King’s X: Ear Candy

earcandyI’ve been building up to this review with my recent run through the King’s X discography. This was the point where I left the band because I was incredibly disappointed with the album. Upon hearing that my good friend KEN thought this was a great album, I gave it another try many years after it came out, but my disappointment didn’t change. Now that Dig Me Out reviewed it, I’m giving it another chance.

I’m glad I did. Not because it’s great (it’s not), but because I can at least now hear what is good about it. First, though, here’s what I got right so many years ago. Everything’s quiet, muffled, and restrained on this album. It’s got one gear, and that’s kicked back. It ends up being very same-y. Laid back and monochromatic are not the reasons I go to King’s X. Now I can hear that a lot of this trouble lies in the production. There’s a spot in the middle of the third track, “Something,” where the guitars get more distorted and things crank up a notch, but only in timbre. There’s no corresponding crescendo, no speed up in the pace, and, worst of all, just no fullness of sound. Likewise, there’s a slew of relatively heavy tracks in the middle of the album, from “Looking For Love” to “67,” and while the songs are good, they just don’t rawk.

Once you get past those problems, though, you find there are some good songs. They’ve still got songwriting and performance chops, they’re just going with a bluesier, more roots-rock feel here. That’s a fine choice, and not an accident, but the choice to make the production reflect that choice, even for the parts of the songs that don’t call for that treatment, that’s just flat out a mistake. Furthermore, to enjoy this, you’ve got to overlook the silly song titles “(Thinking And Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do,” “Looking For Love,” “Life Goes By”) as well as things like the trudging repetitiveness of “A Box” and “Lies In The Sand (The Ballad Of…)” and enjoy what those songs can bring you. So, in an unusual twist for a roots album, this rewards closer listening far more than background listening. And as long as you don’t let the obvious flaws color your impression of the rest of the album, it’s pretty good.

Mix: “Picture”
– “The Train,” “(Thinking And Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do,” “Sometime,” “Looking For Love,” “Mississippi Moon,” “67,” “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto),” “Life Goes By”
– “A Box,” “Lies In The Sand (The Ballad Of…),” “Run,” “Fathers”
Filed Between: King’s X’s Dogman and KISW Rock 99.9 FM HFL4 sampler
Song Notes: After the jump
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Ministry: Psalm 69

psalm69And finally we arrive at the summit. Here is Ministry at the height of their powers. Everything they’ve done since Twitch has led directly here. The guitar riffs are punishing. The vocals are brutally aggressive, desolate, and apocalyptical. It’s all awesome, but the most impressive aspect of all of it is the production. The sound of each element (and they are plentiful) is perfect and unique among the contemporary sonic landscape, and they all sound perfectly together. Each part plays its vital role but no more and you end up with a holistic masterpiece greater than the sum of its parts, which would have been a hefty sum on its own.

In 1992 the world was finally ready for this. You can, of course, give Nirvana a huge amount of credit for that (even though this sounds nothing like Nirvana), but I think Nirvana’s breakthrough was in large part due to bands like Ministry building up, ready to be awesome at this point, too. There had to be an underground ready to embrace Nirvana and catapult them into the mainstream, and Ministry did a lot of work to build that. When the CD-buying public was ready for something different because they liked the Hello Hello song, Ministry had put in the preparation to meet that opportunity that they themselves helped create. It’s all a virtuous cycle, he said.

The biggest problem with this album is “Scarecrow,” and not just that it’s the worst song on the album and that it’s too long at 8:41. But more that they almost center the album around it. It’s the first song on side two and is the big pivot from the more conventional (only relative to side two) songs of side one and the more architectural sonic experiments of side two. It works at breaking up the album, but something like the next song, “Psalm 69,” while being a stronger contrast with “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” the last song on side one, would probably be a better transition. “Scarecrow” just takes too much wind out of your sails at that point. It sounds great, just like everything else, but it’s an eminently skippable track.

And once you skip it, you’ve got a damned near perfect album. It is the exemplar of industrial metal as a genre. Nobody put together samples, guitar, and drum machines this perfectly before or after…even “Scarecrow” sounds awesome. The genre had to die after this album because you couldn’t do any more with it. Ministry did in fact kind of die after this. They took an awfully long time to get their next album out and, along with being met with poor reviews, the world had moved on by that time. I’ve never even heard it…I think I didn’t want to ruin this experience.

Mix: “Just One Fix,” “TV II,” “Jesus Built My Hotrod,” “Corrosion”
– “N.W.O.,” “Hero,” “Psalm 69,” “Grace”
– “Scarecrow”
Filed Between: Ministry’s The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste and Minnesota Modern Rock Volume I (93.7 FM The Edge Sampler)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Xbox Music Playlist Review: Fantasy Metal: Unleash Your Inner Wizard

No, really, Xbox Music found 21 songs to put into a playlist in the “genre” of “fantasy metal.” And, yeah, it’s pretty much what you would expect. Knights, dragons, swords, an unusual amount of hammers…not sure what the obsession with hammers is. And, yeah, it’s pretty much as cheesy and silly as you’d expect, too. Spinal Tap lives…and how. I mean, God, do we really need this much fantasy metal? How many wanky guitar solos about evil demons can there be? This is what’s always bugged me about fantasy anyway, every thing is the superlativest of whatever it is, until the next chapter or book or whatever. And through it all I’m supposed to pretend like it’s common knowledge whether a wraith can defeat a ghoul or vice-versa.

There’s no innuendo here. I mean if a fantasy metal band writes a song called “Cloak Of Feathers,” it’s about a cloak of fucking feathres.

Clearly the sound of fantasy metal is cheesy synth on the guits and drums that sound like (or maybe even are) drum machines. That’s their clarion call…how you know you’re listening to fantasy metal, because otherwise I guess you wouldn’t know you were listening to fast, heavy drums and guitars playing a song about a ring broken into shards.

Still, some of the songs are pretty good…just don’t expect me to admit to that around girls.

  1. Valley Of The Damned – Dragonforce – A full heart may be generous. It’s damned good at times but, like so much here, suffers from bouts of cheesiness. But, man, this is mostly sweet.
  2. Cloak Of Feathers – The Sword – Has a vintage 70’s Dio-kind of feel to it, but a little better. Definitely worth holding on to this band as one I want to hear more of, so making full even though it’s a bit too long for it’s own good. But for “fantasy metal,” shit, it’s an exercise in self-restraint.
  3. 7 Days To The Wolves – Nightwish – It’s like some bizarro hip hop strings got in there somehow. pretty good, though. borderline full. ah hell, maybe i’ll keep it full cuz maybe i’ll want to listen to it later.
  4. Demonheart – Luca Turilli – here we’re much more in Dio territory and things start to get much more mediocre. there’s some cheesy carmina burana/operation:mindcrime vox that don’t end up working. Pretty sure this is a drum machine…too artificial.
  5. Sacrimony (Angel Of Afterlife) – Kamelot – meh. mostly inoffensive, but mostly boring and trope-filled. The top search result for “sacrimony” is urban dictionary, then a bunch of links for this song. I love how we’re just making up medieval-sounding names for s**t now. I don’t need this. It adds no value to the universe. At least that mopey horror movie montage thing near the end is unique.
  6. Any Means Necessary – Hammerfall – The chorus is ridic stupid, like so many in this playlist, but the rest of it is redeeming enough to warrant an open heart.
  7. The Sunk’n Norwegian – Alestorm – This sucks. What’s the point of that apostrophe? It’s still a syllabic “n”. God it makes me so angry that somebody made this.
  8. Another Strange Me – Blind Guardian – reminiscent of W.A.S.P.’s “The Real Me.” Is it supposed to be “Another Stranger Me”? Yes. Totally sounds like W.A.S.P. But that’s a good song and this one has its moments.
  9. Trollshaws – Battlelore – fucking flute. Jesus Christ, do these bands realize they’re fucking cliches? switches back and forth from growly cookie monster vox to a harpsichord synth/flute part. i actually kinda dig the growly part. Oh then after the second chorus they bring in a piano sound. They just can’t leave well enough alone. Then a goddmaned pan flute. Jesus, have some fucking pride.
  10. On The Morning Dew – Elvenking – they’re fucking called Elvenking. fucking renfest shit. These fairies start right off with the pan flute and lute shit. The album cover shows a fucking elvenking. Fucking elvenking. Because what, Led Zeppelin didn’t mine this genre enough? Christ.
  11. I Am The Night, Colour Me Black – Priestess – first band I’ve heard of. No, I think I’ve heard of Dragonforce and The Sword. Kind of Motorhead-ish. Almost Kyuss-y, but without the major fuzz on the guitars. Not quite as catchy as those bands. Full heart because there’s not so much going on in these.
  12. Knights Of Taragon – Freedom Call – Freedom Call…what is this a fucking tea party band? Got that cheesy horn synth sound you expect to hear at an NBA game. Kinda good, actually, without that guitar as horn MIDI controller, but argh that’s a black mark on it. Oh god, here comes the bridge. That sucks, too.
  13. Reign Of Terror – Rhapsody Of Fire – really, that’s their name? Have this as “at least open” but it’s really growing on me. there’s a bohemian rhapsody thing going on. Love that synth sound at about 4:10. But there’s no way I can make this full.
  14. Phoenix Down -The Unguided – I’ve heard this five or six times now and never notice it.
  15. Quest For The Hammer Of Glory – Gloryhammer – how meta. Oh god these lyrics suck. second hammer-based band name. Is a gloryhammer something that goes in a gloryhole?
  16. The Things We Believe In – Orden Ogan – stupid. Trope after trope and no passion. Fantasy metal by numbers.
  17. Black Templar – Legion Of The Damned – fast. deathy growl vox. I don’t really notice this much, either, but it’s so different from the rest and really pretty cool (you hardly notice the lyrics) that I kinda dig it.
  18. Holy War – Iron Mask – back to the cheesy synth sounding guitar. i don’t hate this.
  19. Zenith – Huntress – i think the chorus salvages this.
  20. At The Gates Of Morken – Fairyland – seriously, Fairyland. And yet it’s one of the better songs on here. A full heart is generous , but that’s how I do when I just have one song to go on for a band. And this does have some really cool parts. But, good god, Fairyland.
  21. Seawitch And The Sorcerer – Kivimetsän Druidi – This sucks because she’s doing some kind of operatic thing and so the ridic fast drummer behind her is produced into the backround b/c I guess they don’t want to rock over that vocal. I really don’t care for the strained vocal, like why bother, but I do find myself bobbing my head along to this at times. Cool, retro guitar riffs that would make Testament proud. Bordering open/broken.

– “Valley Of The Damned” (Dragonforce), “Cloak Of Feathers” (The Sword), “7 Days To The Wolves” (Nightwish), “I Am The Night, Colour Me Black” (Priestess), “At The Gates Of Morken” (Fairyland)
– “Demonheart” (Luca Turilli), “Any Means Necessary” (Hammerfall), “Another Stranger Me” (Blind Guardian), “Trollshaws” (Battlelore), “Knights Of Taragon” (Freedom Call), “Reign Of Terror” (Rhapsody Of Fire), “Black Templar” (Legion Of The Damned), “Holy War” (Iron Mask), “Zenith” (Huntress), “Seawitch And The Sorcerer” (Kivimetsän Druidi)
– “Sacrimony” (Kamelot), “The Sunk’n Norwegian” (Alestorm), “Quest For The Hammer Of Glory” (Gloryhammer), ” On The Morning Dew” (Elvenking), “Phoenix Down” (The Unguided), “The Things We Believe In” (Orden Ogan)

King’s X: Dogman

dogmanFor a nice change of pace, here’s an album I don’t want to review because I don’t want to move on from it. Partly because the album is damned near perfect (take off the draggy “Flies And Blue Skies” and it would be five clowns) but partly because I know the next album in King’s X’s discography is Ear Candy, and that’s the last King’s X album I ever listened to because it was such a huge disappointment to me coming on the heels of King’s X and this disc.

Dogman is a pretty big departure from the rest of the band’s catalog. While they had been doing the drop-D tuning thing for a while, here they dive right into more of a full-on grunge feel. A less-bluesy Jerry Cantrell-style guitar is the centerpiece of the album, but the songs are rougher, rawer, not quite as soaringly constructed (if that makes sense) as their previous albums. This one just feels dirtier (song titles include “Black The Sky,” “Cigarettes” and “Go To Hell”), and in a really good, satisfying way. Like it hits your gut more than your head, though it’s cerebral as hell, too.

I’m not sure why this album wasn’t huge, because it’s got all the catchy, strong elements of its predecessors and does an adequate job of shedding the religious sheen that might have turned people off earlier in their discography. Maybe people thought they were jumping on the grunge bandwagon. I don’t think they were…the band has always said they were unhappy with the sound Sam Taylor gave them and wanted a heavier sound. (Notably, Brendan O’Brien, one of the banes of my existence based on his destruction of all that was good in Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen, produced this album. Probably his best output by far.) My guess is that by 1994 we were starting to see some grunge backlash, and besides, they just didn’t look like guitar-rock gods. Drummer Jerry Gaskill always looked like an aging Rush roadie, and Doug Pinnick, well, there aren’t a whole lot of really successful guitar-oriented bands fronted by a black man playing bass.

Fuck, though, this is such an amazing album.

Mix: “Black The Sky,” “Sunshine Rain,” “Complain,” “Go To Hell”
– “Dogman,” “Shoes,” “Pretend,” “Fool You,” “Don’t Care,” “Human Behavior,” “Cigarettes,” “Pillow,” “Manic Depression”
– “Flies And Blue Skies”
Filed Between: King’s X’s King’s X and Ear Candy
Song Notes: After the jump
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The Auteurs: Now I’m A Cowboy

nowimacowboyAccording to Wikipedia, these guys got lumped in with Britpop and resented it. And, yeah, that seems about right to me. They’re unapologetically British, singing in a full-on, breathy British accent and playing guitars that, while distorted, have an air of gentility about them. But this is pretty clearly a cut above the direct British-in-your-face of Oasis or Blur.

“Modern History” is a great exemplar of the album. It takes a long time to get going and for the first half of the song I’m flirting with making it a broken heart. But by the end it’s built up so well and engaged me so fully that I want to make it a full heart. And it ends up being open because it’s just so hard to justify a full heart based on about half of a song.

The songwriting’s excellent, if a bit reliant on one particular method, and the instrumentation is subtly masterful, giving the songs more variety than they would have otherwise. Bandleader Luke Haines is justifiably enamored with his ability to bring a slow, quiet song to a boil so imperceptibly a frog wouldn’t jump out midway through, but it’s employed a bit too often over these tracks. Thankfully, though, he adds color with some bells here, some keys there, some strings throughout, and some gross-sounding guitar that comes out of nowhere and lasts for just one beat…these little touches end up being the highlight of this album, the main reason it stands above the Britpop crowd.

The lead guitarist (also Haines?) is also killer when he’s allowed to be. He really shines on the album’s two biggest rockers: “I’m A Rich Man’s Toy” and “New French Girlfriend.”

I could do with a bit less British-ness on these tracks. I’d prefer a little more American biker bar rawness, mainly because I know they can get there. I also know they can pull it back and make it distinctly their own, so let loose a bit more guys. You’ve really got something here.

Mix: “New French Girlfriend,” “Chinese Bakery”
– “Lenny Valentino,” “I’m A Rich Man’s Toy,” “The Upper Classes,” “Underground Movies,” “Life Classes/Life Model,” “Daughter Of A Child”
– “A Sister Like You,” “Modern History”
– “Brainchild”
Filed Between: Murray Attaway (In Thrall) and Babe The Blue Ox (People)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Ministry: In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up

incaseyoudidntfeellikeshowing upI didn’t really know about this live album of Ministry’s until very recently. (Great title.) But the cover picture looks really familiar, probably because I saw the VHS tape in record stores…it was a perfect setup for them to have this in stores when their next album became a big hit and they were the penultimate band in the lineup of Lollapalooza.

I don’t expect much from live albums, but this is incredible. I can’t believe it’s not more popular…can’t believe I’m only recently finding out about it. At only six songs it’s a bit edited down from the concert where it was recorded, but it’s still a pretty full album as some of the tracks are quite long. It takes three songs from The Land Of Rape And Honey and three from The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, the two albums that directly preceded this one. Five of those six were full hearts in their original form and, amazingly, they’re all full hearts here as well.

Beyond just picking good songs, what makes this live album work where so many fail? For one, there’s virtually no banter or crowd noise, no wanky guitar or drum solos, and where the songs do extend beyond their studio album length, it’s with energy and it’s tightly-knit. Ministry is very much a studio band but they were able to take all their samples and loops and precise rhythms into a live venue and only have it changed in a way that was rawer and more energetic. That comes through on this recording, and reminds me of Ministry shows from their Psalm 69 days.

You don’t get a ton more here than you would get from the two studio albums that provide the source material (though “Stigmata” gets a significant and worthy facelift), it’s just that it’s different (in a good way) and that the song selection mainlines some of their best, most energetic stuff right into your veins. Exactly what a live album should be. (Again, can’t believe they were doing this in 1990. So precocious.)

Mix: “Thieves,” “Stigmata”
– “The Missing,” “Deity,” “So What,” “Burning Inside”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Front End Loader: Front End Loader

frontendloaderIt’s been a while since I’ve been introduced to a band that I liked as much as this one. This is the Australia band’s 1993 debut, and it bodes well for the rest of their career (still chugging along as far as I can tell) that it’s so good. It’s 14 wonderful tracks of gritty pop punk with clever lyrics that reminds me of Seaweed and All at its most melodic and D.R.I. at its thrashiest. Full of energy and hooks, this is a wonder to listen to. Most songs are about two minutes long and there’s no way this thing is over much more than 35 minutes.

The main criticism I have is the sound, but that may be an artifact of these being MP3s on Xbox Music instead of a CD because the distortion due to high levels is so egregious and not in the loudness wars stylistic way that’s so popular right now, that I can’t believe it was actually released sounding like that. The only other thing I think is weird is that they put the four worst songs right at the top of the album. They’re still pretty good songs, it’s just weird that the album only really gets going with the first two mixers at tracks five and seven and then really comes down the home stretch strongly at track ten. Not sure if it’s even a bad choice, just an odd one.

Mix: “Furthest Place Away,” “Really Major Melody,” “Sniffy,” “Me To Know,” “All Star Jam”
– “I.G.,” “Puppy Love,” “My Side,” “Helicopter,” “Fucking Great,” “Bad Blood,” “Fraid Knot,” “Cheers”
– “Weak As Piss”
Song Notes: After the jump
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