Thursday, November 29, 2007

RIP Kevin DuBrow

Even though I'm a little late on it, due to a busy week, I feel like I should still say something about the passing of Quiet Riot singer Kevin DuBrow earlier this week.

To a lot of folks, Quiet Riot will be remembered only for their hit cover of Slade's "Cum on Feel the Noize" or, perhaps, as the first metal band to log a No. 1 record. After that, they slid quickly into obscurity. But the band will always hold a special place in my heart.

I was 11-years-old in 1983 and just reaching a place where I was beginning to discover my own music and move away from the music that my parents were listening to. One of the first bands that I discovered was Quiet Riot, and it was due, in no small part, to that memorable cover of "Metal Health" -- the guy in the leather straightjacket with the metal mask. It played right into the sensibilities of an 11-year-old kid, and even to this day, I believe there are few "more metal" album covers than that one.

So, while the world remembers "Cum on Feel the Noize" and maybe the title track from that record. I remember other songs. I remember the fun "Slick Black Cadillac." I remember the semi-ballad "Love's a Bitch," which seems a bit juvenile today, but at the time, I sang along with feeling, over and over. I remember "Thunderbird," their tribute to Randy Rhoads. I also still enjoy the cheesiness of their second record, full of would-be party anthems, and even the mainstream but catchy "The Wild and the Young" from the otherwise pretty dreadful "QRIII." (Though you certainly wouldn't have told me it was bad at the time.) In fact, they didn't lose me until they released the truly awful self-titled record in the late 1980s without DuBrow.

Quiet Riot was the first band that I ever labeled as "my favorite band," and they held that distinction for quite a while despite their fade. DuBrow will never be mistaken for one of the greatest voices in metal, but it fit the music. If you don't believe that, just try listening to that aforementioned self-titled record.

Though I never caught them live at the peak of my fandom, I was fortunate enough to see them at an ampitheatre show opening for Ted Nugent shortly after they reformed in the late 1990s and again in a local club a few years later. Though I no longer followed their recordings, I enjoyed hearing the old songs played, and both times they put on a high energy show. DuBrow, despite the obviously bad wig he wore both times, was just as flashy and flamboyant on stage as he had ever been and I enjoyed both shows immensely. I was also lucky enough to have the chance to interview DuBrow, who came across as just a normal, friendly guy, and meet the entire band after that club show. Though it didn't mean as much to me as it would have in 1983, it was still a great experience.

Perhaps in the larger metal landscape, where Quiet Riot never quite made the impact that they should have, DuBrow and the band may be viewed as just a footnote -- the band that scored the first No. 1 metal record. But for those of us who, at one time or another, sang along to Quiet Riot songs with great gusto, he will be missed.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review: Prong - "Power of the Damager"

The latest release from Prong is in some ways refreshing. They’ve dropped most of the industrial, mechanical influence they adopted on Cleansing and have gone for a return to the sound of Beg to Differ or Prove You Wrong. In other ways it’s disappointing – mainly that it’s not as interesting as any of those records.

If there’s one thing that Tommy Victor has always been able to produce, it’s big, heavy riffs. Power of the Damager has those in abundance, but once you get beyond those riffs, there’s really not much left. When you hear the big riff of a song like “Looking for Them” or “No Justice,” which open the record, it’s hard to dislike it. Once the song is over, though, it’s difficult to remember much about it. Certainly, there aren’t any really infectious hooks like “Prove You Wrong” or “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck” to be found here. The songwriting is lacking and leaves some really good riffs trying to fight through a muddle of mediocrity to be heard.

Though Victor’s vocals range from melodic, hard rock-style offerings to hardcore shouts, they’re basically the equivalent of musical wallpaper. I never get that gut-punch feeling from his delivery and never really get the feeling that he believes in what he’s singing. To be fair, that’s often been a problem I’ve had with Prong in the past.

There are some interesting moments here and there. “The Banishment” reminds me a lot of “Prove You Wrong” and delivers one of the better riffs on the record and an almost funky verse melody that hangs around longer than most here, but it’s hardly a sticks-in-your-head moment. The clean guitar backed by big distorted notes at the beginning of “Spirit Guide” is nice, but the rest of the song just blends into the background.

I guess that’s what could be said of most of the album. It’s not awful, but it just blends into the background. Hardcore fans of the band may or may not laud this as a comeback record, but I just don’t find anything exciting or invigorating about it at all. The casual fan will be better served by digging out a copy of Beg to Differ.

Get "Power of the Damager."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Review: M.O.D. - "Red, White and Screwed"

Though they were never one of my favorite bands, I grew up listening to M.O.D. in the 1980s, and I got a good chuckle out of their last record, 2003’s The Rebel You Love to Hate. You see, that’s the M.O.D. that I like – the tongue in cheek, bordering on goofy band that made fun of the 1980s obsession with image, that makes fun of white kids who think they’re from the ’hood, that makes fun of bands that take themselves too seriously. Here, though, on a few occasions it seems to me that Billy Milano is taking himself a little too seriously.

There's still some fun to be had with the name-dropping “Alphabet City Stomp” and “The Greatest Lie Ever Told,” which opens with a Tenacious D-like intro then takes shots at Metallica and King Diamond (and features Milano doing a pretty funny almost spot-on King Diamond impression.) Other humor numbers, like “Jose Can You See?,” a tirade against illegal immigrants, don’t work quite so well. There are also plenty of nods to other bands scattered around the record, most notably a tip of the hat to early Suicidal Tendencies on “Bullshit Politics.” It makes me want to go back and pull out that first ST record.

M.O.D. has always brought a good mix of thrash and hardcore. For this record, though, Milano leans more on the hardcore side, and it has the same problem that I’ve always had with hardcore: To me, it all sounds the same. I readily admit that I’ve never really gotten hardcore, and I don’t understand it. To me, it’s all a chuggy riff and a guy yelling. Maybe what’s here is good, maybe it’s not, (though I do suspect real hardcore fans would find it a little too derivative) but there’s not much for a thrash guy like me to grab onto.

Red, White and Screwed isn’t a bad record, but I’m not likely to revisit it very often. I miss the fun of the band’s previous records, and the songs, for the most part are just mediocre. Still, you have to admire the fact that Milano speaks his mind, even when what he’s saying may turn off potential listeners. There’s something to be said for that.

Read my review of M.O.D.'s "Rebel You Love to Hate."

Get "Red, White and Screwed."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Review: Tesla, "Real to Reel, Vol. 2"

Tesla turns in a second round of cover tunes in less than six months. Being a Tesla fan from their early days, I took a look at the first volume and passed. There just weren't enough songs there that I cared about. This one interested me more -- at least until I heard it.

The band offers up pretty much note-for-note copies of the original songs that are usually not bad, but not at all exciting either. For the most part, the band makes it sound like the original, but there are some stretches here that singer Jeff Keith's voice just isn't right for, most notably ZZ Top's "Beer Drinkers and Hell-Raisers" and Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." Though I love Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes," I just can't get into this cover. It's not as bad as the Ozzy cover a few years back, but definitely not as good as the Bruce Dickinson cover, which for me is the best version of the song.

Keith is more in his element on Aerosmith's "Seasons of Wither," the best performance here. The band also handles Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Saturday Night Special," Montrose's "Make It Last" and Bad Company's "Shooting Star" well, if not excitingly.

Ultimately, this record is what it is -- a karaoke exercise with no real fire behind it. Like the first volume, this one's for hardcore fans only.

Read my review of Tesla's "Into the Now."

Get "Real to Reel Vol. 2."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Review: Down -- "Over the Under"

I'll admit it took me a little longer to come around to New Orleans supergroup Down's latest record than it did for their first two. Initially, I missed those big hooks from their second record (the ones that some fans thought were a little too commercial.) Then, there was the mix on this record, which at times is as muddy as the bottom of the southern Louisiana bayous the music crawled out of. After a week or so of listening, though, I couldn't help but like it.

At its best "Over the Under" delivers exactly what fans have come to expect since the band's 1995 debut "NOLA" - a very organic record that's part stoner rock, part doom and heavy as hell. The sound here is equal parts Southern-fried groove, ominous Black Sabbath slab riffs and psychedelic Jimi Hendrix fuzz. Blues influence crops up throughout the record in the grooves and lead guitar licks, and you'll even hear a touch of country twang on the song "Never Try" - where Phil Anselmo paraphrases Yoda in the lyrics with his "Never try, never try/ you either do it or don't waste your time."

The heart of this record, as with the first two Down offerings, are the monster riffs and head-bobbing grooves of guitarists Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein layered over the solid rhythm section of Rex Brown and Jimmy Bower. Anselmo brings a world-weary, often agonized delivery that reflects the darkness of much of the subject matter. His lyrics are very personal on this record, if on occasion a bit incoherent - take, for example, the line "Partake no tangible out in tomorrow" from "On March the Saints." Huh?

Despite the occasional head-scratcher line, though, the album delivers lyrically perhaps a little more than the previous two records. There's a more real and gritty feeling to Anselmo's approach to the lyrics, and truth rings through, particularly on the song"Mourn," which seems to address his feelings at being blocked from former bandmate "Dimebag" Darrell Abbot's funeral due to a feud with the guitarist and his brother Vinnie Paul. "Hotel room of doom/ I can't find a clue/ confusion, broken hearted woe/ sheets and pillows soaked/ telephone seems broken/ I'm calling crucified/ blacklisted, no reply..."

It's also a record that tracks both the misery and resilience of the city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Most notably "On March the Saints" and "Beneath the Tides," two of the stronger offerings on the record.

There are misses here and there on the record. The "Planet Caravan"-sounding "His Majesty the Desert," which serves as more of an intro to "Pillamyd" than an actual song just doesn't quite capture the same atmosphere of the Sabbath classic, despite some spacey guitar work. And "Pillamyd" itself, despite being the fastest track on the record, sounds kind of out of place among the other work here. Still, the bouncing, undeniable grooves of songs like "The Path" and "N.O.D." more than make up for the few misses.

Despite my initial misgivings, after a few weeks of listens, I can say Over the Under easily ranks as one of, if not the best record of the year, and it also ranks as Down's most honest and frank offering to date. Perhaps with the upheaval and challenges of the band's previous years in the past, we'll start to see more frequent offerings from the band. I, for one, would welcome it.

Hear a clip of "On March the Saints."

Hear a clip of "Mourn."

Read my review of Down "II."

Get "Over the Under."