Archive for metal

Deftones – White Pony (2000)

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We join the ‘tones in medias res for this album, having already built a style and fan-base with Adrenaline and Around the Fur but before exploring a new(ish) sound with their self-titled and Saturday Night Wrist. And again, I’m sure many die-hard fans would slam me for raving about an album that is not widely considered “the best” but this cd is amazing. It’s mature, layered, and extremely emotional while still being hard, crunchy, and metal enough to count.

It opens with Feiticeira, two distinct guitars playing similar riffs, crisp steady drums, and then Chino comes in with an almost crooning voice – occasionally reaching to a shout (not scream). A truly strong opening. Digital Bath slows it down a little bit with a haunting background melody, I would call it a kind-of ballad but I love it for the screechy feedback-y guitars about 3/4 of the way through. It’s short moments like that that will actually make me fall in love with a song. Elite is probably the most truly metal song on the album and is much faster than the rest – a good rage-out song. Rx Queen is fine; Street Carp, too – if only a little annoying with the “here’s my new address” lyrics, and Teenager is pretty. But the most incredible song on the album is Knife Party. It’s got a rhythm that’s almost anticipatory – the whole time it feels like it’s building to something. And the vocals are almost imperceptibly a quarter beat off but it has a really powerful effect. About mid-way through a female voice comes in with screaming/chanting/moaning and it is unbelievably cathartic to sing along – even if I can’t hit those really high notes. And it’s romantic as hell. Korea is a good song to catch your breath before the next truly great tune, Passenger, hits in. Now Passenger features Maynard James Keenan as a guest vocalist and he and Chino were meant for this duet. The lyrics are really detailed and poetic and the music is gorgeous. In fact, my first copy of this album scratched at right about this song and I had to immediately go out and buy a new copy because I couldn’t bear to have a blemish on such a beautiful song. Change (in the House of Flies) is the single and probably to this date the most popular song of theirs, but I really can’t stand it (at least the version on this album – an acoustic version on a different album is really much better). And Pink Maggit closes (most versions of) the album. It too is breathtaking – with a steady heartbeat throughout the entire slow, quiet, thoughtful tune. It can sometimes make me cry.

The thing that really bothers me about this album is that there are about a dozen (ok, four) official versions that Maverick released – all pretty much at the same time and all with different bonus songs or lack-thereof. Kinda makes it hard for obsessive fans to collect all their music – or at least expensive. For that reason, I choose not to comment on the bonus songs.

This is one of very few items that I have taken (or will take) the time to review literally on a song-by-song basis and part of that is probably because I pretty much fell in love to it and it all means a lot to me, but love or no love, it would still be a favorite album. I find myself constantly impressed with Deftones’ ability to sound special and unique among a genre that has a lot of soundalikes, and I credit that they refuse to really apply a genre to themselves. For example, when Chino refers to the band as punk, the rest of the guys ask him what the hell he’s talking about. And their entire catalog is fantastic, but White Pony is a standout achievement that is still a major player in my regular rotation. Good for all activities from car to work to gym to party. Crank that business.

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Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)

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You don’t typically see the words “perfection” and “watershed” used to describe thrash metal albums. Yet never have those two words been so appropriate.

The year was 1986, and Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” and Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar-fronted debut “5150” dominated radio. Big-haired glam metal was the rage on LA’s Sunset Strip, with clubs like Whisky a Go Go and The Roxy doing their part to encourage musicians more interested in how to apply their Aqua Net than challenging the listener or themselves. It was for these reasons that Metallica abandoned LA three years previous to settle in San Francisco and cultivate their own vastly different art. 

Most people – especially radio and MTV – didn’t really care about Metallica. Although they had 2 full-length albums under their belt and were enjoying success abroad, Metallica were a virtual unknown in the US. Given the prevailing scene, that wasn’t surprising: there was nothing pretty about them. Their music & lyrics were as ugly and aggressive as their “we don’t give a shit” look. For me, that was exactly why I loved Metallica (and still do), and at the time I felt like I was a member of a cool “in” club.

But that was about to change.

I still remember the day I brought “Master of Puppets” home and put my needle in Side A’s groove. I got chills as I sat on my bed listening to the acoustic guitars that introduced “Battery”, anxious to hear what was coming. Suddenly, James Hetfield’s galloping rhythm guitar threw the song into overdrive, and a hugely influential contribution to my musical youth slammed firmly into place.

The album is a masterpiece from front to back. There is no filler. Every song epic. Every lyric so powerful that Hetfield didn’t have to sing them live – the crowd did it for him. Guitar riffs like those in “Battery”, “Master of Puppets”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, “Disposable Heroes”, “Leper Messiah”, and “Damage Inc.” made budding metalhead guitarists want to stop playing power chords and learn to speed pick. (Did I just name-drop almost the entire album? Yes. Because it’s that. Fucking. Good.)

I judge musical greatness by the influence that an artist or album has on future artists. Indeed, the release of “Master of Puppets” was the tipping point for thrash metal; a “Nevermind”-like wrecking ball that broke down the wall of obscurity that was keeping the scene underground. It peaked at #30 on Billboard without a single or music video, a seemingly unimaginable feat in an era where MTV-fueled exposure seemed essential for success, and one that gave bands like Anthrax, Slayer, and the like hope. It is an album that made one critic recently write, “Some have called ‘Master of Puppets’ the best heavy metal album ever recorded; if it isn’t, it certainly comes close.” Fuckin’ A.

Metallica have often sited Ozzy Osbourne as partially responsible for helping launch them into the forefront. Ozzy was a fan and he knew the band was hot, so he invited them to be the opening act on his “Ultimate Sin” tour. You can imagine my elation when I found out it was coming to my hometown, and I still remember how the crowd went from utter confusion to rabid appreciation in one blistering 45-minute set. And in retrospect, I am humbled to know that I got to see them perform with the late Cliff Burton.

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Babes in Toyland: The Further Adventures of Babes in Toyland (2001)

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So the sticker on this cd case calls it an “official anthology – a collection of singles, b-sides, live performances from lollapalooza & unreleased tracks.” And while I’m not keen on the idea of reviewing “best of” albums, I would actually venture to say that this is not really a “best of” but in fact an exemplar of the band. Thus, the review.

So, Babes in Toyland have a sound that’s a little tough to nail down. They’re not punk, which makes them not riot grrrl, even though they are some girls who could conceivably start a riot. And even though they came up in that alternative era of the early 1990s, they’re a little too loud and scary to be proper alternative. I’d say their closest genre would have to be metal, but I imagine a lot of metal fans might take issue with that classification, as would – really – the babes themselves. But they’re definitely hard, and hard-core in terms of the speed, loudness, and growliness of their music. (Except of course for the handful of candy-sweet girly songs like covers of “We are family” and the disco tune “More, more, more.”)

As for the album, you can save yourself some time by skipping to track 3 because the Timothy Leary intro is boring as is the the song “Right Now!” that follows it. But track 3 is one of their singles which may have even gotten some airplay in some places at some point, “He’s My Thing.” It’s a quick little tune with catchy lyrics and kind of a dancy beat. Next is “Handsome and Gretel” which is probably my favorite song of theirs ever. I can’t tell if it’s Kat or Lori who is singing (they alternate), but the growly metal voice is perfect and competes with the best of the boys who do it and it’s really fun to sing along to. The next few songs are single-type album or live versions of their songs and all fine to listen to, except the aforementioned “We are family” cover, which is a little too close to the original to be enjoyable. Then there’s a previously unreleased version of “Sweet 69” which is probably their biggest hit, and with good reason cuz it’s a fantastic song, and this version kicks the original album’s version’s ass. Again, Kat or Lori does a great job of vacillating between little girl sing-song and spitfire monster growls. “Eye Rise” follows it up and it’s a really dark, kinda scary slow tune that sounds almost like an incantation. Which contrasts nicely, but creepily with the follow up, “More, more, more.” I love love LOVE this cover. Kat’s/Lori’s voice is so weird and off-key for singing it, but it’s just so Charlie’s Angels sounding and super dancy and not at all like the babes. It definitely made the workout mix on my iPod. And then the last song is “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” and it’s another weird one that I really like. It’s not loud or angry or metal at all, but it’s not gimmicky like the covers. But I think it’s fun. The lyrics are silly and super-space oriented – “We’ve been exploring your earth and we’d like to make a contact with you, we are your friends.” A great close for the album.

I think the Further Adventures is a great album for working out and fine too for just random housework. I listen to it in the car, but it’s not the best traveling music. It’s also not necessary to listen to from start to finish – it’s a pretty good album for chopping up and inserting into other mixes. The songs stand on their own pretty well.

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Between the Buried and Me – The Silent Circus (2003)

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I acquired this album on a routine trip to Tower Records (RIP) in Fairfax. Now, I’ve been told that Tower Records was not actually a cd seller with much indie cred, nor were its prices kind to customers. However, my experience was quite to the contrary. Not only was I always finding really cheap, awesome cds, but the Fairfax Tower had a huge punk/hard-core section, with hand-written reviews of many albums penned by its own hipster employees. It was one of these reviews that inspired me to put on the store-provided headphones and take a sample listen of the album.

And I am totally jazzed that I did! This cd is some straight-up crank the volume, scream your lungs out, bang your head metal. This is the metal that uptight conservatives have nightmares about when they’re having nightmares about metal. It is loud and speedy and the vocals are nothing short of animalistic growls. The liner notes tell me that there are lyrics, and occasionally I can make out a word or two, but much as I try, this just aint a singalong kinda album.

What makes this cd great is a bunch of talented young guys who can play the hell out of their instruments. While an untrained ear might accuse this genre of music as being not much but noise, a close listen rewards with intricate guitars layering beautifully together even while playing completely different things (different notes, tempos, sometimes completely different styles), fast but clever drumming, and just the right contribution of poppy synth keyboards – yeah, it’s metal and they use keyboards. Cuz they’re awesome.

The thing that made me fall in love – deeply, passionately in love – with this album, though, is track 4, Mordecai. This song starts aggressively, angrily, unleashing a viciousness of sound that would make wimps like Metallica blush and then gradually, brilliantly, and almost totally imperceptably transitions into a slow, quiet, introspective tune that kinda makes you want to cry. And it’s not the only time they do it on the album – listen for emo breakdowns about twice more later on.

The album is really best listened to from start-to-finish, in one sitting. It’s excellent for long car rides and even better for iPods at work (if you’re not the easily distracted type). All tracks are fantastic, not one falls under the category of “skippable”. And bonus points go to the boys for the David Lynch reference that is Camilla Rhodes.

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Jack Off Jill – Sexless Demons and Scars (1997)

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My first introduction to JoJ was actually live when they opened for Psyhotica and Genitorturers at 9:30 club in 1998. I actually remember the singer, Jesicka, pushing past me in the ladies room and thinking, “geez, crazy bitch.” And she was. Probably is. But not really in a bad way.

So, their live performance was pretty awesome – they were all dolled up like misfit schoolgirls and there was much screaming and some bad-ass razor-play. As always with me, watching girls totally rock out un-selfconciously is an inspiration, so I bought the album right there from their merch table. I later got to chat with the band after their set and they were totally gracious and engaging, but more on that later.

The album itself is good, but not great. The music is standard post-grunge pre-new-metal fare aligned with the Marilyn Manson style, nothing objectionable, but nothing that really knocked me outta my socks, either. The chick singing ups the ante (and mad ups to girls who could play their instruments well backing the singer in this particular sub-genre) with a voice that is sweet and studied enough to sound musical but a scream born out of such passion and rage that it felt genuine. The lyrics are overall clever, but the major problem with this album is that it’s too gimmicky. From the over-the-top Christian mockery (“Angels Fuck”) to the none-too-subtle innuendo (“My Cat”) it smacks of what an ex-Aunt would refer to as shock value.

In that sense, I feel like they were going after a kind of buzz, almost certainly on the coattails of Mr. Manson and friends, that ultimately cheapened what could have been an amazing album. Songs like “Girl Scout” and “Poor Impulse Control” are smart and strong and emotional – songs I am never ashamed to blast and scream along to. And even the seemingly crass “Cumdumpster” has a message that to me totally kicks ass, “Go ahead, call me a cunt, I am impervious to your verbal abuse.” But with the gimicky-ness, this is an album that I definitely have to be in the mood for.

The truth is, these girls are freaking awesome. They play their instruments and they hold their own in a dude’s world. And when I got to talk to them and hang out with them, they spent a lot of time talking about how much they loved other girls and supported other girl bands and they got started out really as groupies who were fed up with being backstage, not on-stage. I don’t begrudge them taking advantage of some free publicity at a time when any band could use some and I know that there are folks out there who just eat up the shock-value-type rock. Even me, sometimes.

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