Thursday, June 16, 2011

"For Thursday's Child Is Sunday's Clown"

Earlier today, I saw an item on Pitchfork, announcing that Metallica and Lou Reed were planning a full length album in collaboration.

Now, I've been planning a post for MONTHS about how I came to be a Metallica hater, and why I believe I'm still justified in hating on them.

But this won't be that post.

Because, the truth is that like nearly every other thirty- and forty-something metalhead out there, Metallica was once very special to me. Between the years of 1987 and 1991, they were one of my two favorite bands (the other being, ironically to some, the Rolling Stones).

Unlike the Stones, however, Metallica was in the now in the 80's. They were, in fact, way ahead of their time.

And despite being arguably the biggest metal band in the world in those years (yes, Mister Harris, your band was really great, too) , Metallica was also something of a cult band....a cult band that happened to make aggressive, literate and visionary music that was - to me - like some kind of a hidden treasure kept from other kids who were too hung up with their preconceptions about heavy metal to actually give it a chance.

Of course, right about the time I stepped foot onto a college campus in 1991, I began to slowly hit a punk phase. (This, of course, was something of an extension from Metallica, given the strong Misfits connection.) And that path always leads at some point to the Velvet Underground.

I won't pretend that the Velvets were even a fraction as important to me as Metallica was, but they absolutely do form the soundtrack to a lot of my college memories. I damn near wore out that cassette of "Live at Max's Kansas City" by the time I'd graduated, and I remember an awful lot of lonely nights trying to figure out the chords to "Lisa Says" on my roommate's guitar. (I never did get it right. Lou's a tricky fucker).

I loved the way Reed - in the Velvets and as a solo artist - could make his lyrics work on so many levels: the tender, the triumphant, the desperate, the devastated, the dark and the depraved.

I even had a ridiculously awesome over-sized poster of the "Rock and Roll Animal" album cover hanging above my dorm bed, complete with a verse from "Heroin" printed in the lower left corner. (Dad was just delighted to see that over parents weekend).

So, I hope we got all of that out in the clear: I still have an awful lot of love for the music of both Metallica and Lou Reed.

But, my God, I'm really not looking forward to this collaboration.

Because, unlike Death Magnetic ("return to classic form" my white, Polish ass), I have a feeling I'm not going to be able to resist checking this one out.

And, unfortunately, in the exact same way I have misgivings about tribute albums, I'm just not that comfortable with mega-artist collaborations.

Sure, I know that this is all the rage right now. Bon Iver working with Kanye. Robert Plant and Allison Krause. That Dangermouse guy and basically everyone.

But its just not for me. And I think I have a fairly logical explanation for that:

Making great music is a delicate process. It is a collaboration in and of itself, and the right mix of artists, personalities and perspectives is essential.

Furthermore, although there is some truth to the notion that most successful bands are led by a dictator personality within the unit, the fact is that the process always remains a collaboration: the dictator keeps every single member of the band because he knows that they make his vision for his music that much closer to reality. Along the way, new arrangements are suggested, new skills and talents are discovered and fostered, and -- perhaps most commonly -- beautiful mistakes are made, yielding new and often more exciting perspectives on a song.

It requires an immense amount of trust, and quite a bit of humility. (No one knows this better than the drummer).

It was true for the young Metallica. It was true for the young Velvets. It was even true for mid-career Lou Reed, when Bowie and Bob Ezrin produced albums with him.

But I question how much any successful and firmly established legacy artist can *truly* collaborate with another successful and firmly established legacy artist.

I question whether or not Reed has enough respect for Metallica to have them rearrange his songs without meddling.

I question whether or not Metallica has it in them to rise to someone else's standard.

I question whether or not this project should have been given to the guys in Mastadon, instead.

And, honestly, more than anything else, I question whether or not I can ever get over my nagging certainty that this entire idea would sound so much better if Cliff Burton was still alive.

Because when I look back at the young Metallica -- those long-haired, awkward, pimply kids -- I really do find myself thinking of them as artists.

But when I look at the clumsy arena rock juggernaut they've been for the past 20 years...with the law suits, and Saint Anger, and the Basquiat collection, and that fucking album with the philharmonic....

...Well, when I do that, I find myself sadly realizing that when that bus went off the road in Sweden, something truly did "flicker for a moment, and then it vanished and was gone."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Unholy Blashphemies?

Every once in a while, you come across someone that reminds you that your lousy opinions are all worthless and weak, and you should just stop offering them on your stupid blog until you can get your act together.

And goddamned if that guy doesn't produce Coverkiller Nation.

I just might be in love with The Coverkiller.

If Jim Cornett reviewed metal albums, he's do it just like the Coverkiller does.

If John McLaughlin hosted a Sunday morning roundtable analysis show about metal, the Coverkiller would smack that smirk off of Monica Crowley's face, give her still-warm seat cushion a slow sniff, and park his Doritos-fed ass in her chair.

The Coverkiller is Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann and Eddie Trunk, morphed into one supremely opinionated voice.

The CoverKiller has a passion for metal that I can't muster for much of anything in my life, besides maybe drinking Bell's Two Hearted Ale, watching The Soup, and passing out on the couch with my wife on a Friday night.

And, so, I now present to you, the Coverkiller's
EPIC 9:00 rant review of Morbid Angels' long-awaited Illud Divinum Insanus.

Quick primer for the three of you who don't listen to metal: Morbid Angel are one of the definitive death metal bands of all time. They make scary music. And they're good at it.

Last month they released an album that made metal fans very angry. That anger was a very specific type of anger. It was nerd rage.

Nerd rage is that irrational anger that one can only experience when one has obsessively sacrificed significant portions of time, energy and dignity to wholeheartedly waving the flag for some under-appreciated passion, only to be horribly betrayed by the object of their obsession (see also: Van Halen hiring Gary Cherone; Olivia Munn leaving "Attack of the Show"; Lucas dreaming up Jar-Jar-fucking-Binks during a Dr.-Pepper-and-quaaludes-bender, then refusing to edit him out after he sobered up; and every goddamned move that Daniel Snyder has made during his humiliating ownership of the Washington Redskins.)

This, my friends, is a splendid example of nerd rage, and I am very pleased to share it with you.

Do not go to war with the Coverkiller Nation.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reviews In Bad Taste: "All For None, None For All: A Tribute to Peter Steele"

A couple of weeks ago, the good people at stumbled upon my sad little blog, and asked me if I'd be interested in writing a review of the new Peter Steele tribute they'd just released. I told them I'd be happy to, and, lo and behold, within a day's time, they'd e-mailed me my very own copy of "All For None, None For All: A Tribute to Peter Steele".

So first things first: thanks to MetalUnderground for making this album happen; and for believing (1) that my opinion matters, and (2) that anyone reads this blog. (Ha. Suckers).

(Seriously, though, in just a smidgen more than the year after Steele died, MU's crew managed to get a tribute album off the ground, completed and out the door. That grants them my eternal respect for being a top-notch professional outfit. And for releasing it at only $3.00 a copy, they're also just plain good folks.)

Now comes the hard part: the actual review.

Let's be clear about this: I was totally upfront with Ty that I'm a pretty crap writer, and haven't done very many *reviews* per se. But, well, hell. They found me and offered me this opportunity, so here's my best effort not to screw this up.


It's fitting that in the wake of vocalist/bassist/figurehead/co-songwriter Peter Steele's death, has spearheaded a tribute to Type O Negative.

After all, cover songs were always a prominent part of Type O's repertoire, both in the studio and on stage. And although results of Type O's cover choices varied widely (it's hard to believe that the same band that did that jaw-droppingly creepy version of Seals & Croft's "Summer Breeze" also was responsible for the goddawfully terrible take on "Angry Inch"), the more important thing to keep in mind is that the band's choices reflected a dynamic appreciation for some of the best music of the 60's, 70's and even the 80's, including covers of the Beatles, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, the Doors, Status Quo, the Knack, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, CCR, Santana, and the Banana Splits. I'm pretty sure they even goofed on some Nirvana at one show I attended.

All of that is a long way of saying that the Type O Negative catalog should be totally fair game for the next generation to take a crack at, and that (once again) I am glad that MetalUnderground made it happen.

My take? My take is that tribute albums are always a tough prospect. Because out of some perverse form of logic, if you love a band enough to buy a tribute album for them, then you probably also love them enough to feel defensive and territorial about anyone doing them wrong. Its a bit of a paradox, and it explains why I own a library of tribute albums that I don't especially like.

But, still, best case, you walk out with three or four tracks that are enjoyable, and perhaps an artist or two that catches your interest. And, oddly enough, that sort of makes the entire project worthwhile, in spite of however disappointing the rest of the content might be.

And, true to form, that's exactly how this tribute turns out for me.

Before we get started, a few broad trends I spotted:

1. The bands that chose my least favorite songs walked into this review with an immediate advantage. I totally admit that the lack of an emotional connection to certain songs made it possible for me to be a little more open minded.
2. The most common pitfall for most of these bands were the vocals. In so many ways, its a lose-lose: Peter's ultra-baritone was central to so many of the band's arrangements, so if you try to mimic it, you might sound like a poseur. Swing and miss, however, and you'll lose the whole track.
3. Nothing off of "Slow Deep and Hard"?? Damn.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my take.

The Winners: Auvernia, Enthrope, Revilement, Autumn's Eyes.
The Losers: Fairytale Abuse, Emancer, Blind Greed.
Somewhere in the middle: Everyone else.

Track by track:

"I Don't Want to Be Me" -- Auvernia (Argentina): I don't believe that a single band on this comp had as much fun with their track than Auvernia did. Despite the band's ultra-earnest power metal foundations, there's an almost giddy energy behind this interpretation, and I suspect that Peter would have had a chuckle at it. (Seriously tight band, too. I'm still trying to figure out if those are live drums or not.)

"Black # 1" -- Fairytale Abuse (Denmark): As I mentioned, the vocals was a gamble for most of these bands. Unfortunately, Fairytale Abuse rolled a two by swapping out the baritone for a gritty and thin growl, backed on the choruses by a deeper, more traditional bark. And that just won't work for a song that is so dependent on a rich vocal. (Especially during the harpsichord bridge, which the band just fucking skipped altogether - major points off guys.). This track might have been saved if the guy doing the background vocals (Molle?) had taken the lead this time around.

"Halloween In Heaven" -- Stabbingback (Seattle, U.S.A.): Massive improvement of a totally awful song. Excellent effort, guys. Not your fault the song itself sucks.

"My Girlfriend's Girlfriend" -- Emancer (Norway): Such an excellent start to this track. A lot less groove, a lot more drive.

And then... we hit the 1:00 mark.

Is this a fucking joke? Ugh.

"Dead Again" -- Dead Shape Figure (Finland): For fairly obvious reasons, this is one of the more thought-provoking tracks on the tribute. Its a solid effort, and band does the song justice by stripping out the majority of the keyboards and upping the tempo slightly, a technique that works most effectively on the machine gun fills before each verse. A few points off for over-flourishing the vocals.

"Wolf Moon" -- Enthrope (Finland): Enthrope did the best job of anyone working around the obstacle of Steele's vocals. And I have to admit that I initially bristled at the corpsing technique. But here's the thing: after a few listens I began to theorize that the band was using a straight vocal and a corpse-grunt to differentiate between the split characters of man and werewolf within the song. To that end, it's a brilliant technique, brought fully to life as the two sing the coda in duet ("beware/the woods at night/beware/the lunar light"), at once a warning and a threat.

Even better, Enthrope employs the subtle but decided tempo change going into the coda that was a standard of Type O Negative's live show. Gold star to these guys.

"Life Is Killing Me" -- Dark Hound (Nashville, U.S.A.): As with "Dead Again", this one is an obvious choice to include on a tribute album. I can't say that Dark Hound brings much new to the table with this version, but at the minimum the lyrics are higher in the mix and easier to distinguish, which is important for this post-mortem document. Kind of makes me wish I'd listened a more closely when the original disc came out.

"Green Man" -- Band of Orcs (Santa Cruz, U.S.A.): Say what you will about these weirdos, but they happen to be the only band on this comp that took any significant liberties with a Type O Negative arrangement. And although Gogog's vocals are more humorous than threatening, they do effectively create a mood wherein the Green Man character -- something of a pagan resurrection hero in the original -- becomes a very sinister figure.

Do I like the track? Not really; I accept that the whole thing smells like a sophomoric gag, in fact. But I have to offer them my respect for retooling the song into something absolutely opposite in tone from the original. I was hoping for more of this, honestly.

Well, not this. But this kind of effort.

Everything Dies -- In.Verno (Spain): While certainly not the worst track on the album, I'd be lying if I said that this one doesn't strike me as a lost opportunity for In.Verno (or almost any other band with a female vocalist): Pete did his share of macho posturing, but a lot of his lyrics were nearly feminine in their fragility. Laura ComesaƱa has a beautifully mournful voice, and I would have liked to have heard her take a crack at something more romantically vulnerable, like "Can't Lose You" or "Haunted".

"Christian Woman" -- Blind Greed (Tucson, U.S.A.): No two ways about it: there's something wrong here. While there are some nuggets to be found (in particular, the excellent vocals), but I have a sneaking suspicion that Blind Greed attempted to record all eight minutes of the three movements of this song in one take. And that seems to have created some problems.

Most notably, the track just seems thin, due in large part to a snare drum that's way too tinny to stand up to the primary bass and guitar riffs of movements one and three. Moreover, the are sections in both of the last two movements when the band just seems out of synch -- most notably in the climax of the second movement and the transition into the third.

(Sorry guys. It goes against everything I stand for to single out the drummer, so I'm going to suggest you beat up your engineer instead)

Sex and Violence -- Revilement (Taiwan): Holy fuck. Look out, Chthonic. These guys will fuck you up where you stand.

"Love You to Death" -- Autumns Eyes (Connecticut, U.S.A.): I guess I had a lot of problems with this track at first.

Foremost, I thought that Dan Mitchell might have been playing it too close to the original, which I was afraid would bore me. And then there were the high strings in the intro (violas and low strings only, dude....).

But I have to hand it to him: Dan/Autumns Eyes did really well by this track, and that's one hell of a feat, considering that Love You to Death is one of the most lush arrangements the band ever put together.

And, to my surprise, there actually are a handful of tweaks that I'm really happy with: in particular, the slightly off-key children's piano effect on the second verse is creepily playful, providing a very cool variation on Josh Silver's original part.

Moreover, Autumns Eyes incorporates two aspects of Type O's live version of this track that I'd nearly forgotten about: (1) the pensive keyboard into that they always used live; and (2) the fantastic drop-crescendo the band would include in the middle of the coda. (This one small technique was always one of my favorite moments of Type O's live show, and I have to admit that incorporating it here went a very long way in winning me over). So, yeah - big ups to Autumns Eyes.

And there you have it. If you love this band, you absolutely should give "All For None, None For All" a try, even if just to form your own opinion. And if you're getting older (like me), and you're having trouble keeping up with new music (like me), this is one hell of an economical way to get with it.

Many, many thanks to all of the bands who participated in this tribute, even the ones I was unfavorable to. The fact is that their contribution keeps Peter's music alive longer and to a more broad audience, and that's important.
And thanks to MetalUnderground -- not only for making this happen, but for recognizing that a whole lot of us saw the greatness of Pete Steele's talents.