“Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered Eighties”

I think if James Murphy and I hung out we’d get along great. Or at the very least I’d feel great about the conversation while James might walk away from it feeling uncomfortable and weird. Either way, I’m drawn to this bear of a guy that makes electronic disco punk music that is, essentially, about feeling irrelevant in a sea of younger, cooler people. His songs aren’t all “Losing My Edge”, but they possess that spirit of “do people really care anymore?” The earlier stuff had this line of razor-sharp sarcasm that made LCDs work extremely self-aware. Murphy was practically saying “Yeah, I know I’m older than all of you and more tired than all of you…but I’ve got years of living under my belt little buckaroos.”

Sound of Silver is essentially the middle-aged album. It both laments and rejoices growing up and becoming an adult. “All My Friends” will forever be an anthem for those still trying to hold onto our youthful selves and those that made that youth so important to us. That was the record that brought me to LCD Soundsystem, actually. I hadn’t heard anything prior to that album. December 2007. James Murphy had completely avoided my radar. I’d heard rumblings about DFA Records, some guy named Murphy, and Daft Punk. But not until my birthday 2007 and spending a gift certificate at Sam Goody did I really start to know LCD Soundsystem. From Sound of Silver I worked my way back to the self-titled. The library had a copy of it that was a deluxe 2-disc version that had the album plus another disc with “Losing My Edge”, “Disco Infiltrator”, and a few other extended dance tracks. Once I’d heard “Losing My Edge” I knew Murphy was a brother from another mother. The conversation in the song about selling guitars for turntables and CD mixes of all the greatest songs of the 60s landed in just the right spot in my brain. The older DJ battling it out with the younger generation of DJs and musicians,  trying to one up each other I just thought it was amazing. Plus it really opened my head to checking out some of the artists he mentions in the song. Gil Scot Heron, Can, and Yaz were all artists I’d heard of  but never really delved into. Thanks to James Murphy and “Losing My Edge” I became a fan of all three.

Another thing about “Losing My Edge” is that build up in the song. Murphy’s sound ability really shows itself early in this song. He wanted to make electronic dance music, but with a real band. Sure he had stacks of synths everywhere, but he also had this top notch band with him helping him build these musical worlds tipping their hats to Bowie, Can, Yaz, Suicide, Velvet Underground, and countless other artists that had a stake in James Murphy’s brain. Watching them do this live is unbelievable. I mean, I haven’t seen them live except in  Shut Up And Play The Hits, but I was impressed regardless.

James Murphy was 32 years old when he released “Losing My Edge”. He’d been the toast of the DJ world in New York and had seen some serious success. He’d also witnessed a major shift in the musical tide, which I think is where “Losing My Edge” culminated from. Feelings of being left behind by a younger generation and watching as his deep cuts became the norm in the clubs. Without those feelings of his relevancy slipping away and getting the impression that he was becoming the “old guy in the room” we may never have gotten LCD Soundsystem, and most certainly not “Losing My Edge”.

What a sad world that would be. Without LCD Soundsystem and James Murphy, middle-aged guys like me wouldn’t have that glimmer of hope that success in creativity doesn’t have an expiration date. Or that creativity itself doesn’t end when you prefer a cup of coffee to a glass of scotch. I feel that Murphy has gotten better with each successive record. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, This Is Happening, and now American Dream, he’s proven time and time again that with age does come wisdom. Or at least a well-trained ear that knows how to turn knobs and write a melody really well.

But still, fucking “Losing My Edge” man. It never gets old.

 

Voodoo Psych : Revisiting Psicomagia

The first album I ever bought from the Danish record label El Paraiso was the debut album from skronky psych jammers Psicomagia. They were a collaboration between bands Astra and Radio Moscow, two prolific bands in their own right. With Psicomagia they combined the groovy psych escapism of Radio Moscow’s buzzing sound and Astra’s booming escapism and epic crawls to some existential drift into this mystical whoosh of voodoo psych that felt part desert incantation and part psilocybin fever dream with a hefty dose of South American rhythms and poetry. Imagine John Coltrane freaking the hell out with an Afro Cuban-inspired Blue Cheer in an Aztec temple during a blood moon and you’re on your way to getting Psicomagia.

I’m not quite sure how I found myself asking my local record shop to get me in a copy of Psicomagia, but I did. I believe an acquaintance of an acquaintance might’ve recommended it on the third Tuesday in a rainy October in 2013. Or I was possibly visited by the ancient spirits of Alf and Dana Plato after a night of heavy thinking(or drinking) and they told me of this thing called “Psicomagia”. Either way it went down, I did end up getting my hands on a copy of this debut record and I was immediately blown away. It was a whole new vibe to me. The combination of drums, bass, organ, and saxophone(no guitars, guys), along with the spoken word poetry was like being transported into outer space via Mayan ruins and a psych rock explosion.

When a band names themselves after the term Alejandro Jodorowsky self-branded his style of mystical healing through art and film, you know these cats mean business. The band consists of Tyler Daughn on organs and synthesizers, Brian Ellis on tenor saxophone, Paul Marrone on drums, Trevor Mast on bass, and Bernardo Nuñez reading poetry. Take the best parts of Coltrane’s final five years in this plane, his heady spiritual explorations and far-reaching sound explosions, along with serious Detroit rock grooves and prog keys, and Psicomagia you have.

So are you thinking to yourself, “Hey, would I like this?” Well, that’s a good question. Let me throw a couple questions back at you. Have you ever found yourself longing to get lost in some spiritual black hole, leaving a trail of regrets and dreams in order to find your way back out of it? Has the idea of inter-dimensional time skipping ever crossed your mind? Has there ever been a moment in your existence while contemplating the universe under a star-streaked open sky that you thought to yourself “The answers are up there.”? Have you ever let a shaman walk you through your own past and show you your future all the while sitting motionless in a buffalo hide lean-to somewhere lost in the desert? Has music ever cracked open your skull and allowed the cosmos to sink in let you bask in its infinite beauty?

If you answered yes to any of these, then I’d say you should put Psicomagia into your brain as quickly as possible, as you’re missing an integral element in your DNA make up. If you answered no these questions, then you still may dig this record. If you closed the browser screen after that first question I’d say this one may be a little too “dense” for you.

Listen, throw in some Coltrane, some Mahavishnu Orchestra, some acid-burnt garage rock, some blazing psych rock, and a smattering of forward-thinking fusion and you’ve got yourself Psicomagia. “El Memorioso” is like a glass of abisnthe with a tequila chaser. It’s a groovy exorcism that instead of pulling a spirit out, it puts a thousand years of soul in. “El Congreso part 1” and “El Congreso part 2” are a nearly 28-minute suite of organ and synth-fueled madness. Bernardo Nuñez lays on some thick-tongued voodoo that feels like an out-of-body experience as the rhythm section feels like tectonic plates grinding underneath your feet. The keys fill in for whatever guitar freakout would’ve fit in nicely. It’s an outer space jam that feels at the same time like ancient, Mother Earth tomes.

It’s Friday. Time to put some heady tunes in your skull. Psicomagia has you covered.

My Lifestyle Determines My Deathstyle

When Metallica’s St. Anger came out the hoopla around it was pretty overwhelming, which once everyone had heard it reversed to underwhelming. “Trendy”, “no solos”, “that snare sound” were a just a few of the many things that were mentioned as part of the overall indictment of the long gestating, long drawn out, post-rehab, post-therapy, and post-Jason Newsted record. The San Francisco speed metal kings seemed to have left tradition behind, and instead went the path of modern heavy music. “Nu-Metallica”, as their sound was dubbed by me just now. What the hell were our big bros that created “Metal up your ass” thinking? Were they so lost that they had to jump on some musical bandwagon in order to rekindle those flames that seemed to have been quashed by years of pent up resentment at each other?

And really, that snare sound? Did you not hear that guys?

Well, here’s a little secret for you. You see, St. Anger wasn’t as bad as you remember it. In fact, St. Anger was a damn good album(yes, even with the snare thing.) All the bands that Metallica were blamed for copying? Those trendy new(nu) metal bands? Well they were copping Metallica’s sound, while morphing it into something of their own. System of a Down, Slipknot, Deftones, Korn, and all those other late 90s/early 00s bands that brought the heavy music drama to popular music in a heavy way grew up with James, Kirk, Cliff, Jason, and Lars. If anything, Metallica were just inspired to go a different route by these bands. St. Anger is still very much a Metallica record, both lyrically and musically. And its probably their heaviest record since …And Justice For All.

Let me explain this…

Every year since 2006 I will watch Some Kind Of Monster at least once. It’s just as much therapy as it is entertainment. From the first time I watched it I was completely enthralled with seeing this band that I grew up with not act like the mega rock stars they are, but human beings. Human beings with egos, anger issues, self doubt, fear, and just generally being like you and me(albeit with a ton more dough.) There was a lot said for how they came across as whiny and spoiled and just generally not rock star-like. That’s the whole point of it all, isn’t it? We know what these guys look like in magazine spreads, on stage, and on record. We get the persona that’s built for us. I think the genius of the movie was that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky captured one of the greatest metal bands ever at the point of complete implosion, and despite what the popular consensus is I think the band handled it pretty well.

You see James Hetfield, the prototypical front man that exudes machismo and tough guy,”fuck yeah, dude!” righteousness turn into this guy trying to rebuild himself after years of alcohol abuse and running from his feelings. Lars Ulrich seems to get the most flack for being, well, Lars. But here’s the thing, I think he comes across pretty earnest. He’s not putting on a show here. He’s got an ego and that’s that, but he’s not being anything else but himself. He seems generally concerned for his longtime band mate, friend, and long time band. Can he be self-absorbed? You bet, but that’s just Lars. And really, I think history has proven he was on the right side of the whole Napster thing. Sure he’s a millionaire, but does that mean it’s cool to steal from him? I don’t think so. Poor Kirk Hammett. He’s still like the little kid stuck in the middle of two battling parents. He seems like a genuinely sweet guy that wants to just keep playing with his big bros and tour the world and buy horror memorabilia. You say anything bad about Kirk and I’ll take you out back and introduce you to Jack Johnson and Tom O’Leery.

The rest of the players? Well there’s Bob Rock, the mega rock producer that turned Metallica into MTV darlings thanks to The Black Album. He seems genuinely confused and uncertain of the band’s future. He stepped up here to get the album finished, and in the end it seems to have finished his over 10-year residency as the fifth member of Metallica. Phil Towle, the therapist/performance coach brought in by Q Prime Management to help Metallica deal with all the internal and personal strife. He’s a hired hand, and his job was to dig deep and get to some core issues that had been long festering between the group. There is some cringe-worthy stuff here with Dr. Towle, I have to be honest. The Dave Mustaine session? Ugh. Dr. Phil arguing about trust issues between him and James? Seemed like the doc was trying to manipulate the most vulnerable guy in the group to me. I think he did help the band overall, but he seemed a little too cozy by the end. Robert Trujillo. I love this guy. I think he was and is a great fit in the band. I think he makes Metallica work harder and think outside the box, honestly. And thank Christ they didn’t go with Twiggy Ramirez. Jason Newsted, the man at the center of the movie, really. He was the earthquake that brought the Metallica Corporation down. Can you blame him for leaving? I can’t. And Torben Ulrich? What an interesting dude he is. He’s like a Tolkien character come to life. His “screaming in the echo chamber” comment makes me laugh every time. The honesty of a parent is undeniable and hilarious, regardless how painful it can be.

Some Kind Of Monster is one of the best documentaries about music I’ve seen. It’s up there with Dig!, Don’t Look Back, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, 30 Century Man, and I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. I’m sure part of that is because I love the band so much. Some people probably hated this movie because of precisely the reason I loved it: it humanized Metallica. Some people don’t want to see their heroes vulnerable, broken, and well, human. For me, seeing Hetfield, Ulrich, and Hammett struggling to figure shit out is exactly what I need to see sometimes. It makes me feel not so bad in my own daily struggles. One of the greatest metal bands of all time nearly fell apart because they couldn’t deal with their emotions, so I think I might be able to get thru this whole “oldest kid going off the college” thing. Also, I love that inside look into the making of music. The scenes in the Presidio, regardless of how uncomfortable they were, were still fascinating. The process of hashing it out together as a band and seeing where things go is something I love. And the HQ sessions were equally engaging. The little moments where a lyric clicks and a melody emerges from spitting words into a mic is just fascinating. Hetfield stumbling onto “Some Kind Of Monster” while trying to figure out what the song is about, I love it.

There are so many little bits in this that keep bringing me back to it.

So St. Anger may be your least favorite Metallica album, and there may not be anything I can say to change your mind. That’s perfectly acceptable. For me its a therapeutic thing that happens every year. I will watch Some Kind Of Monster, extras and all, then I go into a St. Anger death spiral that lasts for a couple days and then it gets shelved for another year. Lars said it best, that they wanted to prove that you could make an angry album out of positive energy(I’m paraphrasing here.) I think the creative process started in a very negative energy space, but by the end that energy had gone 180 degrees in the positive. There’s nothing more therapeutic than cranking up a record full blast and letting massive amounts of pent up rage come down on you. It’s like a dip in a hot spring, or surfing waves of hot lava while shooting devil horns to the world. There’s nothing like it.

St. Anger and Some Kind Of Monster are some massive waves of hot lava, baby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Things That Should Not Be(But Are, So Deal With It)

The first album I ever heard from Metallica was Master Of Puppets, so naturally that’s the one I hold nearest and dearest to my heart. Master Of Puppets was the gateway album, Ride The Lightning was the one I totally immersed myself in, …And Justice For All was the first one I bought brand new(and as a fan), and Kill ‘Em All was the one I rediscovered as an angst-y adult in his middle age. Everything after those four records I could really not listen to again and I’d be okay with that. The Black Album suffered from massive burnout and too many blues riffs, the mid-90s were a complete blur of eyeliner, arty experimentalism, not-so good covers, and soundtracks. I’ll listen to St. Anger occasionally still, and the last two albums have moments of goodness. Reminders that Metallica can still do what got ’em here in the first place: thrash like no other.

But Master Of Puppets is still their artistic high point.

For four California Heshers who grew up on Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, and Motorhead, drank excessively, and were only five years into their music career Master Of Puppets was a high water mark for even a veteran metal band. Speed metal intertwined in progressive rock movements within the songs and lyrics that told stories. Metallica sometimes teetered on the edge of the whole evil/death stuff that Slayer, Exodus, and Megadeth dabbled in back in the heyday of thrash, but James Hetfield wasn’t quite the anti-faith guy the rest were. He grew up in a Christian Scientist home and watched his mom die from cancer because they didn’t believe in doctors. I think on a teenage mind that would have a negative effect, at least on the organized religion aspect. His lyrics always seemed to dabble in the injustice of the world, both on a social and personal level. I could relate to that. Much more so than lyrics about slaughtering virgins, serial killers, and genocide(I’m looking at you, Slayer.)

So Hetfield’s lyrics were about the human condition and authority figures lying to us in order to control us; whether those in control were priests, drug dealers, or the military. What 13-year old wouldn’t fall for that? In 1986 when Master Of Puppets came out Hetfield, Cliff Burton, Kirk Hammett, and Lars Ulrich were still barely adults. They’re in their early 20s and release one of the most influential heavy metal albums…ever. I was 12-years old when it came out, and my older brother was 18. It took a year before Metallica made their way into the Hubner boys’ ears, but when they did that’s all they wrote.

I remember very clearly the week that Master Of Puppets blew our minds. Summer of 1987 and my brother and I were spending the week at my uncle Mark’s house. He was working in the day, so my brother and I would stay up till the early morning playing my uncle’s NES. He’d usually see us bleary-eyed and half loopy playing 1941 or Excitebike as he was walking out the door for work. We’d crash for a few hours then wake up in time for a bologna sandwich and then head over to the nearby Concord Mall. It was on one of our afternoon jaunts that he told me about this band called Metallica. We were listening to Frehely’s Comet in my brother’s Cutlass when he said he’d picked up a cassette at the mall’s very cool record shop Super Sounds. I was perfectly fine continuing to listen to “Rock Soldiers”, Ace Frehely’s semi-autobiographical tale of rock and roll redemption, but my brother quickly ripped the plastic off that cassette tape and we were in speed metal territory.

My brain didn’t know what to think of what I was hearing coming out of those Pioneer Super Tuner speakers. What the hell was this “Battery”? It felt like a wall of crunch coming down on us(it didn’t help that my brother liked to play music LOUD.) I’d never heard drumming so fast and guitars played so fast yet intricately. The vocals, while loud and aggressive, were still understandable. Hetfield was his own preacher, preaching to a choir of disenchanted youth, lost souls, and a couple Midwest goons spending the week at their uncle’s house.

We digested that album in small doses all week, usually during mid-afternoon jaunts to the mall looking for trouble(or at the very least a hot pretzel.) I can say that my music-leaning brain was rewired because of that album. Master Of Puppets made me a speed metal fan instantly. By the week’s end my brother took off early because a buddy of his had gotten them tickets to see Megadeth in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom. That was big time stuff. This was before the Aragon had been cleaned up, as well as the neighborhood it resides in. It was a scary area. My brother made me promise not to tell my uncle who he was going to see(my uncle was super cool, but also pretty religious.) I kept my promise. In fact, I may have told our uncle my big bro was going to see a Christian rock band(pretty sure he knew I was full of shit, but still.)

After that week, the Hubner boys were official speed metal freaks. Metallica songbooks were purchased, Anthrax t-shirts were acquired from the back of rock magazines, and hard to find EPs were hunted down. We made our way through various speed metal bands(Death Angel, Fate’s Warning, Metal Church, Testament, Exodus, Venom, Suicidal Tendencies), but the ones that really stuck with us were the big four: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and of course Metallica.

It had been quite a few years since I’d listened to Master Of Puppets, but thanks to the thrifty Capitalists that Metallica are they have been reissuing their classic albums on their own Blackened Recordings record label. Out of curiosity(and obsession, sadly) I’ve been picking them all up. Last November Master Of Puppets dropped in newly remastered and shiny form. Normally I’d say this was a cash grab since I didn’t think anything was wrong with the original masterings. But given the fact that all these albums sound so good now in their newly remastered form I’ll forgive a little cash grabbing. I haven’t yet picked up the new …And Justice For All as I bought the previous version just a couple years ago. If someone can confirm or deny whether they brought Newsted back into the mix on this new version, that will determine whether I slap some greenbacks down and take that sucka home.

Master Of Puppets, though. Man, it’s a classic the same way that Paranoid, Toys In The Attic, High Voltage, and Screaming For Vengeance are. If you’re a metal guy or gal then there’s a short list(or long depending on who you are) of records you must own or you’re disqualified from the “Metal Club”. Master Of Puppets is on that list. Like, in the top 5. I can’t tell you how many times my brother and I have made reference to “The Thing That Should Not Be” when seeing something less than desirable. Or talking about seeing the “Leper Messiah” at Walmart or at the movies. There’s a lot of little moments and inside jokes that pertain to this record that only my big brother and I would laugh at, which makes this record that much more important to me.

I can remember him telling me about an idea his pal(the one he saw Megadeth with) and him had about a music video for “Master Of Puppets”. He said it would be like those old animated “Intermission” clips you’d see at the movies back in the day. You know, the dancing hot dogs, popcorn box, and box of Mike and Ike going to the concession stand to buy goodies? Well it would be like that except it would’ve been dancing syringes, pills, and joints as some guy was drug along like a puppet with strings leading up to a demonic hand. It’s a long song, so I’m sure there would’ve been more, but that’s all he’d ever told me about. I thought it was a pretty cool idea as a teenager, and I still sort of like it now. Sounds like something Rob Zombie would’ve made back in the 90s. Of course, this was also the buddy that my brother used to get high with after school. They’d head down to his buddy’s basement, get stoned, and watch Sesame Street soundtracked to Sabbath’s Master Of Reality(this is not a point of pride for big bro, just stating fact.)

“Battery”, “Master Of Puppets”, “The Thing That Should Not Be”, “Welcome Home(Sanitarium)”, “Disposable Heroes”, “Leper Messiah”, “Orion”, and “Damage, Inc” are what make up the Metallica classic. They soundtracked my teenage years and opened my brain to truly aggressive music. It was the foundation that I’d build a lifetime of music listening on. It also made a week in the summer of 1987 all the better.

But don’t tell my uncle about this.

 

All that you touch…And all that you see

Much like the Beatles’ White Album, I’ve always said I’d never write about Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. Why?  Because enough has been said about both of those iconic albums by far greater writers and intellects that I really don’t think I could add any sort of interesting harmony to the already deafening chorus. People have blathered on about these records, their influence and affect on society, and how they’ve molded and blown minds for long enough now, that adding my two cents here would only go to fill up the digital landfill known as the internet with more unnecessary praise, admiration, and fanboy bloviating. We don’t need more fanboy bloviating.

But then on March 1st I happen to hear that Pink Floyd’s iconic stoner classic is now 45 years old(cue up The Wizard of Oz and pack that bowl, man.) 45 years old. It got me thinking about that album and at what point in my life did it transcend from the cool, space-y hippy record to what it actually is. What is it, you ask? You see, I’m of the firm belief that Dark Side Of The Moon is on a level all its own. Meddle began the transformation of Pink Floyd from psych rock, acid party soundtrack band to something far more important and relevant. Dark Side Of The Moon saw them break the mold of a rock and roll band and become something else. It’s not classic rock, but classicist rock. A concept record about mental health that millions of people have used to literally lose their minds to. Ironic? Sad? Both? It’s an absolutely brilliant record in your formative years, but it’s even far more brilliant once you grow up a bit.

For me, though, it all began with Chi-Chis.

Prior to my 18th birthday, Pink Floyd were a mild speck on my musical radar. I heard all the AOR-related tunes and I’d rented The Wall on more than one occasion to see if I could make sense of it. I fawned over David Gilmour’s Strat tone when I first started learning guitar and I often got melancholy whenever I’d hear “Wish You Were Here” on the radio as I thought about someone who was no longer in my life. As far as Dark Side Of The Moon went, “Time” and “Money” were never turned off when they popped up on the radio, but I never thought to look any further. But then one day early in my senior year my older brother(it’s always the older brother, isn’t it?) was playing a dubbed copy of DSOTM in his bedroom and I happened to hear “Us and Them”. That song seemed to grab my ears immediately and I knocked on my brother’s bedroom door. I asked him who he was listening to and he said “It’s Pink Floyd. You’ve never heard this?” I said no, so he shut if off and gave me the tape.

I spent the rest of that week listening to Dark Side Of The Moon in my bedroom and in my car on my way to school, then home from school. Then on my way to work and on my way home from work. My birthday was coming up so I asked for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon on CD. This was December of 1991, so the CDs were still a pretty rare thing in my world. I think I only had a handful of discs at that time. On my birthday my mom, older brother, my girlfriend and myself drove to Fort Wayne and had my birthday dinner at the now defunct(in the U.S., anyways) Chi-Chis Mexican restaurant. We all had a nice dinner together and then made our way back to home. I laid in my bed trying to fall asleep and I listened to Pink Floyd’s iconic album 2 times all the way thru before I made my way into some deep sleep.

The rest of my senior year evolved around small moments with that album. Usually quiet and reflective moments, except for when I was turning the car stereo up way too loud as “On The Run” or “Brain Damage” came on. Dark Side Of The Moon even came into play in my photography class film short. My friend Shane and I decided to make a film about chaos and disorder(because yeah, what else are we gonna make a movie about?) So we shot various scenes at churches, in the halls of WCHS, interviewed a couple of our favorite teachers, and of course walking thru Oakwood Cemetery. Our photo teacher, Mr. Frauhiger, had recently found out that he was going to be let go because the school didn’t like his teaching style. I guess they didn’t care for the fact that he engaged his students and had an affinity for the outcasts like me. Anyways, he made an appearance in the film. We shot him walking out of the school and throwing his teacher planner in the dumpster as he walked to his small pick-up truck. Our other friend Jason appeared throughout the movie as the representation of chaos and he was sitting in the passenger side of the truck as Frauhiger sped off. Now we had a lot of different songs and sound effects in this. One of my favorites was of me talking about chaos as I spoke through a DOD Flanger pedal from the 70s my uncle gave me. It gave my voice this bizarre and robotic quality that hid the amateurish words I’d put to paper. But the coolest aspect of the film was towards the end where we played Floyd’s “Us and Them” over a montage of students walking the hall of WCHS, various lighted churches at night, and yes, Mr. Frauhiger dumping his teacher planner and making his way off school property with authority.

Honesty, I’ve seen far worse on the Sundance Channel.

Before that scuffed up copy of Dark Side was given to me by my brother, Pink Floyd were just one of those “hippie” bands to me. But once I opened my brain to the record and really understood what that album was about I truly saw the special album it was. From the pristine production and engineering of Alan Parsons, to the near-perfect guitar tones of David Gilmour to the jazz and classical inflections of Richard Wright and Nick Mason to the chaotic, manic world Roger Waters created in the songs. This wasn’t a good time stoner rock record. It wasn’t a vehicle for enhancing a buzz(though, yeah, it did that.) What Dark Side was and is is a huge sonic step to rock and roll artistic integrity. That album proved that you could be rock and roll and still have a very definitive statement. It’s this vague concept that comes across in an intellectual and artistic way. It’s universal and personal at the same time. It’s a journey from start to finish. It’s like the inner workings of madness put to a beautiful score.

But no, I’m not going to write about Dark Side Of The Moon. I’d never do that.

Skeletons Of High Society

There are very few bands that take me back to the 80s and my awkward teenage haircut more than Slayer. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself falling down a satanic speed metal rabbit hole where I’ve been revisiting and adding to my collection some of the most important speed metal albums to my existence on wax. I never realized growing up how much Slayer affected me. From age 13 to 18 I was all about Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. While I did dabble in Slayer I always seemed to keep my distance. Call it a fear of satanic panic, paranoia of ritualistic killings I’d hear about on the evening news, and just the general feeling that Slayer fans were basically the kids in The River’s Edge, and those kids scared the hell out of me. As much as flirting with the dark side seemed exciting and the best way to keep the jocks at bay, I just felt like there might be a Pandora’s Box of evil just waiting to open as soon as I’d hit play on that Maxell copy of Hell Awaits for the 666th time. I just didn’t feel I had enough moxie to hang with the Slayer crowd. I was too much of a square, man. I thought I was cool with the occult and Hell and all that “Angel of Death” noise, but really the most ritualistic I got was listening to Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil on my boombox in the backyard playing badminton with the neighbor kid and watching the edited cut of The Exorcist on network television.

I was living on the edge, guys.

So in my revisiting of those classic speed metal albums I realized just how amazing Slayer were. At their core they were a southern California hardcore band. Even in some of their most progressive moments Slayer were pure nihilistic punk rock. Reign In Blood, Hell Awaits, Show No Mercy/Live Undead, and South Of Heaven have become favorites of mine, but I think the album that hit me the hardest was Seasons In The Abyss. That came out in the fall of 1990, my junior year of high school. My older brother bought it in February of 1991. I went with him into town when he grabbed it. I remember I bought Queen’s Innuendo at the same time. Talk about the ying and yang. I remember seeing the video for “War Ensemble” and thinking that nothing could get that heavy. Nothing before it or what came after could reach those kinds of metal highs again. Then you hear a song like the title track “Seasons In The Abyss” and you realize these Slayer cats were almost a damn progressive rock band. The chicken scratch guitar solos of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman didn’t matter. When they locked in rhythmically with the monster drummer that is Dave Lombardo there was no stopping these guys. Seasons In The Abyss was indeed the most progressive and technically on point record they ever made.

Even back then with me attempting to drown out my brother blasting that Seasons In The Abyss cassette in his room with myself blasting Freddie Mercury secretly telling the world goodbye with “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, I couldn’t help but notice just how good that album was. By the time I’d made it to my senior year Slayer had released the video for “Seasons In The Abyss” and all bets were off. It was like a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Headbanger’s Ball, but in the desert. It was this amazing mix of cinematic grandeur and progressive speed metal. It was also this crossover song that seemed to fold in fans of all makes and tastes. I can remember even my girlfriend’s marching band buddies digging the track as much as my hesher Music Appreciation classmates. In-particular, the drum line guys were pretty floored by the skill and precision of drummer Dave Lombardo. Seriously, to this day I think he’s one of the best metal drummers to ever walk the face of the earth. I feel every Slayer album he played on was top notch because of him. Nothing against Paul Bostaph, but Lombardo is the man and one of main reasons Slayer was so good(my opinion, what’s yours?)

Anyways, when I delved into the speed metal re-christening a couple years ago Seasons In The Abyss was at the very top of the list of albums to get. Prior to snagging it, I was able to find OG pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South of Heaven. When it came time to grab an OG pressing of Seasons I instead grabbed one of the recent 180 gram reissues. I have no complaints. Though I prefer original pressings of these speed metal classics, this reissue sounds amazing, and at over half the price of the going price of 1st pressings I’m fine with it(btw, those new Metallica reissues sound amazing, too.)

As far as the songs? Man, they all retain their power, aggression, and dark eccentricities very well. The nice thing about Rick Rubin producing is that nothing sounds dated. He didn’t kowtow to current engineering and recording trends of the time. His style was to let the band do the talking, not let gated reverbs and bright treble on everything do it. Because of that all of Slayer’s records sound of the time they’re being played in. I think that’s what appeals to me so much with them. Their music sounds good anytime. You could be frozen in a cryogenic state for 200 years, wake up from your sci fi nap, and then put on Reign In Blood and even the alien warlords running the planet by then would be like “IRUYC *$&CKDHF ++UCHRXM~?”, which roughly translated means “Hey, is that the new Slayer album?” So much of the stuff that came out in the mid-80s and early 90s has a certain musical “taint” on them that puts a very specific expiration date on the record. Songs like “War Ensemble”, “Hallowed Point”, “Deadskin Mask”, and “Skeletons of Society” get better with age, like a fine wine(blood red, of course.) When Slayer started out they weren’t the most proficient players, but what they lacked in skill they made up for in animalistic rage and fury. By the time Seasons hit they’d had 8 years of recording, touring, rehearsal, and societal woes and missteps under their belts, which turned them into this precise and jagged speed metal behemoth of a band.

From “Show No Mercy” to “Seasons In The Abyss” these California metal freaks grew leaps and bounds, while still retaining all of the youthful abandon and punk rock attitude they started out with. Not all the of the “big four” can say that.

Seasons In The Abyss is still a solid album, even 26 years after its initial release. I still don’t think I could hang with those River’s Edge kids, but really, who would want to?

Iron Nebulas & Cosmic Highs : Revisiting Jakob Skott’s ‘All The Colours Of The Dust’

It was very early 2014. I recall I’d just been introduced to the wonderful world of Causa Sui and El Paraiso Records, the home of the Danish four-piece which is run by Causa Sui’s Jonas Munk and Jakob Skott. I was still pretty wet behind the ears when it came to what I would find out would be a treasure trove of musical delights, so when the announcement came of the impending release of Jakob Skott’s Amor Fati I wasn’t quite sure what that was. I listened to the title track and put my preorder in. As soon as that album arrived I knew I’d be a fan for life. Skott had a sound all his own. I’ve expressed my admiration for the man and his music time and time again on this site for the past nearly four years, but I don’t think I could ever truly explain how his records have rewired my brain.

There’s the sci fi leanings in the look of the album covers as well as the album titles and song titles, which gives the albums this cosmic, otherworldly feel. Anything sci fi wets my whistle. But of course you can’t be all looks and no brains. Jakob Skott started his solo album career with the heady, analog-drenched synth classic Doppler. It was all warm, bubbly synth that brought to my mind Boards of Canada. But then with Amor Fati he created this synth/drum dual of sorts. A synthetic/organic orgy of man vs machine. Skott is a prolific drummer to begin with. His style is heavily groove-oriented, but not in a Bernard Purdie sort of way. Kind of like Keith Moon, Tony Williams, and Stewart Copeland fused their styles together and added a touch of alien DNA. There’s power, but a hell of a lot of finesse. Skott took his drum skills and combined them with his analog synth patches to create this amazing coming together of synthetic and organic musical storytelling.

His records are really like nothing I’ve ever heard.

You can’t go “Well, Amor Fati reminds me of(insert artist here) with a touch of (insert album here.)” I’m sure Skott was influenced by someone or something in his life which led him to making these amazing records, but I’ll be damned if I can pinpoint them. It’s not often you come across someone building a sound and vibe all their own that feels like a true original. His records are like this mix of spacebo jazz fusion heavily circuited with analog warmth and Isaac Asimov dreams.

In 2014 Skott released both Amor Fati and Taurus Rising, a monolithic one-two punch of groovy spaced-out rhythms and hazy, heady galactic vibes. Then in the spring of 2016 he laid on our ears the excellent All The Colours Of The Dust. This one seemed to bring together all that had come before with a newfound confidence and vision that if it was the last of its kind, mankind could disintegrate into the burnt terra firma knowing they’d heard all they needed to hear.

Ashes to ashes, dust to coloured dust.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit much. You must forgive me, this record came to my ears at a decidedly strange time. I was off work on medical leave healing from back surgery. When I first heard All The Colours Of The Dust I was home on a semi-regular dose of Norco and muscle relaxers in between naps and pots of coffee. Under the influence, Skott’s record felt like a revelation. There was ample cabin fever going on as the kids were all in school and my wife was working. I couldn’t yet venture downstairs or drive so I was stuck upstairs in the living room spinning albums and staring out the window curious about the hole that was healing in my back.

The album opens with the epic “Age Of Isotopes”. It begins in a cacophony of drums and noise before locking into a heavy groove. There’s almost this island vibe as the drums sway along to the woozy synths. In a semi-medicated state this song feels like pushing the boundaries of reality. The song starts to speed up as a storm of chaos builds to a crescendo. The song slows to a point where you think you’re melting into the universe. The song seems to find some resolution as it comes to its conclusion.

This is how you start an album, people.

Editor’s Note:

Before I get all the D.A.R.E. folks and Nancy Reagan “say no to drugs” trolls in an uproar because of the pain meds talk, I was recovering from surgery, okay? Besides, I’m listening to this album right now and its equally mindblowingly-good sober(though, with a lager or two you’ll be in heaven.) 

“Face Peradam” sounds like a space jam of epic proportions. Skott lays down some serious drums as the synths bubble and pop with an almost 80s sound. The wavering synths in the background give off a more pop feel, but don’t think this song doesn’t give off heady vibes. It does.

Side B opens with a massive explosion of groove, vibe, and attitude with the excellent “The Variable”. Skott doesn’t like to say he’s a good keyboard player, but man he’s got a knack for creating serious melodies. It’s not about technical skill as much as it is about feel and nuance. Jakob Skott creates aural worlds with the best of the Komische alumni. “The Variable” rides on a musical conversation between drums and synth. It’s a conversation where you may not know what words are being said but the intention of the conversation is well established. Throw some headphones on or you’ll be doing this song and your ears a disservice. The layers of sound make their presence known when wearing some cans on your cabeza. The stereo field comes alive with the drums living in the middle as skronky synth structures waver from left to right.

“Iron Nebula”. Just saying that makes me feel giddy. It’s this heady, sci fi language Skott uses that makes his records so magical. Is this “Nebula” Skott speaks of the dust the album is named after? Who knows. What I can say is that this song has some seriously Afro-Cuban vibes. Not only is there layers of keyboard goodness but Jakob Skott makes this incredible rhythmic track that is part ‘Trio of Doom’ and part “Manteca” with a heady dose of Ice-9 thrown in for good measure. Right here is Skott’s magic in concentrate. Nobody is making this music. Just Jakob Skott. Is it something in the Danish beer? Is the Odense soil filled with galactic minerals? I guess only the Iron Nebula knows for sure.

“All The Colours” closes out the album. Jakob Skott isn’t going to end the album on a laid back note. Seriously dirty space grooves kick in to take us out with a bang. It’s like Electric Miles took a hit of some seriously banging alien weed with Can in 1969 and got lost somewhere between here and the Milky Way. The track slows to a mellow crawl before dissipating into the ether.

So there you have it, my long-winded ode to one of my favorite albums of 2016. Or 2017. Or 1916. Jakob Skott is a one-of-a-kind composer/musician/righteous dude that to my ears has created the spacebo analog synth fusion. Or space jazz synth rock. Improv synth fusion. Whatever you want to name it, just play that shit LOUD.

Throw any of Jakob Skott’s records on and I’ll shake your hand. I’ll buy you a beer. I’ll make you the best damn barbeque chicken pizza you’ve ever had. Though out of all his incredible albums All The Colours Of The Dust holds a very special place in my heart and mind. A place that’s kind of hazy and foggy and tinged with a bit of melancholy for me. It was a soundtrack for being alone and cabin fever and healing. It was a soundtrack to getting on when getting on was a bit painful.

Let’s get our cosmic high on.