Monday, December 7, 2009

GIG: Amon Amarth 27/11/09

Amon Amarth are to Vikings and Norse Mythology what Blind Guardian are to Tolkien, Manowar to barbarians, and Motorhead to hard livin'. Up until recently I had made several attempts to get into them and found myself neither in the mood for them, or able to connect with the music. Not out of disdain, or disregard, they just didn't grab me. But, lo, a curious turn of events prevailed when recently the initial, title track, 'Twilight of the Thunder God' from the latest album opened everything right up for me. Struck as if by the proverbial lighting bolt, a curious aural alchemy took place, and I became an instant fan. I find that's all I need, that one song to connect with, and after that I embraced them and hacked through their catalogue, enjoying their narrative-driven, harmonic death metal and the unique presence of Johan Hegg, vocalist and lyricist.

Attending this show, part of their second tour of Melbourne, was very much a last minute thing, having 'discovered' the joy of their music since the announcement of the tour I was considerably relieved that tickets were still available. I was disappointed to go without Richard, who swore profound love and allegiance to the band a long time ago, and who I am certain has been dismayed at my lack of response to them. In hindsight if he felt this way I can understand, I'm a little surprised that I didn't catch on earlier.

Paramount to the success of Amon Amarth is Johan Hegg, charismatic clan-leader; his deep, accented voice, mellifluous and yet masculine. He has the demeanour, if not the sound, of a well regarded ship captain from days of yore, and the camaraderie that he engenders with his buoyant banter, Dickinson-esque playing with the crowd, and the impressive power of his vocal performance leave no doubt that is one of the best front men in metal I have scene. His voice is consistent with the recordings, varied, powerful, and intelligible throughout as he unravels his narratives. His band of brothers prove a worthy support, phenomenally loud, losing some of the harmonic nuance but little of the forceful nature that defines them.

Ripping into 'Twilight of the Thunder God' the band bombard us with a fulminating fusillade of favourites for the better part of two hours with one of the best set-lists they could have picked. I had no quibbles, no disappointments. 'Free will sacrifice', the rip snorting 'Valkyries Ride' with its curious Tom Warrior like pronunciation of 'Val-kyr-a-ree-ess', 'Varyags of Miklagaard', the hurled boulder riffing of 'Guardians of Asgaard', 'Where Silent Gods stand Guard', the near epic 'Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags', 'Live for the Kill', 'Gods of War Arise', the crowd pleasing 'Asator,' 'Runes to my Memory', and the relentless advance 'Death in Fire' which closed out the main set. Returning for encores they offered 'Cry of the Blackbirds' and 'Pursuit of Vikings'. During the latter Hegg broke the last song up with some hilarious call-and-response prompting the crowd with the lyrics only to add "It doesn't matter if you don't know the words, just make something up, it's death will know the difference." Hilarious. Regardless of his stature and stance, and the voice and the solemn severity of the text and form of the songs, Hegg possesses a welcome levity so missing in their particular genre.

In spite of the intensity of the mosh pit and the sheer unification of the roaring crowd, with many punters about me shouting every word, there still managed to a knot of the most mind-numbing muppets I have a encountered at a gig yet. To their credit, they seemed to know every song inside out but they fucked about so much I wanted to kill them: offering interpretive dance, ( including a pastiche of the Michael Jackson 'Thriller' number ), constant text-messaging and attempts at phone calls , and a discussion so intense I started to consider it a symposium on some weighty debate that made me want to scream at them to shut the fuck up and listen to the fucking concert. That drives me mental! Two hours! Two hours, that's it. All they need to do it stand there, have a beer, rock out, go home, blog, root, or send a text message and they're done. Not that hard. ( i won't even get started on the emotionally draining experience going to the cinema can prove to be. ) Also, true to a long standing tradition in Melbourne, a phenomenon I have mentioned elsewhere in my scribblings, some simian soul shouted out for 'Slaaaaaayyyeeerrr'.

Also, before I forget, I must mention too, that the gold medal, for synchronised wind-milling during a live performance goes to....Amon Amarth! Never have I seen such a wonder, without resorting to the light show and pyrotechnics of Maiden melodrama, as that of four men, feet astride, rolling their necks and swinging their hair in perfect unison. Brilliant to behold. If the drummer could have pulled it off, I'm sure he would have.

A quick note on the tour merch too. It's been ages since I've bought a gig tour shirt, Iron Maiden was probably it, for the majority of them are cheap, tatty, and more than i can afford on the night anyway, and they either end up never being worn ( so as to avoid fading ) or falling to peices, worn while doing housework, to paint in, or for L-for-leather to sleep in ( often much to her chagrin as she tucks down in an Exodus or Sodom shirt.) I have to say the Amon Amarth merchandise was, from I saw, consistently cool, in particular the domestic tour shirt with the red mjolnir printed across it. I raise my drinking horn to the publicity and design team resposible for those.

And, speaking of which, where do you get a good drinking horn? I saw at least half a dozen being waved about in the audience, amid clenched fists and horns held high. I would look from and lofty horn to my own plastic cup containing warm beer ( it was Billboards after all ), sigh and wish that I had a drinking horn. Typically, it's a case of drinking-equals-lack-of-horn for me. Boom boom!

Appropriately so, I left the venue to a virtual squall of pelting rain and sheet lightning.
The tattoo of rain, and the rumble of the night sky above as if applause; perhaps a sign that the Gods approve?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

FILM: Paranormal Activity

I read about this film a while back when it played at the Sydney International Film Festival, and was quite excited by the potential of the premise, and will admit to having those enthusiasms fostered by the marketing campaign. Trailers of audiences being frightened, a healthy 'underdog triumphant' hyperbole, and the yearning for a good ole fashioned ghost story, I was hooked. It feels like ages since I saw a film that was purely scary; not sickening violent ('Hostel'/ the 'Saw' sequels), or harrowing ('Martyrs') and disturbing ('Eden Lake' ) but spooky, atmospheric, creepy. I'm thinking about Robert Wise 'Haunting', Tourneur's 'Night of the Demon', Hideo Nakata's original 'Ringu', Hell...even 'The Exorcist'...films in that vein.

Shame that I didn't leave as exuberance that I went into the theatre with. Not that the film is a total failure, but it is disappointing. Writer/ Director Oren Peli has subscribed to the classic 'stage play' format of most no-to-low budget films: small cast, a handful of locations; in this case the many rooms and the backyard of a two storey house in suburban home where young couple Kate and Michah live. ( In a stroke of potential post-post-post-modernism the actors playing the couple share the same names ). This is a welcome stroke, the chance to be immersed, and trapped, with the familiar, returning the 'horror' to the domestic and ordinary.

The core problem I have with the film is that Peli opted to use the subjective form throughout, via Micah's recently purchased digital camera. Within a few spare moments Micah ( for Peli ) establishes himself, the set/location, and ventures outside to greet Katie as she arrives home, offering the one and only shot of the suburban world exterior to their home, and the tension already creeping into their relationship. Top work, so far , so good. Hitchcock's axiom of telling the story with the pictures is served well. The problem after this is how to create the logic to maintain the subjective perspective. The 'found footage' genre in one that can require considerable suspension of belief for the verisimilitude to work. More-often-not the publicity campaign serves to consolidate the verisimilitude, while the film undoes it. The Spanish film '[Rec]' is probably one of the most successful attempts ( I haven't seen the US version, 'Quarantine' but I figured it would be no different ), along with 'The Blair Witch Project', the point-of-origin for this style, whereas Romero's 'Diary of the Dead' constantly courted a lack of logic, and 'Cloverfield' coloured a large canvas, cleverly detailing character with the conceit of the taped-over footage, and using sheer spectacle to overwhelm the viewer . The ultimate flaw with this style is that the audience is always going to want to shout at the fuckwit waggling the camera , for waggle and wave it about they are wont to do, to either stop wobbling the frame all over the shop, and/ or drop the bloody thing and get the Hell out of there. Maybe it's just me...

Peli allows plenty of time for the performers to exhibit their characters, all the while very little is happening, and the needle slips into a groove. Initial conversations rather awkwardly cement Micah's motives for buying the camera, and shreds the gears as Katie references her 'haunted past'. A visit from a psychic opens the characters wider, mostly Katie as she offers pages of exposition, and in turn the film begins to collapse before anything has really happened. Her childhood experiences of her haunting are vague, not particularly eerie in the re-telling, and aren't extrapolated enough to create a decent foundation for the story to settle onto. From the start it is assumed she knows what is happening, if not necessarily why, so her anecdotes don't serve to foreshadow some greater reveal. A clue come in the form of a 'found object' but that adds little. The net result is a pendulous patchwork of tedious talk and the film's trump card; the night sequences.
This film will always be remembered for these sequences, wide-angled master shots of the young couple's room, cool blue and black, and the doorway leading to the landing beyond. This is the sort of shot that David Lynch would frame, full of static tension, creating an unease, and an impatience for something to actually happen. I constantly found my attention drawn away from the sleeping couple to the darkness beyond the doorway. The last 30 minutes or so, as the presence begins to escalate it's campaign and reign of terror, becomes more akin to the experience I wanted. Real time / fright time. There is a trite, tired feeling to matters though, as if Peli sat down and wrote a list of all the 'ghost' related phenomena he could think of and put them into the script. One sequence with a Ouija board feels extraneous and unnecessarily 'common', and seemingly outside the rules he has established with 'the presence'. This in turn leads to another rather feeble convenient discovery of evidence that falls flat, a convenient website history of similar phenomena, that becomes something of a cul-de-sac.

The big blow is that ultimately this should have worked. It pained me watching it, churning bitter thoughts of self-resent that this is something I should be doing. Perhaps a different approach to the story-telling, dropping the subjectivity, opting for intimate objective filming, cut with the often frightening night sequence footage, could stretch the film beyond the limitations of Peli's choices, and occasionally clunky text, and imploding characterisation. Keeping the story focused on only the house, and the couple in that context, works well; we know they are tired, frightened, struggling with their outside lives, and themselves, bickering and blowing up, and melting down. The performances maintain a level of 'normality' to them, yet often risking lapsing into the banal. The second appearance of the psychic nearly had me in stitches, feeling as if it should have been Woody Allen, or Larry David, walking in going 'I can't do this right now...' before illuminating a bunch of excuses, and exiting urgently.

A solid premise with such a simple idea, that should have been so much, so much, better.
'Paranormal Activity' stands as a good rough draft that deserved the remount that was originally slated. Eschewing the phantasmagoria of 'Poltergeist' and the melodrama of 'The Amityville Horror' ( another story of a haunting pitched as rooted in truth ), 'Paranormal Activity' has it's own presence and identity, it's just not enough. With a better, tighter, more impactful script, the film would have been a more satisfying experience, rather being remembered as the little film that blew it. Made for a miniscule sum, and profiting a massive gross inexcess of $100 million Peli is in a enviable position now, and I hope he can grow from from the strengths of this film, and deliver a superior succesor.

As I said earlier, 'Paranormal Activity' will leave an impression with the monochromatic moodiness of the night sequences, that certainly manage to raise a couple of great chills. They were well worth the price of admission ( $18!!!! Now that was truly horrifying. )

Thursday, November 12, 2009

ALBUM: Slayer "World Painted Blood"

It doesn't matter what gig; who the band is, whether they are international, or local, brutal death metal or twiddly power metal, there is always some simian soul in the crowd shouting out 'SLAAAAYYYYYEEEER!!!'
Without fail. I've yet to be able to prove whether this cry is that of one man, or different die-hards, and if they are unique from one another is there some sort of covenant, a Slayer fan-base united in their cause to proliferate the name of their favourite band at every gig they attend.
It's a mystery...

Beyond all of that curious uncertainty I can assure of one thing though, this is a great record.

The previous album 'Christ Illusion' was a huge disappointment. Not much argument to be counter that stance. Slayer's black magic was well and truly absent. A couple of good songs barely lifted the album above being little more than a bland lap of the track for a band that have always managed to inject that little extra diabolism into each release. Regardless of the reams of rhetoric representing this new release, my hopes weren't high. Picking this up spur of the moment, and spinning it for it for the first without any real excitement or expectation I felt a sense of disappointment at my lack of enthusiasm. This is Slayer; one of the oldest, hardest, heaviest bands in existence. I shouldn't be this apathetic. The last time I felt that empty, almost disdainful, was when I put on the second album that Blaze Bayley recorded with Iron Maiden. ( and do you blame me?). Obviously it's hard not have some expectation, there is that itching impulse to want to demand: 'Don't fuck it up...or I'll have to write you off.' No-one wants to have to do that to a band that they have loved for years, since their days of nascent thrashing, but I was prepared to make a stand. If Kerry and Co. delivered another piece of poo I was done.
Ooh, harsh...I know.
Life is short, and my love is limited. ( Though I'll always love Tom Araya. Wait till you hear RiVeN and my feeble attempt to channel him. )
"So?" you ask, "Is it over? Have you made the call?"
The answer is simple, the sort of simplicity that Kerry King would respond with, "No."

'World Painted Blood' is a great album. Really great.
First thing first: the production. I really, really dig the way this album sounds. Produced and mixed by Greg Fidelman who did his best for Metallica, this album saw Slayer write in-studio and Fidelman has managed to capture a strong sense of what I refer to as 'Live in Studio A'. It may sound odd using the word 'relaxed' in relation to Slayer, but that's how they sound this time 'round. They certainly aren't relaxed in their playing and song writing because this album has some of the fastest, most aggressive songs they've played in years, what I'm talking abous is an 'ease'; a comfort to the song writing. Perhaps the difference sits with Lombardo on the kit, as opposed to Bostaph, leading to a loosening up, a lack of rigidity, while regaining some ferocity. ( Which is not to impugn Bostaph at all, he's an amazing drummer and one of my faves. )
'Christ Illusion' felt largely stilted and insincere, whereas here Slayer sound live, and livid, in your lounge; the sound is roomy, warm, humming. Fidelman's mix offers plenty of surprises, Araya's bass pops thoughout, while Hanneman and King trade axe blows from their respective corners left and right, allowing the listener to savour the shredding and soloing, as much as the re-united riffing, harmonised solos and twiddly cascades.

The weakest part of the album is easily with the opening, title track. Mounting harmonies and a backward-wound litany build to a fairly standard Slayer riff, that kicks into a mid-tempo thrasher that feels as if it trying to hard, and not amounting to much. Then King and Hanneman start rocking duelling harmonies and suddenly there is a definite feeling that something 'different' is taking place. A chunky riff stamps along as Hanneman lets rips with an utterly outrageous solo, a restrained exuberance; a discordant distress, the cries of kittens being killed. Here it is, finally, a sign that Slayer are pushing themselves.
'Unit 731' and the following tune 'Snuff' are both flat-to-the-floor; with Hanneman and King swapping quicksilver solos, as if they are blooded pit bulls in a drained-out pool ripping strips off one another. Check 'Snuff's' simultaneous solo; a hurricane helix of harmonised hegemonic hammering. Corker. The sheer joy of the verse-riffing in 'Snuff' as Lombardo octopoidally spans his kit with frantic fills, each seeming unique, is enough to thrust even the most arthritic and misaligned into a flurry of air guitar.
'Beauty through order' progresses from a moody chunker, exploding into frenzied solos, fluctuating from rage to restraint, as harmonic utterances float back and forth. The climax to this song is the perfect distillation of the quartet's rage.
'Hate Worldwide' is Slayer at their punkiest. In fact there's a very punky vibe across these songs. The riffing that escapes from the King's feral solo is raw, engorged, exhilarating. One of my favourite moments on the disc.
'Public display of dismemberment' is a fairly lousy title for what proves to be two and a half minutes of political polemic. That was a relief for I expected some-semblance to a Cannibal Corpse tune. It seems that while Jeff Hanneman is still reading books on serial killers, Kerry King is reading the paper gripped in clenched fists as he grinds his teeth.
'Human Strain' is one of my favourite songs on the album. The eerie see-sawing riff supported by Lomardo's unremitting kick, a catchy chorus, gives the tune a dark rocky feel to it. Something destined to want to make you want to churn windmills. Creepy, pinging, harmonies, crescendo around Araya's coarse whisper, and a swell of his always welcome singing voice, helping to keep this scary, and still slashing Slayer in spite of the initial sense of levity.
'Americon' is another King call-to-arms crunch, a pounding, almost (early) Rammstein, with seriously stout rocking riff under the verses. 'It's all about the motherfucking oil, regardless of the flag upon it's soil' is a lacerating lyric that Araya delivers with utter conviction. This is another example of Slayer working to expand themselves, without straying into jazz fusion.
'Psychopathy red' reminds me of 'Aggressive Perfector' from way back at the birth of the band. Another two and a half minutes of punked-out thrash, tight as a nun's nasty, with a some surprise changes, a ring out before sprinting to finish, all of which is more than enough to remind you why so many people love this band. Guaranteed to inspire apoplectic fits of air guitar and neck-wrecking.
'Playing with dolls' is a mid-tempo chiller, trimmed with a jarring jangly line that hypnotically raises hackles. Behold that bass-note behemoth that Araya enters with; warm, and formidable before slipping into the mix to rumble away. Araya's howls 'You'll wish you were in hell'! and 'Die in front of me!' will no doubt prove popular live, though the latter may needed be precarious considering the ebullience of most Slayer moshpits.
'Not of this God' offers the best surprise of the album. Starting out a standard thrasher, with white-knuckle riffing into the chorus, and Lombardo flourishing fills, the song to yields to a lumbering sludgy doom riff that is likely to make you want to clench your clacka and cup your knackers to make sure nothing erupts or falls off. My one niggle is that this isn't sustained enough. It's as if they jammed a cool idea, chucked it in, rocked it for a measure, and didn't know where to go with it. Still, it's seriously cool. Having said that though, this is consistent with the rest of the record; tight yet loose, clenched yet relaxed. The best kind of contradictions.

This album is like an old friend you haven't seen in ages; the one who used to be twenty kilos overweight who has had a health scare, kicked the take-away, the booze and the fags, hit the gym, ripped themselves out and now stands before you looking like Rollins bare-chested with corpse paint and nail-studded wristbands. Athletic, assertive, authoritative, intimidating.

( Slayer made it to number 9 on the ARIA charts in the first week of release. )
The hyperbole was bang on, this is not only one of the best Slayer records in a long time, it is definitely one of their better titles. Better for brevity 'World Painted Blood' lacks the density, and over-length that marred 'God Hates Us All' and 'Diabolos in Musica' (both top records mind you) clocking in just shy of fourty minutes, proving that less-is-more indeed. For those of us who remember vinyls, this means it would have fit on one side of a TDK C45 with room to spare.
It seems trite to state, and I'm hesitant to, but 'World painted blood' sounds like a natural successor to 'Season in the Abyss'. An older, more experienced band, annealed, not merely the same-old-Slayer, this time offering a perfect summation of their career, atmosphere and aggression, with clear evidence that the fires still burn in their own special Hell.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's all Geek to me 05/11/09

I'll start with what has to be the best news of the week: A new Overkill album, titled 'Ironbound', is to be released in late January 2010. A brilliant way to start the new year. Overkill are neck-and-neck with Iron Maiden as my favourite band of all time, and are one of handful of bands who can send me into absolute apoplexy over the propesct of a new album. 'Ironbound' will be the band's fifteenth full-length release. The track list goes: The Green and the Black, Ironbound, Bring me the night, The goal is your soul, Give a little, Endless war, The head and heart, In vain, Killing for a living, The SRC. The last album was a ripper, and with the new drummer Ron Lipnicki bringing some serious energy to proceedings, I have little doubt this will be another hard rockin' thrasher and that Overkill won't disappointment.
Now, all they need to do is tour Australia. I've waited long enough and considering every other band worth their salt, and even those that aren't worth a pinch of salt, have been out here in the last few years it's about time that New Jersey's finest make the trip. The day that tour is announced I may go utterly hysterical, and remain so for some time. Until that point though, I have the new album to look forward to.

Tom Gabriel Warrier has announced that the final recording sessions have taken place, and the mixing begun on the debut record for his new band Triptykon his successor to the seminal Celtic Frost, from which he parted in a considerably incendiary fashion. The much anticipated debut is known as 'Eparistera Daimones' (on my left, daemons ). In a typically verbose and vehement fashion his hyperbole for the album promises something darker, more complex and challenging that Celtic Frost's ( presumably ) final album 'Monotheist'. One song 'The Prolonging' is described as 'morbid, lumbering 19 minutes' ( which beats my 16 minute Celtic Frost inspired 'Event Horizon' by about 2 and a half minutes, so pardon me while I go and add another 5 minutes of droning amp and feedback as well as seven minutes of whispering in Magyar, to the end just to ensure i can pip the post on Tom.) Warrior claims the overall tone to be a 'bleak, black ocean of heaviness accentuated by moments of unexpected grace.' I waited over a decade for 'Monotheist' and it remains one of the best, and most influencial, records I have ever heard, and I looked forward to sitting alone in the darkness, allowing Tom's bleak, black ocean to engulf me.

The BBC have announced that November 15 is the broadcast of the 2nd 2009 Doctor Who special, 'The Waters of Mars' starring the dynamic demi-god David Tennant, and oh-so serious actress Lindsay Duncan. This, sadly, is the penultimate story for Tennant, who, come Christimas, bows out of the role that has provided him with the chance to fulfill a childhood dream of playing the character, as well as giving us, the audience, one of the best portrayls of the character since Tom Baker imprinted himself on our minds when we were children. The teaser trailer that came with the Easter special made this one seem scary, scary, scary. The mighty Graeme Harper is directing, which is good news for sure. Responsible for countless classic DW episodes from 'The Caves of Androzani' back in the glory days, to the emotionally charged 'Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday' combo, and the season four finale episodes, and I have no doubt that he will bring his muscular, kinetic style to what looks like a classic base-under-siege story.
The first of the Christmas two-parter is called 'The End of Time' which is enough to set my bottom lip wobbling. I can tell you now there will be tears. I will be alone with David, and Arnott's Barbecue Shapes ( another shameless plug there ), and I will be howling like a babboon with an aubergine-coloured bottomed who has just discovered that the Deep Heat is not a lubricant. The recent Doctor Who magazine blew a spoiler on the finale, (which I won't dare impart), but I can tell you that Timothy ( not-as-bad-a-Bond-as-some-make-out ) Dalton will be a guest star. That's cool, but nothing will beat Sir Derek Jacobi's turn as Professor Yana.

I'm three stories into the 3rd season of 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' and though it is intended for a 'tweenie audience', proving a little sacchrine at time for even my sweet tooth, the show proves to be hugely entertaining due to the enthusiasm of the cast and the consistency of the writing. The opening story often had me in gales of laughter, thanks to the rancourous rhino Judoon, performed brilliantly by long-time alpha monster performer Paul Kasey and the voice of Nick Briggs. The episode works to expand the Judoon character concept beyond a stomping grunting sketch with many hilarious Judge Dredd-like insistence on upholding the law, and enforcing it with overkill. These scenes make this an essential viewing experience. The second story gives Rani the stage, and though enjoyable it felt limited, with a narrative device serving to foreshadow following episodes, and one set in particular with obvious drapery for flattage that looked cheap, last-minute and a throw back to the 'old days'. Story three may have pushed the envelope for 'mature' content and concepts for the younger audience, but it offered an extremely moving piece for Liz Sladen to act her little socks off in. Added to that is a cameo to make those not-in-the-know to cry out in shock and jubilation. ( L-for-leather nearly went nuts the other night when she saw it. Oh, and she cried too. )

Speaking of Tennant as I was earlier, he's just been cast to join Simon Pegg in John ( 'Blues Brothers', 'American Werewolf in London' ) Landis' film project about Burke and Hare, the infamous bodysnatchers in Edinburgh in the early 19th century. Excellent. Nerd Fact: This isn't the first time Tennant has been involed with this story, he played 'Daft Jamie' in the Big Finish play 'Medicinal Purposes' alongside Colin Baker's Doctor tackling Burke, Hare and Dr Robert Knox.
After having spent the last couple of years immersed in Victorian Gothic fiction I have to admit I'm more than a little pleased see film productions of tales from this period: Tim Burton's the incredibly gruesome 'Sweeney Todd' was a joy ( though I would have rathered he had eschewed presenting the musical version ), Joe Johnston's new version of 'The Wolfman' looks pretty darn great, and Landis is no slouch when it comes to going over-the-top so I'm crossing my fingers that this new project succeeds.

The initial listen left me cold but the new Slayer album, 'World Painted Blood' is growing on me. It proves a much more confident and satisfying experience than the rather disappointing previous effort with a couple of ball-tearing tunes. There's nothing new or earthshattering, though there are enough touches and a raw production that really warrant giving it a listen, the 2nd half of the album is particularly potent.

Tonight I officially reached the third-way mark through Marvel's 'Civil War' series; an epic story spanning countless different issues that involes the proposal and subsequent enforcement of the 'Superhero Registration Act' which expects all 'heroes' to unmask and sign off to work for the goverment, or be detained as an enemy to the state. Iron Man agrees and consents, while Captain America refuses, and so the universe of Marvel heroes divides and goes to war. With the exception of some of the support titles like Young Avengers, X-Factor, and Thunderbolts, this is a largely gripping, intelligent story-line, with the Civil War Frontline series in particular a standout. Each issue concludes with a poem or an anecdote from history, be in Caeser's treasonous attack on Rome, or the US detainment of all Japanese immigrant post Pearl Harbour, that is illuminated in contrast to recent event in the overall storyline. These post-scripts are surprisingly effective, well-considered and, in one case, moving. The expanse of the story offers considerable detail, though occasionally repitition proves tedious.
Since I've started reading comics again I admittedly have been more DC than Marvel, not out of any conscious decision, rather that the stories and characters that interest me at the moment happen to be from that publisher. The fantasy spectacular of the multiple earth story lines that DC have flogged for the last few years, roiling with continuity and ret-con redacting, are an interesting contrast to the heavily subtextual Civil War storylines. I've reached the point where the each issue is offering a different perspective 'Rashomon' -style, and adding depth to the events as they unfold, retaining cohesion ( relative speaking, though I have been baffled by continuity references in some of the x-factor/ avengers sub-plots ) Though I have memories of the denoument of the series being publicised widely in the press I'm working my way slowly to that point, enjoying the ride immensely.
The art for the Wolverine issues around this period is seriously cool; grotesque, exaggerated, a striking contrast to the art in the core issues, while the Ed Brubaker penned Captain America issues have a murky, mauldin tone to the painterly renderings. In fact that is one of the true pleasure of the story-telling is seeing the different writers and artists offering their own versions of the characters, which in spite of my initial apprehension isn't a distraction at all. ( The X-Factor art does little for me, I have to say. )
As of now, I only have 60 odd issues to go.
Then there's the Secret Invasion and the Dark Reign to think about.
And don't forget all the DC crisis canon...


Also, must say I'm loving the new Spider-woman series as well. The art is absolutely amazing. Moody! Wonderfully gloomy, grim, evocative. The noir-like plot is served well with by the excellent art, near photorealism, with curious combinations of line and ink. While Alex Ross' work is bold, realistic, with often over-crowded frames, the simplicity of the panels and the attention to the tone is unique amid the work I have come across, and while I wish there were more stories illustrated like this I'm glad they're not, for this wouldn't seem so special. I'd love a Huntress run in the same fashion.

Still trying to finish off series two of 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles'. A series that has definitely improved regardless of the lame title, a near potential shark-jump from the get-go, the presence of Scot singer Shirley Manson and of a former 'Beverley Hills 90210' cast member ( though he does still, or did at least, shag Megan Fox for soe who am I to tip my nose at him. ) Shame it was cancelled. I have a feeling that things will end much as the did with the more-fun-than it-should-have-been third series of 'Primeval' I'm going to be left dangling. The little Aussie actress, Stephanie Jacobsen is great, her duplicitous not-quite-villainous character and story ard is especially engaging. I laugh every time she punctuates a sentence with the word 'love'. classic. I want more of her, if nothing else. As with most US shows of this type the writers/ producers go nuts with ninety-five narrative threads, constantly blowing out subplots, and rarely resolving anything. Let's call it Abrams Disorder. This elasticity is the main reason I wont commit to shows, simply because they go nowhere for two years only to be cancelled. It's like fumbling through frottage without fingers to curl a fist to finish yourself off with.
I only have about 5 episodes remaining...

Three episodes in to season two of 'Twin Peaks'. A lot is happening, slowly. I haven't seen this show since it was first broadcast and while so many telements of the program seem so vivid in my memory there's one thing I had forgotten: just how unspeakable sexy Sherylinn Fenn is as Audry Horne.

I went to the Scienceworks Museum to check out the Star Wars exhibition, and boy was that a treat. The small show was a collection of original props from the 6 films which means I stood in front of Chewbacca, Han Solo's costume, Yoda, C3PO and R2D2, Stormtroopers ( and the cool winter ones from Hoth in 'Empire...' ), models for the AT-ATs, the Millenium Falcon, the pod-racers, Princess Leia' ship which is the very thing we see in episode 4 ( the 'first' 'Star Wars' experience for most of us ). Admittedly, thanks to my own model making enthusiasms the models didn't blow me away much as other display items because I look at a Millenium Falcon every day, but the cozzies were awesome. I was as struck dumb and wowing along with the kids. The Mad Professor and I were both amused by the group of people wandering dressed as as Jedi Knights and Sith Lords posing out, duelling and entertaining the kids. While we mocked the overweight, and old-enough-to-know-better, I know that deep down if there'd been a Boba Fett cozzie handy you'd've had to send me for surgery to have it removed. The ticketing arrangement mean that the crowd was admitted in small groups so there was no crush and you were actually able to enjoy the exhibition without being crammed in like so many sardines. Can you imagine what the Dali exhibition must have been like on that last weekend? Considering that the line stretched about five city must have been a nightmare.

Clip of the week:
Two clips from the Graham Norton show featuring the ever so sexy Nigella Lawson and the mumbling, maudlin Marilyn Manson. Hilarity ensues... Pt 1 Pt 2

Site of the week:

Song of the Week:
Amon Amarth's 'Twilight of the Thundergod'
The title track from the Swedish melodic-death metal bands most recent release. In spite of my mate Richard's profound love of this band they just haven't clicked with me. He gave me an album and after a few spins I still couldn't connect with it, returning occasionally but never gripped. The problem was a simple one, I hadn't found the right song to enter with. Earlier this week I picked up the new album and...Shazoom! By Brian Blessed's bouncing bollocks this is an almighty anthem. I was instantly enamoured with this song; simple in structure, less sprawling than other titles, with a huge singalong chorus that has turned me into a stomping fist-banging maniac as I walk to work of a morning listening to it on my headphones. There's a feeling of a crushing Running Wild vibe at work, and though I'm still a little irked by singer Johan's voice I gladly bellow and growl along to this. A great way to start an album that has really grown on me in the last couple of days. I've found my way in, now I'm looking forward to see what other gems I can discover in their catalogue.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gunsmoke gets in your eyes

As I gear up for the massive mixing session to complete my RiVeN music project I've been listening to lots of classical music, especially Holst, Stravinsky, and from there to the film scores of John Williams, who is clearly influenced by both; in particular the scores for the first 'Star Wars' trilogy, and the 'Indiana Jones...' compositions. The other night I was sitting out in the back yard, on the first truly warm spring night the city has experienced so far, enjoying a crepuscular cider and cigarette, seated in my incongruous comfy chair, soaking up 'Star Wars' through my new ( not-so-great ) headphones. Strange as it is to listen to the soundtracks for these classic films, sans the images, the music is so memorable that more often than not a cue triggers the memory of the scene it accompanies. Examples of this are during the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' soundtrack with the piece that accompanies Indy's revelations in the map room, the subterranean chamber with the snakes and my favourite sequence featuring the truck chase in the desert. Or, that opening chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk of 'Jaws'. Eyes closed I can conjure the imagery up as vividly as if it were in front of me, so inextricably entwined are the two medium; which is surely a testament to Williams' skill.

With that in mind I turn to the 'Star Wars' soundtrack, and the thrust of this tale. Something strange happened to me as I made my way through the double album, deluxe edition. An utterly unexpected happening occurred as I reached that sad, funereal harmony that accompanies Luke gazing out over the desert at the setting suns, the metaphorical transition of his life ( You know the one: daaaaa-daaaaa-da-dee-daaaaa-daaaaaa.... ), I started crying.

Not racking sobs, or convulsive choking heaves, but tears none-the-less.

I sat there turning over the very heart of the film: a young orphaned farmer, raised by his relatives, with ambitions and dreams and little hope of realising them until chance intervenes and he is propelled into a life of adventure and danger than results in him becoming a decorated hero.

Can you see my point? Isn't that beautiful? 'The right stuff ' of melodrama.

I don't think I've ever cried at this facet of the saga before. Oh, I know when I was 7, or 8, I would have lost it over Yoda, but never over Luke's story, not until I listened to that particular piece of music. The tears streaked slow trails down my cheeks, dripped from jaw, as I moved on through the score, suddenly lost in thought, contemplating the experience.

There is a classic scene in the otherwise forgettable floss that is 'Sleepless in Seattle' when Tom Hanks and his buddy break into mock-sobs recounting the closing reels of 'The Dirty Dozen' to their bemused partners. I laughed at the time, knowing this to be a truth, there is terrible tragedy in seeing our heroes lose their lives; this band of men that we the audience have grown to be a part of over the previous two-and-a-half hours.
Every time I watch 'The Dirty Dozen' I still think everyone will make it out alive..

The other classic men-watching-movies-for-men melting-moment is the fate of the Mickey character in the 'Rocky' movies. I'm not sure how many time he has seen it, but regardless I always get a text message from good friend Richard, every time he re-watches Burgess bite the big one, as he admits the sniffly state he has been reduced to.
The mighty Dropkick Murphys mention this same phenomena in their song 'Wicked sensitive crew'.

These are two of the best examples of men-in-tears cinema, but I found myself wondering if there were others.

So, what I have here is a list of films that have either made me emotionally liquescent, have at least caused my heart to sink a little, a lump to form in my throat, bottom lip to wobble, an eruption of an anguished 'oh no' or disappointed expletive. The sort of film, or TV show, that has left me glad I'm home alone so no-one can see me in such a state. ( well one of two types of films that leave me glad I'm home alone glad not to be seen in the state I'm in. I'll talk about the other another time some time... )

Here goes:

  • The climax to 'Von Ryan's Express'.
  • The evac for the marines, Ripley and Newt doesn't exactly go as planned in 'Aliens'.
  • What may well be Clint's last stand in 'Gran Torino'.
  • Pacino rushes for the train in 'Carlito's Way' bringing unfinished business with him.
  • Withnail soliloquises in the park in 'Withnail & I'.
  • Michael Caine discovers the truth of his brother's death in 'Get Carter' .
  • Jack Nicholson gets a nasty shock in 'One flew over the cuckoos nest'.
  • Sam Rockwell wants to go home in 'Moon'.
  • Mickey Rourke discovers something about himself in 'Angel Heart'
  • Yoda dies down in Degobah, in 'Return of the Jedi.'
  • The bitter ending to Shane Meadows' excellent 'Twentyfour-seven'.
  • Sonny Corleone is turned into a colander in 'The Godfather'.
  • Gene Hackman does his best to hang for dear life in 'The Poseidon Adventure'.
  • Al Powell tells John McClane why he works behind a desk in 'Die Hard'.
  • Tom Cruise rages and breaks down in 'Magnolia'.
  • Steve McQueen has a second attempt at jumping that fence in 'The Great Escape'.
  • Christopher Eccleston defeats a tavern full of University stiffs, only to shift from triumph to tragedy in 'Jude'
  • Ed Wood bonds with Orson Welles in 'Ed Wood'.
  • Lars' relationship with Bianca eventually has to end in 'Lars and the real girl'
  • Anthony Hopkins almost admits his true feelings in 'The Remains of the Day'.
  • The realisation that the old guys being interviewed throughout 'Band of Brothers' are the real-life incarnations of the characters portrayed, and that agonising wait to see if Winters survived.
  • Harvey Keitel breaks down in a church in 'Bad Lieutenant'.
  • Sean Connery underestimates the wops in 'The Untouchables'.
  • DeNiro listens to a terrible revelation in 'Sleepers'.
  • David Tennant's Doctor bids goodbye to Rose.

There you go, twenty five occasions of masculine meltdown, maudlin machismo, or downright un-mensch-anable moping. Those are just the ones that came to mind. If I think of more, or if any fresh melting-moments take place, I'll let you know. Most recently I'll admit I was a mess by the end of the 'Female Agents', a top French film about the way women were 'used' during WW2. Well worth watching, especially for the sight of Sophie Marceau running about dressed as a nurse, or in German uniform, shooting chaps. ( Which perhaps brings me a around to the other kind of films I mentioned earlier...)

Perhaps I'm just over-empathetic, a big softie, watching these films when I'm 'manstrual', or revealing at last the secret history of 'men-in-tears' cinema, whichever of these I know that there comes a time when deep down I just need to let something sombre out. Don't we all?

And speaking of David Tennant, even at the though of his imminent departure from his triumphant performance as The Doctor I find myself developing a distant stare, and a weakening of will. Things will go badly, I know it. There I'll be, sitting up late at night, just The Doctor and I, too moved to munch my last Monte Carlo, to teary for tea, too sniffly for a cider...tears streaking my cheeks.

I know it's going to happen, and you know what?

I can't wait.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Barry Letts 1925-2009

When I read about the passing of Barry Letts this morning I was molten eyed, and indeed nearly did cry. I won't lie, I hollered an 'oh no' and my chin trembled, and for a short while here at the PC feeling extremely dismayed.
I never met Mr Letts, nor even corresponded with him, and so I know it is curious that I should have this response to a stranger, in contrast to the grand scale loss of life in recent weeks, but his death saddened me considerably.
Let me tell you why.
Barry Letts started his professional career as an actor, though soon moved into writing, directing and producing, and it as a producer of a little known television, of which I'm quiet fond, that he found success and fame, and came to mean something to me.
Yes, Barry Letts produced 'Doctor Who'.
Most significantly he produced the era of the third Doctor, as played by the inestimable Jon Pertwee. While the show had managed to survive by changing leading men ( thanks to the wonderful conceit of the 'regeneration' ), when Barry Letts took over he not only had a new Doctor, the the third actor to play the role , a famous comic no less, but the series was going to be in colour for the first time. A new era indeed. I sincerely believe that up until this point each new series built on the strengths of the previous, Hartnell's phase became more ambitious and experimental in the story telling, the Troughton episodes are rife with new cool monsters, and plots that would be the template for stories right through into the modern incarnation of the show, and Pertwee was colour, and scale. Pertwee took on 'The Avengers' in ruffled shirts and velvet suits. All colour and action, with a quibble of 'Quatermass', this was a new style of Doctor Who: car chases, shoot outs, more ambitious effects using the new technology of chromakey, and more ambitious stories told.

Barry Letts, and his script editor Terrance Dicks ( the first author whose name 'meant' something to me, who in many ways inspired me to be a writer ), concocted so many classic, and essential elements, central to the strength and popularity of the show, it seems that once Letts took over the show experienced the very renaissance required to perpeatuate it. While he had inheireted the concept of the exiled, earthbound, Doctor, ( something he seems to have resented ) , Letts fostered the talents of the Dicks and mighty Robert Holmes, and filled those five years with everything about the show that I love: The Master, ( played so malevolently by the fabulous Roger Delgado ), Jo Grant ( Katy Manning's hilarious ditzy turn and her way-out wardrobe ), Sontarons, Silurians, Sea Devils, Autons, multiple Doctors, Omega and the origins of Time Lord history, Ogrons, Sarah-Jane Smith ( the gorgeous Lis Sladen), and the U.N.I.T. team; Benton, Yates a good dozen or so soldiers and the stoical, yet twinkly-eyed, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. ( Admittedly Lethbridge-Stewart did appear in a couple of the Troughton episodes lower in rank, but it was the Letts that allowed Courtney plenty of room to perform and shine. Who can forget the classic line from Letts' own script for 'The Daemons' when the Brigadier facing a living gargoyle demands a subordinate: "...chap with wings, ten round rapid." )

Balanced against all that of course is Alpha Centauri, from 'The Curse of Peladon' and 'The Monster of Peladon' but I think that scales still tip firmly in the favour of Mr Letts.

This was the Doctor Who of my childhood. Jon Pertwee and his little yellow car Bessie. The Brig bellowing at Benton. The Brig and his continuity nightmare moustache. The Doctor and the Master squaring off, old foes fencing with ripostes and rapiers. The credit sequence with the wavy red lines that always made me think of fire. Week night re-runs of 'Carnival of Monsters' with the howling Drashigs, 'The Green Death' with the giant maggots and the oscilloscope screen visualising the speech of BOSS, 'Spearhead from Space' with the Autons, 'Claws of Axos', 'The Sea Devils', 'The Time Warrior' and the long time favourite 'Day of the Daleks' .

Messrs Letts and Dicks over recent years have begun to be regarded as the elder statesmen of the program, a double act that could have been written by Robert Holmes himself. Both gents continued to write novels, individually and together, appearing on the DVD commentaries and documentary footage, contributing to magazines and conferences with unwavering gusto and vigour. In fact it was during one of the documentaries on the recently released 'War Games' DVD set that Barry Letts appeared and, to my dismay, he was looking very much worse the wear for chemotherapy. I can remember being glassy eyed and quite shocked at the time. Up until this point Letts had seemed so impervious to age, and illness. His contributions on the DVD docos and commentaries were always erudite, passionate, entertaining, and often exhibited an impressive memory ( try and think about what you were 10 years ago, let alone 35 ), and always proved constant highlights. No doubt that the forthcoming 'Dalek War' dyptych while be the final opportunity to experience Letts discussing the show. Perhaps the restoration team, and the producers of the DVD releases will have a backlog, though unfortunately this material will be finite.
Several years ago Letts wrote a partial memoir, 'Who & Me' of his time on Doctor Who, and perhaps this will remain unfinished. He recorded the full work providing a more intimate experience of his 'story', and if you're a fan of show, I strongly recommend seeking it out.

The one thing that Barry Letts could be remembered for, beyond his Pertwee era, or any of the other TV programs he worked on ( 'Moonbase 3' for sci-fi fans ), is probably one of the most significant decisions anyone made on the show since its' conception.
In fact Barry Letts can claim to have helped shape pop-culture as we know it.
He was the man who cast Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor.

The very first experience I had of Doctor Who, all those years ago, ( I'm not really sure how old I would have been...8...maybe? ) was Tom Baker's first episode 'Robot'. Now, I'm not going to launch into what would be a prolonged reminiscence of the show, but I only mention this for fact that that story was the last one that Letts ever produced. Alpha and Omega, indeed. He would return later on to direct 'The Android Invasion' and acted as executive producer during the initial year of John Nathan-Turner ( and Tom's final year ), before continuing on to work on other serials and dramas. It was some time later that he would work on radio with Pertwee, Courntey and Lis Sladen again for two plays, and again to pen several books featuring his leading man, never really relinquishing his love for the show.

To finish, I just want thank you Mr Letts for the passion you tipped into a television show that I enjoyed so much as a child, and still do now. Thank you for the novelization of 'The Daemons', the original books, the radio-serials, and for the wit, intelligence and honesty offered in the self-analysis of your work and career. If Verity Lambert was the mother of Doctor Who, then you surely where the kindly, soft-spoken avuncular figure who kept it on the straight and narrow (with Dicks as your ever reliable side-kick, and Holmes and Hinchcliffe as the dodgy cousins most likely to get it into trouble).

While your future contributions shall be missed, your efforts shall live on; for your creations fueled the imagination of this little boy and made his dreams what they are today, and I'm sure that I'm not alone. Not at all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

GIG: The all powerful Kreator

I don't think I've ever stopped being sixteen.

Nights like this one in question remind me how the decaying exterior I drag around really only occludes the unchanging, immortal sixteen year old inside. It's a sort of Dorian Gray-type thing. Sort of.
I was excited enough when it was announced that Kreator were returning here, I really dug the new record, but when the news came through that one of my all-time favourite Australian bands, Mortal Sin, were supporting them I was overjoyed. This was the sort of gig I wouldn't have even dreamed of back when I was High School, it just didn't seem possible. Mortal Sin's 'Face of Despair' is still a treasured album, a top-notch thrasher, probably one of the best of its' type in fact, and to have them re-united after such an absence and still as strong as ever, with Kreator really in top form, this was almost too good to be true.

It's night like this that really make me wish my old mate Rohan was here still. We got into all this stuff together, swapping tapes and and it's a shame he isn't here to experience all this.
Kreator. Mortal Sin. Together. Awesome.

Inspite of the best counsel I persisted in my attempts to overbook myself on what was supposed to be a fairly easy Wednesday night.

Did I work, go home, have a quick bite to eat, and a few ales before heading back into the city to the gig?
No. No, I wasn't that clever.
I thought that I would be able to get to see the Salvador Dali exhibition at the National Gallery, then head back into the gig with time for a beer before Mortal Sin came on. Too easy.
The best laid plans of mice and mensch usually end up in the loo.
For my part I ended up in line.
For two hours.
Two hours of waiting just to buy the damned tickets, only to realise that I was never going to be able to indugle in the delights of the athletically moustachioed Spaniard's early ouevre, and make it to the gig in time for Mortal Sin's support slot. I prayed that another band had been added to the bill, without notice. Equal and opposite forces prevailed and I yielded to my lack of genius, and bid a hasty retreat back across the city. I convinced my accomplices in this trial of patience, CV and Magoo, who had endured the ballbag-shreddingly bad burlesque, and the gruelling, grating gypsy music, for the duration of my interminable wait, that they needed to buy me a beer, or two, to placate my shattered sensibilities.
Cabinet, overlooking Swanston is my fave haunt at the moment, so to Cabinet we went.
There the deliciously camp chap behind the bar prostrated himself in apology for serving me a Hellishly hot Heineken, having just been ripped straight from the carton, and offered me an ice cold alternative, full of grace. I forbade all pinching, for if it were a dream, let it remain so.
Shotgunning the two ales I left the girls to their own dear vices, and raced up to the Billboards venue on Russell Street, praying to all the Metal Gods, who may actually be heeding me, in spite of my folly, that the show had not yet started.

Alas, my invocations were in vain, as Mortal Sin were well and truly underway by now. In spite of my own self-flaggelation I still managed to boggle at the ball-bags gathered outside smoking while the band were performing. Waste of money, waste of an opportunity. I never cease to be astounded by the ignorance and stupidity of some people.
Anyway...where was I?

Mortal Sin, yes. Mortal Sin were on.
( permission to wobble bottom lip...)
Rather than flaying myself any further I necked another quick Heineken and enjoyed the remaining three songs. That's a hot Heineken I'll point out. An eight dollar fifty hot Heineken. I doubted lighting would strike twice, and that the muppet behind the jump would twig to my dissatisfaction and offer me something in the range of ice-cold rather than hot coals.
NB: I'm going to keep mentioning Heineken on the off chance that I can receive an endorsement from them. Here goes:
"When I go to see live metal...I always drink Heineken..."
Any second now, the phone will ring...
Any second now...
Any second now...

Adding to the already complex emotions I was feeling was the frustration at my inability to maintain the charge on my shoe-phone. I can lug it around for days, never need it, and then when out and about and actually requiring the damned thing it keeps karking it on me.
Mensa, here I come.
Next time you are watching a cast of not-so-bright young things being carved up one by one, by order of wage and significance of acting resume, in one of those threadbare slasher picks that still get made ( and even re-made), and the heroine pulls her phone to discover there is no charge remaining in the battery which means she isn't able to call for help and now she is going to have to run another 300 miles through forest, and you find yourself groaning going 'as if...', then think of me, and my clapped out phone. Life-imitates-art, or perhaps it is the other way 'round.

Dave-of-Metal sent a message earlier relenting, confirming he was indeed coming. After having spent the last month or so prevaricating, he had decided with proverbial two-minutes-to-midnight that he was going to come. When I received the message he had about 2 hours to kick off. He was going to cut it close. For the purposes of historical accuracy I was still in Cabinet when the first message came through. He was in Cranbourne, five time-zones south-east of the CBD. I had to turn the phone on, quickly check for messages, updates of his progress, and then turn it off agin, lest it died all together. As he traversed the several thousand miles between the city and Cranbourne, I sipped into another slightly cooler beer, and continued to grumble at myself for my foolishness.

Nicking off to the loo I ran into Scott, a recent mate whom I met through Dave-of-Metal. Those two have known one another for donkey's, and we've all been trotting to gigs a fair bit lately. Strangely I thought I had seen him walking up the street ahead of me as I was racing for the venue, dismissed it, only to discover it actually was him. We caught up, talked the new Megadeth, shot the shit, and discussed Dave-of-Metal's progress, only to be startled at teh journeyman's sudden appearance. Only his hyperventilation and scarlet face prevented me from believing he hadn't teleported into the venue, so immediate was his arrival. An armpit-temperature ale soon set him straight. Five minutes later Kreator strode out onto stage.

Lights down, background music fades out, crowd roar, and...

Before I go into the gig, I'll just give a brief history of time:

I not too sure which the first Kreator I ever heard, maybe 'Fatal energy' from the 'Extreme Aggressions' album, or something earlier like 'Riot of Violence'. I can confirm that I picked up the 'Terrible Certainty' record first though, no doubt about that. A Black Swan records purchase ( see " 'Tis the Deth of me." ). And isn't that just an absolute mongoose-down-your-dacks album of unbridled thrash mania? Every track a nailbomb: 'Behind the Mirror', 'Toxic Trace', 'Blind Faith'. The subsequent record 'Extreme Aggressions' has a much better production, and some massive songs, but 'Terrible Certainty' is still my fave. It has special siginificance too, for me, as this was the album that not only marked a turning point in the band's career, and perhaps too for the metal genre, but most definitely for me. Kreator tacked into the wind, moving away from death and mayhem, fantasy lyrics, and Mille, the singer and vocalist, began writing about real-world issues: the environment, politics, current affairs. When the hot water my adolescent fervour found me in started to boil ,the likes of Slayer's 'Hell Awaits' was called by the prosecution to question the merit of the music I was listening to and if, indeed, this was having some undue influence on me. Kreator came to the rescue, as well as some high falutin' hyperbole, and saved the day. It may be noisy, and all of that, though bugger me if it couldn't be erudite, and literate.

The Slayer vinyl in question was sold to my oldest-and-blondest friend Richard, who still has it; the cover is tacked onto his wall.

Kreator become one of my big bands in High School. Iron Maiden, Overkill, Megadeth, Kreator and Sodom, were pretty much my staples for years. Kreator were a sort of AC/DC of thrash, the name of the song was the refrain singer Mille would shriek, for shriek he will, and they had a particularly no nonsense head-down ferocity that matured, and expanded, over the years. Complexity and atmosphere have been flirted with, and embraced, but the energy and anger has never been dismissed. Recently, they are even more political, every album a powderkeg of polemic and power-thrash.

Oh the heartbreak when I was forced to miss Kreator way back when they toured supporting the 'Renewal' album. For my beloved Tueton thrashers were playing a scant week prior to my eighteenth birthday, and considering the venue was licensed, making the show 18+, and I didn't know any forgers likely to provide me with the sort of documentation that would have seen me able to walk the streets of Nazi occupied France in relative safety, or at least permit entry to the gig, I had to sit at home watching the video from the 'Extreme...' tour ( filmed in the lee of the fallen Berlin Wall no less ) and dream of what could be. ( What a cruel time that was; so many bands touring that I either couldn't get in to see, couldn't afford to see, or transport myself to see. It was like that for so long. Thankfully it's just expense and apathy that stand in my way these days, or if the show is at Festival Hall; which always shits me.)

That video I just mentioned copped such a flogging. It cost me fifty bucks, back then, and was worth every penny. What an indelible experience: Mille in tight faded grey jeans, bare chested, hair almost to his knees, (another) black V ( a recurring theme ); Ventor's drum solo and a set list of pure perfection. I doubt there's much left of that tape now, though I watched it so often I'm sure I could recite it all for you with backtracks and glove puppets.
( I think I just heard the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down somewhere...)
Needless to say when they toured here a few backs I was beside myself with delight. The band were back at their ballistic best, as if they had that mongoose back down their dacks, and in a year that witnessed tours from Exodus, a reformed Mortal Sin, with Sodom, Celtic Frost and Testament around the corner, this was the time in which I found myself reaching a strange delirium to finally be seeing my adolescent album collection (whatever the record player had left intact ) live, alive and in the flesh.
The show at the HI-Fi Bar was everything I could have ever wanted. Liane and I were positioned right at the front, pressed up against the barrier, off to the right, standing as close as humanly possible to the mad-as-a-cut-snake main-man Mille Petrozza. I could see every explosion of spittle, every eyeball-rolling exclamation, every fulminating frustration that Mille erupted with. The set that night was pretty much everything I had wanted to experience since I was sixteen; the greatest of greatest hits: 'Love us or hate us', 'Behind the mirror', 'Extreme Aggression', 'People of the Lie', Ventor singing 'Riot of Violence', 'Awakening of the Gods' and Mille feverishing foaming, shrieking at us as he incited us to raise the 'Flag of Hate'. It was the track list from the video concert, plus some of the newer cooler tracks from the two most recent albums. Glory be.
I opted not to go to the imminent Slayer/ Megadeth show feeling that I had 'been-there/done-that' ( a decision I'd regretted until I heard what a shemozzle the show was ), and to be honest I was entertaining similar feelings about the Kreator show as well. The last time was truly fantastic, I was doubtful that this time would be as fulfilling. The addition of Mortal Sin to the bill was clincher. That why I was chiding myself so severely for having shot my night in the foot. Anyway, enough of that!

I really like the Billboards venue. Years ago Liane and I went there for a rave party that a mate of ours was hosting. 'Frantic' these particular knees ups were known as. To say this was not our scene is an understatement but we came to share the night with my friend Mark, and be a bit gonzo and have a geez at how the other half groove. I was wearing my fur suit ( trousers & jacket of fake tiger fur ), Liane some PVC gear that Merrin made us. We arrived about 10:30. Started hooking into the beers, with only the staff sharing the room with us. By the time everyone else arrived, the other punters, it was two in the morning, we were pissed, dancing like your embaressing aunt and uncle at your cousin's wedding, and had finished all our fags. In contrast, all round us were ripped, athletics specimens of mankind, diophoretic dancers to the hyperdrive drumbeat. This party was just kicking out the jams, while we were ready to be spread out.

That was my first experience of Billboards. After that it seemed to be the sort of place you went to for trance parties, gangster theatrics, violence and poor quality gear. A couple of years ago though, the place underwent a renaissance and has been staging some pretty great shows. Off the top of my head I can think of Morbid Angel, Saxon, Satyricon, and Queensryche as gigs I have seen there, but plenty more have been staged: the likes of Amon Amarth, Immortal, Death Angel...and on and on. The drink prices are little short of a knife-point mugging, the dunnies the architectural reverse of the inside of the TARDIS, but the room is an ampitheatre, so it doesn't matter where you stand, you can see. Brilliant. Just what a chap of average statue like me needs, as I stand off to one side, gazing out over the top of the mosh pit at the stage, as the lights dim and Kreator stride onto the stage....

Whereas last time I had been awestruck and ebullient to the point of ecclesiastic epiphany I have to admit that this time I was less overcome. Not that there is any fault with the their presence or performance, I'd have to admit that the context I was seeing the gig in did little to help. Mille was as insane as ever, spitefully shrieking and shouting, hunching impossibly over his V, while his new band met his mark, rocking hard and fast for a good eighty minutes. Business as usual, thankfully. The stand-in drummer in particular proved a worthy addition to the rank, though I could have done without the drum solo. Impressive, but ultimately tedious. If the standard of the band was no surprise the set list was; resisting the urge to trot out the same-old-same-old, a greater number of more recent material was presented with some mandatory chestnuts thrown in. The list went as such:
'Hordes of Chaos', 'Phobia', 'Terrible Certainty', 'Betrayer', 'Voices of the Dead', 'Enemy of God', 'Destroy what destroys you', 'Pleasure to Kill', 'Violent Revolution', 'Extreme Aggression', 'Coma of Souls', 'War Curse', 'Flag of Hate' segueing into 'Tormentor'.

I was a little dismayed not to hear 'People of the Lie' or 'Love us or hate us' (my fave tracks), but I'm glad that the show wasn't a perfomance of the same set as before with one or two tunes from the new album tossed in for variety. Another couple of new numbers would have been welcome actually; 'Amok Run' was one song I was crossing my fingers for. There's something perfunctory about Kreator though; they bang out the songs absolutely bang on, and that's it. The only pyrotechnics are in the playing and Mille's skeins of saliva. Not that I mean for that to be a negative comment, I'd much rather a bunch of musos in jeans and t-shirts over make-up and wacky wardrobe anyday, but, inspite of the night I'd already had and the earlier experience of seeing them, I didn't connect with the show. I came, I watched, I rocked, but I wasn't blown away.

Matters weren't helped by the fact that I was, for all intents and purposes, completely pissed by the end of the night. I threw myself on Dave's mercy and had him give me a lift home during which i nattered nonsense incessantly, only to thank him profusely, open the door, and collapse out into the gutter. Every cloud has a silver lining, and in some dreams the streets are paved with gold, and in this case the gutter was strewn with a great glittering gathering of gold change. Nearly twenty dollars worth. Halleleujah!

Priorities. That's the moral of the story.

If, in the future, you are presented with the choice between German thrash metal, or Spanish surrealism, the choice is an obvious one. Learn from the error of my ways, let nothing come between you and your Kreator.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Tis the 'Deth' of me

In the beginning there was Iron Maiden.
And, all was well.
Soon after, my hunger for new music expanded and one of the first bands I discovered to sate my desire for more and metal were US thrashers Megadeth.
Now, before I go too much further have to draw a line in the sand and declare that I always preferred Megadeth to Metallica.
Dave Mustaine can be a cock.
Lars Ulrich is a cock.
Dave just needs to shut his mouth then his status as cock diminishes.
Lars is stuck with it. He's a cock.
Dammit, I've done what I promised myself I wan't going to do. I hate the fact that's it's almost impossible to speak of Megadeth without discussing them in same bad-breath as Metallica. Sadly, the reverse is possible. I think it's a case of both the vintage of the bands, and perhaps even some sort of competitiveness that fans and press may have conjured and speculated over, as well as the antagonism from Mustaine over the years, that both bands perpetually remain seated next to one another at the dining table in the great banquet halls in the pantheons of the Metal Gods. Often held up in comparison as the ginger step-child (quite literally) and in spite of all Megadeth's success there is still that sense that they exist in the shadow of the other band. That's why I thought I'd just piss in the punch bowl straight out. As for Metallica well 'Masters of Puppets' is just about one of the most perfect albums ever written, 'One' a brilliant song, 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' a classic, and there's a few other songs that are cool, but I always liked Megadeth more. (Shrug) They have 'Rust in Peace'. Maybe it was a case of being willfully different, moving from the herd and aligning myself with the underdog. I can be a bit like that. Self...uhhhh....partitioning. Ha. Pissy, is probably more like it. It was Mustaine though, snide, snarling, angry and angsty, that appealled to me most of all. Here was a man with attitue. Capital 'A'. Like Antrax's 'I'm the man' there was so much appeal to the naughtiness of the sweary songs. Anthrax mucked about, Mustaine fucking hated someone enough to write bitter, bellicose songs about them. I'm sure it's the same for all the kids out there who listen to Eminem, that vicarious attitude adopted through mimicry. Man, I loved that song 'Liar'. It is similar to Exodus' 'Vebral Razors', with that vicious diatribe at the end, an amazing rat-a-tat rancour that was most definitely an influence on my RiVeN songs. 'Liar' is so unlike any of music from any of the other bands I was listening to at the time: the spun-yarns of Maiden, Anthrax, Metallica, all the rock anthem themes of so many others like Priest, W.A.S.P. and Motorhead. Megadeth have always had a schism in that Mustaine will write personal and political tunes, spitting spleen over something that has seriously shat him, or he'll just write silly things about robots and parachuting. ( 'High Speed Dirt' may well be the only song in the metal genre, if not the utter history of recorded music that is about parachuting mishaps. That should be a Rock N Roll hall of fame category all of its own. )
Come with me, and travel back to 1988, to my glory days, at Ballarat East High School where my metal exo-skeleton was initially annealled. Metallica were the greatest thing since sliced bread, and my admiration for Mustaine and co. was spurned. Harken to that fuckwit Mark Shepherd, (the self-annointed 'Shep') hollering "Megadeth sucks" at me across the schoolyard as if a taunt me to pistols at dawn. Iron Maiden were my fave band then, and still are to this day, smearing them would certainly have been a call to arms, Megadeth were just one of those bands I dug so the barb wasn't fatal. Megadeth had their own vibe, Mustaine's spittle and spleen, the flashy guitar work, the offbeat songs structures, the belligerence. It wasn't love, but I really loved the lovin', if you know what I mean.

The first memory I have of hearing Megadeth was when I was about 13 via the Friday night metal show on 3BBB radio in Ballarat. Those two hours between 10 and midnight on a Friday night were just about my favourite time of the week. I wish I could remember the name of the guy who was the original host. He was cool. Indelible are the nights that he devoted the whole show to him playing that collection of Iron Maiden singles, the gatefolds with all of those classic B-sides they recorded. ( The same ones that popped up as part of that Eddie box a few years back ) I was a fairly insular lad for a while there and led a pretty uneventful life, reading horror novels, sitting up late on the computer, listening to metal ( oh, hang on a sec! Not much has changed really with the exception of the 'Dungeons & Dragons' game on the PC being exchanged for boobs and Ebay. Does anyone here remember 'Pool of Radiance' on the Commodore 64? Loved that game. How high tech it seemed them. hmpf, forget 'World of Warcraft'. ) For a good couple of years the metal shows on the radio were the only conduit to all those bands I would read about in Hot Metal or Metal Hammer magazines, or else risk lashing out on something that would prove disappointing and dismal.
There I am standing in the Black Swan Record bar, which was little more than a cafe with a few racks of vinyls crammed into one corner, but they did stock import titles and rarer metal releases. . My main memory of Black Swan is the pivotal day when Rohan Sawall and I were standing there, one of us holding Sepultura's 'Beneath the Remains' while the other cradled Sodom's 'Persecution Mania', both recent releases, trying to figure which one to go for. We'd both heard tunes on the BBB metal show and each had equal allure. The deal, naturally, was that one would tape his record for the other. On tape. Vinyls and tapes back in those crazy days. I still have most of those tapes. Which did I choose? The Sodom. A decision I still stand by. With pocket money limited it meant that the right choice had to be made. Reviews were scoured, compared, the hyperbole sifted, and you anticipated getting the preview of something on the radio. Oh how I rushed down to the second hand record shop on Curtis street one Saturday morning to lay-by Candlemass' 'Nightfall', remembering I had seen it the week before, after hearing 'At the Gallows End' on the radio the previous night.
For every victory like that, there were, of course, the times when things went wrong. Oh how I did my best to convince myself that D.R.I.'s 'Thrashzone' record was actually any worth, and I never ever really found any merit in Faith No More's 'The Real Thing'. And, lo, I learnt a painful lesson in subjectivity; that one man's five-skull rating was another man's drooping features as execrable music deflates the vigour that he pores over the liner notes with. So, this is where the radio was so important.
Before I go on let me just mention some of the albums that I bought blind, ( 'deaf' really ) well relatively so, having only read reviews or articles on the bands; handing over my limited loot with a sickening sensation sinking in my stomach for a potentially pathetic platter. Kreator's 'Terrible Certainty', Obituary's 'Slowly We Rot', and a death thrash album called 'Beyond the Unknown' by an act called Incubus ( No, not the weak-as-piss gnu-metal band, instead a flat-knacker cross between Slayer and Death. Lousy production but an awesome album. It's like fighting off half-a-dozen home-invaders while a motorbike burns rings in your loungeroom carpet, the kettle boils and 'Reing in Blood' plays on 78 rpm. ) I had a pretty good track record then. Rohan too, unearthed some gems, but I straying from the topic.
Where was I? Yes, the 3BBB. Friday night. Me settled down with all comforts at hand. I can see myself settled by the casstte player, headphones on so as not to disturb Mum & Dad in the next room, hooking into biccies and lashings of Pepsi; scribbling notes and coiled, ready to dart forward and hit play/record to tape something of interest. I still have those old tapes, the songs missing vitals seconds, voice-overs woven across the finales, or segues that eclipsed introductions. And don't even think about the loo. I'd have to pray for something lame, Warrant or some-such piffle and dart out frantically hoping that nothing I'd been anticipating would come on. Pantera's 'Shattered' remained unidentified for over a month thanks to this mortal infirmament. At some point about 2 years later I swapped, nay...graduated, to Melbourne's 3RRR, no longer able to withstand the hosts on the 3BBB show; the naricissistic idiocy of Matt Sanders and the vacuous chick he was partnered with and their prattle. Instead I revelled in the geeky grandeur of Allan Thomas and his side-kick Lou, hard-core headbangers, with A.T. maybe the man most massively in love with Manowar making the sign of the hammer this side of the members of Manowar themselves. There's more of that tale to be told somewhere down the line, though I fear I am wandering again.

The music was all new at first, and the response to each new song was almost binary: Iron Maiden! 'Can I play with madness?' Yes! Exodus? Do 'The Toxic Waltz'? Sure. Testament? 'Practice what you preach'? But of course. The Scorpions. Nope. Krokus. Not really. Fates Warning. No Thanks. Megadeth would have been quite early in this ever widening embrace, stretching out from Maiden. The natural progression would most likely have been the bands that were eventually known as The Big Four: Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth. The four most high profile US metal bands at the time. I can't testify to the order of that progression, but I imagine it was Metallica first, 'Master of Puppets' no doubt ( I think the afore mentioned Shep taped it for me ), Anthrax would probably have been 'Spreading the Disease' and I know Slayer's 'Anti-christ' was the first song of theirs I ever heard; as for Megadeth I'm positive of my initial exposure; it came via 3BBB premiering the release of their most recent album 'So far, so what?' The evocatively titled 'Into the Lungs of Hell', with that sensational twiddly solo, before seguing into one of the heaviest songs the band has ever recorded, the punchy, prickly 'Set the world afire'. That old timey song sample, snare drum tattoo, scratchy, snickering guitar with an awkward sounding riff, before settling into the song and Dave's familiar sneering voice sneering about the "...arsenal of Megadeth." Killer tune. Still is. I picked the album up on tape from the long-vanquished 3BA record bar, for at that time I would have still have only had the old radio/tape-deck ( for general use of the family ) and my walkman. Tapes were my only option, and the 3BA record bar had a meagre collection to say the least. Records were coming, but more on that in a moment. I nearly played that tape to death. There was one touch-and-go moment when the knackered out, tinny, tape deck decided a judicial action was required after a prolong session of power thrash, and promptly chewed up my tape. Cursed machine. A deft dab of tape meant I was back in business, though evermore there was this odd, ever-so brief, distortion of sound, slumping into silence, before the song '502' and inversely 'Mary Jane' twisted back into recognition. Picking up the CD years later, in spite of the years of over-familiarity from caning the album there was still one prize, the return of that second or so of music; a few twiddles of harmonies, and a lost lyric. The four tracks '502', 'In my darkest hour', 'Liar' and 'Hook in Mouth' still make up the strongest side-B of an album ever recorded. With only 8 tracks, the first side consists of the instrumental and 'Set the World on Fire' ( which we've already established kicked things off ), a okay but tedious cover of the Sex Pistols' 'Anarchy in the UK' and the fairly middling 'Mary Jane', which never really felt like much of a song. That second side of the tape, was awesome, still is, ranking as some of my fave songs. The best side-B.
Those first three albums seem so brief and truncated, eight songs each running about half an hour if that. By the time CDs were around Dave was going nuts with both 'Countdown to Extinction' and 'Youthanasia' stretching over an hour, full of dud songs. Quantity isn't always quality.
Remember when there was no wikipedia, or a band's website, to glean information from? I still see kids in JB Hi-Fi with half a dozen Maiden CDs in their hands trying to determine chronology and quality. I always point them to 'Live After Death'. That's where I started, and look how I turned out. As good a place as any. At this point in time Megadeth only had three albums, one of which was on steady rotation, which meant my next move was a 50/ 50 decision.

'Killing is my business...and business is good' came next. I'm sure the absence of 'Peace Sells...' on tape at the time of purchase had something to do with it. I know after the raw, aggression of 'So far...' I was disappointed by the debut. This is one of the albums that greatly benefited from Mustaine's infamous remix sessions a few years back, the dust and murk blown away revealing some seriously sensational playing and songwriting that had long been hidden in the shadow. As with 'So far...' the tape was almost bereft of information, song writing credits, that's about it, which meant there was nothing to really to go on but the music. ( Even Iron Maiden's tapes back then had their traditional superior packaging ) In spite of my initial dismay the title track, 'Looking down the cross', 'Mechanix' and 'Rattlehead' were ripper songs. In fact they all still are. 'Looking down the cross' remains one of their best songs to this day, and the manic ranting of the climax to the title track unparalleled in its' fervour. That organ introduction seems so commonplace now, though t me then it seemed so novel. The thing most notable about this record is how snappy it is. These songs, in the early days of speed metal, were much faster than the thrash other bands were thrashing. When re-mixing Iwould most certainly have tossed the cover of 'These boots are made for walking' . Sure it rocks,and yet it's like a big birthmark on a pair of perfectly shaped breasts; relatively harmless but it still it seems to wreck things for you. Megadeth had a bad habit in the early days of recording strange covers; 'These boots...', 'I aint superstitious' and the much maligned 'Anarchy...' all sat awkwardly with the rest of the material. Thankfully they stopped this. Unfortunately Mustaine decided adolescent croony ballads were the way to go. I'm the next album will have another version of 'A Tout la monde'.

Two down one to go.

Peace Selll...but who's buying?' remains a important milestone in the history of my metalness. It was the first ever vinyl I owned, given to me as Christmas present at the end of 1988. 'Peace Sells...' and Slayer's 'Hell awaits' accompanied a AWA stereo with double tape/radio/ record-player. A heavy black box of a thing that started a huge ball rolling. Now I was album to 'tape' tapes! Taping tapes was the file-sharing of its day. Heady times indeed. The stereo itself was a bit of clunker rarley playing anything without the benefit of five bucks in copper coins stacked on the stylus ( that's how long ago it was folks...). The records would then play, only to be excoriated in the process. I had so many tapes of albums that had jumpy solos and drums fills extrapolated by the skipping needle, most of which are still being discovered, to much mirth, as I gradually replace records with CDs and MP3s. Christmas that year was up at the grandparents in Shepparton which meant I couldn't actually play the albums until we reached home. I had also sprained my writst in my first attempt at using the roller skates I also received, and was not a happy chap. I contented myself with poring over the lyrics and staring at Edward Repka's cover for 'Peace Sells...'. How cool it was to have the art so large, the detail tangible, the cardboard covers just so cool to hold and flip about while you listened to the album. ( one of the coolest things I have seen is the loungeroom of my oldest and blondest friend Richard, who has adorned his walls with his album covers! Awesome. )
I love the fact that Repka is still painting cool album covers after all these years. Megadeth, Death, Nuclear Assault, Evil Dead, there are so many, with that blend of absurdist comic book melodrama and neo-realism, with a vibrant palette, and unique imagery.

In spite of the columnn of copper change on the stylus, boring into the vinyl, and goring away the content, the 'Peace Sells...' vinyl always skipped like a bastard. The tape I made of it included several classic skips, more-often-than not extending solos and fills, and over the years I became so used to these flaws that when I came to pick the remastered CD up I was startled at the sheer numbers of differences. As with 'Killing...' the remaster of this album proves a boon, with Dave Ellefson's bass finally manifest, proving what a truly unappreciated talent he is. Check out 'My last words' and you'll hear my point, with these great little tribbly riffs popping away under the chords. The title track is one of the great metal songs of all time. There. I've said it. I've drawn a line in the sand. A veritable anthem of disenchantment, disgruntled and disillusionment. "If there's a new way I'd be the first in line, but it better work this time." Only the B-side of 'So far...' rival Mustaine's spleen in this song. Milking the album title as a refrain, a web of soloing spirals madly over the climax. Along with 'Rust in Peace' it is their best work. 'Wake up dead', 'The Conjuring', 'Bad Omens', 'Good mourning/ Black Friday' with its gruesome lyrics and the brilliant 'My last words' stand the test of time as original, fresh, well thought out compositions; while the typical and traditional 'Devils Island' is rendered tedious in comparison. An almost perfect album, marred by the format that I had to endure it in, and a few weak songs.

Around this time Megadeth released a cover of Alice Cooper's 'No More Mr, Nice Guy', a faithful catchy, fairly innocuous cover, for the soundtrack for the latest Wes Craven film 'Shocker' . I was big fan of the film back at the time, inspired to see it no doubt because of the Mega-connection. I had the poster for the film clipped from the Herald-Sun, and later replicated it for a graphics assignment in class. How sad am I? Nowadays the film seems rather aptly titled, a thin attempt for Craven to create a new Freddie-esque franchise. There are some worthy moments, and the cast is interesting for the people who will go on to other more famous roles: the lead Peter Berg is now a director with 'Friday night lights' and 'The Kingdom' to his name ) , Mitch Pileggi of 'The X-Files', and Richard Brooks who went to 'Law & Order'. If memory serves me John tesh may be killed in the film, so it's not all bad. I went to see this as a late Friday night session at the Regent cinema, because it only played that night, having not got a proper release. Back in the days before the Regent has the huge overhaul into the mulitplex we know it as today) That seemed such a cool, grown-up thing to do. I bought this on tape. A cassingle. Now, there's a word you don't come across to often any more.

The first taste of the next album, their finest to date 'Rust in Peace' was the video-clip for the album opener 'Holy wars' . Wow. I was so blown away. It was amazing, flat-knacker, and heavier than ever. I'd taped a poor quality TV reception that night, a late broadcast of some sort of short-lived local MTV. I still have the tape, much to my amazement. Watchign that clip now I recall how much Mustaine influenced the self-image I wish to mould. By about 16-17 I had breast length long hair that was incredibly thick and heavy. I was cajoled into a perm. Ha! There I sat in the curls and cap under the toaster, with an old duck eyeing me bizarrely, praying that i wasn't going to emegre look like i had a mousy brown afro, or it would all far all. The end result? Mustaine hair. Yeah, yeah. The other accoutrements like the bulletbelt I always wanted, the same as Mustaine wore, never eventuated though studs with chains sufficed ) and though I had no urge to play anything other than air guitar back then I thought he had the coolest guitar out of anyone. Now I have an ESP V , instead of his Jackson as in the 'Holy Wars' clip, though pretty much the same, ( aesthetically ) because that's what Mustaine had. I never toyed with the temptation of the white jeans. As Dirty Harry said: "A Man has to know his limitations.

The new members Marty Friedman, guitar magus, and Nick Menza on drums upped the ante, delivering Megadeth's most musically elaborate, masterful playing to date. Overflowing with memorable riffing, ebullient, indelible soloing, and one awesome unique song after the other, this album is an unsurpassed work of brilliance. The sprawling 'Holy Wars' opens the album with that glorious riffing, blowing the audience across the room. The topical verses, wih that classic line "Brother will kill brother spilling blood across the land..." still sadly all relelvant today )before building to a manic maelstorm of solos, and Menza's hammering drums. Again, not only one of my favourtie songs, but I think it is one of the best in the entire genre. Intelligent, original, energetic, and timeless, both lyrically and musically. The rest of the album never lags in pace, one sterling song following another: the vicious thrash attack of 'Take no prisoners'; the theatrical 'Five magics' with those mounting, shrilling harmonies at the climax; the rampart riffing of 'Poison was the cure'; those solo sections of 'Tornado of Souls', the odd 'Dawn Patrol', the rocking 'Lucretia' and the closing title track with those unforgettable drums at the start. Oh the countless hours exhausted by all we would be drummers with our rulers and pencils as we emulated Menza's fills. Not since first hearing Iron Maiden's 'Live After Death' had I been so enamoured with an album. Two decades on I can listen to this album, feeling as much passion and vigour as the first time I heard it. Over the years I owned two tapes, a vinyl and the CD. Probably one of most played records of all time. I'm almost positive I bought the original tape at the same time as Testament's 'Souls in Black', the same day I visited my Dad in hospital. That's an elusive memory. I know I went to the private hostpial across the road from the Ballarat Base where Mum worked the time. Perhaps it was one of my grandparents. Maybe have to do some fact-checking there.
The follow-up 'Countdown to Extinction' marked the point where my love for Megadeth started to fade. Around this time I had discovered the new crop of aggressive death-metal bands such as Morbid Angel, Obituary, Deicide, as well as more of thrash acts so prevalent at the time; Forbidden, Dark Angel with Overkill cemented as firm fave, so the lighter, rockier Megadeth tunes, and the more simplistic structures, had little lasting appeal. 'Countdown...' sports a couple of cool songs, 'Symphony of Destruction' the obvious choice, a tune that is still cool today ( the Nightwish cover is righetous, Marco's voice and thundering bass a bonus ), 'Skin o' my teeth' toe-tapping and rocking along, and the closer 'Ashes in your mouth' offer the most significant push-coming-to-shove the album has to offer. This finale along with the title track, 'Foreclosure on a dream' and 'Architecture of Aggression' are again driven by Mustaine's political polemic, with 'Countdown...' probaly the topical album that Mustaine has ever written. 'High speed dirt' is cute and catchy enough, but bubblegum dumb along side the more thoughful songs, 'Sweating Bullets' bilious while boppy, and 'Psychotron' a low point. Notable for being the longest Megadeth album to date, and whereas I had lamented the brevity of earlier releases, this title would have been made better for truncating three or four songs. In no way a failure, this was an odd follow up to the fervour of 'Rust...'. Cynically, I think the success of Metallica's Black album inspired a lot of bands at the time to slow down, and become more 'musically diverse', rocking in lieu of thrashing. I suppose if they'd repeated themselves they'd have been tarred-and-feathered as well. After this record Megadeth and I left high school and things were never going to be the same again.

'Youthanasia' was a further step down this path, and the point where Megadeth and I parted company for a very long time. Harmony heavy, easy-metal tunes, that meader along, typical and predictable, and fairly dull. The alpha-and-omega tracks 'Reckoning Day' and 'Victory' have lasted, the latter a fave still. The rest is forgettable. I played this album for a bit, had a song-along, for it's good for that, but little else. My old mate Greg Goossens taped this for me. Bless him where ever he may be.

Skip forward seven years. Lot of albums under the bridge, with tastes diversifying. Machine Head's first album, NIN, Entombed, constant gems from Overkill, Bruce Dickinson's 'Chemical Weapon', Dungeon, while a lot of the old bands from my teens, (Exodus a good example) had pretty much packed it in. Megadeth were coming out on tour, playing the then Palce in St Kilda. My gorgeous friend Merrin suggested we go. Feline, jade-eyed, ivory skinned beauty dressed in perpetual black, potential paramour, and fashion stylist of all things PVC, intimate and after-midnight, Merrin remains one of my favourite people, of all those I have ever had the fortune to meet. ( How I miss her terribly. How I love the tiger fur suit she made at my caprice, the black PVC strair-jacket she gave to me ever-so whimsically; and treasure the fact that she took me to see Megadeth for my birthday and re-awoke an old love. The only person who has painted my portrait. ) After considerable reluctance on my behalf Merrin convinced me that our love of the 'old days' was enough to warrant going, and so she shouted me for my birthday. It was dinner at the Lincoln hotel in Carlton, our local pub, ground zero, and ( in my case ) home-away-from-home (more on the Lincoln another time) before zooming out in Merrin's littel red Barina to St Kilda. (The Palace is no more alas. Surely such absences are signs of getting old. Oh, woe!)Standing half way up the steps on the far side of the venue, an often used vantage point, we had a great view over the moshpit, standing probaly fifteen/twenty feet from the stage...and the great man himself, David Mustaine. The man whom I had grown my hair akin to, the man whose vitriol, disdain and 'pain' songs inspired me so. Dave Mustaine in the flesh. At the time I think 2 albums at least had passed me by to little dismay. The album they were touring by all accounts was a return to form, though it seems to me that that is the usual hyperbole attached to each forthcoming release. ( at least with the most recent album that is a statement that is absolutely correct. It's a ball-tearer). Amazed at the capacity crowd, at all the young blokes, I couldn't believe that this amount of people still gave a shit for a band that seemed to me long beyond greatness. The set-list from that show eludes me though I can remembering being so over-joyed at watching Mustaine, digging the new tune 'Motorcyco', and going positively ape-shit during '...Darkest Hour', 'Peace Sells...', 'Devil's Island' and 'Holy wars'. Dave's segue into that song, the final for the night, entailed him encouraging us to call our friends, those that hadn't come that night, and tell them Dave Mustaine said 'Fuck you.' Slightly drunk, hoarse and, over-wrought with emotions I called my long-time best friend, and later love, Liane ,and passed on Mustaine's message. Sitting in traffic by Flinders Street train station, just beyond the bridge by the lights, roaring into Merrin's mobile, passing Mustaine's message on. Need I elaborate on how popular this action made me? No, I think not.

The reconcilliation wasn't immediate. I eventually picked up 'The World needs a Hero', the disc supported by that tour, and thought it was okay; a handle of good tunes, the title track and Motorcyco' in particular. All in all though, there was little to re-ignite my Mega-passions. 'Cryptic Writings' the album that followed my departure point 'Youthanasia' was a $5 bargain, and a bit of a cracker. Well the songs 'She-wolf' , 'FFF' and especially 'The Disintergrators', a rip-snorter, ( with the great chorus "Anarchy is coming to town..."), served to prevent the album from being a complete write-off. I have only heard the 'Risk' album once, and that was enough; an utterly impotent, uninspired affair to say the least. I missed the tour backing the 'The system has failed' album, when they were supported by the mighty Dungeon, (who subsequently went on with Megadeth throughout Europe, only to disintergrate themselves once home, much to my dismay.) That album was hailed, as had the previous record, as the much awaited return to form; whereas I was bored and disinterested, playing it a few times, and never looking back.
'United Abominations' came with the first concrete line-up in a long time, the backing of Roadrunner Records, and I have to admit I was actually anticipating it, and bugger me if it wasn't a pretty solid little album. I was working at RMIT at the time, manacled to a PC all day, though able to play music thereon in order to retain some sanity. I spent a good few weeks returning to this release. The last track 'Burnt Ice' is a pisser, and would often launch me into a flurry of pens and head-banging at my desk. Patchy, but this truly was a tighter, tougher Megadeth than I had heard in a long time. Long gone was Mustaine's Eagles of Megadeth Metal routine. Thankfully this is an attitude that they have not only sustained, but annealled in the two years betwixt titles, the new release 'Endgame' is the heaviest and most pugnacious the band has been since 'Rust in Peace.' You've read my review by now I guess, so you know how much I'm loving it. Really, seriously, it's a fucking ripper. Testifying, though, to my lack of faith is the fact that I neglected to get tickets for the forthcoming show with Slayer, which is now all but sold out. I know...I know... What was I thinking? I claim to be more-metal-than-man and I won't be going. There's a definite sense of been-there-done-that with both bands, but I still feel like I'm missing out, eve if it's only the conceit of being able to claim having witnessed those two bands on the same bill. The stuff of my teen dreams, seeing all those enormous rock festivals, headlined by Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, Maiden as advertised in Metal Hammer.
When it was announced in 2006 that Mustaine's Gigantour show was coming to town I nearly fainted in rapture, for my beloved Overkill were one of the headliners in the US, and I firmly believed, even up to the day itself that NJ's finest were going to be playing. Hope springs eternal. Cold Reality was disappointing. No Overkill.
Festival Hall, the old house-of-stoush, where I saw Sepultura on the 'Third World Posse' tour ( my first ever gig ) and Iron Maiden on the 'Fear of the Dark' tour back in '92 with Leeanne. Sepia hued memories can't do must to alter what an armpit this huge cavern actually is, wooden floor boards, the sort of cheap plastic seats that destroyed our lower lumbar in school, strange partioning to prevent the sitting from meshing with the standing, and a cement-walled maze wending to the loos that always makes me think of Spinal Tap getting lost on the way to rock Cleveland. Liane and I ended up in gen-pop on the floor, surrounded by enourmous Meditteranean muttonheads, our view of Soulfly almost utterly eclipsed, as our we rapidly faced being crushed under foot by an ever-increasing presence of fuck-knuckles fermenting in the fray.
The Solution? Liane.
And the Oscar goes to? Liane.
Yes, Liane worked some sort of miracle. As our position became more and more uncomfortable, this five foot femme fatale who can out-drink most men, throw a punch, quote Plath and weep for Ringwald, pulled off a near miracle. Gazing up from our cramped pozzie we could see that the seating area beside us was half-full, frustratingly so. My attempt at venturing over to enquire about the chances of re-positining ourselves was brusquely dismissed, with a contemptible attitude from the simian security staff. Several other guys attemptd to pass this point only to be turned away with equal disdain.
What was to be done?
We'd made it through Arch Enemy fine. Soul Fly was an ordeal, and it seemed that Megadeth was going to be impossible.
Morale was low.
History reflects how, on many occassions such as this, with events at their lowest ebbs, victory has been snatched.
And, so, Liane came to the rescue.
So, what did she do you ask?
She faked out the ambos.
Yep. Trained Paramedics.
Faked them out.
She calimed to have been hit in the head by some unseen ballbag, brazenly offering her head for examination, feigned faint, and I quite honestly believe if sweating blood or eyeball enucleation had been required she could have pulled it off. Incredible. I played dumb, complicit, following her lead, extomporising succintly. Several minutes later, after a swift examination, and some subtle manipulation of the ambos, Liane contrived to not only have us seated but handed free Pepsis.

Mind you we were basically dead even with the stage, with the band obscured by the speaker stack, but we were sitting on our own, gazing down over the churning crowd, slightly dazed at our fortune. And...sitting down! I was amazed at her wiles. Was she truly evil? To this day I don't know if she actually has some bump on her head noggin, earned years before from a fall from a bike of a totem tennis incident, that she proferred to the paramedic, or she bedazelled him and used The Force. Whatever, however...we were sitting! We snuck from our seats once the show started and widened the angle of our vantage point to the stage, enabling a great view of Mustaine and co rocking out. The hightlight? The other bands storming the stage to join in on 'Peace Sells...' Angela Gossow from Arch Enemy roaring away. Brilliant.

Dave's back in my life at the moment. Like an old flame facebooking me, or serendpidity thrusting them at me in the supermarket, we are playing together again.
All is well. I'll miss seeing him this time, though I'm sure he'll return.
He may have been missing in my life for such a long time, but I know, and will admit now to you dear reader that I never let him go, not really, not from the dark, deep down realm where my man-crushes are stored.

There's a little bit of Dave Mustaine in me, has been for two decades now, and I think that's
probably not such a bad thing.

( year 9 graphics poster, unearthed while writing this piece )