King’s X: King’s X

kingsxWho makes their fourth album their self-titled album and who puts the first single from that album ninth? King’s X, but who cares, because this album is freaking amazing from top to bottom. I bought this album back in the day, entirely based on MTV’s airplay of “Black Flag,” and it’s a totally awesome disc with no bad songs on it. I keep thinking things like that are going to happen if I just keep buying CDs. But it’s like I got spoiled and bought a ton of CDs back when most of them were awesome, and now that they’re not, well, it’s not just the convenience of digital files that made CDs obsolete. Somewhere along the line things started sucking.

The band is in peak form here. There’s nothing to complain about. Doug Pinnick’s voice is amazingly strong, and guitarist Ty Tabor’s solos are an asset as opposed to the liability they were on earlier albums. And the production is flawless. It’s kind of crazy that they parted ways with Sam Taylor after this album, since it sounds amazing. But if I do have one complaint, it’s that the music does get a little soft in parts (“Dream In My Life,” which ranges from super lame to super heavy is the perfect example of this), and they were reportedly unhappy that he could never make them as heavy on disc as they were live. But there is plenty of heavy on here.

Rating:
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Mix: “The World Around Me,” “Chariot Song”
– “Prisoner,” “The Big Picture,” “Lost In Germany,” “Black Flag,” “Ooh Song,” “Not Just For The Dead,” “Dream In My Life,” “Silent Wind”
– “What I Know About Love”
Filed Between: King’s X’s Faith Hope Love and Dogman
Song Notes: After the jump
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April Smith And The Great Picture Show: Songs For A Sinking Ship

610MyJ4GbcLWell here’s an anachronism. April Smith And The Great Picture Show is hard to describe, but not because their sound is esoteric or unfamiliar. On the contrary, it’s quite familiar, but from another era, except maybe from an era that never existed…a combination of eras past. Smith’s voice is bold and strong, something that wouldn’t be all that common until Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, though of course notable exceptions like Bessie Smith were killing it decades earlier. And in a lot of ways, this does hearken back to the 20’s and 30’s. The name of the band and the picture of the Titanic on the cover don’t hurt, nor does the instrumentation (including upright bass, ukulele, horns, and strings, along with the Mellotron and Rhodes that would come later but evoke so much retro today it’s hard to place them in their correct time), but the real placement in time comes from Smith’s presentation. If I may, it’s a bit of a je ne sais quoi, but she’s got a real style of showmanship and presentation that’s very old-timey and glamorous in a way that predates mass media.

The lyrics are clever and, again, if I may, sassy. From “Drop Dead Gorgeous”: “Cuz if you’re just drop dead gorgeous/Then you should just drop dead.” From “Stop Wondering”: “If you ever wonder/If I’m dreaming of you/Then you can stop.” But she also spends some time reaching back to an older time on songs like the war-era-esque “Colors” (“I’ll wear your colors my dear/’Till you’re standing right here”), “Dixie Boy,” and “Wow And Flutter.”

For most of its run, this one-of-a-kind album kind of flirts with being too precious, but Smith owns these songs and delivers them in such a confident manner, that it just works, maybe even better than it should. How wonderful to hear an artist go out on a limb with a unique voice and have it succeed so brilliantly. Neo-folk, my ass; unless April Smith is leading the vanguard, you’re doing it wrong.

Rating:
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Mix: “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” “Colors,” “Stop Wondering”
– “Movie Loves A Screen,” “Terrible Things,” “Can’t Say No,” “Dixie Boy,” “Wow And Flutter”
– “The One That Got Away,” “Beloved”
– “What’ll I Do”
Filed Between: Smile Empty Soul (“Bottom Of A Bottle” b/w “Every Sunday” promotional CD) and Elliott Smith (Either/Or)
Song Notes: After the jump

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Ministry: The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste

themindisaterriblethingtotasteWell, this album is as I remember it. Mostly. What I remember is that this is a very difficult listen. It’s relentless with exactly two gears. You’ve got the non-stop assault of seven of the nine tracks which are made up of distorted guitar at ear-piercing frequencies, sampled instruments as well as dialogue samples used both for effect and for the vocal parts, and lots of shouting. The second gear is a slower, spookier mood and used exclusively on and as the exclusive mood of “Cannibal Song” and “Dream Song.”

But there’s a lot I discovered here for the first time. The most pleasant and most surprising surprise was “Test,” which I think I probably wrote off as the rap song in high school but is now my favorite song on here. The Public Enemy-style rap is throughout, and ends up being a bit of a third gear on the album as the song where non-shouting or dialogue-spoken vocals are given an emphasis.

Another big surprise was that, amid the relentless assault of quantized guitars and samples, there is some relenting. There are verses, choruses, bridges, guitar solos…there is structure beyond a four- to eight-bar repetition that gives your mind some reprieve. And the sophistication of the soundscape is amazing. It’s amazing that this came out in the 80’s. I knew Ministry was a band that was forging their own path, but it’s amazing just how out in front of everybody they were.

I don’t find this quite as enjoyable as its predecessor, but in most ways it’s obviously better. It’s a hard one to get into, requiring a very specific mood where you have to be ready to meet it head on. When you’re there, though, it’s a very impressive piece of craftsmanship.

Rating:
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Mix: “Thieves,” “Burning Inside,” “Test”
– “Never Believe,” “Dream Song”
– “Cannibal Song,” “Breathe,” “So What,” “Faith Collapsing”
Filed Between: Ministry’s The Land Of Rape And Honey and Psalm 69
Song Notes: After the jump
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Playlist Review: Xbox Music Heavy Metal Showdown – Classic vs. New

Okay, Xbox Music, I’ll play along with the title of your playlist. Which is better, “classic” metal or “new” metal? A 30-song playlist with 15 each from either side. Let’s count how many places in each rating category:

Classic: Mix – 3, Full – 4, Open – 8, Broken – 0
New: Mix – 0, Full – 5, Open – 5, Broken – 3

So pretty clearly classic rules the day with seven that are full hearts or higher with no brokens, compared to five and three, respectively.

One thing that surprised me was how much new metal relies on certain sounds to signify that it’s, you know, metal, and metal from after 1992, at that. In particular, the sound of the vocals and guitars is very distinctive, even if the sound and the song aren’t that heavy. As if to say that, you know, even if we’re not really rocking it here, we’re announcing our tribal allegiance with the reverb on the voice and guitar.

I also don’t agree with a lot of their picks for each artist. Guns N’ Roses, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Testament all have better songs they could have chosen. And I may have elevated rankings based on knowing I like the band’s larger catalog. So maybe they made the same mistakes picking for new where I am not familiar with the artists as much. Who knows? Though there I did elevate some from open to full if it seemed like a band I’d probably want to hear more of.

  1. War Pigs/Luke’s Wall – Black Sabbath – love this so much but can’t see mixing it now.
  2. You’re Not Alone – Of Mice & Men – borderline broken due to derivativeness in tone and composition and bad sound but will give bennie of doubt because if I don’t pay attention I can handle it. [loudness wars].
  3. Living After Midnight – Judas Priest – Judas Priest was so passe back when I was in high school. They still seem mostly thuddy to me. Yet they’ve enjoyed quite a resurgence in reverence awarded them as like the iconic metal band. Part of which is so weird now that Rob Halford is out and his fans back in the day would not have stood for that. Anyway, I can’t quite tease out how I feel about them. This song’s crazy catchy.
  4. Paradise (What About Us?) (feat. Tarja) – Hydra – Holy compression. This isn’t distorted, but it does lack dynamics. Cheesy, overdone. I feel like metal bands with female singers always fit into the narrow valkyrie thing going on here, but maybe that’s just my way of saying I don’t like it.
  5. Ace Of Spades – Motorhead – classic
  6. Hail To The King – Avenged Sevenfold – not bad but kind of a played out guitar riff. I think these guys basically exist to write songs that are fun to play on Rock Band.
  7. Holy Diver – Dio – Here’s another artist that is now totally revered where they were a joke 20 years ago. I’m even more squeamish about letting this be a real thing than I am about Judas Priest. I can hear why this is a classic of the genre, but I’ve heard this imitated too many ways to Sunday…I can’t like it…but maybe I can tolerate it.
  8. Here To Die – Five Finger Death Punch – the first of the new metal songs I really like. But I guess there have only been two really good classic ones up until this point.
  9. Eruption – Van Halen – Called it “like” in this review. Best thing about it is the echo…the sound of the guitar.
  10. Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel – Behemoth – The first deathy one. Those always take a bit for me but I’m warming up to it quite a bit.
  11. Metal Health (Bang Your Head) – Quiet Riot – Now I can hear how this is a worse song than “Holy Diver,” but I have such fond memories of being so young and loving this. So, guilty pleasure or whatever, but I love it, or at least the way I feel when I listen to it. Or is it “Come On Feel The Noise” I love so much? I think it is. Well this still gives me warm fuzzies. What a great album cover.
  12. Violence (Enough Is Enough) – A Day To Remember – screamy. but pretty good. especially before it gets to that chest pound with about one minute remaining.
  13. Round And Round – Ratt – again, warm fuzzies with this one, but I think this is just a really good song.
  14. No Way To Heal – Trivium – More of that Dream Theater accented-rapid-fire riff like we had with Avenged Sevenfold above. This is significantly better.
  15. Symphony Of Destruction (2004 Remaster) – Megadeth – The beginning of the end for Megadeth. Just such a lame song for what was a once very powerful band. Slow, boring.
  16. Blood – In This Moment – oh the melodrama. So much “I hate you” and for being overloved. God what a cliche. It’s awesome how they move from the verse to the chorus, but that’s the only good thing about this.
  17. Raining Blood – Slayer – I don’t think this is Slayer’s best song, but it’s pretty sweet.
  18. Going To Hell – The Pretty Reckless – This is the “don’t bless me father for I have sinned” whisper. God this is melodramatic and dumb. Great line: “For the ways that I hurt when I’m hiking up my skirt.”
  19. Cowboys From Hell – Pantera – Before Phil Anselmo turned into a total f**k. Worst fans ever (EVER) at concerts were Pantera fans. I’m pretty sure they all had miserable lives. Pantera was the only thing that understood them. But gawd this album had so much awesomeness on it.
  20. Sleepwalking – Bring Me The Horizon – sounds emo. not too bad.
  21. Madhouse – Anthrax – From Spreading The Disease, which I reviewed here and had this as keep.
  22. Spike In My Veins – Korn – Gee, with a title like that, I wonder if this is about drugs? why not just call it “Shooting Heroin.” Not a very good song, pretty boring, but harmless.
  23. Practice What You Preach – Testament – Along with a few others (e.g., “Madhouse”), just an odd choice for a band. Definitely not my favorite song of theirs. Pretty meh.
  24. Do Me A Favor – Stone Sour – pretty boring. And that opening riff is so derivative of…who? Green Day? I think I’m giving this open because I’m in a good mood.
  25. Black Metal – Venom – These guys are revered. But I’m not that into this song. It sounds terrible, too.
  26. In Due Time – Killswitch Engage – There’s that new metal sound, with the clean reverb on the voice in the chorus. And I find the switch between those vox, which feel fake, and the screaminess, which feels fake in a different way, very disconcerting. But clearly that’s the code that young metalheads are listening for. Still, this has some pretty sweet riffs. I might bump it up to full.
  27. Refuse/Resist – Sepultura – Again, this band has better songs. Where he sings. This is a little too much just beat you over the head with shouting.
  28. The Hangman’s Body Count – Volbeat – I was super pumped about this at one point, but now it just fits in with the other new metal stuff. The guitar at the beginning is a drag, but I like his voice. Guit could be brought to fore more in verses/chorus. I think since it’s just the one song I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and call this full.
  29. Nighttrain – Guns N’ Roses – you could have picked anything from this album. I don’t even think of it as metal, just think of it as “right”.
  30. Freak Like Me – Halestorm – save the worst for last. Like The Pretty Reckless and In This Moment but without their somewhat redeeming characteristics. I hate this song but love Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild” even though they’re cut from the same cloth. Biggest difference is I was young for the earlier anthem, and I’m old for this one. Another difference is that there’s an “other,” an enemy in “Youth Gone Wild” we’re rebelling against. This is just freaks gathering to wave their flag together. Which, I don’t know, you’d think I’d be into that, too. But I guess an anthem for freaks seems dumb whereas an anthem for rebellion seems appropriate.

Mix: “Ace Of Spaces” (Motorhead), “Cowboys From Hell” (Pantera), “Nighttrain” (Guns N’ Roses)
– “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall” (Black Sabbath), “Here To Die” (Five Finger Death Punch), “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” (Behemoth), “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)”, (Quiet Riot), “Violence (Enough Is Enough)” (A Day To Remember), “Round And Round” (Ratt), “No Way To Heal” (Trivium), “Raining Blood” (Slayer), “The Hangman’s Body Count” (Volbeat)
– “You’re Not Alone” (Of Mice & Men), “Living After Midnight” (Judas Priest), “Hail To The King” (Avenged Sevenfold), “Holy Diver” (Dio), “Eruption” (Van Halen), “Symphony Of Destruction (2004 Remaster)” (Megadeth), “Blood” (In This Moment), “Sleepwalking” (Bring Me The Horizon), “Madhouse” (Anthrax), “Spike In My Veins” (Korn), “Practice What You Preach” (Testament), “Black Metal” (Venom), “Do Me A Favor” (Stone Sour), “In Due Time” (Killswitch Engage), “Refuse/Resist” (Sepultura)
– “Paradise (What About Us?) (feat. Tarja)” (Hydra), “Going To Hell” (The Pretty Reckless), “Freak Like Me” (Halestorm)

King’s X: Faith Hope Love

King's_X_Faith_Hope_LoveKing’s X fully arrives on their third album, with pretty much start-to-finish awesomeness. The guitar solos are no longer liabilities as they were on Gretchen Goes To Nebraska. The songs are tighter, faster, and all around even better

There’s plenty of Rush influence as they toy with rhythm patterns that don’t repeat and some very long jam songs. “Moanjam” is over six minutes and the title track is over nine. Not only that, they both work really well, as everything that’s said is interesting and fresh…the band don’t indulge to the point of boring their listener.

One of the things that’s always confused me is how resistant Doug Pinnick was to being labeled a Christian band. Now, I know that plenty of his lyrics do seem to question some of the central beliefs of Christianity, but here, on the album where they had their first big hit (“It’s Love” got a ton of MTV airplay, at least on shows like Headbanger’s Ball and 120 Minutes), there’s hardly any skepticism to go along with the adoration. Let’s take a trip through some of these songs, shall we?

  • I’ll Never Get Tired Of You – Probably the sappiest love song lyrics ever written, and it’s about God.
  • Moanjam – “I sing this song because of you/You’re the story”
  • I Can’t Help It – “So then a mark is left a feeling of some type of relief/And then the laughter comes reinforcing my belief”
  • Everywhere I Go – “Everywhere I go I see you”

And then there’s the pro-life (I wouldn’t say anti-choice, it seems very personal) song “Legal Kill,” and then you put a bible verse in the liner notes (“…the greatest of these is love”) and really…you cannot be surprised you get mistaken for a Christian band.

Best. Christian band. Ever. This album rocks.

Rating:
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Mix: “It’s Love”
– “We Are Finding Who We Are,” “The Fine Art Of Friendship,” “Mr. Wilson,” “Moanjam,” “Six Broken Soldiers,” “Talk To You,” “We Were Born To Be Loved,” “Faith Hope Love”
– “I’ll Never Get Tired Of You,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Everywhere I Go,” “Legal Kill”
Filed Between: King’s X’s Out Of The Silent Planet and King’s X
Song Notes: After the jump
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Daniele Luppi: Malos Habitos

120_largeAnother movie score for the Ipecac record label. This one is from Daniele Luppi, who would gain a lot of attention the following year for his collaboration with Danger Mouse.

I definitely get a Naked Lunch (“I can think of at least two things wrong with that title”) vibe out of this one with its slow, thematic work and sparse instrumentation. It’s mostly strings and piano (“Flan Paraiso” brings in like a bandoneon or something and then just a bowed cello for a nice change of pace), and the three or so main themes are heavily repeated: the “Gordibuena” theme is the basis for at least five of these 20 tracks. None of it is bad, though some of it is uninspired (“Tercera Penitencia”, “Cumpli”) and I’m quite tired of some of the themes by the end of the album.

The first half of this is much better than the end, in part due to that theme fatigue, but also because it does just lose inspiration. The album starts quite nicely with the introduction of the two main themes, and then the best stretch is tracks six to 11 where you get four full hearts and the rich “Primera Y Segunda Pentiencia.”

It’s quite enjoyable, and due to the rich strings and lack of vocals it’s good working music, but I don’t think I’ll be reaching for this one very much.

Rating:
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– “Flan Paraiso,” “Primera Y Segunda Penitencia,” “Gordibuena (Amor Despues Del Desamor),” “Casarse Con Dios,” “Quinta Penitencia”
– “Despues Del Desamor,” “Malos Habitos, Titulos (Primer Milagro),” “Gordibuena,” “Lluvia,” “Malas Noticias,” “Tercera Penitencia,” “La Lluvia No Para,” “Cuarta Penitencia Y Segundo Milagro,” “Cumpli,” “Comunion,” “Gordibuena (Reprise),” “Malas Noticias (Reprise),” “Gordibuena (2nd Reprise),” “Malos Habitos, Titulos (Ultimo Milagro),” “Gordibuena (Piano Solo)”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

The Stereo: Three Hundred (Japanese Import)

stereo_threehundred_coverNo review because friend.

Rating:
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Mix: “Devotion,” “She Would Never,” “You’ve Got Some Nerve,” “Ramona,” “Dance To This!,” “There Goes My Mouth Again”
– “Three Hundred,” “Count On Me,” “Drop Everything,” “Divine,” “Waiting For This Moment (Demo Version),” “Took Away (Demo Version)”
– “Please Try To Understand,” “Problems,” “You Can’t Go Home”
Filed Between: The Stereo’s Three Hundred and New Tokyo Is Calling
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading