This Week In Badass:…In Which the ’80s Come Back To Haunt Us
This Week in Badass is going to take a look at all the killer music that has reached my ears in current week, whether it be music that was just released or items coming out in the near future. You might even get some vintage badass to get you through your weekend as well. Music will be ranked on the badass’ness scale — which of course goes to 11, the only true way to measure if something kicks ass. So throw your horns up and get ready to headbang along. Bands are bolded the first time they are mentioned if you want to scroll through to see if there’s someone you like.
I love the ’80s. You should know that by now. Three years of writing up Billboard hits in my other series – Bottom Feeders – should tell you that. So when I say the ’80s sucked, it’s all in good fun. I mean, I collect the music from the decade and totally love it, good or bad. By now you also know that ’80s music is one of the easiest things to make fun of. There were so many bad trends and horribly cheesy bands that the decade writes its own jokes. Being such a fan I’m always interested to hear new music from these groups that you think of as being an “80s band.” The real excitement comes not from a new U2 record but from bands that were part of some terrible movement in the ’80s or D-list to begin with and just refuse to quit. That’s where this week comes in.
One after another, ’80s bands just started showing up in my queue. Part of this is thanks to Frontiers records. Frontiers is a mecca of old men who think they still have some business rocking and bands that you thought didn’t exist anymore. This isn’t a knock on Frontiers either because I love the label. They bring me much joy by sending me something like Warrant’s new album, Rockaholic (badass’ness: 7/11). The band has been making music since 1989’s Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (badass’ness 8/11) put them on the map with songs like “Heaven” and “Down Boys.” They’ve had a few breaks here and there but never for too long. Their hair metal sound turned into a darker rock vibe by the time 1995’s Ultraphobic (badass’ness: 5/11) was released to little fanfare. In 2000 singer Jani Lane left the band and was replaced by Black ‘n Blue singer Jamie St. James who was more of a sleezy glam-rocker than Lane had morphed into over the years. They released one album in ’06 with St. James – Born Again (badass’ness: 5/11) and then broke up. Lane came back to the group for a short while in 2008 only to leave again and now we’re here in 2011 with former Lynch Mob vocalist, Robert Mason.
It’s strange to say but the worst thing about Rockaholic is the title. It’s actually a very good record. While there’s no “Cherry Pie” on this, it ain’t squeaky clean either with a track like “Sex Ain’t Love.” The sound of the band has matured tremendously. The disc is sort of right in the middle of their various incarnations. It’s got a little sleeze, but isn’t as dark as the last few with Jani Lane, nor is it as rockin’ as Born Again. Rockaholic has plenty of catchy hooks amidst radio ready power tunes. A slick tune like the first single, “Life’s a Song” might actually get some airplay if the name Warrant wasn’t attached to it. It’s really a shame, but how many rock radio programers will even give a disc by Warrant a passing listen? And every time I listen to the tune, I like it more. But it’s really not about radio play for these guys at this point. It’s about getting good new music out there so they can tour and play “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to adoring 40-year-olds with mullets. The only real knock I have against the record is with Mason’s vocals. He’s perfectly suited to sing this type of music and his voice isn’t bad at all, but it’s not distinct like Lane’s or even Jamie St. James’s was and therefore if my iPod shuffles to this six months from now, I’m going to struggle to remember the name Warrant attached to this. Otherwise, it far exceeds expectations.
On the flip side of this (which can’t be a coincidence at all), Frontiers is releasing the new record from the reunited Black ‘n Blue featuring yep, original vocalist and former Warrant singer, Jamie St. James. And both this and Rockaholic are both coming out on Tuesday in the US. Slick move there Frontiers, slick move. But there is one thing that’s noticably missing from the group this time around, Tommy Thayer. St. James and Thayer formed Black ‘n Blue in the mid-80s and released four records from ’84-’88 with minor success. The last two records were produced by Gene Simmons which explains how Thayer ended up joining Kiss down the road.
The new record is called Hell Yeah! (badass’ness: 5/11) which I had heard about as early as 2003. Apparently this record has been pushed back about 10,000 times but it finally looks like it’s going to make it out. Now, why it’s been pushed back so much, I don’t know. I can’t imagine releasing this record in 2003 or 2011 would make any difference as the same 103 people that cared in 2003 probably are the only ones to care now. But I will admit that I had higher hopes for this album than I did the Warrant record but the results just weren’t there. It does however pay to give the disc a second listen because I hated this with a passion the first time I heard it. I like to give everything a second shot though and that definitely changed my mind a little bit. While Warrant slicked up their sound, Black ‘n Blue definitely did not. Hell Yeah! is a rock & roll record through and through. The licks are a bit generic but they’re loud and rockin’. “Angry Drunk Son of a Bitch” seemed cheesy upon first listen but the second time through it proved to be one of the most badass tunes on the album. “So Long” ends up being the best song on the album with a nice catchy chorus and a pretty sick breakdown in the middle. Interestingly enough too, since this sound wasn’t really in in 2003 and still isn’t now, it doesn’t sound dated, you know like it’s been sitting around collecting dust. That said, it has a tendency to be awfully cheesy and not the most creative thing in the world but I suppose with records like this, if it rocks someone’s balls off, then it’s done its job. And it might rock a ball off.
And speaking of balls, someone at Capitol records has big ones to release Double Dose: Ultimate Hits (badass’ness: 1/11) by Poison. In the world of quick cash grabs, this is right up there with the worst of them. Poison haven’t released a disc of new original material since 2002’s Hollyweird (badass’ness: 3/11), which isn’t even represented here since it wasn’t on Capitol and no disc since 2007’s Poison’d (badass’ness: 2/11) which was all cover tunes. Oh, and an 18 song greatest hits disc was released in 2006 and even that was overkill. This monstrosity is 35 fucking tracks long which is more Poison than anyone needs to listen to. Now fuck, I’m not going to lie, I liked them back in the heyday. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is near the top of the hair metal ballad pile and as bad as it was, I still can’t resist singing “Unskinny Bop.” But with this you get like 5 or 6 songs from each album along with a lot of tracks that were bonus tunes and outtakes on the remasters of the original records back in 2006. You also get some of the songs that appeared new on previous hits comps and if I’m counting right, a whopping seven tunes from the cover record. I mean, really – the covers album was a novelty cash grab in itself so to put that many songs on another greatest hits compilation is ridiculous. And unless I’m missing it in this mess, there’s not even one new track. So the only reason we get this is to put the group back on the radar for their summer tour with Motley Crue. We all know Bret Michaels is a media whore at this point in his career but you can’t place all the blame on him for this one – most of it goes to the label. I listened to this from start to finish and wanted to jump in front of a bus afterwards. I’m not saying that owning a Poison hits record is bad, but anyone that wants this already has another version and whichever one it is, that’s plenty.
But back to the positive and away from the hair metal for a second as The Rods have a new disc coming out on the 24th. Yeah, the same Rods that put out a half dozen records back in the early to mid-80s led by David “Rock” Feinstein who played with his cousin Ronnie James Dio in Elf. Having not released a new album since 1986, I’m not sure why they thought there would be a market for a new Rods album in 2011 but Vengeance (badass’ness: 8/11) is one of the best I’ve listened to this week. Actually, I do know – it’s called “The Code” and features RJD on vocals in what might be the last performance recorded from him before his death. That alone should sell some records to the die hard Dio fans, but they will be pleasantly suprised at the rest of the disc as well. The key really is that the Rods were actually a really good band back in the ’80s – a bunch of talented musicians getting together to create some pure rock ‘n roll. The title of the second track tells you exactly what they plan on doing, “I Just Wanna Rock.” And rock they do. It’s encouraging to see such badass riffing coming out of guys my dad’s age and while Vengeance most likely won’t get any airplay, it’s a fun no-frills, sing-along-with-the-top-down ride through traditional air guitar heaven.
And finally, to cap off the return of the ’80s, I feel I have to talk about Anvil for a moment. Tuesday saw the release of the 14th Anvil record, Juggernaut of Justice (badass’ness: 7/11) which is actually the first album of new material recorded after the success of the Anvil movie. I regretfully say that I’ve never seen the movie though it’s on my short list but I was listening to Anvil way before that anyway. Let’s be honest. Everyone has fallen in love with Anvil’s ugly mugs because of the film and their struggles to make it and I’m certainly glad the movie helped them out and gave them more recognition than they ever had before. But it doesn’t change the fact that for the majority of their career, Anvil was only a halfway decent band. An early classic like Metal on Metal (badass’ness: 8/11) in ’82 is as close as they got to being excellent but starting around 1987 they were consistently average. I just find it a little strange that this simple movie now has made people think Anvil are so great when no one gave a damn for 20 years. This certainly is my beef and not their fault but the really positive thing about this is that Juggernaut of Justice is their best record since ’82. It’s a blistering riff-fest from three dudes who sound like they understand they need to put out the best music of their career while they are still in the spotlight. The title track and “When Hell Breaks Loose” are great leads to a pure rock explosion as is the cheeky “FuckenEh!” The only track that really doesn’t work for me is “Paranormal” which is a seven minute doom track that feels like a Candlemass outtake, not something Anvil should be taking on. The production from Bob Marlette is easily the best they’ve gotten in ages even though the volume is so loud that the walls of guitar tend to blend together from one song to another at points. Here’s hoping to more success for the band but not because of the movie, rather the fact that they started making really good music again.
Moving on to bands that didn’t exist in the ’80s, let’s start with Forgotten Tomb who have only been around since *gasp* 1999. Their new record, Under Saturn Retrograde (badass’ness: 10/11) was released in the US this past week and is without a doubt their peak moment. However, it’s inevitable that fans of the group are going to bitch about this release as it’s nothing like past works. Forgotten Tomb started out playing raw, depressing, suicidal black metal. I’ve seen many reviews indicating their music made them want to paint the walls with their own blood. They slowly added a little melody to their sound and their last album, 2007’s Negative Megalomania (badass’ness: 6/11) was the least well recieved among the group’s work because of it. If that’s the case and fans wanted them to go back to the bleak and utterly depressing, then Under Saturn Retrograde is going to disappoint many. It shouldn’t though as it’s a true masterpiece of an album. The message is still the same in tracks like “Joyless” and “Reject Existance” but the music, while dark as hell also features a ton of melody and while it’s not exactly a pop record, it’s the most accessible they’ve ever been. I come into this having never been a fan of their music to begin with so I’m extremely happy to see a change in style and because of this, I have to think their fanbase is going to change a little now.
The other album I’ve really fallen in love with recently is Opportunistic Thieves of Spring (badass’ness: 9/11) from British black metal band A Forest of Stars. The album came out last year overseas but just sees a US release this coming Tuesday on Lupus Lounge. I normally wouldn’t make the time to review something that’s been out for so long but this band is just so inovative and unique that I felt I needed to. Their music is based in black metal but mixed with all kind of various instruments like bongos, accordians, flutes and I think I’m even hearing a dijeridoo in there. I can’t possibly imagine the scene in the studio – on the right a guy playing black metal riffs, a lady playing the flute on the left, an old dude in the back on the dijeridoo and a dude up front growling…or something like that. And they dress in Victorian garb. It’s definitely got a dark side to it and although the guitar licks are quite repetitive, the atmosphere surrounding them gives the album a wholly unique sound. I’m not a big fan of flute in my metal but it works to set the tone for pretty much every song. As a fan of metal in general I almost feel obligated to follow a band like this, one that pushes the sound of their genre in new directions and on top of that, actually does it extremely well.
There’s two releases on Prophecy records next week as well that I wanted to touch base on. The first is from French black metal band Alcest and is a reworking of the 2005 EP, Le Secret (badass’ness: 7/11). For all intents and purposes, Alcest is one guy who goes by the name Neige (meaning “snow”). Alcest started out making really raw black metal but these days feel more like a shoegaze band than anything else. Le Secret was the first non-demo recording that Neige released under this moniker but it sounded like it was recorded in a tomb. The vocals are barely audible and the production is virtually non-existant. But in 2011 with some money, a studio and more know-how at this point, he decided to go back and redo the two track EP the way he meant for it to be done in the first place. I’m usually against this re-recording crap as a bands legacy is what it is and I often feel it should just be left alone. However, that feeling is more in place for established bands than an artist like this, still trying to make it in music. So, I give him a pass on this one. I also probably don’t mind it because both of the tracks (“Le Secret” and “Elevation”) are quite gorgeous in nature now that all the instruments and vocals are audible. Interestingly enough, because it’s an EP there’s enough room on the disc to include both the original versions and the newly recorded ones. With each track being over 10 minutes long it’s hard to compare note for note, but the composition sounds virutally the same with some atmospheric tweaks here and there but the sound difference is remarkable when you hear the new and the old back-to-back. The vocals really are the key for me here. Alcest’s version of black metal is not really based around darkness and depression, rather his dreams of living in a better world. So while the vocals are buried in the original mix giving it a sinister, dark feeling, in the new version they are at the forefront and the whole dynamic of the tracks change, not necessarily to an upbeat nature but at least a little sunnier than they were before.
The other Prophecy release on Tuesday is from Finnr’s Cane, titled Wanderlust (badass’ness: 8/11). This Canadian black metal band is a bit unique because they don’t have a bassist, instead relying solely on a cello to fill that slot in their trio. But more importantly, they don’t write songs. They apparently improvise all their music creating it on the spot. If these guys are in the studio together then they feed off each other nicely as you can tell the guitar is leading the way but the drummer and celloist are helping fill out the sound. They mix frenzied black metal with atmosphere and ambient passages to drag the listener from one end to the other sonically. I’d love to see more vocals on the record as the music gets a little repetitive and trying at times especially with the very limited amount of growls on the disc but otherwise it’s a pretty decent sonic landscape. This is their debut record which definitely shows promise for the future. I can picture them taking the shoegaze path in the future but for now there’s a good mix of soft and loud throughout the album.
There is just so much to talk about this week that amazingly an important and great album like Passion (badass’ness: 9/11) by Anaal Nathrakh gets pushed this far down the list (below Warrant!). Nostaligia kicks in for me and takes hold, what can I say. But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t deserve the spotlight either. Passion is the duo’s 6th disc and comes out May 17th on Candlelight records. Every Anaal Nathrakh album seems to get crazier and crazier and this is no exception. They mix brutal noise, metal, grindcore and industrial seemlessly to create not only a face-melting record but something that’s totally diverse with twists and turns at every corner. The industrial grind of “Drug-Fucking Abomination” is pretty fucking amazing and the violent screaming in “Post Traumatic Stress Euphoria” is totally frightening. The whole record comes barreling at you at 1000 miles an hour, knocks you down and then shits on your face while laughing hysterically. Or at least it feels that way, you know.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the new record from Justin Broadrick’s Jesu. Ascension (badass’ness: 6/11) marks what might be the 4th full length from the group (maybe more considering that any number of the seven EP’s could be considered an LP as well). I’m not a big fan of post-rock, but Jesu has always been my favorite in the genre thanks to Broadrick’s ability to craft dark, yet totally beautiful songs that tug at the heartstrings on a regular basis. 2009’s Opiate Sun EP (badass’ness: 5/11) was really the only recording from Jesu up until this point that I didn’t care for as a few make my list of top albums of all time. For me it’s almost impossible to hate one of their recordings but Ascension just doesn’t do much for me. There’s a distinct lack of beauty in the riffs and I guess I’ve come to expect a little more. Longer instrumental passages on the new album seem to wander without focus and thus almost the entire album seems to be searching for a direction. “Sedatives” is really the one track that works well for me – a louder rock track with Justin’s typical clean, melodic vocals over top. I’m hoping this grows on me over time but for now it seems like one of Jesu’s weaker albums.
Wait, there’s more! Yeah, this was quite a week for music as I’ve got to finish this up talking about the new Black Label Society album, The Song Remains Not the Same (badass’ness: 7/11) . The album is an almost-acoustic disc made up of reworkings of songs from Order of the Black (badass’ness: 4/11) and other outtakes from the same sessions. Based on my “4” ranking of that disc you can see that I didn’t think much of it nor of 2004’s Hangover Music (badass’ness: 4/11) which was Zakk Wylde’s last real attempt at acoustic music. However, The Song Remains Not the Same works remarkably well for what it is. So a rendition of “The First Noel” is pretty lame but the versions of “Overlord” and “Riders of the Damned” are relatively cool as is surprisingly, their cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” What this album really does is show that Zakk isn’t just muscle and guitar – when you break it down, the guy has some pipes and when you take out the pinch harmonics every three seconds, he writes some good songs too. However, a big thumbs down thanks to tracks 5-8 which were bonus tracks if you bought more expensive editions of the last record. It seems a little bogus to make fans spend the cash for an international edition of the disc if you’re just going to put the track on a regularly priced disc the following year.