Monday, December 8, 2014

A Look Back at Rebel Meets Rebel

Consisting of country legend David Allan Coe alongside the instrumentalists from Pantera, Rebel Meets Rebel is an example of a project that should've gotten more attention from its creators as well as from its fans. Recorded shortly after the Reinventing the Steel sessions and seemingly forgotten until its 2006 release, their sole studio album is one of the rare examples I've seen of a band attempting to combine heavy metal with old school country music. It may not be a timeless masterpiece but it does show a group of musicians bringing the best out of one another in a promising environment.

If there's one thing I've noticed about the guys in Pantera, it's that they've always catered their sound to whoever was singing for them. They played hair metal with original frontman Terry Glaze, their famous run with Phil Anselmo saw influences from sludge and hardcore overtake their sound, and even the song they recorded with Rob Halford on the mic just sounds more like a Fight outtake with Dimebag Darrell's guitar tone than anything off of Vulgar Display of Power. While these chameleon-like tendencies may have led some to call their integrity into question, it seems to especially work in their favor when this collaboration is concerned.

Coe may have only provided lyrics and vocals to the Abbott brothers' musical compositions but his presence definitely leads to the musicians approaching their instruments from different angles while still keeping true to their core elements. Dimebag's guitar leads often have a noticeable twang, his riffs have a bright tone even when they provide their signature crunch, Rex's Brown bass stands out a little more than before, Vinnie Paul trades his heavy double bass in for more traditional drum beats, and flourishes of piano, fiddle, and acoustic guitar lend the songs a sense of credibility that you don't see as much in your typical southern metal band. As expected, Coe's vocals definitely aren't a source of technical prowess in their old age but his unwavering howl does give the songs a sense of structure that they wouldn't have had under the command of Anselmo's often directionless ranting.

Speaking of structure, the songwriting on this album is also at a different level than the band members' past projects and successfully combines their natural heaviness with a sense of accessibility. The album starts off on its fastest note as "Nothin' to Lose" features some great guitar/vocal contrasts set to an unwavering drum beat, the title track and "One Night Stands" are rock romps in the vein of Motorhead and ZZ Top with the former's trade-offs between Coe and Dimebag emulating "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers," songs like "Cowboys Do More Dope" and "Get Outta My Life" bring in mid-tempo attitudes, and you'll find even slower tempos and more melodic flourishes on "Heart Worn Highway" and "Arizona Rivers." Unfortunately, the album does dip a bit in quality after the tribal stomp of "Cherokee Cry" with "N.Y.C. Streets" in particular sounding like it was put together at the last minute.

Sometimes I wonder what things would be like now if Rebel Meets Rebel had been the group on tour in 2004 instead of Damageplan. This album may have a couple fillers towards the end, but it is a really fun listen that never sounds too forced and leaves a lot of room for potential that was sadly never realized. It would've been great to see these guys get more comfortable with each other on further installments and perhaps even take deeper dives into traditional country and blues structures. I get the feeling that it'd be a lot less awkward than the southern tripe that Vinnie Paul has been coasting on with Hellyeah...

R.I.P. Dimebag.

Highlights:
"Nothin' to Lose"
"Rebel Meets Rebel"
"Cowboys Do More Dope"
"One Night Stands"
"Cherokee Cry"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review of King Buzzo's This Machine Kills Artists

Apparently not content with just revamping the Melvins every year, guitarist/vocalist Buzz "King Buzzo" Osborne has finally gotten around to releasing the first solo album of his thirty-year career. Being the main writer for the gods of sludge metal weirdness, he has put out an entirely acoustic release as his first step. It's a predictably odd result but also proves to be an enjoyable venture.

On a superficial level, This Machine Kills Artists is about as far removed as you can get from the Melvins. The acoustic guitar is the sole instrument that accompanies Buzzo's most melodic vocals to date and the short song lengths mean there isn't too much for any weird shit to happen. But looking deeper, one will notice that the lyrics are still Buzzo's indecipherable nonsense and the guitar playing is driven by the same start-stop rhythms that define his main band. In fact, the barrage of shorter songs actually reminds me of the Melvins' early punk-influenced material, albeit done in a folk fashion.

This method does result in a rather unique folk experience it does falter by having a few too many songs and for missing the genre's number one rule: the importance of lyrical content. Being a technically minimal genre, folk tends to live or die by an artist's lyrics and the mood that is created by the music and words working together. In contrast, Buzzo has never been one for lyrics, resulting in an album where everything runs together and the mood is undetermined. We don't need to hear him sing about lost women or whatever but it'd be great to get some insights that we wouldn't otherwise.

Fortunately, the music is pretty laid back and his signature riffing style translates surprisingly well to the acoustic style. "Dark Brown Teeth" features some especially intricate strumming while the slower riffs on "New River" and "The Vulgar Joke" are about as heavy as the format can get. It also helps that the titles still manage to be pretty amusing, leading one to wonder what stories are behind such monikers as "Drunken Baby" or "How I Became Offensive."

King Buzzo's folk album is a good example of the man's refusal to play by the rules, even when there's a reason for those rules being there. His riffing is welcome in any format and the approach is unique compared to most of the folk I've heard, but the songs' tendency to sound alike may be a turn-off for some. It'd be interesting to see his main band try this out or if he were able to work with someone who has more crossover experience. You know, an acoustic team-up with Scott Kelly or Wino could be pretty awesome...

Highlights:
"Dark Brown Teeth"
"Rough Democracy"
"Vaulting Over A Microphone"
"New River'
"The Vulgar Joke"

Monday, December 1, 2014

Review of Earth's Primitive and Deadly

It's been a good couple decades since Earth left the drone metal they pioneered behind but they've made a decent niche out of crafting scores for western movies that will never be made. But having run the risk of their desert rock formula sounding stale, their eighth studio album has a more conventional approach than usual. Guest musicians were recruited and vocalists were brought in for the first time in nearly twenty years. The results are refreshing yet manage to feel familiar.

The integration of vocals and extra instruments does make Earth more accessible but every element is utilized for the sole purpose of working towards their usual atmosphere. The sparse drum beats and drawn out guitar strums still serve as the band's power source while the leads that pop up opt for melancholic support instead of showing off. The vocals also have an instrumental quality, delivering their esoteric poetry in a way that won't exactly inspire any traditional singalongs.

While the inclusion of the legendary Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan was what caught my interest but the performance on "From the Zodiacal Light" by Rabia Shaheen Qazi is the album's shining moment. Her voice is almost hopeful and rises above the material in a way that that makes one long for further collaborations. The two songs featuring Lanegan are also pretty cool, especially the ominous "There Is A Serpent Coming," and the two instrumentals also find ways to stand out. The trudging riffs on "Torn by The Fox of the Crescent Moon" serve as an excellent opening even if the piece probably could've been dressed up a bit more.

With that, there is still a bit of untapped potential regarding the new elements at hand. The songs are more varied than before but some moments still feel limited by the repetitive structures and the single sluggish tempo that is used through the album. I also miss the cello that appeared on the last couple efforts and feel as if Qazi was slightly underused since she's only on one song. Perhaps they should be a full-length collaboration in the future...

Overall, Primitive and Deadly isn't on the same level as Hex or The Bees Made Honey in The Lion's Skull but it does offer some revamps that make Earth's core sound that much more satisfying. It isn't exactly a "catchy" album but it is easy to get a feel for and worth recommending to listeners who have previously overlooked the band. I hope to see further development but may have explore their back catalog a bit more in the meantime.

Highlights:
"Torn By The Fox Of The Crescent Moon"
'There Is A Serpent Coming"
"From the Zodiacal Light'

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review of California Breed's Self-Titled Album

Seeing how Black Country Communion was one of the strongest supergroups ever assembled, it was a shame to see it disintegrate following the disputes between Joe Bonamassa and Glenn Hughes. While the former returned to his blues rock solo project, Hughes has forged on with a new ensemble featuring Communion drummer Jason Bonham and newcomer guitarist Andrew Watt. The resulting effort isn't on the same level as Black Country Communion's trilogy but it does make for a solid rock debut.

Unsurprisingly, California Breed is cut from the same riff rock cloth that was originated by the likes of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Hughes' vocals are at their soulful best, Bonham's drumming is as bombastic as ever, and Watt proves to be a competent player as he ranges from chunky rhythms on "The Grey" to more melodic flourishes on "All Falls Down." The songwriting also has some variety though things don't stray too far from the laid back but still upbeat mid-tempo template.

And with that template in mind, the band dynamic is rather basic by power trio standards. The songs are conventionally structured and based around the vocals, so there aren't too many opportunities for longer instrumental segments or any banter between the guitars and bass. This setup will likely change once the band members get more comfortable with one another but it does make one miss Bonamassa's more intricate contributions at times.

The album is also brought down by having a few too many songs for its basic format. You won't find any bad ones on here but it really feels like the two after "Invisible" could've been cut or placed elsewhere as the track has a rather climactic approach. Fortunately there are plenty of great moments that make up for it with "Sweet Tea" offering an almost 60s romp and "Spit You Out" having a groove that sounds like it could've come from the last Queens of the Stone Age venture.

I may have bias as a Black Country Communion fan but California Breed's debut is a solid rock album with plenty of room for growth. Glenn Hughes is a talented vocalist/bassist and has a knack for finding talented people to work with, so it isn't too surprising to see him excel with a new project. However, it seems like the band may still need to work on their chemistry as a unit. This is an essential purchase for fans of his work but other rock listeners may need to see how this group develops on future efforts.

Highlights:
"The Way"
"Sweet Tea"
"Midnight Oil"
"The Grey"
"Spit You Out"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review of Electric Wizard's Time to Die

Electric Wizard never really had a true fall from grace, but their first album in four years isn't quite the kick in the pants it was supposed to be. The band switched from Rise Above Records to Spinefarm and brought original drummer Mark Greening back in the fold, but recent disputes with Rise Above and Greening have soured this release's presentation. Fortunately, they still got a decent album out despite the unflattering aftershocks.

After a good decade of psychedelic flirtations, Time To Die sees Electric Wizard going out of their way to recapture the old Dopethrone vibe. The mix is dark and bottom heavy, the riffing is rougher, a healthy number of samples are placed throughout, and the lyrics abandon the Hammer horror in favor or a pseudo-concept revolving around the crimes committed by Ricky Lasso during the mid-80s Satanic panic. Of course, the band doesn't quite shed of their more upbeat approach as songs like "Funeral Of Your Mind" and "Sadiowitch" offer more straightforward playing and don't quite have the same misanthropic flairs. They even throw in some keyboards though they're used more for backing than anything else.
And while Electric Wizard has always been known for repetition and occasional riff recycling, they've reached the point where it's starting to work against them. The songs here all sound good but they get brought down by sounding too much like previous highlights. The chord progression on the title track feels like a bluesy update of "Funeralopolis," the drawn out chords on "I Am Nothing" recall "Eko Eko Azarak," and the Black Masses regurgitating gets really distracting on "Sadiowitch." Fortunately, "We Love The Dead" has some solid riffs to it and the two sample heavy interludes manage to sound pretty cool with "Saturn Dethroned" ending with the same sample that opened "Vinum Sabbthi."

Electric Wizard definitely hasn't hit rock bottom but Time To Die shows that they may need to evaluate their approach if they wish to stay relevant in the doom metal scene. Any fanboy's disappointments will likely have more to do with Greening getting the shaft than the musical content, but anyone else would be better off looking into Dopethrone or even Witchcult Today before this one. Maybe they could try bringing Tim Bagshaw back for the next one...

Highlights:
"Time To Die"
"I Am Nothing"
"Funeral Of Your Mind"
"We Love The Dead"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review of Rigor Mortis's Slaves To The Grave

As lame as it sounds, it's a miracle that Rigor Mortis's first album in twenty-three years managed to see the light of day. The band's original lineup reunited in the mid-2000s and even got a spot on the 2008 Ozzfest, all the while teasing a comeback that wouldn't be fully realized for a few more years. From there, the story is tragically familiar as guitarist Mike Scaccia died shortly after completing this album and the band had to crowd fund to guarantee its release. Thankfully, the actual music is as far from a sob story as one can possibly get.

With the possible exceptions of Slayer or Hirax, no thrash band has stayed closer to their roots than Rigor Mortis. This album isn't quite as raw as past efforts but many of the band's signature elements are still intact after all this time. The guitar still leads the way with some of Scaccia's most intense playing, the bass keeps a steady foundation, the drums are at a constant burst, the vocals are gruff, the production is dry, and there isn't a single groove in sight.

But upon further inspection, the atmosphere has definitely moved away from the campy aesthetics of the older material. The lyrics are as violent as ever but they have less of a slasher film tone and generally opt for war, fantasy, and more "realistic" looks at the homicidal mind. The music matches the lyrics with its darker feel though some songs have a more dramatic flair that was previously untouched. "Poltergeist" starts things off with three minutes of thrash followed by a elaborately melodic closing segment, "The Infected" opens with some bouncy Maiden gallops, and the closing "Ludus Magnus" is the nine minute gladiator epic that Manowar should've put out decades ago...
Thankfully the superior musicianship is still in tact though the dynamic may be a little off balance. While Scaccia has always been the star of the show, it seems to be at the expense of Casey Orr as the bass is present but doesn't have the same overwhelming pop and his punk rock shouts are never used for more than occasional backing. Fortunately, none of the musicians are slacking and Bruce Corbitt's vocals are still pretty twisted even if his voice has gotten deeper over the years.

A few elements of the classic era are missed, but Slaves To The Grave stays true to the band's sound and may be one of the best representatives of old school thrash in the modern age. It's a damn shame that they've had to split up with Scaccia gone as this seemed to hint at something even better on the horizon. But since the surviving members have regrouped under the Wizards of Gore moniker, perhaps they could still make due on some of that potential.

Highlights:
"Poltergeist"
"Flesh for Flies"
"The Infected"
"Ancient Horror"
"Ludus Magnus"

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Look Back at Rigor Mortis's Self-Titled Debut

Rigor Mortis may have had a secure reputation as the champions of Texas thrash (Suck it, Pantera) but they never truly got their due back in the day. They never could've been a commercial juggernaut but their signing to Capitol Records and having members go on to join Ministry and GWAR has to say something about their talent. Their 1988 debut is the center-point of their legacy and one of the most unique albums in the thrash metal genre.

Hindsight may place this effort in the thrash realm, but it came pretty damn close to death metal when it was first released. The drums are more violent than their contemporaries, the guitars more relentless, the vocals somewhere between a deep crossover yell and a high-pitched death growl, and the raw production gives everything a sharp sandpaper taste. It's comparable to Scream Bloody Gore or Seven Churches, but still has kinship with what Exodus and Kreator had been doing a couple years before.

They must've been taking cues from Alice Cooper or King Diamond since this album is also more theatrical than most thrash groups. From the dramatic intros that pulsate in every track to the climactic song structures and flowing track order, it has the feel of a concept album that really adds to its sinister approach. Throw in some lyrics involving gore, demons, and kinky sex gone wrong and you've got the ultimate 80s slasher soundtrack!

But what really set Rigor Mortis apart was their musicianship. With only one guitarist in their roster, the band runs the risk of sounding thin but Mike Scaccia absolutely dominates the release with his insane tremolo runs and even more manic soloing. In addition, Bruce Corbitt's vocals aren't for everyone but his visceral yet hammy touch makes songs like "Bodily Dismemberment" and "Shroud of Gloom" sound pretty unique. But Casey Orr may be the hardest working member as his bass leads the way on "Wizard of Gore" and "Vampire" while his untrained barks make "Demons" and "Die In Pain" sound even nastier.

The hostile attitude and camp aesthetics make it obvious why Rigor Mortis never hit the big time, but the writing and presentation on their debut album show why they sure as hell would've deserved it. It's a very niche record that people outside of the genre won't revere, but I don't exaggerate when I call it one of the best thrash metal albums of all time. They probably could've cut a song or two but I think the album could only be improved by playing it while watching an old horror film on mute. There has to be some way to sync this up with one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacres...

Highlights:
"Demons"
"Bodily Dismemberment"
"Wizard of Gore"
"Die In Pain"
"Vampire"