CD Reviews: Helloween, Gwar, A.C., Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings, Ross the Boss, Place of Skulls
Helloween, 7 Sinners (SPV)
In the completely watered down genre of power metal if you want straight by-the-numbers recordings then you pick one of 10,000 new bands creating the same slop. If you want something fresh or different sounding then you need to focus on the classic bands.
Now you would think after 25 years of Helloween music with some clunkers in the middle that sounding fresh would be the last think you would expect out of some old dudes, but would you believe me if I said this was a virtually perfect album?
2007’s Gambling with the Devil was a damn good disc, proving these guys still had it in them, but 7 Sinners is ridiculously great. The guitar duo of original member Michael Weikath and relative newcomer Sascha Gerstner trade some of the best riffs on a Helloween record since the Keeper of the Seven Keys set. And Andi Deris’s vocals completely soar and sound more ferocious than they have in years.
Songs like “Are You Metal?” “Raise the Noise” and “You Stupid Mankind” are total riff fests and the overall sound is so dynamic. Strangely enough at a whopping 14 tracks and over an hour in length there is no point where you think enough is enough. I’ve debated long and hard whether to say this or not as you’d like to think it would be impossible, but 7 Sinners might just be Helloween’s best album.
Gwar, Bloody Pit of Horror (Metal Blade)
I know that Scumdogs of the Universe released 20 year ago (!) is considered a classic now, but to me Gwar didn’t start playing anything that was simultaneously interesting and good until Lust in Space, released just last year. I never considered Gwar a joke band but more like a Kiss — all about the stage show and less about the recorded music. But Lust in Space saw a thrashier sound for the band and to my ears sounded like the first time all the members really played their respective instruments well.
So I’m happy to see Bloody Pit of Horror so soon after it as they needed to follow up Lust with another killer record and build on the momentum of a well received album (and really, anytime I can put the words Oderus Urungus and Jizmak Da Gusha in print, it’s all worth it). At the time I had assumed Lust in Space would be their peak but after hearing this album I was wrong. Bloody Pit of Horror is a fantastic ferocious thrash attack that’s entertaining as hell. “A Gathering of Ghouls” packs a tremendous punch in its short two minute time frame. “You Are My Meat” is a great ballad with a slight doom feel to it and “Hail, Genocide!” is ridiculously rhythmic and catchy with a great guitar solo near the end. And it’s hard to ignore a song called “Tick-Tits” because what could be better than tits?
Overall, Bloody Pit of Horror is an absolutely terrific record. Fun, gruesome, totally killer and easily one of the best releases of the year.
Anal Cunt, Fuckin’ A (Patac Records)
There is never a dull moment when you hear that Anal Cunt (or at this point probably better known simply as A.C.) are releasing a new disc. Part seriously fucked up in the head and part tongue-in-cheek, singer Seth Putnam and the group have been putting out almost unlistenable grindcore since 1994. But even though almost everything they’ve done majorly sucks, it’s always strangely interesting. With song titles in the past like “Breastfeeding Jm J. Bullock’s Toenail Collection,” “No, We Don’t Want To Do A Split Seven Inch With Your Stupid Fucking Band,” “Women: Nature’s Punching Bag” and “You Went To See Dishwalla and Everclear (You’re Gay)” most people either get the joke and laugh along or understandably completely offended (and I didn’t even get close to the most offensive track names).
In terms of song titles and topics, Fuckin’ A is no different with tracks like “All I Give a Fuck About Is Sex,” “I Wish My Dealer Was Open” and the quite funny “Yay! It’s Pink!” comprising this ten tune album. If you know A.C.’s music then you might think there’s a typo in the last sentence. As a group known for songs lasting ten seconds or less it’s weird to see only ten tracks. But that’s accurate because they wrote some actual songs this time. In getting the band back together they strung together pure rock songs with length and structure. The only other time we got that from the group was the hideous joke album of love songs back in 1998 called Picnic of Love. Seth Putnam doesn’t change his vocal style though, continuing with the grindcore vocals over the rock riffs. The strangest thing about the album overall is that it’s good. It doesn’t take much to be good in the Anal Cunt catalog but this would be decent if made by anyone really. Fuckin’ A is the most accessible A.C. album by leaps and bounds without a doubt and the lyrical content shouldn’t turn anyone away, I mean if you’re listening to a band with this name what are you expecting anyway – an album of silly love songs? Oh, wait.
Various Artists, Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings (Auerbach Tonträger)
Here’s something I never would have expected liking — two discs of metal bands performing mostly acoustic ballads centered around nature themes complete with lots of sounds of waterfalls and chirping birds. Yeah, sounds like one of those Time/Life discs made for people to relax and/or fall asleep to but the fact is that it’s pretty damn moving and amazing.
The 21 tracks on this compilation are either exclusive to it or very rare songs from the bands that recorded them. Most fall into a mesmerizing mellow cloud that transports you to a rain forest, a field, a mountain or any place surrounded by nature sounds that is peaceful and serene.
Highlights of the set include the first new Empyrium track in four years called “The Day Before the Fall,” the wonderfully beautiful and melodic “Ich würd es hören” by Nebelung and the powerful English language track “A Year of Silence” by Ainulindalë. There’s also a rare track from Ulver called “Synen” which is a sought after track for Ulver completionists. There really is no need for it to be as long as it is as it wears out its welcome by the middle of the second disc but that’s still pretty impressive for any compilation to be completely engaging for a good 15-16 tracks. And especially being the type of music I would have never expected to enjoy.
Ross the Boss, Hailstorm (AFM)
Death to False Metal! Ross the Boss is of course the former guitarist of power metal kings Manowar. But I was a little shocked to see he hadn’t been with the group since 1988. I own every Manowar record and Ross the Boss is honestly the only name I know from the group so I guess I just assumed he was in it for much longer. Either way though, when you hear the name Ross the Boss you expect nothing but over-the-top anthemic odes to true metal. He could reinvent himself as a folk singer but he’d still be forever expected to recreate Manowar. Unfair, sure. But when you’ve crafted an image like that (good or bad) it stays with you.
So of course with his relatively new group here (this is their second album) they probably can’t win unless each album makes you want to go outside on your porch and flex for hours for no reason at all. It doesn’t quite generate that emotion. For every “Kingdom Arise” which is the aforementioned power metal anthem there’s a “Behold the Kingdom” with a boring riff that goes nowhere. But then there’s “Crom,” a moderately paced track with the chorus of “thy power / thy glory / shall rule this land” which is what you long for on Hailstorm, balanced out by “Burn Alive” which while soaring, sounds like it came out of the tail end of the glam era. The point being that there are some pretty damn solid tracks on the record and some ugly clunkers which kind of puts it smack dab in the middle of the pack.
Place of Skulls, As A Dog Returns (Giddy Up)
Even if you’ve never heard of Place of Skulls before once I say the name Victor Griffin, you should know what to expect from this group. Griffin was the guitarist for the legendary Pentagram and Place of Skulls follows a similar path with slow, menacing doom metal laced with some classic rock throughout the disc. “Breath of Life” is a pretty brilliant song that fits this mold with an old school rock feel and an ’90s grunge-like catchiness.
The main theme of the band is religion and spirituality which you can hear most prevalent in the ballad turned powerful doom track “Psalm” and in “Though He Slay Me.” Unfortunately, the latter sounds a bit like something Creed would put out with a riff that reminds me of “Little Things” by Bush. Not really the 2010 combo I want to hear. They reach that “With Arms Wide Open” Creed sound a couple more times in the disk too but at least on “Dayspring” they let it go in middle for a heavy doom riff. The closing track, “As a Dog Returns” is similar in its feel but with possibly the catchiest doom riff on the album kicking in at around 1:45. Before that I feel like I’m listening to a Darius Rucker tune.
There are some very interesting moments on the disc mixed with some very odd ones that make As A Dog Returns a very uneven listen and it’s hard to get the momentum needed to make it through the entire disc.