Metal Evolution - "Early Metal US"

Metal Evolution - "Early Metal US"
Sam Dunn
VH1 Classic

All Access Review:  B+

Back in Aerosmith’s salad days, the early- to mid-1970s to be precise, the only way a band could hit every target demographic it hoped to reach was by touring all over and then going back out on the road to do it all over again and again. Today, they call that sort of thing “viral marketing,” as Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton jokes in the second episode of Sam Dunn’s incisive documentary series “Metal Evolution.” Others might refer to it as “paying your dues.”

Hamilton and company had no other choice when they were starting out. Neither did KISS or anybody else of that era that possessed dreams of rock ‘n’ roll world domination. In “Early Metal US,” the road to stardom is paved not with gold, but with broken-down tour buses, empty booze bottles, smashed bongs and used condoms, and while Dunn doesn’t delve deeply into the more tawdry aspects of touring, metal’s most intrepid documentarian does manage to illustrate how important it was from a business standpoint for KISS, Aerosmith and Alice Cooper to be road warriors. To spread their hard-rock contagion, gigging incessantly was the only way to get your name out there – that is unless you happened to get lucky and score an unlikely radio hit, like Alice Cooper did with that anthem of youthful rebellion “I’m Eighteen.” Getting it played on a Toronto radio station, which transmitted the song to parts throughout the North American Midwest, was certainly a coup for a band that, up to that time, had been ignored by radio, even as their elaborate stage show, a fun house of horrific thrills and chills, garnered the kind of publicity they would have never been able to buy.

Recollections of life on the road are peppered throughout “Early Metal US,” with Hamilton providing insight into how vital it was for bands like his to knock ‘em dead every night. It was certainly no different for the face-painted KISS, whose traveling circus of a stage show – what with Gene Simmons’ blood splitting and fire breathing , Peter Criss’s levitating drum kit, and Ace Frehley’s guitar gizmos – surely did the trick as far as building up a fan base goes. However, as Frehley explains to Dunn while vintage images of KISS’s theatricality in concert go rushing past, it was recording the explosive live album, Alive!, that ultimately launched them into the stratosphere and perhaps saved them from calling it quits. Delivering the goods onstage meant everything to KISS, and bringing that same excitement to vinyl was just as crucial.

And as KISS went along, they would use any tool they could to make money, even going so far as to record a chart-topping ballad in “Beth” – Criss, laughing all the way to the bank, talks at length to Dunn about how Simmons and Stanley didn’t want to do it and did everything they could to sabotage it in the studio – and go along with the trends of the day by releasing, horror of horrors, a disco song. Meanwhile, in Boston, Aerosmith set about bringing its furious, Rolling Stones-inspired blues-rock to the masses, with a Jagger-like lead singer in Steven Tyler and a guitar slinger by the name of Joe Perry. Hamilton is open and candid about how Aerosmith took on the critics and won over the people with a rugged, rollicking sound that became electrically charged in a live setting, and Dunn is just as honest in describing Aerosmith’s fall from grace due to substance abuse.

There would be a period of malaise in hard rock before Van Halen came along to inject a little hedonistic fun and a whole lot of heavy metal testosterone into an arena-rock corpse that needed to be shocked back to life. Young and cocky, with a supernatural guitar player in Eddie Van Halen, the California foursome boasted a “big rock” aesthetic, as former bassist Michael Anthony describes it to Dunn, and their thundering drums, blazing riffage and David Lee Roth’s showmanship made rock fun again. Unfortunately, Dunn and company cut short any exploration of Van Halen’s influence rather abruptly, as if time had gotten away from them and a quick-and-dirty edit was needed to wrap things up.

On the plus side, Dunn doesn’t drop the ball in detailing the impact of surf guitar legend Dick Dale and garage-rock, especially the variety that made Detroit famous, had on heavy metal’s development. Lenny Kaye is particularly articulate and concise in his analysis of garage-rock’s influence, while Dale passionately and without artifice explains how his use of thick strings and a revamped Fender amp led to increased volume. The role Blue Cheer played in drawing the blueprints for heavy metal is explored, as well, but it’s when Dunn travels to Detroit to revisit the incendiary, scene that birthed the MC5, The Stooges and Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes that things really get interesting. Fiery, visceral concert footage of the MC5 kicking out the jams back in the day – some of it familiar, and some of it not so familiar – and Nugent’s wild-eyed tribute to the Wayne Kramer and the boys is something to behold. And Dunn does a fine job playing up the blue-collar influence on Detroit’s toughest, most confrontational acts, like Iggy Pop and The Stooges, with James Williamson and Scott Asheton establishing a link between the automobile industry and the bombed-out ruins of The Stooges’ drugged sonics.

As usual, Dunn and his partner Scot McFayden do a wonderful job of weaving interviews with astute, knowledgeable insiders and great period video footage – the Alice Cooper material, comprised of Q&A and live imagery, is fascinating, fully realized and visually dynamic – together to tell a story. With the exception of the short shrift given to Van Halen, the editing is superb, and Dunn’s winning personality as a tour guide and intellectual vigor as an interviewer make “Early Metal US” another strong episode. Though made of compelling stuff, the KISS segment feels a little short on depth, as does Dunn’s look at Aerosmith. But, in such an exercise, time is of the essence, and for the most part, Dunn and company make good use of it.

- Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Lamb of God - Resolution

CD Review: Lamb of God - Resolution
All Access Review: B+

Completely parched and barren, save for a large fire in the distance sending plumes of black smoke into a gray sky, the cracked, dusty wasteland that graces the cover of Lamb of God’s latest epistle of nihilism, violence, betrayal and death – among other shiny, happy subjects – speaks volumes about the Virginia death-metal destroyers’ world view. That is to say, Lamb of God doesn’t seem to hold out much hope for civilization. With lines like “despair is in an endless supply” and “obliteration never looked so divine,” – culled from the tracks “Invictus” and “Ghost Walking,” respectively – Resolution is a world without pity. What could rise to become a prophetic voice crying in the wilderness for people to change their evil ways, Resolution reads more like an instrument of surrender or a suicide note.
Our darker impulses are too strong to resist. They will consume us. We will lie, cheat, kill, lose hope, find solace in the most dangerous of drugs, and then die of apathy and an aversion to truth. Sometimes, the bleak poetry of Lamb of God has a certain confrontational beauty to it – lyrics such as “stoic in silence we’re blind inside the void” touching a very tender societal nerve. But, when the famous Johnny Rotten line, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” is appropriated in the song “Cheated,” you get the feeling Lamb of God sometimes gives up trying to be original. When they later invoke the “legacy of brutality” phrase that perhaps should have been left to The Misfits later in “Cheated” … well, they just don’t appear to be trying anymore.
Of course, one song is a small sample size. Still, when it comes to Lamb of God, you take the good with the bad, and Resolution, a throwback to the rawer, more brutal recordings of their earlier work, offers a little of both. On balance, however, it blows away your expectations, Resolution forming a massive hunk of burning, twisted thrash metal that rarely cools. The constant stream of guttural, growling vocals – the so-called “Cookie Monster” style of singing that seems to divide the metal community right down the middle – often detracts from the dizzying array of frenzied, ferociously riffs, whiplash dynamics and punishing, acrobatic rhythms that make new Lamb of God recordings such an interesting proposition.
Blindingly fast one minute and crushingly heavy the next, “Invictus,” with its thick, snaking grooves, is a prime example of their ability to change directions seamlessly and drag you by the collar to whatever hell awaits them and you around the next turn. Pressing the accelerator, Lamb of God wants to go even faster on the lean-and-mean, breathtaking police chase that is “Cheated,” reaching Mach 10 most the way – its flies by with such speed that it’s almost impossible to notice the lyrical missteps. Slower and somehow more insidious, “Insurrection” pummels the solar plexus with double-bass drum madness and then rises like a monstrous rogue wave to do damage to whatever small vessel is in its path. Still, after the adrenaline boosts of “Invictus” and “Cheated,” it sounds labored, as if Lamb of God is physically drained from all that came before it.
And there is a whole lot of prologue to dig through before arriving at that exhausted state. The sludgy, bulldozing opener “Straight for the Sun” – which almost dares anybody to attempt to be heavier than that – simply plows into the beehive of activity that is “Desolation,” a track that is pure pandemonium. The occasional wraith of twin-guitar melody appears out of the chaos in “Desolation,” and it’s a welcome bit of comfort in an atmosphere of destructive chaos, much like the acoustic intro to the hard-hitting “Ghost Walking” absorbs some of pain from the beating Lamb of God doles out in “Guilty.” 
Resolution is an interesting title for Lamb of God’s seventh studio effort, not counting the eponymous debut album they recorded as Burn the Priest. Surely, they don’t offer any answers to society’s ills, and while some of their lyrics advocates a self-sufficient, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” philosophy that is empowering, Lamb of God also seems resigned to seeing life as full of agony and pain and perhaps not worth the trouble. That said, for the most part, the band seems revitalized and incredibly agile at this point in their development, even if Resolution – one of the most hotly anticipated heavy metal albums of 2012 – occasionally masks the band’s stunted songwriting growth and decaying melodic structure with stormy bluster and nonstop action. They have yet to craft a truly memorable song, something every one of the Big 4 can do in their sleep. Still, when vocalist Randy Blythe screams, “I am the one who’s left to take the fall” in “The Undertow,” a stunning amalgamation of blitzing, unrelenting riffage and quick tempo changes, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the power and the rage Lamb of God can barely control. 
- Peter Lindblad

Metal Evolution - "Pre-Metal"

Metal Evolution - "Pre-Metal"
Sam Dunn
VH1 Classic

All Access Review: A-

Pinning down that exact moment of conception when heavy metal became a living, breathing entity is next to impossible, as most observers know all too well. There was no “big bang” that, in the blink of an eye, brought this screaming, bloody musical anti-Christ – something akin to that evil baby with the fangs and devil horns that graces the cover of Black Sabbath’s Born Again album – into existence. Although some will argue that heavy metal’s arrival was heralded by Steppenwolf when John Kay uttered the words “heavy metal thunder” in “Born to be Wild” or that its birth occurred the moment Blue Cheer dropped that sonic atom bomb of psychedelic blues that was their cover of “Summertime Blues,” others might point to the first Black Sabbath album or the tragic industrial accident that claimed the tips of Tony Iommi’s fingers as the origin of this particular species. No doubt, all of these events played a role in giving life to the genre, but heavy metal’s creation story is a far more complex tale than even filmmaker Sam Dunn imagined when he undertook his “Metal Evolution” documentary series, an extension of his highly acclaimed “A Headbanger’s Journey” film. And it’s no accident that he included the word “evolution” in the title.

With the probing mind of an anthropologist and a fan’s heart, Dunn, ably assisted by partner Scot McFayden, examine in great detail the roots of heavy metal in the inaugural episode of VH1 Classic’s “MetalEvolution,” “Pre-Metal.” Immersing himself in the Wacken Open Air experience, Dunn launches into what is quite possibly the most academic installment of “Metal Evolution” with a fairly scientific approach, expounding on the neuroscience behind the fatal attraction people have to metal. Scientist Laurel Trainor of McMaster University studies this kind of thing, and on “Pre-Metal,” she talks in-depth about the effect of aggressive music on the body and mind, while measuring Dunn’s head and exposing him to various musical genres during a staged experiment with him. Over the course of “Pre-Metal,” Dunn journeys back in time to study, somewhat predictably, the influence of classical music, blues and jazz on metal’s development, while also taking detours to Sun Studios in Memphis to investigate the accidental discovery of distortion and to Britain’s Marshall Amplification factory to see how founder Jim Marshall, through trial and error, tried and ultimately succeeded in building an amp that would satiate Pete Townshend’s desire for overpowering volume.

That, in and of itself, is a fascinating piece of history, as the story of how the famed Marshall stacks grew into these monstrous delivery systems for explosive sound is inextricably tied to heavy metal’s rise from music’s primordial ooze. No less an innovator than Marshall, Sun Studios’ Sam Phillips had an ear for fresh, exciting sonic possibilities, as the story of “Rocket 88” and the damaged amplifier that wrapped what is considered by many as the first rock ‘n’ roll recording in hot, fuzzy distortion indicates. And Dunn and company link indirectly that historic moment with Dave Davies’ “You Really Got Me” riff – one that many metal musicians cite as having aroused their hard-rock sensibilities – in a subtle way that speaks to their ability to combine all these diverse elements into a cohesive and entertaining package. 

Not at all surprisingly, the non-scientific portion of “Pre-Metal” starts with Black Sabbath and explains how those doom-laden chords that sprung from Iommi’s imagination – their genesis found in classical music – filled their first album with horrifying menace and supernatural uneasiness. From there, Dunn segues into a discussion of classical influences, exploring how Niccolo Paganini’s frantic violin technique put Yngwie Malmsteen on an endless quest to conquer increasingly complex and virtuoso passages and the impact of opera on the vocal theatrics and dramatic stagecraft of the likes of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford and Queensryche’s Geoff Tate. Going deeper, with great enthusiasm, producer Bob Ezrin reanimates the unbridled bombast of composer Richard Wagner’s grandest epics and transplants it into the body of arena-shaking heavy metal – the connection a logical one and not at all earth-shattering, although it’s hard not be moved by Ezrin’s explanation.

If nothing else, “Pre-Metal” establishes, yet again, that winning documentary style of Dunn’s that meshes his relaxed, albeit exuberant and intense, dedication to the cause with the amazing cross-section of interviews with heavy metal icons, lesser-known players, music-industry insiders, journalists and any other contributors who would talk to him with relevant and interesting historical treatises, rare, insightful anecdotes, a combination of incredible vintage and contemporary footage of some of rock and metal’s finest performers. Scott Ian, Kirk Hammett, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer and others talk about the salvation metal brought them, as Dunn and his collaborators seek to broaden the perspectives of “Metal Evolution” as far as they can. Then, they take it one step further, as they do in the segment on the blues’ influence on metal. With Hammett and former Deep Purple bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes adding their own two cents worth, they take great pains to get to the heart of that hellish, animalistic quality the blues has – especially apparent in the works of Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf – that made the vocals and starkly minimalist instrumentation of its greatest architects so chilling. Meeting with the man who was the last living member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band, Hubert Sumlin (who actually died in December), Dunn – doing what every great interviewer does in that he divorces himself from the conversation and lets the subject tell his or her story the way they want – describes the scary power and roiling emotions inherent in the music and lyrics of a man who was uneducated in the classic sense, but who knew all too well the trials and tribulations that torture human beings.

While there is a structure to Dunn’s storytelling that is well thought out, the “Metal Evolution” series, and “Pre-Metal” in particular, reveal a tendency to step off the reservation when the spirit moves him. And it moves him in ways that are sometimes mysterious but are mostly rewarding and vital to his dissertation, which is what “Metal Evolution” is. The editing is superb on “Pre-Metal,” as almost every quote packs a punch and the appearance of concert and candid footage from long ago or today quickens the pace and adds visual interest to the piece. As those who have been watching from Day One will undoubtedly realize, Dunn and his crew were only getting started with “Pre-Metal.” 

-Peter Lindblad

Metal Evolution - "Pre-Metal"
Watch the Full Episode - Here and Now! 

CD Review: Paul McCartney - Kisses on the Bottom

CD Review: Paul McCartney - Kiss on the Bottom
Hear Music
All Access Review: B+

In sharp contrast to the full-blown, star-studded spectacle that was his grandiose performance of the medley “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” at the 2012 Grammys, Paul McCartney’s new album of re-imagined standards – plus a couple of new tracks from the former Beatle – is tastefully understated and quietly elegant. Apparently feeling nostalgic for the vintage music that made his parents’ generation swoon, McCartney, ever the romantic, got the itch to lovingly record a set of soft, jazzy renditions of forgotten classics from the mythical Great American Songbook for Kisses on the Bottom – the title a line from the opening track on the record, the Fred Ahlert/Joseph Young composition “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” Somewhere, mum and dad McCartney are dancing cheek to cheek to their boy’s musical valentine to them.

Trading in his grand piano and his Rickenbacker bass for Diana Krall and a host of top-notch jazz session players – plus contributors Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder – McCartney went to the right place to make Kisses on the Bottom. Setting up shop in Capital A Studio in the famed Capitol Records building in Hollywood, McCartney sang his vocals into what turned out to be the mic Nat King Cole once used, as he relates in the fascinating Q&A included in the album’s liner notes. Everybody from Cole and Frank Sinatra to Dean Martin and Gene Vincent recorded there, and the ghosts that haunt the room surely paid a visit during the Kisses on the Bottom sessions to see what McCartney and his producer, Tommy LiPuma, was up to. Though he admits to being a little intimidated by the atmosphere, McCartney rises to the occasion.
Warm and wryly romantic, McCartney’s nuanced singing – he does not play an instrument on Kisses on the Bottom – sinks in the downy comforts of Krall’s gentle piano sketches, and on occasion, almost disappears into the candlelit glow of pieces like “Home (When Shadows Fall)” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Nevertheless, both tracks are carefully and beautifully arranged, with the dewy “It’s Only a Paper Moon” a country-tinged firefly of light guitar and shuffling rhythms dancing around a light, back-porch melody. Better still is the aching “More I Cannot Wish You,” a song from “Guys and Dolls” that was cut from the movie. Tender and moving, the song is treated with the sweetest string accompaniment imaginable and the kind of subtle playing that pricks hearts, with McCartney adopting the role of the grandparent sharing a lifetime of wisdom with a little girl that comprises the track’s narrative. It’s an affecting moment, one that listeners won’t soon forget.

Turning ever more playful, McCartney trips the light fantastic when turning on the neon cocktail jazz lights of “The Glory of Love,” “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)” and “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” – all three songs sung with his trademark humor and an easygoing outlook on life’s joys and sorrows.  Although the mood shifts into a dreamier state of consciousness on the slumbering “Always” by Irving Berlin, McCartney and company narrowly avoid falling into a deep sleep, as “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” tiptoes slyly about with mischievous intentions and the bluesy twilight of “Get Yourself another Fool” seems to be swept along by a lonely, heartbroken janitor – or the London Symphony Orchestra to be precise – remembering a particularly satisfying kiss-off given to some thoughtless lover.

Of course, it’s the two McCartney originals that created the most buzz for Kisses on the Bottom, and “My Valentine,” the first single, comes closest to revisiting the breathtaking pop beauty of The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” or “Here, There and Everywhere.” Despite some lovely guitar picking by Clapton, Krall’s touching piano and string arrangements that enhance the sense of longing in McCartney’s voice rather than overwhelm it – as say Phil Spector might be tempted to do – “My Valentine” doesn’t quite have the sparkle of those diamonds. McCartney’s “Only Our Hearts” closes out Kisses on the Bottom, and like the black rose that is “My Valentine,” it is imbued with sadness that comes from the idea of missing someone that feels like a part of you.

It’s a little surprising that McCartney sounds so depressed on “My Valentine” and “Only Our Hearts,” given his fairly recent tidings of good news where his own heart is concerned. Still, McCartney has experienced his share of disappointments, and he wrings out every emotion that love can elicit on Kisses on the Bottom, from unabashed joy to regret-filled feelings of loss and pain. While his vocals aren’t always as strong or as full of character as one would like, McCartney does his best to honor the material, much of which is similar to those beloved old standards he used to sing with his family on occasions like New Year’s Eve – the significance of which is explained by McCartney in the liner notes. As inspired as he was by Elvis and other rock ‘n’ roll originators, it’s evident from Kisses on the Bottom – where the instrumentation is rich and complex, and so are the glorious arrangements – that McCartney’s songwriting was influenced just as much by Gershwin and Cole Porter. A labor of love for him, Kisses on the Bottom is a touching tribute to the craft of songwriting, the kind that many would find schmaltzy these days but that which, in a less vulgar age, made couples dance close and stare into each other’s eyes until they forgot everything else around them. And, it just might make you fall in love with McCartney all over again.

- Peter Lindblad

Great selection of Paul McCartney Collectible Posters: Rock On Collectibles - Paul MCartney Posters
And if you collect Beatles memorabilia in general: Backstage Auctions Beatles Collectibles

Nikki Sixx at his best with 'Sixx: A.M.' and beyond

Written by: Carol Anne Szel / Powerline

Frank did it. Sammy did it. Dean did it. Mötley Crüe? Yes it’s true, Crue is invading Las Vegas with a three-week stint in February as the “house band,” if you will, at The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino ( This first-ever rock residency kicks off  Feb 3-19, four shows a week).
And then there’s the motion picture. The band is in negotiations to create a film based on the band’s book The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. And in the forefront of  Mötley Crüe’s immediate plans include new music, which is great news in the face of most other bands whose careers have spanned 30+ years like Crue’s, who are resting, shall we say, on the musical laurels of their past.
I had the chance to catch up with the ever-creative, ever-moving, ever-present bassist and founding member, Nikki Sixx, who opened up to me about love, sex, music, and just about every topic you can think of in a talk full of candor and honest …shall we say, lust for life.
How would you describe today’s Mötley Crüe?
Nikki Sixx: I think you’ll get a different answer from everybody in the band, that’s what I love about our band; it’s like four different personalities. But in my opinion, I feel Mötley Crüe is built to insult you. We’re here to assault you. I’m not interested in snuggling and a kiss. I just want to get right to fuckin’.
And it’s, like, Sixx:AM is seductive, sexually charged, beautiful evening out under the moon that ends up making love. Fortunately in a grave yard.
Mötley Crüe, it’s just like fucking a nasty stripper that’s probably gonna give you a disease. And I’m proud of that. I don’t want us to be tame; I don’t ever want us to be rightable. The things that we do and say. And our lyrics, it amazes me to this day that they will play ‘Shout at the Devil’ on radio. It says ‘I’ll be the love in your eyes; I’ll be the blood between your thighs.’ I’m like, ‘Are you sure you’re listening to the lyrics?’ We’re not Bon Jovi. It’s a miracle; the whole thing’s a miracle.
What keeps you creatively stimulated after all these years?
Nikki Sixx: Well I have plateaus. You know, I push and push and push myself, and I a lot of times watch other people in shock and awe, and they take on the energy of Mötley Crüe or my radio show or clothing and they go ‘Oh, we’re all about that.’
When I work with pyrotechnic companies, they don’t ever come to me anymore and go ‘Oh this is our pyro.’ They come to me and go ‘We designed a new head that shoots fire 30 feet and it will end with an explosion that’s never been used before.’ Any time I’m involved in anything, everyone is always trying to find something new and exciting because we sort of pull that out of people.
I love your book, and I was particularly moved by chapter four, it really touched me. How would you compare your humility and success?
Nikki Sixx: Thank you. You know that’s the greatest compliment I can get. You know I struggle every day. And when I put it on paper it helps me work out what it is I’m doing with my life. And you realize that you’re not alone. You know when you write a book and people say ‘Man, you know that touched me and I related to that.’ I have so many young readers that are like ‘Dude, I totally know where you’re coming from.’ Or fathers that have said ‘I totally understand your struggle.’ And you know when you keep it to yourself you don’t realize. It’s kind of like these AA meetings. When you go to an AA meeting you go ‘Well, I’m not the only one that’s having a hard day.’ And I think that’s part of the beauty of writing is that you can just write it out, even if it’s only for yourself. You sort of start to get it out. And that’s what photography is for me, too. You know I see something like You Will Not Grow. And I remember I felt like I was being told by small-minded people that I could not be successful, I could not achieve my dream. And they were my dreams, not their dreams. And they were telling me what I can dream. And when I was doing the You Will Not Grow sessions I wanted to capture that by having a very small person in Selena and having a very large person in George the Giant capturing that. Now whether or not that relates to other people or not, but it like un-corks something in you. You know what I mean?
I don’t think we really have an end zone in life. I think a lot of times people think ‘I’m gonna work to get that car.’ ‘I’m gonna really get myself in shape to get that girl.’ And ‘I’m gonna work really hard to get that promotion.’ But that isn’t really, that’s never really enough. So I’m trying to figure all that out myself, just like everybody else is but if you live in the moment, in the click of the camera, or in just the downbeat of the song, and if you can actually stay in that exact moment, in the moment that you can just smell her perfume, that moment, and don’t worry about what’s after that. If I can do that, put that on paper, or capture that in a song, or capture that on my radio show, I know so many people relate and I feel so good. Because I don’t feel alone.
Speaking of your sobriety and AA, that’s inspirational to so many.
Nikki Sixx: I’ll tell you; one thing I find about AA is that they’re very much like a lot of things that are inspiring to me. It’s really about just the moment. Like everybody goes ‘they’re struggling with the moment.’ It’s like one day at a time, one minute at a time. And I guess it’s all like one thing at a time, like one click of the camera at a time. You know one breath at a time. Like, I’m trying to slow down; I’m trying to capture it all. I know I’m on a clock, you know, I want to maximize my happiness and I want to minimize my drama.
When you write about going to a drug ‘shooting gallery’ with the harshest of addicts to capture those dark moments, what did you think when they asked you to come back and visit? That to me, was very deep.
Nikki Sixx: It’s just such an amazing moment, because it took so much just to get in. First it took a long time to find the place, then to get into the place. And then once I was in, I was not accepted — nor should I be. And then after hours and hours I was let into sort of a sacred society. And then that came in. And it was like, wow, everyone just wants to be loved.
I know, I was telling my friend. ‘You know I scare people for a living.’ Whether they’re little kids in a supermarket or fathers in the front row. That’s what I get to do. Every day to me is like seeing what trouble I can get into or what limits I can push. Including speed limits. Whether I’m doing photography or the radio show or designing clothes, that’s who I plug into every day. Dude, don’t get fuckin’ old. It’s all in your head.
Speaking of age, the Mötley Crüe summer tour was a huge success, celebrating the band’s 30 years in music. How did you pick the bands to go out with after all these years?
Nikki Sixx: We took Poison because that’s what the fans wanted, we didn’t want ‘em. I didn’t want them; we never said we wanted to tour with any ’80s bands. You know we came from 1981, by ’84 or ’83 we were gone. And we never looked back. And then there kind of came this movement after us and we got rolled into it. We’re about Black Sabbath and The Ramones and AC/DC. To me, it was like we were like NY Dolls juiced up on, you know, Van Halen.
So we never understood the correlation, and have been very vocal about it. It’s not that we have anything against a lot of these bands personally; it was just, you know, we didn’t want to be associated with it. I don’t think that U2 wants to be associated with Flock of Seagulls. They’re from the same fucking time. You know, U2, the Go-Go’s, Fleetwood Mac, but they said ‘No. We are our own band.’ And that’s what we said, but when we were going out and doing this ‘Let’s see what the fans want for a tour.’
And you speak of photography as getting you out of the norm. How is that?
Nikki Sixx: I will build you up to tear you down, whatever I need to do to capture what I’m looking for. And it’s not always safe, and it’s not always sane, and it’s not always nice, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be real and raw. And when I capture it I’m done, you’re gone. I’ve got what I wanted; I’ve got what I needed. It’s finished something inside of me.
I think its part of me trying to finish out my issues. I was talking to a photographer friend of mine the other day and he said ‘What are you working on?, — you know we talk ‘What project are you working on?’ And songwriters are like ‘Hey man, whatcha been writing?’ And photographers are like ‘What project?’ We look at bodies of work in like paragraphs in a story. And I said what I’m working on, something I’m not going to disclose, but something that I’m working on right now which may not be available for quite a few years. But it’s nothing that I’ve shot before. It is nothing like anything I’ve shot before. And he raised his eyebrow and looked at me and said ‘People aren’t going to expect that.’ And I said, ‘Perfect.’
So it’s always about trying to get that little bit of fear, feeling something.
What is it you hoped to accomplish with your photography and getting it out to the people?
Nikki Sixx: That people are looking at my photography as if it’s real. I’ve already been accepted as this musician or not excepted, I accept that. This is the layer of something that I never really thought would be exposed.
It’s so interesting because I’m so guilty of what I don’t want. I, a lot of times, get inundated with so much stuff and I get so entrepreneurial in my head. And the problem with entrepreneurs is that they start a lot of stuff and don’t finish a lot of stuff. I get so into a movie that I never finish the movie because I have to check my email. I never finish my email because I want to go read the manual on my new camera. And I never learn the camera because I want to finish the chorus of that song I started. And I have to stop myself and just capture these beautiful moments.
Thanks Nikki!
Nikki Sixx: Thank you, I always love doing an interview with you!

This interview was originally published on Powerline. For more interesting interviews, reviews and metal news check them out here: PowerlineMag

DVD Review: Deep Purple - Live at Montreux 2011

DVD Review: Deep Purple - Live at Montreux 2011
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review:  A-

Deep Purple has tried this before. Back in 1969, when the idea of a rock band sharing the stage with an orchestra seemed absolutely ludicrous, especially to so-called “serious musicians” who wanted nothing to do with anything besides classical music, Jon Lord’s ambitions were realized. The long-time Purple keyboardist had composed the three-part movement epic Concerto for Group and Orchestra, and plans were made for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform the piece at Royal Albert Hall … with Deep Purple, mind you.

Not surprisingly, as singer Ian Gillan recalls during a lengthy interview included with the new separate concert DVD and two-CD packages Live at Montreux 2011, many members of the orchestra “… had an air about them” and were not keen on cooperating with Purple in any capacity. At that time, classical musicians did not play well with others, which was somewhat understandable. There really wasn’t much precedence for this sort of thing, The Nice’s Five Bridges being the only other deal with the devil hatched between an orchestra and a rock band around that time. A forward-thinking conductor by the name of Malcolm Arnold wasn’t having any of it, however. Gillan remembers Arnold giving the whole orchestra a rather “… brusque ‘pull your socks up,’” which evidently is British code for, “stop acting like bratty snobs and get back to work before I give you what for.” The mutiny quelled, Deep Purple, still clinging to its progressive-rock approach while edging ever closer toward the more straightforward, riff-heavy attack they would unleash on 1970’s In Rock and 1972’s Machine Head, and the Royal Philharmonic ultimately joined forces to produce a performance that – perhaps because of the publicity the event generated – unexpectedly landed their collaboration on the charts.

What was once a groundbreaking proposition, reserved for only the most classically inclined bands of the progressive movement, has become old hat for Deep Purple, having performed with an orchestra several times over the years. Last year, Gillan, drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover, guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airy, Lord’s replacement, went down to Montreux, the Swiss community forever linked to Deep Purple by catastrophe and the classic song, “Smoke on the Water,” inspired by the ruinous casino fire started “by some stupid with a flare gun” at a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert. Backing them this time around at famed Montreux Jazz Festival was the 38-piece Neue Philharmonic from Frankfurt, Germany – under the blue-collar, workmanlike direction of Stephen “BK” Bentley-Klein – and in all likelihood, over time, Purple has learned a valuable lesson from other, more disastrous pairings such as this, and that is, don’t let the armada of cellists, violinists, and whatever other instrumentalists happen to be in the room play pretty and decorate these full-on, hot-blooded rock anthems with a lot of flair and ornamentation.

The buzz word for Gillan and Paice regarding this project is “augmentation.” Comparing the Neue Philharmonic’s purpose to that of Count Basie Orchestra, the two Purple war horses talk about how the orchestra swings and puts a strong shoulder to the grooves of the band’s classic hits, and the orchestra does indeed expand on and enhance them with huge, sweeping waves of sound that seem to lift and carry to heaven tracks like the lushly exotic “Rapture of the Deep” and the swooning instrumental “Contract Lost” – featuring Morse’s soaring, beautifully sketched guitar solo – that opens the doors of perception to a reflective, emotionally powerful “When A Blind Man Cries.” And when called for, Neue provides additional horsepower to “Woman from Tokyo,” “Space Truckin’” and a blazing, brightly lit version of “Highway Star.”

It all comes together on “The Well Dressed Guitar,” where Morse grinds away in brutally heavy fashion while glorious strings radiate blinding light as the crowd, in dazzling unison, raises their hands overhead to clap along with Gillan. Coming down however briefly from that incredible high, the two units launch into a powerful, majestic version of “Knocking at Your Back Door” that’s surges with dark melodic energy. On “Lazy,” Purple takes over, their bluesy breakdowns and uprisings needing no color or nuance, although Bentley-Klein does come down from his perch to offer up a scintillating violin foray to Morse’s clinical six-string dissection and Airey’s smoldering organ blasts. Between that and Airey’s needlessly showy, but nicely balanced solo blend of futuristic keyboard sounds and jazzy piano, “No One Came” works up quite a sweat, with Morse’s tricky lead finishing the job in spectacular fashion.

A bit glitzy, as if begging for a residency at some tacky Las Vegas hotel, and at times losing touch with the earthiness and guts that have always kept Deep Purple grounded, the lengthy Live at Montreux 2011 is, nonetheless, a lively, brilliantly filmed document of a magic night in the life of Deep Purple in a place that’s become to them a second home. The sound has great clarity and richness, while the high-definition cameras, shooting from a satisfying variety of angles and distances, provide a visual feast for the eyes. Packaged with in-depth, and quite candid, interviews with every current member of Deep Purple, plus a smattering of new and vintage footage, Live in Montreux 2011 is a heady rush of concert excitement. And when “Smoke on the Water” rises up like some sleeping giant awakened after around 40 years of dormancy, it fills Montreux with monstrous riffs, massive walls of strings and blaring horns trumpeting what feels like a new dawn for Deep Purple. It isn’t, actually, but for about 115 minutes, it seems as if the band, now having so much fun together, has dived right in to the Fountain of Youth and come out younger and full of vitality. And the Neue Philharmonic had something to do with that.

- Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth

CD Review: Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth
Interscope Records
All Access Review:  A-

When it comes to anything and everything related to Van Halen, the truth is always subjective. The first time around, when David Lee Roth exited stage left, what exactly happened between him and the rest of that band that caused their very public and nasty divorce? Then there was the whole Sammy Hagar debacle. Did he leave of his own volition or was he canned by Eddie and Alex? On the heels of that messy split came the aborted 1996 reunion with Roth and the MTV Music Awards fiasco that led Eddie to say something to the effect of, if Roth ever addressed him in a certain way again, “ … he’d better wear a cup.” If ever anyone was to attempt to write a rock and roll soap opera, they might as well abandon the idea right now, because chances are, no writer could, in his wildest dreams, concoct the kind of drama that has already unfolded within Van Halen.

And so, here we are in 2012, and pigs now evidently can fly. Roth is back in the Van Halen fold and a new album has arrived, the blessed event preceded by the release of an unsatisfying first single, “Tattoo,” that led to much head-scratching and quizzical expressions. Betrayed by a weak, lazy chorus, Eddie’s “going through the motions” solo and a sort of forced attempt to bring back that cheeky fun the boys exuded on smash hits like “Hot For Teacher” and “Jump,” “Tattoo” received mixed reviews – to put it charitably – and torpedoed expectations for A Different Kind of Truth, Van Halen’s first album with Roth since 1984. The bar lowered well below where it was set for Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy, it turns out Van Halen was sandbagging us all along. Supposedly working off bits and scraps of material the band had left over from the good old days Van Halen has transformed this pile of ephemera into a powerhouse album engorged with Roth’s circus-barker vocals, Alex’s brawny, wrecking-ball drumming and the kind of molten riffs and high-flying, supersonic solos that made Eddie Van Halen a legend.

A Different Kind of Truth washes out the bad taste of “Tattoo,” the opening track, almost immediately with the rampaging stampede of “She’s The Woman.” As if circling high above a freshly killed carcass, in buzzard-like fashion, Eddie whips up a dazzling, intricate intro to the track that rushes headlong into a prison break of heavy, unbridled riffs and tenderizing rhythms. What should have been the initial single, “You and Your Blues,” is more darkly melodic, chugging tantalizingly ahead before giving way to a deceptively simple, cascading chorus that’s disarming, instantly memorable and becomes even more rewarding with repeated listens. Clearly, Eddie is reinvigorated and out to prove that he’s still the champ, as the dizzying flurry of knockout blows he delivers in the thundering blitzkrieg that is “China Town” – the closest Van Halen has ever come to sounding punk, although the raging, speed-addicted “Bullethead” that crops up two songs later would be a close second – so exquisitely proves, especially with the blindingly fast, Yngwie Malmsteen-like fretwork that turns the ignition on this hard-working engine.

A truly great guitar record, with scorching leads and contorted figures strategically placed throughout its burning landscape like claymore mines and Eddie effortlessly executing the kind of hairpin twists and turns that would cause other guitarists to crash and burn, A Different Kind of Truth gnashes its teeth and wails at a world that had begun to see Van Halen as a joke. It’s no party album; actually, it’s more of a thrill ride, a fast, frenzied rollercoaster that speeds through some of the darker territory Van Halen once traversed in “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “And the Cradle will Rock” and “Mean Streets” – “Honeybabysweetiedoll,” with its mad-dog growl and exotic Middle Eastern overtones, and “As Is” matching, chord for explosive chord, their surging power.

Uncharacteristically, though as slyly charming and as entertaining as ever, Roth seems comfortable taking a backseat to Eddie on A Different Kind of Truth, except on “Outta Space,” the philosophical “The Trouble with Never” and “Stay Frosty.” Roth’s trademark swagger and that comedic charisma he has are in full effect on the bluesy, gleefully entertaining “Stay Frosty,” which carries on the acoustic tradition and vaudevillian soft shoe of “Ice Cream Man” and “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now).” Propelled by the propulsive, pounding bass lines and Eddie’s stop-start dynamics that drive the humorous “Outta Space” forward, Roth lets it all hang out, singing as if he’s fighting for his career, dipping low and then rising to wrestle with Eddie’s guitar for the spotlight. Every grunt, yelp and excited utterance is emitted in the moment and without preconception, and for the first time in a long while, Roth, though never a great singer, doesn’t come off as self-serving or clownish.

Although there really isn’t a clear radio hit – even “You and Your Blues” is bereft of that mysterious “it” factor that pushes a song up the charts – and it could do with a little more refinement as far as song construction goes, A Different Kind of Truth leaves you breathless by the end, its energy and intensity almost overwhelming. Less generous with those big, juicy hooks of theirs than one would expect and missing those vocal harmonies that Michael Anthony used to supply in spades, A Different Kind of Truth is, nonetheless, a tour de force for Eddie, a chance for him to showcase all the new tricks he’s learned. Despite its clunky title, the album is a sonic whirlwind, and when everybody was asking what kind of response Van Halen had for Chickenfoot, nobody imagined that this was what Eddie and the gang had in mind. In its quest for truth, Van Halen has rediscovered much of what made them great in the first place.

- Peter Lindblad

VH Interview 
(direct from the Van Halen website) 

Metal Evolution - "Progressive Metal"

Metal Evolution - "Progressive Metal"
Sam Dunn
VH1 Classic

All Access Review:  A-

As if channeling some malevolent force from the Great Beyond, the moody schizophrenia and heart-of-darkness explorations of King Crimson's unsettling early 1970s progressive-rock seemed to emanate pure evil. Where more timid musical spirits braked to a screeching halt at the borders of that uncharted musical territory they explored with such curiosity, Robert Fripp and company pressed on, eager to discover bizarre sounds and encounter odd time signatures while welcoming any weirdness that might suddenly jump out at them from the blackness. Hardier souls like Metallica's Kirk Hammett embraced the more disturbing and strangely foreign elements of Crimson's oeuvre, and some, like Classic Rock magazine's Jerry Ewing, even go so far as to consider them a proto-thrash outfit.

It's not quite as easy as it sounds to establish that link between the early forefathers of English prog-rock, like Yes and Genesis, and heavy metal, but filmmaker Sam Dunn and his co-conspirators do just that in the beginning of "Progressive Metal," the latest chapter in his "Metal Evolution" series that's been dominating the airwaves on VH-1 Classic over the last few months. Over the life of "Metal Evolution," Dunn has shown the ability to make connections that don't seem patently obvious, and he doesn't do it in a ham-fisted manner. With regard to Crimson's influence on thrash, Dunn lets Hammett and Ewing make the case for him. And Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, also interviewed by Dunn, bolsters the argument by adding "I doff my cap" to metal artists who have shown an affinity for weighty, challenging music. 

And this heavy metal sub-genre certainly has its share of challenging artists. There's the mysterious complexity of Tool and the blend of raging thrash metal, technical brilliance and melodic playfulness of Dream Theater - Dunn's inquisitive nature leading him to revisit Dream Theater's somewhat rebellious Berklee College of Music experience and study Tool's brooding intensity and penchant for remaining anonymous. All of that, however, is nothing compared to the extreme lengths Meshuggah goes to in pounding out its jazz-infected death metal assault or the completely insane prog-metal noise riots Dillinger Escape Plan ignites onstage. It is at this point that Dunn wonders if progressive-metal hasn't gone too far, the furious live clips of Meshuggah and Dillinger Escape Plan leaving viewers with mouths gaping wide. Mastodon brings "Progressive Metal" back to some semblance of normalcy, the Atlanta, Ga., prog-metal outfit combining unrelenting heaviness, surging power and intricate instrumentation on albums such as the "Moby Dick"-style concept record Leviathan, one of the truly important rock albums of the last decade. Dunn isn't shy about singing Mastodon's praises, and with good reason, considering the focused study of Leviathan he undertakes. Their lofty ambitions, Brann Dailor's multi-dimensional drumming, the hoary vocal blending of Dailor, Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders, and the sheer immensity of their sound has turned Mastodon into what is perhaps the biggest force in metal today, at least among the more independent-minded metal denizens plying their trade.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the fearless experimentation of 1970s progressive-rock envelope-pushers Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson. Dailor cites Crimson and Genesis, in particular, as inspiration at the beginning of "Progressive Metal," which leads Dunn to craft a concise, yet compelling history of prog-rock through intelligent, insightful interviews with the likes of Hackett, Yes/King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford, and Yes bassist Chris Squire, along with Ewing and another Crimson drummer, Michael Giles. Augmenting the tightly edited and endlessly fascinating dialogue is a series of period live footage from Crimson - playing "21st Century Schizoid Man" - and Yes, shown performing a lively, boisterous version of "Roundabout" that makes present-day Yes seem impotent by comparison.

Once Dunn dispenses with the old guard, he turns his camera eye on Rush. Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, and Geddy Lee are all interviewed for Dunn's piece, and their commentary on the transition from Caress of Steel to 2112 is informative and interesting. Clearly, Rush is the suspension bridge that connects old-school prog and the progressive-metal community that is driving metal out of all its predictable ghettos and into places where others fear to tread. Dunn's keen interest in Rush shows, resulting in a long segment on the band's development from basic, blue-collar hard-rock dynamos to a trio that isn't afraid to stretch the limits of imagination. That hunger to expand and grow that's made Rush an enduring proposition has undoubtedly made an impact on the upstart metal bands swept up in their hugely influential wake. Plenty of Rush live footage - from yesterday and today - is offered that puts the band's rugged, uncompromising, and dynamic musicianship on display in "Progressive Metal," and when Lee, in his talk with Dunn, mentions how radio contains many "empty calories" and that people will also be on the lookout for interesting, unconventional music, it gives one a glimmer of hope that many will turn to early Genesis, Crimson and Yes to scratch that itch.

Though Dunn takes a more linear - and therefore, less artful - path in detailing progressive-metal's rise, he handles the subject matter with characteristic humility and sincere interest. He is thorough in his investigation of progressive-metal, leaving very few stones unturned. "Progressive Metal" is the last episode of the season for "Metal Evolution," and it is a strong chapter in the series. Whatever Dunn has up his sleeve for the future let's hope it matches the detailed examinations, intellectual groping and witty humor that have made "Metal Evolution" such wonderful television.

- Peter Lindblad

Metal Evolution - Progressive Metal
Watch the Full Episode - Here and Now! 

DVD Review: Queen - "Days of Our Lives"

DVD Review: Queen - "Days of Our Lives"
Eagle Vision
All Access Review: A

Striding slowly across the stage in 1986, draped in a royal velvet robe with a gold crown on top of his head, Freddie Mercury, his head slightly tilted back, certainly bore a regal countenance. Preening to a packed stadium crowd, his arms spread wide in an ostentatious display of kingly arrogance, Mercury addressed his subjects, numbering in the thousands. As the waves of adulation began to subside at one of Queen’s final concerts, Mercury, laughing and smiling as if he didn’t have a care in the world, playfully places the crown on Roger Taylor’s head, as if abdicating his throne. To everyone, he looked as healthy as a horse. In secret, Mercury was already battling AIDS, and perhaps on some level, he knew then that he was inescapably doomed.
“I think he had an idea that he was not terribly well,” says Taylor, in between shots of the exultant audience, their arms raised to heaven in praise of Queen and the extravagant, theatrical rock and roll spectacle they were about to witness. That bit of foreshadowing from Taylor sets the stage for a moving narrative on Mercury’s last days and the touching elegy for this electric performer that encompasses much of Episode 2 of “Days of Our Lives,” an authoritative, engrossing and emotional two-part DVD documentary on Queen released on the last day of 2011, the 40th anniversary of Queen’s birth. “Days of Our Lives” originally aired in May on BBC in the U.K. over two nights. The DVD release, also available on Blu-Ray with loads more (almost an hour’s worth of interviews and additional scenes) bonus material, includes Episodes 1 and 2, plus a clutch of seven newly created videos for some of Queen’s greatest hits and deleted footage that make for absolutely essential viewing.
It’s a ripping yarn, this tale. Told chronologically by longtime fans Rhys Thomas and Simon Lupton, with Matt Casey directing, “Days of Our Lives” neatly cleaves Queen’s career in two parts, the first spanning 1970-1980 and the second picking right up where The Game leaves off, forging straight on through the inner turmoil of Hot Space and Mercury’s tragic death, and then arriving in the present, where Mercury’s shadow still looms over the lives of the three remaining members. New interviews with Taylor and Brian May, who are both refreshingly open and honest about the excesses and infighting that threatened to destroy Queen, form the core of “Days of Our Lives” – interestingly, bassist John Deacon, considered by many to be Queen’s secret weapon, is conspicuous by his absence, his contributions limited to found interview footage from long ago. Their commentary, so engaging and revealing, is patched in smartly amongst seemingly hundreds of clips of blazing, visceral concert video – including glorious Live Aid and Wembley Stadium triumphs, and South American soccer arena blowouts, with May and Taylor, as well as other Queen insiders, reliving the tension and fear arising from their appearance in totalitarian Argentina – and an abundance of other archival footage, much of it rare and unreleased. From the scandalous “Bicycle Race” promos featuring nude women bikers pedaling their ten-speeds to scintillating TV performances (starting with the band’s first-ever “Top Of The Pops” appearance from 1974, which hasn’t been seen since then – remembered with mixed feelings by May and Taylor), scrapbook black-and-white stills from their youth, piles of interview material and vintage behind-the-scenes film culled from video shoots, “Days of Our Lives” proves to be the ultimate Queen scrapbook, lovingly compiled and artfully arranged to serve a captivating story.
“Days of Our Lives” would be an incredibly vital collection for all that alone were it not for the wealth of colorful anecdotes strewn throughout its well-ordered contents. By turns devilishly funny – as when former manager John Reid recalls walking out on Mercury in a restaurant over an interview he did without Reid’s consent, and Mercury responding by throwing a brick through Reid’s window and telling Reid, in no uncertain terms, that nobody does that to him – and crushingly sad, as when Taylor tears up remembering when he heard that Mercury had died, the documentary is an illustrious history, not given to hyperbole but ever conscious of Queen’s magnificent accomplishments. Rummaging through the past, “Days of Our Lives” thoroughly vets all of Queen’s highs and lows, from the controversial Sun City performance in a South Africa still segregated by Apartheid to the gross financial mismanagement that nearly sunk them early on and ultimately, winding up with the bittersweet catharsis that was the tribute concert for Mercury. Fascinating stories abound, including the revelation that Deacon forgot the memorable bass line he’d created for “Another One Bites The Dust” when the band went out for pizza. And, of course, there are the many remembrances of Mercury the man, courageous in the face of a terminal disease and a wildly creative workaholic right up to the very end, as he tried valiantly to squeeze in as many recordings as he could for Queen before passing on. 
Sharply edited so that every scene has an impact, “Days of Our Lives” runs along at a pace that is quick but not hurried. The story of how Smile morphed into Queen is fleshed out with just enough detail to whet appetites for what’s to come, and from there, “Days of Our Lives” segues seamlessly into the making of Queen I and II, tracking Queen’s early stages of growth and development with surprising candor, humor and historical truth. On the cusp of a breakthrough, Queen kicked down the door with Sheer Heart Attack, and the sophisticated artistry that designed “Killer Queen” is dissected with scientific curiosity. The remainder of “Days of Our Lives” walks that fine line between entertainment and information delivery with relaxed confidence and clarity of vision, all while somehow controlling a gushing geyser of details related to Queen’s recording sessions – particular attention being paid to the groundbreaking multi-tracking techniques and choral-like blending of voices that sounded so angelic on “Somebody to Love” and a bevy of signature Queen tracks – and other key moments in the band’s tumultuous life.
Billed as “the definitive documentary of the world’s greatest rock band,” “Days of Our Lives” is all that and more. And while it is slightly less audacious than Mercury was onstage, it does capture all the pomp and circumstance that made Queen a stadium-rock sensation – for proof, see the deft shuffling of clips of “One Vision” brought to life through May’s cutting riffs and Mercury’s spine-tingling vocals. At Live Aid, Mercury was in rare form, whipping the masses into a writhing, joyous state of ecstasy that threatened to lift Wembley off its foundations. He truly was rock royalty, and so was the classic Queen lineup. Guaranteed to blow your mind, “Days of Our Lives” is that rare video biography that’s both grounded in reality and a completely transcendent experience. Somewhere, Freddie Mercury is smiling. 

- Peter Lindblad

Metal Evolution - "Power Metal"

Metal Evolution - "Power Metal"
Sam Dunn
VH1 Classic

All Access Review:  A-

Many wars have been fought over religious differences, each side believing theirs is the one true faith. The heavy metal community has its own zealots, and today’s power metal scene – often the subject of ridicule for its “Dungeons and Dragons” imagery, fans all decked out in medieval battle garb and its “happy metal” accessibility  – is full of them. Huge in Europe, where festivals such as Metal Camp in Slovenia pack them in, power metal is populated by bands such as Hammerfall, Manowar, Falconer, Primal Fear, and female-fronted Finnish-Swedish power metal royalty Nightwish, among others. For the latest episode of “Metal Evolution,” filmmaker Sam Dunn, with silent partner Scot McFayden working behind the scenes, traces the roots of power metal all the way back to Rainbow and Ronnie James Dio, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the Scorpions and attempts to figure out where it all went so haywire.
Even Dunn isn’t quite sure what to make of this thing. Traveling overseas, he goes to great lengths to explore every single facet of a sub-genre marked by bombastic, epic arrangements, singers with operatic range, melodic guitars that fly at unheard of speeds, questionable fashion choices, and gothic sensibilities. At Wacken, there’s a small costumed marching band – with a drum major wearing a wig of long, flowing hair – that walks past Dunn playing Europe’s “Final Countdown.” An on-again off-again meeting with neo-classical guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen is scrapped when the notoriously flighty and sometimes difficult Malmsteen decides not to show up; then, Dunn is supposed to interview Malmsteen in a castle. Eventually, it takes place, and Dunn, finding the whole situation funny, graciously gives Malmsteen the spotlight to explain how he’s merged classical music and metal over the years, and all is forgiven.
His patience already tested, Dunn is also eager to tell the story of Manowar, the shirtless, loin-clothed defenders of what they’ve referred to as “true metal,” and their obsession with Conan the Barbarian. But, founding member Joey DeMaio refuses to sit down with Dunn. Undaunted, Dunn turns to ex-Manowar member Ross the Boss, also known for his past association with punk heroes The Dictators. Unlike DeMaio, Ross is comfortable talking about Manowar, whether or not they were “true metal” and why they were so into Conan. It’s so tempting to make jokes at Manowar’s expense and others have, taking jabs at their hyper-macho, caveman-like appearance and fantasy-laden lyrics. But, because Ross clearly doesn’t take himself or Manowar too seriously, it’s probably time to just leave them be and appreciate their actual dedication to bringing power metal back to its origins. The likeable Dunn, smiling all the way through “Power Metal,” takes the high road and does just that.
Where past installments of “Metal Evolution” have, perhaps, treated the subject matter at hand with reverence, “Power Metal” comes off as something of a lark. That’s not to say that Dunn, obviously having fun in revealing all the pomp and circumstance this kind of metal has to offer, has tongue planted firmly in cheek throughout or that he shows metal’s most outrageous sub-genre any disrespect. Dutifully, Dunn constructs a rich history of power metal through informative interviews with writers like Martin Popoff and Metal Hammer’s Sandro Buti, and members of power metal’s most influential artists, including Priest’s Rob Halford, Dio, and practically all of Iron Maiden. The German angle is pursued vigorously, with Dunn connecting the dots between Tokyo Tapes-era Scorpions and Accept and some of the newer power metal acts from that country. Meanwhile, contemporary power-metal players like the ultra-fast, “Guitar Hero”-gunslingers Dragonforce and the wintry, gothic, and breathtakingly dramatic Nightwish all explain how they are forging a new course for heavy metal. And when Nightwish keyboardist Tuomas Halopainen passionately discusses his love of making music for film and how that could be the new classical music, you can’t help but believe him.
Described somewhat disparagingly early on in the episode as “happy metal,” power metal in all its glory seems to be a force to be reckoned with in Europe. Like Maiden, these acts infuse melody and harmonics into an immense wave of sound, and it has caught on over there – especially with female fans. The popularity of Nightwish is living proof. And while power metal, with its festival crowds singing and chanting along as one big sweaty, foul-smelling mass of joyful metal unity, has not conquered North America, it could invade at any time and crash through our snobbish defenses to scale the charts with a sound that isn’t so different from Evanescence or Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Always straddling that line between being unforgivably cheesy and stunningly beautiful, power metal has come a long way, baby, and Dunn comes to that realization by the end of the show. Still incredulous, though, at its sheer audacity, Dunn celebrates power metal in all its ridiculousness, and in the end, sees it as not only harmless fun, but also as an art form that has its own magic and majesty.
- Peter Linblad

Metal Evolution - Power Metal
Watch the Full Episode - Here and Now!