The Debate Rages: Master of Reality vs. Vol. 4

Posted in The Debate Rages on January 26th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Admittedly, it’s a cruel, heartless question to ask, and yet, can there be any doubt as to the answer? Could anything ever top Master of Reality? I ask the question mostly because I want to see if anyone sticks up for Vol. 4, which, apart from “Changes,” is about as flawless as an album can get. With the recent terrible news of Tony Iommi‘s lymphoma diagnosis, I think we’re due for a good time. So let’s have some fun.

Earliest Black Sabbath was nothing if not a coalescing of various elements into a cohesive whole. A kind of cultural distillation, ground down and remade into the singular most formative basis of doom — the album Black Sabbath. Only months later in 1970, they released Paranoid and refined the darkness of the first record, adding range and sonic breadth. While the title-track became the band’s signature piece, “Electric Funeral” and “Fairies Wear Boots” grew into the anthems of a subculture within a subculture, and they remain so to this day.

However, every time I put on Master of Reality and listen to it straight through, with each successive track, I say to myself, “This is the heaviest shit ever made.” And each song proves the prior assessment wrong — yes, even “Solitude” — until finally, “Into the Void” offers clear and indisputable truth of riff. It is pure in its muck, and as perfect as stoner rock has ever gotten. The standard by which the genre is and should be measured: the heaviest shit ever made.

But what about Vol. 4? It seems to have an answer for every challenge Master of Reality throws at it. A “Snowblind” for “Sweet Leaf,” “Supernaut” for “Into the Void,” “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes” for “Lord of this World.” 1972 found Black Sabbath a more realized beast with a perfected heavy rock that seemed to already know the tropes of the metal genre it was shaping.

I could go on. I won’t. Is “Changes” enough to hold back Vol. 4 from standing up to Master of Reality? There are people who consider “Solitude” a misstep of similar magnitude. I leave it to you to decide in the comments.

You know the scenario. You can only pick one, so which is it?

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The Debate Rages: Saint Vitus’ Saint Vitus vs. Pentagram’s Relentless

Posted in The Debate Rages on December 1st, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Of all the doom albums that have come out of America since the birth of the genre, these are probably the two that are the most singularly influential, the most pivotal, and at their base, the most doomed. Saint Vitus released their self-titled debut on Greg Ginn‘s SST Records in California in 1984, and one year later, the East Coast answered back with Pentagram‘s Relentless essentially marking the beginning of what we think of today as Maryland doom. The question of which is the superior album seems ridiculous even to ask, since I feel like what we should be doing is just being glad they were both made, but here goes:

Saint VitusSaint Vitus flew directly in the face of what was expected both of SST and of the SoCal underground. It was slow, it was lurching, and it was miserable. Saint Vitus did not have Black Flag‘s sense of self-righteous social rage — they had slow suicide with booze and pills. Their message was not of rising above, but of being buried at sea. Scott Reagers‘ vocals remain a blueprint for doom singers to follow, but try as so many do, the same black magic has never managed to be captured. Together with the foreboding bass of Mark Adams, the noise-infected guitar of Dave Chandler and Armando Acosta‘s unbreakable plod, the combination of elements was overwhelming. Even now, listening to Saint Vitus makes you feel like you’re drowning in it.

But if Chandler‘s guitar tone ever had a rival in that era, it came from Victor Griffin. One listen to the churning malevolence of “All Your Sins,” and there’s no question you’re hearing some of the most wretched doom since Sabbath‘s heyday. As much as Pentagram came to be known later for frontman Bobby Liebling‘s fabled drug addiction and a constantly rotating lineup, with Griffin, drummer Joe Hasselvander and bassist Martin Swaney (who had performed together as the trio Death Row), the band’s overdue first full-length was a milestone, and 26 years after its release, the title Relentless feels no less appropriate. “Sign of the Wolf,” “The Ghoul,” “Relentless,” “20 Buck Spin” — these are the standards by which we measure what doom has become since.

I could go on at length about both these records, but you get the point. Here’s what it boils down to: Two epics, two black covers, two of American doom’s greatest, and you’ve got to pick one. Damned if I can choose, but if you’re feeling more decisive, please, have at it in the comments.

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The Debate Rages: Blues for the Red Sun vs. Welcome to Sky Valley

Posted in The Debate Rages on October 24th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Last time, we took a look at some classic heavy ’70s artwork from Atomic Rooster and Buffalo, and that was fun, but let’s face it, there’s bigger fish to fry. For example, now that Californian desert legends Kyuss have been (mostly) resurrected in the form of the appropriately-exclamatory Kyuss Lives!, it becomes more necessary than ever to examine the legacy they left behind them in their first run. Kyuss: The gods of the ’90s desert!

The question in part comes down to lineup. For 1992’s Blues for the Red Sun, Kyuss consisted of drummer Brant Bjork, guitarist Josh Homme, bassist Nick Oliveri and vocalist John Garcia. Of those four, it was Bjork and Oliveri principally responsible for the songwriting. That remained true for 1994’s Kyuss, which would later adopt the unofficial title Welcome to Sky Valley (often shortened as just Sky Valley), but the swapping out of bassist Scott Reeder in place of Oliveri — a process which, it could be argued, is under way again now in Kyuss Lives! — had a huge impact on the band’s sound, accordingly with an increase in confidence, establishment of aesthetic, etc.

What’s not up for debate, however, is that these are two of the most classic and pivotal desert rock albums of all time. With landmark songs like “Thumb,” “Green Machine” and the truly post-punk “Allen’s Wrench,” Blues for the Red Sun helped set in motion the genre that would be centered around Palm Desert and the surrounding area, but the vision wasn’t completely realized until two years later, when Sky Valley was released. Broken into three larger movements, tracks like “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop,” “100 Degrees,” the softer “Space Cadet” and the instrumental “Asteroid” solidified the sound that the prior album had proposed, arguing not just for its artistic relevance, but for the imperative blend of atmosphere and classic influence that has come to typify true desert rock.

But as much as that’s true, you couldn’t have had the one without the other. I know where my heart and listening habits place me, but what about you? Desert island scenario (or maybe just desert, if that’s more appropriate), you can only have one or the other. Which is more pivotal in terms of its influence, and which would you rather just hear for the rest of your life to the exclusion of the other? These seem like big questions — because both records are so great — but that’s why The Debate Rages.

Please cast your votes in the comments.

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The Debate Rages: Tittyhawk vs. the Ass-Volcano

Posted in The Debate Rages on October 6th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

They’re both obviously classic heavy rock records. British outfit Atomic Rooster released their first album, Atomic Roooster (with the extra ‘o’), in 1970, and Aussie proto-doomers Buffalo unleashed Volcanic Rock three years later. If you’re standing in a store, and the two of them are there on the shelf in front of you, there’s no decision. You buy both.

But what I’m curious about in this new feature (that I hope will be a series from here on out, depending on the reaction/response it gets) is the artwork. Atomic Roooster and Volcanic Rock have some of the most ridiculous artwork ever put on a vinyl sleeve.

The first is a hawk trapped in a glass cube that inexplicably has breasts — and what’s up with that chair in the corner? — and the latter it what looks like a skull-faced neuter from Dragon Ball Z holding a giant penis over his head as he stands atop a giant volcano that turns out on the second half of the gatefold to be a woman’s ass and what may or may not be menstrual lava.

Each astounds in how little sense it makes, so I put it to you — which is the better cover?

Atomic Rooster, Atomic Roooster (1970)

or Buffalo, Volcanic Rock (1973)

Click either to enlarge the image, and leave your vote in the comments.

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