Friday, February 28, 2014
So, what we have here is essentially the second half of Load. The boys even called upon Andres Serrano once more for the cover, and he supplied "Piss and Blood" to over four million customers in the U.S. alone.
Hardcore metalheads were undaunted in their continued dismissal of modern Metallica, and there was even some indulgence in revisionist history: "Metallica were NEVER as great as everybody said. Slayer/Megadeth/Exodus were better. Master of Puppets is overrated." It reeked of a break-up wrought with denial.
No amount of Load-ing can ever tarnish Metallica's 80s legacy. Even if at times it sounded like the fellas were up to the challenge.
"Motorbreath" for old dudes. Never fails to remind me of the time Hetfield took one wrong step onstage and ended up a crispy critter. So in addition to the need for speed, dude has a jones for flame.
Like all brats, "Fuel" needs a hearty smack upside the head before it sets anymore pets on fire. What is easily the most blistering musical track on Reload is out-out trashed by Hetfield's halitosis (although the JH Soundboard would not be the glorious beast it is without this song). That said, James the Very Loud and Rebellious Lion gives me the giggles each time I listen. I will take humor (intentional and unintentional) anywhere I can get it with 90s Metallica.
"The Memory Remains"--Two songs in, two songs where the chorus appears before the first verse. (Also, two meta-refs in this 'un; spot 'em.)
The lyrics are quite well-written, and so effectively encapsulate the fade of fame, that the rote bedrock is forgivable. The big deal with "Memory Remains," then as now, is the cameo by Marianne Faithfull, legendary vocalist/Rolling Stones muse/hardcore drug addict/candy bar aficionado. She brings a stirring Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? air to the plodding proceedings, chilling spines and raising hairs just by croaking out the syllables the "little tin goddess" uses solely to communicate in her twilight years. Both Marianne and Metallica deserve kudos for artistic bravery.
Those of you who remember when Reload was released may recall certain of the fanbase not cottoning to the presence of a female vocal on a Metallica track, prompting cries of "Who the fuck is this old bitch?" Which isn't an unfair question. Crude, yes, but hardly unfair.
It's no fatal flaw to not immediately know who Marianne Faithfull is, but it is a massive disservice to not do the minimum amount of research that would satisfy your curiosity. You may still cringe at her vocals no matter how venerated she is within the industry after five decades, but you would at least know that she is a figure deserving of massive respect, and not some crazy cat lady Kirk Hammett felt misguided sympathy for.
"Devil's Dance"--No one was surprised more than big young me to discover that a song titled "Devil's Dance" turned out interesting. In the way that White Castle burgers are interesting…but still.
The devil evoked herein sounds more in line with the 'Bub on the cover of Satan is Real than the li'l fella on the cover of Hell Without Hell, but honestly, what band can you envision performing in front of exploding rocks more vividly than Metallica?
"Take the chance/Let's dance." And make romance? No. This is strictly flesh-slap promenade. These faux-lascivious lyrics aren't as quease-inducing as you might fear from the pen of an admitted recovering sex addict, so take that, Mustaine.
"Unforgiven II"--Starts off like the original, then just drops to its knees and proceeds towards a simple man's decay. About as much need for this sequel as for a Patton Oswalt porno.
Clearly "Memory Remains" was a lyrical anomaly: "If you can understand the me, then I can understand the you"; "Lay beside me/This won't hurt, I swear." The protagonists beseeching for prostration is the epitome of creepy, and the fact I have had to listen to this song multiple times means none of my dreams will ever come true. So I basically am curled up in a ball in a corner of the bedroom, shivering, waiting for my heart to decide it's had enough already.
"Better Than You"--Things provably better than this song--
--A bowl of moldy tapioca pudding
--Deep-fried baby feet
--Getting your brain pierced by jaguar teeth
--Waiting for a Greyhound bus anywhere in North America
This track won a Grammy. Which is fitting, really. Considering that "buried alive" and "brained by a golden gramophone award" are the only two causes of death that aren't better than listening to "Better Than You."
"Slither"--Hetfield hates this one. He should. This sibilant mess is doubtless responsible for 34% of the inner turmoil that plagued him at the time. Puts me in mind of a Hognose fantasizing about being an Eastern Brown.
Don't shed your skin and try to sell it top dollar, dudes.
"Carpe Diem Baby"--I'm iffy on any song recorded after 1969 that dares cap its title with the word "baby." But when said honorific is preceded by a Latin phrase?
James Hetfield used to be the King of the Killer Riff. But on Reload, he's firmly entrenched as the Prince of the Tepid Riff. Make no mistake, his muse is comatose ("Suck the day"? Your translator sucks the day. All 24 hours, baby.) Is he weary, or just soft? Who can tell. It's worthy to note that Hetfield has the phrase tattooed on his left arm, a permanent reminder to never spend more time fapping than is absolutely necessary. (I'm sure no one is more thankful than James that he waited till he was a bit older to get ink; not hard to envision a baby-faced Hetfield stumbling drunk and belligerent into a tattoo parlor, demanding to get "Corripe Cervisiam" on his belly.)
"Bad Seed"--"Yeah/Ohhh yeah."
Akin to guzzling down a still-swirling mixture of anti-freeze and aspertif. I've been more titillated watching a potato sack race.
"Where the Wild Things Are"--My favorite chorus on the album…hell, it might be my favorite moment on the album, that hook is so embedded so deeply in my neck. Seven tasteful minutes, with treasures in the crevices. Literally to the Max.
"Prince Charming"--Son of King Nothing; apple don't fall too terribly far. James loves telling us what he is in relation to us. Here, he is a "dirty, dirty whore." Somewhere on this Earth live people who care what the songs on Reload are about and all I can say to that is "Bless their little pea-pickin' hearts."
Also bless you Kirk Hammett. Don't you ever stop being dandy, showing us your wah pedals. He has all the unconditional love for his Cry Baby that a giant panda mama does for its cubs.
"Low Man's Lyric"--OH NO. Within, is violin. Within, is hurdy gurdy. Within, is the Bon Jovi/Kid Rock collabo a good two years before the rock community at large was exposed to Bob Ritchie, back in the days when he was content to produce shitty underground hip hop.
"Attitude"--Yeah, the radar blipped and bleeped in bits here. Someone grab James a Snickers.
"Why cure the fever/Whatever happened to sweat?" That's the hook!
There is a well-settled-into groove to be found here, but it's real white, you know. Like extra-white.
"Fixxxer"--Given the intro piece, it's only fitting that the word "voodoo" appears in the first spoken line. There are some cool string conjurings happening but honestly, this is the last song, and I'm only so impressed by this point on any record. If Metallica are still capable of sustaining greatness over an eight minute stretch, they were keeping said skill well-hidden in the late 90s.
Reload suggested a band possibly beyond repair. Back-to-back bland offerings? Had excessive successes dulled the once-mighty Metallica for good, changing renegade innovators into static generators?
Of course these were/are subjective wonderings. Reload was indeed the end of an era. But in true bloated Metalli-fashion, it took four years for anyone to realize that.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Twelve years, five platinum albums--but Megadeth still had not hit number one on the venerated Billboard charts. Dave Mustaine thought long, thought longer, then figured there's no better way to get to the top than to reach out to people who have been there.
Enter ESP Management and Bud Prager, perhaps most known for his success managing Foreigner. Did Dave rock out to "Double Vision" or slow dance to "Waiting For a Girl Like You"? Most likely not. But millions of people rocked and/or chilled out to Foreigner's music. Most importantly, millions of people bought Foreigner's music. Dave didn't have to agree that their success was well-deserved; he just knew that they were, outlandishly so, and he envied those heights. Stinking of commercial desperation, Dave Mustaine handed his heart, soul and balls over to Prager and session musician/"big wheel at the cracker factory" Dann Huff.
This thirst for the top led Dave to do things that old Dave would've found unacceptable: when Prager told him to change lyrics, he did; when the manager deemed certain songs unsuitable for the album due to unpalatable subject matter, Dave acceded; when he discovered that Prager and Huff were tinkering with the music without his foreknowledge, he permitted it, confident that their respective touches of Midas would pay off handsomely. The end justifies the means, after all.
Or it means the end is near.
The least any artist can do is make their sellout bait visually interesting, so's we have something nice to gaze upon while listening to your integrity expel its last few puffs. The symbol on the cover is a veve, a design that, when drawn on the floor using a powdery substance, acts as a representation for a spirit during voodoo ritual. The first half-million copies used the silver backdrop, all others the black. Or you can buy the remastered Cryptic Writings and get both!
"Trust"--The big hit from the album reached the top five on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and snagged a Grammy nod to boot. This is mature heavy music that avoids sounding maudlin. If Dave and co. coulda rustled up eleven of these, they'd be gold-plated God status. Or at least able to look at themselves in the mirror without squinting.
It's not just down to the subject matter--probing l'affaire d'amour has never been alien to Megadeth. The build-up is sublime, damn near, bass and strings dancing expertly together despite their mutual enmity. Well-produced, rock-solid, radio-ready.
"Almost Honest"--This is for anyone who's ever listened to "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" by Elvin Bishop and wondered, Hmm, mellow tune. Kinda one-sided, though. It would be funny if this amazing chick didn't feel the same way about him that he so clearly feels about her.
"Use the Man"--Diminishing returns, babe.
(Original pressings feature a 30-second sample of the Searchers' "Needles and Pins" at the start; it was excised for the reissue in 2004, possibly so listeners wouldn't be reminded of a better song.)
"Mastermind"--So laughably terrible that if you threw it up on a screen you'd see three silhouettes at the bottom.
"The Disintegrators"--"The slayer's arrived" and "live by the sword" are right there in the first verse. Y'ask me, I'd say Davey baby has saddled up and focused the crosshairs! Or is it tribute? I dunno, but it whips me up into a profound agitation that can only end in vasovagal shenanigans.
"I'll Get Even"--Don't tell me about your oddball life over a doped-up instrumental. Tell me about your doped-up life over an oddball instrumental. (Make sure to use a tolerable vocal take.)
"Sin"--Starts off sounding like "I'll Get Even." As it progresses, differences become discernible. Personality and passion are strikingly absent in both, however.
"A Secret Place"--Ah, who doesn't yearn for a place of one's own, a place to sit back and sing along to Journey's Greatest Hits. It's been a mystery...and still they try to see...why somethin' good can hurt so bad! This isn't quite as scrubbed as those touchstones of pop magnificence, but I admire effort and risk from even the squeakiest of mice and men.
"Have Cool, Will Travel"--As non-probing a look at the phenomenon of school shootings in America as you will find outside of the Internet.
Dave has by now become born-again Christian, and I don't mind that, just that he has also become the man who tells MTV, "They're taking God out of the schools, to dumb us down." Because not being able to force a single system of values down someone's throat leaves them so intellectually bereft.
This is doubly annoying considering the track itself is a decent throwback to the days when Megadeth could stitch together good albums.
"She-Wolf"--Give any woman a considerable amount of power, and one of the first things she'll say is--"Get on your knees."
Every bitch needs a metal song, especially the mother of all that is evil and especially one that scratches bare backs with rusted claws while filling the air with its deliciously horrible cries.
Thanks for the bone!
"Vortex"--Wherein the alerted humanoids respond to the atonal bloops with promises of curvy women and vats of experimental chemicals for the enjoyment of all. If you'll just stop the blooping!
Marty and Dave are two gifted, but still very different, guitarists. Marty can make a solo sound like a Shakespearean soliloquy. Dave can make it sound like a really smart bum raving outside 7-11.
"FFF"--Fiending for falafel?
Flan flan filth?
Ohhh--fight for freedom!
Fuck fuck fuck, but does this remind me of "Motorbreath." The production is unusually dry, and thus ideal for a slice of the examined life worth fighting for. Heavy fuckin' metal imbued with the punk spirit, just like they used to do.
Cryptic Writings has some of the best production of any Big 4 album, but suffers ultimately (ironically?) from a deficiency of detail. This was clearly a "brainstorm" project, in both definitions of the term.
Stage One of the Prager Experiment resulted in the first Megadeth album of the decade to not reach platinum status. Mustaine understandably panicked and--
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
In the five years between the Black Album and Load, Metallica cemented their reputation as the most famed heavy band on the planet. No member embraced the role of "asshole rock star" like Lars Ulrich. The cocaine, the mingling with all the beautiful people, the white leather jacket--he put that shit in a bear hug. Make no mistake, if it wasn't precisely his destiny to be metal's greatest drummer, it was his destiny to be its greatest self-promoter.
It wasn't all wine and roses, though. In the summer of 1992, as the two bands were terrorizing North America, whiny Guns 'N' Roses frontman Axl Rose turned a mere Three Mile Island into a Chernobyl when he bailed early during a gig at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. The heavy metal hockey fans were already roiling over Metallica's set being cut short thanks to James Hetfield forgetting where the onstage pyrotechnics were located, so Axl's tantrum was all they needed to go crazy. They began by tearing shit up inside the venue, before moving on to tear shit up outside the venue. Somehow, local authorities were able to quash the mob without the aid of a hang-gliding, megaphone-wielding Maurice Richard.
For the second time in their career, Metallica found themselves looking to guitar tech John Marshall to fill in for an injured James Hetfield as the shows went on and on. You can't deny that Metallica love the music.
But you can deny the music.
New logo? Check. Pretentious photography in the booklet? Corbijn. Partial printed lyrics a la Nevermind? Yep. The Black Album reigned for one year before grunge took over. Suddenly, affecting all those classic rock poses and acting as though you enjoyed anything about playing music for a living was deemed gauche. Metallica were supposed to represent for their genre, and brook no bullshit. (Nirvana, in fact, were invited to play on that mega-tour with Metallica and GNR; Kurt Cobain faxed management a list of the top five cancers he'd rather be diagnosed with.) They responded with their least-thrash album to date.
Now…change is not inherently bad. Change is not inherently good. Change can invigorate. Change can enervate. TV Smith once said, "New ways are best." Bob Seger yearned for "that old time rock and roll."
The joys are in the details.
You're not going to spread the same flavor of jelly on your english muffin for every single breakfast, are you? Will you even have a muffin for every single breakfast? Can you say with certainty that a bagel won't make its way into the mix at some point?
Metallica's makeover was vital, ill-advised, or "faggy," depending on who you were listening to. The short hair, the suits sans ties, the makeup, the "Lars and Kirk kissing" photos. James Hetfield wasn't too keen on the whole new direction, but decided that his bandmates were acting "homo" just to get his goat, so protesting any louder would probably result in onstage handjobs during the upcoming tours. (This is truly a game without winners; James is a homophobic douchefuck; Lars and Kirk come off like people who share a love of cocaine and a compulsive need to fit their bones into as many different skins as they can manage before the inexorable passage of time disintegrates them to dust. It's like Bono managed to split himself into two people, fer Chrissake.)
Really, the best thing about this overhaul was the album cover, Andres Serrano's "Semen and Blood III." Yep, dude took the liquids of life and smeared 'em on some Plexiglass, and a veteran heavy metal band took one look and said, "This is exactly the piece of art we need to stir up faux-outrage and maintain relevancy with the kids!"
You may be wondering what Jason Newsted thought of all this. Apparently not much, since his bass lines were audible for the second straight album.
"Ain't My Bitch"--With a title dumb as the content of any random YouTube video on the Illuminati, I'm borderline ashamed to admit I like this song, and I like it quite a bit--open-ended, weak-pulsed lyrics notwithstanding. This is fiercely uncomplicated, in the style of the Black Album's better songs. The chorus has some luminous ringing chords and some sixteenth-notes even squeeze their way in (enjoy those, by the way, 'cause they are the closest Load comes to thrash, which rhymes with past, and that is not a place Metallica wants to be. No ma'am).
"2 X 4"--You know who really digs shit like this? Rolling Stone magazine. They love metal when the balls swing to the left, but not to the right.
"Talk to two by four!" Fuck off. Talk to sheet of glass, Omen-style.
"The House That Jack Built"--Large rooms decorated with ugly pictures depicting scenes from reality and beyond, hung crooked on the walls. Spacious bathrooms with broken toiletries. Incidental carpeting throughout. Homemade pool and swingset out back. I'd buy it at foreclosure.
"Until It Sleeps"--Load's first single made many fans cry BETRAYAL. I've never been offended by this one, because it's not spectacular enough to justify a strong reaction. It's undercooked spaghetti Western for the verse SMASH CUT stock metal chorus. Hetfield's vocals mesh well with the guitar tones, but delicate harmonizing was not what fans were anticipating, nor is it anything Metallica excels at.
The video did ever more damage: Lars with eyeliner and a feather boa. Christ a'mighty. I don't mind a man rocking eyeliner and/or a feather boa. Just make sure you rock them well. 'Cause somebody's gonna be watching you. But...you knew that when you put 'em on.
"King Nothing"--The cicadas. My God, the cicadas. Then the snarling starts and I beg for their return. But no. They are already in Florida. They should not have gone alone.
"Hero of the Day"--Becoming a millionaire stripped James Hetfield of his ability to repress his mommy issues. Another example of "Feeltallica" ("Nothing Else Matters" was the first) but a rare non-terrible example. There's some decent sonic shading visible here.
"Bleeding Me"--Ooh does this get the excretory organs rumbling.
I'm listening to
I'm listening to this album
I'm listening to this album under duress
"Cure"--'Tis rare to discover so many ungiven fucks piled up in one place. I fear soon the fire marshal shall be summoned!
"Poor Twisted Me"--Bleeding, now twisted. Sucks to be…me? Except the me is you here. And the you is they. And they are testing their audience's loyalty. You know what this is? A ZZ Top cover band featuring Billy Gibbons' second cousin.
"Wasting My Hate"--James wrote this after story time with Waylon Jennings. One day the Highwayman walked into a diner and grabbed a table by the window. Before too long he noticed a dude sitting in car parked out in front of the diner, giving him a righteous eye-fuck. Naturally, Waylon didn't take too kindly to such blatant disrespect, and gave good as he got. When a certain amount of time passed, well, a man's got his limits. So Waylon got up and went outside to confront the man in the car. Who was asleep.
As Waylon told James, he'd been "wasting his hate."
"Mama Said"--A ballad (goddamnit again!) so country that I smell nothing but scrapple. Would've definitely advised using a vocal take that didn't give off even the slightest suggestion that James is singing about a woman he had intimate relations with. As I said earlier in this series, incest ain't the move to make.
"Thorn Within"--My art! My life! Makes me suffer! I AM! Torn! Yeaaa-yeah-uh!
Don't steal from "Sex Type Thing"(which itself stole from "War Machine"), add a little "of your genre" fillip, right on the heels of your country-blues "Oh I am a troubled troubadour let me sing my song" nimcompoopery and expect me not to notice. Be a thrash band, be a metal band, be just a straight up rock band, be a blues band, but be a consistent and coherent band above all, you colossal pricks.
"Ronnie"--The Nebraskan fields extend far beyond the limits of human vision here. It's like…Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote "Seek and Destroy." Johnnie Van Zant-era Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The cornpone-narrator schtick is unbearable (non-Southerners attempting what they imagine to be a "general" regional accent elevates my blood pressure faster than eating a deep-fried stick of butter). "Ronnie" has as much business on a Metallica album as I do on a runway during Fashion Week. Possibly their worst song.
"The Outlaw Torn"--Why eleven minutes? Why long stretches of just James and Lars doing their thing?
That title. That cover. They craved the storm. At the first claps of thunder, they peed their leather pants. And for as much as non-fans of Load like myself yak on about how underwhelmed we were (and still are), millions of people still bought it, and there are no shortage of fans willing to expound on what they perceive to be its multitude of positive qualities. So was it really, in the main, an artistic failure?
Well it wasn't a rampaging artistic success, I can tell you that. 80% of Load is 100% ass. The other 20%, in retrospect, was talent and taste refusing to go gentle into that good night. And they intended for this to be a double album. Sweet Christ on a cracker.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Where's the friggin' logo?!
Yet another longtime member splits the scene, as after eleven years Dan Spitz realized that the life of a born-again watch repairman would not only allow him to continue providing for his growing family, but would also allow him to spend more time with said family. Enter Spitz's tech Paul Crook on lead for most of the songs (although he would never be considered an official member of the band), and very special guest Dimebag Darrell on others. Quite the coup for Anthrax, as Pantera were shit-hot, having taken heavy music back to the top of the American charts with 1994's diamond-studded ball-buster Far Beyond Driven. Their success generated a flood of new bands who shamelessly aped their tight, hefty grooves without expectation of paying any real dues on their way to the top. That's to be expected. But to hear a member of the old guard behave so slavishly, well, it's disheartening. It's Stomp 442.
"Random Acts of Senseless Violence"--Inspired by the 1993 spree murder on the LIRR. The cheeky, lathered-up lick is just a tease. Also, a cock. Twenty seconds in, John Bush yells out either "fu-core!" or "poop-car!" I'm not sure what either Fu Schnickens or PT Cruisers have to do with such an intense subject, but remember: ours is not to wonder why. Ours is to appear erudite by quoting from a poem.
Despite the chorus being a poor attempt at Phil Anselmo's "deep whisper" technique, I like "Random Acts" okay. Paul's solo combines the best of Kerry King and Dan Spitz in one fifteen-second run.
"Fueled"--Helmet with John Bush singing! (Hey, you know who else once did a song that was Helmet with a different vocalist?)
"Bukowski's on my shoulder." Mine too. Telling me turn this crap off and start kicking the Dark Companion in his ass. Put my legs, hips and ass into it. No fire to be feared in these lines.
"King Size"--Blesses us with Dimebag and curses us with a "warn ya/California" scheme. Motherfuckers, that is the same crap that put the Red Hot Chili Peppers on my shitlist forever. Tread careful.
Does "King Size" rock? Eh, I think it just pebbles. The few flashes of light occur when I'm unable to discern individual sonic elements. (I love American goulash, especially with cheese.)
"Riding Shotgun"--The first four lines are a superb summation of the band's state at that time. Nothing innately wrong with fanboy-ing, especially not over Pantera. Pantera were one of the greats.
There is something screwy about, say, scarring up your own face just to reap the benefits of plastic surgery. Christ, this rips off not only "I'm Broken" but "Senseless Apprentice" as well.
Darrell provides soulful screeches and squeals, and I hope his passion and proficiency made the Anthrax guys feel like quitting.
(In 2006, Dan Spitz gave an interview wherein he claimed that tapes of his lead parts were copied by both Paul Crook and Dimebag Darrell for this album. I dunno about Paul, but Dime's contributions are too redolent of, y'know, his own style to convince me that he was just following a leader.)
"Perpetual Motion"--I would prefer to analyze canine flatulence than listen to this again.
"In a Zone"--The sound of off-white noise, chug-scrape chug-scrape. Bush does okay as the weary, belligerent antagonist, while his mates do equally okay with the old trinkets scattered around the apartment.
"Nothing"--The sun is out! What a great day to step outside and keep on going till you decide to head back home. I mean, if you have the free time, why the hell not? Refreshed mind, reinvigorated soul.
Then, no more than twenty feet from your doorstep, a bird shits on your shorts. And the colors completely clash.
"American Pompeii"--Five minutes of blither-blather, just bury me face-first in my own feces already. Let's attack the futility of nostalgia with generic-ass heavy rock! John Bush is such a goddamn try-hard. As of this song, I officially came down sick of his chest-first/hair-second "vocal style."
"Drop the Ball"--The recurring riff is two chalkboards fucking on a bed of nails. Those of you who know the breadths and depths of my musical tastes know that I intend that to be a complimentary remark.
"Tester"--Anthrax feel the sudden urge to grip their nuts and swagger 'round the new guys! They fancy themselves real fuckin' bad-ass, but in actuality they look buzzed on Schlitz and barbiturates. Pretty audacious regardless, considering these Big Apple vets have "re-invented" their sound by borrowing liberally from some Texas youngbloods.
"Bare"--The fellas take us out with a tender love ballad that does not end in vehicular tragedy. Unfortunately, the fact that it eventually ends is the only good thing about "Bare." An example in how to sound "effortless" in all the wrong ways.
Anthrax were very mad when their label, Elektra Records, did not promote Stomp 442 to their satisfaction, resulting in the album selling 400,000 fewer copies than Sound of White Noise. So they took their giant ball and naked guy and went to Ignition Records for their next effort.
Far be it from me to defend major labels, but in this case Elektra was just trying to preserve multiple legacies at once. After a great debut with John Bush at the mic, Anthrax are about to lose the entire plot.
Monday, February 24, 2014
That title. That cover. When nothing else will satisfy your craving for mediocre bullshit, believe in ersatz Megadeth.
Same as the last two albums, actually. That just makes this all the more depressing.
"Reckoning Day"--Simple rhymes, delivered in dull tones, do not engender any fear of the future ("wutsticumaphobia"?).
"Train of Consequences"--I dig. Ballsy guit-fiddle. Dave Mustaine pulling a Crazy Cat Lady. Sweep the leg! Mute the strings!
"Addicted to Chaos"--Dave has accumulated mad mileage out of his life as a whore for the high. (And listen, you can rehab it up all you wanna, the truth still remains--once an addict, always an addict.)
"A Tout Le Monde"--Hello. Is it death you're looking for?
A heartfelt goodbye missive from a desultory soul who resorts to a second language in the hopes that it will grace his indelicate passage with greater gravitas. The highlight of Youthanasia, Mustaine's spotty French aside (and admittedly, that is one of the harder accents for native English speakers to pull off without sounding like they're taking the piss).
"Elysian Fields"--I want to like this one, and I do. The crashing chord action helps, but even before that I found this song's inability to be meaningfully remarked upon as a positive thing. When you're performing a task that requires most of your attention, but you'd still like some music in the background, "Elysian Fields" has a special spot on your playlist.
Elysian fields--we are storming the heavens
Elysian fields--to raise our swords and shields
I've had my last name futzed a few ways over the decades, but nothing tops the time my pharmacy labeled a bottle of pills for "Jennifer Benningshield." My God--I trusted those people with supplying me legal drugs!
"The Killing Road"--Tour life, baby. And yes, the metaphor is obvious.
I dig the oddly-accented riff, and for a second I thought, Hey maybe the albums's picking up. Then I thought, Jenn stop letting one memorable part sway you into thinking the whole is worthy.
You know what they say: Second thought best thought.
Once upon a time, Megadeth's guitarists performed solos that I could remember two seconds after the final note.
"Blood of Heroes"--I feel churlish. The songs on Youthanasia have a disquieting tendency to not be very good.
"Family Tree"--Incest is never the move to make. Furthermore, all rapists must meet immediate demise. Show no mercy, no remorse, no repent.
Is sexual deviance the topic here? I got not clue one. But talking about dirty secrets and frontier justice is more interesting for me than reheating the day-old hash browns.
"Youthanasia"--Time for more social consciousness from a douchefuck who's spent half his life in an opium haze.
Who'd believe we'd spend more shippin' drugs and guns
Then to educate our sons?
Water, slaughter, brought her, mater, squatter. Come on, bro.
The music tries, at least, slowly sliding ahead every few covert steps. The somewhat dark, slightly moist trail does kinda distract from Dave's drivel.
"I Thought I Knew It All"--And ya still do, fucker.
Mid-tempo, radio-ready, innovation-free. Softly-fingered and softly-strummed, this is Youthanasia in a nutshell: seeks to soar, sputters instead.
"Black Curtains"--If you pissed on someone's curtains, and they were black…like, you were drunk at a party…and you had the sufficient plumbing…if you pissed on the curtains, and they were black, how long would it take before anyone noticed?
I don't recommend that, as I'm sure the host wouldn't appreciate having their curtains wizzed upon. Just like I don't appreciate lyrics referencing burning hair, boiling blood and bubbling flesh--y'know, imminent death--that somehow leave me so unmoved.
"Victory"--New Dave looks back at Old Dave, and it turns out they're both pricks. Old Dave would stolen Richard Avedon's camera for crack money. New Dave…poses for Richard Avedon.
Well done beating Metallica to the pointless "image enhancement" though, dude!
Youthanasia was Megadeth's last platinum album in the U.S. This heartens me. 'Cause at some point, we the people gotta smarten up and stop falling for the ol' okey-doke.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Any discussion about the music on Slayer's sixth album has to be prefaced with the acknowledgement of events outside of the studio.
Early 1992, Dave Lombardo informed his bandmates that he would not be available to tour in September, as his wife was due to give birth to the couples first child that month. The band's manager stressed how important touring revenue was to a band like Slayer (who could be counted on to garner gold with each release, but rarely ever achieve platinum). Lombardo remained steadfast.
There's a couple ways to see Dave's decision to leave Slayer. The birth of your first child is an event that happens once and only once, guaranteed, and it's natural that a man would want to be there, to establish an immutable emotional connection with the newborn. There is also the harsh reality that he will be providing for his child by doing his job, and his job is playing drums in Slayer. He can go and play drums for other bands, but what are the odds any of those positions will be as lucrative?
The announcement that former Forbidden drummer Paul Bostaph was selected to replace The Father of Double Bass was received anxiously by fans. Would this dude just mimic Dave's classic style, or would he bring something new that the other guys would get behind? Would fresh blood galvanize the band, or leave them enervated?
Kerry King took a huge step towards staving off encroaching baldness and overall middle-age lameness when he shaved his head, grew out a goatee, and got himself covered in more demonic ink than Satan's letters to the archangels. Fuck yeah metal.
Perhaps most troublesome was the diminished participation of Jeff Hanneman. He receives only three songwriting credits, and unless he played a solo, he didn't play. Yep, Divine Intervention is Slayer with a new drummer and one virtually absent guitarist. Welcome to the Tom and Kerry Show.
"Killing Field"--The very first thing to hit our ears is Paul Bostaph, filling in.
I really wanted to love this 'un. 'Cause of "field." (It's a big thing with me.) But unless hearing a legendary metal band rock out on autopilot sends shivers racing up and down your spine, this is forever ignorable.
"Sex.Murder.Art."--"You're nothing!…A subjective mannequin…Raping again and again!" Oh Tom, you hopeless amorist!
Bostaph is certainly proving to be a technically precise bastard who wears his hats high.
This over the top tale of a rapist-torturer and his interesting hobbies doesn't disturb me; never has. The only fictional depiction of rape that has ever made my skin crawl is the unedited, nine-minute one in Irreversible, which I could only take for two minutes before turning the film off. (Now there's a fuckin' party game for ya.)
"Fictional Reality"--Reminds my ears of those mid-tempos gems on the last album. Going out exploring with a flashlight is weak; take a machete along too.
And then use it to carve the band's name onto your inner forearm.*
"Dittohead"--"Necrophobic" revisited..'cause there ain't much difference between a congressman and a slice of adipose tissue.
Kerry's attack on political malfeasance is fast and deadly as a dragonshark. The ascending riff at 1:45 is so wickedly simple, gah, why doesn't it just see us out the door?
Not every Slayer fan knew (or cared) that a "dittohead" was another name for a fan of Rush Limbaugh, the ultra-conservative radio and TV blowhard. Back in the 90s, millions of chucklefucks took this fat cunt seriously. (Then he started talking about black quarterbacks in the National Football League and how only sluts use birth control pills 'cause a woman has to take one every time she has sex, obviously, and that's what we're spending our tax dollars on?!) Among the chucklefucks were Kerry and Jeff. These days Kerry identifies himself as a political "Independent," so I can't get very mad. Also, this song is fuckin' great. I mean if Slayer can write amazing songs about actual goddamn Nazis, why can't they get a pass for writing one in honor of a walking tub of Oreo cookie filling who wishes he could have handed out towels at Auschwitz?
"Divine Intervention"--Does the job of spearing three ill-shaped forks into my brain. Every first word of every verse urges me to run headlong into glass, thanks to Tom's tuneless yelling, but the "web-like Hell" gleams compellingly. I'll stick around, all right.
"Circle of Beliefs"--Closed-minded people suck. Attacks on them should not.
The distortion on the vocals ain't a little bit cool or edgy, nor tough or evil. The venom is dripping! No, just drool.
"Slayer don't fuck around!" is great to say, and greater still to believe, but listen to this song, guys. That's all they're doing.
"SS-3"--So the wannabe Nazi gets a fucking killer song, and the actual Nazis get this snoozefest? This is 'bout as mighty as a sand castle crafted by 48-month-old hands (or 48 month-old hands). The snares are tuned to "soft as bananas shat out of rhino butt" and the guitars are simply the dullest yet...and duly the simplest yet.
"Serenity In Murder"--Guitars! With but a single intake of breath, the Lord Satan commands that you distinguish yourselves!
"213"--Yet another demented love song from Tom's pen (taking its title from Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment number).
When the big boy guitars make their presence heard, the overriding impression is that soon they will make their presence felt. The abrupt switches are the best parts of the song, but Tom is not comfortable here. Or at least the mix makes it seem that way.
That's a pretty li'l blood spill--till you end up taking one of your own. The thump of your back hitting the uncarpeted floor activates a trigger that opens up select ceiling panels. Chunks of putrid flesh rain all over your body before you can even react. Death by death.
"Mind Control"--This is "Hallowed Point" bored out of its skull 'n' bones pajamas. The lyrics are far from the problem here; more often than not, the wordplay on Divine Intervention outshines the musical tracks.
That is how to slap someone on the back and smash a brick in their face in one half of a sentence.
Per Tom Araya, American Recordings gave up on trying to get a "hit" out of Slayer after the release of this record. That the label had any such aspirations at all is frankly amazing. Slayer specialize in base rage represented through outsized splatterfest imagery both lyrical and musical. There will be no "Enter Sandman" coming from their camp.
All questions about Paul Bostaph's impact were rendered basically moot when Divine Intervention turned out to be Slayer's most poorly-recorded and poorly-mixed effort. Both his drums and Tom's vocals are cranked up, almost like they felt they had to convince the listeners that just because they were down one original member, Slayer could still fucking rip your face off. Which wouldn't be such a problem if they'd bothered to write any classic songs. (Or maybe, let me just fucking say it, if Jeff could have been bothered to write any classic songs.) As it is, Divine Intervention is a very loud, very average record.
*One of the most hardcore moments in fan devotion, ever. I love Sonic Youth more than Canadians love hockey, but I can't ever imagine carving even their initials onto my body.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Three years between studio albums? What'cha been up to, Anthrax?
In July 1991, they release an odds'n'sods record called Attack of the Killer B's. In addition to covers, and live selections, the album featured two rap-rock songs: a remake of "I'm the Man" and a cover of Public Enemy's classic "Bring the Noise" that featured P.E. themselves. Scott Ian had been a fan of the duo since their first album, and was frequently photographed wearing their iconic "black man in the crosshairs" logo shirt. The fans who approached Ian and asked why he listened to "that nigger music" surely shit half their body weight out onto their feet when they heard this monster.
But the collaboration was not that far-fetched. Chuck D was so enamored at the idea of this big-name metal band unabashedly broadcasting the P.E. brand to their disaffected supporters, that he name-dropped the group on "Bring the Noise," which first appeared on their legit-classic second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (the same album that sampled Slayer, you may recall). So it made more sense than a little to have the two acts join forces. Despite the misgivings of narrow-minds (to be found in both fanbases, let's be honest), the song was such a success that they toured together behind it, ending every show with their boundary-busting hook-up.
"Walk This Way" sucks, it has always sucked, and never bring it up around me.
Where does a band go after that? Well, first thing you do is, you fire the singer. Unhappy with Joey Belladonna's personality and what they deemed to be his lightweight performances, Scott Ian and Charlie Benante sought out John Bush, known to fans not only for his tenure in Armored Saint, but also as the guy who turned down Metallica when they approached him in the early 80s about handling vocal duties. Eager to beef up their sound even more, the band hired producer Dave Jerden, known for his work with Alice In Chains and Jane's Addiction. Rap songs? New guy? Grunge?
The overall sound was affected for both the sake of their new singer and for the new musical landscape. Grunge was still going strong, power was preferred over precision, and Anthrax made the decision to sweeten a simmering pot.
"Potter's Field"--Well, I liked this 'un right off the bat, before I heard note one.
There are common graves all across this great land, but perhaps the most notorious is on New York's Hart Island, which stretches for 101 acres. Nearly a million bodies are buried there, a full third of them infants. The others are poor unfortunate shells whose loved ones couldn't pay for a proper burial--and those who had no loved ones to even be bothered with such things.
The track is suitably heavy for the subject matter, but not particularly engaging until Dan Spitz pulls off one of his more dynamic turns on lead guitar, followed by the main riff crushing back into the picture. It's the very same part I haven't been shaken by the whole damn song but somehow, just being prefaced by a scorcher solo and turbulent drum fills suddenly makes it demi-godly.
"Only"--The first single was also the first song they wrote with John Bush. His raspy gifts are on full display here, blending superbly with the low-key dissonance of the music. When it comes to songs bemoaning the flightiness of broads, I'll take "Only" over "Finale" on any day, any calendar, any culture.*
"Room For One More"--Bush has this, um, cute vocal quirk where he sometimes adds a quick "yuh" sound (short for "yeah") at the beginning of a word. Hence, there is "Y'always room for one more."
Anthrax are not going for "noise" in the sense that the Incapacitants are. "White noise" can be a disorienting sound, but that's not applicable here either. (It can also be used as a sleep aid, which the band would not explore until their next several albums.) This stuff is just metal music. No longer thrash, but nothing short of heavy regardless. With prolonged exposure, so-called "noise" becomes part of the everyday soundtrack.
Oh blah blah, is "Room For One More" a good song or not? Are Rice Krispies crunchy even in milk?
"Packaged Rebellion"--I've spied some distaste for this one…too poppy or too grunge-y, depending on the source. I give it credit for having some nice leads--I'm noticing Spitz more on four songs here than I have over the last five albums.
I don't suit up to uncover the facile "you" so persistently addressed. 2014 and I don't' care about much here save for that fan-damn twinner starting up at 4:45. Something about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I just can never resist…ate 'em every day in the nuthouse.
"Hy Pro Glo"--Seems like we got us a pulse-pounding game of hopscotch here! Jumping down on glass shards and gravel has Johnny doing some weird Axl-esque utterances….thankfully the insanity is brief.
Never tell a woman she has a "hy pro glo." It will never go well. If she knows what you mean, you'll get smacked up. If she doesn't know what you mean, and therefore doesn't react, your joke is ruined. If she doesn't know what you mean, and decides to act all flattered and shit, congratulations you just made a dumb girl feel good about being dumb and you have your little laugh at her expense.
Oh no, the madness is back! The "I"s, they without fail make me swat at the invisible mosquitoes flitting around my fat head.
"Invisible"--The angriest moments of the album are here. One man's vigorously tested faith results in bitter recriminations and sour dispositions. Trying to find God with a phase shifter? John really is inspiring you guys to new levels of confidence and power!
"1000 Points of Hate"--Good to stomp and scream along to whenever your mind is awash in thoughts of that special someone. Also, nice Living Colour reference.
"Black Lodge"--I wouldn't expect a gorgeous rumination on in-progress, inexorable disintegration from the same dudes who made a "thing" of wearing shorts. But here we are, now as then.
Hand it to the band, or at least Scott and Charlie--they loved the TV show Twin Peaks (at least the first season) and were absolutely nuts over Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack work. So they write a song, call it "Black Lodge" in honor of their favorite show, and get Angelo himself (along with Vincent Bell) to add synthesizer, orchestration, and tremolo guitar. The result is a spaghetti Western dream state.
Let not the lyrics lead you astray ("My love for you knows no distance"), "Black Lodge" is romantic in the way that a poet at the river's edge, scribbling down his last stanzas, laying the notebook on the grass and then walking into the water is romantic. Or someone coming up to you with a package and announcing "I love you so much I carved your face out of a log I found somewhere." But my heart is almost always set to high receptivity, so I'm invariably sucked into this dark vortex.
"C11 H17 N2 O2 SN2"--Or, "sodium pentathol." Or, "truth serum." Or, "veritaserum." Or, "J.K. Rowling needs to get a fucking diary already."
Spelling out the chemical formula was impressive in those pre-Wikipedia days, y'all, they had to consult a book!
Another explicit condemnation of religious fervor, only this time tackling the minions more so than the Man. The message is rugged, responsible individualism. No tolerance for sluggards and slaggers.
I have never hated a song title more And I never hated it till I had to write, then type it out. Luckily this is Class-A from toes to nose. Who doesn't enjoy telling some self-righteous know-nothing where to stick it? Most people are like Slinkys, really--they don't do a damn thing, but they always make you smile when you push them down the stairs.
"Burst"--The cartoon-y xylophone chimes give way to some punks writing a book called "102 Things To Do With Rusted Chrome." I can't imagine Joey Belladonna over music like this without envisioning Steve Perry emoting on a dock.
Took years for me to catch the crack-addled earthworm cries during the "contradiction" sections.
"This Is Not An Exit"--The good news is, Anthrax are still reading fiction! The gooder news is, they've moved beyond Stephen King! American Psycho doesn't count nihilistic German nuns among its cast of characters, but hey, a quality read is a joy forever.
John nails the ramblings of a maniac with great confidence and clarity. Chilling in some parts, believable all around. (Again, entrust this to Belladonna and we're left with a guy waiting for Sherry to come back.) The main riff, wooo. "Chopsticks" frozen in carbonite. I feel like I rode a bike on the highway and lived to tell.
With the seeds sown for mainstream success, what did Anthrax actually reap? A gold record. Hmm. But they also made a good record, a damn good record. They tweaked their fundamental sound without becoming another, shittier band entirely. No mean feat, that. What's probably more jarring, to me anyway, is the slight but significant lyrical shift. Whereas in the past Anthrax pounded on about the importance of caring for your fellow man, Sound of White Noise stops just short of saying "Guess what, fuck all y'all. Ray Bolger's lookin' out for Ray Bolger." The increasing acrimony is hard to ignore.
*James Hetfield wants to go hunting with this song, he loves it so much. He told the members of Anthrax it was "a perfect song." Which sounds like a great compliment until you find out James Hetfield's favorite songs are. I still hold out hope he just couldn't be bothered to make a real list, turned on a classic rock radio station, and wrote down the first ten songs they played.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Dave Mustaine--vocals, guitar
Two straight albums with the same lineup. I just blue-screened.
You think Davey baby felt any pressure after Metallica went supernova? You think any thought ran through his head other than: THAT SHOULD BE ME…THAT WILL BE ME.
In order to insure his rancorous genius received commensurate reward, Mustaine took it up three notches, then down two more: easing up on the time signature shifts, dolloping on melody, smoothing out the roughest edges. All while maintaining a high-level of craftsmanship. Not quite thrash, but still metal. Instead of dark magic, aliens and ghosts, the guys wrote more explicitly political tunes to go alongside the usual meditations on addiction and war.
No way does such a plan go awry.
"Skin O' My Teeth"--Old-school Megadeth meets the new boss. Yet again Dave is on about the less-glamorous aspects of drug addiction, in this case, the suicidal thoughts it regularly engenders in the mind. Don't fret, fans--potential eloquence is thwarted at every turn.
Even if I weren't a Spiritualist, I would never kill myself. I couldn't; I'd fuck it up. Jump off a building, land on my feet--now I'm a quadriplegic instead of dead meat. Guzzle absinthe and pills, end up a vegetable. I'm terrified of guns, so I guarantee I'd flinch at the moment of truth and spend the remainder of my days with half a face. Yeah…it's fun being too afraid to live and too afraid to die.
"Symphony of Destruction"--One of what Dave calls Megadeth's "Fab Four" (along with "Holy Wars," "Peace Sells" and "A Tout le Monde"). There's really no debating that it's one of their best-known tracks and also no quibbling as to why--that riff. Dumb enough for Beavis and Butthead, yet smart enough for Daria. And sure enough, it was all over MTV during the summer of 1992.
Simple, digestible, just a baby-hair shy of classic status. Me and my best friend in high school weren't the only ones who used to sing recipes to this, were we? "You take a single egg/And break it in a bowl…"
"Architecture of Aggression"--'Bout as intimidating as a Lego Pentagon.
The biggest sin here is a tedious structure, which should not be confused with a tenuous structure. Instead of being on the verge of imminent collapse, it leaves all who gaze upon it or walk inside it with that antsy feeling that they should be somewhere else.
"Foreclosure of a Dream"--Of. Of . Of.
Don't know how many of you remember the farm crisis of the 80s, but the other Dave in Megadeth certainly does, seeing as how his family lost their land in Minnesota when the agricultural recession began devastating hard-working citizens. Almost twenty years later, another foreclosure fiasco hit America hard, leaving individuals and families out in the streets, victims of their own dreams coming true. No matter when or where, the why is consistent: the American government's failure to look out for the best interests of its people.
This sad fact of life helps "Foreclosure of a Dream" maintain relevance. When someone says, "The American dream," I instantly think of home ownership. (This is the second thing I think of.) Almost everyone has been asked at least once in their lives, "What would you do if you won big in the lottery?" and since the age of 23 my answer has been, "Own my own home." It represents comfort. It represents independence. It represents shelves filled with Snoopy collectibles spread across several individual rooms.
Just because the song hits square in the gut doesn't mean it isn't clunky as shit, though.
"Sweating Bullets"--Any time I see this song being slammed, all I can manage is an empathic nod. "Sweating Bullets" is one of most terrifyingly noisome songs to ever eke past a Big 4 racket-gang's screening process. It's the Pipkins doing metal. Fox News levels of sustained annoyance. Those vocals, I swear, I wanted to treat my acne with a cheese grater listening to Dave do his impression of Dick Dastardly, paranoid schizophrenic. I guess the chorus is somewhat bop-worthy, but guess what? Just like "Sad But True," I never make it there.
If it wasn't for Dimebag Darrell taking the lyric "black tooth grin" as the name for his favorite alcoholic pick-me-up, this one would be utterly without value.
"This Was My Life"--Dave used to have a woman, and she did him real bad. He's got a new woman now, but it's still way more fun to talk about the woman what did him real bad.
Blessed are the past-90-seconds-makers. People who think Countdown To Extinction is better than the Black Album, I just love your pea-pickin' hearts. I'm not giving Mustaine passes, nope, not at this stage of the game. You have a limited vocal range, son--work within the parameters. Sheer musicianship can take you a long way, but not all the way. That's why the only DragonForce song the average music fan has possibly heard of is "that really fast one from Guitar Hero."
Keep your ears peeled for an appearance by the Phantom Lord. He's kinda like the leopard seal from "Pingu's Nightmare"!
"Countdown To Extinction"--My favorite song here, easily. As trite and embarrassing as "Sweating Bullets" is, that's how novel and enjoyable this is.
Metallica had "Of Wolf and Man," which celebrated the kinship of man and animal and stressed the need for the party who's evolved enough to hold a weapon to kill the other party so that the magnificent cycle might never be unbroken. Here, Megadeth call out participants in canned hunts for their small cocks and large role in depriving the planet of precious species. Dave settles his voice into a lower register to reflect the gravity of the topic, and it works very well. This one will appeal to those who love and sanctify all life, and also to those people who adore animals so much that they'd step on a homeless person just to help a stray cat.
Winner of the "Doris Day Music Award" at the Genesis Awards ceremony held by the U.S. Humane Society. Take that, every other metal band ever.
"High Speed Dirt"--The members of Megadeth loved them some skydiving. Except Marty.* So he got his kicks indulging his inner hillbilly.
"Psychotron"--Fresh. Exciting. Each of those words have plentiful antonyms, and all of them apply to "Psychotron." Comic book super-villainy undersold so severely that what had the potential to be a dumb-fun anthem for a grand and terrific bionic killer is about as enthralling as a song about the Dakotas.
Psychotron…wasn't that the thing on the cover of Defenders of the Faith? Some second-rate Orgasmatron, pfft.
"Captive Honour"--I see what you did there.
This was written to be a bare-bones, uncompromising look inside the bleak, overcrowded prison system. Instead it is the funniest Megadeth song yet recorded. Dave's vocal delivery during the initial verse is Simpsons Season 8-caliber comedy. I dunno if he's trying to scare somebody straight with all the hyper-enunciation, and biting the air at the end of every sentence, but it's endlessly giggle-inducing. I really wish iTunes would keep count of how many times I've played the "You're a murderer" part.
Later in the track he uses the word "manpussy." Amazing. The precise moment when the snowball is rolled down the hill.
"Ashes In Your Mouth"--Cluster migraines are not always unwelcome intruders. Sometimes I wanna lay down and stay down. For awhile. Until the discontented rest of my body senses creeping atrophy and propels me up and at them.
At least the band have the decency to end on a high note, so I don't regret opening my eyes and walking around. A hearty hearken back, a real swinger with knives clutched in fists.
So, was Countdown To Extinction a success on par with Metallica? Take a walk in the park…shit no. Yes, it went double platinum in the States, and earned numerous other certifications from other countries. It earned the band their third Grammy nomination and made "Megadeth" a known and respected name in MTV households.
But. Metallica debuted at number one and stayed there for a month. It sold in the tens of millions. Countdown To Extinction debuted at number two behind Billy Ray Cyrus' Some Gave All and never saw the top thanks to all the muscles and mullet action. Metallica won the goddamn Grammy. They were the metal gods. Uncontested and unbeatable.
Still, Mustaine fancied himself the Great Usurper. And it was this hubris that helped kickstart his band's artistic decline.
*Until this album was certified platinum, at least, and he had to honor the bet he'd made with his mates.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
(The album so poisonous that just creating it ended three marriages!)
With the so-called "Black Album," Metallica penetrated the enchanted realm of mainstream adoration and reaped the attendant benefits with all the relish four still-young hot-blooded males could muster. Sixteen million sold in their home country, thirty million worldwide. Metallica is the first demarcation between the band and their original fanbase.
At least you can hear the bass!
"Enter Sandman"--Their most famous song, whether you want it to be or not.
Don't fool yourselves, Metallica yearned to be rock gods from week one. They wanted those all-access passes to the world. You don't acquire those passes by selling a few hundred thousand records and playing the same thousand-capacity venues every tour. You get it by offering tasty bait for the potential listener to bite down upon. The listener who likes heavy music, but clean heavy music, with a polish so keen it gleams. Metallica wanted those people, and their monies, and with "Enter Sandman" they got 'em. Got 'em like an Alligator Snapping Turtle gets fish.
Fuck it. This is still a fantastic song. "Enter Sandman" makes me proud to be a fan of heavy metal. Immaculately structured, wonderfully executed, so evil and addictive it might as well have been released by Cadbury. Those guitars are the perfect tone for rock radio. Lars is already past his prime, but damned if doesn't beat the tom like Aunt Polly. It's not the band's fault idiots fell in love with their song.
I'm sure many hardcores had their stomachs plummet to their feet when they began hearing "Sandman" everywhere and realized that ubiquity is truly the enemy. Now everyone knows their secret! Aww. But no fan, no matter how many shirts or bootlegs they boasted in their collection, could know the agony of Dave Mustaine. By the fifth note, that guy knew he was destined to be number two for all eternity. He'd sell millions on his own merits, and it just wouldn't fucking matter. Because Metallica. Of course he dealt with his frustration and jealousy like a champ, claiming that his former band ripped off "Sandman"'s iconic riff from Excel's "Tapping Into An Emotional Void," which had been released just two years earlier. There is an undeniable similarity…but there are also a finite number of notes and chords for musicians to utilize in the creative process. More striking to me is how some people cannot let go of the past, even though they've achieved their own great success.
"Sad But True"--Now this? Is overrated. I'll blast "Sandman" any day. "Sad But True" comes on, I'm like, "Next song!" Everything reeks of effort and stale beer. The drone-y chorus is cool, but again, I so rarely even make it to that point.
On a related note, Kid Rock sucks more than burnt cinnamon rolls.
"Holier Than Thou"--Oh God, the production. With any testiculation, those guitars would sound fit to break brick. Instead they come off like Harry and Ron's first attempt at entering Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross. Great job, Bob Rock.
Brook no quarter! Suffer no fools! Willy no nilly! Post no bills!
"The Unforgiven"--The first of two ballads, and the only one that doesn't cause my face to swell up and my throat to constrict.
I still get baby goosebumps listening to this tender tale of one man's bitterly defiant stand. Hetfield's crooning is easy to poke at, but that's a disingenuous reaction. Yes, someone bemoaning their fate can be crazy annoying. But we're all prone to fits of dramatics. So as much as I want to snort, roll my eyes, and bust out a crappy imitation, I just can't. "You label me/I label you/So I dub thee Unforgiven." Ohh, you fucker, I can't hate this.
"Wherever I May Roam"--A sitar-sprinkled ode to the touring life. Metallica play, like, a lot of live shows.
When Bob Rock compared Hetfield's lyrics to the likes of Dylan, Lennon and Marley, he had one stanza in mind:
And the road becomes my bride
I have stripped of all but pride
So in her I do confide
And she keeps me satisfied
Nothing about this one evokes a obscenely-lit backstage area overflowing with drugs, alcohol and girls who look 16 going on whore. Pass.
"Don't Tread On Me"--The intro sounds like "The Shortest Straw" fighting off other songs.
Given that the band's last album was an unrepentantly critical look at the United States government, this jingoistic nut-grab is somewhat surprising. But then I remember…it's bad when the government treats us poorly. However, if those very same corrupt assholes wanna rain down death and pain on some other country? LOVE IT OR KICK ROCKS, MUTHAFUCKAS!
America vs. The World is like Jets vs. Sharks: as long as Rita Moreno is around, everyone is winning.
"Through the Never"--Metallica get universal--literally. Less excavated insight and more unshredded common sense, but that's pretty much to be expected. The chorus is so gloriously arrogant. There's a moment that Hetfield and band are one, it's brief, but it stings. It vibrates. It lingers.
"Nothing Else Matters"--I forever judge dudes who rung up their local rock radio station to dedicate this song to their especial ladies. Even if they regret their actions sincerely some twenty years later.
People in love can write great love songs. This is not a revelation. "Maybe I'm Amazed," for Christ's fucking sake! If you can listen to McCartney and not feel awe…then I guess you have a different opinion than me. That's cool. And I'm just using that one song as a superlative example. Any genre of music can boast numerous engaging love songs, even if they turn out a bit twisted or dark. Love is love, as they say.
Metallica gave us a straightforward romantic ballad that is as soft as Kirby sleeping on a bed made out of marshmallows. James Hetfield is so earnest, his emotions laid so bare, his singing so making me want to introduce strychnine into my diet. He is so into this woman, the way she has impacted his world so…impactfully, that he straight-up kicked Kirk Hammett in the face and said, "I'm doin' the solo on this one baby, yeah-yeaaah!"
All due credit for taking a chance. All due blame for blowing that chance. You will find me nom-nom'ing a bowl of rotted squash before you ever find me listening to "Nothing Else Matters."
And the woman he wrote it for isn't even the one he ended up marrying and having a quarter-dozen kids with! Also yeah, all the stuff in the lyrics about "open minds" and the importance of "trust" is super-rich coming from a homophobe with a history of philandering.
"Of Wolf and Man"--"I hunt/Therefore I am."
The very same words inked on Ted Nugent's left buttock, circling a deer head.
When it comes to songs that feature "Wolf" in the title, you're not going to top Duran Duran, so don't bother. "Of Pig and Man." Now that's fucking adamantium.
"The God That Failed"--One constant on the album are these nonsensical solos that start from absolutely nowhere. Kirk, my dear, you are letting down the team.
Hetfield's continuing story of the pain and abandonment he felt over his mother's unnatural death. The son is bitter as ever, but now moreso at Great Sky Man. The music remains stoic, lest he begin cracking and crying.
"My Friend of Misery"--The lessons are as follows:
Think--but not too much.
Fight--battles, not wars.
Write songs--four minutes long, not six
"The Struggle Within"--A high-energy Justice throwaway, but it contains one of the few sweet 'n' tasty solos to be savored on the whole album. The chorus is so good that it becomes self-conscious halfway through and sabotages itself. Very underrated track in their discog.
Metallica's first sell-out disc is….pretty good (though there are clear indicators that simplifying and streamlining their sound will make for much worse music in the future). Kirk Hammett's solos are mostly devoid of ingenuity. When it comes to great metal drummers, Lars Ulrich has officially dropped out of the discussion. Hetfield's syllable-stretching epitomizes metal, as does his rhythm work. Jason Newsted…was actually discernible in the mix. It's tempting to overrate Metallica through retrospective goggles, but I resist.
Just remember, guys: "If you can't handle Slayer, listen to Metallica."
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
On that date above, exactly two weeks shy of my entry into the world of adolescence, my parents gave me some money to grab an early present for myself. Could I have chosen better than the album that combines the heartless aggression of Reign In Blood with the leisurely menace of South of Heaven?
Third straight rec produced by the redoubtable Rick Rubin, third straight with cover art by Larry Carroll (which is okay, but I would have loved if the face was puking Christ into a pit), fifth straight fucking great effort. Even the booklet is memorable. The eight-panel foldout features complete lyrics in barely-legible gothic font, surrounded by black and white photos of the band members, looking like they're embarrassed to be near such piss-poor design.
The credits show promising parity: six songs touched by Tom, and seven each for Kerry and Jeff.
"War Ensemble"--Not a pro-war song, but easily misinterpreted as one by people who have chicken pot pie for brains instead of for dinner.
There's no respite on the battlefield, so why should there be respite in the studio, or on the stage? "War" has never sounded better (the actual word, I mean). Slayer do not give the tiniest sliver of a shit. The word "blood" appears twice in the first verse. This is pinnacle Slayer. All that's missing is a "Hail Satan!" But maybe that's implied at this stage.
"Blood Red"--This band would just as soon spray you with piss as impress you with technique, finesse, or logic. I love you, Slayer. I want you to take me behind the school and perform my abortion.
Slow, without being plodding. The chorus lick is playful, but not happy. (Slayer are never happy! Stop smiling!) This is the second song by a Big 4 band to reference the Tiananmen Square protests in China, but where Anthrax's "One Man Stands" saluted the resolute will of the justice-seekers, Slayer is more concerned with the unsightly face of tyranny, or what happens when "peaceful confrontation meet(s) war machine."
"Spirit In Black"--Seasons in the Abyss is nagging me, but I dig it. There's a section of my brain that requires a good tune to obsess over for a decent portion of the day, and these offerings are qualifying with minimal expenditures of effort.
This one, goddamn. The progression from campfire to wildfire is quite a sound to behold.
Meta time! "Where the blood forever rains"; "Hell awaits!" (Tom even says the second in the identical timbre and cadence of the original.)
"Expendable Youth"--Slayer tackling social commentary. Odd. Kinda…Anthrax of you, guys. (Only Anthrax would have a guest appearance by Ice Cube and it would be awesome.) Not bad by any stretch, I'm just accustomed to Tom talking about blood-dripping demons giving the high hard hellish one to pale shrieking virgins with all the elegance of a tank. Variety is the spice, I suppose.
"Death the only solution!"
No wonder y'all wrote about it, then!
"Dead Skin Mask"--As a true crime buff, I'm not sure why you'd write about Ed "The Plainfield Ghoul" Gein and not Carl "Rage Personified" Panzram. So Gein killed a couple old ladies, robbed some graves and kept weird shit around his Wisconsin farm to scare visiting children. Panzram traveled the country, killing 21 and sodomizing (by his count) a thousand unlucky boys and men. I can only assume that the sheer volume of his depravity overwhelmed Slayer.
Most overrated Slayer song? All's subjective, but I'd give it my vote. (Which according to the Internet is only half a vote, seeing as I pee sitting down.) Musically it's passable, but the imagery is far too fanciful for a schlub-farmer with abnormal urges. "Placid faces and lifeless pageants." Nah. Not for Ed Gein. For H.H. Holmes, maybe.
"Hallowed Point"--First blast louder than el diablo's le petit mort. A "War Ensemble" reprise of sorts that focuses on the artillery. Ascension is the cause of, and solution to, the tension.
"Skeletons of Society"--Grinds similar to "Expendable Youth," but not so I'm put-off. Creepy as a smiling pug, and wouldn't you know that's not a deal-breaker either. Clean the kitchen to this one.
"Temptation"--Another lurid trip into a decadent netherworld…but I guess they all are. In the mood to acquire some souls? Ten'll get'cha twelve. Live a little!
The most riveting thing about "Temptation" (those dual vocal tracks during the verse) was not part of the original plan. When the engineer put both of Tom's takes up to a band vote, they couldn't decide. Tie goes to the listener.
"Born of Fire"--Originally intended for South of Heaven under the title "Stress." The decision to place it on the next album was wise, as they turned the piece into a savory slice of the infernal afterlife. John Milton woulda killed to create such a foul cadre of cretins. They eat flesh of any age, drink blood of any type, and defile bodies of any shape.
As much as I enjoy the rollick to be had throughout, "Born of Fire" is really about Kerry's final solo. At first I thought it most reminiscent of a prolonged sting from a bullet ant. But that was when I was a silly teenager whose metaphors were entirely reliant on animals. Now--older, wiser--I hear a musical approximation of a woman in the throes of multiple orgasms. This is a good thing, namely because multiple orgasms are good things. Or rather, a lot of one good thing.
"Seasons in the Abyss"*--The title track happens to be the longest and bestest track as well. Close as Slayer ever got to a radio hit, thanks to that sonorous beast of a chorus that stopped short of phenomenal, kicked it in the gut with such force it fell onto its side, and then with one quick leap 'n land, snapped it in half.
Slayer have dominion over dozens of caverns filled with broken adjectives.
Seasons in the Abyss, what a wicked little bastard. Every song sounds like the last thing you hear before a bullet crashes through the window and smashes into your head.
*That's Kerry King doing backup on not only this chorus, but the one for "Skeletons Of Society" as well.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Dave Mustaine--vocals, guitar
So long, Jeff Young and Chuck Behler. While it is a wonderful bit of trivia that a Megadeth drummer has been replaced by his tech for the second consecutive record, it is the ignominious ouster of the second guitarist which provides us with the juice and the dirt. Sounds like a terrible drink, but makes for a great interview.
Friedman and Menza turned out to be stupendous additions. They exude supreme comfort with all the meter-madness that distinguishes the record, and Marty's work especially flat-out elevated Megadeth, his unique style (influenced heavily by Asian and Middle Eastern playing) flavoring an already-tasty gumbo till each bite is almost obscenely delicious.
And he's originally from Maryland.
And his extreme talents were a "catalyst" in Dave Mustaine relapsing, per the latter's autobiography.
After a run of album titles with more ellipses than an Ultimate Warrior comic book, Megadeth kick off the new decade with the intriguingly-blunt Rust In Peace. (Even Vic Rattlehead has come up in the world, check the spiffy attire he dons and the super-important company he keeps!) More than just a second phase of their career, RIP can realistically be dropped into a number of pertinent discussions: Best Megadeth Album, Best Thrash Album Ever, Best Thrash Album of the 1990s, Best Album Recorded At the Studio Owned By Captain and Tennille, Best Album Recorded With a Producer Who Was Fired As The Project Was Winding Down Because He Brought His Mischievous Puppy Into the Studio Owned By Captain and Tennille. Nine songs here, and not one is skippable, not even that one everybody seems to skip. Every song contains a number of jaw-dropping moments. Its success--both commercial (platinum in the US) and critical--was well-deserved. Out of the forty-six records I'm reviewing for the Big 4 series, three are three complete classics that I can listen to anytime anywhere: Reign In Blood, ….And Justice For All, and Rust In Peace. (Sorry, Charlie.)
Maybe I'm not being clear enough here, so lemme state it thusly: I played two albums to near-death in 1990. Rust In Peace and Goo by Sonic Youth. Fucking immense year.
"Holy Wars/The Punishment Due"--The so-called "Gulf War" between U.S. and Iraqi forces was in full swing just as the video for "Holy Wars" was getting solid play, so the natural tendency was to correlate the two. Mustaine's actual inspiration was the pandemic of wars incited by religious belief, with specific mention of a hilarious-in-hindsight gaffe he made during a show in Northern Ireland two years prior. Before getting onstage, Mustaine noticed a guy selling bootleg shirts. He was about to take action when someone close by informed him that the proceeds from the shirt sales would benefit "The Cause," which was blithely explained to the clueless guitarist as an organization trying to end the prejudice between Catholics and Protestants in the United Kingdom. Having no qualms with the extermination of schism, Dave decided to dedicate "Anarchy in the U.K." to "the cause."
Turned out "the cause" was a euphemism for the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary organization that over the course of nearly one hundred years has sought the unification of Ireland into a single state independent of Britain. It remains such a sensitive subject that I spent several minutes wording and re-wording that last sentence. And that ginger prick Mustaine just goes up in front of thousands of people and states his support for the IRA. In Northern Ireland. The audience rioted, and the band had to leave in a bulletproof bus. (The percentage of audience members who were actually IRA members or sympathizers rioting because he'd dedicated such a shit cover to them was never determined, but is thought to be substantial.)
Hence, "Fools like me/Who cross the sea." The More You Know.
The song itself is nothing less than outstanding. The name of the game is "Fretworks." Listen up as they light up the sky. Arguably Megadeth's most mesmerizing minutes on record, six and a half with no filler whatsoever. Precision can be acquired by years of practice, but emotion cannot. The transitions are dizzying and brilliant. The solos? Help me. Hold me. I do not know if my system can take it. I know I know, it's been 24 years damn near, but guys, I can't take that chance!
"Hangar 18"--Marty was brought on board after undergoing a process Mustaine calls "Rock School 101." He almost didn't get the chance to fail; when a mutual friend first suggested Friedman as a good fit for Megadeth, and showed Dave a picture of Marty, Mustaine took one look at his two-toned hair and said, in essence, "Get the fuck outta here." (That's what I call "Douchefuck 101.") Let's linger on that one for a few--Megadeth almost missed out on the best musician that's ever been in their ranks because of fucking hair dye.
Without Marty around to push Dave to God-level wankery, we would not have this glorious bastard of a guitar-gasm. "Hangar 18" contains no less than 500 solos, 492 of which are integral to the song (That is a 98.4% integrity rating!) You want more? Um…okay. "Hangar 18" received a Grammy nomination. That's good! It lost out to Metallica. That's bad! An underground hip hop duo named themselves after it. That's good! (Trust me, it is. The monosodium glutamate is what's bad.)
And without Nick Menza, we wouldn't have a song about an Air Force base that allegedly houses aliens retrieved from Roswell! Drummers, am I right? (Always said SY shoulda let Steve Shelley pen a tune or two....)
"Take No Prisoners"--Where we at? Someplace barren, surely, with no friendly faces for miles. Death by collapsed lung? Not heroic. Death by collapsed oil rig, that is the stuff of legend. Unfortunately, the choice is not yours.
What can you say about someone who zig-zags the battlefield beating up the soldiers who've been shot but didn't have the decency to die within a minute. Nastier than Ann Coulter's smegma, that's what.
The gang vocals are the inverse of intimidation, but that's a small matter.
"Five Magics"--Based on Lyndon Hardy's novel Master of the Five Magics. Alchemy is really the paramount magic here, pulsing and glowing a myriad of color combinations. Megadeth understand that it takes tremendous effort to get the results you desire; they could have easily named the song "Four Magicians." Each man contributes ingredients doled out in precise amounts, and if the measurements had been off by even a tiny bit, a masterpiece would have become a mess.
With a minute or so left, the book of spells catches fire. Whether by the tome's own volition or by the wizards own wands, I never could figure.
"Poison Was the Cure"--This one comes in just under three minutes, the first of which is spent brushing what few teeth it has left, but when the door opens up and the world is faced…good stuff, kids.
I won't be dishonest, as easily as "Cure" enticed me into its torrent, I could not understand a word (except the final two) for years and years. I guessed it was about drug addiction, an assumption that turned out correct. My second guess--cancer treatments--was not accurate, but as the book of my life has grown thicker, I find this misinterpretation hits home hardest. My third and final guess at what the hell Dave was talking about--healing a hangover with a sticky stack of sumptuous pancakes--was always the least likely but also my favorite. (1:35 seems to support this wild breakfast theory, as it sounds more like devouring a plate of crispy sausages swimming in a sea of crispier hash browns than any other piece of music I can remember.)
Life is hell--take hard drugs to feel better. Drug addiction is hell--take softer drugs to feel better. Simple!
Sobriety can be quite nice, if done well. Remember that poem? "I have chosen the path less vomited upon/And that has made all the difference." Lots of truth going on there.
"Lucretia"--There's a specter in the house, oh my God oh my God.
In context, "Lucretia" is a light-hearted romp. I'm sure that opening riff, bright and happy as a newborn babe being bounced on a friendly tummy, made erstwhile Megadeth member Kerry King quite displeased. (More so than usual, anyway.) Well fuck him and fuck his face. Best song about talking to your dead grandma's ghost since "YMCA."
"Tornado of Souls"--Dave's long-time co-dependent relationship was to credit/blame for a number of songs in the Megadeth catalog. By the time of RIP, the by-all-accounts toxic pairing had split up, and "Tornado of Souls" is the kiss-off. The rancorous attitude exuded here is to be expected, but Mustaine has enough venom for his ex and himself, and proves a harsh, ultimately fair, judge.
Marty Friedman kinda rules this one, though, no words required. His solo is legendary, and my word is not the one you have to take. After playback in the recording studio, Mustaine shook his friggin' hand in congratulations for being such a god of his chosen instrument. Metal fans all over the world marvel at it, whether they're just listeners in thrall or burgeoning musicians working their fingers to virtual disfigurement. It truly is an extension of the song itself, instead of just impressive wailing. Everything Dave didn't or couldn't say with mere words, Marty did it for him.
This song exhausts me. I'm grateful for that.
"Dawn Patrol"--I wonder how frequently Mustaine faps to the fact that he wrote a song about global warming in 1990. He probably listens to "Dawn Patrol" every time he gets down to business, and I'd bet "With the greenhouse in effect" is the line that gets him there without fail. I dunno if he sounds like a wizened talking head on the BBC when he climaxes, but that's what he sounds like here.
"Dawn Patrol" ain't nowhere near the shit-pack some fans proclaim. How can you not dig that loping baseline? Still…I can understand how a "sucking teeth" solo might lose some listeners.
"Rust In Peace…Polaris"--Ending your album perfectly is easier said than done. Megadeth did it, with the hardy epitome of the "take no prisoners" ethos. Exquisite aggression harnessed and steered. The world is being obliterated! Fuck yeah!
Gut-simple: if you crave mind-spinning fret-acrobatics in the service of actual songcraft, Rust In Peace will satisfy. Dave Mustaine looks at this music shit like a fist fight…and he not only has to win, but win big….for the first few rounds he was wasting blows to the back and shoulders. But at some point the corner got some words of wisdom through his addled brain and he emerged smarter and stronger, determined to make every blow land on the head or square to the chest. Poor schlub standing across from him never stood a chance.
(Warning: Of all the Megadeth remasters, Rust In Peace is far and away the most unnecessary. Thanks to misplaced master tracks, Dave had to re-record his vocals for "Take No Prisoners," and use so-called "B-takes" for "Five Magics," "Lucretia," and the title track. Furthermore, in keeping with the audio trends of the century, the compression makes me want to claw my ears off. The original is perfection. It is not rare. You can find it easily, and for relatively cheap. Just say no to "Lucas-ing.")
*This spot was almost filled by "Diamond" Darrell Abbott (still a few years away from renaming himself "Dimebag"). If the young enthusiastic Texan had not insisted his drummer brother Vinnie Paul be hired as well, the history of heavy music would have been altered profoundly. As future reviews in this series will attest.