This Week in Badass:…In Which the Man in the Bucket Shows Up

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 don’t do interviews as they just aren’t my thing. I’d rather just spend my time listening to new music and critiquing it but one day I swear to the unholy one that I’m going to interview Buckethead and find out exactly what goes on in this mind of his. It comes up this week thanks to his new album, It’s Alive (badass’ness: 9/11) that came  out on the 15th of May. As usual there was no pre-promotion for this record. I found out on the 17th that the album was out and not even available in the usual places. Now I’ve come to understand this a bit as a bucketophile but I still wonder how the dude makes enough money to keep going (this is his 31st solo album). Sure, because he’s either releasing albums on his own or through his buddy Travis Dickerson’s label he’s probably making a good chunk of the profit, especially when initial pressings usually sell out. However, many times there’s only that initial pressing and we’re talking a thousand or something, not a million.

Anyway, It’s Alive is his first “wedge” sold in Buckethead Pikes, the kiosk in Bucketheadland that sells stuff not readily available in traditional outlets. I shit you not. I believe it’s the first release in 2011 for him and one of a series of “wedges” slated for a BP release. Now of course, this is why I want to get into the guy’s head. He created this mythical Bucketheadland decades ago and the concept is somehow still alive in his head to do weird stuff like this. And the music of course is always either hit or miss but I’ll tell you what, Buckethead has roared back from his spinal issues last year with a vengeance. It’s Alive is a full blown rock album, borderline metal even. His undying love for the king continues as we get a fourth track dedicated to him – “Lebrontron” – as well as a track made for Blake Griffin called “Crack the Sky.” Both have some pretty amazing riffs that are harder than anything he’s put forth in a while. But it’s “Tonka” where he shreds like a maniac throughout the song that really got my juices flowing for this album. “Picking the Feathers” mixes banjo, heavy guitar licks and drum & bass together for an odd blend though and of course that’s the last track on the album, maybe giving the indication on where the next “wedge” is going to travel down. Either way, savor the good ones because you never know when the bucket is going to cut off his circulation and another circuit bending album will show up.

“Tonka”

 

Stoner rock band Orange Goblin is going out on tour with the Gates of Slumber starting soon so to celebrate and get them back in the public eye since they haven’t released a new album since 2007, Metal Blade and Rise Above re-re-re-released the first five (of six) Orange Goblin albums in a massive self-titled box set (badass’ness: 8/11) this past week.  I’m not sure I understand who in this economic climate is clamoring for a box set of these albums especially since Rise Above re-released at least some of them back in 2002 and then again last year and in the first part of 2011, I believe.  But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad purchase at all. In fact, even if you know nothing about stoner rock, you could start off in much worse places. 

Their first two albums – 1997’s Frequencies from Planet Ten (badass’ness: 7/11) and 1998’s Time Travelling Blues (badass’ness: 7/11) – were a mixture of fierces riffs and spacey psychedelic moments. Most of the time the straight forward rock tunes like “Aquatic Fanatic” from the debut were the best while their trippy songs like “Nuclear Guru” from the latter disc kind of paled in comparison. 

“Aquatic Fanatic”


 

2000’s The Big Black (badass’ness: 8/11) cut out most of the wandering and focused on blistering downtuned riffs. The overall sound was much better to my ears, though on tracks like “Hot Magic, Red Planet” they seemed to be playing too fast for their own good (I know, damned if you do…).  2002’s Coup de Grace (badass’ness: 6/11) plowed on ahead with more of a punk vibe to the disc. The pacing was right, but a lot of the stoner vibe that made them a name in the genre was gone. It’s a decent record overall, but the change in direction was at least a little bit startling for me at the time.  However, I guess it prepared me for the next album as 2004’s Thieving from the House of God (badass’ness: 8/11) captured the best of all worlds.  The punk feel is gone, with the disc feeling more like a straight heavy metal record, however “One Room, One Axe, One Outcome” (cool title) definitely brings back a tad bit of the stoner goodness.  Actually, you can kind of tell their progression by the groups they covered each session (Sabbath, Trouble, more Sabbath, Misfits, ZZ Top).

“One Room, One Axe, One Outcome”

 

The boxset itself consists of the original discs and all the bonus tracks released in the Japanese versions, 2-disc sets or re-released digipacks plus some new bonus tracks like a demo version of “Aquatic Fanatic” that’s pretty killer as well as some live tracks and an alternate version of “Quincy the Pigboy” from The Big Black. It is kind of cool to get these all together and listen to the progression of the group in order so it’s definitely a recommended buy if you don’t have the discs already or are interested in the bonus tracks.

“Hand of Doom”

As a general rule, I’m not a huge fan of live recordings but I’ve got Sugar Daddy Live (badass’ness: 9/11) in my hands from one of my favorite bands, The Melvins. I can’t find the info on when exactly this album was recorded but I’m assuming it would be some point in either 2008 or 2009 as 9 of the 13 tracks on the disc are either from 2008’s Nude with Boots (badass’ness: 8/11) or 2006’s (A) Senile Animal (badass’ness: 10/11). I haven’t seen or heard the Melvins live since they added the guys from Big Business into the lineup now with the duel drum attack but even before that, King Buzzo always opens up on stage and group plays with urgency and vigor every time out. On this disc I’m a fan of some of the harder material from Senile Animal like “Civilized Worm” and “Rat Faced Granny” but the slow, mezermizing almost avant-garde nature of the classic monster, “Eye Flies” from all the way back on Gluey Porch Treatments (badass’ness: 10/11) shines both with the guitar work and the the way the double drumming plays nicely together. And they all sound like fucking maniacs on the awesome “A History of Bad Men.” The disc closes out with them singing the “Star Spangled Banner” before blowing your mind with the sludge of their classic track “Boris.” For not liking live records, this is a damn fine one. And if you go see them live any time soon, just heed this warning. Don’t step on King Buzzo’s stage. You might not make it off alive.

Interestingly enough, Isis’ last studio recordings were released on a split with the Melvins a little while back (why I’ve never listened to this, I don’t know, considering I like both bands) and they are about to release a series of five live records nearly a year after their break-up. The first release comes out on May 31st and then every two weeks after that you get another one. These five records have been released in the past – from what I’ve read, on CD-R at shows and on vinyl through various labels. Aaron Turner is re-releasing these digitally now so that the world can be graced with some spectacular live performances. Live 1 9.23.03 (badass’ness: 9/11) is the first one, recorded on September 23rd, 2003 in San Francisco. The interesting thing about four of the five discs here is that these are audience recordings, not from the soundboard, which kind of helps you get the full audio scope from down on the floor. This concert was for the Oceanic tour and consisted of five songs from that album, “From Sinking,” “Carry,” “Weight, “Hym” and “The Beginning and the End.” Only the last four tracks appear on the disc as the dude that recorded this fucked up the first track so it couldn’t be used. I guess that tells you what the band thought about the show though, that they would use this one even with one track missing. All four of these tracks though, especially “Weight” and “The Beginning and the End” became staples of their shows in the coming years, so you’ll hear these again on some of the other discs as well. I’d really pay attention to “Hym” on this album though as Aaron Turner growls something fierce on it. These are the days when Isis had a slight harder edge to their music rather than their later almost complete post-metal turn at the end. Nothing wrong with either one of them but I’m a bigger fan of the former over the latter. I’d like to review the other four with this one to give you the scope of them all, all at once but I haven’t had enough time to digest them yet, so you’ll get them every two weeks as well.

Now according to my iPod, I’ve listened to the new US Christmas (or USX) album – The Valley Path (badass’ness: 4/11) seven times. This is pretty astounding to me since I have yet to get through this beast in one sitting, at least I think. The Valley Path is one track at nearly 40-minutes long, led by psychedelia, meandering guitars and the kind of atmosphere you’d find on a Hallmark relaxation CD. I’ve listened to this in the car and my eyes have shut, I’ve listened to this in bed and my eyes have shut and I’ve listened to this at work and my eyes have shut. Basically, what I’m getting at here is this is sleepytime music, dull and wandering with no real ending point in mind. Maybe I’m a cranky bastard because of two weeks of grey skies or maybe I need to be on an acid trip to enjoy the track but either way it just is so damn repetitive and every single time there’s a bit of a pulse, the group segues into sounds of streams and birds (probably like you’d encounter walking down a path, maybe in some kind of valley) which just lulls me into a coma. At least with most records I can just move to the next track. With this one, I hit the forward arrow and five minutes later the same exact sound is still coming out of my speakers. You just can’t get away from a part if you don’t like it. I know there are many fans of the band out there and this may be right up your alley, but this juzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

Not liking the USX record doesn’t actually bother me nearly as much as not liking the new record from U.D.O.  AFM releases Rev-Raptor (badass’ness: 5/11) on May 31st marking the 13th studio album for these guys.  U.D.O. are a pretty consistent group of fellas.  Over the years they have made above-average after above-average records even if the only time they really created something great was very early on in their career.  Fist-pumping German metal anthems are always plentiful as is a high headbanging quotient.  But Rev-Raptor is the first album in quite a while that falls a little short for me. I wasn’t expecting it either as the first three tracks bring the pain, with the third – “Renegade” – being that anthemic song you’re used to from the group.  It kind of goes south for me at track four, the mid-tempo and very cheesy, “I Give As Good As I Get.”  But I think the album is really summed up by listening to “Rock’N’Roll Solidiers.”  The vocals in the verses are uncharacteristically bad and the chorus should be this grand statement but is missing that little something extra to save it from falling flat.  Whatever that “extra” is, it’s present in the first few but sorely missing from the majority of the disc.  It isn’t one of those “hang-it-up” moments like when the Scorpions put out Eye II Eye (badass’ness: 2/11) in ’99 but it’s not their best effort either. And check out the video for the single, “Leatherhead” below. I realize it’s just a video but could Udo and drummer Francesco Jovino look any more bored?

If I was missing the energy in the U.D.O. record, it’s there in the “debut” self-titled album (badass’ness: 4/11) from Death Wolf. I put “debut” in quotes because up until now the group was known as Devil’s Whorehouse. That group began as a Misfits/Samhain cover band and through two LPs and two EPs they made song after song that they called original but sounded just like a lot of what Glenn Danzig did under the Danzig moniker. Reviews were always very mixed on these guys but interestingly enough it seemed that most of the bigger fans of Danzig that knew of this band weren’t too happy with the sound mimicing their hero. I too am a huge fan of Danzig but it was more the fact that the albums just weren’t very good that turned me off to the group, not really the copycat nature of the band.

It’s now 2011 and the band decided that they had outgrown their old name and sound and changed their name for a fresh start. From an outsider point of view I can only assume it had more to do with the fact that they were trying to distance themselves from the “clone” tag and start fresh with a new sound. Strangely enough though, the new sound is the old sound. For every “Sword and Flame” which has a punk-metal feel to it there’s a track like “Ironwood” with its dark, plodding rhythm that sounds once again, exactly like anything Danzig has done in the past decade. And that’s never going to stop occurring when their singer Maelstrom mimics Danzig almost perfectly. If he was short, fat, balding and had a skull buckle that could slice a tomato from 10 feet away, you’d never know the difference. These two tracks I mentioned above are back-to-back on the disc and comprise a simply jolting segue between the two styles that just doesn’t work very well. You can tell they put energy and passion into what they create but I don’t think they have any clue on what direction they want to follow.

I’m sure they would never say it, but it seems like Death Wolf is trying to run from what they do best – creating Danzig like horror-punk. So either go all the way or tell everyone to fuck off and embrace the “old” sound fully but this hanging between sounds doesn’t create a group of songs that really has any business being on a disc together.

“The Other Hell”

So look, I’ve had three ones in a row that just didn’t do it for me. Although I usually tend to focus on the more positive reviews, sometimes this shit just happens. It is what it is. But it’s never all bad and just when I think the week it turning into a steaming pile, I get something like the new Dark Castle record in my queue. Surrender To All Life Beyond Form (badass’ness: 9/11) is the second LP from the group and first on Profound Lore records which I hope realizes exactly what they have here. What they have is a badass lady on guitar and vocals and a dude on drums that create more noise than bands with traditional setups. The press release with the record says they are doom metal’s version of the White Stripes, I’m supposing because that’s what comes to mind when you think of two piece bands. They could have gotten closer by comparing them to the noise out of Local H instead, or been right on the money (even with gender) by putting them side-by-side with Jucifer. See, Jucifer has pretty much the same set up, however throughout their career they’ve been all over the map with stoner rock, pop, noise rock, failed attempts at grindcore-ish stuff etc… Dark Castle is just starting out, so who knows where they’ll go with their sound but right now they are simply a whirlwind of power doom with some interesting twists thrown in, like a bit of an electronic vibe on “To Hide Is To Die.” The really weird thing is they do this within songs that aren’t nine minutes long. Too many doom bands feel like to get the most out of their power chords, they need to drag on-and-on. Dark Castle brings it heavy, then gets the fuck out of dodge (yeah, that’s tumbleweed blowing past, alright). Whereas Jucifer almost has no genre to speak of, I like Dark Castle more because all their music has the same doom base and they work within that form to expand outwards and bring some new elements to the sound. Pick this one up, there’s no sophomore slump here.

“Seeing Through Time”