Saturday, June 30, 2007

An Awakening...

I would say that my resurgent interest in the metal underground, and subsequent "renaissance", began in an obtuse way, through eBay. In 1998, I was watching some tech program on a Sunday morning, something from CNET I think, and there was a profile on the then-new company eBay. At the time, I was looking for a way to unload my comic book collection and Star Wars toy collection in a profitable way. Comic book shops, renting a table at a comic convention, etc. were definitely not profitable or cost effective, so I was sort of stuck at the time. This was after the comic book boom and crash of the early 90s, so I also suspected that I was a little too late in the game. However, eBay definitely proved the way to go as, over the course of a year and a half or so, I sold all of my stuff for about $7,000 total (my parents had brought all of my stuff with them to L.A. when they RV'ed across the country in 1997).

Incidentally, the most valuable portions of my collection were complete runs of Amazing Spider Man #17-275 in Fine condition as well as Peter Parker #1-150 or so and a few other Silver Age books. For example, I had this one in VF condition...



as well the 35 cent variant of (comic geeks may recognize this as a rarity) in VF or so...



At any rate, I mention this because in late 1999 I finally set about obtaining albums from my previous vinyl and cassette collections on CD. I started snatching up entire discographies from eBay sellers and from various used/ bargain bins in some of L.A.'s better independent record stores. I also unloaded my cassettes in bulk, rather easily, on eBay.

It was also at this time that I started idly persusing Amazon Listmania lists, of all things, and, through Amazon users, various online metal webzines. I quickly realized that I had totally missed the emergence of not only the second wave of black metal and the whole post- "Clandestine", "Soulless" Swedish scene, but the developing/ maturing niche genres of grindcore, Stoner, sludge, and doom (the separation of melodic, funeral, and drone would become readily apparent), as well as the resurgence/ maturing of American death metal as exemplified by Nile (some, undoubtedly, will argue with me, I'm sure).

For example, I recall the ad I had mentioned from a Metal Forces mag that I read at WREX Records while in college that had actually been the beginning of an entire new scene in metal that I had missed!! Needless to say, I was more than mortified and I began to move quickly to remedy the situation. I started out fairly safe, getting "Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk" (I had actually heard "Wrath Of The Tyrant" somewhere along the line earlier and, still influenced by the production disappointments of New Renaissance Records from my youth, immediately dismissed it) and "Enthrone Darkness Triumphant", and, a little more risque at the time for me, "Transilvanian Hunger". Given that I was already prone to the extreme forms of metal since birth, I was immediately hooked and set about buying the entire discographies of all of the classic black metal bands from Norway and beyond, as well as just about every other minor classic that I could get my hands on. Immediately recognizing black metal for the fine art that it is, as well as the ability of the musicians to explore realms never prior realized in metal, I quickly accepted thin and poor production as part of the art form. I also heavily bought up the Swedish scene and related bands, but avoided the more melodic stuff such as In Flames, whom I've never liked. My "renaissance" will continue...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sodom

I'll pause in my metal history to briefly pay tribute to Teutonic giants Sodom. Sodom first burst into the collective consciousness of myself and my friends in early 1984 with the classic "In The Sign Of Evil" EP. Featuring goofy looking band members, weird haircuts ("Check out Angelripper's bowl haircut!"), a silly cover, atrocious sound, broken English song titles and lyrics that made no sense, and, at the time, the most over the top, primitive black/ death metal to be found, Sodom earned a regular spot in our collective rotation for years to come. For some of my friends, this was the album that cemented everyone's interest in the percolating first wave of black metal...



Here's a rare photo of the back cover...



When I was in high school, there was a Battle of the Bands contest organized at school. One of the bands that we convinced to try to earn a spot was a local cover band called Infernal Death, which actually featured a very young Shaun Glass as a member. The band would later evolve into Terminal Death, and eventually Glass ended up in Broken Hope. They played three songs during their slot, and one of those songs was "Outbreak Of Evil". About half of the crowd, led by myself and Skull, went nuts. The other half of the crowd of teenagers sprinted for the exits, but so what?

(Skull: Remember the "Battle of the Dance"?)

Needless to say, we were on the edge of our seats in anticipation for Sodom's first full-length, "Obsessed By Cruelty". I bought the SPV version of the album first, and we were all crushed at how awful (even for Sodom's standards) the mix ended up. A friend of mine bought the remixed version that came out a few months later, which was better, but I never managed to get a copy of it. Today, I only have the "In The Sign Of Evil/ Obsessed By Cruelty" double CD from 1988 on Steamhammer and I'm not sure which version of "Obsessed..." is featured. This is the version with the songs not in the sequence described on the back cover and features an "After The Deluge/ Obsessed By Cruelty" medley of sorts (not on the cover) according to the track list when I recently ripped the CD. If anyone knows if this is the remixed version, let me know. Encyclopaedia Metallum's information is vague...



After the "Obsessed By Cruelty" debacle, Sodom finally starts to shine as a legitmate force to be reckoned with on the EP "Expurse Of Sodomy". Starting to morph into a Motorhead-driven, dirty style of thrash with this EP, it provides a great introduction to their best album, "Persecution Mania" (CD versions include the "Expurse..." EP as well as a re-recording of "Outbreak Of Evil"). I originally had a vinyl copy of "Expurse..." as a picture disc...



The back...



Flash forward now to 2007. Onkel Tom Angelripper is putting together a re-recording of the classic "In The Sign Of Evil" EP with guest appearances from some original members of Sodom such as Witchhunter and Grave Violator. Needless to say, myself and all of my old friends are very much looking forward to this release. In addition, at the Destruction concert that I attended earlier this year (see the review in my Archives), Schmier indicated that a Sodom/ Destruction/ Kreator tour of North America might be in the works. I've yet to see Sodom in concert after all of these years...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Deep In The "Doldrums"....The mid to late 90s

As I became entrenched at UCLA in the Fall of 1994 and subsequently started my career in 1996, I still hadn't yet placed my finger back on the pulse of the metal underground. As previously described, I completely missed the black metal explosion that was going on in Scandinavia, and was also beginning to pick up in plenty of other areas around the world, including the United States. I would not discover all of this until about 2000 or so, though.

At any rate, this period for me is exemplified by one mediocre, or just plain bad, release after another by the bands that I had been listening to for years. Personally, I find that the following albums are definitely sub-par, if not worse: Cannibal Corpse "Vile", Napalm Death "Inside The Torn Apart", Sacred Reich "Heal", the three Deicide full-lengths beginning with "Serpents Of The Light", anything by Sodom after "Agent Orange" and before "Code Red", Kreator "Endorama" (although "Cause For Conflict", and even "Outcast" are good), Obituary "Back From The Dead", Slayer "Diabolus In Musica", S.O.D. "Bigger Than The Devil", etc., etc., the list goes on. Nu metal reigned, and grunge was still going strong. By the way, this is the only grunge album that I like...



American metal seemed practically dead, with the notable exceptions of Pantera (never really a favorite of mine, though, and an argument could be made that they stole their post-glam sound from Exhorder), the first two albums from Machine Head, and, marginally, Fear Factory. Machine Head and Fear Factory, in particular, would subsequently either attempt to follow nu metal trends, or try to follow in the footsteps of Metallica by taming their sound. Celtic Frost and Destruction were gone, and Metallica should've packed it in years ago (these were the days of "Load" and "Reload", perhaps the lowest point of metal since the art form began, what would have Cliff Burton have said?). Anthrax, for me, actually improved with "Stomp 442" and "Volume 8: The Threat Is Real" (believe it or not, I actually like that album). Megadeth alienated their fan base, even though I was sort of snickering from the sidelines, with "Risk". The Bay Area scene now consisted almost solely of Testament and seemed a distant memory, loaded with funk bands such as Primus. Even "Breeding The Spawn" by Suffocation was a let down. Immolation's first three albums, although classics, really suffer from poor production values.

Needless to say, I didn't see any shows at all during these, for me now in retrospect, dismal times. Once again, I was concentrating on other things such as career, sports, etc. As the 90s were coming to an end, however, all Hell was about to break loose, though, and a personal metal "renaissance" was just around the corner...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer Slaughter Tour Review....and More!!

The Summer Slaughter Tour 2007

Bands: Necrophagist, Decapitated, Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation, The Faceless, As Blood Runs Black, Arsis, Ion Dissonance, and Beneath The Massacre.

Venue: House of Blues, West Hollywood, California.

Date: June 16th, 2007.

It is crunch time at work, the worst part of the year, and I get tagged with a bad cold a few days out from the Summer Slaughter Tour’s date at the HOB in West Hollywood. Luckily, although still pretty weak, I get myself out to the venue in reasonable shape in the 90 plus degree heat with a horrendous commute through some of the worst traffic I’ve seen in awhile (and that’s saying something). Believe me, after Necrophagist’s killer set on last year’s Cannibal Corpse tour, I was really looking forward to a full, headline-worthy set from, perhaps, the best technical death metal band in existence (certainly one of the most technically proficient at any rate). In addition, the buzz surrounding the inclusion of drummer extraordinaire Marco Minneman into the band’s fold was reaching a crescendo. So, it was certainly no surprise to find the HOB absolutely jam-packed from the first note played by the first of nine bands on the bill at five in the afternoon.
The first seven bands were each given about 20 minutes or so to play, with a very short changeover between sets. The HOB functions like a well-oiled machine for metal shows, so it was all over at a reasonable hour. Adrenaline shocked as I was, I was thankful for the strict adherence to this schedule, considering that I was still somewhat out of it. First up was Beneath The Massacre from Canada, whose debut “The Mechanics Of Dysfunction” on Prosthetic Records was been garnering them some notice. Their short set was tight and powerful, and a pit opened up almost at once. This level of enthusiasm of the HOB crowd would continue in this manner throughout the evening, as each band was greeted with a pit of some sort.
Next up was Ion Dissonance, also from Canada, whose brand of math metal was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd, as well. Particularly noteworthy was the band members’ intensity as exemplified by the bassist’s wild gyrations.
I headed upstairs to the balcony to get some dinner as Arsis and As Blood Runs Black blew through their sets. Arsis was excellent with a high level of musicianship on display. Muhammed Suicmez seemed to think so, as well, as he was standing a few feet from me while leaning over the balcony during Arsis’ set. As Blood Runs Black is a young thrash oriented hardcore act from Orange County whose inclusion on the bill seemed a bit odd, but their set was enjoyable enough.
I finished dinner and headed downstairs to catch up and coming progressive death metal act The Faceless. Also locals from Southern California, these guys appear to be in their late teens at best. Their debut, “Akeldema”, showcases a young band with sheer potential and they’re definitely an act to watch. Their short set was quite good, as well, and displayed a level of maturity that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a young group.
The main acts of the evening were coming up, starting with San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation. I’ve seen them before and, as before, their set was somewhat marred by a poor bass sound. This obviously was distracting to the band, and their set wasn’t very good.
I was also looking forward to Cephalic Carnage, up next, whose album “Anomalies” garnered a spot in my 2005 top ten list. I’m not familiar with their latest, “Xenosapien”, but their lively set consisted of older material with plenty of acoustical interludes, humor, and lots of mutton chops.
Poland’s Decapitated, as main support, were given a longer time slot, and they made the most of it. The last time I had seen Decapitated, they were in the midst of some lineup problems just after the release of “Organic Hallucinosis” and, frankly, they stunk live. Those problems are long gone with Martin Rygiel firmly entrenched on bass, and they ripped through a great set with only Vogg on guitars. Decapitated were given a great response from the crowd.
Anticipation built and Necrophagist took the stage. Obviously standing head and shoulders above the rest of the bill, Necrophagist rips through the entire “Epitaph” album along with a good chunk of “Onset of Putrefaction”. Marco Minneman was phenomenal with a great drum solo thrown in to boot. Minneman, in particular, looked like he was having a blast with a huge grin on his face for most of the set. Two minor drawbacks, however: one, no new material was presented and the time is drawing near for Necrophagist to get going with a new full-length and, second, there was no encore. Oh, well. By this time, anyway, I was thoroughly spent and I limped home...

Here are some pics...

Beneath The Massacre



Decapitated



Necrophagist (special thanks to Dan for the pic)



Here's a Necrophagist clip...



and another, this one with a portion of Marco Minneman's drum solo...



As usual, check the slide show on the sidebar for all the crap pictures as well as my Flickr page. My crap videos should pop up in the Widget soon. Until then, you can see them here.

In other news, my next show will be Sunn O))) with Earth, Weedeater, and Wolves In The Throne Room at the El Rey Theatre on July 3rd...



After that, Immortal will be at the Avalon on July 15th. As of this date, I've yet to hear of the support...

As you probably have heard, Mayhem have cancelled their U.S. tour due to Hellhammer's injury. However, get a load of this: the re-formed Possessed (only Jeff Becerra remains) will be appearing with Malevolent Creation at the Knitting Factory on August 19th!!! Check out the rest of the lineup...



Brave Words...is reporting that Diabolic will appear on this bill, as well...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The "Doldrums" Part I...To the mid 90s...

I finished at the University Of Arizona in 1992 and headed back to Chicago to take a job as a lab rat in an environmental laboratory working as a GC-MS tech. This was during the height of the economic recession that would ultimately cost George Bush re-election in 1992, and there was literally no work around, even for someone with the academic credentials that I had. At the time, I was burned out on school and I wouldn't head off to graduate school until 1994.

Simply put, I was becoming interested in other pursuits, mostly bodybuilding, and I somewhat dropped out of metal (I did a state level bodybuilding competition in 1994). I still listened to the Florida DM bands with regularity and, dutifully, bought the albums from those bands as they were released, but I no longer actively paid attention to the metal underground. I still bought albums from stalwarts that were still hanging around, even Sacred Reich's horrible last album to name one. Yeah, I TOTALLY missed the Norwegian second wave and all of the MDM/ Gothenburg explosion in their entirety, I admit it. Hard to believe if you read this blog and my reviews, but it's true. In addition, like just about everyone else my age during these years not involved in the upcoming .com boom and subsequent fall, I wasn't earning much and vinyl was just about dead. To make matters worse, I switched to cassettes which were also becoming harder and harder to find. The chain record stores still overcharged for CDs and had a lousy selection (I heartily applaud the demise of those stores and the, undoubtedly, impending demise of the major record labels). There were a few independent record shops in the Chicago area that had a decent selection of metal, but that was mostly confined to domestic releases. As I said, however, I definitely had lost track of the underground anyway. I didn't attend any shows at all during these years (again, hard to believe).

In the Fall of 1994, I drove out to L.A. with all of my possessions in my old car and headed off to UCLA. To save space (and get some quick cash), I sold my entire vinyl collection to a used record store near Wrigley Field. I had about 700 vinyl LPs and got about $500 or so in cash. At the time I was satisfied, but in retrospect it was a dumb move. For example, I had copies of just about every early New Renaissance Records release such as...



and, of course, probably the best NR artist...



I also had some obscure, flash-in-the-pan albums such as...



as well as some now rather well regarded stuff such as...



I even had some picture discs such as...



Some early crossover stuff was in my collection such as this version of...



Needles to say, my collection now consisted of about 50 or so official cassette tapes and whatever I happened to tape off of my collection. This was all a stupid move, of course, but made sense to a broke, incoming graduate student. I did have the foresight, at least, to save my entire Star Wars toy collection and my extensive comic book collection by convincing my parents to let me store it all in their basement. I would later sell all of that stuff over a two year period on eBay starting in 1998 and eventually netting about $7,000 for all of it. Who knows what some of my LPs may have fetched...

Before ending this post, just for the Hell of it, obviously I have a science background and a distaste (that's putting it mildly) for religion. A good friend who pens the blog The Stranger sent me the following diagram (click on it)...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Late '87 through the early '90s...

It's been awhile since I've posted a chapter in my own personal metal history (check my archive), so I'll continue with the events after the first Milwaukee Metalfest of 1987. In the Fall of 1987, I headed off to the University of Arizona, after a short stint at Beloit College for a semester in 1986, to double major in astronomy and physics with a minor in math. While Tucson had a pretty strong hardcore punk scene at the time, the metal scene was quite weak. The only local band of note was the minor classic thrash band Atrophy, which consisted of some fellow U of A students (being a science major, Chris Lykins was an acquaintance). Other than that, the remainder of Tucson's scene consisted of:

1) hanging out at WREX Records south of campus and searching the record bins, mostly in vain, for new metal releases, and

2) hoping that Sacred Reich (Phoenix) could release another album at least equalling "Ignorance".



I was pretty much immersed in my studies from Day One at the U of A, and my attendance at shows dwindled to next to nothing. Not that many bands came through Tucson anyway, but I did manage to catch Slayer twice in Tucson, first in 1988 for the "South Of Heaven" tour, and then in 1991 for "Seasons In The Abyss". That show was noteworthy, in particular, because the Tucson show happened to fall on the same day as the start of the first Gulf War. Slayer's opener, as you might guess, was "War Ensemble".

Besides keeping up with favorite bands that were all continuing to go forward in 1987-1989 or so, the Florida death metal scene was beginning to explode as Obituary, Deicide, Morbid Angel, and other emerging death metal bands were beginning to release albums. Death also released "Leprosy" early on, as well, and I eagerly dived in.

However, as my undergraduate days went on, a lot of stagnation began to sink into metal. Sure, a lot of bands were still going strong, particularly in Florida and the newly emerging New York style of death metal, but Metallica took a nosedive with "Metallica" (finally realizing our fears), and a lot of other bands began to pass their prime. Anthrax was past "Among The Living", and I never really warmed to Megadeth. Dave Lombardo had finally had enough of the rest of the band's bullshit and left Slayer. Bathory released "Hammerheart", which, to this day, I feel is vastly overrated, and Celtic Frost caused us all to recoil in abject horror with the release of "Cold Lake". That album, in particular, seemed to take the air out of the established metal underground...



Destruction, Sodom, and even Kreator all seemed to wane. By this point, I was long past paying attention to Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. In addition, there didn't seem to be much to take the place of the aging underground bands and a certain vibrancy seemed to be lacking. Sure, the Swedish Sunlight sound was definitely going strong, and I was vaguely aware of something beginning to happen in Norway as I neared graduation in 1992, but my access to the European scene while in Tucson was, shall we say, limited, and this was before the days of the Internet (remember?). I do distinctly remember reading an issue of the British mag Metal Forces while hanging out at WREX Records one day and seeing an ad for "Soulside Journey" and other releases from now legendary Norwegian bands, but I never did run across any copies of these albums in southern Arizona. To be frank, though, I was deeply immersed in school and sort of began to lose track of the pulse of the metal underground. To make matters worse, vinyl was beginning to die out and I stubbornly resisted switching over to CDs (mostly because I was broke)...