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Steel Mammoth – Atomic Mountain

June 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Ektro Records, 2007

I don’t care if you’re a pop fan who likes coordinated dance moves and electro-falsetto effects, this album art has to draw you in.  A skull with ram horns, lightning bolts, and what looks to be some kind of World War I helmet is impressive by itself, but check out that band logo.  It has to mean guitar shredding and vocal wailing lies within.  I, uh, even dig the colors of orange, light brown and black.  That reminds me of Halloween YEAH!  Okay, so the three Finnish guys on the inside booklet look like they’re making a mockery of their band photos by posing like goofballs, but that can’t be enough of a deterrent from picking up this record.  This disc has to roar.

As much as the cover looks like this is going to be some kind of Motorhead at light speed, it is not an accurate representation of the band’s sound.  Steel Mammoth may be confident in their artistic choices of rock ‘n roll visages, but they end up hiding behind the amps and guitars with their music level.  “Black Team” does start off rather well, though it isn’t anywhere near the heavy metal I expected.  Instead, the songs reminds me of Steppenwolf and that “Magic Carpet Ride” song … which is a good song, sure, but it’s more of a jam than an exultant rocker.  Initially I waved it off as just a slow, safe start for Steel Mammoth.

“Heart of Bone” has a great squealing guitar amidst its sense of despair, and the chorus of “Barbarian lords, we ride alone/until we’re just a pile of bones” is an excellent mantra for barbarian dudes who can’t be bothered with those wenches and their emotional demands.  Unfortunately, after this one the songs get disappointing fast.  A song like “Blackout Leather” screams nitro shredding or at least some kind of howling.  Instead, it jollies along at mid-tempo with some very fey vocals by some guys named Garfield Steel and Juicyifer (nope, not the band Jucifer … well, that’d be confusing anyway).  Lemmy would even have a hard time making this a powerfully sounding rock effort, for despite moments of volume during the chorus the entire song goes on too long with a limp.

“Commando Leopard” sounds like it could be another flaming hammer to your skull if you heard it … and behold, it is!  But not in a great way at all, for the band sort of drones on for nearly three minutes before the noise sets in.  That’s right, for about nine minutes they just turn to a kind of space out music that would probably be the soundtrack to one’s time spent in a dungeon.  Strange echoes, rumblings, and what sounds like the crumpling of paper.  I guess they sort of gave up at this point.

If “Riders of Death” didn’t start off with some kind of riff that could hold one’s attention for at least ten seconds, this review was going to be over.  Thankfully, the guitar intro was somewhat interesting even if the rest of the song just sort of repeated it while dabbling with some high-pitched twanging by a second guitar.  The deeper chanting during the chorus is probably the best metal impression one is going to get from this record, which at least shows they could pull it off.  It’s too bad that, yet again, “Riders of Death” goes on too long for little reward.

You can hear a few tunes at MySpace or at Ektro Records if you wish, though make sure you don’t accidentally knock over your latte when snapping your fingers.

I had such high hopes for this record and the metal that it should have brought that I waited to listen to it for the right time.  I expected to drive everyone away within a mile radius due to the volume that would come out of my speakers.  Instead, it’s a rock ‘n roll album that people wouldn’t want to necessarily get out of their arm chairs to break a beer bottle for.  Whoever created that horned skull on the album cover should just sign up to craft Motorhead’s or Mastodon’s upcoming album and let Steel Mammoth mimic a Journey album cover for their next record.  Rock ‘n roll indeed.

So, despite a few decent songs, I’m labeling this one a bust.  It should have been better.  Since this is their debut record, there is certainly hope that Steel Mammoth has moved on from the lightweight rock to a stronger dose in later albums.  Listening to a few tunes on their MySpace page, the only one that stands out as something improved is “Nerheim War Cry”, which is a pretty good metal song.  If they record more of those, they can keep putting skulls on their album covers.  If not, perhaps an illustration of a plushy gray elephant is a better representation of what Steel Mammoth really represent.

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Spider Cunts – Stuck Up -N- Mean

May 23, 2012 4 comments

Beer City Records, 2000

I couldn’t resist.  Sifting through yet another dollar bin I came across a band name that consisted of two words I thought I would never see together.  Spider Cunts.  Did the group members sit around one day and think about how spiders had sex, and then thought well, what about spider reproductive organs?  Let’s name ourselves after one of those?  No idea.  Since the four ladies of the band looked content (not angry, not vengeful) on the back cover photo I figured they were either holding something back or just wanted to get my attention with their band name (er, success!).  What amazed me after buying the disc was that when I looked the group up, they didn’t have a single review on allmusic.com or rateyourmusic.com.  I deemed that a travesty, so these next few paragraphs needed to be written.

Spider Cunts don’t get cute with the type of music they play, for a Beer City band should sound like they’re in-your-face rock and roll and, indeed, they are.  With songs like “Punch You in the Neck!” and “60 Stitches in 6 Weeks”, it’s immediately apparent this ain’t no pop band.  The first track of “Rage” is pretty much what the rest of the album sounds like with its chugging bass and simply chorded guitar.  As the song picks up into a sort of punk/hardcore hybrid, vocalist Amyl Nitrate shouts out about how angry she is.  Not she needed to explain herself, for the following songs of “Hey!” and “Scream 4” pretty much sound the same way both musically and lyrically.  You get the message about Spider Cunts immediately.

Unfortunately, even the songs that have more engaging (re: amusing) lyrics don’t separate themselves from the angrier songs.  “7 A.M. Love Affair”, a tune about two drunk people skipping the whole dating phase, is just more shouting.  “Brooklyn Lager” is the band’s tribute to their favorite brew, which is probably a better choice to screech about than Corona with lime or Stella Artois.  Of course, besides the lyrics the song sounds just like “Closed Deli Breakup”, “Boys With Morals 2000” and “Liquor, Heavy N Hard”.  In fact, if one stripped the vocals from every track I bet at least half of the songs are composed the exact same way.  Unfortunately there’s just nothing to distinguish each song from each other as they all mostly conclude in less than two minutes and the entire thing shoves you out the door in less than thirty minutes.  For a debut record I suppose such urgency to just get it all recorded without a nod towards variety is somewhat understandable given a new band’s excitement.  But given that one song is enough of an idea of how the whole record sounds, there’s really not much of a need to spin the whole thing through that often.

Spider Cunts can be heard on Last.fm, sure, but the live video is what you should see.

As excited as I was to see an all girl band named Spider Cunts, I just can’t say that this album lived up to my hopes of rock ‘n roll brilliance.  I guess I wished too hard for hooks and repeat spins, when all it really sounds like to me is a clumsily organized hardcore effort.  Perhaps if I had seen them live I’d appreciate their choice of music more, because I imagine the animated set would have made the band more impressive than the sound off of this disc.  As it stands, it comes across as boring regardless of some of the slick song titles.

Regardless of what I think of their music these days,Spider Cunts certainly could have been bigger during the early nineties when Hole, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill and other grrrlish bands were popular.  But they came out in 2000, so nearly a decade after the movement was in its prime Spider Cunts had a go of it to see if anything was left.  As it turns out, they only put out one record … so I guess that answers that about the grrl movement of 2000.  By the way, looking further into the liner notes apparently Amyl Nitrate got knifed in the face by some guy named Thomas “Ducky” French and he was on the run.  It may be twelve years on, but I hope they got that Ducky guy.  He probably turned himself in eventually, for having a group named Spider Cunts after you likely isn’t good for your health now or later.

Quintaine Americana – Needles

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

CherryDisc Record Company, 1996

I believe I once saw these guys opening for the Melvins with a buddy of mine.  My friend said that he had really wanted to see Quintaine Americana because he heard they were heavy.  It was a show that gave us a mixed reaction (okay, not heavy enough I guess) but the power was certainly there.  It was also there when I picked up this disc and saw the dog corpse on the cover.  Ah man, that’s not what I really needed to see.  I tried to envision the live show when I put this disc on the counter to buy and not the band’s strange interest in deceased family pets.

Quintaine Americana is a Boston area band that gives off a progressive hard rock sound that was a familiar sound in the nineties if you went looking for it.  “Needles” is their debut album that arrived the same year as Tool’s “Aenima”, whose sound is an obvious influence.  Knowing what the band sounded like before I spun the disc I was a little worried the record would get sludgy and monotonous by the third track, but it turns out the album gets better as the tracks progress.

“Aunt Ruth” has a real meaty, deep bass line that permeates throughout the song that I really like having there to keep the mood.  Granted, bassist Marc Schleicher doesn’t have much else to do during the song as he keeps playing it for nearly five minutes … so maybe like Ringo Starr he gets a bit bored playing the same thing.  Rob Dixon’s vocals remind me of Steve Albini’s in Big Black such that they have a menacingly flat tone that you feel can erupt at any moment.  It never really gets there in this song, as the guitar spends most of the time in the forefront.

Dixon’s vocals definitely prove to be the weakest element as the album thunders along , though perhaps I’m the only one who listens to heavy rock and bothers with vocal criticism.  His voice does work on a few tracks, however.  “Retarded Whore” gets the eye-rubbing song title award for the record, though I have to say it builds up the anxiety pretty well with the slow guitar chugging building into a noisy chorus.  The song stands out a little bit from the rest, though that is because the rest all have that chugging bass, squealing guitar, and those grating vocals.  One my more favorite songs is the quick and simple “JT, Fire at the Trailer Park”.  Something about its urgency and steady riff throughout probably wins me over, but maybe it’s also because I never had time to get sick of it given its two minutes of length.  Honestly, if you can take a page out of Wire’s mantra of getting out before getting boring, then take it.

“The Rifleman” begins with a guitar riff that one might hear when wandering the desert; it has a hopeless yet sharp effect as it repeats early on.  The heavy chorus introduces itself quickly and through the collision of guitar and bass Dixon’s despairing vocals blend in very well.  It’s one of the stronger tracks on the record, succeeding in not getting too routine in its length.  Unfortunately, some songs are not engaging whatsoever.  “I’m Sorry” sounds like another stark tune given the sparse guitar strums early on as well as the monologue that seems to refer to a father-son rift.  A fine lyric:  “The only thing I hate more than myself is people who actually like me.”  Yeesh.  After “The Rifleman” it is not only a downer in spirit but a downer in expectations.  I guess the band chose this moment to mix things up, but it didn’t work out well.  The rest of the record sounds a lot like the early part, so despite this dud of a song at least the band finished up well.

A few songs of Quintaine Americana’s heavy output can be heard on MySpace if you’re interested.

This isn’t a record that I would likely return to often since other groups have done this better and, frankly, Dixon’s vocals aren’t all that impressive here.  Quintaine Americana did go on to make a couple more records within a decade’s worth of time before calling it quits.  Given that Boston tends to produce a lot of garage rock bands that pack the bars, Quintaine Americana filled a niche that was sorely needed in the area.  Since their last record came out eight years after this one, it would be worth the time to spin it just to see how these guys ended up.

Kill Cheerleader – All Hail

February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Spinerazor Records, 2006

It is a rare situation when I buy a dollar bin album that I already own.  I even recall originally buying this record for $13 or so online because I wanted it so much.  I winced at the price a bit at the time, and I winced even more harshly at the cover art, but I knew this was quality rock ‘n roll when I bought it a few years ago.  And would you believe that this copy, which was more than ten bucks cheaper, was still wrapped?!  I nearly fainted.  This truthfully was an act of saving a great disc from the inevitable landfill in the hopes of handing it over to a friend.  I suppose this review is my defense of getting a dollar bin-deemed record twice.

I could just leave the music description of the band as “a derailed train hitting a Baptist church” or siamese twins engaging in carnal contact, but I’ll keep the metaphors to a minimum when I say that Canada’s Kill Cheerleader resemble a hair metal band without all the schlock.  Ethan Deth (aka Ethan Rath of Crystal Castles) and his leather-wearing cronies blaze through most of their songs with guitar layers, drum thwacking rapidness, and disdain for anything sedentary.  One of the standouts of the record (and there are a good amount of them) is “Lady of the Night”.  Something about a bass intro, meshing with a lashing guitar, and the sneering Deth demanding his lady of the night to come back to him reeks of rock ‘n roll.  A particular favorite part of the songs comes during the mid-song double guitar solo, which helps split the song into half chorus/verse, half instrumental.

“No Feelings” and “Find Your Own Way Home” also pack in a lot of quick riffing and grim rawness.  In “No Feelings”, Deth’s vocals take on the tone of simmering anger that only bursts during the chorus, yet it’s the blitzing guitar work at the end that seems to truly convey the song’s emotions.  “Find Your Own Way Home” sounds more like a punk song given its speed and the vocal shouting, yet it fits the tone of the lyrics given that this is one of those anguished see-you-later songs.

“Don’t Call Me Baby, Baby” wins the best title for the record, but man does it deliver on the powerful sonic juice.  Granted, it’s an unfortunate story that details the unhappiness a girl is feeling towards her wayward boyfriend, but yet again it’s that wailing guitar solo and extended instrumental that makes this song an encompassing mass of blissful energy.  (sigh)  How can one truly describe songs that just get one utterly amped up?  Can you feel my conviction through the screen?

For all their bombast, Kill Cheerleader do enjoy their quiet moments.  “Go Away” is a nice break from the action halfway through the album, and though it slots well as a rock ballad the “na na na’s” and sometimes whiny vocals might not make this one’s favorite spin.  Still, its later verses aren’t so pitifully quiet to kill the momentum that the record surged forth from the beginning.  “No Lullabies” is nearly whispered at the end of the record’s onslaught, reminding me of some kind of conglomeration of Guns N Roses ballads.  Finally, for whatever reason, Kill Cheerleader wanted to end the record by plinking away on a piano in “Hurt the People You Love”.  Letting us down easy, I guess.

These guys have a few tunes on their otherwise desolate MySpace page, but I think Youtube will serve you better for your headbanging fix.  For a pretty good live video of the band, check out “Sell Your Soul”.  For a video that I thought was taken off the Internet, check out the official “No Feelings” video.

I cannot express to you how much joy this record brings me.  It has that retro metal element but also some fantastic modern takes on rock that keeps it from being too monotonous or predictable.  I also really like the fact that Deth’s vocals are rarely in your face, so it gives each song a garage rock feel while primarily focusing on the music.  Even the slow songs are appealing with their slight tugs on a metalhead’s feelings regardless of how well the lyrics are crafted.  I suppose … I suppose this is a record that Motorhead fans, who like that consistently beautiful blend of hard rock, metal and edge, could truly enjoy.  It makes you want to hear the next record, which will hopefully sound like the first, and then there will be more devil horns thrust into the air, and then…

But no, this is it.  Unfortunately Kill Cheerleader is no longer and merely put out this one record.  It’s already known that Ethan Deth (Rath) has gone onto Crystal Castles, so perhaps that path of chaotically catchy electronic music was more his thing than hard rock.  Seems a shame, but at least this record exists to give some rock fans out there some satisfaction.  Well, this one definitely gets the Golden Dollar.  This one’s a keeper…. er, twice.

Bullet Lavolta – The Gift

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Taang! Records, 1989

Aside from the colorful red and yellow cover that pops out at me, I don’t really have a whole lot to say about why I bought this record (aside from its affordability, that is).  Maybe I thought that Bullet Lavolta was sort of close to ‘John Travolta’ … though why I would list John Travolta as a reason to buy a record is beyond me.  Maybe I thought the flowers were really pretty in the ultra-pale lady’s hands.  Or maybe I was shocked to curiosity when I saw the same woman bound, gagged and getting strangled on the back cover.  Okaaaay Bullet Lavolta, what is your game?

It turns out that Bullet Lavolta were a relatively long-staying hard rock band in Boston back in the late eighties.  If I had opened up the art booklet before purchasing the record, I would have noticed five very gruff-looking dudes in leather and flannel jackets.  These gruff-looking dudes don’t get cute with the music with their rumbling opener of “X Fire”.  It’s got the heavy, blended guitars, the driving drum beat, and what sounds like a repetition of “tapioca” during the chorus.  Well, that can’t be right.  Unless, of course, tapioca is rock ‘n roll pudding to you and Bullet Lavolta.

Like “X Fire”, most of the songs on the record are hard, heavy, and straight forward.  “Chalkdust”, “Over the Shoulder”, and “Off Kilter” are very similar sounding tracks with the same guitar tones and three minutes or less clock time.  Lead vocalist Yukkie Gipe nearly gets drowned out by the band most of the time.  There’s also not much of a chance to pick up any of the lyrics either as Gipe mumbles or screams his way through most songs.  Even when he sounds more coherent on songs like “One Room Down” you can barely hear him.  Whether it was a production gaff or not, the back burner treatment of the vocals proves Bullet Lavolta is all about the maximum rock ‘n roll volume anyway.  I guess take your deep lyrical interpretations and poetic rhythm elsewhere.

However, if you’re looking for a band comparison of Bullet Lavolta, “Mother Messiah” gives off a Dictators impression mainly due to the song’s composition and Yukkie Gipe’s vocals.  It helps that Gipe’s singing voice is actually a speaking/singing hybrid, which essentially means he’s yelling rather loudly.  Something along the lines of the punk side of the Dictators is “Dead Wrong”, which is a really great rousing song after the epically awful ‘faux death metal’ of “Birth of Death”.  Unlike most records these days, “Dead Wrong” proves that some of the better tracks on albums can be found near the end.  It’s the eleventh track of a mostly hard rock collection, so although it came late it leaves the listener with a pretty good impression of Bullet Lavolta’s well-rounded rock out capabilities.

A few articles and Youtube videos can be found to get to know Bullet Lavolta, but at least Last.fm has some songs from them to spin.

Although “The Gift” is rather middle of the road, Bullet Lavolta can give anyone the heavy rock dose they need to pump their fist in the air once in awhile.  Apparently they were big in Boston during their five year existence, so maybe the record doesn’t do the band enough justice for what they could actually do onstage.  (sigh)  I suppose that constitutes some of the painful aspect of reviewing old albums and wishing you could instead be reviewing it at the time of release.  I imagine that if I had been around Boston back when Bullet Lavolta were thrashing about the local clubs, I would have donned my fashionable jean jacket and lumbered on over to see them a few times.

Lento – Earthen

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Supernatural Cat Records, 2007

Aside from a real eye-catching color scheme, I don’t know anything about Lento or Supernatural Cat records.  What I did know is that it was somewhat tricky to take a peek at the insides of the jewel case.  Why?  Because it’s a Super Jewel Box, folks.  It is true, for instead of merely flipping open the jewel case I had to press down on an official spot.  That caused the plastic fortress to open up and reveal a CD with a giant illustration of a bug on it.  The booklet had to be slid out from the top of the disc.  Whoa!  This is a heavy duty presentation, as if the case was constructed to contain something powerful.  Indeed, Lento brought the force in many ways.

For a majority of the seven tracks, Lento dirge it up so that you are always slowly headbanging with each power riff.  These Italians can truly lay it on thick and powerful, for songs like “Need” is pure muscle at a melodic pace.  Understand that Lento’s music is not any kind of speedy effort, but instead is more meditative with its rock.  A good comparison would be Godspeed You Black Emperor (GYBE) or Explosions In the Sky, except heavier.

As for “Need”, the song chugs along with a permeating tension before repeated blasts of power chords strike around the middle of the tune.  As one might expect from an instrumental band that compares a bit to GYBE or Explosions in the Sky, the repeated tempo changes throughout the song maintain the interest level as well as fluctuate the mood.  Lento does not always shake things up, for the following track “Subterrestrial” is an absolutely bleak three minutes of barren hollowness.  If “Need” provided any energy, “Subterrestrial” sucks it all out.

The rest of the album fluctuates from these volume extremes.  While “Currents” and “Earth” continue the deep power strums and dark, emotional content, songs like “Emersion of the Islands” and “Leave” utterly wash away any built up tension.  It’s like sticking an ice cube down the back of someone’s shirt and then blasting them with a hair dryer; these songs give off completely opposite reactions.  I will say that the long goodbye of “Leave” (at nearly ten minutes) doesn’t do as much for me as “Emersion for the Islands”, mainly because “Leave” has nothing going on except a long, moonscape-walking static sound.  Great in space, numbing on Earth.

“Emersion for the Islands” has a very pleasant periodic strum of a guitar that acts as, for lack of a better description, a drop of warm honey on the shoulders that slowly drips down.  This causes a calming effect and makes for a wonderful meditative piece.  The song would also be a perfect soundtrack for that desert scene in “No Country For Old Men” where a gun battle took place but no one knows why.  Unlike its predecessors, the song is heavy in a completely different way.

If you’re into metal, definitely check Lento out at their MySpace page.

Although Lento hasn’t put out anything new since this record (as far as I can tell online, that is), this would still be a good record to pick up for a different kind of metal experience.  I like the various moods that the band inflict on the listener, especially with the songs that sound like they want me to go to sleep only to blast me awake with the next tune.  Some may say that a band should stick to one sound so that fans can predict what they will like from them, but in the case of Lento I think they made the right choice in expressing how far their sonic boundaries will go.  If they ever put out something new, I look forward to hearing if they’ve veered more towards one extreme than the other.

The Hellacopters – Supershitty to the Max!

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Man’s Ruin Records, 1998

Since I’m a heavy enthusiast of rock ‘n roll, I already know of the Hellacopters through their excellent “By the Grace of God” record.  However, this one I picked up actually came out some years before that record, so as it goes one never knows what, if anything, of the band you know exists from their early days.  Could they be flat out metal and the stuff I heard later is watered down?  Did they start cute and poppy like adorable Swedish musicians, only to decide to wreak havoc on the listening public due to a chemical imbalance?  Given the album title and cover image of a maniacal goblin, I figured these guys were going to try on their best Motorhead impression and tear it up.  Indeed, after ‘Play’ was pressed, there really wasn’t much time to strap myself in.

Yeeeaah!  ROOOOCK!  (pump fist pump fist pump fist)

I’m not lying, the first track of “(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!” has to rank right up there as one of the best first tracks off of the first album for a band from Sweden. Nicke Andersson’s frenzied vocals sound like the microphone is being consumed while the rest of the band produces something that might have come from an early KISS.  “24th Hell” is borderline punk with the speed in tempo and chorus, which continues just as urgently (and as shortly) with “Fire Fire Fire”.  Talk about making an instant impression on the debut record!

The rest of the record unfortunately wears of some of the excitement of the first few tracks, mainly because they all sound the same.  Every song has Andersson absolutely in your face with blast of volume out of his mouth, only to severely muffle the microphone and thus get drowned out by the band.  There is no break throughout the album (nor should there be on a ROCK ‘n ROLL record, maaaan) unless you count the slightly slower “Tab”, so after awhile one could start to feel that songs start to blend together.  “How Could I Care” has a great chugging guitar riff that pounds throughout the tune, but since it came not too longer after “Bore Me” and right before the thrash punk tune of “Didn’t Stop Us”, it gets a little lost in getting itself noticed.  They might as well have thrown “Random Riot” in with “Didn’t Stop Us” given its pace and muddled vocals, though the chorus sounds a lot cooler in my opinion.

Beginning with “Didn’t Stop Us”, the last six tracks finish rather quickly.  It likely has to do with the aforementioned pace, though “Spock In My Rocket” is the exception to the acceleration.  It still burns fire with heavy guitar and the clashing of the drums over the choruses (which, by the way, was featured in the twelve previous songs as well).  However, it lasts for six minutes!  It’s armageddon in a song.  Then, of course, as a band from the late nineties the Hellacopters opt for the signature ‘hidden song’.  Unfortunately, it turns out to be an even more muffled live track that just comes across as a bunch of noise in the end.  Oh well.

The Hellacopters’ website could use a real update, but at least they’ve still got a good assortment of music up on MySpace.

It’s a tough call for this one for me.  I really liked the music and would love to hear a few tracks from these guys from time to time when I need an instant boost of power.  However, thirteen tracks that generally sound the same and come across as rushed might be a little overdone.  I still think the Hellacopters are a great band and that people should definitely go check out any release from them.  Since “By the Grace of God” sounds a lot more varied and contains much more clarity, while still delivering true on its fantastic rock anthems, I recommend starting there rather than the very start with this debut.