Essential Albums #2: “Angel Dust” by Faith No More

"Angel Dust" era Faith No More

"Angel Dust" era Faith No More

After the release of “The Real Thing” in 1989, San Francisco’s Faith No More became – most likely to the band’s surprise – commercially successful. The album, the first to feature vocalist Mike Patton, took off after rock radio and MTV embraced the song “Epic.” The band was also nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of “best metal performance.”

Considering the commercial embrace of “The Real Thing,” it would have been easy for FNM to simply copy the formula for the band’s follow-up album. But instead of a batch of  rock radio-friendly tracks, Patton, guitarist Jim Martin and the band threw convention out the window with the eclectic, head-spinning and brilliant “Angel Dust.”

Fans expecting an album full of tracks like “Epic,” “Falling to Pieces” or “From Out of Nowhere” probably wondered if the band was playing a joke on them with “Angel Dust.” The album was about as radio-unfriendly as it could be, ranging from sludge metal (“Jizzlobber”) to easy listening from hell (“RV”) and genuine, genreless weirdness (“Crack Hitler,” “Be Aggressive”). There’s madness, but there’s genius – if the listener has the patience to give the album more than one or two spins and dig inside the songs.

“Land of Sunshine” sets the skewed vibe of “Angel Dust” with a funk bass, carnival music keyboards, metal guitar distortion and moments of maniacal laughter. Over the top (literally and figuratively), Patton spits out  fortune cookie feel-good generalities and self-help psychobabble (“life to you is a dashing, bold adventure … I can help you help yourself”), while undercutting the faux-happy tone with the question, “does life seem worthwhile to you?” Despite Jim Martin’s distorted guitar, the track is sing-songy rather than heavy. “Land of Sunshine” is a declaration to listeners to discard hopes for an album full of “Epic” clones.

“Caffeine,” the second track, is heavier than anything on “The Real Thing,” with a driving guitar and vocals that range from the crooned quasi-chorus to bellows. The band then throws the metal vibe out the widow with “Midlife Crisis,” a big-chorus, hip-hoppish track that is as catchy as “Caffeine” was abrasive.

angel dust

Despite the curve balls of the first three tracks, they don’t prepare the listener for “RV,” a county-western/lounge music hybrid that has only a few moments of heaviness in the bridge. Keyboardist Roddy Bottum picks out a seemingly innocent melody while Martin lays on the surf-guitar distortion. Patton’s lyrics on “RV” are a hysterical take on trailer park stereotypes – although the lyrics could easily apply to the American lower middle class.

After offering up observations like “somebody taps me on the shoulder every five minutes/nobody speaks English anymore/would anybody tell me if I was gettin’ stupider?” Patton lets loose with the scream of suburban desperation: “I’m a swingin’ guy/throw a belt over the shower curtain rod/and swing/toss me inside a Hefty/and put me in the ground.” While funny, there’s a dark undercurrent to “RV,” an uncomfortable insight into American life. “RV” is the choice to laugh at life rather than shriek.

“Smaller And Smaller” starts out with a metal riff and a Middle Eastern vocal delivery … before degenerating into a midsection of Native American chanting and sampling, driven by drummer Mike Bordin and bassist Billy Gould. The song then swings back into near-metal mode with a Martin guitar solo. Keyboards were an important part of the Faith No More sound, and Bottum’s keys really drive “Smaller And Smaller.” As a song, it either defies genre entirely or combines so many genres that it’s impossible to categorize.

“Everything’s Ruined” comes closest to the “Epic” formula, with some rapped Patton vocals and an opening keyboard riff that sounds like a speeded-up version of “Epic’s” end. But Patton’s vocals stand out here: The man can sing, and he displays his entire non-screaming range on “Everything’s Ruined,” from low rumbles to the full baritone. The band shot a video for the song, which makes sense: It’s the closest track on “Angel Dust” to a commercial single.

The album then proceeds to melt down with “Malpractice,” a noisy, speedy industrial metal assault that features Patton’s anguished screaming, air raid siren samples a wall of background noise. But the thrash is broken in half by a tinkling, tick-tock interlude before the stomp resumes. There’s no middle ground or compromise in “Malpractice”: It has something to alienate casual fans and metalheads.

“Kindergarten” is again funk-filled and nearly conventional – with Big Patton choruses and Billy Gould’s heavy bass line. It’s strange, but pretty safe overall … nothing, in other words, like the twisted “Be Aggressive,” which features a cheerleader chorus (yes, real cheerleaders), keyboards lines out of a Dracula movie, a blazing solo, frenetic drumming by Bordin and a flamboyant, exuberant vocal performance by Patton. “Be Aggressive” shouldn’t work at all – it’s too bizarre for its on good, on the surface – but the band commits everything to the performance. Instead of being the lead weight that sinks “Angel Dust,” it’s a standout track.

“A Small Victory” again shifts that album back to the conventional, with a pleasant, unthreatening keyboard/guitar melody line, a funk bass and a subdued but … perhaps “spirited” is the right word – Patton performance.  “Crack Hitler,” however, shifts genres again – this time to 70s blaxploitation soundtrack. If the goal of “Angel Dust” was to exhaust casual fans with the limitless shifts in music, “Crack Hitler” probably threw a lot of those semi-fans over the cliff.

“Jizzlobber” shifts the album again – this time practically into death metal. Tuned down and pummeling, with keyboards like sirens and distorted vocals, the song is still the heaviest track in the band’s career – although “Cuckoo For Caca,” from “King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime” came close to surpassing it. After the doom-sludge, “Jizzlobber” ends with a prolonged pipe organ solo … and is followed by a straight-faced cover of the theme song from the film “Midnight Cowboy.” It’s a quiet, seemingly disconnected ending, but it also offers a nice moment to decompress from the extreme violence of “Jizzlobber.”

Martin left Faith No More over the usual “musical differences” after “Angel Dust,” and the band carried on with different guitarists on “King For A Day …” and “Album Of The Year.” They were both good discs … but “Angel Dust” was Faith No More’s career peak. As an adventure in musical extremes, it hasn’t been surpassed.

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Interview: Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson talks about the band’s first major U.S. tour

Enslaved. Photo by Karoline Bruland Moen

Enslaved. Photo by Karoline Bruland Moen

Norwegian psychedelic Vikings Enslaved have been crossing and recrossing the United States all the month of May, as the main support on Opeth’s latest U.S. tour.

The tour has  been a golden opportunity for Enslaved to play before large audiences. On paper, tour has been hectic, with only four days off between May 1 and the final date on May 27.

Ivar Bjørnson, Enslaved’s chief songwriter, said this U.S. jaunt has actually been rather relaxing, compared to previous tours.

“It’s kind of a nice schedule for us,” Bjørnson said. “We’re used to the worst. The last European tour we did, we did 12 or 13 shows in a row. The maximum (for this tour) is seven shows in a row, so it’s pretty good.”

Opening in the U.S. for Opeth is a major coup for Enslaved, since Opeth’s widespread success guarantees the equally (critically) acclaimed Norwegians will be able to bring their Pink Floyd influenced Viking blackish metal to wider audiences.

“I feel we’re the ones really gaining,” from the Opeth tour, Bjørnson said. “They’re pulling bigger crowds than I imagined. Going on stage and playing before 1,500 to 2,000 people is really amazing. We’ve been wanting to do this for years. It’s exactly what we were hoping for.

“I think it has been good playing for Opeth, because we really get their crowd going before they go on,” Bjørnson said.

Ivar B. (Photo by Karoline Bruland Moen)

Ivar B. (Photo by Karoline Bruland Moen)

The band had to cancel a May headlining tour to join the Opeth tour. But Bjørnson said the band is planning to spend much more time in the U.S. after the Opeth tour wraps up on the 27th.

“We’re probably going to do two more tours in the U.S. after this,” he said. “We’re going to do one more as a special guest or (opening) band and then do a headlining tour,” Bjørnson said.

Enslaved’s live show is stunning – powerful and pummeling, yet surprisingly intimate. The music creates an aura of communal feeling, or ritual, perhaps. At the end of the show – from the front row, at least – there’s a feeling that an important rite has been performed.

Bjørnson said a sense of intimacy with the audience is exactly what Enslaved attempts to create. “It’s communicative – we hope to get a certain connection going with the crowd,” he said. “It’s very personal both ways. We really put ourselves out there.

“It can be a bit stressful, because we try to really express ourselves and get into the music,” Bjørnson said. “Sometimes, you play a small venue and it feels really personal. We try to that on every level at every show.”

That sense of connection with audiences is important, Bjørnson said.

“When we go out and do signings or hang out after the show … there is a certain feeling that we have gone through something together,” he said. “The audience has experienced something and we have experienced something.

“I think the music crowd – especially someone going to an Enslaved show – they’re very perceptive and they recognize a band that’s giving a damn,” Bjørnson said.

You still have a few more chances to see Enslaved and Opeth together on one stage. The last few dates of the tour are:

May 22—Bijou Theater, Knoxville, TN
May 23—Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
May 24—Clutch Cargo’s, Detroit, MI
May 26—Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center, New York, NY

May 27—9:30 Club, Washington, DC

You can hear full tracks from Enslaved’s latest album “Vertebrae,” here. Also, here you can find a previous Noise Pollution interview with Bjørnson and vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson.

And, just for fun, here’s the video for “The Watcher,” off “Vertebrae.”

Coming this week …

I was a little overloaded with work last week, so I didn’t have time to post anything new. Sorry. Work’s a jungle sometimes.

However, this week I plan to make it up to you with a tour update with Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson, an interview with Devin Townsend and another recommendation from my Essential Albums list.

Look for the new Enslaved interview on Tuesday and for Devin later in the week.

Giveaway! Win two tickets to the Owensboro Maylene & The Sons of Disaster show

Yes, kids. I have two free tickets to this Sunday’s (May 17) Maylene concert at the Brothers venue in Owensboro. And they can be yours, all yours.

Just send an e-mail with “Maylene” in the subject line to: jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com. I’ll pick a winner at random.

Be quick. The show is this Sunday, so I’ll be picking a winner tomorrow night.

Good luck.

Interview: Candlemass vocalist Robert Lowe talks about “Death Magic Doom”

Candlemass

Candlemass released the album “Nightfall” in 1987. The album has been credited with creating the “doom” metal movement – which could be true, if your definition of “doom metal” is so strict that it doesn’t include Black Sabbath. But even without the “doom” label, “Nightfall” was a monster.

With its huge, ton-heavy riffs and black atmosphere, “Nightfall” had a power that was impossible to deny. The album became a classic, and it inspired legions of musicians to follow the band down the path to mammoth, Sabbath-infused epic gloom. One of those musicians inspired by Candlesmass’ Siren song was Texas native Robert Lowe.

Flash forward 22 years later. Lowe, who still performs with his longtime band – the doom infested Solitude Aeternus – is now Candlemass’ frontman and is belting out operatic dirges to a new generation of doom metal fans on the band’s new album, “Death Magic Doom.”

Although Candlemass has had several vocalists over the years, any singer stepping up to the band’s microphone must deal with the shadow of Messiah Marcolin, who recorded “Nightfall” and fronted the band twice before finally quitting for good in 2005. While some fans have never accepted Candlemass without Marcolin, Lowe said said he was not afraid when he joined the band in 2007.

“I never really felt that intimidation factor,” Lowe said. “Solitude Aeturnus pretty much started because of ‘Epicus, Doomicus, Metallicus’ (the first Candlemass album), and ‘Nightfall.’ We didn’t copy their style, but it helped point us in a direction. Since 1991, we were in a parallel direction as Candlemass.”

When Lowe joined the band, “I knew right away I was not even going to bother cloning Messiah. I was going to do it the Robert Lowe way,” he said.

“Death Magic Doom” allows Lowe to soar in operatic fashion. Lowe said he never had formal vocal training – and did not originally intend to be a vocalist at all.

“I actually started out at 11 or 12 playing guitar and I wanted to be Yngwie Malmsteen,” Lowe said. “I fell into the role of vocalist … Then Solitude came along and they needed a singer.”

While Lowe had hoped to join the band as singer and transition into guitarist, through singing “I found what I consider my niche,” he said.

All of Candlemass’ music and lyrics are written by bassist Leif Edling. Lowe, who is lyricist for Solitude Aeturnus, said he prepared to record the vocal track on “Death Magic Doom” by finding an emotional connection to Edling’s words.

“I was able to listen to the material for quite a while before I had to go into the studio,” Lowe said. “I was able to put feeling to the music … I’ll plan what piece of music I want to go with the lyrics, because the tune goes with the emotive feeling of the lyrics.”

Candlemass 2008-10-11

“Death Magic Doom” is full of standout vocal performances. “I enjoy (singing) the entire album,” Lowe said. “But, ‘The Hammer of Doom’ is obviously a great song (as are) ‘The Bleeding Baroness’ and “Dead Angel,’ and I enjoy doing the end part of ‘My Funeral Dreams.'”

This summer, Candlemass will be performing across Europe, from Spain to Romania with stops in Norway and England. But Lowe said American fans will likely not get a tour this year.

“I don’t foresee a (U.S.) tour, but there are a butt load of festival I’ve got, and they keep coming in every day,” Lowe said. The band toured the U.S. in support of “King of the Grey Islands,” but fan support is stronger in Europe, Lowe said.

“That (tour) was so-so. It was hit or miss with a lot of places,” Lowe said. “Bands like Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus aren’t big here … There’s not exposure (to the music) unless you actively seek it out, or through word of mouth.”

This summer, Lowe will do double-duty in Europe, as Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus play the same festival in Romania. Lowe said he is looking forward to performing with both bands on the same stage.

“I feel the same on stage with either band,” Lowe said. “It’s similar music, similar quality and working with a great bunch of musicians. I enjoy being there and putting on a show. I give both bands 100 percent either way.”

Tracks from “Death Magic Doom” and other Candlemass albums can be heard here.

Obligatory notice about the upcoming “Music As A Weapon” tour

Part of the fun of running a site like this is that I can essentially pick and choose what I want to cover. If I don’t like a particular band rolling through St. Louis or Cincinnati, why, I don’t interview them. I simply add the date to the Upcoming Regional Concerts  page and move on.

But, sometimes, a show comes so close to our little town of Owenspatch that I’m just freakin’ obligated to write at least something. So … sigh … let me inform you that the “Music As A Weapon” tour, with headliner Disturbed, is coming to Roberts Stadium in Evansville, Ind. on May 13.

The tour also features Lacuna Coil, Killswitch Engage and Chimaira. I’ve seen Lacuna Coil once, when they opened for Type O Negative … and all I remember from their set is that co-lead singer Cristina Scabbia wore an ugly red pants suit when I was hoping she’d be attired in something a bit more Gothic. Hey, I like the goth woman look: It was a Type O show, after all. Musically, Lacuna is pleasant but unimpressive. Sue me.

I’ve seen one Killswitch Engage (or KsE, to all you in the know) show: In 2004, the band got lucky enough to be wedged into the Jagermeister tour with Slayer and Mastodon, with Mastodon actually having to perform before KsE. At that moment, KsE was enjoying a tiny bit of commercial radio success with remixed (screaming removed) track “The End of Heartache.” It wasn’t hard to pick all the KsE fans out of the crowd – they were the ones singing along with that song while the rest of us made our way to the bar. Mastodon was one thousand times better than Killswitch and Slayer pretty much wiped all memory of KsE away. I’m not exactly jumping to see KsE again.

Regarding Chimaira, I have no comment. The guys at MetalSucks love them, but I haven’t spent any time with the band’s music.

As for Disturbed, I’ll say this: I agree the band’s music is a “weapon:” It’s so terrible and grating that the International War Crimes Tribunal ought to declare their music a form of torture. If I were 14 and hated high school and hated my dad, perhaps I’d appreciate Disturbed more. But I’m just not down with the suckness. Get it? Like ‘down with the sickness,’ but with ‘suck’ instead of ‘sick’? Get it? Funny, huh? Oh, nevermind …

So, let’s do the equation here: “Music As A Weapon Tour” = one terrible band + two mediocre bands and one possibly good band. I wouldn’t cross the street for that bill – and I surely wouldn’t plop down $39 to Ticketmaster for it. But hey, what do I know? If you’re in to middling music and boringly generic radio rock, this is the show for you.

There. Consider yourselves informed. Have a nice day.

Interview: Exodus guitarist Gary Holt discusses “Let There Be Blood,” working with Warbringer and “Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit B”

exodus2007g

UPDATE, JUNE 21, 2010: Wanna read Noise Pollution’s latest interview with Gary Holt? Gary talks about “Exhibit B,” the influence of Paul Baloff and lots more. Click here.

In thrash metal, there are only a handful of guitarists who have the pedigree of Exodus’ Gary Holt.

More than 20 years ago, Holt was one of the pioneers of the San Francisco metal scene. To this day, the band’s debut album, “Bonded By Blood” is considered a thrash classic, worthy of ranking alongside great thrash discs like Metallica’s “Kill Em All” and Megadeth’s “Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying?” 

Metallica, of course, is the best known member of the San Francisco thrash scene, but it can be argued that Exodus – with Holt as the band’s foundation – has been both the most dedicated to metal and the most willing to expand musically without sacrificing power and brutality… which is another Gary and the band still shred like screaming, nuclear-powered banshees, while never stagnating musically. 

But last year, the band – Holt, lead singer Rob Dukes, guitarist Lee Altus, drummer Tom Hunting and bassist Jack Gibson – returned to Exodus’ early roots when they released “Let There Be Blood,” a modern updating of “Bonded By Blood.” Although fans can disagree on whether “Bonded By Blood” needed a reboot, any metal fan who hears “LTBB” can agree on at least one thing: Exodus is a band at the height of its power, with supreme musicianship and vocal roars that would crumble concrete.

The band is now on the road with Kreator – another metal legend. On May 14, the Exodus, Kreator, Belphegor and Warbringer will play Headliner’s Music Hall in Louisville. Tix are $20 and be purchased at TicketWeb.

When “Bonded By Blood” was recorded, the band was fronted by vocalist Paul Baloff, one of the most unique lead singers in metal history. When the band reformed to acclaim after years away in 2001, plans were made to record a new album – but those plans fell apart for a time after Baloff died of a stroke in 2002.

Although Dukes has been performing the songs from “Bonded” since joining Exodus in 2005, Holt said Dukes was initially intimidated at the prospect of recording the songs Baloff made famous.

“Rob knew he’d be under the microscope recording Paul’s tracks and he was nervous as hell,” Holt said. “I said, ‘listen to the record, but don’t let (your performance) become a parody.’

“I thought Rob did a perfect job, to where he was paying homage (to Baloff) without being a caricature,” Holt said. “He brought his own personality to it.”

For Holt and Hunting – who both played on “Bonded By Blood” in the early ’80s – rerecording the tracks for “Let There Be Blood” was a tribute to Baloff and a reminder of the good times they’d shared.

“We always loved playing those songs, but we rediscovered how much we love playing them,” Holt said. “What really I discovered, when Tom and I were laying down drum tracks, (were) good memories of the original recording.”

As a thrash icon, Holt recently passed on some of his knowledge to the next generation, when he went into the studio with Warbringer to produce the band’s upcoming album “Waking Into Nightmares.”

“They had all talked about who they wanted to do it and my name came up,” Holt said. “They came in really well-prepared … More than anything, I worked on getting their songs together and on John (Kevill’s) vocals.”

Although many of the thrash revival bands have been content with mimicking the early ’80s sound, Holt said Warbringer did not show signs of being caught in a rut with “Waking of Nightmares.”

“They’ve definitely stepped outside the realm” of traditional trash, Holt said. “They’ve progressed.” Such forward movement is necessary for the young thrashers to survive, Holt said.

“If you’re going to try to put out two or three albums of old-school thrash (that was) done by people 20 years before, you can only take it so far,” Holt said. But the dedication young bands show to the early thrash sound that Exodus helped pioneer is flattering, Holt said.

“I take it totally as a compliment – but a lot of kids today don’t think Exodus is a pure thrash band. They think we’ve progressed too far from 1985,” he said.

Exodus hasn’t remained rooted in the early thrash sound emulated by other bands, because, as musicians, the band has moved on, Holt said.

“You can’t recreate something that special (like “Bonded By Blood”),” Holt said. “It was the perfect album and perfect era. To try to go back and recapture that would be fraudulent.

“I love playing the new songs live,” Holt said. “The new stuff is a little more brutal and different.”

The band has already recorded four songs for their upcoming album, “The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit B.” Holt said the band will return to the studio sometime in the fall.

“We’re shooting to be back in the studio to resume the record probably in October,” Holt said. “We’re shooting for a March release. Most of the summer we’re going to be writing. I’ve got a ton of stuff and Lee has some stuff.”

To hear full tracks from “Let There Be Blood,” “The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A” and other Exodus albums, visit the band’s MySpace page.

And, for fun, here’s the video for “Riot Act,” off “Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A.”