Organized chaos

I have been watching a lot of older bands on YouTube lately. Sure, I rail against nostalgic hype and preach looking to the future, but the old saying is,”those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it.” I’m wondering if that’s always a bad thing. Granted, quite a bit of the past is worth letting go. I hated bell-bottom pants as much as a kid in the 70’s as I do as an adult in 2015. And the AMC Gremlin will never be a classic, no matter how much reality TV may try. So, what exactly is worth bringing back?

I started my ancient concert and TV show with a desire to feed an appetite for bands whose albums I’ve been too cheap to download. The Allman Brothers were a great place for me to start. Being a native Georgian (that’s the one the US, for my readers around the world), I grew up listening to the Allmans. “Ramblin’ Man”, “Statesboro Blues” and “Blues Sky” have been as much a fixture of my life as have fried okra and cornbread. It’s a by product of being a native Southerner.

I was amazed at the sheer volume of video available from the time before Duane died (for younger readers, Duane Allman was an amazing guitarist and co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band. It’s far from metal, but every song is a guitar lesson in it’s own right. Metalheads who play an instrument should take note). Sure, each video was of varying quality, as one would expect from concert footage that is 44+ years old, but it’s no less thrilling. One thing that amazed me was how tight the band was, while making each song appear to verge on cacophony. It seemed they would walk the edge of complete disaster, only to bring it immediately in line and continue on the designated course.

I next set my sights on Dr Hook and the Medicine Show, another band that is as far from metal as one can get. They’re another band that filled the airwaves of my youth with sappy love songs, silly fun songs and the occasional song that made sense. Often appearing more like a group of hippies on the verge of riot, I soldiered on through the overt silliness of their on stage banter to examine the band’s music. Okay, it’s silly, but the amazing part was how the silly play could end in a millisecond and the band would be right on cue to play the song as it was recorded. As a good friend of mine would say, they’re tighter than a tick on a drum.

I continued my walk through the past and found band after band from those halcyon days that would perform the same way. Not truly jamming a’la the Grateful Dead, but still taking the song far from it’s studio roots, yet at the flip of a switch they can return it to it’s intended format. Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, Wet Willie, The Charlie Daniels Band…all wowed me with musicianship that seems to be missing from today’s groups.

I am privileged with the ability to attend a lot of shows during the year and they current crop have been far removed from these bands of old. I’ve seen bands walk off stage because the lights weren’t to their satisfaction. I’ve seen bands stop songs to berate each other of flubbing a note in the chorus. Professionalism is sorely lacking from quite a few of the current crop.

As I look forward to the upcoming concert season, I have focused on bands that are carrying the idea of professional musicianship forward. Bands that I have watched miss a line or a note, but bring the song back in to rein. Bands that aren’t afraid to experiment mid concert, but still have the ability to deliver the goods to their fans.

I think quite a few younger bands would do well to spend some time watching these old videos on YouTube. It’s time to learn what made the old bands so great.

Out of the mists

Nostalgia is huge business. That desire to regain the good feelings of a time long past permeate all levels of life and influence us, the buying public, in ways that nothing else will. Movies reboot and create sequels to long gone titles. TV shows (those that aren’t simply reality TV dreck) regurgitate ideas from the past, over and over and over. Music is not exempt from this. All genres of music, eager to both attract new audiences and reacquire older listeners, are guilty of recycling sounds from the past. A feeding frenzy on old food, if you will, all in search of recapturing a feeling that has passed.

I’m as guilty as the next person regarding nostalgic desire. I pine for old (called ‘classic’) guitars and amplifiers. I keep recordings that are thirty-plus years old in my playlists. I have a shelf filled with movies from my youth. I would dare to say that my nostalgic cravings even affect my current choices for music, movies, TV shows and comics. Yep, I’m a full on nostalgia addict.

The Sword is a band that has helped bridge the gap for my ancient desires. The Austin, Texas doom masters deftly combine Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and the Dungeons&Dragons universe into an aural stew that has simmered to perfection. As I eagerly await the release of their new album, I happily review their catalog and appreciate the changes they have made over the past few years. The guitars are more crunchy and less fuzzy. The drums are more technical and less a crash cymbal orgy. The song lyrics remain heavily rooted in Norse mythology and supernatural beings, which is great for me. It’s as if 1980 Black Sabbath poured it’s essence into younger bodies and is using the opportunity to continue their musical journey. a journey I am happy to join.

I failed to see many of my favorite bands during their prime. Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Motorhead, AC/DC…I missed all of them for one reason or another. They all have continued to tour in to their golden years, but again, I have failed to catch their shows when they have come to my area. Money is often a factor. Older bands are cashing in on the nostalgia factor with a vengeance and are demanding premium prices. I find it hard to justify paying high fees for two hours of a lack luster show when I can see the younger bands who have taken the torch for a fraction of that price. As much as I love Sabbath and would admittedly pay almost any price to see them, I am more than happy to pay $16 to see The Sword in a local club. Or Red Fang. Or any other band that is lovingly bringing the past in to the present.

As I fight my personal battle to remain into and not live in years gone by, I appreciate bands like The Sword. They give me hope that the past can be released, but doesn’t have to be forgotten.

Wasting time

I was quite pleased this past week to open Amazon Prime and find the new Disturbed album, IMMORTALIZED, is being featured. I’ve been a fan of Draiman and the boys for a few years and was excited to finally get to hear the entire new release. I’ve given it three full spins and have to say,”Well, it doesn’t suck.”

Some of the album is quite good. The opening guitar piece from Dan Donegan was interesting and showed maybe something positive came from his venture in Fight or Flight. It contrasts the opening song nicely and creates a sense of tension I haven’t heard from Disturbed since THE SICKNESS. The third song, “The Vengeful One”, is probably getting steady play on satellite and internet metal stations (I don’t routine listen to either, so i have no clue). It’s pretty much classic Disturbed and provided me a sense of comfort with their return to action.

Sadly, the rest of the album just hasn’t moved me. I have to wonder if some of these tracks are songs the guys wrote for their individual side projects, but were not deemed good enough for those albums. The energy heard in the first two full songs is diminished as the album progresses. It reminds that the band is aging (and so am I), which is not the goal I have when I listen to a metal album. I typically seek the opposite. I want to feel invigorated and renewed. I want to feel half my age. I don’t want to be reminded that I can hang with younger fans for the first three songs and then need to retreat to the back of the crowd.

I remind myself that these guys are my age. Not old, but not spring chickens anymore. The days of being able to mosh for for an hour and a half show are pretty well gone. Earplugs are a must for shows (or earpieces with reduced volume, in the case of the band members). Increased care is taken during shows. There’s no room for error, as the resulting injuries take longer and longer to recover from.

That doesn’t mean I am blowing off the new album or the supporting tour. I still am a fan of Disturbed. I still think “Down with the Sickness” live is six of the most exciting minutes you’ll spend at a concert. But, just as I am not excited by changes in my own self, I am not that excited by the changes I am hearing in the new album overall.

I suppose it’s just a by-product of aging, for all involved. We all must grow and change. Sometimes for the better, as displayed by Black Sabbath. Sometimes for the worse, as seen with Metallica. For better or worse, we all must change and grow or risk a lonely death. (yes, this is a downer of a blog for the day)

While it is being offered for free, I encourage metal fans to give it a listen, but be prepared for the let down. If you are a Nu Metal fan, this album may brighten your entire year. If you already hate Disturbed, this isn’t going to change your mind.

Flypaper moments

I have had several songs stuck in my head. They are not new songs, far from it. Songs that I have heard dozens of times over the years that have inexplicably taken roost in the dark corners of my mind. I’ve often wondered why this happens. While they aren’t bad songs, why do they take hold of my brain and hold it prisoner? What drives this action that pushes us to the brink of madness? Is there a method to this?

The song in question this morning was Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Tainted Love.” I have been singing snatches of the song incessantly for 16 hours. Problem theoretically easily rendered. I put on my copy of LEST WE FORGET and have been taking a short stroll through Manson’s more popular catalog. It’s helped a little, but as “The Dope Show”, “Personal Jesus” and “Sweet Dreams” fade out, my brain begins regurgitating lyrics from “Tainted Love.” I suppose it could be worse.

The worst case I personally experienced was in 1985. I remember it vividly, as it affected me for three days. It wasn’t even an entire song or a lyrical snippet. It was a two second snatch of a guitar solo. It consumed every waking moment. Instead of being able to focus on my World Geography lesson, this short musical message was on auto-repeat. I was losing my grasp on reality simply trying to remember what song it belonged to. Finally, on day three, it came to me. It was the end of the guitar solo for Rush’s “In the mood.” After finally confirming the culprit, it faded away, just in time to review the study guide for the next exam.

The worst I have ever heard about was a co-worker in 1993. I was working as a real estate appraiser and had a co-worker who got Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” stuck in his head for TWO WEEKS. We would play a nice selection of classic rock, hard rock and blues in the office and none of that helped him. We would finish ZZ Top’s excellent TRES HOMBRES album, with him singing along to every song, only to then hear him switch back to that horrible top 40 hit. He jokingly (?) mentioned considering suicide. Then one day, it was gone. The cure? Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive”, which he sang for three days straight. I found myself wishing for Peaches and Herb by the end of day three.

There have been other moments of being trapped in web of a song. Some have been humorous. When I had Sir Mix-A-Lots “Baby got back” stuck in my head and I was¬†unknowingly blurting it out a singles meet up a few years back, that ended poorly. Nothing violent, but I went home alone and didn’t figure out why women seemed so offended until a friend pointed my actions out to me. Yes, I blushed six shades of red.

Other moments have been not as pleasant. I found myself repeatedly singing The Allman Brothers “Whipping Post” back in 2002. This went on for several days and finally my girlfriend at the time had enough and wanted talk about why I felt so abused. (You know, those conversations that men love so much).

I’ve decided to switch albums. The Manson thread has disappeared from my brain. I’ve foolishly tempted fate by listening to Rush’s first album. Maybe I can beat the 1985 personal record…

Putting down the kool aid

I went for a walk the other day with a friend. Walks alone are great times to listen to new metal albums or older albums that slid under the radar and were initially ignored. Walks with friends are music free and are filled with conversations that range from new music to the demise of society as a whole. During this particular walk, my friend discussed the idea of ‘not drinking the kool-aid’. For readers not familiar with this phrase, it refers to the horrific tragedy of Jonestown (wikipedia will be your friend from this point forward) and the resulting effects of drinking poison children’s beverages. It’s been incorporated into modern linguistics as a metaphor not incorporating self harming ideas into one’s daily life. It’s an interesting phrase, one filled dark humor that makes a point better than longer phrases.

By this point most readers are wondering where this is going. I really do have a point. The point is (as usual) aimed at metal fans, but applies to life in general. It’s to stop drinking the kool-aid. Stop buying into ideas that may feel good initially, but in the long run are just as harmful as a big swig of Drain-O.

I see metal pages and discussions on the internet filled with poison peddlers and those so hungry to fit in with the herd that they will swallow any philosophy. Some examples:

A young lady joined a group I moderate and initially was excited to discuss the lighter side of metal, bands that sell lots of albums and concert tickets but that are typically reviled by “true metal heads”. She went from being excited to being a victim of some harsh attacks from certain group members. The offenders were removed from the group and the comments deleted, but the damage was done. This woman didn’t leave the group, but she morphed into something different than pleasant person who initially joined. Her tastes radically changed to a solid black metal diet, she posted pictures of her new hair style; gone were the blonde locks, replaced by hair dyed jet black and ironed strait. The smile left her photos, replaced by a look of disdain. Her comments went from friendly to borderline trolling. She drank the kool-aid and bought into a world that had attacked her and ridiculed her publicly.

Another group member (of a different group) was a seasoned metalhead that I had known for a while. He knew how to handle himself in online discussions and was great at countering online attacks with humor, defusing arguments with a joke. Then one day something changed. The jokes became mean spirited. The genial nature disappeared and another victim of online poison was released on society.

I could go on and on with these examples, but none end well. The absorption of someone else’s behaviors and philosophies is not necessarily a good thing. I look at bands that changed their sounds to meet record company guidelines to increase record sales and increase radio play. Very few of those bands survived the changes. Most enjoyed some immediate success and then found their new home in the cut out bins and dive bars. All from being convinced to drink the poisoned kool aid that was being pushed on them.

Are there those who take a huge gulp and survive? Sure, though not without scars to show for it. Metallica sold tons of albums when they changed their sound, but alienated their core audience and are still reviled as sellouts. Avenged Sevenfold and Five Finger Death Punch are overtly despised by many metalheads for the some activity. Did they open their music to an audience they could have never achieved before? Sure, but at what price. Is money the only goal (if the answer is yes, stop reading this blog now)?

I look at my favorite bands and I sadly have to admit that most have gone back for seconds on the kool aid. Rush embraced pop synths and Miami Vice fashions. Metallica cut their hair and released a string of albums I can’t stand. Maylene and the Sons of Disaster had a promising career derailed by their record company pushing for something more commercial. All That Remains found more success in crappy radio ballads than in being an enjoyable, high energy metal act.

I personally stopped drinking the kool-aid and prefer to do my own thing. I may have fewer friends as a result, but the friends that remain aren’t poisoned by the philosophies of someone else. They are like minded folks who enjoy dancing to their own beat.

I would love to see the worldwide metal community stop drinking the kool aid. I’d love to see fans instead realize it’s time to do their own thing and stop feeling the pressure to fit in. That was the appeal of metal to a 13 year old me: the fact I didn’t have to fit in and could be myself without fear of reprisal. Now, however, the metal community is no different than the cliques I avoided in high school, more focused on building one up by tearing another down.

Step away from the poisoned kool aid. Enjoy music for the fun it brings, not to fit in. Be yourself. You may be amazed at all the people who like the real you.

Wanderlust

Those readers familiar with the film PAINT YOUR WAGON will recall the song “I was born under a wandering star.” Lee Marvin’s character impresses to the viewer that he is never happy in one place. I feel his pain. Laying around the house has it’s time and place, but I seem to feel happiest when I’m off on adventure. Yesterday was such a journey. My restless soul refused to be content with a day of laundry, pet care and other mind numbing errands. Instead I gassed up my Honda (car, not motorcycle; I’m a Triumph rider on that level), set Amazon Prime for a metal selection and headed out.

Just as I have a different idea of what constitutes adventure than many of my friends, Amazon has much different idea of what is metal music from the metalhead faithful. So, instead of a rotation of Amon Amarth, Judas Priest, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Black Sabbath, I instead got Butcher Babies, Pop Evil, Hellyeah, Tesseract, OSI and The Pretty Reckless. I debated searching for an album that would accompany my mood, but instead just let it roll. As I headed north into the Georgia mountains, I found myself oddly pleased by Amazon’s trickery.

Some of the bands that were offered up I can never try to pass off as metal. OSI is hard rock infused prog. With it’s driving bass lines, their music is great fro road trips, but it fails to meet the metal criteria on any other level. It’s a bit polished and technical, lacking the anger I typically seek in a metal album. Even with a metalesue album title like BLOOD, it didn’t make the metal cut. However, it’s still quite good. Musician readers should give them a listen, especially bass players. It’s not quite a Periphery level of playing, but it’s quite good.

From OSI, my Prime selection went to Tesseract. I’m pretty familiar with their brand of prog-metal, though I am not sure I agree with the moniker. Tesseract are another modern progressive rock act that has received a huge dose of hard rock, but seem to never meet the metal standard. Again, this doesn’t make them bad, but it does leave a listener in search of their daily dose of metal hungering for more. I have to say I didn’t find Tesseract to have the musical chops of OSI. They were certainly interesting, but failed to hold the “wow factor” of OSI (to be fair, OSI is a band made up of former Dream Theater members).

The Butcher Babies were next up. I had heard them in passing and quickly dismissed them in the past. This ride was different and I was willing to not just skip their album. I instead gave it a fair and thorough listen. It’s one of those ‘almost metal’ concoctions. They have the right attitude and sound, overall. I little too much scream and too little actual singing for my tastes, but not bad. The band name does little for me, but I’m known to be critical of most band names (read the entry “What’s in a name” for evidence of this). Their album had about three really strong tracks (none of which I could tell you off the top of my head; I was focused on the roads). The rest was filler. Not bad filler, but nothing that made me want to add the album to rotation.

Hellyeah’s BLOOD FOR BLOOD was next. I have long experience with Hellyeah’s music and they were a close fourth for worst concert I have seen (iwrestledabearonce is first and The Chariot was second, with The Deftones in third). I like Pantera (it’s only taken me twenty years to finally admit this) and I even like Mudvayne, to a degree. Hellyeah should be a deadringer for me. Live, they get more obsessed with creating noise than with delivering a pleasant show. Studio outings, however, are much better. Maybe it’s because I get to control the volume and keep it consistent, instead of increasing it with every song, until I am forced to run for cover. Anywho, back to the album: it’s not bad. It’s formulaic Hellyeah and Vinny Paul’s drum sound leaves much to be desired. I’ve never cared for triggers/sampled drum sounds. Blame my blues roots but that’s just how I roll. Chad Gray’s vocals actually fit in pretty well with the redneck metal his band churns out and I looked down to find myself exceeding the speed limit consistently during this album. I still have zero desire to see them live again, but I’m more willing to support their studio outings.

Pop Evil is another mislabeled band. They make some pretty entertaining hard rock, but are nowhere close to being metal. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, just don’t be fooled by corporate salesmen who are eager for your money. I found Pop Evil to be a band that would fit nicely on a tour with Godsmack, Theory of a Deadman, In This Moment, Saving Abel, Rise Against and other radio friendly hard rock. We used to call it frat-rock, the soundtrack to a thousand keg parties. It’s the modern equivalent to hair metal. It’s well played, well produced and decently written, but fails to ignite me on an emotional level. Call it the junk food of the music world: it’s fun to consume but you don’t really gain anything from it and if you consume too ¬†much it makes you into a slob.

The Pretty Reckless rounded out my day of traveling albums. I’m fan from their humble beginnings and thoroughly enjoyed them on the Vans WARPED tour in 2010. Taylor Momsen’s good girl/slut stage persona is the perfect front for a band of greasy and tattooed road dogs. I had heard a couple of songs from GOING TO HELL when it was first released, but never gave it a complete lessen. No better time than as I was navigating twisting mountain roads. From the opening orgasm (you stay classy, Pretty Reckless) to the final notes it was another fun album. I took none of it seriously, however. This wouldn’t be the album I would turn to help me through emotional turmoil. Instead, this is great background noise. It’s music to dust the furniture to, that soundtrack to make mundane tasks move a little faster. Taylor has a nice voice, with just the right touch of sultry, but the lyrics are mostly forgettable. (I’m probably pissing off some sixteen year old girl, who relied on this album to get through her last break up. Get over it) I still think The Pretty Reckless put on a great live show, but have no place in a metal line up.

As I stopped to refuel and head for home, I contemplated what I had listened to. OSI will probably find a place in my regular playlists, but the others were only good for today’s outing. It also made me wonder when corporate salesmen will honestly listen to the wants and desires of the consumers and provide music that truly meets their tastes.

I sorted through my library and selected Judas Priest’s BRITISH STEEL for my drive home. As Rob Halford sang,”We’ve taken too much for granted”, I agreed. It’s time to not take good metal for granted.

Anti-tourism (Or how I learned to get off the sofa and learn to love the mosh pit)

As I was sitting at the breakfast table, enjoying my morning cuppa, I found myself perusing Creative Loafing. For those who may not be familiar with this publication, it focuses on local politics, local music, local food and other noteworthy local events. Many large cities across the US are home to their own Creative Loafing office. I’ve been reading it for over twenty years for two reasons: 1) it has a great rundown of the upcoming concert choices for the week and 2) it’s free. As I have aged, I typically only read the food and music reviews, but this morning an article on political activism caught my eye. It encouraged readers to get involved in their local politics. Sure, national politics determine your taxes military, but it’s your local political crap that will determine how your day to day life is lived. Such is the same of metal bands.

As I come off the weekend show of Slipknot/Lamb of God, I now turn my eyes back to smaller clubs for my metal fix (there are more major metal tours coming to Atlanta, but I’m not interested right now). Instead of going to the Ticketmaster website to pay horribly inflated prices to attend shows, I turn to Creative Loafing to see what’s cooking on the club level.

There are quite a few benefits to this plan. Tickets are much cheaper, the venues are often limited to less than 1000 attendees, the locations are more convenient, parking is usually free (or only $5) and last, but not least, the opening acts are mostly local bands. It’s that last part that has become more important to me. I’m finding myself more and more eager to see what bands are carrying the torch for metal in Atlanta, a city not typically known for it’s metal community.

Oh sure, we have our constants. The Masquerade has been hosting metal bands for as long as I can remember. Clubs like The Earl and The Drunken Unicorn are nicely picking up the slack. Goatwhore has chosen to visit The Earl this time around, scoring a small coup over The Masquerade. But, in general, Atlanta is known for it’s hip-hop culture, it’s love of country music and it’s transient population, not for it’s metal.

I could go off on a Mastodon tangent, but I’ll spare you that. Instead, I’ll focus on the need areas with a small metal community have for it’s members to show support to upcoming acts. It’s hard. I get it. It’s easier to sit on the sofa and watch the thirtieth re-run of THE BIG BANG THEORY or THE SIMPSONS or SOUTH PARK while wearing your metal shirts you bought online and listening to bands on Spotify. I’ve been there. The misses the point of a metal show.

Bands (both established and up and coming) use shows to market their new and old products (using business terms). The more established the band, the more product there is to present. Younger bands use these shows to hone their skills at interacting with the audience and to improve their songs/product. No one plays their first show sounding like a 20 year veteran. It’s to be expected that some of these bands suck. Some have zero redeeming quality to their music, no matter how nice the members are. Others have great musical potential but are total jerks and have zero social skills. This is where the metal community comes in. It is our job to teach them how to entertain us. That’s right: it’s our job, our duty. We teach them with our reactions to their music and interactions with the crowd. We reward them with praise when they do a good job. We boo and heckle them when they fail. We reward laconic presence with apathy.

I watched this with great interest Sunday night. Motionless in White opened the show. They really tried to invigorate an already hot and tired crowd, an uphill battle on a steamy Georgia summer night. MIW failed on every level. Oh, they had a smattering of fans scattered through the crowd, but no one was really buying their particular brand of music.

Bullet for My Valentine was next and only slightly more successful. This crowd was their for something heavier and to subject bands like MIW and BFMV to a crowd that was mostly there for Lamb of God wasn’t fair. (I would have loved to have seen King 810 and Black Tusk open for LoG instead; are you listening, Mr. Tour Planner?)

It wasn’t entirely the heat. LoG and Slipknot had zero difficulty in amping up the crowd. It was the lack of music and interactions that were accepted by the crowd, a crowd that swelled to over 10,000 by the end of the night. Such is the same on a smaller scale at your local metal club. By getting off your sofa and attending the shows you do your metal duty and teach bands how to entertain you.

For a lot of folks, this is a foreign concept. We have become such a consumer society, readily taking whatever is offered. We forget it is through our support and encouragement that bands live and die. Sure, do support the bands you like by purchasing t-shirts from their websites. Do buy their CDs. Do add them to your Spotify or Apple Music playlists, but more importantly, GO SEE THEM LIVE. And, take an interest in your local metal scene. Support those up and coming bands. They are the future of metal.

As I plan my day, I will head down to the Masquerade to pick up tickets for Trivium and Tremonti. I look forward to the show. Trivium puts on a class act, but I’m just as excited to have the chance to meet newer, younger bands. And it beats watching reruns anytime.