Stone Temple Pilots – No.4

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Stone Temple Pilots – No.4

Atlantic

1999

 

On October 26th 1999, Stone Temple Pilots released their forth studio album entitled, yes you guessed right, No.4 to favorable to mixed reviews from critics. Following the success of 1996’s Tiny Music, STP had entered something of a hiatus, thanks in part to singer Scott Welland’s ongoing drug addictions which had left the remaining band members bassist Robert Deleo, guitarist Dean Deleo and drummer Eric Kretz to form a side band called Talk Show, whilst Weiland tried to clean up his act. Indeed Weiland himself had being busy around this time also, with the release of his debut solo album 12 Bar Blues and still harboring some resentment toward his estranged band-mates after a perceived public trashing by band in a press conference some time before.

However, time heals all wounds sometimes and it was not long before both parties realized more music should be made for the betterment of everyone involved. Weiland, writing in his autobiography, described the writing sessions for the record as: “…the songs were written together live. Brendan O’Brien our brilliant longtime producer, urged us simply to put our hearts and souls on the line” and described, rather dismissively, the resulting album as “a good record of generic rock”. Conversely, the surviving members, speaking to Yahoo Music in 2017 candidly discussed their frustrations with their troubled front-man with Robert Deleo stating that; “Resentment was growing since Purple… there was a window during the making of No.4 that Scott, genuinely, had got the clarity of the Core days. He was genuinely sober, genuinely focused, looking great and all there… a great energy to take the band to the next place” with Kretz stating that; “The touring for No.4 was great, when Scott got out of jail completely sober, finally clean and he was on fire” and  Dean Deleo stating that; “straight out, he was clean…he felt like he had a lot of ground to make up”‘ In truth all the band did, it was high time for the band to get the show back on the road and deliver and boy did they.

No.4 kicks things off with “Down”, the lead single from the album. Beginning with an impossibly heavy down-tuned riff, the track lurches in a metallic mass punctuated by a catchy chorus refrain of “Yeah I’ve been waiting for my Sunday girl” before featuring a frantic riff from Dean Deleo. “Down” neatly showcases the more heavy aspects of the bands sound and harkens back to the Core days, a great opener to the record. This vibe continues with the next track “Heaven & Hotrods”, beginning with a wonderful gasoline soaked snaky riff which continues throughout the verse sections before opening into a sunburst chorus section all the time anchored by Robert’s rumbling bass and metronome drumming from Kretz with Weiland deploying the style of vocal that would find much favor in his Velvet Revolver days. The song is great fun and something of an underrated tune from the band. “Pruno” follows and it is so far the first track on No.4 that follows the tried and true trip rock/pop of STP’s previous two records. As such the track feels slightly throwaway not because it’s an awful track, far from it, it just feels like it’s been done before and done slightly better. Still the track features an interesting schizophrenic riff with grooving bass underneath and Scott Weiland sounds the best he had in years on this track, a vocal performance that interestingly gets better and better as the album progresses.

 

 

 

 

 

The excellent “Church on Tuesday” is next beginning with jangly guitar before transiting into more robust secondary riff before then returning to the original riff. There is a lot of interesting things going on guitar wise on this track (note the ascending scale riff just before the second chorus) and that is what makes this underrated tune so interesting. Robert’s bass noodles along filling in the gaps nicely and Weiland is on top form here; you really cannot argue with excellent lyrics such as: “Father’s always smoking and your Mom’s at church on Tuesday and your brother’s always drinking and dying”. The song ends out in a kind of bebop, poppy vocal refrain from Weiland and it’s utterly brilliant. No. 4′s big single,”Sour Girl” is next beginning with wistful guitar and excellent melodic bass from the hugely underrated. Robert Deleo which drives the song forward. The catchy simple chorus of  “What would you do, what would you do if I followed you” is both eerie and poignant and the track has ‘hit single’ written all over it. The accompanying video is suitably trippy and sinister and a real treat for those of you who grow up in the nineties. Still the best decade ever.

 

 

 

 

After emotional turmoil we get “No Way Out” a gloriously demented heavy rocker, beginning with atmospheric vocal effects before leading into a heavy guitar riff which continues throughout. The track is once again reminiscent of the Core days and features an interesting middle section with Weiland’s taunts of “Give it away now motherfucker, now give it away” the track is a hulking slab of alt-metal and all the better for it. “Sex & Violence” follows beginning with an arena rock styled riff before leading into an impossibly catchy chorus section. The track is a solid tune and Weiland is in his element here. “Glide” is next up and it’s one of the best tracks to be found on No.4. The song begins with more jingle jangle guitar before launching into the verse sections complete with idiosyncratic guitar overdubs which features excellent vocal from Weiland especially the falsetto just before the song’s chorus section; it is obvious that Weiland’s voice had gotten something of a break around this time and his attempts to remain sober only contributed to his stronger vocal presence on this record, easily his strongest since Core. “Glide” is a massively underrated STP tune which is now been resurrected and been played live by the band.

However the best track on No.4, to this reviewers ears at least, is “I Got You” a kind of lovers lullaby beginning with a slightly country infused riff accompanied by rumbling baritone bass and spare drums with tasteful keys, the song evokes the spirit of The Beatles, but is still an utterly original tune with evocative lyrics such as; “And I got you to paint the sorrow on my day and I got you to paint the roses on my grave”, the track has a mournful eerie air and it a criminally underrated track.

 

 

 

 

“MC5” is both a tribute of sorts to the band of the same name and interestingly a totally different sounding track to the rest of the record. The track is a gloriously fun, balls-to-the- wall furious rocker (someone even breaks a string!) and at just 2.42 it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. No.4 finishes with “Atlanta”, perhaps the greatest album closer ever. “Atlanta” is a remarkable tune and lyrically Weiland is on top form here with beautiful lyrics lamenting those who go away such as “memories of candles and incense and all of these things, remember these”. Musically the song is utterly gripping, you would stand in the rain listening to it, beginning with a wistful guitar riff, which remains spare throughout and emotive bass swellings with laid-back drums before a highly atmospheric middle section leading to a triumphant outro made all the more poignant and haunting with the albums dying notes played on the Marimba by Screaming Trees drummer Barret Martin. The song is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

 

 

 

Shortly after the release of No.4 Weiland would serve a one year jail term for possession of narcotics and violation of probation. As such, touring for the record was virtually non-existent and promotion even less so. A missed opportunity for the band, among many, many others and it was only really the decision to release “Sour Girl” as a single which kept the record alive in the public conscience. Critics at the time were lukewarm to the album with many burnt out with post grunge and nu metal becoming the next big thing. I feel that No.4 is a great STP record, maybe the last truly great album from the band, although as I have reviewed earlier in this series, Shangri La-Dee-Da is certainly not without it’s merits. No.4 has a certain attitude though which is hard to argue with; put bluntly it’s a middle finger to the bands naysayers and distractors and there were many of them at this time. If you haven’t given the record a listen for a while do revisit it again and if you are new to the band, this album is the perfect more accessible way to get into Stone Temple Pilots. You’ll never look back.

 

Works cited:

David Ritz with Scott Weiland, Scott Weiland – Not Dead and Not for Sale, A Memoir, Canongate, New York, 2011.

Backspin: Stone Temple Pilots talk No. 4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHHhyIHlnyM

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Thin Lizzy – Chinatown

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Thin Lizzy – Chinatown

Vertigo

1980

 

On 10th of October 1980, Thin Lizzy released their tenth studio album entitled Chinatown to mostly mixed reviews. The album was recorded at Good Earth Studios at Soho in London produced by the band with the help of longtime producer Tony Visconti’s engineer Kit Woolven. After the runaway commercial success of the stunning Black Rose: A Rock Legend, Lizzy were always going to be up against it as regards delivering a record of comparable quality. After all, the band tended to have previous in this respect; certainly Johnny The Fox was considered a relatively poor follow-up to the seminal breakout record Jailbreak. Nevertheless, Chinatown is not without its merits as we will see later and gets something of a bad rep in this reviewers eyes. I have to say, the promotional work done for this record was outstanding with some £50,000 spent on everything from silk tour jackets to posters done in the traditional Chinese style and other various elaborate displays featuring similar artwork. Speaking of artwork, Chinatown features a gorgeous album cover (and back) courtesy of longtime Lizzy collaborator Jim Fitzpatrick which lead Scott Gorham to marvel at the detail of the work itself, right down to the painstakingly drawn individual scales on the oriental Dragon.

Some of the undeniable fall off in quality can be attributed to the changing of guitar personnel with Chinatown; guitarist Garry Moore had left the band for the second and final time only to be replaced by sometime touring guitarist for Pink Floyd, Snowy White. White, an excellent guitarist in his own right and student of the Blues was an odd choice right from the off. To be the lead guitarist in Thin Lizzy required an individual who could indulge in the panache and spectacle and, of course, all the other various distractions. Not that front man Phil Lynott was too concerned as he told White; “Don’t worry, you’ll be the muso in the band” and Scott Gorham speaking to the late Mark Putterford for his seminal book Phil Lynott: The Rocker recalled how White got the gig in the first place, Gorham: “We ended up holding auditions for our new guitar player at Shepperton Studios but they were going nowhere… In one studio I found Cliff Richard rehearing and who should be playing guitar but Snowy White! so I invited him down to our studio and he came along and jammed. It sounded great, so as we were getting close to our deadline for finding a new guy we asked him if he would be interested joining full-time”. White was and is the professional musicians musician, Thin Lizzy at this time, accomplished yet decadent, so naturally a kind of awkward culture clash was bound to occur and this sense of awkwardness is evident throughout much of Chinatown, but that in a strange way is also part of its charm.

And that awkwardness is there right from the off with the opening track “We Will Be Strong”, probably the most anemic start to a Thin Lizzy record this side of Nightlife. The track is not awful by any stretch; Phil’s anthemic vocals are a highlight and the chorus is strong but the guitars meld into one another (and not in the classic Lizzy dual harmonic way) save for a guitar solo in the songs bridge and the track really should not have been selected to open the album. That song, in my opinion, should have been the excellent “Chinatown” the album’s title track and easily one of the best songs Lizzy had ever written. Beginning with an intriguing guitar riff courtesy of White which then transitions into a descending scale harmonic riff leading into the song proper and backed by an excellent shuffle beat by the hugely underrated Brian Downey leading into an impossible catchy chorus section which then segues into an extended guitar solo. The whole band is on top form here; the guitars are on point, Lynott is in his sneering element and Downey grooves like it’s no ones business. The track featured a memorable music video too which effortlessly screams “cool”.

 

“Sweetheart” follows and it is the token Phil Lynott Lothario pop song; nearly every Thin Lizzy record has one and this is largely no different from previous iterations but welcome for that very reason all the same. Beginning with tribal toms from Downey and a heavy guitar riff leading into a dual harmonic recurring riff after the chorus sections and the vocal layered refrain of “sweetheart” will get stuck in your head. “Sweetheart” overall is an inoffensive track and comes and goes without outstaying its welcome. The bouncy “Sugar Blues” is next beginning with an electric bluesy riff and drum rolls from Downey before descending into a fairly redundant pop/rock tune. “Sugar Blues” is easily the weakest track on a so far decent record and is utterly throwaway as a result, with not even an extended guitar solo able to redeem the track.

The same, however, cannot be said of the next song; “Killer On The Loose”, an utterly gripping track from start to finish and one of the best the band had written. Beginning with an ominous guitar riff and driving bass (and featuring a dash of keyboard from silent, unofficial at this point, member Darron Wharton), the track leads into Lynott’s gleeful retelling of a killer who is on the loose and you really cannot argue with lyrics such as; “Some people they call me Jack, some people they call me insane, I’m looking for somebody and I don’t even know her name”. The track then leads out with a devastating solo from White and Gorham with the catchy chorus refrain of “there’s a killer on the loose again, a lady-killer on the loose”. The tune did receive some backlash however in Britain owning to the Yorkshire Ripper case at the time a serial killer who was murdering women, mainly prostitutes in the Leeds and Bradford areas. Lynott and the band were, disgustingly, accused of glorifying rape and because of pressure from women groups and moral groups the band was forced to drop the song from their set. Imagine what would happen now?

 

Next up is “Having A Good Time” a real boys own song (Lynott can even be heard name checking White twice before then mentioning Gorham and Downey) which starts off with heavy guitar and an odd acoustic riff overdub which follows throughout the verse sections. “Having A Good Time” is a fun track if not somehow feeling a bit forced but its a decent drinking song to boot. “Genocide (The Killing of the Buffalo)” is next and it is a kind of political song with allusions to the plight of native American Indians. The track itself begins with a suitably weighty guitar riff and lyrically Lynott is on top form here with excellent lyrics such as; “So listen to my story of Genocide, how they were hunted and slaughtered till there was no place left to hide, did you know the redman used to hold his head with pride, till every man, woman and child was destroyed”. Vocally, Lynott is at his best on the record here especially in the chorus section and the catchy refrain of  “Buffala-o”. “Genocide” is a genuinely excellent track and it is lyrically and musically interesting enough to hold the listener’s attention.

 

“Didn’t I” follows and it’s a fairly maudlin, throwaway track, (the song is essentially about lost love) and musically it’s just fine and it’s yet another vehicle for Lynott to show off his softer side, But bar a few slow classics, Lizzy were always at their best when on full on rock mode. “Didn’t I” is not awful by any stretch but it’s just so samey and had been done better by the band previously (Still In Love With You for example). Chinatown finishes with “Hey You” a decent closer to the record that begins with an interesting odd time signature with a catchy chorus as usual that then transitions into fast middle section which contains a furious guitar solo before reverting back to the verse sections. The track is actually a fairly experimental composition and a hugely underrated Lizzy track to this reviewers ears.

Chinatown received mixed reviews upon its release and critics felt disappointed. with the follow-up to Black Rose. The record charted reasonably well, but nowhere near as successful as its predecessor but the fans came out to see the band regardless. Certainly, Chinatown cannot compete with Black Rose; it is the poor relation, but in all honesty the record is far from being Thin Lizzy’s worst and for all the criticism leveled at Snowy White, his performance on this album is rather good, if not a bit reserved. I feel this record has a certain vibe to it, that is at lest some way attributable to Jim Fitzpatrick’s excellent album art but also the lyrical themes and sometimes experimental music contained within. If the record passed you by at the time, do revisit it again, it has at least two stone cold classic Lizzy tunes in “Chinatown” and “Killer On The Loose” and when it rocks, it rocks. What more would you want?

 

 

Works Cited:

Scott Gorham with Harry Doherty, Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town, Omnibus Press, London, 2012.

Putterford, Mark., Phil Lynott: The Rocker, Omnibus Press, London, 2002.

 

Jerry Cantrell – Boggy Depot

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Jerry Cantrell – Boggy Depot

1998

Columbia

 

On April 7th, 1998, Boggy Depot, the debut solo album from Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell was released to mixed reviews. The record was produced by Toby Wright who had helmed production duties on Alice in Chains and the album was tracked in various studios namely The Record Plant and Studio X in Seattle. With Alice in Chains in something of an indefinite hiatus after the release of their self titled album in 1995, save for some one-off appearances most notably the band’s stunning Unplugged performance in 1996, Cantrell found himself kicking around with nearly an albums worth of material, yet no real band to furnish it with. Eventually Cantrell decided is was best to go it alone and that, essentially, there was no other real option, not that he would be completely alone; Alice in Chains members Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney would help out with band duties in the studio along with the help of other musicians most notably Rex Brown of Pantera and Les Claypool of Primus. Speaking to Guitar World at the time of the records release, Cantrell stated that: “It’s something I never really wanted to do but the way things have played out, it’s like, why not?…now I’ve got to step up to the plate and take a few swings”.

 

Boggy Depot kicks things off with “Dickeye” an at once disconcerting and ominous sounding track before the song begins proper with a suitably heavy guitar riff leading into a grooving verse section which then transitions into an almost choral chorus. The tune is an excellent introduction into “solo” Jerry Cantrell and any longtime Alice in Chains fans that may have had any reservations going into this record would have been pleasantly surprised. That surprise would continue with the next track “Cut You In” a highly unusual sounding track and all the better for it. Beginning with a jangly guitar riff which then leads to an odd time verse section before an insanely demented catchy chorus featuring excellent lyrics such as; I cut you in, let it go to your head, I cut you in, part-time friend”, “Cut You In” may very well be one of the best tracks on Boggy Depot and it featured a memorable music video and a memorable handle bar mustache too.

 

Things take something of a reflective turn with the next track “My Song”. The third single released from Boggy Depot,  Essentially “My Song” is a track about lost love – apparently addressing the ending of Cantrell’s long-term relationship at the time. The track begins with an excellent maudlin guitar riff continuing throughout the verse sections before transitioning to a very Alice in Chains esque chorus riff. This is actually intentional; a lot of the tracks on Boggy Depot were intended for the next Alice in Chains record, and this track is clearly one of them. A definite highlight of the album. The hauntingly beautiful “Settling Down” follows, a kind of  spiritual sequel to “My Song”.  The song begins with pensive, somber piano notes before Sean Kinney and guest bassist Rex Brown’s excellent rhythm section kicks in preceding Cantrell’s expansive vocal. The track reaches something of a hanging crescendo after the second chorus featuring a memorable guitar solo from Cantrell before returning to the pensive verse sections again which leads out the track with a vocal refrain of “and I say no, I say no.”

 

The eerie, unnerving, “Breaks My Back” follows beginning with an initially fairly sunny guitar riff before descending into a semi bluesy dirge. The added watery vocal effect works well within the context of the track and it’s subject matter and the tune takes a nice turn in its middle section briefly evoking classic 70s rock sensibilities before returning to its original quietly deranged self.  “Jesus Hands” is next and it is another Alice in Chains prototype. A suitably creepy almost Black Sabbath vibe neatly encapsulated in crunchy guitar riffs and a memorable chorus section that is just screaming out for Layne’s soaring vocals. Nevertheless, “Jesus Hands” is a decent track, but one that could have done with an additional special presence. Next up is “Devil By His Side” beginning with a fairly urgent guitar riff the track then becomes somewhat redundant and is no far the weakest track to be found on Boggy Depot. The track really doesnt offer anything new to the listener and comes and goes without ever leaving much of an impression. “Keep The Light On” follows and it’s a pretty throw away track. A kind of cracked southern rock/metal tune with is redeemed somewhat by an interesting middle section, the song feels more like a composition that would have been left on the floor at an Alice in Chains recording session, which is a shame, because the quiet chorus refrain works very well, it’s just that there isn’t really a song to build around it.

 

“Satisfy” begins with another maudlin guitar riff before transitioning into another semi bluesy chorus riff. The track is an at once atmospheric and draws the listener in and after two fairly dull tracks it’s nice to hear the tried and true Cantrell songwriting style, in-fact this track is quite reminiscent of “Solitude” from Cantrell’s second solo album, 2002’s Degradation Trip and Cantrell is really often at his best as a writer when he writes pensive tracks such as these.  “Hurt A Long Time” is next up and the track is essentially a country tune with a metal heart, beginning with a country infused guitar riff before a jarring heavy riff kicks in for the chorus. As a result “Hurt A Long Time” is something of an acquired taste and probably the most unique sounding track on the whole album. But there’s yet more country to come y’all. “Between” has a certain charm about it but I honestly cannot take the track seriously and maybe that’s the whole point. It’s genuinely funny to hear Cantrell sing with a southern drawl and I mean no offense to people who are fans of country music, but it’s not really my thing. Cantrell himself had this to say about the track; “I’m half Yankee and half Redneck and I love country music; I was raised on it. y mom and dad played it all the time”. Musically, the track is just fine but I think Jerry may have been having a bit of fun on this here tune. Boggy Depot closes out with “Cold Piece” which begins with an interesting drum part from the always excellent Sean Kinney and grooving bass from Les Claypool no less, “Cold Piece” is an excellent tune with something of 70’s funk feel in the verse sections before leading to the classic anthemic Cantrell chorus and paranoid sounding piano to complement the slightly demented ending vibe of the track and indeed of the entire album; Boggy Depot certainly has been a dense and enjoyable listening experience.

 

And yet the record was received pretty poorly by critics at the time. I personally think the criticism was a bit harsh. Boggy Depot is far from the worst record that came out around the end of the nineties and it’s unfair to write is off as sub par post grunge. The album is incredibly varied and eclectic sounding and for the most part, a hugely enjoyable ride. I have a personal preference for Degradation Trip myself, but Boggy Depot is a fine Jerry Cantrell solo work and a pretty brave one for the time too. Needless to say if you are an Alice in Chains fan, then this is a must listen; some aspects of the music will sound a bit foreign but that can only be a good thing. If for some reason you are not aware of Jerry Cantrell’s solo work, or it passed you by at the time, do go back and have a listen, it is a work that won’t disappoint.

 

Works Cited;

Weingarten, Mark.,(1998, May) Jerry Cantrell on His First Solo Album and the State of Alice In Chains, Guitar World.

 

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Megadeth – Cryptic Writings

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Megadeth – Cryptic Writings

Capitol

1997

 

On June 17, 1997, Megadeth released their seventh studio album entitled Cryptic Writings. The record was recorded at The Tracking Room in Nashville Tennessee with pop maestro Dann Huff producing and Mustaine co – producing. After the continued commercial success of Youthaniasia, a success which at least in part was due to the stylistic changes embraced by the band on Countdown to Extinction, Cryptic Writings would follow much of the same formula, a kind of commercial rock/metal sound but this time much more refined, verging into almost pop territory and with actual singles being written in mind of achieving that elusive No.1 spot for vocalist and guitarist Dave Mustaine as Mustaine himself writes in his 2010 autobiography: “I knew when we left for Nashville changes would be made and that as co producer I would be expected to nudge Megadeth in a direction it had never traveled before. I went there anyway… because I wanted a number one hit, I wanted what Metallica had, even if it meant sealing a piece of my soul to the devil… for better or worse, Cryptic Writings was positioned from the outset as a record that would feature at least a few melodic, pop friendly songs”. Cryptic Writings then would prove to be part one of a fascinating two album experiment into the fusion of rock and pop. With varying results. However unlike Risk, the follow up to Cryptic Writings released in 1999, Cryptic is not an awful record. Granted there are some filler and misjudged moments, as we will see later, but on the whole I feel that the album is one of Megadeth’s best latter career releases, somewhat unfairly brushed under the carpet and forgotten about.

 

Cryptic Writings kicks things off with “Trust” an unabashed pop/metal ballad. Beginning with an excellent tribal tom-tom introduction from the late great Nick Menza before being joined in unison by angular metal riffs with a melodic vocal line from Mustaine,  before leading to an interesting Spanish guitar  middle section, the track is fairly inoffensive and not entirely bad. It must have been so unusual for old – school fans in 1997 to hear Megadeth recorded a track like this though; sure Countdown and Youth had their fair share of commercial melody, but really nothing as blatant as “Trust”, nevertheless the track is memorable for that very reason. Next up is “Almost Honest,” another breakup song. Yikes. The track begins with another angular metal riff anchored by David Ellefson’s bass riff throughout. This tune is impossibly catchy and it’s this strange mix of metal riffing and pop sensibilities that permeates throughout much of Cryptic Writings. The lyrics are pretty overwrought and incredibly clichéd much like on “Trust” and it’s clear that on this record we are not going to get the biting political commentary usually associated with the band, yet the music is still excellent and well written.

 

“Use the Man” follows and it’s a genuinely interesting track; an introspective, maudlin tune the type, perhaps, more usually associated with the grunge bands of the nineties. It’s also nice to hear Mustaine, often a competent rather than outstanding vocalist, challenge himself vocally on this track and for the most part he does a decent job. Musically, the track is a kind of cracked country rock/metal hybrid and is one of the highlights of the record. “Mastermind” follows and it is a fun metal track, featuring a furious bass riff from Ellefson at the beginning before transiting into a gloriously over the top, paranoid  and deranged metal tune. After the relative doom and gloom of the previous three track, it’s nice to hear a somewhat old school metal song which harkens back to the day of NWOBHM. Speaking of which, it’s been a while since we had a bit of thrash and we get it with the next track “The Disintegrators”. While only half as innovative as anything recorded on Megadeth’s first four albums, that’s really not the point here; the track is a friendly reminder to the listener that Megadeth can still thrash if they want too, but this is not quite the album for that. The track was clearly written for the live setting with a suitably fast thrash riff and drums and a memorable guitar solo and features apocalyptic lyrics like: “The slayer’s arrived on a black horse of  steel, trouble is coming, hell on two wheels”. The track is a fun thrash tune and a memorably catchy one at that.

 

Things get a bit more somber with the next track “I’ll Get Even”. The track begins with an excellent atmospheric syncopated guitar/bass riff before leading into yet another catchy chorus and lyrically, Mustaine sings of getting revenge on someone… or a particular former band. In any event, the music is memorable and utterly unlike anything the band had recorded before this record and again it is another highlight for this very reason. Next up is “Sin” a straight up rock/metal track with a catchy melodic hook anchored by a satisfying heavy main riff before some guitar trickery courtesy of Mustaine during the song’s middle section. “Sin” is something of an underrated tune and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

 

The excellent “A Secret Place” follows and it is on this track that the metal/pop formula fully works to great effect. On this track there is just the right amount of everything; atmospheric guitars featuring a memorable solo, melody and pop hooks. It’s far far from being my favorite Megadeth track, however if Mustaine was seeking to write hit records around this time, he and the band pretty much nailed it with this track because this is a song which, for this era of the band, is extremely well written, when either you consider that a good thing or not is another matter entirely. Sadly the next track, the intriguingly  titled “Have Cool, Will Travel” is awful. Mustaine over extends his voice so much in the beginning of this song that I have never listened the whole thing from start to finish, it’s just too painful. The track is utterly redundant and offers absolutely nothing to the listener save for a mildly humable chorus and plods along at a dull pace. Fortunately the excellent “She Wolf” is next, an unashamed straight up metal tune, with memorable lyrics: (The mother of all that is evil, her lips are poisonous venom”) and featuring a cold, razor-sharp riff from Mustaine before leading into a memorable chorus section and more guitar trickery in the songs ending section. “She Wolf” would go on to become something of a fan favorite and has been played many times live as a result.

 

“Vortex” is next and it’s a fairly so-so track. Almost more alternative metal than anything else on the record, “Vortex” is not a bad track per se and has some good ideas, namely the chorus section, but the track suffers from an awkward time change after the first chorus which makes the song feel disjointed as a result and more a collection of ideas than a cohesive track. Cryptic Writings ends with “FFF” a kind of semi thrash tune and not a particularly good one. “FFF” feels utterly like an after thought, tacked onto the end of an otherwise enjoyable record. The song feels completely dialed in by the band and is lackluster as a result and not even a frantic guitar solo can redeem it.

 

Cryptic Writings was met with mixed reviews at the time of its release and didn’t chart well over seas but did go gold in America and Canada, however,  Cryptic Writings is still an enjoyable record even to this day. There are some classic Megadeth tunes on this album, namely “She Wolf”, “Almost Honest” and “The Disintegrators” and the production has held up very well for an album that is over twenty years old. I consider the record to be the last truly great Megadeth album. I know many fans will disagree with that statement and point to 2007’s United Abominations and 2009’s Endgame as counter points and examples of the band returning to form but I personally find the recorded output after Cryptic Writings to be soulless, granted some decent material in places, but ultimately lacking. Cryptic Writings would of course be the last Megadeth record with Nick Menza who sadly passed away in 2016 and indeed, this would be the last record from the “classic” line up of Megadeth and in my opinion the best. Overall though, Cryptic Writings is one of the better albums to come from the Big 4 of Thrash during the nineties, which was a decade of confusion for musical acts in that genre. It built upon the blueprint laid out by Youthansia and moved the bands soundscape more into the commercial mainstream, eventually collapsing upon itself with Risk two years later. Ughhh. Risk. If it’s a thing that you never got round to listening to Cryptic Writings back in the day do check it out or if you are a new fan looking to get into the band, you would do worse (Risk) then to start off your interest with this record. Then quickly listen to Rust in Peace.

 

Works Cited:

Joe Layden with Dave Mustaine, Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memior, Harper Collins, London, 2010.

AC/DC – Flick of the Switch

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AC/DC – Flick of the Switch

1983

Atlantic

 

On the 15th of August, 1983, AC/DC released their eight (or ninth if you hail from Australia) studio album entitled Flick of the Switch to mostly mixed reviews. After the run away success of For Those About to Rock, and the massive touring cycle for that record, the band were keen to return to a more stripped back, raw rock sound and this sound would be captured once again at Compass Point Studios in Nassau in the Bahamas, produced by the band themselves with the record being engineered and mixed by Tony Platt on the back of his work on Back In Black. By 1983 AC/DC were a musical behemoth comfortably straddling the globe with lucrative touring and with two critically acclaimed albums under their belt with vocalist Brian Johnson, it is curious that Flick of the Switch is regarded as a curious mis-step for a band that, up until now at least, could do no real wrong. Most critics and fans consider the record to be the beginning of a slippery slope for AC/DC a fall from grace and irrelevance for most of the next decade that didn’t really stop until the release of 1990’s stunning The Razors Edge.  In a lot of ways, Flick of the Switch is an album from a tired band and that would be reflected in the departure midway through recording sessions of longtime drummer Phil Rudd who had fallen into drugs (no hit men just yet) and was generally burned out from the constant touring, an absence that would last some eleven years before his return on the flawed Ballbreaker in 1995. Indeed there were some tensions throughout all of the band. Rudd, who had recorded all of his drum parts, would be replaced by young Mancunian Simon Wright for live duties.

Flick of the Switch kicks off with “Rising Power” a groovy, slightly bluesy rocker full of the tried and true AC/DC brand of double entendre which frequents the album (rising power eh Brian?) and features a memorable guitar solo from Angus. The track is a fine opener to the new record and neatly showcases the stripped back, organic feel the band was seeking on Flick of the Switch. Next up is “This House is on Fire” featuring a memorable main guitar riff which is almost exotic sounding in its feel. The track is straight ahead good time AC/DC and features yet another furious guitar solo from Angus. Next up is “Flick of the Switch” the title track and second single from the record. Another excellent foot tapper which warns of the vagrancies of bad women with Johnson gleefully screeching lyrics like: “With a flick of the switch she’ll blow you sky-high”, the song blisters through at an electric pace; if this is the sound of a band tired, then I must be going deaf. The track features a memorable music video too, recorded at an aircraft hangar with the band just rocking out. No fancy nonsense or high concept here, just AC/DC captured in full flight.

 

Next up is “Nervous Shakedown” a slow tempo tune which is honestly pretty average. The band clearly felt that this would be the track to slow things down a tad after the full on rock swagger of the previous tracks. As it is, it’s a fairly throwaway track and not even another furious solo from Angus can redeem it. “Landslide” follows and normal service is resumed and the track is a genuinely fun one, Johnson is in his absolute element here and the track is a hard and driven rocker, if ever so slightly more tame than is really ought to have been. Next up is “Guns for Hire” quite possibly the best track on Flick of the Switch, which begins with Angus seemingly trying to wrangle the life out of his Gibson SG before launching into the song proper with the rest of the band. Johnson croaks out his chorus lyrics with a throaty fortitude which would be perfected by the time “Thunderstruck” would come around and the song ends with a devastating crescendo. The entire band is on fire here and if this track does not make you move and the melody get stuck in your head, you may well be dead inside.

 

“Deep in the Hole” follows and it’s easily one of the best tracks on the record. Featuring an excellent granite rock riff from the brothers Young  and anchored by Cliff Williams solid bass with an excellent vocal performance as usual from Johnson, the track is criminally underrated and grooves along like it’s nobodies business.”Bedlam in Belgium” is another ferocious rocker, with Johnson describing to the listener of a particularly rambunctious gig one night in Belgium. The track is a straight ahead no-nonsense tune, much like most of Flick of the Switch and easily one of the highlights of the record. “Badlands” follows and it’s a fairly redundant track. Flick of the Switch works best when AC/DC stick to the bare essentials but in a slightly more up tempo and driven way than say, on For Those About to Rock. There really is nothing new about “Badlands” that hasn’t been done better already by the band. Flick of the Switch ends with “Brainshake” which features a nice nifty guitar riff but again somehow falls a bit flat which is a shame because Flick of the Switch has been a genuinely fun record to listen to. It’s also one of the bands best.

 

Flick of the Switch was not met very well with critics and the record received next to no promotion. I prefer Flick of the Switch to For Those About To Rock. I know that will be an unpopular opinion amongst AC/DC fans, but I have always found that record to be a tad over bloated and more “arena rock” than AC/DC ever intended to be. That record of course has the obvious hits and moments of genius, but there is a charm about Flick of the Switch that is hard to deny. I just love the low rent vibe of the record, the art and most of the tracks contained therein. Sure there is the typical filler tracks that can be found on nearly every AC/DC release, but I feel this s the true follow-up to Back In Black, that the band had always wanted to make. In a 1992 interview with Metal CD the late great Malcolm Young stated that; “We did that one [Flick of the Switch] so quickly and I guess it was a reaction to For Those About To Rock, we just thought “bugger it! We’ve had enough of this crap!” Nobody was in the mood to spend another year making a record, so we decided to produce ourselves and make it as raw as could be… the title track is the song that still sticks in my mind from that record, Flick of the Switch was a great live track”. Perhaps the fact that the band sought to self produce the album meant some of the more weaker tracks could have become leaner, but in all truth, Flick of the Switch is a great AC/DC record and the last truly great album until the bands brief early nineties resurgence. The record may have been too bare bones for some at the time, yet I feel the album continues to be massively underrated. If it has been some time since you listened to this record do revisit it again and if you never really it a chance seek it out, have a few beers and rock out.

 

Works Cited;

Blake, Mark. (2016, April) AC/DC’s Malcolm Young – The Lost Interview. Classic Rock.

 

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Audioslave – Out of Exile

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Audioslave – Out of Exile

Interscope Records

2005

 

Released on May 23, 2005, Out of Exile, Audioslave’s second studio album, was met with mostly favorable reviews. After the commercial success of the band’s debut album released three years previously an extensive tour cycle saw the band through much of 2003, so when the band had gotten to know each other, essentially on the road, there was always the sense that the sophomore record could be something a bit different to its brash predecessor. Out of Exile was produced by famed couch recliner extraordinaire Rick Rubin variously at Cello Studios, the Academie Mathematique of Philosophical research and Sunset Sound studios in California, Audioslave had always been something of a novelty band around the time of their inception in 2002; the first real super-group fusing the driving rhythm of Rage Against The Machine  with the soulful wistfulness of the voice of Soundgarden. Many, as with the creation of Velvet Revolver a few years later, were curious to see how it would all pan out; the ultimate alternative rock experiment if you will and so was the late, very great, Chris Cornell himself who in a 2006 interview with Spin magazine described his introduction to the other members of the band as: “Like switching schools [it was] awhile before It felt “Oh, this is my home and these are my friends and this is my band and they’re going to be different from my other band” Then it didn’t feel like there was any reason not to keep going”.

 

Out of Exile kicks things off with “Your Time Has Come”, a  bouncy rock tune featuring the tried and true Tom Morello idiosyncratic guitar riff with driving bass from Tim Commerford and dynamic drums from Brad Wilk, before then leading into a catchy chorus and now sadly poignant refrain from Cornell of ” I don’t know why you’re dying long before your time has come”. The track then leads into a memorable guitar solo from Morello before ending out with the driving verse section. What is apparent with this track is that the Audioslave sound has matured; the music is still full on but much more focused and retrained, the almost stadium rock sensibilities of Audioslave have been eschewed it would seem in favor of a more striped back classic rock vibe. All in all an excellent start to the record. This restrained aura continues on the next track “Out of Exile” featuring a marching snare drum pattern from Wilk before leading into a great rock riff from Morello which transitions to Cornell’s introspective vocals before leading into another atonal solo from Morello. The song is an interesting departure for the band and is a good indicator of the nature of the material to be found on Out of Exile.

 

Next up is “Be Yourself”, the albums lead single. Beginning with wistful guitar from Morello before being joined by Commerford’s rumbling bass and Wilk’s one and two drumming pattern before the soaring chorus provided by Cornell, the song is easily one of the most memorable to be found on the record and maybe one of the best the band had written. Cornell’s lyrics are vibrant and thought-provoking, with the previous record, a lot of critics criticized Cornell for his at times abstract lyrics which I always found to be rather unfair; the biggest culprit of that is Anthony Keidis. One cannot argue with the poignant beauty of lyrics such as: “someone gets excited in a chapel yard, catches a bouquet, another lays a dozen, white roses on a grave” an excellent analogy of life and death and the songs ends with a suitably grandiose crescendo. “Doesn’t Remind Me” follows and starts of rather intriguingly with jangly guitar and stomping percussion and features some more of Cornell’s abstract lyrics before leading into a heavy chorus. It’s good to hear that while Audioslave use the tried and true quiet/loud dynamic in this song they mix it up with a different second verse feel courtesy of the excellent Brad Wilk. The song then takes another turn after the second chorus into a slightly trippy middle section feature excellent vocals from Cornell and another atonally furious solo from Morello. There is a lot going on with this track and it’s one of the highlights of Out of Exile and featured a memorable music video too.

 

“Drown Me Slowly” is next and it’s the weakest track to be found on Out of Exile at this point on the record. A fairly throwaway track that doesn’t really take the listener anywhere, it is mostly a collection of interesting ideas thrown together, featuring a seriously ill-advised weird scratch guitar effect from Morello.  “Heavens Dead” follows and it is basically a vehicle for Cornell to showcase his always impressive vocal skill. “Heavens Dead” is not a bad song per se, it’s just that it falls a bit flat and like the previous track never really gets out of first gear. ” The Worm”, however, is much better and it is almost reminiscent of Soundgarden in many ways featuring knowing, confessional and nay-saying addressing lyrics from Cornell, heavy guitar from Morello and a driving rhythm section. The track is beautifully deranged and heavy leading into an interesting bridge section and is another definite highlight of the record.

 

“Man or Animal” follows and it is an out an out frenzied rocker and perhaps the track on Out of Exile most reminiscent of Audioslave. The track is let down somewhat by Morello’s guitar noodling, which sometimes can be something of an acquired taste, especially in the rock pantheon. Nevertheless, “Man or Animal is a decent track which doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. Next up is “Yesterday to Tomorrow” which starts of with a groovy bass riff before joined in union by guitar and drums, however this is Commerfords song, with the bass holding together the track to great effect.  “Yesterday to Tomorrow” is a fairly inoffensive tune, with some interesting effects and ideas which help keep the track fresh on repeated listens. “Dandelion” is a breezy alternative rock tune featuring excellent lyrical imagery from Cornell, again the song is pretty inoffensive and it is slightly by the numbers: it is neither here nor there in terms of quality and somewhat disjointed as a result. “# Zero” follows with a slightly bluesy feel to it. This track is yet another showcase for Cornell’s more soulful side and the song is decent if somewhat dull save for the Sabbathy riffing in the songs middle section.  Out of Exile finishes with “The Curse” a fairly average closer to what has been a mostly enjoyable if slightly bloated album. The song is fairly redundant, maudlin and nothing really new from what the other two tracks have already provided, which is a kind of shame because Out of Exile has had some truly great and inspired moments of songwriting.

Out of Exile was received well by critics and was a number one record for the band. Extensive touring would follow and a this growing momentum would result in a follow-up record, Revelations, released in 2006. Audioslave would then enter something of a hiatus and following some solo work, Cornell would eventually return to Soundgarden and even record a studio album with his old band, whilst the Rage Against The Machine members would also reunite with their own past for a time. Sadly, Chris Cornell passed away on May 18th 2017. Long before his time had come. You know, it’s something of a strange thing, I started this particular blog on Wednesday, which also happened to be World Mental Health day, the previous few days I had been listening to Audioslave. I always like to think that Chris had a certain kind of hope to his lyrics and the voice to convey that hope, I only hope that people who may have lost some of that hope (because this is a tricky world we live in now and let’s face it, life is tough) will find the mechanism to speak about how they feel, for Chris that clearly, tragically,  was not the case but he leaves behind quite a legacy.

Out of Exile is just a small part of that legacy. Granted the record could afford to lose three or four of its filler tracks, but really that’s just nitpicking; it’s not even the greatest record Cornell sang on, but I do feel it has been somewhat forgotten in the wake of his greater works. Also the other members deserve great credit for providing some stellar musical parts. If it’s been some time since you last gave Out of Exile a spin, do revisit it, if Audioslave was never really your thing, well, give this record a go, for me this is the definite Audioslave record and while the idea of a “super-group” is now old hat fans of rock will find plenty to enjoy about this record if they give it a chance.

 

Works Cited:

Lynsky, Dorian.( 2006, September) Chris Cornell’s 2006 Interview on Audioslave, Addiction and  Reinventing Rock. Spin.

City of Fire – City of Fire

 

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City of Fire – City of Fire

Candlelight Records

2010.

 

Released on October 13th 2010, City of Fire the debut album from Canadian/American band City of Fire was met with mostly favorable reviews. The record was recorded at the Factory and Profile Sound in Vancouver and was produced by the band. Much of the focus of the band at the time was courtesy of the involvement of Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell and this side project would be his second after his Ascension of the Watchers project. It was through former and at the time current Fear Factory bassist Byron Stroud that Burton became  connected to the project. Stroud, a veteran of the Vancouver rock and metal scene, had played in a band called Caustic Thought, the precursor to City of Fire, before going on to seek fame with Zimmers Hole and Strapping Young Lad. After a reunion tour, Stroud and the members who wanted to continue on with the band, brought in guitarist Terry “Sho” Murray to round out their sound, with Stroud tapping up Bell with a view to becoming their vocalist, as Burton Bell stated in a 2010 interview with Music Vice: “So Byron gave me a call… he sent me a demo and I loved it! and so I was like, “yeah, I want to be a part of this”, so they flew me out to Vancouver and we started rehearsing as a band and tracking demos and it really started feeling good and I became close with the guys”. City of Fire would have quite a different sound to the music usually played by Bell and Stroud in their day job however, Bell: “Well, y’know, it’s not a metal band, it’s a HARD ROCK band. It’s influenced by a lot of 70’s hard rock a lot of post punk and a lot of psychedelic, we wanna bring sexiness back to Rock N’ Roll!” Steady on Burt!

City of Fire kicks off with was is, ironically, a straight up metal tune. “Carve Your Name” is almost more reminiscent of Transgression era Fear Factory than anything you would call “hard rock”, although this was likely a calculated move on behalf of the band who probably figured die-hard fans of Fear Factory would not be so taken with the more psychedelic hard rock vibe of this new venture, so here is a slab of metal. Nevertheless, “Carve Your Name” is a good track full of meaty memorable guitars and thunderous drums and shouted, almost growled vocals from Bell where he asks the eternal question: “What is love without pain?”.  Next up is “Gravity” which immediately has a different vibe hinted at by the band, starting as it does with slightly trippy guitar work before descending into something of a sludge  metal track. However, the song is not a particularly good one and sounds more like a first jam from a bunch of guys who have got together for the first time to tease out what their bands sound will be like. There are some good ideas to be found on “Gravity”, especially the chorus parts,  it’s just that they don’t gel particularly well, which is a shame. Thankfully the next track, “Rising” is excellent; the first track on the album proper that incorporates the psychedelic rock the band had hinted at in interviews, featuring a soft/loud dynamic which works very well. The guitar play is interesting and helps build up that dynamic along with Stroud’s swelling bass lines. It is on this track that Bell is able to fully showcase his more soulful side, whilst as the same time retaining the tried and true Fear Factory vocal template to bring the song to a suitably epic conclusion. The song was the lead single from the album and featured a memorable, fittingly psychedelic music video to boot. Trippy.

 

Next up is “A Memory”  which starts of with a heavy guitar riff before leading into an ethereal, cleanly picked section featuring echoed vocals from Bell to create a dreamlike sense before transitioning into the heavy verse. As such the song is memorable for its structure and how it’s executed. It’s clear at this stage in the record that the band are all accomplished composers, however Burton’s lyrics on the record, at times, leave a lot to be desired. Heartfelt lyrics are fine, but there are times throughout City of Fire where such lyrics become somewhat redundant because of their recurring nature, Nevertheless the longing lyrics suit the music and mood well. “Spirit Guide” follows and it is the same sludgy mess that “Gravity” was. Again there are some good ideas, especially the trippy middle section, however the song is a victim of its Frankenstein parts not quite working together. The intriguingly titled “Coitus Interruptus” follows and if you are a good Catholic you will get it. Or maybe not. The song is something of tongue in cheek and the music is quite decent too. It’s as if AC/DC wrote one of their, ahem, good time songs and decided to do a collaboration with Pantera. An interesting, fun, if somewhat throw-away track.

 

Next is “Hanya” another straight up metal tune and a fairly inoffensive one at that. The band is at its most interesting when it ventures into territory outside of the metal sphere; two of the bands members are already in excellent metal bands. However that is not to say “Hanya” is a bad track per se, it’s just that it falls somewhat into slightly by the numbers generic metal. The track itself is mostly groove metal with Bells bellowing of “woman, stay away from me!” and what had promised to be something of an interesting experiment is by now staring to feel a bit stale. “Emerald” is next and it is an acoustic instrumental. At only 1.58, it is a welcome, beautiful intermission. “Hollow Land” follows and it is much better than the last couple of tracks, the song starts off with staccato drumming and interesting guitars with an excellent baritone vocal passage from Bell, before transitioning to his typical soaring vocal style before leading to an atmospheric outro, the song is one of the highlights of the album and links up nicely with the following track “Dark Tides”. “Dark Tides” starts off with eerie guitars and percussion before Bells watery, echoed vocals kick in. The song is an intriguing sounding one and provokes a nice sense of the otherworldly and the mystical. City of Fire’s cover of The Cult’s classic “Rain” sees out the original pressing of City of Fire, but as this retrospective is of the 2010 reissue, there are a few tracks to go yet. “Rain” is faithfully covered here and it one of the highlights of the record with the band opting to take a more morose take on another 80’s classic and it works beautifully here; it is rare that a band can put its own stamp on a cover song but City of Fire do just that.

 

“Last Wish” is the first of the bonus tracks and it is a worthy addition, featuring aching guitars and excellent percussion, the song makes good use of the quiet/loud dynamic and while it offers nothing really new, it is a track that doesn’t outstay its welcome. Next up is yet another cover song, this time T- Rex gets the City of Fire treatment, and while it’s not as interesting as City of Fires cover of “Rain” it is still an enjoyable, faithfully reproduced version of the song. The last of the bonus tracks. “Dark Tides Revisited” is also the best, a monster down-tuned song that is the angry sibling to it’s older brother and it ends with guitar feedback, demented keys and the cackle of fires burning… “Dark Tides Revisited” is certainly a satisfying end to what has been an enjoyable if slightly flawed record.

There is plenty to enjoy about City of Fire, however at times the record does descend into fairly generic metal; there are a couple of tracks that could have been replaced with the bonus tracks and in this reviewers opinion it would have made the record a more cohesive work, however, that it not to take away from the many fine tracks to be found on this album which features some of Burton Bell’s best vocal performances in recent years. Certainly if you are a Fear Factory fan and a fan of FF’s Transgression album or even Ascension of the Watchers then you may want to check this record out if it passed you by the first time. The band is, sadly, more or less inactive and after the release of their follow-up record, 2013’s Trial Through Fire which had something of a difficult gestation period and Bell promptly left the band due to personal issues, however I feel City of Fire is the bands best work that is worth checking out and something of a curiosity piece for Fear Factory  and metal fans in general.

 

 

Works Cited:

Bowser, Michael. (2010, May) City of Fire interview – Burton C. Bell talks about his new band. Music Vice.

 

Mnemic – The Audio Injected Soul

 

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Mnemic – The Audio Injected Soul

Nuclear Blast

2004

 

 

On October 5th 2004, Danish metal band Mnemic released their second studio album, The Audio Injected Soul to favorable reviews and critical acclaim. The record was recorded with longtime producer Tue Madsen of Hatesphere acclaim and at his Antfarm studios in Arhus, Denmark. Mnemic’s music has sometimes been categorized in the Djent movement and certainly, as we will see later, Mnemic can polyrhythm with the best of them, but the band has mostly taken its influences from industrial metal, thrash metal and some aspects of progressive metal, with Fear Factory and Messuggah in particular quite a big influence for the band. Mnemic’s 2003 debut, Mechanical Spin Phenomena had hinted at what was to come, but that album felt more like a demo than an outright full realization of the bands sound, on The Audio Injected Soul, the sound would be fine tuned and then some.

The Audio Injected Soul starts off with “The Audio Injection” not an opening track per se, but rather the uncomfortable sounds of a man being drilled (or injected) with something probably not too pleasant. “Lets inject the venom” goes the dialogue and off we go. “Dreamstate Emergency” is the first track proper. A metallic, syncopated riff joined in unison with drums and rumbling bass straight from the Fear Factory school of songwriting. However, although the band riffs on Fear Factory’s template, it is still a sound that is utterly unique and different. That’s thanks largely in part to the guitar playing of Mireca Gabriela Eftemie and Rune Stigart; a dual seven string wall of noise that both pummels and intrigues the listeners ears. “Dreamstate Emergency” chugs along at a satisfactory pace before the soaring chorus courtesy of vocalist Michael Bogballe kick in; a nice juxtaposition of the melodic versus the aggressive music. This is nothing new of course; Fear Factory had patented that particular sound back in 1992, however the European sensibilities of the band’s sound somehow lends itself well to the melodic chorus/ heavy verses template that it sounds fresh enough. An epic  sounding melodic middle section makes this song a memorable opener to the record and sets the tone for the rest of the album.

 

Next up is the excellent “Door 2.12”. The song starts with another heavy metallic riff in 4/4 measure before then descending into a semi thrash section with rhythmic driving drums from drummer Brian Rasmussen. It’s a fairly straight ahead, head- banging tune and the song is all the better for it, nicely rounded out by maniacal vocals from Bogballe and lyrics which evoke the ramblings of a mad man, which would become something of a recurring theme on this record. “Illuminate” follows, opening with another semi thrashy riff before transitioning in to a wavy fading in/out effect. The Audio Injected Soul is full of this studio trickery and the many pieces of ear candy throughout the record really lends itself to the listening experience without ever coming across as hookey. The song’s middle section consists of some serious chug before leading out into a catchy refrain from Bogballe.

The superb “Death Box” is next, the first single from the album and it is another track on The Audio Injected Soul that makes full use of the AM3D technology which was developed in house by the band themselves, as it states on the albums liners notes that: “The AM3D positional headphone presents a way of improving the sound experience. Using bin-aural techniques, the sound is processed to localize a single sound to a specific location in three-dimensional space around the listener”. Not too shabby. The song itself begins with a kind of synthesized swelling of death growls before leading into an outright thrash section which WILL move your head and often in a violent manner. The AM3D experience works well within the song  and is best experienced with good quality headphones, the enhanced listening experience is a nice touch and doesn’t come off as hookey. Lyrically, “Deathbox” continues Bogballe’s theme of the maniacal character swearing bloody murder upon the world. One of the highlights of the album.

 

“Sane vs Normal” is next up and this is where The Audio Injected Soul takes a dip in quality. The song features a fairly dull repeated riff before leading into a forgettable chorus section, it is only on this tune that the relentless mechanical riffing is starting to grate a little and the song comes and goes without leaving much of an impact at all. Things pick up a great deal with the  intriguingly titled “Jack Vegas”. The song starts off with a suitably heavy headbanging riff before leading into another slightly off- time head banging passage; honestly you will get whiplash if you listen to this record repeatedly. The song then transitions into an impossibly catchy chorus section and refrain. It’s probably this song which best shows off Mnemic’s knack of melding heavy aggressive music with soaring melodic choruses, which as pointed out earlier is really nothing new in the genre, but the songs are generally so well written that the two aspects come together seamlessly. “Mindsaver” follows and it is another excellent tune, beginning with the tried and true euro flavored chugging metal riffs, before leading to a pummeling rhythmic section attack and barked vocals from Bogballe: “the things we do today, will make tomorrow turn a different way”. The track is just as anthemic and aggressive as the previous material featured on The Audio Injected Soul, leading into an excellent atmospheric, sneering, staccato middle section before transitioning back into the songs main riff. The song is easily one of the highlights of the record.

 

It is at this point that the record takes something of a drop in quality again. “Overdose in the Hall of Fame” doesn’t really offer much apart from creepy atmospherics in the songs beginning before leading out in a fairly generic mechanical sounding song. There’s nothing really new or original to be found here and the track is pretty throwaway. “The Silver Drop” is much better, starting off in a poly-rhythmic groove, the song nicely transitions between off time measures without coming across as patched together. The song features yet another soaring chorus from Bogballe (who has been excellent throughout). The record ends with an improbable cover of Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” and it’s… excellent. Metal bands recording covers of non metal bands can be, well,  lets just say an interesting experience at best and horrifying at worst. For every “Whiskey in the Jar” there’s a “Message in the Bottle” ala Machine Head. However, this is a genuinely well executed cover of a quintessential 80’s tune. Here, have a listen for yourself:

 

Vocalist Micheal Bogballe would depart the band a year after The Audio Injected Soul’s release citing personal issues, to be replaced by ex Scarve vocalist Guillaume Bideau. The band would record another three albums with Bideau, himself an excellent vocalist, before embarking on something of a hiatus in 2014, however none of these albums can truly hold a candle to The Audio Injected Soul. Some critics at the time criticized the band calling them “Meshuggah lite” and invariably a Fear Factory rip off. I think these criticisms are a little unfair. Certainly, the band wears its influences on its sleeves; however you never really feel like you are listening to a rip off band as  Mnemic’s songwriting is strong enough to acknowledge what has come before whilst at the same time added their own unique flavor to proceedings. If you are looking to get into acts like Meshuggah or indeed even Djent bands like Periphery, then The Audio Injected Soul may be your best first stop; the record is heavy but accessible, somewhat complex but instantly engaging and the choruses will burrow inside your head and stay there for some time. You have been warned.

Slayer – Divine Intervention

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Slayer – Divine Intervention

American

1994.

 

On September 27th 1994, Divine Intervention, the sixth studio album from seminal thrash legends Slayer was released to mostly mixed reviews. Recorded by Toby Wright at Oceanway and Soundcity studios in L.A., the record was the follow-up to 1990’s commercially successful Seasons in the Abyss and was the first to feature new drummer Paul Bostaph, formerly of Forbidden, following a parting of ways with long-term drummer Dave Lombardo. As such, Slayer had something to prove to long-term hardcore fans; many were skeptical that anyone other than Lombardo could do the job behind the kit for Slayer and perhaps more a reflection of the musical climes of the time, many more were concerned whenever the band would “do a Metallica” and eschew their thrash edge for a more commercial sound. The fans needed have worried on both fronts. Divine Intervention is a collective middle finger to the two main strands of music which dominated radio air time in 1994, namely the dying embers of grunge and the onset  of nu metal. Concurrent throughout the record is a kind of disdain for modern society in general (in a 1994 interview Araya described the new album as being born “out of the past four years of hating life”) and of course no Slayer record would be complete without a tune or two about serial killers and Nazis. Slayer are sensitive men. With all this in mind then, it’s time to break down this incredibly ferocious, brutal and uncompromising, if not criminally overlooked, Slayer album.

Divine Intervention kicks off with the excellent “Killing Fields” the perfect showcase for new drummer Bostaph to show off his licks with a drum roll pattern played on his floor toms before been joined in union by guitars from the late, great Jeff Hanneman and King which pulse and surge into the beginning of the song proper with suitable angry spitted vocals from Araya. The song is quite stop start which does an excellent job of creating tension throughout before leading into a galloping thrash riff which sees out the song. One thing that becomes apart to the listener is how odd the album sounds sonically and Divine Intervention does indeed sound odd. Very odd. The record throughout has this kind of muddy murky production, almost like listening to music down the bottom of a swamp. According to the band, this was not intentional. In a 2016 interview with Loudwire, Araya stated of the albums production that; “That album in my opinion was not the best production wise… we would start recording in one studio and then we’d be told we had to leave in a week, so we’d have to go into another studio and then try to match up sounds… we’d sit there and we’d try to find it and then we’d be like “let’s re- record the stuff”, then we’d find out well, we only have this place for a few weeks, We were in three different studios and it was a disaster. We finished it but it’s just not my favorite”. Far from an ideal situation then and no surprise that the sound quality greatly suffered.

 

“Sex. Murder. Art.” follows and it is the first outright thrasher to be found on the album and the shortest too, clocking in at a little under two minutes. The lyrics are from the perspective of a particular deranged serial killer and aren’t particularly for the faint of heart, nevertheless, the song is all the same memorable for its shock factor as for the ferocity of the music. “Fictional Reality” is next and it’s a fairly redundant tune which just plods along without going anywhere of any real interest. After the sucker punch of the first two excellent tracks “Fictional Reality” is something of a letdown with a fairly embarrassing sounding chorus. The track is redeemed somewhat by an interesting middle section featuring tormented guitar riffs and atmospheric drums, but in all truth, the track is fairly throwaway.

The same cannot be said however of “Dittohead” a breathtakingly fast tune featuring nimble riffing from Hanneman and King and rapid fire lyrics from Araya which admonish everything from the U.S. legal system to the media agenda and features the memorable lyrics; “Here in 1994, things are different than before, violence is what we adore”, before leading into a demented solo from Hanneman. “Dittohead” is probably the most memorable track on Divine Intervention, and would remain a fan favorite and live staple for many years.

 

“Divine Intervention”, the title track, is next and immediately has a kind of otherworldly feel to it courtesy of the slightly odd sounding guitar riffs from Hanneman and King. This sense of “other” is continued with a strange riff from King almost reminiscent of “Seasons in the Abyss”, unfortunately the track takes a dip after this promising start and descends into something of a mid tempo slog before picking up with some excellent guitar playing from Hanneman and King. “Divine Intervention” is not a bad song per se, but it is certainly disjointed and perhaps needed more work in the studio to perfect it. “Circle of Beliefs” is next up and it’s possibly the worst song on Divine Intervention. A track that offers nothing new to the listener at this point in the album and it has the feel of a filler, trash by numbers track. There are some good ideas in place on “Circle of Beliefs” but it is a massive step down in quality from the other tracks featured so far on the record.

“SS-3” is next up and it is the first outright Nazi/WWII related track to be found in this record. Yup, nearly  every Slayer album has one and Divine Intervention is no different (just a note for those of you who are not all that familiar with Slayer’s material, or indeed metal; the band are not Nazi sympathizers they just document it, just in case some readers may think I have a neo-Nazi agenda going on here. The fact I even have to point this out is a sad reflection of the knee jerk “triggered” society we live in today, but trust me, you would be surprised). The song itself is fairly average, more of the mid tempo slog that we heard on “Circle of Beliefs” an excellent solo halfway through does redeem the track a bit and it leads into a rather good thrash segment, but at this point on the record it’s starting to feel that Slayer are slightly dialing in their performance. Things thankfully pick up a great deal with “Serenity in Murder” opening with a satisfying thrash salvo which leads into an unusual sounding vocal delivery from Araya before reverting to his usual style in the choruses. It’s interesting to hear Araya sing like this and it’s nice to hear Slayer mix things up after the previous two fairly bland tracks. The song ends out in a pure thrash style and it’s a memorable tune overall because it is so different sounding.

 

Just like their penchant for songs about Nazis in WWII, we get another serial killer song in the shape of “213”, this time inspired by Jefferey Dahmer’s apartment number. The track is easily one of the highlights of Divine Intervention and it starts off suitably ominously  before leading into a slightly off time signature just before Araya delivers his first person imagined perspective of the deranged thoughts and actions of Dahmer with an oddly catchy vocal refrain of “The death loves final embrace, your cool tenderness, memories keep love alive, memories will never die” See, I told you Slayer were sensitive guys. Divine Intervention closes with “Mind Control” a decent enough thrasher but a fairly generic sounding one all the same, it is considered by most fans as a decent way to close off on album which has been in parts slightly experimental and equal parts resolutely Slayer.

 

I consider Divine Intervention to be the last truly great Slayer album. There are some fans that would argue that record would be South of Heaven or even Seasons in the Abyss but I consider that unfair to Divine and to what Slayer were tying to achieve in a musical climate in which most, if not all, of their contemporaries had jumped the thrash ship for commercial survival. The band deserves a lot of credit for that and it is a shame that Divine is somewhat forgotten and lesser appreciated. Sure the record is something of a mixed bag; first half of the record is certainty stronger than the second half and some songs, namely “Circle of Beliefs”, “SS-3” and “Mind Control” could have done with some extra work in the recording studio, but there is no doubt that Divine Intervention has a certain vibe to it, from the music right to the outstanding otherworldly cover art courtesy of Wes Benscoter. Of course, Slayer have decided this year to call it a day, so if you haven’t listened to Divine Intervention in a while now’s the perfect time to give it a listen again and if you are new to the band, you could do worse than to start with this record.

SSLLAAAAAYYEERRR!

 

 

Works cited:

Iwasaki,Scott. (1995 January) Vocalist Sings The Praises For Divine Intervention. Desert News.

Slayer’s Tom Araya – Wikipedia Fact or Fiction? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4e0QlzMlO_M&t=490s

Mad Season – Above

220px-Above_(Mad_Season_album)

Mad Season – Above

1995

Colombia

 

Released on March 14 1995, Above, the debut and sole album of grunge “super-group” Mad Season was released to generally favorable reviews. The record had come about as something of an accident; while in rehab Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready met bassist John Baker Saunders and the two hit it off well enough that we they reconvened in Seattle they along with the help of Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin started jamming and writing material for what would eventually become Above. McCready, in an interview with Musicradar.com states of his meeting with Saunders that ” I was in rehab in Minneapolis in 1994 and I saw this kind of crusty old guy pull up to the place…drove a Doge Dart and it had a bumper sticker that read, “What We Have Here Is A Failure To Give A Shit”[Laughs] I just thought “This guy is awesome, I’ve got to meet him.” He and I started talking about Bob Dylan and we struck up a friendship and when we got out I just wanted to stay there for a while with him (in Minneapolis) for a while and not go back to Seattle. McCready was so impressed with Saunders as a player and a person he invited him to come to Seattle with a view to starting a side band and got in touch with Martin. The new band, of course, would need a singer and that would prove to be Alice in Chains front man Layne Staley, McCready; “When I got back Layne was off the road and Pearl Jam was off the road there was Barrett from The Screaming Trees… and I was like “I’ve got these guys let’s try do something, lets just see what it is. Let’s jam and maybe do a record. It was more a jam thing at first”.

 

Above kicks off with “Wake Up” which begins with a pensive bass riff played by Saunders with dreamlike like guitar parts from McCready, a steady back-beat by Martin and agonized lyrics and vocals by Staley. This continues throughout much of the verses before leading to an explosive middle section in which the band makes good use of the quiet /loud dynamic with McCready laying down a memorable guitar solo. Lyrically the song seems to reference lost love and perhaps past regret invoked in the haunting lines “Wake up young ma, it’s time to wake up, your love affair has got to go, for ten long years”. “Wake Up” is an excellent tune and the perfect way to introduce Mad Season; part blues, part classic rock and part psychedelic.

 

“X-Ray Mind” is next and starts off, intriguingly, with tribal sounding drums along with slighty odd sounding guitars before leading into a fairly pedestrian verse section. The song is something of a mixed bag and not all of its good ideas mesh well or particularity suit the song, however “X Ray Mind” is still a fairly humable tune, even if Staley is clearly struggling with the higher register of the chorus section. “River of Deceit” follows and is much better. Beginning as it does with wistful guitar riffs from McCready who had originally envisaged his parts for the song for Pearl Jam ( “I think I had that part kind of hanging out. I defiantly had the verse part”) leading into an almost bluegrass sounding verse which then transitions into a memorable, big band – esque chorus, once again making good use of the tried and true loud/quiet dynamic that was so popular in alternative music in the nineties. The tune features beautifully confessional lyrics from Staley, perhaps the best he has ever written and the whole piece is tied down by Sunders tasteful bass playing, The song was picked as the albums only single and featured a memorable music video to boot.

 

“I’m Above” is next and is the first of two tracks on Above to feature quest vocals from Mark Lanegan. The song starts of with a guitar riff repeating three times with solid drumming and bass playing before leading into dual vocals from Lanegan and Staley. For Alice in Chains fans most accustomed to the Staley/Cantrell vocal dynamic, this track was another glimpse of how a different vocal dynamic might sound and In this reviewers opinion both Lanegan’s and Staley’s vocals meld in a chestnuty seamless manner, most powerfully in the excellent verses leading to a passionate chorus refrain from Staley. Lanegan, of Screaming Trees fame, was and is an excellent singer, straight from the Tom Waits school of vocals and his presence on both “I’m Above” and the later “Long Gone Day” are definite highlights of Above. “Artificial Red” follows and the blues influence that had been hinted at throughout all of Above so far now gets the full treatment – Seattle style. The tune is decent but does feel ever so slightly forced and plays out more like an extended jam than a fully cohesive song. Still, it’s a fascinating listen in its right.

“Lifeless Dead” is next featuring an excellent Led Zeppelin-esque riff from McCready, indeed speaking of “Lifeless Dead”, McCready states  that:”I was way into Jimmy Page at the time. I was trying to write a riff type thing in the vein of that … I did use the Gibson double-neck SG, so the vibe is very Pagey, I think”. Lyrically, the song is also quite heavy; it is no secret that most of  the lyrics contained on Above was written with Staley’s ex girlfriend Demri Parot in mind. As such, Layne painfully sings about how “promises were never kept” and “although he would not accept, she was gone and so she wept”. As heavy as these lyrics are and the understandably emotional and physical pain that Staley was enduring at the time, the song does not come off as completely depressing. It’s hard to put one’s finger on it, but the track is almost dreamlike and otherworldly, like a kind of dark fairy-tale with the prince forever waiting for his true love. A remarkable tune.

 

Next up is “I Don’t Know Anything” the albums second lead single. The song begins with a huge heavy riff from McCready leading to an almost drone like verse and then into a clean sounding chorus before transitioning into a an interesting drum section courtesy of the excellent Barret Martin. Lyrically the tune is fairly redundant, a verse repeating “I don’t know anything” for a few bars gets a bit tedious after a few listens, but it’s a worthy enough track, if not quite essential. Things get much more interesting with the excellent “Long Gone Day” again featuring Lanegan on guest vocals. “Long Gone Day” opens with bongos and assorted percussion along with wistful guitars and soulful bass playing. The song was the albums last single, and it is an excellent retelling of the events of one lost summer and the memories contained within; “see you from time to time, it’s so strange how far away we are all now, am I the only one who remembers that summer?”. I think nearly everyone reading this piece can identify with that sentiment and the song is all the more powerful for it, climaxing as it does with a wonderfully bluesy saxophone piece in the songs middle section. “Long Gone Day” may very well be the best track on Above.

 

“November Hotel” is next an instrumental and a well composed one to boot. All too often instrumentals can become disjointed and messy affairs, however, “November Hotel” has the right amount of free form rock jamming along with structure for it to be memorable and an album highlight. Beginning with tribal tom drumming leading into dream-state guitars before then progressing into a thundering rock jam with many frenzied guitar riffs and dexterous drumming before collapsing into a delirious heap and fading out with the same music contained in its introduction, “November Hotel” is a Tour de Force before leading into the record’s conclusion “All Alone”. “All Alone” begins with church organ – esque guitar riffs along with tasteful percussion and earthy bass playing over which is Staley’s almost angelic refrain of “we’re all alone, we’re all alone”. There’s nothing much else to the song apart from that and there really doesn’t need to be much more.

Above is a fine record and something of a forgotten treasure. As mentioned earlier the record was well received and charted decently but it is an album that came and went in quick succession. It is noteworthy that it is the second last album the late, great Layne Staley would record, but I feel that the late John Baker Saunders’ personality is all over this record. It would appear, according to McCready, that Saunders was a well liked individual, who sadly would succumb to this demons in 1999.  In a lot of ways, Above is Saunders album. One only has to listen the beautiful haunting bass strains on “Wake Up” to appreciate the man’s talent. In 2013 Above received the deluxe treatment with the set including a DVD of both Moore and RKCNDY gigs along with three unreleased tracks with vocal from Mark Lanegan to bring them to life along with the cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier” that the band recorded for the 1995 John Lennon tribute album Working Class Hero. If for some reason you have heard of Mad Season but never gave Above a chance, do revisit it. The album is a dense record for sure and some ideas do not come off all that well in places, but for a piece of work that was recorded in a fairly short space of time and given the immense talent involved, it will only be a matter of time before you fall in love with this most remarkable record.

 

Works Cited;

Bosso, Joe.(2013, May) Pearl Jam’s Mike MCready talks Layne Staley and Mad Season Above reissue. Musicradar.com