” a scorcher that has the Tone Master switchblading into a searing Les Paul bite and just tearing the house down. “On fire” is a term one could use with no reservation! Brilliantly shifting gears, the mood is taken down to a seething lament about a woman doing you wrong. Some 7 minutes in stride, “Sure Got Cold After The Rain Fell” is as powerful a slow blues as these ears have ever heard, the soloing gut-wrenching. Live, this must’ve been on the order of Hendrix’s “Red House.”

And then, Jesus! Here we come to the granddaddy of them all, one of my favorite songs ever, “Whisky’n Mama.” A scant 3:20, this mutha simply unleashes one of the most bad-assed riffs in the history of rock. I simply defy your silly ol’ ass to either sit still or NOT pick up your air guitar anywhere during the course of this nasty thang! I also wouldn’t blame you if you formed a new religion with the express purpose of worshipping this song forever! Christ, what a stomper! More raging slide present, of course, and if that weren’t enough, album closer “Down Brownie” is almost as good!

Don’t know what more to say, my friends, about the high point in the career of a band that’s had quite a few but “Rio Grande Mud” is surely a template for a lot of things that include words like “guitar,” “blues,” “kick ass” and “smokin’.” Billy Gibbons is crowned as a master of tone, control and ass-busting on this one and his supporting cast of Hill & Beard are Gods of their own domains. Now what was my name again? Hmm…after picking up my guitar, I know it sure ain’t Gibbons. I’ll bet I’ve Got A Tone You Like Ray Dorsey