Peter Steele, 1962-2010

It’s hard to believe, but it really has been one year since Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele passed away. He was 48.

I’ve been spinning TON for the past few days. I wasn’t the longest of the long-time fans (I came in when “October Rust” was released in 1996), but the band’s music made a big impression on me. There was only one Type O Negative – in the nu-metal 90s, the band never bowed to trends or tried to be something it wasn’t; from Steele’s six-feet-under baritone and signature bass sound to the meticulous way Steele, Josh Silver, Kenny Hickey and Johnny Kelly crafted, produced and reproduced their songs, Type O Negative always stood apart from the metal crowd. Even their covers sounded like originals.

The band was always fantastic live. I saw them three times and they never put on a bad show … even at the end of the “Dead Again” tour in Louisville, when Steele was sick and played half the show sitting down.

Now, a larger site like Metalsucks doesn’t need any free pub from me, but I really encourage you to go read Anso DF’s interviews with Kelly, Hickey, Silver and members of Steele’s family about the one year anniversary of Steele’s death. You can find part one here and part two here. They’re an excellent remembrance.

It’s strange to feel sad for the passing of somewhat I never met, but I this day does give me the blues. I’ll probably be spinning my TON discs continually for the rest of the week.

Anyway, goodbye Pete. You were tortured, but you were also a genius. We miss you.

Essential Albums: Bruce Dickinson, “The Chemical Wedding”

Bruce_Dickinson-band-1998-01

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). Dicking 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 after the song songs 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.

Travis T’s (next) essential album: L.A. Guns (self-titled)

Ohhhh yeah! I’m back! It’s me, totally awesome Noise Pollution intern Travis. Woot woot!

They made that other guy go on “furlough” or “unpaid mental illness recovery day” or something, and left me in charge! Good thing, too; all that freaking old guy did was blah-blah-blah about “black metal,” which is nothing but a bunch of whiners in ghosty make-up make-believing they’re all “scary” and “evil.” That band Inquisition he just reviewed? Ugh. They sound like frogs croaking about H-E-L-L and the D-E-V-I-L. Gag, how lame. The D-E-V-I-L is stoopid! Real black metallers love Jesus! Xtian black metallers in the hiz-ouse! Woot!

With the other guy off taking depressants or whatever, I’m here to tell you about the good metal – I mean the metal with a capital “M” as in, “I’m so metal cuz I’m Travis! Hey-hey-hey!”

Now, as all of you how read my column last year know, my fav-o-rite album of all time is Poison’s “Look What The Cat Dragged In” (and “thanks” to all my readers who tried to tell me the hott girls in Poison were really guys. Like, ha-ha, that’s so funny I forgot to laugh! Not! I know hott girls when I see them, and I luuuvs the girls in Poison! Woot!). But I know all about other great metal too, so today I’m gonna school you on the other truly great metal album, L.A. Gun’s 1988 masturpiece, “L.A. Guns!”

This isn't the L.A. Guns picture I remember from the album, but that's okay. You can still tell they're hott!

I totally stole this album from my uncle Lou’s box of old CDs, which I found in his basement. I know stealing’s a sin, but I couldn’t help it. I remember the exact moment I found the disc in the bottom of the box: I opened the cover, saw the picture of the hott girls in the band and nearly yelled, “OMG, that girl’s not wearing a shirt!” It was true; you can see her boobs an  everything! Thank G-O-D everyone else was outside, because I think I screamed right before I passed out.

I have three great luves in my life; the first (always!) is Becky Luundergaard (you’ll be mine one day, Becky; all of those restraining orders can’t keep true luv apart!); the second, of course, are the girls in Poison … but my third great luv is the chicks in L.A. Guns! I mean woot and woot! These girls are almost as hott as Becky.

I don’t really know the story, but I think guitar player Tracii Guns was, like, the girlfriend of one of the guys in Guns And Roses, or something? Axel Rose kinda named the band after her, after she totally broke his heart. I know how you feel, Axel! I get my heart stomped on every day when Becky walks by with Danny Fitz-freaking-Patrick! “Oh Danny, you’re sooo awesome! You play Jay-Vee football and have big ham-hocks for legs!” Blech! Becky, when will you see that it’s mee you love?!?! Mee, mee mee!

Oh yeah. This album is great. “No Mercy” is fast and punk and all about breaking Becky’s … uh, I mean foxey ladey’s, hearts. Phill (Phillis?) Lewis really sings her sweet lips off. Wowza! “Sex Action” is about … S-E-X, which is sooo cool. There’s even the sound of one of the girls in the band having sex in the song! Whoa!

“One More Reason” is about being depressed when girls (like you, Becky) dump all over your heart and throw their tater tots in your face, just cuz you tried to kiss them in the lunch line. Then, Danny Fitz-freaking-Patrick gives you an atomic wedgie for bothering “his girl.” Bah! “Electric Gypsy” is about jumping your bike off the dock down at the bread factory, which is way rad.

“Nothing To Lose” is about how I wanna be a metal god and go on the road with L.A. guns and Poison. I’d totally be the Best Band Tech Ever!

“Bitch Is Back” is about mean ladies, like when Mrs. Sullivan came back from maternity leave. Gawd, I hated her! Worst middle school math teacher Evah! “Cry No More” is a totally classical music song and “One Way Ticket” is about luv. I got a one-way ticket for your luv, Becky! Please stop calling the sheriff on me! Woot!

“Hollywood Tease” is about what I’ll be when I’m Poison’s Band Tech. All the fine ladeys will be running after me. As for the rest of the album, I dunno … I’m usually pretty spent by the end of “Hollywood Tease,” and just need to go to sleep.

This album is just great. The guitar riffs are hott, the drumming’s really like drumming and Phill Lewis is sooo sexy she makes me wanna scream, “Woot!” I luv this album. Go buy two copies!

Travis T., over and out! Woot woot!