Sunday, June 26, 2011

You Too Can Have The Stamina Of The Cavemen!

Here I am, updating this piece of duck vomit again, like, 6 months later. I suppose Google would send me a check every now and then if I turned the ads back on. They bugged me something right and proper.

As some of you may know, I cannot stop listening to music. I use it as a drug of sorts, influencing and reflecting moods and anxieties and as a general emotional barometer and stabilizer. I get bored very, very quickly, and as such, I listen to about a thousand different kinds of music. Well, essentially everything I listen to falls under the "rock and roll" banner, at least to me. But the variations are endless.

Although I am certainly known in most elite circles as a Rockabilly/Punk kind of guy, with certain Mod and power pop leanings, I must confess that I have long been into heavy metal. It was the first music I listened to back in my pre-teen and teen daze,in the ahem, 1980s, not to date myself, wink-wink-nudge-nudge. I have followed it with varying degrees of interest ever since. My lowest point of interest was the mid 90s "Nu Metal" phase of the genre, which was, as you know, ridiculous. I'm not even going to get into the jock haircuts, white person dreads and blow dried chest hair patches, let alone the turgid non-songs of this era. My interest in Metal was at an all time low in my 20s. While I was discovering rockabilly, 70s punk and new wave, power pop and post punk, the rest of the world was wearing red baseball caps backwards and rapping over poorly played Metallica riffs.

Within the past few years there has been a resurgence in interest, and an overall raising of the quality of, Heavy Metal music. As a result, lots of hipster kids and old jaded vets alike are jumping back on the metal bandwagon, myself included. My interest usually peaks in difficult times. For instance during a break up or a rough patch in a relationship. During a depression. When my job is killing me. When I'm broke. During a particularly vicious bout of gas. It dovetails with my interest in horror movies. In bad times, I need the escapism. I need the full body work out that the violence of the music serves up. I need the "I'm a bad ass Satan worshiping kind of fellow, indeed sir" chest puffing machismo. I also imagine that the music reminds me of the comfort and safety of my teen years, when I listened to almost exclusively metal.

Of course Heavy Metal as a genre is patently absurd. But that's the point. Metal is over the top. It is ridiculous. It is sometimes borderline retarded, if you'll forgive me the use of that word. The bottom line here is that metal helps us, it does not hurt us. And in this last year, the quality of Swedish Heavy Metal in particular has been astonishing. Below I'm going to thrust my gilded sword into a few new records that almost anyone can get into,even if you're not a metal maniac. If you are already a metal fan, you'll consider these classics in the coming years, mark my words and heed them well. Let's hold hands and discover, shall we?

GHOST- Opus Eponymous (Rise Above Records)
This is the year's big splash, the "it girl" of metal bands. Six anonymous Swedish musicians, faces hidden behind masks and hoods, got together and recorded one of the catchiest retro-70s pop metal records of all time. Is it even metal? There are some metal riffs, for sure. Is it pop? Well, it's catchy. Who are these guys? Members of Swedish bands Repugnant and In Solitude, if you're asking me to guess. In fact, the scary masked pope guy who sings is rumored to be extremely cute and snuggly Repugnant vocalist Tobias Forge, aka Mary Goore. That's kind of disappointing, as that kid is about as dangerous as a side of curly fries. Aside from his metal projects, he also has a Swedish "dream pop" solo project. Hence the super catchy and well written songs on this album, I would say. This is faux-Satanic Scooby Doo pop-black metal at it's finest. Really well played, catchy riffs married to lush pop harmonies and a super creepy, King Diamond influenced B-Movie horror atmosphere. It is really, really, really good. A work of actual genius I would say. I can't stop listening to it. (Note: above pic of Ghost Pope is by my pal Damian Saiz.)

GRAVEYARD-Hinsignen Blues (Nuclear Blast Records)
This record is so steeped in 1970s Sabbath/Blue Cheer/Mc5/Pentagram hairy white blues man sludge that it's hard to get into at first. On second or third listen, the songs start to peek out from under the greasy long locks of hair, and you're stunned at how good they are. A very, very retro affair, not a note on this sounds as if it was recorded after 1973. And it's brilliant. The lyrics, the vocals, the guitars, all perfect. The album title refers to Hinsingen, Sweden, which is apparently Sweden's version of Detroit. That is to say, a burned out once-proud factory town that is as depressed and decaying as our own American Motor City. Hence the darkness and hazy half drunk/stoned desperation of this record. "Got no friends/ Only people that I know" sings vocalist Joakim Nillson (who should pick up a stage name, like Hairy Stardumpster, or something similar)on the opening track "Ain't Fit To Live Here", while the band clatters around him like tupperware dishes thrown by the Mc5. This record sold 1,000 copies in the US the week of it's release. Not one to follow trends am I, but I find myself listening to this record quite alot these days.

IN SOLITUDE- The World. The Flesh. The Devil. (Metal Blade Records)
I am an unabashed fan of early Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate, two bands whose shrieking vocalists, acrobatic dual guitar noises and schlocky satanic imagery has long inspired the imaginations of pimply teenage boys the world over. When I heard this record by Sweden's In Solitude, I was instantly transported back to my teenage, metal loving, trying to grow a mustache but failing miserably days of olde. Except these young Swedes actually write better songs. It's like King Diamond without the annoying falsetto vocals, and like Maiden without the annoying history buff, check your thesaurus lyrics. The overwhelming vibe here is creepiness, Satan, fog drenched moors, magic, human sacrifice, evil old black castles in the rain, leering demons and most of all, solid catchy metal riffs and melodies. The singer is only 20 years old as I write this, but it's his rich, gimmick-free vocal delivery that makes this record, along with the perfect Maiden/Fate style dual guitar riffing of the guitarists. It is rumoured that some of the guys in this band are also in masked mystery band GHOST, and it would not surprise me. The guitar styles are very, very similar. Both bands pay homage to Mercyful Fate quite impressively, but even the writing style seems similar enough that it could be true. A great record with great songs. A metal band so good that non metal people might actually take notice.

ELECTRIC WIZARD- Black Masses (Rise Above Records)
The only non Swedish band on my little metal hit parade. These long running Brits are a Doom/Stoner/Sludge Metal institution, and this record, which is their lucky seventh full length release, boils the whole doom rock mess down to a finely crafted selection of real songs. It's definitely not pop, but it is catchy. Black Sabbath is (obviously) the reference point here, the only reference point really. If you doubt this, know that lead singer/guitarist Justin Osbourne (yes, really) actually cut the tips of his fingers off a few years back ala Tony Iommi. It was "an accident". Justin has "fully recovered". The over the top Sab worship doesn't stop there. In fact the only goal here seems to be to out Sabbath Sabbath, and they do, on several occasions. The thudding, lumbering, cumbersome beat is like zombie dinosaurs dancing in a graveyard, if you can dig that, and Jus Osbourne's vocals are very much like another person whose name also happens, by "accident", to be Osbourne. Downtuned, fuzz toned, funeral dirge guitars emit noxious clouds of death-funk while the lyrics spin their B-Movie horror tales of Satan, monsters, drugs and decadence. In short, quite a good little record. In my humble opinion this is their best record, along with "Witchcult Today". It's their most focused release(which is saying alot for a stoner band)to date, and it doesn't meander and wander as much as previous records tended to. Here we have a stoner band whose ADD meds are doing wonders. Electric Wizard also features Metal's very own version of Lux And Ivy, cute married couple Jus Osbourne and his lovely wife, guitarist Liz Buckingham. They play matching Gibson SGs, they both love Sabbath and 70s horror flicks and weed, and they're married. Adorable! Buy this record if you like damp moldy graveyards, Anton LaVey, and Karen Black. Oh, and Black Sabbath.

So that's my Metal Hit Parade. I now have a playlist consisting of just these four records that I listen to on my iPod constantly. These last couple of weeks have been kinda tough on all fronts and if not for my Metal, I don't know what I would have done. Until next time, fiends!!!!!!