Archive: Sunday Old School Columns
A few weeks ago I was in the metal section of my local HMV branch, when I heard some kids mention a name. "Oooh! Death! What a great band name! Honestly, who would buy an album from a band with such a stupid name? I bet they suck!" All I could think to myself as they wandered away with their copies of the latest Slipknot and Panic! At The Disco albums was, "If you only knew, kids...." Quite honestly, Death's name is about the only thing anyone could ever have a problem with. Everything else about them is pure magic. Death is responsible for some of the best songs, album covers, song titles and musicianship in the celebrated history of extreme metal.
Death was formed in 1983 by vocalist/guitarist Chuck Schuldiner in the city of Orlando, Florida. They released their first album, "Scream Bloody Gore," four years later and quickly established themselves as one of the pioneers of death metal along with bands such as Possessed and Obituary. Their next album, "Leprosy" followed on where "Scream Bloody Gore" left off lyrically, focusing on violence, blood and guts, but the band changed to writing about more social and political issues on their next album, "Spiritual Healing." This album also featured alot more in the way of melodies and musical progression than the previous two albums. The band continued with their progression into the technical side of death metal when they released the album "Human" in 1991, which featured Schuldiner as well as Sadus bassist Steve DiGorgio and Cynic members Sean Reinhert and Paul Masvidal. "Human" also featured the band's first song to be given the music video treatment, "Lack Of Comprehension." More...
Since my first “real” news posting had to do with the unfortunate news of Ronnie James Dio's stomach cancer, I thought it might make some karmic sense if my first Sunday Old School posting had something to do with the the remarkable frontman.
I suspect a lot of people my age (36 years young) are like me in that the first time they ever heard of Dio was in seeing the phrase “OZZY RULES! DIO DROOLS!” scrawled on a wooden desk in junior high or high school. That's naturally a reference to the fact that Dio had replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the singer for Black Sabbath, following Ozzy's firing in 1979.
Dio would serve as Sabbath's lead vocalist on the seminal albums “Heaven & Hell,” “Mob Rules” and “Live Evil” before parting ways with Sabbath until 1991 when he rejoined the band for “Dehumanizer.” Another parting of the ways lasted until 2006, when his version of Sabbath reformed under the moniker Heaven & Hell and recorded new tracks for a greatest hits CD, as well as “Live from Radio City Music Hall” in 2007, and a new studio album, “The Devil You Know” in 2009.
Beginning with 1983's “Holy Diver,” he racked up plenty of album sales and accolades with his own band, Dio.
But there's an important chapter of Dio's professional career that seems to get at best a cursory glance among a lot of metalheads I know, which is unfortunate, because it seems to me to be very much a transformative time for one of metal's most powerful vocalists.
I am, of course, talking about his time in Rainbow, the post-Deep Purple band formed by guitar-god Ritchie Blackmore in the mid-1970s.
Blackmore had departed Deep Purple after arguments about the more “funky” direction that singer David Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes were taking the band in. In search of a new singer and band, he didn't have to look far.
Elf, which featured Dio on vocals, had been touring as a supporting act for Deep Purple. Blackmore essentially grafted himself into the band, renaming it and collaborating with Dio to write the tracks for the appropriately named “Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow.”
The song most everyone remembers from that 1975 album is “Man on the Silver Mountain,” with its son-of-“Smoke on the Water” riff and powerful delivery by Dio declaring himself a medieval metal prophet. It's become such a staple in the Dio arsenal that it's easy to forget how much of a milestone it is for the singer. Compare the supernatural lyrics with the somewhat more pedestrian (if equally well-performed) lyrics of tracks like Elf's “Carolina County Ball,” and you'll see what I mean.
That's hardly the only great one, though. The album also features “16th Century Greensleeves,” which would seem to be a precursor to Blackmore's later career, as well as the superb Quartermass cover “Black Sheep of the Family.”
By Rainbow's next album, 1976's “Rising,” Blackmore had fired everyone but Dio from the band and, if you ask me, the replacement keyboardist, Tony Carey and bassist Jimmy Bain (who'd later play with Dio in the 1980s) aren't completely up to snuff. It's this incarnation of Rainbow's weakest album, though tracks like the opener, “Tarot Woman” and the huge 8-minute closer “Stargazer” still hold up well.
The band had a return to glory with 1978's “Long Live Rock 'n' Roll,” which featured bass contributions from future Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath bassist Bob Daisley. The disc, which does feature some of the medieval and experimental sounds featured on the previous two studio albums (a live album, “On Stage,” was released in 1977), there's a surprising amount of pure blues-rock stomp this go-round, especially on the title track. “L.A. Connection” reminds me a bit of the bluesier side of the Doors, while “Sensitive to Light” is just a good-time rocker of the finest sort. Meanwhile, the darker lyrical themes Dio would go on to explore in Sabbath are on full display in the creepy Middle Eastern-sounding “Gates of Babylon.” The album's finest hour, though, comes with the speedy “Kill the King.”
Dio left the band in 1979 following a dispute with Blackmore over the guitarist's desire to take the band in a more “commercial” direction, which he ultimately did with vocalists like Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnet.
If you ask me, though, the Dio era is a golden era for Rainbow, as well as the moment that one of metal's finest discovered his true voice and calling. As I and other metal fans await news of the ailing singer's condition, I take some measure of comfort in his “Man on the Silver Mountain” declaration that “You'll never stop me burning.”
May it be so.
Carolina County Ball (with Elf)
To some people, the Midlands born five-piece Judas Priest were the first heavy metal band, being as they were the first band to actually embrace the term "heavy metal." Whether you agree or not, they are certainly one of the most important bands in the history of metal. No other band has had the longevity of Judas Priest and arguably no other band has had the heart and passion that Priest have had with them since 1969. The band first consisted of guitarist KK Downing, bass player Ian Hill, lead vocalist Al Atkins and drummer John Ellis and went on to support the likes of Thin Lizzy, Budgie and Trapeze under this lineup. Eventually, Hill brought in his girlfriend's brother Rob Halford to replace Atkins and Ellis was replaced with John Hinch. The band once again toured supporting Budgie and developed such a following that they were able to headline shows in other countries such as Norway and Germany. Once the band signed to Gull Records, the label suggested they add another musician and the band chose guitarist Glen Tipton to become one of the pioneers of the twin guitar sound along with bands like Wishbone Ash. After the recording of their first album, "Rocka Rolla," the band would use a series of session drummers for their next albums, "Sad Wings Of Destiny" and "Sin After Sin" and settled on drummer Les Binks after touring in support of the latter record.
The band went on to record "Stained Class" and "Killing Machine" (known in North America as "Hell Bent For Leather") with Les Binks before he left the band and was replaced with drummer Dave Holland, who would stay with the band for their next six studio albums and one live record. The band struck gold in 1980 when they released "British Steel," which is considered one of, if not the greatest, heavy metal album of all time. The album contained the hit singles, "Breaking The Law," "Living After Midnight" and "United" and helped the band to achieve worldwide rock stardom. The band would continue their success with a series of critically acclaimed albums such as "Point Of Entry," "Screaming For Vengeance" and "Defenders Of The Faith." Their next album, "Turbo" was met with mixed reviews due to its use of synthesisers and the record after that, "Ram It Down" was considered to be a small step up from "Turbo," though the band's popularity began to wane at this point. However, after replacing Dave Holland with former Racer X drummer Scott Travis, the band reclaimed their spot at the top of the heavy metal pile with the outstanding, "Painkiller."
Despite the success of the album, frontman Rob Halford would leave the band after a dispute with the band's record label and formed the band Fight, before going to form the industrial metal outfit 2wo and the heavy metal band Halford. Judas Priest themselves took a long break before recruiting vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens, who was previously the lead singer of a Judas Priest tribute band. With Owens, the band released the albums "Jugulator" and "Demolition" which were met with mixed reviews. In 2003, Rob Halford returned to the band and Owens replaced Matt Barlow as the lead vocalist of American power metal band Iced Earth. With Halford back on board, the band recorded the critically acclaimed "Angel Of Retribution" album and toured the world extensively before releasing the ambitious, 2-CD concept album, "Nostradamus" in 2008. Without a doubt, Judas Priest are as creative, passionate and dedicated today as they were fourty years ago and they've shown no signs of stopping this trend. All hail the Metal Gods! More...
Few bands can claim that they have had a profound influence on a variety of sub-genres in metal, from thrash to progressive and from black metal to power, Mercyful Fate can proudly and honestly say that they are one of those bands. The group formed in Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark in 1981 from the ashes of the bands Brats and Black Rose and became well known for their dark and Satanic themes both in their music and stage act. They recorded two classic albums in the form of "Melissa" (named after the human skull lead vocalist King Diamond would use on stage) and "Don't Break The Oath," which were released in 1983 and 1984 respectively. After their first tour of the United States, King Diamond decided to leave the band due to creative differences and took band members Timi Hansen and Michael Denner with him. Instead of continuing under the Mercyful Fate banner, remaining band member Hank Shermann formed a band simply named Fate which followed a more mainstream rock direction.
Mercyful Fate reunited in July of 1992 (though King Diamond would continue to release albums under his own moniker throughout this period) and recorded several more records thoughout the '90s, concluding with 1999's "9" album. Whilst the band has been more or less inactive since the record's release, King Diamond has promised fans that they haven't heard the last of Mercyful Fate and that the band will definitely return at some point in time with a new album and tour.
When looking at the band, one can see how they influenced the black metal genre with their satanic lyrics and imagery but after listening to the band themselves, it becomes apparant that they became so influential in a broad spectrum because they were outstanding musicians. King Diamond can be considered as the master story-teller of heavy metal and knew perfectly how to capture the listeners interest with his unique, haunting stories and lyrics. Add to this his one of a kind vocal delivery which could reach the highest of highs and lowest of lows and the end result is one of the greatest frontmen in the history of metal. The band themselves also proved time and time again that they were extremely talented when it came to their instruments and song writing and orchestrated some of the most complex and intricate metal songs of the time. Still to this day, bands cite Mercyful Fate as an influence in their music and they are perhaps remembered as the biggest and best metal band to ever come from Denmark. More...
Celtic Frost may very well be one of the most creative and artistic bands in the vast world of metal. They formed from the ashes of the band Hellhammer in 1984 and released their first studio album, "Morbid Tales" in the same year. The album was met with strong acclaim from music critics and the metal underground alike, which led to the band releasing an EP entitled, "Emperor's Return." The band once again released an influential album in the form of "To Mega Therion" in 1985 that did not feature bass player Martin Eric Ain, though he would return to the band after the record's release. Celtic Frost would release the next in a trilogy of acclaimed and classic albums in 1987 when they released, "Into The Pandemonium," one of the most ambitious and experimental albums in the history of underground metal. The record included a sound of an avant-garde nature and featured unlikely covers of the songs "Mexican Radio" by New Wave artists Wall Of Voodoo and "In The Chapel In The Moonlight," which has been performed by artists such as Dean Martin, Kitty Kallen and The Bachelors.
However internal struggle became a massive problem for the band with financial troubles and personal tensions causing the band to briefly break up before frontman Thomas Fischer revived the group with former drummer Stephen Priestly and new members in the shape of guitarist Oliver Amberg and bass player Curt Victor Bryant. The resulting album, "Cold Lake," proved less than well-received by the band's fanbase with some labelling the bands as sell outs. "Cold Lake" featured a much more mainstream sound that seemed to be more influenced by bands such as Motley Crue than Venom. Fischer would later claim that the musical style on the album was due to his lack of interest in the creative output of the band. Martin Eric Ain would rejoin the band and they recorded the album, "Vanity/Nemesis" which was more in the vein of thrash metal than it's previous releases, which allowed the group to regain some of the credibility they had lost with "Cold Lake." The band planned to follow this record with a double album entitled, "Under Apollyon's Sun" but decided to split up before they entered the studio. During the split Martin Eric Ain would find success as a businessman, becoming the owner of a number of bars and nightclubs, while singer/guitarist Tom Fischer founded the industrial metal outfit Apollyon Sun and wrote a book about the history of Celtic Frost entitled, "Are You Morbid?"
After working together on the re-issue of several Celtic Frost albums, Fischer and Ain began writing music together under the Celtic Frost banner once again, along with guitarist Erol Unala and drummer Franco Sesa. They released a demo named, "Prototype" which featured ten new songs, before releasing their comeback album, "Monotheist" in 2006. The album received a huge amount of positive feedback and was labelled the darkest album they had ever written and was accompanied by the band's most ambitious tour yet, touring in countries they had never performed in before and headlining festivals such as Wacken Open Air. However the reunion did not last for as long as many had hoped, when Fischer decided to leave the band in April of 2008, leading to the band's demise once again. Celtic Frost will now go down in the history books of metal as one of the most influential, creative and darkest bands the world had ever seen.
Celtic Frost - "Circle Of The Tyrants"
Following on from last weeks article where we looked at Venom, a hugely influential band from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, we're continuing the trend this week by looking at one of their fellow N.W.O.B.H.M. acts, Diamond Head. Diamond Head is considered in this day and age one of the most influential acts of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and have been championed by numerous big name bands such as Exodus, Megadeth and Metallica to name a few. Diamond Head was the hot tip at the time to follow Iron Maiden in becoming not just another band from the movement, but a major act themselves. Unfortunately, although signed to a major label, the band never got the success and fame many expected they would achieve. In some cases today they are a band heard in name only, many knowing of their existence but less are aware of the actual music with the exception of cover versions bigger acts have done.
The band was formed in 1976 in the town of Stourbridge in England's Midlands region and continued for several years to hunt for success. The group took their name from an album by Phil Manzanera, the former lead guitarist of Roxy Music. The band would often refuse to perform cover songs, eventually making the exception for the Black Sabbath classic, "Paranoid." Though they self-financed many demos and released them independently, they struggled to find record label interest, though they were able to attract the attention of popular rock and metal artists of the time and secure support slots with the likes of AC/DC and Iron Maiden.
The band released their first album, which is often reffered to as "Lightning To The Nations" (though it never officially had a title) in 1980 through their own record label, Happy Face Records and received much critical acclaim for the record. This led to the band signing to MCA Records the following year and releasing their next album, "Borrowed Time." The album hit the number 24 mark in the British album charts and enabled the band to venture on their own headlining tour of the United Kingdom.
Diamond Head suffered from several line up changes and break-ups over the years and today guitarist Brian Tatler remains the sole original member of the band. Since their most recent reformation in 2000, the band has released two studio albums with the new line-up entitled "All Will Be Revealed" and "What's In Your Head?" with plans to record another album well underway.
Diamond Head - "Am I Evil?"
The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal produced dozens of new acts, some of which have gone down in history as legends of heavy metal and hard rock music, but of all these bands, none were as extreme, as over the top, as exciting, as Venom. The band was formed in the early '80s in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England and released their first album, "Welcome To Hell," in 1981. They gained an underground, cult following in the United Kingdom as well as in the European and North American metal underground, yet they didn't perform a proper live concert until after the release of their second album in 1982. "Black Metal" would go down in history as one of the most influential metal records of all time, and the band's first show took place at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon.
During interviews, Venom would invent numerous tags to describe themselves in order to set them apart from other heavy metal bands of the time. Almost all of these tags went on to become actual sub-genres such as "black metal," "thrash metal," "death metal" and "doom metal." Venom claim they wanted to stand out from the other bands of the time because they felt metal wasn't being represented as well as it should have been. The final straw for Venom came, surprisingly, after Michael Jackson entered the British heavy metal charts with the song, "Beat It" because it featured a guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen.
Over the years, the band released several more albums and experienced several lineup changes, which some might say led to the somewhat unfair reactions to strong albums that didn't feature certain original members. Although they might seem ridiculous when looked upon, Venom is one of the most influential metal bands ever to enter a recording studio and is without question responsible for the likes of thrash, death and of course, black metal. They helped American bands like Slayer, Exodus and even Metallica find fans in Europe by taking them out on tour and their original sound can be heard on many albums from other thrash metal bands such as Metallica's "Kill 'em All" or Slayer's "Show No Mercy." Venom is still going today, with singer/bass player Conrad "Cronos" Lant remaining as the band's sole original member and they are currently working on a brand new album. For Venom, it wasn't quality or quantity that counted, it was standing out from their peers and creating something new, and no-one can deny they did just that.
Venom - "Bloodlust"
This week in Sunday Old School we return to the 90's, having revisited the late 1960's and early 70's with Black Sabbath, Budgie, and Blue Cheer. While the 90's are less than twenty years ago, can you imagine a time before melodic death metal and even metalcore cannibalized the same melodeath riffs over and over ad nauseum? Enough said. Nearly twenty years ago, Swedish band At The Gates formed and soon helped popularized a new sound called melodic death metal, which was largely associated with Gothenburg scene due to the efforts of In Flames and Dark Tranquillity around the same time. The imitators have been many and in recent years the line between melodic death metal and melodic metalcore has blurred so much that it is often difficult to tell the difference between the two.
At the Gates did not remain together for even a decade, but their impact on the metal landscape has been enormous. The band remained entrenched in the underground as their first few albums suffered from 80's quality (read: low) production. It was not until 1996's "Slaughter of the Soul" that had significantly better production and was released by Earache Records that the band started to break into the mainstream a little more. After their breakup, drummer Adrian Erlandsson, bassist Jonas Björler, and guitarist Anders Björler went on to form The Haunted, while Lindberg has been in bands such as The Crown, Lock Up, Nightrage, The Great Deceiver and Disfear.
Newer metalheads can check out At The Gates to see where so many modern bands have drawn their influences from.
The video below is a live track lifted from the 2008 reissue of the classic album "Slaughter Of The Soul" that comes with a bonus DVD. The DVD features a recently unearthed live show filmed in Krakow Poland in 1995. More videos follow after the jump.
At The Gates Live In Poland 1995
Given that Blue Cheer frontman Dickie Peterson sadly passed away last Monday, it seemed only fitting that this week's edition of Sunday Old School take a look at the band. Blue Cheer began in 1966 and took their name from a brand of LSD which was promoted by former Grateful Dead frontman, Owsley Stanley. The band was managed by a former Hell's Angel. Blue Cheer scored a hit single with their cover of the Eddie Cochran classic, "Summertime Blues," which peaked at number 14 on the Billboard singles chart. The debut album, "Vincebus Eruptus" from which the song was from, also entered the Billboard album charts at number 11.
Over the years the band split up and reformed several times, but left a lasting influence on rock and metal music and have been cited by many as one of the inspirations behind punk rock, stoner rock, doom metal and grunge. You can check out some videos below of Blue Cheer, the band that was described by The Doors frontman Jim Morrison as "The single most powerful band I've ever seen."
Blue Cheer - "Summertime Blues"
Continuing on from last week's edition of Sunday Old School, which focused on Black Sabbath, this week's column takes a look at another band from the very first wave of heavy metal, in this case, Welsh rockers Budgie. Budgie is perhaps best known for their song, "Breadfan" because Metallica frequently covered the song during live performances (Metallica has also covered another Budgie song, "Crash Course In Brain Surgery.") Metallica isn't the only big name band to have covered Budgie either. Iron Maiden covered the song, "I Can't See My Feelings," Van Halen covered the title track from the 1974 album, "In For The Kill," and Soundgarden recorded a cover of "Homicidal Suicidal," which comes from Budgie's self-titled debut.
Many people, myself included, feel that Budgie never really got the full recognition they deserved and when comparing the two bands, one could state that Budgie was, "the RUSH that didn't quite make it." However, their influence on heavy metal remains to this day, with the band still holding a large fan base in Poland, an to a lesser extent, Australia and the United Kingdom. More...
This week we're going really old school, from the early days of one of the forefathers of heavy metal, Black Sabbath. Until Black Sabbath reunited to headline Ozzfest for several years, many younger/newer metal heads had yet to see the band's original lineup perform. Even in light of the recent reunions, it's interesting to see the band in their old form, and in today's column, we present a number of live video clips of Black Sabbath circa 1970. You can watch "War Pigs" live in Paris from 1970 below, with bonus videos after the jump.
Black Sabbath - "War Pigs" (Live in Paris 1970)
New Orleans extreme metal band Exhorder has often been cited for creating the sound that Pantera made famous. While the sound on their two classic albums, "Slaughter in the Vatican" (1990) and "The Law" (1992), was a little more extreme, sounding more like a thrashy death metal band than Pantera, the band complained of the final mix and did not approve of it. To be honest, they were still more extreme than Pantera and other thrash/groove bands that would rise to stardom in the 90s. The band broke up in 1992, still fairly underground, meaning many of today's metal heads may never have even heard of them.
Exhorder frontman Kyle Thomas went on to front other bands such as Floodgate, Trouble, and Alabama Thunderpussy among other less notable bands.
Exhorder reunited for a few shows in 2008 and announced their intention to re-record some new material as well as produce new material.
Here is a classic Exhorder video of "Slaughter In The Vatican" performed in Heidelberg on October 9, 1992, with a bonus video after the jump.
I love this song because it’s got that massive hxc anthem vibe. This song was covered all the time in my old scene, and it was always a blast to sing along with everyone. But you’re not just getting a great song in the video – it’s also a great dancing tutorial. I’m more of a gorilla/pickin’ up change guy.
Back in the dark days of metal, the 90's, New Orleans' Acid Bath formed and began rising through the underground ranks with their unique mesh of death, thrash, groove, stoner/doom, and sludgy NOLA sound and themes that largely centered around death, drugs, and serial killers. The band did not last long enough for a full ascent, however, releasing just two albums and finally disbanding in 1997 when bassist Audie Pitre and his parents were killed by a drunk driver. Those two studio albums, "When the Kite String Pops" (1994) and "Paegan Terrorism Tactics" (1996), however, were then cemented as underground classics.
Members of Acid Bath went on to form numerous other bands including Agents of Oblivion, Vual, Ritual Killer, and most notably, Goatwhore.
Being an underground band, Acid Bath played mostly smaller clubs and never had an impressive light show. When they came to Baltimore (and I regrettably passed on seeing them for another show), they played some little hole in the wall that I'd never heard of before. So you can't expect too much of an impressive live video outside of the performance itself. Here's a video apparently shot in one such small joint, of their live performance of "Bleed Me An Ocean" in Omaha, with a bonus performance of "Scream of the Butterfly" after the jump.
Acid Bath - Bleed Me An Ocean
Hardcore is such a great means for getting rid of some teenage angst and aggression. Though that's not what really attracted me to the style, it was beneficial many times. While being far from the greatest song in history, I know I related to the underlying issue: that we're a product of the environment that our own families put us in, while at the same time leveling accusations at us that we're "out of step." If you don't like the song, I imagine you'll love the video.
I love Integrity so much. They're one of my favorite old school hardcore bands. The great thing about Integrity is, is they're still around. Formed in 1988, they've stood by through the various fads that have made the scene ridiculous. Now they're currently on Deathwish Inc. and they're still putting out great hardcore albums. This song is off their 1995 Victory Records LP, "Systems Overload," and it's a solid mid-90s hardcore video.
Dark Angel is a thrash band that formed in 1981 and played on and off up until 2005. They were pretty big in the Bay City thrash movement, so you might call them some of our "thrash granddads." If you care you can read their whole story here. It's really awesome that we're still able to experience some of the music that influenced the bands we love today. This video is a live clip from their 1989 show in Hammersmith, London. This of course was back when you could wear tight jeans and have feathered hair and not get your ass beat by the other metal heads. More...