Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Atlantean Kodex - The Golden Bough

Atlantean Kodex
The Golden Bough
Cruz del Sur

The Golden Bough, the latest record from Atlantean Kodex, is a concept album that uses a story of Atlantis to talk about the pagan/ Neolithic magic roots of European Christianity and how it all relates to peace, love, community and equality for all mankind. Got all that? Me neither. But the kind of epic metal the German quintet proffers here is more about the color and the pageantry than the storytelling, and the band certainly has that down. Huge, soaring melodies, arrangements so widescreen your local Imax theater couldn’t hold them, twin guitar harmonies painted on every surface, a clean-voiced singer who somehow avoids histrionics – these are the things that make The Golden Bough interesting. Disciples of the Iron Crown, The Atlantean Kodex (yes, the band named itself after one of its own songs) and Temple of Katholic Magick are meant to be enjoyed while holding one’s head high, swinging one’s arms about dramatically and lip-synching passionately, one foot on the nearest monitor (or ottoman, whichever) – any philosophical underpinnings will just have to sink in over time. Hell, if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re better off reading Sir James George Frazer’s original tome anyway – The Golden Bough is best served by epic headbanging, rather than furrow-browed contemplation.

- Michael Toland

The Might Could - s/t

The Might Could
Small Stone

After the rather sudden and sadly unheralded demise of the great Alabama Thunderpussy in 2008, I wondered how long it would take sparkplug Erik Larson to start something new and, given the eclectic nature of his solo records, what it would sound like. The answers can be found on this here self-titled debut from the Might Could. Taking on the lead vocals (am I the only one who wonders why he didn’t do that in ATP with all their lead singer troubles?), Larson doesn’t stray that far off the thrashgrunge path ATP pioneered – anybody who digs Staring at the Divine will get a familiar buzz from the blazing Stone Colossus and Coming Clean and the slow grind of The Widower. But Larson’s apparently been giving his old blues records a few spins in his down time, as he and fellow picker TJ Childers add plenty of Dixie boogie to Let ‘em Up Easy, Wretched Wraith and the blatantly Skynyrd-baiting When the Spirits Take Control. Put it all together with The Night They Shoot Ol’ Dixie Down, The Fall and I Don’t Even Like Pantera Anymore (and why should you?) and you’ve got a wickedly thunderous jug of riff-mongering metal moonshine that’ll peel the skin right off your buttocks. The loss of ATP was a shame, but the rise of the Might Could makes it all better.

- Michael Toland

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bison b.c. - Dark Ages

Bison b.c.
Dark Ages
Metal Blade

Bison b.c. (the “b.c.” refers to the band’s home state of British Columbia, not the time before Jesus) is one of the latest stormtroopers in a new wave of North American heavy metal that have taken the lessons of Mastodon – be omnivorous in your musical appetites but don’t forget to rock, bitch – to heart. The Vancouver quartet’s second LP Dark Ages boasts a full coterie of memorably massive riffs, enough to rival their spiritual mentors’ already impressive catalog. Bison leaves out most of the proggy bits, but its ability to seamlessly transition from sludgy to soaring, atmospheric to annihilating, thuggish to thrashy, pensive to powerhouse on Die of Devotion, Stressed Elephant (which adds a melancholy trumpet to its intro) and Wendigo Pt. 3 (Let Him Burn) makes the music both impressive and entertaining. The sore-throat shouting gets a bit wearying after a while, but it’s also hard to imagine the songs without it. Besides, it’s the instrumental work that’s the point here, and in that sense Bison b.c. is so deadly you should call the coroner before the sound starts to spin.

- Michael Toland

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Black Crowes - Croweology
Silver Arrow

Well, well, well weeeell well, I guess it's 2010 & so la Crowe Bro's (cos it ain't a Ruseell Crowe covers album, just to get kak joke pointlessly aired & right out the way with a curt Chris backhand & Rich curtsy) continue corralling la differences into distances for this surely not coincidental acoustical back-porch, main bar, side street honk through their (largely) early catalogue to commemorate the two decades since their marvellous admittance to stages & hearts of SHAKE YOUR MONEY MAKER. It's a mellower, maturer reflective crawl - with added (many, too many) meanderings - which isn't always a good thing, being that some (eg Ballad In Urgency, Wiser Time, Good Friday) were stony enough in the first incarnations & the Stonesier ones (Jealous Again, Hotel Illness, Downtown Money Waster) however still-enjoyable they are here, could still stomp more acoustic or not (hazy memory heralds the acoustic Jealous Again, b-side of something or t'other, p'raps Hard To Handle) though there's never any denying the authentic sweet home soul & bitter swings they bring in even their bus-ticket pocket. Tis just as was signposted on third album AMORICA their indulgent side is a cross bigger than Brazil they brandish on their backs with Baptist relish. There's only Welcome To The Good Times from BY YOUR SIDE , an album they seemed to dismiss themselves but I remember fondly, being a fan of band-derided albums (rocket forth THE PRIMAL SCREAM, top of an occasional list - which on no account covers Rolling Stones albums, except maybe BETWEEN THE BUTTONS - by far their best output by anyone's shades & smack habits). While none of it - bar the breakdown boogiebilly interlude on Morning Song (still unsurpassable from it's SOUTHERN HARMONY blast-off) -comes near the mainly blistering originals, veering too easily into over-accomplished vague-ness with any real transcendent rawness ironed out, the ardent will adore it as the devout do, anyone else should get that box-set of a few years ago, chuck the SNAKES album & worship Johnny Colt's hat. Age may bias me but held against any currently revered denizens of planet denim-rock this still wins for leisurely homely, or -looking, Sundays, always drunk or not.
Stu Gibson

Monday, December 13, 2010

Therapy? - We're Here To The End

'Happy people have no stories...'

'There's a big riff approaching' states Andy Cairns matter-of-factly at the start of Enjoy The Struggle. And by the Lord's fuck-forks they continue in this two-disc celebration of their two decade (christ on stilts I remember seeing 'em at Hull Uni on the back of Pleasure Death / Baby Teeth - wow, those names sprung from nowhere of a sudden!) span. Eschewing the trite trappings of playing a classic album (which depending what it was would have made the set even shorter than that they played at Hull way back when, when we were severely disgruntled by the brevity where now with the tyrannical cynicism overdose vs addictions of oldness it would possibly be a blessing) they choose instead a thundering, clanking, tumultuous tirade through their colossal back catalogue. Tis a cauldron seething with the caustic stench of maturing angst steaming painfully wry nihilism, bittersweet turmoil & savage humour with strafing tracer riffs slashing down like steel rain to spice old wounds strapped in for dear life for trips to the darklands by their trademark drum commandments. Here the whole broadswording rampage is honest to lusty goodness & god bless yer horror liver than you possibly want it but should need it, it's all head at the front monitor intestinally-dismantling & swirling ceilings with distended walls. Definitely liver than bombs. Untouched but utterly true, a trait evident in their innate ability to never seemed contrived even in the most possibly whinge-cringey & managing to remain inventive even in the chuggiest detuned metal moments, deftly stomping all over Marylin Manson & Pantera twaddle in the process with nary a bead of sweat in sarcastic salvation. But that's the same as a Thunders ballad & some emo crime statistic. Facing shit head on. In a sprightly aside of fence-sitting, this really would suit the archivist of therapeutic remedies or serve several purposes as a viable collection of vaguely revealed half-hits & smashed-chest pieces.
Stullysses S Gaunt

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Flash Metal Suicide, Manic Street Preachers "Postcards From A Young Man"

Manic Street Preachers
"Postcards From A Young Man"
Columbia Records, 2010

"I'm no longer preaching to the converted, that congregation has long ago deserted"-- Manic Street Preachers, "All We Make Is Entertainment"

Truer words have never been spoken.

Usually as bands age, they lose that fire that they once had. It's inevitable. It's easy to lose perspective of what made you great in the first place, because your life changes, and usually as we age, our perspective of the world changes. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes it's for the worse. Maybe becoming a parent mellows you out a bit. Maybe there's certain events that happen that make you realize that maybe you can win the battles, but not the war. But I guess that the idea is that there's progression, and/ or that the younger version of you was naive and asked all the questions, but didn't necessarily have all the answers. But you can go more wrong in answering the question than you can in questioning the answer.

Some artists and musicians look back on their early careers with disdain and contempt; citing naivety or youth as cause for the disowning and embarrassment. In most of those cases, I don't really understand why they're that put off by their works.....those songs are still crowd and fan favorites. Sometimes those bands throw out one or two of those songs from those whole periods in a setlist, to satisfy people, while there's numerous "album classics" that aren't necessarily singles on the classic rock radio rotation, but still are favoured by diehard fans. The Stones follow their template a bit too well--you know they'll play "Paint It Black" and "Brown Sugar", but they'll never play "Let It Loose" or "Monkey Man" (I guess you can only play one epic song from an album; "Gimme Shelter" is the obvious choice, but I like "Monkey Man" as much). When I saw AC/DC on their "Black Ice" tour last year in 2009, they'd got it right--several album classic cuts like "Dog Eat Dog" had the crowd curiously baffled, and they probably played about half of their new disc, which was about equally as baffling to the audience.

Needless to say, sometimes it's hard to recapture that earlier spirit, and when you try too hard to revisit that after an extended period of making albums that strayed from the audience's expected formula, sometimes it's welcomed as a "return to form", and other times, it simply doesn't ring true. In some cases, you wonder if a band wouldn't just be better off issuing an official greatest hits album, rather than a half baked attempt to recapture what they did best. Some bands like Blue Cheer, I like the early stuff more, because they didn't have alot of time to overanalyze things or worry about what's "right".....those things that you do because maybe you can't do them exactly like other bands, forms the nucleus of what makes you different and great and gives you your own style. It's when you try to get someone else's style down pat that you almost become a cover band. Mick will tell you that the new Stones album is the "best since 'Exile On Main St'", but you know the guy doesn't actually like hardly any of that album anyways....so the words don't have an honesty to them. It's a sales pitch. But i'd wager that most of my favorite bands made their best music early on in their career and then called it a day before they got too stale, to even worry about issuing such statements. Sometimes as a band, your main competition and nemesis is yourself and your own history.

Some bands have or had overstayed their welcome....and the Manics sometimes leaned dangerously close to that line. As is the case with any political band, the Manics never had lost a political presence, but after awhile, perhaps, there's only so long that you can revisit the same themes and atone that with your experience in life, in that maybe there's small hypocrisies that arise. I dig the nihilism of punk and the idea that you have your ideals intact and that you can question what the world gives you, but as soon as you release any music, it becomes a product. Whether it's "That's Show Business", or the Jam's "That's Entertainment", it's correct to a certain extent. You can rail about the system, but eventually you're part of it, digested and spat out. Punk itself has gone through numerous changes--the transition into post punk from the late 70's to early 80's wherein bands like Joy Division, Magazine, The Saints, The Damned all had undergone pretty radical changes in their sound from the one that they'd started out as.

All topic related prefacing aside, originally, and getting to the bulk of the core topic here, I wanted to do this writeup as a lone "best album of 2010" feature, but thought that it would fit into the Flash Metal Suicide category for a variety of reasons. Normally I don't consider something an instant classic, and in some ways, writing about an album that you're sure to be a later classic isn't maybe the best idea. We've all had bands and records that we were sure was the "greatest ever", upon looking back in hindsight in question of what we were thinking. All I know is that i've listened to this record a zillion times already, and that sometimes all we have is the moment right now, anyways--we're not guaranteed another day here. But one reason for this writeup is that I can't see them following this one up--even the weakest tracks on here would be most other bands' best material, and if at the very worst in future days upon my own reflection, this writeup can function if nothing else as a salute to the bands' later career as the third in a trio of great albums that display a revitalized band that normally isn't seen for bands as late into their career as the Manics are.

But needless to say, some fans and critics aren't impressed with this album.....and if the band is phoning in faux inspiration that's supposedly dwarfed by past accolades with the exact same template, then dammit, i'm fooled. Guilty. But great music is usually part fantasy anyways, so as long as that attempt at a fantastic, magical adventure is there, i'm usually game for it. Speaking as someone who plays and writes music and can appreciate the smaller nuances of things that maybe get lost in the shuffle, the playing and songwriting are nothing less than top notch on this record. My reasoning is that at least you attempted greatness. That's the best that you can ask. Whether or not you achieved it doesn't necessarily matter as much as the attempt, the intention of greatness. There's no denying that from the strings and backing choirs, that it's still an attempt at an overblown, over the top rock album. That sort of thing these days ain't exactly in large supply, especially with the industry's budgets for albums shrinking all the time.

Pepsi had already wrote a FMS about the earlier days of the band (which I can't seem to find right now), so I thought that another one from later on in their career would be fitting, too. And also--as of the time of this writing and not being able to predict the future--this album seems like the band's trump card, that they've exhausted every card in the deck and had put all their chips in for one last gamble. Or in other words, you could say that the band's statement for this album, something like "one last shot at mass communication", may preface my speculations and point towards this being that last gamble at trying to unify everyone that they wished to. In fairness to the Manics, it's hard to combine politics and rock music, because rock music has typically been about simplicity and things that are easy to comprehend. It's usually been more about making noises that fit to the music---most people, when they sing along, just sort of make noises that fit, even if they don't know the words. The Manics have been an anomaly, because they've always wanted you to know the words.......and admittedly, sometimes rock n' roll just functions best on a primal level where you're inspired more by the overall sound, than what the message is. And to the Manics' credit, alot of bands have failed at properly getting audiences into some sort of proactive, social or political awareness. But sometimes it's as important to question the answers, and the Manics have never been ones to shy away from questioning what they've been told was right to accept.

It makes it all the more astonishing for the Manics that any band at about 20 years into their existence can make an album like this that flat out pulses with inspiration and invigoration. In some ways, it was the record that they were always destined to make, from their earlier glam rock days, through the harrowing darkness of "The Holy Bible", to the "Everything Must Go"/ "This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours" days, through the albums of varying quality since then. I have to give credit to the Manics, because most bands break up before they embrace a proper synopsis of their previous greatness that is informed by enough of a similarly weary but different world view. "Send Away The Tigers" is an amazing return to form for a band that was considered to be finished--albums like "Lifeblood" didn't do much to convince diehard fans that the band was on cruise control. "Journal For Plague Lovers" is a pretty good return to "The Holy Bible" type sound, and a good closing of the Richey chapter. Most of the tracks on this one have that huge, bombastic Queen/ ELO/ Beatles grandeur to 'em, slathered in strings and while that may be pretty cliche for them, when it's done well--as in the case of this record-- it always still has that magical quality to it.

The album starts off with "It's Not War Just The End Of Love", a huge majestic rocker that ascends to all the expected heights with the choruses and a massive James Dean Bradfield guitar solo in the middle, then feeds into the album's title track (which is probably this album's version of "A Design For Life"), closing out on the refrain with Bradfield reassuring us that he "...won't betray your confidence, this world will not impose it's will, I will not give up and I will not give in". "Some Kind Of Nothingness" is a more upbeat song--a duet with Echo and the Bunnymen's Ian McCullough (the first of two big guests on the album, the second being Duff McKagen on bass in "A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun"); eventually ending off in a repeated sunnier choral crescendo of strings and choir vocals. Highlights later in the album are "Auto Intoxication" with it's Neu! styled art rock emphasis (and excellent chorus with a shift into a slower tempo and more melancholy vibe with some space-y effects), and the aforementioned "All We Make Is Entertainment"--an excellent rocker closed out by a huge Brian May type guitar solo, with a more mellow verse, along with the Manics' atonement with themselves that maybe, in the end, they are primarily entertainers rather than political activists.

All the other tracks are great too, but with the risk of sounding redundant, it's safe to say that they're appropriately rocking, melancholic, or majestically inspiring in some way or another. Nothing detracts from the previous song, but they all move the album along well in pace and flow. You won't find anything quite as arena rocking as the "Generation Terrorists" or "Gold Against The Soul", though the rocker type songs do have a renewed ferocity to them that enhances the slower, feeling songs, without sounding too out of place or forced (something that "Send Away The Tigers" also does well, yet "Journal For Plague Lovers" sometimes sounds like they're trying to be a bit too aggressive or intimidating for the sake of intimidation). The early Manics' rock power sometimes dwarfed their slower songs, although they were always adept at combining the two extremes even then, and agreeing on something like "Motorcycle Emptiness".

Or you know, when I think of it, when we're talking about simplicity, perhaps Eddie Spaghetti and the Supersuckers summed being a rock band up best in "My Kickass Life", reflecting upon things about ten years into their career, on their version of an equally as revitalized album in "The Evil Powers Of Rock n' Roll":

"Through it all, I can see through the smoke and these lights....it's all bullshit baby, but I do it night after night after night after night, ah yeah"

-Ryan Settee

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Darkblack - Midnight Wraith

Midnight Wraith

The hipster town of Portland, Oregon, is not the place one might expect to find a metal band as straightforward, bullshit-free and traditional as Darkblack, but here we are. Midnight Wraith is five fist-raising, sword-swinging, fire-eating epic anthems that come on like hair metal, grunge, blackened death and whatever that shitty hip-hop/metal hybrid Limp Bizkit played never happened. Taking off from the sound of NWOBHM but giving it a gritty, American spin – analogous to 80s metal gods like Trouble and Cirith Ungol – Darkblack blazes through the firmament with knotty guitar riffs, thundering rhythms, squealing solos and a soaring vocalist just that side of intelligible. Power Monger, Golden Idol and the title track will make you want to buy a blue jean jacket just so you can sew Darkblack’s patch on it. Put these guys on tour with Iron Maiden or Metallica and watch the headbanging hoards fall to their knees in gratitude.

- Michael Toland

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Electricutions - Locked Gates / Lonely Roads
Big Neck

A tad more trad p'raps from Big Neck's backyard with this distinct blast of angularly jangly DC chaos. Nine songs & 21 minutes of rabid rough 'n' rumble righteous rancour & hell, ain't it about time somone started saying something more than politics is pants & the church's solace is incontinent. You could argue with the punk diaspora since Dischord's heydays it's a step backwards to revisit the old basements but that would bely the urgent intelligence offered here, as well as glory-trashes like Occupied and desparate piledrives like Radio Washington. Nay, I say nay, empty political prattle from some campus twat that heard California Uber Alles once or twice at some really 'out there' party & while it isn't maybe gonna (re)define your doctrines it more than merits a plug. Sounds like it was scratched out in a room, making The Clash seem big budget, so why not submit it to your own.
Stu Gibson

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Urban Junior - two headed demon
Voodoo Rhythm

More one man band adventures via the ever-vauntable VR vaults to shatter shelves alongside Schooley, King Automatic & the Rev Beatman himselvis & what an amusing multitude of mellifluous-massacring arousement it is. Superscuzz Sonics garage guitar swill with organ-agitational Beasties electro-scrunch for some supremely soddem (? sodden but sod-'em works as well) momentousness amid slight graceless garage gamut (man on the run) & electro-hash of the title track, but with the opening Panzer-klank hot shit from switzerland & gargantuan with the idiots via middle riff-manacles girl like you & mensch oder tier plus the cutest kiss-off final cut ever this sure is something to swing the heartache a million miles away to. One of the only times ever self-hype will out, for tis surely as the opener decrees, & you'll cleave Saturday's hangover with closing nursery rhyme we love urban jr.
Sturban Gibson Jr

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Spiritual Beggars - Return to Zero

Spiritual Beggars
Return to Zero

What with guitarist Michael Amott and bassist Sharlee D’Angelo’s main band Arch Enemy finding international stardom, keyboardist Per Wiberg joining Opeth and singer JB concentrating on his main gig Grand Magus, it’s a wonder Spiritual Beggars could get its shit together to make another album. But, five years after the last one, the Beggars are indeed back, boasting a new singer (Apollo Papathanasio of Firewind, who apparently has some time, since Firewind guitarist Gus G joined Ozzy Osbourne – ain’t heavy metal incestuous?) and a new LP. Return to Zero follows in the footsteps of the last couple of Beggars albums: brick-smashing 70s-style riffs tagteaming with 80s attitude, with plenty of leadfooted rhythms, generous guitar riffing and vocals so macho leather would be too wimpy for them. Kind of like Deep Purple crossed with Judas Priest. Pitched somewhere between Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan, Papathanasio sounds more comfortable with the classy power metal of Coming Home or the dreamy anthem Spirit of the Wind than with the brawny biker metal of We Are Free or the 80s flash of Concrete Horizon. But there’s nothing here that would set loyal Beggars fans off their feed, and fans of 70s/80s retro metal will find plenty to bang heads about as well.

- Michael Toland

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Astrosoniq - Quadrant

Exile On Mainstream

With one foot in the mud and the other kicking comets out of the way, Astrosoniq comes blasting out of the Netherlands with its third LP Quadrant. The band reaches for the stars, gulping acid by the fistful, but can’t seem to completely let go of its earthbound roots. Cloud of Decay, Downfall Lover and Play It Straight (quite) mix the swooshing propulsion of space rock with the dirtier slam of power rock, riding huge, jagged riffs and theatrical vocals that inspire more headbanging than navelgazing. Bloom adds some pedal steel and redneck rock & roll to the mix, as if the aliens landed in the middle of a Confederacy of Scum convention. Sin mixes acoustic guitars, a melancholy melody and an added dollop of sleaze. The acid does kick in, though, especially on the 14-minute As Soon As They Got Airborne, a freaky psychedelic anthem that shoots every arrow in Astrosoniq’s quiver and comes up aces (and spades). Pure cosmic crunch, emphasis on the sound of bones cracking.

- Michael Toland

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Been Obscene - The Magic Table Dance

Been Obscene
The Magic Table Dance

Denizens of the Germanic realms seem to be the ones upholding the tradition of 90s psychedelic stoner rock more diligently than anywhere else in the world, and the Munich-based Elektrohasch label (owned by Stefan Koglek of leading light Colour Haze) has that market cornered. Been Obscene, the company’s latest signing, hails from Salzburg, Austria, but its heart is covered by the Kyuss-ground sand of the California desert. At least that seems to be the case on The Magic Table Dance, the quartet’s latest LP. Powered by dynamic rhythms and distortion so warm it should come wrapped in a blanket, the catchy Impressions, the tuneful How It Feels, the brief Ring Ring and the massive epic Demons go down like oatmeal garnished with jalapeno spices – there’s enough bite to get your attention, but it’s still basically comfort food. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and as far as that goes, The Magic Table Dance is quite tasty.

- Michael Toland

Los Explosivos - Sonidos Rocanrol!!!

Los Explosivos
Sonidos Rocanrol!!!
Get Hip/Primitiv

As we all know already, rock & roll knows no national or cultural boundaries – indeed, if the country that invented it (the U.S.) was the sole caretaker of the whole three chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust thing, the whole shebang would’ve choked to death two decades ago on a lethal cocktail of synthetic R&B and American Idol. Fortunately, there are bands like Mexico City’s Los Explosivos around to keep us gringos honest. Sonidos Rocanrol!!!, the young quartet’s second LP, doesn’t fuck around – the band gets down to business knocking stripped down blasts of guitars/bass/drums rock/pop out of the park with as little fuss as possible. Quick rips like Voy Corriendo, No Puedes Salir and Bailando!!! are simply catchy and exciting blasts from the garage that do nothing but jump around the room and knock over the furniture. Singing drummer Ernesto proves himself a charismatic frontdude, though he graciously cedes the mic to Cynics vocalist Michael Kastelic for a cover the MoodsYou’ve Got Another Think Comin’. The band adds a spoonful of psychedelia to Amapola for variety, but doesn’t need any tricks or gimmicks beyond its own youthful verve to live up to its name.

- Michael Toland

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Watain - Lawless Darkness

Lawless Darkness
Season of Mist

Scandinavian black metal is almost like harmless, if ugly, wallpaper at this point – I mean, you know exactly what to expect from it, don’t you? Bug-eyed blasphemy spit out of throats coated in nails, a wall of guitars so dirty they sound like the strings were dipped in diarrhea, Iron Maiden melodies taken in the back room and gang raped, general kick drum abuse. It’s all so ho-hum. So it’s a pleasant surprise (well, not pleasant, but you know what I mean) to hear Nordic black metal sound so refreshed, like it had a great night’s sleep after a moribund night of defiling churches and goat sex. Lawless Darkness, the fourth LP from Swedish trio Watain, doesn’t reconceive black metal in the slightest. But it does sound like fresh coats of desecration and slime were applied.

P’s raging riffs sound absolutely filthy, but the basement window through with the chords rip is open, letting every grimy note hit home like a bullet. H’s blastbeats actually ride a groove, instead of splattering all over the damn place, giving the music a firm foundation of ominous thunder. Frontdevil E howls ‘n’ growls with hellacious purpose, as articulate as any beast spawned in the pits of Hades can be when given human form. (If you’ve ever seen him live, you’ll notice he’s got the mic-stand twirling rock star thing going on as well, which is something to see when he’s wearing corpse-paint.) Malfeitor, Wolves Curse (complete with howling canines in the background, which somehow doesn’t come off cheesy) and Reaping Death rip, shred and defecate with the best of ‘em, and the epic Waters of Ain maintains a level of fascinatingly malevolent brutality over the course of nearly 15 minutes. Watain doesn’t reinvent the wheel on Lawless Darkness, but it certainly spins it faster and more efficiently than any other demon has done in a long, long time.

- Michael Toland

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Lightning Swords of Death - The Extra Dimensional Wound

Lightning Swords of Death
The Extra Dimensional Wound
Metal Blade

American black metal bands tend to be on the arty side. Acts like Nachmystium, Leviathan and Xasthur don’t stint on the power, filth and brutality that drive black metal, but they like to experiment, folding in other musics and generally pushing the boundaries of the form. While that’s never a bad thing, I have to admit that it’s refreshing a USBM group that so clearly emulates the more stripped-down, straightforward ugliness of its Norwegian forebears. Though the band hails from sunny Southern California, Lightning Swords of Death takes its inspiration from crude Scandinavian innovators like Immortal and Darkthrone on The Extra Dimensional Wound. Tunes like the savage Invoke the Desolate One, the bleak Venter of the Black Beast and the majestic Damnation Pentastrike (which has got to be the greatest song title of all time – seriously, who wouldn’t listen to a song called Damnation Pentastrike?) give the middle finger to niceties like keyboards, clean vocals and dynamics. With the exception of the breath-catching Zwartgallig, every song here is about massive riffs, ravaged larynxes and scorched earth. Monstrous.

- Michael Toland

Rotor - 4


Germany’s Rotor is nothing if not consistent. Its appropriately titled fourth album is in the same vein as its previous work: angular psychedelic hard rock with melodies that stick and jams that stay focused. De Weisse Angst and Costa Verde flow over the speakers like the molten heart of a cracked star, all dark chocolate guitars and cosmic vibes. Derwisch rocks like your favorite 70s metal band after it fired that annoying-as-all-hell singer that sang like a castrated badger and drank all the beer.

The difference here is the addition of vocals to a pair of tracks, to inconclusive effect. Andre Dietrich’s screech does nothing to improve the fortunes of the angry An3R4. Nico Kozik’s vox are far more appropriate to the cover of the Obsessed’s Neatz Brigade, but said version is so faithful to the original it seems kind of pointless. Wanting to expand beyond your own self-imposed boundaries is a good thing, but the larynx experiments don’t put Rotor on any plane it couldn’t have raised itself to by doing well what it always does.

- Michael Toland

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Lo-Pan - Sasquanaut (Remixed & Remastered)

Sasquanaut (Remixed & Remastered)
Small Stone

The best heavy rock marries the crushing weight of a fat dinosaur to memorable melodies that slither and soar – Black Sabbath and Kyuss both had that down cold. Lo-Pan re-officiates that marriage and presides over the subsequent orgy on Sasquanaut (Remixed & Remastered). Originally self-released with a bit less fidelity (hence the parenthetical designation), the sophomore LP from the Columbus quartet undulates with shimmering walls of six-string distortion and nimble rhythms that know when to smash and bash and when to pirouette. Singer Jeff Martin brings a shit-ton of charisma and flow to the proceedings as well. Thus the combo is equally comfortable with rumbling dirges (Kurtz, Savage Henry), atmospheric drift (Vego) and driving rock & roll (Vega). When Lo-Pan puts it all into one track, as with the epic Wade Garrett, it really takes off into the smoky stratosphere. Admittedly not the most innovative band on the block, Lo-Pan forgoes experimentation and just lays down the jams with passion, precision and power.

- Michael Toland

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Kings of Frog Island - s/t

The Kings of Frog Island
The Kings of Frog Island

Clearly a band who doesn’t need anything as pesky as album titles, The Kings of Frog Island is the psychedelic side project of singer/guitarist Mathew Bethancourt, former leader of British butt-rockers Josiah and currently majordomo of grungy garage thumpers Cherry Choke. With Josiah defunct, Bethancourt sets the hash pipe aside occasionally and steers the Kings’ third record towards the earthy hard rock of his original power trio. There’s plenty of trippiness, mind you – Ode to Baby Jane strains guitars through an acid blotter, A Cruel Wind Blows evokes an albatross plunging from wispy clouds into a choppy sea, More Than I Should Know drifts along like Syd Barrett in a rare lucid moment and The Keeper of… would make Hawkwind proud. But a fair chunk of this record is meaty power rock like I Ain’t Sorry, Bride of Suicide and Glebe Street Whores, a mode of expression about which Bethancourt knows a thing or two. Iron fist, kiss velvet glove.

- Michael Toland

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dusted Angel - Earth Sick Mind

Dusted Angel
Earth Sick Mind

Revolving around members of obscure punk/metal crossover pioneer Bl’ast, Dusted Angel reflects those roots pretty loudly on its debut platter Earth Sick Mind. Admittedly, the punk portion comes mainly from Clifford Dinsmore’s hoarse shout, but let’s face it: the words ain’t what Dusted Angel is about. As with most bands of this ilk (COC, the usual Sabbath clones), the raison d’etre is to fill up every inch of sonic space with tower-stomping riffs and thundering rhythms. Maybe there’s some point to Seeking the Dawn, Pulverizer and Tards on Shards, but who wants to bother parsing it when you can just bang your head and pound on your air guitar? The kind of aggressive sludge disgorged by Dusted Angel is about sensation, not meaning. Click off the synapses and just get push your arms in the sonic muck up to the elbows and everything will be fine.

- Michael Toland

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Sleeping Karma - Tri

My Sleeping Karma

Several years ago I bought an album by the legendary German Krautrock trio Guru Guru. I was on the fence about the genre and figured that this band, a basic power trio with cosmic tendencies, would be my easiest entryway into that singular universe. I was mistaken – the record I bought seemed to be nothing but longwinded jams that had more in common with the Grateful Dead than anything I thought of as spacey, cosmic or even psychedelic. I doubt I spun it more than a couple of times.

My Sleeping Karma’s Tri is what I imagined Guru Guru would sound like. This German power trio still meanders, but does so with a purpose – nothing here sounds like mindless jamming. Instead the band deliberately, carefully, sometimes even lazily unfolds its melodies, letting the guitars ring and chime more often than rage and the rhythms undulate while moving ever forward. Brahama, Saragvati and the gorgeous Takshmi are as much about the space in between the stars as the stars themselves, as if we’re traveling at just under light speed, calmly appreciating the vastness of space without stinting on the propulsion. Space rock at its finest.

(For what it’s worth, my entry point into Krautrock turned out to be Faust. Go figure.)

- Michael Toland

Bubblegum Slut Magazine

Bubblegum Slut Magazine should already be familiar reading for sleazy rock n’ rollers, having built its reputation over the past ten years as one of the best underground sources of Glam, Sleaze, Punk, Goth, Deathrock, Rockabilly and other big-haired and “pre-1990 musical phenomenons other publications won't touch for fear of getting their barge pole all sticky with hairspray”. Even some of the bigger and more widely distributed publications like Bizarre, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Big Cheese, have raved about the ‘Slut, while a recent issue of Rock Sound magazine branded it "diverse, informed & well-written... a shining example to fanzines everywhere! - 9/10". In 2004 the Emap publishing group named Bubblegum Slut as one of just 5 shortlisted entries in the music category of its annual Fanzine Awards two years running, and the mag has continued to go from strength-to-strength.

The current ‘ten year anniversary’ issue (#37) features a really cool interview with Haggis from Zodiac Mindwarp / The Four Horsemen/ The Cult, plus much more on music including The Joneses, Nashville Pussy, Alice Cooper, as well as articles and reviews on film, fashion, art, books and “filth”! It’s a good production, every issue comes in a full color cover featuring cool cartoon art (by Andy Tilley/Sumpdoggy Designs) reflecting the ‘slut’ theme….plus a trademark fake fur heart!

As well as the magazine itself, The 'Slut has also released 3 budget-priced compilations of bands as dirty as itself, including the 4K Kerrang! rated 'An Hour With Bubblegum Slut', and nowadays each issue comes complete with a free sampler CD.

All-in-all Bubblegum Slut is one of the best places around for a fix of trashy rock n’ roll reading, here’s wishing it a happy tenth birthday and long may it continue!

Read more:

- Alex Eruptor

Bonus content: Interview with Bubblegum Slut Editor Alison B

1) What inspired you to set up your own magazine and what or who inspired the title 'bubblegum slut'?

Bubblegum Slut was born in the year 2000 - a time when the kids were down with the nu-metal sickness, and I was a 15-year old glam fan born 15 years too late. Both of these things inspired me to start Bubblegum Slut.
In those dark times, before Steel Panther and The Dirt, the names of the bands I would skip school to follow around the country were not considered fit to print by the mainstream rock press, not even in the context of an ironic, guilty pleasure. So I figured since so few others were writing about the music I loved, why shouldn’t I do it myself? And if I got a semi-legitimate reason to attend those far-flung gigs underage as part of the bargain, all the better!
If the mainstream music press of the time was disappointing, the zine scene was thriving 10 years ago, and with two or three editors typically selling their wares at every gig I attended back then (now that blogs and webzines are the favoured forms of self-publishing I’m more often the only one) I was hardly short on more direct inspiration either. Two fan-mags which had a massive influence on Bubblegum Slut’s content, design and attitude were Vagabond Hearts and Abaxis, both of which are now sadly defunct.

As for the title, unfortunately there’s no great story. The night before the first issue went to the printers (or rather a school photocopier commandeered out of hours) I was still without a title for the cut ‘n’ paste catastrophe I’d created. ‘Bubblegum’ and ‘Slut’ were picked hastily as words that seemed vaguely befitting of the time the zine was created in, as if they could’ve been picked off a lyric sheet by Rachel Stamp (who dominated the pages of those early issues) or described the band’s teen trash following, who turned up to gigs in bangles, tiaras, ripped fishnets and glitter, clutching lollipops and lunchboxes. The boys as well.

2) Rate the following rock mags (past and present) out of 10:

– 8.5 in the past/ 1 if we’re talking about present day emo-comic.
Classic Rock – An 8.5, since it is essentially the home of Kerrang!’s old guard. Scores highly for being the last mainstream rock mag to run proper, in-depth stories rather pull-out posters and patronizing QnAs. Loses marks for deifying the same long inactive bands on its cover issue after issue.

Metal Hammer – 8. Metal Hammer has always been reassuringly clear about what it stands for where other mags will abandon the sounds they championed six months back to jump on a newer trend. From a geeky self-publishing point of view, the art and layout is always a bit more inspiring than others too, but in terms of content it ain’t really my musical cup of char.
Raw – Gets a 10 - even though it was gone long before I’d starting listening to rock ‘n’ roll.
I discovered Raw through the former drummer in my boyfriend’s band; a man who had been so industriously hoarding porn since the mid-80s that, by the mid-noughties, his ceiling was beginning to sag under the sheer weight of jazz mags in the loft. Amongst the haul that came our way were when necessity forced him to part with a portion of his collection were some 80s Kerrang!s and copies of Raw. The girly mags were eventually all given away by the band to reward gig-goers who partook of audience participation at shows. Raw was too good for that though and I’ve help to those mags til this day.

RIP – Before my time and, unlike Raw, seemingly not to the tastes of that sticksman I used to know. So I’ve never owned a copy.

Hit Parader – 5 – I picked up a few copies of Hit Parader in the nu-metal days when, to be fair, it probably wasn’t at its best. Never seen it in the UK before or since.
Rolling Stone – past 10 / present 3.5. Can’t be denied that it published some classic and rightly influential rock journalism in the day, but under the weight of that reputation it seems to have come to take itself and the quest to chase what’s ‘cool’ a little too seriously.

3) You must have met some rock n roll characters in the 10 years you've been editing the magazine. Who have provided the most memorable interviews that you've done and why?

Jayne County is always going top my list of favourite interviewees; camp, witty and fierce (in terms of both of intelligence and fright-wig) she was everything I hoped for, and the kind of conversationalist I could have listened to all night - were she not due on stage about 5 minutes after our interview concluded! Justin Hawkins was memorable for being unexpectedly honest, self-aware and self-deprecating at a point in his career when he had undoubtedly met with enough yes-men and ‘media training’ experts to potentially have become quite the opposite. My interview with the late Nikki Sudden was initially memorable for being cut short only by me running out of tape, as he talked endlessly about music (his own and, predominantly that of his heroes and the new acts he was tipping at the time) with the kind of passion you’d only ever get from someone who declared in the same interview, with immense pride, that in 49 years on earth they’d never been gainfully employed anywhere but a record store. Sadly, less than three months later, that interview become more notable for being one of the last Nikki gave before departing for the American tour he was part way through at the time he passed away.
My first interview for Bubblegum Slut, which took place after a gig at Bedford Esquires in September 2000, should probably be remembered too - as an ominous omen or portent of the strange 10 year adventure that would follow it. I was 15 and rather the worse for sneaking a bottle of vile cheap whiskey into the venue while my interviewee, one Alex Kane of AntiProduct / Life Sex Death / Clam Abuse, was bleeding from nasty headwound all the time we spoken - being in the habit back then of bashing himself about the skull with bits of musical equipment on stage until he drew blood, caused concussion or, on this occasion, caused a power cut.

The morning after the interview I woke up somewhere in North London with a vague recollection of blagging a lift there, and blagging my way into Decadence with some equally underage friends. In the meantime, my parents had put me on the missing persons register. The timeline would say that Bubblegum Slut was born about a month later, when I was no longer grounded and started selling copies of the first issue at gigs, but quite possibly the zine was born – or at least the tone for it set - that night in Bedford.

4) If you could get anyone in the world to write a guest column for bubblegum slut zine, who would it be?

I would love to see Lemmy author a self-help series. White Line Fever and every interview the guy has ever given portray a born wise-man with a Northern wit and the constitution of a purpose-built chemical filtering system.
There are just a couple things that fill me with a sense of national pride, and one of them is this nation’s unrivalled ability to produce high-functioning alcoholics and chemical dustbins in the mould of Churchill, Peter O’Toole and Lemmy. (The other is the notion that 50 Cent, and man who brags about taking bullets to distract from his records, finally met his match in the Reading festival crowd the year he filled the traditional ‘odd one out’ slot on the bill. He can take a bullet but he couldn’t get off the stage fast enough when someone flung that symbol of quaint British seaside holidays the deckchair in his direction!).
Now 64 years into an epic binge, Lemmy still talks far more sense that most. Were he to share his wisdom and the masses to act on his advice the world would surely be a better place. So thinking about it, perhaps I should be commissioning a rock ‘n’ roll Bible re-write rather than a humble fanzine column?

5) Any advice for would-be rock n' roll writers who want to get into sleazy rock n' roll journalism?

I don’t know much about rock ‘n’ roll journalism but I might be able to give you a few pointers for making a rock ‘n’ roll zine.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, I reckon what sets zines apart from the mainstream, profit-driven music press, is the individuality of each one out there; a sense that that the contents, attitude and appearance reflect the interests editor’s interests and ideas of what makes a good read, rather than what a marketing man reckons sells to a target demographic and which advertisers and valuable enough to flatter in editorial. There isn’t a rulebook or formula for fanzines, and the best bit of advice I can come up with is to remember that and be as creative a format with no rules allows you to be!
And always, always, always check the batteries in your Dictaphone before an interview. Nothing worse than the feeling you get when you find out the bastard things have died and it’s already too late.

6) Congrats on your first decade! So what's next for BGS magazine?
Thanks – I never started the zine with a 10 year plan, or even a plan for issue two, so it’s still a little surreal to turn around and realize a decade has gone by!
While increases in page count and circulation, and improvements in print quality and design over that time may give the impression that Bubblegum Slut has made some concessions to publishing professionalism, the truth is that it still operates in very much the haphazard, day-to-day, issue-to-issue manner established by Issue One. I’ve never had long or mid-term goals for it, and have let it develop as opportunities and inspiration arise.
So I’m as clued up on the zine’s final destination as you are. For the time being I can tell you that December’s 38th issue is shaping up nicely and is set to feature Michael Monroe, Steve Conte, John Garcia, Monster Magnet, Love Amongst Ruin, and whole bunch of other stuff that I have yet to write or transcribe.

7) In true BGS spirit: If you could ask yourself one question what would it be?

Q: What do you want to do with your life?
A: I wanna rock!!
Or, to put it another way; what’s the only logical thing to do when you find yourself stumped by your own blasted fiendish closing question? Turn to the wisdom of Twisted Sister, of course!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Corrosion of Conformity & Righteous Fool 7"s

Corrosion of Conformity
Your Tomorrow 7”
Righteous Fool
Forever Flames + Edict of Worms 7”
Southern Lord

As Corrosion of Conformity is in one of its cyclical hiatuses while singer/guitarist Pepper Keenan rapes and pillages with Down, the other guys in the band (the ones who founded the group in the first place, remember) need to do somedamnthing while waiting for Keenan to come crawling triumphantly back. Hence, two separate-but-equal things going on in the COC camp. One is that bassist/singer Mike Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin are simply carrying on without Keenan – not a difficult task, considering this lineup created the classic Animosity. Though hardly a return to the furious metalpunk of that slab, Your Tomorrow (either one long song split in two, or two different versions of the same tune) rips nicely, putting a punky energy to COC’s swampy riff rock. This version of the band is promising a full-length record, which may be pretty asskicking on the evidence of this.

The other rumbling comes from Righteous Fool, which is Dean and Mullin swapping out Weatherman for guitarist Jason Browning and carrying on as before. Seriously, except for the absence of Woodroe, there’s really no reason these couldn’t have been COC songs. Good ones, too – Forever Flames grooves to a similar punk/hard rock aesthetic as Your Tomorrow, while Edict of Worms sounds like a master class in how to do stoner rock right(eous). With Dean leading the charge, it’s unclear why he couldn’t have saved this for COC, but if he has to call it Righteous Fool to be this inspired, I’ve got no problem switching out the monogrammed towels.

- Michael Toland

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Poobah - Let Me in

Let Me In
Ripple Music

The early 70s urped up so many longhaired freaks with Les Pauls it’s difficult to keep track of who’s worth digging up and who’s best left in the pine box. Still treading the boards, Poobah, hailing from the Midwestern hard rock bastion of Ohio, can confidently brush the twigs and worms off their sleeveless t-shirts. At its best, Let Me In – originally recorded and released as a six-song LP in 1972, now augmented with a dozen bonus tracks – recalls the giddy days before hard rock and metal became codified and acts had to sound one way and one way only in order to earn the loyalty of an audience of formerly open-minded headbangers. Hard rock originally evolved out of psychedelia, remember, and that’s pretty obvious here. The usual 70s excesses air themselves out, of course – drum solos, extended guitar wankery, songs about rock, maaaan, that are so dumb your neurons will spasm. But Poobah at its best displays enough imagination and freewheeling spirit that it’s easy to overlook eye-rollers like Rock N’ Roll and revel in the prehistoric metal of Mr. Destroyer and Walk the Bug, the psychedelic madness of Bowleen and I’m Crazy, You’re Crazy, the gorgeous folk rock of Enjoy What You Have, the blazing riff-rock of Smoke and the proto-punk of Live to Work. Leader Jim Gustafson has both an acid twinkle in his eye and a bomb in his hip pocket, and he’s just as apt to come on like a mischievous, electrified fairy as he is a grunged-out grizzly bear. On the basis of Let Me In, Poobah is more than just a shaggy curiosity from the Me Decade – it’s a band worth discovering for fans not satisfied with endless Grand Funk retreads on classic rock radio.

- Michael Toland

Friday, October 08, 2010

US Christmas - Run Thick In the Night

US Christmas
Run Thick In the Night

It seems like there’s been an explosion of psychedelic rock in the indie underground of late. And I do mean rock, not pop – we’re talking about kids for whom Hawkwind, post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd and the more ugly and frenzied side of the hippie dream rule, not gentile worshippers of Brian Wilson and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Not that there’s a blessed thing wrong with that, mind you.) This ain’t Elephant 6, in other words – it’s all long, drawn-out jams, grunged-out slide guitar echoes, minor-key melodies, outer space dynamics, clenched-teeth vocals…the sound of the brown acid taking its toll. US Christmas may be a bit heavier than its peers – hence its presence on the label run by freak metal icon Neurosis – but otherwise the North Carolina band fits right in with the current acid nightmare scene on Run Thick In the Night. Whether it’s a forlorn ballad like Fire is Sleeping or Devil’s Flower in Mother Weather or a sprawling epic like The Moon in Flesh and Bone or In the Night, USX weave a psychedelic spell as potent as that by any other mystic. Open your third eye and get that nail ready.

- Michael Toland

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Kiria : 'Radio' (Koochie Koo Records)

Her first band was called ‘Suck Baby Suck’ and she has a preference for wearing leopard print latex catsuits in her promo photos. The biog that accompanies debut album ‘One’ positions London based Kiria in the pop-punk arena and references The Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols, but this is in fact a broader ranging set of songs encompassing reggae, ballads and more amongst the twelve tracks on offer. It is an accomplished debut but doesn’t stick in any particular style for very long. On the one hand that keeps things interesting and means there is much here to choose from, whatever your musical preference. On the other hand, sleazegrinding readers of this website will probably want to cherry pick the harder edged and scuzzier numbers such as straight-outta the gutter closing number ‘Live Sex on Stage’, Kiria’s collaboration with comedian Paul Kaye (aka alter-egos Dennis Pennis/Mike Strutter) and avoid the more middle-of-the road moments. Check out www.kiria.co.uk for more info, pictures and sounds.

Alex Eruptor

Bonus: Q&A Interview with Kiria

Hey Kiria, welcome to sleazegrinder.com. First up let’s get the formalities out of the way....what are you here to plug?
Your ass! 

Your shows look kind of crazy. Does anyone ever get injured?
Yes! I have so many “Strutter” scars, my legs are a well bashed up Rock And Roll masterpiece! In fact I’m still badly bruised and cut from our last gig and that was now 6 days ago.. Paul Kaye at a recent one came away with a growth on his arm that swelled to the size of a pineapple. The hospital said it was a rare injury that normally only happens to old codgers and grannies. Perhaps it rubbed off the wheelchair I pushed him off stage in….

Your album contains a real mix of styles but you seem to be particularly into the pop punk type of sound. Rate the following bands out of ‘10’:
Ramones 10/10
Buzzcocks 10/10
Undertones 5/10
Shampoo 10 out of 10 for embarrassment factor!
The Donnas Oh, do I have to?!

You have a song about ‘Live Sex on Stage’. On that theme....rate the following ‘sex’ songs out of ‘10’:

Sex Action (LA Guns) 6/10
Sex Party (The Quireboys) 9/10
Sex Drive (WASP) 5/10
Animal [Fuck Like A Best] (WASP) Can’t I have fuck you like an animal by NIN? That’s a 10!
Anything by Zodiac Mindwarp!!! Ok, I’ll give 10/10 for the AMAZING video for Backseat Education!!!! Classy….

Related to this website is the ‘movies about girls’ podcast and website. Will there ever be a Kiria movie?
Hell yeah! I’m starring in a film next year, so, yeah!!

If you could snort the ashes of any dead rock star, who would you choose?
Lux Interior, definitely….

Any final words of wisdom to share?
Yeah, life is short, so kick as many asses as you can before you pop your clogs!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Flash Metal Suicide: Anvil, The Story of Anvil

Lars Ulrich: "When Anvil first showed up, it was like 'fuck! This is cool, this is a statement'. Like, literally, these guys were gonna turn the music world upside down"

Scott Ian: "Seeing them was like a challenge to us, it was like, 'if we can't be better than this, we should just go home' "

Lemmy: "I always liked Anvil, they were a great band. They've got my vote"

Tom Araya: "They were thrash, man. They were a fast band. You were talking a year before the big four: Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth"

It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock n' roll. Just ask Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner--the nucleus of the band Anvil. To trot out another cliche, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger", but after seeing everything that Anvil has gone through in the last couple of decades and a half since their legitimate heyday, they actually one up Spinal Tap in regards to moments that you actually feel really sorry for them (unintended dose of irony--it's "Robb Reiner" the drummer, not "Rob Reiner" the director). The band and director have worked so hard to make this documentary what it is--an absolute baring of guts and soul and completely swallowing ego and pride in which to expose the true life of more bands than are willing to admit. This film is inspiring. To me, I think that your success in life is proportional to how you roll with the punches and deal with the setbacks.

And there are certainly setbacks.

The documentary starts out with the list of bands that Anvil played with in the early 80's--The Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, and points out that "all those bands went on to sell millions......(fade to black).....except one". Cue to Lips delivering food in his catering truck--a job that he works when he's not rocking out in Anvil. This documentary, although on cursory glance seems to play up the sympathetic or outright pathetic card, is actually more of a tale of survival; about what it takes to do what you love, night after night, when most others would have packed it in long ago. Their wives/ girlfriends/ families have had it; as one puts it bluntly, "...it's a joke". And it's not hard to see why they're exhausted-- decades of the band not getting paid from record labels, and continually losing money have made them weary, and they now have family too feed and bills to pay unlike when they were younger and starting out, and none of them have very much either financially or assets-wise. One of the members, recently, actually had their things in a storage closet because they had no fixed residence. I believe that the band themselves (not in this movie) have confirmed that none of their albums had actually recouped for their record labels, so for all their influence, they'd never actually got out of the red, money-wise.

It gets worse, though. Upon getting the best news that they've had in awhile--a European tour, booked by a long time fan--it's an endless procession of missed trains and not getting to gigs or being late; not getting paid from gigs ("we played, and you're gonna fuckin' pay us, pal!"--threatening physicalities if payment isn't met), and playing to five people at some shows. Think that's bad? How about this? 174 people showed up for a gig that seated thousands of people. Any way you crunch those numbers, that's way in debt, way in the red. Even the band feels guilty taking any sort of guarantee--as Lips says, those promoters and gigs are out that money and time, too. The band is happy that a fan was gracious enough to put their time and effort into trying to make something work in Europe, but eventually she breaks down because it's an absolute mess. In actuality, they have no manager, but really, Anvil's star and cache has sunk so low that they have no other viable options than to hope and pray that something materializes out of good intentions, alone.

Sacha Gervasi--the director of this film (and long time Anvil fan)--you have to sort of wonder the same thing about him, too. He's there for every detail of the behind the scenes shit that would break up most mortal (and sane) bands--the failed European trek, the arguments and meltdown in the studio where Lips "fires" Robb, and eventually comes back crying and says "I love you, man"-- but you really have to commend the guy for investing his own time and money into the film. What's the actual demand for this film, before it was put out? How much of a risk was it? Does anyone even much still care about the band anymore? Even listening to Lips talking about what food he was catering that day--likely included in the film to underline the severity of the situation to the uninformed (some people may think, "people in bands work day jobs??")-- seems to be about the best or the most interesting thing that Lips can talk about away from anything musical.

Also slightly painful to watch is the backstage happenings at one show that Anvil plays with bands like Ted Nugent, The Scorpions and Twisted Sister among others; all acts that, while drawing nowhere near they did in their heyday, still can command a certain level of respect on the nostalgia circuit. That's the thing about a band--people just don't give a shit if other people ain't giving a shit. You'd think that people would just use their own judgement, but when you're on the mat, people think you're done, you're washed up. You gotta love Lips' enthusiasm, though--"there's Tommy Alridge! Hey Tommy!" (runs over to him) in absolute fan dude mode-- but seeing the blank expression on Michael Schenker's face after Lips tries to convince them that he or Anvil even existed, sorta sums it up: "Remember me? I'd play guitar with the women's vibrator?". Lips chats up Carmine Appice with a story of how Carmine was trying to get with this one woman, and Lips cuts it off before Carmine can awkwardly answer, ".....you don't remember that, do you?", followed by an awkward silence that never happens that's instead assuaged by a couple of laughs before Appice does his best "well, gotta run" type of exit that most people do when they're talking to an in-law or something; you get the impression that if there was a bomb scare somewhere else, that he'd rather be there than talking to this guy who he has no idea of. Only JJ French (Twisted Sister) is clued in; remembering Anvil as "one of three bands" that ever upstaged them, ending the conversation in a rocker styled hug.

Slightly dejected from yet another step back instead of a step forward, Lips sends a demo of their new material to producer Chris Tsangarides--best known for producing some important heavy metal albums, as well as Anvil's own "Metal On Metal" album, in which the band has admitted that it actually sounds like a great record, as opposed to endless producers that never understood their style or captured their fire on later albums. Chris likes what he hears and contacts them back, but the only problem is that they're broke--they have no money and no labels or investors to invest in them, so Lips' sister gives them the money to do the record, out of his passion and fire and the refusal to embrace what others would have moved on from a long time ago. There's a huge meltdown as previously mentioned in which Tsangarides acts more, perhaps, as a parent and moderator not wanting to pick a favorite between their two squabbling children. You don't specifically see what sets Lips off on Robb, but judging by the words said, Robb must have commented on Lips' take and Lips didn't like what was said. Despite that, the recording sessions go pretty smoothly, with the band being satisfied that they sound the way that they should. Personally, I think that Anvil should have sought out Devin Townshend or Kurt Ballou--guys who have the connection and finger on the extreme metal world's pulse. It's nothing against Tsangarides, but I think that the band could have benefitted from the prestige that Ballou or Townshend's name comes with, just for even being involved with a project, to get it out to a newer generation.

Scott Ian and Lars Ulrich don't have an explanation in the movie as to what happened regarding Anvil's career, but Slash has a better insight and answers his own question: "They should have made it alot bigger, and I don't understand the reason why. Sometimes life deals you a tough deck. They never really got the respect that they deserved after awhile, because for as big as an influence that they had on everybody, everybody just sort of ripped them off and left them for dead". Or as Lemmy also says: "It's all about being in the right place at the right time. If you're not in the right place at the right time, you'll never do it (success)".

In retrospect, "Metal On Metal" perhaps isn't that shocking or extreme anymore. But at the time, it was a moment of rock music being pushed to it's limits, ever since guitarists realized that small amps weren't cutting it in bigger clubs, and also when they realized that they wanted to be faster and more aggressive and angrier than the previous regime. It's been confirmed by many of the most reputable names in metal that they can pinpoint that Robb's drum work (his double kick technique, in particular) and the overall galloping speed, had really defined thrash metal, as an entirely new and different genre. There were heavy bands before that, but as Ulrich states in the extended interview bonus footage, something like (not a word for word recital) "the other bands were more like heavy hard rock bands. Anvil was blatantly metal". Priest and Maiden may get the credit for upping the stakes in metal, but as far as thrash goes, Anvil did it first, and now their influence is so obscured that history has a slightly different acknowledgement of how the actual events happened.

It's weird how that happens, but music has always been about regurgitating some sort of influence, and it all depends on who it's "new" to, anyways. At the time, you think that the most talented or deserving will get what's coming to them, but unfortunately, that's just not always the case, and unfortunately for pioneering bands and artists in the music industry, the first and best usually isn't rewarded. The artists that get noticed usually tend to be the ones that come a little bit later that may have a different perspective on that particular style of music, where they've honed it down and refined it enough to relate to a younger audience; an influence or intention that maybe otherwise gets lost in translation by older or more established bands. For every Elvis, there's an infinite amount more of black artists that he'd taken cues and stole from; ditto for the British Invasion, which was more about mining lost American underground artforms in the 30's and 40's blues, or even some 50's American interpretations of forgotten 40's blues. In the 60's, newer garage bands upstaged each other at such a quick rate, that you didn't want to be caught dead listening to your older sibling's music--you wanted your own, even if it--in hindsight--really wasn't that different than the other music that preceded it. And sometimes, that's really only a generation span of a year or two; which is exactly why I maintain that even a year or two can be an eternity in the music biz.

My other take on Anvil's career is that you just can't override bad management. Bad or non-existent management will almost always sink a band without a trace. You can have guys like Leber and Krebs fighting to make some sense or saleability out of the New York Dolls (a situation where you have an unwilling band, but excellent management) and you can even hire Malcolm McLaren to try to help the band during the Red Patent Leather days and it will still meet the same fate. However, you can't beat a Malcolm McLaren fighting to market a young and willing band like the Sex Pistols-- it's a great gimmick to capture the youth demographic market in the industry, but even better yet, it has a better manager to push that music aggressively enough for enough of a sustained period of time in which to gain significant ground with audiences before the next trend comes and upstages what you've started. There's only so much that a band can do, themselves, before they need to pass off certain things like money and expenses and booking and other things to someone else.

Clearly, no one was really fighting hard enough for Anvil then. They had press in Kerrang and Sounds and other big music mags and a huge hype wave, and lord knows they had way more than enough of an angle to sell records to disaffected and bored youth--a wilder, heavier and faster than ever sound than before that your parents will fucking hate like the plague; bondage and leather gear, playing a guitar with a dildo, etc. And then the recognition and accolades just eroded away to nothing. Even Ulrich remarks that Anvil was the entire package--the image, the shock appeal, the backstage partying and antics and urban myth and legend--but with the music and skills to back it up. There was just the overall sense that it was an entire shift in the music industry, where the extreme underground was becoming well enough known to mainstream audiences in which it made truly innovative, uncommercial sounds hip and saleable enough for some bands, at least, to see some sort of future in just being something beyond a cult hero. But sometimes it is all a bit too much, too soon.

And then the band got out of their contract with Attic Records--thinking that the label didn't do enough to promote them--but after that, the labels weren't exactly lining up as maybe the band had thought. That--as well as with the band's lack of proper embrace of the MTV generation in the early to mid (and even late) 80's-- essentially solidified their descent into anonymity. That, I guess did it, as well as the inevitable rut for most bands of making less inspired albums past the initial few great ones, with no one as producer to really get them back on track and harness the band's potential from what was witnessed on the early, influential albums. Most of the time, you need a certain amount of money, time and support to ride out a backlash or a mid career period of time where you lose focus or perspective and aren't making the best artistic or career decisions anymore. Alot of bands have never survived those periods of time before they broke up.

Ulrich may sum it up best when he says that he's never actually met the guys in Anvil--odd, considering that they often ran in similar circles. Anvil weren't being put on the right gigs, I think....they needed to be marketed to the younger audience. For whatever reason, they weren't being put there after big shows around the '82 range, it was almost like they were being prevented from meeting key people, key bands, key industry people. Certain management (I know in the case of Todd Rundgren's first band, The Nazz) has actually kept bands away from playing out too often, in fears that it will dilute their appeal, wherein the idea is to create demand that exceeds supply. I think that's a ridiculous thing to do--the audience wants you to play, you're getting offers, you go with the flow--you play. In some cases, I think that has helped a band's career, but I think that it's failed far more than it's succeeded, because when you make supply far scarcer than demand, you have to be careful that your demand doesn't dry up in favour of other newer acts, or else you're fucked. Because by the time that trends rise and collapse in the industry, even a few months is just enough to sink a band from being on the right gigs and being in front of the right audiences, before some other band is "the next big thing".

By the time that mainstream audiences had even heard of thrash as a legitimate genre or movement, Anvil was long forgotten. They needed to be continually supported to capitalize on what they'd started, because just a year later in around '83, Anvil's speed was being eclipsed by far more extreme sounds. Could Anvil have been Slayer? Could they have been Metallica during the "Master Of Puppets"/ "Ride The Lightning" era, had they been convinced to pursue even heavier and more ambitious, progressive albums than "Metal On Metal"? You wonder. Because even Metallica on "Kill 'Em All" in their early days, still weren't at the juggernaut level of "Master Of Puppets" or "Ride The Lightning", and Slayer also had to warm up for a few years to really hit their stride later on to define what would be their classic sound. Neither of those bands, even in '83, were at their peak. They had to take some time to hone what thrash metal would eventually become. But I don't see why "Metal On Metal" couldn't have been the impetus to forge an even heavier or more ambitious output. Look at Celtic Frost on the albums before "Cold Lake"--maybe Anvil could have gone more the direction of Celtic Frost, even. But perhaps Anvil's good time partying atmosphere made them a tad too cartoonish to go over that well in extreme metal circles--maybe you need a necromantical scream or two. I think that the bulk of the thrash movement was about negativity--at least lyrically--death, despair, loss, regret, whereas Anvil were just the rockers who were out to get laid, drink beer, and party all the time with good time song themes. Come to think of it, when I analyze it enough, that's probably a big part of why they got forgotten by fans of more extreme sounds in the mid 80's underground.

Maybe Anvil really didn't want to play the game, though--you have to want to do things that you don't want to do, and tell people things that maybe you don't believe. In the movie, when Lips tries his hand at telemarketing for many hours (a job set up through a long time Anvil fan), he doesn't even make a single sale. "These sunglasses are just like the ones that Keanu Reeves wore in the Matrix!!", he says enthusiastically from one of his canned "from the corporate office" sales lines. Lips says something like (not a direct quote word for word), "to make sales, you have to lie, and it goes against everything that i'd learned as a kid". Maybe that best sums up the whole movie in one quote. Maybe not. It's close to it, though.

When the big four of the thrash bands started gaining mainstream success, it was only a matter of time before the creative slide happened, and/ or with the bands polishing up their sound to change with the times; especially as the 80's ended, and as the industry shifted it's emphasis to alternative, grunge, punk and more abrasive DIY type music. Heavy metal just wasn't cool. It was out. I remember back in school in the early 90's, the old banger types--back patches, long greasy hair, tight black jeans, pointy guitars, maybe an acid wash here or there, etc--wasn't popular at all, and there were only still a few holdouts here and there that refused to give in and not be (overtly, at least--you wonder who secretly still listened to their thrash/ metal/ hair metal albums) known as "metal dude burnout/ banger chick" walking the hallways between classes (or ditching classes out by the smoking doors). Every school had a few of 'em. Those people were always perceived as not moving with the trends or the times, stuck in a timewarp, perhaps. But it definetely was a uniform, of sorts, and I have to give those people maximum respect for putting it all out there. Lots of fights got picked with those people or misconceptions got thrown around regarding character with those people, it was like being part of a gang.

Similarly, Anvil continued to stay true to the things that they started out doing, but any cache that they'd had left over from the early 80's, was killed off when they didn't do any alt metal concessions. Metallica's "Load", Megadeth's "Cryptic Writings"/ "Risk" and the actually-despite-what-they-say not so bad but very maligned "Stomp 442" by Anthrax, had all, to me, signified the end of once mighty bands. They either cut their hair and changed their image, or had changed their sounds radically. Slayer never really had a slide from "form" so to speak, but as cartoonish as Anvil may have been perceived, you'd have to be either pretty demented or just outright insane to think that Tom Araya and Kerry King actually have a devil's throne that they worship at every night in their living room or something like that. If you think about it, there's something a little inherently silly about guys that old that are still apparently in cahoots with Satan in enough of a capacity for it to be seen as a viable way of maintaining the "glory years".

There is something though, that is ridiculously over the top in it's phallic-ness in metal in general that Anvil had tapped into, though--it's weird how that stands the test of time by being juvenile, but really, what are most rock lyrics about? Chuck Berry wrote the same song about the same topics--cars, girls, rock n' roll. And it's still never got old. Sometimes rock lyrics get a bit too pretentious in their grandeur, anyways. I think that I laughed at Tom G Warrior's lyrics on "Monotheist" more than anything, because really, they're kinda just no better than a band that's writing about unicorns and trolls and the whole Tolkien trip.

The part where Robb is showing his paintings--the "Left Behind" one....."this is what will be left behind when i'm not here anymore......so I painted myself out of it", is what you'd call an unexpected "poignant" moment. The painting is of Robb's drums. It's with a slight sad connotation, but really, only death itself will stop these guys from being in a band and doing what it is that they love. When you see people when they're kids, making all these promises of what they'll turn out to be, and then slowly trading those in for ones that they've settled on, or worse--completely abandoning any vestige of those ideals--you see Anvil and guys in their 50's just refusing to stop doing what it is that moved them when they were young, and it serves as notice that you don't have to give them up. They're here to do one thing--rock like motherfuckers. As Ulrich says in the extended bonus interview, he respects Anvil more because they didn't give a shit and didn't pander to trends or change their game or music to suit what was popular, and eventually says something to the effect of "...i'd know" in that same general part of the interview, and part of me wonders if that was something that Ulrich really regrets, just based on his words without him actually saying "hey, I wish I would have done that, in retrospect".

To me, this documentary is just absolutely mandatory viewing--even if you don't like Anvil or metal. These guys are the last of a dying breed, and I doubt you'll see the tenacity to budge from being 100 percent full on rocker in subsequent generations of musicians that have grown up on only seeing the end result--the RockBand/ Guitar Hero generation. It's really a tough, thankless road of shitty dive clubs, sleeping on floors, embarking on long drives and endless tours with people that you're sick of after awhile. There's also alot of wondering if something's profitable enough to someone else so that they can take a risk on you to put out your albums or get behind a tour of yours, so that you can actually keep on doing what you're doing. Another way to put it is that i've always maintained that it's not the hour long set at the end of the night that kills bands--it's 23 hours of putting in work, and then lots of other bullshit that can quickly stop being fun or exciting when you're doing it night after night. Your "brothers" in the band can quickly become enemies, because most of us aren't wired to deal with living in a van or cramped quarters with anyone, let alone hear the same stories or deal with the inane quirks that all of us have. Factor in a bunch of creative types all living with each other, and you've got good grounds for massive explosions and inherent band implosions--nasty fistfights and horrid name calling and swearing against ever being in the same room as so and so again. Hell, gig offers that are probably more than the GNP of the entire world can't even get Waters and Gilmour to stand on the same stage anymore. That's some pretty bad blood.

Is it the route of popular vote that you want? Or respect? Because Anvil may not be the most popular, but you can't buy respect. It's earned. Kudos to the band's resurgence of popularity after this was put out, and to Sacha Gervasi as well, for the balls to put his time and money behind this. Ultimately, it's a tale of success--the band succeeds on their own terms, and the film ends off with a packed larger venue in Japan of fans going nuts. As the cliche goes, "you can't kill rock n' roll".

--Ryan Settee
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