HELLYEAH’s new single gets a “hell, no”

I wanna be supportive of Vinnie Paul, I really do … but man, this is really horrible.

I respect Vinnie’s decision to get back into music. After watching his brother gunned down on stage by a maniac, no one would have blamed Vinnie if he’d hung up his drum sticks and never entered the music scene again. So hooray for him for being able to put past (Pantera, Damageplan, Dimebag’s death) behind him to move forward.

But, good God, of all the projects to choose, why this?

There are so many things wrong with HELLYEAH that’s hard to know where to start. Let’s begin with lead singer Chad Gray. This guy is terrible – he was wretched with Mudvayne and he hasn’t gotten better. Those guys made Drowning Pool sound talented.

I had the misfortune of seeing Mudvayne on the main stage at Ozzfest in 2005 and wow were they a bore. The only moment that stood out in their set was when Gray yelled something like, “let’s have a cheer for the troops who are defending our freedom!” Uh, nice sentiment … but this was 2005, and by then anyone who could read a newspaper knew our armed forces had been sent into a war based on intelligence that was, at best, flat wrong. Sorry for the political rant, but my point is Gray was more than just the frontman for a poor man’s Disturbed … he was a tragically misinformed goofball as well.

And now we have “Cowboy Way,” from the band’s latest album “Stampede.” Let me tell you something about “Cowboy Way” – never in my life have I heard a larger collection of vapid redneck clichés strung together in one song. Even modern country music isn’t this ridiculously stupid and hackneyed. I thought HELLYEAH had sunk as low as they could go in terms of terrible lyrics with the dreadful “Alcoholin’ Ass,” but damn; that song was practically Shakespeare compared to “Cowboy Way.”

Check out the lyrical magic of the chorus: “Cowboy, hillbilly, whatever you say … what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, that’s just a cowboy’s way.” Oh really? Don’t those words just want make you cringe in embarrassment for Gray? Or, more likely, don’t they make you want to smack the taste out of his mouth?

Here’s the train wreck for your listening “pleasure.” Enjoy the uber-down tuned “riff,” revel in Gray’s astoundingly bad quasi-rap, soak up the plethora of cowboy hats and dirty-looking people. Bask yourself, bask.

What I really hate about this is that we are already saddled with the stereotype of metal fans being dumber than sacks of dirt. While you know that’s not true and I know that’s not true, the average non-metal person believes it. Now, we have HELLYEAH, with Gray’s lowest common denominator lyrics that portray us as cretins out of “Deliverance” (the movie, not the Opeth song, just to be clear). Thanks, buddy.

OK, I’ve wasted enough time with this band. I’ll never mention them again. Promise.

Vinnie, we love you, but get a better band.  

Decide for yourself

In memory of Quorthon

I’m late with this, but better late than never.

June 3 was the sixth anniversary of the death of Quorthon, the creator of the sound that eventually became black metal. Quorthon was the visionary behind Bathory, and he is one of the few people we can justifiably call the founder of a musical genre. He died too young, at 38.

If Quorthon had stuck strictly to the sound he had pioneered on albums like “Bathory” and “Blood Fire Death,” he would still be recognized as a original. But instead of playing it safe and giving the fans what they expected, Quorthon branched out musically, leaving (partly) behind the black thrash of old for more epic songs and clean vocals. It was a risk, but it worked; albums such as “Hammerheart,” and the two-disc epic, “Nordland” are powerful, beautiful and heavy as the pillars of Stonehenge.

Not that Stonehenge would have interested Quorthon lyrically: Quorthon’s later music delved into the Norse myths of his native Sweden. “Hammerheart” was released in 1990 – at a time when the future Norwegian black metal artists were young. Could it be that the Norse tales of “Hammerheart” helped propel the Norwegian black metal scene into its anti-Christian crusade? Christianity was violently imposed on Norway, bringing about the end of the Viking era. Quorthon disapproved of the violence in the Norwegian scene … but it’s likely he was the Norwegians’ spiritual godfather.

(For more on Quorthon’s thoughts about the violent early Norwegian black metal scene, I strongly recommend Ian Christe’s Sound of the Beast: The Complete, Headbanging History of Heavy Metal.)

Anyway, here’s a hail to Quorthon, gone but not forgotten. If there’s a Valhalla with a Great Hall (which I guess is no more implausible than any other afterlife story), perhaps we’ll see him there. Peace, fallen brother.

Enjoy this:

Essential Albums: Probot (S/T)

Dave Grohl, with Lemmy and Wino

Nirvana may not have been a strictly “metal” band, but they had a metal sensibility that is impossible to deny.

Take “Senseless Apprentice” from the band’s final studio album, “In Utero.” The riffs, drumming and vocal delivery are straight metal. Even the band’s biggest hits, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Heart Shaped Box” were driven by large metal riffs in the choruses. In an interview published some years ago, former band drummer Dave Grohl said fellow band mates Kurt Cobain and Chris Novoselic were big fans of metal bands like Celtic Frost.

Nirvana differed from the metal aesthetic in that metal music (generally) is considered powerful and empowering by listeners, while Nirvana’s discography was more about powerlessness, hopelessness and indifference (Yeah, I know the previous assertion about “powerlessness, hopelessness and indifference” being the key themes of Nirvana’s music is extremely subjective. But that’s my opinion, so there. Feel free to tell me to get stuffed if you disagree. Thanks.)

But in terms or riffs and song structure, it’s hard to doubt Nirvana had a connection to metal. So it was no surprise to me at all when Grohl proved his love for obscure metal with the fabulous 2004 Probot project.

By the time Grohl realized his ambitious goal with Probot, he was already close to a household name in rock music. After Nirvana, Grohl recorded a bunch of his own songs himself and released them under the name Foo Fighters. A short time later, Grohl’s Foo Fighters were a full-time band, with a string of rock radio hits and high-selling albums.

While Foo Fighters have less of a metal influence than Nirvana, Grohl had grown up listening to underground metal and had a devotee’s love for the genre. Perhaps expecting a hard sell from the metal vocalists he wanted to record with on Probot, Grohl sent demos of the songs to each.

Apparently, none thought Grohl was attempting to be ironic – joining Grohl for Probot are a string of metal legends, including godfather of metal Lemmy (Motorhead), Cronos (of the first black metal band, Venom) Dennis “Snake” Belanger (of sci-fi art-metal geniuses Voivod) and King Diamond (the Merciful Fate/King Diamond vocalist who once famously scared the hell out of a young Metallica, who were sharing rehearsal space with the King). Also joining Grohl on the outing are the current/former lead singers for Sepultura, D.R.I., Corrosion of Conformity, Celtic Frost, The Obsessed, Cathedral and Trouble.

Grohl’s accomplishment with “Probot” takes some consideration to appreciate. Do this: Stop for a minute and imagine trying to write a song for Lemmy. That’s not as easy as it sounds – Lemmy built his career on Motorhead’s signature sound. That style is easy to imitate … but your average copy cat Motorhead is, usually, rather boring.

But what Grohl does again and again on “Probot” is get the style right of the band he is honoring, without crafting songs that sound like throwaway B-sides. “Shake Your Blood,” which features Lemmy on bass as well as vocals, feels like authentic Motorhead. You could see Lemmy adopting this song into a Motorhead set and having it fit alongside “Ace of Spades” or “Rock ‘n Roll.”

“Sweet Dreams” is another good example. The song is not a King Diamond rip-off – it freakin’ sounds like King Diamond. The same is true with “Dictatorsaurus;” Grohl has absorbed so much of Voivod’s sound that he practically becomes a one-man Voivod, capturing the band’s chaotic, discordant atmosphere. This is damn impressive stuff.

Lemmy, Chronos, Wino and former Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil all contribute bass lines and guitar solos on certain songs, but for the most part, Grohl handles most of the music. Not every song is perfect; “Ice Cold Man,” with vocalist Lee Dorrian is only s0-so — but the rest of the disc is a grand slam, particularly “Silent Spring” with DRI vocalist Kurt Brecht, “Big Sky” with Tom G. Fischer and “My Tortured Soul” with Eric Wagner of Trouble.

The closest “Probot” comes to irony is “I Am The Warlock,” a bonus track featuring a roaring Jack Black in full-metal mode. Yes, it’s funny to hear Black bellow “I’m going to f*** your mind up,” but is it irony? Look at it like this; 1) The music is straight metal; 2) Black has a metal frontman’s voice, and 3) Dio was in Black’s movie, “Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny.” Was Dio in your movie? No? Then quit talking about Black being ironic with metal – if Black was cool enough for RJD, he’s cool enough for you.

I wish Grohl would roll out a “Probot II,” but I doubt it’ll happen. At least we have this labor of love. Highly recommended.

Ozzy comes back to life with “Let Me Hear You Sceam”

I’m as surprised as you.

I’d written Ozzy off completely after he and his annoying family attempted that dreadful abortion of a “variety” show. At that point, I was ready for the Oz to retire, resign, abdicate or be impeached from his position as metal statesman. I didn’t care how he left, as long as he went away.

So imagine my surprise today when I watched the video for “Let Me Hear You Scream,” for Ozzy’s appropriately titled new album, “Scream.” I haven’t really liked anything Ozzy has done since “No More Tears,” so I find it incredible to admit the song is actually, well, pretty freakin’ good.

Apparently, Ozzy’s decision to toss out Zakk Wylde and hire Gus G. as the band’s guitarist was just what the Oz needed to breathe new life into his flagging career. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but if the rest of the album is as strong as this single, I’d actually consider buying it.

I have no idea what the hell is going on in the video … but who cares? It’s a damn fine song.

See what you think.

These kids play guitar better than me (and you)

Damn YouTube. All I was trying to do was find a video for “Blackened.” Instead, I ended up getting schooled on how to play classic Metallica by kids who probably weren’t born when Metallica was doing its best work

These girls likely aren’t old enough to drive yet, but they shred way better than I ever dreamed of shredding. Hell, I think I have a guitar older than these kids. Someone needs to get these two into a thrash band, stat.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go break out my guitars and practice. A lot.

The eco-disaster metal mix

So, millions of gallons of nasty crude oil are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, killing everything that swims and flies into the water. The government – surprise, surprise – can’t stop it and the oil company responsible was recklessly negligent before the disaster and has been completely incompetent in its effort to fix the problem. Idiots.

Meanwhile, have you noticed how hot it has been this month? Here in the good ole Midwest, we have August temperatures in June. That’s not an anomaly, kids; the government agencies that track weather have noted that May and April were the hottest months ever, or at least since people began keeping track.

What’s all this mean? Global disaster, folks. Our addiction to oil is killing the seas and our love for the internal combustion engine and the coal-fired power plant has finally thrown the climate into the hot zone.

Now, certain politicians will tell you that the Earth’s sudden resemblance to the inside of an oven is a natural phenomenon. Hell, some of our less-than-brilliant political minds have even had the gall to say the big Gulf oil slick is an act of God. But we all know that’s bull, don’t we? All of this is our doing; we created the mess and now we get to experience the pain first-hand. Welcome to the future. Don’t ya just love it?

If the answer is “no” you don’t love it, than I suggest you get involved in the solution, by finding ways to conserve energy at home – and cutting the amount of fossil fuels you use by getting rid of that stupid SUV. It’s “do or fry” time, and we all have to decide if maintaining our privileged lifestyles is really worth killing the entire freakin’ planet.

To help, here’s a lovely metal mix for the end of the world as we know it – and maybe the end of the world. You can enjoy it … but you’d better get angry and get involved as well. Time’s running out.

Interview: Exodus guitarist Gary Holt talks about his tribute to Paul Baloff, angry music and “Exhibit B: The Human Condition”

When Gary Holt – the founder, chief songwriter and co-lead guitarist for the perpetual motion machine that is Exodus – began writing material for the band’s new album, he decided to pay tribute to one of his biggest musical inspirations.

That inspiration, of course, is Paul Baloff, the legendary singer who fronted Exodus when the band recorded its classic debut, “Bonded By Blood.”  Although Baloff recorded only one studio album with Exodus – Baloff died of a stroke in 2002, while the band was in the planning stages for a new alubm – Baloff’s spirit was what kept Exodus going, even after his death.

For Baloff, Holt  wrote “Hammer and Life,” an anthem salutes Baloff’s energy and passion for life and music. The song appear’s on Exodus’ blazing new album, “Exhibit B: The Human Condition.”

“I never meant to write a song for Paul using all of his classic one-liners,” Holt said, during a recent interview to promote “Exhibit B.” “I wanted to use something more valid.”

The song, Holt said, was a way of acknowledging his debt to Baloff.

“Speaking for myself, he has been a big part of my inspiration to keep doing this,” Holt said. “He is forever the spirit of the band. We’ve had three different singers … but Paul is always there. He lives long in Exodus lore.”

Exodus is deservedly venerated for the band’s role in the creation of the San Francisco thrash metal scene, but the band has resurged phenomenally since Holt rebuilt the band with lead singer Rob Dukes. With Dukes at the mic, Holt and Lee Altus on lead guitars and bassist Jack Gibson and drummer Tom Hunting completing the lineup, Exodus has reemerged as one of the best bands in thrash metal.

While the “Big Four” – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer – are given credit for being the leaders of thrash metal, discerning thrash fans acknowledge Exodus was every bit as important as the others in the creation of thrash. Although Exodus broke up between 1992 and 2002, the band always stayed true to extreme metal; while Metallica toyed with alterna-rock on “Load” and “Reload” and Megadeth flirted with the mainstream on “Cryptic Writings” and “Risk,” Exodus never attempted to compromise their way to commercial success.

Metallica and Megadeth have returned to their thrash roots, which is good … but in terms of musical style and dedication, Holt and Exodus never went away.

For Holt, Baloff’s memory is what helped Holt carry on with Exodus after the shock of Baloff’s death.

“‘Hammer and Life’ to me just kind of represents Paul’s spirit and some of the things he did for me – coming out of the dark days and becoming stronger than before.”

“Exhibit B” is a bludgeoning thrash opus that is both incredibly punishing and heavy while being as intricate as anything produced in the band’s career. Lyrically, the album is equally blistering, with songs about human atrocity (“Nanking”), global destruction (“Good Riddance”) and school violence (“Class Dismissed”). Holt writes most of the music and lyrics. Despite the bleakness of the material, Holt is not as bitter and misanthropic as his lyrics might make a listener suppose.

“Class Dismissed” is a controversal song, told from the killer’s point of view. But the band is not advocating school violence as much as commenting on contemporary society.

“It’s something that has become such a part of American culture – the good, old-fashioned school shooting,” Holt said. “It is something that is becoming quite prevalent in our gun-happy culture.”

Holt said tackling tough subject matter such as school violence and religious hypocrisy is cathartic for him.

“It gives me a chance to rant and rave, get it off my chest and go on with my life,” he said. The music hopefully serves the same purpose for fans – providing an avenue to release tension and stress, Holt said.

“Our shows are still about having fun,” Holt said. “Even though we’re touching on dark material, we’re still smiling and having fun and so is the audience … We hit the stage and it’s like a bomb goes off.

“You would be hard-pressed to find people playing music like ours that are constantly depressed,” Holt said. “(For audiences) to leave a show depressed, that’s why we have Morrissey.”

Even after almost three decades in metal, Holt said he still has passion for creating music and playing live for the fans.

“This is the hardest job in the work if you don’t love it,” he said. “It’s all about performing live. We all have our bad days … but when you get back on stage, it picks you back up.”

To hear complete songs from “Exhibit B,” visit the band’s MySpace page. Also, here’s the demo version of “Hammer and Life” and “Class Dismissed.”