Monday, August 31, 2009

Review: Darkness Dynamite, "The Astonishing Fury of Mankind"

I’ve heard of saving the best for last, but on a record, it’s not usually the best idea. That’s unfortunately what Darkness Dynamite have done on "The Astonishing Fury of Mankind," though.

After nine tracks of OK but fairly uninventive metalcore, the last two songs on the album finally show show sparks of life and make you wish that the rest of the album showed some of the same variety. “The Everlasting Grace of Mind” offers the first real sign of life on the record. The quietest piece here, it opens with some electronic noise and a light acoustic guitar that puts the listener in mind of Pink Floyd. It’s also probably the strongest number here. That leads into the title track, which closes the album. The song opens again in a quiet mode, very dark, building slowly to a Zakk Wylde-style guitar riff. Vocalist Junior Rodriguez takes on more of a black metal approach in the opening verses. It does, of course, revert back to some standard metalcore stylings, but there are some darker, melodic bits sprinkled throughout that remind me of God Forbid’s better stuff.

After a fairly generic start in “Supernatural,” which blends a bouncy rhythm with a commercial rock-flavored chorus, there are a few things to recommend the album. The angular opening riff of “Hell Eve Hate” puts me in mind of Helmet. There’s a nice opening guitar riff on “$15″ before the metalcore kicks in. “Chasing Inside” has an interesting minimalist opening with Rodriguez roaring the first lines, and “By My Own” is one of the few songs outside of the last two that I might return to on this record. It has a catchy opening and reminds me a bit of Sepultura’s cover of New Model Army’s “The Hunt.”

The big problem here (other than the band name reminding me of 1980s hair band Kix’s “Midnight Dynamite”) is that interesting moments are few and far between and overpowered by the standard metalcore sound that we’ve heard thousands of time. At this point, it’s incredibly stale.

If you still can’t get enough metalcore, then Darkness Dynamite is probably worth a spin for you. Unfortunately, most of us — even those who originally liked it – have had just about all we can take at this point.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Review: Black Water Rising, "Black Water Rising"

(Editor's note: This review was originally written in April to coincide with the scheduled release date of the record. The album was pushed back due to negotiations with a label, but is now available for download at iTunes and other outlets.)

It’s surprisingly tough these days to find a solid, no frills, old-fashioned hard rock record. Enter Black Water Rising.

The New York-based band started with former Dust to Dust singer Rob Traynor, who spent two years writing the material that would be the basis for the band’s debut.

He added former Boiler Room drummer Mike Meselsohn and former Stereomud guitarist Johnny Fattoruso and bassist Oddie McLaughlin.

The band has built a following through MySpace, a hit YouTube video for the single “Brother Go On” and radio play on Sirius Satellite’s Octane station.

You know what this record is about as soon as the huge riff of opening song “The Mirror” kicks in. It’s all big grooves, big guitars and big hooks. The record, while fairly polished, manages to retain a rough and ready sound. It’s a blend of thick metal guitar slabs, raw rock ‘n’ roll energy and even a little bit of Southern rock attitude.

It’s easy to see why “Brother Go On” has become a hit on YouTube with a huge, catchy chorus that worms its way into your head. The band’s different facets are on full display on “Hate Machine,” which opens with a riff pulled straight from the Black Sabbath catalog before moving into a more modern-sounding upbeat bounce for the verse.

The band does occasionally inject a bit of artsy, alternative influence on tracks like “Blessed,” but are at their best on straight-up rockers. The two hottest tracks fall in the middle of the record. “No Halos” may be the best pure hard rock song I’ve heard in a long time. It opens with a bluesy run through the chorus before settling into a King’s X-influenced verse groove, followed by the huge riff and chorus hook that are constants throughout the record. “Living Proof” is just as solid, adding a little funk to the mix and offering perhaps the biggest of the big choruses here.

With a wide range of moods on the record, listeners will hear bits of everything from Soundgarden to Sabbath to Tesla in the 11 tracks, and nearly every song here is catchy and memorable. While the band doesn’t break any new musical ground, if you’re looking for some good old-fashioned grooving hard rock, Black Water Rising is ready to flood your ears.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stuck in My Head: Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Floyd"

(Editor's Note: Stuck in my Head is an occasional feature about whatever song happens to be running around incessantly in my head at the moment.)

So it's a full month before Lynyrd Skynyrd's latest record, "God & Guns," hits stores, but I've been listening to this track almost non-stop for the past couple of weeks and I've got to talk about it. Hopefully they won't mind a little early praise.

I wasn't really expecting any surprises from this record, but when I hit the seventh track, co-written by guitarist John 5, I got one. For those unfamiliar, John 5 (real name, John Lowery) isn't exactly the first guy you'd think of when thinking about folks to write songs with Lynyrd Skynyrd. His major playing credits come as guitarist for Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. But when you find out that he was inspired to pick up his Telecaster by watching Buck Owens and Roy Clark, it makes a little more sense. "Floyd" is one of several songs John 5 co-wrote on the record, and, for me, it's the standout track.

Not to worry for Skynyrd fans, though, you won't find any chugging metal riffs on this song. "Floyd" (and all the songs John 5 worked on) are still very much Skynyrd tunes. Lyrically, the song follows a country/southern rock legacy of songs like Jerry Reed's "Amos Moses" and Charlie Daniels' "Legend of Woolley Swamp," which tell tales of the strange character that lives in the swamp and doesn't care for visitors that much.

After some sounds of the swamp, the song settles into an acoustic country-blues mode as it introduces and describes the main character Floyd. But the real kick in the pants comes when the chorus hits. Electric guitars wail out like swamp demons, while the "aiyaiyaiy" vocal harmonies lend both a sense of creepiness and craziness to the story. The huge hook on the chorus can't be denied or ignored, and, for me, it's one of the most powerful moments we've heard from Skynyrd since the 1970s.

On hearing the song, my wife described it as "a Rob Zombie song if Charlie Daniels sang it." I can't think of a better description, so I'll steal hers. It's certainly a little different for the band, but at the same time, not too far off the mark, either.

Fans that want the usual from Lynyrd Skynyrd should certainly still be pleased with "God & Guns," which I'll review here in its entirety nearer the release date. But those expecting the "same old, same old," may also find some pleasant surprises, "Floyd" being chief among them.

Pre-order "God & Guns."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stuck in my Head: Danzig, "Trouble"

(Editor's Note: Stuck in my Head is an occasional feature about whatever song happens to be running around incessantly in my head at the moment.)

Nicknamed "the Evil Elvis" due to both his dark, Presley-like vocal drawl and trademark lambchop sideburns, it seemed just a matter of time before Glenn Danzig covered an Elvis tune. And what more perfect song for him to cover than "Trouble" with it's "Because I'm evil/My middle name is misery" chorus refrain?

Originally recorded for the "King Creole" soundtrack in 1958, Presley sang the song with the backing of a lively Dixieland band. Danzig's version, unsurprisingly, is a far cry from the original, yet, at the same time, not so different.

It's a song that Danzig had wanted to record for years. There are a variety of earlier demo and live recordings of the tune to be found, ranging from a demo with the band Samhain that substituted some spooky electronics for the Dixieland bits to a version from the recording sessions for the first Danzig record that's more of a stripped-down, rough version of the one that was finally released. The timing was right in 1993, when he released it as part of a live EP, "Thrall -- DemonSweatLive." After progressing through the punk of The Misfits and the experimental sounds of Samhain, Danzig was settling into a blues-based, earthier sound for his first few albums with his eponymous band, and "Trouble" was a perfect fit into that sound.

Danzig's cover is built around the same melody line as the Elvis version, only with the volume and attitude cranked up. The fairly simple and familiar brass riff becomes a crushing metal guitar riff, but manages to do it without losing the soul or groove of the original. Naturally, the song is darker and more ominous, with the accentuation on the chorus. The result is something more sinister than Elvis' tune about a bad boy, yet when that big guitar riff and the pounding drum line kick in at the beginning, it oozes cool just like the horns of the Elvis original.

If there's a weakness in the Danzig version, it's probably the fact that he fiddled around with the lyrics a little, bringing a campy B-horror feel to that aspect of the song. If I'm being honest, I'd rather hear the original Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller lyric, "I was born standing up/And talking back" than Danzig's substition. The other major lyrical change, from "green-eyed mountain jack" to "demon werewolf jack" didn't bother me as much, but was really unneccessary. There was plenty of darkness in Danzig's delivery of the chorus without bringing in the horror movie imagery. (It also doesn't hurt that Danzig cuts an imposing figure that backs up the "don't you mess around with me" line.)

Finally, there's the upbeat, swinging ending that brings the song home that becomes a thrashed-out piece in Danzig's hands, but still sticks to the original melody.

I understand if you're a disciple of Elvis, you'll probably consider this song an abomination, so skip it. If, on the other hand, you're a fan of blues-based metal who can also appreciate Presley's work, you should check it out if you're not already familiar.

Get "Thrall -- DemonSweatLive."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Les Paul, 1915-2009

Whether you knew Les Paul's music or not, you knew his name. While his style leaned more toward jazz, country and blues, Paul left an indelible mark on the rock world. In fact, it's not too far-fetched to say that had Paul not created his most famous invention, rock and metal never would have existed. After all, if you've ever tried to play a thrash riff on an acoustic guitar, you know it won't really work.

It started in the late 1930s with his invention of "The Log," about the simplest "guitar" you could imagine -- a piece of four-by-four lumber strung up and electrified. Over the years, the design thankfully evolved into the Les Paul that has become such an iconic part of rock, and indeed all musical lore. Gibson began producing the guitars in the 1950s, and they've become the primary ax of some of the best players in the world in all genres -- from jazz to death metal. And it's the template that gave birth to all modern electric guitars.

But his impact on the world of music doesn't stop there. Les Paul was also a pioneer in multi-track recording, a commonplace practice today that was first introduced on one of his recordings from 1948.

You may not own any Les Paul recordings. You may not appreciate his style as a player. You may not even like the guitar that bears his name. But if you enjoy any kind of modern music, you owe him a debt of gratitude.

While the video below is a little off-topic for the usual content of this site, take a minute to honor and appreciate two undisputed masters of the guitar, and, perhaps, find a new appreciation for the man whose name is synonymous with the world's most recognizable guitar.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Guitarists talk about their first axes

Every guitar player has a story about that first guitar - usually a huge piece of crap.

Guitar World has a cool feature up now where famous guitarists talk about their first axes. Among others, the page features Dave Mustaine, Kerry King, John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, Max Cavalera, Alex Skolnick, Down, In Flames, Exodus, Nuno Bettencourt, Death Angel and plenty more. Check it out here. It's definitely interesting for both players and fans.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Review: Goatwhore, "Carving Out the Eyes of God"

Even though they're from my own back yard in New Orleans, I wrote off Goatwhore for a long time without hearing them. My interests in black and death metal are limited, and I've never really been drawn to those bands that try to outdo each other with disgusting names (Goatwhore, on the whole, being on the milder end of that lot). I find that sort of thing pretty silly, and I have to admit that I ignored them based on the name alone. I thought I knew what it sounded like. I'm big enough to admit when I'm wrong and, on this one, I was wrong.

The first hint that I'd made a mistake came with their last record, 2006's "A Haunting Curse." When I'm listening to XM or watching Headbanger's Ball, I try to make it a point to give everything a chance. So, one Saturday night, the video for "Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult" came on, and much to my surprise, I thought it was actually pretty good. It led me to check out that record, and I found it quite enjoyable -- so much so, that I sought out their latest record "Carving Out the Eyes of God," and I like this one even better.

The black metal roots of the band still show through on nearly every song on this record, but there's also a very strong thrash presence alongside some old school death metal. What most impresses me with "Carving Out the Eyes of God" are the strong melodies -- something often lacking in the more extreme subgenres. The compositions here are more linear, from the black metal mode, and definitely not the standard verse-chorus-verse with a big hook. In fact, there's not any real semblance of a hook at all. That's normally a turn-off for me, but the songs are just rock solid, greatly varied and heavy as hell.

With my background in classic thrash, it's not surprising that I gravitate more toward the songs on that end of the spectrum. The record opens with a great one in "Apocalyptic Havoc" that brings plenty of energy and sets the right tone. Other favorites are "This Passing into the Power of Demons" (yes, they follow the black metal formula for convoluted song names) and "Razor Flesh Devoured," which are practically straight thrashers.

Black metal fans should still find plenty to like in the title track and the bashing opening of "In Legions, I Am Wars of Wrath." There's some blast-beat chaos at the beginning of "The All-Destroying" before it settles into a more melodic mode, and the hammering rhythm after the first verse of "Shadow of a Rising Knife" is hard to ignore. Death metal passages color several of the songs, including the aforementioned "In Legions...," and there's even a punkish hardcore touch on the riffs of "Reckoning of the Soul Made Godless." It's a nice mix of some of the best that all of the extreme genres have to offer, and Goatwhore blends it well.

The true star of the record, though, is perhaps the final track, "To Mourn and Forever Wander Through Forgotten Doorways." It's easily the softest moment, but it's still an absolute monster of a song. Vocalist Ben Falgoust delivers the lyrics in a raspy, almost spoken-word type delivery that's usually not my thing, but for some reason, I really like it.

Guitarist Sammy Duet provides some fantastic riffing that keeps the album interesting throughout. I particularly like the huge heavy riff that opens "Provoking the Ritual of Death." Surprisingly, the vocals are also a highlight for me. Monotonous vocals are one of the things I dislike about much extreme metal, but no worries here. Falgoust's delivery is appropriately abrasive and aggressive, yet still distinctive and memorable. The same could be said of the record as a whole. Basically, if you don't like the part of the song that's playing right now, just hang around for a second. Something new is coming and you'll probably like it.

So what's the valuable lesson we've learned here? One I should have learned long ago. Never judge a book by its cover or a band by its name. Will I be sporting the Goatwhore T-shirt anytime soon? Not likely. But I will be looking forward to more music from them, and that is, after all, what really matters.

Get "Carving Out the Eyes of God."