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The Lazarus Pit: Living Sacrifice’s ‘The Hammering Process’

Welcome back to The Lazarus Pit, a look back at should-be classic records that don’t get nearly enough love. Sometimes they’ll be obvious—more like an almost-Hall of Fame-worthy album that just slipped slightly under the radar—and other times it’ll feel more like Justify Your Shitty Taste… which brings us to today.

Now, wait! Stop! I know we’re about to talk a groove-metal album from 20 years ago, but I just had to take a few minutes to talk about how great Living Sacrifice’s The Hammering Process, from 2000, really is.

This will all seem hard to believe, but there was a brief moment in time where Christian label Solid State Records was actually putting out a bunch of cool, at-times-cutting-edge stuff. Even the albums’ layouts looked good; everything was clicking for some of these bands, and Living Sacrifice, who had put out several full-lengths that no one ever heard before this one, were right on the cusp of this minor movement. A case could even be made for the band—whose earlier output ranges from death metal to groove-laden thrash—being ahead of the groove-metal curve. And with this album, everything came together.

Cut to 20 years later, and no one gives a shit—I mean, I’m writing this and I just found myself zoning out—but, really, this record is awesome. I know groove metal just sucks, it’s just the worst, but Living Sacrifice make a very good case for it all over The Hammering Process. Let’s take a closer look.

Let’s start at the beginning, with killer opener “Flatline,” which takes a ­Roots groove and percussion-heavy approach to its slow-burn intro before bringing to mind second-album Fear Factory in its delivery. I mean, all of that sounds pretty exhausting here in 2020, but there’s a killer solo adding some levity, and, man, somehow Living Sacrifice created groove metal that gave energy instead of sucking it away from the listener.

“Bloodwork” is an awesome rapid-fire assault of frantic grooves; this beats Meshuggah at their own game. Some songs lean just way too hard into Roots, sure (“Not My Own” is almost hilariously aptly named). But check out the sludging “Altered Life” and just try to not air drum along; groove metal is rarely this fun. The good-cop vocals work because they don’t sound too pretty; the riffs work because they absolutely shred.

Sure, it’s easy to tune out a song like the awesome “Hand of the Dead” as just too by-the-numbers, a boardroom-created mean median of Roots and Chaosphere and Demanufacture, but… well, yeah, you’d be right, but Living Sacrifice manage to make this album light and fun enough to listen to while still having the skills and intensity of all those records. Sure, it came a bit late to the party, but there’s a certain something about this record that makes me return to it more than I probably should, that makes me hold it in slightly higher regard than even some of the records it’s emulating pretty hard.

And stick around for late-album epic “Burn the End,” which threatens boredom but delivers a surprisingly engaging journey.

I’m not saying this record doesn’t drag on a bit: by the final third, yes, a bit of ennui strikes, and, while I usually make it through the whole thing, it’s a bit trying at points.

Here’s the clincher, though: as the years have gone on, I’ve reached for The Hammering Process more than I have for Roots. Those numbers don’t lie: Living Sacrifice may have dabbled in a fairly grim form of metal on this record, but they somehow pulled out a winner, a minor classic, a record destined to be forgotten by all but a proud few, who shall carry the groove with them forever and ever, amen.

The post The Lazarus Pit: Living Sacrifice’s ‘The Hammering Process’ appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Hall of Fame Countdown: Angel Witch’s “Angel Witch”

Angel Witch’s self-titled 1980 debut remains one of metal’s great unfulfilled promises. The 10 songs on the record—which our own Adem Tepedelen inducted into our Hall of Fame way back in our November 2010 issue—scream pure metal glory, absolute NWOBHM absolution, total trad awesomeness. But it all fell apart soon enough for the band, who were never able to capture the magic like this again.

But so it goes sometimes, and instead of dwelling on what could have been, let’s take one more look at what the band did accomplish, which is more than what most bands manage: they created a classic record, one good enough to enter our hallowed Hall. Here are the 10 songs on the record ranked from worst to best; consider this a reminder that if you haven’t spun this record recently, now is the time.

10. Free Man

Yeah, it had to happen at some point here, and third song on side 2 is where it would happen, ain’t it? “Free Man” is not quite a ballad, but it’s a slow-moving attempt at checking off all the ballad boxes without being able to be called wimpy. But it ain’t really strong, although the chorus is decent enough and actually packs a pretty good punch. A bit of a slog, though.

9. Devil’s Tower

Well, this one kinda takes a couple minutes to get nowhere, but I still like a few of the stops it takes along the way, walking us through Dracula’s castle or wherever, this instrumental coming and going before we really know what happened, although it’s not a half-bad way to end off the album, being almost like a really fully developed outro.

8. Sorcerers

As the original album’s side 1 came to a close, the band attempted a slower, epic tune in “Sorcerers.” It’s a decent enough vocal showcase, and creates a great atmosphere—think the first or second Maiden album lost in this album’s fiery cover vibes—but it drags a bit. I can dig it sometimes, but other times catch myself impatiently eying the remaining minutes. Still, it shows the band’s skills at this point at creating songs that don’t just simply gallop to the finish line all the time, even if it does start trotting as the end nears.

7. Gorgon

Side 2 of the original release starts up with this one, and the first song on side 2 was always an important one, something that Angel Witch were pretty aware of as they lay down “Gorgon,” a song that shows their sense of drama with the mid-paced chorus but also their dedication to the jean-jacket hordes with the stompin’ verses. Kinda forgettable in a sense, but certainly does the trick when it’s playing.

6. Angel of Death

Look, no one’s ever going to say this is better than you-know-who’s “Angel of Death,” but as this deep cut shows, Angel Witch were masters of NWOBHM atmosphere on this album, individual songs—such as this one—not even being as important as the lasting feel that lingers, that feeling a sort of gothic importance, of loud rock being something more than just loud rock but also not being at all pompous or high-minded. I mean, even if I have no idea what this song sounds like as soon as it’s over, Slayer have never made me think of “gothic importance,” so maybe we all win here.

5. Sweet Danger

Now that’s an opening riff, those chords almost summing up the entirety of the NWOBHM better than this album’s/band’s title track (but, nope), the band racing through the verse to get to that sweet, sweet chorus, it being an excellent summation of why classic metal is such a, uh, sweet, sweet sound indeed. An innocent, brisk rocker that might as well be played at my funeral because, man, this is what it’s all about, right here. Could elbow its way into the fourth or third spot pretty easily some days.

4. White Witch

I love these late-night-in-the-city NWOBHM/trad-metal boogie romps, and while this one makes a couple sharp left turns too many to really remain cohesive all the way through, its parts are all awesome, the band laying down a glorious, dramatic, guitar-solo-dominated adventure that brings you through the alleys all the way to the hellscape of the cover art, then galloping back to the pub to join the 60 other punters who understand the true magic of this stuff, warts and all.

3. Atlantis

Another killer NWOBHM energy boost, slight technical aspirations throughout, the band positioning themselves firmly in the coulda-been-Maiden-openers turf here, and, you know, this band shoulda been even bigger than that, if only everything could have been as consistent and rockin’, as engaging, as it was for about three-quarters of this album. This song, and many of this album’s songs, are worthy of getting to know intimately, keeping as soundtracks for your personal journeys.

2. Confused

Remember how great Def Leppard were on their first two or three albums? The chorus of this killer stormer will remind you, Angel Witch tapping into that sense of great songwriting and youthful zest that the Leps clearly left behind as the years went on, and that Angel Witch struggled to keep, as well. But here, man, turn it up and wonder why this band wasn’t huge after this album came out. Dynamite chorus, great song.

1. Angel Witch

Tragically, it was always all downhill from the very first song on their first full-length for the unlucky Angel Witch, but, hey, it’s because the song is a drop-dead NWOBHM classic, “Angel Witch” the song is a total anthem for the ages, a chorus to die for, a rockin’ verse (although, to be fair, the whole time the verses are happening, we’re all just eagerly awaiting the upcoming chorus, right?). I love Angel Witch, I love Angel Witch, and I really, really love “Angel Witch.”

The post Hall of Fame Countdown: Angel Witch’s “Angel Witch” appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Dropdead talk 2020 reissue campaign, new discography album

2020 is a busy one for Rhode Island punk/hardcore/grinders Dropdead, who are releasing their first full-length in 22 years—it is, of course, self-titled—as well as launching an extended reissue campaign, including Demos 1991, Discography Vol. 1 (with three additional tracks added to this reissue), their 1993 self-titled LP (which is in our Hall of Fame) and their 1998 self-titled LP. Of note, Discography Vol. 1 was originally mastered slightly too fast, a mistake that’s now been corrected, and the mix is true stereo instead of mono now.

The band is also releasing the new Discography Vol. 2 album, which collects 42 EP, compilation, and other miscellanous tracks from 1995 to 2013. Demos 1991 drops on September 25; everything else comes out on November 27, and it’s all being released through Armageddon Label.

You can check out our interview with the band in our November issue to read all about their new full-length; today we wrangled up guitarist Ben Barnett and vocalist Bob Otis to talk about the reissues.

(For even more Dropdead action, head over to our Apple Music page to see the playlist Barnett guest curated for us.)

Discography Vol. 1 1992-1993 (2020 Edition) by Dropdead

Why did the band decide to do all these reissues now?

Barnett: I started this project in 2013 with Kurt Ballou. Worked getting all the original reels transferred and when Kurt had time between projects, getting things remixed and generally tuned up for these reissues. Now is just when everything came together for me, time-wise and inspiration-wise, to get them completed. The way the year slowed down for everyone, I was able to take the time to work on all the layouts, work on sequencing and making sure everything got mastered properly. Been quite a project.

This is a lot of Dropdead to take in. Where do you suggest people start?

Barnett: Honestly, start at the start if you want to see how we got to this new record. Demos 1991, Discog. Vol 1, 1993 LP, Discog. Vol 2, 1998 LP, 2020 LP.

Otis: Probably Discography 1 and 2 if you wanna hear the progression of the band to current day. I think Ben did a great job curating all of that material and putting it in an accurate timeline; he puts a lot of work into these releases.

How do you feel the older material holds up?

Barnett: Some I think really well, especially now with the tape speed corrected on Discog. Vol 1. There’s tracks here and there I’m not sure we needed to record at all, but overall, I think most is fairly solid.

Otis: Well, there isn’t anything I’m not proud of, but it represents different stages of the band, us as musicians and human beings through three decades of development. It is a timeline of four people growing together as a group, developing an ideology of what we represent and, hopefully, evolving along the way. I feel that the core idea of the band is as authentic and full of integrity as when we first started. We’ve grown as a band and people but we still represent the same values.

Discography Vol. 2 1995-2013 by Dropdead

Was there anything you were particularly impressed with when you revisited it?

Otis: I forgot about a few of the covers we did until Ben pulled them from the archives for the discographies and that was a lot of fun and a nice surprise to hear again. It’s always a good time to cover some of the classic bands that influenced us through the years. BGK, SS Decontrol, Negative Approach, AOA, etc.

What can people expect with Discography Volume 2, and what are your thoughts on that material when you put it all together?

Barnett: Volume 2 spans a lot of years and phases of writing. The first two tracks we recorded at Fort Thunder for compilation use; there was actually a whole demo worth of stuff when we transferred the reel, but only two of the songs had vocals completed. That is followed by a fully remixed Hostile EP session that included tracks for a never released Bacteria Sour/Pushead Fanclub 7″; not sure why that never happened, but it was cool to be asked by Pushead in any case! Then there’s all the tracks from all the split EP releases and stray comp tracks from the last 20 years. It’s an interesting mix of stuff. Some I like more than others, but as far as a document it’s definitely cool to have it all in one chunk. It shows the journey from ’95 leading up to the 1998 album, then where we picked up after we started writing again in the early 2000s. Definitely more diverse sounding than Volume 1, which was all recorded within a shorter time span.

Going through all this old material and sort of walking through the band’s history, how does it make you feel?

Barnett: That’s been the best part. A lot of good memories of the various time periods, plus some of the crazy shit we’ve made it through over the years.

Otis: Accomplished, sentimental, hopeful that the body of work we have built together will inspire and provoke people with the same fire that we created it with.

What do you feel Dropdead’s legacy will be?

Barnett: I have no idea, hopefully one where something we created helped melt a couple minds at some point.

Otis: I hope we are remembered as a band that stood the test of time with integrity, with genuine heart and conviction. I hope that our words and music continue to inspire and that in some way we put some good back into the world.

Dropdead 1993 (2020 Edition) by Dropdead

Give us a quick update on everything else; obviously, you’ve got the new album coming out, what else are you up to? And how is Bob’s health?

Barnett: Well, just had our first practices since March. Probably going to be doing a couple live streaming benefit shows. Our friend Ryan Butler from Landmine Marathon needs a liver transplant, so that’s top of the priority list. For me personally, it’s just getting these reissues completed.

Otis: My health has been good but I took a lot of damage in that motorcycle accident from a few years back. I still deal with issues from the broken ribs, spine and knee injuries, but I’m tough, determined and still as inspired as ever. Hopefully once the COVID epidemic is eventually beaten back we can get back on the road again and play some gigs.

The most important question of all: will you ever release an album that’s not self-titled?

Barnett: That mystery will have to live on a little longer.

Otis: No.

Barnett: Mystery solved.

The post Dropdead talk 2020 reissue campaign, new discography album appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Fight Fire with Fire: ‘Apocalyptic Raids’ vs. ‘Bathory’

Fight Fire with Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?

Today we look back at two very early documents of extremity, Hellhammer’s Hall of Fame-inducted Apocalyptic Raids EP and Bathory’s self-titled debut LP, both from 1984. These are two beloved records, and for good reason: they both rule, and for the time they were both jaw-droppingly heavy. Be it early black, proto-sludge, unhinged thrash, aspirations of higher artistry or drunken scuzzbucket NWOBHM flirtations, it’s all here between those two releases.

But, one is always better. Will it be Hellhammer’s legendary chaos or Bathory’s trailblazing blackness?

Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids

So, we all know the story of Tom Warrior’s early years following the siren call of extremity, a path the man admirably continues on to this day. And it all starts here, with Hellhammer’s 1984 Apocalyptic Raids EP (well, it started with some demos a year prior, but, still).

Make no mistake, Apocalyptic Raids is a mess, and it’s a mess of the absolute best kind: when I listen to this EP, I hear nothing but pure, unfiltered passion in pursuit of creating art that hadn’t been heard before. Sure, the vocals are a headache for some of it, but I love every second of these four songs.

“The Third of the Storms (Evoked Damnation)” kicks things off with a punk-infested tempo, horrid-guy vox, and some soon-to-be classic Warrior riffing. The punk edge is downplayed a bit when we talk about this album, but slap some different vocals on this and it could easily slide into the setlist of a Discharge/Motörhead tour regional opener. But, greater things awaited Hellhammer as the band lays down twisted-up proto-blackthrash here, things just going faster and uglier for “Massacra,” the band having no idea what they’re doing, but doing it with absolute intent and purpose.

The chaos continues unabated into “Triumph of Death,” where things take a turn for the gnarly with the vocals (remember I said they’re a headache for some of the EP? I was referring to this song) as the band sludges forth, proving that heaviness can come at a trudging tempo as well as a fast one. The song is a monolith, a sloppy take on proto-sludge filtered through black and thrash sounds. It pushes its luck with the runtime, but it’s ambitious and experimental, so we still give it two horns up.

The chaotic drum intro to “Horus/Aggressor” seals the deal before the song even gets started. And, man, as that final song comes to an end, I’m thinking that something that really doesn’t get discussed is that the whole EP carries with it a very serious sense of artistic grandeur, warts and all. We tend to focus on the sloppiness, the chaos, the noise; what should be looked at more is the vibe underneath all that, which is Hellhammer trying to create something with meaning, something that can be called art but can also be the heaviest sound around for the time. There’s a second layer to this EP that is rarely talked about, and it revolves around intention, and it makes me realize there’s more to this EP than its trashcan speed-stumble to the finish line lets on. There’s art trying to crawl out from the chaos.

Bathory – Bathory

Now, we move on to Quorthon’s excellent debut offering, Bathory’s self-titled full-length. This classic piece of early black is well-regarded for good reason: all these years later, it still absolutely shreds.

“Hades” kicks things off with seriously raging punked-up proto-black, production paper thin but adding to the charm, no bass in sight, Bathory’s Venom-loving approach to extremity immediately obvious and immediately awesome.

“Necromansy” solidifies a strength in mid-to-speedy tempo solid HM, while “Sacrifice” closes off the original side A with a fun take on the sleazy side of NWOBHM while ending up solidly at early black, Bathory not really getting the recognition they deserve on this album for being, well… fun. But this is a fun song, one that rages all the way to the finish line but does so with a deranged smirk.

The fun continues on side B, with songs like the excellent “Armageddon” being nothing short of adrenaline being injected straight into my earholes, “Raise the Dead” being, again, a very Venomesque take on grim proto-black that is a total blast to listen to, every time.

Bathory’s debut is a fantastic and important piece of early extreme metal, and it still sounds fresh and gets me ready for attack every time I spin it, from the punk fury of “Reaper” to the surprising wake-up-call glory ride of closer “War.” This album definitely laid the groundwork for much black metal to follow, and even though it was pretty clearly taking a lot of influence from Venom, it had less camp and more seriousness to the playing than that unholy trio did, paving the way for a never-ending stream of ultra-serious BM bands in years to come.

Like Hellhammer’s EP, no one is listening to this record to hear virtuoso playing (although great riffs abound, on both records) or songwriting. It’s all in the vibe, the spirit, the bigger picture atmosphere. This one doesn’t have the importance and aspiration to its sounds that Hellhammer’s EP does, but it does keep the party raging harder, Bathory inviting the listener back any time, the door is always open; the door has actually born torn off its hinges, laid to waste, completely annihilated.

These two records are both an absolute joy to immerse yourself in, even all these years later. They don’t even add up to an hour’s worth of music between the two of them, but that brevity works for both releases.

However, we must pick a winner, and because of the boundary-pushing, because of the fact that the EP just sounds like an uphill battle, because it was extremely early for extreme metal to have aspirations toward extreme art, that winner is Apocalyptic Raids.

The post Fight Fire with Fire: ‘Apocalyptic Raids’ vs. ‘Bathory’ appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Five Heavy Albums that Changed My Life with Shane Embury of Napalm Death

It’s not too often we give an album a 10 out of 10 rating, but Napalm Death’s new album, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, got the perfect Decibel score recently, and for good reason: the record rules, straight up, the band as hungry, forward-thinking and vital as ever, the record a total monolith of extremity.

To celebrate its release, we caught up with bassist and grindmaster general Shane Embury to find out what five heavy albums changed his life. It’s no surprise the choices range from raw proto-black to experimental noise rock, given that Napalm Death at least flirt with some of the sounds found on all of Embury’s choices.

“To name five albums is very tough,” says Embury. “Here I go…”

Slade – Alive! (1972)

Growing up in the small, Hobbiton-ish village of Broseley, Shropshire in the UK in the early ’70s, I was first introduced to Slade at the age of 5—my mom would buy me the band’s 7” singles from the local bicycle shop, which acted as a local village record store also! [laughs] This was 1972/3—I religiously watched a weekly UK show called Top of the Pops—Slade alongside Marc Bolan, The Osmonds (note: “Crazy Horses”’ bass line is amazing), etc. would be on there regularly. The show’s opening credits tune at the time was “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, so you could say the crunch of the guitar sound (heavy to me back in those days) possessed my village soul! Slade were visually as loud as their music, and I loved it; great choruses and personalities I could relate to; lyrics that were grounded and from the street. These guys were a major influence on KISS, by the way. My destiny was set in motion!

Judas Priest – Killing Machine (1978)

We had postal order record clubs in the UK cheesily named “Britannia UK.” Being in one of them, this amazing album, alongside Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak and Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die!, further indoctrinated me into their introductory offer of an album a month. Unfortunately, followed a month later by Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, which pissed me off immensely and was returned back to them very swiftly! Of course, the Priest, Lizzy and Sabbath had many other amazing albums, but these three ignited the passion in me to get them all. This would be around 1978/79. On Killing Machine, I loved the sound of the guitars and Rob Halford’s screams—his worded lyrical symmetry as well is an inspiration when I write lyrics. A lot of the time they have to rhyme—what’s the point in in just using clever words if generally you need a dictionary to try and work out the theme of the song? I saw these guys at Birmingham Odeon a couple of times, the last time on the Screaming for Vengeance tour. Me and my friend Mitch Dickinson (Unseen Terror) stood behind the guys from Witchfinder General. Amazing memories!

Venom – Welcome to Hell (1981)

This was the album that did it for me—sure, noisy production (which I loved), but, man, in 1982 (I think that was the year), with my headphones on in the afternoon after I had returned from the record store (as my dad was asleep from working night shift) when “Sons of Satan” comes in, I was like, “Fuck me.” Life at school changed—all I wanted to be was be in a heavy metal band. Songs about Satan… Pyrotechnics… Inverted crosses! Distorted bass sounds—I am in, 1000%. This was a great stepping stone toward bands like Discharge, GBH, The Dead Kennedys, The Exploited, as the aggression and power to me were the same. The world of punk rock came bashing in, so Venom will always be one of those bands that opened many doors. And I don’t give a fuck who thinks what, I will fly their flag forever. Their influence led toward my eventual tape-trading interest, where I wrote to (and got to meet) Bill Steer and Ken Owen (Carcass) about my first band Warhammer (heavily influenced by Venom/Bathory/Possessed). Those guys came to our first ever gig of two! [laughs]

Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1988)

I was introduced to these guys through a friend of mine, Martin Nesbitt, who worked at Earache for a while and also managed Carcass for a spell. I have always been on the lookout for new music [like] Killing Joke, My Bloody Valentine. The From Enslavement lineup of Mick, Lee and Bill, we always listened to John Peel, who would play these guys a lot! The guitar chords, noise/sonics and placement of notes, odd drum rhythms on this album and also on all of their albums, are a massive influence on me and can be heard in subtleties throughout the past 25-plus years of tracks I have written for Napalm and my Blood from the Soul albums. I am listening to this album now and it’s sending me into a mind-bending trance as always…

Cardiacs – On Land and in the Sea (1989)

It’s no secret to anyone that these guys are one of my favourite bands. Unfortunately, the main guy and conceptualist Tim Smith recently passed away after a long battle [with brain damage and dystonia]. I was fortunate to not just be a fan but a friend of his. Tim and his band’s influence be with me forever. I will miss him dearly and the world is an even sadder place without him in it. This is the band’s second album. I was introduced to them on [their] Big Ship mini album—their mixture of prog, fast-paced punk and ska and their theatrics totally blew my mind! Tim’s lyrics are, I believe, deep-rooted but abstract in lots of ways, and I love that also—there should and could be many meanings and interpretations to his words; true engagement with their fan base. [Cardiacs’] crazy time structures and notations have seeped into the faster riffs that I write for Napalm Death, for sure—subconsciously, it’s inevitable. Oddly enough, when I first saw Napalm Death as a three-piece at the Mermaid pub in Sparkhill, Birmingham, back in 1986, Cardiacs played a few weeks later… Destiny again at play here, I believe…

The post Five Heavy Albums that Changed My Life with Shane Embury of Napalm Death appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Five Times Ace Frehley was the Coolest

Legendary guitarist Ace Frehley was set to release Origins, Vol. 2 back in March, but then COVID-19 hit, leaving fans of the former KISS guitarist waiting eagerly to hear the Spaceman’s latest collection of cover tunes. Well, the wait is over, as the album is finally coming out on September 18, and to celebrate, we thought we’d talk a look at five times Frehley was just the coolest. Because, make no mistake about it: Frehley is the coolest.

5. Delivering up some rock and roll room service

I can find no evidence of this existing, but my memory—which, admittedly, sucks—tells me that at some point in the ’90s or so, Frehley appeared on some TV show where he was, presumably, told to do something zany. My memory—which sucks, mind you—tells me that, by way of introducing himself to the viewers of whatever show this was, he stumbled in to a room and cackled out “Rock and roll room service!” It’s always hard to tell if Frehley is loaded or just jovial, which is part of his charm, and that was certainly part of the equation here. But there was something about this ludicrous guest spot that stuck with me all these years later, and every time I think of it, which is surprisingly often, I just think, man, Frehley is the coolest. (Also, if anyone has any further confirmation of this ever existing, please get in touch.)

4. The entirety of “Strange Ways”

Many point to Ace’s solo in “Strange Ways” (off of KISS’ second album, 1974’s excellent Hotter than Hell) as peak Frehley, but I’m going to take that one step further and say his guitar work through the whole song is incredible. The verse riff is to die for, Frehley getting slinky and sleazy, the chorus absolutely killer, the outrageous production really bringing out the trash in the rock here. Songs like this are almost painful to listen to, as they are a reminder of how great the classic KISS lineup could be when and if they really wanted to be (I’m sure only, like, half of KISS actually played on this song, but, who’s taking notes?) (I am, and it’s a spreadsheet, and it ain’t pretty.)

3. When he made “New York Groove” so cool no one knew or cared it was a cover

Granted, I was one year old when the KISS solo albums dropped in 1978, but it was a long, long time until I realized that the most well-known song of all four albums—Ace’s “New York Groove”—was actually a cover (it was originally recorded by Hello in 1975, and I can safely say to this day I’ve never heard a note that band played, including “New York Groove,” because I don’t need to, because Ace). Even then, when I found out, I just kinda disregarded that info (much like when I found out “King of the Nighttime World” was a cover—what the hell?), like many of us did, because Frehley really made the song—written by songwriter man-about-town Russ Ballard, who can also tell you a thing or two about Frehley’s Comet’s incredible “Into the Night” BUT don’t let me get derailed here—his own, absolutely turning it into one of the greatest showcases for the man’s laidback coolness, his accidental and clumsy endearing nature, his total NY-ness.

2. Giving zero shits on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder

Ace’s appearance on the Tomorrow with Tom Snyder show in 1979 is the stuff of legend, and the looks on Paul Stanley’s and Gene Simmons’ faces seal the deal. Here, as Ace nears the end of his time in KISS, he fully throws caution to the wind and appears on a TV show having the rip-roarin’ time of his life, with fellow outcast Peter Criss loving every minute of it. Frehley’s tipsy performance here is one of his best, trademark Spaceman cackle echoing for miles, across the years, a wild defiance, a declaration that he has zero shits left to give as his employers look on with a steely gaze.

1. When he announces his return in “Rock Soldiers”

Frehley’s Comet is one of the most underrated ’80s hard rock/metal bands there is (see our story about how great they are here); of their small output, one of their best songs is the classic “Rock Soldiers” from their self-titled 1987 debut. The song rocks, hard, but lyrically it’s next-level Ace, as our man talks us through an extremely literal journey through the troubled post-KISS era of his life. Like all Frehley lyrics, it’s charming in its absurdity, but when the music stops for a second and he sings “Ace is back and he told ya so,” man, forget about it: this rules, it’s Ace marking a triumphant return, and hearing Ace refer to himself in this manner never stops being completely hilarious and totally inspiring. This song sums up everything about Frehley that is just unbearably cool, and for that, it tops our list.

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Primitive Origins: Hard Stuff’s ‘Bulletproof’

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

In 1972, British hard rock band Hard Stuff (formerly known as Bullet) released their debut album, Bulletproof, on Purple Records. Purple Records existed from 1971 to 1979 and was put together by Deep Purple’s management to handle that band’s records as well as related projects and bands like this, who just kicked ass and would appeal to Deep Purple fans. (Of note to us longhairs is the label’s release of Elf’s L.A. 59 single in 1974.)

So what exactly is this album and why is it not talked about more often amongst hard rock fans? We can’t answer the latter, because it rocks pretty hard and the members have some pretty impressive ties (Thin Lizzy, Atomic Rooster, Roxy Music), but read on for more details on what the songs on Bulletproof can offer a metalhead in 2020.

Opener “Jay Time” absolutely kills it, excellent boogie/near-southern/almost-kinda-KISS-y riff totally slaying, tons of energy, feeling for miles. I love this song, and it makes me wonder, right off the bat here, why Hard Stuff aren’t more well known… or well known at all. This tune is one of the best I’ve encountered so far in 2020 writing this column, and is a great way to get the album started.

“Sinister Minister” has such a great title I can’t believe I never saw a thrash band use it in the ’80s (just looked, yeah, it was used), and the song shreds pretty hard too, nowhere near as, well, sinister as the title would have you believe, but it lays down some really good proto-metal riffs sandwiched in between boogie and stadium-rock ones, vocalist soaring (note: the album features three different members on lead vocals), whole band locked in as one, damn, everything working just fine here.

“No Witch at All” slams down a killer mid-tempo groove, the band sounding comfortable and confident here midway through side A, third vocalist in three songs, but it’s not like a Gene/Paul/Ace difference; hell, it’s almost easy to not even notice, considering how caught up we all are in the raucous rock. Three songs down, three winners, Hard Stuff setting the tone for the rest of the album nicely.

“Taken Alive” has a slinking riff that serves as a reminder that blues-inflected rock can be great, as long as the blues keeps a pretty safe distance away. Really, calling it “blues-inflected rock” sells it a bit short, or at least sells it short to people like me who recoil at the concept of bluesy rock (I’m not blind to the importance of blues to rock and roll, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit down and listen to it). And that snare-only outro? Awesome, awesome, awesome.

“Time Gambler (Rodney)” brings us to the halfway point of the record in style, the band stretching out a bit on this six-minute tune, but never getting laborious or exhausting. Really, this is an incredibly solid first half of a record, one that is decidedly more of-the-era hard rock than it is proto-metal but definitely with enough rock attitude for it to appeal to metal fans. Also, we just made it through five songs with no agonizing ballad or lame covers in sight. Excellent.

“Millionaire” gets the second half going with a bang, the band again offering up a six-minute tune but this one being more four-on-the-floor rockin’, Hard Stuff even picking things up to a manic, proto-speed-metal tempo halfway through, and keeping it up throughout the guitar solo. This album never gets too heavy, but it’s nice to see the band ramp up the speed factor a bit here. Good work.

“Monster in Paradise” features guest co-writing credits from none other than Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, which makes sense, as this song has appeared in a few other forms by various iterations of Hard Stuff members and those two Purple dudes; here, it’s a forward-thrusting, sly rocker that fits into the flow of the album perfectly. One of the things I love about this record is how every song holds its own; early hard rock and proto-metal albums can be pretty inconsistent sometimes but this one is solid through and through.

“Hobo” is up next, and, man, still no ballads or covers anywhere to be found, which is fantastic, and even the blues was kept really far away when it poked its head in earlier on on this album. Superb. This one is a more brisk 3:25 rocker, tons of fantastic arena-ready riffs, again, things more early-HR than proto-metal, but definitely on the more rowdy side of HR, if not necessarily sonically heavy.

“Mr. Longevity – RIP” has a humorous title and an absolutely fantastic, snaking southern-rock riff, and is simply another killer hard rock song on album full of them, the band teasing a bit with what could have been their strong point if they spent more time on it: those sleazy southern riffs. Throw this on the B side of a single with album opener “Jay Time” on side A and it’s solid gold.

“The Provider – Part One” (I don’t think there’s a part two anywhere out there) closes things off, and is a very Zeppelin-ish rocker that almost feels more like an impromptu longhair jam than anything else; it’s a short, fun way to end off this album. And there we have it, no shitty covers, no shitty blues, Hard Stuff totally rocking it for 10 songs on this album, their first of only two, the band proving that, yes, people should be talking about this one far more than they do.

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: No.

Heaviness factor: Not incredibly sonically heavy, but the hard rock riffs will definitely appeal to metalheads who dig old arena rock.

Obscura Triviuma: Harry Shaw sings on four tracks but left the band before it came out, so was taken off the cover and is uncredited on the album.

Other albums: 1973’s Bolex Dementia.

Related bands: Atomic Rooster, Thin Lizzy, Roxy Music, Quatermass, Ian Gillan Band, The Attack, Export.

Alright, fine, if you must: A couple beers will actually be just fine.

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Album Premiere: Unurnment – Self-Immolation Suite

Out tomorrow on West Coast powerhouse Maggot Stomp, Self-Immolation Suite represents the latest effort from Sacramento-based, brutal tech-death mech suit Unurnment. A follow-up to Spiritual Penury, their 2019 debut EP, Self-Immolation Suite brings five absolute lifetakers to the forefront of modern technical death metal brutality.

Photo by Otessa Crandell

“At the risk of sounding like a fucking nerd, Self-Immolation Suite is essentially a concept record in suite form, comprised of one 14 minute song in 5 parts,” says Unurnment’s sole operator, Federico Avilla.  “Oops. I know, not very ‘caveman death metal’ of me.”

Federico continues: “Unurnment’s existence has so far been a series of challenges made to myself. Spiritual Penury’s 3 tracks were a challenge to see if I even COULD make a death metal record completely on my own. Self-Immolation Suite takes it one step further, evolving familiar lyrical themes into an overarching storyline in an effort to bring a more earnest sentiment and cinematic feel to the classic brutal death metal sound.

 “Sure, on its surface this is a story about self-immolation, but it’s also about not being able to escape yourself,” Federico explains. “Being stuck in your flesh prison on this piece of shit earth and learning to either live with it or go out in a ball or glory. If all that sounds like some punisher ass high concept metal dork bullshit to you then fuck it. Ignore all of that. It’s 5 ruthless tracks about lighting yourself on fire. Turn it up loud and don’t think too hard about it.”

Self-Immolation Suite

Self-Immolation Suite by Unurnment

Preorder Self-Immolation Suite from Maggot Stomp.

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Track and Video Premiere: Finntroll – “Mask”

Seven years have raced by since blackened folk metal rogues Finntroll last released a studio album. Before their Blodsvept record, no more than three years passed between LPs. I’m not a troll expert, but I’ve consumed enough fantasy media to know it’s entirely possible trolls require an occasional hibernation period to recharge their creative forces. Crawling from the wreckage of a pandemic, Finntroll’s members have emerged from their mossy caverns to release their seventh LP, Vredesvävd. Translated from Swedish, the title means “Wrath-woven,” so you know they’re going to bring the fury. Finntroll’s sense of impish antagonism has always distinguished them from black metal’s grim monochromatic forests. On September 18, Finntroll’s new record will be roaring from the wilderness by way of Century Media Records. With their slumber behind them, Finntroll’s melodic menace is on display in the hallucinatory new video for their upcoming single, “Mask.”

At just a shade over three minutes long, “Mask” is a feral lunge for the jugular. Well, if the predator had a mind deranged from feasting on Psilocybin mushrooms. The keyboard blasts are a precursor to the bloodthirsty riffs rampaging across crags to hunt their prey. Meanwhile, drummer MörkÖ finally has a chance to bash out punchy rhythms on a studio record after joining in 2014. Before the video hits the halfway mark there’s already an eruption of sorcery from a woodland mage and snarl-along gang shouts. Beneath the glow of chartreuse magic and dim moonlight, Finntroll bring pointy-eared playfulness back to black metal. Raise a goblet to Finntroll’s return and prepare for trollish antics in the near future.

Stream the video for “Mask” below and welcome back a pack of trolls from hibernation. Press play and enjoy before Vredesvävd is released from Century Media Records on September 18th.

Pre-order Finntroll’s Vredesvävd from Century Media Records HERE

Don’t forget to follow Fintroll on Facebook for news and updates HERE

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Watch a New Trailer for Swans Documentary, ‘Where Does a Body End?’

Genre chameleons Swans have remained one a constantly-talked-about band for the entirety of their existence, but now the band are the subject of a new documentary. Where Does a Body End? is a new film that uses never-before-seen footage and photographs to showcase the band from their early formation in the 1980s through the ’90s, their breakups and more.

A new trailer for the documentary features old footage of Swans performing, followed by interview footage with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ James Sclavunos. More interviews are shown, including Swans frontman Michael Gira himself and various no-wave artists, showcasing the depth Where Does a Body End? goes to cover each phase of the band’s existence.

Where Does a Body End? is currently scheduled for a September 11 release and can be ordered here.

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