Posts Tagged “Ray Van Horn Jr”

 
 
Hello, readers!
 
I wanted to share the publication of my short story, “An Off Night” at New Noise magazine.  The story is a no-holds-barred satire of the rock journalism life as seen through my eyes, but with more of a gonzo twist.  Have a go by clicking on this link:

 http://newnoisemagazine.com/night-ray-van-horn-jr/

 
Next month I have a flash fiction piece scheduled to run at Akashic Books’ “Mondays are Murder” series, “Off the Record,” so stand by for that official announcement in the near future.  I have also recently completed a 64 page graphic novel script entitled “Drowning Man” and as ever, I continue to serve up media review analysis for Blabbermouth. 
 
Thank you all for your ongoing support.  Game on…

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All Photos (c) 2013 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

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Man Made SunMore a Devil Than a God EP
2013 Self-released
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Israeli born, New York-planted Man Made Sun is cultivating a modest audience using a grass roots (whatever constitutes for grass roots in the digital age) reachout and frankly, what they’ve been tooling with as a band defies category to this point.  Proto pump metal?  Gutter alternative?  Psych crunk? 

Yeah, all of those and none of them, if you take the inference.  On their nicely constructed debut EP More a Devil Than a God, Man Made Sun would first have you believe they’re aiming towards a pop metal audience with the hook-filled “God Vs. God” and “Belief.”  Then they change gears altogether on “Signal,” which merges grunge rock and electro punk, i.e. early Soundgarden and Pearl Jam with The Prodigy, of all concoctions. 

On “Three Things,” there’s more of a punk base in the fuzzy drawl of Fugazi that’s given a bit of a subliminal hip hop groove without drifting towards actual rap.  If anything, vocalist Ofer Tiberin (former guitarist of Emok) slithers and slinks his notes and words, accentuating instead of punctuating.  Even when he huffs out a pseudo rap attack amidst the crunchy street riffs on “God Vs. God,” there’s more of a restrained open mike essence instead of flat-out slam to his delivery.   

The coolest number on the EP, “Waiting for the Sun,” throws a few curveballs, tricking the listener into thinking Man Made Sun is going straight for a neo-gangsta rap groove before jacking the track with shrilling guitar lines and synthetic Middle Eastern whispers as interpreted through electro channels.  Tiberin weaves a pretty tasty splice of Cake’s John McCrea and Damon Albarn on this song’s verses while wailing like he’s just getting its pipes loosened on the choruses.

If there’s any glaring shortfall to More a Devil Than a God, it’s a slight bit of hesitation from the band instead of pulling their triggers.  There’s so much going in these tracks and evidence of Man Made Sun trying to hedge an actual voice for themselves, more attention is given to the execution and homogenous mixing of their parts instead of letting their creative mojo leap free.  You can sense a tiger’s soul lingering within this collective hiding in the proverbial brush and waiting for the right delta to spring forward into, claws and incisors bared at the ready.

Still, Man Made Sun are onto something.  Once that something is constituted as creed within their band, look the hell out.

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BeatallicaAbbey Load
2013 Oglio Entertainment Group
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The legend of Milwaukee genre splicers Beatallica is familiar to most rock fans, the most important fact being that they have the endorsements of both Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield behind them.  Their fans are known globally as “heshers” and “Beatallibangers.”  Not too shabby for a Spinal Tap-ish pseudo career that began as a contest parody and took an improbable life of its own.  If you’re one of the unlikely souls coming across this review without knowing who or what Beatallica is, then one gander at the artwork of their fourth official album, Abbey Load should be indicative of what you’re in for. 

In the past, Beatallica has presented a cement head’s (if mostly harmless) alter vision of famous Beatles songs played in the static key of “ca.”  At times, Beatallica have wielded some hilarious nuggets such as “Hey Dude,” “Leper Madonna,” “Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice” and “I Want to Choke Your Band.”  Their sheer balls for issuing All You Need is Blood on repeat in thirteen languages is likewise a high point, albeit that’s only saying so much.  If the components of Beatallica weren’t sharp musicians coming into this ridiculous venture, they would’ve been cast away into the ether of a novelty act phantom zone where Dread Zeppelin and Napoleon Bonaparte have long been banished.  Their last album Masterful Mystery Tour from 2009 was not a bad ride whatsoever.  It seemed like Beatallica had engineered a riotous coda from which they probably should’ve carried their weight to an appropriate fade to black.

Enough wasn’t enough, though, and this year Beatallica resurfaces once again with Abbey Load.  Frankly, if you’re thinking the title hints at material more watered down than a Coors Light, trust your instincts.  While there are some fun bits of thrash midway through the end of the album, it’s evident by the fact Beatallica has this time laid down a strict cover album of Beatles cuts with no attempt to weave some of their looney tune title and lyrical scrambles indicates the group has run out of gas. 

Abbey Load is merely Beatles familiars given the amplified treatment with a heavy concentration of Metalli-riffs grabbed from the latter’s Load couplet.  For example, “Until it Sleeps” winks into the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” and Beatallica thus keeps the track rolling in low key with a thin resemblance to the original song.  That’s the general status quo to this album. 

Beatallica ho-hums through a grungy and blasé take of “Come Together” while they limp through “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Help!” and “Please Please Me” with bloodless riffs and the now-tiresome yo-ooooo Hetfield impressions conducted by Jaymz Lennfield.  Let’s not go there with “Michelle,” ripped asunder (with seemingly intentional poor execution) by the crunch of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  In this case, Beatallica invites you to snicker over their lone external interjection, a morphed chorus tweak, “for whom Michelle tolls.”  Yeah, they went there.  Sorry, but these cuts are just nowhere, man.

The album’s highlight is a somewhat serious (and well-performed) instrumental take on “Blackbird” yielding a smidge of metal warping to Beatallica’s acoustic parlay.  Okay, it is genuinely funny to hear “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” and “Carry that Weight” thrown through Beatallica’s grinding wind tunnels.  Yet Abbey Load represents an end of the line moment for these Metalligoofs, at least on record.  There’s a bald absence of the creative zeal that made Masterful Mystery Tour and Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band pretty danged funny joints.

What really reeks on Abbey Load, however, is the band’s swipe from Megadeth’s “Bad Omen” in the midst of transition between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.”  They’ve already teased their listeners by tooling well-familiar rolling riffs into “Mean Mr. Mustard” found in Metallica’s “Four Horsemen” and Megadeth’s “Mechanix.”  You know, the same songwriting split over two different groups’ tunes that continues to fuel the wrath of scrumming pundits over who won the battle over Dave Mustaine’s work.  Followed by the “Bad Omen” hijack, you’re not sure if this is gonzo stuff or if Beatallica’s opened a can of worms they sure as hell didn’t need to now that the Metalli-deth war has been put to rest.  Moreover, is Mustaine going to have a sense of humor that some of his fiercest licks bred in the midst of that long-ago feud has been ripped by a Metallica joke band?  You understand Beatallica’s jibe, but is this indeed a bad omen?  Probably.  Bad taste, for certain.  Beatllica may want to keep Lars Ulrich’s proffered retainer money handy.

Sad but true, Abbey Load has pushed the Beatallica farceur vehicle as far as it’s going to go.  Once a pretty funny and talented band of metalhead pranksters, their diehard Beatallicabangers may delight in this album but there’s no denying Abbey Load is flatter than a highway flip cat.  These guys will probably sustain themselves as Friday and Saturday night bar sensations since nothing opens beer bottles faster than a good party onstage, but their future memory is in danger of remaining only in theory.  Like the epochal piano crash at the end of “A Day in the Life,” this is done.

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Bad Religion True North
2013 Epitaph Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

It’s not just their longevity that’s impressive, nor their prolificness.  The fact Bad Religion has seldom disappointed in their three decades on the punk scene cements their legacy.  Even their lowest moment on record is still above-average and that has everything to do with their ceaseless angst and contempt for authority that has kept them real.  Granted, the message over the course of Bad Religion’s career has been stuck in stasis, but nobody sells the anti-establishment creed better than these guys, that’s a fact.

True North is just as fast, just as scathing and just as imperative in tone as Suffer, No Control and Against the Grain, the band’s widely-acknowledged classics.  Since bringing Minor Threat/Dag Nasty/Junkyard guitarist Brian Baker into the fold, Bad Religion has upgraded their speed attack from a guy who can go as fast or as slow as he’s needed.  For instance, he helps keeping the whirling tsunami of “Robin Hood in Reverse” gusting with tuneful bravado.  By attrition, Bad Religion’s historic sense of musicality has spiked as of 2000’s New America and 2002’s The Process of Belief, the latter when the briefly-departed Gurewitz rejoined the band to hone out a triple guitar attackAlready masters of harmony set on hyperthrust, Bad Religion have their brisk-moving, accusatory craft down pat as holdouts of a SoCal punk scene that’s more talked about in reflection than preserved at-large.

Perhaps watching ghosts of their contemporaries crop up only intermittently gives Bad Religion extra fang and extra spit to keep going as scene regulars.  “Past is Dead” on their latest album would be more than indicative that Bad Religion has said a figurative goodbye to nostalgia and kept to their own collective task.  Of course it can’t be discounted the fact guitarist Brett Gurewitz owns Epitaph Records and his constant exposure to new talent that grew up on his band’s early catalog keeps his–and his bandmates, by benefit–fires going. 

16 songs in under 35 minutes, True North is a classic in the making for a band that has plenty enough classics already.  Greg Graffin may be a tad more laidback in his delivery than he used to be, but it’s only by a hair.  You won’t feel like he’s missed a venomous lick on “Nothing to Dismay” or  “Land of Endless Greed .”  As ever, his supporting back-layered “ahhs” from the band keeps a lofting conscience overtop the sheer anger Graffin wields more than he lashes these days.  Together, they’re outright beautiful on “Crisis Time.”
 
While True North opens in a flurry of velocity with the title track, “Past is Dead,” “Robin Hood in Reverse” and “Land of Endless Greed,” the album varies its tempos through the remainder of its fast ride, exploding with a climax on the trifecta finale “My Head is Full of Ghosts,” “The Island” and “Changing Tide,” the former ringing very much akin to Dag Nasty’s “Ghosts” from their brilliant and passionate Minority of One album–of which Brian Baker was a party to. 

In fact, True North might be the best punk album since Minority of One.  This is not only a brutally honest mini epic of punk dogma, it’s a preconditioned reaction to a way of being, not merely playing.  Still attacking the while collar world on “Robin Hood in Reverse,” “Dept. of False Hope” and “Land of Endless Greed” and societal apathy on “Vanity” and “In Their Hearts is Right,” Bad Religion puts their few rubbed nickels where their saliva-laced mouths are.  Greg Graffin uses “Fuck You” as a platform not for shock value but as a gentle “excuse me” moment to explain his reflexive, still adolescent need to shout back at the world despite his representative age.  In turn, he’s looking for an extra pardon and a little bit of understanding on “Hello Cruel World.”  This is a punk ethos you can’t teach youngsters who need to learn it on their own and on their own terms.

The past may be dead, but Bad Religion shows that keeping their course set for true north into a future that seems hardly expired is not just the nobler way, it’s the only righteous direction.

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Bad Religion True North
2013 Epitaph Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

It’s not just their longevity that’s impressive, nor their prolificness.  The fact Bad Religion has seldom disappointed in their three decades on the punk scene cements their legacy.  Even their lowest moment on record is still above-average and that has everything to do with their ceaseless angst and contempt for authority that has kept them real.  Granted, the message over the course of Bad Religion’s career has been stuck in stasis, but nobody sells the anti-establishment creed better than these guys, that’s a fact.

True North is just as fast, just as scathing and just as imperative in tone as Suffer, No Control and Against the Grain, the band’s widely-acknowledged classics.  Since bringing Minor Threat/Dag Nasty/Junkyard guitarist Brian Baker into the fold, Bad Religion has upgraded their speed attack from a guy who can go as fast or as slow as he’s needed.  For instance, he helps keeping the whirling tsunami of “Robin Hood in Reverse” gusting with tuneful bravado.  By attrition, Bad Religion’s historic sense of musicality has spiked as of 2000’s New America and 2002’s The Process of Belief.  Already masters of harmony set on hyperthrust, Bad Religion have their brisk-moving, accusatory craft down pat as holdouts of a SoCal punk scene that’s more talked about in reflection than preserved at-large.

Perhaps watching ghosts of their contemporaries crop up only intermittently gives Bad Religion extra fang and extra spit to keep going as scene regulars.  “Past is Dead” on their latest album would be more than indicative that Bad Religion has said a figurative goodbye to nostalgia and kept to their own collective task.  Of course it can’t be discounted the fact guitarist Brett Gurewitz owns Epitaph Records and his constant exposure to new talent that grew up on his band’s early catalog keeps his–and his bandmates, by benefit–fires going. 

16 songs in under 35 minutes, True North is a classic in the making for a band that has plenty enough classics already.  Greg Graffin may be a tad more laidback in his delivery than he used to be, but it’s only by a hair.  You won’t feel like he’s missed a venomous lick on “Nothing to Dismay” or  “Land of Endless Greed .”  As ever, his supporting back-layered “ahhs” from the band keeps a lofting conscience overtop the sheer anger Graffin wields more than he lashes these days.  Together, they’re outright beautiful on “Crisis Time.”
 
While True North opens in a flurry of velocity with the title track, “Past is Dead,” “Robin Hood in Reverse” and “Land of Endless Greed,” the album varies its tempos through the remainder of its fast ride, exploding with a climax on the trifecta finale “My Head is Full of Ghosts,” “The Island” and “Changing Tide,” the former ringing very much akin to Dag Nasty’s “Ghosts” from their brilliant and passionate Minority of One album–of which Brian Baker was a party to. 

In fact, True North might be the best punk album since Minority of One.  This is not only a brutally honest mini epic of punk dogma, it’s a preconditioned reaction to a way of being, not merely playing.  Still attacking the while collar world on “Robin Hood in Reverse,” “Dept. of False Hope” and “Land of Endless Greed” and societal apathy on “Vanity” and “In Their Hearts is Right,” Bad Religion puts their few rubbed nickels where their saliva-laced mouths are.  Greg Graffin uses “Fuck You” as a platform not for shock value but as a gentle “excuse me” moment to explain his reflexive, still adolescent need to shout back at the world despite his representative age.  In turn, he’s looking for an extra pardon and a little bit of understanding on “Hello Cruel World.”  This is a punk ethos you can’t teach youngsters who need to learn it on their own and on their own terms.

The past may be dead, but Bad Religion shows that keeping their course set for true north into a future that seems hardly expired is not just the nobler way, it’s the only righteous direction.

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Conny Ochs – Black Happy
2013 Exile On Mainstream Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

An alliance with doom sovereign Scott “Wino” Weinrich has made German soloist Conny Ochs a budding underground sensation.  Renaissance Man Wino seemed destined for last year’s collaboration with Ochs, Heavy Kingdom, when you consider Wino had already issued his moody and introspective acoustic solo flight, Adrift.  Kindred souls met and Conny Ochs corraled an entire demographic he might’ve silently courted but probably never expected to win over.

On his latest album Black Happy, the title is indicative of what you’ll be subjected to, a man belting acoustic and low-dialed electric guitar with random guest vocals whirring at his side and the occasional bass drum and percussion keeping time.  Ochs frequently writes the music in an upbeat tone even if the themes of his songs cast a beguiling range of emotions:  melancholia, aspiration, despondency, sarcasm and above all, enlightenment. 

It’s Neil Young for the doom leagues, even if Conny Ochs’ frequent troubadour’s cadence puts him in distant company of another Ochs from folk yesteryear.  Conny and Phil may not be singing about the same things, given the relevancy of the times impacting each man’s art.  Yet there’s sincerity and authenticity emitting from Black Happy that would easily resonate with the folk scene along with the doom sect, both demographics being sparse and self-guarded.

Conny Ochs presents himself like a guarded man cutting himself loose in the company of lost souls in search of his crooning angst.  Ochs delivers to his audience like he spent years traveling the world’s neo-hippie communes in order to hone his craft.  Black Happy checks in under twenty-eight minutes and Ochs is both sparing and fulfilling with his eleven self-contained numbers.  “Blues For My Baby,” “Borderline,” “Phantom Pain” and “Stable Chaos” could’ve come straight out of the sixties and early seventies, while the album’s honky tonkin’ finale “Mouth” wraps Black Happy on such an upbeat jive despite its self-lamenting lyrics.

The opening number “Exile” will immediately endear Ochs to his newfound doom disciples with its beleaguered slides and subliminal distortion, even if the choruses sweep upwards to higher ground to keep the hapless lyrical content from submerging to the point of no return.  “No Sleep Tonight,” “Blues For My Baby” and “Die In Your Arms” push forth their discomforting dispositions like Ochs tapped his own skein onto the paper where he scrawled the lumbering note lines and ambivalent chord progressions.  “Die In Your Arms” brings about a swirling eighties alt kick in the key of the Violent Femmes despite the happy-go-lucky harmonica almost laughing overtop the swinging minutiae.  Ditto for “Trust In Love,” which carries more even of the Femmes’ over-the-hedge snidery.

Where Black Happy succeeds most is its search for something real and tangible with which to climb out of the initial and afterthought despair the listener is confronted with.  Conny Ochs sings with conviction and with conscience.  He could’ve easily sunk into monotone on many of these songs and yet Ochs chooses to allay and soothe with brisk projection and high pitches in order to keep his album from qualifying as straight-out dirge.  There’s a quantified play for something deeper than merely wallowing in misery for eleven songs.  By the time he hits “Trust In Love” and “Borderline,” Black Happy gravitates towards something on the edge of spiritual.  The album may wrap with a downplayed thumb bite, but there’s every reason to feel comforted by Conny Ochs, who brings his love of Neil Young, sixties folk and rock and old-time blues into a harping but sensuous mingling for the modern age.

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VoivodTarget Earth
2013 Century Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Everyone keeping their eyes on the Voivod camp knew what was at stake the minute Dan Mongrain stepped into shoes almost no one else would dare to.  The writing was on the wall, though, considering Mongrain’s previous unit Martyr morphed cyberpunk overtures of Voivod into their extreme death-prog modes.  Martyr’s superb, one-click-quicker cover of “Brain Scan” showed Mongrain had the chops to replicate the late Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, a feat which he achieved to the surprise of everyone coming to Voivod’s recent performances, captured on their Tatsumaki DVD and Warriors of Ice live album.  Even better Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault hooked back up with the band to legitimize its proper return.

The real test of “Chewy” Mongrain has arrived now that Voivod has committed to him as permanent guitarist.  While the spotlight is decidedly thrust upon him, it’s the band as a collective that stakes one hell of an improbable comeback with their first post-Piggy album, Target Earth

It’s highly recommended you give Target Earth more than one spin before making your full analysis.  Upon the first go-through, there’s so much to absorb as Voivod breaks Chewy in, it becomes a mondo outpouring of information overlaod.  Their reputation for expressionistic prog-thrash that seems so distant from the period of Rrroooaaarrr through Angel Rat is meticulously reconfirmed on Target Earth.  It’s as if Voivod adopted not only a back-to-basics ideology to begin writing new material without Piggy’s multifaceted impressions, but they serve up a precognitive set of in-house experiences to give Dan Mongrain all the palettes he needs to make an impact.  Following suit, Blacky brings back his sorely-missed bass vibratum and all the glorious guttural feedback he’s historically expunged with inky grandeur.  Theriault’s reclamation of his pivotal place on Target Earth once again establishes he is one of the greatest metal bassists alive. 

Whereas Piggy and Blacky had the inhuman propensity to follow one another note-for-note at hyperspeed on Voivod’s most acclaimed works Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross and Nothingface, Blacky and Chewy bounce reverb off of one another in a tributizing attempt to conjure the spirit of Piggy between their massive metal ballistics.  Piggy is no doubt flicking ethereal horns, because Mongrain tastefully heralds D’Amour’s spellbinding distortion echoes on nearly every final note strike and all throughout the album.  Mongrain and Blacky fill their spaces with as much wonderment as they can conjure amongst themselves in workmanlike manner.  Thus Target Earth carries a vintage feel about it with precisely the right throwback nuances Voivod freaks cautiously hoped for.

Happier news, Denis “Snake” Belanger turns in his best vocal performance since The Outer Limits, even if the titanic booms of his supporting cast smother him in the mix at times.  Nonetheless, he is to be applauded for digging deeper than he has in years on “Warchaic,” “Kaleidos,” “Mechanical Mind,” “Resistance” and “Empathy for the Enemy,” while he obtusely secretes the pummeling thrash of “Kluskap O’Kom” with gravelly mysticism.  On the title cut, he’s nearly as shamanistic as he was on Nothingface even if the song manifests itself more from Dimension Hatross.

Michel “Away” Langevin, the only Voivod member to have appeared on every album, might be the most re-energized player in the studio.  He’s given the opportunity to step back into red times and he drops more clattery rolls and punishing double hammers than he’s executed prior to the death of his comrade.  If anything feels like Killing Technology on “Kluskap O’Kom,” “Artefact” and the even faster “Corps Etranger,” it’s Away’s frantic free-thrashing.

Target Earth may sound rough around the edges in a couple of spots, but the overall homogenization of the new lineup unleashes plenty of the extracurricular cyber-psychedelic oddities, progressive tailspins and echo-happy fusion tunnels that characterize a Voivod classic.  The slightly brackish production is a punt backwards to the Noise Records era and that alone should comfort Voivod purists.  On the other hand, “Mechanical Mind” contains more signature swaps than a Hall of Fame induction party and it’s far more than any of us could’ve expected from Voivod in 2013.  The fact Away, Snake, Blacky and Chewy can write this damned well without their fallen leader is more than just a sigh of relief.  Their prankster’s hearts couldn’t be filled with better intent by cutting off Target Earth in the midst of what goes down as a moshing outro, “Defiance.”  Then the rabid mongrel huffing at the beginning of “Kluskap O’Kom” is hilarious but addictive, much as Chewy and Blacky’s top-flight shredding is once the track zips forward.

Katorz and Infini appeared to signal the final hurrah of Voivod with Piggy’s final blueprints left behind as components for a bittersweet farewell that still felt unfinished despite the band’s best efforts to piece them together through their own interpretations.   However, like Killing Joke has achieved something genuinely special in the wake of Paul Raven’s passing by reuniting their best-known lineup, Voivod recalibrates themselves through the anguish and determination of their survivors.   They’re aided by an acolyte who’s achieved the impossible by summoning the delicate characteristics of his predecessor and still Dan Mongrain leaves his own imprint as he enters the blaring psychic vacuum that is Voivod perpetua.

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Under the Bleachers

Ray Van Horn, Jr.

1/11/13 

 

I hear echoes of Football Fridays past

the din of juvie hormones grinding in fifth gear

they hate their teachers, their parents

and the visiting team

their peers sieve out their aggressions for them

playing up to their outcries for  blood

junior gladiators, masters of one of a thousand junior gridirons

 

I see recluses of yesterday and tomorrow

sitting here where I now sit

perhaps writing their own poetry

perhaps talking themselves out of suicide

perhaps grooving on a tune and a doob

only the weekend joggers

obtuse to their confiscation in subterfuge

blast away their reveries,

clomp clomp clomp clomp

 

I don’t mind the broken glass

and the discarded candy wrappers

it’s what teenagers leave behind as imprints of their four-year-plan

and their booster parents are no better

all of this filth seems appropriate beneath the soulless aluminum  

 

in some ways I envy the ripped open condom wrappers

the memories of spontaneous, reckless copulation

and spent, wasted seeds leading to new days of freedom

still, I wonder,

if the ripped, lavender Size C

was left behind by consent or otherwise
 
 
 
 
‘Round Midnight
2/10/13
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
 
 
my heart sees things
I never want you to know
I embrace the sacred cacophony of silence
and I crave audience with the effigy of euphoric nothingness
 
your fragile fingers
and your tireless legs
know nothing of pain
nothing beyond the skinned knee
or the spill of milk in your silly, slight lap
 
play on, little man, play on
 
peace is mine when I know you’re asleep
and my words torment only me
I cherish your stillness as much as your noise
 
when you’re safe in slumber’s keep
then the voices inside are all I hear
screaming  for ambient empathy
from a wellspring of audile comfort
 
the stereo understands me better than anyone else
 
when it speaks, I know my day’s duty is done

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Manilla RoadInvasion reissue
2012 Shadow Kingdom Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

One thing about this prolonged metal revival, the longer its stays in favor, the deeper old league pundits and resurrectionists are digging to bring the obscure into the limelight.  Recent excavations into the catalogs of seventies and eighties-based cult acts such as Iron Claw, Poobah and Pagan Altar come to mind.  Now you can add the equally inconspicuous Manilla Road to the welcome back committee’s list.

The Kansas-based Manilla Road was never a huge name in metal, namely due to their momentary aural collapse in 1987 with the poorly-received original cut of Mystification.   Nonetheless, Mark “The Shark” Shelton and a revamped lineup following Manilla Road’s first two albums managed to stir up a quiet frenzy in the underground with Open the Gates, Crystal Logic, The Deluge and The Courts of Chaos.   Shelton pulled the plug on the entire endeavor the first time in 1992 after recording what was essentially a solo record forced into submission under the Manilla Road moniker, The Circus Maximus.

The band returns to action this year with a new album, Mysterium, but the sometimes power prog, sometimes thrash band has been trolling about since 2001 after Mark Shelton decided to make a go of it again.   The band’s more recent outings Atlantis Rising, Spiral Castle, Gates of Fire and Voyager have opted more for a classic metal sound.  We can assume that trend will continue on Mysterium now that Shadow Kingdom Records sends the original trio’s 1980 debut Invasion back for a second examination.

The thing that sticks out the most with Invasion is the veneer that gleams through its primitiveness.  Despite the sharp acoustic overture “Centurian War Games” that feels like a pulp novel interpreted by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on downtime, Invasion is a crunky, often mucky affair.  Nevertheless, it’s well worth sitting down with for its historical perspective, much less its electric ear candy courtesy of Mark Shelton.

The stylish and bombastic closing number “The Empire” legitimizes Invasion as an American cousin to the NWOBHM.  With a dash or two of Rush, sprinkles of Uriah Heep and Hawkwind and the faintest touches of ELP, “The Empire” is a sprawling, solo happy epic birthed at the dawn of heavy metal.  The song, along with the rest of Invasion, also represents a rekindled global love affair with Robert E. Howard and his bloodthirsty Cimmerian bad boy. 

It’s a wonder “The Empire,” much the less the tapping opener “The Dream Goes On” was only discovered by the deepest of genre purists.  Mark Shelton shreds his frets on both tracks like he was feeling right now and in his prime, to paraphrase the lyrics of “The Dream Goes On.”  With hung over acid washes to his mincing solos and quick-ticked riffs, Invasion feels just like that in its beginning and endgame phases.  Not many had heard Manilla Road’s booming proclamation, but now’s a good a time as any to listen up.

“Cat and Mouse” may remind some of a downplayed homage to Black Sabbath on its intro and primary riffs, yet if you study this track deeper, you’ll hear early Judas Priest on the primary riff structure more than you will Sabbath.  Then the translucent reverb in the solo sequences preluding the choruses of “Cat and Mouse” is enough to wonder if Jane’s Addiction tripped over this album in their own formative days.

The hokey “Street Jammer” is nowhere near the adrenaline rush it purports itself to be in title, yet “Far Side of the Sun” before it basks in the balmy oddities of Krautrock and Uriah Heep at the latter’s most experimental.  Written in post-Space Race times when the United States was suffering its lowest morale, “Far Side of the Sun” attempts to present a portal of escapism through grinding rawk riffs after the extensive psychedelics in the first section.  Again you’ll hear some Priest factoring into “Far Side of the Sun,” (and “The Empire,” of course) especially as former bassist Scott Park bobs along as if devouring a tasty groove cast by Ian Hill from the opposite end of the Atlantic.  There’s a wallowing, burping feedback to the cut that prevents it from being as spectacular as it was written, yet once again Mark Shelton pulls out his mojo to keep “Far Side of the Sun” from spilling too far from its axis.

If you’ve never heard Manilla Road before, it’s a no-brainer that Invasion is where you should start.  Manilla Road was directly influenced by the British prog and early metal gods and in turn, they gave back a pretty nifty salute from the midwest.  Invasion fell on mostly deaf ears in its time, but now a return visit reveals there was a lot more going on in the founding father stages of this genre outside of Saxon, Judas Priest and Tygers of Pan Tang.

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