Monday, November 30, 2009

Oak is Keeping – Animal Style

Throughout mythology, there have always been bizarre creations, amalgamations of disparate elements that should never be able to exist together. The part-man, part-bull Minotaur; the part human, part horse Centaur; the complete mishmash of animal parts that is the Griffin. Compelling for their juxtaposition of animal parts, these creatures have captured man’s imagination. In music, rarely does such an incongruous hydra come about, fusing completely disparate elements into one living, breathing, beautiful creature.

Oak is Keeping is one such hydra.

With a body sturdily composed of riff-heavy, bass massive Black Sabbath, a brain derived from the harmonious melodies of the Beatles, and two thunderous paws, one crafted from Seattle grunge a la Alice in Chains, the other bearing the beefy imprint of swirling psychedelia, and a tail composed of the best distillation of post punk indy rock, Oak is Keeping is a band to capture the imagination.

And once they've captured you, they hang onto for dear life, ensnaring you into their drooling maw and carrying you off into a mythical sky of fierce, chugging, yet infinitely melodic and listenable rock and roll. Anyone who calls this stoner rock is stoned. Go beyond the power of the Sabbath riffs, lose yourself on the magic carpet ride that is the melody, sing along to the sweetness of the harmony vocals, marvel into the Alice-drops-down-the-rabbit hole psychedelic madness, that swirls and dances, yet never loses itself in its own madness. Melodic Psych? The Black Beatles? Who cares what you call it, labels are for small minds, and this music is all about expanding minds, erasing boundaries, exploding dimensions.. In the end, it’s just rock and roll and it’s simply marvelous.

“SiNk,” feedbacks and thunders it’s way into your consciousness before dropping into the mother of all Alice in Chains riffs, just as quickly to mutate into a snarling, beastly ugly Sabbath thud. Heavy? Hell yes, but it’s not metal. No way. Listen to the vocals as they come on, incredibly smooth, yet still impassioned. And what’s that he’s singing? By God, it’s a true melody, deep and, dare I say it, lovely. A melody that could easily grace one of the latter Beatles albums, married to the density of a Sabbath plodding footstep. Stuttering guitars, layered harmony vocals. Damn, what is this. It’s not prog, but it’s complex. It’s not metal, but it’s ominous and heavy. It’s not pop, but I’m singing along, joyfully, my soul rising with the soaring chorus. It’s a bowl-full of contradictions all thrown together, and I got me a spoon and I’m digging right in.

If “SiNk” didn’t fully ensnare me in the Oak is Keeping lair, “No Kiss,” completed the capture. Big, choppy riffs, stop and start like the thundering step of a mythological creature. Stepping heavy, plodding closer. Alice in Chains sounds heavier here, in the use of harmony vocals, the rising crescendo of the vocal bridge, the tone of angst as they sing, “They say that animals need their space/inside we’re cannibals/the human race/cut off our nose to spite our face.” But then that chorus comes along, as sweet and addictive as pop. Vocals soaring to higher registers, smoothly, melodically. The Oak is Keeping Griffin lives, many different parts all living together in perfect harmony.

Then “How We Treat Girls,” swings into gear throwing me for another, glorious, swirling ride into unexpected territory. The guitar tone here is pure indy rock, perhaps like the tone that we’d always hope The Killers would one day find. Sabbath is gone, instead the guitars shimmer and shine, the bass runs high up the neck, the vocals ride an intense melody highlighted by a hook destined to reside for years in my brain. The chorus is another masterwork of melody, a stark contradiction to the lyrics that spit and snarl with sarcasm and snot. More than any other, this song runs back to the past, like Spirit or Love, or some other psychedelic pop band that captured lighting in a bottle.

Getting the picture. This beast shouldn’t live, it shouldn’t exist, and it definitely shouldn’t be so compelling. Check out the knock em dead chorus of “Tell Me These Things,” with it’s choppy “Stab me in the front/don’t stab me in the back/stab me in the front/use a dull blade,” lyric. Not something you expect to find yourself singing out loud at two in the morning, but there it is. Arm it with an ugly Sabbath riff that mutates into a near Lizzy guitar attack, ending in a swirling maelstrom of double-fisted piano and you’ve got another winner. “Tempt,” then takes all this mythological fusing of elements and creates a beast that will forever exist in it’s own universe. Charging harmony guitar launches things forward into a neo Alice in Chains riff . . . but it’s not. The guitars swirl too much, like who? Early Cult maybe? I don’t know, but I do know that it moves quickly into a grungy chorus, before the whole thing builds and builds to . . a total drop out of all that is heavy. Suddenly the guitars are gone, piano trods delicately, the vocals floating into a psychedelic Beatles melody, for two measures before the guitars roar back, heavier than before. If this is an acid trip it’s one for the ages. Harmonics sing and dance. Counter vocals leak from separate earphone channels. Guitars swirl. Where is reality? Where is my desk? Who am I? Oh, yeah, I’m Racer, and I’m listening to some seriously intense, fantastically wild stuff. And the ride in this animal style is just beginning.

Come join me.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Sunday Conversation with The Garage Gods

Joining us today, on the red leather Ripple interview couch is our good friend, Gary Lalin, singer songwriter, multi-Instrumentalist of the extremely retro, definitively groovy, Garage Gods, whose debut single caused quite a stir through the garages and basements of our hallowed Ripple Office. When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

Well like you I was deeply influenced by music growing up. When I was a kid I listened to this oldies radio station which played music well before my time mostly 50’s & 60’s & 70’s rock….of course much of it was lame bubble gun or early 1-4-5 chuck berry style ….I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Ventures “Walk Don’t Run” a really simple yet memorable surf instrumental which inspired me to buy their Play Guitar with the Ventures album that resulted in my learning to play guitar and eventually form my first surf band called the Tidal Waves so its amazing how one song can change your life.

I also equate pivotal points to my first exposure to British invasion bands which really influenced me a lot. The first time I heard the raw energy of The Kinks “All day and All of the Night” with Ray Davies rebellious snarl and Dave Davies tearing up the guitar….I couldn’t stop my leg from bouncing it was like a drug. Another pivotal song was hearing “House of the rising sun” by the Animals, I became enamored of the power and somberness of minor chords and of haunting of their Vox Organ…..that song made an indelible mark in my love the tone of the Vox organ and pretty much cemented my love of minor based music, a love which I carry into much of my songwriting today.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

I do most of my writing alone, late at night usually in the haze before going to sleep….when my mind drifts into the abstract. Most of the time I'll write around a “Concept” often inspired by some event or observation that impacted me emotionally. I then form a story around the concept and look for words that play nicely that forward the story all the while I’m looking for a rhythm that fits the feel of the overall energy.

Other times, I’ll get a melody idea first when plinking on the keyboard or guitar or bass and the melody evokes some kind of feeling …like a softer love song or a high energy screamer and based upon that feel I usually “free sing” kind of like free writing…just sing what ever comes into my head that’s inspired by the chords….until I find the chorus , that magic line that usually becomes the title of the song that fits rhythmically, where the phrase sums up the songs message and has an infectious nature. From the chorus I envision the songs story and develop the verse and any intermediary parts.

Creativity and inspiration ebb and flow so when I'm feeling creative I want to get ideas written down as they flow and often free-write onto a word processor and then visually scan the lines looking for lines that work well together…Kind of like a cross word puzzle and when I find things that I like I put them together or flip things around until they fit. Unfortunately there are more failures than successes and for every song I finish there are probably 20 are uncompleted.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
Inspiration comes from all over but often the news or some emotional event or observation. I’m currently writing a song called 2012 about the end of times inspired by recent events like the lunar eclipse, the disappearance of bees, the H1N1 flu, sort of like a Zegar & Evans “in the year 2525” but updated for our current plagues and problems.

Another song I just wrote “Nothing Really Matters Anymore” I recently penned while horribly sick with flu after watching a TV special on war and it made me realize that part of the human condition is when you cross the threshold of your breaking point and let go from trying to control the outcome and just let things do what they will. Like you’re your so sick you finally make peace and are ready to die, or when a solder goes into battle knowing he probably won’t be coming back….. When “Nothing really matters anymore” is about being past the breaking point and freedom that comes with letting go.

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

Well The Garage Gods very much fits the 60’s style rock but the songs vary within that genre from punk to psychedelic to folk we’ll leave it up to our fans to decide what label fits us best.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

I can’t say I write with any specific message…like some groups are punk all the time or mellow all the time or political all the time…I'm not really consistent each song is its own work with its own message and my only intention is to write memorable songs that either make people think or tell a good story that are memorable and fun.

In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

Songwriting is a mix of the rational and emotional. I wouldn’t say my songs are particularly complex, but I like to think their well crafted. In some ways the song seeks out its own feel for complexity or time changes….in that you mess about framing its basic components IE: verse, b-section, instrumental breaks, stops, buildups etc. and then mess about with them until the order and tempos begin to fit. Its kind of like a cross word puzzle where you may need to switch some things around until they fit. There is no right or wrong formula because every song is different so you have to allow yourself the freedom to experiment and the song will eventually evolves taking on a life of its own.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

Brutal…yeah I think the overall music market has grown and become so much more accessible due to digital music in every computer or phone device. But there are also more bands than ever competing to get heard. That’s were social network sites like Myspace and Music Blogs like The Ripple Effect have had a huge impact on breaking Indy bands as well as letting people network to find new bands. As far as making money in music…Its almost impossible to make a living doing original music unless you luck into the right publishing deal or get picked up by a major label and even that is usually temporary. All the guys in the band have day jobs and we do this cause we’re music purists and love creating music we enjoy …What keeps us motivated….the joy of creating and the feedback we get when we hear back from fans that they enjoyed our stuff.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

Sorry nothing really too wild…One show our lead guitarist Ben went Ape-shit and decided to jump off stage into the audience during a solo….he landed on his knees i thought we were gonna have to call a a doctor as bent his guitar but kept playing until his cable broke… he didn’t bring a spare axe so while he was fixing his guitar we told jokes for about 5 minutes which was a scream…he couldn’t walk for a few days after that and his guitar was trashed but it was a fun night. We’re still looking for those amps that go to 11.

Where do you see you and your music going in ten years?

Well since we do mostly 60’s garage in the year 2009 I guess we’ll be doing 70’s style in 2019 and putting out cassette tape releases. We work hard to stay well behind the times…LOL

What makes a great song?

I’ve always felt that great songs have something memorable about them….whether it’s a killer melody or an amazing chorus that gets stuck in your head or makes you think…or transports you to a different world…… If you can’t hum it or can’t sing along to the chorus then it won’t last the test of time. .

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

"Progression Regression" a song about the circle of life…a song that speaks about remembering the past but living in the now “you’ve got to stay in motion just to stay ahead if you don’t live for the moment in a moments time your dead…progression regression you’ve got to stay on top, remember your past but the future never stops”

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

My personal favorite is "Lost In Tyme." It’s a psych-pop song about all the outcasts the music geeks the hippies out of place in the modern world … we were born in the wrong generation and lost in time. I like it cause its got a great blend of clean pop and trippy psychedelia.

Who today, writes great songs? Why?

There are so many talented songwriters, I’m a big fan of Graham Day of Graham Day & the Gaolers he writes really rocking hooky music full of energy a real master and great musician. Also the Maharajas of Sweden … They write in English even though its their second language and are great lyricists who rock and also masters of the chorus.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

I still collect a lot of vinyl…I love albums with great art and getting hypnotized by watching the record spin on the turntable while listening to the music. But I must admit I love mp3’s for their convenience and portability.

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

2nd Avenue Records , great store carry all kinds of retro garage and a nice selection of vinyl.

Thanks, man. And don't forget to check out the swingin' retro Garage Gods sounds at their myspace page.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ripple News - The Pixies To Record "Doolittle Tour" Shows For Special Limited Edition Collectors CDS

With their sold-out European "Doolittle Tour" complete and a similar standing-room-only U.S. leg just underway (which features a complete performance of their 1989 classic Doolittle each night), the Pixies are giving fans a unique opportunity to take the night's performance home with them. Starting on the first night of the group's four-performance stand in New York City (Monday, November 23), fans can purchase a CD of that night's show about 10-minutes after the Pixies walk off stage. And for those attending shows before the 23rd, no need to fret - you can purchase recordings of earlier 2009 U.S. tour stops via the website,

The company Abbey Road Live is recording every Pixies show from the November 8 show all the way through the end of the tour in Washington, D.C. on December 1. The shows will be offered as limited edition, high quality CD sets - each CD set having two discs in it, and each CD set being individually numbered. The two-CD sets will sell for $25 each, and will be mixed and mastered every night - resulting in full, multi-track mixes, not board mixes. The CDs are strictly limited edition - only 1,000 will be made per night for each show. Also being offered are commemorative USB wristbands for $15 each. With each wristband, fans will get four songs recorded from the European leg of the tour, as well as five Pixies videos as bonus content. And if you buy the USB, you also get a $5 discount code which will result in a download costing $10 (rather than its normal $15 price). The quicker you place your order at the better, because they're certain to go fast.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tripdavon - Sketches From Silence

The other day, I sat in front of my television, with my 90 pound hound manically chewing his squeeze toy by my side, and fired up my now ancient version of NHL 2001 for the original Playstation. I’m old school that way and use the game system as a way to exorcise some demons . . . to clear the head so that I can get back into writing about music. With ear buds firmly placed in my ears, I launched into a heated contest of my beloved L.A. Kings and the much hated Calgary Flames. The opening strains of Tripdavon’s album Sketches From Silence rattled around in my skull at a volume more apt to be found in a festival setting and being so transfixed with the soaring melodies, beautiful instrumentation, and heart wrenching emotion of the music, I let my team defense lapse and two early goals went past my netminder.

I’m sure I could go and get some background information on the band from their MySpace page or something, but right now and no offense to the band, I don’t care who these guys are. I’m all about this fantastic collection of incredibly emotive songs! The songs that make up Sketches From Silence are blues based rockers with great elements of melody and just enough metallic crunch to give them heft and an air of significance. Imagine, if you will, the artful melodies of The Beatles mixed with the working class edge of a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd. Songs that are instantly recognizable and emotionally gritty at the same time. Songs performed by musicians who, though exceptionally talented and proficient at their instruments, hang back and add textures . . . flavors . . . panache . . . all at the right times for the benefit of the songs. And, on top of all of that, no two songs sound like they’re cut from the same sheet music. Each track has its own individual feeling and vibe, but Tripdavon does a great job of creating enough consistency within the production to allow us to hear the distinctiveness of each song. The songs are just multiple images of who this band are . . . kinda’ like we’re walking through a carnival hall of mirrors and seeing the band from a variety of different angles.

I fault the opening track, “Annalise,” for distracting me from my gaming duties, but for God’s sake! Listen to the guitar melodies as they dance around the tight ass rhythm section and the bass sustaining those notes with the slight slide up the neck at the end of the measure. The subdued vocals enter the mix, coming across like a tortured artist baring his soul, pleading for his love to return to him. And, just as you’re beginning to buy into this singer’s pain, the song explodes into a chorus filled with, if possible, even more tortured vocals and a melody that tugs at the heart strings. This is an impeccably written and performed song. The composition isn’t your typical verse/chorus/verse/chorus. Tripdavon work in great pieces of music to this composition by adding subtle accents of distorted guitar to accompany the rhythms as well as provide meandering lines of melody; a change up in the formula by including a bridge where I never expected to see a chasm, some clean guitar tones for extra texture, and the elegantly mournful bass runs at the break. All special nuances that provide for continued listening pleasure. “Annalise” is the absolute perfect track to open the album because it offer the listener everything that they could possibly need to grab the attention and compel them to continue listening.

Where “Annalise” is has an upbeat tempo, Tripdavon bring us something a bit more moody and haunting with “This Is Life.” This song is as captivating as it gets. Great melodies woven into the fabric of the composition, uplifting lyrics, and that interstellar musicianship make this song one of my favorites from the album. Opening with a quiet guitar passage, “This Is Life” builds upon itself, note after note, measure after measure, to ultimately become a behemoth of emotional sound. The vocals, so warm, tell a tale of the pleasures and pain of living life, and the lyrics work so damn well with the moodiness of the music. Though, truth be told, the melody and structure are frighteningly reminiscent of “Delivered” from Renegade Saints and like “Delivered,” “This Is Life” captivates the imagination with images of introspective seclusion and emotions scraped raw from life experience. The dynamics to this song are unprecedented and I love when these guys drop all the music down to just the bass, drums, and understated clean guitars after huge walls of open and distorted chords.

“Don’t Leave Without Me” is laced with Beatles-esque melodies and vocal harmonies. Driven by an acoustic guitar softly strumming the rhythm and huge, snapping drums cracking out the beat, this song is another heart wrenching epic, and if you listen close enough, George Harrison is sprinkling his spiritual essence in the bands drinking water. You’re gonna’ have to listen to this track a few times to pick out all of the colorful musical elements that these guys incorporate in their music. “By the River” is a southern groover filled with muddy guitars that reflect the muddy waters of the southern deltas. Fat slide guitars open the track and the vocals burst with sandpaper grit while never sacrificing melody and warmth. There’s a big time blues influence breaking through on this song, making “By the River” another great example of this bands diverse songwriting skill. And, to highlight that songwriting point one more time, “Hold the Line” draws from a place of new age mysticism, laying down ethereal shimmering layers of guitars over a heavy bass drone and a steady as Bonham drum beat. The whole song has a psychedelic vibe to it and it simply works wonders on the mind. Note the musicianship at the break. All the players do their own thing, and it all comes together perfectly.

Sketches From Silence is the bands third full length release, which tells me that Tripdavon have been at this long enough to have learned from past mistakes. And, from what I hear, it shows. This music is complex, especially from an arrangement standpoint, and that can only come from years of experience. But don’t think that because the music is complex that it’s inaccessible. Quite the contrary with these guys, really. Sketches From Silence may be one of the most accessible albums that I’ve ever heard, mainly because the melodies are so infectious, but they’re not those sickly sweet melodies that cater to the kids. Tripdavon capture the classic elements of great songwriting by including melodies that are intelligent and add an edge of danger to the tones, instruments, and performances to make this disc a must listen. They also tackle a couple of cover songs that I admittedly raised an eyebrow at. First is the Beatles classic, “Eleanor Rigby,” the second being the old jazz standard, “St. James Infirmary.” I say I raised an eyebrow at these because of the timelessness of the material, and there are just some songs that are sacred and shouldn’t be mucked with. After listening to Tripdavon’s take on both of these tracks, I’d probably be okay if they came to us with a cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” They didn’t reinvent the songs, but they applied just enough of their own style to the songs to make them sound fresh. Guys! Kudos to you. Sorry it’s taken so long to “discover” you!

Oh, and for those truly interested, I captained my L.A. Kings team through a hard fought battle and a 23 – 9 victory. - Pope JTE

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shrinebuilder - Shrinebuilder

When it was announced at the start of this year that Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Al Cisneros of OM, Dale Crover of the Melvins and doom hero Scott Wino Weinrich were recording an album together, people started freaking out. These are four of the most revered players in the underground stoner/doom/metal/whatever-you-want-to-call-it scene for the past 20 years. Anticipation and expectations have been running high all year, which makes Shrinebuilder the Blind Faith of modern times.

The self titled album has finally arrived. Was it worth the wait and the hype? For the most part, yes. Whenever you get four leaders in a band there’s always potential for trouble. Either egos get out of control and the thing falls apart or everyone is too cautious to step on each others toes. Sounds like these guys worked pretty well together. I guess there wasn’t enough time for arguing, since they rehearsed only once before going into the studio for a weekend. Unsurprisingly, the songs are all pretty long ones – 5 of them in about 40 minutes. Compared to some OM and Neurosis albums, that’s pretty brief.

“Solar Benediction” starts off with a familiar Dale Crover drum fill before the riff comes in and Wino’s familiar voice fills the speakers. He trades lines with Scott Kelly and their voices together sound like a doom metal version of Sam & Dave. It starts off pretty uptempo before slowing down into a very Neurosis sounding middle part.

“Pyramid Of The Moon” bears the stamp of Al Cisneros. It’s a long, droney song that sounds like if OM had a guitar player. He sings this one on his own without any help from the rest of the band. “Blind For All To See” also has an OM feel, starting off with a jazzy bassline and with creepy vocals from Scott Kelly. About halfway through it gets much heavier with some trippy Frippertronics style guitar.

The shortest song on the album, “The Architect” clocks in at a mere 6 minutes and sounds like it could have been on Wino’s solo album Punctuated Equilibrium from earlier this year. Wino’s love of the Mahavishnu Orchestra is clear on the album closer “Science Of Anger.” A terse, repetitive riff with Wino and Scott trading vocals and all sorts of processed guitar fills. Towards the end it changes shape into a heavy half time jam with some great dueling lead guitars.

Overall the album is very strong. At times it sounds like some of the songs were patched together. It’s not surprising how little time the members played together before recording. They’re getting ready to do some shows in the US in the middle of November. I would imagine that by the time they hit the stage the songs will be even better. And much louder, of course!


buy here: Shrinebuilder

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Electrifying Edifice of Ebullient EP's Featuring A Clever Con and Lo-Pro

A Clever Con – The Robot EP

It was only last year that we wrote about the frenetic, Incubus-inspired rock/metal/everything else hybrid that was A Clever Con’s debut demo disc. Now the alt-rock crew come racing back with all guitars blazing on their follow-up release, The Robot EP. And if anything, the band sound freshly charged, fully energized, and more focused than ever. While the demo EP hinted at the chops these cats would wield, “Able Danger,” the lead-off cut, makes it all abundantly clear. No three chord power changes here, no simple strumming and picking. On “Able Danger,” the guitars are full-front and nearly manic in intensity. Intricate, powerful, choppy runs thread through the whole song with a speed that belies a human origin. Now, if that sounds off-putting, don’t let it be. Somehow, A Clever Con manage to contain these frenzied arpeggios into the structure of a freaking catchy song, complete with a sing-it-as-soon-as-you-hear-it chorus. Somehow, there’s more melody and passion contained in this post-Incubus blast of rock than you’d hear on a hundred Nickleback albums. Rock and melody. Complexity and structure. My God, are people actually paying attention to songcraft again? Is the day of producer driven drivel really dead?

Well, probably not, but you won’t find A Clever Con running down that path. These cats are as free-spirited as they come, and they have their own muse to follow. “Little Miss Bombshell,” brings on some beautiful acoustic guitar picking and a melody every bit as captivating as Incubus’s “Drive.” Then just when you think you got the vibe of the song pegged, the fabric of your reality tears apart through the middle section of radio station distortion, and keyboard wailing, falling away to an, out-of-nowhere poly-percussive, neo-african rhythmic freakout. I have no idea what they were inhaling when the thought came to them to do this, but whatever it was, give them some more. It’s rare that a song can change itself so quickly, turning on a dime, mutating into an animal of such a different nature.

Then, lest you think the boys have completely lost the plot in a tribal haze, “Work Related Stress,” blasts back with big, chugging guitars, and every stuck-in-a-cubicle–for-eight-hours-a-day, workman’s plea of “Well, kill me poetically/I like to live my life vicariously.” And what constantly surprises me is how they can take so many choppy, seemingly totally non-commercial verses and passages, and some how tame them into a damn fine, cohesive cut. So many times, I think there’s no way something will work, but damn, if it does. Always better, and more melodically than I’d expect. Definitely more melodically than any lesser band could produce.

We won’t detail every song on this 6-track mini-epic, but trust me, plenty more surprised, unexpected turns, sudden roller-coaster rises and falls await. All the way to the final track, the simply, elegantly beautiful “Heroine.” A Clever Con aren’t a band to play it safe. They push and push the boundaries of their compositions and playing, and so far, nothing has pushed back to reveal that they’re anywhere near their limits.

Lo-Pro – Letting Go EP

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from these earnest rockers, having released their last album way back in 2000. Actually, it’s been longer for me since, I’d never heard that disc or the band’s massively popular single “Sunday.” No, to me, the new Letting Go EP was my first experience with the band’s sound, so I had the chance to really dig deep into this disc with open ears. Lo-Pro play a sort of post Alice in Chains style of grunge heavy rock, but laced with an incredibly strong thread of melody and pop songwriting chops. The key to Lo-Pro is their ability to manage both light and dark, heavy and soaring, charging and delicate all within the framework of one song. Guitars sing in floating acoustic passages, searing away to walls of electric power and might. The vocals rise and fall between an impassioned wail and a gentle tenor. But in either case, the emotion feels real, not forced or hackneyed. There’s passion with out a Creed-esque whine.

And perhaps that’s the best point of reference. Songs like “Texas,” play with dynamics, slower passages and full on charging outbursts of rock, but always manages to avoid everything that made Creed’s version of pop rock so annoying. The song is hooky and catchy with out feeling contrived or calculated. Just strong craft. “Hang On,” follows an Alice in Chains, “No Excuses,” vibe to much the same effect of soft and hard. When the guitars come in, they come in hard. Vocals soar through the undeniable hook of the chorus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Waverider Writes - Dag Nasty and the Power of the Word

By now, you all should know that we at The Ripple Effect love music for a variety of different reasons. But one that seems to get forgotten in the midst of all of the sounds of the music is the words, and the affect that they can have on the listener. Recently, one of our long time readers, a Waverider, and influential being in his own right, came to us after a conversation we all had about the band Dag Nasty. He provided us with a moving piece that he had written about personal strength and eventual understanding based on the lyrics from Dag Nasty’s first album, Can I Say?

Sit back and feel the power that words can have over us as Waverider Ruel shares a personal tale that will touch the soul.

Values Here

By Ruel Gaviola

Sometimes it gets so cloudy
it's hard to see
everything gets distorted
it's all a dream
all these smiling faces
have lost their shine
- “Never Go Back”*

My father's birthday party was an all-night food fest, karaoke jam, and poker game. Nothing fancy, but that's the way my dad likes it: simple and straightforward. We ate, we sang, and we played cards. The smile on his face throughout the evening told the entire story.

Late in the evening as I was helping myself to my third plate of food, I overheard my mom asking if it was too loud for my dad, with his grown boys boozily laughing it up at the poker table, aunts and uncles crooning off-key karaoke, and his granddaughter squealing with delight as she watched her Cinderella DVD for the second straight time.

“Of course not,” he said. “It’s the best kind of noise: family noise.”

Nearly 20 years earlier, the noise coming out of my bedroom was a mix of loud, non-stop heavy metal and punk rock. I became involved in the local crossover scene in which metalheads and punkers influenced each other's music, attitude, and dress. Metalheads were shedding the imagery of dragons and magic that was the foundation of heavy metal while punks added the musical chops of their metal compatriots to their fuck-the-world attitude. Metallica hadn't released the watered-down Black Album yet and Green Day was years away from being discovered by the mainstream.

Rainbows in the Dark were no longer mutually exclusive from Living in the City and I could appreciate the virtuosity of Yngwie Malmsteen while still getting my ass kicked by Black Flag. Cassettes littered my room: Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Minor Threat, Crumbsuckers, English Dogs, Nuclear Assault, Fear, Descendants, and Dag Nasty.
Feeling alone and confused about post-high-school life, I took comfort in the words of Dag Nasty’s debut album “Can I Say.” I listened to Dave Smalley’s simple, direct lyrics and felt as if he had written my innermost thoughts and feelings and sang them over Brian Baker’s melodic, hardcore punk riffs.

I wouldn't speak my mind
I didn't want to make them mad
I looked up to them
for the courage I thought I didn't have
I never bothered to lift a finger to make my point
now I'm spelling it out
and nobody's listening
- “Circles”

My loneliness and confusion quickly became rebelliousness, which eventually came to a head as the nation celebrated another Independence Day. Going against the strict orders of my father, I took my brother with me and my friends, drinking and setting off fireworks at the beach.

Upon our late-night arrival, my father and I got into a shouting match that didn't seem to have an end. Of course, in my young eyes, my father didn't know shit and I certainly wasn’t sticking around to take any more of it. My mother cried her eyes out as I packed my things and began the move to a friend’s house a few cities away.

Besides the bed I would no longer be sleeping in, I left only one thing in my room: my handwritten copy of the lyrics to Dag Nasty’s “One to Two.” I taped the lyrics to my wall, piled the rest of my earthly possessions into the back seat of my Honda Civic, and drove away.

There are things I'd like to say
that I've said too many times before
things I should have done
instead of looking for a way to get out
you'll never know the sorrow I felt
or the hours I've laid awake
thinking about just what you said
how could you know how I felt?
I never took the time to figure it out
or see how the problems arose
I tried to blame the two of you
I can only blame myself
for the pain we felt
- “One to Two”

My mother was beside herself and called me at work every day. It was the first time anyone had left the relative safety of our home, but I didn’t need it anymore. I told her there was absolutely no way I was going to live under the same roof with that old man ever again.

Two weeks later, I moved back.

Living at my buddy's condo wasn’t the paradise I thought it’d be. His grandmother lived downstairs and his girlfriend often shared our room with us. I longed for the privacy of my own room; hell, my own bed would’ve been nice. Sleeping on a floor with cigarette ashes, spilled bong water, and empty malt liquor bottles wasn’t exactly how I was used to living.

The night that I returned home, I unpacked while listening to Can I Say, this time considering the album’s lyrics in a much different and more humbled manner. I was dreading the amount of flack that the old man would give me, since I’d come back to live under his roof, following his rules, tail neatly tucked between my legs.

My dad peered in as I continued my unpacking. I looked up at him.

“It’s good to have you back,” he said.

The words hung in the air before I thanked him. He left without saying anything else as I finished putting my things away.

Almost 20 years later, I recalled my father’s words from that night as his birthday party wound down. I’ll remember that sentence for as long as I live: “It’s good to have you back.” Nothing fancy, just simple and straightforward: that’s my dad. It told me everything I needed to know about the man. No matter what, he would always be my father and I would always be his son.

We have tried and failed
we have stumbled and fallen
we have tried a new taste and spit it back out
we have taken a left turn when we meant to turn right
we lost sight of our origins
but our past never lost sight of us
- “Justification”

*All songs and lyrics from the album “Can I Say” by Dag Nasty

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Morning Metal Report Featuring The Atlas Moth, Faust, and Crack Up

It’s been awhile since I’ve treated you Waveriders to a delightful set of metal for your Monday morning travels, and it’s not because of lack of metal. Oh no! There’s been more metal that I can shake a stick at (Racer . . . get me a stick!) I’ve just been busy with other topics that needed my attention. But rest assured, I haven’t forgotten you metal heads and what it is that get’s you up and at ‘em on a Monday morning. Coffee is all fine and dandy, but what you really need is metal, metal, and maybe some more metal. This edition of the Monday Morning Metal Report features a varied selection of recent releases that stopped me dead in my tracks, metal ranging from technically complex to emotionally raw to downright terrifying. Sit back . . . enjoy . . . and don’t forget to go to work.

The Atlas Moth – A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky

Fresh from Candlelight Records, The Atlas Moth brings us a lesson in the horrifying and the bizarre. A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky has as much to do with ambient trance metal as it does with the brutality of death metal. It’s experimental and progressive, but hefty as the weight of the world on Atlas’ shoulders. Weird textural sounds flutter over heavy ass, distorted guitar tones, and some of the sounds simply drone along with the groove of the songs like trails from a bad trip. But then, amidst all of the doom-y tones and waves of feedback, there are these beautiful melodies that meander across the spectrum, like iridescent butterflies making their way across the desolation of apocalypse. Beauty within tragedy. A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky is an amazing musical journey that will have your checking your bags (and your senses) at the gate . . . coz’ where this album takes you, there’s no need for a change of clothes.

“Grey Wolves” should freak you the fuck out. It did me. But to really grasp the intensity of “Grey Wolves,” one must go to the songs predecessor and title track, “A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky.” This track opens up with a riff that's reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” but ugly and menacing, and then it morphs into a chaotic frenzy of howled out agro vocals that send chills up the spine. Littered with shrill notes and atonal walls of abrasiveness, the song shifts in tempo numerous times, dragging us listeners on a white knuckle trip through someone’s nightmare. By the time the song begins to wind down, we nerve shattered listeners are grabbing for the crushed pack of cigarettes wadded up in our shirt pocket, and with shaking and unsteady hand, try lighting the cigarette freshly clenched between our lips. By now, the feedback from the end of the song has completely washed over us and we feel as if we’ve been able to salvage a small piece of our sanity. That is, until the feedback becomes “Grey Wolves” and that screeched, banshee vocal shatters the relative calm. And it’s not just the sudden vocals, but the explosion of distorted guitars and crash of stick to drum head and cymbal. I damn near jumped out of my flesh . . . skeleton running in panic down the street. The whole album does this to you! It lulls you into a state of complacency and then jumps out of the shadows to yell, “BOO!” A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky is the best horror movie that I’ve ever listened to!

Faust – From Glory To Infinity

From Glory to Infinity is an album of contrasts. Granted, the vast majority of the material featured on the album is high speed, blackened, blast beat laden, death metal grinding, but Faust show us that they have diversity to their extreme approach. Maybe it’s their Italian heritage that has these guys offering up more classical sounding pieces than the average sound extremists, but whatever it is, it’s a good thing. So often, I pass over extreme metal offerings not because the music is so abominable, but because there’s no dimensional quality to it. For me, a piece of music needs to travel. It can go in a loop like a race car on a track, or it can meander along a course both serene and treacherous. Faust does a nice job of mixing all of the emotions up, and taking us on a more treacherous course. Throw in some amazing technical wizardry to the bombastic compositions just to show that they have the chops to hang with just about anybody and well, you know that just gets me right in the ticker.

Note on opening track, “Purple Children,” how Faust shifts out of the blast beat flurry and high octane note exchange, to a slower groove with heavily sustained chords. Nothing terribly fancy, but the contrast in tones creates a grandness to the song that would not have been there otherwise. On top of the bands ability to shift tempos in mid song, these guys use some great tones to the instruments to take the music places a lot of black or death metal doesn’t seem to go. Listen to the, again, beautifully executed tempo shift on “Wet Veils” just before the super melodic and technically adept guitar solo pushes against the waves of chaos. Great contrast! It’s an almost jarring transition, but one done very well. And then, of course, there’s “Sentimental Worship” and the great instrumental break with what sounds like a fretless bass laying down tones that would more commonly drift from the seedier jazz clubs. From Glory to Infinity is an epic listen and made captivating by the musical proficiency of the musicians at hand.

Crack Up – From the Ground

What do you get when you combine the detuned, heavily distorted guitar tones and guttural vocals of Sweden’s death metal scene and mix it with a healthy dose of melody and balls to the wall rock attitude? Apparently, you get death n’ roll, and there’s a whole genre of this stuff lurking around the underground. Who knew? From the Ground was originally released in 1997 through Nuclear Blast and now has been re-issued through Metal Mind Productions, and I gotta’ say . . . I like it! Death metal? Good. Rock n’ roll? Good. Death n’ roll? Silly name, but music goooooood! Crack Up does a great job of laying down just the right amount of attitude without being over the top and bringing some burly tones into the music to make it sound opposing. The album is a runaway locomotive of brutality that tears through unsuspecting towns wherever tracks are laid. Ultimately though, it’s a rip roarin’ good time!

“Razzberry” captures the various death n’ roll characteristics as well as any songs out there by seamlessly shifting from oppressive death metal riff to a metal movement that’s damn near bouncing. There’s an underlying tension running through the song, and it all finally bursts wide open near the midpoint. “Boomer” has a serious bounce to it, but again, the song features huge elements of death with the massive pounding of the double bass drums and wall of distorted guitars. “Rats” is the be all, end all track for me. Fairly short and to the point, the song is made up of a huge riff, a powerhouse groove, fuck all aggressive lyrics and convincing attitude. “Rats” is as metal as it gets! From the Ground is a defiant album filled with songs about inner strength and self reliance. - Pope JTE

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Sunday Conversation with Steve McLeod

After Steve McLeod’s album, Human Uniform, left the Ripple offices a gyrating soulful mess, we tracked the man down in the midst of a tour across Australia to see how he made the whole groovin’ thing happen. With the help of a number of the major (and a few of the minor) colleges along the West Coast, we were able to split atoms, or refract light and sound waves, or whatever scientific jargon it took to teleport the good Mr. McLeod from Down Under to the red leather interview couch. So, sit right alongside us and find out a thing or two about Steve McLeod and how Human Uniform came to be.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, and Simon & Garfunkle, the first time I ever hear Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphanies since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

The first one that comes to mind is hearing / seeing Prince's Purple Rain. I was just a kid and didn't understand the depth of it but all I can say is that it hit me...and since then music has been it for me. Then I'd say listening back to my dad and brothers record collection. Jimi Hendrix Axis:Bold as Love and all The Beatles stuff changed the way I hear music. Also, hearing Richie Kotzen's Mother Head's Family Reunion for the first time - WOW.

Human Uniform is packed with a wide variety of musical styles, which can make categorizing it a challenge. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

Guitar driven, groove, heavy but sometimes soft, busy but emotional.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

When writing there is no standard process for me. Sometimes I'll be on the piano and a progression or vamp I'm jammin on will inspire something, other times it will be the guitar. Mostly it's the guitar as it's always around me. Also, ideas for song titles that I have written down sometimes inspires me.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

My musical intention is to keep things real and honest. In the songwriting, real and honest. In the recording/performances, if there are mistakes but the vibe is there, I'll leave it.

Being that all of the instruments on Human Uniform are played by you, and obviously all instruments were tracked at separate times, how were you able to make the music so cohesive? How were you able to retain such soul power in the music?

When tracking, I start with the drums first. I play along to a click track and a basic guide until I get the take that feels right. Then I lay down guitars, then vocals, then bass and keys and percussion. I don't think about it too much to tell you the truth. I just go with what I'm hearing in my head and the feeling of right or wrong.

Great music touches each listener differently, but for you, what makes a great song?

Melody - When you hear it and it makes you feel something you can't explain. One that you can listen to over and over and never get tired of. For me, every time I hear "Let It Be", I get the same feeling no matter how many times I hear it.

What piece of your music are you particularly proud of?

Off my album, I am really proud of "Push The Pedal." That song is pretty typical of my guitar, bass and drumming style. Outside of my album would be a song called "Beautiful Life" that I wrote with Richie Kotzen for his Wilson Hawk record. Working with Richie was the greatest moment for me as he is one of my idols. He is a genius. I have learned so much from him.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

Staying motivated is cool because I don't play for the business. In regards to making money from it, it can be difficult for a new act with so much happening. Great music can get lost which sucks as there's some amazing stuff out there. My plans is to just keep on making music. If people hear it cool, if they don't that's cool too because I have to play whether there is money in it or not. Money can be earned elsewhere.

Describe to us the ideal (realistic) record label and how you'd work with them, and they with you.

The ideal situation with working with a label would be them - promotion and distribution but I own the masters. Split things evenly and fairly. Keep it simple, as if your dealing with family, not enemies.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

I love listening to vinyl. Especially Miles Davis and Beatles records. I love reading the linear notes, studying the artwork...Having said that, I'm cool with digital too as I understand the convenience of it.

Any words of wisdom that you’d like to share to our readers?

I can't say that I am very wise, but just wanna say thanks to the readers for taking the time to read this and if you ever hear my music, thanks for taking the time to do that also.

As our goal here at the Ripple is to shine a brilliant light on these well-deserving artists, we were thrilled to learn that a site as large in the industry as Jemm Site, home of the famous guitars, picked up our little conversation with Steve McLeod and made it a feature on their own blog site.

To check it out, go and see what other nice tidbits they have in store for you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ripple News - M Pop Muzik, the Remix Album hits the Stores

Let's face it. There really aren't too many '80's pop songs as fun as M's "Pop Muzik."

Well now, Union Square Music announces a 30th anniversary compilation celebrating a classic new wave anthem. Pop Muzik - The Remix Album compiles original versions, demos, and remixes, like Perfecto's Steve Osbourne mix, one of several commissioned by U2 (all of which are featured on this album) as the opening anthem of their Pop Mart tour. Other tracks come from dance artists including Junior Vasquez and Dub Pistols, brand new work from new wave pioneers Devo, and even a Cuban/salsa cover version by Rhumba Calzada.

And let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've heard "Pop Muzik" redone by Devo. Brilliant! You also have to hear the original demo of "Pop Muzik," which sounds nothing like the version we've all come to know and love.

"Pop Muzik" hit #1 in the US in 1979 and, in the UK, hit #2 as Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes" was at #1, signaling the end of the easy listening, MOR- saturated 1970s and ushering in the electro, new wave 1980s whose influence is all over the current pop charts. "Pop Muzik's" influence is everywhere... The first rap hit in the UK, it's been featured in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, covered by hip-hop acts like Tricky and even been honored with versions in LEGO and The Sims.

Friday, November 20, 2009

the Estranged - Singles

Through the technological wonder and infinite time-sink that is Facebook, I’ve had the fun of reconnecting with gobs of old friends from college, high school, heck, even grade school; and part of that fun is seeing how many of my friends still maintain their youthful passion for music, no matter what kind. Jeff is off and running to see King Khan in the City, Diana is posting early morning videos of Alan Parsons, Dave has a Kiwi-American hybrid playlist. It’s all good. More recently, I’d learned that an old middle-school friend and I developed into musical soul mates, both deriving an insane amount of musical orgasmatronation from the dark and deadly post punk movement of the early 80’s.

And to satisfy that urge, Steve, have I got one for you.

A while back, I described the latest single from The Estranged, a trio of former Remains of the Day, Hellshock, From Ashes Rise and Warcry members, as "a two-song blast of agitated post-punk. Brimming with energy and dynamics, mean, aggressive, discordant and utterly captivating." I noted that "comparisons to Joy Division, Mission of Burma, and The Wipers will flow over these guys like rain from the critics, but I also hear some of the best of the rockier side of post-punk, like New Model Army, T.S.O.L. and even the Gang of Four."

Naturally, being a freak for the band, I did everything in my power to cajole and prod Black Water Records into tossing a few more tidbits my way. And man, did they ever. The Estranged Singles is a charging, full on assault of primal post punk and roll, loading with intensely dark and driving bass lines, bursts of spastic, near-epileptic guitar, throaty, determinedly passionate vocals, and machine-gun pulse drumming. This isn’t droney and mopey, shoegaving postpunk. The Estranged put the “punk” firmly back into post punk. This is spiky, punchy, dark and deranged, madness, and, oh my God, is it good.

Even the singles that I loved earlier sound so much better now. I don’t know if it’s because my earlier listen was from a crappy CD-R burned from the original vinyl single and sent to me by another webzine, or if my ears have just fully matured to their sound. Regardless, I don’t have the superlatives to bring to these tracks. “Fast Trains,” begins with as dark and ominous a bass line as you’ll ever find, rumbling out of the speakers full of dark mystery and malevolence. Guitars and drums kick in simultaneously, the guitars slicing through the mix like some acidic Andy Gill offspring, the drums locking onto a mutated polyrhythmic battle stomp. The whole affair picks up energy in the first 30 seconds until it is positively exploding with tension and dark drama. By the time the vocals drop in, thick and throaty, perfectly intonated for the nastiness of the piece, I’m in heaven. Seriously. We’ve played this song at least four times on Ripple Radio and I still can’t get enough of it. Insanely dark, driving, pure punk in attitude, if not sound. Be sure to check out the mid-song breakdown, with its stuttering verse, rotating bass and absolutely histrionic guitar spasms. Breathless, I’m actually breathless.

“The Masses,” also lives up to my prior billing, blending a new level of guitar complexity into the pure post punk proceedings. Impassioned, intense, damn dark, and absolutely compelling. I hear a little of the choppy, Stoogey punk of Get Smart here, but really, The Estranged are tearing off into their territory on menacing nightmares. Brooding, the song seems to circle around me like a starving lioness hunting her prey. Then in moments of sheer frenzy the attack comes, bass flying, drums pounding, guitar flying through huge, heavily distorted runs. Stunning.

As a collection of the 7” singles from the band’s history, it’s just as refreshing to hear that their other material is just as strong. “Sacred Decay,” bristles with rough intensity like a nerve freshly dissected and left raw and exposed. More melody finds its way here, of such craft that, if it wasn’t so intense and disturbing, it’d actually be beautiful. To my ears, this is what Nirvana should’ve sounded like. And other than Dave Grohl, The Estranged are probably better musicians. Just listen to that bass, and its high run up the neck, then back into its plodding riff. Listen to that guitar tone, sounding as close to a frayed neuron as you’ll ever hear. The drumming is complex and relentless. “Thru The Night,” follows the same path, mining a similar agit-punk vibe as “Sacred Decay,” tossing another huge, sing-able melody your way.

I don’t really know the chronology of these songs, but my impression is that it’s kind of a reverse order, with the newer stuff being first, then the earlier stuff following. I may be wrong, but it would make sense as the last four songs, representing two A and B sides, seem rawer, more intense, and more directly punk than the preceding. That is in no way a criticism. In fact, it’s amazing to hear the band developing their sound, and being just as convincing with the more plowing “Statue in the Room,” or the hardcore, 80’s punk of “Nothing to Say,” as they were on “Fast Trains.”

It’s rare that a band comes along that so perfectly capture a moment of my musical zeitgeist, but The Estranged has. True to their name, The Estranged play it harsh and cold, agitated and dark. It’s a lonely world view they hold, but not one they hold alone. Count me along for the ride.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Anvil – Past & Present Live

Originally released in 1989 on Metal Blade, it’s good to have Anvil’s kick ass live album back in print. This came out after their minor brush with North American success thanks to the video for “Mad Dog” from the 1987 album Strenth of Steel and right before their decline into obscurity. We all know that Anvil is now bigger than ever thanks to the excellent film Anvil! The Story of Anvil but a lot of people are unaware about how great Anvil was (and still is) as a live band.

Recorded at The Waters Club in Long Beach, California the set is mainly classics from 1982’s Metal On Metal and 1983’s Forged In Fire albums. Oddly, the album starts off with “Concrete Jungle” from Strength of Steel, a slower song from the band before kicking into the bizarre speed metal square dance of “Toe Jam” from 1988’s Pound For Pound.

“Motormount” is the first of the old classics on the album and it’s even faster than the recorded version. This is pure Nugent meets Motorhead gonzo boogie that no one else has dared to attempt. The band slow down for their personal pounding metal anthem “Forged In Fire” - a true neck wrecker this is a staple in their live set to this day.

Lips is clearly excited to introduce the hockey influenced song “Blood On The Ice” because he loves it when the players “beat the fuck out of each other.” It sounds kinda like that’s what they’re doing to their instruments, too. After that they launch into their classic Iron Maiden meets UFO instrumental “March of the Crabs.” This song has had an obvious influence on Metallica with the twin guitar crunch of Lips and Dave Allison. It leads into Robb Reiner’s killer drum solo before he brings the band back in for the ultra speedy “Jackhammer.”

“Metal On Metal” gets all the fists shaking, heads banging and voices screaming the title at full volume. Barely pausing for breath, they go right into the all time classic “Winged Assasins.” Robb and bassist Ian Dickson set up a frantic double bass groove before the song lifts off and soars.

The highlight of the entire album comes with an awesome medley of the Slayer-esque “666” and “Mothra.” In the early 1980’s, “666” was up there with “Fast As A Shark” as the fastest metal song of all time. Robb’s drumming is unreal on this. “Mothra” is also a showstopper. The band really stretch out on this one and give Lips plenty of room to go nuts on the guitar. A highlight of any Anvil show is when Lips sings through the pickup of his Flying V on this song. The only thing that would improve this album would be some bonus tracks. I was lucky enough to catch Anvil live around the time this was recorded and they were playing “Mad Dog” (including Lips bringing out his bulldog Beast on stage to show off the dog’s testicles) and the vibrator masterpiece “Bondage.”

Anvil is touring North America at the beginning of 2010. If you’ve never caught them live, this will give you a good indication of what to expect. The band is a 3 piece now with the awesome G5 on bass and has lost none of its power. On a side note, if you liked the movie check out the Anvil autobiography that just came out, too. It has a lot of great stories from the early days and more behind the scenes stuff from the making of the movie. HEAVY!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Skeletonwitch - Breathing the Fire

I often find myself in a place of reverie, contemplating what my life would be like without heavy metal. From the time that I first heard the distorted notes of “Detroit Rock City” at the tender age of six, to the more poppy, yet still fairly aggressive riffs of Def Leppard’s Pyromania, to the ultimate epiphany of Metallica’s Ride the Lightening or Slayer’s Haunting the Chapel, the music has always been that something special that I’ve been able to rely on. My metal never let me down. It was always there when I needed it the most. Even recently with my discovery of such oppressively dark and extreme metal as Opeth, Katatonia, or Byzantine, I’ve found myself turning to it for, oddly enough, comfort. There’s just something about the distorted and detuned notes blasting from a stack of Marshall or Mesa Boogie amps. It gets me right in the soul when I hear the double bass drums hammering away while the low end drone of the bass guitars coat the music in a sheet of warmth. And then, the usual apocalyptic and doom laden lyrics screeched away by vocals that have more in common with stone grinders than a choir of angels, well . . . that’s the stuff that makes me forget about my real world problems. For those brief moments in time, those few minutes of aggressive splendor unleashed upon my aural senses, I realize that there is no other music that has as much power over me as does heavy metal.

Upon my desk rests the new album from Skeletonwitch, a band that was introduced to me a little over a year ago and who blew me away with their proficient playing and aggressive energy. Beyond the Permafrost was a solid album and one that has made its way into my player on many occasions when I needed to release some steam. Where Permafrost was a strong and solid album, this new disc, Breathing the Fire is a fucking throw down with bear sized men wielding blunt instruments of destruction in a dark alley on a cold and rainy night. Breathing the Fire is that perfect blend of thrash metal mixed with NWOBHM twin guitar harmonies mashed up with the blackest forms of extreme metal. When I first heard Haunting the Chapel, I thought, “My God. What is this dark and evil sound that pierces the sheer fabric of my reality?” and the moment I heard this opening burst of metal delivered by Skeletonwitch, I was taken back to my first youthful experience with the dark side.

There’s no epic build up or creepy instrumental intro to this album. “Submit to the Suffering” blasts out of the speakers without warning, double bass drums pounding away, guitars providing a distorted flurry of notes, all coming at high octane speed. It only takes a few seconds to recognize that Skeletonwitch have one thing in mind and that’s leveling any obstacle in their path. This song is comprised of one great riff after another. Once the vocals engage in the melee, listen to the guitar licks. That’s just a cool fucking riff! And I love how these guys change things up within a piece of music. Quick starts and stops give the songs room to move, and then there are the massive shifts of tempo and emotion as seen at the midpoint of “Submit the Suffering.” That’s the kind of break that snaps necks! Gotta’ love the vocal change as vocalist Chance Garnett goes from the higher pitch, screeching vocals to the deep down, guttural vomitous vocal style. This song makes me want to throw something heavy at someone light.

“Where the Light Has Failed” is made up of another fantastic riff that gallops along with a high speed rhythm. The thing that comes to mind while listening to this track is that this band has come together as musicians since Beyond the Permafrost. The musical growth is phenomenal! The composition to this track is complex, especially as it weaves from the main body of the song across the bridge and into a technically snazzy break. Then, rather than continue pummeling us with massive amounts of notes, the guitars begin to sustain a bit more and a fairly melodic guitar solo creeps out of the darkness. One doesn’t usually associate the word classy with music of such extremes, but I’m far from usual and classy is the word that I like for this particular condition. Y’all know how I love dynamics in my metal, and at a mere two minutes and seventeen seconds in length, I’m further impressed with the bands capability to add so much music in such a short amount of time. It’s almost like when one sees a painting close up and there are all of the vibrant colors and textural details, images all swirled upon one another, and then . . . a couple steps are taken away from the painting and it becomes apparent that the initial work of art is merely a small portion making up a greater detailed masterpiece. Skeletonwitch have incorporated detailed pieces of music in condensed spaces of time, but in listening to the whole thing, it becomes this elaborate and complex sonic being. Truly amazing work!

Skeletonwitch reach into a deep bag of old school thrash for inspiration, but what I dig about these guys is that they don’t go full on retro with the sound. They utilize enough elements of modern metal to make it sound relevant for today while mixing in great moments of thrash energy and technical proficiency. As mentioned, the musicianship of this band has definitely grown, particularly in the approach of guitarists Nate Garnett and Scott Hedrick. But let’s not overlook the immense talents of the rhythm section of drummer Derrick Nau and bassist Evan Linger. “Release From the Catacombs” highlights the rhythm section like none other. Nau’s blastbeats open the songs and he then propels the song with a healthy dose of double bass drum work and outstanding fills, and Linger’s contribution to the song will become that of legend in due time. He’s running his fingers all over the neck of his bass like he’s massaging the knots out of a boulder. Man . . . it’s a beautiful, virtuosic performance without being noodle-y. I want to go out and break my finger as punishment, for they fail me and deserve worse.

I could go on for days about the details of Breathing the Fire and I fear that no matter how much I praise this album, my words will not be doing enough of a service. Maybe it’s the fact that I need the full on aggressive metal in my life right now. Maybe it’s the state of the world affairs that makes me turn to the comforting sounds of destruction. Maybe it’s all the hype about the inevitable end of the world in 2012 that has me looking at today’s modern metal like it’s a survivor’s guide for the apocalypse. I don’t have the answers. But I do know that I love heavy metal and when it’s played with as much intensity, integrity, and fuck all tenacity as Skeletonwitch have displayed on this new disc, then I know that all is once again right in the world. Dig deep into this one, Waveriders. Breathing the Fire has layers to it with high level technical complexity, all the way to primal savagery, and the more you listen to it, the more detailed the music becomes. And the more detailed that the music becomes, the more and more you’ll become fascinated with the swirling patterns of notes as they bounce around your soul.

One last item of note. The label, Prosthetic Records, is taking pre-orders for the album in separate orange and white vinyl editions. I’m thinking I’m going for the orange. Of course, there’s always the black . . . decisions . . . decisions . . . - Pope JTE

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Extended Play Tuesday: Puscifer and Loomis and the Lust

Puscifer – C is for (Please Insert Sophmoric Genitalia Reference Here) EP

Once upon a time Maynard James Keenan applied his unique vocal stylings to Tool, and Tool alone. Then, he signed on with A Perfect Circle and we all got to hear his voice do something that we weren’t quite used to. Now, our hero is fronting a band called Puscifer and showing even further range to those plaintive pipes, hitting us with a whole new set of emotions that will require us to check ourselves for the nervous breakdown that’s bound the ensue. Put together as a project to quell the chaos in Keenan’s skull, Puscifer is an individual and collaborative quest for greater musical discovery. The sounds, as we’ve come to expect, build with ever mounting tension, but then for the unexpected, the music has a dance floor groove . . . an underlying swing to the whole thing. Industrial jazz with alt-rock moments, perhaps?

Opening track, “Polar Bear,” has a swagger to it, but rather than imagining a 1920’s jazz club, all smoky, sweaty, and sultry, the setting for this track would be a dilapidated warehouse with bare light bulbs flickering in the darkness and pools of water settled across the floor. Wickedly dark, but sexy. The feel carries on with “The Mission,” as the low end groove powers the tune along. The powerful female vocals provided by Milla Jovovich (?) compliment Keenan’s more laid back and passive performance, and the creeped out, goth-y dark imagery continues, almost like we’ve entered some post apocalyptic piano lounge. C is for . . . is a great collection of tunes and doesn’t lack in intensity, even as the music slows down to a more ambient entity on “The Humbling River” and the live version of “Momma Sed.” It’s almost as if the music becomes even heavier and more intense as the tempo and textures shift to the atmospheric. Absolutely addicting and a disc that I’m thrilled beyond belief to have stumbled on, it’s a fantastic “door opener” to the rest of the bands catalog.

Loomis and The Lust – Nagasha

Loomis and The Lust came out of nowhere to grab my attention with this disc. It’s called Nagasha (as I’m sure you can read in the title) and it flat out moves! These guys play a brand of rock that I’ve never been comfortable categorizing; simply because there’s so much going on and that any categorization would unjustly pigeon hole their sound. Let’s just call it rock n’ roll, for that’s where all of this started. The music is packed with a great mixture of distorted and clean toned guitars, solid drum work and in-the-pocket bass groove, and melodic vocals that steer clear of the whining, sniveling sound that seems to assail the senses from most of the current pop rock bands assailing our senses. They travel a poppy road with a touch of harder edged rock, but by no means veering into the lanes of oncoming metal. Addictively catchy melodies swirl with a light hearted and fun-time attitude while incorporating a variety of musical styles, making Nagasha come across like the soundtrack for summer fun. It’s a sound that we’ve all heard before, the only difference is . . . these guys do really frickin’ well!

“Bright Red Chords” is just fun! As lead vocalist / guitarist, Will Loomis, states that the music is primal and hits his hips before his mind, it immediately becomes apparent that there’s no hidden socio-political message buried in the lyrics. It’s a song all about having fun with music . . . just the way it used to be when we would all gather around the turntable to enjoy the magic of recorded sound. Well . . . us older folk, that is. “Break on Love” suddenly shifts in mood and style, spilling out a fairly ballsy blues-y Stones-esque riff. This tune has some fantastic vocal harmonies, but what gets me with every listen is the break at the midpoint. The song goes from barroom blues to city funk, pushed into movement by some beautiful guitar work. Then there’s “Sweetness.” Man . . . talk about gum on the bottom of your shoe! The song is heavy in melody, has great dynamics, and is a well composed piece. Five songs long, Nagasha is a quick listen, but one that you’ll find yourself coming back to time after time. - Pope JTE

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