CD Review: Nelson – Peace Out

CD Review: Nelson – Peace Out
Frontiers Music
All Access Rating: A-

Nelson - Peace Out 2015
Taking a respite from paying homage to the music of their father, the Nelson twins – progeny of '50s teen heartthrob and garden partygoer Rick Nelson – get back to doing what made them famous.

The pop-metal wonder boys relive their glory days on the Frontiers Music release Peace Out, as Matthew and Gunner reintroduce themselves and their brand of infectiously melodic hard rock to a rather dour and depressed music world desperately in need of a mood-elevator like the catchy, spirited opener "Hello Everybody."

More injections of guitars with a sugary crunch, knockout hooks big enough to land a marlin and vocal harmonies to die for are necessary, as well, as Nelson lets the good times roll with "Back in the Day," "Invincible," "I Wanna Stay Home" and the soaring "Let It Ride" – the singalong choruses, life-affirming sentiments and sunny nostalgia made for drives up the California coast with the top down.

Nelson will never be as angry as Slayer, or as unsavory and street tough as Motley Crue. They're too wholesome for that, and Peace Out is their life-is-good manifesto, where a blissful, dreamy ballad like "On the Bright Side" can co-exist with ruggedly heavy, swaggering rockers such as "Rockstar," "Bad For You" and "You And Me." Maybe it's not a deep, highly literate exploration of the human condition. That's all right. A veritable gold rush of well-crafted, uplifting tunes for these dark days, Peace Out just might be the Nelson album you never knew you wanted.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: The Knack – Zoom

CD Review: The Knack – Zoom
Omnivore Records
All Access Rating: A-

The Knack - Zoom reissue 2015
Zoom always held a special place in Doug Fieger's heart, the 1998 album by The Knack that was said to be his favorite.

Never mind that he took the occasion to declare that "Pop is dead!" and asked mourners to bring their shovels for a not-so-solemn burial – this after the resurrection of the band's punk-y smash hit "My Sharona" on the charts, thanks to the 1994 movie "Reality Bites."

With that strutting, brash and completely lovable simpleton of a song getting a second chance at love four years prior, The Knack made a triumphant late-'90s return with Zoom, due for a well-deserved expanded reissue treatment by Omnivore Records, the label that's planning to re-release the band's final three records with a wide assortment of extras.

Zoom is first up, and it's easy to see why Fieger was so fond of it, the record brimming with vitality, confidence and assertiveness, as it strides into a listener's consciousness like a beautiful woman who knows all eyes are on her, its songs memorable and utterly charming. Full of bright, spangly power-pop rocks – the infectious, punched-up "Pop Is Dead," "Harder On You," and "Can I Borrow I Kiss" among them – simply bursting with catchy, candy-coated hooks, sharp guitars, "snap, crackle, pop" rhythms and expertly crafted melodies, Zoom has a brilliant glow about it. As does the tastefully appointed "Love Is All There Is," with its sighing, cascading vocal harmonies – found everywhere on Zoom, which featured original members Fieger, Berton Averre and Prescott Niles, along with new drummer Terry Bozzio  – that could melt the coldest of hearts.

Some of that residue of youthful energy and sexual tension that made 1979's chart-topping Get The Knack such a ubiquitous sensation remains, but Zoom is a damn sight more mature and sophisticated, recalling The Beatles at their creative apex. Colorfully psychedelic, its swirling harmonies almost hypnotic, "(All In The) All In All" – smartly and beautifully arranged to transition and flow almost effortlessly in the manner of a professional ballroom dancer on LSD – is a spinning magical mystery tour guided by the Fab Four, while the swooning melodic sweetness of "Mister Magazine" belies the stinging critique of tabloid journalism contained therein. Suffused with bittersweet longing and tender regret, which practically oozes out of its carefully stacked piano chords, "Everything I Do" is just as wonderful, exhaling pain and sadness like Badfinger.

Slightly rough and somewhat more sparse, scruffy demos of "Mister Magazine," "Harder On You," and "(All In The) All In All" only go to show how fully formed these songs were at birth, whereas the bonus track "She Says" has a bit of a country twang, is full of unabashed yearning and rises on majestic piano, revealing an appreciation for Roy Orbison's flair for the dramatic. Not to be forgotten, Bozzio joins the band on a new version of "My Sharona" that's tougher than the original, but is just as catchy as ever. Get The Knack may have made them stars, but Zoom has the teenage symphonies to God that are going to get The Knack into heaven. Doug's waiting for the rest of them.
– Peter Lindblad

Inside Iron Maiden: The Paul Di'Anno years

Author Greg Prato releases new book on metal giants' first two albums
By Peter Lindblad

Greg Prato's "Iron Maiden '80-'81" 2015
Iron Maiden's global domination as one of heavy metal history's greatest conquerors continues on unabated.

Still packing arenas and stadiums across the world, jet-setting to far-flung locales that embrace them as visiting royalty, the metal legends show no signs of slowing down, especially with singer Bruce Dickinson at the controls of Ed Force One.

There was a time, however, when a very different Iron Maiden was ravaging England with a vicious "punk metal" assault that spearheaded the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

This was before Dickinson, before Nicko McBrain and the most well-known Maiden lineup. This was the era of lead vocalist Paul Di'Anno – as well as guitarist Dennis Stratton and drummer Clive Burr – and theirs was a raw, visceral sound that generated two classic albums (Iron Maiden and Killers) and eventually gave way to the more melodic and complex "prog metal" that made Maiden famous.

A new book by noted author Greg Prato chronicles Maiden's Di'Anno years in "Iron Maiden '80-'81," an oral history of the period composed through tons of insightful interviews with producers, band members – including a very candid and forthright Di'Anno – and other metal musicians. In some ways, it's also a history of NWOBHM, with a detailed look at the making of those first two Maiden albums and insider perspectives on why this lineup didn't last.

Prato recently took some time to answer some questions about his book and this volatile time in the life of Iron Maiden. Ordering information is included at the end of our Q&A.

Why did you decide to do a book on the early years of Iron Maiden? Did you feel in some way that it was an era that’s been somewhat forgotten?
Greg Prato: I was a huge Maiden fan growing up, lost track of them for most of the '90s, and then reconnected with their classic albums in the late '90s/early 21st century. And I found myself enjoying their first two albums (with Paul Di'Anno on vocals) the most of the bunch. I started reading up once more on the band's history, and noticed there was no book that focused solely on the "Di'Anno era" of Maiden. Like all the books I've done up to this point, it's a subject that I wanted to read about, but there wasn't a book on the marketplace, so I decided to stand up and do the bloody thing myself. To answer your other part of the question, early Maiden isn't necessarily forgotten (it seems like if you ask the average headbanger what their favorite two Maiden albums are, it's usually The Number of the Beast and Killers, the latter being Di'Anno's last album with Maiden) – I just wanted to read/learn more about it!

You talked about in the introduction how those early albums are the ones you enjoy the most, even though you were introduced to the band during the Bruce Dickinson era. It’s interesting that Mike Portnoy said basically the same thing. What makes those albums so exciting for you?
GP: Two of my favorite rock styles are probably vintage heavy metal and vintage punk rock, and to the best of my knowledge, Maiden was one of the first bands to merge both together (specifically on their first two albums) РMoțrhead being the other band. And this style later served as the template for what became thrash metal. I also always dug Di'Anno's vocals Рwhile I certainly appreciate singers whose voices border on the operatic (Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford, and Ronnie James Dio are some of my all time favorites), it seems like my favorite rock singers are those who don't sound like they're classically trained, but have a lot of personality in their voices (Di'Anno, Paul Stanley, Alice Cooper, Joey Ramone, Mick Jagger, etc.).

Author Greg Prato
You interviewed a wide range of people for this book. Who was the toughest interview to secure and, ultimately, what did it add to the story?
GP: Not many were difficult to secure, but perhaps the most interesting way an interview was conducted was with ex-Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton. I got in touch with a gentleman through Stratton's website, who explained that Dennis now lives in a remote location and doesn't do email or phone interviews, but what he could do is if I emailed my questions, he would get them to Dennis, who would then record his responses as a sound file, and I would then get it sent back to me! Mr. Stratton was kind enough to answer two rounds of questions that way.

Tell me about talking to Paul Di’Anno. He’s such a big part of this story, obviously. What did you learn about him and his relationships with his band mates from your interviews that you didn’t know beforehand?
GP: It was great speaking to Mr. Di'Anno (who also was kind enough to grant me two interviews, as more questions came up after first round). I wasn't sure how he was going to be going in, because I had read his autobiography, 'The Beast," which includes some pretty darn wild and dangerous stories. But he was a very kind and talkative chap. As far as his relationship with his former Maiden mates, it sounds like he doesn't harbor any ill will towards them, and that he recently had a humorous run-in at an airport with longtime Maiden manager Rod Smallwood, which he recounts in the book.

There’s such a wide range of opinions about him as a singer. Do you think he gets the credit he deserves from not only the fans, but also his colleagues in the business?
GP: Yes and no. Any serious heavy metal fan I would think is well aware of Di'Anno's vocal contributions and importance towards Maiden's early albums and sound. But perhaps to newer fans who may just be discovering Maiden and other veteran metal acts, maybe not – since they've probably only been exposed to Bruce Dickinson-era Maiden. But as you read in the book, just about everybody interviewed has very complimentary things to say about Di'Anno's vocals on those Maiden discs.

Is Paul right, do you think, that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal started and ended with Iron Maiden? And with this story, did you want to tell the story of NWOBHM as well?
GP: Tough to say Рbefore Di'Anno told me that for the book, I would have said that there were other important contributors to the NWOBHM, tops being Def Leppard, Saxon, and Diamond Head (while a few veteran acts that were gaining steam at the time seemed to be lumped into NWOBHM at the time Рnamely Moțrhead and Judas Priest). But after Di'Anno's quote, I can kind of see his point Рthink "NWOBHM," and Maiden is really the band that automatically comes to mind. And out of all the NWOBHM bands, Maiden probably stuck to their stylistic guns the most, and didn't soften their sound further down the line (not to take anything away from Def Leppard, who I think did the right move with the direction they went with on Pyromania and Hysteria).

Reading about Iron Maiden’s evolution in this book, it seems like Paul’s time had an expiration date from the very start. Was his departure almost preordained?
GP: Another tough-to-answer question – you're hitting me hard with these questions! It seems like Di'Anno and the rest of the band were going in two different directions regarding what they thought Maiden should sound like, Di'Anno wanting to stick with the "punk metal" sound, while Steve Harris and the others wanting to open up their sound (which eventually shifted towards a more "prog metal" approach). It would have been interesting to hear what Mr. Di'Anno would have done on The Number of the Beast material, though.

Who, besides Paul, is the most interesting character or interview in the story of Iron Maiden’s rise? Maybe Dennis Stratton, whose relationship with Paul was pretty frosty? They definitely have different views on Rod Smallwood, the band’s longtime manager.
GP: Tony Platt, who produced the "Women in Uniform" single (as well as engineered AC/DC's Highway to Hell and Back in Black) had some interesting things to say about what really happened behind the scenes at the recording session for that song (it was a cover song that supposedly the band was forced to record against their wishes, in hopes of scoring a hit single). And interviewing the producer of Maiden's first album, Wil Malone, was very cool – to the best of my knowledge, I don’t think he has ever been interviewed before about his memories of working with the band.

There seem to be disagreements over what went on in the studio during the making of the first album, at least between Wil Malone and the band. Does he get an unfair rap for the production of that record?
GP: I personally like the sound of the first record! Raw and live – the way most of my favorite all-time rock n' roll recordings are. I admit that the sound of Killers is better, but the sonics of Iron Maiden get a bad rap, in my opinion. That album still holds up well – both sonically and musically.

Whose reaction to hearing that first album or memory of making it surprised you the most?
GP: Well, obviously Di'Anno's, who holds nothing back in voicing his disapproval of Malone's production!

In talking to everyone, did you come away with a new appreciation for that first album that you didn’t have before? Did what someone said about it make you look at it differently?
GP: No, my three favorite all-time Maiden albums are Iron Maiden, Killers, and Number of the Beast, so I've appreciated those early releases for a very long time. I thought it was interesting that Mr. Malone explains that he was consciously going for a "punk meets metal" sound on the album – so it may not have been solely the band's doing.

What was the best Iron Maiden touring story you heard from your interviews?
GP: The late/great Clive Burr filling Di'Anno's shoes with shaving cream right before going on stage, Stratton going out for his birthday with Kiss' Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, an interesting story by Raven's John Gallagher about getting ripped off opening for Maiden, and Tygers of Pan Tang's Robb Weir almost falling off the stage backwards opening for Maiden…but being saved at the last second!

Everybody talks about the production of that second album, Killers. Was that the main difference between those first two records, or was there more to it than that? It seems as if there was a real sea change in the direction of the band in the aftermath of that first record.
GP: The sonics have a lot to do with the difference between the two. As far as the material, both albums are great from start to finish. But there is something about Killers – if I really had to choose a favorite Maiden album, I'd probably go with that one. Perhaps because there are so many songs on it that have either been forgotten or are seldom played live anymore by Maiden (namely, a song that I always thought could have been a rock radio hit at the time – "Prodigal Son").

What do you think set Maiden apart from the other NWOBHM bands? And do you think the other bands from that era were aware of the differences?
GP: As I said earlier, they appeared to be one of the first bands bold enough to merge punk and metal, and the fact that they became a global success by not shifting their approach towards a more pop direction. Not sure if the other bands were aware of the differences, as most NWOBHM bands followed a similar "punk metal" sound on their debut albums.

What would you like Iron Maiden fans to come away with after reading this book?
GP: With all my books, I make sure the main story is included, but also, I always try and include a few facts or stories that have never been recounted anywhere before. Ever wonder if Di'Anno was presented The Number of the Beast material before he left? What was Maiden up to when they learned of John Lennon's murder? What are Di'Anno's two favorite rock concerts he ever attended? All are included in "Iron Maiden: '80-'81," dear friends!

To read a sample chapter of 'Iron Maiden: '80-'81,' go to: http://www.songfacts.com/blog/writing/iron_maiden_80_81/

For ordering info (and to view Greg's other books), go to:

Satyricon's black-metal night at the opera

Norwegian legends work with choir on new live album
By Peter Lindblad

Satryicon - Live At The Opera 2015
It was a night to remember for Satyricon, as the black-metal visionaries fulfilled a fervent wish to perform live with the Norwegian Opera Choir in Oslo on Sept. 8, 2013.

No strangers to having worked with choirs or orchestras before, as they did on such albums as 2002's Volcano, 2008's The Age Of Nero and 2006's Now, Diabolical, Satyricon has released darkly magical visual and audio recordings of that night in a DVD and a two-CD concert album titled Live At The Opera, out via Napalm Records.

Such outings that pair armadas of classically trained musicians with rock bands are often dreadfully boring and self-indulgent affairs. Live At The Opera is the exception, as Satyricon's blackened, brooding sonic transmissions from the underworld glow and grow more urgent and fiendishly dramatic than their studio counterparts, thanks to the rising vocal hellfire spewed from the mouths of the choir.

Recently, Satyricon drummer Frost took time to do an e-mail interview with Backstage Auctions' All Access blog about the new live record and provide an update on what the group is working on in the studio.

"Currently we are busy jamming, creating and rehearsing material for two albums simultaneously; one cover album and one new studio album," said Frost. "We have put the engine in the fifth gear now!"

Read the rest of our chat with Frost below.

What made this event so special for you and Satyr? Did the night live up to your expectations?
Frost: Getting to perform black metal with a full choir at the main hall in the national Opera should be special to anyone. Never have the grand and majestic aspect of Satyricon been lifted to a higher level. We knew that the Opera show would be great, and so it became.

In looking back at that night, was there a particular moment that stood out as being really dramatic or moving in any way?
Frost: The whole show was actually full of such strong moments. I even continue finding new parts and details that thrills me when listening to the recording now; parts that I didn’t truly hear or notice at the time of performance.

Satyricon's performance with
the Norwegian Opera Choir was
a spiritual experience
How did the idea for this performance come about and was there anything that was especially difficult in trying to pull it off?
Frost: We were invited to do a one-song performance with the Opera choir at an event in early 2012, and it was the outcome of that cooperation which made us realize that we should try to stage a full show with the choir. It just sounded so awesome and potent. When we found out that the choir was interested in such an extended collaboration, too, it was basically a matter of determination, will and patience to reach the goal. Musically it wasn’t particularly difficult or demanding, most of all because the choral arrangements were so well carried out, even if it required a big effort from all parties.

As a drummer, what's it like working with a choir like that? How is it different from a normal Satyricon show?
Frost: I played the drums as if it had been an ordinary Satyricon show; we were not to do any adaptions. On a personal or spiritual level, though, one will of course not remain untouched by such circumstance.

Was it challenging in any way to choose a set list?
Frost: We picked songs that we felt would work particularly well with the choir, for instance songs with very strong emotional nerves, or songs with very transparent themes where there is lots of space for the choir to really shine. As the Opera show was also the first show on the “Satyricon” touring cycle, we obviously had to pick quite a few songs from that album, but all these songs did also sound excellent with choral arrangements.

How did the choir enhance these songs in your opinion?
Frost: Some songs or parts got more epic or grand, other parts got a stronger emotional impact, others again got a different type of drive or energy and turned into fundamentally different versions of the original. The show as a whole felt very ceremonial, which suited it well.

Satyr out front, playing guitar and
singing in front of the Norwegian
Opera Choir
What do you think of the recording of that night that's being released as Live at the Opera?
Frost: It does justice to what actually went on. Most importantly – it happens to be an actual live recording (rather than a “live” recording, which is more usual). Satyricon sounds marvelous on this recording.

To you, what songs worked especially well in this arrangement, and were there any from the Satyricon catalog that you think would work equally well but that weren't included on this night?
Frost: It all sounds fantastic in my opinion; each song in its own way. I’m sure we could potentially have included more Satyricon songs that would have worked well with choral arrangements, but we would have to draw the line somewhere, wouldn’t we?

You've worked with other choirs and orchestras on records before. What was different about collaborating with them in the studio, as opposed to a live performance?
Frost: First of all, what you achieve with a choir is fundamentally different from what you achieve with an orchestra. We have worked with a choir before, but in a much, much smaller format and only in a controlled studio environment. A live performance with a large choir, consisting of both male and female singers, taking place in the Opera house, is completely different from anything we’ve done prior to that. Where we earlier had collaborated with small groups of orchestra musicians or singers to give a certain flair to specific themes, we were now adding a whole new dimension to all the songs of a full show.

While Satyricon is still associated with black metal and your sounds retains a lot of the traits from that genre, what was it that made you want to expand your template as a band and morph into something different? Was that always the plan or did something transpire that made you want to incorporate other sounds?
Frost: Your question makes me wonder what your perception of black metal is. It might seem we’re not on the same page at all, which makes it difficult for me to give a proper answer. To me, Satyricon has deeper depths and a more dangerous vibe than any of our early works, for instance. Furthermore do I find black metal to be a very open and innovation-driven, constantly developing genre. At least we in Satyricon have always had a strong musical passion, creative drive and a conquering spirit (this probably brought us to black metal in the first place), which constantly brings us to evolve. It’s not a plan, it’s the heart of the band to operate that way. If you feel it natural not to regard Satyricon as black metal anymore, then fine by me, but I certainly don’t understand you.

Are there other orchestras or choirs you would like to work with down the road?
Frost: We haven’t gotten to think that far, really.

Check out Satyricon's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SatyriconOfficial to keep up with everything going on with the band.


CD Review: Nashville Pussy – Ten Years of Pussy

CD Review: Nashville Pussy – Ten Years of Pussy
Steamhammer/SPV
All Access Rating: A+

Nashville Pussy - Ten Years of Pussy 2015
Lemmy knows a thing or two about pussy ... Nashville Pussy, that is.

To the sainted leader of one of rock 'n' roll's most notorious bands, these raunchy, Southern rock reprobates are the real deal. In Kilmister's own words, "If there's ever been a better band to open for Motorhead, I've not heard them!"

Any doubters should acquaint themselves with Ten Years of Pussy, a new 22-track, two-disc "best of" collection from Steamhammer/SPV that's a 120-proof distillation of everything that's great about rock 'n' roll, taking the best Nashville Pussy material from the last decade of recorded material and pairing it not with a nice glass of Chardonnay, but rather a handful of live firecrackers that should be handled with care instead.

Unapologetically nasty and unrepentant about its sinful ways, Nashville Pussy's shotgun wedding of AC/DC's metallic crunch, the rowdy, red-neck swagger of Lynyrd Skynyrd and punk's reckless energy makes them as potent as moonshine on such fist-pumping anthems as "Come On Come On," "Pussy Time," "I'm So High" (with Danko Jones) and "Why Why Why," their infectious choruses swimming in STDs and drunken rebellion. And while they don't mind getting messy and sloppy, as they do on the rambling, Stones-y bump-and-grind of "Before The Drugs Wear Off" and the torn-and-frayed blues of "Lazy Jesus," Nashville Pussy favors hooks and mean-ass riffs as tight as Mick Jagger's pants, the blazing – not to mention hilarious – condemnation of the modern Confederacy "The South's Too Fat to Rise Again" absolutely scorching the earth.

And while the main package of choice Nashville Pussy studio tracks offers an essential primer for anybody still unfamiliar with how cohesive and powerful a unit they are – the salacious crawl of "Til The Meat Falls Off The Bone" is a particularly wicked delight – an extra disc of six vicious, rip-roaring concert cuts from Blaine Cartwright, Ruyter Suys, Bonnie Buitrago and Jeremy Thompson makes them seem even more savage and combustible when freed from the studio. Burning like Jack Daniels going down the wrong pipe, the Southern-fried boogie meltdown of "Nutbush City Limits" and the raucous, one-two punch of "Struttin' Cock" and "Late Great USA" are pumped full of adrenalin and wired on trucker speed. And that's just how God intended Nashville Pussy, champions of trailer-trash excess and poor decisions, to play.
– Peter Lindblad

Digital review: Crowbar – Equilibrium

Digital Review: Crowbar – Equilibrium
eOne Music
All Access Rating: A-

Crowbar - Equilibrium 2015
Anybody who can turn Gary Wright's mid-'70s starry-eyed, soft-rock smash "Dreamweaver" into an epic, sludge-metal space odyssey – where even the hard of hearing can make out Kirk Windstein's hoary, all-encompassing screams as clear as day – deserves sainthood.

So does Equilibrium, the sixth album from Crowbar, and the last with original bassist Todd Strange. A game-changer for the NOLA heavyweights originally released 15 years ago, the jaw-dropping Equilibrium is now available digitally for the first time from eOne Music and begging to be reassessed. Back in the spring of 2000, it served notice that Crowbar's dark ambitions were becoming fully realized.

Tunneling its way deep inside some interstellar vortex of sound, Crowbar's swarming, cinematic cover of "Dreamweaver" is a mesmerizing aural experience, and it may just be the band's crowning achievement. Those bearing witness to the minor-key ruins of "To Touch the Hand of God," with its expansive, choral-like vocal arrangements, rainy intro and lonely, doom-laden piano plunking, might disagree, however.

Obviously, Equilibrium is ponderously heavy, its massive bulk breaking any scale that would attempt to measure the sheer tonnage of lugubrious, bulldozing title track and its slowly churning, ever-widening cousin "Command of Myself," precursors to the trudging, exploding punishment of "Eurphoria Minus One" and an even more vigorously combustible "Things You Can't Understand."

Sammy Pierre Duet joined Windstein on guitar, with Sid Montz on drums, for Equilibrium, the low-tuned, six-string devastation throughout retaining the hairy edge of Crowbar's hardcore punk roots –manifested in the raging, faster-paced "Uncovering." Where the band's last album, Symmetry in Black, unhinged its jaws and devoured everything in its path, Equilibrium is tougher, it hits harder and the payoffs are more immediate. Hopefully Crowbar will play a good portion of these tracks on its upcoming "Summer of Doom" tour with Lord Dying and Battlecross. Welcome to the 21st century, Equilibrium.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Six Feet Under – Crypt of the Devil

CD Review: Six Feet Under – Crypt of the Devil
Metal Blade Records
All Access Rating: A-

Six Feet Under - Crypt of the Devil 2015
Death-metal defilers Six Feet Under, one of the genre's flagship entities, visit the Crypt of the Devil on their 11th studio album, as Chris Barnes' brutally obsessive study of the warped psyche of a serial killer continues to plumb the depths of human depravity.

The king of terrifying guttural bellowing, Barnes tapped a new partner for this particular project in Phil "Landphil" Hall of Cannabis Corpse, who lined up his brother, Josh Hall, to track the drums and guitarist Brandon Ellis to do likewise with most of the guitar leads.

From this collaboration comes an ever-evolving theatre of the grotesque, the gruesome, violent lyrical imagery buried under the mounds of filth expelled by Barnes' growling vocal fury and ever-evolving, riff-heavy grooves and dynamics, such as those unpredictable tectonic shifts underneath the gnarled, maze-like opener "Gruesome."

Anticipating where Six Feet Under is going next is impossible on this Metal Blade Records release. Chugging along in laborious fashion, the thick, heavy machinery of the menacing "Break The Cross in Half" explodes into chaotic oblivion, before the fragments reform and assume another malevolent shape. "Slit Wrists" ponderously marches through a marsh of sludge, then gathers momentum and breaks into a full gallop, while "Lost Remains" doesn't wait to unleash hell, its thrashing, speeding tempo propelled forward with relentless drive.

Amid the nightmarish, earthy environs of Crypt of the Devil – its meaty textures enough for bloodthirsty listeners to gnaw on for hours – are brief moments of beauty, the stained-glass, darkly kaleidoscopic bridge to "Stab" a spellbinding respite from pounding rhythmic intensity and the melodic, arcing dual-guitar leads of the roiling "Open Coffin Orgy" offsetting its militant, snap-to-attention beats and manic energy. Not interested in reinventing the Six Feet Under aesthetic, Barnes and his grave-robbing brethren emphasize what the band has always done best – see how they morph from the stuttering intro to "The Night Bleeds" into the kind of thick, churning riffage they can concoct in their sleep.

That's not to say Crypt of the Devil is rehashing the past. Instead, Six Feet Under drives its rumbling hearse forward, fearlessly confronting all of our horrible fears without mercy and sharpening its attack.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: FM – Heroes and Villains

CD Review: FM – Heroes and Villains
Frontiers Music
All Access Rating: B+

FM - Heroes and Villains 2015
Arriving about 30 years too late, Heroes And Villains is the latest batch of heartfelt melodic hard rock from FM, a band whose very name suggests the radio-friendly character of its golden sounds.

And yet, at least in America, radio is likely to give FM the cold shoulder once again. It doesn't seem to care for nostalgia acts, especially those from overseas that never really gained a foothold Stateside to begin with.

While their timing may be far from perfect, the Brits' savvy songwriting formula again yields a sack full of sparkling, if dated, gems, with "Digging Up the Dirt," "You're The Best Thing About Me," "Call On Me" and "Life Is A Highway" rushing forward with the sugary guitar crunch, delicious vocal harmonies, hearty choruses and clear, undeniably generous hooks – not to mention the uplifting, although somewhat trite, lyrical messages – of a Def Leppard, Night Ranger, Loverboy or Foreigner.

Bucking trends and ever-changing musical tastes, FM sticks to what works on the Frontiers Music effort Heroes and Villains, crafting strong, life-affirming pop anthems, such as the infectious "Shape I'm In" and the rollicking "Some Days I Only Wanna Rock And Roll," that let the sun in with their effusive charm. Even treacly ballads "Incredible" and "Walking With Angels" seem genuine and born of honest emotions, although FM does tend to lay it on thick and refuses to apologize for it.

Heavier stomps like "Fire And Rain" and "Cold Hearted" don't fare so well; whatever power they originally contained fizzles after tough, meaty beginnings, but Steve Overland's wonderfully expressive vocal clarity always manage to save the day, as does FM's cohesiveness and tuneful sensibilities. Heroes and Villains might not get the exposure it deserves for a group of ex-Samson refugees in founding members Pete Jupp (drums) and Merv Goldsworthy (bass), as well as keyboardist Jem Davis and new guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick, that once had a good run on the U.K. charts in the '80s. Wouldn't it be something if it did, though?
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Satyricon – Live At The Opera

CD Review: Satyricon – Live At The Opera
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: A

Satyricon - Live At The Opera 2015
The flames of black-metal bonfires set by Satyricon through the years flicker and glow with primal, demonic theatricality on Live At The Opera, a majestic concert recording of Satyr, Frost and their minions performing with the Norwegian National Opera Choir back in September, 2013.

Napalm Records release consisting of a DVD and two bonus CDs, the fantastical Live At The Opera is a study in dark synergy and contrasting textures, the sinister, guttural exhortations of Saytr – sounding more insidious than ever – stabbing through enveloping, flowing curtains of choral drama that seem to embody human suffering and torment in "Die By My Hand" and enhance the sense of impending doom that gallops through "Nocturnal Flare."

Collaborations with orchestras and choirs are nothing new for Satyricon – see the albums Volcano, The Age Of and Now, Diabolical for comparison. Live At The Opera is a more visceral experience, however, as the Norwegian National Opera Choir shades and colors Satyricon's monstrous arrangements, Frost's diverse drum patterns and heavy, serrated guitar riffage with blood-curdling, gothic atmospherics and somehow manages to avoid suffocating them. That's especially true of the melodic "Phoenix," which flows through a forest of sound like a gentle river whose waters hold a troubling secret. On the title track to Now, Diabolical, Satyricon's slow-burning, evil urgency comes to the fore, the commanding momentum building and growing almost imperceptibly until the tension becomes deliciously unbearable, while the drifting, ghostly melody of "Tro Og Kraft" haunts and captivates.

Live At The Opera gathers to a powerful and stunning crescendo on "K.I.N.G.," an epic, pounding crowd-pleaser that rouses the faithful in attendance to worship, the closer being preceded by the wailing madness of "Mother North." This is a night at the opera Satyricon won't soon forget.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Raven – ExtermiNation

CD Review: Raven – ExtermiNation
Steamhammer/SPV
All Access Rating: A-

Raven - ExtermiNation 2015
True survivors in a business that relishes eating its young, Raven have endured, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal veterans staying the course with a lineup that's been together for going on three decades now.

As recently as 2014, the trio of Mark Gallagher (guitars), John Gallagher (bass and vocals) and Joe Hasselvander (drums) gave Metallica a run for its money in concert, opening up for the thrash-metal titans in Sao Paulo. Those who know their NWOBHM history will recall that it was Raven who took Metallica out in 1983 on their first U.S. tour as a support act on the legendary "Kill 'Em All For One" campaign – they would also do the same for Anthrax, before going through major-label hell and living through a life-threatening accident to one of its members.

Obliged to return the favor, Metallica might not even exist if it weren't for Raven, their tumultuous, hard-hitting attack having inspired the thrash/speed metal movement that spawned the famed Bay Area scene and its most famous progeny. All these years later, Raven's crazed sonic fury hasn't abated, the brawling, dizzying delirium of "Destroy All Monsters," the opening track to the Steamhammer/SPV release ExtermiNation, setting the tone for the attention-grabbing and brutally unpredictable insanity that follows.

Powered by boisterous vocals, rugged rhythms and muscular riffs – all of it taking cover from a bombardment of screaming guitar leads flying overhead – ExtermiNation is a slug fest, the heavy, menacing, brawny grooves and captivating pull of "Tomorrow," "Battle March Tank Treads (The Blood Runs Red)," a venomous "Thunder Down Under" and "Fire Burns Within" forcefully roughing up any doubters that would dare question why they haven't yet given up the ghost. Even more satisfying is "One More Day," with its insidious, strong hooks and a full-bodied chorus that bleeds '70s classic-rock soul. And if it's sophisticated artistry you want, the melodic prog-metal movements of "It's Not What You Got" are captivating, reminiscent of Empire-era Queensryche.

On a chaotic "Feeding the Monster" and "Scream," Raven go on a rampage, defiant to the very end throughout ExtermiNation and driving these vehicles like they stole them, pedal to the floor until there's no more road. And when ExtermiNation does end, and Raven gets pulled over for going over 100 miles per hour and doing so with wild, reckless abandon, let the authorities throw the book at these Geordies from Newcastle Upon Tyne in the north of England. Given the reverence for their classic first three albums, as well as their latest metal romp, Raven will have plenty of witnesses to testify to their character.
– Peter Lindblad

Helmet's 'Betty' is still a bombshell

A conversation with Page Hamilton about band's classic third LP
By Peter Lindblad

The Helmet lineup in 2015 that's
playing 'Betty' in its entirety.
The record-buying public doesn't always take kindly to so-called "experimental" records. Helmet's Betty has taken its fair share of pot shots from detractors.

Relaxing in a black RV parked outside of the High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wis., back in March, Page Hamilton, one of the true architects of alternative-metal, is fighting a cough just hours before gig No. 61 of Helmet's recent tour, one in which the landmark Betty album was to be played in its entirety, with a second set chock full of favorites from other Helmet albums thrown in for good measure.

Helmet - Betty
The show will go on, road fatigue or no road fatigue, because Betty deserves it. And with miles to go before he sleeps – Helmet had 20 more shows to go on this victory lap for perhaps the most confounding record in the band's catalog – Hamilton couldn't be happier with the reception the tour's received.

"Amazing, yeah it's been great," said Hamilton, joined in Helmet nowadays by Dan Beeman, Kyle Stephenson and Dave Case. "We're sold out tonight, sold out tomorrow in Chicago, sold out in Cleveland. Last night in Minneapolis was 550, so that was a packed house. It's been good, really good. I love seeing packed houses, and the band is playing really well, so that's all you can hope for."

In 1994, anticipation for the follow-up to the monstrous sonic earthquake that was Meantime, Helmet's 1992 major label debut on Interscope Records, was feverish. An almost militaristic march of heavy, disciplined riffs and infectious grooves as high and tight as a Marine's crew cut, the groundbreaking post-metal masterpiece Meantime breathed fresh air into a scene that had long grown weary of the excesses of '80s glam and was mighty suspicious of grunge. What would Helmet do for an encore?

Along came Betty, an ambitious bombshell of thick, pummeling aural punishment that sent shrapnel flying in every direction, some of it landing in the disparate camps of jazz and blues. Although it wasn't the commercial smash everyone was hoping for, critics generally took a liking to it and over time, it's come to be appreciated as one of Helmet's finest.

Still, even as tracks like "Biscuits for Smut," "Milquetoast" (see the video below) and "I Know" retained the crunch of Meantime, more offbeat fare such as "The Silver Hawaiian," the jazz standard "Beautiful Love" and the demented lap-steel weirdness of "Sam Hell" led to lots of head scratching.



However, if this tour is any indication, Betty, Helmet's third record, has aged well. 

"Both albums seem to have survived the test of time, 20 years for Betty and 23 years for Meantime," said Hamilton. "And we play songs from both those albums, as well as Aftertaste. In London, after we did Betty, we did the second half of Meantime and the first half of Aftertaste for the second set and they went more crazy than they did for Betty, which pissed me off, because I thought, 'There goes my Aftertaste idea (laughs).' It's good to see that sometimes when you get flak when an album comes out because it's not like the previous album, that 20 years later you can see you did things right. That's what it's all about, because we're not trying to win any pop music competitions. We're not a mainstream band and never have been. Helmet fans are very loyal, and they know we're not going to come out with a disco record, or techno or whatever's the flavor of the month. We'll never sound like Katy Perry or Maroon 5."

Upon Betty's release, though, some were wondering if Helmet had lost its edge.

"I remember that day we did Flipside magazine, which was a cool magazine back in the late '80s, early '90s," related Hamilton. "It was Helmet mania, and they just loved Helmet. When Meantime came out, he came out to see a show in Long Beach, Kirk (or KRK Dominquez) from Flipside said, 'I wanted Helmet and I got a bonnet.' He thought we'd gotten soft after Strap It On and didn't like it at all."

Taking the sardonic criticism in stride, Hamilton vowed not to let it influence his artistic vision.

"I learned then that it doesn't matter what you do – somebody's a fan of what you do today, tomorrow they may be disappointed because you're not doing what you did yesterday," explained Hamilton. "So you have to stick to your guns and have a thick skin. You have to do make music for yourself and make music you know is good, and not try to please anybody else. I'm not worried about what critics say, or even fans. It could be disheartening at the time, but I have to know it's good. I have to study my craft and continue to move forward without throwing the baby out with the bath water."

Hamilton has a good sense of what Helmet's identity is, and although they may take the occasionally unexpected detour, he makes sure they never lose sight of who they are as a band.

"We're not Marilyn Manson," said Hamilton. "I'm not going to grow tits and change outfits. That's not what Helmet's thing is about. It's four guys in street clothes standing up there and trying to make music. It's strictly drop the needle. That's what it's about. That's what my heroes were for me – John Coltrane, Charlie Parker. They had cool suits in the '40s and '50s and '60s, whatever, but they just played music. It was just about the music, and that's what turned me on, that's what got me excited. Sure, I thought Jimmy Page looked cool in his dragon pants, in his penny loafers and whatever, and Robert Plant in ladies' blouses, but it was all about dropping the needle and listening to them singing and playing – that's what it's always been for Helmet. Some people hate that. They don't like me because I don't do that. They don't like us because we don't do that, and that's their prerogative. They can't say that we're not honest or we aren't good. They're saying they don't like us."

Helmet dropped the needle and then some when Hamilton, drummer John Stanier, bassist Henry Bogdan and guitarist Rob Echeverria – the replacement for Peter Mengede – entered the studio in the fall of 1993 to begin work on Betty, with writing and recording sessions at Soundtrack, Power Station and Sound on Sound in New York City.

Helmet - Meantime
While touring in support of Meantime, there were reports of internal tensions, and Mengede allegedly did not leave on the best of terms in early 1993. Still, Hamilton doesn't recall the sessions for Betty as being overly stressful, although there was pressure from outside influences.

"Yeah, it was a little bit, I suppose, but every album there's some stress involved," said Hamilton. "Strap It On, it was my bartending tips that paid for it, so we're like, 'Okay, that mix sounds good,' and I had to stand there with my hand on two faders, and Bogdan on one; they had two faders, so we're mixing manually on the board, and it was like, 'Okay, I think we're set up now. Push that up a little bit. Now go back.' So that's stressful. With Meantime, we'd signed a big record deal, and we had people from the record company coming in and listening, so we're like, this is weird, you know? And with Betty, after a gold record and a Grammy nomination for Meantime, everybody wanted to make it Nirvana. We're like, 'We're not anything like Nirvana,' nothing like Nirvana. And Aftertaste … well, 'Betty didn't do as well as Meantime, so Aftertaste has to be like this and that,' and I was like, 'All I can do is write the songs and record them and sing them to the best of my ability.' And that's what it is. It should be fun. The process has always been fun and enjoyable for me, and it's simply about music."

When it came to Betty, Hamilton and company had aspirations of expanding Helmet's sound to incorporate other genres, as other voices within the band begged to be heard.

"Yeah, that was what was fun about it," said Hamilton. "We wrote some songs … I guess it started with, 'Well, man, what more can we do?' Strap It On morphed into Meantime, which morphed into Betty and there were other elements. Henry had an interest in lap steel guitar, and other things he was writing. He was listening to the Beatles I think when he came up with the riffs for 'Silver Hawaiian.' And I wanted the whole band to feel more included, because I think they saw that when there was a clear leader in the band after a couple of years, there's a leader and I think that makes guys uncomfortable. I just wanted make sure that everybody knew it was a band, that I'm the singer, the writer and essentially the producer, but without a great band, you're shit. I'm not Trent Reznor, where I've got the genius technological ability … that guy's amazing in the studio. I don't know if he can play guitar as well as I can, but he's a genius in the studio, so he doesn't necessarily need a band to make a record. I do."

Like all Helmet records, Betty grooves ... relentlessly. Hamilton feels that comes naturally for Helmet, that it's not something they ever have to think about.

"I think every record grooves. We never consciously said we've got to groove or we've got to be groovier or whatever," said Hamilton. "John Stanier was listening to a lot of hip-hop and a lot of drum and bass. Henry was listening to country and western and Hawaiian music, and I was listening to my usual jazz, which is all about groove and feel and swing, as well as classical things, expanding my understanding of harmonic knowledge. But we never consciously said, 'God, We're so funky.' AC/DC is a different kind of funky from Rage Against The Machine or Red Hot Chili Peppers. To me, those bands are more trying to incorporate that thing in their sound, and I like AC/DC, that sound. That's my band. I thought the Beatles grooved. The Stones, in their sloppy way, kind of grooved, so it's not like we're trying to play white-boy funk or anything."

While the notion of whether a record grooves or not may be a nebulous concept, song composition is not, and while more well-known tracks off Betty might garner more attention, Hamilton is sweet on another.

"Somebody asked me that last night after the show," said Hamilton, responding to a question about which song on Betty is his favorite. "It's hard for me to say, but I'd probably have to say 'Overrated.' I've always liked the structure. I just found this cool chord progression of things that I thought of at the time. There was a cool tension release in the song; it's an interesting structure. It's not really supposed work at all."

Hamilton admits, "I've always experimented with structures, that's kind of what I'm known for." On "Wilma's Rainbow," Hamilton used another Helmet classic as the foundation for what that track would become.

"I like that song," said Hamilton. "That's the structure that I came up with for 'Unsung.' That's a different structure, too. It's got a verse and chorus, but it's also got a developing section in the outro, and a song like 'Pure' from Aftertaste,  it's got a different structure."

Construction of Betty was completed by Helmet, along with Andy Wallace on mixing, Howie Weinberg on mastering and Martin Bisi, known also for his work with Sonic Youth, Swans and White Zombie, handling the engineering. Bisi was a late arrival, coming in midway through the proceedings to record Echeverria's guitar parts and additional overdubs.

Finally, on June 21, 1994, Betty had its coming-out party, settling in at No. 45 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart, Helmet's best chart performance ever. Alas, it was not the commercial success Meantime was, and in the aftermath, Echeverria departed to join Biohazard, leaving Helmet a trio. 1997 brought Aftertaste, and later, a new guitarist in Chris Traynor, formerly of Orange 9mm. That record spent very little time on the charts, and sales were disappointing. The 1997-98 "Aftertaste" tour was the band's swan song – that is, until Hamilton revived Helmet in 2004.

If he has any regrets about any of it, Hamilton isn't sharing them.

"There's so many events that happened over the life of the band," said Hamilton. "It was roughly 10 years, and now I've got eight-plus years with Kyle, so he and I are the core of the band at this point, but we've got two guys who are amazing players, Danny and Dave. So it feels like a real band to me, as much as the original lineup did for the first five years. Unfortunately, people grow … not unfortunately, but people grow apart, and it happens and you can't control what other people want to do. They decided it was their time to move on, and I said to them early on when we were about to sign a record deal, to Peter, John and Henry, 'I'm not putting your kids through college just because we were in a band together. I don't owe you anything, and you don't owe me anything.' They were clear that it was my band, it's just sometimes shit happens."

Check out this Helmet performance on KXEP to get a taste of what they're like live nowadays.


CD Review: Jonathan Rundman – Look Up

CD Review: Jonathan Rundman  Look Up
Salt Lady Records
All Access Rating: A-

Jonathan Rundman - Look Up 2015
Absence has only made the heart grow fonder for Jonathan Rundman's brand of intelligently designed and altogether charming power-pop. His first album in a decade, Look Up will make you wish he'd come around more often.

A native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula now based in Minneapolis, the multi-instrumentalist has assembled a who's who of the Twin Cities' finest musicians to help him realize his vision of a lush, warmly modern world of sound with plenty of room at the inn for traditional folk sketches such as the spare, haunting "Home Unknown." All of it holds the wonderfully told tales of Look Up in a loving and empathetic embrace, Rundman's easy grace and search for simple, lasting truths born of a hopeful theology and the inexplicable wonders of art and science.

Providing most of the instrumental support are Owl City guitarist Jasper Nephew, Sara Bareilles drummer Steve Goold, bassist Ian Allison (Jeremy Messersmith), and Leagues guitarist Tyler Burkum. Other guests include frequent collaborator Walter Salas-Humara of The Silos, as well as guitarist Parthenon Huxley of Eels and ELO, and vocalist Brent Bourgeois of Bourgeois Tagg and Todd Rundgren, among others. And while the cast is, indeed, impressive, it's Rundman's evocative lyrics, his deep sincerity, his brainy curiosity about the world and its unknowable secrets, and gift for penning affecting, indelible melodies that make Look Up absolutely sparkle.

Released this past winter but made for long summer drives with no particular destination, although the icy waters of "The Ballad of Nikolaus Rungius" – the beautifully rendered, multi-layered history of a beloved vicar, the hardships of his parish and a "holy mystery" – could bring on hypothermia, Look Up pops the top on fizzy, electric rushes like "Flying On A Plane," "Helicopters of Love," "The Science of Rockets" and "Prioritize Us" that bubble up like a shaken bottle of soda.

Comparisons to Fountains Of Wayne are inevitable, but a lot of Look Up seems to have distant relations to the music of John Vanderslice, his intimate, space-age production values, flowing melodies and ability to spin compelling yarns born again in Rundman's work. When the spirit moves him, however, as it does in "Painter" and the autumnal "Second Shelf Down," Rundman seems naturally inclined to wander purposefully in the cloudy harmonies and gossamer acoustic sweeps of Simon & Garfunkel, and on "Home Unknown," he plays all the instruments, from harmonium to banjo and mandola and probably 12 more that aren't even listed.

Don't be such a stranger, Jonathan. You're welcome here any time.
– Peter Lindblad