I’m Tired of the Games We Play, I’m Cashing in My Chips Today: Yet Another Brief Update

Friends, this already completely bitchin year of live music somehow keeps getting even more amazing. Since my last very brief update, four more outstanding shows have been announced, 3 of which I will absolutely be attending (the other is a very long long shot).

Before I get into that, though, I wanna mention that my virgin Metallica experience is nigh (only 7 more sleeps!), and I’m getting giddy as a schoolboy at a nudie bar. A detailed account of my experience will surely be posted here sometime thereafter, but for now, on with the shows!

First up, the mighty Death Angel is headlining a show in Indianapolis in April the week before their show with Overkill in Louisville! I’m gonna see Death Angel two times in less than 7 days! Holy shit!

Looking into the distance, the relentless touring machine that is D.R.I. will be stopping in Indy again this September, like they do almost every year, but my work situation this year will allow me to finally get back up there and see them, and that is some exciting news. I managed to see them once a few years back, and it was an absolutely killer show. I have no reason to assume that this show will be otherwise.

But the biggest and arguably most exciting news just came along this morning: motherfucking Sacred Reich added a headlining show in Indianapolis in May! I’M FINALLY GONNA SEE SACRED MOTHERFUCKING REICH LIVE! I sincerely don’t think I could be more excited about this one. Plus (PLUS!), it comes 5 days after The Mountain Goats show in Bloomington and 2 days before the EyeHateGod show in Indianapolis! Holy week of kickass live music, Batman!

As for the very long long shot, this year’s Full Terror Assault in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois added the newly re-formed Vio-Lence to the lineup, but I’m not likely to be in attendance for that one, as it falls very close to Mrs. Stay Heavy’s birthday, and camping and attending a metal festival is not on her birthday wishlist. However, the news that the band is playing shows again is encouraging, so I may still get a chance to see them someday. For now, that’s good enough.

And speaking of good enough for now, I think this post is. Thanks for reading, and stay heavy, friends.

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Ball of Confusion: A Long, Complicated Thing About My Long, Complicated Relationship With Anthrax

As a young fella growing up in the middle of nowhere, the first metal band I can remember hearing from my brother’s room across the hall was Iron Maiden – “Wasted Years” and “Heaven Can Wait” stuck with me, specifically (“Wasted Years” is still my favorite Maiden song, and is often my favorite ever song). I loved it instantly, because even at the age of nine-and-a-half, I wasn’t stupid. I heard Metallica right around that same time, and they blew my mind as well. Soon I began to hang out in my brother’s room when he wasn’t there, looking through the various cassette tapes his friends had lent him or given him, occasionally popping one in and giving it a listen, and eventually borrowing some of them myself. (I still own a couple of those tapes, namely Sacred Reich’s Ignorance, and a dubbed copy of Pleasures of the Flesh by Exodus.)

One fateful night in mid-1987, I came upon a tape labeled “Slayer” on one side, and “Anthrax” on the other. I’d been reading some metal and hard rock magazines (mostly Hit Parader and Circus), so I’d heard of both bands, but was otherwise unfamiliar with either. I put in the Slayer side first, which turned out to be the superlative Reign in Blood, and it was cued up to what I later learned was “Altar of Sacrifice”.

While I did not grow up in a religious household, the long shadow of fundamental religion was cast over me for most of my childhood, as most of my mom’s side of the family were (and a few still are) members of what is best described as a cult, but that’s another story for another time. The bottom line is that “Altar of Sacrifice” scared the everlovin shit out of me, and I was terrified of Slayer for a couple of years afterward. It all seems so quaint now to this grown-ass fan of all things bloodsoaked and blasphemous.

I turned the tape over to “Anthrax”, rewound it, pressed play, and the slow, doom-laden opening guitars of “Among the Living” began to ring out. This was the album Among the Living, and it would go on to change my life in the same way that Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time had less than one year before. Something about these guys seemed different to me, and I started to seek out more information about them (life before the internet was so much harder than some people could ever believe). I liked the fact that they didn’t seem to take themselves as seriously as some of the other thrash bands, and they were clearly fans of comics books and cartoons, not unlike me. The songs were tight as hell, too.

For Christmas that following year, I received the band’s 4th full-length album, State of Euphoria (which is still maybe my favorite Anthrax album – for sure my favorite Joey-era album), and for the first time in my short life, I had my own favorite band.  State of Euphoria is probably best known for being the album that contained “Antisocial”, a cover of a song by a French band called Trust. It’s a great cover, and is still a staple in their live sets, although the band performs it pretty much exactly like the original, which seems to just be the way they do covers.

Beach Day, 1989

Beach Day, 1989

They landed the direct support slot for Ozzy Osbourne on his “No Rest for the Wicked” US tour in the winter of 1988-89, and a headlining slot on the MTV Headbanger’s Ball Tour in 1989, with Exodus and Helloween supporting. The band filmed a video for “Antisocial” which featured the band playing live cut together with footage of their mascot, the “Not Man”, running around and causing mayhem. At the end of the video, we learn that it was the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, running around wearing the giant head.  The video was in a moderately heavy rotation on MTV that summer; I remember seeing it during the day a few times, even.

I went on to receive the band’s first home video, Oidivnikufesin N.F.V. for my birthday a few months later, and my cousin Jason and I proceeded to watch that thing until our eyes figuratively started to bleed, alternating it with viewings of Metallica’s Cliff ‘Em All home video (Jason was more of a Metallica guy, so we traded off) and Blazing Saddles (still the funniest movie of all time), and eventually adding my recording of an episode of Headbanger’s Ball into the mix.

In the summer of 1990, the band released what was their darkest, arguably heaviest album yet (and by most of my observations, still one of their most popular), Persistence of Time. I don’t know how I managed to not wear my copy out, but I actually still own my original cassette, and it still plays flawlessly. Probably the best known song from this album is the pretty much spot-on cover of Joe Jackson’s Got the Time, which is also still played live at (I’m pretty sure) every single Anthrax show. The band also landed an appearance on a classic episode of Married…With Children called “My Dinner With Anthrax”.

Sometime around this period, I joined the fan club, which got me a badass fan club exclusive t-shirt, a laminated “backstage pass” style membership card, a poster for the Headbanger’s Ball tour mentioned above, and a subscription to the official newsletter. I would like to point out that I inexplicably own none of these items today. What the fuck is wrong with me? I seriously wonder that sometimes. The world may never know.

My shirt was just like this one, only the print on the back was blue.

My shirt was just like this one, only the print on the back was blue. That’s the way I remember it, anyway. Click image to embiggen.

Anyway, I also got around to ordering the band’s second album (and first with Joey Belladonna on vocals), 1985’s Spreading the Disease, from the BMG tape club around this time as well, and my cousin Nathan made me a copy of the band’s first album, 1983’s Fistful of Metal, which is the only Anthrax album to feature original bassist Dan Lilker, as well as Neil Turbin on vocals. I continued to love Anthrax like a family member, eventually wearing out my copy of State of Euphoria (I got a new one through BMG) and my Not Man t-shirt (I was unable to replace this). I scored a copy of 1991’s Attack of the Killer B’s shortly after it was released; this fantastic collection of B-sides and outtakes featured several covers, all of which were performed pretty much to the letter, but is certainly best known for featuring “Bring the Noise”, their mega-hit collaboration with Public Enemy. My love continued to grow.

Then, one otherwise uneventful day in 1992, I received a most unwelcome announcement in the mail, via the fan club: Anthrax had fired longtime singer Joey Belladonna. They assured me that the audition process had been trucking along, and that I would be the first to know when a replacement was named. I was devastated – how could the band I’d grown to love and, in fact, count on to get me through my days possibly continue without that powerful voice? I received an answer approximately one year later, when Sound of White Noise, the first album of the controversial John Bush-era was released.

I initially liked SoWN, but I didn’t love it. Bush’s voice was obviously different than Joey’s, but the music was different, too. It was tuned lower, it was generally slower, and it had more of a groove than before. At the time, it seemed like an unnecessary change in direction. Upon further listening, however, I came to recognize it as more of a natural extension of the darker, slower sound the band introduced on Persistence of Time. The fact that Bush’s voice resided in a lower register really enhanced the darkness, giving it more of an edge than any other Anthrax album at the time.

The album debuted at #7 on the Billboard 200 chart and had 4 hit songs – “Only” (called a “perfect song” by James Hetfield), “Room For One More”, “Hy Pro Glo”, and the haunting, dreamy, Twin Peaks-inspired “Black Lodge”, co-written by Twin Peaks music maestro Angelo Badalementi (and featuring a real weird video starring Jenna Elfman).

The bulk of the criticism lobbed at the band in the wake of Sound of White Noise was in regard to the lack of thrashing in favor of vocal melodies and grooves, and this criticism always has and always will rub me the wrong way. Yes, public interest in thrash metal was waning, and all of the major thrash bands were slowing down and growing up, but it’s not like thrash metal was ever anywhere close to taking over the world; Metallica didn’t become a household name until the release of “the black album” in 1991, and by then, all evidence of their thrash beginnings was long gone.

And I’ll admit there is some likelihood that Anthrax saw the overwhelming success of Metallica’s dumbing down (as well as Megadeth’s successful big slowdown with Countdown to Extinction  a year after Metallica) and decided to hitch their cart to that wagon, but let’s be real for a minute here: after 12-13 years of flying under the radar, you can’t really blame a band for wanting to make some money at their job, nor can you blame a group of individuals for wanting to try something new, and besides all that, the songs on Sound of White Noise are really, really good.

And besides, if some longtime fans were disappointed in the changes wrought by SoWN, they were about to be severely let down by the followup, 1995’s Stomp 442.  This marked an even more noticeable change in the overall sound of the band, bringing in more vocal melodies and mid-tempo songs, and it even closed with a sparse, emotional, mostly acoustic gem called “Bare”.

This marked the beginning of Anthrax’s “no official lead guitarist” period, which lasted for quite a bit longer than probably anyone imagined it would. Longtime lead man Danny Spitz left the band after the SoWN tour for a variety of reasons (the various stories of former Anthrax members are murky at best), and eventually moved to Switzerland to attend school for watch making and repair. Rather than find a permanent, full-time replacement, the band soldiered on with drummer Charlie Benante playing most of the leads on the albums, while Spitz’s guitar tech Paul Crook handled those duties in a live setting (he also produced Stomp 442 and the followup).

Stomp 442 was the second of a two-album deal with Elektra records, but according to Scott Ian, everyone at the label who was involved in the signing of Anthrax (including the label president) was fired while the band was touring for Sound of White Noise, and the new regime had no interest in Anthrax, so the album received next to no promotion, and the band was dropped from the label a short time later. I bought the album the day it was released, and to my mid-90’s ears, already primed by the newer sound (of white noise), it was fantastic. I loved it, front to back, and played it pretty much all the time. My older, wiser, more refined ears are able to find faults with the album, but it still has some great tunes (“Nothing” is among my favorite Anthrax songs, and the video is awesome), and it still gets several spins a year in my car.

I saw Anthrax live for the first time in Indianapolis in the summer of 1996, when they were touring with the newly resurrected Michale Graves-fronted Misfits, Life of Agony, and Cannibal Corpse (although sadly, Life of Agony couldn’t make it to our stop, as they had troubles with their tour bus). On the drive up, Scott and (I think) John were being interviewed on an Indianapolis radio station, and the DJ asked them a question regarding the fact that they were opening for the Misfits, and Scott quickly corrected him – they were, according to Mr. Rosenfeld, “co-headlining” with the Misfits. Funny, I remember thinking, that their name did not appear on my ticket, nor did they ever play after the Misfits on that tour. But I guess we’ve all lied to ourselves to save face at some point.

At any rate, the vast majority of the crowd was obviously there to see the Misfits, and more than once during Anthrax’s set, I heard someone yell from the crowd that they “fuckin suck(ed)”. Since it happened over 20 years ago, my memories of the evening are spotty at best, but here’s what I remember most: my friend Travis ended up with someone else’s blood on his new white Anthrax shirt, and I legitimately thought I might die in the mosh pit (it was my first pit, but not my last, nor was it the last time I thought I might die in a mosh pit). Also, the band sounded great, and they had a ton of energy. In retrospect, I’d liken it to the way a minor league baseball player often plays with more passion than a major leaguer because they have more to prove. Anthrax were definitely out to prove that asshole in the crowd wrong, although I’m sure he didn’t notice.

A couple of years later, the band had scored a new record deal, this time with an upstart label called Ignition, a subsidiary of 90’s hip-hop giant Tommy Boy, and in 1998 they released an album called Volume 8: The Threat is Real! that is woefully underrated and unappreciated. The album continues in the direction taken by SoWN, with simpler riffs, big fat grooves, and more personal, introspective lyrics, but it stands out in the Anthrax catalog for a couple of reasons: the country-flavored “Toast to the Extras” and the haunting hidden acoustic track “Pieces”, written and sang by bassist Frank Bello, in honor of his brother Anthony, who had been shot and killed in New York City.

I loved Volume 8 since the first time I pressed play, and I still love Volume 8 to this day. It is one of my favorite Anthrax albums, and in fact I’ve been planning to write a defense of the album for this blog since I started this blog, but honestly, I don’t have any sort of concrete evidence for why it rules. If the riffs and vocals and lyrics don’t do it for you, no amount of me talking it up is going to change your mind. My love for it is too personal to really talk about it with any objectivity, but I will say that the album has seemingly reminded me of its presence at several important points in my life. I wrote about one of those points here, and I will add that in late 2006 and early 2007, nearly 10 years after I first fell in love with Volume 8, it played a significant role in keeping me sane and alive. “Harms Way” in particular has always felt like it was written specifically for me. The lyrics are included after the video…

Here comes the biggest asshole that the whole world’s ever seen
Watch as things turn to something I never, I never meant to be
Call it a side effect of my arrested development
Here with you I’m trapped, I’m trapped, out of my element

I tear through all this wreckage
Wreckage you left when you dropped the bomb
Is there something worth saving
Or do I act, I act like nothing’s wrong
The lesser of two evils gives me, gives me nothing at all

Lust and madness, murder and mayhem
My whole life’s been about playing
It’s all so surreal
Maybe that’s why I touch but can’t feel

Sittin’ pretty, as I sit up straight
Trying to find means to an end I move into harms way
I move into harms way

I see my face in the mirror
I feel my feet but I can’t seem to walk in my shoes
When it hurts I feel closer to you
Closer than you ever knew
And the bottom line is knowing
I will die and the worms will eat me
The bottom line is knowing
Ain’t no one else I can be

Lust and madness, murder and mayhem
My whole life’s been about playing
It’s all so surreal
Maybe that’s why I touch but can’t feel

Sittin’ pretty, as I sit up straight
Trying to find means to an end I move into harms way
Running steady, smile on my face
Trying to find means to an end I move into harms way
I move into harms way

Sittin’ pretty as I, running steady as I, sittin’ pretty as I sit up straight
Running steady, smile on my face
Trying to find means to an end I move into harms way
I move into harms way

Sometime after the release of Volume 8, the record label folded, and the band was left without a home once again. In 1999, they signed with Beyond Records and released Return of the Killer A’s, a “greatest hits”/best of collection that highlighted both the Joey-era and the John-era. It’s a cool album that features remixes of a couple of the songs, and it also included one new song, a cover of the Temptation’s “Ball of Confusion”, featuring both John Bush and Joey Belladonna on vocals. Plans were made for the band to tour together with both vocalists, the very thought of which made me weak in the knees, but ultimately those plans were scrapped, as Joey didn’t want to commit to a tour. Ball of confusion, indeed. They let me down, and this was the beginning of the complications in my years-long relationship with my favorite band.

The members continued to work on various things, and had plans for a new studio album and a live album in late 2001/early 2002, and of course nothing that was planned for late 2001 ended up happening properly, so the followup album, We’ve Come For You All, didn’t see release until 2003.  The band did finally manage to pull in a permanent lead guitarist by the name of Rob Caggiano (who also produced the album, and who now plays with Volbeat for some reason). I’m not sure what it is about WCFYA, but it doesn’t grab me like the other John Bush-era albums. The riffs are heavy as shit, and it has some songs that I thoroughly and sincerely enjoy (“What Doesn’t Die”, “Safe Home”, “Black Dahlia”), but I find it mostly forgettable.

2004 saw the release of the unnecessary-but-awesome The Greater of Two Evils, a collection of classic Joey-era songs re-recorded by the then-current lineup, all beefed up and burly. I don’t give any kind of a shit what anyone says about this album: it’s a goddamned treasure, and Bush’s voice is so voluminous and full you could take a nap inside it. The songs on the album were decided by allowing fans to vote on the band’s website (their biggest hits are nowhere to be found, as they are both cover songs), and we picked some bona fide classics, if I do say so myself. My love was reaffirmed, and all was well, until word broke that Anthrax and Frank Bello had parted ways. I was every bit as devastated as when they told me Joey was booted all those years ago, although some good did come of it, as Frank went on to join Helmet on their tour for Size Matters, and I got to see them on that tour, and that was fucking awesome.

Then in 2005, like an abusive partner, Anthrax simultaneously crapped on my heart and made me giddy with excitement. They announced a reunion of the “classic lineup”, for touring purposes only, to perform only classic lineup material, i.e., the songs they’d just re-recorded with John Bush. Frank Bello was back from his stint with Helmet, and Joey Belladonna and Danny Spitz were back, Belladonna looking like he hadn’t aged a day since he was booted, and Spitz looking like he could be a member of any generic band that would offer to sell you tickets to the Shinedown show they were opening. John Bush was understandably less-than-thrilled with the situation, and he busied himself doing television voice work (including some Burger King commercials) and occasionally recording and playing shows with his original band, Armored Saint, both of which he continues to do to this day.

After the tour, Scott and Charlie fired Joey again, and Danny rode his ego bubble off into the sunset, and the band went on a bit of a hiatus, and I went on a bit of a hiatus from the band. They later hired some guy named Dan Nelson to be their vocalist and recorded an entire album with him on vocals, only to either fire him or have him quit, depending on which side you want to believe. They reached out to John Bush to see if he would be interested in re-recording the vocals for that album, but Bush declined, as he had no interest in being a hired gun in his former band. It appeared that Anthrax had, in the words of my buddy Joe, “fucked themselves into a corner”.

Re-enter Joey Belladonna, maybe the only person who has allowed Anthrax to hurt him and has then subsequently forgiven them more than I have. Joey re-recorded the vocals to the Dan Nelson album, a.k.a. Worship Music, and the band released it in 2011 to huge acclaim. I’d been hurt enough that I wasn’t ready to buy into the hype. I’d heard one song, “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t”, and it sounded good, but I also noticed that the riff in the opening and chorus sounded a lot like the main riff in one of their older songs, “Gridlock”, from Persistence of Time. I’ve inexplicably found very few examples on the internet of other people noticing this, but I am absolutely not wrong about it. Listen for yourself.

I mean, at least they’re stealing from themselves, I guess, right?

Anyway, I held off buying Worship Music for a few months, until I started hearing/reading things about it being the band’s best album since Persistence of Time. How could I in good conscience continue to sleep on this? I bought it, popped it in, and it fuckin jammed, y’all! Then I listened to it again, and again, and again, etcetera, and Joey’s voice sounded great, but the more I listened, the more glaringly obvious it became that it was written for someone else’s voice. And here’s the thing: I’ve only heard a few shittily recorded clips of Dan Nelson singing live for Anthrax, but from what I’ve heard, it doesn’t even sound to me like it was written for him. No, friends, Worship Music sounds very much to this opinionated asshole like it was written for John Bush.

Listen to “Crawl”, and imagine it with Bush’s voice.

The first half of the album, up to and including “In the End” still kicks tons of ass, and if it was an EP, I’d probably rank it among my favorite Anthrax releases, but every song on the back half of Worship Music would clearly be better if John Bush sang on it. And don’t get me started on that ridiculous hidden cover of Refused’s utterly fucking awesome “New Noise” – they should’ve scrapped that idea entirely when they brought Joey back on board.

Regardless of my feelings, re: Worship Music, I was fucking stoked to get the chance to see the band on this tour, especially since Testament and Death Angel were opening. Scott and Charlie were both absent from the show, Scott on doctor-ordered bed rest for an illness, and Charlie to be with his ailing mother, so Gene Motherfucking Hoglan played drums for Anthrax immediately following his set with Testament, and Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar from Death Angel teamed up to tackle some of the rhythm guitars. The show was amazing, and I got to hear “Metal Thrashing Mad” live, which was dope, but the absence of Scott’s backing vocals on all the songs made me very aware of how prominent Scott’s backing vocals are on all the songs.

Fast forward to present day. Anthrax have another new album out, For All Kings, and it’s getting even better reviews than Worship Music, and I still just don’t get it. I picked it up a couple weeks after the release, and I’ve listened to it several times since, and I’m just not feeling it. It’s got some great riffs (the opening riff in “Suzerain” is almost bowel-emptyingly heavy), and Joey’s voice still sounds great, but I’m not getting stoked on it like I used to get stoked on Anthrax albums. I’m listening to it as I type these words, in fact, and all I can think about is how much I’d rather be listening to State of Euphoria, and I just listened to it earlier today.

At any rate, Cousin Jason and I will be in attendance tomorrow night when Anthrax plays Indianapolis with Death Angel again, this time both opening for $layer. And as jaded and cynical as I’ve become, I’m sure I’ll still have an awesome time, and even though I’d rather hear just about any other Anthrax song live than “Antisocial”, I’ll still get caught up in the excitement and sing along with every word. I’ve come to terms with the fact that they’ll hurt me again someday, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll take them back, because no matter what, you can never leave your first favorite band. I sure wish they’d get their shit together and keep it together, though.

And even though I’d rather whip Kerry King with his stupid fucking log chains than look at him, I know I’ll get absolutely fucking stoked when Slayer hits the stage. I also know that I’ll have plenty of time to visit the merch tables while Slayer plays, because they’ll be playing a handful of songs from their new album, and I don’t care about that shit, because they peaked in 1988, but there’s still a decent-to-good chance I’ll buy a Slayer t-shirt.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you and I apologize. Check back soon(ish) for a review of the show, if you want. And stay heavy, too, why not?

I Can’t Change, I Can Only Be Me: A Thing About Sacred Reich and Squandered Opportunities

This weekend marks the second annual Full Terror Assault open air metal festival in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, and I was supposed to be there, and I’m not, and I’m sad about that. FTA is the first (and so far, only) “European-style” open air metal festival (à la Wacken, Dynamo, Hellfest, etc.) to take place in the United States. Beginning Thursday night and running through tonight, the festival promises “maximum brutality at maximum frugality” – tickets are dirt cheap for a festival, and they include camping. Plus, it’s BYOB, so you don’t have to give some asshole $10+ for shitty beer. Also, the lineup is amazing.

FINALPOSTERweb

See?

I’d planned all year on being there, but due to a series of stupid decisions and piss-poor planning on my part, I can’t afford it. To be honest, last year’s fest boasted a more solid overall lineup, with Napalm Death and Obituary headlining, along with Terrorizer, Eyehategod, Warbeast, Noisem, Broken Hope, Iron Reagan, and a ton of others. This year has Lockup, Master, Rotten Sound, and a different ton of others (they had Venomous Concept, until a visa issue kept guitarist John Cooke from entering the country), but the most exciting part for this old thrash fanatic is the mighty Sacred Reich performing a rare US show.

Since semi-coming out of retirement in 2006, Sacred Reich almost exclusively play the European festival circuit every summer and then stop performing live until the next summer, when they travel back to Europe. I can’t really blame them; it’s no secret that metal fans in Europe are more passionate in general than predominantly lazy-ass American metal fans, so why not go where you’ll be more appreciated? Still, though, they’re one of the old school bands that I’ve never had the chance to see live, and this was gonna be my chance, and instead, I’m sitting home listening to them and writing this dumb thing.

Sacred Reich was formed in 1985 in Phoenix, Arizona. They recorded a demo tape called Draining You of Life in 1986, then scored a deal with Metal Blade records after contributing the song “Ignorance” to that label’s Metal Massacre VIII compilation. They went on to release four full-length albums, one studio EP, a live EP, and a live full-length before breaking up in 2000.  1993’s Independent  very nearly brought the band some fame. The title track was featured in the 1993 movies Son-in-Law and The Program, and they scored a minor hit with the single “Crawling” (which I used to hear alongside White Zombie’s “Thunderkiss ’65”, Faith No More’s “Midlife Crisis”, Suicidal Tendencies’ “Nobody Hears”, and a whoooooooole lotta “grunge” on “Solid Rock X-103”, which later became “X-103, Indy’s New Rock Alternative”, and which is now “Alt 103.3”, which is just stupid, but I digress).

With the exception of a few songs, the band’s output was fiercely politically and socially conscious, covering topics such as US involvement in Central America, Aparthied in South Africa, the destruction of the environment, domestic racism, flaws in the US education system, etc. They played a major role in helping my young brain develop the worldview I hold as an adult, and I still very much hope to see them live some day.

The band reformed in 2006 after receiving offers to play European festivals, and they began performing live again in 2007. They have no plans to record new music, which I must say is a decision that I respect and admire. They are under no illusions regarding what their fans want, and that is to hear some classic goddamn thrash metal played at high volumes in front of thousands of like-minded maniacs, which is what they will be doing tonight at approximately 11:15 PM CDT. I will not be there in person, but I will be there in spirit, and the following songs will be in my forever-banging head.

“Death Squad” is the first song on the 1987 debut/masterpiece Ignorance. It’s a helluva way to kick off an album, and this live version is a helluva way to kick a ton of ass.

Here’s the title track…

“Violent Solutions” is my favorite song off Ignorance, and is maybe my favorite Sacred Reich song overall.

1988’s Surf Nicaragua EP is short and sweet, and by “sweet” I mean vicious. Here’s the superlative title track:

1990’s The American Way isn’t quite as solid as Ignorance, but it’s still a damn fine album and contains a few all-time classics, such as the title track, which was featured in the 1992 Pauly Shore/Brendan Fraser/Sean Astin “classic” Encino Man. Is it weird that 2 of the band’s 4 soundtrack appearances were in Pauly Shore movies? Is/was he a fan? I guess in a world where Pauly Shore was once a legitimate force at the box office, anything is possible. Anyway…

“The Way It Is” is also from The American Way, and is also a ‘banger…

Here’s “Independent”, from the 1993 album of the same name…

And here’s “Crawling”, from the same album…

And finally, here’s “Blue Suit, Brown Shirt”, the explosive anti-racist diatribe and album opener from 1996’s Heal

Man, would I ever love to hear that song live.

That’s all the time I have for now. If you’re at FTA II, enjoy the hell out of yourself. If you’re stuck somewhere else, crank up some Sacred Reich and try to ease the pain. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to stay heavy, always.

Tremble, You Weaklings, Cower in Fear: The Ten Best 80’s Thrash Metal Songs About Nuclear War

While the threat of nuclear war is still a very real thing today, it doesn’t weigh on my mind the way it did when I was just a li’l guy back in the 80’s. The nightly news talked about it a lot, and it used to terrify me, and then Nancy Reagan’s grandpa made Old Man Gorbachev tear down a wall, and it kind of faded out of the public eye, and life was fucking peaches and cream all the time, and no one wanted to hurt us, until Saddam Hussein threatened our freedom, or whatever. These days, not much airtime is given to the topic, save for an occasional report about Iran or North Korea and their uranium enrichment attempts, because terrorism is the new nuclear war. I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, except to remind you that the media should not be trusted, because they only tell you what they want you to know.

Anyway, I’ve been kicking around the idea of a mixtape about nuclear war for a while now, but to be perfectly honest, the topic can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many metal songs about nuclear war and its aftereffects that I just didn’t know where to begin, so I never bothered. Then one day last week, my buddy Sean suggested I put together a mixtape about nuclear war, and I decided to give it some more serious thought. To make it easier on myself, I settled on the requirement that the songs be of the thrash metal variety. What follows is the result, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, there are likely to be no surprises. Thrash metal is my lifeblood, and I make no apologies about it. Maybe I’ll make another nuke-themed mixtape some other day where being a thrash metal band isn’t a requirement for the list…maybe not.

As with my previous entry about thrash metal ballads, I don’t necessarily believe these are the the ten very best nuclear war-themed thrash metal songs. Rather, they are ten nuclear war-themed thrash metal songs that I love dearly; I just gave it the title and numbered it from 10 to 1 to see how many people read the intro. It is, in fact, chronological.

Onward to mayhem!

10. Voivod – “Nuclear War” (from War and Pain – 1984)

“Storm, the only weather
Start the directives assassins
Warm inside the under shelter
Wait and fell your broiling skin…”

I’ve written about Voivod extensively, and there’s still more to come, eventually. I love them so hard. This is the last song on their debut album, and while it’s technically a part of the Voivod saga, it also perfectly reflects the air of paranoia and unease that permeated everything in the mid 1980’s. The broken English and the plodding, marching feel of the first almost-five minutes of the song work together to add an extra layer of complexity and fear.

9. Exodus – “And Then There Were None” (from Bonded By Blood – 1985)

“Wars coming, start running, eyes blinded by the nuclear blast
Hearts beating, retreating, all around are bodies burned to ash
Children crying and people dying, no salvation from this holocaust
Bodies burning and now they’re learning, in war painful death’s the bloody cost…”

This is one of my favorite Exodus songs. That main riff is the shit. So, full disclosure: I woke up at like 2:30 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got out of bed and started putting this together around 3:30 AM. I wrote the intro, then started filling in track info at the end and worked my way toward the top. It is now almost 7:00 AM. I’ve grown very sleepy.

8. Anthrax – “Aftershock” (from Spreading the Disease – 1985)

“Blinding our eyes as the sun turns to black
A world full of hatred and fear
All are committed, there’s no going back
There’ll be no one left to hear…”

I still have lots of Anthrax-related things to write about. I’ll get around to it some day. I love this song, and this album. Also recommended, “One World”, from 1987’s Among the Living.

7. Dark Angel – “Falling From the Sky” (from We Have Arrived – 1985)

“Watch the sky
Death is near
You are falling
The final day is near…”

The first Dark Angel album is a glorious, cacophonous, thrashy mess, and “Falling From the Sky” is a perfect example of what the rest of the album sounds like. Not recommended for the faint of heart, or the delicate of ears.

6. Nuclear Assault – “Nuclear War” (from Game Over – 1986)

“No one wins
In this game
Both sides have lost
Who has won
When all are dead
Except for the machines…”

If I didn’t already know, I would be willing to bet that Nuclear Assault were born in the long shadow of the Reagan years. Everything about this band is steeped in nuclear paranoia, government corruption, and environmental destruction. Also, it goes without saying, but Dan Lilker fucking rules.

5. D.R.I. – “Oblivion” (from Crossover – 1987)

“The day has come, the time is near
For all to end. It’s true, it’s here
It’s all over now, no way to stop
The button’s been pushed, the bomb’s been dropped
The city is melting, the sky burns red
The ocean is boiling, we’ll soon be dead…”

I never got around to writing a review of the D.R.I. show at the 5th Quarter Lounge in Indianapolis back in September, but it was fucking awesome, and so is this song.

4. Sodom – “Nuclear Winter” (from Persecution Mania – 1987)

“Slow death is what we can expect
Strike will have just this one effect
Condemned to capital punishment
By the nuclear sword of Damocles…”

The opening track from the Tuetonic thrash titans’ second full length album is a master course in Thrash Metal Riffery, and like the Voivod song above, Tom Angelripper’s slightly broken English makes the lyrics even more unsettling. Side note: I found this album on cassette in a pawn shop in Bedford, Indiana circa 1989. I bought it, along with Jimmy Page’s Outrider. I didn’t really appreciate either album at the time, but one of them made a notable impact on my impressionable brain – an impact that would manifest itself in a super hardcore fashion 4 or 5 years later. The other one was Jimmy Page’s Outrider.

3. Death Angel – “Final Death” (from The Ultra-Violence – 1987)

“Dogs of war, for your blood they lust
Radiation turns your body to dust
Watching fallout as it fills the sky
Now it’s time for this planet to die.”

From all the way back when some of the members Death Angel were still growing pubes, “Final Death” is a lean, mean bastard. It’s not the best song on the album, but it’s still better than most other songs in existence, and Mark Osegueda’s blood-curdling air raid siren wail at around the 2:35 mark sums up the fear in the lyrics perfectly.

2. Metallica – “Blackened” (from …And Justice for All – 1988)

“Fire
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Blackened is the end
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Color our world blackened…”

I hate …And Justice for All because of the way it sounds – Newsted’s nonexistent bass guitar, Lars’ steel trashcan drums, generally non-good sound quality – but I goddamn love …And Justice for All because of the songs, and because of the place it occupies in my nostalgic heart. Metallica is dead; long live Metallica.

  1. Megadeth – “Rust in Peace…Polaris” (from Rust in Peace – 1990)

“I spread disease like a dog
Discharge my payload a mile high
Rotten egg air of death wrestles your nostrils…”

That chorus hasn’t left my head since the first time I heard it. The final track on what is arguably Megedeth’s finest hour is a masterpiece of nuclear paranoia and terror. Mustaine’s vocals are perfect, and in a fresh twist, the lyrics are from the point of view of the Bomb itself. Rust in Peace is Dave Mustaine’s dragon, and he will probably chase that beautiful motherfucker until his final breath. Megadeth is dead; long live Megadeth.

That’s all I got for now, heavy people. Do you have any favorite nuclear war-themed songs? Let’s discuss it, why not? And don’t forget to stay heavy!

 

Please Let Me Take You, And I’ll Show You the Truth: Another Thing About Thrash Metal Ballads

If you’ve read much of this blog at all, you’re no doubt well aware that I am cuckoo for Testament. The Bay Area Thrash titans have been damn near flawless since the beginning, and they are one of the very few bands I can think of that have not released a bad song. For example, Iron Maiden is my favorite band ever by a substantial margin, and I like songs from all eras of the band, but they’ve easily got enough clunkers in their catalog to make a Greatest Turds album, which I just might do one of these days.

Anyway, we’re talking about Testament (again). They’ve made some immensely heavy songs – some with riffs so thick you couldn’t drive a tank through them and vocals so intense they could make a cage fighter wet his cage-fighting shorts – but some of their best songs are of the metal ballad persuasion (one of them was included in my Ten Best Thrash Metal Ballads post from a little over a year ago), and while listening to their vastly underrated 1992 album The Ritual, which boasts two ballads, I decided to put together a thing about Testament’s top-notch metal balladry, and this is it. Everybody wins! (Note: these are in chronological order.)

“Musical Death (A Dirge)” (from The New Order – 1988) – This is an instrumental, but it’s so mellow and soothing that I couldn’t bring myself to not include it here. It’s the closing song from the band’s second album (and my personal favorite), and it provides a hell of a showcase for the guitar wizardry of Alex Skolnick. Wizardry really is the only word that begins to properly describe Skolnick’s playing – the man is brilliant, and while the band was still great without him (from 1994-ish through 2000-ish), they are noticeably better with him. He was a touring member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, for cryin out loud! They are not known for employing musicians who are “okay” at their instruments.

“The Ballad” (from Practice What You Preach – 1989) – This one is not winning any awards for “Most Cleverly-Titled Song” or anything, but it’s a damn fine piece of music. It was also released a single, so you may have seen it on MTV (back when MTV wasn’t a garbage receptacle for entertainment refuse), particularly if you’re old.

“The Legacy” (from Souls of Black – 1990) – This song is not to be confused with the album called The Legacy, which was the band’s 1987 debut, and neither of the two should be confused with the band Legacy, which is what Testament was called when Zetro from Exodus sang for them, way back when I was still listening to Toto and Ronnie Milsap – i.e., whichever radio station my older sisters or my parents had tuned in. It was also a single.

“The Ritual” (from The Ritual – 1992) – This was the last Testament album with the “classic lineup”. Alex Skolnick did not appear on another Testament album until First Strike Still Deadly, 2001’s unnecessary-but-still-great re-recording of The Legacy/The New Order-era material. Original drummer Louie Clemente also left the band after this album, and aside from a guest appearance here and there, has yet to rejoin the band, but the way they operate, I would not be surprised if he did, in fact, rejoin someday.

“Return to Serenity” (from The Ritual – 1992) – This is the Testament song I included in my Ten Best Thrash Ballads of All Time piece. I like it very, very much. The Ritual is noticeably slower than previous Testament albums, and the production is a bit thin, both of which contribute to the album getting unfairly overlooked, which makes me sad – not like “discussing politics with my relatives” sad or anything, but sad nonetheless. This song was also released as a single, and therefore also has a video, and here it is.

“Trail of Tears” (from Low – 1994) – Low was the last album to feature original bassist Greg Christian until 2008’s super-dope The Formation of Damnation (which is just an excellent fucking title), and he left again last year under less than amiable circumstances. Like The RitualLow is also often overlooked, and like The RitualLow is also much better than a lot of people would have you believe, but unlike The RitualLow is a super-heavy, grooving, growling motherfucker of an album. It even flirts with death metal for a few minutes on Side 2 opener “Dog Faced Gods”, but “Trail of Tears” is the quiet, contemplative break from the sludgy, downtuned riff-factory that is the rest of Low. The lyrics are inspired by the actual Trail of Tears, in which thousands of Native Americans were forced to move from their ancestral homelands thanks to Andrew “Indian Killer” Jackson‘s Indian Removal Act of 1830. Man, Andrew Jackson was a despicable piece of shit.

“Cold Embrace” (from Dark Roots of Earth – 2012) – This is a triumphant return to classic Testa-Ballad® (patent pending) form: mellow, lush, verses swell into soaring, booming choruses, all tied up beautifully by Alex Skolnick’s lead work, and for a little under eight minutes, all is right and righteous in the world.

That’s all for today, friends. Until next time, keep on staying heavy, won’t you?

Join Us Or Step Aside: A Sort of Review the Death Angel Show at The Headquarters, Indianapolis, IN, 04.26.15

I’ve always loved Death Angel, since the first time I heard “Mistress of Pain” on the Rising Metal compilation tape my cousin Nathan bought at Wal-Mart back in 1989. My cousin Jason and I each picked up a copy of the band’s original swansong, Act III, as soon as possible after its April 1990 release, and we each played the ever livin fuck out of our copies, to the point where I’ve had to buy two replacement copies (so far). I was bummed when lead singer Mark Osegueda left the band in 1991, so much so that I never got around to checking out the band that rose from the ashes, The Organization, which consisted of the the remaining four members. I was stoked when I heard they reunited for the Thrash of the Titans show in San Francisco in 2001, and even more stoked when I heard they’d decided to stay together and record new music. And I was giddy as a schoolgirl when my cousin Jason and I finally got to see them live in 2012, when they opened for Anthrax and Testament in Indianapolis. They only played for 30 minutes, but goddamn did they ever tear up that stage!

I love every album from the band, but I have to admit that when I’ve thought about my favorite metal bands, thrash or otherwise (which happens pretty often), Death Angel has never topped the list. That changed forever on Sunday, April 26, 2015. Death Angel put on a show that will be goddamn near impossible to top, and I’m left with the unenviable task of deciding which band gets booted out of my personal Top Five Favorite Metal Bands of All Time (for the record, I still haven’t decided yet). Nine days later, and I’m still flying high from the experience.

Death Angel is currently on tour with Cavalera Conspiracy, Corrosion of Conformity Blind (which I would fucking love to see, as I firmly believe that Karl Agell is the best vocalist COC ever had, and Blind is my favorite COC album, but that’s a matter for another time), and a band called Lody Kong, which I’ve never heard, and which I’d never heard of before this tour was announced, but which has a kinda dumb name, but I digress.

The tour had a day off between their Milwaukee and Minneapolis shows, and Larry Rasener of Metalhead Productions offered Death Angel a headlining show that night, and they drove some 300 miles out of their way to kick our fucking asses at The Headquarters before driving another 600 miles to meet back up with their tourmates the next day.

We arrived after openers Death Collector (from Mooresville, IN) started, but we got to see the last three songs from their set, and they were really good. If I’m not mistaken, the members are all under 18, which makes them all the more impressive. They describe themselves as groove/thrash/speed metal, and I don’t recall hearing a lot of speed, but they definitely have a groove that cannot be denied, and when they thrash, it’s unmistakable. Keep an eye out for these dudes! I did not get any decent photos of them, unfortunately, so I guess you won’t know what they look like.

Indianapolis’ own Photian Schism played next, and they were super enjoyable and high-energy. They were fast as fuck, heavy as shit, and tight as hell, and the vocals reminded me of a cross between Napalm Death and another band that has since escaped me, because I’m getting old, and I forgot to write it down. At any rate, good shit.

Photian Schism's vocalist works from down on the floor...

Photian Schism’s vocalist works from down on the floor…

...so that he can more easily incite pits like this one.

…so that he can more easily incite pits like this one.

Killzone provided the direct support, and they, too, brought some serious metal goods; a solid groove, some thrashing riffs, and vocals in the same general ZIP code as Metal Church. If you get a chance to see any of the above bands live, I highly recommend them all.

Killzone action shot.

Killzone action shot.

At just a hair past 10:00 PM EDT, Death Angel took the stage, blowing the tops of our heads clean off with the opening 1-2 salvo of “Left for Dead” and “Son of the Morning”, from 2013’s absurdly great The Dream Calls for Blood. They went on to play a TDCFB-heavy set, but they also played at least one song from every album in their catalog, pulling out a couple of tunes from 1988’s Frolic Through the Park, which Mark indicated they pretty much never play live, and even graced us with the presence of “Voracious Souls” off their legendary debut (and recent Decibel magazine Hall of Fame inductee) The Ultra-Violence (1987).

Rob Cavestany, Riff Master General

Rob Cavestany, Riff Master General.

Mark Osegueda, the Golden-Lunged Warrior.

Mark Osegueda, the Golden-Lunged Warrior.

The band seemed to be into the show just as much as all of us were (if that’s even possible), and Mark had only good things to say about the crowd and the metal scene in Indianapolis. The final attendance was 200, and we made that room sound like it was a sold-out 500 capacity venue; the band rewarded us by playing as if we were 5,000 strong, and they were absolutely fucking flawless. You might say that Death Angel’s dream called for blood, and that we all spilled enough…buuuuut, you might also be a big goober.

Death Angel 9

Mark and Rob, being their own North Star(s).

Death Angel 18

Rob and his Partner in Thrash, Ted Aguilar.

It was seriously one of the two or three best shows I’ve ever had the pleasure to see, and I’ve seen hundreds of shows. Iron Maiden live in 2013 is the only show I can even think of at the moment that compares. Literally the single problem I had with the show is that I only got to hear one song from Act III. Well that, and the fact that they had to stop playing. Truly, it was a show for the ages.

But then after it did end, this happened! HE WAS SO FUCKING NICE!

But then after it did end, this happened! HE WAS SO FUCKING NICE!

Setlist

“Left for Dead”
“Son of the Morning”
“Claws in So Deep”
“Fallen”
“Buried Alive”
“Succubus”
“Execution – Don’t Save Me”
“Mistress of Pain”
“Seemingly Endless Time”
“Truce”
“The Dream Calls for Blood”
“Caster of Shame”
“3rd Floor”
“Bored”
“Voracious Souls”
“The Ultra Violence” Intro / “Thrown To The Wolves”

Final Thoughts: Like the Testament/Exodus show the prior week, there were lots of kids at this show, too, although it was an all-ages show, so it totally makes sense. Still, though, it’s fuckin awesome to see so many young people sincerely enjoying great music. Also, I really thought the sound at The Headquarters was gonna be shitty, as it’s located inside a warehouse/industrial/storage-type facility, but it was great! I cannot recommend enough that you see a show there sometime; just be prepared for the place to become a sauna, and to probably have to wait in line for the single restroom.

Maaaaan, look at this bitchin-ass shirt.

Maaaaan, look at this bitchin-ass shirt!

That’s all I got for now, folks. I didn’t intend to take so long getting this finished and posted, but, y’know, life and all. Until next time, stay heavy. Always.

Thrashy Birthday to Me

I’ll be celebrating my 38th birthday later this week, which is an incredibly difficult thing for me to wrap my brain around. Next Tuesday (4/21), my cousin Jason and I will be travelling to Louisville, KY to catch Testament and Exodus on the Dark Roots of Thrash II tour (Texas band Shattered Sun will be opening, but I don’t care about them), and as you might imagine, I am fuckin pumped.

I might not make it out of this alive, y'all.

I might not make it out of this alive, y’all.

Testament will be playing their first two albums (1987’s The Legacy and (my personal favorite) 1988’s The New Order) beginning to end, followed by “select Practice What You Preach LP (1989) cuts”.

Holy.

Fucking.

Hell.

My favorite thrash band (and second favorite overall band) will be performing two of their greatest works in their entirety! “Over the Wall”! “Burnt Offerings”! “First Strike is Deadly”! “Alone in the Dark”! “Eerie Inhabitants”! “Trial By Fire”! “Into the Pit”! “Disciples of the (motherfucking) Watch”! And all the rest! I might figuratively die from blood loss to my brain from the raging thrash boner I’ll have, if I don’t figuratively die from a broken neck first!

Oh, shit!

God damn!

Plus their badass cover of a badass Aerosmith song (which I admittedly only know because of Testament’s cover)!

Whut?!

But before that even happens, Exodus will thrash my balls clean off with a set consisting of songs from throughout their storied history. A quick perusal of setlists from the past few nights of the tour shows 12 songs, which is pretty sweet, although it does seem that I’m still not gonna get to hear “And Then There Were None” live, which is a bit of a bummer, but I can’t really complain. Plus, they’ve been playing “The Last Act of Defiance” on this tour, which is rad as hell.

See?

Also, they’re playing two Rob Dukes-era songs, and I look forward to hearing those with Zetro on vocals.

But wait! There’s more!

Five days later, on 4/26, Cousin Jason and I will be heading north to Indianapolis to see the mighty Death Angel live, on one of only two headlining shows on their current tour! This will be the first time Death Angel has played Indianapolis since 2012 (when they opened for Anthrax and Testament at the Egyptian Room), and their first headlining show in Indianapolis in 25 fucking years! Motherfucking shit-tits, friends, this is an exciting goddamn month!

Here’s the title track off the band’s latest album, 2013’s fucking phenomenal The Dream Calls for Blood:

Here’s “Truce”, from 2011’s Relentless Retribution, which is the album they were touring on when I saw them a few years back:

And here’s one of my favorite songs of theirs, from 1990’s Act III, which was the last album they released before their original breakup:

A quick shout-out and a HUGE thank you is owed to my amazing wife, who had a hand in making both of these shows happen for me.

Reviews of both shows will of course be forthcoming, and if things work out, there’ll be an extra surprise on these very pages in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned, and stay heavy!

Cosmic Conspiracy: A Voivod Primer, Part 3

What follows is Part Three of a five part series about the groundbreaking and visionary French-Canadian progressive metal band Voivod.  Part One can be found here, and Part Two can be found here.

Following the tour cycle for The Outer Limits, Snake left Voivod for personal reasons, and remaining members Away and Piggy took the opportunity to reinvent the band, resulting in a drastically different sound through the remainder of the 1990s.  With both vocal and bass duties needing to be filled, they opted in early 1994 to bring in Toronto native Eric Forrest (Voivod alias: E-Force – they can’t all be home runs) to handle both.  Forrest’s debut with Voivod, 1995’s Negatron, is probably the least Voivod-sounding album in the band’s catalog, and is probably my least favorite Voivod album, although that would be akin to discussing my least favorite bowl of Count Chocula, or perhaps my least favorite baseball game. In other words, I’d still rather have that bowl of Count Chocula (it was stale), that baseball game (Yankees vs. Red Sox), and this Voivod album than none at all.

The overall sound – a stripped-down industrial groove – definitely roots the album firmly in its release year (it would not be out of place on the shelf alongside Fear Factory and Pantera), and both Away’s drumming and Piggy’s guitar work are much more straightforward and simple than ever before, or since, but it’s important to remember that the simplest Voivod song is still too weird for the average person’s taste.  E-Force’s vocals are much more aggressive and shouty than Snake’s, and the album artwork is just as stripped-down and industrial as the sounds contained within. Ultimately, Negatron‘s biggest downfall is the relative same-ness of the songs.  A video was made for “Insect”, and there’s a good chance you’ve never seen it before.

“Insect” – This is the opening track, and if you were going to listen to only one song from Negatron, I would recommend that this be the one.

“Nanoman” – Ivan Doroschuck of Men Without Hats (a.k.a. the band that taught the world “The Safety Dance”) co-wrote the lyrics to this one.

“Cosmic Conspiracy” – Piggy’s guitar work in this one is more like classic Voivod than probably anything else on the album.

When the band returned to the studio to record the follow-up to Negatron, Away was ready to bring the original Voivod story line back into play, and he and Piggy made it clear to E-Force that they were expecting more vocal dynamics from him this time around. The resulting work, 1997’s Phobos, is easily the band’s most underrated album, as well as the darkest album the band has recorded to date. Negatron makes so much more sense when you hear Phobos and realize what it was leading to.

From the very beginning of the “Catalepsy I” intro, the album elicits feelings of isolation and desperation, and, like its Greek mythological namesake, it conveys a sense of cold, oppressive, absolute fear. One time when I played it at work, a co-worker described it as “burly as fuck”, and that is definitely an apt way to describe the sound.  Forrest’s vocals are indeed more dynamic throughout, mixing the harsh screams of Negatron with something much more Snake-like (“Bacteria” provides a good example of the latter), and his bass is much more prominent than the previous album.  Away’s drums are up to their old familiar off-kilter, herky jerky tricks, and Piggy’s guitars are overflowing with reverb, and are downright devastating here, from the opening notes of “Rise” through the jarring, unsettling staccato buzz of outro “Catalepsy II”.

As mentioned above, the album revives the story of Away’s childhood nightmare creation, the Voivod, marking his (its?) first appearance since 1990’s progressive masterpiece Nothingface.  The storyline is more straightforward than any of the other related albums, save perhaps 1988’s thrasy-prog masterpiece (and my personal favorite Voivod album) Dimension Hatröss.  The album begins with the Voivod (who apparently found his way out of his own mind, where we left him in Nothingface closer “Sub-Effect”)  “sleeping in death” until a mysterious and diabolical character named Demok sends signals from space, resurrecting him as Anark, wherein he makes his way back to Earth to “restart [his] fear program”, lays waste to the planet (“pure decay, dead planet, virus unknown, plague and curse fall on the globe”), and holes up in “The Tower” to rule the world, where “no one can reach him” and “none shall defeat him”. If we’ve learned anything from the Voivod’s adventures, though, it’s that nothing ever ends well for him, and the tale of Phobos is no exception, as we leave our protagonist “lost in this world, feeling forlorn…Anark my given name, close my eyes, fade away”.  Getting lost in this album, especially through headphones, is an absolutely breathtaking experience.

“Rise” – This song makes me wanna break everything around me.

“Phobos” – Undoubtedly my favorite song from Voivod Mark II (or Mark III, depending on who’s asking). Everything about this song makes me want to live inside it. Utter perfection.

“The Tower” – Like the title track to this album’s predecessor, Ivan Doroschuck co-wrote the lyrics to this one, as well.

“Forlorn – The current version of Voivod has been known to play this song live from time to time, which is a very exciting thing. In fact, I could only be more excited if they were playing “Phobos” live.

Phobos also contains two bonus tracks – a cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and an original tune called “M-Body”, written by friend and superfan Jason Newsted (formerly of Flotsam and Jetsam), who also played bass on said tune. Both songs are good enough (the KC cover is especially tight), but frankly they add nothing to the Phobos experience, so that’s all the press they’ll get here. You would not be wrong to look them up yourself.

In 1998, Forrest was seriously injured in a car crash, so to fill the impending space between studio albums, the band released Kronik, a collection of live songs, remixes, and previously unreleased songs, including “Ion”, which was featured in the film Heavy Metal 2000, but was not included on the soundtrack album. It is very much of a kind with Negatron.

2000 saw the release of Voivod’s first official live album, Lives, which includes songs dating back to the 1984 eponymous debut, as well as a cover of Venom’s “In League With Satan”.  I am especially fond of Forrest’s take on “The Prow”, which originally appeared on 1991’s Angel Rat.

The story goes that the band recorded demos for a proper follow-up to Phobos, which would have been the final chapter of the Voivod saga, but after Forrest’s accident, the tapes were shelved, and have thus far not seen the light of day. I, for one, would give nearly anything to hear them. At any rate, Voivod lost their momentum and disbanded in 2001, only to re-form the following year with a couple of familiar faces on board – one old and one (mostly) new. That chapter will have to wait for another day.

Until then, friends, I encourage you to stay heavy, always.

P.S.: Jeff Wagner also has some real proper things to say about Phobos over at the Deciblog.

…But At the Same Time, I’m At a Loss For Words…

In May 2001, at the age of 24, I moved back in with my parents, into my childhood bedroom, semi-defeated and wholly without direction in my life.  I was still a Metalhead, as I had been for nigh on fifteen years at that point, but my musical tastes had grown, as well.  I’d gotten into punk rock a few years prior, and at the time, I was working in a music store, and I may or may not have been smoking a lot of reefer, both which opened up all kinds of new musical doors for me – The Beatles, Talking Heads, The Smiths, Elvis Costello, Depeche Mode, Otis Redding, De La Soul, Kris Kristofferson, and on and on and on.  My point is that I was not listening to metal quite as often as I had been in the mid-90’s.  The stratospheric rise of nü-metal in the late 90’s also played a role, but that’s a topic for another post.  I’m here today to talk about some weird synchronicity.

On September 10, 2001, at 12:25 AM, I wrote the following in my journal:

“In a metal mood.  It came out of nowhere. Testament and Nuclear Assault are sounding especially good tonight, as is Death Angel…”

Nothing unusual about that as it stands.  However, the next night (possibly later that same night), still in a metal mood, I was listening to Anthrax’s severely underrated 1998 album Volume 8: The Threat is Real! at a relatively high volume through my headphones.  On the song “Big Fat”, there’s a line where John Bush says:

You asked me can I deliver?

Like a monster crossing the Hudson River

Stomping!

And when I heard that line, sitting in my dark room with my eyes closed, possibly high on the pot, I had this scene playing out in my head of a faceless, formless monster crossing the river from New Jersey, just crashing through, crushing, and devastating New York City (having never been to the city, the New York City of my imagination has always just been stock footage of Manhattan, like what you always see in movies and television shows).  It was admittedly kind of fucked up, but it was also fairly cinematic and unrealistic, as I have never witnessed real-life Hollywood-blockbuster-type carnage, either.

The next morning, a little after 10:00 AM, I awoke to the phone ringing.  My mom was calling to tell me that the country was under attack, and I turned on the TV, and everyone reading this knows what I saw.  It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I remembered my strange vision of sorts.

But there’s more weird synchronicity to the story!

Fast forward to 2005.  I’m living in Austin, Texas with a drunken whore my then-wife, and I see an ad in The Austin Chronicle (Austin’s oh-so-full-of-itself weekly alternative newspaper) for an upcoming show. Friday, September 10, at The Back Room: Testament and Nuclear Assault!  Is that not some shit?

Postscript: I ended up not going to that show, as Testament dropped off the tour for some reason (this was before the internet was so widely available (at least to me), but I do know that this was less than 2 years after Chuck Billy had whipped cancer’s ass – possibly unrelated, I have no idea), and I was much less interested in just seeing Nuclear Assault, which in hindsight was an incredibly stupid decision.  With a few exceptions, I did not make the best decisions of my life while I was living in Austin.

At any rate, the events that took place 13 years ago today were undeniably fucked, and it’s clear that things will always be different than they were on September 10, 2001.  I don’t have anything to add to this that hasn’t already been said, and probably in a more eloquent manner.

Here’s another excerpt from my journal…

“09.12.01  12:15 am

It’s now been 14 hours since I started watching news coverage, and still can’t get used to the images…I hope I can sleep well tonight…I hope there’s something to wake up to…”

I’m glad there was something to wake up to, and I’m glad that I still have music to help ease me through scary times, sad times, rough times, and total bullshit times.  I’m also glad it’s there for the good times.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for reading.  Stay heavy, y’all.

The Outcast: A Voivod Primer, Part 2

What follows is Part Two of a five part series about the groundbreaking and visionary French-Canadian progressive metal band Voivod.  Part One can be found here

Coming off the relative success of Nothingface, Voivod entered the studio in late 1990 with renowned producer Terry Brown.  Brown is best known for producing every Rush studio album from 1975’s excellent Fly By Night through 1982’s excellent Signals, along with one live Rush album (1981’s also excellent Exit…Stage Left).  The result of their collaboration, Angel Rat, was the band’s second release for Mechanic Records.  Brown’s production, along with the record label’s meddling, caused some friction among the band members, and Blacky left the band before the album was released in November 1991.  Angel Rat was largely maligned by long-time fans of the band (many of whom still dislike it), and upon first listen, it’s kind of hard to believe that the same band that recorded “Build Your Weapons” back in 1986 could be responsible for a song like “The Prow” a mere five years later.  However, sad as I often am that I didn’t get into Voivod earlier, I am fortunate to have heard Angel Rat with a different kind of ears than many Voivod fans.  I had no precedent of “Live for Violence”, “Thrashing Rage”, or “Tornado” to color my initial impressions of this work.

The Angel Rat era, along with the departure of Blacky, marked the beginning of what is regarded among some Voivod fans as “Voivod Mark II”.  The music is less complicated than on the previous three albums, much less heavy than on the previous five albums.  Part of this is due to the fact that, according to Away, “We had spent the whole ’80s being tight and precise, to the point where around the era of Dimension Hatröss, the music was so complicated we almost didn’t have any interaction with the crowd anymore because we were concentrating so hard on our instruments.”   The opening bands on Voivod’s US tour for Nothingface (Faith No More and Soundgarden) had an effect on the music as well.  Along with this, the members of Voivod were simply continuing to evolve, both as musicians and as human beings.  (One review for Angel Rat on Metal Archives sums the situation up quite elegantly: “…the band embraced the 90’s with their mind on the past but both eyes on the future, as there is no space for the present in the ranks of Voivod.”)

Angel Rat is also the first Voivod album that does not fit into Away’s original concept, which is covered at length in Part One.  The songs are not connected by any kind of theme, other than the fact that Away was reading a lot of folk tales at the time.  “But, Joel, what about the songs?”  I’m glad you asked.

The songs on Angel Rat are beautifully crafted.   The lyrics are best described as “more introspective” than nearly any of the songs that came before them.  Piggy’s riffs and solos feel simultaneously retro and futuristic.  Away’s timekeeping is still off-kilter enough to remind you that you’re not listening to the average metal band.  (I once played the album for a friend who was new to Voivod, thinking he might find it more listenable than the previous albums, and he said to me, “Joel, this is still weird.  You don’t think it’s weird because the rest of their stuff is so much weirder, but it’s still very weird.”)  Snake’s vocal style continued to evolve (in some instances, he even sings!), and as always, his voice writhes and twists and slithers its way around and through the music.  And last but not least, Blacky’s bass is as tight and commanding as ever, even if you do have to listen extra hard to hear it sometimes.  Which provides a nice segue into the only problem with Angel Rat, stylistically, as I see it: the mix is so paper-thin that the songs simply lack heft.  For evidence of this, let’s look at three different versions of the album’s only single, “Clouds in My House”.

Exhibit A: the official video, which features the Album Version.

Exhibit B: the Demo Version, which features more heft.

Exhibit C: the Remixed Version from the Angel Rat Sampler (created and released without the band’s consent), which features elements of the Demo Version, but used in a non-appealing way.

After hearing both the full album and the full demo, I can’t help but believe that something in between the two (but leaning a bit closer to the demo) must have been pretty close to what the band had in mind when they were visualizing the completed work.  And that remix is seriously fucked, right?

There isn’t a song on Angel Rat that I don’t like, but here are my other favorites:

“The Prow” – I love Piggy’s soloing in this one!

“Nuage Fractal” – This one contains some of my favorite Voivod lyrics, and probably sounds the most like “classic Voivod”, from a musical standpoint.

“Freedoom” – This one also contains some of my favorite Voivod lyrics, and one time, while on mushrooms, I used it to control the weather.  It was pretty badass.

_________________________________

When the band was ready to begin working on the follow-up to Angel Rat, they were faced with the unenviable task of replacing one of the best, most distinct bass players in metal.  They ultimately decided that they were not ready to bring in a permanent replacement, so they hired a session bassist named Pierre St-Jean, and soldiered onward to record one hell of a fine official major label (MCA) debut album, 1993’s The Outer Limits.  Musically, TOL had some things in common with its predecessor, as the song structures were again comparatively more straightforward, and not so “weird”, although the mix was beefed up to levels much more appropriate for the songs at hand.  And as for the lyrics and artwork, the album found itself nestled back into more familiar sci-fi territory, although Korgull the Exterminator was still nowhere to be found.

This is my favorite Voivod album, from an artwork and packaging standpoint.   The artwork is inspired by 1950’s pulp science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories, and the fact that it was released on a major label meant the band had more money to spend, so Away had the artwork rendered in 3D, and a pair of 3D glasses was included in the original packaging!  Tangent: I once had a dream that I found two brand new shrink-wrapped copies of The Outer Limits on vinyl at a Goodwill store in Seattle.  I woke up sad from that one.

All the songs on The Outer Limits are phenomenal, but the crowning jewels of the album, without a doubt, are the extra spooky “Le Pont Noir” (“The Black Spot” in French), in which the narrator wanders down to a spooky bridge at night, not knowing what he’ll find (spoiler alert: he finds trouble), and the 17-minute-plus “Jack Luminous”, which tells the story of an alien who arrives on Earth to warn mankind that President X-D is about to arrive on their television screens to take over their minds.  Other standout tracks are “Time Warp” and album opener “Fix My Heart”.  The band also took another stab at another lesser known Pink Floyd tune (“The Nile Song”, which originally appeared on that band’s excellent soundtrack to the 1969 Barbet Shchroeder film More), and while it is a damn fine version of a damn fine song, it lacks the stark beauty of Nothingace‘s “Astronomy Domine”.

“Le Pont Noir” – So, so spooky.

“Jack Luminous” – The band has been playing this one live over the past couple of years, and that is both amazing and exciting.

“Time Warp” – I fucking love the guitars on this song!

“Fix My Heart” – I have nothing extra to add to this one.  It’s really fucking good.

Bonus pro tip: The Outer Limits is the perfect soundtrack to sitting outside and watching the night sky.

Following the tour cycle for The Outer Limits, a huge curveball was thrown the band, and the sound of Voivod was about to change as drastically as it ever had.  That will be discussed in Part Three, which will be along soon-ish.  Until then, stay heavy, heavy people.