Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Five-Minute Music Reviews

Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth Van Halen has lived out the VH1 Behind the Music litany -- riding the proverbial gravy train with biscuit wheels into the mid-'90s, the band's increasingly polished output with Sammy Hagar derailed amidst a pool of bad blood and grunge takeover of the airwaves. The misbegotten follow-up with Gary Cherone, VHIII, is I think one of the most completely misunderstood albums of that era. It's not a question of it being "good" or "bad" -- it's actually better than it gets credit for. The problem is that it got so far afield from what fans expected from Van Halen, there was just no walking it back. It was basically their attempt at a Pink Floyd/post-Gabriel Genesis prog album.

Cut to the second decade of the 21st century, to find the inimitable David Lee Roth back in the fold 27 years later, and pedigreed scion Wolfgang Van Halen taking the place of Michael Anthony, who of course is backing Hagar and Joe Satriani in Chickenfoot. Got all that? Great, because despite the soap opera nonsense, despite the fact that almost half the songs on ADKT are comprised from demos from the first two albums back in '79, despite DLR's voice not being nearly what it useta be, it all somehow works. Wolfie throws some nifty bass lines throughout (not that Anthony was ever going to cause Billy Sheehan to lose any sleep), but has his work cut out for him in backing Uncle Dave (for what his bass lines might have lacked in virtuosity, Anthony was easily the best backing vocalist of any metal band of the '80s).

Tracks such as She's the Woman and Blood and Fire instantly evoke classic VH, and Stay Frosty is great fun, a total throwback to Ice Cream Man. Out of the collection, the oddly-titled and -arranged Honeybabysweetiedoll might be the most quintessentially old-school VH track here, a throbbing, menacing groove superimposed with feedback sound effects and nonsensical fuck-chatter from Roth. And Eddie sounds great on every track, weaving trademark lines and patterns all over the place, conjuring up the early '80 fire. There's at least enough here to warrant a follow-up, hopefully with fresher material and more input from the new kid.

Prong - Carved Into Stone Prong is one of those '80s metal bands that lost out hard in the Metallica craze of the time, and have still not gotten their due. Classic albums like Prove You Wrong and Beg to Differ stand toe-to-toe with Master of Puppets, and have held up at least as well as anything from that era. (Another overlooked gem from the time: Corrosion of Conformity's Blind.)

For fans of straight-up, in-your-face metal with a slight NYC punk edge, Carved Into Stone delivers right from the start. Eternal Heat punches and moshes from start to finish, as strong an opening statement as I've heard in the past several years. On the second track, Keep On Living in Pain, when Tommy Victor scowls, "For what I do this every day, without potential for success," you can't help but wonder about the whims of luck and chance, and remind yourself of the turds that other, bigger bands of the genre (please, no names!) have crapped out over the last 10-15 years.

But what's done is done, and I shit you not, people -- if you're a fan of this kind of music, this is the real deal. I have not had an album grab me by the balls like this in front-to-back, all-killer-no-filler style since Clutch's Blast Tyrant. Great, heavy, catchy songs, incisive lyrics, excellent vocals (no screaming or death growling), tons of energy and anger. It would be unfair to all three bands to compare this with the Ramones or Motorhead at the top of their respective games, but that's about as close as I can get for the uninitiated. Go. Get it now.

OSI - Fire Make Thunder While OSI is the brainchild of prog-rock alumni, Fates Warning's Jim Matheos and Dream Theater's Kevin Moore, they sound nothing like either of those bands. There must be some sort of boutique name for this kind of music; it's not "post-rock" like Russian Circles or Pelican, and it's not "djent" like Scale the Summit or Animals as Leaders (though all of those are excellent, prodigiously talented bands).

The best descriptor I can come up with for OSI is maybe "post-prog", or "anti-prog". Arrangements are frequently extended, but the sound is completely different. Drums are ridonkulously gated, vocals are filtered and "atmospheric" almost to the point of electronica, melodies are unconventional and certainly not sing-song. Choruses are practically unrecogniable as such.

But it all works, and works well. There are standout tracks throughout, but the closer, Invisible Men, merits particular notice, great melodies, nicely developed, almost poignant in parts. Check it out, and then go get OSI's previous album, Blood.

Anthrax - Worship Music Of the self-styled "Big Four" thrash bands (which, again, in a rational world, Prong would be a part of), Anthrax has had perhaps the roughest go of it, with their back-and-forthing on lead singers, finally coming back to the guy they got famous with in the '80s, Joey Belladonna.

While John Bush was a more technically accomplished vocalist, Belladonna had always been a fan favorite, and on Worship Music he actually sounds better than ever. From the Z-Rock single The Devil You Know to the Walking Dead homage (Scott Ian had a zombie role in the most recent season) Fight 'em ('til You Can't), Belladonna weaves his tales of modern angst with verve and urgency. Charlie Benante, always an elite metal drummer, pulls off some really nice flourishes on Fight 'em, and throughout. This album, which came out last fall, is a nice return to form for Ian and crew. There should have been at least four radio singles.

Rush - Clockwork Angels Rush is one of those bands people either love or hate (I happen to reside in the former category, though the fandom has been long diffused by a myriad of influences), and the long-anticipated Clockwork Angels, which dropped today, will change few minds. It is being billed as a "concept album", but forget that -- either the songs work, or they don't.

And for the most part, the songs work well. The first two tracks, Caravan and BU2B, were released late in 2010, while the rest of the album was being composed and produced, and the band played them on the Time Machine tour last year. Both are solid additions to the Rush canon, the latter with many pointed references to Neil Peart's, shall we say, questing atheism.

This has been the band's calling card and its curse, the cerebral nature of their lyrics and arrangements sometimes overshadowing the ability to just connect with a simple, visceral riff, a sonic punch to the gut. Not this time; Clockwork Angels abounds with terrific songwriting and old-school riffing. The most recent single, Headlong Flight, is a nice surprise, as a permuted, updated Bastille Day riff, with little stylized bits and pieces from the band's extensive catalog, yet a nice standalone piece all the same. Introspective pieces such as The Wreckers and Wish Them Well provide color and contrast, and make the entire album seem almost a valedictory, a summation of an imposing body of work.

Rush famously are one of the top-selling rock bands of all time, have the adulation of fans and musicians alike, and have influenced scores of bands, yet still have not been inducted into the increasingly humorous Rock and Roll Hall of Lame. (And at this point, I think I speak for most fans when I say that when the day does come, the boys should have the balls to tell them to go fuck themselves, they shoulda come knocking fifteen or twenty years ago.) And as all three band members are approaching 60 years of age, we're not likely to get many future studio recordings. Clockwork Angels stands up to repeated listenings, and overall is one of the band's strongest outings since the holy grail that was Moving Pictures.

Fair To Midland - Arrows & Anchors I must have listened to this at least fifty times since its release last July, and I'm not sick of it, not in the least. Melodically inventive, harmonically engaging, rhythmically pummeling, and lyrically weird, this thing hits on all cylinders.

They could have left out a couple of the "palate cleanser" instrumentals, but the actual songs are a lot of fun all the way through. Extra props to the Beatles-meets-Metallica corporate-bashing mashup Rikki Tikki Tavi. The epic closer, The Greener Grass, encapsulates the strengths of the band, capping the festivities with a practically triumphant chorus melody, juxtaposed with the oddness of the lyric, "Hey! Where did you go? I promise I will kill you right now!". Top that, Bieber-ella!

1 comment:

Chris said...

HOLEEE CRAP. New Prong! Cleansing is one of my all-time favorites...