Thursday, October 31, 2013

Inbellum - Are You Still With Me?

Over the years that we’ve been doing The Ripple Effect, and even well, well before that, there have been a billion bands that have come along that have mixed genres that seemingly shouldn’t be mixed. In the 90’s, specifically, we had rap and metal doing this mash up thing, and it started off well enough….who remembers Rage Against The Machine and the Judgment Night soundtrack? And before all that, Anthrax and Beastie Boys really paving the way? Of course, we all remember what happened after that and the bane of metal existence, Nu Metal. At times, it worked and when it worked, it had moments of brilliance. Unfortunately, the whole movement became more about posturing, image and the by-product of the Look-At-Me Generation. The substance of the music was lost and the movement suffered.

Then, along comes a little band out of Los Angeles called Inbellum. They really have nothing to do with Nu Metal or hip-hop per se, but they are doing this amalgam of musical styles in a way that I haven’t heard as of yet. Is it too early to call them pioneers? I don’t think so. They’re forging new ground and pushing the envelope of the music that has inspired them. Is it a fresh sound? Yeah. I gotta think so. Again, it’s not something that I’ve heard before and it makes me take a step back and assess, and actually become a little introspective. The music creates a movement within me, not just a physical movement of head bobbing and toe tapping, but a movement of the emotion….and as most of you should know about me by now, if music makes me feel on an emotional level, then it’s a winner.

Oh….right! The music. I haven’t described this sound yet! Imagine if you will….the cool summer sip of a refreshing beverage in the form of reggae mixed with the chaotic and stifling summer city night of heavy metal. Incredible moments of chill and subtlety blended perfectly with bursts of abrasion and aggressive angst. Inbellum have really captured my imagination with this debut disc entitled Are You Still With Me? On top of doing a great job of mashing up the two musical styles, this SoCal quartet have the musical chops….great guitar work; seamlessly shifting from clean tones to heavily distorted walls of noise, the bass being the focal point during the classic reggae sounds and bursting with a pulsating fire when the heaviness kicks in, the drummer provides a clinic; never over playing his parts yet throwing in just enough pizzazz to make sure you’re paying attention. And the singer! Damn….this dude does it all. He can belt it out with best metal howlers out there, and then downshift to that clean crooning approach, adding tons of melody throughout.

Are You Still With Me? is a twelve song epic highlighted by….jeez, I don’t know. All the songs? If I had to pick three songs, I’d go with “Tequila Sunset”, “Just For Today” and “Residuum”.
“Tequila Sunset” has that classic reggae groove, punctuated by the rhythm section and accentuated with the great vocals melodies, even as the music takes a progressively heavier tone during the choruses. It’s the kind of song that has me swaying at my desk, craving a rum based beverage and/or a spliff. The reverbed guitar solo has class, and love the way this guy can transition from that clean tone to the wall of distortion, and back again.

“Just For Today” is fucking killer! Massive amounts of low end and psychedelic guitar work kick this beast off, and then a steady dose of metal replaces it all and beats us senseless. I love it…they don’t rush the transitions of this tune, the boys let the song do the work, it all comes across very natural. The buildup, the release of tension, the cigarette at the end….a truly satisfying experience. I’m just trying to figure out who bought dinner…

“Residuum” is the album closer, and it’s almost like Inbellum saved the best for last. Kicking off with a bout of brutality before dropping down the grooved out reggae sounds, the vocals coming across plaintively, yet with an inner strength of conviction. Absolutely class song! I’d love to try and compare this song to someone else, but I can’t. It reminds me of nobody else. That’s a great fucking thing in my book. It begs the question, what musicians inspire these guys? Fuck it….I don’t care. I have this album in rotation and I’m inspired every time I hear this song.

Are You Still With Me? isn’t going to appeal to everybody, unfortunately. There are still way too many close minded metal heads out there to appreciate the complexity and the soul of Inbellum’s delivery. It’s too soft, they’ll say. What’s this reggae shit, they’ll bitch. The pure reggae fans will probably feel like their ears are being raped when the metal kicks in. Or, they’ll be too baked to recognize what’s going on and wouldn’t care otherwise. But, for a music fan, Are You Still With Me? is the kind of record that will keep them coming back for more, a record that will sit in the collection as a triumph. I personally love it and can’t wait to hear more from these guys. I want to see them on a big stage, a big tour, and winning over the masses. They’re underdogs, and I love me an underdog.

Are You Still With Me? Ha! Gentlemen….I never left!!!


Daily Bandcamp Album; Seethin' Heathen by Downriver

"...In 1982 rock and roll as we know it died. However, in this age of electronics, disco (now known by various aliases) and pre-fabricated tv pop stars, the grisly corpse of rock and roll resurrected itself from the grave, to once again wreak havoc upon society..."

Here's some killer heavy metal with a bluesy stoner rock vibe going. This thing shreds like there's no tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Folks Behind the Music - JJ from The Obelisk

The Obelisk. What needs to be said?  They're one of the main staples of the heavy rock scene, the main forum for discussion and one all around badass site. And JJ runs it like a Swiss Train.  Simply perfect.

In fact, it's the photo below that inspired this entire series of "Folks Behind the Music" interviews.  I saw JJ, at Stoner Hands of Doom, writing feverishly between performaces, scribbling out notes that he'd then go back home and post as a day-of-the-show update.    It was that dedication to his site, his devotion to the music, that uncompromising passion that captured me.  I had to know what made this guys tick.

So here we go. 

Start at the beginning, how did you get started with this crazy idea of writing about music?

I wish I could take credit and say I knew it was what I wanted to do all along, but I can’t. In college, I worked at my school’s radio station and sort of flopped into an internship at The Aquarian, which is the longest-running alt-weekly newspaper in New Jersey, and  from there I became a columnist, then the editor – which is one of my professional gigs now – and just kind of fell into doing criticism.

I had always loved writing, kept journals like I think a lot of people do (more than will admit it, anyway), and loved music, but I just wanted to write all the time. From when I was about 11 years old on. As soon as I could do it, I wanted to do it. I still just want to write – be it creative nonfiction, fiction, whatever – but writing as a career isn’t really feasible since I’m neither that talented nor that good at marketing myself. Writing about music as a career path wasn’t something I knew you could actually make a life choice to do – and I think probably in terms of lifetime earning potential, future prospects for growth and several other levels, it isn’t. Or at very least it’s a choice anyone who’s thinking about getting into it wants to ponder long and hard before making – but once I found out, there was really no other choice for me.

Basically, I’ve discovered over the course of the last decade or so that I’ve been doing this for one outlet or another (I left The Aquarian for a couple years to work at Metal Maniacs but went back after the latter folded) that I’m completely inept at everything else, and that writing about music, for better or worse, it’s pretty much all I’ve got. It has been a startling realization, but I consider myself lucky to have come to it before my bridges were completely burned.

We're all the product of our musical past. What's your musical history? First album you ever bought? First musical epiphany moment? First album that terrified the hell out of you?

Couldn’t tell you what the first album I bought was as a kid. I was the younger of two siblings and so took some significant influence from my older sister. Somehow I got ahold of a copy of The Beatles’ Past Masters Vol. 1, and that was the first CD I ever owned. I had it before I had a player to play it on. Shortly thereafter, I swiped a bunch of her CDs that had recently come out – C.O.C.’s Blind, Rollins Band’s The End of Silence and so on. Soon after I bought copies of Master of Puppets and Alice in Chains’ Dirt and Primus’ Sailing the Seas of Cheese and that was the end of me. Lost to it. I got into metal early-enough on in high school, listening to the shitty bands that the mid-‘90s had on offer, and then a coworker at the KB Toys where I was employed at the time (store #1051 in Morris Plains; gone now) told me I should check out Amorphis. Their Tuonela album was one of the first conscious explorations I had of underground metal. Shortly after, I was given a mix tape (yes, on tape) with At the Gates on it. Heavy stuff for a 16 year old. I’d heard Clutch at that point, dug White Zombie, Type O Negative, Fear Factory and stuff like that, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I really began to dig into heavy rock, Kyuss, Sleep, etc., or even really gained an appreciation for Black Sabbath, though Ozzy’s earlier solo stuff had always been a good time. I was basically a metal kid. A lot of heavy rockers, as I’d later find out, come to it through punk.

New Jersey of course was home to one of the best heavy rock scenes in the country, mostly in the middle part of the state, in Red Bank, which birthed the likes of Monster Magnet, Solarized, Core, Halfway to Gone, The Atomic Bitchwax, Solace, and on and on. Simply put, I was late. I missed its beginnings. Similarly, New Brunswick has a history of putting on hardcore house shows that at this point goes back more than 20 years and has launched the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan and probably a dozen others whose names I’ve no real interest in tracking down. I missed that too. I’ve never felt like I was a part of a scene. None of my friends in high school really liked the same music I did – or if they did, it was a passive thing – and by the time I was doing college radio, metalcore was starting to come up and that got a lot of attention. I don’t want to paint myself as some kind of righteous outsider who was in on some cool shit before everyone found out about it. That’s not the case. I was a loser then and I still am in much the same way. I’ve always felt apart from whatever is happening around me. The only difference is now it happens at stoner rock shows because people actually show up.

The first record that scared the hell out of me was Covenant, by Morbid Angel, which recently turned 20. I heard it when I was 11 years old and had never encountered anything so extreme before. One of my parents’ friends’ kids was into death metal, I remember. Death posters on the wall, and I heard Morbid Angel for the first time and wondered what was going on, if his record player was broken or something. Similarly -- and I expect this is something a lot of headbanger-types can relate to -- the first time I heard Slayer, I wasn’t so much scared, but completely dumbfounded. I had no idea what to make of it. I had been rocking my Primus tapes (nothing against Primus; even though Les Claypool decided the jam circuit was where he wanted to be, the first couple Primus records are heavy rock classics in my eyes) and along came Seasons in the Abyss and I felt like the album punched me in my prepubescent kidneys. Maybe that’s not an epiphany, but it was wild.

What's the last album to grab you by the throat and insist you listen?

Clutch’s Earth Rocker seems like a fair pick, though really, I feel that way about a lot of albums that I hear. Even for records that don’t spark a deeper kind of resonance, there’s usually something I can wind up getting stuck in my head. I felt a bit like I was a sucker for how much I listened to it, but the new Queens of the Stone Age grew on me after a few listens and became pretty essential for a while. I don’t think it’ll hold up over the long term like their earlier records – I still listen to Songs for the Deaf on probably a semi-weekly basis – but even in its adult-pop form, I think there’s merit in Josh Homme’s songwriting.

Those are higher profile, I guess – particularly the QOTSA – but even recent outings by The Flying Eyes and Borracho struck a chord with me that I’ve been really digging. I’d say it’s been a strong year for music, but the truth is there’s no such thing as a “bad year” if you keep an open mind and are passionate about searching out those things that will stick with you, trying to find that perfect vibe or groove or whatever it may be.

What do you see happening in the music scene today, good and bad?

I see a lot of good things happening. It’s easy for people to say they think things used to be better way back whenever they were too young to be jaded and/or 10 years before they were born, but that’s a copout as far as I’m concerned. You can either make the most of what you have in the moment or it’s your loss.

It’s an interesting time when you have a wider market taking interest in what until this point has been underground music. The difference is accessibility, but as bands have come to put more of themselves out there via social networking, videos, online promo, etc., that wall between an elitist underground and the casual listener has broken down – somewhat. I don’t think it’s bad or good, I just think it is. Genre will always exist – you don’t say science fiction isn’t science fiction anymore because they make big-budget movies out of it – so I’m fascinated to see what happens in the next few years as the sort of wider fascination with doom and underground heavy expands, shifts and gradually affects the genre as a whole. Look at bands like Pallbearer and Pilgrim, who’ve been able to present a modern take on what, to doomers long immersed in the style, are pretty traditional elements, to a wider audience while at the same time others who’ve been at it longer or were a part of influencing those bands in the first place continue to toil in obscurity. It’s interesting to think about what makes those differences, what allows one band to reach a level another won’t for whatever reason.

Part of it is generational, and of course it’s not just music. There’s bound to be a gap between what an older age group enjoys and what a younger group enjoys, and the context for that enjoyment is going to be completely different based on the experience. The 1990s are ripe for nostalgia to people in their teens and 20s now who weren’t born when they actually happened the first time. It’s easy to see culture as a downward spiral into some unknowable horrible oblivion, but for as long as there’s been culture, that’s been the view of some about it, and we haven’t crashed yet. If it seems lame to me, I won’t listen, watch, read, or whatever. Maybe the best thing about the glut of media in which we now reside is that we can have more control over to what within it we expose ourselves. People tell me about pop songs and I have no idea what they’re talking about. I’d just as soon keep my head down and keep working.

With so many music sites, how would you describe what you do? What's your unique take on the music and writing?

The best description I can come up with for what I do is “a work in progress,” and I like that sentiment. Some days I feel like I have a ton to offer people who come to the site, like it’s a really unique project and that it gives something anyone who happens by can’t get anywhere else, and then other days I feel like it’s crap, like I’m never going to catch up to where I want to be with it, like I don’t have enough time to make it what I want it to be, like I write hack reviews and have nothing to contribute to the underground community and am basically just jerking off and wasting time I probably should spend growing the hell up.

Basically, what I have is my perspective and my voice as it shows up in my writing. Even if I’m saying the same thing as someone else – as I’m sure I do all the time, including in this interview – it’s my manner of saying it and the frame I’m putting it in that makes up my point of view. If I can stay true to that and be honest in my writing and in conveying my opinions, I feel like I’m at least headed in the right direction, which is all I can really ask as I seem to permanently lack any semblance of a master plan for the site – again, “work in progress.” I don’t know where that progress is leading, but I do like how the site has changed over the four-plus years it’s been going, adding the Forum, the Radio, and just the changes it’s brought about in my writing and my approach to criticism in general. I’ve been writing about music professionally for a decade and I’m happy I still feel interested in doing it and like I’m able to continue to refine what I do and hopefully add a creative or at least interesting spin that someone will think is worth coming back to read again.

One thing I do: I make mistakes all the time. Even without Wordpress changing things that should be bold or should be in italics to be not at all bold or in italics (it is maddening for someone as prickish about format as I am), people’s names are constantly screwed up, lineups, who plays what. I’m thankful that people are quick to correct me, and I take it as a sign of investment in what I’m doing that they would think enough to make sure it’s correct when it’s posted. I rely on that and use it as a reminder to be humble in my assumptions and to back up my opinions and facts with due research.

Illegal free downloads on your site. Yes or no, and why?

Absolutely not. Not ever. I won’t do a download or a stream without permission from the band or label. Probably the closest I come is YouTube audio, but even that I’ll use the band’s account or the label’s where it’s available. I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve never illegally downloaded an album, but if it’s something I’m trying to critique, promote in some way or even just spread the word about it, it seems antithetical to the interests of professionalism and the goal of that promotion to put something up without permission. If an underground band can make even five bucks off selling mp3s from Bandcamp, I’d be a prick if I undercut them by giving that away for free.

I guess downloading is useful for bootlegs or something long out of print if you’re not into tracking down a physical copy, but I’d just as soon stick to actual media – CDs, vinyl, tapes, whatever form it might take so long as it actually has a form – anyway and use streams and YouTube videos and whatnot as the promotional devices they ultimately are. I get paranoid about the watermarked downloads labels send out and most of the time, I’ll forego listening to a record if it comes in that way. Let’s say I get a download, get hacked and something gets out with my watermark? Am I supposed to think that Relapse, Metal Blade, whoever, is going to be like, “Well, that’s cool, we know you didn’t mean for it to happen?” Hell no. They’re going to sue the shit out of me. I was on the wrong end of something getting out years ago (long story, but no, I did not rip the album and release it online), and it fucking sucked. Obviously my aversion to digital promos hasn’t hurt the “bigger” labels, so that’s fine. I’d rather support the people who are going to take the time and make the effort to give me the full product to review anyway. You don’t watch half a movie and review that. You don’t drive half a car and review that. If an album was just its music the form would’ve died out already.

What's been your all time greatest "Find"? That band you "discovered" before anyone else and started the word spreading?

Good question. I have no idea. There have been acts along the way that I feel like I’ve caught onto pretty early, but I’m hesitant to claim to be first at anything. There’s always someone there before you.

I do have bands who I think of in my head as “Obelisk bands.” I’m not going to name any names, because I would never lay claim to someone else’s work or say I feel proprietary about it, but there are definitely bands who I feel like I’ve been supporting what they do for a while and at least in my mind, there’s some unofficial affiliation there that I’m happy to be loyal to them and do what I can to help, when I can or when asked. I think other sites probably have the same even if they don’t realize it or think of it a different way, and ultimately I don’t imagine it’s any different than someone who’s a fan feeling like there’s a connection to a given creative work. I have stuff that I’m a fan of too, and when I’m approaching something from that perspective, I’ll generally say so. If you check in on the site regularly, I think you can probably get a sense of where my personal tastes lie.

If you could write a 1,000 word essay on one song, which one would it be, and why? What makes that song so important?

I think I probably came close a couple times in reviews last year. I know with the track-by-track breakdown of the Neurosis record, I hit 600 more than once. That’s about as close as I’ve gotten, though.

There are a few songs I can think of off the top of my head that this might be fun to do with. “Into the Void” by Sabbath, “Dopesmoker” by Sleep seem obvious choices, or maybe “Flood” by Boris. It might be fun to break down the milliseconds of each of the breaks at the end of “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” by Kyuss. It’s not really a question so much of if I could -- I write a lot of wordy stuff, this interview included – it’s probably more about if I have the time and energy to do it and if I do, am I better served spending that time and energy talking about something new instead? My brain gets pretty fried by the end of the day. I have to kind of budget out my mental energy.

Give us three bands that we need to keep our eyes out for.

You Ripple types are pretty hip. I’m not sure I’ve got any secret bands no one else is in on, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t be keeping them to myself. As I said, the new Borracho and The Flying Eyes records really took me aback with how good they were. Admiral Browning’s new one – it’s called Give No Quarter – is bad ass. And I’m eagerly anticipating the full-length debut by Beelzefuzz in all its weirdo-doom-prog glory.

Tell us about your personal music collection. Vinyl? CD? What's your prized possession?

I’ve done reasonably well avoiding buying vinyl, despite the resurgence of the format and the current dictates of trend. I’d still rather have a CD any day of the week. For the volume of music I want to acquire in a given month, I’d be vinyl’ing myself out of the house in no time. It’s expensive and less durable. I have some, and whenever a band sends me some for review or something like that, I certainly appreciate them going the extra mile in effort and expense in doing so, but in general terms, if I’m going to track down an album, I’m tracking it down on CD.

Currently it’s all in boxes because my wife and I just moved, but I have bins of old promos and things I figure I won’t want to listen to anytime soon, and then what I want to have ready access to I keep on shelves. I had one shelf that held somewhere around 2,500 discs that I couldn’t move (we built it in the room and it was too big to get out) and another that holds about 1,800 and that’s enough for me to work with for the time being. Eventually I’d like to set up a library for music and books, but I don’t see myself being able to afford to do so anytime in the near or even mid-distant future. In boxes for now, but for promos that have come in for review and a few recent acquisitions.

Not sure on my prized possession. I was glad after a couple years of searching to find a copy of the first Colour Haze album, Chopping Machine, on CD. I’d love to get my hands on the second one, Seven, which the band released in 1998 on self-burned CDRs. I think they only made 50 of them or something. That kind of thing is awesome, but for me too an album is as much a prized possession when it’s something I really love to listen to. Delmar by (Los) Natas comes immediately to mind. It’s out of print but it’s not especially rare. You can get it. But it’s a record that I love and wouldn’t want to part with for anything. I’ve got a couple copies. Ditto that for Dozer’s albums, my Sabbath bootlegs, the Clutch catalog, Kyuss stuff, and many others.

What makes it all worthwhile for you?

I’ve met a lot of really great people along the way, and for it being the internet – which I think we all know can bring out the worst in humanity at times – I receive far more encouragement than I do derision, and when someone leaves a comment on my site it’s more along the lines of, “Hey I love this band” than “Hey blah blah something racist, sexist and/or homophobic,” and I’m thankful for that. That’s not universal, but it’s the case the vast, vast majority of the time. And the people I’ve met in-person, whether it’s at shows, or at a record store, or at Roadburn or something like that, or even who just emailed me or messaged me on Facebook out of the blue to say something positive about what I do, are amazing. I find that completely astounding and gratifying that somebody would see my work and feel strongly enough about it to reach out and say so to me. Especially on the internet where it’s so easy to jump from one page to the next with no thought or even stop-time, that means a lot. To meet someone in the Netherlands or in London and have them know what I do well enough to ask me how The Patient Mrs. is doing, or for them to tell me about their band or their site and what they’ve got going on or whatever it might be, or even just to shoot the shit about some record, I love it and I’m humbled by it. I don’t know that I would have been able to go as long as I have without that support and I feel lucky to have it.

I take a tremendous amount of inspiration from someone like Walter Hoeijmakers from the Roadburn festival, who’s dedicated years of his life to his greatest passion without knowing where it might carry him and found that not only can he support himself doing it and gain the respect of the community, but continue to thrive in the creativity of what he does and grow his project year after year. There are few people out there like him, and I’d never go so far as to compare what I do with the Obelisk to what he’s doing with Roadburn. He’s someone who has gotten to where he is by doing what he believes in and I greatly admire the strength in that.

Also, when a band tells me that I’ve gotten it, or thanks me for taking the time to listen – that’s incredibly gratifying. Because it does take time. I won’t review a record I haven’t heard front to back at least six times (don’t ask me why, but six is the magic number – listen to an album six times and on the seventh you know it), and every review I write takes a couple hours out of my day. I try to write to the standard of the review being seen by the band itself. It means that if you’re going to be critical, back it up, and it keeps me honest about the things that I like and the things that I don’t like, and moreover, why I think something is or isn’t working. I’ll also very rarely just rag on a band. If there’s something I feel that negatively about, I’d just as soon not waste my time when there’s so much other good stuff out there.

But “worthwhile” is a big question, and a lot of days, I wonder the same thing. I’m not a kid. I’m an adult. I work full-time, I’ve got a wife, rent to pay, responsibilities. It’s not always easy to remember the things that keep you going, but it makes it that much sweeter in the end when those things find you again or you find them, however it might happen.

How would your life be different if you weren't writing about music?

Ha! Picture me 80 pounds lighter, driving a nice car, short hair, no beard, decent income and maybe – just maybe – a sense of value to what I do. No, that’s a fantasy and I know it, though in my worst moments I go there, and not irregularly. Truth is, I have no idea. By now, I’ve spent a decade, which is a little less than a third of my life, writing professionally about music. Never mind the Obelisk, I mean for work; as a means of (sub-)gainful employment. I have 10 years of managerial and editorial experience under my belt and no idea what I’d do with it if I wasn’t able to keep doing this. The Obelisk is a passion project, and it’s something I put a tremendous amount of time, effort and myself into making. I didn’t realize when I started out how much of an extension of who I am I would come to think of it as being, but that’s how it wound up. I worry on days when I get less than three posts up. I fret about the design (oh I need a new design terribly), about Wordpress unbolding things I put in bold, about image sizes, placement, have I done the daily backup (which I actually just stopped writing to do, mind you), etc., but I don’t know what I would do without it. I could say shows would be less stressful, because I wouldn’t have to worry about taking pictures or remembering things or taking notes or whatever, but maybe I wouldn’t go to shows at all. I’d be a completely different person. Maybe I wouldn’t even listen to music if I wasn’t writing about it. I don’t know.

Ever been threatened by a band or a ravenous fan?

No way. People are fantastic. I’ve had a couple bands over the years who haven’t taken criticism well, and I know there are plenty more who are disappointed after mailing me their CD and it not winding up being reviewed – and to them, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry; please know that at very least your album has a good home and I’m on board for next time or helping out in some other way if I can – and some probably think I’m a dick for not wanting to spend five hours writing up the Bandcamp stream they took 30 seconds to forward to me without bothering to learn my name, which is right above the contact form in bold on my site, but nearly universally, everyone has been great, whether it’s regular readers returning to comment – people like Mike H. goAt, TVsRoss and even Bill from The Soda Shop, who’s always been crazy supportive – or someone sending me an email with, “Hey I just found your site, thanks for hosting such-and-such.” I’m incredibly fortunate both on the blog side and the forum. No threats. I think most people get a sense of what my project is and of where I’m coming from in terms of wanting to support bands and the “scene” as a whole, and their support mirrors that. It’s awesome.

Thinking about “scenes,” I go back to something Dave Wyndorf said when I interviewed him about the last Monster Magnet album (and I know I’m getting off topic here, but I don’t get interviewed often, so you’ll have to forgive me). He said, “It sure would be nice to see a physical scene instead of, ‘We have our scene, it’s on the internet.’ That’s not a scene. That’s an idea.” I know he’s talking down the notion of online community instead of something like the Red Bank, NJ, scene that launched his band back in the ‘90s, but it’s a quote that’s stuck with me the last few years. I love ideas. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of an idea? A physical scene of bands and others helping and promoting each other is a beautiful thing – I won’t ever say otherwise, and hell, if I could be a part of something like that, why wouldn’t I want to be? – but who says it has to be limited to one or the other? If I can be a part of the ideas side, then why shouldn’t I put everything I have into that? “That’s an idea.” Hell yeah it is. It’s a great idea. Let’s do it.

In the end, what would you like to have accomplished, or be remembered for?

Remember when Mötley Crüe put out that shitty song, “If I Die Tomorrow?” God damn, that was bad.

Well, if I die tomorrow, I have no delusions that the internet would even burp at the loss. Take music and imagine a pie. Heavy metal is a small piece of that pie. Then heavy rock and doom and psych is a tiny piece of that already small piece. Little more than a crumb. A crumb-plus. It’s a niche within a niche. If my work over these years with the Obelisk has helped a band in some way, I’m so glad and I think that’s incredible, but the thought of “being remembered” doesn’t make any sense to me in terms of writing about music. Who remembers genre music writers? “Oh yeah, that dude who got our bassist’s name wrong in his review got hit by a bus yesterday. Super-duper.”

At some point, I’d like to write a book. Really any book’ll do. But I’m not the kind of person who gets to do that. NPR writers, Pitchfork writers – people like Brandon Stusoy, Kim Kelly, Sasha Frere-Jones, even Fred Pessaro from BrooklynVegan and now Invisible Oranges – they’re the ones who touch on the wider market and expose bands to people who aren’t ingrained in the genre. They don’t get to go as deep into it as I do (and likely they’re not that interested), but I don’t get to reach as many people as they do and I have a lot of respect for that. It’s a balance and I don’t know if I’m on the right side of it or the wrong, but it’s where I’ve ended up, so right and wrong is moot anyway. They get to write books though. Not me. If resources (read: money) weren’t an issue, I would travel and write about music. That’s what I would do. I applied for a Fulbright a couple years back to go to Sweden to write about bands and the community there. Naturally, I didn’t get it, but if I could, I’d go places and write about music. I find that to be the most satisfying kind of work and because of that it also brings out the best in my writing and perspective. Imagine record shopping in Stockholm. Why not? Going to see The Grand Astoria in Moscow. My Sleeping Karma or Wight at some club in Germany. How amazing would that be? Or just to go and be at Duna Jam. Just once.

These thoughts are my version of escapism. I’m a niche in what’s widely regarded as a dead-end industry and what I do is relevant to a very select – admirably passionate, but limited in number – group of people. I won’t complain about it, but that’s the fact. I would much rather be remembered as someone who wasn’t a total piece of crap than someone who wrote a review of a band’s album. I’d like to be and try to be the best husband I can to my wife and a good person to my family and the few friends I have in and out of music. I’d hope and not ask for anything more than to be remembered by them for trying to be a decent human being – even if I’ve failed, which I do all the time – than for having contributed something grand to a creative sphere, which is an assessment I’m neither qualified to make nor comfortable making and which I’ll say flat out that I don’t feel I have. As regards the Obelisk, I have my thing, I do it, and I guard it closely because it’s an extension of who I am and my thoughts and feelings, but I consider it no more immortal than I consider myself. This too shall pass. What matters is people.

Many people may not realize the hours you devote to what you do for little or no pay. Is there a day job? If so, how do you find the balance?

The Obelisk eats up a pretty decent portion of my everyday. Depending on the album and how much I think there is to say about it, a review can take between two and five hours to write, and then in the interim, there’s news posts, videos, audio, interviews and whatever else. Email interviews take me forever to put together because I want to be precise in my wording and not have the person on the other end take a question to mean something I didn’t intend. On the phone, it’s much easier because you can inflect your voice. But so the whole thing rounds out to be more or less a full-time job, and yeah, there’s no pay. Even with the site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum, I never made a profit off any of those releases, and with the last one, the Clamfight album – which was brilliant and sold quickly, which was awesome – when the post office doubled the rate to ship to Europe, I pretty much had to throw up my hands and take the loss. I don’t know yet whether I’ll do another release. It would have to be something really special.

My job is the aforementioned gig as the managing editor of The Aquarian, where along with my associate editor, I run the editorial department and have a staff of about 30 freelancers as well as five or six interns working under me. We put out a new issue every Wednesday and it is a full-time position for sure. I’m in front of a computer all day – two computers, actually; a desktop for the Aquarian and my laptop for the Obelisk – so I can work back and forth between tasks. Some days the rhythm is off and it takes me forever to get anything done, but other days I function pretty well. My average Monday-Friday I work from about 9:30 in the morning until 7PM and by the end of that I’m usually pretty braindead. When the words get cloudy on the screen I know it’s time to call it a day.

I don’t make a lot of money. But the way I have my existence organized – no kids yet – allows me time to do what I want to do on the side, so that counts for a lot. As even the time it’s taken me to turn this interview around shows though, I don’t have a lot of space for much else. Even things like answering emails or writing band bios, which I’m asked to do from time to time and am happy to whenever I can. If it’s either that or get another post up on the site, it’s not really a choice for me. And very often it is one or the other. I’m very fortunate in that people ask me to contribute to different things sometimes, and I appreciate it and often I say yes because I actually want to be a part of what they’re doing and contribute as much as I can, but I wind up disappointing them and myself when I’m unable to make it work with the limited time I have.

What's next? Any new projects?

Well, I like the way the site has evolved over time, so I’m less inclined to jump headfirst into some drastic change rather than let it shift naturally the way it has all along, kind of grow as I continue to grow as a writer and hopefully continue to be of some use for people who are looking for something to check out or for bands to get word out about what they do. I hope over the next month or so to get back into podcasting on a semi-regular basis, as I feel like that’s something that’s been missing and for the few people who dug that, it can offer something that even the 24-hour stream of the Obelisk Radio doesn’t – which I guess is the element of selection and recommendation; me saying, “Here, this is cool, check it out,” as opposed to the Radio, which is more random. Though I like that a lot as well.

As I alluded to earlier, my wife and I recently (not to place myself temporally, but “recently” like last week) moved to Massachusetts from New Jersey, about half an hour south of Boston, and so I anticipate that will bring some changes. I’m closer now to Boston than I was to New York, so that will be handy for going to shows – two this week coming up – and I’m lucky enough to know good people up this way whether it’s the Roadsaw cats, Cortez, Black Pyramid, Gozu, Elder, Olde Growth, someone like Johnny Arzgarth and others. Great bands and great people, and though my family still lives in New Jersey so I know I’ll be back in NYC soon enough (Aug. 19 for Truckfighters and Kings Destroy being next), I’m excited for the prospect of a new place, new venues, new bands and what that will inevitably bring to The Obelisk. It’s an enviable community up here, and while I don’t know if I’ll ever be “from Boston” – I spent three decades in New York and was never “from there” – I was made to feel welcome before we even moved in, and that was awesome.

Ideally, what I’d like to do is find a spot to open a bar/venue. Boston has so many great places – clubs like the Great Scott, O’Briens, Radio, and so on – but it seems to me like Providence, Rhode Island, which is only about an hour away from where we are, might have some opportunities and as there are many tours that don’t cut far enough north to come to Boston (Orange Goblin aren’t and Truckfighters aren’t, which are the two that come most immediately to mind), I think I could make a place work in Providence to pull people in from the area and offer something cool that maybe other people aren’t at this time. AS220 in Providence does some awesome shows and there are other spots as well, but there is a creative community of local artists and musicians there that I’ve found to be really turned on during my limited time in the city over the last couple years – hell, for Armageddon Shop alone, Providence rules – and I think it would be a great place to try and put something together and make a go. That’s probably a longer ways off, but whether it’s bands coming up from the south to do weekenders or putting on local shows, I can very easily see myself in that role and I’d like to be able to contribute and help promote acts in that way. Of course I’d tie in the site as well, whether it’s recording sets, reviewing shows, whatever I might feel inspired to do in that space until I can finally go retire and live in the woods somewhere.

Finally, other than the music, what's your other burning passion?

My wife, who not only has the generosity of spirit and pity to continue to support a creature as physically and emotionally wretched as I am, but who compels me to think critically about myself and the world around me and makes me a better, richer person than I know I could ever be without her. I am the luckiest boy I know. I’m 31 years old and at this point we’re coming up on 16 years of being together, so for about half my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have her support, and indeed, her patience, which I test on an almost hourly basis. Right now, in fact, as there’s a full to-do list of chores and I’m sitting on the laptop, as ever, typing away. I do not know how or why she bothers putting up with me, since the return on investment of the effort on her part is… I don’t know what… but she continues to be both my link to reality and the only force that can draw me even temporarily out of my own skull, where for sure I’d otherwise have long ago drowned in the inch-deep puddle of solipsist goo that is my brain.

Which is why I’m going to stop with the clacky-clacky now and go break down some boxes left over from the move. Thank you to Ripple, to Pope and Racer, whose work ethic continues to inspire (and who were kind enough to give me this opportunity to run my mouth), and to anyone still reading and anyone who’s helped support the Obelisk along the way, even if it was just reading half a review, popping in to check out a track and

Nymf - From The Dark

Not extremely active on the recording front since the members are all active in other bands, most notably singer Niklas Sjöberg and guitarist Martin Fairbanks who are in The Graviators and guitarist Kristofer Stjernquist who is in Seeds Of Cider and Trollfnask. However they have finally released their second full-length, From The Dark, via Transubstans Records. A collection of thirteen riff-soaked songs in the vein of especially Black Sabbath with a pinch of Pentagram but also stoner rock and heavy metal with occult lyrics is what they offer and damn, it's so good folks! Apart from the intro Heleionomai(Prelude) it's full tilt from the word go as the band go from strength to strength with each song.

As Heleionomai leads into Fear Of The Doom there is no turning back. In their quest to narrate about the dark lord Nymf takes me down dark passages and alleyways I never knew existed. Guided by their brutal riffs I duck and dive trying to avoid the evil forces and entities that are coming at me ceaselessly. The riff-attack continues in Possessed. Holding back on the tempo occasionally they go for force until the drums kick and pounds me into the ground and the onslaught is on. Evil pours out of my speakers as the creepy, eerie tones of Black Core takes me further into the realms of the dark one. Evolution Blues ups the ante slightly as the band delves deeper underground. Niklas voice has a desperate, haunting vibratto to it which bring out the fear of the unknown.

Niklas' haunted voice is even more enunciated Thin Ice especially in the verses. Those parts are slower with basically drums and soft guitars which enhances his singing creating old-style horror movie vibes, and not forgetting the fantastic guitar solo in the second half of the song. In your face full frontal attack is on the agenda as Postmortem annihilates. Pure heavy metal folks and it's awesome. Drive keeps the speed although doom is the chosen flavour as Nymf continues to piledrive me into submission. Never giving me a chance to recuperate and breathe Lucifer Takes The Crown brings me down to the depths of Hell where I lay weakend at the feet of the horned one.

Bringing back to life the original Dracula, In The Name Of Vlad beautifully depicts the horrible existence of the deranged Romanian voivod Vlad Tepes and true to that man, this song is dripping with blood and terror. Never losing their stride they launch into Your Soul Is Mine. Like a stampeding juggernaut NYmf are relentless as they do claim my soul. Ending the album in fine style with The Greatest Burden it couldn't be a better choice. Not only does it end From The Dark it also leaves a great opening for a third album. And needless to say it leaves me wanting more.

Their modern take on heavy occult rock sans organs but with chockful of riffs instead is a great homage to the pioneers of the genre and they certainly know how to bring fear into their songs. From it's founders Black Sabbath all the way to present day what is called doom has always had a God-fearing aspect to it, as do Nymf somewhat have. Although they change it up quite a lot by representing the other side. By doing it this way From The Dark is a two-story affair in lack of better words. Moving back and forth between God and Satan gives the album a natural flow and a nice twist subsequently pushing the genre forward a notch. Jävligt bra jobb gubbar!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sacrament Ov Impurity – Anguishing In Obscurity

This here is some pure black metal that you don't want to miss out on.  It's just as simple as that. You could call it your father's black metal, but I'm not sure the genre has been around quite that long, and I don't want to get into some boring ass debate about that, either.  Trust me on this.

Sacrament Ov Impurity hail from the northern reaches of Washington State, and this is their second release.  If you like raw, brutal, blazing, blasting black metal, this is your jam right here.  From the opening notes of this album all the way to the end, this band takes no prisoners and offers no quarter.  You're either with them or against them and they couldn't give a fuck either way.  They do their thing and do it quite well.

Their thing is old school black metal.  There are no breaks for atmospherics, this is never going to be described as “post” anything.  It is raw and unrelenting, full of blast beats and tremolo picking and vocals that sound like someone is being tortured to within an inch of their life.  And suitably old school, the vocals are somewhat buried in the mix, as they should be for this flavor of black metal.  It lends to the hellishness of it all.

There is just enough variety, just enough change up in tempo, to allow the band to show that they have some skills, some abilities, some range to what they do.  “God Ov This World” absolutely pummels you from note one to open things up, and there is no slow down for the second track, “The Throne Will Burn”.  You are allowed a brief respite with the third track, “Under A Moonless Sky”, but then the pace picks right back up with “Upon The Wretched Tomb”.  Just marvelous, frenetic stuff.  The title track comes next, a 10 plus minute masterwork that really lets these guys show what they can do.  A forlorn drumbeat starts things off, it builds slowly, then the track blasts off for a  bit, only to unwind in a most excellent way.  “Darkness Everlasting” wraps things up quite nicely, and I'm sure the song title is there to let us know exactly how this band would like to see the world.

This band has started to build a good name for themselves up and down the West coast, so keep your eyes peeled for the opportunity to check them out live in your town.  And do what you gotta do to search out this album.  It is self-released but in this day and age in which we live, that is really no obstacle.  If you are a fan of all that is “trve” and “cvlt”, you need to have this one in your collection.


Daily Bandcamp Album; IGNIS by Saturna

"Saturna was formed in november 2010 in Barcelona, Spain as a project to develop some musical ideas by Rod (bassist) with the assistance of the other members of the band.

The experience and musicianship of the band members has been proved over the last 10 years in many gigs and recording sessions.

In 2012, Saturna released what was one of my favorite albums with The Kingdom of Spirit. A followup couldn't come quickly enough for me. Thank the stars, that followup is soon. The band has their followup streaming right now with a full release come November 2013.

When you hit play you're treated to some great drumming. A unique intro for a unique album. "Schools of Mystery" opens with an Alice in Chains-esq number. The rest o fthe album is a great mix of stoner rock, metal, grunge and hard rock. This is an all-in-one album, it has something in it for everyone. Stream one of 2013's best albums now.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ripple Theater - Muscle Shoals

The story of how Muscle Shoals, Alabama became a powerhouse startig in the 1960's music business is a fascinating one. The term "Muscle Shoals Sound" is one I'd heard of for many years but didn't really know anything about it until I read Peter Guralnick's excellent book Sweet Soul Music. It's 400+ pages are required reading for any soul music fan but its appeal doesn't end there. Anyone who loves music or just a good story should check it out (same with all of Guralnick's other books). There are chapters devoted to Memphis (Stax, Hi, etc), Macon (Otis Redding) and James Brown. One of the best chapters is devoted to what happened in Muscle Shoals with an intense musician turned producer named Rick Hall and the FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios.

Greg Camalier's documentary, simply called Muscle Shoals, does a great job of bringing the complex story to the screen. Located next to the Tennessee River, called the "Singing River" by Native Americans, Muscle Shoals has produced hundreds of songs you have heard your entire life. Rick Hall's early life was impoverished and marked with tragedy but filled him with an intense drive to become successful. If you know anything about Sam Philips and how he started Sun Records, Rick's story is pretty similar. Working with local artists Rick produced some major classics right off the bat - notably "You Better Move On" by Arthur Alexander and "Steal Away" by Jimmy Hughes. Both the Beatles and Rolling Stones recorded songs by Arthur Alexander. Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" helped Rick get the attention of Atlantic Records, who then started bringing Wilson Pickett to Muscle Shoals.  "Land of 1,000 Dances," "Mustang Sally" and "Funky Broadway" are just a few of the killer jams laid down with Rick's incredible studio band. Next, Atlantic's Jerry Wexler brought down his latest signing, Aretha Franklin. Prior to signing with Atlantic, Aretha's recordings for Columbia were jazzy pop numbers similar to Sarah Vaughan. After a rough start, they came up with the monster "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You." But due to some alcoholic arguments, Aretha took off. Jerry then decided to fly the Muscle Shoals musicians up to New York to finish the album and the rest is history. Duane Allman's another talent that was nurtured in Alabama before he departed to form the Allman Brothers Band.

Rick's killer band, featuring the incredible musicians of Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), plus Pete Carr (guitar), Spooner Oldham (keyboards), eventually leave to form their own studio across town called the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Needless to say, the ultra-competitive Rick is furious. Their new studio struggles at first but once they book some recording sessions with the Rolling Stones. They leave with "Wild Horses" and "Brown Sugar" in the can. After that the floodgates open and they're recording with mega stars like Bob Seger, Paul Simon, etc. Whether they're playing with Traffic or Jimmy Cliff, these guys are comfortable playing anything. Meanwhile across town, Rick Hall puts together yet another great band and wins Billboard's Producer Of The Year award in 1971.

Muscle Shoals is a very entertaining film. The story of Rick Hall and all of the great musicians is something that even non-music fans can relate to. The film makers do a great job of telling Rick's story and most of the key players are well represented. Songwriter Dan Penn is a very important part of FAME story but he doesn't get much screen time and his role is definitely understated. It also would have been interesting to hear from Al Bell of Stax as to why he started sending some of his artists to record in Muscle Shoals. The only part of the film I didn't care for was the amount of screen time given to U2's Bono. I realize he's a big star and will help sell a few more DVD's but, jeezus, his comments are incredibly annoying and totally uninformative. But, despite Bono and some major omissions, Muscle Shoals is a great film and worth two hours of your time.


Beyond the Victory - Paradigm

    When I heard the band’s first song on Paradigm, titled Gilded, I thought “Wow… I really need to review these guys”.  They’ve got a crisp sound and incredible sense of scope for the type of band that they are.  I honestly usually hate these “metalcore” bands.  This genre is filled with bands that are just awful.  Too much “noise” not enough music.  It’s the “tough kid” genre of music.  Filled with whiney little “stars” who get up on stage and make ridiculous “tough kid” faces and do their little “hardcore dancing”… and before you little Warped Tour fans go off on that whole “too metal for you!!!!!!!” crap, go listen to some Between the Buried and Me, Wretched, or Dillinger Escape Plan and come back and call your genre “metal” again. 

    But I digress… because we’re focusing on Beyond the Victory, who takes this genre and puts a very solid spin on it.  They do indulge in some “chugga chugga” a bit too much, but they infuse it with some excellent riffs and fun lyrics that take it past the “tough guy” crowd.  Some lyrics toe the line, but that’s forgiven given the general audience of this type of music.  They remind me a great deal of The Color Morale… skilled and heavy with a “touch” of the “metalcore”.  Escape from Pomeii is one of the best songs of the year for me. 

    The vocalists are very good.  They should utilize the “singer” more.  He’s solid.  The screamer is great as well, but I’d like to see more balance.  They’ve got some incredible talent across the instruments.  They’re definitely heavy and capable of getting a crowd moving.  They’ve got great orchestration and song structure.  It’s very mature for their age.  This is a young band with a ton of potential.  I love it when the guitar has more lead style riffs.  They become a totally unique and fun group when you have the shredding lead over the “chugga chugga”.  It’s awesome and full of energy.  Then they break it down, and you’ve got the generic chugga.  But, there is enough top-end energy and riffs to keep the music feeling fresh and not stale.  I also have to comment on all the electronic enfluenced effects.  It’s Almost “dj-ish”.  I’m not a fan, and it jars me upon listening.  It just doesn’t work with this bands awesome energy and song writing.  Upon looking up their live work, they don’t sound the same.  That shows a lot of “tracking” had been done on their album and it’s used live, and I’m a bit of a purist.   

    But, with complete honesty, I felt truly led to write this review for one piece of advice… this band has the potential to be great, and this is a really good album.  However, they could also go the other way in the future, and embrace the “studio-centric and chugga chugga” aspects of their music.  I’m begging you guys… shred, and write great songs.  Kick out the excess stuff and you’ll be an incredible band. 

    As it stands, this is a four-star album, no doubt… and so close to five-star, I can taste it.  Good work, guys. 

--the Professor

Daily Bandcamp Album; Voidbound by Bloodmoon

Bloodmoon's newest release is a step up form their previous. It features nearly 40 minutes of heavy and blood vessel popping riffs. If there was a soundtrack for one's journey to hell, this would be the one.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday AM Album: Bela Fleck And The Flecktones - Left Of Cool

The assignment was to write about an album perfectly suited for a relaxed Sunday morning.  Sounds perfectly straightforward to me.  Now let me think.  What do I tend to listen to on Sunday mornings?  Something heavy and aggressive.  Dangit!  Okay, don't panic.  You can salvage this situation.  Just think about all the nice, pleasant music that you've enjoyed over the years.  Aha, I've got it!  I'll write about the first Bela Fleck And The Flecktones album I bought entitled Left Of Cool.

First and foremost, how in the world have I not written something about The Flecktones yet?  These guys are custom made for a site like The Ripple Effect.  It's true that the group has received much in the way of critical acclaim including multiple Grammy awards, yet I would venture to guess that at least eight out of ten people have never heard of them.  Hmmm, I wonder why?  Oh that's right!  It is impossible to pigeonhole The Flecktones into any specific genre let alone radio format.  In other words, they face an almost vertical uphill battle when it comes to gaining mainstream acceptance.  Let me tell you waveriders, the mainstream doesn't know what it's missing!

I recognize that I just told you The Flecktones essentially defy categorization...but I'm going to do my dead level best to categorize them for you anyway!  Bela Fleck And The Flecktones play jazz music.  At least in a retail setting that is the section you can find their CDs filed under.  To be more accurate I would describe the music on Left Of Cool as a mix of jazz, bluegrass, folk, pop, a dollop of funk, and worldbeat.  It's completely understandable if you don't believe those genres could interact well with one another, but I'm here to tell you that after just one listen to this album you too will be preaching the gospel. 

Why does this multi-genre mashup work so flawlessly?  It comes down to the virtuoso musicians producing the music.  Bela Fleck, to quote his wikipedia page, is "widely acknowledged as one of the world's most innovative and technically proficient banjo players".  I couldn't have said it better myself.  Hence the copy and paste.  Victor Wooten is one of the most awe-inspiringly fantastic bass players that I have ever listened to on record and in concert.  His brother Roy "Future Man" Wooten is the group's drummer/percussionist/occasional vocalist.  Sounds normal right?  Wrong.  Future Man, wanting to see if he could play drums on guitar, invented what he calls the SynthAxe Drumitar.  This is an actual SynthAxe once owned by Lee Rittenour with all of it's electronics stripped out and many, many pressure sensitive programmable electronic triggers placed all over its body and neck.  Thus, he can play drums on a guitar.  Rounding out the crew on Left Of Cool is Jeff Coffin, a superb saxophone player who was the first musician I knew of who could play two of them at once.  Never mind the fact that he has a fine ear for melody and is the perfect compliment to the other players.

Waveriders, I can't recommend Left Of Cool highly enough.  This music is inventive, innovative, and imaginative.  If you didn't know about The Flecktones prior to reading this I can virtually guarantee that you have never heard anything quite like them.  Take a listen to the two songs I've linked to below and you will see what I mean.  "Throwdown..." will get your feet stomping and your head nodding.  "Sojourn..." is so soothing it should come packaged with aloe vera gel!  Sunday AM album indeed!  I love this band!


Throwdown At The Hoedown

  Sojourn Of Arjuna 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Ripple Conversaton with The Iron Maidens

Kirsten “Bruce Chickinson” Rosenberg on vocals, Linda “Nikki McBURRain” McDonald on drums, Courtney “Adriana Smith” Cox and Nita “Mega Murray” Strauss on guitars, and Wanda "Steph Harris" Ortiz on bass.

I spoke with Bassist Wanda Ortiz  and drummer  Linda McDonald of the Iron Maidens ,fresh from their tour of South America. As the world's number one all female tribute to Iron maiden, I found them to be both down to earth and proud of their  contribution to the maiden legacy. They were genuine fans of the band and seemed very happy with their musical life.

How was the tour of South America?

It was awesome. The crowd was so passionate. Very beautiful country. Yeah beautiful country, amazing people.

So your band has played all over the world. Europe, Indonesia, south America. Everywhere lately, except for the East Coast of the United States.

Yeah we ask ourselves that too. We can play all over but haven't been back east for over ten years. We can go to Guam for the weekend. We can go To Iraq. But we can't make it to the East Coast. What is wrong(laughs)There is a promoter trying to set up a Canadian/east coast tour. Keeping our fingers crossed. We will be on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise which is sort of East coastish. Meet us in Florida and knock on that boat(laughs)

How was your show in Iraq?

That was a trip that was not to be forgotten. A chance to do something good for the troops. We are just so grateful. They really appreciated that  we would go there to play for them and spend time with them. It was so opposite for us cause we were the ones who were so appreciative of them for being there. They are there for our country and most of them didn't have a choice to be there. We couldn't say no to going. It was a treat for us.

As a tribute to Iron maiden, your band has the opportunity to play songs that they themselves may not get to play during a set. Are there any songs that you do that they don't play?

Oh yeah,  we do "Alexander The Great", They have never played that one live. "Judas be my guide", "Cross eyed Mary". Yeah we do a lot of their golden oldies.

Anything from Bruce's solo albums or strictly Maiden?

No strictly Iron Maiden.

Favorite Maiden track, both personally and to perform?

"Phantom Of The Opera", or "Revelations", "Losfer words", "Genghis"

Are you Fans of the last Iron Maiden album and how many songs do you play from it?

That's too new. They are still promoting that album. We don't play anything off of that one. But yeah it's a great album. What's not to like.

I know you have jammed with Nick(McBrain) how was that?

 That was awesome. He is the sweetest guy. He doesn't have a rock star attitude. Just really cool. We got to experience Nicko playing "war Pigs(Sabbath) and that was really something.

In terms of sound and equipment. How close do you try to match what Iron maiden uses?

We try to get as close to their sound as possible. Some of the equipment that Maiden uses is older. Probably not accessible now so we go for the sound as close as the gear that we have. We are all very happy with our gear. Courtney has the Adrian Smith model guitars. So that is pretty accurate.

Have you had the new "Trooper" beer that Maiden has?

No we have not. Not yet available here(California)

I have talked to a lot of upcoming female fronted metal acts. Do you guys feel that the age of male dominated metal has come to an end?

There have always been female musicians in metal. It's just more visible now

Do you feel that you are inspiring women to enter into the metal field?

As far as that, I certainly do hope so. I think we are because we get emails from female fans that are thrilled that there are women doing this kind of music. It's really flattering when you get compliments like that.

Any other favorite bands?

Jazz to Barry manilow, top forty, blues. We have a wide range between all of us. Not just Maiden. Wanda actually plays upright bass in an orchestra on the bands off time. She lives that life too. It's not all just metal.(laughs)

What's the craziest thing that has happened to you on the road...that you can talk about?

(Laughs), When we were in Istanbul we got robbed. That was really not cool but no one was hurt or anything. They just came in and stole out of our van. The most surreal was Mexico city when Dave and Bruce checked our our show. We were on the same tour as Steve Harris' daughter, Lauren. So they came to the show. We were surprised to see them stay for our set. They told us afterward that they liked it. It was surreal. No pressure. They were in the front row balcony. We also opened for Kiss. Doro Pesch.


The O's - Thunderdog

I agree with Willie Nelson, "You can't play a sad song on the banjo." 

There is probably no more iconic American instrument, even though it was probably brought to the United States from Africa by African-American slaves.  If Wikipedia is to be believed in the 1830's minstrel performer Joel Walker Sweeney put the banjo in the basic form we have today and was the first caucasian to play the instrument on stage.  It has a sound usually associated with bluegrass, country and folk music from south of the Mason-Dixon line, probably based on its African slave heritage.  However, today, English bands, such as Mumford & Sons, have re-popularized the banjo in commercial folk pop music.

The Dallas, Texas duo of Taylor Young (guitar and kick drum) and John Pedigo (banjo), known collectively as "The O's," bring the banjo folk pop music sound back to its roots in Dixie with their third studio album titled Thunderdog.  It is country folk pop that gives Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers a run for their money.  The tunes are undeniably catchy and the lyrics have more meaning and thought behind them than you find in an average pop song - especially pop songs with a banjo.  No dogs dying or crying in your beer here.   I especially like "Outlaw." It is a piece I put on repeat and that I expect will reach a wide cross-over audience.  Their music is not all straight ahead banjo driven pop.  For example, the album ends with the track "Kitty." The electric instrument sound is not a guitar.  It is Pedigo playing his banjo through a fuzz pedal.

The album name, Thunderdog, originates from the moniker the boys give Young's kick drum, but, it has ended up, like The O's songs, with a deeper meaning.   For them it means, "achieving [their] own success, on [their] terms, at [their] own pace."  It is, in a way, a celebration of creative control. Thunderdog is the first album The O's have released under their own record label, Punch Five Records, and for which they chose the studios at which to record.  They kept it all in Texas with most of the album produced at the state of the art facilities at The Sonic Ranch in Tornillo and the final touches applied at The Bubble in Austin.

Bottom line, Willie Nelson was right, "But for all around good fun there's really only one, And it's round and firm and fully packed and puts the blues on the run, And you just can't play a sad song on the banjo." 

 - Old School 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Golden Grass

Lets talk about the hippest band to strut their stuff this year.  If you aren’t particularly hip, let me fill you in.  Hailing from Brooklyn, The Golden Grass have been something of a buzz band since hitting the scene late this summer.  They sure seem to like their facts in Brooklyn.  Here are some to chew on...

The Golden Grass formed in early 2013 of seasoned veterans Michael Rafalowich (Strange Haze, tour member of Tav Falco’s Panther Burns) and Adam Kriney (La Otracina, tour member or Nebula).  Joe Noval holds down the electric low end. 

The Golden Grass got themselves signed before they even played their first show.  Cool, huh?  When they did get around to getting it on live, it was to a sold out audience at St. Vitus Bar.  That’s a good start if you ask me. 

To sum it up, so far we’ve heard bits and pieces of their debut single on some nicely put together Youtube videos and live footage from their first show.  This has been enough to get people talking.  So, what does it really sound like?

First and foremost, The Golden Grass cook, man.  Most noticeably in the loose but groove steady drumming of Adam Kriney.  The dude has monster chops.  The band has a strong pulse.  On top of that, Rafalowich’s inventive but dedicated take on classic rock riffs (read: funky) keeps the whole thing fresh and familiar all at the same time.  Joe Noval ain’t no slouch.  Warm tone and tasty fills round out the power trio‘s psychedelic, hard rock sound.  For a 7” it sure covers a lot of musical ground. I hate to say it, but while it focuses on 70’s hard rocking psychedelic ambiance, the music has slight prog tendencies.  That’s far out, because it sounds great.  A bag full of chops never hurt anyone and The Golden Grass pull it off with flair.  With a small fall tour planned, I suggest catching these guys while they are just getting going.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Their highly anticipated debut 7 inch (Electric Assault and Svart Records) is available Nov 1.

--The Grime

Dustin Kensrue - The Water and the Blood

I have to tackle this one.  Dustin Kensrue, my living legend and musical idol, former front man of one of the greatest rock bands of all time (Thrice) and solo music master (his first solo release Please Come Home and his Christmas album This Good Night is Still Everywhere are masterfully written).  Here comes his third and most unique album of all… a praise and worship (????) album. 

This guy is actually a legend to many.  Thrice has a huge and passionate following, and his music inspired many of the songs my band (Cover of Afternoon) writes.  So this album comes as sort of a controversy.  While Thrice and his solo works use biblical references and outright Christian lyrics, a praise and worship album is completely different.  I, for one, hate praise and worship music.  I appreciate its purpose, but I think it’s banal and repetitive.  It’s music made for the ultimate “masses”… a group of church-going old people.  Even the “youth-movement” of “hands-held-to- the-lord, yo” has some truly awful music.  Hell, when the Christian music industry produces a good band, they get slaughtered for being “too main stream to be holy” (see: Emery, Underoath, and to some extent P.O.D.,).  Whatever. 

But Kensure is a different animal.  He’s an artist who wants to do what his heart tells him to.  For that, I decided to get this album the day it came out… because I trust him as a musician.  No matter what, a great musician is bound to make great music, right?

Well, sort of. 

Now, I’ll finally talk about the music.  I know, I know, this is a music review… and here it is.  This is a mixed bag.  Truly.  The album starts off with exactly what everyone feared.  Banal and repetitive praise music.  It’s much better than the usual praise and worship drivel, and there is some really awesome stuff thrown in, like towards the end of “Rock of Ages”… there is some awesome dark guitar work in the background.  It’s like a sly “this could be in a Thrice song” part.

Then it moves into what I expected.  Amazing music.  Suffering Servant has amazing lyrics, music, and melody.  It could have been a Thrice song, easily.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stuff.   My One Comfort is more like his first solo album, and it’s a nice up-tempo song that doesn’t drag.  God is Good is very much like an old Coldplay song (you know… when they were good).  While I hate the title, because if you search God is Good you get about a billion songs.  Again, the chorus isn’t great.  It’s repetitive praise music… but the orchestration is brilliant. 

Then… back to some above average praise and worship (i.e. pretty boring musically… but again, better than most I’ve heard). 

The Voice of the Lord… yeah, I don’t know what the f&%& to say about this one.  It’s loud and noisy at the beginning… and has a very epic chorus, and it’s very intense.  So I guess… It’s a Thrice-like song, and very well done.  It’s just weird with the lyrics.  They’re good, but it’s like traditional church lyrics set to an angsty and post-hardcoreish back drop.  It’s just weird. 
Then… suddenly… out of nowhere, comes one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard… period. 

It’s Not Enough is a gorgeous march to an intense conclusion that brings out emotions in me that it has no business bringing out.  I literally get chills listening to it, and really feel the lyrics.  They’re Christian, but they are relatable to the everyman.  “Though I could live for all to lift them higher, or spend the centuries seeking light within.  Though I endulge my every dark desire, Exhasuting every avenue of sin, it’s not enough”, Kensure croons over haunting chords and delicate piano.  It’s just a simply stunning arrangement.  If you want to see why so many people think that he’s a vocal legend, listen to this song.  Please… do yourself a favor.  This song ALONE makes this album worth owning. 

After that, it’s back to better than average praise music.  

So what’s my verdict on this album?  As a music reviewer, I have a hard time here.  I love the artist with all of my heart.  I love that he’s doing what he believes in.  I love that he’s still making music.  Is the album his best work?  No.  In fact, it’s by far his worst, from a musical stand point.  I was raised in a church-going family and consider myself a “believer”.  So, no, this isn’t a slight at religion at all.
I firmly believe that music SHOULD be about what you are passionate about.  Whether it be God, or man, or money, or something far more sinister… your music is YOU.  And this album is Dustin Kensrue.  So I applaud this effort. 

However, musically, I think he’s capable of so much more.  It’s Not Enough will go down as one of my all-time favorite songs.  Why didn’t he just write another Christian-lyrics centered masterpiece?  Why did he go with praise and worship, a genre that is made for the masses?  Well, he answers that question, and then some, in this article ( 

This is still the man I waited outside for in the cold after one of his shows for hours to try and meet, but never got the chance to.  This is still the man that writes from the heart.  This is still the man that wants to make a difference in someone’s life. 

For that, I give him the ultimate praise and respect.  Thank you Dustin Kensrue, for what you do, and for what you continue to do. 

This album is a no-brainer if you’re into praise and worship… but of you’re into great music period, give it a listen, or at least purchase It’s Not Enough.  You won’t be disappointed. 

The Professor

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bridesmaid - Breakfast at Riffany's

So, there's a facebook page named "Out of shape stoner metal dudes with beards." It's cool. The guy who runs it is in Bridesmaid. They sent out some vinyl pressings for review a couple weeks ago, and I was lucky enough to catch one. Unfortunately, there's so much low end on this record that my turntable turned into a black hole, so much gravity and such. But really, my little cheap amp couldn't push the bass.

See, there's very little guitar on this album, the band is made of a drummer, two bassists, and one epic beard. First thing I noticed was the song titles, they're amazing. Things like "Jakin' Care of Business," "Francis with Wolves," and "Surfin Zafari" just made me anticipate listening to the album. I downloaded it and played it, that way so I could actually hear it. I liked what I heard. This isn't groundbreaking stuff, but it's fun. Made for a good drive, and good grilling tunes.

My favorite track is "Surfin' Zafari," it feels like it travels, I always enjoy songs that have that forward-moving feel. Also, Francis with Wolves features Dallas Thomas (swan king/asschapel/pelican) and Aaron Vilk (Nyodene D), so that's cool stuff there too.

All in all, I enjoyed it. They're a cool band, they obviously like to have fun, and I always appreciate that.

Here are their tour dates, checkemout.

Bridesmaid Only 10/25/2013 - Kent, OH @ The Stone Tavern
10/26/2013 - Jamestown, NY @ Jamestown Skate Products
10/27/2013 - Philadelphia, PA - Teri's
10/28/2013 - Pawtucket, RI @ Machines with Magnets
10/29/2013 - Boston, MA @ O'Brien's Pub
10/30/2013 - Baltimore, MD @ Dishaus
10/31/2013 - New York, New York @ The Acheron
11/01/2013 - Raleigh, NC @ Slims
11/02/2013 - Nashville, TN @ The Owl Farm
11/03/2013 - Knoxville, TN @ The Poison Lawn
11/04/2013 - Louisville, KY @ Haymarket Whiskey Bar
11/05/2013 - Dayton, OH @ Blind Bob's w/Temple
11/06/2013 - Cincinati, OH - Mayday
11/07/2013 - Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle
11/08/2013 - Columbus, OH @ Carabar

Marillion from a Swedebeast's point of view, part 3: Marillion - Fugazi

Drummer issues finally solved after an ill-fated stint with Jonathan Mover lead the band to hire Ian Mosley which in my opinion was a very wise move. Not only because the revolving drummer door-policy effectively ended but also because he is a great albeit criminally underrated drummer. Still there was problems within the camp, we are after all talking about Marillion. This time though it was studio difficulties that thwarted the band for a while. Eventually those issues were resolved and Marillion's second album, Fugazi, saw the light of day on March 12th 1984.

This was the first time I heard a Marillion record when it actually came out and I clearly remember how floored I was by Ian Mosley's percussive work in the beginning of opener Assassing. His machine gun-like salvo mixed with Middle Eastern flavours builds up the song until the rest of the band joins in. In terms of Marillion this is a very heavy track that I am pretty sure shocked some fans. Despite all the line-up problems they had had up until now, you can tell Marillion had grown immensely. They are much tighter and focused which of course helps to lift their songs to a whole new level. Speaking about themselves the track is about how they fired Diz Minnitt and Mick Pointer in order to progress.
Taking the tale of the Punch and Judy dolls and making it their own, Marillion depict a marriage gone bad and the husband has turned to violence. Where they once lived the life of their dreams, the couple live in nothing but misery. For the most part Punch And Judy is a mid-tempo song but Fish spits out the chorus with such venom and bile it feels as I'm there observing it first-hand. Ian's super tight and hard-hitting percussive work highlights the bitterness and resentment even more.
Jigsaw follows along as a natural progression to Punch And Judy lyrically while musically a slow introspective tone sets the mood immediately. A solitary Mark Kelly keyboard backs Fish up as he sings about the type of doomed relationship that breaks up only to get back together again...over and over and over this is the ricochet. The only time the couple comes to any kind of realisation of their failed relationship is in the chorus but like always they quickly forget. An amazing gut-wrenching solo by Steve Rothery caps the hopelessness of the story.

Starting off in an explosive manner where Pete Trewavas bass line is skull shattering - which it is throughout the song -  Emerald Lies slows down a bit before picking up again. And this change in tempo works great since the track is about misguided accusations and the repercussions it brings. Just like an argument it weaves back and forth until it dawns on the accuser..."I was wrong" but by then it's too late. The damage is already done.
She Chameleon brings back Marillion's progressive leanings. A repetitive church organ plays in the background while follows along nicely through shifts and changes. To me though that church organ is the key. Since the song is about groupies which swarmed around the band at this point in time, the organ represents their collective conscience as they break their own marriage vows(most of the band were married at this point). At the same time it poses the question who uses was it just a fuck, was it just a fuck, just another fuck I bled.
The band is relentless in Incubus where once again a failed relationship is portraited. Not the usual kind though as we get to follow a porn actress who makes the transtition to the big stage. Hiding her past well standing in the spotlight one night she sees her former employer in the crowd. Everything from back then comes flooding back and her once prosperous career comes crashing down...all while the porn director laughs at her misery.
Ending the album with Fugazi which is about Fish observing the world we live in and how fucked up it is while being on an acid-trip. Weaving back and forth between tempos just like how a tripping mind perceives it's surroundings Fish comes to the conclusion that the world is totally Fugazi. Rothery's guitar playing is outstanding as always but here he really excels, especially the solo which is something else.

Past and present Marillion have always been masters at describing human interaction and relationships of all kind, about good ones but mainly about bad ones. Somehow they manage to look at it from many different angles making their songs speak to everyone. However, I dare to put my two cents in claiming that Fugazi really is a concept album about all the mistakes and bad decisions people make in their lives. It was never intended to be one but the way the songs are, what stories they tell Fugazi became the greatest unintentional concept releases of all time.

For all you anoraks out there, yes I am one myself, there is a strong link between the covers of Fugazi and it's predecessor Script For A Jester's Tear. Lay these two magnificient pieces that Mark Wilkinson made side by side and you'll see what I mean. Whereas in a tiny apartment with scattered and random items  with Marillion's trademark jester in full regalia, Fugazi on the other hand is in a big flashy hotel room. It's to the point very impersonal, non-descript but very expensive as if the jester, i.e the band has finally made it. But the jester is passed out undressed on a bed and clearly just as bad off as before stardom struck....oh and the famous magpie made it's first appearance.

Fucked Up Got Ambushed Zipped In, i.e. Fugazi is an amazing album and definitely one of the best Marillion has ever released. Since they were so much better musically by now this one should really be my number one but Script Of A Jester's Tear still holds that spot. Although it is kind of futile of me to categorize them like this because all their albums are very good. What else can I say? Oh yeah, play this and let the world of Marillion embrace you. Despite the sad stories they tell their songs are beautiful creations.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Truckfighters Announce Limited Edition Special Vinyl release of The Chairman

The folks at Last Hurrah Records are pleased to announce the release of The Chairman Special Edition EP, from Swedish fuzz rockers, TRUCKFIGHTERS.

Treading the trenches of heaviness somewhere between Fu Manchu and Queens Of The Stone Age, to hear TRUCKFIGHTERS is to hear the sounds of the desert; it's in their wide open expanses, grand open grooves and dust-caked metal riffs. You can hear progression and imagination; a band bred on the California badlands, on sprawling vistas and parched wilderness. The dynamic trio however hail from Örebro. Unafraid to plough their own furrow, TRUCKFIGHTERS have forged ahead and spend months on the road touring the world. Closing in on four-hundred gigs across four continents (Europe, Australia, and North and South America), being in front of crowds, sweat-sodden and crazed is where they are happiest. It's why a TRUCKFIGHTERS show is such a wild, free-form, charged affair.

The band's forthcoming new full-length is slated for release next year and includes the track "The Chairman," hence The Chairman Special Edition EP. Delivering over thirty minutes of pure power fuzz, the EP features the title track plus three live tunes -- "Desert Cruiser," "Monte Gangano," and "Traffic" -- all recorded while on tour in Australia. Presented at 45 RPM for best sound quality on a multi-colored vinyl 12-inch, The Chairman Special Edition EP comes in a full-color sleeve and jacket limited to 500 copies worldwide and only available from Last Hurrah Records. The jacket cover artwork has spot UV gloss, spot PMS, and silver metallic ink designed by artist Lindsey Kuhn and comes in two different vinyl colors: Desert Sunset and Desert Sunrise, each a mix of opaque and translucent colors (250 of each color).

Preorders are now available for the TRUCKFIGHTERS The Chairman Special Edition EP courtesy of Last Hurrah Records at THIS LOCATION where you can also check out a video for the title track!

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