Blackstar: A David Bowie Tribute and Review

Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

— David Bowie, “Lazarus,” Blackstar (2016)

I’ve been putting this off for a bit — That’s if, of course, you consider a month under the definition of, “a bit.” I honestly felt that David Bowie’s swansong, and final effort, Blackstar, deserved some time to grow, to escape the swelling press and nonsense attributed to a famed celebrity’s passing.  The Blackstar review needed to be objective.  The review needed to feel sincere.  My love for Bowie’s music and his various personas would’ve clouded the discussion and led to a completely biased post.  What else could you expect when one of your personal artistic influences dies the day after you purchase his last album?

Initial Reaction

After listening to Blackstar multiple times, and watching the “spectacle” of Lady Gaga’s Grammy tribute, I can safely say this is one of the Thin White Duke’s finest achievements, a record pulling from the melancholy of the Berlin trilogy and jazzing it up.  Yeah, yeah, bias be damned.

For projecting such a flamboyant stage presence, Bowie seemed to operate behind the camera’s eye.  Nobody, not even hailed producer and Berlin trilogy creative consultant, Brian Eno — whom Ziggy was scheduled to work with on a future project — knew how short the artist’s time was. Yet, Blackstar was recorded.  Blackstar dropped.

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Credit:  globo.com

The record delves deep in symbolism, from the star pieces in the cover spelling out Bowie, to the cryptic lyrics throughout its seven tracks.  This highlights the artistic realization of the musician, the finality of the moment.  So, does it all mean something?  Or, am I just bullshitting away for the sake of word count?  You tell me:

In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen/Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah/In the centre of it all, in the centre of it all/Your eyes

— David Bowie, “Blackstar,” Blackstar

Immediately, Bowie adds an occult, dark tone to a career smothered in glamour, drugs, sex, and good ol’ rock n’ roll.  The twelve personas stare into the flame and capture that feeling of hopeful isolation.  As the record rolls on to, “Lazarus,” and then closes with, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” the message is simple and powerful, punctuated by the hopeless notes of a saxophone.  Bowie has said his goodbye to the the music world in the only suitable way.

An Influence

Bowie was a legend on the sheets of stardom.  He didn’t give a damn whether the mainstream market approved of his disco number or his funk experiment.  He certainly didn’t care if the masses disapproved of his support for minority musician airplay on national media. How many guys can enter the film world as Crotch and Big Hair — I mean, Labyrinth’s, the Goblin King, of course — and then, a few years later, jump on stage with Trent Reznor and seep venom into the crowd with Nine Inch Nails’ industrial rattle, “Reptile.”

Yet, through all of the collaborations, all of the media appearances, Bowie seemed to desire privacy in his personal life.  That’s why, on January 10, 2016, the music industry faced shock and reflection on just how much The Man Who Fell Down to Earth influenced the way music was composed, performed, recorded, and understood.

Bowie singlehandedly pioneered glam rock with Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.  He brought experimentation to the mainstream, starting with the blues/soul/pop sensibilities of Station to Station and ending with the listener friendly, but serene, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).   Bowie continued this musical freedom into the eighties, where Let’s Dance and other do-whatever-the-fuck-Bowie-wants records came to fruition.  Let’s not even mention the amount of singles and classic tracks he pumped out;  “Under Pressure,” anyone? He was a fan of music as much as he was a creator, a trait evident in his — deceivingly random — performances with other musicians.

Basically, if Kanye West cites you as an influence, you know you broke some ground.

*Mic drop.

Pshhhh, I’m not going to end Bowie’s influence on a Kanye tweet.  That’s the last thing I want to do.  Either way, David Bowie’s stage presence itself brought theatrics into rock n’ roll, a flamboyant expression inspiring thousands to pick up the guitar, throw on — to mom and dad’s disappointment — a kimono and belt out some, “Wam, bam, thank you, ma’am!”

Bowie was a rock star who, quite simply, did not give a single fuck what the industry pushed or pulled. He performed and inspired artists to pursue what they wanted, rather than cater to the needs of a third party.  Of course, this led to fandom chaos, but, fortunately, each Bowie persona was met with embrace rather than alienation.  By the peak of his career, the Bowie brand was defined by the eccentricities and flamboyance of Ziggy Stardust.

Bringing it Down

So, it is no surprise that, in this perspective, Blackstar brings a different light to Bowie’s discography, one of sincere sadness, reflection, and longing.  Please forgive the pretentious pun. Anyways, take the pairing of the haunting, marching rhythm of, “Girl Loves Me,” and the somber, “Dollar Days.” Both tracks highlight this dark atmosphere, as well as push the boundaries of the musician’s instrumental focus.

As I previously said, Bowie was no enemy of collaboration.  However, instead of bringing in A-list or aged names, the album welcomes the talent of prominent jazz musicians.  This is not a typical solo artist, half assed vocal performance, where session musicians take a back seat to the ego of their employer.  Blackstar often leans on its studio musicians, especially in the umph of the title track and, “Girl Loves Me.”  The LP’s rhythm section, courtesy of drummer, Mark Guiliana, and Tim Lefebvre, balance complexity with rhythmic freedom; noticeable, but not distracting.  Their chemistry and poise develop Blackstar into a lesson on tasteful, musical freedom.  That’s hard to find in a record emphasizing a jazzy style.  The record also features a career performance by saxophonist, Donny McCaslin, whose horns bring out, “Lazarus’,” heavy subject matter, making tears nearly inevitable.

Vocally, Bowie doesn’t even sound like he’s aged.  There are moments where his voice adopts a rasp, but that only heightens the overall feel; that of a tired man facing the reality of his situation.  Sure, his voice is not quite at the quality level of, “Under Pressure,” or, “Heroes,” but there is no denying the emotion transmitted through tracks like the title piece and, “I Can’t Give Everything Away.”

A Final Look

Overall, Blackstar brings the audience to the darker, experimental side of David Bowie.  In his final record, he pulls ears in with explorations in jazz form, dark atmosphere, and cryptic lyrics, often alluding to past treasures in the likes of the Berlin Trilogy and his quintessential 70’s classics.  A beautiful transition from the idol to the human, Blackstar serves as both a celebration and ode to the life of a musician, that of excess, fear, longing, and fulfillment.  Whichever Bowie felt in his final moment, we’ll never know.

We love you, David Bowie.  You will be missed.  Rest in peace.

ALBUM RATING:  5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and property of the header image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/11/entertainment/david-bowie-death/.   All rights, content, and property of the body image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://g1.globo.com/musica/blog/antonio-carlos-miguel/post/blackstar-de-david-bowie-geraldo-vandre.html.  I have, in no way, used said images for profit or personal gain.

 

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Review: Baroness – Purple

Does a trip into Floydian atmospheres save Baroness on their fouth LP release, Purple?  Not by much.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t really gotten into Baroness. I know that they have some freaking awesome album covers, all thanks to frontman, John Baizley, and their sound is placed deep in the stoner metal/sludge metal corner of metaldom.  Let’s say, Mastodon with a decent vocalist — well, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself.  Baroness is a gateway band, a collection of everything that makes sludge/stoner music the delightfully muddy noise that it is.  However, Baroness enjoys throwing in a little atmosphere, here and there, and their latest album, Purple, brings this experiment to the forefront.

The latest primary color record is exactly what it sets out to be:  a combination of Blue[‘s] experimentation and Red[‘s] crunch.  It is clear, straight off, that the band decided to take a mainstream approach to songwriting, in that the structures are simple and melodic, but thick with metal textures.  Now, for the love ov God, don’t let that dreaded word, melodic, soil your skirt.  For the most part, this shit is lyrically and musically heavy. By throwing down hard rockers, such as, “Try to Disappear,” and adding beautiful, production-heavy flavors in the likes of, “Chlorine and Wine,” Baroness found their formula, not quite progressing or adding anything new, but merging the pieces found across their four LP discography into a sound summary.

Album singles, “Shock Me,” and “Chlorine and Wine,” have enough melody and technicality to keep the listener interested and show the bands’ musical maturity.  However, outside the more melodic, mass appealing tracks, we are served a helping of generic stoner rock/metal musings.  Take album opener, “Morningstar,” for example.  The track throws down some nice, sludgy riffs, but a lackluster, attempt for melody in the chorus throws the fan, and casual listener, off immediately.  Not a good way to start the album.

The entire album, unfortunately, suffers in this lack of engagement.  It’s nice.  It’s heavy.  It sounds pretty. But, have I wanted to go back for repeated listens? Not so much.  And, in the world of music reviews, this is the final nail in the coffin. Maybe my vision is obscured by Neurosis, Kyuss, Mastodon, and Melvins.  Maybe I’m turning into that typical, pretentious asshole again; who knows? Purple does little to add to the territory paved by their forebears, and that seems to be the overlying issue with the stoner subgenre.  It’s becoming too laid back.  See what I did there?

That said, the album’s production and technical value is top notch.  It’s clear to the listener that Baizley and co. understand the sound board and they create beautiful, atmospheric layers that touch a variety of emotions.  Again, I go to “Chlorine and Wine.”  By production alone, the track transcends beyond mere sludge and brings out the collective talent of the band members.   Just listen to the gorgeous intro and Devin Townsend-esque wall of sound in the track’s conclusion and you’ll see what I mean. The album’s mix also deserves attention.  Each instrument is crystal clear, the guitars and drums placed at the forefront to continue that in-your-face technique.

Baroness’ fourth LP is a trip into bittersweet sludge.  I want to like it, I really do, but the band deserves something more than a squeaky, polished edition of past explorations.  Oh, and please feel free to check out Baizley’s artwork.  It will really tie your room together.

RATING:  3/5

All rights, property, and content of the featured image belong to its owner.  Featured image found at http://www.tunescope.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Baroness-Purple-Announcement.jpg.  I have, in no way, used said image for profit or personal gain.

 

 

Top Ten: Autumn/Winter Albums

As I’m all hopped up on caffeine and waiting for the time change — yes, adulthood makes you excited for an extra hour of sleep — I was hoping I could get in a list of albums to listen to over Halloween.  Or, this could be thought of as a list of Autumn/Winter albums if Halloween stops on, well, Halloween.  So, if you can’t get enough of the chills and general creepiness, look no further.  Sit back, rub on some corpse paint, grab your skull goblet, pour yourself a nice helping of wine, and enjoy.  Oh, and please do not debate the rankings, as this list reflects no order.  Let’s go!

10.  Ulver (Shadows of the Sun)

Kicking off, we have one of the more interesting bands to grace the music industry.  These guys debuted as a blackmetal/folk band, evolved into an industrial/electronic outfit, then peaked as an ambient/experimental group.  Shit, have you ever tried finding so many different forms of the word, “band?”  Back to the subject, Ulver’s 2007 LP Shadows of the Sun serves as a great transition album from summer to autumn, hinting at rainy days and darker nights, but still possessing a sense of hope.  This hope climaxes during the vocal crescendo in “Vigil,” a truly breathtaking moment. I apologize for the early pretentiousness.  Don’t worry, cussing and jokes are not far behind.

9.  Opeth (Blackwater Park)

Let’s pick up the volume a little bit.  I’m thinking a demonic roar in the vein of Mikael Akerfeldt within Opeth’s signature record, Blackwater Park.  Spin this LP during those rainy, miserable days, the moments requiring “Bleak[‘s]” crushing riffs and the subsequent track, “Harvest[‘s]” acoustic beauty.  Then, when the storms come, blare the title track and piss the fuck out of your neighbors.  That’s okay though.  They’ll be headbanging after the acoustic interlude.  You metal heads know what the hell I’m talking about.

8.  Simon And Garfunkel (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme)

Yep, that’s right; Simon and Garfunkel, the pop-folk artists of the 70’s.  These goofy lookin’ fellas are directly below two extreme metal juggernauts.  Reviews From the Other Side don’t care about genres.  Anyways, this is one of the more overlooked S&G LP’s, and evokes a beautiful autumn sensibility, especially in album opener/cover, Scarborough Fair. If Transylvanian Hunger is great for a nighttime stroll, then this is perfect for a morning hike through the woods. Beautiful harmonies, folky acoustics, and Paul Simon songwriting make this the fall record.

7.  Summoning (Dol Guldur)

Possibly the only good result of combining Cassio Keyboards and programmed drums, Summoning’s Dol Guldur brought Tolkien’s epic musings to black metal.  This is a mysterious set of tracks chock full of black metal tremolo picking, but delving more into atmosphere than sheer coldness, as evident in the slow tempos and echoing drums. As the weather cools and the fires start burning, the reverb-heavy atmospherics of this Swedish duo makes for a rewarding listen, preferably in a mountainous setting.

6.  Nas (Illmatic (What else?))

Generally, Nas’ monumental debut LP is praised for its storytelling ability. Yet, few have discussed the MC’s knack for writing and performing dark lyrics. DJ Premiere cannot be overlooked, as his highly layered beats and apocalyptic soundscapes make “N.Y. State of Mind,” and “Memory Lane” truly haunting.  You don’t have to live in New York to feel the hardship Nas experienced, nor the dying feeling evoked by the record.  Illmatic is best listened to during the transition from fall to winter.

5.  Darkthrone (Transylvanian Hunger)

Transylvanian Hunger is an album that’s so cold, it made Burzum’s Hvis lyset Tar Oss look like a carnival tune.  I’m assuming whomever is reading this knows the black metal scene, at least somewhat, to know the impact of this record.  Part of Darkthrone’s Unholy Trinity, Transylvanian Hunger is great for cold walks in the woods, wandering aimlessly while moonlight peeks through the trees.  That is, if you don’t mind a little Lo-Fi production, shrieked vocals, and repetitive riffs.  A great start to the fall season.

4.  Agalloch (Ashes Against The Grain)

Boy, was this a challenge.  I was torn between The Mantle and Ashes Against The Grain because, let’s face it, the soundscapes in both albums make Everest look like a dream vacation.  I know, that’s pushing it slightly.  However, my decision came down to one track:  “Falling Snow.”  For some reason, this song only affects the listener when its snowing, transforming with every crescendo, every chord, every raspy lyric, but only with the falling snow; otherwise, it just sounds like any other Post-Rock piece. That’s being harsh, but you get the point.  To truly feel the effect of winter, Agalloch is your best bet, an experimental, American black metal band unafraid to explore regions of metaldom too taboo for the average kvlt fanatic.  Mayhem fans, steer clear.

3.  Immortal (At the Heart of Winter)

What do you get when you mix thrash and good ol’ fashioned black metal? Immortal, of course.  These guys have a knack for writing freezing, complex riffs and do so with actual, top notch production value!  Blustery winter days demand the playback of At the Heart of Winter, preferably a full front-to-back with plenty of crab walking/headbangingas is common amongst black metal thrashers.  Well, maybe Abbott, anyways.  For maximum scale, crank the amps to eleven during “Solarfall.”  When that second riff hits, you’ll feel like you’ve been struck by a blizzard with gale force winds.

2.  Burzum (Filosofem)

Despise the guy, love his music. That’s all I gotta say about Burzum.  How does Filosofem sound so terrible, yet so brilliant at the same time.  This album is the definition of hopeless, a purely atmospheric effort scattered with catchy melodies and haunting, distorted vocals and guitars.  Think of it as more of a meditative, ambient listen for those long winter nights, you know, the nights that seem to go on forever, with only a wall between you and the bitter cold.  “Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament” — English translation of the title —  personifies snowy, windswept plains, while “Dunkelheit,” brings forth feelings of longing and sadness. Break this out mid-winter, but do your best to listen to something a little more upbeat later.

1.  Emperor (In The Nightside Eclipse)

Two steps and that’s all you’ll need for this one:

1.  Stare at the album art.

2.  If your iPod/music player can handle it, play “I Am the Black Wizards” when the temperature drops below zero.  You’ll thank me later.

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of the header image belong to its owner. Image found at http://fotonin.com/data_images/out/10/833027-immortal-wallpaper.jpg.  I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

Top Ten: Thrash Binge!

I kind of have this musical habit…well, “habit” is kind of disconcerting. Think of it as a productive (wallet damaging) obsession.  Or, since we’re so obsessed with buzzwords, think of it as I like to “binge” listen to “insane” and “shocking” music. All jokes aside, I become obsessed whatever musical style strikes my fancy.  This results in a ridiculous excavation into said subject, its history, its influences, its roots.  One week, I may find jazz to be utterly enticing, another week, hip hop.  Shit, I was so deep into gothic metal at one point, I had to step back because, shit, that style is so damn depressing.  Okay, I digress. My current victim is thrash metal! Yes, there will be some Big 4 in this list so don’t complain when Master of Puppets — you already know this thing is going to be there — shows its ugly face.  Also, this is all subjective to my personal taste. Don’t go all metalhead on me when Overkill’s discography is neglected.  It ain’t gonna happen. Okay, let’s go!

10.  Slayer (Seasons In The Abyss)

Oh, look at that!  I’m such a tease. Seasons is the culmination and maturity of Slayer’s sound, as influential as it is brutal.  There is everything “thrash” in this record, from the explosive, hellish nightmare anthem, “War Ensemble,” to the crunchy and overwhelmingly haunting “Dead Skin Mask.”  Yet, what separates this album from, let’s say, Reign in Blood, is atmosphere.  Songwriting wise, Slayer previously leaned on repetitive structures, going for all out brutality and instrumental madness.  South of Heaven, meanwhile, delved into atmospheric territory, but lacked variety, serving as a brake pump rather than a sound realization. Here, however, Slayer thickened the production, added some melody, and gave the reigns to Hanneman and Lombardo.  That double kick never gets old.  This record is sonic violence in its most primitive form.

9.  Anthrax (Among the Living)

Ugh, I know, that’s two Big 4 bands in a row.  You can’t deny that Anthrax deserves recognition for their punk infused, in-your-face — yep, get ready for the oxymorons — thrashing.  Enhancing Metallica’s Bay Area output, these east coasters hit metaldom with a ferocity unheard of in the scene.  It all started with Spreading the Disease, a hybrid strain of thrash and punk, intensified by one of metal’s most overlooked vocalists, Joey Belladonna. Among the Living is both their breakout and seminal production.  The record itself is defined by sophomore hit, “Caught in a Mosh.” As soon as that bass hits, brains start beating against skulls. This is an album every headbanger should own, if not for its unbelievable rhythm section, then its general kickassness.  A shout out to The Big 4’s redheaded step child.

8.  Sodom (Agent Orange)

Aside from Dark Angel, American thrash never quite reached eleven on the insanity amp.  Sure, there was plenty of chug riffing and speedy skank beating to go around, but when it came down to pure, violent aggression and speed, Germany — who else? — had to pick up the slack. Apart of the prestigious, “Teutonic Thrash,” club, Sodom broke in the eighties with Agent Orange, an absolute brutal listen touting socially aware lyrics and breakneck speed  Say it to yourself: Teutonic Thrash.  It’s so metal! Anyways, this album separated itself from the pack through its unique approach to the thrash formula, taking the most extreme path, but never losing its melodic sensibility.  The band would go on to pump out classics like M16 and Code Red, but their peak stood within the awesome cover image of Agent Orange.

7.  Sepultura (Beneath the Remains)

This is the band that put Brazil — and South America in general — on the metal map.  It’s truly a shame how overlooked they are, considering the influence of Beneath the Remains and their follow up, Arise.  Shit, Sepultura not only enhanced the thrash movement, but, to metaldom’s overwhelming disappointment, contributed to Nu-metal’s appearance with Roots. However, we, at Reviews From The Other Side, will let that slide.  We’ll say they innovated a genre, which, is all together, a good thing.  Back to Beneath the Remains; the LP offered a plethora of musical exploration that pushed thrash beyond sheer brutality.  Yet, there was still plenty of thrashery, no-nonsense riffage, and thundering rhythm.  The record’s sonic beratement still holds up today.  And, when you think of metal in South America, who is the first name to appear?  That’s right, Sepultura.  Oh, and is it safe to say, Beneath the Remains has the best album art?  

6.  Testament (The Legacy)

To say Testament does not belong in the Big 4 would be an insult to their namesake.  “Over the Wall,” “Do or Die,” and “First Strike is Deadly,” have done more for thrash than long hair and blue jean jackets.  The album’s non-stop, sonic violence is quintessential to the bay area scene,  featuring one of metal’s most dominating, yet overlooked, guitar/vocalist combo. For, reference, listen to “First Strike is Deadly.” Chuch Billy’s scream in the track’s conclusion rivals that of Chuck Schuldiner and Mikael Akerfeldt, and I say that with confidence. The Legacy, as a whole, brought neoclassical guitars to thrash, and pushed the subgenre into more technical territory.  Alex Skolnick…that’s all I need to say.

5.  Celtic Frost (To Mega Therion)

“Ugh,” “Hey!” – Tom G. Warrior

Maybe not the best from a technical standpoint, but influential nonetheless, Celtic Frost laid the foundation of black and death metal with To Mega Therion, fusing hard hitting, punk-infused riffs with dark, and often evil lyrics.  There are even symphonic elements in tracks like “Innocence and Wrath” and “Dawn of the Meggido.”  Within the album’s roots is a strong understanding of face smashing thrash.  “Circle of the Tyrants” does its best to bring black metal into play, and does so without deviating from the patented Frost sound; you know, the riding beats/riffs and gruff vocals from the Tom G. Warrior.  This record is, hands down, one of Europe’s finest metal releases.

4.  Slayer (Reign In Blood)

As soon as “Angel of Death[‘s]” opening riff leads into Lombardo’s trademark double kick, there is no question that this is the pinnacle of American thrash.  No question, the pinnacle.  Reign in Blood is one of those records that opens and closes on the perfect note.  I still get goosebumps throughout the entirety of “Postmortem/Raining Blood,” with its gorgeously brutal atmosphere and overall, blackened feel.  Yep, I’m being a cliche metalhead here. If the middle had more variation, we’d have our number one thrash record, but in this case, we need to call a spade a spade.  Most of the middle tracks, although nonstop in their monstrocity, lean a little too far on the repetitive side.  That doesn’t discredit the scope of Slayer’s vision, however.  They most definitely succeeded in creating one of the fastest, most brutal musical explorations in history. Reign in Blood has influenced countless metal bands since its inception and that cannot be ignored.

3.  Metallica (Ride the Lightning)

Oh, Ride the Lightning. I was torn between this, …And Justice for All, and Master of Puppets being number three, but we all know where the latter album resides; no spoilers there.  Anyways, Ride the Lightning is the LP that put Metallica on the map, featuring live and classic staples such as “Creeping Death,” “Fade to Black,” “Call of Cthulu,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  These four tracks are not only Metallica benchmarks, but benchmarks for heavy music in general.  Cliff Burton, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammet, and Lars Ulrich were at the top of their game, and it shows in “Fight Fire With Fire” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” where each instrument pulls heads directly into the floorboards.  They’re that heavy.  Don’t believe me?  Crank up Cliff Burton’s solo in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and you’ll have to change your pants before the guitars even come in.

2.  Kreator (Pleasure to Kill)

Get ready for a trip.  This album starts bloody and closes with a fucking massacre.  Kreator’s second LP, hailed a death metal pioneer record, is as brutal and fast as they come, and I mean that lightly.  Little melody, sheer brutality, you won’t find any power ballads or slow tempo tracks on Pleasure to Kill because, let’s face it, how can songs like “Ripping Corpse” and the title track be anything but mayhem.  Fuck, look at those titles!  So, in other words, Pleasure to Kill is a niche listen, appealing to extreme metal heads in search of something a little more morbid than the American metal scene.  With this record, the band cemented a plaque stating they are the creators, not the imitators of musical extremity.  What else can I say?  It would be foolish not to give Pleasure to Kill the number two spot, if not for its influence, then its absolute insanity.

1.  Metallica (Master of Puppets)

Thank you, Metallica, for saving heavy music from the spandex starletts.  Thank you, Metallica, for bringing denim, leather, and black into the scene.  And, my God, thank you for bringing melody into extreme songwriting. Master of Puppets is the quintessential thrash LP from the eighties, a benchmark of songwriting, rhythm, and melody.  I mean, who doesn’t lean on this record when learning heavy guitar?  Sure, Ride the Lightening had the perfect, “Fade to Black,” Hammett solo, but the intro riff in “Master of Puppets” stands as the thrash riff to learn.  On the other side, Lars Ulrich gets a lot of flak — courtesy of his love for trash can lids and ruining wallets — but his performances on “Battery,” “Master of Puppets,” “Sanitarium,” and “Orion,” stand up to his fellow speed artists. This is the final Metallica record featuring bassist, Cliff Burton, and almost feels prophetic at times, especially during the slower section of “Orion.”  Without a doubt, Master of Puppets is the best — well, personal favorite — thrash record…ever.

Honorable Mentions

In all honesty, I just didn’t want to write another thousand fucking words and make this a top 20 list.  So, here are more nominations (in no order).

Megadeth (Rust in Peace), Overkill (The Years of Decay), Exodus (Bonded In Blood), Kreator (Coma of Souls), Sodom (M16), Testament (The New Order), Dark Angel (Darkness Descends)

Disclaimer:  All rights, property, and content of the featured image belong to the artist.  Image found at https://fanart.tv/artist/05106775-5d45-4131-aecc-1177f813ba11/testament/.  I have, in no way, used said image for profit. If the artist wishes for the image to be removed for any reason, feel free to contact me.

Live Review: Ghost – Black to the Future Tour 2015

Smoke, costumes, and Satan. What else can you ask from Swedish phenom, Ghost?

Okay, picture this:  you get tickets for this little band called Ghost or Ghost B.C., whatever the hell the United States music industry uses to sabotage the band’s namesake.  You don’t exactly know much about them besides the fact they make kickass shirts and walk around in costumes.  After wading through an explosive, psychedelic attack from English mind burners, Pursun, you think, “Hey, this might be an interesting show, an acid rock meets Halloween-type stunt with theatrics.”  Yet, then you notice that, for the first time in a long time, the concert venue is freezing cold.  Incense burns at the stage corners, gregorian chants echo from the speakers, and soon, the Nameless Ghouls start ripping at their instruments.  The crowd swells as Papa Emeritus — the anti-pope — cues set opener, Spirit, with Satanic madness.  This is a metal show, through and through.

I was converted.

It was obvious, as soon as the doors opened, that this was going to be an interesting spectacle.  Cosplayers — yes, you read that right — were scattered throughout the venue, inside and out.  Shit, I don’t even know why I’m writing like that’s a bad thing.  I even took some photos with a Nameless Ghoul before his inspiration started their set.  Near the end of the performance, Papa himself acknowledged a well done imitation, so every other viewpoint is void.  If Papa Emeritus says it is good. It is so.  And so it is.

“And don’t you forget it.”

But, that’s besides the point.  The crowd, for a medium sized venue, was passionate and loud, contributing to the experience with chants and sing-alongs.  For instance, with little guidance, every voice echoed from the rafters during, “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” and it was obvious the band fed from the atmosphere, especially the guitarists, who, despite being masked, produced an electrifying, but dark stage presence. It was obvious these were no ordinary, rookie musicians trying to make it big.  They knew what the fuck they’re doing. Yet, we’ll probably never know their identity.  Once the haze surrounding Ghost’s lore disappears, and the world decides to pick on Slipknot again, we’ll ultimately learn that Jackson Browne and Dave Grohl decided to pursue that metal career they always wanted.  Don’t believe me?  The latter is actually probable.

So, enough about stage presence.  Who wants to read about atmosphere in a live review anyways?  Let’s talk about the goddamn music! I like to think of Ghost’s sound as if 70’s pop/hard rock took a stage dive into hell.  It’s odd. It’s enchanting.  It’s evil as hell. The setlist moved between the band’s three LP’s, providing a nice balance between heavy, balls to the wall metal anthems, courtesy of their debut record, to mid-tempo, atmospheric movements, and Abba-esque balladry. Oh, them Swedes…You Ghost fans know what track I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, “He Is,” is a damn great pop song, complete with moving melodies and beautiful harmonies.  Yet, it’s absolutely hilarious to see five musicians perform such an uplifting song about Satan.

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There was plenty of chaos to go around, from the explosive rendition of the band’s breakout track, “Ritual,” to their closing anthem, “The Monstrance Clock.”  Yes, at times the band sounded almost too good, all thanks to the playback guy doing what playback guys do.  Or, is it the sound guy? There’s so many “guys” in a production.  However, playback was expected.  The band utilizes multiple vocal layers in tracks like, “The Monstrance Clock,” and, “Deus Culpa,” not to mention bombastic, wall of sound production in tracks like “Infestissumam.”  God, I wished they performed that song. “Per Aspera Ad Infeni” didn’t feel the same without its over-the-top introduction.  Anyways, you guys get the point.  Ghost can’t be at fault for adding layers to the live production.

Overall, Ghost showed St. Louis why they are one of the leading modern metal/hard rock acts.  They brought theatrics in a hyperbolic sense, never quite taking themselves too seriously, but pushing boundaries enough to hike up the creepy factor.  It was all in good fun, a night punctuated by a classic hard rock sound, which, along with Pursun’s psychedelic introduction, provided audience members a nostalgic experience.  These guys can fucking play.  Go see them and bow for Lucifer’s Son!

RATING:  5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of the header image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://i.ytimg.com/vi/CnJ0i2AipXY/maxresdefault.jpg.  All rights, content, and properties off body image 1 belong to its owner.  Image found at https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/501584135958171648/T0qqgVxF.jpeg.  I have, in no way, used said images for profit.

Review: Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls

If Eternity Should Fail, at least we were able to hear The Book of Souls.  Is it safe to say Iron Maiden made a second comeback with their 16th LP?

Again, I apologize for the long lapse in reviews.  I had some personal issues, a move, and general writers block to attend to.  However, this is a metal review, damnit! Ain’t nobody got time for excuses.  So, let’s go!

Here we are, the peak of 2015’s metaldom. On one end, you have good Queensryche (and…well, Geoff Tate’s solo project) pumping out a new record, then you have Nile, Slayer, Motorhead, Soilwork, Ghost, even Coheed and Cambria — we can count them as metal, right? — upping the ante.  Shit, even Disturbed decided they weren’t going to sit quietly while the cool kids got to play. The list goes on and on. So, what better way to kick off the fall season other than Iron Maiden’s double album machine, The Book Of Souls?

My expectations were strangely low for this record. Perhaps a result of Maiden’s irrelevant, lack of inspiration in their predecessor, The Final Frontier.  Perhaps I was just pissed that Derek Riggs checked out of another Eddie opportunity.  Whatever, it doesn’t matter.  The first notes of, “If Eternity Should Fail,” grabbed that cynicism and castrated it.

Attribution: mirror.uk

Credit: mirror.uk

Yep, sit on that metaphor for a minute.  Oh, right, this isn’t a death metal review; my fault.

Initially, the band’s creativity returns with trademark energy and galloping riffs, all the while holding onto the darker, fuller sound of their post-Blaze era songwriting.  There are even hints of Seventh Son keyboards, serving the sound tastefully without delving into cheese territory.  You’d expect Steve Harris’ songwriting ability to falter, especially after the Maiden sound collage in The Final Frontier, but here, the structures, melodies, even the instrumentals, feel fresh and purposeful. I mean, each member — sans Niko McBrain — has multiple songwriting credits throughout the LP’s 11 monstrous tracks.

Maiden CD

Credit: Cover Dude

There’s no clever reason for this picture.  Eddie is just fucking awesome.

To put this in perspective, Steve Harris rarely attributed more than a few tracks to other members throughout Maiden’s tenure.  Such a melting pot of ideas breeds countless opportunities for failure.  I’ll admit the variety of credits turned me off at first, especially the Janick Gers note attached to “Book of Souls.”  Boy, was I wrong.  The album flows with the gallop of Harris, punctuated by Dickinson’s typical lyrical expeditions.  I say expeditions because, let’s face it, the guy cannot develop a typical verse/chorus/verse about cliche metal nonsense.  He’s the fucking Air Siren! If he wants to talk about triplanes in “Death or Glory,” then he damn well please!

Some may call The Book of Souls a pointless cash grab, but there is no way, no way epics, “The Red and the Black,” and the double LP’s title track reflect an uninspired effort. Sure, it’s hard to believe, other than contractual reasons, that Iron Maiden needs a third guitarist — no disrespect to shredder, Janick Gers — but solos are half the makeup of Maiden’s general sound.  So, to that, Reviews From the Other Side says, “The more, the merrier!”

Although the band’s songwriting takes a fresh breath in Book of Souls, there are moments of career-repetition scattered throughout the record, from copycat riffs to all-to-familiar song structures.  Luckily, we don’t get another, “Blood Brothers,” clone.  I’m looking at you, “No More Lies.” However, instead listeners suffer through a “Wasted Years” ripoff introduction riff in “Shadow of the Valley.”  This is more of an annoyance than a crutch. What else can you expect from a band whose discography stretches over fifteen LP’s, not including EP’s or live recordings/bootlegs?

Also, as is the bane of most double albums — unless we’re talking The Wall or any given Who rock opera — The Book of Souls suffers from the scope of its vision.  There are times, as in, “The Red and the Black,” where the need for epicness outweighs the will of short sighted listeners like myself.  I’m all for an epic sound, but when every track goes for that giant sound, the overall feel of the album starts to feel overblown. Iron Maiden successfully blended epic structures in the past, but practiced restraint, confining those over-the-top tracks into a section of the album.  Here, the band pushes extended running time over the cliff.

That said, each member contributes their talents with technical, musical prowess.  What else could you expect from these guys?  They’ve experienced the ups and downs of metaldom.  Shit, the band went through a mid-career lapse in musical inspiration, thanks in part to the Air Siren and Adrian Smith’s departure.  Yet, they bounced back, not once, but twice.  The Book of Souls places the spotlight on each member’s contribution, serving as more of a historical insight to Maiden’s discography than as a progression.  To that, I’ll say it again.  Lean in close so you can see the screen.

16 albums!

RATING:  4.5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, property, and content of header image belongs to the artist.  Image found at http://www.ironmaiden.com/thebookofsouls/img/og.jpg.  All rights, property, and content of body image 1 belong to the artist.  Image found at http://i3.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article5190628.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/Bruce-Dickinson.jpg. All rights, property, and content of body image 2 belong to the artist.  Image found at http://www.coverdude.com/covers/iron-maiden-the-book-of-souls-2015-cd2-cover-215640.jpg.  I have, in no way, used said images for profit. 

Live Review: Australian Pink Floyd

Kangaroos, boars, lasers, and good ol’ fashioned Pink Floyd. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Pink Floyd is one of those bands destined for imitation. You name it, Porcupine Tree, Airbag, Circus Maximus, Radiohead, pretty much any band using extensive, spacey keyboards possess some kind of influence from Gilmour, Waters, Wright, and Mason. Out of this mess comes the dime-a-dozen cover band.  Yet, like Black Sabbath, such a classic sound is hard enough to imitate, let alone replicate. You can say my expectations for a Pink Floyd cover band are astronomical.  Sure, St. Louis has El Monstero, who are a extremely respectable band in their own right. I have yet to see them — ironic since they played here over the weekend — so I cannot express judgment just yet.

However, Australian Pink Floyd are the real deal.  They have it all, from Floyd’s iconic circle production screen, to the laser show, to backup singers, to the overall stage presence of their inspiration.  Shit, even Gilmour himself invited them to perform for his 50th birthday event.  2013 brought Aussie Floyd’s extensive reach into Real Floyd’s back catalog.  2015 brought soundscapes, hits, everything you’d want from a cover band, a cathartic experience with overwhelming visuals.

Led Zeppelin 2 kicked off the evening. Now, I’m unfamiliar with St. Charles’ family arena, but lord was the sound horrendous at first.  Imitator Plant’s voice — or ear monitor. Insert vocal excuse here — seemed to dissipate at times, leaving the poor singer to reach through his already limited register.  Think of “Immigrant Song.” You know those opening wails? Now, think “Immigrant Song” performed in its original key, but with actual Robert Plant’s aged vocal chords.  Not good. Not good at all.

Thankfully, imitation Bonzo held the performance together with a rousing rendition — and, might I say pummeling expression — of “Moby Dick,” “Heartbreaker,” and “Stairway to Heaven.” It also helped that, as the performance moved forward, the sound guy came out of his smoke stupor and equalized the freakin’ master.  As a result, Plant finally heard himself, Page overcame his hangover, and JPJ, well, JPJ stayed the same.  Calm and collected, just like his source material.  Good set overall, so-so performance.  Unfortunately, that’s to be expected from an opener.

Aussie Pink Floyd gets an entire point for starting their set on time. I’d say it only took the roadies fifteen minutes to sound check and finalize.  Fifteen minutes! In the wide, wide world of Rock n’ Roll, that’s unheard of.  So, kudos just for that, Aussies.

That’s enough blabbering.

“In The Flesh,” gets me every time. I know it’s coming, but that opening chord always comes out of nowhere…Bang!  Instantly, Australian Pink Floyd’s performance felt tighter than their previous stop in St. Louis.  Sound wise, everything clicked, the bass audible — shocking, right? — the guitars ear splitting, the vocals synchronized beautifully, the keys completely Wright-esque.  Unfortunately, Colin Wilson, albeit a fantastic bassist, still could not quite nail Water’s nasal delivery, but that’s just nitpicking on account of a reviewer looking for negativity in the wee hours of the night.

Also, as the band moved from “Learn to Fly,” to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part I-IV,” it was obvious the show was hit-centric.  And you know me, I’m all about those hits! Pink Floyd produced their strongest material between Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, but much of Aussie’s setlist could benefit from the oddball track here and there to please the Floydians and hipsters like myself.  Shit, trade “Learn To Fly,” for “Dogs,” and I wouldn’t have said anything. Or, “Set Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” that would’ve made the evening. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself now.

Okay, Dark Side, you win. The band’s most rousing moments — aside from the beautiful “Shine On…” — came from Floyd’s transcendental production, that thing classic radio has spammed for what feels like a century.  All I have to say is “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Wow. The girls, Lorelei McBroom, Emily Lynn, and Lara Smiles graced through their make or break moments with confidence, grace, and absolute awe.  I don’t think a single arm in that establishment was without goosebumps. Meanwhile, “Time,” complete with syncopated lasers, brought Pink Floyd’s psychedelic stage presence to the forefront, and demonstrated guitarist Steve Mack’s prowess.

Solo of the night belonged to David Fowler’s rendition of Gilmour’s most famous composition in “Comfortably Numb,” but there’s something about Mack’s atmospheric style that just sounds larger. It’s as if Mack understands Gilmour’s “less is more” attitude, focusing on precision and emotion over absolute chaos and technicality. “Time[‘s]” solo takes time — bad pun, sorry — and build, which wouldn’t work if played in Fowler’s more straightforward technique.  Fowler, you had the whole place after “Comfortably Numb” — including myself — so don’t be offended when I say Steve Mack better understands Gilmour’s playing style.

Australian Pink Floyd brought the sounds and sights of their inspiration to St. Louis on Tuesday, August 4. Although their set could benefit from, let’s say “Echoes,” the band’s performance far outweighed its lack of setlist creativity. Take away Led Zeppelin 2’s rough start and it’s easy to say Aussie Floyd put on one hell of a show.  Oh, and did I mention…

Lasers?

RATING:  4.75/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of header image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/music/australian-pink-floyds-roger-waters-on-the-future-of-musician-holograms-6593574. I have, in no way, used said image for profit.