May In Metal, Part I: Burzum, Dee Snider and Sleep
All hail, Varg Vikernes. The musical genius is back with his third post-incarceration album full of swirling, fuzzed out black metal riffs, bleak atmospherics and precise minimal drumming. Basically what I’m saying is that Umskiptar is no doubt a Burzum record.
Umskiptar is a little different lyrically so I’m told. Once again the vocals are in Norwegian so I can’t understand a damn thing from it but it consists of 66 stanzas from one poem called Voluspa. The story deals with the creation of the world all the way to its end, dictated to Odin. Many of the passages are spoken or consist of clean singing. There’s still enough growls that fans of traditional black metal vocals don’t need to be scared off though.
Of course, since I don’t understand the lyrics I have to focus on the music and you immediately know that Vikernes created this. There’s a lot of black metal out there that sounds exactly the same but somehow Burzum’s sound continues to remain instantly recognizable from the rest of the scene. Every note that Vikernes plays seems to be cold and calculated (that’s a good thing in this case), with both minimal drumming and the same guitar tone throughout pretty much every recording. What makes his records stand out is the uncanny knack to be able to paint the darkest, bleakest picture possible all while putting forth some of the greatest and catchiest black metal riffs laid to disc. Varg tends to find a great riff and stick with it for an entire song or at least the majority of it in many cases. But the riff is usually so fantastic that you forget you’ve just listened to eight minutes of the exact same thing repeated over and over again.
That said, while songs themselves don’t necessarily feel repetitive in nature, musically Umskiptar isn’t that much different from Fallen or Belus. “Alfadanz” is the tune that really stands out, both with the best riff on the disc and the distorted piano intro and interlude within the track. That leads right into another great riff used throughout the masterful, “Hit helga Tre.”
The only real downfall to the disc is that it’s too long. At 11 tracks, the final two could have been chopped off with the 10+ minute “Gullaldr” leading the way. With the Burzum sound not changing much over the course of the three records, it’s easy to see where a change in direction might be welcome but at the same time, I can’t imagine I’d listen to three very similar albums from any other artist and not rip them a new one. Umskiptar is a great piece of work by a black metal master but if you can’t understand the lyrics, don’t expect to hear anything that different from the other post-jail recordings.
I can’t sit here and lie to you. When I first heard months ago that Dee Snider was doing a Broadway record, I immediately thought that he inevitably would lose any of the cred that he still has left. Then I heard there was going to be a duet with Clay Aiken and it changed from a thought to knowing that this would be the last straw for the man who brought us “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” But then I heard him talk about it, stating how much fun he had with the album and how surprised people were going to be when they heard it. Of course, all artists think their new work is great otherwise who in the world would buy it, so I took that with a grain of salt. Somehow though, Dee is right. Dee Does Broadway is a surprising, rollicking good time!
The part that I didn’t know about the record was that it was originally supposed to be an album with Dee and Alice Cooper. The whole idea for this apparently started when the two of them started leaving voicemails to each other to showtunes (and those are some voicemails that need to be leaked to youtube). Cooper was ready to do an entire record so Dee enlisted Bob Kulick and Brett Chassen who work on a lot of tribute records, Doug Katsaros on the arrangements and got Rudy Sarzo to play bass on the disc. He chose only tunes that weren’t rock oriented to begin with and rearranged each of them to rock out. Snider points out in the liner notes that while it isn’t metal, it does rock but hell, some of this actually may be metal. But either way, he’s not lying about the rockin’. And while back in the mid-80s, thinking about Dee Snider doing musicals would have been hilarious, looking back maybe no so much so. I mean, he was dressed in full drag most of the time and always had a voice that would have translated well to the stage. And of course, he’s certainly outgoing enough to see how it could work. While I’ve never seen it, I’ve heard amazing things about him and his role in Rock of Ages.
For the album, the first track I went to of course was the Clay Aiken duet of “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” to see if it was even decent enough to proceed. At the beginning it had a very traditional Broadway sound but then cranked it up a notch about a 1/4 of the way through. Although Clay Aiken really isn’t suited for rock music, it was actually quite decent, at least enough to start from the beginning. Then I uncovered the most rockin’ version of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” that I’ve ever heard. That was followed with a version of “Big Spender” with the always unique Cyndi Lauper and later on a really cool version of “This Joint Is Jumpin'” with his son ripping it up with him. But it’s really the loud rawk version of “Razzle Dazzle” that hooked me.
I have no real interest in musicals. I’ve been to a handful and actually liked Rent and Chicago but that’s about it. For someone like me there was no expectation that this would be anything but ridiculous so the fact that I’m fascinated by this is a real feat. Dee Snider loses no cred in my book for this and in fact he might gain a bit for turning something I don’t like into thoroughly enjoyable music. I may however lose some of that cred when I say it’s the best thing he’s done since Twisted Sister debuted with Under the Blade back in ’82.
Sleep’s Dopesmoker is such a legendary monolithic beast that there’s no reason for Southern Lord not to re-release this son-of-a-bitch to the public again. After Sleep released Holy Mountain back in the day, London records picked them up to release their follow up, so naturally Sleep recorded “Dopesmoker,” a 63 minute fuck of a track that no major label executive could possibly know what to do with. After it was rejected, they reworked it by cutting 11 minutes off (ha, like 11 minutes was going to be enough) and retitled the track and album Jerusalem. London rejected this as well and that led to the band breaking up. All fans of Sleep and almost all fans of stoner metal have heard Jerusalem by this point but all versions released of that record were unauthorized by the band. The only time Dopesmoker saw a proper release was back in 2003 when Tee Pee records released it in it’s original form.
So forward ahead to 2012, nine years after that release. Sleep got back together in the past couple years to tour and blew my ass right out of the water with their stage prescence. They haven’t released a new record and Matt Pike went on to another High On Fire disc, so the natural thing to do was give Dopesmoker the proper release it deserved in the first place. Al Cisneros contacted Southern Lord in 2011 to see if they wanted to put this record out again. London’s rights to the recording had ceased and the band wanted to put it back out.
The recording was given to From Ashes Rise guitarist Brad Boatright to remaster and artist Arik Roper to create some new artwork and what results is a record that is even more powerful than the original. The wonderful remastering breathes fresh life into the tune and makes it crush so much harder than before (and that was a fierce recording in itself.) The truly amazing thing about the recording has always been the fact that you absolutely must listen to the entire thing at one shot and you actually want to. Nothing drags or feels too repetitive and you find yourself hanging on each riff to hear what’s next. It’s a landmark recording in the world of stoner metal and while I don’t normally review remasters, this one definitely deserves it.
At the end of the disc there’s a live version of “Holy Mountain” tacked on, which is the only part I hate. It’s a shitty audience recording which I’m sure someone listened to and thought that it captured the feel of the band but in reality it’s just a bad handheld version of one of their greatest songs. In addition, I really think it takes away from what this record is – one super long motherfucking bong hit. Maybe they thought no one would buy it without something extra on it but every one should own this disc for “Dopesmoker” itself, even if you own any of the previous versions.