Pallbearer at Vaudeville Mews (May 27, 2017)

Downtown Des Moines, Iowa was treated to a wide variety of heavy metal when Pallbearer came to town with Inter Arma, Gatecreeper, and local band, Green Death. There was a great range of moods being tested throughout the night and for anybody squeamish enough to fall for the “heavy metal is stupid” fallacy, I’m sure the sounds bombarding the streets were enough to keep them up at night. There are many facets of this show that warrant appropriate response, least of which being the up close and personal feel of the venue itself. This sort of phenomena, of course, is something that originated in the early days of punk and would become commonplace once punk became its more hardcore variant. This venue’s layout makes it highly conducive for moshing, which is another phenomena that we owe to hardcore punk. Personally, I stay away from the mosh pit, but this particular event had its fair share of animalistic, primal mischief going on in that circle.

The opening act was local band, Green Death. These guys play a brand of heavy metal that is in equal parts guttural and clean in its vocal delivery and taking equally from quick punk-type stuff and slow, sludgy metal-type stuff, musically. Although it seems to be quite commonplace for concertgoers to not be all that crazy about the opening act, you won’t find me sharing this contempt. Well, at least this time around. These guys are essentially about as solid of a heavy metal opening act as you could get. Are they fancy? No. Do they do anything original? Not really. What they do accomplish quite well is setting the precedent for the rest of the show to follow. They warm up the crowd and do it well, instinctively. The truth about an opening act is neither that they have a massive responsibility or no responsibility, the responsibility of the first band on the bill is to decide whether or not they’re simply passing time before the other acts come out or whether they want to impress the crowd in their own right. Depending heavily on this spectrum, the opening act can either decide to be the most important band on the bill in own unique reasoning. Green Death seem to take a lot of responsibility in this particular role.

The next band that performed was Gatecreeper who, incidentally, happened to steal the show. These guys were just as good as Pallbearer would turn out to be. Also, unsurprisingly, Gatecreeper were the most brutal band on the bill. Death metal to the core; in a concert environment, there are few settings more dangerous to be in. Something happened to click on for me during their performance: the dangerousness of this style of music is what makes it so enthralling in a live setting. The band almost certainly made the majority of the audience wonder if they were going to be making it out alive and that’s the testament of the band. They (along with Chicago grindcore band, Macabre) are without a doubt the most brutal live act I’ve had the pleasure to witness. Performing much of their debut record ‘Sonoran Depravation’ was perhaps more accurately described as throwing the audience into a meat grinder and smiling throughout the scene to see if there were any survivors in the aftermath of the event. This is somewhat indicative of the nature of humanity. We always have a soft spot for the mysterious and the forbidden. Perhaps in that reasoning, it’s appropriate to view death metal and bands like Gatecreeper as representative of an innocence long lost. A particular piece of ourselves and our own predicament that got lost out on the shores somewhere along the tides of life. This is a corner from which we become faced with the utmost blackest of our consciousness. Chances are that Gatecreeper are the band that your parents and your school guidance counselor told you to stay away from when you were a kid. Nevertheless, they’re here and it serves you right.

Inter Arma, a curious little concoction of a band, were up next. Experimental at their core with traces of death metal and stoner metal thrown in to shake things up even further, they served as a well-traveled bridge from Gatecreeper to the headliner. Aside from having the best drummer of any band on the bill, though, their set tended to be rather slow and full of testiness. Even with that said, there were moments in their set when true ambition was shining through. This is a band that clearly has some sort of vision, even if it, at times, seems confused and unfocused. Maybe that’s precisely the point. Who knows? Regardless, they pull some surprises out of their bag of tricks that, as the audience would soon find out, shocks you. The largest moshing event of the night occurred sporadically and out of nowhere just as the band seemed to be lightening up and winding down their set. The band’s versatility make them a band that would make sense on just about any heavy metal tour and/or festival (they did just get off tour with Carcass). It’s also highly likely that this band is on the upswing and that they will only get better as they continue to form their craft and deliver on the goods that their set list hinted at.

The headlining band, Pallbearer, certainly didn’t disappoint. Pallbearer have become quite the metal band over the past few years. Their strength in their performance as well as their strength as a band on their studio recordings is a sort of refined, understated brutality. They aren’t the kind of band that beats you over the head repeatedly with a hammer until you can’t take anymore. Their style is quite unique and though they are without question a metal band, a doom metal band, specifically, their vocal approach is something that wouldn’t sound out of place in any kind of alternative music circle. This adds an interesting dynamic to their music. Their music is of a highly emotional sort, best evidenced in the band ripping through “The Ghost I Used to Be” off their 2014 record ‘Foundations of Burden’. The band also treated the audience to material off their newest record ‘Heartless’, full of emotional interludes and instrumental passages of pure bliss that make you feel as if you’re soaring through the air. It became quite clear throughout their set that these guys are a band that is on the cusp of exploding into the stratosphere of popularity. Their highly emotional material is something that allows these guys to appear to a wide variety of music fans. Their onstage demeanor is also one that is in direct contrast to the other bands on the bill (especially Gatecreeper) in that they aren’t a band that goes straight for the jugular. This is a band that exercises great poise and patience as they perform. This poise and patience is what puts the audience in a sort of trance throughout their performance.

All in all, this was a very good show that showcased a large variety of metal music. The highpoints of the show were undoubtedly dominated by the performances of Pallbearer and Gatecreeper. Putting these two bands on the same bill was something that just worked, even in all of their differences. More than anything else, what it proved was that metal is indeed not dead, contrary to what many of the cynics might think. What metal has done is quite spectacular, it remains arguably the only broad genre of popular music that has remained exclusively underground (well, for the most part). This element still lends a lot of strength and appeal to the metal subculture and shows like this are where all of these ideas become solidified objects. A metal show is something that everybody needs to experience at some point and those who don’t like the music will never truly know what they’re missing out on and furthermore, that they are missing out an entire portal of music that opens up a dimension of the mind and of the universe that no other genre of music is capable of opening. Perhaps this is yet another reason why metal will always survive changing musical tides, because it isn’t inhibited by what else is going on around it. It’s eternal, timeless, and is self-assured in its pathway and delivery. Expect much more from Pallbearer and Gatecreeper in the future, thank God.

4/5

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‘Eat Me, Drink Me’- Marilyn Manson

The often overlooked (and underappreciated) 2007 effort from Marilyn Manson, ‘Eat Me, Drink Me’, showcases the first time the noted controversialist took listeners on a personal journey. This journey that Manson takes us on, though, isn’t a happy one. Not only does this record take a change of pace in Manson’s positioning of himself, but musically, this record represents a huge contrast from his previous record, 2003’s ‘The Golden Age of Grotesque’. Manson doesn’t go for the jugular as directly on this record as he has on preceding records. In fact, through Manson’s vulnerability, we’re opened to whole new windows that weren’t even offered to us on previous records.

The opening track on this record is “If I Was Your Vampire”, which paints the full picture of this record clearly. The idea of vampirism runs the course on this record, aiding in the weaponry that Manson equips to detail his complex state of suffering. Another of these weapons, as evidenced in the following track, “Putting Holes in Happiness”, is a sound that, perhaps unlike the subject matter of the record (or any Manson record, for that matter) is understated. This deliberately differs from past Manson records. Rather than his usual bluster and conglomeration of shock rock and industrial metal, Manson treats this record with a layer of a slightly conservative gothic rock sound (as conservative as that can be). Much of this lends itself to why many listeners didn’t warm to this record as much as Manson’s previous records, but, as can be the case with the general public’s view of artist’s branching out, this is a mistaken reaction. Moving further down the record, one of the undisputed highlights is “Evidence”. This is one of the grooviest tracks in Manson’s catalog and, lyrically, it should burn on contact. It’s the title track, though, that surpasses all other tracks on this record and will probably leave you sleeping with the lights on for the night. This shouldn’t be surprising. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Manson knows that he maintains an eccentric lifestyle and, one can imagine, this leads to some dark places. How romance mingles into this picture is something that is easier pondered than executed.

The critics got it wrong on this record (and many other Manson releases). This is an excellent record that has very few slipups. It should be noted, though, that if you can’t get on the level with the subject matter, this is probably going to fly way over your head. It can be an overwhelming record, but that’s a Manson trademark. It’s good for you. Consider yourself lucky enough that Manson decided to share this side of himself with you. If nothing else, that’s precisely what this record accomplished and, in that sense, this record represents a major turning point in Manson’s career. Since he released this record, much of his output has been more towards this vein. It’s been quite some time since Manson was capable of generating the kind of outrage that made him a household name and he’s clearly aware of the changes that time inevitably forces. There are those out there who will say that Manson is old news, that he peaked long ago. This isn’t the case. He simply has learned how to adjust with the changing times and alter his persona a bit, giving further credit to his longevity and powers as an artist. Besides, you’re smarter than “those out there”, aren’t you?

4.5/5

‘Earth and Sun and Moon’- Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil released ‘Earth and Sun and Moon’ in 1993 and by this time they had become one of the leading forces of righteous ideology-driven rock music. A title they’d worked pretty diligently to grasp for over the years preceding this record. Could you call them Australia’s answer to U2? Probably not. That’s far too lazy of a connection, even if they share a sense of left-leaning political and social ideology. This particular record from the band does seem to present a different set of ideas than some of their previous records on how to go about laying out their conditions for the listener. This record doesn’t appear to share the sense of urgency and occasional bouts of irritability that ‘Diesel and Dust’ did, it often opts for a more restrained emotional center and sensibility. Nevertheless, they remain remarkably similar records.

The opening track on this record is “Feeding Frenzy” which is essentially what had been established as the signature Midnight Oil Aussie-rockin’ track. After all, this track is essentially the “Beds Are Burning” of the record. The Aussie element can’t afford to be overlooked, as it serves a seminal purpose to the sound of the band. One listen to this band and you’re instantly transported to the outback. The following track, “My Country”, is filled with band leader, Peter Garrett’s, ideology-driven social critique. This is something that will probably rub some listeners the wrong way, but hey, if you’re a fan of Midnight Oil already, then you already know what you’re getting yourself into. Needless to say, this familiar motive runs its way throughout the full duration of this record and it’s stacked with excellent tracks. One of the other highlights is “Truganini”, referring to the indigenous Austrialian and his struggle with the incoming European settlers. Another undisputed highlight on the record is “In the Valley” and what becomes clear more than anything else about this record is that Midnight Oil seem to have reached a peaking level of comfort within their own format and know exactly how to execute that format with an impeccable ease. It’s very easy to continuously compare this record to ‘Diesel and Dust’, but it’s necessary. These two records cover seemingly the same path throughout their respective durations.

This record is just solid enough that it might be able to win over the as of yet unconverted masses. Aside from the possibility of conflicting social and political views, there really isn’t a whole lot about this band that is blatantly unlikable. They definitely have a broad range of appeal and aren’t shy about this fact. Though this record exists in sharp contrast to the early days of the band, which were dominated by a pub rock sound, the tough Aussie roots of the band still remain intact. The difference between their earliest records and this record is that, by this point in time, their polishing of their own material was hitting a very high stride. There was definitely a Midnight Oil formula that had to, at the very least, be hinted at or accessed in some form on any of their records. Generally speaking, this is tried and true reality for many established bands and artists. However, it could be argued that there aren’t many bands who have been able to continuously pump out fresh, inspired material within the confines of such a format as Midnight Oil. No, this record isn’t quite as good as ‘Diesel and Dust’, but what is? As for those who don’t share that sentiment, there’s really no need to be so bullheaded.

4/5

‘Ultramega OK’- Soundgarden

Released on Halloween 1988, Soundgarden’s debut record ‘Ultramega OK’ set in place a new musical landscape to many listeners of rock/metal music. Predating Nirvana’s debut record by almost a year, this record paints the picture of a record that essentially set the rules for grunge music throughout the next decade that would soon follow. One thing that has always set Soundgarden apart from Nirvana, though, was the fact that Soundgarden were just as much a metal band as they were a grunge band. There is an awful lot of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to be found in the musical output of Soundgarden and, of course, Chris Cornell always howled and screeched like the ’90s version of Robert Plant.

The opening track on this record is “Flower” and though the title may suggest something delicate, this track is far from it. This opening track sets the tone for this record and really does quite the job in presenting the central musical philosophy for the band for many years to come. Of course, there was a bit of a precedent for this kind of thing, as personified by the Melvins, but Soundgarden managed to take that format and condense it into something that traded in a fixation with the avant-garde for a love of tackling the sick and the grimy with a cheeky grin and snarl. This idea carries itself into the next track, “All Your Lies”. One of the real strengths of this record lies, perhaps coincidentally, in its hodgepodge of musical styles. As mentioned, there is a lot of metal on this record, but there is also a healthy dose of punk rock (which would be a cornerstone of musical influence on grunge, though metal would prove to be an anomaly as an influence). Another undisputed highlight on this record is “Beyond the Wheel”, as Chris Cornell lets loose his signature howl and Kim Thayil proves that he was arguably (there’s no argument) the best guitarist of the grunge era of rock music. It’s when the band break into “Circle of Power”, though, that they showcase the visceral power that encapsulated their early output the best. Unrestrained. Unrefined. Rough. Tough. Anxious.

This debut record from Soundgarden sometimes gets overlooked when talking about the musical landscape of the late-’80s/early-’90s, but it shouldn’t be. This was clearly the work of a band that felt like they had a lot to prove and wasn’t concerned about taking what they believed to be rightfully theirs. This record isn’t without forgettable moments, though. It would take a few more years before they would be capable of putting out an impeccable, spotless masterpiece of a record. The thing that stands out about this record in comparison to later classics ‘Badmotorfinger’ and ‘Superunknown’ is its lack of delicacy. Even ‘Badmotorfinger’ with all of its fury doesn’t carry itself with the lack of care and forthright intensity that this record often does. There is definitely a lot of potential to be found on this early record, much of which would rear itself in much more polished fashion later on down the road. This was, after all, a debut record, and it’s no secret that debut records are often (but certainly not always) sloppy, spotty efforts. They do, however, often give incredible and necessary insight to what a band/artist is going to do later on down the road and it’s in this sense that this record, in its own way, is a mini-triumph.

4/5

 

‘All You Need Is Now’- Duran Duran

New wave stalwarts, Duran Duran, were back to their bag of tricks on this 2011 physical release (a truncated downloadable version was released in late 2010), ‘All You Need Is Now’. If you know anything about these guys, then you know that they’re pretty reliable and often predictable with their format. If the question of whether or not the band was capable of carrying their infectious brand of new wave pomp into middle age with any kind of vigor or believable zest remained at the time of this release, the band doesn’t care too much to solidly answer the question. Rather, they gleefully dance around the question while giving the listener multiple answers to be applied.

The opening track on the record is the title track, which also happens to be one of its absolute highlights. In a musical climate that has seen more than its fair share of “boy bands” since the band’s glory days, it’s easy to overlook the fact that these guys pulled off that silly concept far better and far earlier than many other artists would willingly lay claim to. From the Backstreet Boys through One Direction and every other group in between, none of the so called “boy bands” ever wrote a song as charming and groovy as the title track of this record. Fortunately for the band, tracks like “Leave a Light On” actually showcase much of the maturity that these guys have employed since the release of ‘Duran Duran (The Wedding Album)’ back in 1993. Without this maturity, of course, the band wouldn’t have been able to survive the changing musical tides that took place in the early-’90s, which were obviously carrying a much more cynical tone than the peppy nature of a band like Duran Duran. However, this was 2010, and “Girl Panic!” makes it quite clear that the band is fully aware of what their legacy is going to end up being. Rather than shying away from this, as many former “boy band” musicians have (George Michael), Duran Duran choose to embrace it with an acceptance that isn’t the least bit apprehensive or reluctant. Even though this is true, the best track on this record is “Mediterranea”, leaning, of course, towards the more mature tendencies of the band’s later work.

Will all listeners like this record? Probably not. Then again, Duran Duran are probably considered to cutesy by many. The problem with that assessment lies in its decidedly nay-saying ambition. We may as well go ahead and face it: Duran Duran are stalwarts for a reason. With that said, this record is far from a perfect record and definitely far from the band’s best outing. Some of this material is tired and recycled from other outings. It’s refreshing, though, to hear the band sound this fresh on the record’s better moments many, many years after their career peaked. Logically and realistically, there is no reason why Duran Duran should still be putting out quality records that are popular. Perhaps it’s even true that popular music would be better off without the band’s legacy. That’s a pondering worth considering and maybe even granting a fair amount of truth to, but that misses the point. These guys have always been about fun and flash; the energy of the party zips through the night sky as it shouts out the band’s name. You might as well do yourself a favor and roll with it. It’s not likely to ever change.

3.5/5

‘Jess and the Ancient Ones’- Jess and the Ancient Ones

Perhaps proving further that the current narration of rock music is considered by the elites to be of a sour, distraught, incorrect path, Jess and the Ancient Ones released their self-titled record in 2012. Many will cry out loud, “Nostalgia! Nostalgia!”, but maybe that’s the wrong reaction. Perhaps the more appropriate reaction is a pondering on whether or not the sounds dominant in late-’60s/early-’70s rock music were forced out of the public eye before their time was up. Nevertheless, those listeners out there who continue to have a craving for Grace Slick and the more eccentric corners of her mind are in for a healthy indulgence with one listen to this record.

This record opens with “Prayer for Death and Fire” and in case the cover art wasn’t enough of a giveaway, here is where you will find all of your occult-driven psychedelic fantasies put into overdrive. Why, of course there is a guitar riff that conjures up the early days of metal in a smooth, believable sensation! It’s of course the bigger societal questions surrounding this musical approach that make it all the more interesting, though. The above pondering is something we should all perhaps look at with some kind of legitimate context. Meanwhile we move to the following track, “Twilight Witchcraft”, for a midnight stroll through the forbidden alleys of black magic. To those crying foul and barking about how they’ve heard this all before, how about a resounding response of “So what?” and hey, who in their right mind hasn’t found themselves at the mercy of this subject matter? The conditions of this record don’t change throughout its duration and on “13th Breath of the Zodiac”, Jess proves that she has the pipes to conjure up this record’s main points. It’s the hypnotic nature of “The Devil (In G Minor)” that goes on to steal the spotlight on the second half of the record, though. Longtime listeners of this branch of rock n’ roll already know that a healthy dose of mysticism is a good thing, often times at the expense of a sort of control or certainty. The cynics probably won’t ever care to grasp this mentality, but you don’t need their approval now, do you?

If there are any reasons why this record should receive a cold shoulder, they certainly don’t present themselves upon impression. Perhaps oddly enough, as contentious as much of the occult-driven subject matter inevitably is to the safest ears, there isn’t a whole lot of obvious provocation within this record. It happily maintains a definite stance of indifference towards its critics. So at the end of the day, what is this? The future? Nostalgia? Is psychedelic rock/proto-metal fodder really on the way up again? Some would argue that it most certainly is and has been for quite some time. Others may have a differing opinion on the matter. One thing that is clear in the immediacy of this review is that this is a pretty good record. Far from being an absolute essential, it nevertheless is a highly enjoyable journey into the realm of that forbidden fruit that so gloriously reared its head between the years of about 1967-1972. The other ponderings will certainly sort themselves out in the future, but for right this moment, what more could you possibly want?

3.5/5

‘Sounds of the Universe’- Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode had long been one of the more singular acts in popular music by the time they released ‘Sounds of the Universe’ in 2009. Though technically a synth pop outfit, they’ve often maintained a much more cynical worldview than their average contemporaries. The world of Depeche Mode is a world that feels out of reach from the happenings of daily living. It’s a world fully realized in a dream, yet it’s a dream that you only sometimes wish you were having. Such is natural in human existence, though, we are drawn to the more forbidden aspects of living and in dreaming.

The opening track on the record is “In Chains” and as vocalist, Dave Gahan, chases Martin Gore’s muse through the predictably bleak atmosphere of the band’s typical soundscapes, it just might be so that the stakes aren’t quite as high on this record as they were on the previous one (2005’s ‘Playing the Angel’). A bit of a playful imagery carries the listener right into the next two tracks, “Hole to Feed” and “Wrong”. Even if “Wrong” is, at its very core, a track that carries its alienation at the forefront, it’s presentation isn’t one of self-pity. These guys have been around long enough to know better than to fall into that miserable trap. While the track “Little Soul” reminds us all that U2 took this platform from Depeche Mode in the ’90s, there is an obvious reality that shines through with this record. These guys have continuously proven to have much deeper subject matter than most of their synth pop contemporaries. Think about it. How many ’80s synth pop groups are still around and, if so, how many are continuing to pump out material of this quality? A necessary pondering dareth rear itself in understanding the legacy of this band. What the track “Peace” accomplishes is presenting the band’s own trademark, albeit bizarre, sense of emotional resonance. Many Depeche Mode tracks over the years have been, seemingly simultaneously, emotionally distant and emotionally present; cold and warm; alien and yet, somehow, human enough that the listener understands where their material is coming from, or at the very least, understanding where its coming from on the surface of things.

There’s a relatively familiar verdict to be reached on this record. Longtime fans of the band will know this. Depeche Mode don’t really make poor records. This record maintains a consistency that allows it to be easily listenable and enjoyable throughout its full duration. Much of the material on this record falls short of being absolutely essential, but what the hell? They still sound quite inspired in the presentation of their material and as long as that’s true, they can continue to pile on as much fat to their legacy as they want. These guys are still pumping out reliable material when the timing is right and it’s important to note that the more time goes on, the more influential these guys are becoming. Electronic material is becoming more and more dominant at the forefront of popular music these days and arguably no band, especially commercially, has done more to be the main ambassador for this than Depeche Mode. If that’s not your thing, there’s no reason to worry. You can hardly blame Depeche Mode for Skrillex.

4/5

‘Lips Unsealed: A Memoir’- Belinda Carlisle

Belinda Carlisle, pop star as a solo artist and punk rock/new wave idol with the Go-Go’s (as well as muse of mine since childhood), published this memoir, titled ‘Lips Unsealed’, in 2010. Throughout this incredible, unbelievable memoir, we learn many of the highs and lows of Carlisle’s long career in popular music. Man, oh man, have there been a lot of lows. Many of which she had never shared up until the release of this memoir. There are many things that allow this memoir to differentiate from many other tales of rock n’ roll debauchery and this is primarily due to the character of Carlisle. It’s also highly probable that many of the events detailed throughout this memoir will be shocking enough in that few had any sort of suspicion about them. Contrary to what the current reality of the adult contemporary radio format will hint at, Carlisle was much more than just another pop singer in the ’80s.

There are, of course, many instances featured in this memoir to prove this idea, one of which being a hilarious account of Charlotte Caffey, Go-Go’s guitarist, being kicked out of Ozzy Osbourne’s dressing room at Rock in Rio. As pondered in the memoir, just how extreme do you have to be to be considered too extreme for Osbourne? Carlisle, as to be expected, starts from the beginning of her life, pointing out how significantly a role moving around a lot as a kid, as well as the alienation she felt from her birth father had on her early development. Perhaps another interesting contrast between Carlisle and and other pop stars is that, interestingly enough, she reveals that being constantly out on tour never bothered her, even in the early going, because she was so used to moving around a lot from her childhood. About this time in the memoir, she also reveals that becoming a superstar was never a question in her mind. She always knew she was going to make that an inevitability. This sort of self-assurance serves as the central irony and contradictory nature of her personality. In many ways, she’s a perfect example of a personality that has both a superiority and inferiority complex.

As the memoir progresses, so does her cocaine addiction. This serves as the single most heartbreaking aspect of the memoir. It becomes very difficult throughout the reading not to shout “Stop!” into the pages of the book, because her charm and her writing style is so irresistible. The thing about her is that she is one of the most lovable performers of the 20th century. That’s not up for debate (especially in my book). As a fan, it’s difficult not to cringe or even shed tears at some of the memoir’s more grimacing moments. It’s evident that writing this memoir was quite therapeutic for Carlisle, who clearly had a ton of things to get off of her shoulders. The writing is evidence enough of this. It’s also nice to hear the stories of triumph that she endured. Hearing the story of the success that her debut solo record, ‘Belinda’, became, for example, was quite a triumphant moment in this memoir. However, the large portion of the middle section of this memoir proves that fame, success, and excess doesn’t, in fact, go on to make you a happy person. There are many different rock n’ roll memoirs you could read to figure this out, but the way that she handles the material with her angelic charm, her wry sense of humor, and her direct honesty about her persistent confusion throughout the many years of her struggles, are things that separate this from its average contemporary.

After an absolutely heartbreaking episode featuring a monstrosity of a cocaine binge, the story of her salvation and rebirth begins to take hold. Her trips to India and what she experienced there are revelations of pure beauty that will have fans grinning ear-to-ear as she unveils to us the spiritual significance that began to envelop her life. This, along with the patching up of relationships with both her longtime husband (who I worked very hard not to be jealous of throughout the memoir) and her son, whose very existence turns out to be something of incredible magnitude, serve as the main victories that her rebirth and change of direction allowed her to take. There is truly no shortage of tears to be expressed throughout the reading of this memoir, both from a place of triumph and disaster. The one consistent thing throughout is Carlisle’s good-natured presentation of the facts of her often chaotic life. By the very end of the memoir, she reflects and reveals, once again, her own unique self-assurance that, it turns out, carries much more legitimacy now than it ever did in the past.

All in all, this is an absolutely incredible memoir, an undeniable cut above the rest. Much of the criticism surrounding this memoir was that Carlisle focused way too much on her cocaine addiction and that that became repetitive. Bullshit. Without the persistence of this fact, the memoir wouldn’t have been as easily capable of relaying the scope of its intentions to the reader. The language that she uses throughout the writing is also something of a strength in this memoir. As she has consistently been able to portray throughout her career as a recording artist, she simply has a way about her when it comes to getting her intentions across. Her warm charm and her self-awareness serve as fully-loaded weapons in relaying tales of her younger self, who was always full of a contradictory nature that, as it would turn out, had enough character and power to carry on and win the war. There is absolutely nothing about her that isn’t a triumph in one way or another. Many contemporary memoirs can only hope to be half as revealing, honest, and good-natured as this wonderful piece of literature turns out to be.

5/5

 

‘Hammerheart’- Bathory

Have you ever been so emotionally moved by a record that it brought you to tears? Has that record ever been a heavy metal record? Has it ever been by a band known for their influence in the extreme underground? In 1990, Bathory shed their skin as pioneers of black metal and arose from the rubble with a cleaner sound and subject matter that only existed in the realm of the most incredible, grandiose, and epic masterpieces of artistic expression. The scope of ‘Hammerheart’ is one of the grandest in all of metal and, given this, Bathory, throughout the duration of this record, was on the verge of creating something that would exasperate everyone who came upon its audio onslaught.

This record opens with the track “Shores in Flames”, which doesn’t take much time to present itself as something dramatically different than anything that had ever been heard before. The credit for this, in large part, belongs to the imagination of the band’s leader, Quorthon, who always maintained a reputation as being very mysterious and having a personality that was uncategorizable. One thing that is clear about him, though, was his love of Scandinavian paganism and viking traditions, both of which dominate the overall concept of this record. “Father to Son” celebrates these ancient traditions and presents them inside of a world that is unhindered by modernity. In order to fully grasp and understand this record, you must be able to take yourself out of the conventional mindset that we’re programmed to occupy in our current culture. This is precisely why heavy metal has long been misunderstood. It’s music that doesn’t exist on our playing field and, because of this, the listener has got to be able to follow the subject matter with their imagination in order to get it. The record also begins to reach for its immense emotional climax on the track “Song to Hall Up High”. This is a record where magic exists and gods reign over the earth, which will undoubtedly be unreachable for many listeners. Nevertheless, the record carries on to what is perhaps the most emotional, heartfelt heavy metal song ever written, “One Rode to Asa Bay”. This track is an absolutely spiritual experience; a perennial powerhouse of magical expression that just has to be heard to be believed. Within the telling of a people building a house for their god, Quorthon has given us an incredible story of faith, belief, and the power of family and community. It’s been said that music is proof of the existence of God. If this has any merit, this track does a great number in carrying that merit.

If you’re someone who thinks that heavy metal is nothing but a bunch of mindless phonies singing about dungeons and dragons or a group of oversexed buffoons who care about nothing but sleeping with as many groupies as possible, well, you’re an idiot. For more reasons than the scope of this review could express, but one of the many reasons exists inside of this record. This is an example of a perfect record. There is no filler on this record and each song serves its own individual purpose in building to its explosively spiritual conclusion. Another thing, much less important than the emotional ramifications, mind you, that Bathory accomplished with this record was the creation of the term ‘viking metal’, which would be used for describing this record and many others later on down the road. The religious nature of this record can’t be understated. This record exists in a place that’s outside of time or space; it’s infinite and eternal, much like the gods that exist in its world. Obviously this record won’t be for everyone and many will scoff at it on principle, but who are they?

5/5

 

’14 Songs’- Paul Westerberg

Paul Westerberg, who you might know better as the former lead vocalist for the snotty punk rock band out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Replacements, released his debut record as a solo artist (‘All Shook Down’ was technically a Replacements record), ’14 Songs’, in 1993. Westerberg wasn’t lying, indeed this record kicks out 14 songs. The significance that this record holds is in the versatility of the 14 songs within. Though he is still capable of putting out the snobby punk rock attitude that the Replacements’ early material is certainly marked by, he also has shown an emotional maturity with this record that is the icing on the cake as far as this being his ultimate departure from the world of the Replacements.

The opening track on this record is “Knockin’ on Mine”, which is evidence that Westerberg still holds much of the volatility that he continually expressed with the Replacements. However, the difference this time around is that he expresses these feelings within a much more compact setting. This song rocks, but it doesn’t have the unrestrained madness to it that often defines punk rock. Furthermore, this arrangement is once again featured on “World Class Fad”, which also has Westerberg spitting out some of his trademark venomous lyrics, painting a reality that many of the bourgeois are just too blind and comfortable to accept in their minds. However, the undisputed highlight on the record is “Dice Behind Your Shades”. Not only showcasing the versatility of the record, it also resonates emotionally with some of Westerberg’s best songwriting of his entire career. In all of this, he is able to showcase a sense of himself that, no matter how much he attempts to break away from the Replacements, just won’t go away. After all, who would want to break away from this mindset? The world in which the Replacements existed, along with many of their contemporaries, was a peaking essence of cool. A couple of other highlights on the record are “Silver Naked Ladies” and “A Few Minutes of Silence”, both of which wouldn’t sound out of place on what is typically accepted as ‘classic rock radio’. In this fact, you can’t overlook the importance of Ian McLagan from Faces on the record’s material.

This effort has many shining moments and, overall, isn’t too bad at all. Much of the material moves with a freshness that every solo artist hopes of capturing when they strike out on their own. 14 songs, though, turns out to be quite a bit for this record and, not coincidentally, the record tends to suffer for it. It isn’t fair to be too cruel to the filler on this record, though, because much of it isn’t, by any means, bad. The only thing is that it’s quite clear what tracks on this record are supposed to be the obvious points of reference. The ultimate triumph of this record is that it proves that Westerberg is much more than just that snotty, unsettled singer in a punk rock band. If when digging into this record, the listener is willing to give Westerberg the benefit of the doubt on the filler material, then this record is certainly nothing short of a solid example of the early-’90s alternative/college rock scene. What more could you possibly want from the man?

3.5/5