Is anyone else already sick of the Dokken “reunion”?

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Dokken, circa 1985 — presumably before Don Dokken and George Lynch couldn’t stand the sight of one another.

Here’s a confession, I like Dokken.

I started listening to Dokken back in high school, probably after seeing the video for “In My Dreams,” either on MTV’s “Headbangers Ball,” or on the MTV daily video countdown.

I don’t think I ever saw Dokken live, or at least not the entire show. They did a big summer tour with Poison and a buncha other 80s hair bands about 15 years ago, and I was there … but we’d been drinking corn liquor, and we arrived late and … um … yeah, it’s all gone now. I’m genuinely sorry about that — as an old fan, it’s a band I always wished I’d caught the band live (while sober, that is).

So I should be excited that, after eons, vocalist Don Dokken, guitar god George Lynch, bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer Mick Brown are reuniting for one U.S. gig and a mini tour of Japan. After all, Dokken did some really great albums in the 1980s, including one bona fide hair metal classic “Tooth and Nail.” The new tour will be a chance for old-school fans to hear some of their favorite songs, played by the original artists.

Also, there’s sure to be plenty of video, a DVD from one of the shows is planned, and Don Dokken told DJ Eddie Trunk the guys even wrote a new song for the tour, which we’ll all get to hear on the DVD, if not sooner on YouTube.

Yeah, it should be exciting. But frankly, this “reunion” smells like a ripoff.

For that, blame motormouth Don Dokken, who has been a font of negativity ever since the tour became official. He has been all over the place lately, talking about the band’s motivation for the tour, which is money. Or, rather, MONEY.

Don Dokken told “The Classic Metal Show,” that when a tour offer came in that finally fit Dokken’s asking price, he called Brown, Pilson and Lynch: “You guys want to make a sh*tload of money for a week of work? … Basically, they could make more money in one week than they could in a year.”

Don Dokken was equally blunt with Eddie Trunk: “It’s not glorious. But when someone sticks an ‘X’ amount of dollars with a lot of zeroes attached, what are you gonna say? ‘No, I’m busy’? I mean, c’mon, man. You think David Lee Roth went back with Van Halen because he just felt like it? I mean, it’s about money. And Guns N’ Roses — do you think they’re doing it ’cause they’re all madly in love with each other? I don’t think so.”

It’s hard to find a definitive explanation for why Dokken broke up after “Back for the Attack,” which was probably the most successful of their three-album run of hits. I heard or read somewhere that Don Dokken blames Lynch — Dokken says Lynch wanted to control the band — but I imagine Lynch and Dokken were equally to blame.

Places like Allmusic.com say the breakup was over “creative differences,” but that’s just shorthand for “Lynch and Dokken both had ego-problems, neither was willing to compromise, and they got into a major pissing match that resulted in pretty much killing the golden goose and blowing up both of their careers.”

What’s funny, however, is the bad blood lasts until this day. In his recent interviews, Don Dokken can’t help but moan about how he’s already expecting trouble from Lynch, and that once the tour is over, Lynch and his band, Lynch Mob, will go back to playing dive bars. Dokken is full of faint praise and subtle jabs at Lynch’s expense.

I’m not naive. When Guns N’ Roses got back together earlier this summer, money was a major reason why. But Guns N’ Roses also had something to prove — they they were worth the hype — and from what I’ve seen, they pulled it off. I don’t have similar hopes for Dokken. It’s rather off-putting to hear Dokken go on and on about how money is the ONLY reason he’s doing the tour and that he’ll never, set foot on stage with Lynch again once he finishes the shows and cashes the checks.

I don’t need band members to love each other … but it’s hard to get excited about a band that says, “we’re just in it for the cash, man.” Don Dokken couldn’t sound less excited, so it’s impossible to believe the shows are going to be anything other than lackluster.

My guess is a lot of those Dokken fans in Japan are going to leave the shows feeling disappointed, as if something was missing. Those fans will be right — hey Don Dokken, you can’t substitute a paycheck for heart, and think the fans won’t notice the difference. Enjoy the payday, though.

 

 

Metallica to release “Hardwired … To Self-Destruct” on Nov. 18

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For months (years?) the members of Metallica have been hinting around about the possibility of recording a new album.

Truthfully, I didn’t think they’d ever be done — and at times, it was hard to believe they’d actually started work. I mean, they always been to be so busy doing something else, like touring, or doing fashion shoots, or making movies, or losing all of their best riffs when their phones got heisted, or whatever.

So it’s hard to overstate my surprise when the Metallica Web site, announced today the band’s next album, “Hardwired … To Self-Destruct” will be released Nov. 18.

Here’s a bit from the band’s Web site:

It really does exist! We know it’s been a long time coming, but today we proudly introduce you to Hardwired…To Self-Destruct, the long awaited next Metallica studio album that is the follow-up to Death Magnetic! Two discs, nearly 80 minutes of music is coming your way on November 18, 2016… yes, THIS YEAR!

Hey, and the band even premiered a song and released a quick vid on YouTube. If this is a representative sample of the rest of the album, then I say bring it on: Frankly, the band sounds pretty vicious and angry. They haven’t sounded this mad since … I dunno, “Dyers Eve.” That’s a good thing, very good. Check it out:

This is the band’s first album since “Death Magnetic” in 2008 (“what about “Lulu”? you say. “Don’t you count “Lulu”? NO, DAMNIT, I DON’T! Oops, got carried away. Sorry.)

Needless to say, I’m stoked. The album is a double-disc with about 80 minutes of music. An optional third disc full of riffs that made up the songs, and the track “The Lords of Summer.” People who order the album through the Metallica Web site will get an instant download of the title track.

Whew. I’m glad at least one good thing happened this year.

Review: Be’Lakor, “Vessels” (2016)

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Australia’s Be’Lakor does not make great party music. That’s actually a compliment.

Now, I have nothing at all against party music — I have enough classic AC/DC and Aerosmith albums that fall into that category — but, generally, I like music that has a bit more heft to it. I like a song that draws my attention away from whatever I’m doing and forces me to listen.

Be’Lakor have been making music that demands concentration for years, but here in the States, they’ve been an under-the-radar band. Although the band’s excellent 2012 release “Of Breath and Bone” received a rave review from Blabbermouth.net, I’m not sure the album generated much U.S. interest, and the band has never toured the States. When people here think of Australian metal, the names that mostly come to mind are AC/DC — and to a much lesser extent, Portal and Sanzu.

Which is too bad, because Be’Lakor’s latest release “Vessels,” is a great album, full of atmosphere, intricate melodies and power. It’s heavy enough to be death metal, but melodic enough to not grate against my nerves like grind (sorry, grind fans). The band blends both exceeding heaviness with melody and the occasional acoustic interlude in a very appealing way.

I find myself wanting to write, “Be’Lakor make the best Opeth albums Opeth never made,” but that’s neither fair nor accurate. Yes, there are similarities between “Vessels” and older Opeth classics (particularly “My Arms, Your Hearse”), but Be’Lakor are not an Opeth clone. The band is making dark, melodic death metal, sure — but with their own style. Be’Lakor sound like Be’Lakor. They’re performing in the same arena as Opeth, but they’re not attempting to walk in Opeth’s shoes.

With the exception of the 90-second intro, “Luma,” and the three-minute interlude “A Thread Dissolves,” the tracks on “Vessels” are long. The shortest, “Grasping Light,” is just under seven minutes, and “Withering Strands” and “The Smoke of Many Fires” all break the nine-minute mark.

A lot of bands write songs that are long, but the songs are “Vessels” are not lengthy for the sake of length. Instead, the songs are stuffed full of ideas, that are woven together with surprising seamlessness. So many parts shouldn’t fit together so well, but here they do.

The songs seem to rush at moments, before dwindling to soft acoustic spaces. Yes, patience is required, but the band is not deliberately taxing your patience or wasting your time. The tracks are journeys, and the trip is as important as the destination. As someone once told me about a Dimmu Borgir album (which I admittedly didn’t grasp, and still don’t particularly like), “you just have to breathe the songs in.” With “Vessels,” the breathing works.

There’s not a bad track on”Vessels,” although a few stand above the rest — particularly “An Ember’s Arc,” “Whelm,” “Withering Strands” and “The Smoke of Many fires.”

With the band making the move from indie labels to the slightly larger and better financed Napalm Records, I hope Be’Lakor will be able to find a larger following. I hope so. While they’re certainly building on the melodic death metal template, Be’Lakor are strikingly original, and there are mind-blowing moments on almost every track of “Vessels.” There’s definitely an audience for this kind of music — if only the audience can find it.

Highly recommended.

Here’s one you missed: The Great Old Ones “Al Azif”

Today, I’ll be starting a new (hopefully regular) column, where I’ll highlight obscure, underground or just plain weird albums that probably haven’t received the serious listen they deserve. I want to get this new feature off right, so let’s talk about a recent indie weirdie from recent years, 2012’s “Al Azif” by France’s blackened death metal outsiders, The Great Old Ones.

Early 20th Century pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft has gone from fringe figure to being a major influence in literature, art, film and music. He died in obscurity, but, today, stories like “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Shadow Out of Time” are considered horror classics — and many of his stories have been turned into feature films.

Now, Lovecraft’s work has popped up on music before — the two most obvious examples are Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “The Call of Ktulu” of course, but Australia’s Portal also seems to have a strong Lovecraft connection. Other bands drop references here and there, and non-signed guitarist Brett Miller released an instrumental album last year entirely of Lovecratian-inspired material.

But The Great Old Ones might be the only signed band for whom Lovecraft’s universe of unimaginable, sanity-ripping monster deities inspire every single one of their songs. The band’s excellent “Tekeli-Li” was a concept album based on the novella “At The Mountains of Madness,” and some special orders of the disc even shipped with a copy of the story.

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“Al Azif,” which came before, is not a concept album exactly, but it each song is based on a Lovecraft story, such as “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Music of Erich Zann.” But anyone can take a song and stick a Lovecraft title on it — more than one artist has tried. It’s a lot tougher to craft a song that actually sounds like a Lovecraft story should sound, in all his unimaginable, chaotic, cosmic horror.

I wouldn’t call the Great Old Ones “black metal,” but the band uses some of the conventions of black metal throughout “Al Azif.” But there’s more melody here than in, say, your traditional Mayhem or Emperor classic, and the songs often switch from black metal to melodic passages more reminiscent of Opeth than  Burzum.

The songs, for lack of a better term, sound vast. The band is not interested — and does not attempt — to shred. No one band member stands out, and even the vocals blend into the mix instead of taking center stage. The melodies are big — yet also off-kilter and off-key.  There’s certainly a beauty here, particularly on songs like “Visions of R’lyeh” and the  “Rue D’auseil,”but it’s an odd beauty, like green clouds in a maelstrom. The album has the feeling of being wind swept, or ocean tossed.

 

Since the band is so devoted to themes and concepts of Lovecraft, it’s fair to ask: Can people not familiar with Lovecraft’s work find value in “Al Azif?” I can’t answer for certain — I ran into Lovecraft’s work when I was 14 and have been a fan of what is generally called “The Cthulhu Mythos” ever since.

(Side Note: Yes, I’m familiar with Lovecraft’s racism — how could I not be, considering some of the more shocking descriptions of African-Americans and other racial groups, particularly in stories like “Herbert West: Re-Animator”? I’d say people can still find value in Lovecraft, while certainly acknowledging and being distressed by his examples of racism. I’d also say you can find an excellent rebuttal or reexamination of Lovecraft’s racial views in Victor LaValle’s recent novella, “The Ballad of Black Tom,” which revisits Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook” through the perspective of a African-American musician/hustler who gets caught up in the chaos of the original story).

But I digress. I think overall, a person doesn’t have to appreciate Lovecraft works, or even know them, to enjoy the atmospherics and the bludgeoning metal — of “Al Azif.” The album stands solidly on its own — it’s dark and doomy, with a hint of the progressive and more than a bit of groove. It has a heavy vibe that I enjoy, whether I’m reading “The Colour Out of Space” for the 20th time, or washing my car. (Who am I kidding? I never wash my car…)

The band signed to Season of Mist earlier this year, and were scheduled to begin recording their third album in May. I’m looking foward to hearing where the band goes next.

Interview: Testament’s Chuck Billy is ready for fans to join “The Brotherhood of the Snake”

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Although the members of thrash legends Testament began writing songs for their newest burst of power, “The Brotherhood of the Snake” seemingly ages ago, actually getting the band into the studio to record the album proved to be a challenge.

“We’ve been working on this record for a year and a half,” vocalist/lyricist Chuck Billy said during an interview in early August. “In the middle of the writing process, we had two tour offers (that delayed the project). It was a long process to get the record done.”

Testament are one of the Bay Area thrash bands that rightfully get mentioned in the same breath with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. The band released several solid thrash mini-classics like “The Legacy,” “The New Order” and “Practice What You Preach” in the ’80s and early ’90s — but the band achieved brilliance with “The Formation of Damnation” in 2008 and again in 2012 with the searing “Dark Roots of Earth”.

A band that releases an album once every four years would seem to have plenty of time to hone songs to perfection. But Testament’s busy touring schedule kept them even from finishing some of the songs destined for “Brotherhood of the Snake” before the band entered the studio earlier this year, Billy said.

“There was a lot of emotion, and anger, to get (the album) done,” Billy said.

Call it grace under pressure, then, because instead of being dissatisfied, Billy said the final tracks for “Brotherhood” are the best of the band’s career.

“The frustration and all the (pressure) to get it done came out in the music, and it really made the songs stand out,” Billy said. “I believe the songwriting on this record is beyond what we’ve done. ”

Going into it, we had heard some of the demo songs … but didn’t have a vision of the final record,” Billy said. When the band heard the final mixes for the disc, “we were saying, ‘holy sh*t, these are some good songs … I would say, in my opinion, it tops the catalog.”

Lyrically, the title track deals with religion and power, and was inspired by a creation story that hypothesizes humans were initially molded not as pure images of goodness, but as crude slave labor for an alien race that wanted to mine the earth’s gold.

But, as the story goes, humanity escaped that fate. Like Prometheus with the gift of fire, a sympathetic alien informed humans of their origins, and that they have spirits that reincarnate after death — a revelation that caused the humans to revolt.

“”It’s all about pure political power,” Billy said of the title track.

But other songs are firmly rooted in the present, taking on topics such as the legalization of marijuana, Billy said. And while the band addressed the 2001 terrorist attacks on “Formation of Damnation” with “The Evil Has Landed,” the band closes the loop on “Brotherhood” with “Neptune Spear,” a story about the Seal Team Six raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

“Some of the songs I’d written in 2014, and a lot of the songs went through four rewrites,” Billy said. Some of the lyrics were still being reviews “until I went into the studio,” he said.

While Billy is pleased with the end result, “I don’t ever want to do it that way again,” he said.

With “Brotherhood” scheduled to get the streets in late October, the band is preparing to play a number of European dates just prior to the release, before coming back to the states for a U.S. tour.

“I’d say, right now, Testament is a fine-tuned machine,” Billy said. Over the years, the band members have learned how to tour in a way that doesn’t leave them worn-out wrecks, which shows in the power of their live shows, Billy said.

“If you’re not comfortable, it comes across in your performance,” Billy said. Now, the band works to take care of themselves on the road.

“When you’re feeling good, it definitely helps your show,” Billy said.

Testament’s “Brotherhood of the Snake” is scheduled for release on Oct. 28