Helmet “Aftertaste”


(18 March 1997, Interscope)

Helmet are one of those deceptively brilliant bands. A cursory listen will leave one thinking this is a simple, caveman rock band with no depth and a modicum of talent. And the caveman description would be somewhat appropriate. They called their third album Betty and opened it with the track “Wilma’s Rainbow.” I can only assume these were references to the most well-known cave women in pre-history.

Most of the songs on Aftertaste are pretty formulaic. Simple, syncopated riff+angry vocals=Helmet. The strange thing is Page Hamilton’s ability to sing in a tone so close to yelling, but still so melodic. It’s the perfect balance of rage and tunefulness. I haven’t heard anyone else combine these elements and produce such a satisfying product.

Opener “Pure” relies on one chugged chord for the main riff and a strummed octave chorus, but it creates a beautiful wall of sound. This is a band that uses negative space better than any other band in existence. The brilliance is not just in the notes they play or don’t play, but in the spaces between those notes.

The most well known cavewomen in pre-history

It’s easy to let an album like this fade into the background. To be honest, most of the songs sound so similar it’s difficult to tell them apart. But every now and again you hear something like the guitar solo of “Driving Nowhere” or the superb noise of “Broadcast Emotion” and it’s like catching a glimpse some mythical beast rising from the murky depths. The bass heavy intro of “Renovation” is hard to ignore as it hearkens back to “Milktoast” from Betty.

After a few listens light finds its way through the cracks in the stone to illuminate cave drawings I missed on the first pass. I’ve been jamming to Betty in my car for the past few days thinking it’s a superior product to this one, but then I hear “Like I Care” for the second time and I’m amazed that I listened to it with anything other than… amazement.

 

I could go on and on about this album, but mostly I just want to- wait, what the hell? Did you catch that? There’s a string of like four songs that clock in at about 2.5 minutes and sound like they’re cut off in the middle. Is that a problem with my Spotify account? Or is is supposed to be like that?

I’m not even sure how to classify Helmet. Hard rock seems most appropriate. They’re a bit too heavy to call alternative, but not quite heavy enough for metal. And even though Hamilton is an accomplished Jazz player with chops to spare I don’t think prog or fusion fits. Wikipedia calls them post-metal, but I’m strongly opposed to defining any type of music by saying it came after some other type.

I imagine if Goldilocks were to find this in the three bears’ record collection she would describe Aftertaste as just right.

Marcy Playground – Self Titled


marcy_playground_-_marcy_playground_album_cover-1(25 February 1997, Capitol)

I was driving in the car with my girlfriend the other day when the Seven Mary Three song “Cumbersome” came on the radio. She told me she was really into Seven Mary Three when she was younger and listened to their album all the time. That blew my mind. It never even crossed my mind that Seven Mary Three would have an album and fans. To me they were just something that was always there. Like a DirecTV satellite dish that you mow around because you don’t want to take the time to pull it out of the ground. That’s how I thought of Seven Mary Three.

It wasn’t until today that I realized other people must think of Marcy Playground in the same way.

“Sex and Candy” is just as prevalent than “Cumbersome.” I hear it on the radio. I hear it at the gym. I hear it at Walmart. It’s all over the place; just like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Possum Kingdom.” But I actually own the album.

It’s not a bad album. It’s Folksy, Post-Grunge AOR. There are songs that I really enjoy and a few that I can’t tell from one another. Opener “Poppy’s” is held down by quirky guitar riff. Songs like “Gone Crazy,” “One More Suicide” and “Vampires of New York” are simple folk tunes made interesting by the wry vocals.

It’s something I enjoy, but when I listen to it and find it difficult to write more than 300 words about it I understand why they were a one-hit wonder.

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack “Sucker Punch”


sucker punch(22 March 2011, WaterTower Music )

I won’t hold it against you if you’ve never heard of this movie. It did fly under the radar, but if you took the time to check it out you were in for a treat

Sucker Punch was directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and starred Emily Browning (Pompeii, Legend) and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, X-Men: Apocalypse). Essentially the movie is a live-action anime. There is a plot, but it’s not important. What really brought the film together were the glorious, special-effects driven battle scenes with giant samurai, steampunk Nazis and dragons. In my humble opinion, there’s nothing better than scantily clad women battling dragons.

Of course, none of those fight scenes would be worth a damn without the proper musical accompaniment. The Sucker Punch soundtrack is not John Williams or Hans Zimmer, but it ranks among the greatest film soundtracks of all time in my book.

It’s brilliance is in how it takes familiar songs and gives them a new spin. Instead of making a mix tape of b-sides from popular artists , producers Tyler Bates and Marius de Vries take old songs and have trip-hop acts cover them. This gives continuity to a seemingly random collection of tracks and makes them flow seamlessly from one to another.

Star Emily Browning sings three tracks. Opener “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is my least favorite version of that song, but considering the other two versions are so damn awesome that’s not really an insult. It’s still worth checking out. She also does a cover of the Smiths’ “Asleep” which isn’t bad, but I can live without it.

There’s only one Bjork song I recognize. “Army of Me” is a brilliant track and the Sucker Punch remix takes all the crazy screeches and Yoko Ono-isms and makes it truly stellar. The song works great on its own, but listening to this version it’s apparent it was used in a film. I’ve never heard of Emiliana Torrini, but I love her version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” It runs a little long, but when something sounds that good you make exceptions. The best part is the opening guitar riff played note for note on an organ.

Skunk Anansie turns in the best version of “Search and Destroy” I’ve ever heard. I expect it may be the best version of that song I ever will hear. This should be the definitive version that’s required listening for all aspiring punks. I’m sure it’s sacrilegious, but I’ve never cared much for the Stooges. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden have turned in lukewarm versions of the song but Skunk Anansie are the ones to tap into the primal nature and transform it to the monster I knew it could be.

(Make sure your socks are on tight as this has the potential to knock them off. You’ve been warned.)

Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino close the album with a cover of Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug.” I wasn’t familiar with this song at all before seeing the movie. I was surprised to discover that it’s a cover and wasn’t composed for the film because it fits so well.

Now that I look back at the track list I’m surprised that there are so many songs I don’t like. Alison Mosshart and Carla Azar turn in a performance of “Tomorrow Never Knows” that isn’t bad, but doesn’t do anything different than the original. There’s something called “I Want It All / We Will Rock You Mash-Up (Queen cover)” right in the middle that is truly terrible. I’m sure fans of hip-hop and Queen will enjoy it, but my love of Queen isn’t strong enough to override my distaste for hip-hop.

The last song Emily Browning sings on is a cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” with Yoav. This is the most disappointing track on the album. Somehow they manage to take an awesome song with great musicians performing and it still manages to fall flat. I guess they can’t all be zingers.

ws_sucker_punch_1920x1440Now that I really examine this album I’m surprised to discover that I really only enjoy about half of the songs. But it’s a testament to how fucking awesome those tracks are that I didn’t even realize I didn’t like the rest of the album until I sat down to write a review.

Even if you fast forward through the boring parts like you used to do with VHS porno tapes, Sucker Punch is a film worth watching. It’s a classic in the same vein as Queen of the Damned or Escape from LA. 

Day of the New – S/T (Green)


Days of the New green(31 August 1999, Outpost)

One of the greatest things about music is its ability to take you places. Hearing a song can make you feel like you’re back in junior high school without a care in the world. A lot of songs bring scenes in movies to mind (think of Forrest Gump). Sometimes it can take you to a whole other world. Days of the New’s second album has the power to transport me from wherever I happen to be back to Hyrule.

My mom met the man who would become her second husband while I was in high school. He was living in a small apartment above a bar with a mattress, a chihuahua/shih tzu mix and a huge stereo from Rent-a-Center. It didn’t take long until he moved in with us; and brought the dog and the stereo. It’s easy to date when he moved in because he only had four CDs: Ozzy’s No Rest For The Wicked, Yngwie Malmsteem’s Facing the Animal, Godsmack’s debut and DotN’s second album.

“Enemy” was a big hit at the time and he loved it. He would play that album over and over while drinking at the kitchen table with his buddies. Being in high school I wasn’t old enough to drink and probably spent at least a little bit of time studying. But when I wasn’t studying I was sitting in front of the television with my little brother because around the same time he moved in with that huge stereo we got a Super Nintendo and A Link To The Past. I have no idea how many times we played through that game together, but I can remember having a lot of fun with him. I think that may have been the best bonding we ever did.

And the great thing is that whenever I hear Days of the New’s second album I can think back on those days.

the_legend_of_zelda_a_link_to_the_past_snes_game_coverIt probably helps that the album starts off with the sound of horse hooves. How else can I get from the water level to the desert level quickly? I’m a huge fan of all the segues that blend the tracks together. I honestly can’t name most of the songs on this album, and probably couldn’t tell you where most of them begin or end because it works as such a great cohesive whole.

The secret weapon is Nicole Sherzinger who would later achieve mega stardom as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. It feels really weird to write that because the musical styles of the two groups couldn’t be more distant. But Sherzinger does have a beautiful voice and uses it to great effect with Days of the New.

Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter Travis Meeks got a lot of grief for pulling one of those megalomaniacal stunts of firing his whole band, but in his defense did you ever listen to Tantric? That was not a band I enjoyed. Sure, they were competent musicians and their stuff was okay, but there was no fire behind it. It always sounded like safe, middle-of-the-road rock to me. I just imagine them bringing the songs to him and him saying “No. You’re all fired.”

The acoustic guitars are still front and center but there’s plenty of other instrumentation to shake things up. The acoustic guitar thing was a good gimmick that definitely got them attention with their debut, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t have kept peoples interest if they’d just repeated that formula.

I’m not sure what all the instruments were used on this album , but I’m guessing there’s an ocarina in there somewhere. It really takes me back then.

 

Bush “Razorblade Suitcase”


Bush "Razorblade Suitcase"(19 Nov 1996, Trauma/Interscope)

When I checked the list of 20-year-old albums earlier this year, Bush’s sophomore album Razorblade Suitcase seemed like a great one to do a Platinum Anniversary Albums review on. I remember really liking it when it came out and it’s remained in my collection for most of those two decades. It was produced by Steve Albini, who recorded hundreds of underground punk albums as well as Nirvana’s In Utero. But after I revisited the album the idea seemed… well… not as great.

I don’t want to give the impression that Razorblade Suitcase is a bad album. It’s not bad by any means. It’s just not exceptionally good.

I’m guessing most people still remember the singles. “Swallowed” was a reasonably big hit. It’s not a bad tune. I really like the first verse being just guitar and vocals before the chorus kicks in to rock out, but when the second verse is stripped down to bass and vocals it comes off as jarring. It strikes me as a song that could have been great with a little more consistency.

I remember “Mouth” from the film An American Werewolf in Paris. (or was it London? I never actually saw the movie.) Unfortunately, that was a remixed version of the track. On this album it’s stripped down to it’s bare bones and quite underwhelming after hearing the other version. Do you remember the single “Cold Contagious”? You’re forgiven if you don’t. I honestly can’t think of anything to say about it one way or another.

My favorite track on the album was always “Greedy Fly.” Whether it was because of the awesome video or the twinkling guitar lines I can’t say. The funny thing is that for as much as I dislike the everything-but-the-bass-cutting-out effect in “Swallowed,” I love it here. The stop/start quality of that heavy chorus riff gets me every time. This is one of those songs I can listen to over and over and never get sick of.

 

The rest of the album is predominantly forgettable. This isn’t like Sixteen Stone where you’re going to want to play it over and over again because the songs get stuck in your head. It’s more like you’ll want to play it several times because you can’t remember if you liked it. The opener “Personal Holloway” is a good rocker to kick things off, but the momentum doesn’t really continue. “Straight No Chaser” and “Bonedriven” try to recapture the magic of “Glycerine” with just Gavin Rossdale accompanied by a cello, but neither really comes close.

Sure, there’s great design and a lot of potential here, but this is the definition of a sophomore slump. I give them credit for branching out, taking risks and trying something new (and this album sold way more copies than anything I’ve ever put out); but this is one of those unhappy cases where artistic integrity didn’t pay off.

 

 

Otep “Generation Doom”


Otep Generation Doom cover(15 April 2016, Napalm Records)

At The ANC my single-serving friend confessed that he had never heard the music of Otep. It was too easy for me to describe them. “They’re basically a rap-metal band fronted by a really angry lesbian.” And I stand by that statement. To me that sums up the group in twelve words.

It’s also the reason I haven’t listened to them much since their debut Sevas Tra in 2002. It’s not the lesbian part. I love lesbians, just check out my porn collection. And I don’t really mind the angry part. The passion Otep has for her work is what interested me in the first place.

It’s the rap metal part. That is not a genre that has aged well. To be honest, there are a few bands who are considered nu-metal that I still enjoy (Korn, Mudvayne, Kittie, Coal Chamber), but there are many more that I feel have long outstayed their welcome (Again we include Korn, Linkin Park, Mushroomhead, System of a Down). And let’s not even try to name all of the ones that were awful from the beginning (Crazy Town, Limp Bizkit, Saliva).

This was my generations first gift to the world…

…Just let me take a moment to apologize for that.

OK, Now that that’s done with let me point out that a few nu-metal bands have actually managed to stay slightly relevant by doing what all good musicians do: evolve. Korn has branched out into EDM and did MTV Unplugged. Mudvayne ditched the makeup and just kept writing head-spinning prog riffs. And the girls from Kittie to the time to learn to play their instruments well.

In this respect, Otep was a little late to the party. I did like the song “Apex Predator” from her last album, but on the whole I haven’t heard anything worth buying for 14 years. Well, until I started listening to Generation Doom.

That’s not to say that Generation Doom won’t appeal to those fans who still enjoy nu-metal. The album starts off with the “I don’t give a fuck” anthem “Zero” and still has a ton of heavy riffage under rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. “Lords of War” is another standout with it’s chorus of:

Her guitar player looks like Glenn Danzig ate Marvin the Martian

Her guitar player looks like Glenn Danzig ate Marvin the Martian

“I’d rather be in battle than at peace
I’d rather be a wolf than a sheep
I’d rather be in battle than slaughtered like cattle
The weak can sleep while”

The band gets bonus points for the split second pause that makes you think the CD is skipping. That’s a technique not heard nearly enough in today’s music.

Then you’re in store for something I’ve never heard before. Otep actually sings on their cover of Lorde’s “Royals.” There’s still plenty of rapping and screaming, which we’ve all come to expect, but the real stand-outs to my ears on this album are the ballads like “In Cold Blood” and “Lie.” I feel bad that some little filly broke her heart, but it’s given us some of the best work of her career. Nu-metal always had a short half life, but it’s nice to see that a few of the artists were talented and versatile enough to continue making good music. Who knows, perhaps these songs are timeless enough that some day I’ll put on this album for solace after a breakup.

Now if you’ve been paying attention to this blog for a little bit you may know that my problem with nu-metal was never the metal – it was always the rap. I’ve dabbled in hip-hop music over my life and there have been a few artists/songs that I’ve enjoyed, but on the whole I’ve never considered myself a fan of the genre. Aside from a near lack of guitar or any other prominent musical instrument aside from the drum machine, I’ve always been a little turned off by the rampant braggadocio and misogyny.

So it’s a little surprising that my favorite track on this album is the one with the line “I’ll always get more pussy than you.” I don’t know, I guess a lesbian singing about stealing the wife of a homophobe just has a certain appeal for me. I’ve never been against the gay agenda. I don’t even understand the political issue concerning homosexuals. I don’t really feel that Otep is a threat to my masculinity. I find the opening line of “He called me a dyke, I called him an ambulance” hilarious.

But maybe I just really like the anger.

Marilyn Manson “Antichrist Superstar”


antichrist_superstar_4170(8 October 1996, Nothing/Interscope)

There’s something I like to call the “Smoke on the Water Principal (SWP).” You see, as a songwriter I’ve always found it a lot easier to write a more-elaborate-than-necessary guitar riff, jam packed with odd chords and enough hammer-ons and pull-offs to make your head spin than to write a simple, catchy riff. The main riff to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” is the perfect example of an accomplished musician opting to play something so simple that anyone who picks up a guitar can master it in about three tries, but it’s also one of the most memorable pieces of music written in the past 50 years. Some of the greatest guitar riffs in history have utilized the SWP, even if they didn’t know it. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Paranoid” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” are all prime examples.

And so is the biggest hit of Marilyn Manson’s career “The Beautiful People.”

Antichrist Superstar is a sloppy mess of an album, but that’s part of it’s appeal. It’s strange that something produced by Trent Reznor contains so much feedback and noise, but much like The Downward Spiral it serves as a record of the band at the time.

The only live opener on a studio album that I know of is “Irresponsible Hate Anthem.” I’m not sure if they couldn’t get the sound they wanted in the studio or if they ran out of time and had to pull out a live recording. Either way, it works. The only problem I have with it is the notes say it was recorded on Valentine’s Day 1997, six months after the album came out. Do I have a new pressing? Was this a typo? The world may never know.

“Tied Up, Dried Up and Dead to the World” sounds like Korn to my ears. Not so much the chorus but the ending part with the chugga-chugga-chugga squeal. That’s something I’ve heard in just about every Korn song ever. “Tourniquet” was always one of my favorites. I’m a sucker for those simple riffs with long bends. It’s like “Interstate Love Song,” but way, way darker.

 

The middle portion of the album is where things start to drag. There are a few gems in there. “Little Horn,” “Mister Superstar” and “Angel With The Scabbed Wings” are all decent rockers, but some of the stuff just seems half finished. This is one of those instances of artistic ambitions getting in the way of just making a good album.

But then the third cycle really knocks it out of the park. “Antichrist Superstar” is perhaps the strongest on the album. Drop D chords mesh with crowd cheers to make you feel like your at a Nazi rally. “1996” is great in spite of (or perhaps because of) it’s poor production. It all sounds live in the studio complete with a guitar being smashed at the end. “Minute of Decay” is the one song on the album written completely by Manson. The simple bass line and distorted guitars have always made this a favorite of mine. Plus, it’s the one place you can tell that he really does have a great voice.

“Your world is an ashtray,” is a line that’s been repeating in my head for a few days now. “The Reflecting God” may be the heaviest thing on this album. Is has a frenetic bass line that smashes into the three-chord chorus and really makes me want to smash something. I think that’s about all you can ask from a good heavy metal song. Yet again they use live material for the third pre-chorus and it makes the song that much more intense.

Antichrist Superstar Back CoverI can still remember when the Shirley Jackson inspired video for “Man That You Fear” premiered on MTV and I watched it about seven times. It’s a great closer. The slow track floats along with Reznor playing piano and ends with Manson’s distorted voice saying “When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed.”

Yes, Antichrist Superstar is a hectic, dis-joined and messy album. I can’t help but wonder what it would have sounded like if they’d spent less time snorting cocaine and destroying equipment and more time writing songs and practicing. But it stands as a portrait of what the band was like when they were young, hungry and had something to prove to the world and that’s something we’ll never hear from Marilyn Manson again.