New Metallica – “Cyanide”

A live version of “Cyanide”, from the Metallica’s upcoming album Death Magnetic, was uploaded to YouTube yesterday.  It’s from the band’s recent performance at OzzFest in Dallas.  To my ears it sounds like the Black Album era, with a bit more complexity in the songwriting.  The short clip of another song at the beginning actually sounds pretty cool.  Check it out:

Sounds like it could be a good sign for the rest of the album, but I don’t yet by into the band hype about its all-consuming awesomeness.  In any case, the Rick Rubin-produced Death Magnetic, unfortunate cover and all, comes out September 12.

Meme time: Pick an album for every year you’ve been alive

From Idolator via the AV Club comes a pretty cool music meme – compile a list of your favorite albums, with one for each year you’ve been alive. Sounds easy enough, but some years are positively stacked with music I love.  Forcing me to choose among my musical children is just so…cruel.

For me the most bountiful years were 1975-1978, 1980, 1982-1984, 1990, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, and 2007.

1975 – Kiss, Alive!
1976 – Led Zeppelin, Presence
1977 – Rush, A Farewell to Kings
1978 – Ace Frehley/Kiss, Ace Frehley
1979 – Pink Floyd, The Wall
1980 – Genesis, Duke
1981 – Rush, Moving Pictures
1982 – Rush, Signals
1983 – Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind
1984 – Iron Maiden, Powerslave
1985 – Kiss, Asylum
1986 – Queensrÿche, Rage for Order
1987 – Anthrax, Among the Living
1988 – Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime
1989 – King’s X, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
1990 – Queensrÿche, Empire
1991 – Queen, Innuendo
1992 – King’s X, King’s X
1993 – Robert Plant, Fate of Nations
1994 – Queensrÿche, Promised Land
1995 – Faith No More, King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime
1996 – King’s X, Ear Candy
1997 – Hank Jones, Favors
1998 – Pearl Jam, Yield
1999 – Ben Folds Five, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
2000 – Doves, Lost Souls
2001 – Spoon, Girls Can Tell
2002 – Koop, Waltz for Koop
2003 – Muse, Absolution
2004 – Mastodon, Leviathan
2005 – The Bad Plus, Suspicious Activity?
2006 – Muse, Black Holes and Revelations
2007 – Field Music, Tones of Town
2008 (so far) – School of Language, Sea from Shore

As I would’ve predicted, there’s some pretty clear trends at play here.  Most of the bands I grew up loving (Kiss, Iron Maiden, Rush, etc.) were at the peak of their powers during my youth, thus their early list dominance.  That also explains why hard rock and metal are heavily represented on this list until the mid 1990s, when they either dropped off my radar entirely or were just not releasing stuff I was all that interested in.  In fact, metal pretty much disappears for good until 2004, when the awesome Leviathan was released.

The other item of note is that I was listening to most of the albums at the front of the list when they came out.  Starting around the mid-’90s, my musical horizons began to expand and I started going back and filling in holes. Were this list to go back a few decades there’d be a ton of Beatles and jazz on it.

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Album cover of the week: British Steel

As we approach this most American of holidays this week, I thought I’d throw a curveball and present the cover from one of the quintessential albums of the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement.

Judas Priest - British Steel album cover

Released in April 1980, Judas Priest’s British Steel is one of the seminal albums of heavy metal. The music is reflective of the cover art — brutally simple and simply brutal. The group had been refining its approach since their 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla. Gone were the slow-building gems and gentle numbers from albums like Sad Wings of Destiny and Killing Machine (aka Hell Bent for Leather in the U.S.).

In its place are nine slabs of vintage headbanging glory, such as “Breaking the Law”, “Metal Gods”, and “Living After Midnight”. Scott Ian commented on the record title when he said, “How does it get more metal than that?”

The answer is none…none more metal.

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No storm or heavy weather will rock the boat you’ll see

Growing up in the ’80s, my musical universe basically consisted of three bands – Kiss, Iron Maiden, and everyone else (Rush became the third member of the holy trinity of music closer to high school, but that’s another topic). Sadly, somehow I never made it to see either band during their accepted prime periods (I was way too young to have seen mid-’70s Kiss and just barely too young to have caught mid-’80s Maiden).

In the case of Kiss, that was rectified when I caught them twice during their much-ballyhooed (and first) reunion tour in 1996. And now, just about 25 years after I became a fan, I finally witnessed an Iron Maiden concert on Saturday night at the PNC Bank Arts Center. I use the word “witnessed” because this wasn’t just a matter of a band playing music in front of a crowd. This was nothing short of pure synergism between performer and audience. Basically it was beautiful, man (but in a totally metal way, of course).

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Gray Flannel Mixtape – 10 Classic B-sides


Looking back, mixtapes sure were a pain in the ass to put together. But man, were they fun. So for just a minute, let’s imagine iPods don’t exist (I know, scary) and we are putting together a new one. The ground rules for the songs on this mixtape are:

  • Each song was released as the B-side of a commercially available single.
  • The songs did not appear on a regular album (at least not at first).
  • No more than one song per band.
  • I must like the song (the critical part).
  1. “Total Eclipse” (Iron Maiden) – Over the years Iron Maiden has compiled what is probably the strongest collection of B-sides in heavy metal history. This one nearly made it onto the group’s seminal 1982 album, The Number of the Beast, but was left off and instead included on the “Run to the Hills” single. The band has since rectified that oversight by including it on a subsequent reissue of the album.
  2. “Unchained Melody” (The Righteous Brothers) – I can’t hold it against the Righteous Brothers that this song is forever linked with the image of Patrick Swayze coming back from the dead to make some sex-ay pottery with Demi Moore. The fact is that this song is one of the prime example of how potent Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound treatment was. It’s also de rigeur at wedding receptions, and one of the great ballads of the 1960s to boot.
  3. “Crossing Over” (Van Halen) – This dark, brooding piece was originally recorded in 1983 and features Eddie Van Halen playing all the instruments. It was updated a decade later with new lyrics by Sammy Hagar, written as a tribute to recently deceased manager and friend Ed Leffler. It nearly made the final cut for 1995’s Balance, but was relegated to the B-side of the rather bland “Can’t Stop Loving You.” It was included as a bonus track on the Japanese album release. This is an atypical VH song, in that Eddie’s guitar provides more atmosphere than the usual lead fireworks.
  4. “Hiro’s Song” (Ben Folds) – I was totally bummed when Ben Folds Five broke up, but when I heard Ben’s first solo album, Rockin’ the Suburbs, I felt a whole lot better. One of the best songs from those recording sessions concerns Hiro, a rather unhappy guy going through a mid-life crisis. Instead of buying a convertible, he leaves his family and starts dating his secretary. Sadly, this new relationship isn’t very fulfilling. Sounds a little depressing, right? I’d think so too if I hadn’t actually heard the song. One of Folds’ best.

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In Concert: Queensrÿche at the Nokia Theater

Geoff Tate, Operation Mindcrime 2 tour. Manche...

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It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve seen Queensrÿche in concert, and that was for the group’s ill-fated jaunt in support of Hear in the Now Frontier. That tour was canceled after the band’s record label, EMI, went into the crapper. A lot has changed for the group since then, not the least of which was the departure of co-founder and guitarist Chris DeGarmo.

For 2006, Queensrÿche went back to the future and released a sequel to their 1988 magnum opus, Operation: Mindcrime, cleverly titled Operation: Mindcrime II. While not quite the classic the first one was, OM:II was good enough to rekindle my interest in the group. It was that rekindled interest that brought me to see them perform at a sold-out Nokia Theater last Friday night. The theater, I must say, is a very nice venue. I can’t comment too much on the acoustics (I was about 5 feet from the stage), but it looks very nice.

The setup for the night was simple – the ‘Rÿche performed OM:I in its entirety, then an intermission. They came back and played all of OM:II, then did a few encores. With such a long show it’s understandable that there was no opening act, but the problem with doing it that way is it can take a little more time to get into the show. At least that’s how it works for me. What helped was the fact that the band was clearly on top of their game that night. With the exception of bassist Eddie Jackson, who had the stage presence of a mannequin, the band looked into it and interacted nicely with the crowd. Lead singer Geoff Tate may not be able to hit the glass shattering notes like he did in the ’80s, but he still sounded very good and used his voice effectively.

The newest addition to the group, guitarist Mike Stone, is definitely much more rooted in the metal tradition than DeGarmo was, and he brings that sensibility to the group dynamic. But it seems that the crowd was very supportive of him, and that he has been accepted in a way that former guitarist Kelly Gray never really was. Stone mugged for the crowd and delivered some great solos, all with the mandatory “I am passing a kidney stone” facial expressions that are expected of all metal gods.

So how was the music? Damn fine. I would actually say that of the two albums, OM:I suffered more live. This was due mainly to the fact that a large club environment isn’t suited to the grand sound the material needs to work most effectively. OM:II, which was a much drier and intimate-sounding record to begin with, came off really well. Adding to the effect of both were some major theatrics the group has incorporated into the show – set pieces, movie clips and on-stage actors made the whole thing feel like a much harder and cooler version of a Broadway musical.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the superb performance of Pamela Moore as Sister Mary. She’s a great performer and vocalist, and actually helped fill out the group vocals by hitting ranges Tate no longer can. Sadly, metal god Ronnie James Dio was not present at this show to play the role of Dr. X. Instead, we were treated to a pre-recorded video with some kind of Predator-like infrared image of Dio. Weird.

The night ended with a brief encore set consisting of “Take Hold of the Flame” and “Jet City Woman,” two of my all-time Rÿche favorites. All in all, it was a top-flight performance. I definitely look forward to their next album and tour, which is something I haven’t been able to say in quite some time.

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Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime II

Album review – Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime II

Queensrÿche - Operation: Mindcrime III’ve had about a week to digest the latest release from Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime II. It was an album I dreaded listening to when I first heard the group was planning a sequel a year or two ago. In most cases, sequels serve only to reinforce the fact that one was enough. Notable exceptions to this rule are, of course, The Godfather Part II and Superman II. Oh, and The Empire Strikes Back.  Which was Part II at one point, and now is just Part V.

So first things first — for all the positives of this album, it is no Operation: Mindcrime. Oh, the effort is clearly there. But what is lacking is the grand vision and sheer power of the first installment. OM:I is the product of a band clearly firing on all cylinders. OM:II runs at about ¾ speed.  I can appreciate that while Queensrÿche wanted to record an album that was similar to the first, but not identical. Their current sound is more raw and primal, less melodic and soaring than before. On some tracks that works very well (“Signs Say Go,” “Murderer?”). On others (“I’m American,” “Hostage”), the old sound is definitely missed.

Perhaps someone who hasn’t lived with OM:I for 18 years might feel differently, of course. Expectations are a double-edged sword — they can stoke excitement and interest, but open the door ever wider for disappointment. I have listened to the album about 4 or 5 times, and I must admit that it grows on me a little more each time. Taken on its own, it is actually a pretty good album. It is easily the best work the band has done since Promised Land (my personal favorite).

More than anything else, shoddy production values dampen the impact of the music. This is understandable, as I’m sure Rhino Records didn’t spend quite the same amount of money that EMI did on OM:I. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much better this would’ve sounded with a bigger budget. But enough of the negatives.

The much-ballyhooed duet of Geoff Tate and Ronnie James Dio (“The Chase”) is as effective as can be hoped for. Dio, for a man in his mid-’60s, can still rawk. The plot, such as I can make it out, is interesting. It is more of a character study than a story. Much of the album focuses on taking revenge, and how it usually is not as satisfying you think it will be. I won’t go on too much about the plot details, as they can be found elsewhere. Besides, I have no idea if I have it right!

The album takes a while to pick up steam, as the first third of it doesn’t really contain any standout tracks. The high point of the entire experience is the three-song sequence of “Re-Arrange You,” “The Chase” and “Murderer?” This is Queensrÿche as aggressive as I have heard them in a long time, and it’s nice to hear.

It’s almost unfortunate that this album is linked with the first Operation:Mindcrime, because I think it would stand better on its own, because next to the original it does pale a bit. Still, it’s a sign that Queensrÿche still has something to offer. I must admit that I had almost lost all hope of that. Hear in the Now Frontier was OK, but Q2K and Tribe were pretty damned awful.

I will be seeing Queensrÿche later this year on tour, as they play both Mindcrimes back to back. Perhaps that will be the ultimate test of how good the sequel compares to the original.

A Loving Tribute to “Slave to the Metal”

Slave to the Metal

In the days before CD players, iPods and file sharing services became a part of everyday life (aka The Dark Ages), the mix tape was an essential part of a music lover’s life. There were two varieties of mix tapes – homemade (for yourself or some girlfriend/boyfriend whose name you can’t even remember anymore) and store-bought.

Store-bought mix tapes (known in the industry as “compilations”) were superior in two ways – they exposed you to bands you might have never heard before, and they didn’t take five hours to put together on your crappy home stereo. During a road trip from New Jersey to Florida in the mid-’80s, I purchased my first mix tape at a Stuckey’s in South Carolina. Or maybe it was North Carolina. No, it was South Carolina. Maybe Georgia.

Anyway, being a proud metal head at the time, I could not resist the opportunity to pick up a compilation called Slave to the Metal. It could’ve been the song selection or band listing, but it was probably the cover art. I mean, it had the metal-ish font (not the traditional Olde English or Gothic, mind you) and a skeleton. But the topper? The bars of the window were really guitar fret boards. It doesn’t get much more metal than that.

But what about the songs themselves? Well, since you ask, here is my take on the actual content of Slave to the Metal, nearly 20 years after its initial purchase:

Side A

Twisted Sister, “The Price” — I was never a big Twisted Sister fan. I loved their videos, but never got into them past that. Still, “The Price” is actually a decent song that still holds up pretty well. It lacks the tongue-in-cheek humor of the group’s more popular songs, which is probably a good thing.

W.A.S.P., “Blind in Texas” – Now things really kick into high gear! Apparently W.A.S.P. is fond of drinking, and celebrates it with vigor in this song. This little slice of hedonism is definitely a relic of its time, but still fun to listen to.

Scorpions, “Can’t Live Without You” – How a balding guy with a thick German accent was at one time one of the biggest singers in the world is beyond me. That being said, the best stuff the Scorps produced was at once heavy and extremely melodic. This cut is no exception.

Accept, “Balls to the Wall” – This is the epitome of the metal anthem. It’s got the march-like plod, violent lyrics, shrieking guitars, and even more shrieking vocals. But alas, it’s a bit too corny and heavy-handed to be a true classic. When you actually hear the sound of a nutcracker, you know you’ve crossed into Spinal Tap territory. There is indeed a fine line between clever and stupid.

Stryper, “Soldiers Under Command” – Christianity and metal. Each is fine on its own, but combine them and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. ‘Nuff said. This one always prompted a dive for the fast forward button, but I’ve warmed up to it a little as the haze of nostalgia grows thicker.

Side B

Judas Priest, “Love Bites” – Ahhh, that’s better. A solid entry from one of metal’s all-time best bands, from their last decent album of the ’80s (Defenders of the Faith).

Dio, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Children” – Dio never really was able to recapture the magic he had with his early ’80s Black Sabbath albums. Banal lyrics, and a video that is about as cliché as they come. Still, that voice carries the day. RIP Ronnie.

Yngwie Malmsteen, “I’ll See the Light Tonight” – I admit it, I dig this song a lot. It is completely cheesy and over-the-top in every way possible, but I can’t stop listening. We all have songs like that; this is one of mine. Jeff Scott Soto’s vocals are insane.

Helix, “Heavy Metal Love” – A pretty bland entry from one of the rockinest bands to come out of Ontario! The lyrics actually contain the words “caress of steel.” Perhaps they hoped that making an oblique Rush reference would elevate this otherwise turgid tune. If it weren’t for the fact that it was on Slave to the Metal, I wouldn’t have listened to this song 79 times like I have.

Queensrÿche, “The Lady Wore Black” – A great way to end the tape. This is a very good song from the period in Queensrÿche’s existence when they had yet to make the transition from slightly above-average metal band to top-notch art/progressive rock band.

While my musical horizons have expanded a great deal since my youthful metal phase, I still own Slave to the Metal and view it with fondness. So much so that I actually made a mix CD of the exact same songs. All of them. Even Stryper. Because damnit, I am a slave to the metal!