Remember when rock stars could act like total dicks and no one would even bat an eye? Imagine the lawsuits, the social media backlash if someone famous whipped a smashed guitar 30 feet into a festival crowd. Today’s rockers are pussycats compared to Ritchie Blackmore circa 1974. If you don’t know the story of Deep Purple’s California Jam concert, which happened 40 years ago this month, you should. With a completely revamped lineup featuring David Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes as dual lead vocalists, Deep Purple had a lot to prove. The new album Burn was their best since the classic Machine Head, and their sunset show at the California Jam, after Black Sabbath and before Emerson Lake & Palmer was in front of more than 200,000 people, featuring the largest sound system ever assembled. Despite the fest running ahead of schedule, the band deliberately delayed their appearance by an hour (“It was a matter of principle,” Blackmore would tell Cameron Crowe a year later) and the combination of the hype, the anticipation of the crowd, the amplification, and the tension created by the TV cameras hovering too close for Ritchie Blackmore’s liking yielded an absolutely ferocious performance. Highlighted by a sensational performance of “Mistreated”, it all came to a head at the end during “Space Truckin’”, with Blackmore having one of the biggest meltdowns in rock history, smashing several guitars, destroying a TV camera, and blowing up an amp (the latter was staged but no less spectacular). It was an incendiary performance, in more ways than just an exploding Marshall. Anyway, nine years after coming out on DVD, Live in California 74 (Eagle Rock) has been released on CD and digital audio for the first time, and it remains an incredible snapshot of this legendary band at its most confrontational. It’s essential listening for any metal fan.
Also out this week:
Austrian Death Machine, Triple Brutal (Artery): I’m all for separating the art from the artist, as long as those who do it do so with awareness. So be aware that the guy behind this lame, one-joke band is a jerk who tried to hire a guy to kill his wife.
Cauldron Black Ram, Stalagmire (20 Buck Spin): The Australian band has returned with another collection of robust, nautical themed songs that, once again, neatly combine elements of metals death, doom, and black. It’s simple yet great fun, immersing itself in gimmick, but unlike the Alestorms of the metal world, keeps a straight face while doing so. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.
Cemetery Fog, Shadows From The Cemetery (Iron Bonehead): As a rule, whenever Iron Bonehead puts something new out, drop everything and listen. The German label has an impeccable ear for death metal, and they’ve discovered a good one in Finland’s Cemetery Fog, whose latest cassette release is 23 minutes of doom-tinged ugliness that hearkens back to a time when death metal showed a little restraint now and then. The songs breathe, shift in mood, and the result is a tremendously atmospheric yet still throttling piece of work.
Circle, Leviatan (Ektro): The bazillionth album by the Finnish progressive geniuses is a subtle one, working with largely acoustic instruments and creating a hypnotic yet very strange and unsettling collection of songs, made even more enigmatic thanks to the Finnish lyrics.
Lacuna Coil, Broken Crown Halo (Century Media): The Italian stars have toned down on the obvious attempts at active rock crossover, instead bringing back more of the gothic elements that made them so appealing a decade ago. Despite the strength of a couple excellent tracks (“Hostage To The Light”, “Cybersleep”) it’s all for naught, as the band continues to be oblivious to the fact that Andrea Ferro is a terrible, terrible singer. Yes, the male-female dynamic is a tactic that can work, but when it involves a talented, charismatic singer like Cristina Scabbia and the tone-deaf blurting of Ferro time and time again, it becomes a terrible distraction. You’re spinning your wheels, Lacuna Coil. For the umpteenth time, drop the dead weight and let the lady sing.
Lost Society, Terror Hungry (Nuclear Blast): Lost Society seem bent on becoming Finland’s answer to Municipal Waste, but how could anyone view that with any cynicism when these kids play ‘80s crossover thrash with such verve? High energy, catchy, and with a good amount of humor without overdoing it, this album’s a good encapsulation of everything that’s appealing about thrash, a strong improvement over last year’s raucous Fast Loud Death.
Magnum, Escape From The Shadow Garden (SPV): The Birmingham, England veterans’ 17th album will please longtime fans with its straightforward, goofy, yet undeniably pleasing prog-tinged hard rock tunes. Hooks are always of paramount importance with these guys, and no matter how overwrought Bob Catley’s singing gets, the songs always maintain an even keel thanks to tasteful and catchy melodies.
Mansion, The Mansion Congregation Hymns Vol. 1 (Streaks): The Finnish Kartanoist weirdos are a band to watch, and their new single is a fascinating departure from the overt doom sounds of last year’s outstanding We Shall Live EP. From the swinging heavy rock ‘n’ roll of “Wild Child” to the brooding, Coven-derived “New Dawn”, not to mention the free-form saxophone solos, this is welcome new music before the forthcoming full-length debut, which is presently being recorded and will apparently continue more in the doom direction of the EP. Order it here.
Monolord, Empress Rising (EasyRider): California label EasyRider is set to have a very big year. Hell, they already got off to a headstart in late 2013 with Shooting Guns’ incredible Brotherhood of the Ram, and now they’ve put out the debut album by Swedish doom trio Monolord. It’s straight-ahead epic doom of the Weedian variety: lugubrious, yes, but wickedly catchy and swinging as mightily as Udo Dirkschneider on a wrecking ball. Chris Dick premiered it on Monday, and I highly (well not that kind of highly) suggest you give it a listen.
Nux Vomica, Nux Vomica (Relapse): Much will probably be made of the sheer ferocity of the Portland-by-way-of-Baltimore band’s blend of crust, black metal, doom, and d-beat punk, but as intense as all that is, it’s the surprising melodies that have the strongest effect, which carry the three lengthy tracks that comprise this blindsidingly good second full-length. The command this band displays when it comes to melody, and how it never comes at the expense of the intensity of the instrumental arrangements, is remarkable. Crust punk that employs actual dynamics. Imagine that.
Pilgrim, II: Void Worship (Metal Blade): The second album by the Rhode Island band is a mildly enjoyable, sometimes frustrating exercise in obvious doom aesthetics that tests listeners’ patience by burying the singing deep in the mix. As strong as a track like “Void Worship” is, however, this is lousy timing, arriving in a year when it’s bound to be overshadowed by a highly anticipated new Pallbearer record.
Pyrrhon, The Mother Of Virtues (Relapse): Just when you think you have Pyrhhon’s Relapse debut sussed – okay, they play technical death metal – the Brooklyn band swiftly pulls the rug right out from under you. It’s always admirable for a band to make up its own rules, but to do so and keep the music engaging is an extremely tall order for new bands, and this record manages that with surprising ease. Like Gorguts, Origin, and even Voivod – the highest possible praise I can give – there’s an alien quality to the atonal riffs and abandonment of conventional song structure, the songs keeping you on the edge of your seat as you grasp whatever’s flying past you: a weirdly catchy noise riff, a skronky rhythm section groove, a jazzy bass solo, thoughtful lyrics. By no means do these songs feel arbitrary either; instead there’s a true sense of dynamics, especially on longer tracks like “White Flag”, “Eternity in a Breath”, and “The Mother of Virtues”. By daring to be a little different, it turns out to be revelatory. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.
Sabbath Assembly, Quaternity (Svart): Dave Nuss and Jamie Myers are back with another album devoted to the fascinating theology of the Process Church of the Final Judgment – in which Christ, Lucifer, Satan, and Jehovah are worshipped equally – only now, new original compositions have been included. Featuring a stalwart supporting cast including Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston of Gorguts and Dysrhythmia, Daron Beck (Pinkish Black), and Mat McNerney (Hexvessel, Beastmilk), it’s a very smooth transition, with “I, Satan” and the epic “The Four Horsemen” seeing Sabbath Assembly metamorphosing into a legitimate band.
Satan’s Satyrs, “Black Souls” (Trash King): The lovable trio has churned out a fabulous new single, and if you know these guys at all, you can expect more of the same fuzzed-out psychedelic garage rock ‘n’ roll that they’ve always excelled at. Purchase it digitally and on vinyl here.
Sonata Arctica, Pariah's Child (Nuclear Blast): For those who treat Sonata Arctica’s music with a measure of respect instead of scorn – and if you know me, I’m among them – they’ll be well aware that for all the Finnish band’s strengths, singer-songwriter Tony Kakko has a bad habit of falling victim to flights of self-indulgence. Sonata Arctica’s blend of speed metal, symphonic metal, and power metal was an early formula that proved to be wildly popular, but typical of an ambitious artist who hates putting out the same stuff time and again, Kakko’s restless nature has led the band into strange directions that, he readily admits now, would have been better suited to solo projects instead. So despite soaring popularity over the least decade, their albums have veered crazily from great (Reckoning Night) to mediocre (Unia) to good (The Days of Grays) to awful (Stones Grow Her Name).
Predictably, Sonata Arctica is on the upswing again, but this time with a little twist. A series of anniversary shows in Finland saw the band performing a lot of older material for the first time in ages, and after years of trying to distance himself from that past, Kakko found himself enamored once again with those songs, and he strove to bring more of that classic element back into the band’s music. That’s all his fans have ever wanted from the guy, and as a result he and his mates have come through with their best album in ten years. “The Wolves Die Young”, “Running Lights”, “Cloud Factory”, and “Half a Marathon Man” have an air of familiarity that fans will immediately embrace yet feel very much in keeping with the more nuanced style of Kakko’s stronger recent work. Of course, there are plenty of progressive flights of fancy, but “Take One Breath”, “X Marks the Spot”, and “Larger Than Life” feel vibrant and fun rather than tedious. Even the shameless power ballad “Love” is admirable in its shamelessness. Who knows whether or not Kakko can continue to rein in his songwriting on the next record, but for now all is well for Sonata Arctica, having treated its audience to a gem of a record.
Steel Panther, All You Can Eat (Open E): The novelty’s really starting to wear thin on this joke band’s latest album, with nowhere near the blend of big ‘80s hooks and crude humor that they’ve pulled off in the past. However, the slow-burning “Bukkake Tears” is hilarious, and is even funnier when you hear the sly musical references to Night Ranger, Giuffria, and especially Whitesnake’s “Is This Love”.
Taurus, No/Thing (self-released): Musicians Stevie Floyd and Ashley Spungin have teamed up with producer Billy Anderson to create a towering and harrowing exercise in doomy drone. It’s abstract, surprisingly multifaceted – the Middle Eastern influences on “Set Forth on the Path of the Infinite” is fascinating – and guaranteed to leave you rattled. Purchase via Bandcamp.
Various Artists, House of Burners (Pre-Rock): Whether stoner, doom, shoegaze, or space, Canadian psychedelic rock is flourishing right now, bands right across the huge country exploring the more hallucinatory side of guitar-based music. Sensing there’s a strong underground movement afoot, the guys in Shooting Guns – students of the genre as well as talented musicians – have put together a tremendous compilation featuring 16 bands. There’s excellent variety, from the hazy sounds of Powder Blue, to the garage rock of Public Animal and The Back A.D., to the sheer power of Bison and Lavagoat. The formidable Hawkeyes, space noodlers Krang, boogie-meisters Chron Goblin, experimenters Mahogany Frog, and a great new stoner motorik track by Shooting Guns help round out a rich-sounding collection. Anyone heading to Roadburn in the next week has to get their hands on this album. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.
Various Artists, Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life (Rhino): Not surprisingly, this star-studded tribute to the greatest metal singer of all time is a mixed bag. After all, that’ll happen when there aren’t many who can match the vocal power of the late Ronald James Padavona. But for every clunker served up by Halestorm, Tenacious D, and Killswitch Engage, you get gems like Doro’s reverent cover of “Egypt (The Chains Are On)”, Corey Taylor’s surprisingly strong reading of “Rainbow in the Dark”, and Metallica’s scorching medley of tracks from Rainbow’s classic Rising. Proceeds from the album go towards Dio’s cancer charity, so while only half the album delivers it’s hard to fault the project’s intent, which is worth supporting.