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All reviews - Music (12)

Stillborn - Necrospirituals (1989)

Posted : 6 months, 3 weeks ago on 31 December 2023 10:44 (A review of Necrospirituals)

Stillborn was conceived in Gothenburg, Sweden around 1984 when vocalist/bassist Kari Hokkanen, drummer Petter Bryneson and guitarist Ingemar Scott Henning got together. Initially, the group performed under the moniker of "Cranium", but then at some point opted to exchange it for "Stillborn". The line-up was later expanded when they met another guitarist named Erik Sandquist (supposedly at a concert of the German Industrial act, Einstürzende Neubaten). In 1985, the quartet recorded a limited-edition demo strangely entitled, Tounge The Thong (which I have yet to listen to in its entirety, as it seems to be very difficult to find). Soon after that, Petter departed from the group and Peter Asp was recruited as the new drummer. After securing a deal with Radium 226.05, the recording process for the first album, Necrospirituals, finally got underway in 1988, and was released a year later. On their debut, Stillborn gathers influence from Goth Rock, Doom Metal, Hard Rock and even a little of Psychobilly. This Swedish foursome had a very distinct style, not really sounding much like any other Metal act of the current time. However, references could be made towards Black Sabbath (the classic Ozzy Osbourne era to be precise), The Sisters Of Mercy, Danzig and maybe even Christian Death (also, New York's Type O Negative, although in 1989 they didn't really exist. At the time, they had already formed as Repulsion, but they did not have any official recordings out, so I would probably not count them yet). Interestingly enough, Country music singer Lee Hazlewood was an inspiration too (according to some of the members). To me, Stillborn have always been one of the "unsung progenitors" of Gothic Metal who were there at the very beginning. Unfortunately, they are rarely ever mentioned by any publications or almost anyone in general (not even on the internet, it seems). I believe some of the music present on Necrospirituals was definitely ahead of its time and may have actually been part of the foundation which later Gothic Metal groups built on. When this album saw the light of day, there really wasn't (m)any other groups meshing Goth Rock with Doom Metal (at least, not any whose existence I'm aware of. There might be a select few others who like Stillborn have been buried by time and obscurity though). In an interview I managed to dig up, the members of Stillborn stated that while they were indeed influenced by the whole Post-Punk and Goth Rock scenes of the 1980s, they personally thought that most groups belonging to it were kind of "boring", so they decided to add the ingredients of "heaviness" and "disturbing" lyrical content to their own music, in the process helping to unintentionally develop a whole new style of Metal (only that back then there was no term to label their music with). 

For those that may not know, the first "official" Gothic Metal groups arrived years later in the early-to-mid 1990s with the likes of Type O Negative, Saviour Machine (which is another forgotten trailblazer of this sub-subgenre), Paradise Lost, Tiamat, Cemetary, Moonspell, Lake Of Tears, The Gathering, Theatre Of Tragedy, Tristania etc. What Stillborn did from 1985 to 1989 (play Doom Metal within a Goth Rock-inspired context, featuring a vocalist with a very deep bass/baritone voice) would be done to death years later in the 1990s by dozens of other newer groups trying to emulate the formula of Type O Negative (who were the first group to successfully popularize this style). So, for a band to have been playing a prototypical form of Gothic Metal back in the 1980s just seems like a unique and innovative idea to me, especially considering that at the time Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal and Glam Metal were the Metal styles that appeared to be the most widespread (but even in the burgeoning underground Doom Metal scene of this decade, I still can't think of another band whose style resembled that of Stillborn. Italy's Black Hole and Bellzlleb from Japan both also had a primeval "Gothic Doom" sound, but still were not very similar). One should keep in mind that isn't the modern kind of Gothic Metal that most people these days are accustomed to (you know, the kind that has feminine vocals and atmospheric keyboards galore. A couple of these elements are present here too at some time or another, but not in much abundance). Stillborn's brand of Gothic Metal tends to be more "stripped down", injected with a good, healthy dose of testosterone and mainly devoid of those "Victorian" elements that have since then been commonly associated with this style of Metal (whether that is a positive thing or not is all a matter of personal preference). Getting into the musical content present on Necrospirituals, the opening track, "Nuke 'Em All", reeks of gritty Southern Hard Rock (and some hard liquor as well). Plain and simple: It's really a swinging tune, one which would be right at home playing in some type of "roughneck" biker bar located somewhere in the deep south. The lyrics are somewhat comedic and satirical, as if these Swedes were making fun of a specific breed of Americans (allusions to the Ku Klux Klan, Budweiser beer, blue-collar workers and nuclear weapons are made here). From this, I can tell the members of Stillborn have a sense of humor and they probably don't take themselves too seriously. Also, I just can't help but want to shout along with Kari when he shouts, "NUKE 'EM ALL!!!". Turn this one up for your neighbors and let loose!

"God knows I'm a hard-working man
I eat Pittsburgh steel, shit Budweiser cans
I stand 6'5, weigh 249
I am a bad dream, baby, for the Ku Klux Klan
I am a man with a mission
A man with a call
A blue-collar ranger spitting thunderballs"

The sinister "Flesh For Iesus" ("Jesus" was probably the name intended, but there seems to have been a printing error with the title) is shades darker and loads heavier than its predecessor. Kari Hokkanen sounds all cold and emotionless here (and well, like some kind of morbid baritone-voiced vampire). During the chorus he malevolently snarls the cryptic, macabre lyrics, "IN THE YEAR OF THE HUNGRY WOLF. BRING US THE HEAD OF THE BOURGEOIS WHORE. HEADSMAN, HEADSMAN, FEED THE WOLF. BREED THE WOLF. JESUS PUT HIS TONGUE TO THE GORRREEE..." (whatever the hell that means). The nefarious guitars of Ingemar Henning and Erik Sandquist are also stained with Black Sabbath's influence. An unknown female vocalist makes a brief appearance halfway through, but it's mostly forgettable and a bit awkward or amateurish. While she doesn't necessarily ruin "Flesh For Iesus" or anything, her presence doesn't really add much substance to the composition. "Albino Flogged In Black" (which vaguely reminds me of Danzig's "She Rides") slowly comes in next with droning chime-like keyboards that are supplemented by churning guitars and Kari's deep, sultry vocals. The lascivious nature of the lyrics combined with the overall sensual tone of the music make this feel like a near-perfect song to have sexual relations to (preferably some time after midnight, ha ha). In the 1990s and 2000s, Paradise Lost, Entombed and Medicine Rain all went on to record their own covers of "Albino Flogged In Black", although none of those versions ever truly surpassed the original by Stillborn. The mood shifts from erotic to haunting on "I, The Stillborn". This might just be the greatest track found on Necrospirituals. It's also the one that is the most Gothic Metal in essence (this is what happens when Black Sabbath and Sisters Of Mercy get intermingled). Everything present here is enjoyable for me - From the brooding, nocturnal atmosphere to the gloomy, fuzz-drenched guitar riffs to the lyrics that remind me of some occult Horror film. Also not to forget Kari's gravelly, moribund voice which is certainly an important aspect of this album (without it, things wouldn't quite be the same). The majority of the time when I hear his voice, I just can't help but wonder if Peter Steele and Type O Negative were aware of Kari and Stillborn's existence (or not), as there are several striking similarities between the two groups. "Calvaria 1939" is rather repetitive with simple buzzsaw guitars, but this is a case of "good repetition" (also steers towards the same "Sabbath-meets-Sisters" approach, which at this time was pretty unique). Certainly another personal favorite of mine. The lyricism here evokes some interesting, vivid imagery in my mind as I can picture Death (or a zombie of sorts) riding on a shadowy, demonic stallion as it makes some type of unholy journey across a barren, arctic desert.

"Can you hear the hoofs?
'Cause I am the black night
Riding on a dead horse
Storming 'cross the "Old Ice"
Can you hear them call?
You got to hear them call
Behind those white hills
And I know I'm almost there"

"Streetsatan" can be thought of as the black sheep of Necrospirituals. While the majority of the tracks on this album are either of the prototypical Gothic Metal, Doom Metal or Hard Rock genus, "Streetsatan" traverses into Psychobilly territory! For this reason, some may feel it doesn't properly belong here. Admittedly, it does sound slightly out of place, but I don't mind it. On this energetic cut about motorcycles and leather-clad outlaws, Stillborn comes across like a darker, heavier version of Social Distortion. A session member named Rune Johansson is brought in to play a wild harmonica, which further gives "Streetsatan" that whole Rockabilly/Psychobilly vibe. The sonic debauchery resumes with "Raising Fits Cain", a raunchy Hard Rock anthem that is contagious as hell (that chorus was meant for singing along to while drunk!). Call it "cheesy", "corny", "creamy" or any other silly food-related adjectives you may want to use, but guess what? I still dig it. Now that I think of it, "Raising Fits Cain" would surely not be out of place playing at some sleazy strip joint. "Angelynx" begins with ominous Black Sabbath guitar chords and some eerie keys (courtesy of session member, Niklas Sundling) before going through a pastoral Folk-styled passage of springing acoustic strings. Around the 1:30 minute mark Stillborn finally gets the momentum going with some driving, ballsy guitar riffs. A rad way to go out. Well, I imagine that most individuals who get the opportunity to listen to Necrospirituals will either not care much for it or just criticize it as an insignificant and inconsistent record (one that should be left in the underground vault to rot). The ones who will get the most out of this trailblazing, proto-Gothic Metal record will probably be those who know how to genuinely appreciate and enjoy all forms of Goth music. Unfortunately, the classic line-up of Stillborn disintegrated shortly after the release of this album, and they would not be entirely the same as the group went into a slightly different (also more generic) Thrash Metal direction later on. Fortunately, in 2017 all the original members that performed on the 1989 debut reunited again after nearly three decades and recorded a new album titled Nocturnals. Enthusiasts of Necrospirituals should also go and check that out if possible, not to forget the Yesterdays Blood single that was remastered and released in 2003 (this includes the title track which was taken directly from the aforementioned 1985 Tounge The Thong demo and "Son Of Sodom", another rare track from a 1987 demo tape. These two killer tracks only further prove that Stillborn was indeed, at the forefront of the whole Gothic Metal scene).

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Bárbara - Holy! Holy! (1985)

Posted : 6 months, 3 weeks ago on 31 December 2023 10:18 (A review of Holy! Holy!)

Bárbara was an obscure girl group from Japan that formed somewhere in the 1980s. The amount of information that can be found on them is very limited, but research indicated that the early members were Yuki (vocals), Kotome (guitar), Keiko (bass), Chisa (percussion) and Midori (piano and keyboards). Bárbara's existence was also extremely short-lived, so only a couple of EPs were ever made. Holy! Holy! is the first one and was recorded at Studio Dig in Tokyo on July 10, 1985 (released on a label known as City Rocker Records, which also sponsored other underground Japanese Goth Rock/Deathrock acts of the time such as Madame Edwarda, Phaidia and Mannequin Neurose). I think this is one of those releases where the front cover artwork can be a tad misleading (if you were to solely judge from appearance). One's first impression of Bárbara might be that they were some kind of Synth-Pop/Dance group from the distant past. The music presented here doesn't really have much Pop-like elements. Bárbara has a musical style that is a little bit difficult to accurately pin down, but to me it sounds like a freaky, experimental mixture of Post-Punk, Deathrock, No Wave and Noise Rock (if you were to combine The Birthday Party with a little bit of Diamanda Galás and DNA, maybe even 45 Grave, you might get a vague idea). This 1985 EP contains three tracks that total in under ten minutes (as a result, it receives lots of replays from me. I sometimes listen to Holy! Holy! three, four, even five consecutive times in a row). One other little, interesting detail to note is that the producer behind this recording was Momoyo, a former member of the 1970s Proto-Punk band, Benitokage (which later transformed itself into the New Wave band called Lizard). Although a bit "hollow" in sound, the production here is actually not too abysmal (not nearly as "lo-fi" as one would first expect). 

Side A initiates with "Holy! Holy!", a playful little tune that stirs up quite a commotion (throughout certain times, it also tends to have some semblance to The Birthday Party's 1981 single of "Release The Bats"). The crazy, zany front-woman Yuki does a variety of sounds with her voice including sensually moaning, screaming and yelping. Lyrically, there's not much going on here (she just repeats the seemingly nonsensical, humorous lyrics "check, check, check me now! Eyes, eyes holy! Down! Check! Check! Check! Holy down!"). Kotome's guitar playing mostly dwells on discordance, with not much resembling riffs or melodies. The only thing bringing a slight sense of melody is the piano of Midori. The rhythm section actually has this swinging flair to it, due to Chisa's tapping drum-work and Keiko's groovy bass guitar. Overall, "Holy! Holy!" isn't anywhere near to being one of the most catchy or memorable songs most will ever hear, and there exists a huge possibility that it will annoy some with its over-the-top quirkiness, but I still personally think it's cool and entertaining. Proceeding is the carnival-esque "A Beast In Your Head". What makes this track especially interesting for me is Yuki's schizophrenic vocal performance. How she frequently transitions from operatic wailing to ghoulish, witch-crazed shrieks and maniacal growls is something to behold. A fantastic song that borders on psychosis and theatricality.

On Side B the listener comes across the mysterious and entrancing "From Here To Eternity". This happens to be the most atmospheric track on this EP and it brings to mind early Jarboe-era S W A N S (the Greed and Holy Money albums in particular). Ominous piano keys pounce on in a hypnotic pattern while cavernous percussion beats on and on (I like the spacious echoes the drums give off). The distorted, disembodied Lisa Gerrard-styled chanting further adds to the unsettling mood. Somewhere around the one minute and thirty second mark, the music dies down for awhile, which enables for a brief, solitary piano solo from Midori. Not too long after, it resumes in the same repetitive fashion, anxiously leading up to an intense, dizzying crescendo. In summary, Bárbara's debut EP from 1985, Holy! Holy!, definitely provides for an interesting listen, even if it won't be everyone's cup of tea. Still recommended to adventurous individuals with a fondness for the more unorthodox side of music. One last note: Finding this recording in a physical format isn't easy, so I feel that it desperately needs to be reissued on vinyl/CD! (Yeah, that is most likely not going to happen anytime soon. Hopefully, one day it does though). Until then, I guess a digital version of this EP will suffice.

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Paul Chain - Detaching From Satan (1984)

Posted : 7 months, 4 weeks ago on 28 November 2023 06:54 (A review of Detaching From Satan)

In 1984, Paul Chain officially splintered off from the rest of Death SS and went on to pursue a solo career under the name of "Violet Theatre" (in reality, he basically just abandoned the "Death SS" moniker, as for a period of time he still continued collaborating with all of his former bandmates, which included bassist Claud Galley, percussionist Thomas Hand Chaste and weirdo vocalist Sanctis Ghoram). Becoming a soloist wasn't an entirely brand new experience for Paul though, seeing as how back in 1979 (while simultaneously a member of DSS) he had already formed the Paul Chain Group to serve as a type of creative outlet for his own improvisational music (although I think it was a relatively short-lived affair). Paul Dark and Eric Lumen were eventually hired to assist as the new bassist and drummer of Violet Theatre. Later that same year, the debut EP appropriately titled Detaching From Satan (an allusion to his departure from the Italian Horror Metal act and its occult/satanic imagery) was released through Minotauro records, and thus a new chapter was unveiled in Paul Chain's career as a musical artist. The material on this cult 23-minute Doom Metal offering turned out to be more experimental than all of the previous recordings that Paul had made with Death SS. However, that doesn't mean that the metallic (and even "gothic") elements of his former outfit have been entirely disposed of - They have now just been intertwined with psychedelic and experimental ones. The result was some of Paul's most creative and artistic songwriting at the present time (one can clearly tell that he wasn't content with merely being just another Black Sabbath clone). Despite the advancement in the songwriting and musicianship departments, the lo-fi production on Detaching From Satan isn't necessarily the most optimal though (but nonetheless still very much listenable).

Paul co-wrote the first track, "Occultism", with Maurice Cucchiarani, the vocalist of Italian Metal band, Run After To (a slightly modified version of it was later recorded on the 1985 demo, Ginn And Djinn). "Occultism" initiates with an eerie prelude reminiscent of one of those Italian Horror film soundtracks composed by Goblin. For about 90+ seconds, an organ mysteriously drones on while an assortment of metallic scrapes and other dissonant, unsettling SFX occur in the background. Aspects of this intro have a subtle Krautrock-ish vibe, and it wouldn't be too farfetched to believe that it might've been partially influenced by "Yeti" (the 18-minute improvisational track from German group, Amon Düül II). Once the actual song gets underway, the mood changes from ominous to a little bit more upbeat as we are met with a swampy groove. This part sounds like a concoction of 1970s Hard Rock such as Led Zeppelin (the beat sounds like it could have been devised by John Bonham himself), the Heavy Metal/proto-Doom Metal of Black Sabbath and the strand of Psychedelic Rock made by groups such as Amon Düül II and Flower Travellin' Band. A breathtakingly gorgeous choral segment (an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach's Wer Nur Den Lieben Gott Lässt Walten?) that appears to have been taken from an old, scratchy vinyl record introduces "Armageddon" before the song transforms into a potent NWOBHM-infused rocker. All the guitar solos here are fiery and raucous. One thing that can definitely take some time getting accustomed to at first though is Paul Chain's quirky, androgynous vocal performance and all the high-pitched, nasally wailing he occasionally does (in the process oftentimes sounding here like a mishmash of Robert Plant and Akira "Joe" Yamanaka. His voice is also quite similar to that of Pagan Altar's Terry Jones). Unfortunately for some listeners, these vocals will most likely prove to be a huge obstacle. 

Paul has also become well-known for his usage of "phonetic language", which can be heard throughout Detaching From Satan, including the nefarious "Voyage To Hell", where he unintelligibly snarls a whole lot of gibberish like a possessed priest who's gone insane and taken shelter deep inside the catacombs of Rome (and if he's actually singing in the English language, then that still makes no difference, as I cannot understand a single word coming out of this man's mouth). The mysterious Gila (AKA Sante Scardavi) steps out of the shadows and graces us with his vampiric, baritone croons on the final composition, "17 Day", which rarely ever fails to send chills down my spine (or give me goosebumps). Funereal and tenebrous, "17 Day" expresses itself with heavy, dirge-like riffs devoid of any light or color, as well as deliciously creepy organ that one would expect to hear featured in a grainy, black & white Horror film from the vintage era. In a number of ways, this special composition can actually be viewed as a precursor to all the Gothic Doom Metal that would come out a decade later in the 1990s (impressive!). Specific reissues of Detaching From Satan include "Pentagon Society" and "Vivid Eyes In The Dark" as bonus tracks (both were recorded in 1984 as well). These just happen to be self-indulgent, gargantuan Space Rock jams (à la Hawkwind) that clock in around 30 and 18 minutes each. For me, time usually just flies by when listening to them, but they might be too much for those who have the attention span of a moth. Getting into Paul Chain's music can be quite a challenge, but this 1984 EP is probably the best place for newcomers to start (well, either that or 1995's Alkahest, which appears to be the album of his that always receives the most accolades). Anyone who actually dares to delve deep into this man's prolific and eccentric discography should keep in mind that it will, more likely than not, require some amount of time for his music to properly sink in.

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S W A N S - Young God (1984)

Posted : 8 months ago on 26 November 2023 06:33 (A review of Young God)

Young God (also known as Raping A Slave) was originally released in 1984 as an untitled EP shortly after S W A N S' sophomore record of Cop. The New York group's abstract, abrasive and abhorrent style of Industrialized Noise Rock resumes in continuation on this twenty-four minute EP. Michael Gira's obsession towards the concepts of power and control are also revisited here once more. According to research, the opening track, "I Crawled", was inspired by several things including Wilhelm Reich's novel, The Mass Psychology Of Fascism, former U.S. president Ronald Reagan's presidency and the unfulfilling work history of Gira's early life (he has stated in past interviews that before he founded S W A N S, he worked in factories and construction doing back-breaking labor that never really amounted to much). The servile character in the composition pleads to an authoritative figure to be violated, strangled and ultimately terminated (take the following line for example: "You're my father - I obey you. I want you to be my father. You know what I am - I want you to kill me. I'm weak - Take what's mine"). "I Crawled" has a very suspenseful atmosphere (replete with all sorts of nightmarish soundscapes) which engulfs the listener. Time appears to stand frozen as its movement is quite stagnant. Might sound a bit odd, but this track vaguely reminds me of "Black Sabbath" (particularly the guitar notes). "Raping A Slave" proceeds with the concept of servitude and domination. Clashing noise (which is reported to have been made by the use of a chain and metal table) permeates the hollow environment, appearing at specific intervals along with a rhythmic beat. Guitar and bass are nearly inaudible here, as they are suffocated by the clashes and low-fidelity, echo-like production (which really makes "Raping A Slave" sound as if it was recorded during a live performance or something. It abruptly cuts off at the end as well).

"Why be ashamed of hatred?
There's nothing wrong with burning
I work hard for everything I own
Everything I own chokes me when I sleep"

On the demented, torturous and lethargic title track of Young God, S W A N S dive into the psychotic mind of Ed Gein. For those that aren't aware, Ed was a mentally-deranged individual from the 1950s who crafted objects out of the flesh and skeletons of corpses he exhumed from graveyards (he wasn't truly a serial killer, as only two murders are confirmed to have been committed by him). The tremulous guitar chords tear like a lacerating whip that strikes you in the back. Gira moans, wails, screams and growls like a possessed lunatic that remains enslaved against his will in a psychiatric asylum. For 1984, this sounds sinister as hell (not many groups from this era came very close to producing something as menacing as this). While I don't know exactly what it's about, I get a sense of misery, hatred and despair on "This Is Mine". Here, the distorted, groaning guitars kind of resemble those utilized by Doom Metal groups such as Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Trouble (not that S W A N S themselves were ever Metal, of course. Just a similarity I've noticed with the guitar tone). Convulsive drumming and tape loops of grinding, mechanical noise also taint the song. Compared to the maniacal "Young God", Gira sings in a frail, dejected tone of voice here, claiming ownership of what seems to be some kind of emotional burden. S W A N S' sophomore EP is a modest but praiseworthy effort, although fanatics of their later, softer and more "refined" material will most likely not appreciate it as much (for hardened listeners, Young God should be quite a treat though). This 1984 release would also designate the end of S W A N S' early era of notorious Noise Rock, as they shifted gears right after this, further exploring Industrial territory (as well as Goth Rock and Folk).

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Fang - Landshark! (1983)

Posted : 8 months ago on 25 November 2023 06:17 (A review of Landshark!)

Arising straight out of Berkeley, California in 1980, Fang originally began life as a partnership between guitarist Tom Flynn and drummer Brian Beattie (both of whom were previously members of an early Punk Rock band from Connecticut briefly known as Tapeworm). The two went on to produce a minimalistic Post-Punk 7" single by the name of Enjoy The View / Yukon just the following year in 1981, although Beattie soon wound up abandoning the project (eventually becoming a member of Glass Eye, a female-led Indie Rock band from Austin, Texas). Shortly after that commenced the revolving door of band members with Sam "Sammytown" McBride (vocals), Chris Wilson (bass) and Joel Fox (drums) all being aggregated to the lineup around early 1982. Recorded in October but released 4 months later on February 1983 through Boner Records (Flynn's own independent record label), Landshark! was the first EP/mini-album (whatever you want to refer to it as) that this Berkeley band put to wax. Fang took on a slightly different approach when it came to Punk/Hardcore. Whereas a good chunk of the bands at the present time played with nothing but unadulterated vigor and aggression, Fang injected a dose of despondency into their music. They also weren't shy in slowing things a pinch down, even opting to utilize sludgier, more dissonant guitars than the majority of their peers did (barring maybe Discharge, The Skitslickers and Flipper). In the bitter end, this seminal slab of Sludgecore Punk was birthed into the cold, decadent world. 

Clocking in at just 16 minutes, Landshark! contains 8 tracks. Fang starts things off with "The Money Will Roll Right In". Not only does this tune boast some cool guitar riffs, but the lyrics are also pretty damn hilarious (they often make me giggle). Sam McBride's deadpan vocal delivery will not be everyone's cup of tea, but there's an odd charm to it. "Law & Order" frequently incorporates guitar squeals and whines derived from Noise Rock, although the song is still anchored by the doom-y, buzzing guitar chords. Overall, this one is much darker and depressive, speaking of a cry for help in a "mechanical world". It feels even creepier when a particular line ("They called me a murderer, they called me a junkie, they said I did not belong in this world of law") brings to mind what happened to Sam seven years later in 1989 when allegedly under the influence of acid/narcotics he became excessively violent and ended up strangling his then-girlfriend to death (this tragic incident resulted in his imprisonment until he was released in 1995). "Diary Of A Mad Werrwöulf" has various churning riffs that get stained in your brain (in other words, they're quite infectious). Amusingly enough, it also features Sam howling like a wolf. The morbidly suicidal "An Invitation" is another highlight for me. Occasionally, Fang breaks out of their drug-induced stupor, in the process becoming swifter and mordacious, as evidenced on "Landshark", "Destroy The Handicapped", "Drunk & Crazy" (a Bobby Bare cover that lacks any resemblance to the original) and "Skinheads Smoke Dope". Ultimately, Landshark! might be a bit rough around the edges, but it still makes for a reasonably entertaining listen.

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Circle X - Circle X (1979)

Posted : 8 months, 3 weeks ago on 30 October 2023 05:30 (A review of Circle X)

Tony Pinotti (vocals), Bruce Witsiepe (guitar) and siblings Rik and David Letendre (both guitar/drums. There are no bass players here!) from Louisville, Kentucky formed Circle X sometime in 1978. This was actually the union of the members of two different bands from the same region, as Tony and Bruce had previously been in some Punk Rock band named No Fun while the Letendre brothers had been in I-Holes. The quartet would soon relocate to New York, and upon their arrival, are said to have been inspired by the nascent "No Wave" scene that was unfurling there. Just a year later in 1979, Circle X decided to take a trip overseas to France. During their limited stay in Dijon, they toured the place (with the aid of their manager, Bernard Zekri) and also recorded the first EP. It should be noted that in the early years, the band actually went under no name, but eventually came to be known as "Circle X", due to the spray painted symbol that's sprawled across the charcoaled cover of this EP (which was originally untitled as well. Yep, these guys didn't seem to care if they were deemed as "unmarketable"!).  

Consisting of four tracks and a time span of eleven minutes, this EP is an interesting rarity, and was pretty abrasive for 1979 (despite that there were a couple other bands who were doing a similar thing around this time period). It also quickly becomes apparent that Circle X was a precursor to a number of the Noise Rock bands that came out in the 1980s. Take "Onward Christian Soldiers" for example: This is the track that stands out the most from the four (and the one that I like best). It's a nefarious dirge that's bogged down in sludge and peppered with a decent dose of noise (also featuring agonized snarls). Really almost sounds as if it could've been written and recorded by none other than SWANS..... except that at this point in time Michael Gira hadn't even founded the group yet! So I can see how Circle X might've potentially influenced them (and various others), especially the material from the harsh Cop/Young God era (although in all of the Gira/SWANS interviews that I've uncovered, not once have I ever seen Circle X being mentioned as an influence of his/theirs).

The other three tracks, while not necessarily as jarring as "Onward Christian Soldiers", still do a reasonable job of satiating one's hunger for some screechy, unhinged No Wave/Noise Rock. "Albeit Living" takes the spot for my second favorite tune with its psychotic energy and "Tender" is a mid-paced, scathing opener. "Underworld" isn't as remarkable, but it still appeals to me in some ways (I particularly find it amusing how Tony sounds like he's getting pelted with a barrage of dodgeballs by his band mates). Wrapping things up, Circle X's self-titled/untitled EP was ahead of the curve and is still awesome to this day. I'd strongly suggest this to anyone who can wolf down stuff like (early) SWANS, Big Black, Flipper and No Trend without having much trouble.

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She'z - 낮과밤 (2012)

Posted : 8 months, 4 weeks ago on 28 October 2023 05:41 (A review of 낮과밤)

She'z is a forgotten Pop group that emerged from South Korea around the early 2010s. The members included Lee Jin Ah (the leader and eldest member, born on October 10, 1989), Lee Tae Yon (born on March 17, 1990), Kim Sae Yeon (born on June 11, 1991) and Kim Ji Young (the "maknae", or youngest member of the group, born on May 24, 1993). She'z had the privilege of being the very first idol group to be produced by Line Entertainment. Initially, this agency exclusively served as a platform for MCs and comedians alike, but around 2012 it decided to expand into the music industry. All of the girls of She'z are reported to have "majored in vocal performance at renowned arts institutions". According to Soompi (a website that focuses on Korean Pop culture), Line Entertainment promoted the group by stating that all of its four members had the ability "to sing and perform at the level of the lead vocalist in any other idol groups", which supposedly also gave She'z an edge to "experiment with several different musical genres". She'z made their official debut on May 18, 2012 with the first single, She'z Holic, featuring "내맘대로 (My Way)". However, it should be noted that even before this they had already appeared on the 2011 soundtrack of a Korean television drama series known as Scent Of A Woman contributing the song, "Better Tomorrow".

Nearly a month later in June, the quartet released 낮과밤 (Day & Night). This modest thirteen-minute recording includes two original songs and their respective instrumental versions. Professionally produced and boasting a top-notch, pristine sound, the 낮과밤 EP has a sleek design and comes with beautiful packaging as well, featuring a large booklet that is stocked with high-quality, color photographs and of course, the lyrics (although they are really of not much benefit if you can't already speak or read the Korean language). I'm really grateful that I purchased a brand-new, sealed physical copy of this EP when I did, as it now seems to be out-of-stock everywhere I've checked (I got it for under $5 too, not counting the shipping and handling fees). As far as the music of She'z goes, I imagine that it will most likely not turn too many heads, but I personally think that it's pretty enjoyable and consistent for K-Pop. On the lead track, "내맘대로", She'z flaunt their rebellious "bad girl" attitude. This terpsichorean Electropop tune struts around with a whole lot of glamour and charisma (it also has some subtle Rock stylings). Tae Yon, Jin Ah, Sae Yon and Ji Young all give a sensational vocal performance here.

"낮과밤", a lovely R&B ballad that's as soft and smooth like velvet, showcases the more emotional side of She'z. Judging by the translation, this song appears to speak of the desperate yearning for the return of that special person who has departed from one's life (as well as the feelings of hollowness and fragility that ensue when going through an experience such as this). Presented are some catchy beats, mellow acoustics and even a violin (along with light touches of piano). The four girls sing this one with more soul. The next two tracks are the obligatory instrumental versions of both "내맘대로" and "낮과밤". They may feel a tad lonesome due to the absence of all the girls' voices, but I still find them pleasant to listen to (and don't ever skip these instrumentals). While She'z had a lot of potential to be a successful K-Pop group, their existence would prove to be on very limited time. They just never got the chance to record a full-length album and have also been inactive since 2014 with no official statement as to what their status as a group is. That's kind of unfortunate, but looking on the bright side, at least She'z managed to make this EP and some other decent singles.

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Kalafina - Seventh Heaven (2009)

Posted : 9 months ago on 25 October 2023 05:06 (A review of Seventh Heaven)

Japanese composer Yuki Kajiura founded the wonderful music group Kalafina in 2007 when she recruited Keiko Kubota and Wakana Otaki (both previously from another project called FictionJunction) to perform the theme songs for the Animé adaptation series of a novel called Kara No Kyoukai (translated in English as The Garden Of Sinners). One might wonder what the group's name, "Kalafina", signifies but Yuki has stated in interviews that there is no actual meaning behind it. According to her, it is simply a self-invented term derived from "the image of the music". Anyway, it was in January of 2008 Kalafina when released their first single, Oblivious. The lead track became an instant hit in Japan as it made its way into the top 10 rankings (position #8 to be exact) of the Oricon music charts. A short EP titled Re/Oblivious (which contained remixes of the aforementioned single and other newer material) was released three months later in April. Sony Music Entertainment and the composer then decided to hold an auditioning contest in an effort to discover more potential talent for Kalafina. Among the thirty thousand participants, the ones selected to join the group were Hikaru Masai and Maya Toyoshima. The Sprinter / Aria single was recorded around July with these two new members. However, Maya soon dropped out of the group for reasons not really clarified (some rumors speculate that it was because she was forced by her parents to stay in school and finish her education). The group then went from being a foursome to a trio. In December of the same year, Kalafina put out the Fairytale single. According to Yuki, it took quite awhile to produce the first, full-length studio album, but Seventh Heaven was finally released in March 2009 (alongside the single of Lacrimosa). At sixty-six minutes in length with fourteen tracks, this album is a dazzling, eclectic fusion of genres and styles (a sonic melting pot, if you will). 

Kalafina graciously blends J-Pop with Classical, Electronic, Rock and Folk music. All of this diversity helps to keep Seventh Heaven fresh and exciting. The three charismatic singers are also integral to the music. The eldest member, Keiko Kutoba, sings alto and has a low, sultry voice that doesn't seem to be very common for J-Pop. Wakana Otaki sings soprano. Her voice is a beautiful and soulful one (Wakana certainly has one of the best voices that I've heard from Japan). Hikaru Masai sings mezzo-soprano and is the youngest of the three. She is the one who has the highest-pitched, most saccharine voice (which is actually similar to that of Yuuka Nanri, Kaori Mochida and especially Shizuka Kudo). Even though Maya Toyoshima doesn't appear much on this album, she should probably still be mentioned. Her voice is lovely as well, and it's a shame she couldn't stick around. Yuki Kajiura may be the one who controls the direction of the music, but no vocalist here is limited or constricted to particular roles: Keiko, Wakana and Hikaru all take turns singing leads and choruses on the compositions. The three members have stated that there is always a "good tension" and a "mixture feeling of fun and nervousness" when working with the composer. Concerning the production of Seventh Heaven, it's crystal-clear and pristine (just the way it should be on albums such as this). As for the lyrics, they are primarily written and sung in Kalafina's native language of Japanese, with some minimal, occasional lines sung in English (also "Kajiurago", which supposedly are words and phrases that have no meaning, just made up by Yuki herself). While I currently do not understand Japanese, I don't feel as if I really need to, as I have always believed that music has the amazing ability to transcend language barriers. Even if one cannot understand what is being sung, the passion, emotion and melody of the compositions can still be felt and cherished (but I must say that I was fortunate enough to discover some English translations of the songs. If those translations were accurate, and I believe they were, then the lyrics are quite poetic and interesting).

Seventh Heaven begins with "Overture", an ethereal prelude that features harpsichord, disembodied female vocalizations and subtly mesmerizing soundscapes (which conjure thoughts of being by an ocean on a lonesome night, gazing at the bright stars or moon while listening to the waves as they gently collide against the damp shore). This may only be an introduction to the album, but it is just so beautiful and pleasant (yet somber and haunting also). The dramatic Techno-fashioned single, "Oblivious", became Kalafina's first hit when it was released back in early 2008 (as previously mentioned). It is not difficult to understand why. The pulsing beats, electric guitar, nocturnal atmosphere and Wakana Otaki's sorrowful, soulful voice are what makes "Oblivious" such a fabulous song. This is also known as the theme from Kara No Kyoukai: Fukan Fukei. According to Yuki, all of the themes on this album are inspired from the original novel, so there is definitely a story behind each one. However, you do not really need to be familiar with this novel or the Animé in order to enjoy the music, as it is truly able to stand alone all by itself. "Love Come Down" has a closer affinity to Eurobeat music. The kaleidoscopic synthesizers and the gratuitous amount of BPM give it a charismatic and highly danceable quality. Upon the beginning, "Love Come Down" sounds like a generic, fruity Pop tune (one that at times reminds me of cherries and strawberries or pink, red and purple colors, for some reason. Perhaps it's my synesthesia acting up?), but that changes when the Middle Eastern-tinged harmonies flourish. As a result, it develops into something much more "exotic" (a concise but intense guitar solo is also featured). A picturesque image of a lush, peaceful forest (or some other oasis that one retreats to when the hustle and bustle of life in the city becomes too exhausting) comes to mind whenever I listen to "Natsu No Ringo (Summer Apples)". The musical harvest it brings in is indulging. Tropical music elements such as the congo-styled polyrhythmic percussion are featured. Folk influences are notable as well with the serene flute and acoustic guitar. Just a lovely Folk Pop song perfect for a bright spring day or tranquil, summer night. 

Yuki has stated before that with Kalafina's music she puts a lot of focus in expressing the "world-view" of the songs. In other words, there is always a picture in her head for each song, and she attempts to reflect that image unto her music. I believe she succeeds, as most of the music on Seventh Heaven tends to stimulate my imagination quite a bit. On the dreamy, crystalline ballad of "Fairytale" [Theme from Kara No Kyoukai: Boukyaku Rokuon], Kalafina leads us to a realm where the atmosphere is magical yet mournful. Thoughts of Christmas or a "Winter Wonderland" seem to be common occurrences of mine when listening to it. This may be attributed to the ambience/sound effects of tinkling bells and glittering chimes, as well as the xylophon-esque keys (the music video for this song features some grandfather clocks, so it most likely has to do with the matter of time). Wakana and Keiko both perform the vocals here. "Aria" [Theme from Kara No Kyoukai: Garan No Dou] was the very first track that was recorded with Hikaru Masai (according to her, this experience made her very nervous, being the shy person that she is). While it might sound a little bit familiar to "Fairytale" at first, it is quite different. "Aria" commences as a futuristic, lullaby-style ballad featuring the sweet, youthful voice of Hikaru. Around the two-minute mark, it becomes invigorated with a passage of tribalistic percussion and funky bass grooves. "Mata Kaze Ga Tsuyoku Natta (The Wind Became Strong Again)" receives the accolade of being the hardest track on Seventh Heaven. This is an explosive rocker that flirts with Symphonic Metal (it has a "metallic" edge, although vague). The buzzsaw guitar is aggressive and the drums pounce on and on throughout its duration. The semi-operatic chorus here happens to be one of the most memorable parts.

Early in her adolescence, Yuki was exposed to Classical music by her parents. Since an early age, she has also played the piano. "Kizuato (Scar)" [Theme from Kara No Kyoukai: Tsukaku Zanryu], a sophisticated composition featuring elegant piano, fanciful violins and cello (as well as an endearing duet between Wakana and Keiko Kubota), serves as a reflection of this. Arabian music influences and a sitar are utilized on the exotic and worldly "Serenato". Wakana once stated that it took a long time to properly record this track as she got very emotionally connected to it on account of the lyrical content. While "Serenato" is surely satisfactory, it might still just be one of the weaker tracks on Seventh Heaven. "Ongaku (Music)" is the personal favorite of Keiko, and it sounds a lot like EDM or light Industrial Rock. Some elements like the hyperactive drum machine and the electric guitar do happen to remind me of Electro-Industrial groups like KMFDM. I could imagine hearing this energetic track playing at some nightclub in Tokyo (it might also be suitable for listening to while driving through a neon sign-laced city at night). Another highlight is the melodic guitar solo present in the middle, which almost sounds like it was stripped from a Queensrÿche album (specifically Operation: Mindcrime or Empire. That may seem like a strange comparison, but I feel it applies here). "Ashita No Keshiki (The Scenery Of Tomorrow)" possesses a bright, majestic aura of enchantment, coupled with acoustic strumming, marching band-style drum snares and flute. "Sprinter" [Theme from Kara No Kyoukai: Mujun Rasen] is a breathtaking Alternative Rock song, one that harnesses together both elegance and power. The vocal arrangements are impressive and well-coordinated, with Hikaru, Maya, Wakana and Keiko all singing in mellifluous harmony. This was actually one of the few songs to feature Maya (the fourth original member). Overall, "Sprinter" is an absolute personal favorite of mine, and I would rank it as one of the greatest tracks on Seventh Heaven.

The ballad, "Kimi Ga Hikari Ni Kaete Iku (You Change It Into Light)" [Theme from Kara No Kyoukai: Satsujin Kosatsu], comes across as heartfelt and lachrymose. One complaint that some might make towards this album is that it has too many ballads. While it does have about four to five ballads, I personally don't view this as a problem since Yuki composes some tremendous ballads and Kalafina usually always does spectacular work in singing them. "Seventh Heaven" [Theme from Kara No Kyoukai: Satsujin Kosatsu Part 2] descends next along with its celestial pulchritude. Keiko, Hikaru and Wakana all give an outstanding performance on this last composition. Their angelic vocalizations and the sorrowful melodies of the orchestral instruments (harpsichord, piano, violin and cello) are genuinely touching. By the time that "Seventh Heaven" finishes it occasionally leaves me feeling a bit saddened, as it tends to remind me that even the most beautiful things in this existence must come to an end. Wrapping things up, Pop music hadn't generally ever been of too much interest to me in the past, but Kalafina definitely managed to win my affection. This group also encouraged me to open my mind up more to this genre and to further explore it (and for that, I am grateful). Ultimately, Kalafina's Seventh Heaven is a cherished musical jewel, one that is more than worthy of being crowned a J-Pop masterpiece.

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The Frozen Autumn - Pale Awakening (1995)

Posted : 9 months, 3 weeks ago on 1 October 2023 10:15 (A review of Pale Awakening)

The Frozen Autumn was originally founded in the spring of 1993 in Turin, Italy as the one-man Darkwave project of vocalist/keyboardist, Diego Merletto. In an interview, he once elaborated on the significance behind the name of this project, stating the following: "I was really fond of the idea of a 'frozen autumn' as the vision of a melancholic season but at the same time 'put under ice' like a picture of my emotions". Guitarist Claudio Brosio would gain membership in The Frozen Autumn a short time after in order to assist with studio sessions and live performances. Not before long, the Italian duo found themselves at home recording a five-track demo entitled Oblivion. They also eventually performed at their very first concert in Ferrarra, Italy supporting the German Darkwave group, Endraum, who coincidentally had just initiated a new record label (Weisser Herbst) around this time. Endraum actually happened to be fond of The Frozen Autumn's music, so as a result, a record contact was offered to the two individuals and they accepted, officially debuting in 1995 with Pale Awakening. The breathtaking artwork which features a radiant, cerulean firmament shrouded by clouds of silver and ebony (with what appears to be some kind of crown-shaped dome or castle protruding in the midst of them) perfectly represents the musical content and its atmospheric, ethereal and lugubrious nature. Upon first listening to Pale Awakening, it also quickly becomes apparent that this duo gathered their inspiration from a myriad of Ethereal Darkwave, Synth-Pop, Post-Punk and Goth Rock groups of the 1980s. Elements of The Chameleons, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins and most importantly, Clan Of Xymox, can be identified in this group's self-proclaimed brand of "Frozen Wave" (other influences include Dead Can Dance, The Cure, X-Mal Deutschland, Sad Lovers & Giants, Legendary Pink Dots and Skinny Puppy). 

The impression of the '80s shows up in the production as well, which embodies a lo-fi, "retro" feeling. This album almost sounds as if it could have been recorded nearly a decade earlier (If you were to play this music to someone who has absolutely zero knowledge of The Frozen Autumn or their history and then ask them to take a guess as to what decade it might have originated from, there is a great possibility that they would most likely say the '80s). However, it should be clarified that some of the music also occasionally has a mild Ambient/New Age type of vibe to it that is somewhat indicative of the 1990s. Pale Awakening unravels with a touch of suspense and mysticism in the form of the seven-minute, eponymous instrumental that serves as a beautifully haunting introduction to the album. As it commences one hears ominous, brooding, Gothic-toned synthesizers, the glistening tintinnabulation of chimes and other strange effects (which for some reason make me think of the paranormal or a mischievous, spiritual entity making clatter in a hollow, decrepit basement). Claudio Brosio then signals the transition by performing a dramatic melody (one which might've just been partially inspired by the Halloween film theme, or so it reminds me of that) on his acoustic guitar, with Diego Merletto accompanying him on piano soon after. Perhaps it's a tad repetitive, but it's still a highly mesmerizing instrumental (one that I rarely ever become weary of. Unfortunately, it was edited down on the 2009 reissue). Right from the beginning, Clan Of Xymox's spirit can be sensed. "Again" happens to be the very first song that Diego ever composed for The Frozen Autumn back in 1993. In his own words, it was "elicited by visions of trees, rain and the subsequent fog, all autumnal ingredients" (his picturesque description serves as an accurate reflection of the music). "Again" is beautiful and crystalline, somber and lethargic, frigid and lonely. Gorgeous yet mournful keyboards flourish throughout, immersing the entire atmosphere with their presence. Diego just sounds depressing and spiritless (I mean that in a positive way), as if he was experiencing an immense sadness in his life at the time. 

"And now the rain is calling
My name in vain
The flower fields around me, I'll see no more
I've no words to think, to say
I just want to dream again..."

"Winter" preserves the element of coldness, as well as the sensation of melancholia. Quite a wonderful song with a pristine, icy nature. It's definitely capable of evoking all sorts of cold, mental imagery in one (a panorama of a barren landscape covered in snow or an opaque, gray sky usually come to mind whenever I listen to "Winter"). Here, a slight reference can probably be made to the Australian group of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, Dead Can Dance, as "Winter" kind of bears some resemblance to "Xavier" in some aspects (particularly the melody of that synthesized flute). "Another Tear" is another jewel to behold (a personal favorite). The Frozen Autumn gives it a darker shade of sound while not sacrificing too much ethereal beauty. Eerie, otherworldly synthesizers are heard as it begins. Chiming keys (whose tone resembles that of little bells) and a cool EBM beat (which usually always makes me want to tap on something, replicating its pattern as I go along) then follow suit. Diego lowers his vocal register to attain a baritone/bass tone here. The harmonious crescendo of ethereal keyboards and sorrowful guitar melodies that occurs during the chorus truly feels touching and even "transcendental" (much emotion can be felt there, sending chills down one's spine). 

"I cannot see another tear
From the window of your heart
And in this afternoon
I'm scared of another fear
To see the future of this life without a reason"

"Onyria" possesses an enchanting, almost idyllic nature, gathering musical elements from both Clan Of Xymox and Depeche Mode. While it can be a little repetitive and extensive, it still makes for an enjoyable listen nevertheless. Lyrically, "Onyria" gives the illusion that it may be Diego's serenade to some mysterious dame where he expresses his affection and yearning for her. He once stated that "Onyria" is about "the classical wish to escape reality". The lyrics were actually written by a local Italian poet by the name of Loredana Fayer. Can "This Time (80s Song)" be a tribute to the decade which generated all of the music responsible for inspiring The Frozen Autumn? Or is it simply just about the nostalgia of their adolescence? Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with any of these things, I am not certain (all I can do for now is speculate). Either way, this is a fabulous Synth-Pop tune and one of the most enthusiastic or "danceable" to be found on Pale Awakening (although it should be noted that the feeling of gloom never truly goes away). A little of The Cure comes to mind here as well. "In The Nighttime" is an elegant, romantic ballad delicately laced with Claudio's pleasant acoustic guitar and Diego's serene piano. Best listened to in the evening, preferably when darkness has fallen (just as the title suggests). "Wait For Nothing" incorporates a vortex of futuristic synthesizers, along with the sparing use of electric guitar (which gives the track a slight Goth Rock edge) and snapping beats that reminds me of those antiquated typewriters.

"Scent Of Innocence" happens to be the only song that Claudio provides the lead vocals for. He doesn't necessarily sing as well as Diego, but I don't really have much issue with his performance. Absolutely zero percussion is featured here, only darkened acoustic strings and more of Diego's ethereal keyboards. Just a quick note: If you listen to the 2009 reissue of Pale Awakening, you will not find "Scent Of Innocence" there. For some reason, it was removed and the reissue instead features the Electro mix of "This Time..." and "Bio-Vital" as bonus tracks (while these are nice, I usually don't like it when material is snipped off from the original albums). "When The Dreams Became Memories" arrives in the end. At eight minutes and twenty-seven seconds, it is the longest track on this album. Like "Onyria", I acknowledge that it does tend to be quite extensive and repetitive. However, that alone does not necessarily make it lackluster. I certainly enjoy the ambiance that is showered over the listener here, which can be described as tranquil or somniferous, but still remaining subtly dark and haunting. To summarize, The Frozen Autumn's Pale Awakening is a marvellous gem of Ethereal Darkwave that unfortunately doesn't appear to have ever received much attention or appreciation (not then, not now). That's a shame, as in my honest opinion it is truly an enthralling album, one with a genuinely cold/ethereal atmosphere. I think that it's also worthy of being mentioned alongside classics such Clan Of Xymox's Medusa, Cocteau Twins' Head Over Heels and Lycia's A Day In The Stark Corner. The Frozen Autumn went on to produce more commendable releases (some of which may actually be superior on a "technical" level), but I will always personally maintain the belief that Pale Awakening is where they ascended to their zenith.

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The Birthday Party - Junkyard (1982)

Posted : 9 months, 3 weeks ago on 30 September 2023 07:16 (A review of Junkyard)

Junkyard may have been The Birthday Party‘s final LP (with The Bad Seed and Mutiny! EPs being released in 1983), but at least they managed to go out in a scuzzy blaze of glory. After 1981’s Prayers On Fire, one would think that these Australian lunatics couldn’t get more raucous and out-of-control, yet they somehow managed to boost up the ante of extremity on what in my opinion is probably The Birthday Party's best offering, the ever-so rambunctious Junkyard. The sound that these Aussies achieve here is kind of like a blend between Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Captain Beefheart’s The Magic Band and The Cramps, except in the form of Post-Punk. The Birthday Party surely know how to mix things up though as there are a bunch of different musical styles present on this record including Noise Rock and even a smidgen of Lounge, Blues, Funk and Jazz. Much can be said about the drug-fueled leader of the pack, Nick Cave. Throughout the record, the guy sings with much crazed passion. One moment he might be heard making some goofy voices, and in another he might be wildly screaming his head off like a banshee (all the while spitting and spewing abstract verses of prose and poetry). Violence, murder, tragedy and other nonsensical mayhem all appear to be widespread topics found in this particular set of tracks. As for the tall and thin Rowland S. Howard, he plays a twisted guitar, one that is well out-of-tune and loves to make all sorts of scratches, screeches and scrapes. 

Bass is also an instrument that is very prominent on this album. Like a wolf among a herd of sheep, it just stands out with all that low, distorted rumbling. It is reputed that during the time when Junkyard was being recorded (typically on late nights, if I recall correctly), bassist Tracy Pew had to serve time in jail for driving while intoxicated (allegedly also for other offenses such as theft). Despite this, The Birthday Party still managed to pull through and got this album finished with some outside assistance. Barry Adamson was brought in as a temporary replacement, filling Tracy’s shoes (or should I say, cowboy boots?) as the bass player. While drummer Phill Calvert gave decent output in the past, he was ultimately let go, reportedly as the group just didn’t feel satisfied with his percussion abilities anymore. Multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey proves to be a significant, versatile member playing additional guitar, bass, drums and even the saxophone. Recorded at Armstrong’s Audio Visual studios in Melbourne, Australia with producer Tony Cohen (“Kiss Me Black” and “Kewpie Doll” were recorded separately at Matrix studios in London wth Richard Mazda), Junkyard has an ultra low-fidelity production which makes it sound as if it was recorded on some hazy night inside some sleazy, broken-down studio located in some rural part of town (while specific reissues have been remastered, that low sound and mucky quality still remain, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case. Just make sure to turn that volume knob up!).

The artwork is another thing that deserves special mention here as well. The front cover of Junkyard presents a crazy, witty illustration by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, who was an artist and automobile designer, probably best known for his affiliation with Hot Rods. Here, one sees a demented humanoid/creature recklessly driving a metallic, trash-can heap of a car. He has one hand on the wheel as he holds a frosty birthday cake with the other (further adding to the humor). His slimy tongue flies out of his stinking mouth and crooked teeth while a thousand warts cover his pale, rotting flesh. His bloodshot eyes indicate that he may be under the influence of some alcoholic beverage or narcotic. Also seen at the tip of the bumper is a pot-bellied, flea-ridden character known as “Rat Fink” (a popular mascot created by Ed). The vermin stands upon the bumper shooting bullets of hot lead at a terrified feline. All this makes for a highly visually-appealing cover. In a 2012 interview, Mick Harvey stated that he has never really liked this eye-grabbing piece of art, and also felt that it did not accurately represent the album’s musical content too well. I can respect that opinion, but I tend disagree with it a little - I personally think that Ed’s artwork tends to go hand-in-hand with The Birthday Party’s musical cacophony. It just feels as if it helps to portray the trashy, wild world of Junkyard (it also lets those unfamiliar with this album know right off the bat that they are in for one hell of an experience if they choose to go along for the ride).

The reissue of Junkyard kicks off with a bang as The Birthday Party anxiously ignite the fuse on the stick of dynamite that is “Blast Off”. This full-throttle rocker was originally recorded in London 1981 with producer Nick Launey. Suffice to say, “Blast Off” packs a feisty punch with its mischievous attitude. “She’s Hit” tells of an unfortunate tragedy where the daughter of an evangelist has been murdered by an anonymous axeman. Tracy Pew‘s corpulent, clunky bass (along with clinking cymbals and clamorous drums which crash and collapse at sporadic times) introduce us to to this rather somber song as it progresses at a snail’s lethargic pace. Roland's Blues-y (almost sitar-like) guitar strings are placed in juxtaposition of Mick's dirty, fuzz guitar while Nick relays to us a sad tale through his peculiar prose and wordplay. At times, "She's Hit" bears a slight resemblance to "Yard" (from Prayers On Fire).

"Now there’s action on the basement stairs
A monster 1/2 man 1/2 beast climbs
I hear the hatchet (grind grind)
Pilgrim gets 1 hacked daughter
And all we guys get are 40 hack reporters
Uptown a 100 skirts are bleeding
Mr. Evangelist says
She’s hit ev’ry little bit"

“Dead Joe” is the first of two songs on this record that Nick co-wrote with his girlfriend at the time, Anita Lane. “Dead Joe” (which seems to be about a fatal automobile collision) is loaded with unadulterated aggression and black humor. I especially like how Mick rhythmically pulverizes the drums/skins to a bloody pulp (“PA-PA-PA, PA-PA-PA-PA-PA-PA-PA!!!”). A sizeable portion of the “music” here comes across as discordant and harsh, but some trace of melody can actually found in “The Dim Locator”, a very catchy tune with a Rockabilly/Psychobilly flair to it. While it is uncertain to me whether “Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)” is The Birthday Party’s farfetched take on William Shakespeare‘s classic or not, it definitely happens to be one of the most intense songs here. The wretched screams of Nick give the impression as if he has come under the iron grip of some demonic possession. The abrasive, screeching guitars are tantamount to dozens of nails scratching on an old, cracked-up chalkboard. Although these lads may behave like a bunch of lunatics throughout most of Junkyard, they also have a softer side, and this is properly showcased on “Several Sins”, which is a slow-burning ballad that meshes Gothic Rock, Blues, Lounge and Surf Rock (for some reason, the guitar strings tend to remind me of the soundtrack of a 1960s spy film as well). 

However, the debauchery soon resumes next. “Big-Jesus-Trash-Can” mixes good, old-fashioned Rock ‘N’ Roll with a splash of Jazz. Instead of the calm, crooning of “Several Sins”, Nick’s vocals now turn into a series of annoying, raucous squawks here. “Kiss Me Black”, the second song Nick co-wrote with Anita, is also pretty fun and quirky, but not as spectacular when compared to its predecessors. Barry's bass guitar does have a deep tone though and sounds great. The reverb of the vocals makes one wonder whether Nick recorded himself singing while in some dingy, littered bathroom (or not). Bits and pieces of “6” Gold Blade” tend to remind me of both Captain Beefheart and The Stooges. Here, an unfaithful dame gets murdered for having a sexual affair with another man. That's quite grisly indeed, but "6" Gold Blade" is still a keeper. "Kewpie Doll” isn't too dissimilar from “Kiss Me Black” in its unabashed wackiness. A cool tune as well, although it's probably my second least favorite. When the end comes, these fellows go out the same exact way they came in - By making a grand commotion. On the outlandish “Junkyard“, grinding guitars and plodding beats all gradually build up to a warping, catastrophic climax as Nick completely loses his head (yet again!). I have no idea what this one's about, but it stands out as another highlight.

"One dead marine through the hatch
Scratch and scrape this heavenly body
Every inch of winning skin
There’s junk in honey’s sack again"

The reissue aggregates two more extra tracks to Junkyard: These are the 1981 singles of "Release The Bats" and a second, alternate version of “Dead Joe”, which does not really differ much from the first, but there are a couple of minor differences to note. One would be the sound quality. This version sounds like it was recorded during a live performance or something, and sports a lot of reverb (another small difference is the sample of a devastating car wreck that can be heard during the middle). “Release The Bats” is a Goth Rock staple that The Birthday Party recorded with Nick Launey in April 1981 (along with “Blast Off”). The rumbling drums and bouncy basslines bring to mind Iggy Pop, while the comical lyrics allude to vampires and "sex horror" (allegedly parodying the Goth subculture that was gaining traction around this time in the '80s). In conclusion, Junkyard simply happens to be one of the most outrageous Post-Punk albums ever crafted, and it might just be (no, it IS) the best that The Birthday Party has to offer. To put it bluntly, this is mainly a suitable record for those craving lots of twisted fun and nonsensical noise (those yearning for music of a toned-down, sanitized or more "mature" nature should probably look elsewhere).

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