Metal Mood Stabilizer for Halloween: “Black No. 1”

It’s Halloween Eve … which means it’s time for more Type O Negative.

Next week, a review of Pelican’s “What We All Come To Need” and an interview with Dallas Toler-Wade of Nile. And probably some random musings as well. So there.

Happy Halloween.

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Essential Albums #7: Type O Negative “Dead Again”

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Update, 4/15/10: Peter Steele died Wednesday of heart failure. For a Noise Pollution remembrance of Steele, go here.

Well, one of my favorite bands, Type O Negative, is performing tonight in Cincinnati. But, instead of driving to the show, I’m sitting here at work. How is that fair?

But, I’m determined to make the best of my misfortune. Thinking about tonight’s show made me dig into my Type O collection – which led me to spin the band’s best album, 2007’s “Dead Again.”

Not only is “Dead Again” on par with the band’s best work, it signaled that Type O’s droll, gothic corpse had quite a bit of life (or at least undeath) left, and showed the band was still capable of making amazing music.

After the band was dumped from Roadrunner Records, it seemed Type O Negative was at the end of its road. In some ways, that was expected: After releasing three brilliant studio albums in a row in the 1990s (“Bloody Kisses,” “October Rust” and the emotionally jarring yet incredible “World Coming Down”), the band seemed to lose much of its edge and desire. “Life Is Killing Me,” the followup to “World Coming Down,” had a few bright moments, but was also packed with several completely unmemorable songs. During an interview to promote the album, drummer Johnny Kelley sounded as if “Life” would be the band’s swan song.

In retrospect, I wonder if the band was just burned out by their experience with Roadrunner and needed some time to regroup. Of course, that wasn’t the only thing happening: Vocalist Peter Steele was hospitalized after years of substance abuse and later embraced Catholicism. When Steele returned to music, he had both passion in his voice and something new to say. 

Almost four years after “Life Is Killing Me” was released, it was announced that Type O had signed with SPV Records and had a new album in the works. “Dead Again,” ironically, was the sound of the band being reborn.

The title song opens with a dive bomb screech of noise, a doom riff and funeral keyboards, before suddenly shifting to punk rock. A song about drug addiction, Steele confronts his demons with his trademark wit: “Had no pulse last time I checked/I’d trade my life for self-respect/so I say with my last breath/there are some things worse than death.” The song ends on a big bombastic wall of power chords. 

“Tripping A Blind Man” also opens with a wall of psychedelic doom before zooming off again into punk rock. But the song has so many ideas in the mix it’s hard to keep up. The midsection is Sabbath-y metal on magic mushrooms with a Beatles vocal line turning up at the chorus. The song then shifts again to uptempo hard rock, with a heavy beat from Kelly and lovely duo melodies from Steele and guitarist Kenny Hickey … and then the band swings back to punk! It’s exhausting and exhilarating, the song of a band with a ton of great ideas and a new lease on life.

“The Profits of Doom” is a mash-up of ideas and time changes that roars in on fretboard spanning Hickey riff and a wall of bass sludge from Steele. The first two verses are more ranted than sang, as Steele screams conspiracy theories right out of the book of Revelations. When the first time change arrives, Steele and Hickey share the vocal lines while keyboardist Josh Silver layers the proceedings with cosmic noise. Then the second major time change throws the song into Beatles territory, with a psychedelic aura and a soaring Steele chorus (soaring for Steele anyway) before the song devolves and fades out.

“September Sun” is reminiscent of the ballads of “October Rust,” with a quiet acoustic piano by Silver and mumbled-grumbled lyrics by Steele. The sudden explosion of not-quite chorus is a surprise, as Hickey takes over the vocals while laying on the fuzz distortion. The song quiets just as quickly for the second verse, flares up again for the chorus … and slides into a odd jam that feature Beatles style vocals, stoned-out guitar, a virtuoso keyboard solo by Silver – and Russian chanting. Russian chanting? After the solo, the song swings into Beatleseque singalong sweetness again before dissolving into noise and petering out.

“Halloween in Heaven” seems straight-forward at first, with Kelly bashing out a fast beat and Hickey throwing out a two-note riff to drive the song through the first 89 seconds. But nothing in Type O land is never simple. At the minute and a half mark, the band throws in a time change and switches from punk to driving hard rock – and then goes spacey with a droning wall of guitar sludge and female vocals. Then the song switches back to slam-dance mode for the big finish.

“Halloween in Heaven” is light-hearted. “These Three Things,” however, is the roar of doom. Type O Negative have two overwhelming influences – the Beatles and Black Sabbath – and its Sabbath that dominates the song. The opening riff is a sludgy reinterpretation of the riff from the song “Black Sabbath” and the guitar lines sound right out of the Tony Iommi catalogue.

The lyrics irritated a number of Type O fans, I know. “These Three Things” deals largely with the topic of abortion, from a very pro-life, conservative Christian point of view. I remember reading comments on Blabbermouth and other news sites about how Steele should keep his opinions to himself … to which I say, “huh?” Steele is the band’s main lyricist and he has been expressing his opinions on T.O.N. albums for about two decades now. What are albums, anyway, if not a forum for artists to express their opinions? People can disagree with Steele’s views – and not purchase future T.O.N. discs if they vehemently are opposed to his point of view – but to say the man can’t express his beliefs on his own albums is beyond ridiculous.

The mid-section, were Steele switches back to conspiracy theory lyrics – something about Christianity and Area 51, but that’s about as enlightened as I got – before morphing into the surprisingly uplifting coda. I don’t know half of what Steele’s singing about here, but the performance is stellar. The man sounds on fire throughout – and when Hickey takes over near the end, the hair stands up on the back of my neck.  “These Three Things” is the album’s showcase: I’d post it here, but it’s simply too long for one YouTube vid and too awesome to be edited down to size.

“She Burned Me Down” is straight-ahead hippy metal at first, with Steele croaking like a zombie in the opening verses. From there, the song flies off into the ether of psychedelic keyboard noise, droning guitars and the repeated refrain, “every time I see her start a fire, I get higher.” But then the damn song turns into a (Russian) military march. Even by Type O standards, it’s weird … but weird is part of the reason they’re so interesting, isn’t it? Hickey again kills with the solo as well.

“Some Stupid Tomorrow” and “An Ode To Locksmiths” are essentially one long song, with another heavy Beatles vide on “Ode” until the two minute mark, when Hickey throws in a Sabbath line for the midsection. The end is singalong bouncy. It’s another standout.

“Hail And Farewell to Britain” closes the album on a heavier, more serious note. A song of betrayal (not a new theme for these guys), Steele seethes his way through “Hail” … and when the man screams, “I can’t believe how cruel life is,” you’ll believe he means it. The song ends with a descent into aero madness that is hysterical.

Instead of being dead, Type O resurrected themselves on “Dead Again.” The fact that the band is out doing a brief Halloween tour right now gives me hope that the old corpse will be walking, smirking and biting for quite some time to come. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

Interview: Factory Damage to play Louisville with Powerman 5000

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Last year, Owensboro metal band Factory Damage shared their first stage with a national act when they opened a Louisville concert for the up-and-coming thrash metal band Warbringer.

The band must have made a good impression, because the Owensboro musicians were invited to perform in Louisville again — this time with Powerman 5000, a nationally selling metal band.

The bands will play Headliners Music Hall on Nov. 8.
Meanwhile, Factory Damage is also completing a jingle the band wrote for Spider Energy, a new energy drink. Next week, the band will play one of its few local shows when they perform at the “Hallow’s Eve” DVD release party Oct. 30 at FYE in Towne Square Mall.

“Most of the time, we play out of town,” guitarist Ed Young said.

Factory Damage was one of several local bands and musicians that contributed to the “Hallow’s Eve” soundtrack. “It was just cool to help them out,” Young said.

The jingle for Spider Energy came about after the band saw some advertising for the product. “I saw they were new and shot them a proposal saying, ‘we’ll write you a jingle,’” Young said. “The ultimate payoff would be (if the song is used) in the commercial.

“When we get the finished mix back … they will put it up on their Web site,” Young said.

Writing the jingle wasn’t an easy process. “When you write a song, you don’t write it (to be) one minute to a minute and a half” long, Young said.

Pete Algarin, the founder of Spider Energy, said Factory Damage is one of several bands from across the country that are writing jingles for the product.

“I think they did a phenomenal job,” Algarin said. “The song, as it stands now, is pretty good. I can’t wait to hear it mixed.”

The drink’s Web site will feature a song from a new band about once a month, along with band information, Algarin said.

“It will give them exposure,” Algarin said. “I grew up playing rock ‘n’ roll when I was a kid. It was tough and it’s still tough (to get noticed).” The Factory Damage jingle will be posted as soon as the final mix is ready, he said.

“I think I’ve got a pretty good ear for music and when I hear something I like, I want to help (the band),” Algarin said.
Drummer Scott Doughty said the band hopes the commercial will expose the band to a larger audience.

“(Algarin) pretty much said if (the jingle) takes off, we take off,” Doughty said.

For the upcoming shows at FYE and in Louisville, the band will use two different bassists. The band recently lost bassist Val Batts due to scheduling issues and will  hold auditions for a permanent replacement after the November show.

“This is obviously the biggest band we’ve performance with and the biggest number of people,” Young said. For the concert “we’ll pick the best songs in our arsenal.”

The band’s music is still played regularly on regional radio stations and has had songs picked up by Internet metal radio stations all over the world. The band hopes to all their hard work will some day land them in front of an even larger audience.

“The intention is, hopefully, we’ll get a foot in the door and get a label to notice us,” Young said. “That dream is still there, but we have to play the reality …. Hopefully (the jingle) will pay dividends and open the door.”

Factory Damage will perform Friday, Oct. 30 at the “Hallow’s Eve” DVD release party, beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 at FYE in Towne Square Mall inOwensboro. Other bands, including Far From Fallen and Left With Scars, will perform as well. The event is free.

Factory Damage will also open for Powerman 5000 Nov. 8 beginning at 7 p.m. Headliners Music Hall in Louisville. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased from the band by E-mailing factorydamage@hotmail.com

Interview: Udo Dirkschneider of Accept and U.D.O.

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Udo Dirkschneider is an icon in metal. As the frontman for Accept, Dirkschneider created a string of metal anthems, including the grinding “Balls To The Wall,” the mammoth “Metal Heart,” the mercilessly awesome “Fast As A Shark” and the pounding “Living For Tonight.” But let me be honest: After 1990, I had no idea Dirkschneider was still making music.

Imagine my surprise, then, to discover Dirkschneider went on to front the excellent U.D.O. and has been making stellar albums with the band for nearly 20 years.

The band’s new album, “Dominator” recalls Accept’s best work from their glory days in the 1980s: The guitar solos are on fire, the choruses are shake-your-head and bang-you-fist heavy and Dirkschneider’s voice in unbelievable.

If you think I’m kidding, listen to the title track from “Dominator.” The video is a fan vid and the footage is from a movie not worth bothering to look up … but the song is a monster.

The most remarkable thing is Dirkschneider hasn’t lost even a bit of his vocal range.

“I have a unique voice,” Dirkschneider said during a recent phone interview. “I think I’ve been lucky to have this career and I’m lucky I never had problems with my voice.”

Even though the man is 57 years old, he can still scream like a maniac with a voice that is so perfectly jagged that it almost cuts your eardrums. Dirkschneider said his voice has changed over time … but instead of being a detriment, the change has been to his advantage, he said.

“I can sing more in the lower range,” Dirkschneider said. “I think I’m lucky.” 

As a young man in Germany, Dirkschneider’s first exposure to metal came from Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Sweet. The music took hold of him and drove him to start a band of his own.

“I was interested in this kind of music and it developed to where I wanted to be a professional rock singer,” Dirkschneider said. “The thing with this music was I really liked it. I was never really into the Beatles. I was more into the Rolling Stones. It was more aggressive, more dirty.”

Dirschneider shares songwriting duties for U.D.O. songs with Stefan Kaufmann – who played drums with Accept but switched back to guitar when he joined Dirkschneider’s band.

“Most of the songs are written by Stefan and me, but the rest of the band is involved in arranging the melodies,” Dirkschneider said. “We start with the lyrics and look for the vocal lines and … the story of the lyrics. Then we know exactly what kind of atmosphere the lyrics need, so we start collecting ideas from the musicians.

“I have three favorite songs (on the new album): ‘Dominator,’ ‘Black And White’ and ‘Whispers In The Dark,'” Dirkschneider said.

Dirkschneider is also involved in animal rights issues, and recently signed on with PETA2 in Germany to campaign against animal testing.

“I ways always against stuff like that,” Dirkschneider said when asked how he got involved in animal rights issues. “It’s bad what’s going on. Every creature has a right to live.”

With “Dominator” receiving strong reviews, Dirkschneider said the band is preparing for an extensive tour, which will likely bring U.D.O. to the America in 2010.

“We have a lot of offers to come over to the U.S. next year, in April or May,” Dirkschneider said. “Our management is talking with a lot of promoters … It’s still for me one of the best parts, to be on tour and (perform) live. We still have a tough schedule with U.D.O.: We’ll start in November and we’ll end in September or October (of 2010). The studio is OK, but I like it more on the road.”

With 20 years of music to choose from – including 12 albums with U.D.O. – putting together a set list is a challenge, Dirkschneider said.

“Normally, now we’ll play three or four (Accept) songs, because we have to do it – ‘Balls To The Wall,’ ‘Metal Heart’ and ‘Princess of the Dawn,'” Dirkschneider said. “Sometimes we come up with a very old song. To put a live set list together is a nightmare, but in the end, you can’t satisfy everybody.”

You can hear tracks from “Dominator” and other U.D.O. albums on the band’s MySpace page here.

Metal Mood Stabilizer Song of the Day: Ahab, “The Hunt”

“To the last, I grapple with thee; from Hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” – from “Moby Dick”

Today, I give you Ahab. Nautical doom metal from Germany. “The Hunt” is from “The Call of the Wretched Sea,” the band’s horrifyingly beautiful concept album based on Melville’s “Moby Dick.”  I’ve never heard anything quite like it. So enjoy.

I’ll be back next week with an interview with former Accept frontman (and current U.D.O. frontman) Udo Dirkschneider  (I was able to reschedule the interview after missing the first one last week. Whew!), a catching up interview with Owensboro’s Factory Damage and another Essential Album pick.

Until then, go to your watery doom. “Go into the water. Live there. Die there.” That’s not from “Moby Dick,” by the way.

Have a good weekend.

Review: Alice In Chains, “Black Gives Way To Blue”

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Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley was a one-of-a-kind vocalist and his death in 2003 was a tragedy to the legions of fans who adored Staley’s dark, caustic and often heart-wrenching work. The man was a master at wringing rage and pain out of the words he sang, but there was a skewed beauty under the bitterness. He’s missed.

But time goes on and, after a lengthy rest, so did Alice In Chains. Now, six years after Staley’s death, we have “Black Gives Way To Blue,” the bands first album since 1995. In Staley’s absence, guitarist/songwriter Jerry Cantrell (who was always a big part of the band’s trademark harmonies), has become a co-lead singer of sorts, sharing vocal duties with new singer/guitarist William DuVall.

A lot of hardcore AIC fans hated the thought of the band going on in any form without Staley. I guess that’s understandable. I sympathize with fans who don’t want “their” band to continue in a new, changed form … but I don’t agree. What’s important to remember is it is not for fans to say what’s best for AIC. That choice falls to Cantrell, Sean Kinney and Mike Inez (and, I guess, also to DuVall).

With the controversy out of the way, we can now examine the merits of “Black Gives Way To Blue.”

First, it’s important to approach “Black Gives Way To Blue” without a huge number of preconceived notions. Time has passed and Cantrell and company aren’t the same men they were 13 or 17 years ago. The demons that plagued the band (drug addiction, the beast that drove “Dirt”) have been exorcised. Much of the debilitating misery and self-hate that made “Dirt” so cathartic in 1993 – and so painful to listen to now, considering Staley’s death – are gone. There’s a different vibe here, a feeling of optimism and renewal, even if it’s still tinged with sadness.

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“All Secrets Known” sets the new tone from the first minute. “Hope/A new beginning/Time/Time to start living/Like just before we died,” Cantrell sings. Cantrell and DuVall combine their voices in a way that is strikingly similar to the AIC of old, without becoming a copycat of the Staley/Cantrell trademark style. The melody moves unhurriedly, with layers under the main riff and a big major-chord bridge just before Cantrell’s brief solo.

Critics might complain that the riffs sound too much like older AIC songs. But it’s more accurate to say that Jerry Cantrell still sounds like himself. Cantrell’s riffs and playing are distinct and he hasn’t lost that. Anyone complaining that Cantrell should have reinvented his guitar style after Staley’s death is being unreasonable.

“Check My Brain” is positively happy and – dare I say it? – peppy. Cantrell’s whammy-bar opening riff is ear-catching and the chorus and bridge are upbeat and powerful. As with “All Secrets Known,” Cantrell and DuVall co-sing, although Cantrell’s voice is played up in the mix.

“Last Of My Kind” which DuVall co-wrote, is DuVall’s first chance to take the lead. Thankfully, he sounds almost nothing like Staley. DuVall has a deeper voice, a baritone compared to Staley’s growly whine. DuVall doesn’t try to be an imitation – which is smart, because he holds his own here. “Last Of My Kind” is angrier and more defiant than what came before, with a heavy riff and a chugging ending that reminds me of, believe it or not, Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be.”

“Your Decision” is a lovely acoustic song – good, with strong vocal melodies, but not truly impressive until the bridge. It’s a song reminiscent of “Sap,” the band’s unexpected first acoustic EP.  

“A Looking In View” resurrects some of the bile of “Dirt” and “Facelift” without falling into the bottomless pit of despair. It’s a dark, gritty song, with a downtuned riff and a snarling co-vocal by DuVall and Cantrell. Kinney also shines here, pounding out the rhythm as if he’s attempting to smash his kit.

“When The Sun Rose Again” is acoustic again – stripped down and barren. It’s pretty, but also fairly forgettable.

“Acid Bubble” recalls “Down In A Hole” at first, with a creeping riff that dares to be slow. Duvall gets a few moments of solo vocals here, and he impresses again. The bridge, however, with its tempo change and repeated, barked chorus, is jarring and disjointed and doesn’t quite work with the rest of the song. However, the other pieces, especially the vocal performances, make “Acid Bubble” strong.

“Lesson Learned” is optimistic again, with strong lead vocals from Cantrell and a large major chord chorus.

“Take Her Out” reads like a justification (although none was needed) for the band going on as Alice In Chains. “She’s not just mine,” Cantrell and DuVall sing. But, as the song makes clean, she (Alice) does not exclusively belong to the die-hard fans, either. It’s a lovely song, with subdued yet strong Cantrell solo. It’s the sound of a band with a future.

“Private Hell” is despairing, with its slow riff and intricate, winding guitar work. Cantrell is not a shredder: The notes of his solo are deliberate and thought-out here. It’s all terribly sad, yet it’s also the strongest track – which is quite a feat, considering everything that has come before.

“Black Gives Way To Blue” is a direct ode to Staley and, not surprisingly, it’s heat-broken. A lot has been made of Elton John’s piano contribution here – but there are no “look at me” piano theatrics from Sir Elton that take the focus away from the vocals. I don’t know why the band chose John for the piano (was he friends with Staley? I don’t know), but the man does a wonderful job with his understated performance. The song is a beauty – and as a tribute to Staley from his friends, it’s both painful and gorgeous.

I’m going to utter a blasphemy now: I hope, when Cantrell, DuVall, Kinney and Inez regroup to record the next AIC album, they won’t be quite as haunted as they were on “Black Gives Way To Blue.” I’m glad they expressed their feelings about Staley’s death in such an honest, compelling way … but I’m looking forward to hearing what else they’ll have to say in the future.

You can hear tracks from the album on the band’s MySpace page here.

This week gets stupider … but Ryan Adams makes it better (??)

This has been the stupidest week since, well, last week.

First, Helmuth from Belphegor missed my phone interview time. Twice. I know he’s all nihilistic, hates humanity and whatnot, but come on, Helmuth – do you want to promote your new album or not? 

Then, to make matters even dumber, I missed my opportunity to interview Udo Dirkschnieder, the ex-Accept singer who is something of a metal icon. How did I miss my interview, even after studiously preparing questions and readying myself to keep my fanboy geekdom in check? Well, apparently, I don’t know the difference between Eastern and Central time and missed his phone call. Crap.

So this day had gone completely to hell … until I found Werewolph, a side-project type band from acoustic folk singer Ryan Adams. It seems Adams really knows his metal – his list of the 13 best metal songs for Blender magazine is actually not half-bad – and Werewolph is pretty entertaining musically, in a lo-fi, black metal not-entirely serious sort of way.

This would be something I’d hate if Adams wasn’t a serious metal fan. But anyone who can not only identify Voivod but considers “Tribal Convictions” one of the best metal songs of all time has some serious cred. So this made my day.

Here are some vids for some of his songs (the vids were put together by YouTube subscriber “chicbn872,” and are are pretty entertaining, too. So there).