Monthly Archives: July 2015

Fred Mills: Congrats to Blurt’s Stephen Judge Being Named to Music Biz Board

Stephen Mike

That would indeed be Mr. Judge above, pictured in a particularly weak moment with Killer Mike of Run the Jewels during one of our in-stores at Schoolkids.

By Fred Mills

While I am not necessarily one to blow our own horn here — I usually let others do that for us, although come to think of it, those testimonials tend to be along the lines of “You guys blow!”… but I digress… — once in awhile it’s entirely appropriate, so allow me to get personal for just a moment and do just that.

About a week ago the Music Business Association announced that that the owners of a pair of respected independent record stores had been named to their official Board of Directors. And one of those owners is our own Stephen Judge, who operates Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, NC—that would be the same Stephen Judge who owns this very website as well as BLURT magazine, as well as Second Motion Records, which has released acclaimed titles from the likes of Tommy Keene, the Church, Bettie Serveert and the Parson Red Heads. Sharp-eyed readers will also recall that since early 2012 yours truly also worked at Schoolkids while simultaneously overseeing BLURT, and while I have just recently left the former due to relocating from Raleigh back to Asheville, that three years spent in the trenches with Stephen (plus, let’s share the wealth here, Matti, Dave, Tommy, Mary Frances and Kyle) have given me some of the best memories of my adult life.

I mean, how cool is it when the two of us can say we got to hang out with fuckin’ Killer Mike?!? And that’s just one of the many in-stores appearances and performances Stephen arranged for us. To say nothing of shepherding the semi-controlled chaos that has been Record Store Day, and helping steer the ascendancy of vinyl records back to their appropriate place of prominence in the hearts, minds and sweaty paws of music lovers. (Go HERE to the photos collection on the store’s Facebook page for some cheap thrills.)

At any rate, Stephen has busted his ass to make the store a success, so much so that he was able to open a second Schoolkids location earlier this year in nearby Durham. Being named to the Music Biz board, therefore, is not only a huge honor for him, it simply makes sense because he’s been involved in the music business for a lot longer than that. He’s joined by Bryan Burkert, owner of The Sound Garden, and as the Music Biz press release announcing their appointments, points out, between the two of them they “will bring nearly four decades of combined experience to the Board, providing key insights on issues facing the music industry.”

“We are thrilled to welcome two such experienced and versatile music industry professionals to our Board,” continued James Donio, President of Music Biz, in the release. “Stephen and Bryan have blazed their own trails through many different facets of the business at indie retail, record labels, artist management companies, music distribution companies, concert venues, and nightclubs, giving them a well-rounded and unique viewpoint on the issues of the day. We look forward to working with them as Music Biz continues to help build the future of music commerce.”

“I am honored to join the Music Biz Board and see this as the culmination of all the experience I have gained over the last 25 years,” said Judge. “In addition to running a retail store, I have years of experience in artist management, distribution, marketing, publishing, label management, A&R, contract negotiations, and finance. I’m looking forward to listening and learning from my fellow Board members while contributing in a meaningful way with my diverse experience.”

For my part, I’ve known Stephen in a number of capacities for a good deal longer than just my three years at Schoolkids. And his background is pretty impressive, including time spent working as a buyer and manager for Schoolkids back in the ‘90s, later working at Black Park Management and Redeye Distribution, and managing bands both prior to and after he started up Second Motion. He also bought BLURT in 2010, and sadly, it was downhill after that… just kiddin’, bro!

In short, it’s been a privilege— and a fuck of a bunch of fun! ask me about those day parties in Austin during SXSW each year—to know him, and I felt like the rest of the BLURT universe should know about this Music Biz honor. Those of us here at the BLURT penthouse suite are proud of the dude. Salute!

Blow our own horn? You’re goddam right we can. And should.

Fred Mills is the editor of Blurt. He loves vinyl even though he’s no longer working in a record store. Keep sending it to him.

Fred Mills: Tom Petty and our Southern Accents

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Ed note: the following commentary/review was originally published here at BLURT in 2010, on the occasion of Tom Petty’s massive career overview, The Live Anthology box, on Warner Bros. Because of the subject matter I dwelt upon, it seems as relevant now, in the wake of the Confederate flag controversy (which I previously commented upon). Particularly so given Petty’s recent musings on the flag and how he now regrets using it in the iconography and marketing of his concert tour for Southern accents back in ’85. Feel free to weigh in at the comments section below – particularly if you were at the 1990 concert in Charlotte, as I was, when Petty, prompted by a fan tossing a battle flag onto the stage, stopped the show and told the audience that he regretted his earlier embrace of that flag. – FM

BY FRED MILLS

Writers whose roots extend below the Mason-Dixon line have long dwelled on matters of heritage. Even those who preach the occasional necessity of getting out in order to make a life for oneself understand how roots run deep, and you can no more escape that heritage than you can declare your back yard a sovereign nation and secede from the Union. So to speak.

Tom Petty’s a writer, of songs, and while he’s a textbook example of a southern boy who got out and, in the parlance, done real good for hisself, in those songs there’s always been a lyrical tension between the past and the present that gives his material an autobiographical undercurrent, an ambiance, a vibe, peculiar to southern writers. I’m a writer, too, and the longer I do it the more I discover my own regional idiosyncrasies creeping in to my work; I suspect they were always there and I just didn’t recognize them as such. Finding parallels between Petty’s life and mine isn’t particularly hard, either. Both of us came of age in the sixties, he in upstate Florida and me in a textile mill region of North Carolina, right at the NC-SC line — which, if you know much about those two regions, suggests a distinct lack of cultural opportunities, so a person was usually left casting a wide net utilizing whatever resources could be found.

 

“Well she was an American girl

Raised on promises

She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there

Was a little more to life

Somewhere else

After all it was a great big world

With lots of places to run to…”

 

As Petty pointed out in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, his best-known song “American Girl” is not about a specific girl: “I was creating a girl like I knew in Gainesville, the kind who knows there’s more out there than the cards she’s drawn.” But he was also subliminally sketching himself into the character, articulating what he had felt growing up in Gainesville. This is why the tune strikes a chord regardless of whether you’re a male or a female; the yearning is universal, and it’s not necessary limited to teenagers either.

In our mutual quests to find a little more to life Petty and I both eschewed high school sports for books, movies and, most particularly, music, and because of that our role models tended to be a few years older, typically long-haired and liberal-tilting types (and with good weed connections) who gave us the kind of encouragement we didn’t necessarily get from our peer group. Both of us took a lot of grief when we began growing our own hair out, including thumpings from local good ol’ boys who took exception to our appearance, and such incidents fueled streaks of anger, defiance and righteousness. Petty, for example, told Rolling Stone that during his early years as a musician he was harassed by rednecks and even refused service at truck stops and it helped him understand and sympathize with what African-Americans went through on a daily basis. On my end, I was on the receiving end of redneck taunts myself, and I still wince at the memory of the time when a couple of my so-called friends cornered me one afternoon following school, one of them holding me down while the other one took a pair of scissors to my hair (which, let’s be clear here, was only a little ways past my collar and hardly “dirty hippie” length). Not to mention fielding racial epithets because my mom was on the local school board during the protracted period of desegregation and therefore our family was perceived to be among the “nigger lovers” aiming to upend the social order.

Those angry, defiant and righteous feelings continue to manifest in us as adults.

And Petty and I both finally got out, too: he traveled far, to L.A., and embarked upon one of rock’s more storied careers; I made it to college, and in a roundabout way, not always financially fruitful but still aesthetically satisfying, to a life in music, too. All along, although the two of us have met just once and then only very briefly, our southern heritage has continued to link us in ways that gives his music a resonance that is deeper and more enduring than that of pretty much any other artist I admire.

***

One day in late 1979 I wandered into a Chapel Hill, NC, record store. Spying among the new releases a copy of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I wondered who this leather-jacketed guy on the sleeve was. The shoulder-length blonde hair painted him a traditional ‘70s rock type, yet the jacket and half-smirk/half-sneer creasing his face suggested he was more aligned with punk, which by then I was already enthusiastically embracing. The guy behind the counter played a couple of songs, notably the Byrdsian raveup “American Girl,” and I was sold. It would be over-romanticizing matters for me to claim I converted, on the spot, to fan-for-life status — it was only Petty’s first album, after all — but I can confess, in all sincerity, that the net result was the same.

Other albums would similarly floor me — 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, 1985’s Southern Accents, 1994’s Wild Flowers (billed as a solo Petty release), even 2002’s The Last DJ, which did well commercially but took a drubbing from critics — while songs from all of Petty’s releases would find their way into regular mixtape rotation in the car, on the home stereo, and eventually on the iPod and smartphone, too. I recall buying the 45 of “Refugee” because it had a non-album B-side, “Casa Dega,” a spooky-sounding slow-burn number that referenced a strange little Florida town (it’s actually spelled Cassadaga) populated by psychics. The lyrics, mysterious yet open-endedly romantic, have always gotten under my skin, like a partially-remembered dream that lingers and haunts you long after you’ve awaken:

 

“She said to me as she holds my hand

And reads the lines of a stranger

Yeah, and she knows my name, yeah, she knows my plan

In the past, in the present, and for the future…

‘Baby fools pay the price of a whisper in the night

In Casa Dega

Time rolls by, night is only night

Can I save you?’”

 

Of course it was the live Petty experience that would cement my fanship. I’ll never forget squeezing down front at an outdoor amphitheater in Charlotte in the early ‘80s to watch the Heartbreakers blaze through a set in the summer’s heat; I was surrounded by so many gorgeous, sweat-drenched, dancing, screaming females that I got a first-hand sense of what Beatlemania might have been like. Later that evening at the nearby hotel, who should I run into at the elevator but keyboardist Benmont Tench; upon learning that we had a close mutual friend, he paused to chat a few moments then invited me up to say hello to Petty, as the band was about to check out early and drive through the night on their bus to the next gig. Starstruck, I wound up mumbling at them something about “owning all the records” and “when are you going to start making better music videos,” thus ensuring that Petty and Tench quickly found excuses to go finish their packing before I could get around to asking for an autograph. But hey, at least I got to shake their hands.

Another time was in Phoenix in the mid ‘90s, at a point when the Heartbreakers had skillfully merged both their own songs and Petty’s solo material to craft what was unquestionably one of the most dynamic stage shows by one of the most formidable live acts in the business. In particular, they brought down the house with “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” which had earlier been an MTV staple thanks to the goofy Alice In Wonderland-styled vid, but in concert was transformed into a psychedelic epic complete with an eye-popping, potentially seizure-inducing, lights and strobe production.

But the Petty concert I’ll always remember most vividly was in 1990, once again in Charlotte. [Jan. 29 to be precise, with Lenny Kravitz opening.In] April of the previous year Petty had released his first solo LP, the Jeff Lynne-produced Full Moon Fever, so he was spotlighting a good chunk of that record even though with the exception of guitarist Mike Campbell the members of the Heartbreakers only had cameos on FMF. The band was also doing a lot of the Southern Accents album, from 1985, and much of the same stage design (plantation mansion columns, assorted antebellum/southern touches, etc.) from the Southern Accents tour was still being used. It was during the “Rebels” segment that something totally out of the blue happened.

A certain yahoo element had already been making its presence in the crowd known, emitting whoops and raising beer cups whenever Petty would make a regional reference. It was starting to feel like a NASCAR rally in the arena. Now, as the band eased into the song’s signature piano intro, somebody tossed a folded-up object onto the stage. Petty walked over, picked it up, and started unfolding it: a rebel flag, symbol of the Confederacy — and of a whole lot more. He froze, uncertain as to what he should do. Well, wave it proudly at all your fellow Southerners, you could almost hear the collective thought ripple through the air. Instead, Petty walked back to the mic, still holding the flag, and slowly began to speak, talking about how on the Southern Accents tour a few years ago they’d included a Confederate flag as part of the stage set, but since then he’d been thinking about it and decided that it had been a mistake because he understood maybe it wasn’t just a rebel image to some folks. As a low rumble of boos and a few catcalls came out of the crowd, Petty carefully wadded the flag up and concluded, “So we don’t do” — nodding at the flag — “this anymore.” Glaring at it one last time and then chucking it back down, he glanced at the band then launched directly into the next song.

Driving home from the concert that night I still could feel the combined chill and thrill I’d gotten earlier. A lesser performer wouldn’t have been able to pull off a simultaneous refutation and affirmation, and in the unexpected duality of sentiment and expectations of the moment, Petty and his Heartbreakers had gone on to perform the song with a visceral resolve imbued equally with grace and grit I hadn’t detected at previous concerts.

Turning on the radio, I heard the local classic rock deejay talking about the incident in disparaging terms and inviting listeners to call in and “let Tom Petty know just what we think about him.” In that moment, I felt the anger and defiance of my younger self return, and I wanted to punch the dashboard. Just a few blocks from my house, in my distraction I ran a stop sign, got pulled over by a cop, and received a ticket that led me to having to take a series of classes on highway safety in order to have it dismissed. Thanks, y’all.

 

***

Petty Box

It’s these memories that steer me to The Live Anthology (Reprise), a five-CD, three-DVD, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers box. Arriving as a kind of two-year coda to 2007’s Peter Bogdanovich-directed TP&THB documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream and the accompanying book and multiple-DVD/CD set, it’s a dream date all on its own terms, stuffed to its 12” x 12” x 2”, Shepard Fairey-art-adorned gills with all manner of goodies and memorabilia. There are facsimiles of tour posters and backstage passes; a thick LP-sized booklet boasting detailed track annotations and commentary plus extensive liners from Petty, Warren Zanes and a host of music journalists; a pocket-sized TP “notebook”; and a reproduction of the 1977 promotional-only 12” EP Official Live ‘Leg that Shelter Records distributed to radio stations (the repro even duplicates the way the original had the same four songs pressed on both sides; incidentally, the nine-minute “Dog On the Run” is a must-hear). In short, pure collector catnip.

Sound- and vision-wise, Petty’s not just fucking around with a high-ticket item suitable for holiday shopping, either. One of the DVDs contains all of the live audio material in the high-resolution Blu-ray format, meaning that if you have a Blu-ray player and harbor an audio geek side, you’re in clover. Meanwhile, the two video discs nicely complement the other Petty DVDs in your collection (there have been quite a few, including RDAD, to date). Live at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was professionally filmed at the Heartbreakers’ Dec. 31, 1978 concert, and it’s every bit as intense and celebratory as a New Year’s Eve show should be. That it captures the band on the cusp of — but not quite there yet — huge international stardom, a good nine months before the release of Damn the Torpedoes, therefore giving you a long-form look at a group still hungry and fueled by an almost punkish combativeness, makes for a revealing and rewarding viewing experience. Several as-yet-unreleased songs were already in the setlist at the time, notably “Refugee” and “Casa Dega,” and the closing Isley Brothers cover “Shout” completely smokes the version that appeared on 1985’s concert album and film Pack Up the Plantations: Live!

The third DVD is titled 400 Days, a documentary film directed by Martyn Atkins. Atkins had been introduced to Petty by Rick Rubin during the making of Wildflowers, and he accumulated footage of Petty and the Heartbreakers in the studio and on the subsequent 1995 tour – essentially a chronicle of 400 days in the life of an artist and a rock band. It’s an engaging portrait, necessarily less comprehensive but in places more intimate than the Bogdanovich film, with a number of the performance clips in particular demanding repeated attention.

Everything circles back to the live CDS, however. And while the thought of over five hours’ worth of concert material is daunting by any standard, as a live album in the truest, most classic sense — think the Who’s Live at Leeds, the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, the Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, Gov’t Mule’s Live… With a Little Help from Our Friends, etc. — this surely ranks high. Petty told Rolling Stone that he put a lot of effort into sequencing the material in order to make each disc represent “a whole program,” like an individual concert set. Acknowledging the fracturing of artistic intent that iTunes represents and how people will undoubtedly cherry-pick the individual tunes they want to hear, he added, “But there’s somebody out there who will sit down and take it as the work it is.”

And what a work it is: a series of five emotional journeys (four, if you opt for the standard, budget-conscious 4CD edition, but I encourage you to be brave, hock your kid’s bike at the nearest pawn shop, and go for the full unexpurgated Kahuna), arranged not chronologically but in order to reveal, as Petty writes in his liners, “mood first… a band capable of thinking on its feet… one moment leading to the next.”

If you’ve had the patience to read this far you’re obviously a Petty fan and probably don’t need me to sell you on the music. I will say that, given the sheer quantity here, 62 songs in all, it’s damned remarkable that there’s nary a shred of excess on display. Even at their most demonstrative, say on a 2001 wig-out on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” or the extended boogie/raveup/anthem that is 1993’s “Drivin’ Down To Georgia,” the Heartbreakers demonstrate a cool restraint that keeps the focus on the actual songs. They also, via a healthy sampling of cover material (my faves: Peter Green & Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” from Bonnaroo ’06, and Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy,” from the famed 1997 Fillmore residency), open the doors wide to an in-action view of the band’s roots, influences and inspirations.

And for a collection of tapes that spans three decades, the sonic consistency and flow across the discs amount to an achievement that’s equally remarkable. For example, the aforementioned “DCAHNM” is followed immediately by a 1978 recording of “Too Much Ain’t Enough,” but they sound like they could have come from the same show. Another memorable pairing juxtaposes “Southern Accents” with Wildflowers standout “Crawling Back to You,” confirming a notion I’ve long held, that the Southern Accents and Wildflowers albums, though separated by a decade, are linked musically and thematically in Petty’s mind. And in one of the most striking sequences, one that almost singlehandedly sums up the Petty musical and thematic aesthetic, you get “Even the Losers”/”Here Comes My Girl” (1980) followed by “A Thing About You” (1981), “I’m In Love” (1982), “I’m A Man” (2006) and “Straight Into Darkness” (1982) — an entire lifetime’s worth of defiance, bliss, celebration, swagger and heartbreak rolled into a 25-minute mini-set.

In the latter tune, originally from 1982’s Long After Dark, Petty sings:

 

There was a little girl, I used to know her

I still think about her, time to time

There was a moment when I really loved her

Then one day the feeling just died…

I don’t believe the good times are over

I don’t believe the thrill is all gone

Real love is a man’s salvation

The weak ones fall, the strong carry on…”

 

It’s a telling number that, like “American Girl,” has a universality sunk deep into its sonic and lyric hooks, and it’s emblematic of the many musical riches contained on The Live Anthology. Listening to the box is like immersing oneself in a sea of sense memories. Indeed, as a songwriter Petty’s sometimes been accused of having an unvarnished nostalgic streak. (You could make a similar case for Springsteen.) But there’s a difference in nostalgia for the sake of cheap, fleeting emotion, and nostalgia that seeks to extract something that’s true and pure from a previous life in order to find clarity within the present one. The present’s never quite as clear-cut as we like to tell ourselves it is.

I reckon that’s something else Petty and I have in common. We both realize that to survive and move forward you often have to escape your current circumstances — after all, it’s a great big world, with lots of places to run to — but only a fool would try to erase the past.

Luckily, I’ll always have my southern accent to remind me of mine.

 

“There’s a southern accent, where I come from

The young’uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb

I got my own way of talkin’ but everything is done

With a southern accent where I come from…”

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 666.6

Black Star Riders - The Killer Instinct - Artwork

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the sixth installment in our latest genre study, with Black Star Riders, Venom, Raven, Blind Guardian, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4 and here for Pt. 666.5 —if you dare. Incidentally, following the text are links to audio and video of the bands discussed, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

It’s not rare for the old guard to make a comeback with a second or third wind – Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath stand as bands of a certain age that have undergone respectable resurrections. Less common is an older artist putting him or herself in a new band that continues prior traditions. Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham kept the Lizzy flag flying as a touring act, but when it came time to make new music, he changed the band’s name to Black Star Riders out of respect for Phil Lynott’s memory. BSR debuted a couple of years ago with the solid, if unspectacular, All Hell Breaks Loose, on which Gorham, guitarist Damon Johnson (Alice Cooper, Brother Cane), singer Ricky Warwick (the Almighty), bassist Marco Mendoza (Blue Murder, Ted Nugent) and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Alice Cooper, Megadeth) tried to expand beyond the classic Lizzy sound. Apparently that approach is out the window for The Killer Instinct (Nuclear Blast), which abandons the more generalist hard rock approach of the debut to hone straight in on what made Lizzy great. Gorham and Johnson make a formidable guitar team, expertly balancing melody and power, while DeGrasso and new bassist Robbie Crane (Ratt, Lynch Mob) juggle anything the riffmeisters throw at them. While he’s no clone, Warwick borrows liberally from Lynott’s conversational vocal style, making the tracks seems like letters from home as much as entertainment. From the Celtic metal of “Soldierstown” and the chugging “Sex, Guns & Gasoline” to the brooding crunch of “Charlie I Gotta Go” and the very Lizzy-like anthems “Finest Hour” and the title track, the band finds the sweet spot between accessibility and aggression that Lynott himself was so adept at exploiting. Phil would be proud.

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Speaking of the old guard, Venom, the band that gave the black metal genre its name, crawls back From the Very Depths (Spinefarm). Still led by bassist/singer Cronos, the trio doesn’t make much progress on its 14th album, but why should it? No one does the Satanic punk/metal thing as well as the originator – cf. “Grinding Teeth,” “Mephistopheles” and “Smoke” – and if the band sometimes resembles Motorhead (complete with Phil Campbell-like axeslinger Rage), more Motorhead emulators in the world ain’t ever a bad thing. A fellow power trio of similar vintage, Raven also comes blazing out of the gate with its thirteenth album Extermination (Steamhammer/SPV). Though associated with thrash and speed metal, due to early patronage of Metallica and Anthrax, in truth the British band deals out fairly styleless beatdowns, ignoring genre in favor of riffs and sheer energy on “Feeding the Monster” and “Destroy All Monsters.” Frankly, the 62-minute record would have been more effective at half the length, but in short bursts it’s damned exhilarating.

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While elder statesmen like Raven prove they’ve dropped no gauntlets to be picked up, young guns still pop up to keep the trad metal fire burning. On the Swedish quartet’s second album From Beyond (Nuclear Blast), Enforcer parties like it’s 1984, complete with monsters, magic, demons and evil deeds afoot. Fortunately, “Mask of Red Death,” “The Banshee” and the title track are the kind of gleefully over-the-top, riff-chugging anthems that require no understanding of lyrics in order to appreciate.

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Visigoth, hailing from the would-be metal Mecca of Salt Lake City, mines the same rich vein of fantasy-driven mania on its debut The Revenant King (Metal Blade). Whether due to its heightened melodic sense or the burly charisma of singer Jake Rogers, the quintet takes battleaxe metal to another level, lighting “Dungeon Master,” “Creature of Desire” and the title ditty on fire with chest-thrusting power. Coming in from the West Coast, Night Demon have faced charges of copycatting older, better bands (Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Angel Witch) on its full-length debut Curse of the Damned (Century Media). Clearly in thrall to the more melodic of the early NWoBHM bruisers, the Ventura, CA trio certainly won’t win any originality awards. But the band clearly loves playing with these toys, and “Screams in the Night,” “Livin’ Dangerously” and “The Howling Man” satisfy too well to worry about stylistic pilfering.

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The menacing sludge strangling the self-titled debut (Neurot) by Brothers of the Sonic Cloth hints at its creator: Tad Doyle, late of namesake Tad and Hog Molly. The Seattle singer/guitarist/producer molds BotSC into a far heavier and dissonant entity than any he’s led before. “Unnamed,” “Empires of Dust” and “I Am” lumber forward like dinosaurs before their coffee, with Doyle’s harsh roars and growls urging them on. The LP reaches a monstrous apex of sorts with the massive “La Mano Poderosa,” a multi-pronged shaft of blackened acid doom. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth may be the pinnacle of Doyle’s heavy rock obsessions. Also getting meaner and noisier in his old age, Aaron Turner – leader of late prog metal iconoclasts Isis and doom pranksters Old Man Gloom – launches Sumac with The Deal (Profound Lore). Clashing chords bat the melody around like a cat torturing a chipmunk, Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) pummels the kit while somehow maintaining swing and Turner growls in a voice so guttural you want to get him a cough drop. The trio creates a visceral brand of atmospheric art doom that expands boundaries while still staying true to form – cf. “Blight End’s Angel” and the title track.

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Portland’s Lord Dying, meanwhile, follows up its promising debut Summon the Faithless with Poisoned Altars (Relapse) maintaining its balance of roaring thud and ripping crunch. The title ditty, the mighty epic “Darkness Remains” and the delightfully titled “Sucking at the Teat of a She-Beast” wield chunky riffs like bloody hammers, softening you up for Erik Olson’s hellish drill sergeant bark.

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Less avant doom abounds as the ever-elegant Torche continues its practice of injecting gobs of singalong melody into savory crunch on Restarter (Relapse). Leader Steve Brooks grafts catchy vocal lines from early 90s alt.rock records to 70s-style doom, leading to accessible, ass-kicking tunes like “Bishop in Arms,” “Believe It” and “Loose Men.” Not to mention the title track, nearly nine minutes of amp-frying, synapse-abusing cosmic doom of a classically heavy stripe. The career of Sorcerer, meanwhile, dates back to the late 80s, though the Swedish quintet never released an album during their original lifespan. A couple of decades later, the band finally releases In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross (Metal Blade), its debut slab of epic doom. Like fellow countrybeast Candlemass, Sorcerer plays to the seats behind the cheap seats, thanks to singer Anders Engberg’s sweeping clarity and guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren’s mighty riffs. “Prayers For a King” and “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer” keep the melancholy melodies vibrating with dark atmosphere and electric power.

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On its self-titled second LP (RidingEasy), Brooklyn’s Blackout dives deeper into the same acid pool that soaked its first album, letting “Nightmare” and “Cross” ooze with psychedelic doom. The trio’s New York neighbor Geezer goes for a similar vibe on Gage (Ripple Music), putting a bluesy spin on “Thorny” and “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus” and going full space rock on “Tales of Murder and Unkindness.” It ain’t all new faces, though, since As Heaven Turns to Ash (Southern Lord), the debut and sole LP by long-defunct Massachusetts trio Warhorse, has been re-unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The band’s brand of psych-tinged sludge/doom is common currency these days, but back in 2001 it made (ugly) waves amongst aficionados of black lights, bongs and the devil. Beside bruisers like “Black Acid Prophecy” and “Lysergic Communion,” the reissue also features the songs from the band’s final 7-inch EP I Am Dying.

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A forward-thinking black metal act looking at twenty years of existence, Amsterdam-based Melechesh weaves threads reflecting its Assyrian, Armenian and Israeli heritage into thrashing savagery on Enki (Nuclear Blast). Keeping the blast beats to a minimum and the riffs (many of them played on 12-string for an extra six strings of oomph) to a maximum, Melechesh downloads Jewish, Christian and Muslim lore into robust files of Middle Eastern-frosted melody and take-no-prisoners brutality, brought into focus by leader Ashmedi’s otherworldly shriek. Parsing the band’s complex theology challenges and the epic prog metal of “The Outsiders” and acoustic ambience of “Doorways to Irkala” stun, but the sheer headbanging rush of “Multiple Truths,” “The Pendulum Speaks” and “Metatron and Man” satisfies most sweetly. In Times (Nuclear Blast) is the latest slab o’ grandeur from the mighty Enslaved, Norway’s best-known purveyors of progressive black metal and another twenty-year vet. Like fellow traveler Opeth, the Haugesund quintet freely moves between sweet and sour, countering harsh roars and a rampaging attack with mellifluous singing and accessible melody. After two decades of practice, the form verges on formula, but the band’s enthusiasm for its chosen path keeps “One Thousand Years of Rain,” “Building With Fire” and the title track on message.

Lucifer_Anubis

It doesn’t get much publicity even in these days of vinyl fetishism, but metal and hard rock bands like to be cool and put out seven-inch singles as much as punks and indie rockers. Johanna Sadonis, former singer of the great but sadly short-lived duo The Oath, debuts her new outfit Lucifer on “Anubis” b/w “Morningstar” (Rise Above), a pair of delightfully eerie and broodily melodic doom monsters that show off her haunting pipes. Lucifer’s labelmate Horisont also teases some kickass times ahead with “Break the Limit” b/w “Yellow Blues” (Rise Above). The A-side chugs with beer-fueled bravado, like a 70s opening act that knows better than the headliner, while the flip spices its widescreen roil with burbling Moog and duelling guitars.

Blind Guardian - Twilight Of The Gods - Artwork - Copy

Germany’s Blind Guardian also teases its latest opus with “Twilight of the Gods” b/w “Time Stands Still – At the Iron Hill (live at Wacken 2011)” (Nuclear Blast), the former a rampaging slice of Queenly power metal and the latter a majestic live track recorded at Germany’s premier heavy music festival. Finally, Ides of Gemini resurrect a song recorded during the sessions for but not included on its most recent LP Old World New Wave – “Carthage” b/w “Strange Fruit” (Magic Bullet) puts a brooding acoustic/electric slice of heaviness on the A-side and a haunting psych metal version of the Billie Holiday standard on the flip. (Be advised that the meatspace version of the single goes out of print following Record Store Day.)

K2B-AS 1440x1440

Miscellaneous: Karma to Burn returns to action with the mighty Arch Stanton (FABA), a rampaging collection of psychedelic dinosaur killers and scorched earth boogie. Powered by a swingin’ rhythm section and layered with guitar tones so thick they’d withstand a rhinoceros charge, “23,” “57” and “54” don’t just rock – they roll, over the hills, through the woods and on up to your doorstep, collecting heads along the way. Portugal’s Moonspell reasserts itself as South America’s paragon of gothic metal on Extinct (Napalm), a hard-rocking LP that may appeal as much to fans of Sisters of Mercy as to those of H.I.M.. Check out anthems “The Last of Us” and “Medusalem” to sample both the band’s inherent tunefulness and singer Fernando Ribeiro’s ability to go from croon to bawl to blargh without dissociative personality disorder. Fulgora consists of members of grindcore/extreme metal royalty Pig Destroyer, Misery Index and Agoraphoric Nosebleed; Stratagem (Housecore) collects the four songs from the trio’s Dischord singles, plus three. “Splinter” “Merdian” and “Artifice” smash shins with chugging noisecore, with hard rock riffery and articulate shouting distinguishing them from grindcore’s usual inchoate rage blur.

A Forest of Stars - BtSYCS

Hailing from Leeds, England, A Forest of Stars emerges from its ancient castle with Beware the Sword You Cannot See (Prophecy), a weird and wonderful melange of black metal, prog, Celtic folk and quirky British sensibilities. As blackened vokills sidling up to arch spoken word passages and dreamy violin swells duel with crunching guitars, “A Blaze of Hammers,” “An Automaton Adrift” (part V of an inexplicable song cycle) and “Drawing Down the Rain” should border on batshit insane. But the septet (led by vocalist Mister Curse, violinist/singer Katherine, Queen of the Ghosts and keyboardist the Gentleman) values craft over chaos, keeping on track and letting each ingredient in the stew get a chance to shine. Best song title, maybe ever: “Proboscis Master Versus the Powdered Seraphs.” Similarly eclectic, though more concerned with emotional power, is Pyramids, a Denton, Texas ensemble that conflates prog rock, shoegaze, black metal and doom into the remarkable ball of earwax A Northern Meadow (Profound Lore). Though burdened with titles like “I Have Four Sons, All Named For Men We Lost to War” and “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like the Mouths of Whales,” the record nearly perfectly balances beauty and brutality, not so much shifting between moods as indulging in them all at once. Thus a melancholy croon floats above harsh guitar grind, and a majestic melody emerges from brooding dissonance – a difficult meld to mold, but Pyramids get it right.

Voices_London a

Cheerily starting its second LP with a lovely acoustic ditty called “Suicide Note,” eclectic extremists Voices slither and blast all over the map on London (Candlelight), named for the quartet’s hometown. With roots in adventurous black metal troop Akercocke, it’s no surprise Voices veers between melancholy melody and savage brutality – or, for that matter, the egomania and alternative sexuality celebrated in “Last Train Victoria Line,” “The Ultimate Narcissist” and the charming “The Fuck Trance.” The frequent narration indicates a storyline of some sort.

KCGotW

Blurring the lines between genres even further, Karyn Crisis debuts her new project Gospel of the Witches with Salem’s Wounds (Century Media). Death metal, goth, grunge and the occult fuse in the former Crisis leader’s new vision, with “The Secret,” “Goddess of Light” and “Mother” giving her plenty of room to growl and howl as sidefolk drawn from Ephel Duath, Immolation, Tombs and Vaura attempt to keep up.

KINGWOMAN_cover

Finally, metal wouldn’t be metal without royalty asserting itself, and thus we have debut EPs from a pair of Kings. Fronted by Kristina Esfandiari, late of shoegaze rockers Whirr, King Woman lowers itself into a molten vat of doom on the four-song Doubt (The Flenser). “King of Swords” and “Candescent Soul” blend the singer’s former and current projects, allowing her to mix her voice in as texture, rather than lead instrument. King Hitter, on the other hand, prefers chugging boogie metal to dreamy doomgaze on its self-titled five-songer (Restricted Release). Led by ex-Leadfoot members Scott Little and Karl Agell, who also sang for Corrosion of Conformity on Blind, King Hitter lays down the pound on “The End,” “Feel No Pain” and its eponymous theme song, kicking out the kind of jams that require a convertible with the top down and a long stretch of highway.

King Hitter_RES013CD

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, during the recent SXSW festival, it was reported that an RV transporting young Swedish attendees was seen in the vicinity of several area Baptist churches that later burned to the ground. Toland, however, claims to have no knowledge of any of this. His Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

Below are links to audio and video of most of the artists detailed above. Be sure you surf anonymously, however, because government officials will be monitoring them….

Black Star Riders – “Finest Hour”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRZa-qf7haw

Venom – “Grinding Teeth”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHMC-llcnJw

Raven – “Destroy All Monsters”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skb0oN1GftI

Enforcer – “Destroyer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4785h6JSqNc

Visigoth – “The Revenant King”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqc1yNuFrps

Night Demon – “Screams in the Night”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-nozJQfqE0

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth – video teaser:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUVHQ8u0HZeyKXRieHNneaGA&v=hDk96GQKTWU

Sumac – “Blight End’s Angel”

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Sumac

Lord Dying – “Poisoned Altars”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOjubYcJjFA

Torche – album stream:

https://torche.bandcamp.com/album/restarter

Sorcerer – “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxAJ6i_jKkY

Blackout – album stream:

http://blackout666.bandcamp.com/album/blackout-2

Geezer – album stream:

https://geezertown.bandcamp.com/album/gage

Warhorse – album stream:

http://warhorsesl.bandcamp.com/releases

Enslaved – “One Thousand Years of Rain”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O7GhZBpDCk

Melechesh – “Multiple Truths”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euzd-Om57vM

Lucifer – Anubis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEV_7XVu3U0

Horisont – “Break the Limit”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS8RxNRLsRI

Blind Guardian – “Twilight of the Gods”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep1B_aIFPDE

Karma to Burn – “55”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De-zrgA3o0g

Moonspell – “The Last of Us”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QlabIp__44

Fulgora – “Splinter”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7IyRjlVubE

Voices – “The Fuck Trance”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuEI6y8itS8

Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – “Mother”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1AIUdaHT_k

Pyramids – album stream:

https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/a-northern-meadow

A Forest of Stars – album stream:

https://a-forest-of-stars.bandcamp.com/album/beware-the-sword-you-cannot-see

King Woman – “King of Swords”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bnsfccgbC0

King Hitter – “King Hitter”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgsBE5iHWec

 

 

 

Fred Mills: The Rainbow States of America

US

Thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, on having a gay family member, and on a new generation’s growing up in a vastly different America.

By Fred Mills

It was just last week when I felt compelled to weigh in on the Charleston massacre and what it meant for me to grow up in the South during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Now here I go again with another editorial that has nothing to do with BLURT and music. So be it; this is an important topic.

The Supreme Court decision on gay marriage literally brought tears of joy and relief to me, as have other advances for the gay community of the past decade or so. I’m married and heterosexual, but please don’t take the foregoing statement as another non-gay interloper attempting the journalistic equivalent of “hey, I’ve got black friends so of course I can’t possibly be racist or bigoted…” You know what I mean, so I’ll leave it at that. Given all the bullshit that has gone down here in North Carolina recently, from the odious Amendment 1 to the state Constitution that meant our state would not recognize same-sex unions to the legislation-via-conservative-blueprint Senate Bill 2 (aka the Religious Freedom Restoration act) that would allow public magistrates and registers of deeds to opt out of performing marriage duties if it offended their personal religious beliefs, the SCOTUSA decision comes neither too little nor too late.

As with most attitudes people hold, mine is deeply personal. Aside from simply being raised by my parents to know what is right and to have a keen sense of social justice, I have long had close gay friends (whoops! there I go!), and I also happen to have a brother who is gay. I can’t say we are particularly close, and our long-distance communication (he lives on the West Coast) is sporadic, to say the least. We have very different sensibilities, and the fact that he is six years my junior means that for much of his life he would have been at least partially in my shadow and probably experienced some resentment, both overt and subconscious, towards me; that’s just how sibling dynamics often work. But I love him dearly, and I respect him as a human being who for most of his life has been able to live that life true to himself and not closeted. If memory serves, he came out to our mom during his late teens or early twenties; I can’t recall if he came out directly to our dad or if he left it to her to break the news. Both of them would have been very traditional-minded, but I am sure that after some initial discombobulation they accepted him because, after all, they loved him dearly. He may not realize that, but I am certain it’s true.

Parents, after all, are supposed to have unconditional love for their kids. As the father of a 14 year old boy, I experience that unconditional love as a near-primal force within me; it’s hard to explain in words, because it’s a far more vivid feeling than, say, sticking with your absolute favorite band or musician regardless of the missteps or bad albums that he/they make, or believingly fervently in the flag and the United States no matter what our country does in the so-called name of democracy. As you might imagine, a 14 year old doesn’t talk to his dad much—if at all—about romance or sex. Hell, when I was his age, I think I was sneaking peeks at my parent’s Harold Robbins novels, eventually graduating to shoplifting girlie mags at the local newsstand. I sure wasn’t going to go to my dad with my romantic woes (or fantasies). And sure, I’ll say stuff to my son like, “So, did you meet any cute girls at summer camp?” or, “Anybody special from school you need to stay in touch with over the summer?” But all I get in response is, “I dunno…”

Hypothetically, though, it does make me wonder, if I changed the sex in that first question, what would my reaction be if he answered in the affirmative. Obviously I regularly pat myself on the back for being open-minded and egalitarian, and there’s that unconditional love thing I mentioned too. But since I am a heterosexual and assume that my son is too, I would also be dishonest if I professed to know with 100% certainty what my deep-down emotional response would be if one day he came out to me, and I don’t think people can genuinely make accurate predictions of emotional responses – as opposed to intellectual responses – before events that trigger the emotions occur. I know this scenario is something that probably happens every day in some family, and in some instances it tears them apart and in others it just makes the bonds stronger; each father’s response is no doubt very individualized. It must have been hard on my brother when he came out to our mom, particularly given the era (‘60s/’70s) and region (Southern bible belt) in which he grew up. So with regards to that hypothetical coming-out scenario, all I can do is pray that my response would consistent with the way I have tried to live my life and how I have raised him, and that my unconditional love—that I will protect him and respect him and be part of his emotional support system as long as I live, through thick and thin—remains obvious to my kid.

(Aside: Hey son, for your 8th grade graduation gift I’m giving you a digital subscription to Playboy. Just don’t let your mom see it, okay?)

The reason I’ve been thinking of this is because New York Times columnist Frank Bruni penned a remarkable post-decision essay this past Sunday. Titled “Our Weddings, Our Worth,” it’s a personal musing on, in his words, “How will the ruling on same sex marriage alter the way Americans feel about the country, and how we feel about ourselves?” Bruni approaches it from the viewpoint of first a 12-year old grappling with the confusing matter of sexuality, then follows the young man through age 16, then 20, then 30, then to 45, at each juncture reflecting on how it feels to be “different” from the mainstream, to be a so-called “minority,” and to experience discrimination and perhaps even outright hostility. I have no doubt that these on-paper-hypothetical 12, 16, 20, 30 and 45 year olds are actually autobiographical. But what’s remarkable is that with his deft touch, Bruni puts the readers in the shoes of the man as he ages. After reading the piece it’s impossible to not come away with a deeper understanding of and empathy for people who grow up gay in America.

“The Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply about weddings,” concludes Bruni. “It was about worth… [the] justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong.”

As a heterosexual, I’ve never had to question my “worth” or whether or not I was “normal”: of course I “belonged,” so how could I possibly understand what it meant to be gay and to not belong? Or, more cynically, why should I even bother to attempt to understand?

Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a shame it took a Supreme Court decision to even get people talking about this, but then it’s also a shame it took nine deaths in Charleston to get us finally talking about race on a personal and not an abstract level. Sometimes you just have to take your opportunities when they appear. And me, well, I’m also massively relieved that my son’s generation will be coming of age in an entirely different social and cultural landscape than I (and my brother) did.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, though. Time to get cracking.

***

Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT.