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 MetalUnderground.com 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, MetalUnderground.com 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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review, very well-said. I'm often of two minds about tributes and covers, so I appreciate that you came at it with a respect for the native cynicism a fan brings to this sort of project.