Saturday, November 28, 2009


Here's 53 more short-form write-ups of things I listened to in November and the latter half of October. You're welcome.

Jesse Elder, The Winding Shell: earnest, assiduous, utterly passionless. The jazz equivalent of a New Yorker short story, or a term paper.

V/A, Can You Dig It?: 2CD blaxploitation soundtrack comp on Soul Jazz, packaged with a 100-page book and Pam Grier on the cover. A must.

V/A, Freedom, Rhythm & Sound: this month's other Soul Jazz comp, this one devoted to revolutionary free jazz. AEOC, A. Shepp, Sun Ra, etc.

McCoy Tyner, Tender Moments: Could it be? A better nonet session than Andrew Hill's Passing Ships? Maybe; PS doesn't have Lee Morgan.

Morbid Angel, Gateways To Annihilation: Crushingly heavy, like Swans with blast beats & guitar solos. Perfect rainy day death metal.

Hatebreed, For The Lions: A covers album, proving that they can learn and play good songs, they just can't WRITE any.

V/A, The Harmonic Series: A Compilation Of Musical Works In Just Intonation: Does what it says on the package. Mmm, droney.

Danzig, s/t: Guess we'll never see an ATP-style reunion (John Christ, where art thou?). But 21 years later, this still kicks so much ass.

Nazareth, Hair Of The Dog: Since Jay-Z killed Autotune, that means we can bring back the '70s-style talk box, right? Great, thanks!

Borbetomagus, Snuff Jazz: Reissued with two bonus tracks a year or so back, 'cause the public was clamoring for more. Skrrrrrrrronk!!!

Electric Wizard, Supercoven: When Jus Osborn shrieks the title phrase, it's almost like he's woken from his stupor for a second.

Bill Dixon, Vade Mecum II: Dixon + more than one bassist always = awesome. Perfect autumn music.

Nicki Minaj, Sucka Free: Lil Wayne protege straddles the line between inspired and annoying more capably than her patron has in years.

Bill Dixon, November 1981: See earlier comments re Dixon and multiple bassists.

Supersilent, 9: Three Norwegians with Hammond organs form a Tangerine Dream tribute band, focusing on Zeit and Atem.

Whipping Boy, Subcreature: The Fucked Years 1981-1983: Primitive but adorably earnest hardcore from that cranky Oxbow guy.

Afgrund, Vid Helvetets Grindar: Thrashy grind from a bunch of really, really pissed-off Swedes.

Oppressor, Solstice Of Oppression: 1994 debut CD by a decent tech-death band from Chicago. I heard their second CD (of 3), 1996's Agony, when it was new but lost track of them by the following year. I did get to see them live once, though. Between songs, the vocalist spoke in a somewhat high-pitched barely post-adolescent voice with a flat Midwestern accent, and he said things like, "Hey guys, we're Oppressor from Chicago, how's it going? This is a song off our new album; it's called [assumes ultra-guttural Death Metal Voice] I AM DARKNESS" [song begins]. It's that kind of hilarious awesomeness that keeps me coming back to death metal.

Throwdown, Deathless: Still blatantly imitating Pantera, they're now ripping off Down and Mudvayne too. Progress?

Black Army Jacket, 222: Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrind.

Suffocation, The Close Of A Chapter: Live In Quebec City: Close your eyes and you can picture vocalist Frank Mullen doing spirit fingers.

Miles Davis, The Complete On The Corner Sessions, Disc 3: Nasty guitars abound, but it's the keyboards on this set that are truly insane.

The Gates Of Slumber, Suffer No Guilt: Killin' power metal/biker doom. No idea how any Wino fan can complain about this guy's vocals.

Gama Bomb, Tales From The Grave In Space: High-speed retro thrash with piercing power metal-y vocals. Worth every penny I paid.

Chickenfoot, s/t: A supergroup, just like Them Crooked Vultures. Except, you know, good.

Fred Anderson, Staying In The Game: Chi saxman's phrasing, tone identifiable within 10 seconds. Telling his albums apart - not as easy.

The Black Dahlia Murder, Deflorate: Terrible cover, terrible title, forgettable songs. Some ace guitar solos, though.

Wadada Leo Smith, Spiritual Dimensions: 2CD set, 1 acoustic, 1 very much not. Kicking off a marathon of this uniquely awesome player.

Listening to more Wadada Leo Smith. Now it's Luminous Axis - The Caravans Of Winter And Summer on Tzadik. Trumpet + laptop(s). Excellent.

Rihanna, Rated R: Grace Jones's Warm Leatherette turns 30 next year. This album, OTOH, won't be remembered 30 minutes after it ends.

La Oreja de Van Gogh, Nuestra Casa a la Izquierda del Tiempo: Re-recordings of old songs w/orchestra and new lead vocalist.

Isis, Live V: A 2006 UK run-through of Oceanic in its entirety. It's gotten trippier, less heavy over time. Kinda works, I guess.

Thin Lizzy, Are You Ready?: Live DVD, filmed in '81. Includes exactly 1 song from Renegade, the album they were touring to promote.

Metallica, Live in the '80s: 4LP boot. Go ahead, tell me Hetfield's vocals were better in the old days. Any :30 of this proves you wrong.

W.A.S.P., Inside The Electric Circus: I like the first 2 LPs, but always ignored this one. My mistake. Includes a solid Uriah Heep cover.

American Sixgun, The Devil In Your Bones: Rawk 'n' roll on metalcore label Eulogy from kids too young to remember Junkyard.

Suicide, Live 1977-1978: Most maddening/awesome box since the Fun House Sessions. Nothing'll make your eyeball twitch like live Suicide.

Stray From The Path, Make Your Own History: like a teenaged Unsane with Zack de la Rocha up front, if that was a good thing.

Revocation, Existence Is Futile: Not as long as there are baby metal bands this fucking awesome, it's not. (Sorry, couldn't not do it.)

Dark Funeral, Angelus Exuro pro Eternus: So boring and clichéd, so utterly generic I can't even think of something snarky to say about it.

Point Blank, Point Blank: Texas heavy blues-rawk from '76. Pre-MTV ZZ Top crossed w/Molly Hatchet. Guaranteed never to make any NPR lists.

Sonny Burgess, The Arkansas Wild Man: Sun rockabilly w/a trumpet player. Earns its title better than almost any other CD I can think of.

Squash Bowels, Grindvirus: This has songs called "Abhorrently Stinking Rich Man" and "Shit Oneself." Do I love it? How could anyone not?

Die Like A Dog, Aoyama Crows: Unstoppable grooves meet exquisitely controlled skronk. Saturday afternoon bounce-off-the-walls music.

Norah Jones, The Fall: I'm sure she's a nice person, but this is the most enervated, inessential non-black metal disc I've heard all year.

Circle, Rakennus: crazed trance-metal freakouts with bonus blues harmonica. Recorded live somewhere, sometime.

Elf, Trying To Burn The Sun: Ronnie James Dio trying to be Ronnie Van Zant, with a pretty kick-ass boogie band behind him.

Kousokuya, 1st: Like Fushitsusha, if Fushitsusha was a rock band.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Broken Arrow: Roaring stoner-doom riffs; half-assed choruses; endless one-chord solos. Perversely awesome.

Acid Mothers Temple etc., Live In Japan: a double-drummer lineup from 2001. Guitars more Sonic Youth than Frank Marino, but crash 'n' boom aplenty.

Wayne Escoffery, Uptown: sax/guitar/organ/drums groove-jazz action. Does this "move The Music forward"? No, and I don't give a shit.

The Resurrection Sorrow, Hour Of The Wolf: Churning, sludgy stoner-doom riffage + Rob Zombie impersonator = best NYC metal band of '10?

Ornette Coleman, Beauty Is A Rare Thing, Disc 1 of 6: When in doubt (about anything), listen to Ornette Coleman.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.

Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream, to vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen, feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where nobody's allowed to mind their own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the memories - all right, let's see your arms!

You always were a headache and you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Forever For Hire

Psychobilly bands are nothing if not productive. Detroit's Koffin Kats got started in 2003, and they've already released four albums prior to this one. That's a lot of songs about death, cars, babes and rock 'n' roll, so it's important to have something unique that separates you from the pack. The Kats definitely have that--unfortunately, it's bassist/singer Vic Victor's voice. He's got this pompous, portentous thing going that puts him somewhere between the Damned's Dave Vanian and Danny Elfman in his Oingo Boingo days. That kind of overwrought delivery can work sometimes, like on the group's most aggressive, straight-ahead material or the hard-swinging ballad "Her Name Was Rock And Roll," but when the group downshifts into a grinding, almost metallic riff on "Saw My Friend Explode Today" (a schizoid song that also features ska-style chords on the verses) it becomes off-putting.

Victor's crooning isn't the band's only trick, of course; they throw some doo-wop harmonies into the intro of "The Final Day," Oi!-style gang shouts turn up on several tracks, and instrumentally they occasionally stretch into a roots-rock sound that will appeal to fans of Social Distortion or Girl In A Coma. Ultimately, psychobilly is all about conviction, and all three men are clearly enjoying themselves, so fans of the genre, and maybe the idly curious, will too.


Rated R
Island Def Jam
Rihanna's albums tell a surprising story: beautiful girl leaves Barbados for the big city and discovers her inner Goth. Between her 2005 debut and this fourth album, the Jay-Z protégé and R&B star has gotten pierced and tattooed, and gone from pastel bikinis to fetishy black leather, from a disarming smile to a glare worthy of Grace Jones. Rated R arrives in the wake of Rihanna's widely publicized beating by Chris Brown, and the lyrics are dark (and surprisingly profane) — from "Russian Roulette" to "Stupid in Love," which contains references to "blood on your hands" and the line "Don't talk to me like I'm stupid." Unfortunately, the music and words, often written by others, don't always match. The more minimal, dubstep-like tracks bolster the Rihanna image and brand, but the piano-and-strings ballads are too generic by half. Rated R demonstrates evolution, but she's got further to go yet.


[From the SF Weekly.]

Tough economic times affected all branches of the entertainment industry in 2009, and the live music scene is no exception. In a recent MSN Music online poll of metal fans, 33.3 percent of respondents said they were going to fewer shows, and nearly 15.9 percent said that if they did go out, they were bypassing the merch table. Bands have been playing smaller venues than they might have hit on previous tours, promoters are trying to add value by creating festival-style bills with five or six artists instead of the two- and three-band tours of the past, and ticket prices are dropping, in some cases to an extreme degree. The admission price for the recently reunited Creed's October show in Birmingham, Ala., infamously fell to 75 cents — and still didn't sell out.

Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta is hoping to buck the downward trend. His band is currently on the road, headlining one of the year's heaviest tours with support from death-metal legends Cannibal Corpse and Hate Eternal, Boston-based metalcore squad Unearth, and technical whiz kids Born of Osiris. He admits to venue downsizing in a few cities, especially for midweek shows, but he's understandably proud of the lineup he's assembled. "On this tour, there's three headliners in their own right," he says. "We stacked the bill and made sure it was more bang for your buck."

And for two stops — one at the Warfield and one at the Hollywood Palladium — Hatebreed is co-headlining an all-day metalfest, joining forces with Trivium, whose own tour offers support sets by Whitechapel, Chimaira, and Dirge Within. "We've never been able to headline the Warfield on our own, so now we're able to do that, which is a huge accomplishment for us," Jasta says, adding that the idea of joining forces came from positive crowd reactions when Trivium and Hatebreed played together in Las Vegas last month: "We said, 'This works; let's make it a big metalfest and move it to a big venue.'"

This kind of fans-first thinking extends to Hatebreed's physical product. The band released two full-length studio albums this year and a live DVD in 2008. "Everybody said it was a little overambitious, and it was," Jasta admits. The all-covers disc For the Lions, released in May, contains 19 muscled-up versions of classic tracks by bands along the hardcore/thrash/death-metal continuum, including Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, the Misfits, Slayer, Sepultura, and Obituary, while Hatebreed's self-titled sixth album of original material arrived in stores only four months later.

Hatebreed is the group's heaviest, most metallic disc to date. For the first time in the band's career, guitar solos appear on multiple tracks, and there's even a shredtastic four-minute instrumental track, "Undiminished." The album follows on the heels of Jasta's 2008 side project, Kingdom of Sorrow, a collaboration with Crowbar and Down guitarist Kirk Windstein. Jasta would like to maintain his group's current level of productivity. "If you look at bands from the '70s and '80s, they did an album every year," he explains. "This whole three years between records is not gonna work. We have tons of songs; we've just always had red tape with the labels, and the drama behind the scenes that kept us from releasing one every year. And now with the downloading, and with kids' attention spans being so short, I think it's better to just keep pumping out music."

Sheer relentlessness may not be a universally applicable business strategy, but it seems to be doing okay for Jasta and company so far.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Can we disband the Cult of Josh Homme already? In terms of tours and releases, the guy keeps busy, sure; but in terms of quality of output, he’s been coasting since Kyuss broke up. Queens of the Stone Age released a moderately interesting debut album, and then got lazier and more self-infatuated with each passing year. And the less said about the Eagles of Death Metal, the better.

This new thing (which we’re of course being told is a real band, not a momentary enthusiasm) is a trio featuring Homme on guitar and vocals, John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards, and Dave Grohl on drums. The presence of Jones is the only thing that elevates this beyond being Vol. 11 of Homme’s jam-and-release “Desert Sessions,” and he’s ill-used.

Paired with a drummer capable of groove (see Disc One of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti), he’s a monster. And there’s a riff midway through “Reptiles” that nods toward late Zeppelin. But Dave Grohl is not John Bonham; he’s a club-footed caveman, and not in a good way – the garage-metal primitivism of Nirvana was all he was ever really suited for.

Consequently, Jones can’t add much more than his name and some backing vocals and keyboards. As a bassist, he’s mostly limited to echoing Homme’s caveman-trudge riffing, and might not even have been the guitarist’s first pick: from its riff to its high-pitched vocal straight from the Jack Bruce playbook, “Scumbag Blues” sounds like a Cream cover with a little bit of funky organ floating stranded in the left speaker.

The real problem with Them Crooked Vultures, the band and the album, is that 2009’s already seen a much better example (bird-related name and all) of how to do the supergroup thing right – Chickenfoot, the Sammy Hagar/Joe Satriani/Michael Anthony/Chad Smith power quartet. From Hagar’s pumped-up vocals, his most emphatic since Montrose, to Satriani’s restrained yet skillful riffing and solos, to Anthony’s emphatic bass and undiminished-since-Van-Halen vocal harmonies, to Smith’s thunderous – and genuinely funky – drumming, the band’s self-titled debut disc was that rare 21st Century hard rock album that existed outside the pernicious influence of grunge. No ponderous dirges, only adrenaline-fueled party anthems with actual choruses, and a couple of ballads tacked on at the end.

Respect to Homme, Jones and Grohl (plus touring guitarist Alain Johannes, of course) for heading out on the road without a CD to flog, and for getting people to pay to watch and listen to them run through over an hour of entirely new music. But the truth is, Homme’s always been better at writing riffs than songs, and not by much. You can still occasionally stumble across a song by The Firm (Paul Rodgers, Jimmy Page) or The Power Station (Robert Palmer, Tony Thompson, 2/5 of Duran Duran) on the radio. It’s extremely doubtful that Them Crooked Vultures' half-assed first single “New Fang,” or anything else from this album, will have that kind of staying power.

Thursday, November 19, 2009



Throwdown started life as a straight-edge hardcore band, but a few years ago they made a left turn into Pantera-style groove metal. They weren't subtle about it, either; vocalist Dave Peters is a blatant Phil Anselmo imitator, and if the band's guitarist, Mark Choinere, had more talent, you can bet pinch-harmonic-dependent solos would be flying off their albums in every direction. Their new album, Deathless, finds the band working hard to broaden their stylistic parameters. Make no mistake, they haven't given up ripping off Pantera, but now they're ripping off several other bands as well, with "The Blinding Light" and "Serpent Noose" offering reasonably capable imitations of Down's swampy doom, while "Widowed" is an Alice In Chains-esque dirge on which Peters channels Godsmack frontman Sully Erna. On several other tracks, including "Burial At Sea" and album opener "The Scythe," he seems to be trying to be Mudvayne's Chad Gray. Whether all of this is an attempt to get on rock radio or just the manifestation of a collective identity crisis is hard to say. But it makes for a weird, if intermittently enjoyable, listen--it's hard to get into a song when you can't stop thinking about the other song it reminds you of.


Rocker Mom
In This Moment singer juggles parenting and road duties

"There is something to be said for bands that seem really hard to get to, with a mystique," says voluptuous, heavily tattooed frontwoman Maria Brink. "But with the really hard album sales nowadays, that can only be taken so far, I think, because I don't think people give a shit anymore. Buying that CD isn't going to bring them closer to you, because you're not giving them an opportunity to meet you, ever."

For that reason, Brink and her bandmates — guitarists Chris Howorth and Blake Bunzel, bassist Jesse Landry and drummer Jeff Fabb — visit the merch booth nearly every night, to sign and shake hands and make personal connections that they hope will translate to customer loyalty.

"Nowadays, with downloading and everything, if you can personally connect with the fans as much as possible, and try to make them feel like they're part of a family, part of your community, then it touches them and it makes them want to support your band more," says Brink. "I really believe that."

Brink has a number of factors on her side, including her striking looks and Alice-in-Wonderland (if "Wonderland" was the name of an upscale gentlemen's club) stage wardrobe. But even if she took the stage in an oversized hoodie and baggy jeans, the band's brand of contemporary metal would still appeal to its growing fan base.

In This Moment's 2008 album The Dream was a stylistic gamble, shifting from the screaming metalcore of their debut, 2007's Beautiful Tragedy. With the help of producer Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne, Celine Dion), the band embraced radio-friendly hard rock, combining new-wave-like melodies with anthemic choruses, while retaining the guitar crunch that had endeared them to fans on Ozzfest's second stage. The Dream also went further than its predecessor in showcasing Brink's ability to sing, not just scream. The disc was reissued this past summer with several bonus tracks, including a cover of Blondie's disco-era sex anthem "Call Me," confirming the band's ability to combine metal and pop in a manner not heard since the '80s.

The album may be a studio concoction, adding keyboards and layers of Brink's background vocals to its intricately composed songs, but In This Moment are a touring machine. They've played Ozzfest, opened a co-headlining jaunt with Ozzy and Rob Zombie, done the Warped Tour, and gone out on what seems like a dozen smaller bills. They'll play anywhere that'll have 'em — a strategy that got them off the ground in the first place, with a little subterfuge added to the mix.

"Even before we got signed, we said to ourselves that we didn't want to wait around for a label to sign us," says Brink. "We wanted to start getting our name out there. So we made up a fake booking-agent name, and we'd call clubs and say, 'This is such-and-such booking agent. We want to book In This Moment at your club, and this is how much they have to get.'"

And once the gigs were lined up, the members dropped everything and headed out the door — straight lives and day jobs be damned.

"We were like, 'We're just gonna get in the van and go tour.' It was so scary, especially for me, 'cause I had to set it up so that my mom would watch my son while I got into this van and drove around the country and made no money."

That's right: In addition to being a hard-touring rock diva, Maria Brink is a single mother to a teenage boy. And it's not just a matter of bringing him on board the bus; he's got his own life. "When we were on Ozzfest, he came and had fun," she says. "But now he's 16 and he's got a red Camaro and he's captain of the football team. I thought he'd come on Warped Tour, and he was like, 'No way.' He's very independent, he has a girlfriend and he's popular, and his idea of fun is not to be on a tour bus."

That doesn't mean she's leaving him unattended by any means. "I had to take off the football season," she says. "I can't tour [then]. I have to be there for my son's proud moments. Last year, I went to open house at his school; I'll be at open house this year. I give all his teachers my e-mail address, so if his grades are slacking or something's going on, they'll call me."

In This Moment's current headlining tour marks the end of the promotional cycle for The Dream. Then it's time for the next move — writing and recording a fresh batch of songs and trying to push their art and their public profile to the next level.

"We've been lucky," says Brink. "But it's a mixture of luck and constantly working like maniacs to get our name out there. You have to constantly brainstorm and constantly work on how to make money, how to stick out from all the millions of bands out there. Why should a magazine want to put us on the cover versus all the millions of other bands? It's constant work."

Truly, a mother's work is never done.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


[From Westword.]

Q&A with Dick Valentine of Electric Six

Electric Six have been bringing the party to the unwary for six albums in as many years, starting with 2003's Fire and leading up to the brand-new Kill. The group's songs combine '80s rock, disco and New Wave into a cranked-up, ultra-catchy sound all its own, with lyrics that mix a David Lee Roth-esque bravado with surreal barrages of imagery revolving around fire, sex, dancing...and air travel. Frontman Dick Valentine comes across like a smarmy cross between Mike Patton and a Baptist preacher, but underneath he's a funny, thoughtful and down-to-earth guy just looking to rock the crowd.

How did you develop the Dick Valentine persona, and what went into that? What are you pulling from?
I'm not pulling from anything. I don't even know that there is a persona. I go up onstage and I have a lot of nervous energy and that comes out. If you're referring to any character I play in the videos, that usually has something to do with a director generally wanting to cast me as some sort of sleazeball.

So despite the fact that you use a stage name, it's not really a carefully assembled act?
That's a popular misconception. I don't really think about myself or what I'm doing that much. I look at it like, basically, 100 years from now, one way or the other, I'll be dead, so it doesn't matter.

Who inspires you as a performer, though?
One time I watched George Michael, and he performed with a choir around him. He was in the middle, and he had his choir kind of surrounding him, singing right back at him, and he would sing at them and then he would go around and around and around. I got dizzy watching it, but I thought, this guy knows what he's doing. This guy is in control. I've kinda strived to be in that situation ever since.

During Van Halen's heyday, David Lee Roth said he wrote his lyrics during commercial breaks while watching TV. What's your writing process?
I jot things down in a notebook when I'm at home or on the road. Other times things just come, like a whole song develops real quick. So it's always good to go back to that notebook and see what you wrote down maybe six months ago and see if it turns into something. That being said, I've heard that Alice Cooper wrote the entire Muscle Of Love album during eight hours of watching television.

I interviewed him last year and he said there are two or three albums he doesn't even remember writing or recording.
Hopefully one day I can be in that category. I think it's a healthy way to be. It's fascinating to turn up at shows and have people know more about you and your music than you do.

In addition to your usual subjects - sex, fire, dancing - you've written three songs now about airports or air travel. Can you explain how and why that became one of your recurring themes?
Topics like fire and sex and dancing are exciting things. They dress up the band and inspire the idea that maybe we might be exciting. So I include air travel in that as well. Since this band has become professional I've probably flown more than I did in the previous 21 years of my life. I just turned 27, and the six years I've been doing this, I've traveled more than I've ever traveled before. Air travel, airports and so forth, it's very exciting, so I would put that in the category with fire and murder.

What's your beef with Ohio? Explain where the song "Escape From Ohio" came from.
Well, it's a long and drawn-out story. I lived there for a while, and it's a state that you're not sure why it isn't part of Pennsylvania. It's got the Kentucky element, it's got the Michigan element, it should be part of other states, but it's allowed to exist on its own. I believe it's like our eighth most populous state, so why are so many people choosing to live there? Then you look at the way it's broken down and it all adds up to what I believe is just a mass suicide waiting to happen.

And you're not concerned that writing a song like that will doom your chances of making it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland?
I've already been there, and I don't think it's anything anyone should aspire to. That said, it was maybe some of the best catering I've ever had. We played a big summer concert series there, where you perform in front of the big pyramid that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but you know, you walk through there and it's all the predictable shit, big posters of Lenny Kravitz and things like that. It doesn't make you feel good about anything.

You did a cover of Queen's "Radio Gaga" years ago, but you don't really seem like the kind of band that would do ironic cover versions...
We did "Radio Gaga" on the second album. We were under enormous pressure during the first album to put that out, and we didn't want to do it, but then it came to a point where they were like, "This record's not gonna come out unless 'Radio Gaga' is on it," and it was the lead single in the UK. [They said] "This is the way it's gonna be, take it or leave it," so we took it. And predictably, the label said [it was] gonna be the #1 Christmas single and it ended up charting at like #37 or something. We saw it coming from a mile away, and it ended up destroying our chances in the UK of being taken seriously at that point. But we've rebounded, we've put that behind us and we're moving forward.

I don't think it was ever released as a single in the U.S., though, right?
You should YouTube it. The video's actually really good. I stand by the video. But the idea of having to put out your follow-up album and that's the way they choose to market you, like I said, you can see it coming from a mile away, but that's what you have to do unless you wanna have the record shelved and be in fuckin' limbo.

You guys are kind of in a tough position; there's ultra-serious bands and totally vapid bands, but the idea of "serious fun" doesn't have any meaning anymore.
I don't worry about that - in fact, I think it benefits us to stand alone in that regard. We may not be the biggest band in the world, but we do carve out a niche because there aren't a lot of bands like us. So as long as we aren't in vogue, then there'll always be a place for us.

You guys are a band a lot of people could easily misconstrue.
Definitely. We get disregarded in a lot of conversations about what's good or relevant. But I've seen a lot of bands that are included in those conversations and people get tired of them and they get replaced, whereas we might not get a lot of good press, but we certainly have people that come to our shows all the time.

Where do you see the band fitting in Detroit?
Geographically, we fit in, but that's about it.

So you don't think you'll ever open for Bob Seger or play the Gathering Of The Juggalos?
Actually, a long time ago we played with ICP, in '97 I think that was. So we'd be more likely to play with them. Though Bob Seger, I could see that happening. We'll never be playing with Kid Rock, though.


[This is my first piece for the Houston Press other than occasional reprints of things I'd written for other Village Voice Media/New Times papers.]


How much noise do you think two saxophonists and a guitarist can make? Okay, now imagine ten times that. Imagine a screeching, ululating, fuzzed-out roar that reduces your teeth to shards and your internal organs to pulsing red mush. That's the sound of Borbetomagus. That, and much more. An upstate New York trio, Borbetomagus has been blurring the lines between free jazz, electronic noise and sound-as-weapon since the late '70s. The group's albums have titles like Barbed Wire Maggots and Snuff Jazz, and live up to them. The three men involved — saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich, and guitarist Donald Miller — have sworn in numerous interviews that when they're at full crank, each man blasting through enough pedals to keep the most gear-happy metal guitarist shredding joyously for weeks, they can't tell who's making what sound. And yet, this is no mere caveman assault. These guys know exactly what they're doing. Masters of their instruments, they synthesize decades of avant-garde technique into unique and utterly personal music-making that combines emotional catharsis and volume-based assault with real beauty. Listen carefully, and you'll recognize a lifetime of thoughtful interaction underpinning their exchanges and collective playing. You've never heard anything like this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Another fortnight, another 14 AMG reviews. Enjoy!

Arckanum, Fran Marder
Arckanum, Kampen
Arckanum, Kostogher
Borbetomagus, Songs Our Mother Taught Us
Emptyset, Emptyset
Epica, Design Your Universe
Katatonia, Night is the New Day
Mi Loco Tango, Del Diablo y del Angel
Nirvana 2002, Recordings 89-91
Quest For Fire, Quest For Fire
Satan's Host, Power, Purity, Perfection
Supersilent, 9
Throwdown, Deathless

And here's one I submitted but which wasn't used:

The Hunting of the Snark
The international jazz group NYNDK’s initials stand for New York Norway Denmark, the home countries of its co-leaders, saxophonist Ole Mathisen, trombonist Chris Washburne, and pianist Soren Moller. They’re joined on this third release by bassist Per Mathisen and drummer Tony Moreno to perform compositions by Charles Ives, Arne Nordheim, Edvard Grieg, George Perle, Carl Nielsen and Per Nørgård. These are bridged by short (one to three minutes) improvisations named after the various composers. The interaction between the two horns is careful but also loose; in some ways it’s reminiscent of Anthony Braxton’s mid ’70s partnership with George Lewis on albums like Quartet (Dortmund) 1976 and Quintet (Basel) 1977. But there’s of course much more of a classical, chamber-like sensibility at work here, since most of the pieces performed are not jazz-style head-and-solos compositions, but through-composed works – sections of symphonies, and the like. Ultimately, it’s a very beautiful album full of melody and swinging rhythm, with frequent, technically adept bursts of improvisation. Highly recommended.


I used to put stuff I'd written for print publications up on this blog at the same time the issues were on newsstands, but editors have asked me not to do so. In a way, this is very flattering; it implies that they're worried that if people can get just my stuff for free, they won't buy the rest of the magazine, a contention I find dubious. But because I like these magazines, want them to do well, and most importantly want them to continue giving me work, I honor their requests.

That said: It always takes weeks for The Wire to reach America, for some reason. And I'm not even talking about the real America, I'm talking about New York City. For example, the December 09 issue is newly out (with a cover story on the amazing rapper Sensational), but I just got a copy of the November issue (with Julian Cope on the cover, looking like Iggy Pop's taller brother) last night. I published three reviews in the November issue. Here they are.

Out Of The Past
Ping Pong CD
Is Derek Bailey destined to become the Tupac of European improv? His discography continues to expand in the years since his death, and this is a particularly riotous assault from beyond the grave. Bailey spent 40-odd years insisting on being utterly himself; consequently, his best albums were duos with equally strong-willed drummers. Steve Noble, most recently heard as part of the amp-frying NEW trio, was an ideal partner/opponent. This set was recorded - extremely well, it should be pointed out - a full decade ago, but such was the idiosyncratic state of Bailey's art that it coudl actually have happened any time between 1969 and the early 2000s.

He's in cranked-up electric mode throughout, as he was on contemporaneous recordings like Daedal with Susie Ibarra, or his work with The Ruins. Indeed, "The Long Wait," which opens the disc, and "Time Regained" and "7 Shades," its final two tracks, feature so much skronk and distortion they could easily be highlights of a compilation of Derek Bailey For Metalheads. In between, there are quieter passages: scrapes, buzzes, tiny pings. Throughout, Noble keeps pace, spinning out endless short rolls and cymbal washes that seem to be building to some sort of thunderous catharsis, but instead dissolve, subverted by a burst of noise from the older man.

When the music gets truly loud, Noble is ready, battering the kit in a way that jump-starts the listener's heart; when it's quieter, he sounds like he's building a birdhouse out of tin scraps as Bailey cuts wire to fasten it all together. This is a vigorous, combative album, documenting an encounter of such potency it's difficult to figure out why it was held back until now.

Malaikat Dan Singa
Arrington de Dionyso is a busy guy. First achieving underground renown as a member of free-trance punk-jazzers Old Time Relijun, he's put out a dumpster-full of solo and collaborative releases, switching back and forth between saxophone, bass clarinet, throat singing or something like it, and whatever else strikes his fancy at/in the moment. It flirts with farce every second, but somehow always pulls back from the brink of outright laughability.

On Malaikat Dan Singa, de Dionyso sings in Indonesian and plays long, squawky saxophone solos; there are also soem tape effects and drone pieces. Maybe if you speak Indonesian, it's brilliant, but if you don't it sounds like the vocalist from Finnish motorik rockers Circle in the middle of a particularly overripe tirade, with a bassist and drummer behind cranking out one-chord pummelling vamps.

He also makes an appearance on Gigantomachia, the debut release from The Naked Future. This disc operates in a more conventionally free jazz mode, with keening and bluster from the bass clarinet, percussive piano, bass that churns and scrapes, and primitivist drumming. Track titles like "We Binge On A Bloodthirsty God," "We Boil The Raven's Skull Into Gold" and "We Fly Beneath And Above The Flux" suggest a collective desire to be seen as ecstatic pagans, but the abandon feels staged. De Dionyso's attempts to combine Walt Whitman's barbaric yawp with various cultural modes (Tuvan, Indonesian) and post-Arthur Doyle squawk and slobber reed technique, while admirable in the abstract, ultimately never quite result in the writing/creation of anything truly substantial. It's obvious that he regards himself and his art with utter seriousness; it's not at all clear, yet, why anyone else should do the same.

Alone CD
Orthodox were once metal, but are now much more. The Spanish trio's 2005 debut Gran Poder was doom metal that lived up to the group's name, never straying from the path of thumping drums and monstrous, crushing riffs. The following year, though, on Amanecer En Puerta Oscura, they began to display a deviant streak, incorporating trumpet, clarinet and piano in addition to guitar, bass and drums, and approaching free jazz as often as metal.

Electric guitars only appear on this third album's opening track, "Marcha De La Santa Sangre." It has a Western or Spanish feel, like an alternate soundtrack to the booze-soaked, Mexico-set Sam Peckinpah revenge flick Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. The 26-minute "Ascension," making up the bulk of Sentencia, features piano, clarinet, brushed drums and an upright bass that's strummed, plucked and bowed, and a keening male vocalist who seems to be channelling Abbey Lincoln more than Ozzy Osbourne. The disc closes with "...Y La Muerte No Tendra Dominio," a duo for organ, drums and massively distorted percussion. At this point, all Orthodox share with doom or any other style of metal is a sense of spiritual questing and a fondness for ritualized pursuit of catharsis.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


A Halloween Hangover
Rob Zombie Returns With Another Hellbilly

There's a reason Rob Zombie has been so successful as a horror-movie director: He knows how to build suspense and how to keep a secret until it's time to spring it on fans. When interviewed for this story a few weeks ago and asked why his forthcoming album Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls and the Systematic Dehumanization of Cool was being delayed from a mid-November release to early 2010, he said nothing about switching labels.

"We pushed it back a couple of weeks because we had run into scheduling conflicts," he says. "I tried to plan the ending of the press on Halloween II and leading into the tour and the record perfectly, but it just became too crunched. We looked at it one day and said, 'We need a couple of extra weeks to get this done.' We had no time to make a video, no time for anything and it just became a fiasco. So as much as I hate moving things, because I'm excited to get it out there, I was like 'Ah, screw it.' Because the single's out there, we're going on tour, it's kind of the same. So we just bumped the record a couple of weeks."

It's going to be a couple of months, actually, and there will be a major change. After nearly 20 years (White Zombie's debut, La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1, was released in 1992), he's left Geffen Records for Roadrunner's new Loud & Proud imprint, also home to Sammy Hagar, Ratt, Tommy Lee's rap-metal nightmare Methods of Mayhem and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The shift may surprise fans, not only because Zombie remains more creatively relevant than most of his new labelmates (with Hagar the sole possible exception), but also because he recently made a statement many misread as his retirement from music.

"I'll keep making records," he explains. "I mean, l love it. The problem is, I posted something online, and no matter how clearly you word something, everyone misinterprets it. What I said was, this could most likely be the last CD. You know, like a packaged CD. Because a lot of people were saying, 'Ah, by this time next year we won't even be manufacturing these damn things!' Which maybe was ringing the death bell too early. But that's what I meant. I was just saying that I wanted to make the packaging and presentation of this album as elaborate as possible, for fear that by the time I go to make my next record, people would be like, 'Oh, we don't even press those things anymore.'"

Two HB2 songs, "What?" and "Sick Bubble-Gum," have already been released, and they indeed sound more like Zombie's 1998 solo debut than his last studio album, 2006's Educated Horses. "I had the idea of making Hellbilly Deluxe 2 because I always thought that would be cool, but I wasn't gonna force that title on any record that we made." Once the album was in the can, he lived with it for a few months before deciding that it deserved the title of sequel.

In addition to being his first record on a new label, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is a landmark in another way. It's the first album Zombie recorded with his longtime road band: guitarist John 5, bassist Piggy D. and drummer Tommy Clufetos. He's extremely happy about that: "It finally feels like the situation you always hope for that never seems to materialize — a band of guys that are all friends and they're all musically on the same page, working together."

Having that sort of tight-knit group will make it easier to get back on the road for the first time since a co-headlining tour with Ozzy Osbourne in 2007. With the exception of a bare-bones turn headlining the second stage of Ozzfest in 2005, Zombie's concerts have always been visual spectacles as much as musical events, and this year's outing promises to live up to that legacy. The one thing that will be missing is the huge jets of flame that have been frowned upon since the tragic 2003 Great White concert inferno.

"I gotta tell you, man, it's almost impossible to get a pyro license these days," he says. "I wanted to do pyro, and we kept going through the list of places, and it was like, no, no, no, no. And these were places I'd done pyro every time I've gone there. It's so rare that someone will grant you a license to do it. And they'll come up with the most ridiculous excuses like, 'You can't use propane in the venue.' I'm like, what are you talking about? Every forklift, every vendor that's cooking the hot dogs is using propane. We're the only people that have licensed people doing it. Our people are more qualified than the people in the venue. And they're like, 'Well, we don't care.'"

Zombie's solution is to replace flame with video projections, lasers and LCD screens. "It's a pretty mind-blowing show, it just doesn't revolve around fire in your face," he says. "But no one's gonna miss it because this other stuff more than makes up for it."

While the two new songs will almost certainly make it into the live set, fans shouldn't expect a big dose of unfamiliar material. "I do not go out on tour and say, 'Here's five new songs off the new record that nobody gives a shit about yet,'" laughs Zombie. "We'll play the single and maybe one other song, but you want to play all the songs from all the other records that people love. 'Cause nothing's worse than an entire night of new stuff. I hate that, and I think most people do."

Once he gets off the road, Zombie will get back to his other career as a movie director. What may surprise fans is that — like horror heroes John Carpenter and Wes Craven before him — he's hoping to expand beyond the genre that made his name. "I don't know what the next movie is," he says, "But if it's the movie I want it to be, it's not gonna be a horror movie. I find that the horror genre can be actually too limiting, because it comes with its own set of baggage and rules and clichés that I don't want to deal with. And you can break away from that more in other genres."

Sunday, November 08, 2009



Diamonds & Studs

Three years after their self-titled debut, Morningwood are back with a second heaping plate of sugary pop-rock. Frontwoman Chantal Claret remains a brassy broad in the mold of the Divinyls' Christina Amphlett and the Gossip's Beth Ditto, but there's a little bit of Pink in her, too - some of Diamonds & Studs' best songs ("Sugarbaby," "Best Of Me," "Bitches") blend guitars and synths in a way that recalls the swagger of Pink's underrated third disc, Try This. There's really nothing innovative about Morningwood's approach to songwriting; they work with three chords and a 4/4 beat like eight skidillion glam-rock and power-pop groups before them. A few surprises crop up, of course; the beat on "That's My Tune" is straight-up Gary Glitter, and "Three's A Crowd" is an ultra-smooth, electronic new-wave sex soundtrack. It's ultimately Morningwood's joy and danceability that vaults them ahead of the pack, though, which is why the mostly acoustic album closer "Cat In A Box" feels unnecessary and unwise. In these times of drab post-grunge groaners and pathetic screamo tantrum-throwers, it's up to a woman to front a rock band that remembers how to rock with a smile.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I've been a fan of Amon Amarth since seeing them on one of the five dates of the ill-fated Gods of Metal tour with Halford, Testament, and Immortal (among others) in 2003. They're a kick-ass band with a clearly defined style - melodic death metal with bottom-heavy riffs designed to get every head in the venue banging, and lyrics about Vikings and Norse mythology - and pretty much every album since 2002's Versus the World has kicked ass. The three before that (Once Sent from the Golden Hall, The Avenger and The Crusher) are all good, with moments of greatness, but the group's style was evolving throughout. Most noticeably, vocalist Johan Hegg gradually transitioned from a higher-pitched, more black metal-influenced scream to the barrel-chested growl/roar he's used on the band's last five albums.

One of the things that impresses me most about Amon Amarth, though, is their devotion to the idea of what's known in sci-fi/comic/geek circles as "fan service." In those arenas, it means giving fans what they want in terms of plot and characterization; in Amon Amarth-world, it means putting out really quality products for the diehards.

The most obvious example of this would be the group's eighth album, released last year. Twilight of the Thunder God was a big leap forward for Amon Amarth, musically speaking. They brought in guests for the first time ever (Roope Latvala of Children of Bodom played a shredtastic guitar solo on the title track, Entombed frontman LG Petrov did a vocal duet with Hegg on "Guardians of Asgaard," and the cellists of Apocalyptica created a melancholy outro for the album's penultimate track, "Live for the Kill") and really stepped up their game as songwriters and musicians, so even though they'd been moderately successful in the States (and bigger in Europe) thus far, they wanted to ensure that the album made a splash. So they created a couple of different deluxe editions. Of course, you could get the plain CD, but you could also get it as a digipak paired with a live CD recorded at the previous year's Summer Breeze Festival in Germany. Given that Amon Amarth are awesome live (more about that later), this was already a worthwhile purchase. But then they busted out the big guns. If you really wanted to go all-out, you could get the album, the live CD, a DVD version of the Summer Breeze show, a hardbound comic book telling the story of Thor's battle at Ragnarok (the subject of the song "Twilight of the Thunder God"), and a set of five Amon Amarth bobbleheads, made of metal and frankly, heavy as hell (I had a set in my office when I worked at Metal Edge, though I didn't take them home with me when I left for the last time).

Pretty awesome/hilarious, no? (Click the image to see it much bigger.)

In a similar spirit, when Amon Amarth decided to release a live DVD, they went all out. Wrath of the Norsemen is a three-disc set containing five complete concerts of varying length, including one during which sword-wielding, chain-mail-sporting dudes come onstage and fight mid-set, plus a half-hour documentary going behind the scenes at the aforementioned show (which takes up all of Disc One). You may never sit through the whole thing in one session, but it's a megadose of live Amon Amarth.

This year, the band decided to revisit their early catalog. They started by playing a four-night stand in Bochum, Germany in December '08, during which they played one of their first four albums in its entirety each night. Then they reissued Once Sent from the Golden Hall, The Avenger, The Crusher and Versus the World in deluxe double digipaks, each one paired with its live version and whatever bonus tracks it made sense to include. They didn't release them all at once; they were spaced out over the course of this year, with Versus the World just coming out this past week. The albums are remastered to sound fantastic, the live discs are great (because the band rarely, if ever, plays a lot of these songs), and the booklets include reminiscences of the sessions and track-by-track liner notes by the various bandmembers. All in all, it's exactly what a diehard Amon Amarth fan (like me) would want. In fact, looking at them on my shelf, I'm kinda wishing I'd hung onto those bobbleheads instead of passing them along to an (utterly deserving) newly ex-coworker.