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Interview: Night Demon rise up through the power of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal

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Jarvis Leatherby was swept up by the bat wings of metal as a kid, fascinated by the powerful riffs and imagery of old-school British bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Diamond Head.

While most of those kids grow up just content to just to rock out at shows in the audience, Leatherby is chasing his true metal muse as vocalist and bassist of Ventura, California’s blazing Night Demon.

“All roads lead from Metallica, Black Sabbath, Van Halen and Iron Maiden,” Leatherby said, during an email interview (the band is currently on the road, playing festivals and shows in Europe).  “Those bands made me feel like anything was possible in my life. I really felt a certain sense of power when I got into those bands.”

A power trio, —  with Leatherby, Armand John Anthony (guitar) and Dusty Squires (drums) — Night Demon have been making waves in Europe on the strength of the just-released “Darkness Remains” and 2015’s “Curse of the Damned.” The band has shared stages with NWOBHM legends like Diamond Head, won praise while touring America with extreme metal masters Carcass, took their show to South America, and have been nominated for the “Up and Coming” metal band award by Metal Hammer Magazine.

Musically, the band pulls off a neat trick, channeling  the driving force, riffs and soaring vocals of “Killers” era NWOBHM, with an injection of thrash, Motorhead-style swagger and the grandeur of classic Dio, while never sounding stale or like an 1980s metal homage.

Its fun music — tough-as-nails, hard-charging and totally a ready to knock heads. See for yourself.

 

The band came together as a three-piece because there weren’t any other musicians in the Ventura scene who wanted to explore classic metal, Leatherby said.

“We had always talked about doing a NWOBHM inspired project, and one day we finally decided to pull the trigger and get together and see what happens,”Leatherby said. “We did always have the same interest in classic metal, hence the reason why the band started as a three piece … The hardcore punk scene was very strong in our area, but growing up in white suburban southern California, there wasn’t a heavy crop to pick from as far as musicians who really understood this style, or like us, people who really grew up on this and loved it so much. There were the three of us and that was it.”

The band was very interested in writing music that captured the spirit of bands like Maiden, Saxon and other members of the NWOBHM pantheon.

“Initially when we started, we were intentionally trying to capture that vibe,” he said.  “It came easily because the fact is that this music is in our DNA by now. I started Night Demon at thirty years of age, so (I had) almost twenty years under my belt of listening to this music on a daily basis.”

The music was in more than just Leatherby’s DNA. Metal, he said, got him the way it gets a lot of other kids — by appealing to him from the dark side.

“I grew up in Christian school, so I wasn’t exposed to that stuff on a daily basis, besides whatever I saw on MTV at home after school,” Leatherby said. “When I was twelve years old, they showed us a Christian documentary film title ‘Hell’s Bells.’ This film went on for three hours, breaking down the evils and dangers of rock and metal — everything down to Ozzy, Judas Priest, and Metallica lyrics and the hidden meanings about these bands worshiping the devil and influencing their fans to commit suicide, back masking Zeppelin records, etc. ”

Of course, as anyone who once had W.A.S.P. cassette or Slipknot CD confiscated by a concerned parent can testify, all that parental and teacherly preaching about the dangers of metal just makes the already-exciting world of metal that much more intriguing.

“The following day, most of my class mates brought their tapes and CD’s to school along with hammers to smash their music in the name of god,” Leatherby said. “Myself and my two best friends took the other route and were completely mesmerized by what we saw.

“At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I never looked back,” he said. “… We all know as metalloids that initial feeling of discovering this music and knowing your life’s purpose. It’s much like a drug.”

Music based on a classic ’80s style might not seem to have much appeal to younger generations of fans. But Leatherby said Night Demon is reaching across the generational and musical divide, even making headway with fans of extreme tech-metal pioneers Carcass.

“The thing I realized is that the old school guys who are into extreme metal, cut their teeth on bands like Metallica and Maiden, so they definitely understand what we are doing, and it can sometimes be a break in the monotony of a very aggressive and extreme scene,” he sad. “The young kids don’t see us as a throwback at all. It’s a totally new thing to them … Girls who get dragged to these kinds of (extreme metal) shows with their boyfriends often latch onto us as well because of the melodic sense and catchiness our songs have.

“Actually that was one of the most successful U.S. tours we have done to date,” he said of the recent Carcass tour. “(I)t doesn’t hurt to tour with a legendary band like Carcass. (They’re) such a really great technical band, and even greater guys as people.”

The band is in Europe playing festivals through August, which Leatherby said is the band’s prime territory.

“(T)ouring in Europe is a really great thing for Night Demon. We do have more fans here per capita than say the States or Canada, but I find that there are true metal fans all over the world,” he said. “No one (set of fans is) better than the other. I think people just celebrate and show it differently.

“I will say that Europeans have a genuine appreciation for Night Demon in the way that they really respect the work ethic that we have, and are very engaged at the shows,” he said. “I  know that we (give) them one of the most energetic shows they see all year.”

Some of the enthusiasm for the band’s sound and shows is not nostalgia, but relief from classic metal fans who are happy to see the genre is not dead, Leatherby said.

“We have had the luxury of touring with some of the greats who influenced us — I’m talking about Raven, Diamond Head, Anvil, Satan, and Saxon,” he said. “Those shows have done well for us, as that’s how the older audience has discovered us … In a way, a lot of them are excited that they see a future for the genre in Night Demon, and they don’t have to have their kids tell them that they listen to dinosaur rock. ”

Being in a professional band is difficult, with a lot of hard work, sacrifice and not always a lot of money (a subject we’ll delve into more fully in the future, I think). But Leatherby said he’s absolutely happy with what the Night Demon has been able to accomplish so far.

“This band as a whole has been my favorite memory,” Leatherby said. “We do this every day and have for the last four years. It’s all baby steps, but the progression has shown and the success is obvious and can be traced back to everything we have done to get here.

“I’ve played in countless bands throughout my life and told myself that I’m not gonna be the guy in my thirties still trying to make it in the music industry, but here I am and I couldn’t be happier about that:” he said. “There is something to be said about being experienced — being ready for the opportunities when they come your way, not believing in luck but believing you can create your own fate, and that is exactly what we are doing.  If it ended today, I would have no regrets.”

On the Web: http://www.nightdemon.net

 

Review: Galactic Empire (self-titled)

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As a concept, Galactic Empire could’ve gone wrong on a number of levels.

Metal and classical music have a lot in common, but that doesn’t mean the two genres mix easily. So called “metal opera” often sounds cheesy, and the metal versions of Mozart, Holst and others I’ve heard were not particularly impressive. It seems classical music often doesn’t translate well to metal — or, perhaps, the classical-metal crossovers I’ve heard were simply performed by musicians that weren’t up to the challenge.

So I was a little leery when I ran across Galactic Empire, a band that translates John Williams’ scores from the “Star Wars” movies to metal. Let’s face it, “Star Wars” also hasn’t fared well musically outside the classical realm. Do you remember the “Star Wars” disco medley? Or have you just tried desperately to forget it? I know I’ve tried because, frankly, disco sucks.

So what a relief it is to say Galactic Empire does Williams and the “Star Wars” scores right. It also manages to rock quite hard, with some pretty stellar muscianship.

The musicianship is strong because, frankly, it has to be — Williams’ “Star Wars” scores are hard, and would challenge the chops of any musician. Galactic Empire rises to Williams’ musical challenge.

The band (Boba Sett, Dark Vader, Shadow Ranger, Red Guard and Bass Commander, on drums, three guitars and bass, respectively) have done their home work with Williams scores. The band does an excellent job of recreating “The Imperial March” “The Asteroid Field,” “Across the Stars” and other themes from the first six “Star Wars” movies in a way that’s interesting yet faithful to the original music. That’s no small feat — Williams’s scores are full of undercurrents of melody, to the the band can often be heard performing three melodies at once.

Since the music was created for the films, the songs are already heavy on dramatic moments and opportunities to be heavy. In terms of “shred (and who doesn’t like shred?) the band members take those scores and run with them — there’s already a lot of shredding built into the music, and each band member has multiple opportunities to shine (drummer Boba Sett in particular continues to amaze me, so kudos to him).

 

Now, it would be easy for the Metal Police or the “trver than thou” to laugh off Galactic Empire as a joke, and say that sc-fi music performed by a band in full costume is not “serious” metal. But that attitude would be silly, and you don’t have to be a “Star Wars” fan to enjoy the wild musical ride here. Hell, Take “Star Wars” completely out of the picture, and what you have is fantastic, intricate instrumental music, played by a band in top form.

So if you’re thinking that you’re too cool for this, you seriously need to lighten up. This is fun, high energy metal. And we allow fun in metal (it doesn’t have to be all nuclear war, catastrophe and evil, you know). This is an album that deserves being checked out.

Review: Body Count, “Bloodlust”

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What do you do with an otherwise great album you don’t enjoy?

Rapper/actor/metal frontman Ice-T and Body Count released their first album in the early 1990s, and despite the “Cop Killer” controversy, the album was pretty wacky, in a Cannibal Corpse house of horrors sort of way. Sure, it had some serious moments (the title track and interlude “A Statistic” stand out in my mind). But songs like “Evil Dick,” “Voodoo,” “There Goes The Neighborhood,” “Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight” and “KKK Bitch” were crazy metal larks. That album contained quite a lot of very dark humor, set to some pretty serious thrash. I can’t say Ice-T invented rap-metal, but he’d certainly perfected it by that point. Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit didn’t add anything to that mix.

Body Count didn’t go away after the first self-titled album, the band released at least one other full-length disc, “Born Dead,” which apparently went nowhere commercially. But it’s clear Ice-T and Body Count are experiencing a resurgence this year, with the release of “Bloodlust,” which very well might be the angriest album we’ll hear in 2017. Anyway, I hope it’s the angriest — if there’s anything more brutal than “Bloodlust” coming this year, I don’t know if I wanna hear it.

Do I have to tell you these songs are extremely explicit? Fair warning.

In terms of timing, Ice-T is certainly striking at the right cultural moment. The Ferguson, Missouri demonstrations and riots, the death of Eric Garner by NYC cops, the execution-style shooting death of Walter Scott by a North Charleston, S.C. police officer , the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen, in 2012 by a vigilante and other incidents have brought the issues of racism and violence against African-Americans, predominately black men, into sharp national focus. Throw in the 2016 presidential election, where the current occupant of the White House ran on a campaign of catering to the nationalist, racist “alt right,” and obviously it’s a time to give the topic of racism and violence in America a hard look.

With that, tracks like “No Lives Matter,” “Civil War” and “Black Hoodie,” are definitely timely and touch a cultural nerve. Songs like “No Lives Matter” and “Black Hoodie” pull no punches into their scathing indictment of how America disregards black men, harassing, arresting, incarcerating or simply killing them. Is there any doubt that happens? Look at the prison statistics, which show that African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate five times higher than whites (you can find that study here).

So yes, I I know everything Ice-T and Body Count are saying in the political tracks on “Bloodlust” is absolutely true. Further, as a reporter who covers crime daily, I know there’s a certain element of truth to “The Ski Mask Way” (a brutal track told from the perspective people who rob drug dealers and anyone living large and ostentatiously — “flash cash, we might come to visit you/nice furs, we might come to visit you/sell drugs, we might come to visit you/brag a lot, we might come to visit you/pray to god we don’t come to visit you”).

Crazy as it might be for most people to believe, there’s also quite a lot of truth in “This is Why We Ride,” a song about getting revenge after street shootings and attacks. Not to portray myself as an expert, but it’s not at all uncommon for people to report robberies and assaults, to only later tell the cops to forget it — and that they’ll take care of the situation themselves. I wouldn’t say I hear stories like that weekly covering the police beat, but I’ve heard those stories often enough to not be shocked by them.

The album is not all political beginning to end — the band does a very strong cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and a decent cover of “Postmortem,” “Here I Go Again” is a serial killer horror tale with a bit of a surprise ending, and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe joins Ice-T for the strong “Walk With Me” (Dave Mustaine appears on “Civil War” and Max Cavalera does a cameo on “All Love Is Lost”, but Blythe is the most memorable guest star, IMO).

Musically, “Bloodlust” is about as solid as you like, Ice-T is a compelling vocalist and best songs are driving and full of energy. But oh my god, this album is a hard listen. I think there’s a lot here to respect, but I gotta tell you the truth — listening to “Bloodlust” stresses me the hell out.

Metal has always been confrontational, angry and willing to embrace hard truths. This music isn’t supposed to be “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” is it? No, it’s not. So, again, I can respect what Body Count is doing on “Bloodlust,” and I’d even go so say as to say as Ice-T’s perspective on racism and violence is important, and ought to be heard.

And I’ve heard it. I just don’t think I wanna hear it again. Is this a negative review, then? I don’t know. Maybe you just gotta hear it for yourself.

 

Today in “the worse thing ever,” Who thought “Metal Disney” was a good idea?

Wanna hear something you’ll instantly wish you never heard? Destroy you hearing (and your sanity) with this:

 

Essential Albums: Bruce Dickinson, “The Chemical Wedding”

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After 1988, Iron Maiden took a creative nose dive.

Perhaps the years of extended touring took a toll on the band. Or, perhaps, after the classic 1988 album, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” the band’s well had run temporarily dry. Perhaps the band members were just sick of each other and needed a break.

Whatever the reason, “No Prayer for the Dying” and “Fear of the Dark” were very much hit-and-miss albums. It’s also true that, around 1989, the metal scene began changing dramatically; compared to metal albums like Soundgarden’s “Louder Than Love,” Pantera’s “Vulgar Display of Power,” and Alice in Chain’s “Facelift,” those post “Seventh Son” Iron Maiden albums sounded like an unwelcome time capsule from 1982. Although the song “Fear of the Dark” is a classic, the majority of the early 1990s Maiden output is uninspiring. When guitarist Adrian Smith left during work on “No Prayer” and frontman Bruce Dickinson departed after “Fear of the Dark,” it seemed like the band’s time in the sun was over.

In Jeff Wagner’s biography on progressive metal, Mean Deviation, Dickinson says he was frustrated by Maiden’s desire to stay on the well-trod NWOBHM path. Shortly before and then after leaving Maiden, Dickinson’s made several well-received solo albums — “Tattooed Millionaire,” “Balls to Picasso,” “Skunkworks” and “Accident of Birth” — which certainly had some shades of Maiden, while showing Dickinson wasn’t afraid to go his own way.

All of those albums have high points and bright moments, but Dickinson’s solo masterpiece was 1998’s “The Chemical Wedding.”

Darker and heavier than anything Dickinson had done with Maiden, “The Chemical Wedding” paired Dickinson with guitarist/producer Roy Z, Adrian Smith on second guitar and the searing rhythm section of Eddie Casillas (bass) and David Ingraham (drums). Dickinson and Z co-wrote the album (with a couple assists from others in the band), and the two had a musical connection that really shines here. The album was far better than anything Maiden had done without Dickinson in the 1990s, and can stand toe-to-toe with Maiden’s best work in the 1980s. It’s an album that shouldn’t be missed.

“The King in Crimson” opens the album with a downtuned, minor-key roar that is more Black Sabbath than Iron Maiden. But even the Sabbath reference lasts only for the first 30 seconds, before kicking into a driving rhythm. Dickinson spits out the lyrics with venom in his voice, and solos are hard-hitting. It makes for a compelling start.

A word about the solos. Anyone familiar with Maiden will recognize Smith’s guitar style, which fits well here. Roy Z’s style is very different — Z often hits with a blizzard of notes in his solos. It’s not the Smith/Dave Murray combination familiar to Maiden fans, but it works. Smith and Z also shine while playing in unison, like on the solo for “The Tower.”

“Chemical Wedding” is one of the standout tracks on the album — it’s big, grand, operatic and pounding, with a superb performance by Dickinson. “The Tower” also impresses, with a sinewy guitar line, a pulse-pounding rhythm and another one of those great Dickinson choruses he nails so often on the album.

“Killing Floor” is not at all bad, but not quite up to the power of the first tracks. But all memory of “Killing Floor” is wiped away immediately by the rage of “Book of Thel,” which displays Dickinson at the angriest he’s ever sounded in his career. It’s a stunning, blazing roar, one hundred times darker than anything Maiden achieved on “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” (the darkest of the band’s ’80s albums). Midway through, the tempo shifts upward for a pair of fiery solos, particularly by Roy Z. Somehow, the band manages to wind the tempest down to a piano coda and a bit of poetry.

“Gates of Urizen” is slower in tempo (but not quite a ballad), that nicely showcases Dickinson’s ability to sing softly when he wants (although he does soar on the choruses). It’s a solid track, but it gets eclipsed by “Jerusalem,” a reworking of a classic English song that gives Dickinson a chance to indulge his inner Medieval bard. I suppose it jars a bit, compared to the angry outbursts of “King in Crimson,” “Killing Floor” and “Book of Thel.” But, it’s a great work, lovely, even. The twin guitars of Smith and Z also shine again.

“Trumpets of Jericho” is a rousing blast of anger and angst, with one of Dickinson’s best vocal performances on the album. It’s a fast, dirty, heavy track, with quite a lot of power. It’s a powerhouse, the first of a powerhouse triple-play that ends the disc.

While comparisons to previous Maiden songs are easy (and lazy), “Machine Men” is another examination of the themes of “Two Minutes of Midnight” — but it’s sung from a place of such hate that it’s mind-blowing. “Turn the lights down in your soul/Cut the power to your heart,” Dickinson bites out, with a bile so fierce Dickinson sounds ready to kill. It’s chilling and hair-raising. Which, of course, makes it a standout.

“The Alchemist” closes the album on a somber note. It’s musically a bit more subdued than what came immediately before, but Dickinson’s operatic delivery is stellar. It’s perhaps the most Maidenesque song on the album (this song would have fit well on “Seventh Son,” and would’ve closed that disc better than “Only The Good Die Young”). In a nice bit of symmetry, Dickinson circles back to “Chemical Wedding” to close out the song.

I spend too much time debating whether certain albums or bands are “progressive” or not, but I think a good argument can be made that Dickinson really stretched his creative wings on “The Chemical Wedding.” It’s bold in it’s dark moments, while also containing a beauty on songs like “Jerusalem” that likely would have been ruled out place on a Maiden album. Dickinson’s skills as a songwriter are really on display here. After the power of “The Chemical Wedding,” Dickinson was able to rejoin Maiden not as a man needing a career boost (since he was actually in a stronger position than Maiden at the time, I’d say), but as a songwriter and performer at the absolute top of his game.

As a postscript, I’d  say the influence of “The Chemical Wedding” has been felt on some of Maiden’s 21st Century work. Maiden’s disturbing and powerful “A Matter of Life and Death” has a “Chemical Wedding” vibe particularly on tracks like “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” and “For The Greater Good of God.”

I don’t know if every Maiden fan will love it, because it’s way darker (there’s that word again) and bleaker than the traditional Maiden album. But listeners wanting to hear one the best vocalists in metal (if not the best vocalist in metal) grapple with a titanic metal monster, and win, should track down “The Chemical Wedding.” I don’t get the feeling it did much business in the U.S., which is too bad. It’s an album that deserves to be heard.

Metallica release (another) new song, Moth Into Flame”


Here’s the video for “Mouth Moth Into Flame,” the second track from the upcoming album, “Hardwired … To Self-Destruct.”

I like it, but I’m biased in favor of most things Metallica. See what you thing.