Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Guilty Pleasures (?): Nine "Nu-Metal" Albums I Own That Only Have A Little Bit Of Dust On Them

In the timeline of "metal" music and amongst all of the subsequent branches of subgenres that run parallel with it, Nu-Metal has become the Disco of it's age. Most traditionalists that never indulged are quick to turn their noses up at it, and many who did jump in looked back and cringed years later. There are all kinds of theories on the alchemy of genres and bands that assisted with it's spawning in the mid-90's, some going as far back as Aerosmith's 'Walk This Way' as the initial catalyst, others citing Anthrax's 'I'm The Man'. What most of those theorists fail to realize is that Nu-Metal is more than just the influx of a Hip Hop influence into the Groove Metal sound. In fact as I sat down to dish this out I realized that the lines are quite blurred when it comes to blue-printing the characteristics that identify this genre from the Alternative Metal sound that came after it and the more groove oriented thrash that was before.

Who gives an ass anyways right? Why the need to characterize things into genres like that anywho? Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' came out of nowhere overnight and buried Hair Metal faster than a rat in a Scorcese flick. The record companies scattered like a buckshot to the garages of Seattle and the West Coast and signed hundreds - if not thousands of bands that never stood a chance of being heard outside of their zip codes prior to Nevermind's release. The market was flooded with honest to goodness bands playing for the love of music, not for the fast lane life of booze, poon, pills and popularity. The guy working at your gas station could have been somebody's John Lennon. It was good ol' rock and roll, but because it hadn't been in the spotlight for damn near a decade it was labeled Grunge. It wasn't called Grunge in the 70's, with the likes of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen up there just being honest with themselves and their audiences. I guess we just do it to segregate a group so they're easier to target. Whether we shower it with praise or piss, we do it with people, we do it with art, we do it with music. It's just a simpler way to make brash generalizations about something without giving forth the effort of finding it's individuality, and I'm guilty as hell of doing it too.

While the more groove orientated metal bands of the early 90's like Pantera, Prong and even Chaos-era Sepultura shared more with the honest to goodness music-first-everything-else-second values of "Grunge", their thrash-as-a-backseat hook-laden heaviness had a major impact on the up and commence of Nu - Metal. As did the emergence of bands like Biohazard and Rage Against The Machine, whose talent for meshing rap and heavy metal was still a very rare thing, thus making it wickedly fun, interesting and unabashedly awesome. Unfortunately most Nu-Metal bands also borrowed from the gimmicky fashion nonsense of Hair Metal, utilizing colored hair, rubber masks, piercings galore, and Hip Hop fashion as an added dose of theatricality and identity in their genre.

I have a soft spot for Nu-Metal, I was only 16 when it started to congeal itself into the heavy music scene so I was still foaming for anything accessible yet different in the metal genre.  I had a foundation in the likes of bands like Slayer, Anthrax, and Testament, but a strong passion for the brazen and emotive heaviness of groups like Pantera, Face-palm-era Napalm Death, and Fear Factory. I was drawn to the emerging of Nu-Metal's fresh sound of drop-tuned seven string guitars, and the schizophrenic and emotionally purging scats of some of the genre's better frontmen. I even identified with and enjoyed the naked and in your face lyrics - why dress up the idea of hating a girl you want to bang in symbolism and innuendo when you could just fucking say 'I love you slut', that felt real to me - and as a painfully shy and introverted 16 year-old shut-in it was also very identifiable.

I never went ape shit about the whole thing to the point where I found myself pawning the likes of Methods of Mayhem albums 5 years later or anything like that, so I was still pretty selective about what I was buying (though I did recently come across an Ultraspank CD that I have no recollection of ever listening to let alone purchasing). What I think gets lost on most people who blush and back peddle when you find their Limp Bizkit collection in the back of the closet behind their yearbooks is that every genre only has a handful of really good bands in it, and the rest is just this ocean of shit or legion of lemmings you're sometimes forced to wade through.  Black Metal, Death Metal, Thrash, Grindcore... To find a band like Discordance Axis you have to sometimes tolerate recockulousness like Prostitute Disfigurement and Throatplunger - not to mention the legions of clones that want to be the next Discordance Axis, like Noisear, Asterisk, and Vertigo Index. Manowar anyone?

 Nu-Metal was a pit stop for me on the way to the niche of the more extreme ventures of sound I have found myself nuzzled in for the last decade or so. There are aspects of it that I enjoyed then that I look for in my music today - such as the multi-facets of a non-monosyllabic vocalist and the occasional sonic experimentation of noises as riffs. Not to mention the exploration of other emotions in the spectrum of the dark side of the human experience besides just anger and hate. I think there are a whole lot of elitists out there who aren't too honest with themselves or the people they look down on when it comes to flashing back to the latter half of the nineties and what they may or may not have indulged in at the time. So below is a little overview of some of the albums that were spat forth when Nu-Metal was the thick of it that I still come back to every now and then and still get my bud plumping - since I told you I never really went ape shit about the whole thing, I never delved too deep into the underworld of the genre to see what it had to offer, so most of them are the heavy hitters you'd expect. Now that I'm considering it I don't think I'd go so far as to call any of the following records guilty pleasures, as I openly believe they are each respectable in their own right and have no qualms about their appropriateness in anybody's collection. But it's probably not a conversation I'm going to start on the floor at next months Napalm Death / Exhumed show.

Korn - Korn

Korn - Life Is Peachy

Korn is kind of tricky because they did their best work outside of the scene, meaning they kind of started the whole ball rolling. So while so many other bands were so impressed with Korn's sound, it still took them years to get their shit together and put something out that sounded exactly like them. In the meantime Korn had plenty of time to bask in the glow of being an insanely original concept in the metal world. So how can you consider them part of a movement that hadn't started yet? Because they unwittingly started it? To file these two albums as part of the same Nu-Metal scene that spawned the likes of Nonpoint and Powerman 5000 is flat out fucking wrong. Because there was no scene. They weren't riding any waves, they were making them. They were the quake that sent the Tsunami waters crashing into and flooding the land. People forget that unfortunately.

Close your eyes (actually wait till you're done reading this) and imagine a parallel universe where Korn never got popular. A world where 'A.D.I.D.A.S.' never caught on and Follow The Leader was never recorded. Where all we had were these two albums from this band and we never heard from them again. Living in that world would be aggravating, the wonder, the longing to know what just one more album from them would have ended up sounding like. Acid Bath's amazing blackened swamp blues/thrash never caught on, probably never would have, they left us two phenomenal albums and then disassembled, never to play together again. It fuckin' pisses me off, but those two albums - When The Kite String Pops and Pagan Terrorist Tactics - and the paradigm of what could have been, and what my imagination conceives it would have been, makes the aura of that band all the more great. That's what Korn should have been, and if that's what they had been nobody would have a problem with them. Horrible clones wouldn't have come oozing out of the musical woodwork in their wake watering down the genre until it was insipid and intolerable. They wouldn't have become cliche' fucking clowns of themselves in ridiculous attempts to stay both original and relevant. They simply would have been an insanely amazing stamp in the timeline of heavy music, having come and gone and left their respected mark.

On the album inserts they appeared as dirty, dreadlocked, abused meth-heads. Their music was dry and loose, so low you could hear the bass strings rattle and snare drum vibrate. The vocals were completely bent, ferocious, guttural one moment and then innocently quivering the next. Ranting, raving, crying and yelling about abusing yourself and being abused, drug paranoia, isolation, all between the occasional fit of incoherent schizophrenic gibberish. It was dark, and demented. I was 16 years old when I bought 'Korn', and I remember the off-putting feeling after having listened to the album in it's entirety for the first time in my room that night. From the first cymbal ride to the moment you hear the door hinge squeak at the end of 'Daddy',  no record had ever made me feel that uncomfortable before, it seemed absolutely genuine in it's delivery - and I listened to it again. I'd never heard anything like it.

Even 'Life Is Peachy', which sounds more like a bunch of B-sides that didn't make the cut on the band's debut than an actual body of work in and of itself, still has a dark genuineness to it that when compared to the rest of the band's later discography was often duplicated but never replicated. Get rid of 'Low Rider', 'Wicked', and arguably maybe even 'K@#0%!' (despite that fantastic riff) and you have another original and dizzying trip into the dark funk of drug induced dementia.

But it unfortunately didn't end there, and we all know how it turned out after that. On later album inserts they would appear in their eyeliner and sponsored Puma get ups, tough guy posturing for the camera, maybe an occasional Calvin Klein ad. Kilts, MTV Cribs, specially designed microphones, rap star cameos, porn star wives, finding Jesus, dub step...oy veh.  I listen to a lot of really off-the-wall heavy shit, and I still think that 'Korn' is both sonically and thematically one of THE heaviest records out there. These guys did something real that hadn't been done before (a co-worker of mine at the time who claimed to once live near Bakersfield and once smoked a tampon in front of me told me that Coal Chamber actually pioneered the sound first, but that claim still remains unrequited to this day), and at the time I'd have bet my secret stash of Victoria Secret catalogues that it would have never caught on the way it had, let alone ripple through the metal community the way it did and influence damn near the entire genre - it was just too different for people to grasp and way too inaccessible. But while I HATE the fact they broke out and it all went down the way it did, I do admire the populous that flocked to it the way they did. I was happy to see that there were more fucked up kids out there like me foaming at the mouth for something to push the boundaries at the time.

Deftones - Around The Fur

I almost wasn't going to put this on here because truthfully I don't throw this on all that often these days. In my opinion Deftones are one of the most exciting bands out there and they just keep getting better with each release. It's awesome to see a band change their sound so gradually and so gracefully, so much so that they've shed damn near all of the stigma that most people place on the roots of where their sound came from. But in a yang to the ying that is Korn, Deftones' later catalogue makes their early work sound all the more mediocre to me. Maybe mediocre is a horrible word to use, because you can't deny the unique sound this band has had since day fuckin' one, and 'Around The Fur' still holds water today. The crooning, the lyrics, that meat-cutter riffing with a staggering organic beat - nobody else really sounds or sounded like them.

I wore this CD out when it was released. I dug 'Adrenaline' when it came out, but the lack of bottom end in the production at the time (I ain't like that anymore) left so much to be desired for me. I probably may not have even bothered picking up 'Around The Fur' when it came out if it wasn't for me absolutely loving the sound and more unhinged direction they were heading in on the track 'Teething', which appeared on the Crow 2 soundtrack damn near a year and a half before 'Around The Fur' was released. Needless to say the album didn't disappoint.

With a penchant for pummeling the listener before soaring with them through the open air, a sonic trait they continue to hone in on and masterfully improve with each new release, Deftones always make you wonder what's going to come next. From the pensive release of 'My Own Summer', to the dirty dark summer-in-a-basement sounds of 'Mascara', to the uninhibited open road ahead of 'Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)' to the bouncy fuck-you-upness of 'Head Up' - 'Around The Fur' runs the gamut and feels vibrantly chromatic in it's experience. Even the hidden track 'Damen' is arguably the best thing on the album, and yet buried in the aftermath making it such a pain in the ass to get to. Yeah, this record was an arrow splitting the arrow of things to come.

I didn't put any of their other albums on the list because I really don't feel like they have any other links to the Nu-Metal genre, not even sure this record should be tied in with it, but since it is so close to 'Adrenaline's rant/rap fueled poop storm of dissonant So Cal punk/funk metal I figured maybe most would look at it that way - not that it's a red 'A' on a band's history or anything like that, I just appreciate a shedding of the skin when it happens successfully. 'White Pony' was enough of a departure from their peers for me to realize that what they've been doing since then is a genre that's yet to be stamped. Evolution done right.

System Of A Down - System Of A Down

System Of A Down - Toxicity

By 1998, Nu-Metal - comprised mostly of it's generically titled subgenres 'Rap Metal' and 'Alternative Metal' (eye rolling and apologies for the ridiculousness of the genre profiling here) was charging forward full steam ahead as a whole goddamn scene in itself. And per se, I was ready for something new, different, and a tad more off-the-wall / boundary leaning. System Of A Down's self-titled debut couldn't have come out at a better time. This was some exciting shit. It was like somebody mainlined spaz juice into an ADD riddled Rage Against The Machine with the shock collars over-charged and malfunctioning. Don't agree with that comparison? Both spatter forth intelligent and researched testimonies about the atrocities of current global policies and the conspired wars and big business profiteering that comes in the end result of human suffering. Both deliver these in palpably pissed off sermons behind music that is wildly successful in both it's function as the messenger as well as it's undeniable ability to make you want to fucking move. And both transcended what were established modern traditionalist ideas in the often near-sighted genre of heavy metal in which their sound is based. Even their names, bra - Rage Against The Machine? System Of A Down? Damn the man...

I'm not even sure if SOAD can be filed away as an offspring of Nu-Metal or not, but the scene's momentum at the time more than likely was a huge catalyst to their popularity. Their debut was a wickedly clever and infectious hail storm of bouncy thrash-tastic rhythms and heavy-as-a-really-heavy thing riffs on top of a subtle classical Armenian musical influence. Lead vocalist Serj Tankian sounded crazier than a shit-house rat, singing, screaming, grunting, whining - and he looked the part too. And the performances on both 'System Of A Down' and 'Toxicity' are razor sharp, with just enough slop here and there to make it truly feel organic, a testament to the talent of each individual in the group. Only recently did I put the pieces together and realize that these guys were an obvious step for me in the direction of bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Car Bomb, and Botch.

Every song has it's own character in these first two records. It's unfortunate how mainstream media beat the song 'Chop Suey' to absolute death and then defiled it's corpse over and over again. Cause it's a great song, and is arguably the best track to really showcase everything this band does so well, probably the exact reason it happened I guess. I need to go back and give the albums that came after these two another listen, unfortunately for me, from what I've heard there's just too much of that whiney little shit-stick guitarists voice up in the mix on all of the melodic parts, it tends to get like nails on a chalkboard pretty quickly, but maybe that's just me. And live that guy is as annoying as anal leakage, too much 'look at me I'm crazy!!!' posturing - but I suppose there's just too much of that in all of heavy metal and it's off-shoots.

I also think that by the third and fourth album, 'Hypnotize' and 'Mesmerize' (or is it just one double album released separately at different times?) their formula started to become somewhat predictable(though admit I never gave them much of a shot when they were released).... Which isn't always a bad thing, wasn't I the one wishing Korn would have just kept pumping shit out like their first album? I don't have a problem with that though, if you've got something so cleverly original, and you're by leaps and bounds the best at doing what it is you do, so much so that nobody else could even gets close enough to rip you off somewhat obviously (I personally don't know of any groups off the top of my head that blatantly sound similar to SOAD) - then keep on truckin' you crazy Armenian bastards...

Slipknot - Iowa

When Slipknot made their major label debut I didn't stand a chance of turning my nose up at them, even with those ridiculously gimmicky costumes. They were like this stitched together PCP addled Frankenhooker of so much of the music that had helped mold me in my formative teen years. The speed of Slayer, Sepultura's percussive rhythms, the brazen and against the grain 'Fuck You' attitude and groove of Pantera, Fear Factory's (played-out) soaring good cop to bad cop singing, all down-tuned to the key of Korn, with their emotionally writhing stigma to boot as well as their penchant for turning random guitar squeals into twisted riffs. You'd think that in theory that sound wouldn't work, that it would turn out like a big budget superhero movie where the studio tries to cram 6 villains with 6 different storylines into a 2 hour stretch, not the case. Slipknot flaunted a speed and danger that was noticeably absent from other fresh faces in the genre. The debut was a cathartic purging of visceral angst, but the occasional rapping and too occasional record scratching only served as slightly misplaced cartoonish reminders to maybe not take this band too seriously. By 1999 those characteristics in metal music were already way played-the-fuck-out.

In 2001 the band released it's sophomore major label release simply (and awesomely) titled 'Iowa', and this fucker ripped. The aforementioned played-out qualities were dialed down severely, their DJ now playing more the role of a noise man. Slipknot took all of the other characteristics of the debut and doubled down, layered them - bigger, louder, thicker, more pissed off. The fast songs occasionally push past Death Metal levels and flirt with blast beats, admirable traits to inject into your music for a mainstream band on their second album flirting with serious success. I think that may be one of the reasons I dig 'Iowa' as much as I do, there are only a handful of groups I can think of who actually made an effort to be heavier while they were basking in the lime light, 'Iowa' was an example of this.

True, some of the lyrics can be eye-rollingly sophomoric, especially with the use of profanity as syllabic filler, but on some level - if you're willing - you can get past it by simply assuming it's a another representation of getting frustration across even in the frustration of not finding the right words. And they are still wearing those fucking costumes. But this record is passionate, and it feels passionate. Maybe it's just one of those albums that came along at just the right time for me.

'Iowa' was released after Nu-Metal had already had it's hey-day, so maybe it's not fair to put it on this list. It really is an excellent straight-up metal album. It's unfortunate that so many of the traditionalist Slayer and Vulgar-Display-of-Power strokes were so quick to shun these guys when they came out and never gave this record a chance. I mean, I know the costumes don't make it any easier, but I'll put myself out there and say that as far as straight up between-the-lines heavy metal/thrash albums go, I'd put this sucker in the late middle to end of the same list that starts with Sepultura's 'Arise', Pantera's 'Far Beyond Driven' and half of Slayer's discography. It's a beast. Except for 'I Am Hated' - that song fucking sucks, doesn't belong, it's a B-side and it weighs the album down.

The whole album is an amalgam of constant tension-to-release, and the intro, '515' does a great job of setting that tone. Sometimes it's so small you don't notice that it happened, there are about 5 or 6 purges throughout 'Disasterpiece', sometimes it's god-size, like the entire track 'Skin Ticket' or 'Gently'. Slipknot have always been amazing at the burn in some of those slower, more pensive and seemingly directionless pieces. Listening to the record from front to back is like being balled up in a giant closing fist, exhuming every last ounce of energy and strength to keep it from crushing you - until 'Metabolic' winds to a close and the hand opens...and you lay there exhausted - the title track 'Iowa' is your post-coital strychnine-laced cigarette celebrating your survival. The album itself, from start to finish, is a purging and within it are separate purges of synapses you never even realized had the ammunition to still fire.

'Iowa' is a fierce, passionate, and strangely primitive feeling record, a credit I give to the additional percussive elements they infuse. It's not tribal in the traditional sense of that word in metal, as when describing a really shitty Max Cavalera side project, but it's tribal by it's original definition, as in that there is a solidarity there. Except for a few flaws, and a major one being 'I Am Hated ' (that song fucking sucks, doesn't belong, it's a B-side and it weighs the album down), this is damn near a perfect metal record for me. The songs, the vibe, the title of the record, the way the band actually got more extreme as they were getting more popular, the infusion of taboo genres in mainstream metal like Death and Grind, even the awesomely simple and cryptic cover of a goat utilized as the album's artwork. 'Iowa' to this day is a force to be reckoned with. Everything this band did after this just And those stupid fucking costumes....

Nothingface - Pacifier

In his sixth year of college my brother DJ'd  a late night Heavy Metal radio show for the campus station in the duodenum of Illinois. That little gig exposed us to some really cool shit at the time through promotional CD's and of course the stock that was already there at the station, mind you this was long before digital tracks and not too long before the internet really took off. This is how I came across Nothingface, and probably the only reason I ever came across them at all.

It was still pretty early in the Nu-Metal game, all things considered - I had the first two Korn albums and Deftones' 'Adrenaline' and that was pretty much it from that scene. When I came upon Nothingface's 'Pacifier' it was the absolute beginning of the crest of the wave of the Nu-Metal horde that had been well on the way for the last year or so. In the few weeks to months after 'Pacifier' was officially released debut albums from Coal Chamber, Limp Bizkit, Snot and a very rappy Incubus all hit the shelves along with Deftones' 'Around The Fur'. Big business was starting to pay attention. I think that because of the lack of personal over-saturation at the time, Nothingface sounded really fresh and exciting to me, and to be honest, if they hadn't gotten to me then I'd probably have never given it a chance after that influx of the first tier of the budding genre.

I can't stand here and tell you that the album is ground breaking, because it's not, but the heavy influence of both the Nu-Metal genre and the more groove-oriented metal of the early to mid-nineties is portrayed pretty well here. The Korn envy plays a bit strong, with everything from the cover of the album, the lyrics, about half of the vocal performance, this video, and most of the riffs. But there is a brazenness to it as well, a more testosterone fueled light-on-the-Far Beyond Driven quality if you will. For me personally, and this feels spot on - always has - Nothingface sounds like early Slipknot if early Slipknot only had four guys - and by that I mean a vocalist, a guitarist, a bassist and one drummer. It's basic and stripped down with very little studio magic, but the sound and delivery is uncannily similar. The production on 'Pacifier' by todays standards is dated, and probably pretty far from top-notch back in 1997 - but I'll tell you what, I threw this record on for the first time in quite some time the other day and it still got my fists all pent up into little balls.

Vocalist Matt Holt has a pretty identifiable voice and when he's all riled up it comes across pretty effortlessly, which you can take as either good or bad, but for me that lack of palpable strain sometimes feels damn near like phoning it in believe it or not. I feel like even when the vessels in his eyes should be popping and the veins in his neck protruding it just sounds like he can't get past the green into the red, or at least never tries. But never-the-less there are some emotional moments (at least for an 18 year old) on 'Pacifier' that you never really hear coming on first listen, that are still engrained in me to provoke an appropriate reaction all these years later - the last minute and ten seconds of 'Lipsdick' is still one of the most punch-yourself-in-the-face-over-and-over-again moments in all of the genre.

Is it better than Slipknot's 'Vol. 3' or even something like Korn's 'Issues'? I can't sit here and tell you that you'll think it is, so then why is 'Pacifier' on my list and those albums not? I'll be honest, there is a lot of nostalgia to this record for me, I used to listen to it a whole bunch when it came out and I was flying the flag for these bros pretty aggressively upon it's release. Maybe I still come back to it because nobody else that I knew of at the time was listening to it, so it never got overhyped or overplayed when the genre was it's most saturated. Or maybe it just felt honest, like they got it out just ahead of the herd enough to come across as a genuine effort in making a genuine album.

 Their next two records, 'An Audio Guide To Everyday Atrocity' and 'Violence' are basically the same blueprint and sound, but I never enjoyed them as much as I did 'Pacifier'. Probably because by then Slipknot had hit the scene and gave me that fix with a bit more to it.  Though I will admit that their final album 'Skeletons' is arguably the best thing they've done if you're coming into it cold. Well written with good production, and some of the most dynamic stuff they put on record, but with twice as much melody than previous efforts it's closer to the likes of Staind than any of their original influences (maybe a bit of a stretch there but you get the point).

Mudvayne - L.D.50

Korn already had 4 albums out by the time Mudvayne's debut full length was released, so the shit was getting thick by then, and the sound of the genre was beginning to evolve (in a really shitty way). That being said, Mudvayne's first single "Dig" still turned my head pretty hard. With a driving heaviness and creative riffs, not to mention an occasional flirtation with funk buried deep within the tantrums of unpredictable time changes and ugly melody, Mudvayne found themselves a cozy little niche somewhere between the likes of Korn's downtuned groove and Slipknot's toying with speed influence.

But alas, these jerks went the route of gimmicky make-up and costumes along with ridiculous stage names to help get noticed. Which works if you're going to play that angle up in your music I suppose, like GWAR, but doesn't if it's an obvious ploy to separate yourselves from the pack without the confidence of just your music to do it. Still however, the songs were good enough to get me to listen, and still tune in from time to time as I really think Mudvayne had a thing going on here kind of all there own within the genre to a lesser degree. Singer Chad Grey's voice really didn't turn on and off the way most vocalists in the genre would switch good cop to bad cop in their singing then screaming dynamic. His voice kind of fluctuated from screaming to screaming melodically occasionally idling down to a grainy kind of singing but the change in style was barely noticeable until the whole thing was over. And the music accentuated that ability fantastically.

L.D.50's songs twist through the gauntlet showcasing a technicality within the musicianship that I hadn't heard from other bands emerging in the scene. Could this be, Progressive Nu-Metal?! The 1-2-3-4-5-6 punch of the first half of this album - from 'Dig' to 'Nothing To Gein' (dissolving the intro and interlude into the attack) - is unrivaled by any of their peers' efforts including the albums on this list except for 'Iowa' (I'd argue 'Korn''s 'Faget' as a fracture in the fault). In fact I've probably listened to the first half of this album more in recent years than any of the records that I own within the genre. L.D.50 kicks balls like an unhinged Asian woman flailing in a feeding frenzy. And it's in touch with it's pulpy side as well, occasionally breaking the song in half to press the warm moist innards of a dark ballad against the skin that always loses itself back to the primal nature of it's being before it unfurls completely, a common trait amongst the bands on this list but Mudvayne seem more successful than most in adding a layer of ferocity to the ferocious parts.

My big complaint is that the album is too long. At almost 70 minutes it wares you down if you're invested in it the way you should be, and if you're not then you're just not getting it. By the time I reach the final third of the album I've pretty much tuned out because it's all starting to sound the same (says the guy who owns the entire Nasum discography). I think they could've chopped those last 5 or 6 songs off of the end and put out a real nail to the lobe if they wanted to. Fine tuned those last less memorable tracks and put out a whole 'nother album. Even when I start the record half-way through to give the latter end it's due properly those songs just don't stick to the ribs.

Though I don't dig it as much, I enjoy Mudvayne's second album 'The End Of All Things To Come' as well. They made a conscious effort to do something different and it actually kind of worked for them a little bit. Though it does sound a bit more conventional and dare I say accessible, it's sonically unique in it's guitar tones and definitely stands out of the crowd. Later efforts were a bit more mediocre from my brief perusing. The singer joined a band with the guitarist and bassist of Nothingface and Pantera skins-man Vinnie Paul called Hellyeah. Sounds like it should tear right through the skin and be amazing doesn't it? It's not. Steaming pile of shit.

Staind - Dysfunction

I've never really considered these guys part of the Nu-Metal scene. There was that surge of rock that happened just after it's pinnacle that was really inspired by the "Grunge" and Alternative Rock of the mid-90's. Creed trying to sound like Pearl Jam. Staind trying to sound like Alice In Chains. Puddle Of Mudd trying to sound like the rest. I guess there were some traits that were similar between those really blurred lines that I never really deciphered of what made Nu-Metal what it was, but for the most part it felt more like a moving of what passed for Modern Hard Rock those days up to the forefront of the airwaves. Staind was "discovered" by Fred Durst, and on the Limp Bizkit front man's label at the time Dysfunction was put out, he also appeared on the live version of the song that broke them into the mainstream and even more-so the Adult Contemporary stations. They also toured on THE quintessential tour for bands within the Nu-Metal genre, playing alongside Korn, Limp Bizkit, DMX and Filter. And they also did this cover.... So I guess just to not leave anyone out and cover my own bases I'll add them to the list because I can see where stones may be thrown, and I'm in the blur again.

Dysfunction was a great album. A very drab yet emotional balancing act between a permeating sadness and a bitter volatility at said sadness that actually felt fresh and genuine upon the record's release. This one touched a nerve for me, and the aforementioned pendulum of emotion made the record feel like more than just another venture into the superficiality of being pissed off, it kind of cut deeper than that in it's song structure and delivery. Being the first of it's kind in a new emergence of an old sound and evolving down a different linear path than it's ancestors in the mid to late 90's made it all the more enjoyable - I mean, er - all the more absorbable in it's sulk.

The softer side of this group was the highlight, and - if comparing them to the likes of the rest of the bands on this list - it was also a characteristic that didn't feel forced or unfortunately alien in it's palette. These guys sounded like they were genuinely stuck in the fucking muck, and it was great. The resurgence of traits of a sound that had burnt out from the populous over a decade ago was great to hear stretched over a sharper, more jagged edge. This album hinted at the budding of a band inspired by one of the greatest albums to come washing ashore in the flood of the 90's Grunge Rock tsunami: Alice In Chains' 'Dirt'. Unfortunately as is par for the course, the legions of lemmings playing melodic hard-sap-rock spread through the industry like an oil spill in a river, and the oversaturation became unbearable and embarrassing in just a few short years.

I actually bought two copies of Dysfunction when it was released in 1999, one for myself and one to borrow out to people because they "had to hear it" (I hadn't figured out how to burn CD's yet). People seem to misunderstand that the band's second major label release (The album before Dysfunction called 'Torment' was never distributed to a wider market and leaned a whole lot more to the heavier aspect of their sound) 'Break The Cycle' was actually written and 'in the can' when the band got huuuuuge from the release of the track 'Outside', which appeared as a previously never-heard song performed live as a duet with Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst on the Family Values CD. So contrary to what most may think, the popularity and success that came after 'Outside' infected radio play had no effect on that second record, which can be heard from the retention of their abrasiveness in some of the songs, a characteristic that was glaringly absent in a majority of later releases that contained shit that was written just to get on the radio and make money, but we'll talk about that another time.

The involvement of Fred Durst with Staind was the passing of the baton of unoriginal cringe-worthy garbage. Not necessarily in Staind (yet), but in the spotlight of what the people who listen to the radio, and more importantly the same people that had been following what the bands on The Family Values Tour were doing, would listen to next. 'Outside' is no better than the hidden track 'Excess Baggage' - which appears at the end of Dysfunction, but the casual music fans who need to be spoon fed the songs they like hadn't found it yet - it needed to be wrapped up and given to them by a familiar face. Gratuitous self-marketing at it's finest. 'Outside' only set the stage for the unfortunately stellar 'It's Been A While', which became the last shovel-load of dirt on the coffin of the Staind I really enjoyed and identified with. While it is indeed a great song, thus fortifying the band's destiny as a soon-to-be stadium act, it germinated in it's popularity from Modern Rock Stations to The Lite FM, and lost all of it's power in the ridiculousness of just how much that song was played everywhere. I'm just thankful we got Dysfunction before the demons started living in mansions and driving Ferraris.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: Compiling Autumn - Making Discordance Axis' 'The Inalienable Dreamless' by Andrew Childers

According to Andrew Childers, grindcore aficianado and master-mind of the acclaimed pack-leading blog Grind and Punishment, he was approached by the now defunct Discordance Axis vocalist Jon Chang to pen a short book about the creation of the band's classic benchmark album 'The Inalienable Dreamless'. Per Mr. Childers, Chang offered to financially back the project and the band supported it by contributing their points of view to the fevered sessions that would unforseeably redefine the grindcore genre years after it's initial release on Hydra Head records. Six months later, we have the novella 'Compiling Autumn: Making Discordance Axis' The Inalienable Dreamless'.
The bottom line here is that 36 published pages about this album is 36 published pages more than I thought I'd ever see in my lifetime. It was Boner City in Grindville when Decibel Magazine did a 6 page spread on the album as it's 'Hall Of Fame' entry for the March 2009 Grindcore Issue (a special issue that I'm pushing should happen every time Napalm Death releases a studio album, am I the only one sick of hearing about how great Mastodon and Skeletonwitch are?). So this thing could have been written by Sloth and Chunk and I'd still shell out the measly $8 that they were actually apologizing for charging for it. And the cherry on top of the whole thing is that 100% of the book's profits are going to the Tsunami Relief Fund for Japan. Now just take a moment to think about that would you please? Chang could've used the cash to fund his current blur-grind hybrid outfit Gridlink, or even bought a fishing net full of sci-fi Anime and underground Hentai DVD's, but instead he opted to go the route of helping support relief for the country that he's proclaimed has inspired him through most of his creative career. Any fan would be a fool not to buy this book on that merit alone.
The book is expectedly well written and offers previously unheard insight into the creation of the landmark album, including interviews with first time producer Jon D'Uva and co-owner of Hydra Head Records Aaron Turner, not to mention band members Dave Witte, Jon Chang, and Rob Marton as well as testimonials from peers in the genre. Everything from the writing process, lyrical and thematic inspiration, recording techniques, and even a bit of the origin of DA are all covered in this satisfyingly short, written documentary.
There are moments throughout the book that touch on how the band's first album, 'Ulterior', came to be - inspired by what Chang imagined the album after Napalm Death's 'From Enslavement To Obliteration' should have sounded like. When the author occasionally dips into the early years of the band I kept expecting to hear about the influence that Anal Cunt had on the group's sound (as was touched upon in the aforementioned Decibel article). It was at these moments where I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading a biography on the group and how they came to be, but a book more on the pinnacle of their all-too-short career and eventually how they came to be no longer.
Upon hearing about the book and it's release I pathetically retrograted into the 16 year old fan boy that I used to be about bands and music nobody else really thought mattered. The fact that Chang came up with the idea to do this and funded it himself shows an artist's excitement in his own work that fans of that person and his creativity absolutely love to benefit from. Especially in a genre that is so limited in the merchandise they can offer, because it just ain't popular enough to really turn a profit (I've still got an empty space on the wall in my garage waiting for a Pig Destroyer poster to one day be produced). Kudos to the band and everyone that gave their input to make the book that much more intimate, and golf claps to Andrew for taking the time and putting on the pads to shoulder a project like this delegated to him from a figure that is quickly becoming a Godfather in the scene. If it's still available, Buy it.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Dead and Loving It: Mindrot


Mindrot was one of the biggest gateway bands for me into the more extreme realms of heavy music, so it's difficult for me to differentiate whether these guys really were as good as I think or I'm just wickedly biased based on both their influence on me as well as my admitted lack of this kind of Death/Doom hybrid material in my own collection. For me, listening to Mindrot is an intensely cathartic happening as I feel they do an amazing job of conveying every negative emotion in the darker side of the human experience, as is the modus operandi for most bands in this genre, but maybe these guys hold a special place in the icy recesses of my heart because they just got to me first. In fact, in the search to fill the void left by their dismemberment in the late 90's I stumbled across a number of bands I still listen to and enjoy to this day including both Nile and Opeth, and while the elitists will shake their fingers at me in disgust as these bands seemingly hold nothing in common with Mindrot, I have no argument but being a slave to the tingly sensation my brain gets when it's exposed to intelligently epic and emotional songs played in the key of DESTROY.

And speaking of epic, Mindrot sounds it, which is astonishing to me given both the fact that these guys seemed a permanent fixture under the radar even in the underground scene (so where is the budget coming from?) as well as how well it holds up sonically today. I mean, there are parts of Mindrot's 1995 debut 'Dawning' as well as their (only) 1998 follow-up 'Soul' that sound as magnanimous as some of Behemoth's recent releases. A testament to producer Jim Barnes. But as my 6'8" primate of a boss Mark Angellotti would say back in my glory days of working at the local pool, 'you can't make chicken soup out of chicken shit', and it was the writing, dynamics, and palpable emotion in the music that was the weight that pulled you into the abyss.  The gutteral, grinding bass and monolithic wall of guitars is leveling. Throated growls piercing the wall of sound then breaking away into the quiet anguish of strummed clean chords and vocal despair, a dark beauty looming underneath it all, occasionally audible when the chaos breaks like the new rays of a dawning sun through winter clouds. I still get lost in and find myself welling up to the title track (and greatest intro to any album EVER) of their debut record 'Dawning'. Lord knows how many mix tapes I opened with that fucker between 1995 and 2008. Yeah, I was still making mix tapes in 2008 - hence my need to identify with despair in my music.

Mindrot released a few demos, an EP, and two full lengths before they all went their separate ways and began separate projects. Lead vocalist Adrian Leroux went on to do a short-lived project called Nascent and then sang on a Morgion album while percussionist Evan Killbourne became the drummer for Save Ferris. Guitarist Dan Kaufmann and bassist Matt Fischer went on to form Eyes Of Fire, which is truly the only project to feel like it rose out of the ashes of the incarnation that was Mindrot.  Much like Bloodsimple came out of Vision Of Disorder or Jesu from Godflesh - Eyes Of Fire toted a similar sonic palette in slightly more accessible song structures, while the anger, sadness and despair were all still present some songs had a lingering undertone of hope weaving in and out of them.  The most notable song for me being 'Home', which was released as a limited edition bonus CD on the group's sophomore album 'Prisons', a near 25 minute boil-over that start to finish could be likened to the sonic representation of a building being burnt to the ground, from incendiary flames to the raging inferno to the ashes of the end - a simple yet stunning piece I'd recommend closing your eyes to and letting it take you where it may. Unfortunately for me, though more than decent in it's own right, Eyes Of Fire's body of work still failed to reach the bar set by the two records Mindrot released.

So whether or not the die hard Winter and Evoken and Katatonia fans will agree with the merits I praise Mindrot with in their overall style of music, I still feel like they are a band worth knowing about that may have easily passed you by if you weren't looking for it or stumbled upon it the way I did. So next time you're feeling underneath it all go give it a listen, somewhere you can punch a tree or lay down and cry where nobody will see you. Or else you may find yourself all wrapped up in it and wiping tears of self-hatred and guilt from your face at the fitness center just as that hot girl you never stood a chance with comes walking in and gives you that look before quickly looking away.. "WHO YOU CALLIN' A PSYCHO?!!!"

Here are five of my faves from the aforementioned albums above:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Whose Band Is It Anyway? (The Worlds Longest and Most Inane Precursor to an Alice In Chains Review) / Album Review: 'The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here'

So, whose fuckin’ band is it anyways? That’s the question that has haunted me for years, and I’m not talking Layne Staley vs. Jerry Cantrell or any of that nonsense either (the answer is obvious by the way – but we’ll get into that later), I’m talking the bigger picture. In the last few years – just to cite some recent examples – there have been a few groups who have drastically changed their style and song writing from a sound they’ve been cemented in for years in just one album’s time. No slow musical evolution as a precursor or warning, (not-so) simply a band trying something different. Some fans are open to it, some just absolutely aren’t.

Cryptopsy drew the curtain a technically impressive, menacing and most importantly – interesting – Death Metal group, and opened it with The Unspoken King as a metal-core act with keyboards and (gasp) clean vocals! Fans bummed hard. Morbid Angel went to the sleep over as an extreme metal outfit whose riffs and signature sound was so fast and so creative that it sometimes morphed itself beyond the trappings of it’s traditional instruments and almost became something droning, beautiful and ambient in it’s buzz. They came home the next morning with electro-ridden dance beats and techno dirges infused in their music on the latest offering Illud Divinium Insanus.

Opeth offered hints and musings with what they liked to dabble in, probably the most obvious with where it may go as songs became more raindrops on spider webs than black rain breaking down kingdoms as albums progressed. But the band’s latest offering, ‘Heritage’ was all progressive and zero pummeling, no Deliverance to it’s Damnation was ever offered. Fans bummed hard – again. So again I ask the question, whose band is it? While an artist by every right should have the artistic freedom to do what they want with their music, most would never have the opportunity to execute it the way they envision without the previous years of financial support from the fans who were very pleased with the product they’ve been putting out. So essentially, Mikael Akerfeldt, who is the main songwriter for Opeth, figuratively made a record HE wanted to make with people who paid him to put out a record THEY wanted to hear but never got. It’s like paying a Porsche factory $100,000 to make you a Porsche – you wait years to get it and when it finally comes pulling onto your street it’s a Volkswagon. “Well we always make Porsches, we wanted to try something different, here ya go”. Some people drive it and find that it handles better than the Porsche, some people refuse to set foot in the fucking thing, some people figure they spent the money so they learn to like it, and some people just trust anything the Porsche factory is going to spit out.

 Or is it the artist’s right to do what he wants when he wants however he wants it to sound, and it’s going to happen whether we like it or not – take it or leave it. If it sucks we stop buying the albums, if it’s good then everyone wins. They put it out there and we either take it or leave it – a real artist doesn’t give a shit. I loved ‘Heritage’, it’s moments like that album that make me happy that some musicians take chances. I actually respect Morbid Angel for doing what they did with Illud Divinium Insanus – they rolled the dice and took the genre of the extreme and tried to show it’s audience a different aspect of it – that extremity isn’t just fast guitars, growling and blurred blast beats. Unfortunately it reeks more of honeymooning in a phase of fan boy nonsense with a different genre of music than it does as a logical step in the direction that band has always been heading before. Like Korn’s “Path Of Totality” – Wow, I’m happy you twats discovered Dub Step and think it’s fuckin’ cool, but show some fuckin’ restraint would you? Are you that egomaniacal to think that the people that still listen to your music are going to think something is bad-ass just because you do? Well, I guess if you’re still buying Korn albums this long after ‘Issues’ than you may be one of those sheep. It’s like getting shitfaced and pissed off and then posting something on Facebook – save it as a draft and come back to it the next day for Christ sake. You’ll be glad you never hit send. I think Korn and Morbid Angel hit send a bit too soon and now have to not only live with the results, but defend them as well.

The more mainstream you are the easier it is to pull off – from a fan acceptance standpoint – trying to convince a record label that you’re switching from a formula that’s raked in millions of dollars for them just to bate your brand new affection for Euro-Trance may be a tougher sell, but I guess that’s what contracts are for. Pop music is a steak – season it anyway you want, when you throw it to most dogs they’re gonna eat the fuckin’ thing because it tastes good to them. Casual music listeners who own an entire catalog of a band they enjoy because it’s pleasing to their ears don’t always argue semantics with this kind of thing. Coldplay and Metallica have more money than Guam, so their art form ain’t exactly their lifesblood. Ship a few hundred thousand less because you want to change the foundation of your music into the hottest trend of Dance-Club audios or a more accessible form of alternative rock and the chances are good you’ll make up the difference of the fans you lost with fans you gained by being that much more in the limelight and in tuned with what’s currently selling. The more popular you are, the more ‘die-hards’ you’ll have convincing themselves that the musical turd you just shot out of your ass is just as amazing as anything else you’ve done. But it’s all at the cost of your own integrity – when does it stop becoming an expression and start becoming lifestyle maintenance? Pump out that album and tweak it to the latest pop music trend so you can get that little palace in St. Lucia. The guy cooking your steaks at Outback Steakhouse isn’t all that concerned about making the world’s most delicious steak – he’s just trying to make it through the day cause he’s either got bills to pay or a new Ipad to buy.

While I understand both sides of the argument, I also think it ain’t your fuckin’ band. Everyone obviously has something to say – and people actually want to hear it, even if it’s about something as personal and subjective as art. The artist should be able to do whatever they want, if I don’t like it I’ll shit on it and move on, people reading what I have to say can roll their eyes and move on.  I’d like to say that bad art will take care of itself, people won’t be interested and the artists funds and exposure will dry up – but in the modern music scene it kind of seems to be the opposite doesn’t it? Stone Temple Pilots announced that they shit-canned their long-time crooner Scott Weiland a few months ago, then just recently replaced him with that walking penile wart Chester Bennington from Linkin Park (speaking of bad art…). Fans are bumming hard. Weiland had a trademark voice for that group, instantly recognizable, and honestly it wasn’t until he started really getting involved in the song writing process for STP on ‘Tiny Music…’ that their music stepped out of the shadows of Pearl Jam clones and into something a bit more original and eclectic. From floor shaking alt-sludge, to feel good lounge rock, to uplifting grunge balladry – you really couldn’t predict what was coming next with those last four STP albums with Weiland helping along at the helm, even if they were borrowing heavily from other influences, it was pulling from a source other groups in the genre weren’t – and it made you forget that they were a 90’s “grunge” band from L.A.

But here’s the thing, I really wish the rest of the band (AKA the DeLeo brothers) would have either gone with a nobody to fill Weiland’s role or gone back to somebody they’ve already collaborated with the last time an STP album was just about in the can but they couldn’t get Scott to pull the needle out of his arm and lay down his vox. I bummed hard when I saw they were getting Ol’ Chester to step into the lead vocalist spot and was extremely skeptical about the end result – but to be honest that new track ‘Out Of Time’ wasn’t the huge ball of shit I was afraid it would be. Now by my own admittance, I don’t know really anything about Chester The Molester’s other bands, shame on me. So I don’t know what kind of vocal range he’s got outside of that kind of annoying high-pitched whine he does but if that’s all there is then it takes out several different dimensions to this band and may make listening to a whole album’s worth of material quite a boring task.

From what I can gather, based on the news that the Deleo bro’s wanted to tour the Core album and Weiland wanted to move on with new music, the decision to go with Chesty La Roux was based more on keeping their wallets full than it was taking the time to find a truly suitable replacement (St. Luuuuuucia). But that wouldn’t have been smooth either I suppose, as nobody likes to see a nobody just jump right into something as huge as Stone Temple Pilots is, because deep down inside it should have been them, cause they’re a nobody too. Unfortunately the relationship between Weiland and the Deleo’s is symbiotic, as (based on Scott’s solo albums without them) they keep him a bit in check from trying too hard in being so weird to the point of stupid. Personally, I think the best move here would have been to reform Talk Show, the one off side project that consisted of all of Stone Temple Pilots minus Weiland. It was basically the next Stone Temple Pilots album that never happened, as was Army Of Anyone’s one release: which consisted of all of Stone Temple Pilots minus Weiland.

So why not just do something new again, with all of Stone Temple Pilots minus Weiland – I mean it all sounds pretty much the same with the Deleo brothers writing the music – but here’s the thing: It ain’t my fuckin’ band. And that’s the point. So for once I need to shut the fuck up about it, as I find myself on the other side of the fence with all the other callow, close minded music fanatics who believe they are a piece of something bigger in their favorite band and flood the message boards with their disapproval of the latest decision their group has made. But if that were the last word then their would be no room for criticism in the art world – follow that simple idea down the philosophical branch and into the hearts of man and it would lead you to a world were there was no such thing as perspective, opinion and diversity – only logic, it would be like living on Vulcan. Which brings me to the new Alice In Chains album…

Lots of folks stopped listening after Layne kicked the bucket. Lots of folks just wouldn’t accept Alice In Chains without him – and for kind of good reason. With such a very unique voice (even on the rare occasion when it wasn’t multi-layered in the production) he offered the distinction of that band’s sound. He also offered it a lot of it’s darkness. Layne was a bit of a weakling – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The guy couldn’t fight his way out of  addiction, but he had money, and in turn all the support systems in the world at his disposal, including a close and loving family (read the book Grunge Is Dead). What made him stand out from the rest of the rock star addicts who were pulled in and drowned was that he was open about it, and he admitted on several occasions to enjoying that lifestyle. The man knew he was going to die, and basically committed to it by never trying to quit, well, never really trying to quit. Layne is a legend in the grunge scene – because he’s dead.

That’s just the way it is in the art world – people always assume the best of what the rest of your career would have been like had you not died. It’s really a curious juxtaposition of the rest of the human condition and it’s modern pessimism with the world and assumptions. Had Cobain never killed himself and Chris Cornell did people wouldn’t be losing sperm by the gallon over how amazing Nirvana was and comparing them to the likes of bands like the Beatles, it would be Soundgarden’s ‘Badmotorfinger’ making the top ten lists of greatest albums ever between Sgt. Peppers and Saturday Night Fever, well it ain’t like that (did you see what I did there?). I love Layne Staley’s work (or I should say, the work he contributed to), but the truth is that there’s not a lot of it out there, and I think that detail gets muddied up in the long run. Did you know that Elvis Presley, 'The King Of Rock' actually admitted in an interview that he'd never written a song in his entire life?

In the entire Alice In Chains discography there are only 4 songs written solely by Staley – and there’s only one full album of his lyrics out there (Mad Season’s ‘Above’). You can be a flash in the pan and make your mark, ask Jeff Buckley’s corpse – the key is to speak to people, Layne did. Layne embraced being a weakling. Layne identified the weaknesses in other people. Arguably, Layne died a martyr – in a somewhat warped point of view. So in an even more warped point of view, Layne was the Jesus of Alice In Chains, and Cantrell was the God. So to simply shun the rest of the band’s career after Staley’s death just doesn’t really make sense to me.

While I respect a fan’s commitment to a band’s sound and message, I think you also need to look at the bigger picture here and embrace the mortality of the whole thing as well – it’s evolution baby, and it still works, but only because of that dark mud-trudge of an album ‘Alice In Chains’. It’s the album that bridges the gap between the old testament and new. Per witnesses involved in the making of that record Layne’s health had declined so much by the time that album was being recorded that he wasn’t really all that involved in the process (again – read Grunge Is Dead). He wrote a couple of tracks on there and laid down his vocals but the album’s genesis evolved from what was supposed to be a Jerry Cantrell solo record. ‘Alice In Chains’ unwittingly helped lay a foundation for the band to build upon without Staley in the mix.

Two tracks which appear on ‘Alice In Chains’ would become the new Alice In Chains sound with William Duvall as Staley’s replacement. ‘Over Now’ and ‘Heaven Beside Me’. Both contain the formula of Cantrell’s voice as the center piece, and on the last two AIC albums any part of a song that would be written for Staley’s croon would be replaced by the layering of both Cantrell and Duvall singing at the same time, creating an eerily similar likeness (redundant) to Staley’s morose and beautiful voice when singing along with Cantrell, which fortunately for the surviving members of the band was always so layered before that it wasn’t impossible to build a sound around utilizing someone different. It harkens back to the duets of the aforementioned songs on ‘Alice In Chains’ as well as other tracks in the catalogue like ‘Would’ and ‘Don’t Follow’. It’s hard to hear, but Layne was a smaller part of that band than people would really like to admit, and fortunately for the band and it’s true fans, they’ve proven it with their last two albums.

Formulaically ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ is the same album as ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’. They’ve both got that first single with the really catchy and heavy hook (Stone vs. Check My Brain), they’ve both got that wonderfully acoustic rock number as the fourth track (Voices vs. Your Decision), they’ve both got that long drawn out dumpster song that doesn’t start to get really good until you revisit the album three or four years later (The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here vs. Acid Bubble), and they both have that song that flawlessly changes from mediocre hard rock peon to ‘hey this is really good’ at the uplift of a chorus (Low Ceiling vs. Take Her Out). Cantrell steps up to the plate again as the real lead vocalist and Duvall kind of weaves in and out of his words in the background giving them both weight and eeriness as well as that heir of familiarity to the “old” Alice In Chains sound – a conscious and intelligent decision I’m sure as to keep it recognizable and –for lack of a better term – cozy. The two are so woven together that at times it’s difficult to tell whom is singing what, and that can be a good thing. There’s so much going on between the thick palette of instrumentation and vocal melody that it’s almost like this sonic illusion fooling you into thinking you’re actually sitting in the same house you grew up in when in reality you know that it was torn down years ago. Take one thing out of the equation and you’ll probably see it for what it is. So gone are the days of EP’s harboring stripped down gentle acoustics and soft 3 a.m. self-contemplations. The “new” Alice In Chains wouldn’t be able to pull it off without showing the wizard behind the curtain and sounding like someone completely different.

I can tell you this without getting too into it (too late!), if you enjoyed ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ you’ll enjoy this enough that it’s worth owning. In my opinion it’s a slightly better album. It harbors a bit of a darker tone in that some of the guitar effects pull from the same sonic well as ‘Dirt’, with that cryptic and somewhat Egyptian tone to the riff writing in places – especially the title track. But what surprised me the most was where the album absolutely stands out, and that’s in it’s guitar solos….seriously, and I’m not one of those guys – I’ve never been. Get rid of them, they’re boring I’d always say. Unless it’s Dime or Morello in there sacking up and doing something really cool I’ve always thought of guitar solos as more-times-than-not expendable wanking-filler, you know? Such is not the case with this album, says the skeptic. A few songs were lost on me until Cantrell turns it around halfway through and does some very cool harmonies that turn the entire track up on it’s head – remember the absolutely incredible little ray of light in the middle of the diseased ‘Junkhead’? Well he almost almost pulls it off again on ‘Low Ceiling’, and he busts out the old voicebox guitar effect on ‘Lab Monkey’, something we haven’t heard from them since Jar Of Flies’ ‘Rotten Apple’.

The band showcases their ability to take something morosely dragging along and turn it into a beam of hope on a number of songs here, ‘Breath On A Window’ probably being the best example as it fades out to a hopeful chorus and melody which helps flavor the monotonously good hard rock precession. ‘Phantom Limb’ is arguably the best song the line-up has recorded since their re-emergence, as it’s heavy metal riffing grades down into a slightly droned-out and haunting chorus, and then resets to do it again before almost plodding off into Sabbath waters at the end. ‘Scalpel’ is another summertime acoustic number with amps buried beneath in what has become a trademark sound always bound to make it’s appearance on an AIC album.

It’s a good record, and as a fan of Alice In Chains I probably buy into it, or at least give it a better chance than most, more so because of the nostalgia their sound gives me than anything else. I’m just like every other schmuck out there who burned the candle at both ends after highschool – just longing to get a little taste of “the good-ol’ days” every once in a while, and this album pokes at it enough leak a little bit of it back in in a new way. If I didn’t give a shit about them then this album wouldn’t be the one to change my mind. But it carries the tradition along and that’s it. Doesn’t go anywhere new and doesn’t go anywhere too old. At this point Alice In Chains is just self-maintaining. And for me that’s okay for now, but to be honest I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be listening if the formula stays this way. And stop bitching about the album title, it ain’t your fuckin’ band.

Book Review: “Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera” by Rex Brown


Nobody likes it when the band they’ve been enjoying listening to for years packs it up and calls it a day, but you can make a little lemonade out of those lemons by realizing that sometimes this can lead to material that would have normally never seen the light of day being scraped out of a vault, packaged, printed, and presented to you for a purchase price usually a whole lot more than it’s actual musical worth. And the more successful or major label the band, the more that dried up tit is going to be wrought by the legions of leeches pulling the strings. Until you come to your senses some 20 years after the demise of said band and see the racket for what it is when an umpteenth version of their “Greatest Hits” is being repackaged with the same tracks switched around and baited with a never-before-heard live demo version of a song they did before they were who they were. However this isn’t always the case, sometimes band members themselves will release things posthumously that they wouldn’t normally have done while creative juices were still flowing. Or attention is diverted elsewhere and time is precious so it never happens while a group’s blood is still pumping. It leaves the potential for all kinds of things seeing the light of day, live footage, demos, unreleased studio recordings, books etc. Sometimes there just isn’t a market for it until later on down the line, as was the case with Pantera.
When Pantera was in their prime, the internet hadn’t become a household source of information yet – fans were very limited with what they could see or read about regarding the band, actually that pretty much goes for any group affiliated with heavy metal at the time. Except for the occasional interview on Headbangers Ball, or what was coming out of the monthly edition of Metal Maniacs, exposure was nil. Sure Pantera released 3 DVD’s in the tenure of their existence – but those comprised mostly of drinking, vomiting, blowing up fireworks, and squeezing puss-filled boils off the asses of their road crew. All fine and dandy for the 14 year old fucktard whose only source of jerk-off material was the occasional topless groupie chick on the VHS Cowboys From Hell Home Video, but I’ve done a lot of growing up since then. These days I’d much rather see a candid in studio come-up of how an album came to be, how riffs were conceived, lyrics were inspired, instruments were recorded, etc. I don’t give a shit how humorless it is. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and there are a whole bunch of people that never paid attention in 1992, or weren’t around to pay attention in 1992, that are paying attention now, let the wringing of the tit begin, I’m talking to you 20th anniversary special edition of Vulgar Display of Power.

…And let forth the credible stuff as well: Pantera bassist Rex Brown’s recently released biography “Official Truth 101 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera” (co-authored by Mark Eglinton) offers a very inside look at the band that we were never afforded the opportunity to voyeur into back in the day due to the aforementioned lack of technology and popularity. It’s Rex’s side of the story, from all the way back to when he was a kid to his current status with Kill Devil Hill – centralized around his career in Pantera, the bad-ass, bow-to-nobody, game changers that flew the flag for real heavy metal through the 1990’s. Straight up, if you’re a Pantera fan then read the book, you’ll enjoy it – I did. Though not without some criticism. It was cool to get a deeper insight into the individual personalities of the band, and perhaps some of the motives, if you will, as to why they made music the way they did, but I was definitely hoping for a whole lot more information about the actual songs themselves. The making of each album is pretty glossed over in the first few pages of the chronologically appropriate chapters, and then it’s onto the antics and drama of the road for the next few. Yet you still get to hear how the band approached each album and why each one ended up sounding the way they did, like why ‘The Great Southern Trendkill’ is so (awesomely) abrasive and ‘Reinventing The Steel’ sounds a bit more traditional. He even delves into the Down albums he was involved with and talks a bit about the recording dynamics of those sessions. I did still get a new perspective on how the albums were done and learned some things I hadn’t known about before, so I can’t complain about it too much – it’s hard to jam a career like the one Rex had into some 280 pages and not have to gloss over pretty much everything.

I was a bit of a Pantera fanatic back in the day, and followed them pretty closely during their existence and for a bit afterwards. During that time I’d sort of gotten the vibe through interviews and whatforth that Rex often fancied himself quite the bad-ass, and the book only amplifies that theory with his lack of humility. It weighs pretty heavily with Rex’s self-horn tooting, and I can’t help but wonder how much of a motive catharsis was in the writing of this book as he more than occasionally has some harsh words about his band mates. He attempts to balance the jabs with occasional praise but doesn’t seem to even out the ratio in the end. This is all fine, dandy and expected with a book like this. You’re going to sell more tickets to a car crash than a birthing. But take the time to laugh at yourself – and enlighten us dammit. Your vocalist is a disconnected, back-stabbing junkie. Your guitarist is an idiot who can’t hold onto his money, and your drummer is a fat-ass, fame whoring poon-hound, yet there’s no skid marks on you? Even when he talks about his drinking problem he seems to be holding back – this is a guy whose organs began shutting down on him from his addiction, and yet there’s no ugly side to it ever really portrayed in detail. The divorce from his wife comes and goes amicably, and he’s always there for his kids, even though he’s a touring musician/alcoholic. By the end of the book the do-no-wrong thing was really wearing thin to me. His idea of letting his guard down is telling the reader that at one point during a show he was so blown away by his guitarist Dimebag Darrell’s playing that he walked over to him and kissed him. If you’re gonna paint the pictures of everyone else’s desperation and darkness, you gotta paint yours the darkest if it’s there – it’s your fucking book and your fucking story, don’t do it if you’re worried about tarnishing your image – but that’s just my opinion.

In the end however it is a satisfying read. As a fan of Pantera I couldn’t put the flippin’ thing down. Rex was always the out-of-focus guy on the T-shirt so to hear his side of things as more of a spectator to the rest of the band is interesting and believable. It exposed a lot of behind the scenes controversy that I hadn’t realized had gone on and includes interview bits with road crew members, managers, producers, wives, girlfriends, all sorts of people that were intimately involved with Pantera in one way or another, credible sources. He also dishes a bit of inside dirt on some other heavy hitters in the scene appropriately. Rex does a good job of portraying just what a rollercoaster ride the Pantera years were and how appreciative he was of having rode it (ridden it?). While reading it you may be shocked at how much of a ‘brotherhood’ the whole thing actually wasn’t, but in the end realize that all that went on and all they went through only helped to carve what the definition of what brotherhood was to them, and should be to everyone.

Dead and Loving It: VOG

Deep in the thick foliage of the Virginia woods, some crazy/genius bastard fertilized an Acid Bath egg with ‘Dopethrone’ – era Electric Wizard. The seed germinated, spawned and only lived for a short time as Vog. These guys truly are a hidden gem, ritualistically dancing within the realms of Stoner/Sludge-Jam-band-satanic-voodoo thrash ( what? is that already a genre? dammit.) I seriously cannot describe their music any better than that first sentence. They wear the Acid Bath influence heavily on their sleeve in both their writing as well as the vocal stylings of crooner Steven Kerchner, who at times sounds almost exactly like a less distorted Dax Riggs.
I stumbled onto these guys a few years ago deep within the trenches of Myspace before it became the Detroit of social networking sites. Even a google search brings up sparse results which in turn need to be even further refined and combed through to weed out the half dozen Japanese Ambient-Electronic acts that share the same name. I was finally able to track down some of their discography on the Shifty Records site. From there I ordered the ‘Colors Of Infinity’ EP which consists of one 23 minute track (which was sent to me in DIY packaging burnt onto a Spykids CD-Rom – fuckin’ awesome.), it’s good but kind of sounds more like a bunch of ideas jammed into one song and isn’t as cohesive as I might have hoped, from what I can gather it was probably a demo the band sent to the label before they were even on it (but then again, what the hell do I know?).
The real bread and butter from Vog comes in their one and only self-titled full length. 7 tracks (and not a one of them under 6 minutes) of dirty-ass, slightly underproduced Stoner/Sludge/Thrash dynamics, high on the treble and heavy on the Sabbath swagger. Seriously, if Dax Riggs and the boys in Acid Bath took some bad shrooms in the NOLA swamps and then decided to record a jam session pre- “When The Kite String Pops” I can’t help but imagine it would sound alot like this. Yeah I’m an Acid Bath fan, but what I am not is one of those people that tries to find another band in the same realm to latch onto when they’re favorite one goes defunct. While Vog does offer a sliver to help fill the void that AB left when they went tits up, they also infuse enough of their other influences into the music to actually make the end result sound original. And honestly, the more you listen to it the more it begins to sound like it’s own thing. So I guess this recommendation goes out to those people who have reverted to settling on exhausting the Buzzoven dicography as an unsuccessful means to get their caustic-stoner thrash fix since AB called it a day some dozen-or-so years ago (you’re doing it wrong – sludge!). Does it offer a certain average-looking-girl-becomes- all the more – hot-because-she’s-a-libarian kind of aesthetic because it’s so off the map? Sure there’s a little bit of charm there, but it’s honestly cool shit, and when you think it’s going to zig where it should zag it does neither, it zogs (clever).
 In fact, whilst doing a bit of research for this bunch of inane babble I discovered that Vog’s self-titled has been remastered (possibly even re-recorded in spots) and made available on Itunes, I didn’t see that coming. The remaster has an additional track smack dab in the middle called ‘Sad Girl’, which was originally released as a single and was, up till now, the only thing available from them on Itunes. Important note here: If you do decide to buy the album via that route I’d strongly recommend also buying the ‘Sad Girl’ single that’s available as well, as they include an acoustic version of the track that’s not available on the remaster and is definitely worth having. Listening to the acoustic ‘Sad Girl’ into the original version can be an awesomely intense experience ala Pantera’s Suicide Note parts 1 & 2.
So come and dance within the remains that once was Vog, and long for what once was and what could have been, for such a small, unlabeled and thankfully mostly untreaded genre. Check out the video here for a not-so brief showcase of Vog’s sound: