Thursday, April 24, 2014

Welcome to my Inscape

Above: The actual aircraft involved in the Flight 401 accident
Photo: (c) Bob Garrard Collection

“It’s these words and music that keep me living, keep me breathing…” – Life of Agony
As I stare at the monitor in front of me, struggling to come up with the opening paragraph of what may or may not turn out to be a lengthy entry, I arrive at a realization that this is my first official foray into blogging. In the past, I’ve written a few album reviews for ‘zines that never got off the ground, as well as countless amounts of dense, sleep-inducing term papers throughout my tenure in college. As a musician/songwriter, I am also the lyricist for my band; in fact, I firmly believe that my primary strength as a writer lies within the realm of words working in concert with the music to convey the emotion of the song as a single unit. To make a long story short, I am not a blogger, professional or otherwise. If my writing is horrible, my apologies. Maybe it’ll get better one day; then again, maybe it won’t!
A short time ago, my band completed the music for one of our new songs. When my non-musician peers ask me how we approach songwriting, I frequently compare the process to procreation. A song starts out with a riff (conception), develops into a framework (gestation) and, once all the arrangements are completed and flourishes are added, it is finally born. Some songs are written quickly, others take a long time to perfect. This particular song was born from an idea that was conceived over a year ago, one that was placed on the backburner several times, until it finally felt like the time was right to bring it to the forefront.
Over the recent months, I became extremely interested in the tragic 1972 crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 in the Florida Everglades and knew that I wanted to explore the topic from a lyrical standpoint. On the evening of December 29, 1972, Flight 401 took off from New York City’s JFK Airport, heading to Miami, Florida. The flight was serviced by a four month-old Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, a new widebody jumbo jet that was the pride of Eastern Airlines. On the flight deck were Captain Bob Loft, First Officer Bert Stockstill and Flight Engineer Don Repo, all three highly seasoned aviators. The flight was routine until its final stage, when the aircraft was cleared for landing. A “nose gear down” indicator light failed to activate, forcing the flight engineer to climb down into the avionics bay to visually confirm the situation with the landing gear.
While the flight engineer was in the avionics bay, the captain and the co-pilot were preoccupied with dismantling the assembly containing the indicator light. The L-1011 was equipped with a system that disengaged the autopilot at the slightest input of the control column; it is speculated that the captain may have inadvertently leaned against his control column while reaching for the indicator light assembly, which was located on the co-pilot’s side of the instrument panel. As a result, the autopilot was disengaged and the aircraft began losing altitude at a rate so low, that it remained unnoticed by the crew.  The L-1011 crashed into the Everglades approximately 17 miles from the runway and 101 people, including everyone on the flight deck, with the exception of a company employee who was traveling in the jump seat and was in the avionics bay with Repo at the time of the crash, lost their lives. First Officer Bert Stockstill was killed instantly, while Captain Bob Loft, who survived the initial impact, died before the rescue crews could extricate him from the wreckage. Flight Engineer Don Repo survived and was taken to a hospital, but, due to the extent of his injuries, died the following day.
I try to write lyrics that are a bit more thought-provoking than overt violence, so writing about the crash itself was out of the question. What really piqued my interest was the aftermath of the catastrophe. Eastern Airlines was able to salvage certain equipment from the crash site and repurpose it for use on other L-1011s. It was right around this time when reports of ghost sightings of Loft and Repo on affected aircraft began pouring in. According to these reports, flight attendants and engineers communicated with Repo’s ghost, who warned them of impending equipment malfunctions. In another incident, a head flight attendant was conducting a pre-takeoff passenger headcount and saw an unidentified man in an Eastern Airlines captain’s uniform sitting in first class. The seat was marked unoccupied on the seating chart, so the flight attendant attempted to question the man. Unable to elicit a response, she summoned the captain, who recognized the unidentified man as Bob Loft. At that point, the man disappeared into thin air. The sightings continued for months, leading some flight crews to perform exorcisms on the affected aircraft.
Having seen things that I cannot explain on two separate occasions, I still consider myself somewhat of a skeptic, albeit one who is open to the possibility of spiritual existence on planes other than physical. According to John G. Fuller, whose book “The Ghost of Flight 401” proved to be an invaluable resource on the topic, apparitions of Bob Loft and Don Repo were “benevolent ghosts” whose only goal was to help their earthly counterparts. At the time of one noted incident, Repo’s apparition spoke to a captain of another L-1011, saying “there will never be another crash of an L-1011. We will not let it happen again.”
Regardless of motive, it’s extremely difficult to grasp the concept that there may, indeed, be life after death. Eastern Airlines, while publicly dismissing the reports of apparitions as “a bunch of crap” (Fuller) and referring staff members making the reports to the company psychiatrist, removed all the equipment salvaged from Flight 401 from its sister ships and destroyed the flight log books that included accounts of the sightings. This lends a fair amount of credence to the supposition that the decision makers at Eastern at least considered the possible existence of supernatural entities.
No matter what your personal beliefs are, the events that followed the crash of Flight 401 make for a very interesting lyrical topic. It’s also proving to be the most difficult song I’ve ever written.
By the way…the nose gear of the doomed L-1011 was locked in the down position all along. It was later determined that the bulb (a part valued at $12) inside the indicator light burnt out. Flight 401 should have landed safely and everyone on board should have gone home that night. The reality is that everyone’s number eventually comes up; the tragedy is that none of us know when it will be ours.

New Slayer Song 'Implode' (2014)

Ok, so here is the moment that all you haters have been waiting for! Personally, not a big fan of this. These are the same waters they've been drowning in since 'GHUA', but since I seem to be in the minority of people who are not so into the last three Slayer albums, this should go over quite well with most (although, considering Hanneman and Lombardo's absence, everyone will predictably hate this by default).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cannibal Corpse - Created to Kill (1995)

Ahhh... what could have been...

I understand that Cannibal Corpse is perhaps the most divisive band in death metal history and I am one of those who prefers the Barnes era, for sure. To be exact, I really only like the second two albums from the band. 'Eaten...' was a bit too thrashy for my tastes and was released during a transitional period in my life where I was dropping much of the "happy" thrash shit for the likes of Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Entombed. 'The Bleeding', for me, was an end to an era for a variety of reasons, chief and most obviously the changing of vocalists.

As much as I am not the biggest supporter of Cannibal Corpsegrinder, I wasn't very fond of The Bleeding either. Barnes' vocals sounded a wee bit tamer than usual and the music just had too much "bounce" and not enough venom. After such a morbid display of delinquency in the form of their previous full length, 'Tomb of the Mutilated', 'The Bleeding' just sounded fucking weak. As a direct continuation of that album, 'Created to Kill' pretty much carries with it the same anemic quality as its forebearer.

Had these songs been released in full length format as originally planned I probably would've had the same amount of disdain for them as I have 'The Bleeding', but since they were not and given the fairly tumultuous history that has surrounded them I cannot help but prefer them on this "lost release" over their formal appearance on CC's 'Vile' LP.

As expected, the sound quality here is a rocky road yet it is not as horrible as one would expect from a demo level release. Hearing Barnes' vocal crunch haphazardly strewn over these songs really makes me long for the old days as Corpsegrinder's Tom Araya-esque lyrical flow has just never quite fit Cannibal for me. Then again, musically, Cannibal is pretty much an entirely different band now and has been for many, many years, so...

While 'Created to Kill' is not a terrible listen by any means, it doesn't really transcend it's standing as a novelty release, either. It's not something I find myself compelled to listen to other than my initially comparing it to 'Vile'. If anything, it serves as a reminder of how "vile" sounding Cannibal truly was and how tame they've become regardless of how "shocking" they've struggled to make their lyrics throughout these long years.

Emperor/Enslaved - Emperor/Hordanes Land [ep] (1993)

This is the -ep- that made me ever so slightly warm up to black metal... the Emperor side, to be exact. The Enslaved side is gay as fuck. Yeah, yeah, right, right, sure, sure... I get that all of the homos who think that every one of their thoughts is important would love nothing more than to be homo-sexually assaulted by each and every "member" of Enslaved, but for me they've always sucked... at least until 'Monumension', which, ironically enough is the one album that all the fags just can't quite get into. Ha. Go figure.

I remember not having high hopes for this but being that I was "trying" to get into and "understand" black metal way back when (which I don't think I ever will, fully) I gave it a go nonetheless. The one song that stood out for me was 'I Am the Black Wizards'. There's a riff in there towards the mid-section that really seemed to open up my sub-conscious and lift my spirits up into the sky. The piece is truly something akin to a spiritual awakening. Following this truly majestic riff is one of the grimiest breakdowns known to Man. The rest of Emperor's side wouldn't really "stick" until years later when I obtained their 'In the Nightside Eclipse' album. Then I would truly be blown away by the absolute brilliance of this great band.

Unfortunately, the Emperor side is extremely tinny, which has always been my number one gripe against black metal bands. I have always abhorred the weak and faggoty flavored guitar sound employed by the panda bear elite. The other complaint is that it seemed as though someone turned down the volume during the mixing process. I don't know if this was some erroneous attempt on the band's behalf to sound "necro as fuck" but it doesn't. Instead it's annoying as hell and I'm grateful that the band decided to re-record these songs for their debut album.

I'm not going to say much about Enslaved's side of the split other then it sucks and I'll never understand why people speak of them as if they were the embodiment of gods. I mean, seriously, Enslaved is 'ok' at best, whether you like black metal or not. They are a perfect example of the power of hype. Endless praise from a bunch of nerds with shitty taste in music which somehow taints the minds of those who should know better.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Napalm Death - Scum (1987)

I first bought this way back in the late '80's at 'Record Breaker' (R.I.P.) in Meriden, CT. It was the pink cassette version. All I know is that the big "thing" in those days was being the fastest! At some point, D.R.I. were the unbridled kings of speed, then of course Slayer with songs such as 'Necrophobic' (probably their fastest to date) bolstering their cause and raising them to mythological levels. When I heard that there was a band called Napalm Death, I knew immediately that they were going to kick my fucking face off. I mean, Napalm fucking Death??!! How could you go wrong with a name like that? You couldn't... Just on the strength of the band's name alone I went and vamped a copy of their debut and was immediately blown away.

I always preferred side-B (with Lee Dorrian on vocals and Bill Steer on guitar) as the violence was considerably ramped up. Nothing wrong with side-A and actually after all these years I am rather fond of the occasional listen what with all of the memories it awakens, but the Dorrian/Steer version of Napalm is perhaps the most caustic that ever was and will be. A fact cemented by the band's next album, 'From Enslavement to Obliteration'.

Scum is and will always be a very important album in my life as it was a giant leap forward and away from a lot of the "happy" thrash that I admittedly had a good bit of in my tape collection. It pretty much set me on a one way journey to seek out other extreme releases and my tastes were forever altered from then on. Oddly, Scum is an album that I grew out of fairly quick, at least once I began to discover albums that I considered to be more to my liking such as Deicide's debut, Pestilence 'Consuming Impulse', early Obituary and pretty much the entire Earache catalog in those days. Scum quickly became more of a novelty record. Something you put on to blow your friend's minds with by its sheer velocity and rage. When alone and out for a walk, etc. I found myself craving something a bit less chaotic. I'm probably one of the very few people on Earth who prefers the Greenway/Pintado/Harris era starting from Harmony Corruption and (for me) ending with Inside the Torn Apart. After that album everything just sounded like one long continuous tired retread of the band's early-mid '90's releases.

After the band's sophomore album I couldn't see them going on like that. They gave it one last go with the Mentally Murdered -ep- before Steer and Dorrian flew the coop to pursue wildly different musical paths. Carcass maybe not so different (in the beginning at any rate) but ND would permanently change their sound, style and technique for good after that, essentially becoming a completely different (and in my opinion, better) band.

For what it's worth, Scum is a milestone of anything to be considered "extreme" within the metal genre save for perhaps doom. Every time you hear a blast beat, be it in a black metal song, death metal or grindcore, rest assured that that is the result of the influence of this album. If there was no Napalm there would be no Terrorizer or Morbid Angel and without the latter death metal bands worldwide may very well be relying on the good old "skank" to get their speed across, even to this day. So while I may have grown bored with Scum many moons ago, make no mistake... it is and will always be one of the albums that changed my life.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sodom - Persecution Mania (1987)

Yeah, yeah, I'm sure a bunch of faggy thrash "enthusiasts" will find their hineys in an uproar after I proclaim this album to be mediocre at best. Fuck 'em. The fact of the matter is that listening to this after the insanely vicious 'Expurse of Sodomy' -ep- was like having some kid come up to you and tag you with a squirt gun right after you just had your head blown off by a bazooka. I mean, talk about anti-fucking-climactic.

Don't get me wrong, this aint a "bad" album, it's just fucking weak, not to mention predictable. If there's one thing that annoys the fucking shit out of me it's a predictable thrash album loaded with riff sequences that seem as if they will not end. Obituary's real fucking good for that one. Don't believe me? Try 'The End Complete'. If you disagree than you are a bonafide fucking moron.

Personally, I think the boys should've held out a little longer until the release of 'Agent Orange', then again, maybe making this stupid fucking album is what was needed in order for things to come full circle.

Persecution Mania is also where Sodom started throwing in annoying punk songs sung in German. The only real winner hear is the guy with the gas-mask on the cover as he so obviously came prepared for this stinker of an album.

Sodom - Expurse of Sodomy [ep] (1987)

Perhaps the anomaly among Sodom's releases as the band were beginning to hone their skills as musicians yet still managing to retain that evil vibe of their earlier works. Hell, I'd even go so far as to deem this their most evil sounding release to date. I'll never forget hearing the beginning riff of 'Sodomy & Lust' and then hearing for the first time Tom Angelripper's evil witch cackle chime in (yes, this was my first excursion into Sodom). I was fucking mesmerized and blown away at the same time. Prior to this 'Reign in Blood' was pretty much the "be all end all" of metal to me, so to hear the stakes raised like this was a bit shocking to me. I had pretty much assumed, hell, I'd have even guaranteed that NO ONE would have been able to surpass the aural bestiality committed on Slayer's crowning achievement until my soul was ripped out from within me, raped and spat upon by this hostile little 'ep'.

Admittedly I was a wee bit bummed when 'Persecution Mania' came out. I was expecting the same ripping savagery of 'Expurse...' yet I did, and still do find 'Agent Orange' to be a masterpiece and perhaps the band's pinnacle moment, but for the experience of sheer violence, nothing quite does it for me like 'Expurse of Sodomy'!

Mortician - Re-Animated Dead Flesh (2004)

Mortician is a band that I can only take in small doses. Earlier, in the years prior to their full length excursions, I found them to be quite exhilarating as I have always been a sucker for a low-tuned, sludged out guitar sound and at that time no one came close to Mortician. I especially dug the slower moments where you felt as if you were being beaten to death in slo-mo beneath a strobe light. Muted chugging that bitch-slapped even the likes of Suffocation. Fast forward to the band's second full lenght, 'Chainsaw Dismemberment' and it was painfully obvious that the band had all but run out of ideas (though there was never a fucking shortage in insanity inducing movie intro's). I could tell that any semblance of clever riff configurations were rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Let me point out that Mortician were never going to be the death metal equivalent of Rush as vocalist Will Rahmer's bass "skills" were extremely limited thus boxing in exceptionally talented guitarist, Roger Beaujard into a very small space with which to work within.

Needless to say, Mortician's next three albums were a trio of duds with maybe a riff or two worth note among them. Hardly a reason to go run out and join their fan club. Then... as if the band had been re-animated by Herbert West himself... "BANG!!!"... out comes the ironically titled 'Re-Animated Dead Flesh'! This was the full length that I was hoping to hear so long ago after having been brutalized by the 'Mortal Massacre' 7". The pointless and overlong intros are still here, to be sure, but the riffing and more importantly, the intent is far more severe than anything the band had released since '91. If this is to be the band's final album then I am happy to say that they went out on a high, er "low" note and more than made up for the previous snore-fests. By the way, SICK fucking album cover! Love the glowing green "Re-animator" style logo as well!

Testament - The Gathering (1999)

At the time I remember being vaguely bummed about this album as I felt it fell a bit short of the mark considering the extraordinary line-up. fast forward fifteen or so years and I am glad that I decided to revisit this album as now more than ever I am appreciative of good ol' fashioned songwriting. Plain and simple. Nothing too fancy or overly complicated, and that's pretty much what 'The Gathering' is about.

I think at the time everyone expected this mind-blowing technical escapade and felt a pang of disappointment when that ended up not being the case. I can say with confidence that I was not ready for this album at the time of its release. I don't think I would've liked it even with the perception I have now. It's just something whose time has finally come to pass and I can say now that this is among my favorites of the band's releases next to 'Low' and 'The Legacy'. 'The Gathering' is also a tremendous improvement over the band's previous album 'Demonic', not to mention the fact that with 'The Gathering' Testament managed to step back on track as 'Demonic' is an anomaly to the band's catalog.

This is one of those albums that I rediscovered after having written it off so long ago and it only gets better with each listen.

Movie Poster of the Week: Dead & Buried (1981)

Goddefied - Abysmal Grief [ep] (1993)

First and foremost, let me get this straight... I've never been one to piss and moan about whether or not a band sounds "original". What's always been of the utmost importance to me is whether they sound good or not. I'm not so naive to believe that with 90,000,000 fucking metal bands out there, it's an impossibility to select a riff or rhythmic pattern that may have been previously used in the 30+ years of metal's existence. However, I do not advocate any band who straight up plagiarizes another band's material as a result of their own creative bankruptcy. Such is the case with Sweden's Goddefied.

I remember when Entombed's 'Left Hand Path' was released in 1990 and the effect it had on the rest of Sweden. On one hand I was delighted that they had influenced so many of their countrymen with their infamous "chainsaw" guitar sound, on the other I was astonished that there were hardly any among them that possessed a semblance of shame and self awareness in regards to the fact that just about all of them were doing nothing more than aping Entombed's sound. Some, like Dismember and Grave, would go on to build lengthy careers out of this while many, many others would not make it past the demo stage.

I must confess that during that time I eagerly devoured any and every two-bit Entombed knock-off that stumbled my way. Let's face it, most of 'em were good and really, the only thing those bands were ripping was the guitar sound itself. Riff-wise, Dismember, Grave and Entombed (among others) were fairly distanced, so it wasn't overly obnoxious at the time. Goddefied, however, not only straight rip-off Entombed because they suck and are a bunch of creatively bankrupt faggots, but they actually somehow manage to make the riffs they stole sound bloodless and weak. Like a pack of homosexual vampires who haven't sucked a dick in over a decade. Weak... staggering... powerless. Fuck this band, and fuck al of the queerbait Facebook hipsters who praise garbage like this like it's some hidden gem. More like finding a shit encrusted dildo in your uncle's dresser.

The one thing they got right was the title of this piece of miserable shit.

Oh yeah, nice cover art that's been used about 9,000,000 fucking times, too, you fuckin' Swedish meatball garglin' faggots. Goddefied. What a fuckin' gay name. More like Gay-defied.

Get the Gringo (2012)

Very surprised by this. I figured since Mel pissed off all of the whiny Jews over in Holo-wood in all probability his capabilities of making or starring in quality cinematic experiences were far behind him. Boy was I wrong!

One of my worries was that Mel may be well past his prime for one of these types of movies. After about 5 minutes my leeriness dissipated and I began to go with the flow.

'Get the Gringo' is like 'Payback' trying to come down off of a two week crystal meth bender by drinking a case of urine and tequila. Yeah, it's that good!

With all of the headless torsos and flesh pyramids made of stumps littering the streets of Mexico in the last 5-10 years, Holo-wood has jumped on the cartel glorification bandwagon like a tranny on a jackhammer and undoubtedly to the dismay of all the hebe's in El Lay, Mel-E Mel decided to as well and managed to outdo them all!! Definitely a winner in my book with a nice, healthy dose of sleaze to keep the war-machine oiled and moving.

If the whiny, insecure Jewish kingpins over in Holo-wood want to keep Mel out of the mainstream, well that's fine by me as the ol' madman has shown absolutely ZERO signs of limp-wristedness with this ace of a movie.

Testament - Low (1994)

By the time this came rollin' 'round the bend I was pretty much a snot-nosed and militant death metal head. Sure, I grew up loving Testament's early albums and all that but by '94 I grew weary of thrash and found it to be vastly inferior to the crushing and abysmal sounds of death metal. Also of note, I was extremely bummed when I had learned that James Murphy disbanded the godly Disincarnate to join this at times cornball bay-area thrash outfit. I mean seriously, as good as some of Testament's album are, none of them can contentd with 'Dreams of the Carrion Kind'.

I remember the hype surrounding this album due to Chuck Billy's increasing use of death metal vocals, and I admit that when they're on, they're on. Unfortunately, 'Low' also showcases some of Billy's most horrendously faglicious vocal lines as well ("Confirm who I am, contort all I can..."). I remember cringing and wanting to hide in the shadows when I first heard that ultra-homo verse. What's worse is that for the most part the vocal work on the remainder of that song ('Dog Faced Gods', by the way) is actually pretty fucking good, only to be marred by that faggoty chorus.

Musically, Low may just be Testament's heaviest moment to date (yeah, forget all of the melodic black metal homosexuality of their last album). Not sure how much of this had to do with Eric Peterson wanting to show off to James Murphy that he too can pen a death metal lick (not quite) or what, but it is what it is. I've read in some places this album described as Pantera-esque "groove metal" (seriously, whoever thinks it's cute to coin these terms needs a cattle prod jammed up their ass). I can thankfully and confidently say that this is not the case. Sure, there's moments where your cabeza may begin rocking back and fourth but I assure you it's not as a result of some wigger-fied Pantera riff or any such thing. Honestly, aside from Chuck's lapse into homosexuality, this album is quite the scorcher and stands alongside 'The Legacy' in greatness. All the musicians are on fire here and the songs are all great and most importantly, stand out from one another.

In a time when most thrash bands were either "wigging" out Pantera style or jumping out of the closet (i.e. Metallica, Megadeth, etc...) Testament was one of the very few who not only stood their ground but took the extremity that much further.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Testament - Practice What You Preach (1989)

In my opinion Testament never truly lived up to the promise of their debut and yet, aside from their horrendous flirtation with "groovy" death metal (Demonic) they've never released an outright stinker, either.

While 'The New Order' toyed around with "happier", "bouncier" riffs, 'Practice What You Preach' wholeheartedly delves into the concept. It was one of those albums that I could tell right off the bat something was amiss and yet it wasn't as obvious as say 'Cold Lake'. I mean, sure, this was still an outright, bonafide thrash record with all of the I's dotted and T's crossed but it felt too "safe". Someone had knocked the teeth out of this band's skull. The fact that I picked this up at the record store along with Sepultura's 'Beneath the Remains' probably didn't help much, either.

Yeah, there's just something that's not terribly engaging about this album. Oddly enough, I do enjoy the band's "pussy magnet" track, 'The Ballad'. Being that even amidst the war on posers, thrash bands were not immune to tacking on an acoustic track for good measure, it never really bothered me at the time nor after (though the irony was never lost on me).

The rest of the album really just feels like a dump-truck load of filler. It's the weirdest thing. Nothing outright sucks but nothing on here is that great either. Nothing stands out, except for Chuck Billy's death metal growl at the beginning of 'Envy Life', which is pretty fucking brutal and I believe, the his first attempt at singing that way.

Overall, I feel as though 'PWYP' is a waste of a great album cover. It looks so much better on the outside. But that visual promise soon gives way to the empty feeling of unfulfillment. This would also be the case with the band's next album, 'Souls of Black'. Another sub-par effort boasting an incredible cover. I can only conclude that Testament is one of those bands who does better when they're not pumping out product in a prolific manner.