Friday, October 15, 2010

Screams Behind the Shadows

We’re back on the metal tip this week with one of our absolute favorite records, by cracky! Schizophrenia was Sepultura’s third record and the first of theirs that I really got into. Since I didn’t go through much of a “metal phase” when I was younger, bands like Sepultura didn’t really register with me until much later. I think Chaos A.D. might have been my initial exposure to Sepultura, but I was pretty hung up on punk rock and didn’t care for them at the time. Of course, I started checking out good metal bands like Celtic Frost and Venom about a year or two later and liked them a lot. Eventually, this path led back to Sepultura. The difference was that this time, I had a much better album of theirs in my grubby little hands.

Amoeba Records in Berkeley used to have a killer selection of used cassettes. Whenever I felt like I had a couple extra bucks, I’d comb those sections and get something new for my Walkman. Sometimes cassettes are just the best way to hear certain kinds of music, or even specific bands. I’ve got most of the good Judas Priest albums on cassette, as well as all of the Diamond Dave-era Van Halen albums. All of my late ‘80s and early ‘90s hardcore rap favorites are on tape as well. One day, I had a few more extra dollars in my pocket than usual, so it was okay for me to finally grab that Sepultura tape. Out of all the Sepultura tapes that Amoeba had that day, Schizophrenia was the oldest and therefore, probably the best. Into the Walkman it went.

Death metal has never really been my thing for whatever reason. I’ve tried to give it a chance before, but only a few bands have ever piqued my interest. Instead, I gravitated towards grindcore as the more raw, less produced, punk-influenced answer to most of the straight up death metal bands I’ve heard in my life. But Schizophrenia wasn’t just a mere death metal record. It was a violent, destructive force. Listening to the album for the first time (and many times since) was like being held against a wall and pummeled repeatedly. I was a bloody mess long before the tape ended.

During my series of beatings, I forgot that I’d read about Sepultura’s then-current problems in the pages of Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. That Max Cavalera’s wife had somehow been something of a “Yoko Ono” for Sepultura. That Max had left the band and started some abomination called Soulfly with Nausea’s old drummer. Instead, I remembered that back in the summer of 1987, the members of Sepultura were young hessians dedicated to playing in Brazil’s most badass death metal band. Soon enough, I also realized that this record was special, meaning that it could only be played on special occasions. Listening to it with great frequency would be akin to cutting open the golden goose. The record would undeservedly lose its impact, no longer laying those golden eggs or evoking that sense of being beaten to a bloody pulp. No, Schizophrenia would serve the same purpose as the Secret Weapon. Some records are better that way.

Escape to the void here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

AIDS, Toxic Shock, PMS & More

We were going to post another metal record to keep with the spirit of the Halloween season…but last weekend, we learned of the unfortunate passing of Mark Sheehan, vocalist for suburban Boston hardcore band Out Cold. Mark was forty-one years old. We didn’t know Mark personally, but Out Cold has always rated highly in our household. The metal records can wait until next week.

Sometime, people are going to wake up and accept that hardcore punk completely lost steam in the mid ‘80s. By the decade’s end, it was definitely a sad shell of its former self. Punk needed to reinvent itself to survive and stay relevant, so the ‘90s was more about injecting new ideas into the music than it was about sticking to the established formula. This isn’t to say that there were absolutely no bands playing straight-up hardcore punk during the ‘90s. It’s just that it was difficult to find new bands that actually did it right—with no metal influence, blast beats, mosh breakdowns, or a vocalist with a throat full of broken glass. There was usually something unlikable about bands that did manage to fit the bill. Maybe their members (or their crowd) were macho assholes. Perhaps they were fond of using racial, sexist, or homophobic slurs to assert themselves as “politically incorrect.” Usually, their take on hardcore was just plain boring.

Out Cold was one of the only bands that played true old-school hardcore punk with conviction during the ‘90s. I’d like to say that they rose from the ashes like the Phoenix, but that would entail people in their hometown scene paying attention to them in the first place. If anything, they were practically the Boston hardcore scene’s best-kept secret. It always struck me as funny that Out Cold wasn’t held in higher regard in their local scene. I was never really able to get an answer from any of my Boston friends as to why that was, but Out Cold interviews suggested that the members were maybe too antisocial to be immediately considered for shows that would have established them as one of the area’s best bands. That’s one of numerous things that sucks about playing in a band. You just want to be able to play some good shows and enjoy yourself, but all the hobnobbing you have to do to get there can really take the fun right out of it.

In the fall of 2002, I was overjoyed when Born/Dead guitarist Will Kinser emailed me asking me to reserve a date at Gilman Street for Out Cold, who were finally touring the West Coast. On November 8th, the final bill was Capitalist Casualties (their last show with Max Ward on drums, I believe), the Futures from Japan, Out Cold, Born/Dead, and a band from Portland called the Stivs. Although I don’t recall the show drawing a particularly large crowd, it was definitely one of the better hardcore shows at Gilman that year. Every band kicked ass that night. We had something to be thankful for as Out Cold blasted through a near-perfect set, reminding us of why hardcore punk is the best music in the world. Unfortunately, “bandana thrash” was still in amongst most of the younger kids at the show, who opted to hit the distro tables while waiting for the 625 Thrashcore-approved Japanese band to hit the stage. Fuck those kids. It’s their loss. We ignored them…and then made fun of them afterwards when they realized that they didn’t like the Futures as much as Max Ward did. If you were really down, you probably also saw Out Cold play in the basement/practice pad at Born/Dead’s house in West Oakland a couple days before the Gilman show.

Permanent Twilight World
is my personal favorite Out Cold album, thanks to songs like “Pull the Trigger,” “Watch You Die a Sick Death,” “Faster to Nowhere,” and “Days are Numbered.” But I was beaten to the punch last weekend by Nate Wilson’s True Punk & Metal blog, so go there and get it. Instead, we’re gonna go a little further back in Out Cold’s history and check out their demo from 1992, originally posted by Al Quint of Suburban Voice zine to the HRPS board (aka “the scenester board”). This is actually Out Cold’s original lineup with Kevin Mertens on vocals and Mark Sheehan playing bass. Those of you who are used to Out Cold’s typically all-out hardcore assault may be taken aback by this demo somewhat. While there are plenty of expressions of hardcore rage, the band alternates between that and some killer raunchy rock ‘n’ roll that betrays their love of the Ramones and the New York Dolls. It’s in those moments when Out Cold often reminds me of a less Southern-fried version of Antiseen. The Iggy Pop squeals might take some getting used to, but this really is a great demo that ought to be reissued on vinyl sometime.

I realize that an Out Cold recording featuring Mark’s vocals would be a more appropriate tribute, but I figured posting something that most people probably haven’t heard would be the next best idea. Hopefully that works for you. Curl up and die

Friday, October 1, 2010

Evil Warriors

Possessed is a band that I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for. During my onetime quest to check out records by “legitimately Satanic, dude” metal bands, their Seven Churches album was at the top of my list. It’s doubtful that they actually fit the bill of what I was looking for philosophically, but they sure sounded like they did. That was good enough for me in the end. Possessed resonates with me not because they lived out their lyrical convictions, but because their take on Bay Area thrash metal was so raw and menacing. Bonded by Blood by Exodus is my favorite for sentimental reasons, but Possessed certainly makes a good challenge to that mantle.

A year or two ago, I went with a friend to see the latest incarnation of Possessed at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco. The lineup was Jeff Becerra backed by a longtime death metal band called Sadistic Intent. Despite my mixed feelings about the show overall, it was nice to see Jeff Becerra enjoying himself. I think most people know that Jeff is paralyzed from the chest down after being shot in a robbery at a gas station in 1990, dealing a huge blow to the local metal scene. There was an attempt by former Possessed members to carry on the name without him that had little to no impact. Various metal writers claimed that Jeff was born again, blaming his old band’s lyrical content for the shooting that put him in a wheelchair. Whether that was true or not didn’t seem to matter when I saw Jeff belting out classic Possessed songs though. I reminded myself that he’d been through a lot to get to that show and enjoyed it for what it was.

I think I was twenty years old when I finally picked up a copy of
Seven Churches. During that same time, I was also delving (not too deeply) into black metal and Possessed certainly had elements in their sound that were influential on the somewhat newer Norwegian bands I was listening to. Ultimately, they won out over bands like Darkthrone or Emperor because Possessed was a lot more fun to listen to.

Twenty-five years ago this month, Possessed released Seven Churches on an unsuspecting public. Most of you probably already have it, but we also went ahead and included their Death Metal demo from 1984 as a little bonus. Give it a listen.