Friday Full-Length: Dio, Master of the Moon

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Dio, Master of the Moon (2004)

In 2004, legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio, also Elf) was already 21 years removed from his band’s legendary debut, Holy Diver (discussed here), released in ’83 after a stint fronting Black Sabbath that resulted in two landmark LPs in 1980’s Heaven and Hell (discussed here) and its 1981 follow-up, Mob Rules (discussed here). And what a 21 years it had been. Aside from another brief stint with Black Sabbath for 1992’s Dehumanizer (discussed here), the entirety of that time was devoted to the development and sustaining of the Dio band, which thrived across a holy trinity that Holy Diver began and 1984’s The Last in Line (discussed here) and 1985’s Sacred Heart completed, and survived both the rising of a generation fueled by the adrenaline of thrash and the grunge and nü-metal movements. They might not have been playing arenas across the US and selling millions of albums by the time 2004 came around and the band presented their final studio album, Master of the Moon, but there was no question they — and he — remained in righteous form and had enjoyed a sprawling influence that continues to spread even 15 years later.

Dio released three albums in the 2000s. The millennium was greeted by Magica, a narrative concept piece that reportedly had two more chapters in progress at the time of the singer’s death in 2010, 2002’s Killing the Dragon, and Master of the Moon. In hindsight, the 2002 offering was a landmark. It represented a shift in mindset that saw Dio understanding his place — and I say “his” instead of “their” because it was very much him guiding the direction of the band — in the sphere of heavy metal as a classic act. One might think that automatically obviates relevance, but to listen to Killing the Dragon, the singer and the band around him both sound liberated by it. After struggling in the ’90s to find his identity amid a shifting generational landscape and producing some great material in Lock up the Wolves (1990), Strange Highways (1993) and Angry Machines (1996), but not finding nearly the same audience response attained for his efforts in the mid-’80s, and getting Magica out of his system, Dio was able to be the heavy metal statesman his voice had always been so suited to being. Master of the Moon, a crisp 10-song/46-minute all-pro offering with Craig Goldy on guitar, Scott Warren on keys — mixed low in trad-metal fashion but filling out the sound nonetheless — Jeff Pilson on bass and Simon Wright on drums, may have been the last new studio record the Dio band put out, but it was also emblematic of the new era of the band that Killing the Dragon began. It built on that album and featured memorable songs crafted in a style that didn’t need to play anymore to ideas of modernity and found the singer and the band around him able to do what they did best. And they did exactly that.

dio master of the moonOpener “One More for the Road” is a barn-burner in the “Neon Knights” or “Stand up and Shout” tradition, and the signal it sends is both a dogwhistle to the converted that they should know the formula being put to use and a display of the enduring vitality of that approach. The subsequent title-track deals in feelings of isolation via the kind of epic imagery that was Dio‘s stock and trade. I was fortunate enough to interview him at the time and I asked him about the lyrics to “Master of the Moon” itself, thinking it was an allegory for a kind of post-9/11 political sphere, the booming (literally) War on Terror and all that, but no, he told me he liked that idea but he wrote it for a friend’s teenage son feeling alone and misunderstood. This ability to translate the mundane into grand imagery was an essential facet of what made Dio the larger-than-life persona he was, on record as well as on stage and in the history of heavy metal more generally. As a backdrop for his powerful vocal delivery, songs like “The Man Who Would be King” and “The End of the World” indeed touched on the prevailing mood of the time, but in a vague and roundabout way, so that the stories being told were allegories, personal and otherwise. The swagger in the verses “Shivers” set up a standout hook backed by a theatrically creepy keyboard line, while “The Eyes” tapped into the kind of chugging stomp that made Dehumanizer sound so mechanized, and all the while, images and settings and characters populated the songs to give listeners paying attention something to dig into more than just another hooky melody or another cool riff. That is to say, there may have been a formula at work, but the paint on that canvas was fresh.

Perhaps the most personal-seeming of inclusions on Master of the Moon was “Living the Lie,” in which the identifier “I” was only used once. The lyrics dealt with the cloying desperation surrounding fame, and seemed to be as much about those seeking to hold onto the past as those outside trying to get in. The first verse ended, “She was never in the circle, or the round would be a square/And the more she seemed to want it, oh the less they seemed to care,” and the culture of fame was taken into direct observation later on:

If you’re looking at tomorrow
To forget about today
Then the past will be your future
And it’s there you’ll always stay
What about the pictures that smile from magazines
The ultimate temptation, all our kings and our queens

This led to the conclusion: “Such heat and too much pressure, not worth the try/No more for them, now it’s I/And no more living the lie.” There are of course multiple ways to read it, but particularly as “Living the Lie” was backed by the declarative “I Am,” it seemed to be Dio finding strength in self-actualization and having the sing-along chorus to prove it. Its long fadeout probably should’ve been the end of the record, but the trademark woman-as-evil-temptress “Death by Love” and the more doomly closer “In Dreams” follow, the latter tapping some of the keyboard feel of The Last in Line, but not quite living up to the apex set by “I Am.”

I don’t think anyone is going to pitch Master of the Moon as being Dio‘s most essential work. Were he alive, I don’t think Dio himself would make that claim. But the course that Master of the Moon continued coming off of Killing the Dragon showed a way for Dio to move forward and be who they were as a band without cowing to the trend of the day. Of course, after the touring cycle for Master of the MoonRonnie James DioTony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice would have a by-any-other-name Black Sabbath reunion as Heaven and Hell, and Dio‘s final studio performance would be on their 2009 album, The Devil You Know (review here), and his final tours would be to support that release before he ultimately succumbed to stomach cancer, his legacy long since cemented and unmatched among heavy metal frontmen.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I expect today to be tense. The Patient Mrs. has a phone interview for a professor job in New Jersey at one of her several alma maters, and that kind of thing always defines a day. Of course she’ll nail it — because that’s what she does and the school in question, like any fucking place that has any sense at all, would be lucky to have her, what with the utter brilliance and unparalleled dedication that I so much admire in her — but still, I think she’s nervous. There is no doubt in my mind of her greatness, and she shines in that kind of situation, talking to people about her work, because she’s driven as much by passion as by professionalism. She gets excited and that gets others excited. It’s fun to watch.

However, I won’t be there to watch it. I’ll take The Pecan and roll down to the mall like the old man I am and buy the new record from The Claypool Lennon Delirium at Newbury Comics, because I live in Massachusetts and that’s the place to buy records. Plus there are a lot of colorful things to show the baby and he likes that. I might treat myself to the new Candlemass as well. We’ll see.

Next week will end with shows in Boston and New York as I follow Kings Destroy down the I-95 corridor and maybe sit in with Clamfight for a guest vocal spot, but even before that, it’s a busy time. Here are the notes as they are today:

MON 02/25 Codeia video premiere; Snowy Dunes video premiere.
TUE 02/26 Mountain Tamer single premiere; Volcano review.
WED 02/27 Orbiter track premiere.
THU 02/28 Almost Honest track premiere.
FRI 03/01 Possible song premiere or Hexvessel review.

Some of that will change, obviously, but it’s a start. This week was absolutely slammed. I don’t know if you noticed and I won’t fool myself into thinking you did, but there wasn’t one day this week with anything less than six posts. I think it was Wednesday had eight! It was completely overwhelming and I was out of my mind for much of it, but we got here and it’s done now, so whatever. My inflated self-importance will get a couple hours to recover before I start in again on Monday’s stuff and maybe make a playlist for the next The Obelisk Show, which will air next weekend.

Always something to do. 10 years later.

As ever, I wish you a great and safe weekend. Forum, Radio, merch at Dropout:

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

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Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know: Hot on the One

Posted in Reviews on September 7th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

wight love is not only what you know

Each of Wight‘s albums has represented a significant jump in sound from the one before it. At this point, they have a decent track record going of shifting sonically from release to release. Their first outing, Wight Weedy Wight (review here), lived up to its name in 2011 with fuzzy groove and stonerized riffing. The 2012 follow-up, Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here), found the Darmstadt trio working quickly on a path of progression, greatly expanding their scope and psychedelic undertones with a natural, jammy vibe.

Their awaited third full-length, Love is Not Only What You Know (on Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV), may have been much slower in arriving, but brings with it no less a sense of departure from its predecessor(s).

First of all, it marks the introduction of percussionist Steffen Kirchpfening to the lineup with guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist/producer René Hofmann, bassist Peter-Philipp Schierhorn and drummer Thomas Kurek, making it Wight‘s first record as a four-piece, but it also brazenly incorporates elements of classic funk and soul in songs like opener “Helicopter Mama,” “The Muse and the Mule,” “Kelele” and the 11-minute closer “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation” that are at once the band’s most clearheaded work to-date but also their most outwardly grooving.

No doubt the inclusion of Kirchpfening plays a role in this — percussion certainly gets its say throughout, right from the bouncing start of “Helicopter Mama,” which was also released as a 7″ single (review here) last year — but as each Wight full-length has moved past the one before it, it has also brought choice elements along for that trip. Through the Woods into Deep Water held to the tonal largesse and fluid spirit of Wight Weedy Wight, and similarly, the seven tracks/46 minutes of Love is Not Only What You Know carry forward the second album’s graceful flow, memorable songwriting, and for the most part, its looser feel and swing.

It’s the context in which those elements arrive that has shifted. Conveniently, the liner notes to the CD version list the band’s influences for each track, and they range from James Brown and Stevie Wonder on “Helicopter Mama,” to broken hearts, David Gilmour and Jack Bruce on “The Muse and the Mule,” to traveling, cultures and chaos on the Eastern-inflected interlude “Three Quarters.” Through the longer stretches in “The Muse and the Mule” (10:10) and “Kelele” (9:29) which follows to round out side A, Hofmann seems to play the role of bandleader.

“Helicopter Mama” was more straightforward, and it gets a complement on side B’s “I Wanna Know What You Feel,” but particularly in the more fleshed out pieces — it goes for “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation” (11:47) as well — Hofmann shines vocally, on guitar played through a range of effects, and in adding keyboard flourish. That’s not to say the rest of the band doesn’t make pivotal contributions as well. As with Through the Woods into Deep Water, it’s Schierhorn‘s bass keeping the material grounded, and “The Muse and the Mule” would simply fall flat without him.

Ditto that for “Kelele” and really the record as a whole, including the more subdued penultimate cut “Biophilia Intermezzo,” shorter at three minutes than everything but “Three Quarters,” which is two, but still soulful enough to make an impression. After a dreamier departure in the second half of “The Muse and the Mule,” “Kelele” starts with funky thrust and delivers its hook sans pretense, Kurek holding down the march while Kirchpfening fills the spaces between beats with shekere and djembe.

wight-700

Just past four minutes in, the song comes to a halt and they launch into a guitar-led heavy psych jam, Hofmann taking an extended solo as the band pushes further and further out, eventually bringing back to the initial progression and the repetitions of the title that seem to beg for a sing-along without actually begging for it, bookending the track excellently and underscoring the sense of control with which Wight execute their material at this stage.

Their stylistic fusion extends even more on “Three Quarters,” which plays up Mideastern drones and chanting for a quick but hypnotic psychedelic centerpiece effect to transition into side B, which comes back to classic funk-infused rock on “I Wanna Know What You Feel,” reminiscent of Humble Pie or early John Mayall if they decided to incorporate sitar accent.

Both “I Wanna Know What You Feel” and “Biophilia Intermezzo” are shorter than anything on side A, including “Helicopter Mama,” but the groove of one and the key-laced soul explosiveness of the other make them standouts nonetheless and though the sound varies widely throughout side B, basically from one song into the next, by the time “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation” comes on to close out with a return to the funkier, jammy feel of “The Muse and the Mule,” it all makes an odd kind of sense within the sphere in which Wight seem to be operating.

With Hofmann doing a more than capable Chris Cornell on vocals, the finale opens patiently with a key-solo jam before unfolding its first verse and moving into its chorus, and the difference turns out to be that when the band launches into the last jam this time, there’s no coming back, unlike, say, “Kelele.”

Keys, claves, temple blocks, drums, bass, guitar — all of it creates a fitting swirl to end the expansive feel of the record as a whole, but it’s important to note that the more pervasive vibe comes from the live feel of the song itself, and that’s also a consistent thread tying Love is Not Only What You Know together even as it continues to introduce new ways of working in its final moments. It is unquestionably Wight‘s most vibrant release, and to listen to it and Wight Weedy Wight next to each other, one would hardly even recognize it’s the same band. Because it’s not.

I said their last time out that I wouldn’t want to predict where they head next, and while they seem to have found a niche for themselves otherwise largely unoccupied in European heavy rock, the same applies here. Wight have shown time and again that their commitment is to following their creative will rather than a predetermined “sound,” and on their third album, that will has produced an accomplished collection of intricate but vital songs that redefine the band’s scope entirely.

What that might mean for the future, who knows? Who cares? It’s a party. Groove out and rock on.

Wight, “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation” official video

Wight on Thee Facebooks

Wight on Bandcamp

Wight on Twitter

Wight preorder at Kozmik Artifactz

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Buried Treasure: Mother Superior, The Mothership Has Landed

Posted in Buried Treasure on February 6th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

I was talking (or at least typing) not too long ago with Lowrider bassist/vocalist Peder Bergstrand — not to drop the name, but it’s relevant — and he mentioned Mother Superior‘s 1996 debut, The Mothership Has Landed, as having been an especially pivotal album for him in his band’s earliest going. He was a teenager at the time. I think we all have those records, and if you’re passionate about music, then probably you can also recall an album or a song or an artist whose work seemed to hit you just in the right way at just the right time in your life. It’s part of what makes us who we are, and being a nerd for Swedish heavy in general, I was curious to delve into what might have been a piece of its history I’d previously missed.

Whatever it was The Patient Mrs. was ordering from Amazon a few weeks back, I don’t even remember, but I do remember the utter (lack of) smoothness with which I said, “Well maybe I’ll just pick up one or two things for myself too.” Nicely done, chief.

Mother Superior recorded The Mothership Has Landed in Gothenburg, and it’s one of two full-lengths they released in their time, the other being 1998’s The Mothership Movement. Danish label Freakophonic reportedly reissued The Mothership Has Landed on vinyl in 2004, but the CD was through Velodrome/SPV, and though it’s 44 minutes long, the album works well in linear form, with middle cuts “Too Bad (Freddie’s Song)” and “Down the Straight and Narrow” both topping six minutes, albeit with markedly different atmospheres. Vocalist David Berlin has a touch of Mick Jagger in his voice on “Breakin’ it Down” and slide-guitar-and-piano-infused closer “Reach Out” — but cuts like “Radically Cool” and “C’Mon” are fuzzier and fuller than any blatant classic rock worship, and whatever else it is, The Mothership Has Landed is heavy. Opening duo “Yeah Baby” and “Velocity City” work at a pretty fast clip, and the penultimate “Love Gone Bad” seems to bookend with the same idea, but even then, the guitars of Sölvi Blöndal and Per Ellverson keep a thicker tone and bassist Fredrik Cronsten and drummer Anders Stub swing more than much of the garage rock Sweden was producing at that time, whatever other influence they may have taken from it.

In that regard, it’s interesting to try to put Mother Superior‘s first outing in the context of its day. Spiritual Beggars had one album out by 1996 and would release their second, Another Way to Shine, that year, but nothing on it got quite as funky as “Keep on Movin'” does here. Stockholm’s The Hellacopters, who are basically unavoidable in any discussion of Scandinavian garage rock of any era, released their own debut, Supershitty to the Max!, in ’96 following a single the year prior. Sparzanza formed in 1996 but didn’t have their first album out until 2001, and of course by then, both Dozer and Lowrider had issued their respective first full-lengths in 2000. The Awesome Machine was a year earlier than that, in 1999, and Mustasch‘s The True Sound of New West arrived a year later than Lowrider and Dozer‘s albums, in 2001. It’s hard to imagine that in 1996 there wasn’t also a huge contingent of Swedish heavy with its interest invested in the groundbreaking metal being crafted by the likes of At the Gates (their Slaughter of the Soul was 1995), Meshuggah (Destroy Erase Improve, 1995), In Flames (The Jester Race, 1996), Arch Enemy, and so on.

So while there was plenty of rock around, it’s easy to hear in listening to The Mothership Has Landed what might resonate with a burgeoning heavy riffer. The album flows like a classic rock record and for all its stomp and fuzz, it’s still clean enough to be accessible. Stub went on to drum in On Trial prior to their breakup in 2011 and in 2009 released a solo LP called The Silent Boatman that’s available to download for free from his website. The last Mother Superior offering seems to have been a Bad Afro Records 7″ called Brothers and Sisters in 1999 and then like so many others, seem to have just dissipated. Fair enough, but here we are almost two decades later and The Mothership Has Landed still holds up, so I’m glad to have chased it down.

Mother Superior, “C’Mon”

Anders Stub’s website

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Who Cares What He’s Selling, I Like Watching Ed Mundell Play Guitar

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Whathaveyou on June 1st, 2009 by JJ Koczan

Blabbermouth put this up as some promotional video for a pedal or something, but I’ll be honest, I could give a crap what he’s selling, I just like watching Monster Magnet guitarist Ed Mundell — who, one of these days, will put out a solo album — play guitar. Moral of the story: here he is:

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