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.


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?


Metallica were the gateway band for me. My older brother and his bad influence ways pushed Master of Puppets on me like some greasy punk passing me my first joint in the middle school basketball courts. We drove on US 33 on our way to the mall one hot summer afternoon and he pushed a cassette into the tape deck of his 1977 Cutlass Supreme. What hit my ears was an onslaught of power chords, double kick bass drum, and a howling James Hetfield singing “Master! Master! Where’s the dreams that I’ve been after/Master! Master! You promised only lies!” It was one of those eureka moments for my 13-year old self which led to a leap into the world of thrash/speed metal. For my birthday that year I was given a Ride The Lightning songbook, which helped me learn “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Trapped Under Ice”, and “Fade To Black”.

My brother bought me that book, natch.

From that point on I was a Metalli-nerd(it was a small group of just me, the neighbor kid that wasn’t allowed to listen to Metallica for Tipper Gore reasons, and my dog Klaus.) …And Justice For All was in my possession the day it came out in August of 1988. I was 14-years old and heading into my freshman year of high school. I was awkward and stocky with a weak mullet and wore too many button up striped shirts that were purchased at JC Penney. But I could half ass play “Eruption” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” and in my head I thought it was gonna be my year. Turned out it was just another “meh” school year, with the exception of seeing Child’s Play on my 15th birthday with two pals, snagging a pretty cool Megadeth t-shirt at some point, and my uncle gifting me a 70s DOD flanger pedal. Oh, and Metallica premiered their first video ever with “One”. Stayed at a friend’s house on a Saturday night so I could see the premiere on Headbanger’s Ball since my parent’s didn’t want to pay for cable.

I stuck with Metallica clear through high school. Metallica was the soundtrack to my senior year, along with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger. I gotta say, though, after “The Black Album” I felt the guys got a little too complacent. Load, a song on the MI:2 soundtrack, Bob Segar covers, and short, gelled hair styles? “Metal up your ass” turned into something far less violent or deviant. Soccer moms were singing along to “Enter Sandman” and “Fuel”. I’m not dissing this San Bernadino Godfathers of speed metal for making bank, but by the mid to late 90s Metallica were dabbling in arty rock and southern rock and I just couldn’t board that train with ’em. In 2003, when everyone turned against Metallica for St. Anger I sort of dug that record. Where most folks seemed to think it was middle-aged men trying to fit in with the kids they influenced I saw it as a band attempting to have fun being a band again. Taking risks(that snare sound, anyone?) and getting out of their comfort zone. I felt that, but the doc Some Kind Of Monster confirmed it to me. Whiny rock stars? Nah, they’re just human like you and me. Foibles and all, man.

So where am I going with all of this? Well I started going back to the old albums and I’d realized that I never really got into Kill Em All. I knew most of the songs, but never really dug into that record. I sort of bypassed that initial debut and went right for Master of Puppets. Last year Metallica started re-releasing their albums in remastered form, done from the original master tapes. The first two releases were Kill Em All and Ride The Lightning. Of course I bought them.

They sound amazing, but the big surprise was how much I love Kill Em All. For some reason I always just figured it was more of a hard rock album. It never came across as speed metal to me. Well I hadn’t hit the right songs. “Motorbreath”, “Phantom Lord”, and “Metal Militia” are as thrash and speed as they come. “Hit The Lights”, “Whiplash”, and “Seek and Destroy” are classic metal tunes. “The Four Horsemen” has a breakdown in it that sounds like Peace Sells-era Megadeth, like something off “Wake Up Dead”(I’m wondering if Mustaine was still in the band when that one was written.) “Jump In The Fire” is catchy as hell, but sounds nothing like Nilsson. There’s even a pretty killer instrumental highlighting the late great Cliff Burton’s bass playing called “Anesthesia(Pulling Teeth)”. This record actually seems like the perfect place for Metallica to being their trek into “Metaldom”.

What this album really sounds like is four barely drinking age California buds getting buzzed in the garage and making their own brand of NWOBHM tuneage. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Venom, Diamond Head, and Black Sabbath all play a part in molding the sound of Metallica, and Kill Em All is their first foray into the world that made them what they are today. I now realize Kill Em All is one of the most important metal records of the 80s. Ride The Lightning was when the speed came into prominence for the band, but Kill Em All was their street record. This was the ball bat and bike chains record. Street level tunes, man. There would be no Master or Justice without Kill Em All.

My son now requests “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Not because he heard me spinning it, but because of its use in an excellent indie horror movie we watched called The Devil’s Candy.  But now that I mentioned that “The Four Horsemen” was used in X-Men: Apocalypse, he’s now asking to hear Kill Em All.

I guess I’ve become the bad influence now. My older brother would be proud.





South of Heaven…North of Kentucky

I can remember in those formative years of mine it was taboo to listen to Slayer. It was bad enough getting caught listening to something like Megadeth’s “Good Mourning, Black Friday” or Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” by yourself in your bedroom with the lights off, your comforter draped over you like a cape while praying over a bucket of chicken blood. I mean, the rules were ALWAYS never take a bucket of chicken blood in your bedroom. You could stain the carpet. Anyways, for me listening to Slayer was like a filthy little secret. It was tantamount to keeping Playboys under the mattress or worn copies of Faces of Death 1, 2, and 3 hidden under puzzle boxes and Hot Wheels in your closet. Those California thrashers were just so dark. You got the feeling there was very little laughter going on behind the scenes. I could be wrong, but the band that wrote songs titled “Crypts of Eternity”, “Aggressive Perfector”, and “Dead Skin Mask” surely wasn’t getting stoned on the tour bus and laughing at Tex Avery cartoons and singing along to “Penny Lane”.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

You see, Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, and Dave Lombardo looked like dudes you did not cross. I imagined someone mouthing off at one of their shows and Araya pulling out a trident and forking them in front of the entire Palladium crowd. Maybe there were moments of levity in-between cases of Heineken and devouring the souls of virgins from town to town. But I’m sure those only lasted until the bloodlust returned and the band had to feed once again on the blood of the young. Okay, okay, so these guys weren’t monsters, but for the 16-year old me they scared the hell out of me. They were the musical version of those video nasties I always heard about. I knew a girl named Karrie in 10th grade. She was in my geometry class. She’d moved to our Republican stronghold of a town in 1990 from the east coast. I’m not sure exactly from where but I think I think maybe Massachusetts as she had a bit of a Bostonian accent. I may have had a bit of a crush on her as she dug metal and had teased bangs that were at least 8 inches long. She even sold me her VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder. How could I not be smitten? I was putty in her hands. Anyways, Karrie had told me a story about how she and a girlfriend had partied with Slayer and that her girlfriend slept with Tom Araya. Back then I was a little jealous, but now that I’m an adult and a dad with daughters I’m horrified at that story. I mean, she was 16. Ugh.

Point I’m trying to make is that Slayer were an infamous band in my mind. My junior year in high school I became a fan with Seasons In The Abyss, but my first true exposure to Slayer was actually the Beastie Boys. Both “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” had Hanneman playing his famous squealing, all over the place guitar solo. I believe he was in the “No Sleep” video as well. I thought, “Hey, if the Beasties dig Slayer maybe I should too?” Of course that didn’t happen, but two years later my brother was inviting me into his bedroom so he could show me what he procured from Butterfly Records that afternoon. It was Slayer’s South Of Heaven. He put it into his console stereo and I was feeling like I did the first time I watched Henry : Portrait of a Serial Killer, which means I felt a little queasy.

South Of Heaven felt like this overwhelming of the senses. It was this perfect melding of their hardcore roots and what would become speed metal. But they weren’t singing about Stephen King books, drug addiction, or covering the Sex Pistols. Slayer seemed to be summoning Satan himself in their breakneck rhythms, speed-picked solos, and Araya’s manimal vocals. Songs about serial killers, devil worship, the horrors of war, and general depravity felt more like hearing a psychotic’s journal being read over death marches than four drunk California punks having a good time. You took these guys at their word when they sang lines like “Bastard sons beget your cunting daughters/Promiscuous mothers with your incestuous fathers.” Songs like “South Of Heaven”, “Live Undead”, and “Mandatory Suicide” were relentless. They seemed to push the boundaries of musical dexterity and human decency. But still, there was something about them that kept me wanting to hear a bit more. There was this lawlessness to their music that was appealing. I sort of looked past the lyrics about necrophilia, masks made of human skin, and wartime atrocities in order to appreciate what was going on musically.

All these years later and I feel like I’m having a bit of a speed metal renaissance. Last year I got a little overzealous on Discogs and located some first pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South Of Heaven. Out of those I’d have to say that South Of Heaven is my favorite. It’s still that perfect mix of youthful aggression and disgruntled middle age, bashing each other into a bloody pulp. Lyrically they go for the jugular, but it’s more about shock value than actually summoning demons from Hell. I think Tom Araya had one of the best metal vocals in the 80s. It was this spitfire delivery. It was strong, upfront, and not to be stifled with. Rick Rubin’s production was near perfect. No overused effects or studio trickery. The songs were raw and in your face. Hanneman and King weren’t intricate players, but they’d built up their speed and could speed riff better than anyone. Their solos sounded like wounded animals or howling damned souls, which seemed to suit the songs well. And Dave Lombardo? Man, the best drummer of the era period. That guy’s double kick drumming was unlike anyone else. There was power and finesse, but he could also kick it old school and knock out some serious hardcore beats. Lombaro was Slayer’s secret weapon, and once he left for good they just weren’t the same for me.

I’ve learned to not fear Slayer, but embrace them. And I’ve learned that first pressings can be a little expensive. More expensive than a VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder? Hell yes. Worth every penny? Oh hell yes.



Follow Me Or Die

When I go back to those classic thrash albums of my painful and awkward teens I always have to bring up my older brother. If it weren’t for him I would’ve been stuck in the cycle of hair metal and 12 bar blues far longer than I should’ve been. His 6 years on me gave him the foresight to acknowledge the pure genius of “the big four”: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. You really don’t even have to venture out of those four if you don’t want to. No need when you have albums like Master Of Puppets, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying, Reign In Blood, and of course Among The Living in your collection. Those four records are a microcosm of misspent youth, societal paranoia, middle finger to authority, horror film admiration, and everything else that appealed to 14-year olds that wore “I Am The Law” t-shirts and attempted to grow their hair long and mingled in Midwestern basements plotting to take over the world.

Of the big four, Anthrax always seemed to be the guys you could hang out with the easiest. There was a hell of a lot of brooding going on in the Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer camps back in the 80s. A lot of self-serious 20-somethings getting drunk, strung out, and generally going for the nihilistic approach to proper rock living. Maybe it was growing up on the east coast, but Anthrax were just these fun dudes that loved comic books, horror movies, skating, and Stephen King novels(they probably loved music, too.) They never seemed to take themselves too seriously, which I think appealed to me. I loved heavy, dark music. But I also liked fart jokes, MAD magazine, Monty Python, and cartoons. I think the greater majority of Anthrax did as well. But besides being the dudes you could peruse the comic book store with, they could also play like mothereffers. You didn’t have to be really serious in your demeanor in order to tear faces off with your musical speed and dexterity. Among The Living was proof of that.

What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said a million times before? It is THE ultimate thrash/speed metal album. The band’s hardcore roots show through, as do their progressive tendencies that will bloom on their other classic Persistence Of Time. There’s also plenty of nods to the band’s love of horror, comics, and pretty much whatever else they were into at the time. “Among The Living” was based of Stephen King’s The Stand, and in-particular the main antagonist Randall Flagg. “Disease! Disease! Spreading the disease. With some help from Captain Trips, He’ll bring the world down to his knees“, Joey Belladonna sings over a rapid fire drum part from the great Charlie Benante. Scott Ian and Dan Spitz chug out riffs like pros while Frank Bello lays down some serious low end. It’s, for me, one of the best openings on any speed metal album(“War Ensemble” on Slayer’s Seasons In The Abyss a close second.) Then you are thrown into the mosh pit with “Caught In A Mosh”. My daughter came home from school yesterday and said some kids said they were going to start a mosh pit after school. The cops showed up for this supposed event. I asked her if she knew what a mosh pit was. She said kids getting in a fight in a circle. I told her no, it’s guys(and gals) showing each other their mutual appreciation for aggressive music by running around in a circle and pushing and kicking each other. It’s like bonding, for the leather-clad and disgruntled crowd. She said “oh”. I asked her if there was going to be music involved for this supposed event and she said no. Pfft…amateurs.

“I Am The Law” is their ode to Judge Dredd, and not that horribe Sly Stallone version. The hardcore one from the comics(the 2012 film was much better with Karl Urban.) I have to say, before this song I had no idea who Judge Dredd was. I hadn’t gotten into comics back then. I was just a coddled teen getting his kicks from late night tv and Fangoria Magazine. “Efilnikufesin(N.F.L.)” is a nice snarky battering ram of hardcore tendencies that give a middle finger to the mindless droves doing nothing with their lives. It’s a skate punk staple. Another nod to Stephen King is the excellent “A Skeleton In The Closet”, which is based on the novella “Apt Pupil”. I can remember reading “Apt Pupil” from my dad’s worn and weathered copy of King’s Different Seasons after I’d heard the song and being kind of blown away by how accurately these New York City thrashers captured the story. “Indians” is one of the best songs on Among The Living, and a live staple in their set. It really shows the depth Anthrax’ writing can get to. “Medley: A.D.I./Horror Of It All”, or “Arabic Douche Intro” starts out with a short acoustic piece(like many songs of this metal era did), then it rolls into some serious chugging guitar for a nearly 8-minute metal riff-o-rama. “Imitation of Life” is a remake of the old S.O.D. song “Aren’t You Hungry?” It’s a closing salvo that will get even the most sedentary up and starting a mosh pit in the living room. For those wanting a little fun thrown into their thrash, you should check out S.O.D.’s Speak English Or Die. It’s big, loud, and dumb fun. It’s also a side band with Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, and their original Anthrax bassist Dan Lilker. It’s silly hardcore fun.

So there you have it. One of THE greatest thrash/speed metal albums ever from one of THE greatest thrash/speed metal bands to walk the face of the earth. Among The Living and Anthrax. Anthrax earned that ranking by not elevating themselves above the guys and gals that bought their albums and proudly bloodied themselves up in the mosh pits at their shows. For the most part, Anthrax were just like you and me. They loved KISS, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest when they were teens. They idolized those bands and got lost in their records late at night in their bedrooms growing up. They wrote about what they loved, and most of what they loved I loved, too. They wrote serious metal, but they also loved hip hop and even made a hip hop song of their own(“I’m The Man”.) They loved horror movies. Joey Belladonna was even in one back in the late 80s(1990s Pledge Night.) They loved comics and Stephen King and used both as inspiration for their songs, and Among The Living contains all the good stuff. The great stuff.

Nothing else to say, except mublanikufesin!



Love Crush

As I hit middle school I was knee deep in the hair metal hoopla, but once I made it into my freshman year of high school I’d begun to find more nuanced, less sexually ambiguous music to fall for. I’d been playing guitar for a little over two years once I hit 9th grade and my tastes in music had been steering towards guitar prowess in music. I no longer thought that CC Deville was a fabulous player. Or that Mick Mars was a killer guitar slinger. I’d discovered Shrapnel Records and their line up of 60 notes per second players. A good portion was just “meh”, but there were a few that showed real potential. But once I’d picked up Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien that was it. This was the guy. Prodigious player with lightning fast chops, but he could actually write a catchy tune. He had melody lines that stood in for vocals. There was interesting things going on rhythmically, and he seemed to be pulling influences from all over the the place. He was a blues-based guy for sure, but he obviously dug music from all over the place. I think that was the point where I’d lost interest in “flavor of the month” bands that were featured monthly in the music rags I followed.

By the time I’d bought Alien it had been out for about a year. There was no sign of a new record coming from Satriani anytime soon, so I went back and bought his first LP Not Of This Earth, which lived up to the title. It was pretty out there, showcasing his proficient skills and ability to get weird when he wanted to. But in-between Surfing With The Alien and his 1990 Flying In A Blue Dream there was the short but sweet Dreaming #11, an EP that touted one new song and three live tracks recorded at the California Theater in San Diego, California on June 11, 1988. Dreaming #11 came out in November of 1988, not long before the Thanksgiving holiday which gave me a nice 4-day weekend to really dig into it(I’d also bought the debut Winger album around the same time, too. Don’t judge me.)

At the time this one was nice, but at only 4 tracks with three being older live songs it didn’t leave a lasting impression. The one new song, “The Crush Of Love” was stunning, though. It was this beautifully put together piece of melody-driven guitar rock. It had a nice push to it, with an amazing melody line that stayed in your head long after the song ended. I can remember a few months after it was released I would hear the song being played on the semi-local rock station out of Niles, Michigan 95.3 WAOR. Hearing that on the radio I sort of felt like Satriani was being vindicated or something. He was this guy that I felt needed to be pulled out of guitardom obscurity and have a mainstream audience get into him. This was the kind of song that could’ve been the theme music for anything, really. It was just a damn catchy tune. The three live tracks were pretty stellar sounding, too. Surfing With The Alien’s “Ice Nine” and “Memories” were played to perfection by Satch and the rhythm section of bassist Stu Hamm and drummer Jonathan Mover. The last live track was Not Of This Earth’s “Hordes Of Locusts”, which was the best track on that album. I can remember learning the main riff and playing it ad nauseum. It’s a cool song, but not on par with the Alien tunes.

joeI think what I remember most about this Satriani EP was riding with my dad in his truck and listening to it. My dad had heard a couple of Satriani’s songs on the aforementioned WAOR and had become a fan. He quite liked “The Crush Of Love” so we’d listen to it often. He’d play it in the garage boom box as well when he’d be out washing the cars or working on projects(he would later take a shine to my Suicidal Tendencies cassette Controlled By Hatred/Feel Like Shit…Deja Vu.)

Whenever I could find something for my dad and I to bond over I’d relish it. He was a sports guy. He played football, basketball, and ran track in high school. He had the old letterman sweater to prove it. So when I hit 7th grade he was excited for me to try out for football, which I did and made the team. But about a week into it(well before the first game) I quit. It wasn’t my thing. I’m not a sports fan and never had been. I know he was disappointed I didn’t give it more of a shot, but I think he understood. After a year or so of guitar lessons he saw how much I enjoyed playing and how good I was getting. He saw I’d found my “thing” and I believe he’d become genuinely happy for me. So when he was liking music I was liking, well it genuinely meant a great deal to me.

Today I pulled out Dreaming #11(I found a copy online for pretty cheap awhile back) and gave it a spin. It’s still not a substantial release by Joe, but “The Crush Of Love” is still a hell of a track. It’s a poised, catchy tune that holds up incredibly well. And it still reminds me of my dad.


Ridiculous Vinyl Purchases : Nostalgia Gets The Best Of Us All

I guess you could say I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately. On a trip to my local record store recently I was given access to leaf through an as-yet put out collection of records and see if anything tickled my fancy. Within this “like, totally” 80s dive I located some truly most excellent spins from my formative years and without even thinking of what I was doing I’d pulled these 80s metal wonders from the lot and said “I want.”

After John at Karma had given the records a good looking over and had arrived on a price for these albums I paid the man and brought them home. What records am I talking about here? Dokken’s Under Lock And Key, Cinderella’s Night Songs, and Tears For Fears’ Songs From The Big Chair. Yeah I know, they seem like random impulse buys. And really they sort of are, but they also hold some significance in my pre-teen/teen years.

FullSizeRender (94)Dokken’s Under Lock And Key was a no-brainer(I guess in more ways than one) for me. Over the last few months I’ve collected a couple of their records, Back For The Attack and their last and live record Unleashed In The East. For me, Dokken towed the line between metal and hard rock. They came up in the early 80s LA where bands like Ratt and Motley Crue mixed glam and metal. Dokken toned the glam down a notch and concentrated more on intricate songwriting. Don Dokken had a good mid-range voice that lent itself well to banshee wails and warm balladeering rather well. Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson were a solid rhythm section, albeit nothing showy, while the ever tan and shirtless George Lynch excelled at lightning fast runs and melodic wailing better than most at that time. I fell for their heavy and serious rock music in 1985 when I swiped a dubbed copy of their album Tooth And Nail from my older brother. That album was part of the reason I wanted to learn guitar. I couldn’t get over how good George Lynch was. Up to that point it was Eddie Van Halen and Warren Di Martini that impressed me. Lynch seemed to be on a whole other level.

I first owned Under Lock and Key in December of 1986. December 2nd to be exact. I’d received a copy on cassette for my 13th birthday. I’d heard “In My Dreams” and “It’s Not Love” pretty frequently on MTV, Friday Night Videos, and on the radio show Metal Shop late Friday nights on 95.3 WXKE out of Niles, Michigan. Having the album I could fixate on some of the other tunes. “Unchain The Night”, “The Hunter”, “Lightning Strikes Again”, and the ballad “Will The Sun Rise” were all solid songs that were pretty much ignored by everyone else. This was the time of the singles, where record labels pushed two or three tracks and left the rest to collect dust somewhere on the back end of the LP. When I bought an album I gave the whole album a shot. Sometimes there wasn’t much else besides the singles, but occasionally you’d stumble across some buried treasures. I found that to be the case with Dokken, actually.

I was a huge fan of the band till I was 14 or 15 years old. Eventually what killed them for me was their self-serious nature. At first them taking themselves seriously was a good thing to my ears. It made their music seem heavier and legitimate. But as the years went on and their albums became less heavy and more ballad-filled the serious nature made the songs seem all the more, well, lame. George Lynch left the band and it pretty much became Don Dokken’s time to turn the band into a ballad machine.

But still, spinning Under Lock And Key over the last week or so has been a nice nostalgia trip. I’m not looking to rekindle any hard rock relationships, but it’s nice to step into the time machine now and then. And yes, if I ever see a vinyl copy of Tooth And Nail for sale on the cheap I’m buying it.

FullSizeRender (93)About three weeks after my birthday, the first week of Christmas break in 1986 to be exact, I’d headed to Butterfly Records in downtown Warsaw and bought a copy of Cinderella’s Night Songs. I’d given in to the fun and catchy first single “Shake Me” and felt I’d needed to dig into that album a little deeper. It turned out that the rest of that album was pretty solid. Opening track “Night Songs” was pretty damn heavy, really. Ballad “Nobody’s Fool” was enough to get the girls excited while still retaining some metal-ish edge to it. “Hell On Wheels”, “Somebody Save Me”, and “Push Push” were also pretty solid tunes.

This album became a staple of my 7th grade year. I played it pretty much all the time till spring. Coming back to this one recently I was again reminded of how solid this album is. While not seeking future records of theirs on vinyl, I’m glad to have this one as it’s a reminder that not all those 80s glammy hard rock records were completely bogus. Plus, it pays to dig into the deep tracks. I still think Tom Keifer has a great hard rock voice.

FullSizeRender (95)So that leads us to Tears For Fears and Songs From The Big Chair. I was never a huge Tears For Fears fan. I liked the songs when they came on the radio, but I never owned any of their records. They were too pop and radio for my eccentric pret-teen tastes. But over the last few years songs from this album began to come back to me and reminded me of a certain road trip my family took in the summer 1985.

My parents rented a house in Englewood, Florida, for us to stay in on a week-long vacation in the sunshine state. We packed our bags and loaded into our 1984 Honda Accord and headed south. This was a long, long, long drive. It was filled with card games, naps, arguing, burger joint stops, and lots of radio. Tears For Fears’ “Shout” was huge that summer so we heard it A LOT on our way to and from Florida. So much so that it felt as if it had become a part of my DNA. I seem to remember hearing “Head Over Heels” as well quite a bit, though I may have just grafted those memories onto this vacation road trip. Either way, it was one of those situations where at the time I was thinking “Not this song again!”, but unbeknownst to me it had taken hold and had connected with my 11-year old brain. I’d never thought about it, but whenever I’d hear that song over the last 15 years or so it made me feel good. I wanted to hear it more. It was a pleasant surprise when it would come on some 80s radio station or 80s mix I might be listening to. That trip was the reason, I think. So when I saw Songs From The Big Chair in that stack of records I knew I needed to take that one home with me.

Spinning the record I was amazed by just how good of an album it is. It’s catchy, kind of quirky, and a completely different trip from what was coming out in 1985. The singles were massive, and as a whole the album was wonderfully produced and engineered. No wonder it became a permanent part of my DNA.

So there you have it. My walk down memory lane, or nostalgia avenue. There’s one more album I picked up in that lot, but I’ll save it for another post. Until then, go put on some of your or your significant other’s eye liner and throw on Night Songs or Under Lock And Key.

Or better yet, don’t.