Posts Tagged ‘ Punk ’

Album of the Week 36-2017: Merry – M-Ology


‘M-Ology’ is the album I have been wanting Merry to make for about a decade. While I really liked ‘Nonsense Market’ (2014), everything about ‘M-Ology’ points at a total throwback to the days of ‘Modern Garde’ (2004). While such a “return to the roots” is a strained move for many bands, Merry never strayed from their original path too much. They just explored the heavier edges of their sound to a point where they sort of buried the retro aspects that made their sound so unique and appealing. Now that these are back at the forefront, Merry’s new album is a brilliant work of “retrock”.

Those who are unfamiliar with Merry are probably better off listening to their music than reading a description, as the quintet plays a fairly rich cocktail of styles. Genre-wise, this is definitely J-rock, but there are jazzy rhythms amplified by Nero’s hard-hitting drum style, afterbeat ska chords and rockabilly-ish themes on the guitar, a punky energy and a bunch of vaudevillian melodies that pop up now and then. If that sounds like an impossible combination: that’s what yours truly thought too, until he actually heard the music. Merry’s songs are busy and bristling with energy, but always recognizable and well-crafted.

Prior to the announcement of the album, the singles for ‘M-Ology’ already made me look forward to the album. ‘Happy Life’, released over two years ago, is an excellent upbeat rock song with a chorus filled with the hopeful melancholy that characterizes a lot of Merry’s best material. ‘Heijitsu No Onna’ balances on the line between ballad and light rock song, but it was ‘Kasa To Ame’ that won me over. Built upon a not too complicated, but brilliantly brooding bass line courtesy of Tetsu, this song displayed the Merry that stole my heart so many years ago. The song is also a masterclass in musical climaxes.

Album highlight ‘Inugata Shinsei Masochist’ is the song whichI thought would be the next single, due to its goosebumps inducing arena rock intro and marvellous chorus, but apparently, the band went for the title track, which after a delightfully chaotic intro develops into a song that evokes a feeling of nostalgia. Other notable tracks are the remarkably upbeat punk polka of ‘Black Flag Symptom’, the overwhelming weirdness of ‘Mass Control’ and ‘F.J.P’, a song that amplifies everything that makes Merry such a great band to begin with.

Where ‘Nonsense Market’ saw Merry reconnecting with their core sound a little, ‘M-Ology’ sees them diving head first into it. Gara’s screams, shouts and grunts can be great means to emphasize an angry passage of a song, I prefer the focus on catchy melodies he employs here. As always, Kenichi and Yuu are great at crafting guitar melodies that either dance around each other or build upon each other’s heaviness and Tetsu and Nero are among the best rhythm sections in Japan, with the latter having an intuitive, playful style which makes him my favorite Japanese drummer. This may sound like an exaggerated amount of praise, but since ‘M-Ology’ can rival ‘Modern Garde’ and ‘Peep Show’ as Merry’s best album, I think the praise is more than deserved.

P.S.: Included in the “B type” of the album is the best bonus dvd that ever came with a Merry album. Filmed at what looks like the same location as the first ‘Many Merry Days’ dvd’s and produced with a somewhat cinematic look, I am sort of sad that as a European, I cannot obtain the full show that comes with the fanclub edition of the album. Still, these five songs are performed incredibly.

Recommended tracks: ‘Inugata Shinsei Masochist’, ‘Kasa To Ame’, ‘M-Ology’, ‘Happy Life’

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In Memoriam Chris Cornell 1964-2017


Now this one came as a shock. Last week, I even reviewed the best album Chris Cornell was ever a part of and now, he is dead. Despite making a few dubious artistic choices throughout his career, Cornell had one colossal voice and has written a bunch of downright fantastic songs. His death is still shrouded in mystery at the moment, but it occurred only hours after a sold out Soundgarden show in Detroit. It’s hard to say anything useful at the moment, but let me at least pay a little tribute to – by far – the best male singer from the Seattle rock scene.

Despite ultimately being one of the biggest bands of the Seattle scene of the early nineties, Soundgarden started as early as 1984. Kim Thayil is often credited for the unique guitar tapestries of the band, but Cornell was quite the guitar player himself and their interaction was an essential part of the heavy, yet melodic and deliberately awkward sound of the band. Cornell either wrote or co-wrote a significant portion of the band’s output. Soundgarden had some of the most natural sounding odd time measures in the music business and a bunch of riffs that within Seattle were only rivaled by Alice In Chains in terms of heaviness.

Soundgarden was one of the more interesting rock bands that Seattle had in the eighties, but it wasn’t until 1991 that Cornell found his voice. Both litterally and in terms of songwriting. That’s the year when Temple Of The Dog released its sole album in April and Soundgarden released their massive ‘Badmotorfinger’ in October. Two monumental records with Cornell’s voice on them. ‘Temple Of The Dog’ was a strong tribute to the late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood which also featured the recording debut of one Eddie Vedder and ‘Badmotorfinger’ showed Cornell almost litterally outdoing himself with songs like ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, ‘Rusty Cage’ and ‘Outshined’.

While it meant Soundgarden’s breakthrough and artistic highlight, the band didn’t reach its peak in popularity with 1994’s ‘Superunknown’. Five successful singles were released from that album, the most popular of which – the monster hit ‘Black Hole Sun’ – won two Grammy Awards. Personally, I always preferred the gloomy ‘Fell On Black Days’. After one more album in 1996 – ‘Down On The Upside’ – Soundgarden split up and Cornell focused on his own projects. Always an experimental guy, he tried out several genres and while I don’t agree with every decision he made – the R&B record ‘Scream’ that he made with producer Timbaland is borderline embarrassing – he deserves a lot of respect for trying.

In the meantime, Cornell also formed Audioslave with all members of Rage Against The Machine except for singer Zack de la Rocha. They had a couple of hits, but eventually the former bands of all members involved would reunite. That included Soundgarden, whose 2012 release ‘King Animal’ battle’s Alice In Chains’ ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ for the title of best comeback album ever made by a rock band. Thayil, Cornell, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron seemed to be very serious about reuniting for good, but while on tour, Cornell passed away.

Besides the songs, we would have to remember Cornell for having a sense of humor that didn’t ruin his music. How else would you explain the hilarious glam rock and hair metal parody that is ‘Big Dumb Sex’? Sadly, there is very little that fans of his voice can laugh about today, but we are luckily still left with recordings of his amazing voice and I suggest we play it as loud as we can. I’ll start.

Album of the Week 18-2017: Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger


Along with Alice In Chains, Soundgarden is one of the very few bands from the early nineties Seattle scene that is actually appreciated among heavy metal audiences. The band’s third album ‘Badmotorfinger’ clearly shows why. The noisy punk leanings or mainstream ambitions that many of the band’s peers did have are absent here. Instead, ‘Badmotorfinger’ is full of heavy riff work reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and odd time signatures with ditto rhythms. And while the songs did streamline the band’s sound, it does so without sacrificing even the slightest bit of the Seattlites’ unique character and approach.

Compared to the album’s direct predecessor ‘Louder Than Love’, ‘Badmotorfinger’ sounds significantly more focused. The songs are harder-edged and while there is still a great deal of variation to be found on the record, the quartet doesn’t need quite as much time to get to the point here. However, the biggest improvement to be heard on ‘Badmotorfinger’ is in Chris Cornell’s voice. With this album and Temple Of The Dog’s sole release, 1991 prove to be the year that he transformed from a promising rock singer to a powerhouse vocalist with a massive range. Hardly anyone has come close since.

Ultimately, any of these improvements would be meaningless if the songs weren’t any good. Luckily, ‘Badmotorfinger’ is the most consistent set of songs Soundgarden has yet released. The band found a way to combine their love for odd measures with memorable melodies without having to alternate between those extremes. ‘Outshined’, for instance, feels like a catchy rock song despite its 7/4 meter and heavy riff and ‘Room A Thousand Years Wide’ is such a pleasant listen, that you hardly realize that the 6/4 rhythm that it’s built upon is quite unconventional. ‘Badmotorfinger’ is filled with such moments. It’s always a good thing when a band isn’t trying to be too clever with these things.

‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ is the ultimate proof of just how heavy Soundgarden could get: Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell pump out some crushing riffs, while the latter belts his heart out in the chorus. ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ has Matt Cameron’s incredible rhythms and the propulsive riff work pounding relentlessly underneath yet another amazing Cornell performance and opening track ‘Rusty Cage’ manages to be heavy and hypnotizing at the same time. ‘Holy Water’ is somewhat reminiscent of Alice In Chains and some songs are weirdly, but successfully decorated with horns. New bassist Ben Shepherd’s love for punk shines through the wonderfully aggressive ‘Face Pollution’.

Before ‘Badmotorfinger’, Soundgarden was a decent band that occasionally lost their way halfway through meandering songs. The increased focus did help the band a great deal, because ‘Badmotorfinger’ is easily one of the best records of its era. Terry Date’s production, which gave the band’s bottom end a not so subtle punch without damaging the clear highs, is another important factor in why the album sounds so good. And while its follow-up ‘Superunknown’ would definitively propel the band into stardom, ‘Badmotorfinger’ still stands as the bands ultimate artistic statement. One on which rock, metal, punk and pop melt into one irresistible whole.

Recommended tracks: ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, ‘Rusty Cage’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’

Album of the Week 44-2015: Killing Joke – Pylon


London’s Killing Joke has somewhat of a unique position when it comes to expectations. You know you’re going to get something that is bleak and overwhelming, but the exact sound of their albums is often somewhat of a mystery until you actually hear it. ‘Pylon’ is surprising, because although it is a Killing Joke record through and through, it sounds so much more inspired and absorbing than ‘MMXII’, which came across as something of a rushed affair. It’s probably their most consistent effort since the original quartet reunited in 2008. An unsettling, but ultimately rewarding sonic adventure.

Geordie Walker’s guitar is the first thing that catches my attention; it sounds better than it has in a long time. The riffs sound razor sharp and precise, while the more soundscape-like work is spacious and vast. In addition, the way Paul Ferguson’s acoustic drum work mixes with the electronic rhythms is reminiscent of the band’s 1994 masterpiece ‘Pandemonium’ – not unlike the album cover – and Jaz Coleman appears to actually sing instead of yelling declamations of rebellion this time around. He’s still Britain’s prime prophet of disaster, but this change in vocal approach really fits the unimaginably bleak sound of the record.

While it was their semi-industrial Post Punk riffing that initially drew me toward Killing Joke, it’s increasingly been the songs that are something of a departure that are my favorites lately. Case in point: ‘Euphoria’. The heavy reverb on the guitars and the desolate atmosphere of the song suggest a strong New Wave and early Goth influence, turning the song into a beautifully ugly work of art, only rivaled by ‘New Jerusalem’, in which the swinging rhythms of Ferguson and the electronics make way for a storm of dark, grey clouds in the chorus. Ferguson’s drum work in the song is nothing short of exceptional.

Most of the other songs are typical Killing Joke affairs in which songs get their climaxes from building up layers of intensity rather than having loads of riffs around. In fact, some of the songs (‘Delete’ most prominently) hardly feature any changes in the riff department, they just grow wider when the chorus comes around. Youth’s sub-octave bass sound works wonders here. Also, the riffs on tracks like ‘War On Freedom’ and ‘Dawn Of The Hive’ are simply just really good. Closer ‘Into The Unknown’ adapts a somewhat more epic approach that works marvellously. Initially, I thought the song was a little too long, but every part makes perfect sense.

Reunions of original lineups are usually nostalgia-driven more than anything, but with ‘Pylon’, Killing Joke proves once again (‘Absolute Dissent’ was the first evidence) that the lineup of Coleman, Walker, Youth and Ferguson is really the only one that can fully capture the scarred, but unbowed spirit of Killing Joke. This rhythm section especially does miraculous things to the band’s loud, rude, but also danceable Post Punk sound. ‘Pylon’ perfectly measures up to the band’s classic sound, but open minded fans of Punk, Metal and darker Indie should definitely give this a chance.

Recommended tracks: ‘Euphoria’, ‘New Jerusalem’, ‘Into The Unknown’, ‘War On Freedom’

Album of the Week 10-2014: Warrior Soul – Salutations From The Ghetto Nation


While debut album ‘Last Decade Dead Century’ is generally considered the definitive album for New York’s Warrior Soul, I have personally always seen their third record ‘Salutations From The Ghetto Nation’ as the band’s crowning achievement. It’s on this release that the unlikely, but surprisingly successful combination of huge Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin inspired riffs, eighties Glam Metal sleaze, Post-Punk bleakness, Guns ‘n’ Roses-ish grooves, the primal energy of the Punk movement and Kory Clarke’s left-wing political lyrics works best.

In a way, this 1992 release sounds like a celebration of the decadence and excess of the preceding decade as much as a parody of it. The influence of the eighties LA scene is pretty apparent in the enormous riffs and the beefy production of the album, while Clarke’s lyrics leave no doubt that he wasn’t at all content with the Republican-led America of the era. Look no further than the harsh irony of ‘The Party’ for proof. Clarke’s vision and assertiveness is a big part of what makes ‘Salutations From The Ghetto Nation’ what it is; the fact that he has something to say makes for a lot of the aggression and effectiveness of the record.

Even though ‘Last Decade Dead Century’ had more – and better selling – singles than ‘Salutations From The Ghetto Nation’, the latter obviously has the better. Opening track ‘Love Destruction’, with its big riff, stomping rhythm and powerful build-up, is probably the best single the band has yet released, while the somewhat lighter ‘Shine Like It’ should have been the single that made them big, but I’m sure that the tensions between the band and Geffen Records significantly decreased their chances to make any commercial impact at the time. The quality of the material is undeniable though.

Many of these songs are supported by the power of John Ricco’s riffs. ‘Trip Rider’ has one that brings Black Sabbath’s ‘A National Acrobat’ to mind – not to mention a fantastic guitar solo – and ‘Blown’ has a fantastic midtempo headbanger to build upon. However, even when the band settles for a Rock ‘n’ Roll groove and slightly less heavily relies on the politics, it works. ‘Ass-Kickin’ is pretty self-explanatory in that matter, but the sheer Stooges-inspired Protopunk madness of the awesome ‘Punk And Belligerent’ – which reminded me strongly of The Stooges’ essential classic ‘Search And Destroy’ – probably makes for the album’s most powerful and brutally effective moment.

Following ‘Salutations From The Ghetto Nation’, the band’s ongoing conflicts with Geffen and the dissolution of the original band basically killed all of the momentum that the band had built up and because of that, this album is sadly sometimes unrightfully seen as the beginning of the end for the band. In reality, it’s their artistic peak and although I have tremendous respect for Clarke for soldiering on for so long, this is the album he might never be able to top anymore. Then again, some musicians would kill for something this good. Only friends of governments everywhere should stay clear of this. All Rock, Metal and Punk fans should find something of their liking here.

Recommended tracks: ‘Punk And Belligerent’, ‘Shine Like It’, ‘Love Destruction’