I’ve never been a political guy. I vote for whom I think the best candidate is no matter what party they belong to and I never get into a political discussion because I know I’ll get my ass handed to me. That said, over the last decade or so, I’ve been listening to Ministry records more for the music than the message. Although I voted for George W. Bush twice, Al Jourgensen’s hatred for him over the last three records didn’t really bother me. It bothered me more that at least one of the three records wasn’t very good at all. Then Obama gets elected, Al dies and is brought back to life and announces that Ministry is done. Naturally here we are in 2012 with a new Ministry record.
Now that a democrat is in office, Jourgensen has a little less to bitch about. Combined with the fact that all these republican candidates are tools, Relapse ends up not focusing on one government official but rather government and the voting process as a whole. The political songs comprise about half the record while the other half is about his drug use and “relapsing” back into Ministry music again.
The first two singles from Relapse are certainly in the timely political vein with “99 Percenters” out first pleading for all of them to get locked up. Then there’s “Double Tap” about hunting down and killing Osama Bin Laden. On most records I’d think “Get Up Get Out and Vote” was pretty lame but coming from Al, who lives what he preaches, the message comes across loud and clear and surely feels authentic. “Free Fall” is one of the best tunes on the record, conveying his fall from grace because of drug use. But oddly enough, it’s the cover of S.O.D.’s “United Forces” that ends up being the best moment on the record.
Relapse does have its duds, like the Sammy D’Ambruoso written “Weekend Warrior” which has very amateur lyrics compared to the rest of the record and album closer “Bloodlust” which packs almost no punch at all. But other than those two, musically it’s a very typical Ministry record, one that fans of the band should enjoy.
Lately, I feel like I’m a close personal friend of Jim Matheos. I’ve listened to more of his music in the past year than any other metal artist without a doubt. And now along comes the new album from OSI (Office of Strategic Intelligence), Fire Make Thunder. The group is a collaborative effort between the Arch/Matheos and Fates Warning guitarist and former Fates Warning and Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore. They are joined on this record by Porcupine Tree and King Crimson drummer, Gavin Harrison.
The story really starts with the way this group works. Both Matheos and Moore come up with ideas and send them to their counterpart to add on and that process keeps going until a song is done. All three artists recorded all of their parts in their own home studio by themselves and then later simply mastered the record together. I’ve always loved this type of concept. Instead of forcing yourself into a studio for a day or two and cranking it out as fast as you can on a budget, you send it to the next guy and they add on when they feel like they have something exciting to tack on. If solid musicians are involved that have a chemistry together, it seems to me like this process should go on more often.
That’s the key with OSI, the musicianship. All three of them seem to be very much on the same page with their ideas and fire some huge progressive riffs out the door at you. They can slow it down like on “Indian Curse” and mesmerize you with pure emotion and then crank up the riffs to ten and knock it out of the box with something like “Enemy Prayer.”
The latest Arch/Matheos disc was fantastic and so is this one. Here you get quite a different sound thanks to Moore’s vocals and keyboard work. “Wind Won’t Howl” is an amazing mid-tempo track that’s got a heavy Pink Floyd vibe to it but adds Matheos’ heavy riffage and some neat electronic blips to give it a little background substance. It’s a rock song that can appeal to metalheads, prog fans and post-rock afficionados at the same time and really should be a track that’s on heavy rotation in everyone’s headphones. “Big Chief II” is another highlight of the disc mixing the heaviest riffs on the disc with electronics that give it a nice industrial flavor. And Harrison really gets to shine on this tune, showing exactly why Porcupine Tree is such a fantastic band in their own right.
Taken on an individual basis, there’s not a bad track on Fire Make Thunder. I’m not sure it has a great flow as a start-to-finish listen but there’s absolutely nothing else I can complain about. This might apply to Moore as well, but at least with Jim Matheos it definitely seems like he’s peaking right now, putting forth some of the best work of his long career.
Someone should have seen the excitment in my face when I was presented with the new album from Angel Witch, a group that was one of my favorites of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the ’80s. Although there seems to be an endless supply of Angel Witch singles, comps and live records out there, the group only released three studio records in their heyday. 1980’s self-titled disc and 1985’s Screamin’ n’ Bleedin’ are classics in the genre and although the whole NWOBHM sound is clearly dated, the records still hold up well.
The group has always been guitarist and vocalist Kevin Heybourne and a revolving cast of other musicians. After he disbanded the group in the mid ’80s, he apparently became a tree surgeon. But he got injured on the job and when he couldn’t work any longer, decided to re-start Angel Witch.
Although the album is 50 minutes long, I have to admit that I’m sad it’s only eight tracks. Twenty six long years after the last record and you’d think a few more tunes might come out of this. And I don’t really know how to feel to hear that it’s comprised of four new tracks and four that were written back in the late ’70s-early ’80s. Bassist Will Palmer and drummer Andy Prestridge were brought along for the ride on the new record with none other than Bill Steer being part of the touring lineup.
Back in their original form Heybourne was trying (and succeeding) to make music that would keep up with the sound of their peers and the whole scene in general. Now that the band is back on, there’s obviously a little less pressure and he says he simply wants to go back to that era and recreate the sound that made them loved to begin with. Heybourne has succeeded at that as well albeit with mixed results. There’s not even a little hint that this record was recorded recently. It’s full blown vintage NWOBHM but two of the three members of the band didn’t play music in that scene and therefore are recreating a sound they weren’t part of. The four older tracks aren’t bad at all, don’t get me wrong. They were written at a time when Heybourne was at his creative peak but there’s just something missing from all of them and I have to attribute that to the new lineup. The new tracks also aren’t bad at all but aren’t nearly as well written as the vintage tunes. So you end up with a release that tends to be enjoyable in parts, flat in others and certainly not better than either of the first two Angel Witch records. And since that’s the sound that they are trying to duplicate, I don’t see why I wouldn’t just go back to listening to those classics instead. I’m excited by the prospect of the group being back in the mix though and at least one old (“Guillotine”) and one new one (“Brainwashed”) are pretty killer tunes so maybe getting back in the flow a little more and writing an entire album of new material would do the band good. As is, As Above, So Below is above average and fans of NWOBHM should certainly take a listen but otherwise, pull out the debut.
Albums on the potential list for best of 2012:
Christian Mistress, Possession
Goatwhore, Blood for the Master
Human Toilet, Human Toilet
OSI, Fire Make Thunder
Terrorizer, Hordes of Chaos
Woods of Ypres, Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light