Monday, December 24, 2007

Top Five Metal Christmas Tunes

Christmas and heavy metal have always shared a bittersweet relationship. After all, should musicians whose sheer existence depends on the denigration of religion cop to being family folks off hours? So many have said over the years that they don't really believe their lyrics' words—that they're merely actors portraying characters (looking at you, Alice Cooper)—yet they won't lighten up their tunes. Anyway, a few artists have written Christmas songs (and anti-Christmas songs, but really what are we to believe?), and shockingly they're pretty good. So, without further ado…

  1. King Diamond – "No Presents for Christmas"

    The mother of all antichristian flagellation. But at the end he says he'd dreaming of a "white Sabbath." Isn't that self-contradictory?

  1. Fight – "Christmas Ride"

    Naturally, Judas Priest singer Rob Halford can write a great song about anything. Plus, I believe he really wishes he could go on a Christmas ride.

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  1. Spinal Tap – "Christmas With the Devil"

    Who cares about sincerity? This song rocks. Plus, if they were serious about it, it would be better than King Diamond's Christmas song.

  1. Bob Rivers – "I Am Santa Claus"

    "Leave him cookies and beer/He'll be back to your house first next year." Neither Ozzy nor Kris Kringle himself couldn't have said better.

  1. Twisted Sister – "Oh Come All Ye Faithful"

    Who cares about sincerity? Dee Snider! Now this is a present I can get behind.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Top Releases of 2007

Yes, the top single of the year is a YouTube video. MP3s aren't really singles, now are they? And although I listen to the radio, they would never play this song. And don't get me started on MTV. Anyway, Ever since I discovered The Charlotte Church Show, and the former opera ingénue's duets with British rock's middle to upper class such as her infamous "Beat It" duet with Amy Winehouse, "Seven Nation Army" with the Brand New Heavies and a rousing "9 to 5" with Fergie. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wince with empathy. "When Doves Cry" stands out mostly because of the awkward moment where Church reaches out and claws Patrick Wolf's stomach during the line, "Touch if you will my stomach/Feel how it trembles inside." His reaction, moving from surprise to tension to "fight or flight" (when he delicately makes a windmill motion to move her away, makes their stiff reinterpretation of the Purple One's almost-purple prose (uh… "This is what it sounds like when doves cry"—maybe that's more emo than purple) that much better. You all already know how I feel about Grinderman, so I wanna jump to Unklejam. This is also a video. I watch it on my iPod way more than I would listen to it. How can you not watch this and just smile? For those who know me Soulja Boy might seem like an eyebrow raiser, but I gotta say, after my cell phone accidentally downloaded the ringtone because I forgot to put keyguard on it, I've grown to love this song, too. I do the Superman now and again, when people aren't looking. Shh, don't tell.

As for my albums, the Long Blondes released a perfect album this year. So what if other critics put it on their lists last year— prompting the American fans that would buy it at a regular price to pay twice as much, and thus skewing its success here? This is one of the smartest bands around from their narrative about aging women (written by a man!) to their interwoven cheerleader-ska-indie-rock anthems. Black Francis released an album that could easily double as a Pixies slab, if it weren't about a Dutch junkie painter and M.I.A. has more than replaced Bono as the social crusader for the 21st Century. I defy anyone to find a better death-metal record than Obliteration's Perpetual Decay—written when the Oslo-based band was just 18 or 19 (better than any of the reunited deathsters' albums this year.) O'Death officially issued their goth-country masterpiece and Rufus Wainwright dabbled with Broadway crooning. When I first thought about making this list this year, my first thoughts were that it was a pretty uninteresting year for pop music. There weren't any major artistic statements (save Battles and the more-than-excellent Mayhem album), but looking at these lists, it was really a year of diversity. There was no one over-arching theme across music, and when you think about it, that's a very good thing. I'm looking forward to seeing what next year will bring.

Top 10 Albums of 2007

  1. The Long Blondes, Someone To Drive You Home
  2. Black Francis, Bluefinger
  3. M.I.A., Kala
  4. Obliteration, Perpetual Decay
  5. O'Death, Head Home
  6. Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars
  7. Baroness, Red Album
  8. Mayhem, Ordo Ad Chao
  9. Battles, Mirrored
  10. Panda Bear, Person Pitch

Top Singles/Tracks of 2007

  1. Patrick Wolf with Charlotte Church, "When Doves Cry"
  1. Grinderman, "No Pussy Blues"
  2. Unklejam, "Love Ya"
  1. Jesu, "Conqueror"
  2. Soulja Boy, "Crank That (Soulja Boy)"
  3. Battles "Atlas"
  4. M.I.A., featuring Bun B and Rich Boy, "Paper Planes" (Street Mix)
  5. New Pornographers, "Myriad Harbour"
  6. Animal Collective, "Peacebone"
  7. Dude N Nem, "McDonald's"

Top 5 Reissues of 2007

  1. Various Artists, Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration
  2. Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth
  3. Pylon, Gyrate Plus
  4. Botch, American Nervoso
  5. Pink Floyd, Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Top Metal Albums of 2007

In terms of quality metal, 2007 has been a pretty diverse. There were the psych metallers, the black metallers (and unfortunately a few meddlers), the avant-garde experimenters, stoner rockers and even a small thrash revival. Strangely there weren't any really good hardcore/metal crossover acts (I will not admit to liking metalcore) like Converge, but the records that were good were great.

Jesu got top honors on this list mostly because of the strength of the title cut. Justin Broadrick's beautiful, non-metal croon seems as though it was coming from another plane. After that, there are some differences in ranking on this list from my general music list, mostly because I think about metal differently than I think about general metal—although if you're mincing where Obliteration falls versus Mayhem, then you're a metalhead after my own cockled heart.

  1. Jesu, Conqueror
  2. Mayhem, Ordo Ad Chao
  3. Obliteration, Perpetual Decay
  4. Neurosis, Given to the Rising
  5. Watain, Sworn to the Dark
  6. Byla/Jarboe, Viscera
  7. Wolves in the Throne Room, Two Hunters
  8. Dekapitator, Storm Before the Calm
  9. Big Business, Here Come the Waterworks
  10. Deathspell Omega, Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum
  11. Obituary, Xecutioner's Return
  12. Nadja, Radiance of Shadows
  13. Baroness, Red Album
  14. High on Fire, Death Is This Communion
  15. Bergraven, Dödsvisioner
  16. Gallhammer, Ill Innocence
  17. Dälek, Absence
  18. Hacavitz, Katun
  19. Clockcleaner, Babylon Rules
  20. Rotting Christ, Theogonia
Song of the Year

Grinderman's "No Pussy Blues" is the song of the year, because, well, it's truth. And pain. Which really just makes it all the more truthful when you think about it. We've all been there. We do anything and everything we can to please someone just to be denied. Doesn't have to be sex, either—that's why Nick Cave's frustrated everyman lyrics resonate so well. And that's why I chose to write an essay on the song for Paper Thin Walls' 2007 Year-End Mixtape, which you can read hyuh. If you haven't heard the song, here's the video.

And since you so kindly sat through this post, here's...

the "No, Pussy!!" Blues:

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Ode to Interludes

I was recently listening to the debut from reformed sludgies Baroness, the brilliant Red Album, and was floored by the instrumental acoustic piece "Cockroach en Fleur." Having interviewed John Baizley extensively about the album, I know that there was a reason why they put this interlude where they did in the album. They wanted to break up the heaviness on either side as so many bands have done before. Guitar solos, whether acoustic or electric, used to play such an important part in metal and hard rock that contemporary bands like Tool and Isis that don't play guitar solos have unwittingly begun lengthening their songs or including weird ambient tracks, acting as phantom limbs. The Grammy Awards have actually added a Best Rock Instrumental Performance award in the '80s, but it's mostly been awarded to primarily instrumental artists and, well, Paul McCartney. Frank Zappa got it once, though, which is kind of surprising. Anyway, in an effort for some historic fairness, I've made a Top 10 of my favorite metal interludes, airs and solos. They're not all guitar solos, but they contribute to the album's overall heavy sound. My criteria is that it has to serve its own independent purpose within the album and must mostly be performed on one or two instruments (hence, Judas Priest's "The Hellion" and Metallica's "Orion" don't count). Feel free to correct me on any omissions.

Top 10 Metal Interludes and Solos

  1. "Dee," performed by Randy Rhoads.

    Named after deceased guitarist Randy Rhoads's mother, Delores, "Dee" is a crisp, neoclassical acoustic tangent that comes in as track four on Ozzy Osbourne's solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz. It's beautiful and provides some insight into what a Rhoads solo album might have sounded like. In 1987, Ozzy included over four minutes of outtakes from the "Dee" sessions on his Tribute album. Not Surprising, one of Rhoads's replacements, Zakk Wylde, has attempted many acoustic guitar solos on his disappointing Black Label Society albums—save one, which is below. This is the ultimate in odes.

  2. "Black Mountain Side," performed by Jimmy Page and tabla player Viram Jasani

    Sandwiched between the poppy "You're Time Is Gonna Come" (the most Yardsbirds-y song on Led Zeppelin) and the blistering "Communication Breakdown," this hippy-dippy piece reflects the album's 1969 release year more than anything else on the album. This set the standard for metal interludes to come.

  3. "Eruption," performed by Eddie and Alex Van Halen

    Right after they hooked you in with "Runnin' With the Devil," the Van Halen brothers fired the finger-tapping shot heard round the world. In under two minutes, Eddie changed guitar playing forever.

  4. "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth," performed by Cliff Burton and Lars Ulrich

    The best interludes are often the most off-the-cuff—the ones that people are doing just for a laugh. Burton never sounded serious on this ultra-distorted solo, and Ulrich's rushed drums only make it the more fun.

  5. "Spanish Fly," performed by Eddie Van Halen

    A year after he rewrote the rules for electric guitar on Van Halen with "Eruption," Eddie returned on II with this plucky acoustic number on side two between "Light Up the Sky" and "D.O.A." Although he uses his tapping techniques, it seems more derivative of influential jazz and flamenco like Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia. According to Wikipedia, this is Steve Vai's favorite Van Halen song, and therefore it's probably crap and should have been omitted.

  6. "Laguna Sunrise," performed by Tony Iommi

    Programmatic music never suited metal well, but this ode to a beach in Orange County, California fit perfectly in the madness of Black Sabbath's 1972 album, Vol. 4. On their most straightforward "metal" album, "Laguna Sunrise" serves as a musical yin to side one's druggy "FX" yang. Plus, the major-key intro riff on "St. Vitus Dance" wouldn't make any sense without "Sunrise." Other notable Sabbath interludes include the harpsichord-driven "Fluff," their long-running concert opener "Supertzar" and "Children of the Grave"'s lead-in, "Orchid."

  7. "T.A.Z.," performed by Zakk Wylde

    I've included this as a reminder that moderation is best in small doses. Standing for "The Alcoholic Zakk," methinks Mr. Jeffrey Phillip Wiedlandt of Bayonne, New Jersey has bought too much into his southern biker rocker mystique. When He recorded this, it was pretty awe inspiring and the rest of this debut Black Label Society release seemed a refreshing change from the nu-metal that was still popular in 1999. Unfortunately, every album this group has released since has sounded exactly the same, and not in a cool AC/DC kind of way.

  8. "Bourée," performed by Ian Anderson

    Jethro Tull once won a heavy metal Grammy Award to the chagrin of Metallica fans everywhere, myself included, but since I've always rather liked Tull and this is my list, and hardly any metal bands have written a riff as thunderous as "Aqualung" in recent years, this flute arrangement of a J.S. Bach ditty in E minor makes the cut.

  9. "And the Address," performed by Richie Blackmore and Jon Lord

    From Deep Purple's debut, Shades of Deep Purple, guitarist Blackmore and organist Lord create a swirling psychedelic cauldron of heavy proto-prog and blues that predates Zep's "Black Mountain Side" by a year as an instrumental, but lacks the surrounding heaviness. Deep Purple was a different band then, still singing "Hush" and the Beatles' "Help," but not long after they would become one of heavy rock's greatest riff bands.

  10. "Odens Ride Over Nordland," performed by Quorthon

    This Bathory intro is one of the turning points of when solos and interludes started becoming soundscapes. Sure, there's a pretty creepy organ instrumental on this song that fits perfectly with the rest of Blood Fire Death's thrashy '80s black metal, but it's ruined by "mist" sounds and horses bleating. This album also contains an "Outro," but as a standalone piece "Odens Ride" sets more of a mood. After this, extreme metal started to become more modern and less bombastic. In my opinion, the bands could stand to take a break and pace themselves.

Dinosaur Jr., 9/3/2007

Earlier this year, around the time I stopped posting, I got to see the reunited Dinosaur Jr. perform at Webster Hall. It was sponsored by Camel, who put up lights and displays and handed out cigarettes despite New York being smoke-free. They had a spin-art table and a place to take zany photos. None of this convinced me to take up smoking. Nevertheless, the band sounded great. Lou Barlow seemed agitated in a good way and J. Mascis was his usual laconic, bored self. Perfect for "Freak Scene." Oh yeah, Dr. Dog played, too. They were anything but memorable.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Axl Rosenberg's post today is a good kick in the pants for me to get this thing going again. I'll post some new photos, interviews and other stuff you can all make fun of this weekend. And yeah, that forthcoming Genghis Tron is pretty awesome.