The Judas Priest catalog has a few classics in it, or I guess they wouldn’t be Judas Priest, and while they’ve joined the ranks of those metal bands who seem to retire as often as not, there’s little arguing one can do with their early years — they’re the raw building blocks on which heavy metal would be constructed. And as much as Black Sabbath gets credit for inventing the sound, listening to a record like 1978’s Stained Class, there’s little doubt Priest played a major role in shaping the style and visual aesthetic of the genre.
Stained Class is the fourth Judas Priest album, following 1977’s Sin after Sin, 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny and their 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla, which gets slagged a lot for not being as “metal” as what followed, but offers plenty for fans of heavy ’70s rock. Songs like “Better by You, Better than Me” (a cover of Spooky Tooth), “Exciter,” “Invader,” the ultra-badass “Saints in Hell” and “Beyond the Realms of Death” are monuments of the soon to rise New Wave of British Heavy Metal, arriving two years before Iron Maiden released their first album and roughly concurrent to Motörhead‘s 1977 self-titled debut. Sabbath at this point were falling apart, releasing Never Say Die in ’78 before the big split with Ozzy, and while early metal seemed to be floundering all around them, Judas Priest would emerge to lead the style into the ’80s, to what many still regard as its peak era.
Not a bad legacy to wind up with. Of course, the mob went wild when Priest issued British Steel in 1980 (1978’s Killing Machineappeared between Stained Class and that album), and that helped propel the Birmingham five-piece to their iconic status, but a couple years earlier, when Stained Class hit, it did so with more of a workman feel. Comprised at that point of guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, vocalist Rob Halford, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Les Binks, they were a band who knew what they were going for and who knew who they were even as pop consciousness shifted toward the rawer and less superficially pretentious punk of the day. I won’t take anything away from that either — if you ever hear me badmouth the Ramones, please alert the authorities that I’ve been kidnapped and replaced by a cyborg with shitty taste — but I think time has proved Judas Priest were right in sticking to their guns.
This is the last week-ending full-length of 2014, so I hope you enjoy.
Why Saturday and not Friday as usual? Well, The Patient Mrs. and I got home a little bit after midnight from about 72 hours straight of Xmas family time. It was delightful, and draining. A final two-hour trip north from Connecticut and by the time we got in, we didn’t even have energy enough to bring in presents from the car. It’ll happen today. Of course, not closing out the week before I went to bed wound up being the wrong choice since I was up until two and then up again from about 5:30 to 8 this morning — something just didn’t feel right — so I got mine in the end for veering from the routine even in this small way. Take that, me.
If you celebrated, I hope you had a good ol’ time. This week coming up is New Year’s, so things get even crazier. The Patient Mrs. and I will head back down to New Jersey in the middle of the week (Tuesday night, I believe) for more festivities and wahthaveyou, but I’ve also decided to close out 2014 with a bang around here. I’ve got stacks of CDs on my desk that have come in for review and it’s time to get them gone, so what I’ve decided to do is a series I’m going to call “Last Licks.” It’ll be 10 reviews per post (obviously each writeup will be relatively brief), Monday to Friday this coming week, rounding up stuff I want to get in before the year ends, and that’ll be that for 2014. Yeah, I know it’ll be 2015 by next Friday, but just roll with me on it. It’ll be good.
So that’s 50 reviews next week. Keep an eye out. Ha.
I also have some news to catch up on, so I’ll work that in where and when I’m able, and we’ll have the results of the Readers Poll — did you get your list in? — hopefully on the first, but maybe the second if Slevin is busy or tells me to screw off, which he’d be well within his rights to do. It’s been a close race the whole month and has been exciting to watch, and I’m thankful to everyone that’s taken part so far.
Thanks also to everyone who shared the lists that went up this week and the podcast as well. I know it wasn’t much for quantity of posts the last couple days, but I hope the quality made up for some of that.
Alright, I’m going to get more coffee and spend the remainder of this lovely day sitting on my ass. Enjoy the holiday weekend. Be safe, have fun, and we’ll see you back here Monday to close out 2014 in style.
Posted in Reviews on October 14th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Birmingham doomers Alunah make their debut on Napalm Records with Awakening the Forest, their third album. It’s been a long two years since their sophomore outing, White Hoarhound (review here), left such a resounding impression — four since their debut, Call of Avernus (review here), was released — and in that time, some things have changed and others haven’t. The four-piece have traded out bassists, bringing Dan Burchmore aboard, and clocked considerable road time in support of their material, touring in the UK and Europe that’s resulted in a considerable forward movement in their songwriting. Their overarching approach, however, is consistent, as is their presentation. Awakening the Forest, like its predecessor, was recorded by Esoteric‘s Greg Chandler and mastered by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed, and there’s sonic cohesiveness as a result between the two records. Likewise, Alunah‘s latest maintains the band’s penchant for themes of nature worship, guitarist/vocalist Soph Day here using metaphor and, one imagines, some escapism in coping with the loss of her father, songs like opener “Bricket Wood Coven,” “Heavy Bough” and “The Summerland” evoking an organic feel in lyric and tone alike, a fuller-sounding production from Chandler not taking away from the underlying warmth in Day‘s tone or that of her fellow guitarist David Day, the foursome rounded out by Jake Mason on drums. All told, Awakening the Forest‘s six tracks cover 45 minutes of expansive, rolling doom given an otherworldly feel by Soph‘s echoing vocals and fluid movement between and within the individual pieces.
It breaks about evenly into two vinyl sides and works that way as well, but I prefer a linear, CD-style listen because it underscores two elements working very much in Awakening the Forest‘s favor: The languidness of groove and the immersiveness of the record as a whole. You could put a platter-flip between “Awakening the Forest” and “The Mask of Herne” — which is the shortest cut included at 5:53 — but I’ll take it front-to-back and really dig into the chance to get lost in Alunah‘s rollout, slower here than on the last album overall but with choruses no less memorable or engaging, an overarching sleepy-woods feel pervading each cut in succession, beginning with “Bricket Wood Coven,” which oozes out choice, open-feeling riffing for its eight-minute entirety, Soph telling tales of a high priestess calling the moon, and by the time it’s over, the spell has been duly cast. The subsequent “Heavy Bough,” while shorter and somewhat more uptempo, is ultimately no less ethereal, and with “Awakening the Forest” and “The Mask of Herne” following — the latter referring to the antlers donned by Herne the Hunter, a ghost said in English folklore to haunt Windsor Forest, referenced in the album’s cover art — Alunah‘s hypnosis is long since complete, the title-track offering a high point in its hook, early soloing and spacious post-midpoint jam, and the latter launching Awakening the Forest‘s second half with particularly graceful vocal layering and a steady affirmation that the consuming fuzz on the songs prior was no fluke. Not that there was any doubt, but the reassurance is welcome all the same ahead of the closing duo, “Scourge and the Kiss” and “The Summerland.”
At 8:39 and 9:05, respectively, “Scourge and the Kiss” and “The Summerland” are the two longest songs on the album, and paired next to each other they make the trance-inducing aspects of earlier cuts all the more apparent. In its structure and focus on the chorus, “Scourge and the Kiss” stands in line with “Awakening the Forest” and “Bricket Wood Coven” as another strong execution of Alunah‘s songwriting, trading off brooding quietness with bigger-toned riffs and layered leads between the two intertwining guitars over the rhythmic foundation from Burchmore and Mason. In its vocals and in those leads, it gives heavy psychedelic flourish to what the band has already accomplished, and in the context of the album, it keeps the momentum moving forward, but the larger impression is made my the closer, which delves as close as Alunah have come to minimalism. A linear build begins soft and sentimental with the guitars, and immediately the focus is on atmosphere more than anywhere else on Awakening the Forest. Soph delivers her first vocals shortly before three minutes in, and though weightier distortion kicks in around the halfway point, a patient sensibility holding firm as “The Summerland” works its way toward its payoff. It never loses its contemplative, melancholy spirit, and that’s how Awakening the Forest ends. They don’t force an adrenaline surge where one doesn’t want to be, and above all, the final moments of Awakening the Forest seem honest in their intent and emotional portrayal. Whatever pagan elements might be at work throughout, Alunah‘s third album doesn’t veer from its human core, and for that, and for its marking the continued growth of the band and their coming into own in what they do, moving beyond their influences to an increasingly individualized approach, Awakening the Forest is their strongest outing yet.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 28th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I don’t mind telling you I’ve been waiting for Alunah‘s new album for what feels like I really long time. The reality of the situation is that the Birmingham four-piece’s third offering and Napalm Records debut, Awakening the Forest, arrives just two years after their previous full-length, White Hoarhound(review here), but as I’ve continued to enjoy that record since first hearing it, my affection for it only growing with the passing months, it seems much longer. I’m not sure what my ideal follow-up to White Hoarhound would’ve sounded like — or, more to the point, I can’t think of a way in which Awakening the Forestisn’t it.
For those who, like me, were fans of the last one or of 2010’s Call of Avernus(review here) before that, the riffs of Dave and Soph Day retain their bounce, and new bassist Dan Burchmore falls in step thickly with drummer Jake Mason to craft a lumbering but still nod-ready groove. At the same time, there’s clear progression evident. The band is more patient, the pieces that make up the memorable six songs more languid. In general, they sound like they’ve been working since White Hoarhoundcame out, which of course is precisely the case whether one thinks in the sense of getting on the road for shows or bringing in Burchmore and solidifying their lineup. Alunah come across as more comfortable with their psychedelic side — fitting for their consistently pastoral thematic — but Awakening the Forestpresents some of their most doomed material as well.
To wit, the rollout of “Heavy Bough.” At just under six minutes, it’s among the shortest songs on Awakening the Forest(only “The Mask of Herne” is shorter, and by five seconds), and marked out by the lead and rhythm interplay of Soph and Dave‘s guitars as well as Soph‘s riff-riding verse and more open chorus. On an album full of hooks, “Heavy Bough” stands out for its nature worship and for its still-grounded take, sandwiched between the more ethereal opener “Bricket Wood Coven” and the side A finale title-track, but if it’s the first you’re hearing of the album, then its primary function will be to remind of just how easily an Alunah track can get stuck in your head. If this is your first experience with the band, all the better you’ve found them at this moment.
Please find “Heavy Bough” on the player below, and enjoy:
Alunah will release Awakening the Foreston Oct. 6 in the UK and Oct. 7 in North America. The album was recorded by Greg Chandler (Esoteric) and mixed and mastered by Tony Reed (Mos Generator), and is available now to preorder. More info at the links.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 5th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The new Godflesh album exists. It’s really coming out and you’re really going to be able to hear it. It’s called A World Lit Only by Fire, and it will be released through Justin Broadrick‘s Avalanche Recordings as the first Godflesh LP since 2001’s Hymns. Due Oct. 6, it will be the follow-up to earlier 2014’s Decline and Fall EP (review here), which stood as testament to the undiminished intensity of Godflesh‘s sound and their unwillingness to ignore a decade-plus of musical evolution since their last time out. It is an album very, very much worth looking forward to.
Here’s the PR wire with artwork, a new song, and more about it:
GODFLESH ANNOUNCE DETAILS OF FIRST ALBUM IN 13 YEARS, SHARE NEW SONG AND ANNOUNCE UK TOUR DATES. A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE SET FOR OCTOBER 6 RELEASE
Industrial metal innovators Godflesh have announced the details of their highly anticipated full length A World Lit Only By Fire, set for an October 6 release on their own Avalanche Recordings label. The album arrives on the heels of June’s Decline And Fall EP, which was met with widespread acclaim for its effortless synthesis of the duo’s fan-favoured early albums, themselves groundbreaking genre experiments that pioneered an integration of electronic music’s bombastic rhythms, metal’s bludgeoning force, and post punk’s aural atmospherics. Whereas the new EP succeeded by fulfilling listener expectations, the full length exceeds them; delivering a full force exploration of the furthest boundaries of Godflesh’s extreme sonics, and then pushing beyond them, detailing the rich musical experience accrued in the dozen year span and countless musical projects (Jesu, Final, Vitriol, Greymachine, Techno Animal, etc.) between recordings.
The duo, comprised of legendary talents of Justin Broadrick (also of Jesu, JK Flesh, Techno Animal, Pale Sketcher, and more) and GC Green, formed in 1988 in the same fertile Birmingham, UK scene that forged the talents of Napalm Death, Carcass, and Head of David among many others. Initially disbanding in 2002, the band resumed live performances in 2010 and began the arduous work of crafting a follow up to 2001’s Hymns. The resultant self-recorded ten song set mounts the thin line between high definition clarity and raw, visceral heaviness, inducing a meditative state via seething minimalism that hinges on ritualistic riff repetition and the tenuous membrane between anxiety-inducing dissonance and cathartic minor key melody.
A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE TRACK LIST
1. New Dark Ages 2. Deadend 3. Shut Me Down 4. Life Giver Life Taker 5. Obeyed 6. Curse Us All 7. Carrion 8. Imperator 9. Towers of Emptiness 10. Forgive Our Fathers
A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE DECEMBER UK TOUR DATES
Tue 09.12.14 The Haunt Brighton Wed 10.12.14 Garage London Thu 11.12.14 Rescue Rooms Nottingham Fri 12.12.14 Sound Control Manchester Sat 13.12.14 Art School Glasgow
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Kind of a news-heavy day, but I’d be remiss if I left out Birmingham’s Alunah, whose album details have just been made public via the PR wire. Their third outing and their Napalm Records debut, Awakening the Forest,is set for release in October and will boast six new cuts of their heavy riffs and peacefully rolling doom. After digging their 2010 Call of Avernusdebut (review here) and especially 2012’s sophomore outing, White Hoarhound(review here), this is one I’m genuinely looking forward to, so if the album art and tracklisting coming out puts the record itself a step closer, then all the better.
Awakening the Forestwas recorded by Greg Chandler of Esoteric and mastered by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed. A video is also reportedly in the works. More to come, but for now, once more unto the PR wire:
ALUNAH Unveil Details of Upcoming Album
Birmingham’s Stoner Rock Doomsters ALUNAH are set to release a new album via Napalm Records in October 2014. Following their previous releases Call Of Avernus and White Hoarhound it’s finally time for a new masterpiece. The band centered around guitarist & singer Sophie Day have now unveiled first details of artwork, title, track listing & release dates!
Awakening The Forest is set to be released on October 6th in the UK & October 7th USA/CAN and forges forward with hard guitars, pumping heavy grooves and a sound that will make fans of this genre, fans of this album!
Check out the track listing for Awakening The Forest: 1. Bricket Wood Coven 2. Heavy Bough 3. Awakening The Forest 4. The Mask Of Herne 5. Scourge And The Kiss 6. The Summerland
ALUNAH on the upcoming album Awakening The Forest:
“We are delighted to introduce our 3rd album “Awakening The Forest” to our old, new and future friends. Recorded by Greg Chandler and mixed/mastered by Tony Reed, we are extremely proud of this album. We are also very lucky to have worked with the exceptional illustrator Michael Cowell who brought our songs to life visually in the CD and LP package. Napalm Records have been very supportive of us throughout the whole process, and we hope that you guys love the album as much as we do. Our video for “Heavy Bough” and also a short film with Michael talking about the artwork are coming soon; both shot and directed by Rhodri Thomas at Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire, England.”
Posted in Reviews on June 10th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
One of the most challenging factors in listening to Decline and Fall objectively, or even attempting to do so, is in separating the reality of the four songs included from the fact that it’s Godflesh. Not just Godlesh, but newGodflesh, and the first new Godflesh since 2001’s swansong full-length, Hymns. Among bands both in the heavy underground and the wider sphere of metal, there have been few acts who’ve had the kind of influence Godflesh have within that 13-year span. To name three others in varied styles: Opeth, Neurosis, Meshuggah. That’s the caliber of contribution, and some 25 years on from their landmark 1989 debut, Streetcleaner, Godflesh hold firm to the core of what made their approach so singular and so heavy to begin with — the industrial churn and aggressive sensibility. Founding guitarist/vocalist/programmer Justin K. Broadrick has cemented a legacy via his work in the more melodic, ambient Jesu, who arrived in 2004 named for the final Godflesh song on Hymnswith a style that seemed bent on exploring the open spaces that Godflesh turned claustrophobic, but there’s no question Godflesh has endured a relevance beyond their original tenure and one that continues to flourish in an industrial revival today. So how on earth does one listen to the Decline and FallEP (out through Broadrick‘s own Avalanche Recordings) and separate these tracks from the massive influence that Broadrick and founding bassist G.C. Green have had on the heaviness that has followed in their lumbering wake?
Beats the hell out of me.
Since Broadrick and Green began playing shows again, the discussion inevitably turned to new material resulting from the reunion. The reality of Godflesh circa 2014 probably isn’t so far disengaged from what the reality of Godflesh circa 2003 or 2004 might’ve been. In a way, the four included pieces, “Ringer,” “Dogbite,” “Playing with Fire” and “Decline and Fall” are almost too easy to read as Godflesh picking up where they left off. Breaking cleanly into two vinyl sides with a more melodic track — “Ringer” and “Playing with Fire” — and a harsher one — “Dogbite” and “Decline and Fall” — on each as typified by Broadrick‘s vocal approach, Decline and Fallneatly answers some of the progressiveness Hymnspresented and Broadrick went on to refine with Jesu, most notably the more open feel and steady use of melody, but it also seems to have come from an alternate reality in which that refining process hasn’t already played out in the way it has. That is to say, Decline and Fall is Godflesh. It sounds like Godflesh from the static noise that opens “Ringer” to the double-timed beats that cap “Decline and Fall” and with every chugging riff in between. Circumstantially — not sonically — it’s not unlike Floor‘s recent release of their first post-reunion album, Oblation, which arrived after several years of playing shows and found a guitarist returning to the band in which he cut his teeth after continuing the creative evolution with another act. Broadrick‘s success with Jesu little informs the songs on Decline and Fall, and while that project has its distinct appeal, keeping them separate unquestionably works to the favor of both. What the EP winds up feeling like is the result of someone trying on an old outfit and finding out it still fits, but with songwriting. Over a decade later, it wasn’t clear what Godflesh would be or how much the intervening years and experiences would play into the songs. It turns out that what makes Godflesh Godflesh has remained intact.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 19th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
This coming May, Future Noise will bring together a pairing of abrasive UK sludgers for a split 12″ of considerable nastiosity. The Sleeping Shaman streamed two tracks from it today, and the combination of Bastard of the Skies and Grimpen Mire works out to be basically like asking the audience whether they’d prefer to the punched in the left side of the face or the right. I don’t know if there’s any letup over the course of the 12″, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be much in “Yarn” or “The Hollow Wreck,” as you can hear via the link below.
BASTARD OF THE SKIES & GRIMPEN MIRE To Release 12” Via Future Noise; Track Stream From Both Bands Now Available!
Future Noise is ecstatic to announce the coming together of 2 of the UK’s rising heavyweights in the form of Blackburn’s Noise Rock deviants BASTARD OF THE SKIES and Birmingham’s filth mongers GRIMPEN MIRE for a limited Split 12” which will see the light of day in early May 2014.
Both sides for this behemoth of a release were recorded by BASTARD OF THE SKIES guitarist/vocalist Matt Richardson at his own Full Stack Studio, mastering was handled by the ever faithful James Plotkin while artwork was realised by illustrator Michael Cowell.
And today, The Sleeping Shaman is honoured to bestreaming a track from both bands, ‘Yarn’ by BASTARD OF THE SKIES & ‘The Hollow Wreck’ by GRIMPEN MIRE, now press play below to be devastated by the aural assault you are about to hear…
Tracklisting for the split is as follows:
BASTARD OF THE SKIES side: A1. Yarn A2. Bao Fu A3. Wounder A4. Old Vessels
GRIMPEN MIRE side: B1. The Hollow Wreck B2. Vermin Hive B3. Fragments of Forgotten Craft
More news on Pre-Orders and release date will be announced soon!
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 19th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
So, uh, am I crazy, or did we already know that UK doomers Alunah were going to be working with Napalm Records for their next album? And I don’t mean like they-announced-it-on-Thee-Facebooks-three-days-ago-and-the-PR-wire-just-caught-up “already know,” I mean it as in months ago. Help me out here.
Because I’ll tell you, I’ve been saying their next record was coming on Napalm since June, and while this certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been wrong about something for six solid months, at least in theory I like to get it right when I can. This news came in this morning and I kind of spent the afternoon wondering if I should even bother posting it and then I was like, “Yeah screw it because you can put White Hoarhoundon again,” and that’s what I did. Any excuse.
Thinking about Top 20 lists, Alunah should’ve been in mine for 2012. All the more reason to look forward to their next release, which hey guess what? It’s coming out on Napalm Records. Official confirmation awaits:
ALUNAH SIGN WORLDWIDE RECORD DEAL WITH NAPALM RECORDS!
Birmingham based psych doom band Alunah are proud to announce that they have signed a worldwide album deal with Napalm Records!
Alunah worked with them previously on a limited vinyl release of the band’s last record “White Hoarhound”, and after demo-ing some new tracks entered talks with Napalm Records regarding a full worldwide recording and publishing contract.
Napalm Records will release a limited edition digi-pack and gatefold LP; and Michael Cowell will illustrate the full packaging.
“Alunah are incredibly happy to have signed a worldwide album deal with the world renowned label Napalm Records. We already have a strong working relationship from when they released a vinyl version of our second album “White Hoarhound”, and we are proud to have been asked to join the Napalm family on a more long-term basis. We have a hard working ethic, are constantly evolving and appreciate everything given to us. We are joining a roster which boasts some of the best bands in the industry, and we’re confident that this new phase in our relationship is a mutually beneficial one.” – Vocalist & guitarist Sophie Day
Alunah will be working once again with Sound of Liberation regarding the band’s 2014 European tour, and will be embarking on a UK tour in May/June.
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It seems early, but here’s one to look forward to for 2014. British doomly four-piece Alunah will have their third full-length out as their debut on Napalm Records, and as a follow-up to last year’s infectious White Hoarhound (review here), I’m excited to hear what they come up with, especially with the inclusion of new bassist Dan Burchmore, who joined them earlier this summer.
As they continue writing and with the prospect of recording ahead of them, Alunah have some quality gigs booked for the interim with the likes of Samsara Blues Experiment, Stubb and Benson Griffin, which is apparently a new Victor Griffin project that teams him with former Goliath vocalist David Benson. More on that to come as well, I’m sure.
Until then, this from the PR wire:
Writing the 3rd album and giving thanks to friends…
Our bassist Dan is now well and truly settled in, he played his first gig with us on the 18th July supporting Karma to Burn, and everyone’s response to him has been great.
Since Dan joined we’ve been locked away in our beloved murder hut deep in the Warwickshire countryside to begin writing for our third album. The three of us have just hit our seven year anniversary together with Alunah, and in that time we’ve been through a lot – mainly good and some bad! However, we’re still going strong with a new band member, and are writing material that we’re ridiculously excited about! Dan has some great ideas, and a majestic style of playing which has brought a new dimension to the Alunah sound. We currently have one of our favourite illustrators working on the artwork, and should have more release news for you towards the end of the year.
We also want to say a massive thank you to Mark at Psychedoomelic Records. Shadow Kingdom have now taken over Psychedoomelic due to Mark concentrating on other things. Mark believed in us by releasing White Hoarhound, he helped open the floodgates and led us to some amazing opportunities. We wish him all the best for the future.
We’ve recently added some new dates to the gig diary, these include a DesertScene promoted London date with fellow Sound of Liberation band Samsara Blues Experiment, and a Birmingham date with Benson Griffin(new project of Victor Griffin – Pentagram / Place of Skulls / In-Graved). All confirmed dates are below, we are also working on a UK tour later in the year. Please get in touch if you are interested in booking Alunah.
10/08 The Snooty Fox, Wakefield: Alunah, The Albion Codex & Rachael Hannah McCaul View Facebook Event 31/08 The Anvil, Bournemouth: Alunah, Iron Witch, Diesel King, Grifter, Eldorado, Greenhorn & Hummune View Facebook Event 05/10 Lock 42, Leicester: Alunah, Slow Worm, Mage & Temple of Lies View Facebook Event 27/10 Asylum 2, Birmingham: Benson Griffin, Alunah, Arkham Witch & Iron Void 12/11 Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton: Mammoth Mammoth, The Quill, Alunah & Gringo Buy tickets or View Facebook Event 15/11 Borderline, London: Samsara Blues Experiment, Stubb & Alunah View Facebook Event 29/11 Hard Rock Hell, N Wales w/ Black Star Riders, Nazareth, Crucified Barbara & many others…
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
UK doomers Alunah parted ways with their bassist Gaz — now focusing on his band General — and have just today announced Dan Burchmore as his permanent replacement. He’ll have a considerable task ahead of him in holding down the band’s low end, which as their 2012 offering, White Hoarhound (review here), stands testament, is a big part of their sound.
Alunah, who will debut their new lineup on July 18 with Karma to Burn in their native Birmingham, have some considerable momentum in their favor thanks to the response to White Hoarhound and the roadtime they’ve put in to support the album, plus signing to Napalm Records. I’d expect the addition of Burchmore to the lineup of Soph Day (guitar/vocals), Dave Day (guitar) and Jake Mason (drums) will only lead to more touring, and if so, all the better.
The band (via the PR wire) take it from here:
New Alunah Bass Player
We are proud to introduce Dan Burchmore as our new bass player, replacing Gaz who recently departed amicably to concentrate on his other band General. Dan hails from Rugby in Warwickshire and has spent the last 7 years playing gigs and touring with various bands up and down the country.
Dan says: “I’ve been a fan of Alunah’s work for a while, so it’s an honour to be part of the band, playing with some great musicians and all round great people. Really looking forward to what the future holds and making some heavy sounds!”
Vocalist Soph commented: “We had a few jam sessions with some potential bassists, all great players but we either had no spark or they couldn’t commit to our schedule. So, we put an ad out and received an amazing response, thanks in large to the amount of people on our social network sites spreading the word. One email stood out to us, and we arranged a jam with Dan. We instantly all hit it off, he’s got a great attitude, is an awesome, tight player with a fat sound, plenty of groove and has added something extra to our existing songs. We can’t wait to get on stage with him and introduce him to everyone”.
The new Alunah line-up will be debuted in Birmingham on July 18th at The Asylum2 with Karma to Burn, Desert Storm and Moghul. Special Alunah fan pricetickets are available here.
What do you say when staring into the face of the greatest album of all time? Fuck if I know.
For months, I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a periodic feature highlighting the best and most influential albums in heavy rock, stoner rock, doom, whatever — a Canon of Heavy. All along I’ve known that, though I didn’t want it to be like a top-10 or to go by number or date or any other particular order, the first inductee into said canon would have to be Black Sabbath‘s 1971 masterpiece, Master of Reality. The rest of the time since has been trying to figure out what the hell to say about it.
Because while endless words have been written in its praise and its singular influence has bled into enough bands and records to make Helen of Troy’s thousand ships look paltry, the basic fact of the matter is that Master of Realitywas and is perfect, and that’s all the explanation it really needs.
No doubt I could stop right there and an entire section of the population who might see this post could only nod in agreement — “Yup.” — but it would be half-assed, and frankly, it’ll be more fun this way. Here are just a few of my reasons why it had to be Geezer Butler , Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Ozzy Osbourne, and why Master of Reality had to be the first Canon of Heavy inclusion.
Is it the Best Album Ever?
Yeah, pretty much. Opinions vary and we can go back and forth forever about this or that record, what’s better about what, but when it comes down to it, Master of Realityreally is flawless. From the coughs that open “Sweet Leaf” to the last chord that closes “Into the Void,” there isn’t a moment misspent. Sure, you have interludes “Embryo” and “Orchid” and the whispered section after “Children of the Grave,” but even these are perfectly suited to their purpose, no longer than they need to be to bridge the gap to and from the song before into the next track while adding to the atmosphere.
And each of its main tracks was a defining moment. “Sweet Leaf,” “After Forever,” “Children of the Grave,” “Lord of this World,” “Solitude” and “Into the Void” — you could look at any one of those songs and mark out its influence, whether it’s “Sweet Leaf” codifying what decades later would in no small part define stoner rock or “After Forever” offering the earliest template for Christian metal — but more importantly to the idea of Master of Realityas a whole is how well they work with each other, driving you forward into the culmination of “Into the Void,” which comes as the final answer to successive exclamations of “this is the heaviest thing ever,” “no, this is the heaviest thing ever!” No matter how many times I hear Master of Reality, it never loses its power. One does not listen to it so much as one is brought into its countenance.
It was The Birth of The Heavy — and though it’s sold over two million copies since, it remains an underground treasure. You listen to Master of Realityand it’s not like putting on anything else, any other big release. The album connects on an individual level, and not just in a handshake-from-a-famous-person kind of way. Its thickened, sludgy lumber is the stuff of legend, but each legend is a personal, human story as well.
Third Time Around
We all know the cliche about thirds, so I’ll spare you that, but arriving in July 1971, Master of Reality came not even a full year after Black Sabbath‘s landmark second album, Paranoid and only 17 months after their self-titled debut, which is widely regarded as the moment that hard rock became heavy metal. Nonetheless, the growth the band underwent in that time — they toured as well, astoundingly — is stunning, and where Black Sabbathwas formative and raw and Paranoidwas chaotic and bitter, the third album refined all of Sabbath‘s ideas to that point into a drug-fueled lurch that they’d never again match. In their rush to get the next LP out and maintain their chart position, they wrote the single best collection of songs heavy music has ever known.
They were, by their own admission, drugged out of their minds at the time. And yet, their songwriting would never be in this space again. Black Sabbathand Paranoidare both truly great albums, and I don’t doubt that in time they’ll be included here as well, but the reason it’s Master of Reality first is because Master of Realitymarks that crucial moment where “heavy” became more than just a mindset and truly manifested itself sonically in Iommi‘s guitar and Butler‘s bass, where the riffs came to ultimate prominence, and where the band hit the intersection of knowing what kind of music they wanted to be making without over-thinking their processes. The bassline of “After Forever,” the unmitigated stomp of “Lord of this World,” the percussive thrust of “Children of the Grave” — how much time did they actually spend on these songs? Hours?
With Master of Reality, Sabbath found the balance sound-wise they’d never be able to find in a real life filled with narcotic excess and personal drama. Further, it’s the most efficient album they ever made. By the time they’d record Vol. 4in May 1972, that moment had simply passed, and while they were by no means done and there was still plenty more for them to say in their original incarnation, Master of Realitywas as crucial as they ever got.
There’s ongoing debate about whether it’s even Osbourne singing or Ward, but what’s special about the penultimate cut on the album is that it’s no less heavy than anything around it for its lack of assault. Sure, “Black Sabbath” from the same album was a creeper and “Planet Caravan” is a better execution of psychedelia, but “Solitude” is among the purest executions of doom ever recorded. You’re not journeying through space so much as through the depths of your own wretchedness, and long gone are tales of mysterious demons at the foot of your bed. All that’s left is yourself and the miserable bastard you’ve become:
My name it means nothing, my fortune means less My future is shrouded in dark wilderness Sunshine is far away, clouds linger on Everything I possessed, now they are gone
Even “Paranoid,” which one could argue covered some of the same depressive lyrical ground, didn’t dare unmask itself to such an extent, and when they tried again to cover similar ground on “Changes” from Vol. 4, the result was a laughable farce of emotionality. The minimalist blues of “Solitude” is unmatched in the Sabbath catalog, which even elsewhere offers righteous judgment (“Lord of this World”) and brazen defiance (“Children of the Grave”), but never again the same kind of peculiar ambience and first-person exploration of damaged psyche. It is beautiful and doomed in like measure, and the lead-in it provides the introductory and signature riff of “Into the Void” gives both songs a context emblematic of the strength of the album as a whole work.
Goes without saying, again. Go grab a CD or record off your shelf of any even moderately heavy variety, and there’s a good chance that whether or not the band knows it, there’s some aspect of Master of Realityto be found therein. The album is elemental in the actual, scientific sense — providing the pieces through which compounds can be made. A lot of Black Sabbath from this period is like that. With Master of Realitythough, this was the record the first two were driving toward and the record that the remaining five released by the original lineup were coming from.
In terms of a Canon of Heavy, Blue Cheer and Hendrix were heavy before it, and others like Budgie, Atomic Rooster, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin ran concurrent, but none could stand in line with its crushing weight or sheer sonic mass. And none have since, Sabbath included. One need only name a band from either the heavy rock, doom or sludge genres to find someone who’s tried, pivotal or obscure, but Master of Reality stands unto itself, carved in stone. Time has not diminished it, and I think if time tried, the record would simply kick its ass, which is the same treatment it has dealt out to everything else in its path for the last 41 years.
Posted in Reviews on September 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Alunah’s rise has been marked and impressive these last several years. The four-piece hail from Birmingham – a pretty good place to be from if you’re into the heavy – and their latest offering is White Hoarhound. The album is their debut for new label PsycheDOOMelic and their second full-length overall behind 2010’s impressive Call of Avernus debut (review here), a split with Queen Elephantine (review here) in 2009 and 2008’s preceding Fall to Earth EP, and the central difference between it and everything the band has done to this point is a clarity of mindset. With White Hoarhound’s seven tracks/47 minutes, what’s most apparent in listening is that Alunah have a much clearer idea than they’ve ever had before of who and what they are as a band. The guitars of Sophie Day and Dave Day are thick, viscous and forward in the mix alongside Gaz Imber’s bass, and Jake Mason’s drums beat out straightforward motion in line with the riffs. They are rarely showy as a band, but these songs deliver quality heaviness, a few standout choruses, and a solidified aesthetic rooted in pagan-style nature-worshiping lyrics. Sophie’s vocals are a defining element, and where in the past I’ve likened her voice to Lori S., that’s never been less true than it is on White Hoarhound. Some similarities remain, but as Sophie begins to come into her own as a singer, she necessarily leaves that and other such influences behind her. One still gets the sense in listening to their second album that Alunah are continuing to develop as a unit, but there are plenty of instances throughout the sophomore LP that show that potential beginning to pay off, both in terms of songwriting, as on the title-cut, and in terms of performance, as on the harmonized acoustic guitar/organ penultimate track, “Oak Ritual I.” The production of Greg Chandler (who also helmed Call of Avernus) and a mixing/mastering job from the increasingly ubiquitous Tony Reed finds the album moody but crisp, and with a darker atmosphere around them than last time out, the doom in Alunah’s sound has never come across better than it does here.
As on the debut, that doom comes tempered with a fuzz rock mentality that ties these tracks closely to the riffs on which they’re founded. Alunah would hardly be the first band to be driven by the progressions of their guitars, but it sets up a singularity of approach that plays out across much of White Hoarhound. I don’t necessarily think it’s a detriment to the album, however, since the mood is varied along the way and the unit don’t tie themselves to just one structure. That is, not every verse sounds the same, not every riff sounds the same, not every song winds up in the same place. So while it’s the riffs being followed, the destination changes. They touch on psychedelia here and there, as in the very intro of the album on opener “Demeter’s Grief,” but on the whole, it’s a doomier kind of sound than last time out, thicker, with Gaz’s bass right up front playing off Sophie and Dave’s guitars. No complaints there. The grooves are weighted but not drudging, and “Demeter’s Grief” does a solid job in setting up the listener for what’s to come throughout the album, shifting smoothly between a slower verse and more upbeat chorus, catchy and memorable with semi-mystical lyrics that serve as a distinguishing factor throughout the whole of White Hoarhound, including on the title-track, which follows and features the best of the album’s choruses. Sophie layers and backs herself on vocals, and the song’s musical bounce and vocal cadence comes across not unlike that of Mars Red Sky’s “Strong Reflection,” the heft in the guitars and bass once more not weighing the song down in the slightest. Alunah move into an effective start-stop groove in the second half, playing up the swagger for a brief break before cutting to a section of noise and skillfully bringing back the verse with a gong hit and revitalized purpose. Rightly, they end with the chorus, and shift directly into Mason’s drum intro for “Belial’s Fjord,” which at 8:03 is the longest track on the album, closer “Oak Ritual II” having a longer runtime but ending earlier.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 10th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
First off, to a lot of people, he doesn’t. For better or worse, probably the majority of those in the legions who would attend the original-member reunion Black Sabbath announced in November either don’t know or don’t care about “the drummer.” They’re there to see Ozzy Osbourne sing “Paranoid” and maybe watch Tony Iommi play the “Iron Man” riff. Geezer Butler‘s bass and Bill Ward‘s drumming are secondary concerns.
These casual fans, those who would just show up, probably don’t realize it was Butler who wrote the lyrics Osbourne sang or that the rhythm section played such a huge role in making Black Sabbath‘s earliest records — 1970’s Black Sabbath and Paranoid, 1971’s Master of Reality and 1972’s Vol. 4 — as heavy and groundbreaking and stylistically definitive as they were. And even if they did realize, or even if they heard the band themselves say so — I know Iommi said it flat out in the Classic Albums: Paranoid DVD — they still wouldn’t care.
Outside of the context of the heavy rock underground that still so vehemently flies the flag of and takes influence from those four albums in particular, Black Sabbath is a heavy metal footnote en route to Osbourne‘s solo career and the commercialization of metal that first took place in the ’80s and continues to this day. Black Sabbath is important, but they’re more important because Pantera or Slipknot or Metallica says they are than because Master of Reality was a life-changing event.
Last Thursday, when Bill Ward released his statement that the contract he was offered was “unsignable,” the internet almost immediately blew up with support for his case. My feed on Thee Facebooks — which, though I don’t use it as a measure of overall cultural relevance, at least lets me know what people are talking about — still has posts of pro-Ward propaganda memes like those I’ve included with this post: “Back Stabbath,” “No Bill Ward, No Black Sabbath,” “Bill Sabbath” t-shirts. Sloganeering from people who (I would say rightfully) appreciate Ward‘s contributions to the original lineup. In an era that produced many great British drummers — John Bonham, Carl Palmer, Ian Paice, etc. — Ward‘s work stands out as singularly characteristic. No one before or since sounds quite like him, executes a fill quite the same way or keeps the same kind of swaggering beat that makes “Lord of this World” one of the heaviest songs ever put to tape.
Iommi, Butler and Osbourne released a response to Ward expressing their regret that the drummer had, “declined publicly to participate in our current Black Sabbath plans.” Somewhat predictably, it wasn’t long before Sharon Osbourne was scapegoated as trying to ripoff Ward or pull some shady business deal. It was a quick leap from:
Sometimes I think “Sharon‘s a cunt” is the heavy metaller’s “These colors don’t run.” She’s enacted several truly despicable moves in the past — whether it was pelting Iron Maiden with eggs at Ozzfest or replacing the original drum and bass tracks on the first two Ozzy Osbourne solo records — and I think she often gets blamed for the tarnish to the public perception of Ozzy that came out of his buffoonish portrayal on the reality show The Osbournes, which saw him go quickly from the “Prince of Darkness” to a helpless, hapless oaf in the minds of fans and pop culture at large.
Blaming Sharon Osbourne for shrewd, callous or ethically questionable business decisions undertaken on behalf of her husband — she’s his manager, after all — is convenient, and sometimes, fun. She’s an easy scapegoat, and putting the fault on her saves longtime fans from accepting the reality that Ozzy himself — who’s nothing if not likable — is probably behind or at very least approving of what’s seen as happening completely without his input. Whether she’s a cunt or not, I don’t know. I’ve never met her or spoken to her, and I think a lot of women in business are open to being cast as bitches because of their gender where the same actions would be celebrated by their male counterparts. I’d have a hard time celebrating a dude for having Mike Bordin and Robert Trujillo replace Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake‘s recorded tracks, but I probably wouldn’t call him a cunt for having done it. An asshole, maybe.
So I don’t think it’s so much a question of whether or not Sharon Osbourne is at least occasionally a classless jerk — history bears out that opinion of her as it does of most of us — as it is of how the negative view of her is cast by fans of Black Sabbath and Ozzy. Yoko didn’t break up The Beatles and Sharon isn’t ruining Black Sabbath. I won’t pretend to know the complex personal and professional histories between the members of the band, but last I heard, Iommi owned the band’s name, and as he’s been the only consistent member throughout the band’s many lineup changes over the last four decades, it’s easy to assume he’s the one calling the shots, not Sharon, or even Ozzy.
Where that puts Ward‘s position in this whole thing, I don’t know. The perception when Heaven and Hell got going and Ward wasn’t involved was that the conflict was between he and vocalist Ronnie James Dio, but maybe that was only part of the story, or none of it at all. It seems like every time Black Sabbath picks up in one incarnation or another, Ward is a question. He initially left the Dio-fronted lineup of the band after 1980’s Heaven and Hell album, came back for 1983’s Born Again, left again, rejoined with the original lineup in 1997, then left citing health reasons, and intermittently took part in touring after that. When I saw them on Ozzfest in 2005, I remember thinking to myself that I should appreciate Ward‘s performance particularly, since I didn’t know when I’d see him play drums again.
Which I suppose brings us around to the original question at the top of this post: Why Bill Ward matters. Black Sabbath has a long history without him, and it’s not like he was writing the riffs or the lyrics or singing on the songs. Tommy Clufetos from Ozzy‘s solo band can play those parts convincingly — as could any number of other drummers, so if you’re going to say one particular lineup of Black Sabbath is definitive and the rest aren’t, well, there are a lot of people out there collecting royalties on Sabbath records they played on who’d probably argue the point.
Bill Ward matters in the songwriting. When Black Sabbath took the stage for their press conference/announcement last November, they established the premise of a new album with Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and Ward. Together with producer Rick Rubin and apparent fan ambassador Henry Rollins (who elected him to that role remains a mystery, but he keeps showing up in it), they discussed what a new Black Sabbath album with the original lineup would be, what it would sound like and how it would come together. They said, in effect, “We are a group of musicians who have come together to create something that is definitively Black Sabbath.”
If Black Sabbath is going to be defined then as the original lineup — and I’d gladly argue that was the tone of the press conference — then without Bill Ward‘s contributions to the songs in writing his own drum parts, the character of the band changes. It’s not the reunion they said it would be, but instead a new incarnation of the band that happens to be fronted by Osbourne and have Butler on bass. Those passionate about the idea of regrouping the original Sabbath are right to feel betrayed: Without Bill Ward in the songwriting process, they invariably won’t be getting the product they were promised.
And in that, Ward is not blameless. If he felt his contract untenable, he shouldn’t have taken the stage with the band in November and said he was on board for the reunion. However much you like these people or think they’re not out to screw you over — and however much they might not actually be — that’s just bad business, and a band that makes as much money as Black Sabbath does on a reunion tour is unavoidably a business. It’s naive to think otherwise.
Best case scenario for a new Black Sabbath album was that the original lineup put out a record that was a decent answer to Heaven and Hell‘s The Devil You Know, that wasn’t a complete AutoTuned embarrassment that sullied the already-tried legacy of the band’s highest creative peaks. But even so, the proposition was special because it was the four of them doing it. When I interviewed Eric Wagner in December, he discussed his relationship with his former bandmates in Trouble and said, ” Those four guys are the only ones who know what it was like to do what we did… I can talk to them and they know exactly what I mean and what it felt like and what we went through.”
No doubt in my mind that Tommy Clufetos is a capable drummer. He wouldn’t have been in Osbourne‘s band if he wasn’t. But in terms of the bond between the original members of Black Sabbath — everything they’ve seen and done together, how they’ve triumphed and fallen apart and hated each other and been best friends — no one else can stand in for Bill Ward. That’s why Bill Ward matters.
But not only that. Bill Ward matters to the fans. I’m not talking about the people above who show up on a Friday night because it’s something to do. I’m talking about those of us who, to one degree or another, live by this music. Ozzy Osbourne is a famous person; untouchable. Tony Iommi is a god; thoroughly unapproachable. Geezer Butler — bless his genius heart — is the (endearing) model for doom-dude awkwardness. Of the original four, Bill Ward is the one I believe most when he says he loves Black Sabbath‘s fans. Whether he actually does or not is a secondary concern at best — he engages the followers of Black Sabbath in a way and on a level that the other founding members simply do not.
For a band whose influence has had the cross-generational reach that Sabbath‘s has had, that’s an important function to play. Without Bill Ward, the fans to whom the band really matters can’t fool ourselves into thinking they’re doing it for any reason other than the money, and even if they worked everything out at this point and Ward rejoined the songwriting process and they picked up right where they left off before going to the UK to work on account of Iommi‘s lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, some of “the magic” is already gone.
That wouldn’t be the case if Bill Ward didn’t matter.
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?
Posted in Reviews on November 21st, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
It had been at least a half-decade since I was last at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford for a show — long enough for the name of the arena to have changed from Continental Airlines Arena to the Izod Center — but beyond that and the price of parking ($25!), not much was different. The inside was still the same dismal beige, the setup roughly the same, the predominant smell in the corridors still sauerkraut and beer piss. I felt like I’d never left.
The show — a stop on Judas Priest‘s “Epitaph” alleged retirement tour — boasted openers Thin Lizzy and Black Label Society, but I arrived in time to catch only the final song and a half of the latter. I wasn’t heartbroken, and watching the beard-braided Zakk Wylde tebow and thump his chest like a circus gorilla following the end of “Stillborn,” was even less so. That guy’s come a long way to be a cartoon character, but the place ate it up, and I saw more than a few BLS vests in the crowd, so far be it from me to judge. Even though I just did.
There was a decent amount of changeover time between Black Label and Priest, which, like being surrounded by tens of thousands of people at a show, was something I genuinely wasn’t used to. Thoroughly out of my element and just one day removed from watching Premonition 13 rock the Saint Vitus bar in Brooklyn, I watched as a giant “Epitaph” flag was lowered in front of the stage, which was but the first in an unfolding series of grandiosities. I guess if you’re Judas Priest 40 years into your career and on what you’ve said will be your farewell tour, you go big. So be it.
I was lucky enough to scam a photo pass, and prior to the show starting, a collection of professional photographers and I (very much not a professional photographer) were collected and brought into the photo pit. They were playing metal classics over the P.A., Metallica, AC/DC, and the last song they played before Priest took the stage was Sabbath‘s “War Pigs.” I noticed one of the crew who was in position to catch the giant “Epitaph” flag was singing along and we exchanged a quick chatter about the brilliance of playing Black Sabbath before the start of metal gigs. I said it was like the national anthem before a baseball game.
Priest‘s set was an impressive two hours and 20 minutes. There were breaks in there, and vocalist Rob Halford seemed to make the most out of his various costume changes throughout, but they did an excellent job of keeping the momentum going. We were allowed to shoot for three songs, and I did, catching “Rapid Fire,” “Metal Gods” and “Heading Out to the Highway” up close before being unceremoniously booted back to my floor seat, which was — of course — occupied by the time I got there, leaving me to stand awkwardly at the end of the row and get bumped into for the rest of the set. I could’ve raised a stink, but screw it.
New guitarist Richie Faulkner, who seems as much a replacement for K.K. Downing physically as for guitar playing, was at stage right and seemed to be in charge of entertaining that entire side of the venue, which he did by playing extensively to the crowd — facial and hand gestures, waving, smiling, making faces, posing out, etc. — and of the rest of the band, he and bassist Ian Hill were probably the most into the show, the latter looking well satisfied during both newer songs like “Judas Rising” and “Starbreaker” from 1977’s Sin After Sin album.
Glenn Tipton and Rob Halford were more professionally detached, which is fair, but they still played well and everything was impeccably presented. Where I stood meant I got a lot of Scott Travis‘ kick drum; could feel it in my chest for the duration, and there were times where it was grating, but for the most part, the balance was as dead on as one might expect. Some of my favorite moments of the show, though, were in Halford‘s stage banter between the songs. While Tipton, Hill and Faulkner were changing out their instruments, Halford gave little snippets of perspective on the band’s landmark tenure in metal, including gems like, “In 1971 in Birmingham, there were only two heavy metal bands: Black Sabbath and Judas Priest” (bit of revisionist history there since Priest weren’t really playing metal until the middle of the decade), and an expression of how the growth of metal has led to the splintering into subgenres — he named black, death and nü metals, among others — and that each generation that’s come up has revised what it means to be metal, and that he approved.
He said of Judas Priest, “We are a classic metal band.” This is indisputably true. As much as anyone ever could be, they are. Their influence over what the genre became, particularly in the ’80s is measured in the number of pretenders to their throne who fell by the wayside while they — in one form or another — persisted. I think though it’s high time doom owned classic metal. In terms of groups to whom the work of Judas Priest and is still relevant, I hear much more of it in traditional doom than I do even in power metal, which seems more bent these days on progressive influences and technical showiness.
So “classic metal,” such as it is — Sabbath, Priest, the whole NWOBHM and the acts from around the world who followed — belongs to doom now. No one else is using it anyway, and while I have no idea what entitles me to make such ridiculous proclamations, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one doing it, so screw off. Let the doomers be the keepers of the old. We are anyway.
Though it’s sacrilege to say, “Turbo Lover” was a high point of the set, despite it being one of several choruses Rob Halford elected not to sing or to sing in part, letting the crowd pick up the slack — of course, they were more than happy to do so. Perhaps most egregious in that regard was “Breaking the Law,” which he didn’t sing at all into the microphone, instead just walking around the stage and putting his ear to different sections of the Izod Center, letting the noise come to him. I probably wouldn’t want to be singing that song anymore either, but man, I can sing along to Judas Priest any time I want. I didn’t pay $25 to park my car to do that with however many other people were there. I paid to watch them perform those songs. Minor gripe, but still.
That was toward the end of the set, following “The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown),” “Blood Red Skies” and “Beyond the Realms of Death,” which was one of several standout ballads included. The Joan Baez cover “Diamonds and Rust” was beefed up at the end, and was the finishing piece of a trio that included “Victim of Changes” and “Never Satisfied,” the latter from 1974’s Rocka Rolla. They closed out the regular set though with “Breaking the Law” into “Painkiller,” which set the stage for two encores and seemed to be the end of Halford‘s voice for the night.
And to be fair, if he blew it out there, it’s understandable. “Painkiller” is a tour de force for a metal vocalist, and Halford sounded excellent throughout, but right at the end, in that series of wails, there was one that made me cringe, and sure enough, his voice wasn’t the same afterwards. I don’t know and won’t speculate on whether he was using any kind of backing track or modulation other than the natural compression that comes from a wireless mic, but he sounded right on in his higher screams, and even the mid-range verses had presence and force in the delivery.
Everything was crisp, clean. The lighting was perfect, the fire, the periodic blasts of lasers, the sequined robe Halford donned with a Priest-logo trident for “Prophecy” from the Nostradamus record. It was all tight, flawlessly executed and built for maximum metallacy. Even as the band members were introduced it was, “Glenn Tipton on the heavy metal guitar,” “Richie Faulkner on the heavy metal guitar,” “You’ve been a great heavy metal audience,” and so on. And all around me, husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, dudes and dudettes, rocking out till the dawn. Or until a little past 11PM, anyway. It was heavy metal utopia.
Two encores, like I said. The first was “Electric Eye” into “Hell Bent for Leather” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” They brought out the motorcycle for “Hell Bent for Leather” — as if there was any doubt — and Halford draped himself in a sewn together American/British flag before “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” walking around the stage doing a sequence of “Whoa, whoa, whoa, yeah” and “Yeah-yeh-yeah, yeah, yeah” vocalizations that the audience matched note for note. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure they were just vocal warmup exercises (one could see also throughout the set that he was metering his breaths before and after the highs), and if that’s the case, the people answering him back were already plenty warmed up. Still fun.
Faulkner took a surprising solo during “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” and when the band left the stage again, Travis got on a mic and told everyone that if they made enough noise, the guys would come back out and do one more song. Chaos ensued. Heads rolled. Limbs flew like it was Mos Eisley. Glasses shattered, dogs within a 10 mile radius of the Izod Center howled, and finally, Tipton, Halford, Hill and Faulkner retook the stage for the finale of “Living After Midnight.” Another epic sing-along, some extended soloing, and a massive heavy metal finish later, and they were done. I was home by midnight.
I’ve seen Priest before, and if Scorpions‘ farewell tour is anything to go by (three years and running?), I’ll have an opportunity to see them again, but it’s hard not to read something special into catching Judas Priest with even the possibility of it being the last time. Make no mistake, there were parts that were so flat-out silly that I laughed out loud — some of Halford‘s costume changes, the giant Priest trident logos with the motorcycle lights in them, etc. — but if there’s one thing I’ve learned to recognize in this world it’s that just because something is silly that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of meaning or that it can’t also be important to you or, say, 10,000-plus people around you.
Music is as close as I come to religion, and there was a point at which I did a side-to-side sweep of the venue and said to myself, “This is the life I’ve chosen.” I’m not going to say “no regrets,” because I have plenty, but it could’ve been way worse.