Thursday, October 30, 2008

Once a fraidy-cat...

... always a fraidy-cat. In honour of Halloween: seemingly ordinary things that scare the bejeezus out of me.

Closet doors that are slightly ajar -- thanks a lot, Stephen King.

The creepy, smiling ladies on the Kashi Good Friends cereal box. Can't you just picture them emerging from a dark hallway and advancing upon you with those Stepford smiles stamped on their faces? (Shudders.)

Having the air conditioning or heating vent air flow rustle the bath-tub curtain, thus giving the uneasy impression that something may be lurking behind it.

Dripping faucets -- thanks a lot, Mario Bava.

Those Kit-Cat clocks that were very popular during the 80's. You know, the kind where the cat's eyes moved back and forth to mark the seconds? I always wondered whether one of them was suddenly going to turn its eyes upon me. For some reason, the prospect of that happening terrifies me.

Store mannequins -- see Kit-Cat clocks above for reason. Inanimate objects suddenly becoming aware and turning their knowing eyes upon me are a fear I can't shake, even as a grown man.

Feather pillows, and, by extension, any sort of downy product that invites me to recline my head upon it -- thanks a lot, Horacio Quiroga.

If I may quote the lovely and never-forgotten Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: Unpleasant dreams...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Five great rock albums you’ve never heard of

And by rock, I mean just that. I have neither the musical knowledge nor the attention span to quantify these into sub-genres like “punk-rock nü-metal with a reggae-ska kick.” The rules:
  • The albums must be easily accessible – I could bring up Battery’s “Till The Day We Die,” but no one outside of myself and the Cleveland band’s family would be able to come up with a recording (and I’m not even sure about the band’s family).
  • The albums must be full-length efforts – EPs need not apply. Too bad for 1000 Homo DJs’ “Supernaut.”
  • The albums must be somewhat obscure, not just relatively obscure for a particular artist. For example, “Christ Illusion” is the most egregiously underappreciated of Slayer’s albums, but it still gets plenty of love.
  • The albums must have been released over the past twenty years. Otherwise, I’d dust off jewels like Gamma’s “Gamma 2” and nobody under the age of 35 would know what the hell I was talking about… and I can’t penalize you for not being a geezer.
And while we’re on the subject of geezers…

G/Z/R – Plastic Planet (1995)

G/Z/R was founded by legendary Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler. If I may paraphrase an old saying, you can take the Geezer out of Black Sabbath, but you can’t take the Black Sabbath out of the Geezer. The trademark eerie minor-chord progressions abound, and every single song in the album is terrific. If I were hard-pressed to pick my fave songs, I’d go with “Catatonic Eclipse,” the title track, “Giving Up The Ghost,” and “Séance Fiction,” but as I said, the album is solid from beginning to end. As a bonus, I’d rank this among one of the most unrelentingly heavy albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Who knew Geezer had it in him? A great deal of the credit must also be given to vocalist Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory. G/Z/R is much more melodic and infinitely more refined than Fear Factory’s best efforts, but Bell’s influence is easily discernible, especially if one listens to Geezer Butler’s Bell-less follow-up, “Black Science,” which is wildly inconsistent and, at times, idiotically bizarre (“Unspeakable Elvis” may be the worst rock song of the past ten years). Anyhoo, Bell is a mediocre singer who sometimes appears to lose track of the correct pitch, albeit possibly on purpose; I don’t know how else to explain the fact the he’s flat on the last sung note of just about every line… but his signature combination of growling and singing really punches up the album’s insistent aggressiveness.

And while we’re on the subject of growling and singing…

Kittie – Oracle (2001)

This album also features plenty of singing and growling, but with a twist: this all-girlie band incorporates instances of simultaneous growling and singing. Guitarist Morgan Lander does the singing (unlike Bell, she’s terrific) and growls like an absolute fiend. Combined with a very heavy sound and plenty of melodic inventiveness, the effect is remarkable, particularly on “Mouthful of Poison” and “Severed.” It’s a shame that the simultaneous sing/growl gimmick is kind of lost during live shows. I’ve never been a big fan of Pink Floyd (I guess all that stoner stupidity is always going to bias me against psychedelic garbage), but Kittie’s cover of “Run Like Hell” is phenomenal, especially in the chorus – Lander sings it in very mellow fashion, then delivers the line “you better ruuuuuuuuuuuun LIKE HELL!” with remarkable ferocity. Delightful.

And while we’re on the subject of covers…

Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses (1994)

No, I wasn’t referring to the actual album cover, although it may very well be the most suggestive cover I’ve ever seen (possible exception: Montrose’s “Jump on It”). I was referring to one of my favourite remakes of all time: Seals & Croft’s beautiful, mellow fluff piece, “Summer Breeze.” In the hands of Type O Negative, it becomes a crunching, menacing, utterly creepy masterpiece. Be that as it may, “Summer Breeze” isn’t even the album’s best track. That honour goes to “Christian Woman,” the closest thing to a hit Type O Negative has ever had (I think I heard it on the radio once – oh, wait, what I meant was I once heard a Christian woman on the radio; no radio station has enough balls to play Type O!). “Black No. 1” and “Blood and Fire” are also solid. Some of the songs can be a bit overdrawn, and vocalist Peter Steele’s remarkably deep voice and brooding delivery add to the theatrics. The result is a solid album that can sometimes be overwhelmingly depressing, so be sure to take your Prozac prior to playing it.

And while we’re on the subject of depressing…

The Sisters of Mercy – Floodland (1990)

I don’t know what it is about The Sisters of Mercy that makes me want to chug a Drano cocktail. Maybe it’s singer / songwriter Andrew Eldritch’s whispery delivery, maybe it’s the fact that he’s apparently unaware of the major scales, or maybe it’s because of his monothematic obsession with unrequited / unfulfilled / flawed love. Whatever the reason, the band (and by “band,” I mean Andrew Eldritch, the woman who does the background vocals, and whatever assorted collection of studio musicians he assembled for any given album) has always been way too angst-ridden to achieve mainstream success. It’s a shame, because they’ve always been top-notch, and “Floodland” is their most musically accomplished effort. I can remember a shortened, radio-friendly version of “This Corrosion” getting quite a bit of airtime, and the now-defunct “Night Flight” video show that used to air at 2:00 in the morning on the USA Network once aired not just one, but two videos from this album… but that’s about all the love “Floodland” ever got. Maybe if Eldritch had varied his tune and theme, things would have been different. Then again, this is one of my all-time favourite albums, so I suppose I can’t complain.

And while we’re on the subject of picking a theme and sticking with it…

Manowar – Fighting The World (1988)

Ah, Manowar… I remember the first time I saw / heard this monothematic bunch. I was watching “Headbanger’s Ball” on MTV, and on this particular evening, the great Blackie Lawless was the host. At one point in the show, Lawless brought in these two goofy dudes, one all snickers, the other crazy and intense. The relaxed chuckler was Manowar singer Eric Adams, and the overwrought tool was Manowar bassist and songwriter Joey DeMayo. Lawless apparently thought highly of the band, because he gave DeMayo free rein to rant and rave about “poseurs” and “false metal” while Adams cackled hysterically. DeMayo capped off his diatribe by ripping the shirt off his chest and yelling incoherently at the camera, and then their video for “Blow your speakers” came on. Although I was amused by DeMayo’s crazy antics, I didn’t expect the music to be good – after all, if the music’s good, do you REALLY need to be that crazy? Apparently so… “Blow your speakers” is a wonderful song, and I loved it in spite / because of the tacky video and nature of the lyrics. Make no mistake about it, Manowar are cast from the same mold as many other 80s-90s metal bands: long hair, leather, cheesy lyrics, and even fur codpieces, but they have a few attributes that set them apart from the rest. I imagine their most remarkable such attribute is the fact that they are in the Guinness World Book of Records as the loudest rock band in the planet.

Loudness aside, this band has a lot going for it. Adams has a very high-pitched but oddly raspy voice, so his two octaves above the staff screeches are metal bliss. Bassist Joey DeMayo is phenomenal, as evidenced by his occasional instrumental solo efforts, although none are included in this particular album. They also have a fondness for including classical music and opera in their songs, although, again, no classical/opera tracks are included in this album, making me wonder why I brought them up! No, “Fighting The World” is all about their specialty, which a wag much cleverer than myself once dubbed Sturm und Cheese. In a nutshell, the songs are a hodgepodge of “we’re the only band playing true metal” and “somehow, we’re tying this true metal-ness to war, battle quests, and scantily clad, voluptuous women.” Hell, they even got Orson Welles to record a spoken intro to “Defender,” and his ominous, melodramatic delivery manages to transcend the cheesiness of the material. Cheese, cheese, and, oh-by-the-way, more cheese. But as far as cheese goes, this album is French Camembert: stinky as hell, but absolutely glorious!