Friday, May 31, 2002

Interview: Rikki Rockett of Poison

They may use a little less makeup and hairspray these days, but not much else has changed about Poison.

The band's recently-released ninth album, "Hollyweird," is full of the same glitzy, hard rocking, three-chord anthems to hedonism that brought Poison three multi-platinum albums and a string of Top 40 hits in the late 1980s and early '90s. Drummer Rikki Rockett says the band wouldn't have it any other way.

"We've definitely stuck to our guns," Rockett said. "Poison is Poison no matter what else is happening. I don't want to follow trends, because you can't keep up with them anyway."

Rockett said their unflinching commitment to making the music only Poison can make is what has allowed them to continue to tour arenas and amphitheaters long after many of their contemporaries from the '80s have fallen into obscurity.

"You get to a point in your career where you surpass trends - like the Rolling Stones," Rockett said. "I'm not saying we're ever going to be the Rolling Stones, but we aspire to go to that level."

Poison hit the road recently with three other bands from the 1980s - Cinderella, Faster Pussycat and Winger.

It's Poison's fourth similar package tour in as many years. Rockett said the formula is working.

"People seem to love it, because they're familiar with a lot of these artists and a lot of their songs," he said. "There are a lot of newer acts I'd like to have on the road, but the way they're sold - it's a hard-sell. A lot of new music is shoved down your throat. With this tour, everyone knows the bands; everyone knows the songs. It's laid-back and we have fun."

But don't call it a nostalgia tour.

"People who say that are really overlooking the obvious," Rockett said. "We have a current record; we're playing new songs and old songs. We're a band with a history. A rock band that's out there making current records is not a nostalgia act."

Rockett said part of the problem is the perception that you have to be young to have validity as a rock band. He disputes that. He said he thinks a band really needs to show some staying power first.

"I don't want to be young forever; I'm really over the whole idea that you have to be a young band to have any kind of validity," he said. "I'm sorry, but Linkin Park doesn't have validity yet. They're making good music, but until you've done it for a while, how can you know what it's really worth?"

And what about that other term that often gets thrown in the face of 1980s rockers? Rockett said the words "hair band" really don't bother him anymore.

"If we're going to categorize like that, then we'd have to say a lot of the current bands are goatee metal," he joked. "On one hand, it's unflattering, but on the other hand, people have been trying to categorize us for years. First we were metal, then glam, then glitter metal, now hair metal. Everyone is striving to categorize. It's really sad that we just can't have music for people to enjoy."

No matter what you call them, Rockett said there's one thing that Poison will always deliver - a solid stage show. Since their early days, Poison has been known for their over-the-top pyro and light spectacles, and this tour will be no exception.

"If someone's going to make the effort to come out to a show, they really deserve something more than just us playing on stage," Rockett said. "Bands that do that just aren't working hard enough for me."

So far, fans have responded well to what Rockett calls an "old school" approach to the stage show. Their previous package tours have been successful, and he expects this one to do well also.

But will Poison ever enjoy the same kind of success they had in the '80s again? Rockett is not sure he wants that.

"It's a different kind of success we have right now; it's not for the moment," he said. "I'm really happy with how things stand. We have a career; we have a loyal fan base. I think we can do this for a long time. We're not the flavor of the month."

Friday, May 24, 2002

Review: Down, "II"

Almost six and a half years after their first album hit the shelves, metal supergroup Down is back with a new album and a new sound.

The New Orleans-based band features vocalist Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown of Pantera, guitarist Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, guitarist Kirk Windstein of Crowbar and drummer Jimmy Bower.

The band's first album, 1996's "NOLA," was just what listeners might expect from bandleaders Anselmo and Keenan - a heavy blend of Pantera and Corrosion of Conformity. Despite the fact they only played 13 shows and got little or no radio airplay, the album took on a life of its own - selling a half-million copies by word of mouth.

Down's sophomore effort brings a little more to the table.

Even though they only have limited time to work together - "II" was recorded in 28 days - they've managed to find their own unique sound. With this album, they embrace the musical diversity of their native New Orleans.

Several songs seem a bit out of character for the band members, who all come from the heavier end of the metal spectrum.

"Learn From This Mistake" is a slow blues number, almost like a lounge tune. "Where I'm Going" is a laid-back twangy country blues song, and "Lies, I Don't Know What They Say, But…" is classy mix of soft jazz and Texas-style blues.

The strongest song on the album, "Stained Glass Cross," adds a heavy guitar to that mix. It's got a catchy, Southern-fried groove - with some tasty Hammond organ and a great lead break before the chorus.

Groove is the key word for "Down II." Almost every song on the album has it. For fans who are more interested in the heavy tunes featured on the band's debut, there's "Man That Follows Hell," "Ghosts Along the Mississippi" and "Dog Tired." All are crushingly heavy songs with down and dirty grooves.

Down's influences also play a very big role on their sophomore album.

The opening cut, "Lysergik Funeral Procession," is lifted straight from the Black Sabbath songbook, as is the chunky opening riff of "New Orleans is a Dying Whore."

They break out the Hendrix funk on the first single "Beautifully Depressed"; "Landing on the Mountains of Meggido" is an obvious homage to Led Zeppelin.

While most side projects are self-indulgent excursions with mixed results, Down doesn't fit that mold.

In fact, these metal all-stars have combined to produce an album that outshines the recent releases of their regular bands. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Review: Beyond the Embrace, "Against the Elements"

Not so long ago, the extreme metal genres were all about speed and intensity with little attention paid to melody or song structure. Fast and complex was all that mattered. Then along came bands like In Flames and Soilwork that took the aggression of Swedish death metal and added depth and melody.

Following in that tradition - and building on it - comes Beyond the Embrace. On their debut album "Against the Elements," the Massachussets sextet takes the Gothenburg sound and Americanizes it with some very good results.

"Against the Elements" is reminiscent of Fear Factory's early work. It features heavy, pummelling songs, punctuated with ethereal, melodic interludes. The transition here is much smoother and more natural, though.

The triple guitar attack of Alex Botelho, Jeff Saude and Oscar Gouveia, provides a thickly layered backdrop for vocalist Shawn Gallagher, who alternates between the standard extreme metal shrieks and growls, and more impressive, mournful vocals. Drummer Mike Bresciani and bassist Adam Gonzales are not flashy players, instead they're the workhorses of the band, laying down a solid foundation for the rest.

There's even a commercial turn or two on the album, though they're brief. The punk-influenced "Mourning in Magenta" convinces the listener that Beyond the Embrace could be part of the new crop of MTV-friendly metal. The band quickly disabuses listeners of that notion with the next song "Compass," a high-speed assault on the ears that brings to mind early Slayer and Morbid Angel.

That sets the tone for the rest of the album, which features solid slabs of metal like the title track and "The Bending Sea." That said, the arrangements on songs like "Rapture" and "The Riddle of Steel" show far more thoughtfulness than normally found in this brand of music and raise Beyond the Embrace to another level.

Sandwiched in the middle of the album is the melancholy instrumental "Drowning Sun" which showcases the bands musicianship at lower speeds.

If you like your metal fast and heavy, but with a strong melodic sensibility, Beyond the Embrace delivers.

Get "Against the Elements."

Friday, May 17, 2002

Interview: Brent Muscat of Faster Pussycat

It's been a while since Faster Pussycat played the larger venues, but that's about to change.

They'll be hitting the road with Poison and Cinderella for the "Hollyweird" tour. which crosses the U.S. in the next few months.

After building a solid fan base in the 1980s with songs like "Bathroom Wall," "Poison Ivy" and "House of Pain," the members of Faster Pussycat went their separate ways in the early 1990s.

But last year, founding members guitarist Brent Muscat and vocalist Taime Downe put the band back together and hit the road. Muscat says they felt the time was right for the band to reunite.

"I never really wanted to break up, but the other guys wanted to do their own things for a while," says Muscat. "We got together last year, and it was great. I think the timing is right."

During their time away from Faster Pussycat, Muscat and Downe did different things. Downe formed the experimental industrial band the Newlydeads, while Muscat worked with L.A. Guns and some smaller bands. Muscat says during much of that time, he was in bands that toured on low budgets. So, for him, it's nice to be back in Faster Pussycat.

"For me, last year was a piece of cake after going out in a small van and having to haul my own equipment," he says. "That was hard for me, because I was used to having nice buses and road crews."

Muscat says he's excited about the upcoming outings with Poison, because Faster Pussycat hasn't been on a big tour in more than a decade. But he says it will be even better for the band's three newest members.

"For the new guys, it's really exciting," he says. "Last year was the first time some of them had ever been on a tour bus. Now they're going out with Poison for a big summer tour - and summer's the best time to be on the road."

But don't expect a retro-'80s show from Faster Pussycat.

"If people come to the show expecting to see a nostalgia act, they're going to be disappointed - we've got some surprises," says Muscat.

"We're not whipping out the old velvet suits and scarves we used to wear. I think that's one reason Poison wanted us on the tour. We've known each other from back in the day, and they always knew we'd do something unexpected."

In addition to the big shows, Faster Pussycat will be working overtime to try to reconnect with their fans. If the tour is taking a break, they'll be playing a smaller venue somewhere. On some nights, they'll even be playing two shows.

"While we're on the Poison tour, we'll be getting offstage, driving for a little while and playing another show that night," he says.

"We've been out of the public eye for a long time, and I definitely think this tour will help us connect with our fans again. We're getting a lot of e-mails at our Web site ( from people who are excited to be able to see us."

Muscat says he doesn't want to try to predict the future, because in the music business anything can happen. But he hopes that once this tour is over, the band can record a new album.

"I think this tour is going to raise our profile, and that will be the best time to go in and make a record," he says. "It would have been nice to have a new album before going on this tour, but you want to do it at the right time. You don't want to push things."

Muscat knows that not everyone will be happy to see Faster Pussycat again. But that doesn't really bother him.

"Faster Pussycat has always been a band where people love you or hate you," he says, "And I kind of like it that way."

Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Review: Coal Chamber, "Dark Days"

Coal Chamber's self-titled 1997 debut put them on the front lines of the first wave of the music that has come to be known as nu-metal.

The percussive sounds and grunting vocals were just beginning to catch on - and here was a band that nailed the vibe so many others were going for.

Their 1999 release "Chamber Music," though it did contain an interesting cover of Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" featuring Ozzy Osbourne, didn't really break from the sound. Now, the band has unleashed its third studio album, "Dark Days."

Again, not much has changed. Though they've continued to build on it in small ways, the music is basically the same as it has been for the past five years.

On this record, the band showcases both the best and worst that nu-metal has to offer.

It gets off to a promising start with the first single "Fiend." This song is as good as anything happening in any kind of metal today. It's a heavy tune, laced with catchy hooks - a song that makes you want to pump your fist in the air and sing along at the top of your lungs.

"Glow" keeps things going in the right direction. It's another catchy song with a chorus that gets stuck in your head - and some interesting background sounds into the mix.

The rest of the album follows through with solid guitar riffs and hummable melodies. So what's the problem? The same one that plagues so much of nu-metal. An awful lot of it sounds the same.

For every standout song like "Watershed" and every dark melody like the title track, there's another tune that makes the listener say, "I've heard this a dozen times before."

After a very strong start, the last half of "Dark Days" tends to run together in your head.

There are interesting bits and pieces in many of the songs - like the Primus-like sounds in "Alienate Me" - but for the most part, they begin to sound the same after a while.

Tunes like "One Step" and "Drove," while not bad, sound like any of a dozen or more bands that are playing the same style of music. On much of "Dark Days," there's nothing that distinguishes Coal Chamber from the rest of the pack.

That said, the album isn't bad. The songs are solid and there are moments where the band really shines. But at the same time, there's nothing about this record that will wow the listener. It's basically a workhorse album - serviceable, but not very flashy.

While "Dark Days" shows that nu-metal does have the potential to be good metal, it also leaves part of me longing for the days of "old" metal - the days when you could tell bands apart without having to check the CD label.

Get "Dark Days."