Archive for August, 2013

Album of the Week 34-2013: Coroner – Grin

Divisive albums are generally the most interesting in a band’s repertoire. Case in point: ‘Grin’. Up until this album, the Swiss Thrash trio Coroner could hardly do anything wrong. Their brand of interestingly composed and highly technical Thrash got universal acclaim among fans of the genre. Their last full-length studio album heavily divided their fan base though. However, I do think that over time, many people have revisited the album and they must have felt sorry for not recognizing it as the masterpiece it is the first time around.

What makes ‘Grin’ such a radical departure from Coroner’s earlier work is the difference in approach. Coroner has always been somewhat Jazzy in their interpretation of Thrash, but where the previous albums focused on the frenzied complexity of the genre, ‘Grin’ is simpler, laid-back and based on groove rather than blazing speed. This is without any doubt the most laid-back Thrash record in my collection. There’s still no doubt about what band this is though; Ron Broder’s trademark bark and Tommy Vetterli’s exciting dissonant riffs are still very much in place.

Despite the supposed lack of variation, ‘Grin’ is a record I never grow tired of. The increased focus on ambience and the slower tempos account for a dark atmosphere which makes certain passages borderline scary as hell when listening to the album in the dark. In fact, ‘Grin’ is an album you can just relax to, as opposed to many Thrash albums – including Coroner’s own – that require full attention in order to completely grasp what’s going on.

Coroner still is very much behind the album. On their recent reunion tours, the majority of the set was made up of ‘Grin’ tracks. In fact, opening the set is usually ‘Internal Conflicts’, a track that still has a lot happening, but it’s going on much more subtle than before. Tommy Vetterli’s solo is near divine on the song and the slowed down chorus has a dangerous atmosphere. Opening track ‘The Lethargic Age’ is the shortest song on here, but is in no way the short, fast track its length may suggest. It very well sets the mood for the album though.

However, near the end of the album, its true perfection shines through. ‘Paralyzed, Mesmerized’ and ‘Grin (Nails Hurt)’ are this album’s evil, but perfect twin brothers. The former is lead by a fantastic, almost hypnotizing guitar theme courtesy of Tommy Vetterli – who, again, plays one of the best ever guitar solos in the track – and works towards multiple climaxes throughout its eight minutes, while the latter is the musical equivalent of walking into someone who scares the crap out of you in a dark alley. In a sense, the track sums the album up well; its moderation makes it all the more dark and evil. Broder has sounded more aggressive, but his vocals have rarely sounded as hateful as in this song. The band impressively works through climaxes here; the song swells in tension by only slight alterations in the “until I lose” bits, followed by the release of the polka-based outro. Simply brilliant.

Don’t let anyone who compares this to what Prong or Ministry was doing at the time fool you. The ideology behind it may be similar, but ‘Grin’ definitely spots different results. Unique results even. ‘Grin’ is unlike any album you have ever heard. But then again, Coroner was never your average Thrash band, was it?

Recommended tracks: ‘Grin (Nails Hurt)’, ‘Paralyzed, Mesmerized’, ‘Internal Conflicts’

Album of the Week 33-2013: Sodom – M-16

Out of the “great three” of German Thrash Metal, Kreator is probably my favorite. However, the recent albums of Sodom have spoken to me much more than the others did. Kreator’s records, while good, have grown increasingly sterile and Destruction offers too little surprises. Sodom, however, did some of its best work in this last decade in a half. In fact, the lineup with guitarist Bernd ‘Bernemann’ Kost and drummer Bobby Schottkowski – who has sadly since been replaced – surrounding Tom Angelripper is my favorite Sodom lineup so far. And ‘M-16’ is the album Iove just about as much as the classic ‘Agent Orange’.

So where does ‘M-16’ find itself amongst Sodom’s discography? It’s not quite as vicious or an all-out speedfest like ‘Persecution Mania’ or direct predecessor ‘Code Red’, nor is it the dark Venom-inspired sound of the earliest work. The Punk overtones of the ‘Masquerade In Blood’ era have luckily been shed as well. Actually, ‘Agent Orange’ might not be a bad reference point. This is powerful, riff oriented Thrash Metal with enough variation to prevent tired ears. In fact, it’s that variation that makes this incarnation of Sodom such a delight to listen to. The Vietnam concept might add a certain deal of continuity as well.

First off, ‘Among The Weirdcong’ is the best opening track Sodom has ever recorded. The verses have a threatening, creepy quality to them and the chorus appears anticlimactic, but is very much the dangerous climax it’s supposed to be. The riffs, while relatively simple, are very powerful and the song feels very trusted, although it doesn’t quite sound like any Sodom song before or since. What follows varies between vicious uptempo Thrash (‘I Am The War’, ‘Minejumper’) and midtempo stompers (‘Napalm In The Morning’, ‘M-16’), sometimes a little of both (the genius ‘Little Boy’, the closing section being the fastest section on the album).

Maybe it’s also this variation that cures a common symptom of many Metal records. ‘M-16’ isn’t frontloaded with good stuff. In fact, the closing salvo of the vicious ‘Lead Injection’, the more traditional Thrasher ‘Cannon Fodder’ and the dark, epic masterpiece (despite being under four minutes) that is ‘Marines’ contains a couple of the best songs Sodom has ever recorded. Okay, the closing cover ‘Surfin’ Bird’ is a bit silly compared to the serious stuff that’s on the rest of the album but it does fit the Vietnam concept.

Saying that ‘M-16’ is the perfect Sodom album would maybe go a bit too far, but then again, the only true competition for it would be ‘Agent Orange’. ‘M-16’ is as varied as Thrash albums get and its most vicious moments are as violently delightful as Thrash Metal can possibly get. Sodom would successfully discover more experimental territory with the next three albums, but this is the album where they successfully blended their aggressive Thrash roots with an interesting curiosity. And more importantly: it’s a fantastic album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Among The Weirdcong’, ‘Marines’, ‘Little Boy’, ‘Lead Injection’

Album of the Week 32-2013: Return To Forever – Where Have I Known You Before

Like any young kid with a sane mind, I used to hate Jazz. And to this day, there are still types of Jazz I can’t stand, but it was through the Fusion era that I started to like the genre a lot more than I had anticipated. Especially the bands that obviously leaned towards Rock in the sense that there were riffs and melodic themes played at high volume. The first two albums of Mahavishnu Orchestra were instrumental in winning my soul for the genre, as is this fantastic band. Return To Forever is loud, energetic and complex. This, I can deal with!

‘Where Have I Known You Before’ marked the joining – and recording debut – of Al Di Meola, who would continue to become one of the world’s heroes in both acoustic and electric guitar. It’s not like he joined a bunch of amateurs though; keyboard player and band leader Chick Corea and Lenny White had already played together at Miles Davis’ monumentally abstract ‘Bitches Brew’ album and Stanley Clarke is easily one of the best bass players in the world with a killer bass sound to boot. Together with guitarist Bill Connors, the band had recorded the fantastic ‘Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy’, which might even exceed this one in terms of songwriting, but this is their finest hour performance-wise.

Opening track ‘Vulcan Words’ sets the mood quite powerfully. On the basis of frantic rhythms, some fantastic melodic motifs are set and every musician seems to solo their hearts out. It’s remarkable that Lenny White’s composition on this album, ‘The Shadow Of Lo’, may be the most ornate in terms of melodies and mood shifts, while the rhythms are relatively simple. Mind you, “relatively simple” still beats the average Rock drummer out of the water here. But then again, that’s what makes a great Fusion band; a drummer like White or Mahavishnu’s Billy Cobham. ‘Beyond The Seventh Galaxy’ marks a return of many themes that were present in the previous album’s title track and is equally awesome. Just listen to Lenny White tearing it up!

‘Earth Juice’ funkily opens the second side of the album, but the true crowning achievement of what Return To Forever was able to do comes in the shape of the 14 minute closing track ‘Song To The Pharaoh Kings’. An epic monster that is an exercise in Eastern sounding scales – Corea’s main theme in particular – and mind blowing musical prowess. Those rhythms and long solos are nothing short of impressive. All these leviathans are broken up by the short ‘Where Have I…’ piano pieces by Corea, of which ‘Where Have I Danced With You Before’ is my favorite.

Any Rock fan with a hunger to reach out to Jazz should start out with this album and its direct predecessor – both of which I consider vastly superior to ‘Romantic Warrior’, which is generally viewed as Return To Forever’s magnum opus – and work their way to Miles Davis through Mahavishnu Orchestra. Davis discovered many of these musicians while they were still trying to find their way and offered them an entrance to the world of music. We should be eternal grateful that he did, because this combination of Jazz complexity and Rock intensity hasn’t been done better before or since.

Recommended tracks: ‘Beyond The Seventh Galaxy’, ‘Song To The Pharaoh Kings’, ‘Vulcan Words’

In Memoriam George Duke 1946-2013

Is it me or do great musicians appear to be dying too many at a time these days? Yesterday, the message of George Duke’s death shocked me deeply. Not only was I not aware of his leukemia – something that hasn’t been given a great deal of public attention, quite likely by Duke’s own wish – but I loved George Duke as a musician with a great passion. He was one of the guys that made Jazz actually seem cool to me and I think that on the other side, he changed a lot of Jazz listeners’ attitude toward Pop and Rock as well.

Now, every musician that played with Frank Zappa throughout the seventies is a hero in my book. Duke played in his band almost the entire decade and contributed greatly to those brilliant albums, including my favorite ‘Over-Nite Sensation’. The recently released DVD ‘A Token Of His Extreme’ shows Duke as well as Zappa (along an especially smoking Napoleon Murphy Brock, Chester Thompson en Ruth Underwood, who are luckily still alive) absolutely on fire. And that’s what we are missing out on these days.

But Zappa wasn’t the only legend George Duke has worked with. Duke accompanied such greats as Billy Cobham, Miles Davis, Jean-Luc Ponty, John Scofield, Al Jarreau and many, many more as well as releasing a couple of fantastic records as a band leader. His work with bass player extraordinaire Stanley Clarke is legendary as well. And I will always remember the sincere smile with which he delivered most of his material.

And although we have lost another great musician – one of the best even – we can only hope that Duke doesn’t suffer anymore. Not only was he receiving treatment for his leukemia, he had also just overcome a deep depression following the death of his wife Corine. I can only hope for him that I’m wrong about life after death and that he can be with Corine again. And possibly jam with Miles and Zappa again.

Through this way, I’d like to wish Duke’s sons Rasheed and John all the best dealing with the burden of losing both their parents in only slightly more than a year. Looking at my parents, I can’t think of anything worse. And for those of you not knowing what we – as lovers of music – will be missing out on, check out this video of Zappa and Duke at their prime. George Duke, your smile and your impeccable keyboard work will be missed.

Album of the Week 31-2013: War – The World Is A Ghetto

From the iconic album cover to the absolutely irresistible mixture of Funk, Soul, Rock, Jazz, Pop and Latin, ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ was destined to be a classic album from the get-go. It quickly became the best selling album of 1973 and given its wide crossover appeal, that only seems right. But the sales figures hardly matter: this is just music done right. Everything about the album is just perfect. With its swinging rhythms, top-class musicianship, shifts in atmosphere and fabulous shared vocal work, ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ also became one of my all time favorite records. This is definitely one of those “desert island records” for me.

‘The World Is A Ghetto’ was the third album the band released on its own, so without former Animals singer Eric Burdon. And despite having created masterpieces before and since, this is the record on which all the pieces fell in exactly the right places. While War certainly had a knack for writing hit singles, they always let the music do the talking. Many of these songs – especially the longer ones – sound like they have been conceived from jam sessions, yet sound so structured that you don’t have to be an avid muso – like yours truly – to appreciate this.

Starting the album are arguably the two shortest and most accessible songs the album has to offer. A wise choice, as this isn’t scaring anyone away who doesn’t generally like something more intricate. Stylistically, ‘The Cisco Kid’ and ‘Where Was You At’ are quite similar. Funky tracks with stomping rhythms and powerful riffs courtesy of guitarist Howard Scott and bassist B.B. Dickerson. Although arguably, ‘The Cisco Kid’ has a little more of a Latin flavor to it, no doubt fueled by the series that named the track. These are songs for the good times.

Moods are starting to get mixed up a little shortly afterward. The long instrumental ‘City, Country, City’ alternates between almost aggressive Funk riffing and the dreamy atmosphere of the passages lead by Lee Oskar’s harmonica. Each of the seven band members has solo spots in this track and surprisingly, percussionist Papa Dee Allen delivers the most powerful one. After the subdued drama that is the light Blues of ‘Four Cornered Room’, it’s time for this album – and truly one of music’s – finest moment. ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ is a long, beaufitul song with a bittersweet atmosphere, fantastic vocal harmonies and a breathtaking saxophone solo by Charles Miller. The album rounds off with the powerful Jazzy Funk of ‘Beetles In The Bog’.

Anyone who hasn’t heard this album – and its title track in particular – hasn’t fully experienced music yet. Because the album packs so many influences in a number of incredibly well-written songs, ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ is ultimately a very rewarding listening experience. There has yet to be such a perfectly complementary group of musicians, but until another comes along, we should just enjoy this album and the fact that we had the chance to inhale such great music.

Recommended tracks: ‘The World Is A Ghetto’, ‘City, Country, City’, ‘The Cisco Kid’

A Song For A Day: ‘He Loved Him Madly’

As I was sitting in the train back from Utrecht to my home in northern Holland, watching all the people dressed in pink getting ready to watch all the boats at Canal Parade, it occurred to me what a funny coincidence it was that I was listening to Miles Davis’ ‘He Loved Him Madly’. That was the starting gun for a new section covering songs that are appropriate for specific days.

Of course, ‘He Loved Him Madly’ isn’t about any gay relationship. Instead, it is a tribute to the great Duke Ellington, who had died shortly before the recordings. The title is a reference to Sir Duke’s ‘Love You Madly’ and the song is a slow – almost unbearably so – dirge. Almost, because there is this tension in the song that gives the song something irresistible. Where many of these drone bands fail to hold my attention, ‘He Loved Him Madly’ succeeds.

During the first ten minutes of this half hour song, nothing much happens, but you feel this tension hanging in the air. Al Foster’s snares provide something like a funeral march, Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas deliver some seemingly random chords and notes and Davis’ own organ puts down a groundwork of chords. Shortly past the ten-minute mark, Foster starts playing a somewhat more conventional rhythm, Cosey and Lucas seem to improvise some riffs that are incredibly moving and Dave Liebman’s alto flute solo seems to be the truly sad tribute to Sir Duke.

The desolation of Davis’ trumpet solo is truly remarkable. Also, both Liebman and Davis seem to have the perfect amount of reverb and the same can be said of the delay on the guitars. Meanwhile, Foster’s drums keep swelling in volume ever so subtly, until they suddenly fade. For a 32 minute song, the ending is surprisingly abrupt. I’m not sure if Duke Ellington would appreciate this kind of a song, but it’s a heartfelt tribute and a fantastic song, jam or vamp, whatever you prefer.

If you watch the video and it finishes, be sure to click on part 2 as well. It’s the most interesting bit and YouTube doesn’t allow songs this long. My collection does though!

Gus G and Aynsley Lister in Gitarist

If you’re Dutch or Belgian and into gear, you should really check out the new issue of Gitarist. There are quite some articles that I wrote, but there’s a lot of other interesting stuff as well. I spoke with Greek guitar hero Gus G about the massive amount of signature gear he has (and it includes one of the best live photos I have ever taken), I had an interesting chat with Aynsley Lister about the equipment he used to record his fantastic new album ‘Home’ (a sneak peak: he took more with him than he eventually used) and I talked with 16 Down frontman Marco Hovius about his new band Hey Kid. Also, reviews I have written on Lister’s ‘Home’ album, the amazing ‘Inhale My World’ album by Belgian Blues man Lightnin’ Guy, Aerosmith’s new DVD, Firewind’s new live album and the debut album by Sound Of Contact, which includes Phil Collins’ son Simon and is an impressive Prog record, are included.

The other articles include an extensive feature on Ibanez’s eighties guitar models – including the fashion and haircuts of the musicians playing them – and an interview with Deep Purple’s Steve Morse. There’s a workshop on how to play guitar within a Latin context and loads of gear reviews. This month’s retro model – besides the wide array of Ibanez guitars of course – is the Dan Armstrong Plexi. And there’s a lot of interesting things lining up as well, so why not consider a subscription?