The Screaming Jets: All For One

allforone

The Screaming Jets are an Australian band that, whatever their current line up, was a quintet in 1991. Despite thoroughly enjoying this album, I haven’t followed the band closely since then, though it seems they’re still at least somewhat active. In 1991 the music industry knew something was going crazy with guitar-driven bands, so they threw everything at the wall. As a result it’s become kind of a golden age of everything that was even halfway good at the time.

This is much better than halfway good, but it also wasn’t what was about to be everything. It’s very straightforward, melodic hard rock. The closest approximation from that time that springs to mind is The Black Crowes, but this isn’t as bluesy. So even though they seem to have had a continued presence in Australia, it’s no surprise that their stateside representation lost interest pretty quickly after this didn’t blow up right away. I’ve heard that Australian bands are more insulated from the fickle whims and trends that devour entire genres overnight in the US and UK, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they’re still very much the same band.

The most notable deficiency of the album is that it ends with what are pretty much its two weakest songs. No matter, the rest of the album more than makes up for it. The best track, by far, is “Blue Sashes,” which, with its first-person tale of the Vietnam war (“lay Charlie clean/…/we’re gonna get those commies and mow ’em all down”) brings out all the ugly jingoism I never knew I had in an incredible burst of exuberance. It’s hard for me to believe that was the intended effect…maybe it’s like a “Born In The U.S.A.” thing where I’m completely misreading it. Regardless, the song rocks, as does pretty much all of this album.

Rating:
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Mix: “Blue Sashes”
Really Like:
“Better,” “No Point,” “Sister Tease”
Like: 
“C’mon,” “Needle,” “Shine On,” “Starting Out,” “Stop The World,” “The Only One”
Meh: “Got It”
Filed Between: Probably The Screaming Jets’ “F.R.C.” cassette single and Screaming Trees’ Invisible Lantern
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Batushka: Litourgiya

litourgiya

The first thing you hear on Batushka’s Litourgiya is a few bell chimes, very similar to those that launch Faith No More’s ferocious “Surprise! You’re Dead!” Here, though, I think the reference is the bells that Eastern European monks would ring. I have no idea if that’s right, but the clues are the album cover art and the fact that there is a significant amount of liturgical chant, often over double-kick and churning guitars, throughout the album. (The bells also lead off tracks three and five.)

The main reason I have no idea what’s really going on here is because Batushka is a Polish ensemble singing in possibly either Russian or Old Slavian (though I’m not sure that’s even a language, current or former). I mean, it might as well be English since it’s sung in screamy death metal style, but since I can understand even fewer than the handful I can usually understand I’m going to go with the Internet reviewers and commenters on this one. (One hypothesis I have is that the singing is Russian and the chanting is Old Slavian.) Furthering the church theme, the title of the album seems to translate to “liturgy.”

The eight tracks are all named “Yekteniya” followed by a roman numeral concordant with its position on the album. I don’t know where I got it, but my notes tell me that translates to “litany.” As you might guess from a naming scheme like that, this sounds more like one solid work than a bunch of individual songs. It even kind of feels like a mass, where, yeah, there are some shifts here and there, but for the most part they’re kind of beating the same theme into you for 45 minutes or so. I

That monolithic aspect of is what holds this back from being a great album in the end. I’m pretty sure everything’s in the same key, and the band basically has just a few parameters they can switch. Vocalization can be sung, chanted, screamed, or off. Guitars can be fast or slow. And after that it’s mixing up harmonies and melodies a bit, but underneath a wall of super fast and compressed drums and guitars and behind vocals you can’t understand it ends up being pretty same-y.

I like this quite a bit. In small doses. But I couldn’t hum a second of it on command.

Rating:
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Mix: “Yekteniya IV”
Really Like:
“Yekteniya III”
Like:
“Yekteniya I,” “Yekteniya II,” “Yekteniya V,” “Yekteniya VII,” “Yekteniya VIII”
Meh: “Yekteniya VI”
Song Notes:
After the jump Continue reading

Ten Commandos: Ten Commandos

tencommandos

Wouldn’t it be awesome if Alain Johannes got together with Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden? You don’t have to wonder, because it happened and, yes, it is awesome. Dmitri Coats is the second guitarist, and Mark Lanegan joins the group for the first track, because that’s what Mark Lanegan does.

This is basically an Alain Johannes album but with the best drummer he’s ever had. Even guest vocalist Nikki Costa on “Come” sounds an awful lot like Johannes’ late wife and bandmate from Eleven, Natasha Schneider. The songs are moody, in minor keys, and have great, occassionally soaring melodies over interesting harmonies and tricky rhythms.

Honestly, I’m not sure what more there is to say. This is Alain Johannes’ aesthetic through and through. He’s not breaking any new ground for him (save, notably, for the wacky guitar antics by Peter Frampton on “Sketch 9”), but he’s still waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to the new ground he was treading over 20 years ago. It’s heavy, it’s sweet, it’s beautiful. If you ever wished there was another Eleven album, you should definitely check this out.

Rating:
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Mix: “War On The Peace”
Really Like: “You Might Forget,” “Sporthalle,” “Four On The Floor”
Like: 
“Staring Down The Dust,” “Outermost Sky,” “Come,” “Sketch 9” “Aware,” “Invisibility”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Polyrhythmics: Octagon

octagon

Libra Stripes this is not.This is why music is so hard for me now. Bands always letting me down. I mean, this is fine, but I doubt that if I’d heard any of this on the radio like I did the band’s previous album that I’d rush out and listen to it exclusively over a weekend.

Something’s different. The band is still laying down some decent funk, but the cutting, enticing, other-ness (I’d never think this was an African ensemble) of what they had on Libra Stripes is all but gone. They find it here and there, but too often (e.g., “Maruken,” “Octagon Pt. 2”) they kill a killer head by jamming for too long without any inspiring solos.

“Maruken” would be at least a Like if it were half as long, which would give the album four at least Likes before getting to the execrable “Octagon, Pt. 1,” which, given its name, you feel like maybe the band kind of knew should be cut. Two other likes, “Octagon, Pt. 2” and  “Fairweather Friends,” aren’t solid throughout and nearly beat themselves down to a Meh.

One of the biggest differences is the sound. Everything sounds far more reverb-y. Combined with the way the songs are more jammy and less composed, I’d say the band was going for more of a live feel. And I always hate when bands try to do that…just be awesome live when you’re live but when you’re doing a recording you want to sound good on record.

Someday I’ll truly love a band again. Until then, though, I feel like I’ve just got to survive on one album stands.

Rating:
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Like: “Liam Rides A Pony,” “Le Hustle,” “The Itis,” “Octagon, Pt. 2,” “Fairweather Friends”
Meh: 
“Maruken,” “El Fuego,” “The Mendo Mulcher,” “Shadow Lines”
Dislike: “Octagon, Pt. 1”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Dodsferd: Wastes Of Life

wastesoflife

I’m reminded of The Golding Institute. Not because there’s anything sonically similar between that band and this, but because in both cases I found myself listening to something completely new and unfamiliar. This is not a position I find myself in often.

This is a very unique and interesting album.The two sounds that stick with you the most are this horrible, horror movie echoy like down the halls of an insane asylum sobbing, and the lead singer’s pained howl/yelp/”singing”. (Apparently the lyrics are all about how you’re worthless and should kill yourself, but that’s played out and I can’t understand what this Greek band is singing about most of the time, but more because of the singing style than the accent.)

Musically, things are slow and repetitive. It’s a bit reminiscent of Metallica’s “One” in parts, not least because in “The Dead Have No Speech For” [sic] they quote some of the same parts of Johnny Got His Gun that Metallica did in the video for “One.”

Mostly the album lays down a nice base of metal, but with the exception of the two Likes it just kind of remains at that background level. Save when they break the forgettable groove for some horrible crying or yelp-singing.

No, this is only intermittently good or enjoyable. Two clowns for that plus an extra half for being so damned compelling and unique.

Rating:
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Like: “To The Fall Of Man,” “Graves Of Your Creator”
Meh:
“Sterile Death, Without Mourning,” “To The Fall Of Man”
Dislike: “Wastes Of Life”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Rick Springfield: Working Class Dog

workingclassdog

Laugh if you will, but my love for Rick Springfield is not one iota ironic. I’ll defend his early material, fall passionately in love with his most recent releases, and I’ll definitively pronounce that the four albums that run from Wait For Night through Living In Oz are masterpieces. This is the second album in that run; you know it as “the one with ‘Jessie’s Girl.'”

This is the first tape I ever got. Yeah, we got tapes back then. I also got a Walkman, like an honest to got brand name Sony Walkman. Tapes are called cassettes now, but then they were definitely called tapes. And I’m willing to admit that a big part of my Rickers love comes from that birthday gift…with this serving as the foundation of my slowly building collection (tied for number two were Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Michael Jackson’s Thriller) I listened to it an awful lot and internalized Springfield’s songwriting tendencies. When he puts in a great bridge or key change in a new song, it feels right. But goddammit, I also think guitar-driven pop music is one of the crowning achievements of humankind, and Rick Springfield is one of its finest practitioners.

So the fact that I know this album inside and out is probably a part of the reason that I think that “Jessie’s Girl” is maybe the eighth best of the ten songs on here. But another big part of that is that, come on, if you’re a huge Rick Springfield fan you’re kind of sick of “Jessie’s Girl,” right? It’s like being a huge Faith No More fan and having them continually associated with just “Epic.” I can’t count the weddings at which “Jessie’s Girl” starts getting played and everybody looks at me for me to put on my performance, which is really hard when you get to the last third and the chorus keeps repeating without any more climaxes. I mean, at this point, I can’t even tell if I like it or not. Springfield himself has a much better attitude about the song, I think he calls it That Song or something like that, but he loves it as one of its own and recognizes all the fame and fortune afforded to him via that one song.

I don’t get flummoxed by an artist’s oeuvre being overshadowed by one song, but considering how much this album sold and how good it was it is pretty surprising that it’s not at least recognized as more than its biggest hit. When I was a kid “Daddy’s Pearl” was my favorite and I always wondered why it was buried in the middle of side two. The song, and especially its gang vocal chorus, seems a little less sophisticated than the rest of the album to me now, as do the next two tracks (see below). However, I have an even greater appreciation for the really awesome craft in “Love Is Alright Tonite,” “The Light Of Love” (which lead off their respective sides), “Hole In My Heart,” and “Carry Me Away.” The reggae-tinged “Everybody’s Girl” also holds up really well.

Now, let’s go back to those last two songs. “Red Hot & Blue Love” is fine. It’s a step away from the rest of the album to more of a doo wop boogie kind of feel. It doesn’t fit (in particular the husky female backing vocals don’t mix well with Springfield’s tenor), but it’s quite good and features a blistering guitar solo and a barn burner of an ending. And then the album closes with “Inside Silvia.” I have this really strong memory of unwrapping this tape, looking at the song listing, and feeling the need to say, “Oh it has [this track], too.” And since I didn’t recognize anything except “Jessie’s Girl,” I just went with the last one even though I had never heard of it. It’s a ballad. I appreciated it at the time. But I know I didn’t get the literal meaning of the title until I was much, much older, and now I think it’s just gross, though I recognize that kind of weird literal sincerity was prevalent in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Again, it’s fine, but it’s not great, and now I can’t listen to it without visualizing a vagina wrapped around Springfield’s member. And that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So for the first seven tracks, this is definitely on a five-clown trajectory. And even through the first nine I’m kind of tempted to keep it up there. But “Inside Silvia” is just a misstep too blatant to ignore.

And now I feel bad that I spent two paragraphs on “Inside Silvia,” which is not even bad. This album is awesome and is so much more than “Jessie’s Girl.” If you write off Rick Springfield, you owe it to yourself to spend a few days with this power pop that has yet to be equaled.

Rating:
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Mix: “Carry Me Away,” “The Light Of Love”
Really Like: 
“Love Is Alright Tonite,” “Hole In My Heart”
Like: “Jessie’s Girl,” “I’ve Done Everything For You,” “Everybody’s Girl,” “Daddy’s Pearl,” “Red Hot & Blue Love”
Meh: “Inside Silvia”
Filed Between: Rick Springfield’s Wait For Night and Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Kampfar: Profan

profan

The first track my shuffle picked on this was “Icons,” and, due to the way it starts, I think I blurted out, at work no less, “Fucking flutes?! Angry Metal Guy screwed me again!” That’s the only track they pull that crap on, though, and it doesn’t last long. This is no Nechochwen, Myrkur, or Our Oceans, though. Of the metal I’ve reviewed recently, it’s closest to (the now defunct, unfortunately) Trials. Thrashy like that, but more screamy than singy.

The sound is massive; it’s really well produced, although with a bit too much emphasis on the upper-mids it ends up being awfully fatiguing, which means those flutes and piano at the start of “Icons” end up being a welcome reprieve.

The back half of the album is significantly better than the front half, but even then it is, for the most part, less than or equal to the sum of its parts. I mean, all the elements are there…great drumming, guitars, and some decent hooks. But it all kinds of flows together, a fact that is not helped by the first two songs having he same vocal melody in the chorus.

Add in the fact that it’s just pretty good and, I mean, when it comes to thrash, or dark thrash or whatever we’re calling this now, that means it’s just mediocre. I feel like music this fast and heavy absolutely needs something extra to take it beyond. Let’s put it this way. When a great song has been written, in many cases it can be made better by being played louder, faster, heavier, etc. That’s where the best metal is. However, if you’re starting with the loud, fast, and heavy and inserting merely decent songs, then you end up with something that just makes you tired.

This was fun. But I don’t think I’ll be coming back. I may, however, check out some of the rest of their catalog, which seems to be extensive. I mean, heck, I’m always willing to give dark Norwegian metal plenty of chances.

Rating:
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Like: “Profanum,” “Daimon,” “Pole In The Ground,” “Tornekratt”
Meh: “Gloria Ablaze,” “Icons,” “Skavank”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading