Happy 63rd birthday, Rob Halford

August 25, 2014 –

rob_halford

The legendary Judas Priest frontman (born 1951) is 63 years old today, August 25, 2014. Introduced to Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill by his sister, Halford became the vocalist for the group and quickly defined his iconic style of singing and found a way to adapt it to the new style.

With Stained Class, Halford adopted what became his trademark visual imagery, which is the leather and studs clothing that spread throughout metal after that time. He later expanded this imagery to include military gear, motorcycles, whips and chains.

Judas Priest defined much of 1970s heavy metal by taking its NWOBHM sound and adding the album-oriented stadium rock feel, giving the music greater accessibility, but simultaneously focusing on strong lead guitar and use of multiple riffs to create a puzzle-piece feel.

Without Halford, Priest might have accomplished this role but not in such an iconic sense or perhaps with such amazingly flexible vocals. Halford joins Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne and Tom Arya among others in the category of legendary heavy metal vocalists. Happy Birthday!

Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

August 16, 2014 –

judas_priest-redeemer_of_souls

Judas Priest contributed much to the science of metal riffing. Where Black Sabbath strung together power chords into long phrases, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden re-introduced lead picking to this role as well with guitars that harmonized each other; Iron Maiden focused more on melody, where Judas Priest narrowed its exploration to the use of structure in riffs to get around the predictable patterns and rhythms still inherited from rock music. The band straddled the line between rock, hard rock and heavy metal.

Over the years, the band has unlike any other metal band explored any influences it could make meaningful. In the 1980s, Judas Priest explored electronic sounds and applied them to a type of hard rock/metal tinged with industrial and synthpop influences. In the early 1990s, the band took on Slayer and death metal with perhaps its highest musical point, Painkiller. Two decades later, the band both returns to its roots and attempts to find new directions for an artform which has lost sense of its urgency.

Redeemer of Souls begins with a pure hard rock track that shows off bluesy guitars and familiar rhythms and riff forms from 1970s-1980s radio hard rock. Perhaps the idea is to start the album slowly, or to have some track that can make it onto radio, but this track probably turned off most actual music fans because it is the metal equivalent of a cliché. After that, the band launches into more ambitious fare that quotes from the past styles of Judas Priest but tries to work in the rock appeal that marked its earliest albums. Hints of Ram it Down merge with a mainstay of pulsing rhythms from the Painkiller and Jugulator years slowed down to fit within the more sedate pacing of early Judas Priest.

Occasional citations can be heard to diverse metal bands including Metallica and at least one riff that sounds like later Iron Maiden. The band experiments with a number of variants on the theme citing mostly from rock favorites, such as the ballad and classic country, as well as working in a number of rock tropes in lead guitar and rhythm. Halford’s vocals take on a more restrained and sentimental approach. Tipton’s influence emerges through a style that fits classic Priest with a leaning toward the bluesy over the progressive or more metallic structured solos of the past. Where more intensive metal riffing emerges, it tends to lead not to an expansion on the same, but to a more vocal-centric and slower-paced take.

Redeemer of Souls like many later albums from groundbreaking bands revisits many successes of the past and mixes them in with known crowd pleasers, but seems focused more than Judas Priest in recent memory on fusing rock and metal to escape the sterile and eclectic but unfocused material of the jazz-lite fusion years of recent metal. While Redeemer of Souls has moments of power, its focus on breadth and variety leaves it feeling less like an album and more like a collection of singles, and experienced Priest fans may find it both approximates past releases too much and fails to leap to their level of intensity.

Judas Priest announce Redeemer of Souls

April 28, 2014 –

judas_priest-redeemer_of_souls

Legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest have released their first new music following the departure of longtime guitarist K.K. Downing. Entitled “Redeemer of Souls,” it is the first single off the upcoming album of the same name. It reveals a band simultaneously keeping with modern expectations of heavy metal composition and production and staying loyal to their roots in the NWOBHM movement.

“Redeemer of Souls” will trigger mixed reactions. While it shows some updated sound, this track at least is standard heavy metal fare, avoiding the later attempts of the band to update their sound after the explosion of speed metal reshaped the metal landscape. In a statement, guitarist Glenn Tipton confirmed the conservative nature of the album:

Sometimes in the past we may have come under fire for being too adventurous musically – so we have listened…From start to finish, Redeemer of Souls is 13 songs of pure classic Priest metal.

Judas Priest achieved its universal acclaim for its development of heavy metal into a cogent, distinct art form. Later to become one of the two main pillars of speed metal’s foundation (along with punk), the band has maintained its central status as a metal icon for decades, despite perhaps a natural decline as the band goes into its fifth decade. Redeemer of Souls will be released in America on July 15th via Epic Records.

Satan “Life Sentence” tour 2014 kicks off in April

February 9, 2014 –

satan-life_sentence-tour_2014

Satan won 2013′s Best of the Year award from Death Metal Underground for its album Life Sentence which shows the best of NWOBHM merged into the powerful techniques of the speed metal the band inspired back in the day.

Now, for the first time, Satan is touring North America starting in April. You can catch this classic metal band (which shares personnel with Blitzkrieg) at several locations already announced for the east coast, with more to come.

If you enjoy metal anywhere from the late 1970s through late 1980s models of technical, inventive riffcraft bearing and emotionally complex metal, Satan Life Sentence provides an older and wiser take on that era with just as much invention and perhaps more intensity.

  • 4/11 – Black Bear Bar, Brooklyn NY
  • 4/12 – Katacombes, Montreal QC
  • 4/13 – Ralph’s Rock Diner, Worcester MA
  • 4/14 – Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia PA
  • 4/15 – Strange Matter, Richmond VA
  • 4/16 – The Metro Gallery, Baltimore MD

Happy 50th birthday, Jeff Hanneman

January 31, 2014 –

rehearsals-jeff_hanneman

Today, Jeff Hanneman would have been fifty years old. The man who helped invent the sound that underlies all of underground death metal did not, as the people around him in the LA suburbs tend to do, waste his life away in repetition. Instead, he forged his own path and we celebrate him for it and the results of it.

Way back in 1983, as now, the holy grail of alienated music was the fusion of any two of its genres: metal, punk and industrial. Specifically there was great interest in using its guitar-based genres to create a new sound. Many people attempted to fuse metal and punk, and many credible sounds came out of it. One path was speed metal, which Metallica unleashed with Kill ‘Em All. Another was thrash, which DRI cut loose with Dirty Rotten LP. But still another was the foundation of death metal and black metal which was introduced by Slayer and refined the following year by Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom.

Slayer took two things from punk and injected them into the prog-influenced songs structures of NWOBHM: they borrowed the constant tremolo strum, used by punk for drone, and the open drum patterns that allowed guitar to take the lead. Now a new style of music emerged. Rhythm guitar became the lead instrument, rapid-firing changing riffs at the audience while drums framed but did not lead the development. Riffs did not have to perfectly fit the drums which kept going in the background as a kind of timekeeper but not, as in most bands, a way of signaling the guitar to change. Further, riffs became phrasal, building on the longer chord progressions of Black Sabbath to become fully small melodies, developing in response to on another like classical motifs.

Music teachers, who were raised in the rock/jazz idea that drums lead and riffs should emphasize harmonic and a static melodic role, with the primary melodic role and lead instrument (and thus impetus for song “development”) being the voice, found Slayer to be unmusical. The record industry was appalled at this creation that unleashed the demonic side of life in such clarity; they make their money from selling happy illusions, not grim realities translated into elaborately conceived mythologies.

And yet it is this mythological tendency, dating back to “War Pigs,” that saves metal from self-consuming and burning out like hardcore punk. It is not literal; it is imaginative. It turns our focus from ourselves to the nature of power, history, nature and other forces larger than the individual, and then lets us imagine the greatness of participation in those. Where punk turned reality into a protest weapon and source of alienation, metal has turned it into a source of individual desire to do something epic with our lives. Slayer gave that mythological tendency a new voice, not just by singing about demons, vampires and The Holocaust, but by translating the sound of raw power into something you could throw on your bedroom hi-fi and be transported to a different world.

For this reason, Slayer captured the imagination of a generation and continues to enthrall us today. The early albums, which are completely written in horror movie mythology, incite in us a desire to see the hidden possibly occult underpinnings of a society gone insane. The Reign in Blood and afterwards material shows us a more punk-like grasp of all that terrifies us and sends us searching for reasons why, and if not why, how to use such things as war, murder and sadism in some constructive way. Slayer is not protest music; it acknowledges the horror, but doesn’t want to band us together into a drum circle to “stop” these horrors. It recognizes they are eternal. Instead, like the religion it loathed, Slayer drives us to find a way to accept these things as part of life itself, and look for a philosophy that shows us a reason to survive despite all these horrors.

Jeff Hanneman’s influence pervades the Slayer story. He wrote many of the band’s most epic and enduring songs, contributed the mythological outlook, and invented the musical changes described above. While he may be slighted by the Grammy’s, or ignored by a world of people seeking Shakira tunes instead of imaginative but realist metal, to those who can understand his trip — already a naturally elite group — Hanneman’s work is not just a source of wisdom, but of inspiration. In a world asleep, he stayed awake. In a world of imitation, he took his own path. Where most just wanted to participate for reward, he took on life at its most basic level and triumphed. For that reason, we’ll always celebrate his life and work.


Chaos rampant,
An age of distrust.
Confrontations.
Impulsive sabbath.

On and on, south of heaven

Blitzkrieg – Back From Hell

November 11, 2013 –

blitzkrieg-back_from_hellBritish NWOBHM band Blitzkrieg have returned with a new album, entitled Back From Hell. Melodic while still retaining structure, this album will appeal to fans of 80s era heavy metal, as well as those who prefer death/black metal but can appreciate skillfully constructed metal whatever form it may take.

Back From Hell has the band mostly keeping true to the traditional NWOBHM sound, with a few elements of further-developed speed metal present. Songs are expertly arranged, with each track featuring a clearly developed concept that never loses focus. This allows immersion within the verse-chorus structure and quickly illuminates the theme present within each. Verse and chorus are linked together with skillful transitions that makes the distinction between them organic, rather than artificial. Ornaments such as solos and fills are executed tastefully, with an eye towards shaping them into the song rather than the reverse.

Tracks are a mixture between heavier material and those that have more in common with 90s radio hard-rock and seem placed solely for commercial exposure. On these tracks the band forgoes thematic development in favor of repetition. Fortunately, those are the exception and not the rule; and while they do interrupt the album’s narrative to an extent, are still competently conceived.

Exuberant and honest in a way rarely seen among contemporary metal releases, in its best moments Back From Hell transports the listener back to a time when heavy metal was still exciting, and for that reason will be present on many best-of lists for 2013, even if it is marred by some concessions.

Motörhead – Aftershock

October 22, 2013 –
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motorhead-aftershockMotörhead is like a kaleidoscope. Anytime you look in, you get a different vision, but it’s still clearly made of Motörhead, even if turned around a bit. The band is both distinctive and consistent in its unique style.

Aftershock is like any other Motörhead except that the kaleidoscope is particularly vibrant and more rounded and orderly than most visions. Clearly someone at the band or label had in mind a partner to 1991′s 1916, which for many marks the band at its most listenable.

Why is 1916 so lauded? Each song used its own techniques, rhythms and structures that were not shared wholesale with other songs. Songs were finished, showing a craftsman’s touch to a normally hasty art. Variety of pace and emotion broke up the record. The killer loud production didn’t hurt either.

Following along those lines, Aftershock is a bluesy hard-rock version of Motörhead with aggressive, catchy songs that at times resemble Motley Crue playing Motörhead. However, the album excels in quality control. All riffs are necessary, and while repeated a great deal, there is no unnecessary repetition and best of all, no unordered songs that sort of rambled off into the horizon.

It doesn’t have the pop appeal of 1916 which was a passionate and somewhat melancholy album that attracted people to its intensity, but even more, how easily grasped the songs were. They are not quite as distinctive on this album and fade more into the backdrop of what Motörhead has been doing for the past two decades. However, they’re also good summaries of the Motörhead sound from a slightly newer perspective.

One other thing of great interest is how guitar-based this album is. In rock-based music, the guitar is where most of the musical depth goes, since it’s hard to do it with vocals or drums. Here, the guitar leads the songs more than the bass or drums, which creates a surging feel and a constant background of energy. The solos and fills from the guitar flesh out the pattern and give depth to what otherwise might be too hard-charging to be anything but linear.

The point of Aftershock is to be a Motörhead album and to make a slightly updated and more powerful vision of what’s in the kaleidoscope. It succeeds brilliantly and while it isn’t as immediately distinctive as 1916, it adds a greater field of detail and appeals to the same audience, albeit more with pop form than pop sensibilities. Underneath all of that of course is the same raging engine that brought us this band in its glory days, amped up and ready to strike, with no thoughts of mercy at all.

    Tracklist:

  1. Heartbreaker
  2. Coup de Grace
  3. Lost Woman Blues
  4. End Of Time
  5. Do You Believe
  6. Death Machine
  7. Dust And Glass
  8. Going To Mexico
  9. Silence When You Speak To Me
  10. Crying Shame
  11. Queen Of The Damned
  12. Knife
  13. Keep Your Powder Dry
  14. Paralyzed

Speedwolf – Ride With Death

October 20, 2013 –
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speedwolf-ride_with_deathThe assault of the form-over-function bands continues. You hear a song, and it lights up all those fat neural pathways in your brain made to appreciate the originals. Nostalgia surges in: you can smell the smoke, taste the beer, hear the laughter of a girl you were with. But like Cinderella’s carriage, at mid-album the illusion goes poof and you are left with an emptiness.

Thus it is with Speedwolf Ride with Death. Here is what — and this i the sum total — you need to know: they named this album to convey what they hope to deliver, which is Motorhead-styled antics plus some indie rock guitar band noodling. What you get instead is alarming close to a later punk band doing a night of Motorhead covers. These songs sound metallish, sure, but they’re built on punk frames. As a result, the album resembles less a collection of songs than a stream of Motorheadness coming from a server in the sky.

What starts as a catchy and promising album fades quickly when you realize that all that’s behind this album is the desire to be a punkier Motorhead with more heavy metal flash. Other than that, it’s riff practice. You will have heard most of these before in the 1975-1985 era, but here they’re flattened out and made rhythmically simpler to keep up the drone. It could be that Speedwolf is trying to artistically emulate the sound of a motorcycle on a highway, and if so, they’ve succeeded. But otherwise, they’re pushing an awful lot of airtime with no payoff except nostalgia.

Judas Priest launches “Epitaph” live concert film

April 30, 2013 –

judas_priest-epitaphLegendary heavy metal band Judas Priest has announced that they will be releasing concert footage off their last tour. Entitled Epitaph, it features the band playing selections ranging the scope of their long career. The film will be screened at select theaters starting in May, culminating in worldwide release on May 28 on DVD.

Says the band: “The Epitaph world tour came to an exciting conclusion at the renowned Hammersmith Odeon (now known as the Apollo) in London. Knowing our fans around the planet recognize that venue for many legendary metal moments, and of course with Judas Priest being a British metal band it was the perfect gig for us to film and record. Big thanks as always to you our metal family of fans – so start banging your heads one more time with us as we scream together ‘The Priest is back!’”

As one of the earliest heavy metal bands, many later genres were influenced by Judas Priest. The band was one of the first to use rapid palm-muted riffs and connecting structures that later inspired speed metal, death metal, and proto-black metal bands.

A Short History of Underground Punk and Metal Music

April 1, 2013 –

the_ancient_history_of_heavy_metalWe can only know the present by knowing the past. In the case of heavy metal, it is a murky past obscured by both the grandiose rockstar dreams of individuals and the manipulative fingers of a voracious industry.

Metal arose through a complicated narrative worthy of a lost empire, and by knowing this history, we can know more of the music we enjoy today.

Specifically of interest are a number of threads that interweave throughout the history of the genre, both as outside influences and later as internal habits, which influence its twisting path from something a lot like rock to a genre entirely separate.

This story then is a tale of how many became one, or how they found something in common among themselves, and how it has taken years of creative people hammering on the parts to meld them into one single thing, known as heavy metal.

However, no one really likes a lengthy essay. Instead, here’s metal’s history the best way it can be experienced: by listening to it.

1968-1970 — the origins

Three threads ran alongside each other: punk, proto-metal and progressive rock. All three are on the edge of being metal, since the type of progressive rock in question is raw and disturbing and not of the “everybody be happy love friends” hippie style. This is music that thinks our society is disturbed, and that therefore many of the values we reject are worth a closer look. Some is fatalist-nihilist, like the self-destructive tendencies of punk, where progressive rock is more clinical, and metal more epic (looking for meaning in the ancients, in nature, the occult and conflict).

Iggy and the Stooges – Raw Power

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King

1971-1981 — maturation

A lot happened here, but basically, metal became more like its ancestors (hard rock), progressive rock faded out, and punk got more rock-music-like. The punk from this era is more like normal rock music than the outsider stuff it originally was, but also gains some aggression from Motorhead, who may technically be metal but were born of a progressive rock band (Hawkwind) and sounded very punk and inspired the next generation of punks to be louder, lewder, etc.

PUNK

Punk music arose from the earlier work by Iggy and the Stooges, but formalized itself into a pop genre that used guitars more like keyboards than like the guitar fireworks of conventional guitar-intense bands like Cream and The Who.

Ramones – Ramones

Misfits – Static Age

NWOBHM

An exception to the metal of the period was NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal). DIY and extreme for the day, it left behind the Led Zeppelin-styled “hard rock” vein of metal and got away from Sabbath’s detuned doom and gloom to make energetic, mythological but also somewhat excited-about-life metal.

Motorhead – Motorhead

Satan – Court in the Act

Angel Witch – Angel Witch

Iron Maiden – Killers

Judas Priest – Sin After Sin

1982-1987 — the peak

Punk got its act together, in part inspired by the more commercial bands like Ramones and Sex Pistols. This is where hardcore punk really happened. That in turn spurred a revolution because music had finally left rock behind, and by mating the nihilistic (no inherent rules) composition of punk with the longer-phrase riffs of metal (derived from horror movie soundtracks), the riff styles of death metal and black metal were born, and the progressive song structures of speed metal evolved. At the same time, essentialist movements in punk hybrids (thrash) and metal (doom) emerged, sending many back to the roots of these subgenres.

HARDCORE PUNK

Discharge – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing

The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour

Amebix – Arise!

A second generation arose in the USA (all of the above bands are UK):

Cro – Mags – The Age of Quarrel

Black Flag – Damaged

Minor Threat – Discography

1983 — the big branching: speed, thrash and death/black

1983 is a crucial year, and so it gets its own entry. Metal and punk cross-influenced each other. The result was a lot more metal. If you’re familiar with nu-metal or more radio style metal, start with speed metal, as it’s the most like really violent rock music with influences from progressive rock in song structure. If you like messy punk (!!!) try some thrash. And if you’ve already given your soul to Satan, try death/black. With death/black, there’s also some influences from progressive rock, although they’re balanced with punk technique which makes for a chaotic spawn.

SPEED METAL

Speed metal took the complex song forms of progressive rock, the muted-strum guitar riffing of the NWOBHM bands like Blitzkrieg, and added to it the high energy of punk hardcore and came up with songs that kept getting faster and faster. This shocked people of the day, and was the primary reason speed metal bands were different from the NWOBHM that came before them, hence it was dubbed “speed metal.”

Metallica – Kill ‘Em All

Nuclear Assault – Game Over

Megadeth – Rust in Peace

Testament – The New Order

THRASH

Thrash is a hybrid genre that takes punk songs and puts metal riffs in them. Its name arises from “thrasher,” or skater, and those were the people who embraced this style of music that was more extreme than metal or hardcore at the time. While it leans toward punk, it used metal riffs, and wrote short songs that in the punk style lambasted society but in the metal style tended to mythologize the resulting conflict.

DRI – Dirty Rotten LP

Cryptic Slaughter – Convicted

Corrosion of Conformity – Animosity

GRINDCORE

Like thrash, this was a hybrid of metal and punk that leaned toward the punk side for song structures, and the metal side for riffs.

Napalm Death – Scum

Terrorizer – World Downfall

Repulsion – Horrified

Carcass – Reek of Putrefaction

PROTO-DEATH/BLACK METAL

In 1983, these bands contributed just about equally to the new sound. In the largest part inspired by NWOBHM like Venom and Motorhead filtered through aggro-hardcore like GBH and Discharge, the unholy triad invented underground metal to come.

Bathory – The Return

Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids

Slayer – Show No Mercy

DEATH METAL

Once proto-death/black metal had occurred, people began to expand on the formula. One side decided to make it more technical, and riffy, and taking after Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death” and the increasingly mind-bending riffing of Slayer, made it use mazes of mostly chromatic phrasal riffs. On the other side, some wanted to preserve the atmosphere of the simpler songs that Bathory and Hellhammer had to offer, but injected melody and loosened up the drums to keep it from being as clear and rigid as death metal. While that latter group went off to figure out black metal, the death metal team experienced a boom of creativity and excess during 1985-1995.

Possessed – Seven Churches

Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation

Necrovore – Divus Te Mortuus

Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation

PROTO-BLACK METAL

While death metal was just starting up, other bands were trying to figure out how to make melodic ambient metal, structured equally after early melodic metal and free-floating songs like Slayer’s “Necrophiliac.” The result had chaotic drums, deliberately bad sound quality to avoid becoming a trend or something which could be imitated, and high shrieking vocals to death metal’s guttural growl. Taking a cue from Bathory, Slayer and Hellhammer, it also embraced the occult and esoteric and rejected conventional social norms and religions.

Sarcofago – INRI

Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom

Merciless – The Awakening

BLACK METAL

As black metal matured, it moved into Norway, possibly inspired by the previous generation of melodic Swedish death metal bands who used high sustain through heavy distortion to make melodic songs which featured less constant riff-changing than the bigger bands from overseas.

Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism

Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon

Burzum – Burzum

Emperor – Wrath of the Tyrant

Gorgoroth – Pentagram

Enslaved – Vikinglgr Veldi

This is just the beginning; there’s a lot more after this in all of the genres, which kept developing in their own ways. This is only an introduction to the history of it all, and is not designed to be comprehensive…