- Published on Monday, 09 January 2012 20:34
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 565
Earlier I posted a get well to Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi based on yesterday’s news that he is battling lymphoma. That got me feeling a little introspective about how much Black Sabbath has contributed to the good things in my life. Would there have been heavy metal without Black Sabbath? Maybe there would be, maybe not. But if there was, it would certainly be a different beast than the one we enjoy today. So for everything Tony and the rest of Sabbath have given us, I say thank you.
A lot of people cite the first album or “Vol. 4” as their favorite Sabbath album, but not me, I’m all about “Master of Reality”, which is rather ironic given that I didn’t really like the album when I first bought it. I remember I was living in Michigan and my school did a 7th grade trip to Toronto which involved a long bus ride, a hotel, and chaperones. I’m not sure how I got talked into this trip as that sort of school activity was really not my thing. But off I went and I remember really hating the trip. However, my parents had given me some money for food and essentials and somehow I found myself in a position to buy music. I think we may have been given the opportunity to buy souvenirs or something and instead I used the chance to buy some music north of the border.
I snagged the cassette version of “Master of Reality” which quickly made its way into my ever-present Walkman. I remember thinking it was weird because the cassette casing was black with white text rather than the white or beige case with black text that I was used to. At the time the album didn’t do much for me; I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it yet. That would come later. Sure, I liked the songs that I already knew from the “We Sold Our Soul For Rock and Roll” compilation (“Sweet Leaf” and “Children of the Grave”) but the rest of the songs, not so much.
It wasn’t until my late teens or early twenties that the true greatness of “Master of Reality” became clear. I mean, hello, “Lord of this World” is a killer track and one of my all time favorites. You hear it on the radio once in awhile, and Corrosion of Conformity did a killer cover of it for the “Nativity in Black” compilation.
Part of my initial discontent with the album may have been the two instrumental tracks, “Embryo” and “Orchid.” I had no patience for tracks like those at 13-14. Now I think they are cool little classically influenced baroque-like interludes that refresh the palette between tracks of monster riffage.
Whenever anyone would go on a rant about how Black Sabbath or Ozzy were purveyors of devil music I would just shake my head and point to “After Forever.” Maybe this song was a response to the people who were giving them a hard time, I don’t know, but this song basically smacks you in the face and tells you what a fool you are if you haven’t seen the light. They actually say the words “God is the only way to love.” I’m not a religious person but this is about the most anti-devil worship song I know this side of Stryper. I think it’s more of a layman’s perspective of God, which is cool, I can relate to that.
This leaves the last two songs on the album, “Into the Void” and “Solitude.” I’ve never been all that excited by “Into the Void”, but it does have some really cool guitar work. I tend to skip over it in my haste to get to “Solitude.” There’s nothing particularly metal about this song and it really surprised me when I heard it. This is the prettiest thing I’ve ever heard Ozzy sing. It’s slow and peaceful and practically New Age spa music. But it’s also one of my all time favorite Sab tunes. I can only think of maybe one or two other songs that I have ever heard that come close to touching the pure melancholy of this song. I don’t know what they wrote it about, but it touches on the loss of someone, probably a lover but it’s vague enough to be used with anyone, and how achingly alone they are in the resulting solitude. I break out this song when I’m at my lowest moments, which is probably why I have such a sentimental feeling towards it. Back in the day when I played I attempted my own recording of this song, but I couldn’t even hint at the greatness of the original.
So there you have it, my two cents on what I consider the greatest Black Sabbath album. Though that’s really like saying which of your children is your favorite. As soon as I name “Master of Reality” my favorite album I think of songs like “Snow Blind” and “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath” and feel guilt over not including those related albums as well. It’s tough, because Black Sabbath has given us such a wealth of classic heavy metal music. I’m looking forward to the currently-in-the-works Sabbath album as one more jewel in their crown.
- Published on Tuesday, 06 December 2011 11:37
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 482
Welcome to the beginning of something big. If you were to trace back the lineage of all heavy metal bands you would eventually find yourself staring at Black Sabbath. But what about all the different branches of the extreme metal tree, where did they originate? Personally, I think thrash, speed, death, black and any other extreme sub-genre you can name all owe a debt to the mighty Venom.
Venom was like a malignant mutant growth on the face of music back in 1981 when “Welcome to Hell” was released. I don’t know what was in the water they were drinking but there just wasn’t anything quite like Venom at the time. The closest I can get to anything this different is Motorhead. I looked up heavy metal from 1981 on Wikipedia to see what else came out that year and here are some of the things I found: “Mob Rules” by Black Sabbath, “Killers” by Iron Maiden, “Point of Entry” by Judas Priest, “Too Fast For Love” by Motley Crue, “Diary of a Madman” by Ozzy, and “Fair Warning” by Van Halen. And then you’ve got Venom with their overt Satanism and Cronos with his nowhere near melodic vocal snarl. WTF?!?!
Whatever made these guys decide that (left hand) path was the one they should follow, I’m glad they did. Their second album, “Black Metal” is credited with both creating and naming the genre. But really these songs don’t sound much like what we consider black metal today (I think more along the lines of Mayhem and Emperor.) The vocals really sound more like they should fall into the death metal category, and the music could really be likened to speed and thrash metal. Bathory came along a few years later to pick up the black metal torch, but it really all began here.
My favorite Venom album is actually “Black Metal” because it contains the title track and the greatest Venom track of all, “Countess Bathory.” But “Welcome to Hell” has some great tracks as well: “Welcome to Hell”, “Witching Hour”, “One Thousand Days in Sodom” and the second greatest Venom song, “In League With Satan.” Complete with backwards messages and a catchy chorus that just gets stuck in your head, “In League With Satan” was probably most evil song of its time. This chorus of this song just runs over and over on repeat in my head after a single listen.
Venom is still putting out albums today, with Cronos being the only original member, but I like to stick with the classic albums mostly. They may not sound as extreme as the metal of today, but you have to give respect to what they created and all the music that has resulted because of them. They suffer from the same problem the Ramones did; they created a genre and get a lot of acknowledgement from fans, but never really found much commercial success. That’s a shame. They’ve got my thanks and gratitude.
- Published on Friday, 02 December 2011 07:28
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 356
I wanted to write this up on Thanksgiving during some down-time I had in the morning, but my laptop battery died so the time was put to other use. The plan was to give thanks for the voice and music of the late, great Ronnie James Dio. I’m a little behind schedule, but what the hell, let’s do this thing.
The very first time I heard Ronnie James Dio sing was on the Black Sabbath album, “Mob Rules.” At the time I did not know that this was in fact who I would come to know by his solo work as just Dio. Back in the early and mid 80s I used to frequent a music store at the Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Record Town. I would sift through the very small section they had dedicated to metal albums and pretty much decide what to get based on word of mouth or coolness of the band name and/or album art. By this time the first two Dio albums had been released and being an impressionable young lad you know the “Holy Diver” album cover drew me like a magnet. For whatever reason it took me several trips before deciding to pick up a Dio album, but I always came back because of that album cover.
When I’d finally decided to take the plunge and pick up a Dio album, I got to Record Town and saw that there was a new third choice, “Sacred Heart.” If I’m checking out a new band I tend to start with their latest album and work my way backwards. The reasoning being that if they suck now they probably sucked earlier too. That doesn’t hold water anymore, but at the time it served me pretty well. So rather than going with “Holy Diver” I picked up “Sacred Heart.”
As you can probably guess by the fact that I’m writing about it, I loved “Sacred Heart.” I’ve always had a special connection with it because it was my first Dio album and I listened to it over and over and over again. Over the years I’ve found that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to share the same high opinion of the album and I’ve never understood why; every song on this album is a good, if not great, song.
If there is one song on the album that I like the least, it is the lead off track “King of Rock and Roll.” The faux live thing is a little weird, but it’s still a pretty catchy song. The title track “Sacred Heart” is one of my favorites on the album, and this album is full of songs I love to quote. “Whenever you dream you're holding the key, it opens the door to let you be free.” With inspiring lines like that along with the fantasy theme there was no hope that I would not fall madly in worship with RJD.
“Another Lie” is a good one (I woke up the other morning with the riff for that one running through my head for some reason.) “Rock ‘N’ Roll Children” the lyrics are kind of cheesy, but I was a kid at the time so I could relate with wanting to run away from it all. Plus it is a pretty catchy song. “Hungry for Heaven” while seeming to have a religious slant based on the title didn’t really seem that way to me. Rather, lines like “Oh just hold on, you can make it happen for you, reach for the stars and you will fly” continued to inspire me.
From here on out the rest of the album are all personal favorites. “Like the Beat of a Heart”, “”Just Another Day”, “Fallen Angels” and “Shoot Shoot.” Ronnie James Dio had the power to take any group of words and instill them with so much power that it just drove them deep into your soul and tattooed them there forever. In “Like the Beat of a Heart” the dramatic timing of the music combined with the lyrics “Now love can be a whisper, but pain will always shout… to …you…like the beat of a heart” is just so amazingly awesome that I cannot find words to express my adoration. I can nearly weep for its greatness. But it really doesn’t matter what he says, he just sounds great saying it. On “Fallen Angels” he sings “Sins of the children never get washed away” and he could just as easily have been saying “The stains on the children’s clothes, Tide washes it all away” and I’d be like hell yeah, man, I gotta get me some Tide. The power of his voice was magical.
Another set of lyrics from “Fallen Angel” that really caught my attention was the verse “You know something came to me in a dream, the crack of a gun and a bloody scream, then I could see the faces and why, I was holding a gun and the world began to die.” In a pre-Columbine world that last line really appealed to the teen angst revenge fantasy. For me it was less about actually shooting at people (something I would never do and would never recommend anyone else to do either) and more about having the power to make your tormentors run in fear. The bullied and picked on kids always dream about getting their come-uppance and this song helped me deal with it and become a fairly decent person in the end I think. I haven’t killed anyone yet at least.
When Ronnie passed last year I cried like a little girl. For days. Not a constant stream for days, but all I listened to for a week was Dio and whenever it was on at some point I was bound to break down and just blubber like a baby. The man was an icon and one of the greatest voices metal will ever hear. He was a big part of my musical life for over twenty years and from what I hear he was truly a gentleman as well. His like may never be seen again. I’m glad I got to see him perform a few times.
Everything he ever sang on is a gift and a treasure, but my favorite album will always be “Sacred Heart.”
R.I.P. RJD \m/
- Published on Wednesday, 09 November 2011 09:20
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 329
Sentenced, aka “The Northernmost Killers”, are one of my all time favorite heavy metal bands. Their fourth album, “Down”, is George’s Classic for this week. Sentenced started out playing a melodic death metal, but with each of the early albums they slowed down just a little more and became a bit more melodic. By the time they were getting ready to work on their fourth album this gradual change in style apparently didn’t sit well with vocalist/bassist Taneli Jarva and he left the band. Enter singer Ville Laihiala and bassist Sami Kukkohovi.
Ville joined in 1996 and recorded his first album with the band: “Down”. This is where I first became aware of Sentenced. I may have seen the earlier albums in the Tower Records in Ann Arbor but with a name like Sentenced it probably didn’t register as something that might interest me. I used to spend hours poring over all the music at Tower looking for new bands. (Other than magazines there wasn’t much in the way of music discovery back then. The internet was just starting to become widespread but I had not yet come to realize its potential.) All the metal was mixed in with the general rock population, so I would go A to Z through all the music and look for anything interesting (I used to get terrible neck aches from staring down at the CD racks for so long.)
Sometimes I found things I was looking for and sometimes, frustrated after looking through everything and nothing jumping out at me, I would make impulse purchases just to justify the time spent searching. After all that looking I couldn’t leave empty handed. On one of those seemingly fruitless days I saw “Down” sitting there with its unassuming cover and decided to give it a try since it was released by Century Media. I bought the CD and went out to my car, popped it in the CD player and headed home. By the time I’d reached home I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. I expected some really bad death metal, what I got was something else entirely.
I did not know this at the time, but “Down” was more mid-tempo than the earlier releases. The music was crisp and clear with catchy riffs and melodic leads. The vocals, while having a rough raspy edge were also very melodic in their way. I don’t know that I’d ever heard anything quite like that before “Down”; it seemed either you played brutal or you played melodic, but not a mix of both. I could not stop listening to this album; I was instantly obsessed with Sentenced.
I told anyone that would listen about this great new discovery, but the only one I recall that actually shared my devotion to Sentenced was my friend Josh. I picked up all the earlier albums, and liked them to an extent, but none of them came close to how I felt about “Down.” By the time the next album came along I had moved to Maryland.
If you are at all familiar with Sentenced you know many of the songs are very depressive and forlorn. This was the other half of what made me love them so much. I was one morose metalhead back in those days and hearing these songs which were so frank and honest in their despair made these Fins my kindred spirits. Just like in math, two negatives made a positive. While “normal” people would listen to Sentenced and comment that it was horrible and made them want to kill themselves, to me and thousands of others it was proof that someone else knew how I felt and could relate. For years, when life would serve up a steaming hot turd sandwich, rather than sitting on the couch with a tub of ice cream or drinking myself into unconsciousness I turned to Sentenced to heal my wounds.
“Down” is full of great classic Sentenced songs: “Noose”, “Shadegrown”, “Bleed”, “Sun Won’t Shine” and one of my all time favorites – “Warrior of Life.” The album also featured some back-up vocals from Vorph of Samael.
The best things never last, and in 2005 after eight albums, Sentenced had run its course and the band decided to call it quits and go out on top. I was shocked and upset by their decision, but at least I had a great catalog of music to look back on. I had come to appreciate the Jarva era, but the Ville era was still my favorite. In 2009 the hope of a reunion died along with founding guitarist Miika Tenkula.
Brief is the light.
- Published on Monday, 31 October 2011 10:04
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 388
Since today is Halloween I thought I would write up my "classic" today and talk about “Don’t Metal With Evil” by the old Detroit band Halloween. Billed as “Detroit’s Heavy Metal Horror Show” I might never have heard about Halloween if not for the fact that I lived in Michigan and so they were known in the area. I first heard the album when I borrowed the LP from a friend at school. I was entranced by both the fact that they were called Halloween and by the fact that they were from Michigan. Everything metal at the time seemed like it came from magical far off places, so to find a band in our own back yard was pretty cool.
I believe the album came out in 1984, so this was in a pre-“Master of Puppets” world. The music fell somewhere between wanting to be hair metal and something a little heavier; not quite thrash. The vocals were melodic and could be a little on the high end at times, but back then that was still pretty cool. Most of the songs have a Halloween theme to them, “Scared to Death”, “Trick or Treat”, “Haunted”, “Tales from the Crypt” and so on. A few of the tracks diverged from the theme, such as “Justice for All” which, as you might guess, complains about no justice in the justice system. Listening to it now, that song still holds up pretty well. Though to be honest, the nostalgia factor on this album is so high with me that I still really like all the songs.
My favorite song on the album has always been the title track, “Don’t Metal With Evil.” It had the added bonus of a backwards message at the beginning of the song, which cranked up the coolness since backmasking was being demonized in the media at the time because, you know, heavy metal is so evil and all. Those evil heavy metal bands were going to use hidden messages to get us all to kill ourselves. That would make a lot of sense from a career standpoint right? I don’t remember what the message says; I haven’t had the album on LP since I returned it my school friend. I just Googled it and it says “Our message is easy to understand. Don’t metal with evil.” So yeah, pretty evil stuff, better be careful.
For years this was a difficult album to track down. The only copy I had was a cassette recording I made from the LP. Eventually the internet came along and sometime after that eBay, which is where I eventually found a copy on CD. I was questioning whether I should write about this album because I didn’t think anyone would be able to find it, but lo and behold, it is now easily available on iTunes. That’s pretty cool, but hunting down rare albums just isn’t what it used to be. The hunt and discovery was almost as good, if not sometimes better, than enjoying listening to the end result. The times they are a-changing.
So Happy Halloween to everyone. Today of all days, play the metal loud. Now where did I put that Fastway album…