Friday, December 30, 2011

Am I Going Insane?

Of the six classic-era Black Sabbath albums, Sabotage is the one that I almost never hear anyone mention. Perhaps people forgot that they still had it in them to issue one more great album after the complex monstrosity that was Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath. By this point, the band’s excessive lifestyle had begun to catch up to them. The drug abuse and constant touring were slowly causing the band to unravel. Combined with Tony Iommi’s burgeoning obsession with studio production, Sabotage took considerably longer to record than the usual Sabbath fare. The result was well worth the time spent, although this is clearly an album by a band that won’t admit to one another that their time is up. At least not until the recording is finished, anyway. There are times when you can almost feel the band struggling to maintain what is left of their sanity after five hard years of recording, traveling, and doing copious amounts of drugs. On the near-ten-minute epic “Megalomania,” Ozzy begs everyone to get out of his life and leave him alone to wallow in his drug-induced isolation. “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” is self-explanatory. It is a descent into madness, punctuated by the cackles of psychotic laughter at the song’s conclusion. The laughter carries over into “The Writ,” which concludes Sabotage on a high note. While the lyrics apparently lash out at Sabbath’s old management team, there is more going on in the music itself. When Ozzy whimpers “I know” repeatedly, it is like an affirmation that the band is over. He sounds like he is shedding tears of relief with that knowledge. The beat marches the song to its bitter end. As it fades out, the creative flame that made Black Sabbath the kings of heavy music becomes extinguished.

If you don’t believe me, I only have two words for you: Technical Ecstasy. End of story.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Nail Guns for Jesus

More maxed-out crusty hardcore goodness, this time courtesy of young punkers from the Twin Cities. I actually reviewed this evil little platter for People Under No King zine over ten years ago and really enjoyed it. Admittedly, Baptize This has not actually seen that much turntable action since then. Yet, it has survived a couple purges of record collection filler, so I guess it managed to leave some kind of lasting impression on me despite the lack of play. Similar to what I said a couple weeks ago, I’m not nearly as enthusiastic about frantically paced crustcore as I used to be. That said, I still enjoy this record for the most part. Pontius Pilate incorporated a few more elements into their sound that made them sound different from previous bands in their area. It seemed like a new wrinkle in the ‘Minneapolis sound,’ giving hope that there would be more to come. The title track is still worth the price of admission all by itself. Naturally, a band called Pontius Pilate is going to take on the lord and savior in their lyrics and these guys certainly do that. Jesus doesn’t seem like such a bad person, but I’ll never not get a kick out of the line, “Jesus is dead and he’s not coming back. If he does, we’ve got NAIL GUNS!” I don’t know that this record “kills” like I said it did in my old review, but click here to upset your pastor anyway.

Friday, December 16, 2011

On Parole

In 1975, Motörhead were merely a fuckup ex-members-of band whose label had low expectations of. Their attempt at a debut LP had its share of problems. Supposedly, producer Dave Edmunds fled the session while covering his ears. Fritz Fryer stepped in to take his place. After laying down the initial drum tracks, Lucas Fox was sacked in favor of Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. Motörhead managed to finish the recording, but United Artists saw no potential in them and ordered the album shelved. When their contract ran out two years later, Lemmy and the gang took their sturm und klang elsewhere and commenced dropping musical bombs on metalheads and punks everywhere. Somewhere between the release of Bomber and Ace of Spades, United Artists realized how much they fucked up by letting Motörhead go. Much to the band’s chagrin, the original tapes were dusted off and released as On Parole.

Although I have heard that Lemmy does not acknowledge On Parole as a legitimate part of their discography, this is your chance to hear Motörhead’s original lineup. If you thought they sounded like a punk band before, you ain’t heard nothing yet. On Parole is a stripped-down Motörhead with considerably less bombast and a lot more rock ‘n’ roll. To these ears, quite a few of these songs sound great with that approach. “Vibrator” is perfect playful sleaziness, executed with a smile. Musically, the Pink Fairies cover of “City Kids” is a straight up Oi song that is a notch or two above future Chiswick labelmates Skrewdriver. Even Lemmy’s vocals sound radically different here. He still had a few gallons of whiskey and cartons of fags to work on before attaining his signature strangled rasp that we are all familiar with. Most of these songs were re-recorded for the self-titled LP, while two others showed up on the Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers EP. “Leaving Here” made it on the live Golden Years EP and I am not sure that “Fools” was recorded anywhere else at all.

Finding a copy of On Parole in a record store took longer than I care to admit, but I was happy when it finally happened. It has gone in and out of print over the past thirty-ish years, so perhaps some of you Motörheadbangers have missed out on what may very well be your most interesting experience listening to them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Demo Alert: Your Enemy

There is a war inside their heads and they are Your Enemy—an excellent new grindcore band from Oakland that has helped make me feel excited about the direction of our local music scene. Although they have not played very many shows, Your Enemy has already demonstrated that they are perfectly capable of generating a whole lot of energy on their behalf. Just this past weekend, they laid waste to a local basement venue called the Swamp and nearly rendered the other good local bands on the bill irrelevant. Our more faithful readers may recall that I am not particularly impressed with very many newer grind bands, but Your Enemy is clearly an exception. I like grind when it is delivered with instrumental power and sounds like a rabid pit bull. Your Enemy brings that in spades. The scariest thing about this demo is the fact that the band can only get better from here. I hope that you will die before these motherfuckers have a chance to kill you themselves.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Reaping the Demos

A while back, I was dismayed when I pulled out my copy of the classic Behind the Realms of Madness LP to find that I no longer enjoyed it as much as I used to. Even “Life Line” failed to grab me and pull me into what was such a wonderful metal/punk journey for so long. I hate to say it, but I actually found Sacrilege to be anything but the heavy and powerful crust unit they had always been to me. In fact, I actually found them quite boring. Sad but true. I have not listened to Behind the Realms of Madness since, out of fear that perhaps it was not just my mood that day. It is alarming when your old favorite bands don’t deliver the goods anymore. Maybe you have been there.

In fact, I have noticed this same trend occurring with many of my old crusty punk favorites. Truthfully, I have noticed a distinct shift in my musical tastes over the past four years or so. I find myself less impressed with overly heavy or fast music. Instead, I look for those who play with power while remembering the value of a good tune. In my opinion, this is not exactly common amongst much of what passes for today’s hardcore/crust/grind/doom/whatever bands. Still, I held out hope that I could still tolerate the older bands that I had known and loved before my musical priorities changed. After all, that Sacrilege album was so great, especially at this time of the year!

Fortunately, whatever enthusiasm was lost for Behind the Realms of Madness was found here. Reaping the Demo(n)s compiles a handful of Sacrilege demos recorded between 1984 and 1986, plus a live set at a venue called Adam and Eve in Northern England. You may have heard some of these before—the Stark Reality 1985 demo has made its rounds in the past—but they probably never sounded as good as they do here. This is a legitimate reissue, so time was taken to resolve whatever issues with sound quality there may have been. Most of these demos were recorded in the years following Behind the Realms of Madness, but it is great to hear those songs with more of a crusty edge and less production. The big treat for me is the 1984 demo, in which Sacrilege sounds much more like a metal-tinged punk band in a Varukers vein. Considering my aforementioned taste shift, that was certainly to my liking. Perhaps you remember their previous band Warwound, who also played in a similar style.

It will probably be a while before I feel like I can break out Behind the Realms of Madness for another chance. At least I have the comfort of knowing that I haven’t completely given up on my beloved Sacrilege, thanks to these demos. Consider that a relief. If you never gave up on them in the first place, you’re probably going to love listening to this collection. Reap what you sow here for disc 1 and here for disc 2.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Think You're Shit

Like Urban Assault, the Fuck Ups were another San Francisco punk band whose expressions of rage were born of the streets. They were most notorious for a song called “White Boy,” a ranting number about life in San Francisco’s Mission District from a drunken white trash punk’s perspective. Tim Yohannon and MRR used the song and specific incidents as fuel to brand the Fuck Ups as a racist band, a label that they were never quite able to shake over the years. To be honest, Fuck Ups vocalist Bob Noxious was not exactly known for doing much to change anybody’s opinion regarding his racial animosity, or lack thereof. Even if they had never written “White Boy,” their detractors only have to point to a particular T-shirt Bob was known for wearing back in the day—with a swastika on the front followed by the slogan “NIGGERS BEWARE” on the rear. Obviously, ambiguity is not the first word one thinks of in this regard. However, just as many people would say Bob Noxious was not legitimately racist as there are who would disagree.

It is true that back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, punk rock was considerably different before MRR’s politicized vision began to unfold. In particular, some early San Francisco bands explored lyrical themes having to do with being disaffected Caucasians of sorts. Sometimes the results were blackly satirical, such as Noh Mercy’s “Caucasian Guilt.” Other times, they were unfocused expressions of ignorance. To some extent, “White Boy” falls on the latter side of the fence. Although I wasn’t there in the early ‘80s, I personally never felt that the song itself was as racist as people claimed it was. It might be safe to say that critics like Tim Yohannon had not been to some of the places that might inspire a song like this one. I’ve never been the only
white boy in the Mission, but I have been the only one in line at the welfare office before. Of course, that was the perspective I had when listening to the song. The problem was that Bob Noxious couldn’t really articulate those sentiments very well—and that Tim Yohannon had already made up his mind before the conversation was recorded for an early issue of MRR.

To be honest, “White Boy” isn’t worthy of all the hype it gets. Believe it or not, there are five other songs on here that are much better. The rest of the record may not be as controversial, but it is as good an example of raw, antisocial punk rock as any you will find circa 1982. “I Think You’re Shit” is a snarling expression of hatred that rates as one of my favorite punk songs, although others might cite the sentiments of “Once I Had a Brother.”

The Fuck Ups were ugly, violent, and obnoxious—everything that punk rock was before the more deeply political elements were introduced. For all the attempts to kill off that side of punk over time, it still manages to fester like a cancerous cell that just won’t go away. That’s not such a bad thing, in my opinion. Sometimes we (as in “…the punks”) need to be reminded of where we truly come from.