Thursday, May 31, 2012

Victims of Changes

I saw this for the first time a few months ago and didn't post it for some reason: Heavy Metal Parking Lot, that HEE-LARIOUS indictment of hesher stupidity at an 80's Judas Priest concert, was released on DVD a while back with all kinds of extra footage. Included was a "Where Are They Now?" feature, where the film makers caught up with a number of the original's "stars", including the legendary "Zebra Man." That Defender of the Faith and pathfinder of Mars claimed to have never seen the original before he was tracked down (doubtful) and now listens exclusively to country. Which I guess makes sense, in a "getting shitfaced in the parking lot" kind of way. 

Personally, I would have liked to hear from the girl who wanted to jump Rob Halford's bones.  [Whiskey woman don't you know that you are drivin' me insane?] In her defense, she was drunk, hindsight is 20/20, and in the 80's most things were gayer than the Metal God.

As an aging hesher myself, this hits uncomfortably close to home. And since earlier this year I was a firsthand witness to a time-ravaged Judas Priest struggling to deliver the goods, Sad Wings of Destiny's majestic opener has never been more apt:

"Let him who hath understanding reckon..."

This week in "!!!?!?!" - HMV, the British music retailer, recently conducted a survey to decide the "best" British album of the last 60 years; the surprise winner was Iron Maiden's epic Number of the Beast, which beat out classic albums by the Beatles, Pink Floyd and (gods be praised) Oasis.  The survey was conducted in honour of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee; the winner itself is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Obviously, with Sergeant Pepper, Abbey Road, Revolver, and the White Album all in the top ten, the Beatles vote was split four ways - otherwise they would have topped the list easily.  And I highly doubt that Maiden are more popular than either Depeche Mode (who came in at number two) or Oasis (number eight). Why neither Radiohead nor Coldplay cracked the top ten is a mystery to me...maybe their fans were too busy feeling sad to vote.  So this has less to do with the popularity of Iron Maiden as it does the pitfalls of the electoral process.

Still, what an achievement, especially for a band that spent too much of the last twenty years as a set up for easy hesher jokes.  There's no arguing the album's quality or influence: three decades after its release, it still holds up as one of the pillars of the genre as well as a stone cold classic (and Maiden fired off a whole string of them).  And the Beast introduced the world to a hyperactive little man named Bruce Dickinson, who some have claimed is the greatest metal frontman of all time, and still puts out more energy than Hoover Dam despite being well into his fifties.

Corny as it sounds, I'm proud to be a hesher today, and will probably be blasting Maiden for the next 24 hours straight.  You know who else would really be stoked by all this?  Thrash gods Kreator, who just released this timely cover as a b-side to their new album/single:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bonded by Earbuds

Ben Fowlkes, whose writing has inspired more than a few of my blog posts, has a new podcast about MMA called Co-Main Event.  Fowlkes is the best journo covering the sport of beating another guy up, and having his wit and analysis available in podcast form is very welcome.  Check it out here.

Of course, the best podcast in the world is still Requiem, and they've just released part two of a two-part show on In Flames, executive-produced by my good buddy Eric Chun.  Check that out here and here.  Hopefully they have answers as to how a band that were so brilliant and innovative early on dwindled into sub-nu metal dreck. Maybe it's whatever Anders is rubbing into his dreadlocks.

Also: Illustrator Mark Rudolph, one half of the Requiem team (the other being Jason Hundey) has a very cool new limited edition print, based on the cover of Napalm Death's epic From Enslavement to Obliteration.  If I was still living in the States, I'd definitely snap up a couple for myself.  Too awesome.  Grab yours here and tell Mark the Wizard of Awesome sent you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Magrudergrind on VEEP

In the most recent episode of HBO's Veep, there was a scene depicting "this extreme metal band playing over at Labyrinth's...real fucked up noise.  They don't even have a name."  Immediately after the episode, I spent a few hours trying to find out who the actual band was, to no avail (though that search inadvertently led to me discovering Cuban Metal, the Havana KVLT)

Well, turns out the band was Magrudergrind, who are no strangers to piggybacking off of corporate America. Check out their star turn, courtesy of Metal Injection.

Two thoughts:
1) " being operated on by a chimp with a hard-on and a hacksaw" should be a blurb on the next Magrudergrind album;
2) I still have to defer to good ol' Napalm Death when it comes to infiltrating the mainstream, usually in the most unexpected ways.

Monday, May 21, 2012

¡Libertad o Metal de la Muerte!*

Who knows where Google searches will lead us? I was trying to figure out which grindcore band was featured in the latest episode of HBO's Veep ("This is fucking PRIMORDIAL!" a character screams, though I can confidently say it wasn't Primordial), and got sucked into this Spin article about Cuba's extreme metal scene. 

The article, written by David Peisner (who also wrote a great article about music as an enhanced interrogation technique for Spin), is a pretty fantastic primer on the Cuban metal scene and its history, going back to its earliest Sabbath/Zepplin inspired band, Venus, to its first forays into extreme metal via the raw thrash of Metal Oscuro.

Of course, as with any country with a long history of religious conservatism and dictatorship, the most dominant style of metal in Cuba is black metal.  On the surface, the reasons are obvious: Black metal is rarely political and its sacrilegious nature is less likely to ruffle feathers with the Communist establishment than more socially conscious genres like death metal or grindcore.  In fact, its anti-religious themes run parallel to the old Marxist aphorism about "the opiate of the masses."

But who was Satan, if not the first non-conformist and ultimate anti-authoritarian? And since its inception, black metal has drawn heavily from Anton LaVey's Satanism, which is more a philosophy of self-determinism than anything to do with the occult. Cuban black metal may not be as articulate or obvious a rejection of autocratic regimes as Orwell's 1984, but that doesn't make it any less passionate; lump Big Brother in with the Father and the Son for entities that black metal bands would rally against.

Of course, extreme metal vocals offer unlikely cover from government censorship:

A lot of bands sing in English, which offers a measure of protection. As Abaddon's Olivares points out, many of the lyrics are indecipherable anyway. "If you sing in English and your voice is all growls, they can't understand what you're saying," he says. "If they understood, it would be more problematic."

As someone who often complains about the state of metal in South East Asia, I have to say that this article is incredibly humbling.  Stories of Malaysian authorities harassing and arresting the local metal scene are well documented, but pale in comparison to what Cuban metal bands have to go through.  Besides the intense government restrictions on their material, Cuban metal bands have to be licensed by the State in order to be paid:

"For musicians to get paid, they must be "professional," a status bestowed on them by a government agency, through the Ministry of Culture.

For years, rock and metal acts were licensed through the same agencies as salsa and jazz bands. What that meant, in reality, was that they were mostly ignored and therefore couldn't earn money legally. In 2007, the Cuban Rock Agency was formed to represent them. Shortly after, the agency began auditioning bands to receive their professional credentials. At present, it has 16 acts on its roster, most of them metal, and, due to limited resources, nearly all from Havana. These bands either get paid a monthly salary or 60 percent of ticket sales whenever they play a show. What that amounts to is not much: Only one musician I spoke to, Arce, the ex-Venus singer who began fronting Zeus in 1996, makes enough from music to live on. He earns 3,000 national pesos a month, or about $125, which is four to five times more than the average Cuban."

The Internet, that great enabler of bands from even the most remote parts of the world, is still out of the hands of most Cuban metalheads:

"Access is restricted to those authorized specifically by the regime, and even people who manage to get online, legally or illegally (often at great personal expense), must cope with governmental monitoring and slow dial-up connections (broadband and Wi-Fi are all but nonexistent)."

Think about that: no iTunes, no Youtube, no blog searches, no torrents, no trolling on message boards.  Even gathering equipment to start a band requires more resourcefulness and dedication than the average music fan is capable of:

"When Eric formed his first group, Cronos, in 1991, they had to manufacture most of their equipment from scratch. Eric, whose full-time job is teaching art, constructed the guitar bodies from wood, then fixed them with pickups that came from former Eastern Bloc nations such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. Friends helped him jury-rig together homemade amplifiers. These days, getting equipment is only marginally easier.

"My monthly salary is 480 pesos," says Eric. "That's about $20. I'm not going to buy a microphone or I'll starve to death. By the way, there's no shop with instruments, anyway."
The band members tell me about taping together broken drumsticks, making guitar picks from old phone cards, and only changing guitar strings every seven months. As one of Chlover's guitarists Milton Núñez explains, "Normally, you buy equipment to get the sound you want to achieve. Here, you take anything that shows up and somehow get to the sound you want."

And for bands outside the capital of Havana, the challenges multiply:
"Traveling the country is arduous. Buying a car was illegal without specific government permission until last year, and still remains prohibitively expensive. Decent public transportation between provinces is also pricey — my bus trip to Santa Clara cost as much as the average monthly salary — and the cheaper options are unreliable. At the 666 Fest, one of the headlining bands, Unlight Domain, hitchhiked to the gig, which isn't uncommon; but two other bands tried to and didn't make it, which also isn't uncommon."

In light of what Cuban metal heads have to go through for the music they love, the rest of us have it pretty easy.  Cuban bands rarely get to play overseas, and with limited resources available in Cuba itself, bands like Narbeleth rely on foreign labels to release their music, as well as the few websites dedicated to Cuban metal, such as, erm, and

A free compilation of Cuba's most KVLT can be downloaded here, courtesy of

*Yes, that's supposed to say "Liberty or Death Metal," or as close as I can get to it in my limited español.  No, I will not apologize.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Earth's Doomiest Heroes

I just saw the documentary Such Hawks, Such Hounds after it was mentioned in a recent article on the AVClub; I described it on Facebook as "the Avengers of doom metal." In what may be my dorkiest moment ever, I've decided to run with that, partly because I'm still geeking out over how good the Avengers was, but mostly to prove there isn't a metaphor that I can't ride through the night until it collapses from exhaustion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Follow the Smoke Toward the Riff-Filled Land

[Taking a break from the Arsonist Project post; annoyingly, herding my thoughts together about bands whose average song length runs less than a minute has taken close to two weeks.  Sometimes this writing shit is hard.]

Just saw the AVClub review of the new reissue of Sleep's Dopesmoker, the SMiLE of stoner/doom metal.  This is supposed to be the definitive version of the album, coming from the band's own master tapes.  Just as I couldn't really see a huge difference between the unauthorized 1999 release (Jerusalem) and the 2003 "corrected" edition, whatever nuanced differences exist between this latest version and the previous one will undoubtedly be lost on me.  I personally have never been able to follow the song all the way through, zoning out around the 8 minute mark, and content to nod meditatively for the rest of the song's hour-plus running time. The AVClub's John Semley sums the Jerusalem/Dopesmoker experience succinctly when he writes:
"This is an album of atmosphere. It works not only to fill space, but to shape it."
From the beginning, there was a great deal of rumour and conjecture about the album.  My favourite story is that the band, having just signed to a major label, spent all their advance money on vintage amps and weed, then proceeded to write and record one hour-long song.  Their label, London Records, was less than pleased, and dropped them immediately.  Though most of those stories have been debunked, they're part of the reason why the album has loomed so large in the metal world.  Like all legends, tales of its creation grew past the boundaries of truth; in size and reputation, it's a doom metal Paul Bunyan. Which isn't to say that its greatness is exaggerated... it remains, alongside Electric Wizard's Dopethrone and Kyuss' Sky Valley, the creative peak in an often lazy and unimaginative genre.  Hawkwind went In Search of Space; Sleep found it, dragged it back to Earth and then beat on it like apes for over an hour.

I'm glad that the band have finally released the version they intended way back in 1996; the sound at least is clearer than the 2003 version (though if I'm allowed an ounce of churlishness, I still prefer the guitar tone on the Jerusalem bootleg).  Fingers crossed that Southern Lord releases it in the green vinyl format that the band had hoped for from the start.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Power Violence for Dummies

While writing about the Arsonist Project show I saw at the end of last week, I discovered this brilliant piece: An Oral History of Power Violence.  My experience with powerviolence is limited to a Spazz cd and seeing Man is the Bastard at MDF last year, so this article is a welcome bit of education, an entertaining read, and (like the music it chronicles) extremely short and to the point.

Friday, May 4, 2012

He has songs of wildebeests and angels, he has soared on the wings of a demon

Was on a Ronnie James Dio trip yesterday, which started with downloading the re-issued Rainbow Rising before progressing through several hours on youtube watching various RJD-related clips.

Rainbow Rising is unbelievably good.  It's also got to be, along with Judas Priest's majestic second album, the heaviest record released in 1976.  Between Ritchie Blackmore's towering guitars, Dio's charisma, Tony Carey's spacebound Moog, and the rhythm section's relentless battery, it's an early high water mark for a then-new thing called heavy metal. Listen closely, and you can hear a young Steve Harris taking notes as he headbangs in front of his hi-fi.

The re-issue includes three different mixes of the album - a NY mix, an LA mix, and a raw mix that drummer Cozy Powell recorded straight from the soundboard (that has existed as a bootleg for decades).  I'm partial to this last version; you can feel the electricity in the studio air that day.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Dio is "Holy Diver.".  With Dio's impassioned delivery and between-verse exclamations ("LOOK OUT!"), it's perfect for metal karaoke (and according to at least one aging punk rock icon, it's the ultimate post-breakup music).

When I saw Killswitch Engage at Mayhemfest in '09 (waiting for Slayer, natch), they closed with a "Holy Diver" cover.  While there's a lot that's just plain off in their version (BOOOO breakdown in chorus!) I think any metal lifer would have his heart warmed by seeing thousands of mallcore kiddies singing along to a hesher anthem written at least a decade before they were born.  Plus, the video they made was a pretty funny spoof of the original.

But the ultimate RJD tribute has to be from Tenacious D.  In 2001 when they released the song "Dio," the subject of their affection was consigned to releasing albums on a tiny metal indie, to a dwindling legion of die-hards and true metal cultists.  No small amount of credit is due to Jack Black and Kyle Gass for putting the man back into the pop-culture dialogue (not to mention a bad-ass cameo in their movie).

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Tenacious D
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With the second anniversary of Dio's passing coming up in a few weeks, I figure it's time for me to delve deeper into the man's oeuvre (besides spontaneously singing "Heaven and Hell").  More Dio on the way.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"This song, like half our songs, is about hell!"

I've got an executive producer credit on the latest Requiem podcast, namely the Aura Noir episode.  While I'm not a huge fan, I did enjoy them at MDF in 2011.  Blasphemer wasn't with them that day, unfortunately, but Apollyon's one-liners more than made up for that.

Listen to the episode here.

It's so meshugenah I could plotz

Today in WTF?!?!?! - Read a pretty entertaining review of Meshuggah's tour appearance at the House of Blues in Houston, TX, and was floored by the last line:
"Random Notebook Dump: On sale at the merch table was an official Meshuggah Affliction T-shirt. That was... odd."
Meshuggah's appeal with the Hot Topic crowd is pretty well established, but Affliction? What possible reason is there for a Meshuggah/Affliction crossover? Are we going to see Quinton "Rampage" Jackson walk into the octagon to "Bleed"? Would a Meshuggah fan really shell out $50 for a shirt that doesn't even have their logo on it?  Is there no word for "douchebag" in Swedish?

It turns out Affiction have done shirts for Behemoth and Testament as well.  That sound you hear, like icicles falling onto cement? That sound is my cold black heart breaking.

My brother bought me a couple Affliction shirts for my birthday a few years ago... he figured I'd wear anything with a skull, and was probably pleased with himself for finding something that looked like it worked for both him and me.  I dumped off one at a thrift store, and wore the other as a work-out shirt, never proudly.  Affliction and similar brands took imagery typically associated with metal and made it safe for mall couture; I guess having them sponsor metal bands is bringing it all full circle.  Metal + MMA is a no-brainer, so... good job, corporate synergy.  But it just feels like "this thing of ours" is being thrown to the strip mall zombies and sold back to us without its soul.

Then again, maybe there's a bright side... with companies like Amazon only too happy to recommend more crap for you to buy, maybe all this capitalist circle-jerking will have the unexpected effect of sneaking this under Christmas trees all over the world.  My cold black heart is piecing itself together just thinking about it.