The thing about being a Judas Priest fan is that it is not based on rationality. Unless, of course, you think sitting in a dark basement room with your favorite bottle listening to “Better By You, Better Than Me” is reasonable. It’s not. It’s quite insane. And that is rather the point (of entry).
And so it is that Halford and company have headed out to the highway once again, cranking up the speed of a heavy kind with the new release “Lightning Strike.” Yes, if there is one positive message the boys from Birmingham want to get across it is that whilst lightning may not strike twice, the Demons from Hell do. Fifty million times, as a matter of fact. Not to mention untold millions of metal maniacs in heavy metal parking lots all around the world.
Were we to judge the old gents from the thorns they produce we’d be obliged to say that they do look and sound pretty good for men who surely lost touch with reality lo so many years ago. Crunching guitar(s)? Of course. Lyrics equivalent to the ramblings of a mental patient obsessed with the occult? You bet. Will this satisfy the fans of yore? Well that is not so easy to answer.
Do you suppose that a Chicago Bulls fan from say, 1993, is quite pleased with the product put on the floor today? After all, it’s still NBA basketball and they are amazingly talented. Err, but some of the old magic is not quite there now is it?
Now before you get too concerned and think your buddy Crustin does not like the music please don’t misunderstand. As one who has reaped a living nightmare from hell since the good old days of Sin After Sin, the latest video, album, and I am sure subsequent tour, are perfectly in line with those of us who are legion, and live beyond the realms of death.
If memory serves, Girlschool was the only band of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal that featured women in the line-up.
I bring this up because you cannot get away from the fact that Olympia, Washington’s Christian Mistress conjures up the exact kind of feel that is reserved for those NWOBHM imports circa 1981 and they feature one member of the opposite sex in a role that’s typically reserved for some homely piece of sausage.
Christine Davis is the lead singer of Christian Mistress, and from now until the moment the band breaks up, you’ll be reminded of the fact that she’s a woman in every single media mention. Those comments will usually be followed up with some passive-aggressive response on how gender doesn’t matter in genres like this.
The fact is, it does kind of matter. It’s a distraction to the band because all of that focus on Ms. Davis undermines how shit hot the band really is. The musicianship taking place behind this woman should be satisfactory enough because they’re awfully good and they staunchly adhere to the NWOBHM school of awesomeness.
Guitarists Oscar Sparbel and Ryan McClain channel the dueling guitar masters of the late 70s/early 80s (think Glen and KK or Adrian and Dave) with such fluidity that you’ll be looking for a Christian Mistress patch to put on your faded jean jacket, provided it still fits.
And now that I’ve already succumbed to the cheap tactic of pointing out the lack of a penis on Christine Davis, let’s be completely honest by admitting that she’s probably the weakest part of Christian Mistress’ sophomore release, Possession.
Her voice is gruff, smoky, and it offers a certain degree of novelty to the proceedings. But beyond that, her chops are pretty limited in range, becoming a bit samey after a few spins and offering little in terms of emotion. And that’s kind of important when you’re dealing with matters of possession, pentagrams and all things dark.
The production is straight-up documentary style, hinting that the members have spent a few hours in the woodshed, carving out their craft and making sure the performances are presented with legitimacy.
The lyrics provide a bit of a challenge as they try to match wits with the darkness the rest of the band’s creative fuel. Stray from the music and you’ll stumble on lines like “Eternity is a long time…but it’s all in your mind” and wonder how Christian Mistress can get away with such nonsense.
It’s the interplay between McClain and Sparbel that manages to lift Possession from the dead-weight of its own ridiculousness, providing the record with its true emotional content, its historical accuracy and ultimately, the record’s real voice.
To be honest, I would rather see Testament included in the “Big 4” line-up than Anthrax. The lineage is there and, most importantly, the band has parlayed its third decade into an example that even headliners Metallica should have considered well before the submission that was Death Magnetic.
But as much as I liked Testament’s The Formation Of Damnation, there’s very little on the band’s newest album in four years–Dark Roots Of Earth— that would indicate that the time in between was spent on forging ahead on lyrical matters to match the top-notch thrash delivery.
The theme of war is packed within Dark Roots Of Earth, but good luck finding anything beyond clichés like “sea of rage,” “crimson rain,” and “raining seas of crimson rage.” Ok, I made the last one up, but just watch Billy use it for a line in Testament’s next release.
“True American Hate” sounds nothing more than a ready-made soundtrack for aggro meatsticks who view war as nothing more than video games with little consequence. The inspiration, claims vocalist Chuck Billy, came after seeing video of Middle Easterners burning the American Flag.
It would take Billy just a few seconds of research to discover the similarities between our endless occupation and that of his own well-documented Native American heritage. It’s not a matter of being on the right side of politics either, but to sum up a gut-check reaction to a video specifically choreographed to rile up Americans is just plain lazy.
Almost as embarrassing is the ballad “Cold Embrace,” which was evidently included as some kind of way to break up the record’s non-stop brutal delivery. It certainly wasn’t included to feature Billy’s thin vocal style and he sings some bullshit about a mythical sleeping beauty.
If there’s anything, or anyone, that can save Darks Roots Of Earth from the weight of its hokey hawkish celebration of war, it’s guitarist Alex Skolnick’s incredible soloing. It manages to save the record during points where you become absolutely numb to the countless mentions of “hate,” dim-witted references to “liberty” and “freedom,” and confusing allusions to the American war-machine, which seem to support and criticize it simultaneously.
Dark Roots Of Earth is a lowest common denominator metal record that places fans in the unfortunate position of having to defend Testament’s narrow-minded jingoism instead of celebrating their unquestionable abilities as one of thrash’s elder statesmen.
On second thought, let’s put Overkill on the Big 4 line-up instead.
The running joke with Saint Vitus’ 1986 record Born Too Late was that it confirmed what everyone already knew about the band. It’s like someone stumbled across a lost tribe of the Sons of Silence motorcycle club where downers was part of their food pyramid and the only music they had was an 8-track of Masters Of Reality that played on an endless loop.
Life got mundane for these Earthmovers, so they picked up some instruments and proceeded to break down those Sabbath riffs into their most basic elements, slowing down the tempo until the entire thing sounds like it’s in death throes.
There was no such thing as “doom metal” back then. Instead, Saint Vitus looked like an out-of-touch bunch of stoners who perfected a faithful reproduction of drop D horrorshow and blatant Sabbath worship.
Their records–wonderfully out of place on the hugely influential SST label–all sounded like they were recorded on barely working studio equipment with anything above 10 kHz not even registering because of the primordial ooze of guitarist Dave Chandler selfishly taking over everything else in the mix with motor oil cans of fuzz.
As you can probably guess, Saint Vitus were never appreciated as much as they should have been during their original tenure.
By the time of their second decade, the fruits of their labors began to show in the work of their young admirers, but with Saint Vitus’ sonic quicksand being a decidedly acquired taste, they limped through changes in vocalists while remaining embedding in their underground status.
It’s been seventeen years since their last album, Die Healing, a swan song featuring the band’s original vocalist Scott Reagers that seemed to end the band’s legacy on a high note.
We’ve seen a reunion of the original members since that time, and we’ve witnessed the tragic passing of original drummer Armando Acosta. What we haven’t seen is a return of vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, and the line-up that some fans consider to be the band’s peak.
In fact, you’d have to go back even farther than the last album since we last heard Wino front Vitus. It was a series of live shows and the addition of new drummer Henry Vasquez that prompted the creative spark that brings us Lillie: F-65
The curious title comes from a particular downer that guitarist Dave Chandler enjoyed back in the day, no doubt fueling the incredible slow tempo that is at vital to this band as the sludge it hermetically seals inside each measure.
For me to instruct novices to begin with Saint Vitus’ earlier catalog would be a disservice to how good Lillie: F-65 really is. Within seconds, Chandler’s guitar picks up exactly where it left off nearly two decades ago, still as primordial as ever.
New drummer Vasquez speaks the same language as the late Armando, but he beats the skins in such a way that it’s tough to gauge if he’s paying tribute to his predecessor or trying to hammer nails into the coffin of his legacy. He’s heavier than Armando while unmistakably fitting into the line-up better than anyone else who may have applied for the position.
Add these two forces together and you’ve got an album of such stunning aggression that you’d be forgiven if you view Sabbath’s own reunion with ambivalence. With nothing to gain, Saint Vitus seems to pride itself on proving how little they’ve moved their metal glacier from its original placement and how even the most rudimentary arrangements can reign as the heaviest element on metal’s periodic table.
The album’s last two selections serve as the highlight of this wonderfully brief effort. At only a hair over a half-hour, “Dependence” is a seven-minute cautionary tale of excess, complete with over two minutes of ear-damaging feedback to drive back anyone hoping for a bit of compromise.
The next song takes it even further, doing away with any resemblance of melody and ignoring any need for lyrics. “Withdrawal” is nothing more than two of layers of Chandler’s feedback, one of which pans back and forth between channels like a turret gun aiming for survivors.
There aren’t any, when it comes down to it, except for the members of Saint Vitus themselves who not only survive, but add to their legacy with Lillie: F-65. What is remarkable is how they do it: tapping into the fountain of youth of the same formula that once had them labeled as born too late.
High On Fire has been amassing a catalog of good metal albums—each one better than the last one—but there was a growing concern that the band might not have that great album in them. It has been three years since the band’s last effort, Death Is This Communion, and for a band that makes their bread and butter on the road like High On Fire, I began to wonder just what the band was doing with their seclusion.
The answer is: secretly creating their first truly great album.
Perhaps the only issue that Slayer has—and, considering the band’s potency, it’s not even that much of an issue—is how they’re incapable of change at this point in their career. Even if they wanted to, they’d jeopardize alienating their devout fan base, a substantial populous of such loyalty that to tinker with the formula would be career suicide.
The Ramones suffered from the same plight and—if you’ll recall—twenty years into their own career, they began to wind the machine down until they finally imploded under the weight of their own pistons.
So if the Ramones represent a finely tune American V8, then Slayer adds a nitrous tank to it. And while the Ramones secretly pined for top forty success, Slayer seems completely ambivalent to it, perfectly content with appeasing their loyal fans with record after record of blitzkrieg bop, bam, and double-kick drum bash.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Iron Age has apparently taken that community’s inherent sense of musicianship and come up with an intricate palate of guttural riffing and clever guitar harmonics. These guys must be on the road constantly—and it shows with this, their second full-length, The Sleeping Eye.
Alternating between hardcore shredding and sludgy nodding, Iron Age sounds like the van is fueled by an old Cro-Mags tape and a case of Bud Heavy. But the surprise is really in the hands of a vocalist who barks like an obedient metal frontman while hiding a bit of range, which would come in handy now and then.