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 )

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ALBUM: Megadeth "Endgame"

The ego has landed! Dave 'Motormouth' Mustaine, main-mensch for Megadeth returns accompanied by a new incarnation of his backing band, for the twelfth full length studio album 'Endgame'. The previous album 'United Abominations' was a solid, yet inconsistent, record, but definitely superior to Mustaine's output for over a decade. 'Endgame' successfully evolves from that earlier effort, once again employing the ubiquiotous Andy Sneap behind the desk, delivering yet another massive sound, with Mustaine rising to the challenge producing Megadeth's strongest, punchiest album in a very long time. This is easily the best Megadeth release since the mighty 'Rust in Peace'.

Starting with a simple instrumental that allows Mustaine and new guitarist Chris Broderick to flourish fancy fingerwork, displaying their distant guitar voices, teasing the listener for the treats that are to follow, the first of which is the absolute killer 'This day we fight'.
Holy shit! Megadeth are rocking out. Fast, furious, a real teeth-clencher, and the best way to kick things off. Mustaine really has my attention now. Thrashy tunes have popped up in the past paltry platters but it wasn't until last album's mighty closing track 'Burnt Ice' that I came to believe that Mustaine still had the vigour or even the interest in going hard like this. 'This day we fight' not only races along but is so potently heavy as to send me into a flailing fit.
'44 Minutes' slows the speed, to my distraction and dismay, though, thankfully, without sacrificing the pugnacity. A chunky, chugger, with a harmony heavy singalong chorus. Very much from the mould of ''Peace Sells...' and Symphony of Destruction'. Hooky, and crunchy, and a standout. '1,320' is another pacey head-banger, and probably should have been the second track. In many ways this is a real throwback, throwdown to an older era of metal, those halcyon late '80s, with a great drum-break before spiralling into whirl of traded leads. 'Bite the hand' proves an uptempo number sporting a slighty sexy, rocky riff while 'Bodies' falls into the format used by '44 minutes' and feels as if an album filler; the highlight stemming from a swell of harmoines that segue into a thrash riff laced with a cascade of solos. The title track, after another of Mustaine's annoying voice-over segues, builds to a swift gallop, before swapping into some scathing crunch, all of which is embroidered with plenty of athletic axe-work.
Chris Broderick, formally of Jag Panzer ( a long time fave band of mine whose progress between albums can only be described as glacial ) is a worthy sparring partner for his boss ( who is in typical fine form also); his solos distictive and often dazzling, without ever being excessive. Restraint is the operative word here. The compositions are lean, compact, consistent, with the exception of the awkward 'The hardest part of letting go...' an adolescent ballad embellished with strings that doesn't suit the tone of the album, especially when the following track 'Headcrusher' is one of the most aggresive songs since 'So far, so what?' However, the ever-so Cannibal Corpse-lite lyrics are at odds with diatribes and polemic that mark Mustaine's repertoire. Glenn Drover's drums are on fire throughout this whole album , this tune in particular is full of great examples of his skill, check out the rides tinkles in the chorus to show how he peppers each track with nuance, and character. 'How the story ends' lyrically is as if Dave wanted to write a Manowar tale of battles of yore. The chorus is catchy enough, shame that the text itself is silly. Yet again the guitar work overrides a fairly staid song, ablaze with brilliance. Opening with James Lomenzos brawny bass, which rumbles away throughout the album with latent force, ( very reminiscent of DD Verni's classic bass presence ) 'The right to go insane' is another ambling tune that builds to a rocking solo laden climax, a conceit employed too often and too distinctly on the album. The song is good enough, yet feels like either padding, or misplaced in the running order. Unlike the previously mentioned 'Burnt Ice' which closed 'United Abominations' in a frenzy, '...Insane' rocks along pleasantly, harmlessly, enough before ending abruptly, making the song feel perfunctory, which is disappointing after such a florid, fantastic opening section.

I honestly hope this album doesn't live up to the title, that Mustaine still has another few hard-nosed records like this one up his sleeve, and that this isn't his Endgame. Considering the fates of the so-called 'Big Four' thrash bands: Metallica struggling to write a decent album, let alone a decent song; Anthrax lost amid a prolonged production without a singer ( excuse me, are you the singing Bush? ); Slayer still brutal as ever though missing a little of their black magic; Mustaine's Megadeth seem hellbent on making up for lost time. 'Endgame' isn't perfect, and the tunes aren't all classics, but there are still enough rippers on here to make the album worth a listen. Perhaps a longer gestation may have garnered a stronger collection of songs. It isn't a second-coming, but it is extant evidence that a once-great band are indeed reborn, rocking hard, and still writing some cool tunes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

ALBUM: Alestorm "Black Sails at Midnight."

Ahoy there! Prepare to be boarded, or risk being scuppered by the might of the powder and ball, for the dread ship Alestorm and her Caledonian crew have returned!

I was a big fan of Alestorm's debut album 'Captain Morgan's Revenge'; a power-thrash album that displayed something rare in the metal scene these days, great music and a sense of humour. Without taking themselves too seriously at the expense of the quality of their music, Alestorm's debut was an album of infectious, upbeat, satisfying metal songs, and pirate metal at that. The handsome packaging for this deluxe CD/DVD package came with a sticker boasting what may be the best three word phrase ever conceived: "Scottish Pirate Metal". Classic. The band themselves claim to be 'true scottish pirate metal'; a cheeky wink to their Norse comrades across the pond, and steeped in pirates they be.

This new album, 'Black Sails at midnight' ,their second full length album, isn't so much a case of more of the same rather that it's more of more of the same. Brilliant! Every song is stronger, more confident, every deck packed with keyboards, brass, violins, each chorus bolstered with the bellows of hirsute men. That's not to say that they've gone outrageously over-the-top and turned themselves into a nautical Nightwish, overblowing each tune with unbridled orchestrations, choirs, and samples; rather they have exerted exemplerary editorial constraint during the production, forgoing the tendency, especially for a younger band, to...ahem...go overboard. They are a long way from the rough-as-bags EPs they released under the monicker Battleheart, sounding ideal, full, rich, flamboyant, and still rocking hard.

As with their first release this album is so entertaining, immediately catchy and accessible; offering plenty of surprises to avoid them utterly narrowing the niche that their self-imposed genre could contrict them with.
Opening track 'The Quest' gallops into the album, running the gamut of Alestorm's tricks, thrashy riffing, fanfare stabs, keyboard and guitar trading solos, a boisterous chorus with a key change in the climax: business as usual, but the sound is definitely bigger, better.
'Leviathan' bursts with bombast, a mid-tempo tune brimming with brass and bold. Worthy of the name the song is a mini-epic, completed by a worthy woh-oh-woh ( and you know how I do love a good woh ).
A flourishing fanfare introduces 'That famous ol' spiced' before settling into a good ole-fashioned head-banging chunky riff that builds to a sensational chorus. This refrain is a mighty tavern shanty, evoking gloomy bars and knots of bedraggled men bellowing unified in song. This is certainly one of the best moments on the album. I imagine this wold be a great song to experience live.
'Keelhauled' is definitely my favourite song on the album, as well as perhaps being one of the band's best songs and a definitive pirate metal song ( I'm in the mood to make big calls ). A folky violin jig erupts seamlessly into a thrash frenzy, Christopher Bowes panto pirate rasp an apt performace, mounting to an enormous sing-a-long chorus that features the classic line "with a bottom of rum and a yo-ho-ho." It's almost impossible to avoid joining in. This sort of jigged-out metal is alike the Dropkick Murphy's rocked out Irish folk tunes, and is the strength of the band. The later tune 'Pirate Song' is a similarly strong fireside tale made metal, accompanied by accordian, augmented by acoustics and percussion, and sounding like a band who are really hitting their stride.
'To the end of our days' nearly sends what so far has been smooth sailing onto the rocks; a slow, ballad-like epic that risks being meandering, mawkish, and straining the limitations of Bowes voice. Thankfully due to several unexpected twists, including a dirge of bagpipes and a keyboard break with a sound that mustered memories of 'The house of the rising sun', this larger, more languid song provides a change of pace, and welcome diversity, without sounding like they are attempting to write one of those traditional Manowar epic-odes.
'Black Sails at Midnight' , as with the opening track is a leaner, simpler metal track, probably the most 'pure metal' on the album, sporting a great chunky riff, remaining mostly void of the embroidery that decorates the rest of the album.
The instrumental 'No Quarter', borrowing a theme from Klaus Bandelt's score for 'Pirates of the Caribbean 2' is a toe tapping, jaunty affair, that avoids utter self-indulegence, making you want to polish your beer off in one huge gulp, slam the mug down and set about tottering a dance with the nearest wench. Or something like that.
I must admit by the time I reached this point fo the album I was onto my fourth cider, and was jolly indeed.
'Chronicles of Vengeance' is the band at their most epic, rousing the listener with orchestral fanfares, swells, and twiddly keys. Strangely a blast section offers one of the few moments of indulgence that seems ill-advised, otherwise this is fantastic hand-on-hips melodramatic metal.
Closing the album is the hilarious cover of the Latvia's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest from a few years back, 'The Wolves of the Sea.' To be honest I was a fan of the original song, a bouncy, flouncy bit of buccaneer bubblegum, that was extremely catchy, and I could think of no better band than Alestorm to cover it. Needless to say their version is fantastic, while true to the original, the boys going for broke, hoardes bellow the chorus en-masse, steel drums tinkle, while the whole tune rocks right out, leaving the listener standing in the middle of their lounge room, legs spread, arms out, bellowing hi's and ho's at the top of his lungs, grinning like a fool.
I was onto my fifth cider by this point

With Running Wild having pulled into port for the last time, and retracted their sails, it seems that Alestorm, with this album, have proved that they may well be the true heirs to the mantle of Pirate Kings. The band may be camp and slightly silly but they have their own vibe, and most importantly their own sound, a rare quality, with this second conident album providing a tight, terrific, collection of toe-tapping thrash, and rollicking rock, hugely entertaining, cheeky, and worthy successor to their dynamic debut.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

GIG: Lord...Almighty!

Full moon. Freezing cold. Great night for druids.
After some conjecture I actually forced myself out into the cold, and steeling myself against the bitter winds, took myself, albeit with a slightly starched stride, to the Arthouse ( colloquially known as 'Arty' ) in North Melbourne; home of punk, hard-core, metal, placky pots, bareboards and a open fire giving the place the place a perculiar rustic feel, a welcome roof top for the faggers, karsies from hell and a reservoir of memories of gigs of ages past.

It had been over a year since I last saw my beloved Dungeon, sorry Lord, and if memory serves me correctly the last show was the support for Saxon at Billboards, and that was early 2008. Not only was I anticipating seeing them again, but also the chance to finally pick up the new album, 'Set in Stone', which I hadn't managed to spot around the traps. I've maintained a tradition of picking up all of their releases from the gigs; something that always gives me a thrill, and something to read in the cab, or tram on the way home. Admittedly 'reading' is relative to cider consumption. ( As are most things )
In-extremis I tend to look at the pictures.

Self-annointed 'Lord' Tim Grose, lead singer/ song-writer and guitarist extraordinaire, may never choose to, or be able to, shake free of the shackles of the previous incarnation of his band Dungeon, for in many ways Lord is ostensibly the same band which means that in spite of the clash of nomenclature, Tim and company are still delivering some of the best power/thrash metal in this country, if not standing toe-to-toe, with many of the established greats on the world stage. It was August 2002 when I first experienced Dungeon ( as well as my local faves Crimsonfire ) at a show on the Espy's Gershwin Room stage. While the mighty Dreadnaught were rocking the front room, a number of domestic and local power-metal bands performed throughout the night, opening my eyes to the fact that not only were these bands in existence in Oz, but they were pretty good to boot. For so long death-metal, grind, black, and hard-core seemed predominant, and the power/thrash genre was utterly eclipsed, if non existent. Dungeon struck such a chord with me; they seemed to be inspired by all my faves: Iron Maiden, early Testament, early Helloween, Kreator, and so on; and it was love at first listen, literally, with Dungeon filling a void in my life, and listening. There have only been a few times, as far as music goes, that I can think of equivalent epiphanies: discovering Overkill, hearing Maiden's 'Live after Death' for the time and the joy Bruce Dickinson's 'Chemical Wedding', the serendipity of Nightwish and Within Temptation; and that night at the Espy so long ago. It was the first time ever I had put myself on a band's mailing list.

With a rapid rotation of members, from the departure of long time collaborator and guitar wizard Stu Marshall, and several other guitarists ( including a curious Slash lookalike ), drummers, bass players, a considerable number of international band supports, tours overseas ( Japan, and the European campaign with Megadeth ) and the transition from Dungeon to Lord, the last few years have certainly seemed turbulent, yet throughout all of this mainman Tim Grose has managed to continue producing albums of a consistently high standard, production and performance-wise.

After seeing Dungeon almost fill The Corner years back it's disappointing, to say the least, to report about fifty or so punters gathered for the show. The old axiom 'Quality versus quantity' prevailed though, for those that attended proved to be die-hards, mostly younger punters, with a fair number of metalassies, who knew the songs inside out, the throng 'woh-oh-wohing' in unison. Now, there's nothing I love more than a good woh-oh-woh. 'Tis true that a band's greatness can be measured by its 'woh-oh-wohs'. Surely Maiden are the undisputed kings-of-the-woh, and I my humble opinion Dungeon/Lord aren't far behind them. The Dungeon classic 'Insanity's fall' is a perfect example of woh-ness; full of prolonged wohs that turned the audience into a shadowy gallery of those clown heads from the carnivals and sideshows that you pop ping-pong balls into the mouths of. How we woh wide and long, loud and proud. Lord Tim with his Dicksinson-esque voice also has the same stage manner, and control over his crowd, whatever size, actively prompting and conducting the eager audience into accompaniment. A guy in front of me has a Lord T-shirt with the back sporting the slogan "no bullshit, just play" and that is very much the mentality manifested, with only a tuning mishap leading to a pause, Lord tear through a near ninety minute frenzy of rapid-fire rockers: from 'Walk through fire' to tracks from the new album 'Redemption' with its' astoundingly frenetic riff, 'Eternal Storm', the most recent title track 'Set in Stone', 'Limb from Limb' from the previous album, a personal fave in the tune 'Resurrection' and closing out with 'I am Death', which was interrupted by a brief passage of their cover of Kylie Mingue's 'On a night like this'. Hilarious. Dungeon/ Lord have a long history of great covers, their rendition of 'Playing to win' was a doozy as well, and hearing Kylie made metal, however briefly, was hilarious.
[ This track was recorded and can be found on the band's 'Hear no Evil' EP ]

I'm not sure what the impact of the departure of long-time drummer, and song-writing collaborator Tim Yatras will be on the band, and whether the new drummer Damo ( looking like he should be 80's band Ratt ) will last, but it was pleasing to see that at least Lord Tim's string contingent are consitent and strong with Andy Dowling still on bass and Mark Furtner proving a match for the frantic fingers of his Lordship. Watching this pair, Mark and Tim, fingers flying, lightning legato and thrilling with their trilling, is a joy to behold. Lord Tim truly is one of the great metal guitarists, up there with the likes of Mustaine, Skolnick, Murray & Smith, Tipton & Downing, and tonight both playing, and singing, he seems stronger than ever. Even on a miniscule stage, the confidence and excellence of Lord's musicianship and music is enough to leave me feeling that I'd experienced a far bigger show, something far more significant that a Friday night at the Arty.

Hopefully it wont be too long before the boys make the trip down from Sydney again, and perhaps this time a bigger crowd will turn out to behold in the majesty of Lord almighty!


Friday, September 4, 2009

snare roll in...and...

...and so another year transpires and having survived to endure another birthday ( though barely thanks to the majority of a bottle of Glen Fiddich and a bleary eyed trip to see 'G.I. Joe' ) I find myself reaching a point where i feel compelled to throw myself in with the tap-tap-typing throng and thread the great infinite of the internet with yet another ribbon of rambling reviews and redacted reminiscenses.

Now that I've admitted that, I find myself coy and uncertain. What next? Should I tell you something of myself, before my scribblings begin to unravel, dear reader, as if the proverbial thread from a well-worn carpet? What would you like to know? What do you need to know in order that this relationship of ours works? Operating of course on the basis that I will always remain honest, and candid, and eschew the opportunity to dissemble my dillentantism, and detract from my dabblings and derring-do, I can tell you that I have often been mistaken for Brad Pitt, and possess magickal powers, contained within a glass orb clutched in a raven's claw I wear on a chain around my neck.

Not buying it, eh?
Okay, I'm a mid-thirties artist, writer, rocker and raconteur.
Call me Scarlet Sapience.
That's okay, there's no need for genuflection, though a cup of tea would be nice.
Ooh, and some biccies.

It was either Scarlet Sapience or SloMo Sapience.
Personally, I think Scarlet Sapience makes me sound like one of the Red Lantern cast from Green Lantern. I imagine Terry Thomas in a red leather outifit with a satin cape. ( Sort of like Sinestro, but camp )When you conjure that image try not to make the cozzie too tight...
Perhaps, on that note, SloMo Sapience is looking better after all.

So, I think I'll list a few of my favourite things, for I am big into lists, as you will soon discover, and let my tastes shape your impressions of me.

Doctor Who ( the be all and end all )
The Professionals, The Sweeney, Minder.
Drop the Dead Donkey

Suspiria, The Wicker Man, Hellraiser, Withnail & I, The Quatermass films, Halloween & The Fog,
The Remains of the Day, Ferris Beuller's Day Off, The Wild Bunch, The Fury & Blow Out, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Taxi Driver & Goodfellas, The Long Good Friday, Manhunter, The Dirty Dozen.

John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese.

James Ellory, Shaun Hutson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Phil Rickman, Tom Holland, Joe R. Lansdale, Carl Hiassen, Elmore Leonard, the divine Kim Wilkins, the genius that is Mark Gatiss...
and Robert Holmes and Terrance Dicks.

Overkill, Iron Maiden, Within Temptation, Running Wild, Celtic Frost, Bolt Thrower, Nightwish, Kreator, Dark Moor, Blind Guardian, Motorhead, Rhapsody, Dark Angel, Sodom.
Dungeon, Dreadnaught, DowNriver, Crimson Fire...and RiVeN

Henry Rollins, Friedrich Nietszche, Gustav Holst, Adam Hughes & Alex Ross & Dave McKean, Gail Simone, Robson Green, Andy Hamilton, Laurie Wyman, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, Malboro cigarettes, Monte Carlo biscuits & Arnotts Barbecue Shapes, ESP, Anton La Vey...

..Sorry that started to get out of control...
I suppose by now you've got the point. Something in there for everyone really.

Be warned I can, and will ramble. Here be tangents.

I think I will leave you with that lot to contemplate and take my leave.

Next time, it'll be time to get serious...

Right then, hold on tight, deep breath...and...let's go...