The operative question with Voivod here, as ever: whatthefuck. But, the endurance of that question speaks to the band’s staying power, and makes it impossible to dismiss them as simply zany. There’s something fuuuuucked about Voivod. Can’t understand why they made the musical decisions they did, can’t even understand how they arrived at said set of choices.
Pay close attention to the wonkiest parts and they start to make sense; put some pressure on the ostensibly straightforward riffs and you realize that they’re actually sort of odd.
Denis Belanger, aka Snake, is one of the coolest lyricists, nay, storytellers in the genre. He narrates the exploits of Voivod’s Sienkiewicz-esque mascot cyborg Korgull, as beamed directly into the brain from beyond the cosmos– high noise-to-signal ratio. In this episode, Korgull materializes in a totalitarian hell-dimension…observes flying god-leader and cowering populace…contemplates resistance, conflict, war…”Who is the god? Who is the dog?”
2. DEVIL’S ISLAND – MEGADETH
Here’s one from the much mocked and maligned Mustaine at the height of his powers. MegaDave is an easy target these days, but before you little whipper-snappers go harping on “Hello me, it’s the new me,” subject yourself to Killing through Rust and tell me if that run doesn’t constitute a lifetime pass.
Mustaine is, to my mind, the archetypal figure of American Metal in the Reagan/Bush era…the origin myth of MEGADETH is almost too good to be true. Judased by his brothers-in-arms… 4 days on a bus from NYC to LA, raging at a fever pitch, plotting vengeance. From ’85-’91, cuts a swath of destruction through planet Earth, in killing trim while arch-rivals rake in the pesos, growing fat and slovenly on their wooden throne. Dave M. as amplified Ogami Itto, with Junior Ellefson as cub-in-cart.
A ‘megadeth’ is a unit standing for a million lives snuffed in nuclear explosion. “Devil’s Island” (from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?) typifies prime MEGADETH– bloodthirsty, rabid, munera sine missione. Before six-string virtuoso Marty Friedman was offsetting Mustaine’s circular saw guitar attack with graceful sweeps and immaculately composed solos, guitar virtuoso Chris Poland was countering him with additional circular saw attack. Total violence. This cut is vicious, but every song on the album is this nasty. And by the way, congrats to Mustaine for staying a shithead!
3. RITUAL KNIFE – UNCLE ACID & THE DEADBEATS
I like this fucking band , silly name withstanding, and I’m glad the rest of Planet Earth seems to be starting to catch on. At the time of this writing, I haven’t listened to their new LP yet, but here’s to hoping they keep up the excellent work.
Sleazy is all well and good, but how often do you come across metal that’s actually sexy? With the old noise-canceling circumaural noise delivery earmuffs strapped to the symmetric temporal plate vectors of my skull, zoning out to Uncle Acid, I picture some kind of eldritch rite going on, in a Black Forest, sacred grove type context while listening to this music. I know the band is all weirdbeards, but I don’t let that ruin the fantasy…
4. IRON DOGS – EXCITER
Well, you know where they got the name. Before EXCITER dropped Heavy Metal Maniac, the last PRIEST record was Screaming for Vengeance, which finds Half in full-on leather commander mode, but the band showing all the polish and professionalism that was/is the calling card of JUDAS PRIEST. Consider EXCITER, then, PRIEST’s benzo’d-out younger cousin who comes over and spends a week sleeping on the couch, eating mayonnaise from the jar, and picking through all the ashtrays in search of a roach. How many gallons of suds went into the making of “Iron Dogs?” If you’re wondering what the song would sound like played as a boogie, hang on until the middle of the track and you’ll find out. And do listen to HMM– it sounds exactly like an album of that title should sound.
5. REVELATION – SIRATH
The dossier on SIRATH is pretty slim. These guys put out a single tape in Fall River, MA (birthplace of my grandmother, Barbara) back in ’88. A shame they didn’t stick around. “Revelation” isn’t too flashy, but it’s a jolly good workingman’s fist-pumper. I admire the tastefulness and restraint of this track (taste and restraint being two words you don’t often associate with power metal). The guitar solo, for example, is perfect– it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end…pressure and release…similarly, whoever is doing the lead vocals has pipes, but issues only one all-out shriek during the song. Very sincere, which is charming and ingratiating. The cover illustration depicts the band members (Ray, Chris and Tom, aka Wisdom, Strength and Honor) appearing before a crowd of rapturous followers in some dawn-lit mesa. Who needs razzle-dazzle when you’ve attained ultimate knowledge?
6. INSURRECTION OF THE LIVING DAMNED – BULLDOZER
Is “Insurrection of the Living Damned” the best song title of all time, or what? Here is Italy’s BULLDOZER, firmly entrenched in the splendor/sleaze dichotomy that has been a tradition on the peninsula since the dissolution of the second Triumvirate, though these lads lean more towards one camp, than the other. It seems like BULLDOZER is always discussed in terms of being a bridge between first-wave and second-wave black metal. That’s got traction (slippery high-treble chord phrasings, Pazuzu vocals and so forth), but can we talk about the swagger factor for a second? BULLDOZER is a group of cool dudes, and this is a cool song to cruise to. Wrath of the Tyrant-era BULLDOZER is just about the worst thing you could put on to introduce a novice to metal– to the unfucked ear, it sounds like pure noise. Dig in a little more and you find a very strong melodic armature and, yes, groove. I’m really taken with the riff that repeats for the last minute and a half of the song. Kind of a shitass “push it to the limit” moment. Bump this one while riding your chopper through the bombed out necropolis, en route to vomit in the papal crypt.
7. TASTE DEFEAT – SIGH
“Taste Defeat” on an album titled Scorn Defeat. First assertion, “my dying will…” echoes eponymous narrator in Beckett’s Malloy: “All grows dim. A little more and you’ll go blind. It’s in the head. It doesn’t work anymore, it says, I don’t work anymore. You go dumb as well and sounds fade.” Everything is drying up, emptying out, the self not the least of all. Could it be that all experience of the world is really an experience of selfhood? Could it be that torment is an experience of the limitations of the self? Could it be that those terrifying encounters with alterity, the unthinkable, are the closest one comes to escaping the ennui of the self? Well, that’s one myth of causality to put to black metal’s fixation with depravity, abjection and horror. SIGH, hold out the possibility of some sphere of transcendence, then dismiss the prospect. “Castle in the air which used to be real/Now you can’t tell just what was real/All the faiths you had are falling down/Taste of defeat, defeat of yourself.” It’s a disturbing formula, and a bold one.
8. METAL CHURCH – METAL CHURCH
For me, American Metal, particularly American Metal coming from the West Coast in the 80s, has an urban connotation. There’s a thematic basis to it– Reagan-age nuclear scenarios, environmental devastation, neo-totalitarianism as cultural-historical context. but it’s in the sonics, as well. A brilliant age for guitar tone, the 80s. Sounded so, well, metallic…alludes to scenes of heavy industry…Chiba City skies, “color of television tuned to a dead channel”…day-from-night, an item of nostalgia. In this midst of this vision, David Wayne (one of the great vocalists of metal, period) wails about “many, many years ago,” and “the hand of Oberon,” (not to mention the Eastern-tinged guitar solo)…then parlays the whole equation into an anthem of inner fortitude and actualization, through artistic communion? “Metal church begins anew, saving souls that are lost,” dare I call this a “personal” metal church song? I mean not only is this a kind of manifesto, but one which we can sense within it a human consciousness and sensibility…the synthesis of daydream imagery (drawn from the ancillary mediums of myth and fantasy) with an expression of the historical moment, and an assertion of the self in relation to those two poles. All of this is delivered with unimpeachable command and authority; bow the fuck down.
9. BURNED AT THE STAKE – MORBID SAINT
I don’t have much to say about MORBID SAINT other than “listen to ‘em.” This wrecking crew from Sheboygan, Wisconsin put out a single LP (the uber-gruesome Spectrum of Death) in ’88, then called it quits, however, they’re back together now. This one is a bone-crusher. Like listening to Hell Awaits-era SLAYER vomiting through the bathroom door. Master practitioners of the guitar-as-percussion-instrument technique. Great timing too. They know just when to let a shadow of a melody out of the meat grinder, and when to cram your face back into it, then pile on the beef.
10. VICTIM OF THE INSANE – TROUBLE
Let’s say first about Trouble what has already been said but what must be said. Yes, they are a Christian bad, but holy shit are they heavy. “Evil is real. God is good, but wrathful. We live in a state of damnation.” Etc. etc. I’m interested in the religious angle with regard to aural expression of power. Heavy metal is mostly concerned with extremity – big feelings, tremendous forces. A lot of metal bands evoke scope, might, and corresponding menace by flirting with the breakdown of order, utilizing chaos as part of their sonic effect, just riding the crest of it, barely holding it in abeyance. The extraordinary skill and discipline of the musicians devoted to this genus of Rock ‘N’ Roll acts a check against the fug of inarticulate 1960’s mysticism against which early pioneers in the genre acted as a reactionary force. And so the goal is not to be swept up by the great power surging through the nervous system of the performers and the PA’s they’re hooked up to, but to harmonize with it, becoming its medium. The guitars sound electrical, as charged and dangerous as a live wire spitting sparks (dig those slides– zoooom– and the rhythm guitar accents during the solo). Trouble marshal that charge; possessed by it. It imbues them with frightening conviction and poise. Dark stuff, but ultimately feels triumphant, coming up out of the dirge with one basher of a coda.
11. GENERAL URKO (I DRINK YOUR BLOOD) – BLOOD FARMERS
Insert 20 weed jokes here. This cut comes off the self-titled LP from ’95, the band’s only full-length. How did this band not get huge? Track down the record if you can; an absolute must-hear for doom fans and all other varieties of humans. As strong or stronger than anything ELECTRIC WIZARD ever put down. Top-shelf execution of all sludge trappings, plus an atmosphere of vivid grime and sleaze. Gross. We like.
12. EYES OF THE UNDEAD – WITCHGRAVE
Which grave? Reference points here being MAIDEN and VENOM. No shit. WITCHGRAVE are too sloppy to play like MAIDEN and too self-aware to play like VENOM, but they compensate for the former by cranking the fuzz and the reverb and the latter by force of booze, from the sound of it. The yield is a right fine loaf of power-slop. During the guitar solo, the rhythm guitar is way louder than the lead, a production decision which is surprising, baffling and wholly agreeable. As fun as the first 12 times you got drunk.
13. HOLE IN THE SKY (LIVE ’75) – BLACK SABBATH
Riffs of the highest order are so elemental and direct that you can’t imagine a time when they didn’t exist, the process that preceded them being so inconceivable that it might as well be the work of a god. A very good band is lucky to write one or two of these during the course of an entire career, but Iommi was fucking flush with ‘em. Anyway, it’s all been said before about SABBATH, but the power never abates. Ozzy’s voice! Here’s a live recording of a classic track from Sabotage; shame on you if you don’t already know it.