Twenty Years Beyond Driven: A Thing About Pantera

One week ago today, Pantera’s phenomenally successful album Far Beyond Driven celebrated its 20th birthday.  True story: on Tuesday (3/25), I had an exceptionally shitty day at work.  I got in my car for the drive home, and decided I wanted to hear something heavy, aggressive, and familiar.  I flipped through my Big Black Book o’ Metal CDs, and without even thinking about it, I put in Far Beyond Driven, which I don’t listen to nearly as much as I used to, and which was exactly what I needed.  I drove across town (slowly, so as to give myself plenty of time to listen to the whole album), bought a half-pound of pulled pork from Short Stop Food Mart, drove home, ate a half-pound of pulled pork (don’t judge me!), drank a Stella Artois, watched a couple innings of baseball, and began to return to some state of normalcy.

After all that, I got online and the first thing I read was that a 20th Anniversary Edition of Far Beyond Driven had been released that very day.  After feeling sorry for myself for getting old, I began to reflect on the impact the album had on the metal scene, on popular culture, and on a certain high school Metalhead (I’ll give you a hint: it’s me).  I had plans to watch Rocky III with some friends later that night, so obviously that took priority.

Now here I am, determined to write something at least moderately meaningful about the album that opened the door to extreme metal for me, and I’m at a loss for words.  I should point out that I had already gotten into Pantera before Far Beyond Driven came out, having seen the video for “Cowboys From Hell” on Headbanger’s Ball at my cousin Nathan’s house sometime in 1990-91, and of course I owned Vulgar Display of Power, because I was an American teenager in 1992, but neither of those albums is as heavy (or as lyrically disturbing) as Far Beyond Driven.  It is at least partially because of FBD that later in 1994 I purchased my first Napalm Death album (Fear, Emptiness, Despair), as well as my first Death album (Individual Thought Patterns).

The impact Far Beyond Driven had on music in the 1990s is undeniable.  It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 (almost certainly the heaviest album to top that chart), replacing The Sign by ABBA tribute band Ace of Base, and by 1995, every person who discovered metal with Metallica’s “Black Album”, but hadn’t yet jumped on board the train with Vulgar Display was a Pantera fan.  It also contained four singles (“I’m Broken”, “Becoming”, “5 Minutes Alone”, and Black Sabbath cover “Planet Caravan”), all of which reached the Top 30 on either the Billboard “Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks” or the UK Singles Chart (or both, in the case of “Planet Caravan”).  It has since been certified platinum.

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I took this image from rollingstone.com.  According to the website, it was taken by Joe Giron.  Please don’t sue me, Rolling Stone or Joe Giron.  Thank you in advance.

Remember this was at a time when metal was supposed to have been killed off by “grunge” and Green Day/Offspring-style punk rock, but Pantera continued to carry the torch for metal up until the unfortunate rise of nü-metal in the late 90s.  They toured relentlessly, bringing an impressive variety of bands on tour with them, including Anthrax, Clutch, Sepultura, White Zombie, Deftones, Biohazard, Skid Row, Type O Negative, and Neurosis (the last two were the opening bands the first and second times I saw Pantera live, Type O on the FBD tour, and Neurosis on the tour for the excellent follow-up, 1996’s The Great Southern Trendkill).

Personal issues among the band members (brought about in part by Phil Anselmo’s well-publicized drug problems) caused the band to fizzle out as the decade came to an end, but they managed to release one final album, 2000’s Reinventing the Steel, which is not their strongest effort, but which is still better than most of the metal that the masses were listening to in 2000 (I’m looking at you, Disturbed!).  A lot of snooty metal fans will try to diminish Pantera’s contributions to heavy metal, but those people are buttholes.  Even if you don’t like the sounds they made, you can’t deny the importance of their albums.  Pantera has been a gateway drug for a lot of people who might otherwise be listening to Vampire Weekend or Kanye West or some bullshit like that.

I got off topic there.  Sorry about that.  Far Beyond Driven is a fucking great album.  I’m not one of those guys who busts a nut over Dimebag Darrell’s (RIP) guitar work, but the dude could obviously play.  Critics like to point out the fact that a lot of his riffs are simple, which is true, but to me, it’s more about what he laid over the riffs – all manner of squeals and squalls, all feedback-y and dirty-sounding – and his soloing was pretty rad.  He was no Yngwie Malmsteen or anything, but I’d rather listen to a couple of squirrels fucking than listen to that pompous guitar wanker, anyway – Dimebag played with feeling, and that means every bit as much as technique, as far as I’m concerned.  Vinnie Paul’s drumming was as tight as his facial hair is groomed (seriously, could the guy possibly look more like a strip club owner?), and while it’s not super-audible in the mix, Rex Brown’s bass definitely helped bulk up and sustain the bottom end (maybe it was turned up a bit for the remaster, but I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet).

More than anything, though, it’s Anselmo’s vocal work that made me aware that music could be heavier than what I was used to listening to.  His lyrics on Far Beyond Driven are deeply personal, and they are delivered with a fury that dares you to deny them.  Standout tracks for me include “Slaughtered”, album opener “Strength Beyond Strength”, “Use My Third Arm”, and the super-weird, super-creepy, super-fucked-up “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills”.

It’s clear to me that the maker of this video is a bonafide genius.

Album closer “Planet Caravan” is also awesome, and after the non-stop screaming, squealing, hollering headfuck that precedes it, it also serves a nice reminder that Anselmo is capable of singing when he wants to (see also “Cemetery Gates” and “This Love”).  It has made an appearance on Stay Heavy before.

In conclusion, you should listen to Far Beyond Driven.  If you ignore my advice, you only have yourself to blame.  Also, if you’d like to purchase the 20th Anniversary Edition for me, I wouldn’t be angry with you.

Stay heavy, comrades.

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Metal in the Mainstream, Volume 1: Cold Slither

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 1, Episode 51, “Cold Slither”

Original airdate: December 2, 1985

Written by: Michael Charles Hill

We all know that the people in charge of our pop culture like to take (and subsequently take a giant shit all over) anything and everything in the underground that they deem marketable, often with hilarious results.  One excellent example of this is an episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero from 1985.  Entitled “Cold Slither”, the episode finds world-wide terrorist leader/all-around incompetent boob Cobra Commander broke, and in debt to the tune of $200 million dollars, payable within 48 hours, thanks to some key intelligence and skillful maneuvering on the part of the G.I. Joe team.

Destro and the Baroness devise yet another patented Diabolical Cobra Scheme (patent pending), and after procuring a briefcase full of money (one million dollars, to be precise), they set off through the swamps, along with Cobra Commander, into the lair of Zartan and the Dreadnoks, where the Baroness explains the meat and potatoes of “Operation: Cold Slither”.  Cobra Commander will give Zartan one million dollars (which Zartan promises to pay out to his Dreadnoks at “$5 per hour”) if he and the Dreadnoks form a rock and roll band called Cold Slither and pretend to record an eponymous hit song, along with a video of the same song.  Destro will then insert subliminal messages into the song, which will put the listeners into a trance, and make them mind-slaves of Cobra.  I can’t find a single flaw in that DCS.

“The only union they should be concerned with is the one between their heads and their shoulders.” – Cobra Commander

While no character actually refers to Cold Slither as a “heavy metal band”, the lyrics to the song do make mention of it, though it is difficult to hear over the sounds of the Dreadnoks wreaking havoc on the video set.

“Cold Slither”, as performed by Cold Slither

We’re Cold Slither
You’ll be joining us soon
A band of vipers
playing our tune

With an iron fist
and a reptile hiss (note: it sounds very much like they say “erectile hiss”)
we shall rule!

We’re tired of words
We’ve heard it before
We’re not gonna play the game no more

Don’t tell us what’s right
Don’t tell us what’s wrong
Too late to resist
Cause Cobra is strong

We’re Cold Slither
Heavy metal machine
Through the eyes of a lizard
In you will dream

When the venom stings
A new order brings
our control

The song naturally ends up in the Top 20 within 3 days, and white kids all over the local school are disturbing their square old teacher with all that heavy metal racket.  Meanwhile, back at G.I. Joe HQ, Shipwreck, Breaker, and Footloose fall under the spell of Destro’s subliminal messages (although a perusal of the lyrics indicates that someone maybe doesn’t really understand the meaning of “subliminal”), causing them to go AWOL to the “sports arena”, along with thousands of unwitting teenagers, to watch an electrifying performance by Cold Slither.  At this point, we become privy to Cobra Commander’s true intent: after getting the sold-out crowd good and brainwashed, he surrounds the stadium with HISS tanks, and announces to the parents who happen to be watching television at that particular moment that their children are being held hostage.  Their release is contingent upon payment of $100 billion, due in two hours.

Lady Jaye comes up with a scheme of her own – she, Cover Girl, and Scarlet go undercover as “fans” (groupies) and infiltrate the Dreadnoks’ dressing room, where they beat up the blundering dummies, learn the location of the command center, and knock the Dreadnoks out with some gas disguised as perfume.  They bust into the control room, where Cobra Commander, Destro, and the Baroness wonder why the ladies weren’t hypnotized by the music.  Lady Jaye removes her earplugs to find out what the villains are discussing, prompting Destro to ask, “So you knew about the subliminal messages?” “No,” says Scarlet, “we knew your taste in music.”

oh-snap

Cobra Commander proceeds to incapacitate the Joes by pressing a button that unleashes a terrible sound, shattering the windows to the control room, through which he escapes, along with his cohorts.  The crowd comes out of their trance and, prompted by Shipwreck’s parrot, Polly, begins shouting that they want music.  Rock ‘n’ Roll (the Joe team member, not the music) suggests that since the people came to see a concert, it’s not really fair to send them home without one.  “Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?” Duke says.  Breaker then introduces to the audience “the greatest rock ‘n’ rollers in the land, the Average Joe Band”.  They launch into a poppy version of the G.I. Joe theme song, which is so bad it makes you want to hear “Cold Slither” again, and then the credits roll.

What can we glean from this so-bad-it’s-good episode of one of my most beloved TV shows as a child?  Well for one, it makes me assume that episode writer Michael Charles Hill was a very out-of-touch old man who had never actually heard a rock ‘n’ roll song, let alone a heavy metal song.

Looking at the episode in a cultural context brings some interesting things to light.  First, the original airdate of the episode was December 2, 1985, which was just over one year and one month after John McCollum shot himself in the head with his father’s gun while listening to Ozzy Osbourne’s debut solo album Blizzard of Ozz (1980) in his bedroom.  McCollum’s suicide prompted his parents to deflect responsibility for their son’s actions toward a song on that album called “Suicide Solution”, which they claimed contained “hidden lyrics” which drove their son to take his own life (“get the gun and try it, shoot, shoot, shoot”), but which was actually about a person slowly taking their own life with drugs and alcohol.

Also of interest is that 21 days after this episode aired, James Vance and Ray Belknap got drunk and high, “allegedly listened to Judas Priest”, then shot themselves.  Belknap died instantly, but Vance survived with a mangled face for three more years before dying from an overdose of painkillers.  The parents of these two dummies claimed that Priest’s cover of the Spooky Tooth song “Better By You, Better Than Me” (from Stained Class – 1978) contained a backward message (“Do it.”) which prompted their sons to take their own lives.  Who could guess that the writers of G.I. Joe had their collective finger so firmly on the pulse of America?

I also find it interesting when we consider the state of heavy metal in December 1985: Iron Maiden was on top of the world, thrash metal was beginning its explosion out of the underground, the opening shots of crossover thrash had been fired, glam metal was less than one year away from becoming what most people would forever think of when they hear the term “heavy metal”, and Pantera was still more or less a KISS cover band.  Also, just over two months before “Cold Slither” aired, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister testified (very intelligently) before the PMRC Senate hearings, regarding censorship in rock music.  And while it was not entirely related to heavy metal, the United States was mired in the throes of the “Satanic Panic” at this point in its often absurd history.

And with all this going on, Michael Charles Hill thought that Cold Slither was what a heavy metal band might look and sound like.  Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

Stay heavy, y’all.

Stay Heavy Birthday Club: ‘Appy Birthday ‘Arry

 

 

Fifty-eight years ago today, a true metal god was born.  Stephen Percy “Steve” Harris was born on March 12, 1956 in Leytonstone, England (a suburb of London), where he had dreams of playing (non-American) football professionally.  In his early teens, Harris began to become interested in rock music, and soon his desire to play professional football was replaced by a desire to play music.  He wanted to play drums, but was unable to afford a drum kit, so he chose bass guitar instead.  Lucky us.

steveharris

Harris onstage, in a familiar pose.

Ten months after buying his first bass, Harris joined a band called Influence, which later changed its name to Gypsy’s Kiss (Cockney rhyming slang for “piss”).  After a few gigs, the band split up, and Harris joined a band called Smiler.  He left Smiler when the band found the songs he was writing too complicated to play, and formed the first version of Iron Maiden on Christmas Day 1975.

Today, Harris remains the sole original member of Iron Maiden, and has been the band’s chief composer and lyricist, in addition to directing and editing many of their live videos and music videos.  There’s not much time left in his birthday, so I recommend stopping everything right now and jamming the Iron Maiden album(s) of your choice.  You really can’t go wrong.  You should probably also take some time to watch some live footage, either on YouTube, or, if you own any, on one of the band’s numerous live DVDs or VHS tapes.

Here are a few of my favorite Steve Harris-penned Iron Maiden songs, in order of their original release.

“Phantom of the Opera” (from Live at the Rainbow – 1980) (originally appeared on Iron Maiden – 1980) – Iron Maiden was the first of two albums to feature Paul Di’Anno on vocals.  Bruce Dickinson joined the band after the tour for 1981’s Killers, and made his recording debut with the band on 1982’s Number of the Beast.

“To Tame a Land” (from Piece of Mind – 1983) – This is the last song on my personal favorite Iron Maiden album. The lyrics are based on Frank Herbert’s magnificent 1965 novel Dune, and this awesome fan-made video features footage of David Lynch’s 1984 film version of the story

“Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (from Live After Death – 1985) (originally appeared on Powerslave -1984) – Watch Steve’s fingers move like a hummingbird when he plays this song.  The lyrics are based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem of the same name.

“Caught Somewhere in Time” (from Somewhere in Time – 1986) – The band introduced synthesized guitars on this album, and brought in full-on keyboards on the follow-up, 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (which, along with a few other albums, is not featured here, because regardless of what the song says, time is not, in fact, always on my side).  Many people were angry with the addition of synthesizers.  Those people are chumps, because this shit is obviously the shit.

“Fear of the Dark” (from Flight 666 – 2009) (originally appeared on Fear of the Dark – 1992) – I featured a more recent live version of this song because this crowd is fucking amazing.  Fear of the Dark was the last album to feature Bruce Dickinson on vocals until 2000’s Brave New World.  He was replaced by Blaze Bayley for two much-maligned (but still pretty good) albums.

“The Clansman” (from Virtual IX – 1998) – This was the second and final album with Bayley on vocals.  It’s not as strong overall as the first (1995’s The X Factor), but I think this is the best Harris-penned song from either album.  It is lyrically inspired by the same stuff that inspired Braveheart.

“When the Wild Wind Blows” (from The Final Frontier – 2010) – This is the last song on the band’s most recent album.  The lyrics are amazing, and sometimes they make me cry.

That’s all for today. Happy birthday Steve Harris!

UP THE IRONS!

Stay heavy, y’all.

 

Memento Mori, Volume 2: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Clive-Burr

Clive Burr played drums with Iron Maiden from 1979-1982.  He appeared on the band’s first three albums.  Today would be his 57th birthday, but he passed away in his sleep on March 12, 2013, due to complications from multiple sclerosis.  He was a fantastic drummer, and was by all accounts a wonderful human being.  Check out some of his live performances, if you are so inclined.  You could certainly spend your time on less useful things.

This first video is Iron Maiden’s first full-length home video release, Live at the Rainbow, recorded at the Rainbow Theater in London in December 1980, and released in 1981.  This is one of the band’s first performances with Adrian Smith on guitar.  It is fucking excellent.

Next is Beast Over Hammersmith, recorded at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in March 1982.  This performance is one of the early shows with Bruce Dickinson on vocals.  Some of the lighting quality is sub-par, but the show itself is top notch, and very much worth your time.

And finally, if you’re pressed for time, here’s Clive’s sole songwriting contribution to Iron Maiden, “Gangland”, from the band’s breakthrough third album, 1982’s Number of the Beast.

Happy birthday, Clive.  UP THE IRONS!

Remember to stay heavy, friends.

 

Warriors of Ice: A Voivod Primer, Part 1

In lieu of my usual Thrash Thursday fare, I’m going to finally begin the long-talked-about saga of Voivod.  They started out as a thrash metal band, so it technically fits, and besides, it’s my blog.  The Voivod story will definitely spill into at least two parts, and possibly more, because the story becomes a bit complicated as it goes on, and quite frankly, I have other stuff to do.  Now, without further ado…

Voivod originally formed in Jonquiere, Quebec, Canada (about 300 miles north of Montreal) in 1981.  Visionary drummer and artist Michele Langevin spent much of his time as a young boy drawing, as well as reading science fiction and horror magazines and books.  He also lived with a near-constant fear of nuclear war (this was pretty common in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before fear of terrorism became the new thing), and he grew up near a massive aluminum processing/manufacturing plant (the largest in North America), which he could see out his bedroom window, and which often gave him nightmares.  While reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he came upon a word that stuck with him – “voivode”, an old Slavic word which meant “warlord”, and which eventually came to denote a governor of a province (much like an English duke or a prince).  He began to combine this intriguing word with his frozen, mechanical surroundings to create a “post-nuclear vampire” character who ruled over a frozen land that Langevin dubbed Morgoth, where constant war was the norm.  Who could’ve guessed that a child’s fantasy would go on to influence heavy metal for decades to follow?

In 1981, guitarist Denis D’Amour asked Jean-Yves Thériault to play bass with him so they could start a band.  Thériault knew Langevin from high school, and the three attempted to make music together, only to disband soon after, because, in the words of Langevin, “everything went wrong because nobody could play.  [D’Amour] was the only true musician.”  Langevin and Thériault took a year off to learn their instruments, and the band reformed in full in 1982 and brought Denis Bélanger into the fold as vocalist in 1983.  In the spirit of NWOBHM heroes Venom,  the members of the newly dubbed Voivod took on nicknames (the reasons for the nicknames can vary, depending on the source): Bélanger became “Snake”, because he was tall and thin and moved in weird ways while singing; Thériault became “Blacky”, because he often had a bad attitude; D’Amour became “Piggy”, because he was chubby (although I once read an interview with Blacky, in which he said that D’Amour was called Piggy because he “smoked weed like a fucking hog”); and Langevin became Away, because his mind was always somewhere else (in that same interview, Blacky also indicated that Away had a propensity for being late to/not showing up for practice – i.e., he was always away).

The band played ceaselessly, recording live performances to use as demo tapes, and eventually garnering the attention of Brian Slagel of Los Angeles, California-based Metal Blade Records.  Slagel commissioned a song from the band for his upcoming Metal Massacre V compilation, where they would appear alongside such (soon-to-be) legendary bands as Overkill, Metal Church, Hellhammer, and Fates Warning.  Voivod’s song “Condemned to the Gallows” also earned them a one-album deal with Metal Blade, and their debut, War and Pain, was released later that same year (1984).

War and Pain is a nasty, loud, cacophonous beast of an album, just barely holding itself together, and punctuated by the band’s already noticeably off-kilter time changes. Paul Sutter, reviewing the album for influential British metal magazine Kerrang!, called War and Pain “probably the worst record I have ever heard in my entire life…like a moose being squashed by a steamroller (the vocals), whilst putting a strong magnetic current through a dustbin half-full of ball bearings (the band).”  Sutter said that like it was a bad thing.

Away’s original concept of the Voivod and his frozen lands played a small but significant role on the first album – the cover represents Away’s interpretation of the Voivod, and the very loose story on the album tells of the Voivod being awakened/revived after a nuclear war to reclaim its rightful place as ruler of Morgoth.  I call the story “very loose” because the lyrics aren’t exactly understandable or sensible, being in English as they are, while the band’s native language is Québécois French.  This makes for some unintentionally hilarious lyrics, such as “Why don’t you believe on it/ You know what we want/ Go shit! I’m not a fish/ We’re gonna burn your home” (“Suck Your Bone”), but does not necessarily make for the most cohesive story.  Essentially, you get the gist of the story from the album title and cover, from the song titles, and from the apocalyptic sounds coming from the record: the Voivod is back, and he is gonna fuck you up.  At the end of the album, the Voivod is defeated in “Nuclear War”, and you’re finally allowed to breathe.  Then the band’s second album, 1986’s so-very-aptly-titled Rrröööaaarrr, comes in behind you and fucks you up all over again.

The very basic story of Rrröööaaarrr finds the Voivod reawakening after several more nuclear wars, this time as “Korgüll the Exterminator”, an unstoppable killing machine of unimaginable destruction, hell-bent on avenging his previous defeat.  Korgüll is immortalized on both the album’s cover (again painted by Away), as well as on the eponymous opening track.  People who are utterly horrified/not impressed by what they heard on War and Pain are not going to be won over by Rrröööaaarrr.  Where the songs are concerned, there isn’t much difference between the two albums; the real difference here is in the production.  To the point, Rrröööaaarrr sounds like it was recorded directly into an old-school tape recorder stuck inside an empty 50 gallon oil drum.  It’s maybe my least favorite Voivod album, but I still think it’s fucking great.  Standout tracks include “Ripping Headaches”, “Thrashing Rage”, “Slaughter in a Grave”, and the subtle-as-a-hammer-to-the-teeth “Fuck Off and Die”.  The title of the album closer, “To the Death”, has become the rallying cry of Voivod fans since the album’s release (not unlike “Up the Irons!” to an Iron Maiden fan).

By the time the band’s third album, 1987’s Killing Technology arrived, Korgüll had destroyed Morgoth and escaped to outer space in search of new worlds to conquer.  The songs began to get noticeably different here – song lengths and structures became more fluid and open-ended, and the band had gotten much better at playing their instruments.  In fact, it’s safe to say that this is the last Voivod album that could rightly be called “thrash metal” from beginning to end.  The album was recorded in Berlin, and the influence of German thrash metal is undeniably present.  Some of the band’s very best songs come from Killing Technology, including the title track, “Forgotten in Space”, nuclear paranoia-fueled original album closer “This is Not an Exercise” (CD re-issues close with “Cockroaches”, which was originally released on a 12″ picture disc companion single to the album, and also include “Too Scared to Scream” which was the A-side to “Cockroaches”), and the brilliant “Ravenous Medicine” (which is the first Voivod song I ever heard).  The video for “Ravenous Medicine” features a lot of Away’s artwork, which is a nice bonus, plus you get to hear Snake warble “you’re going to the science hospital!”, which is a great fucking line.

In 1988, with outer space all used up, Korgüll created  a new dimension in a laboratory experiment, then traveled there to observe its inhabitants, extract their knowledge, and destroy them all and their dimension.  The evidence of these otherwise undocumented events is the band’s first foray into full-on concept album, Dimension Hatröss, and this album absolutely changed the way I think about music, and to some extent, about life itself.  Musically, Dimension Hatröss finds the band evolved far beyond the sounds that made Paul Sutter wish he was deaf just four short years before.  Of particular note is Piggy’s guitar work – his already-common use of dissonant and minor chords came to full fruition here, and some of my favorite sounds of all time are parts of this album.  In fact, I can’t even choose a favorite song (or songs) from Dimension Hatröss – rather, I have favorite parts of the album, and favorite sounds from the album.  Like any great concept album, musical and lyrical themes reoccur throughout the album, and the end is so sublime and magnificent that I can’t listen to the album just once – one listen demands a second listen, immediately following.  Since I can’t choose a favorite song, I’ll share the two songs for which the band made videos, “Tribal Convictions” and “Psychic Vacuum”.

Seriously, I cannot recommend Dimension Hatröss highly enough.  Get yourself a copy, turn off your phone, pop open a beverage of your choice, and listen to the album from beginning to end, while reading the lyrics, the way albums are meant to be experienced.  It might take a couple of listens to get it, but that’s okay – it’s meant to be listened to again and again (and again, and again, and again…).

The final chapter in the saga of Korgüll the Exterminator (for a while, anyway) came on 1989’s Nothingface, which marked an even more drastic change in the band’s sound.  Nothingface was about as close to a breakthrough as the band would come, until more recently, reaching number 114 on the Billboard 200 charts.  The album was released on Mechanic Records, which was a heavy metal sub-label of MCA Records.  They embarked on a headline club tour of the US in support of the album, bringing a couple of up-and-coming bands called Soundgarden and Faith No More along with them, and finished the tour cycle with some Canadian dates opening for Rush.

Nothingface ties in with the original concept a bit more loosely, but the story is still in place – after using up and destroying Dimension Hatröss, Korgüll destroys its own personality and tries to assimilate the personalities of others, but to no avail, and becomes trapped inside its own mind.  All but two of the songs on Nothingface deal in some way or another with fear, with depression, or with mental processes going wrong, and the time changes in the music ultimately create an atmosphere of confusion in the listener, bringing you somewhat in line with what the Voivod is experiencing.  This album is perhaps best known for the amazing cover of “Astronomy Domine”, a Pink Floyd song from that band’s brilliant first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967).  Away has stated in interviews that they recorded it and included it on the album in order to try and get airplay, although it really does fit nicely within the overall framework of the album.  The plan payed off to some extent – “Astronomy Domine” was featured in pretty regular rotation on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, and to this day, when I talk to people about Voivod (which can happen pretty often), I find people who know the song and/or video from the days when MTV meant something other than white trash twentysomethings getting drunk and fucking each other.

I’m also going to share two songs from Nothingface: the title track and the side one closer “Missing Sequences”, which explores memory loss in a person mining aluminum on an unknown planet.  The latter is one of my very favorite Voivod songs, and if you listen with the right kind of ears, you can hear traces of the influence of fellow Canadians Rush.

Some major changes befell the band when they entered the studio to record the highly anticipated follow-up to Nothingface, but that will be a subject for another time.  For now, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of Dimension HatrössNothingface, and Killing Technology, in that order (the first two can wait until later), and diving deep into the strange, beautiful, and sometimes frightening waters that are Voivod.  And it goes without saying that you should keep on staying heavy.

To the death!

Mixtape Monday, Volume 6: Thrashing Rage – 1984-1988: The Glory Years

At this point in our time together, if it’s not obvious how much I fucking love thrash metal, then you might be kind of slow.  No offense.  Today’s long overdue edition of Mixtape Monday, wherein I make a mix with a theme, is all about thrash metal.  I decided to narrow the time span to 1984-1988 for a couple of reasons:

1. Taking from a larger pool of years = too many bands to make this a realistic mix.

2. Almost all of the best thrash metal was recorded and/or released between those years.  There are some exceptions to this rule (Death Angel’s Act III, Nuclear Assault’s Handle With Care, Megadeth’s Rust in Piece, and Persistence of Time by Anthrax are a few that come to mind right away), but for the most part, ’84-’88 (and especially ’86-’88) were the years when thrash metal was king.

I heart thrash t-shirt

Buy me this shirt! XL, please! UPDATE: Someone did! Thank you, not-so-anonymous stranger!

One final note: the order of the songs on this mix is determined by release date.  If I could only find the month or year of a release, I included it after other releases from the same month or year.  Let’s get down to business.

1. “Ride the Lightning” by Metallica (from Ride the Lightning – 8/15/84) – This is my favorite Metallica album for a number of reasons.  It showed tremendous growth in the band both as musicians and as songwriters when compared to their cacophonous speedfest of a debut from just one year prior.  Kill ’em All and Master of Puppets are great albums, but Ride the Lightning is an absolute masterpiece.  This here video I found has lots of badass pictures of lightning, which makes this song even more enjoyable.

2. “Burning in Hell” by Possessed (from Seven Churches – 10/16/85) – Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, Possessed thrashed out of the gates with one of the angriest, most evil-sounding albums of the 1980s (I might even argue of all time), accidentally helping create a whole new sub-genre called death metal.  What I find most amazing about the band’s debut album is that at least two of the members of Possessed (vocalist/bassist Jeff Beccera and guitarist Larry Lalonde) were still in high school at the time of its recording.  Fun fact: if Larry Lalonde’s name sounds familiar, it might be because he went on to co-found a little band called Primus with fellow Bay Area Metalhead Les Claypool (the two met while playing in progressive thrash band Blind Illusion).

3. “Demons – Evil Forces” by Hirax (from Raging Violence – 11/85) – Hirax frontman Katon W. De Pena was an early champion of thrash metal, spending much of his time writing letters and making tapes for other thrash enthusiasts around the world.  This opening track from their debut album showcases his over-the-top vocal style, which is a big part of why I love Hirax, but the music is undeniable, too.

4. “Desecrator” by Flotsam & Jetsam (from Doomsday for the Deceiver – 06/04/86) – Phoenix, Arizona’s Flotsam & Jetsam played thrash metal with more of a NWOBHM vocal sensibility, and their first album is nearly flawless.  You might have heard of this band when their original bass player, Jason Newsted, left some band called Metallica to join Voivod in the early 2000s.  Their style has changed quite a bit over the years, but they’re still a good band.  They had a minor hit in 1992 called “Wading Through the Darkness”, which is worth a listen, too.

5. “Wake Up Dead” by Megadeth (from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? – 07/20/86) – Megadeth’s second album is probably best known for the title track; if you ever watched MTV News in the late 80s, you know the bassline.  It’s a phenomenal album, arguably their best (Rust in Peace is also arguably their best), but for me, this opening track, along with album closer “My Last Words”, are head and shoulders above everything else on the record.

6. “Lethal Tendencies” by Hallows Eve (from Death and Insanity – 08/31/86) – I first heard this song in the amazing film River’s Edge, which you should watch immediately after finishing this mixtape (whether or not you’ve seen it before).

7. “Necrophobic” by Slayer (from Reign in Blood – 10/07/86) – Reign in Blood was Slayer’s breakthrough album, and it was a thrash metal game-changer.  It is perfect from beginning to end, and I don’t usually recommend listening to songs from it out of context, but shut up and listen to “Necrophobic”, then listen to the rest of this mixtape, then watch River’s Edge, then listen to Reign in Blood.

8. “Death is Certain, Life is Not” by Dark Angel (from Darkness Descends – 11/17/86) – Darkness Descends was maybe the only album released in 1986 that could compete with Reign in Blood as far as speed is concerned, and while it is a great album, the songs just aren’t as strong overall.  But that’s apples to oranges, and this song is one of the exceptions.

9. “The Five Year Plan” by D.R.I. (from Crossover – 03/09/87) – Crossover is, interestingly enough, D.R.I.’s crossover album.  1985’s Dealing With It! hinted strongly at the crossover to come, and 1988’s stellar 4 of a Kind saw the crossover more or less completed, but Crossover contains a nice mix of both hardcore songs and thrash metal songs.  Let me be clear, though: you cannot go wrong with a Dirty Rotten Imbeciles album.  The clip below is from their live video Live at the Ritz, which will see an Old-Ass VHS Review here one of these days.  Dig that crazy fucking crowd, y’all.

10. “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.) by Anthrax (from Among the Living – 03/22/87) – The odd title to this song is a purposeful backward misspelling of “Nice Fuckin’ Life”.  The lyrics were inspired by the death of John Belushi.  Anthrax rules.

11. “Deny the Cross” by Overkill (from Taking Over – 03/87) – New Jersey thrash monsters Overkill often get ignored in discussions of thrash metal, and that is a fucking shame, because they are a brilliant band.  Their first five albums, especially, are great, but they’re still making really good albums today.  Like many of their East Coast Thrash Metal contemporaries, Overkill shows a strong punk rock influence, as contrasted with the more noticeable New Wave of British Heavy Metal influence on the San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal bands.  Anyway, “Deny the Cross” is the first song on their second album, and it’s fucking amazing, no matter what the cover might have you believe.

12. “Mistress of Pain” by Death Angel (from The Ultra-Violence – 04/23/87) – Death Angel is such an awesome band.  They rode out of the Bay Area on the second wave of thrash metal and unleashed their beastly debut album on the world in a hail of frenzied riffs, frantic drumming, and unholy screams.  Fun fact: every member of the band was under 20 years old when this song and album were recorded, and original drummer Andy Galeon was 14 years old.  What the fuck were you doing with your life at fourteen?  Probably not anything half as cool as this.

13. “Seeds of Hate” by Exodus (from Pleasures of the Flesh – 10/07/87) – Pleasures… was the first Exodus album to feature Steve “Zetro” Souza on vocals, after he left his original band, Legacy, who replaced him and went on to become Testament.  Zetro replaced original Exodus frontman Paul Baloff (RIP), who had a legendary stage presence, but who also couldn’t carry a tune, or stop partying.  The band reunited with Baloff in the late 90s, recorded a fantastic live album, and had plans to record new material with him before his untimely death.  Afterward, Zetro rejoined the band for one album before leaving again, to be replaced by Rob Dukes, who has now fronted the band longer than anyone.  I don’t like his voice quite as much, so I sometimes forget about Exodus when I’m thinking about thrash metal, but then I remember that they have songs like this.  The lyrics were written by Baloff.

14. “Victim of Demise” by Sacred Reich (from Ignorance – 10/13/87) – Phoenix, Arizona’s other thrash metal heroes Sacred Reich were one of the most politically and socially conscious thrash metal bands of their age.  Their first album, Ignorance, is goddamn brilliant.  They are technically still together, but they only play the occasional European festival show.  I really hope I get a chance to see them live someday.  The band maintains an entertaining, informative, and very interactive Facebook page.

15. “Justice” by Nuclear Assault (from The Plague EP – 1987) – My favorite Nuclear Assault album, Handle With Care, falls outside of my self-imposed timeline for this mix, so I’ve decided to include the first Nuclear Assault song I heard, on a compilation tape called Rising Metal, which my cousin Nathan bought in 1989, and which is also where I first heard Death Angel (the song above, in fact) and Flotsam & Jetsam.

16. “Disciples of the Watch” by Testament (from The New Order – 05/05/88) – The lyrics to this song are inspired by Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn”.  I’m pretty sure this is my favorite Testament song.  It is today, anyway.

17. “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems” by Voivod (from Dimension Hatröss – 06/29/88) – I used to read about Voivod in magazines when I was younger, and I was always interested in them (mostly because of the ads featuring their outstanding album covers in those same magazines), but I could never find their stuff in stores, living as I did in the middle of nowhere, southern Indiana.  Once I had easier access, I wanted to get into them, but I knew from my research that every album of theirs was different from the others; I didn’t know where to start, so I kept putting it off.  Finally, in 2007, I randomly chose their fourth album Dimension Hatröss and ordered a copy online (which I happened to receive in the mail two days before the anniversary of the release date).  I listened to it three times straight through before I was sure whether or not I even liked it, and then I didn’t stop listening to it for a full two months – I literally listened to nothing else for two months straight.  I tried, but I couldn’t be bothered to care; Dimension Hatröss had given me new ears, and nothing else sounded good to them.  I know now that if I’d listened to it when it was new, which is to say when I was eleven years old, I wouldn’t have understood it.  It’s almost 26 years old, and it’s still ahead of its time.  I really need to sit down and write about Voivod soon.

18. “Serial Killer” by Vio-Lence (from Eternal Nightmare – 1988) – If you’ve read my blog before, you surely know how much I love Eternal Nightmare, the debut album from second wave Bay Area thrashers Vio-Lence.  They came along at a time when a lot of the thrash metal old timers were slowing things down and expanding their horizons, and Vio-Lence had no interest in anything but neck-breaking riffs and gang vocals.

19. “Soldier of Fortune” by Razor (from Violent Restitution – 1988) – I’m a relative newcomer to Ontario, Canada speed merchants Razor, and so far Violent Restitution (their fifth full-length) is the only album of theirs I’ve heard, but if the rest is anything like this one, I have no reason to believe I won’t love them.  This might be the earliest example of a chainsaw being used in a song, although unlike Jackyl’s “The Lumberjack”, the saw is not used as an instrument so much as a device to make you feel like the band might break down your door and cut your damn fool head off.

That’s the end of this week’s mixtape.  Now go watch River’s Edge and rest your neck for your Reign in Blood listening party.  And stay heavy, always!