“We play rock and roll” (with thanks to Lemmy Kilmister)

In today’s world of limited boundaries and maximum ability to tap into anything the world has to offer, arguments abound about what is metal and what is not. Right now on Facebook, there are seventeen year olds who have never been in a pit, yet they are experts. Just ask them: they will tell you. Adding to the confusion are an increasing number of genres. It’s no longer Rock, Hard rock and metal. Now there’s thrash, metalcore, death metal, black metal, progressive metal, power metal, symphonic metal, doom metal, blah, blah, blah. But, what’s funny is that most of these bands won’t say they play metal.

AC/DC is a band that is loved across the board, even if only for one song (but, you gotta admit, that one song will put a smile on your face). Angus Young reinvented Chuck Berry licks and made them his own, convincing three generations of aspiring rockers to strap on a Gibson SG and ride the highway to Hell. Many current metal acts look to AC/DC for guidance on how to make it and maintain longevity (basically do one thing, do it well and never change). But, the boys from Down Under aren’t quick to own the metal moniker. They are rock and rollers (fell free to ask them). They still crank Little Richard up in their Caddies as they cruise the strip.

Motorhead is another band that is metal royalty, but flies the rock and roll flag. Lemmy starts every concert with,”We are Motorhead. And we play rock and roll.” Motorhead (arguably) invented thrash metal (Lars Ulrich has no problem giving them credit for this). Their current incarnation with Phillip “The Beast” Campbell on guitar, Mikkey Dee on drums and the one and only Lemmy on bass and vocals, produces some of the heaviest music on the planet. Even heart problems and the devastating hand of old age can’t remove the thunder from the Warpig. Just don’t call it metal. It’s rock and roll.

The list goes on. Some bands still cry out for the metal label, only to be derided as hard rock (there is nothing wrong with hard rock, nothing at all). Hair metal bands from the late 1980’s continue to scream out for respect. Bands like Ratt, Motley Crue, Cinderella and my personal fave, Twisted Sister, all beg to be taken seriously as metal artists. The reality is that they haven’t been metal for over twenty years (and in some cases, never were metal). I’m willing to fight for Dee Snider and the boys, and while I want to call them metal, they stopped being metal after STAY HUNGRY sold several million copies. Quiet Riot and Motley Crue kicked open the door with metal boots, but quickly turned it down a notch (selling ten million more copies as a result). Hard rock wins girls and sells records.

The argument will thunder on. After you finish perusing this blog, click over to G+ or Facebook and check out some of the metal pages. Wedged between kids screaming,”Slayer rules!” and old men still bowing to the altar of Dio, you will find arguments about which metal band is best. That’s all good and fun. Just remember: It’s all still rock and roll.

Twelve things not to do in traffic

 As I was driving home today, traffic was a bit more brutal than the average Atlanta afternoon. As I found myself at a complete standstill, my mind turned to music, as it often does. I thought about bands I hadn’t listened to for a while and began my musical journey (since I was going nowhere in my car). 

 First up was Mastodon. I’m a sucker for hometown bands. I’m a bigger sucker for delightfully heavy heavy metal. The two combined make an irresistible combination. I selected ONCE MORE ‘ROUND THE SUN and let the sonic assault begin. I made it three songs (to the semi-hit “The High Ground”) and realized this was NOT the right album for a traffic jam. Between headbanging, steering wheel drum-playing and a complete disregard for life, I hit the button to search for another band. 

 Gojira’s L’ENFANT SAUVAGE was next. An absolutely brutal and fantastic album, I made to “The Axe” (again, the third song on the album) before realizing I had made the wrong choice. I was centimeters from the vehicle in front of me, my adrenaline was pumping and I was close to frothing at the mouth. Gojira, like Mastodon, is  band for driving high speeds on an open road, not for crawling through a rain storm in a steel deathtrap. It was time to select another album.

 Slayer, Exodus, Testament, Metallica, Megadeth, Crowbar, Prong…all were seen as bad ideas. Red Fang and The Sword fell to self preservation. I sat in silence, watching the traffic  slowly roll forward through the rain. I thought about the music loaded on my iphone. Black Sabbath, Black Label Society, Alice In Chains, Dio, Disturbed…bands with crushing guitars, piercing vocals and the ability to make me crash my car. I tried opting for a more melodic band, choosing Avenged Sevenfold’s sefl titled album. I made it to the first chorus of “Critical Acclaim” and hit the stop button. It was not to be a metal day. My favorite music was doing nothing but increasing my excitement and decreasing my ability to concentrate on the army of idiots surrounding me. 

 I finally went back into the vault and pulled out Van Halen’s 1984 album. It turned out to be the perfect choice for a rainy drive home. Sunny beach music from southern California guides a metalhead through rainy Atlanta traffic. Strange days are these…

Reflections of heresy

 I preach a lot against supporting over-played millionaires. I hate the idea of paying inflated ticket prices to see washed up has-beens. I have refused to buy tickets for bands such as Motley Crue, Kiss, Aerosmith and others, because I feel they need to go away and paying them to play only encourages them to stick around. So many bands that were good at one time, but are offering nothing new to music lovers and really just need to go and relax out of the spotlight. However, I have to confess to violating my own advice.

 August 8th I went with my wife and some friends to see Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails with opening act The Dillinger Escape Plan. I had initially decided against the show due to ticket price and my “anti-aging millionaire support” stance. Then a friend offered to sell me tickets at a reduced price if i would drive us to the show. I spoke to my bride and bought the tickets. I felt no guilt of hypocrisy. I simply saw it as transaction in favor of music. 

 The show was great. The Dillinger Escape Plan seemed a bit out of place on the ticket. They are a fine metalcore band who seem to be branching out and changing their sound lately. They delivered a solid thirty minute set that increased my desire to hear more of this band.

 Soundgarden was the most mainstream band of the night, but also the band I was most familiar with. Kim Thayil has long been a guitarist I can associate with, from his love of classic Guild guitars to his embracing of alternate tunings. He didn’t disappoint. He blistered the night with hot guitar on “Spoonman”, “Outshined”, “Rusty Cage” and on and on. Chis Cornell continues to appeal to the women the crowd, an audible sigh coming from women as he posed before the microphone. I have to admit: he still has the pipes. Not my favorite singer, but not bad. In fact, the band was burning hot for much of the night…until Cornell felt the need to turn political. Nothing like being told not to let corporations and wealthy people make your decisions for you by a multi-millionaire. And to make matters worse, they ended with the worst song of the night. I don’t know it’s name: it just sucked ass. 

 Nine Inch Nails was a surprising act for me.  I had only heard “Closer” and “Hurt” prior to the night. I have to admit, they were freaking great. Trent Reznor is an amazing performer and surrounded himself with a group of virtuosos. They started the night with a sparse stage and minimal musical backing for his voice. By the end of the night, it was a mind-blowing visual treat accompanied by a full metal assault on your senses. “Head Like A Hole” literally blew me away. I won’t say I’m ready to wear NIN t-shirts and paint my nails black, but they won me over. 

 Which brings me to now. The feelings of hypocrisy. Couple the enjoyment of the show with my recent purchase of tickets to see Blue Oyster Cult in October, and there’s a conundrum. I have done exactly what I preach against…and I enjoy the heck out of it. I still have quite a few bands that I refuse to support in their attempts to revive their careers. I honestly wish Kiss, Def Leppard, Motley Crue and other washed up hair bands would go away. (Yes, I understand i have opened the door to tons of hate mail. Kiss would normally not be called a hair band, but they aren’t the same band that recorded DRESSED TO KILL. They suck now)

 So, I’ll be taking my hypocritical ass to see Blue Oyster Cult in October. I’ll sing along to “Godzilla”, “E.T.I” and all the other songs. I’ll air guitar to Buck Dharma. I’ll buy a BOC hoodie and I’ll love every second of it. And, I’ll continue to want a rather long list of bands to go away. 

Nowadays people sell millions of records that can’t sing.- Dee Snider

 Talent and luck are often exclusive of each other. How many fantastic bands are never “discovered” by the masses? How many virtuoso guitarists pay their rent by waiting tables or stocking shelves? On the opposite end of the spectrum, how many metal fans have ridiculed the crop of mega selling artists that rely on auto-tuned vocals, studio crafted songs that can’t be replicated live?

 I encourage music lovers to support real musicians. Let’s stop providing rewards to untalented turds.

Dirty, filthy hippies (and magic spells they weave)

Last night I did something decidedly non-metal and I attended the Phish concert in Alpharetta, GA. For those unfamiliar with the band, Phish are a ‘jam band’, a band that records rather jazzy/folky/bluesy songs, and then deconstructs and reconstructs them live. Jam bands are notorious for turning four minute songs into twenty minute epics. Born by the need for bands to fill the void left by the Grateful Dead, Phish is quite reminiscent of the Dead, both in song structure, guitar gymnastics and in the type of followers they attract. It was not the typical outing for That Nerdy Metal Guy.

The crowd was not what I used to, not by a long shot. To be fair, there was no shortage of long hair or beards, but Iron Maiden shirts were replaced with tie-dyed shirts, Doc Martens and Chuck Taylors were replaced with sandals and bare feet and flaming skulls were replaced with flowers. This crowd was smiling and happy and bouncing. To be honest, it annoyed me. I do better with my fellow metalheads. Denim clad, brooding and cynical. I couldn’t take three steps without someone telling me to “lighten up and be cool.” Ugh, nothing like a life motto of “peace, love dope” to make me question humanity’s future.

Something else I was not used to was the accepted practice of fans/pseudo-hippies/drug fueled frat boys arriving at the show and wandering about with their index finger pointing upward, indicating they need a ticket to the show. Metal shows (at least the ones around here) are much different. Delightfully sarcastic fans show up, ticket grasped in their scarred hands, ready for the fury and thunder the band of the night will unleash. In stark contrast, Phish fans seemed to see entrance to the concert to be only a part of the night. I had to wonder if those unable to gain access inside the amphitheater gates simply continued drinking and ingesting drugs in the parking lot, with the music provided by a car stereo.

The chaos of the parking lot was only slightly diminished inside. There were no shortage of sandal wearing guys and peasant skirt wearing girls to invite me to smile and,”get ready for the show, bro.” I imagined myself lowering them into a pool of sharks, Bond villain style. That Nerdy Metal Guy only smiles for the Missus, small children and fantastic metal. Dope smoking teenagers simply make we wish for a return of required military service.

I will take this moment to say that there was a bit of similarity between the crowds: there was a real sense of community. Had I dropped my shields, I would have been made one of them, draped in paisley and tie-dye and invited to twirl about the meadow. It was similar to the protective nature metalheads have when in the pit. We may knock each other down, but we pick each other up. Modern wannabe hippies have the same support for each other.

This leads into the next big difference, a delightful difference. Metal shows tend to be heavily male. While it’s true that there is an increasing number of women seen at metal shows, they are still heavily outnumbered. I would have to say it was evenly split last night, possibly even weighed in the favor of women. I was quite happily surrounded by pretty hippie chicks in peasant skirts, short shorts and mini skirts. As the heat, the music, the alcohol and the drugs wore on, they danced, swayed and twirled the night away. At risk of sounding like a creepy, lecherous old dog, I was quite pleased by this part of the night. I may be grumpy and sarcastic old bastard, but I am not blind. I could write reams in praise of the female form and the joy it provides when swaying rhythmically.

 I feel I could (and will) write more about last night’s events. I haven’t addressed the technical differences and similarities in the music, the battlefield appearance of the concert lawn at the end of the concert or the burrito offered to me. I’ll save those for later this week. Now, it’s time to relax. I believe THE BLESSED HELLRIDE by Black Label Society would make a fine start.

Concert review: Black Label Society/Kyng/WovenWar, July 25, 2014

Once again I had the opportunity to enjoy one of the best benefits of living in metro Atlanta: I got to see a concert by a major metal act. This none was a super tough choice for me, one that I made last minute. As it turns out, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster were playing lees than ten minutes from the Black Label Society show. It was a decision that boiled to the fact that while I love MASTSOD, the BLS show gave the benefit of seeing Kyng, another of my favorites, and I couldn’t give that up.

I’ve already written about the all of the non-musical components of the night earlier today. The music, however, is what made the night. Well, the music AND getting to hangout briefly with Eddie Veliz of Kyng. (Eddie is one of the nicest guys in metal. Fantastic singer and guitarist, funny and personable. A guy that will talk about hitting the gym in one breath and his favorite guitar brand in the next. Should you get to see Kyng live, make your way to the merch table and tell Eddie,”Hello”; you’ll be glad you did).

Kyng opened the night with fun, but short six song set. Being a big fan of the band, I could have listened to Kyng all night. But, being an upcoming band has it’s limits and they got the opening slot. Eddie, Tony and Pepe hit hard and offered up a tasty serving of swampy metal, providing the best guitar tone of the night. Dean Guitars were never my thing (yes, yes, I know Dimebag was a fan of them), but the way Eddie slings that axe makes my head spin. Kicking off the night with “Burning the Serum”, Kyng slapped the slack jaws of a lethargic crowd. Sadly, the none of the five original songs seem to make an impact on a solidly BLS crowd. Only a spot on cover of Van Halen’s “Hot for teacher” caught fire with this beer drenched crowd. I felt genuinely bad for the boys. They are getting great exposure with the BLS tour, but the last two times they have played Atlanta have seemingly fallen short of being great experiences (one bomb scare crowd and one laconic crowd).

Eddie remained upbeat and extremely personable. I snagged a Kyng shirt (the boys do need some new designs; I have all the current choices, including the “Scooby” shirt that is only available online) and a pic with Eddie, talked guitars and amps and went for a Diet Coke.

WovenWar ran me out with the first 30 seconds of their set. They remind me quite a bit of Motionless In White. My wife would probably enjoy them, but they fail to impress me.

BLS hit the stage around 10:15pm. Zakk has a new rhythm guitarist in the band, some sorely needed fresh blood. His bassist is rock solid as his drummer, but this show is all about Zakk. They hit pretty hard. “Funeral Bell”, “In My Dying Time” and “Overlord” all made the playlist, which pleasantly surprised me. The wall of Marshall amps assaulted the crowd like a maniac with a ballbat. Zakk maintains impressive biceps, and a lumberjack beard. It was a bit over the top when he changed guitars with every song, but he kept the town entertained. His signature extended guitar solo lacked imagination, in my opinion. It was simply musical masturbation. What initially was exciting to the crowd ended up boring. “The Blessed Hellride” made an appearance, though I am not a fan of the residual vocal melody changes from the UNBLACKENED shows. My night with BLS ended with a somewhat tired sounding version of “Stillborn” and me heading to my car.

It is almost 48 hours later and my ears are still ringing. I see the show overall as a good thing. Kyng has the potential to hit the top of the metal world. I hope they don’t sour on fickle Atlanta crowds. WovenWar goes on my list of bands I prefer to never see again. I’m sure they’re nice guys, but their music doesn’t move me. As for Zakk and BLS, I’m torn. On one hand they provided the first REAL metal show I have seen in a while. The ‘colors’, the theatrics, the thundering music all add up to a potent combo. Zakk combines classic Southern rock simplicity with modern metal and serves it hot. However, it bores me. I crave more from a live show. Perhaps it’s the crowd (which I already addressed in my earlier blog). Perhaps it’s me. Either way, of the three bands seen, only Kyng remains on my list of bands that I MUST see again. And I will, every chance I get. Talent like that band can’t be ignored.