Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Never Say Die!

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 22nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

[Please note: If you’ve been keeping up with this as a series, Technical Ecstasy would be next, but it closed out a week already and I stand by what I wrote there as it relates to the catalog. In any case, thanks for reading. -JJ]

Never Say Die! was of course the death knell of Black Sabbath‘s original run. It is to wonder what might’ve been had they been able to hold together the founding incarnation of the band into perpetuity instead of splitting with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne after wrapping the Fall tour alongside openers Van Halen supporting this release. But maybe there’s a glimpse of that in how the mixed-bag nine songs of Never Say Die! strode forth with swagger and renewed vigor after the band seemed confused in their ambitions on 1976’s Technical Ecstasy (discussed here), which was perhaps pulled between impulses toward commercial success, being taken seriously as artists, guitarist Tony Iommi‘s pull toward broader-scope songwriting that had been flourishing just a few years earlier on 1975’s Sabotage (discussed here) and 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (discussed here) and his increasing role as producer and emergent bandleader. A flash of what an Ozzy-fronted Sabbath might’ve been as the shift to the 1980s loomed, just closer than the horizon.

To wit, a new generation of hard rock bands and also — a few acts like TroubleThe Obsessed and Saint Vitus working directly in younger-Sabbath‘s wake — were coming up and would continue to in the next few years. The ’70s were winding down. Vietnam was history. Even disco was passé by 1978, or at least on its way to becoming New Wave. Joy Division‘s first album would come out in 1979. Things had changed. Black Sabbath met those changes with what probably sounded at the time like a sustainable version of their approach. As pieces like “Junior’s Eyes” signaled their maturity in the parental voice of the lyrics and “Over to You” somewhat tamely renewed a penchant for societal critique that had brought about “Children of the Grave” and “War Pigs,” Never Say Die! would nonetheless be defined by the shove of its opening title-track.

Uptempo in its shove but inevitably swill swinging with Bill Ward on drums, “Never Say Die” is sub-four minutes of heavy rock righteousness with an earworm hook and a sweeping riff that gives both Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler room to shine. Never Say Die! isn’t without its Sab-experimental aspects. Whether it’s Don Airey‘s keys starting off second track “Johnny Blade” and piano adding atmospheric light touches in “Air Dance” or the sax-laced strut of the penultimate interlude “Breakout” before Ward takes lead vocals for the finale “Swinging the Chain,” there’s plenty of showcase for the sonic progression that would in some ways end with this record. But while “Johnny Blade” has a Sabbath-does-Bowie vibe to its storytelling and does well in creating an atmosphere corresponding to that, at its heart is the bluesy stomp of its riff, and that holds true for “Junior’s Eyes” and side A capper “A Hard Road,” with its everybody-on-board gang vocals in the chorus and unabashed-feeling groove. All three of those run over six minutes long, and they’re not without their indulgences in solos and arrangement, but in terms of the underlying approach, the band’s vision of who they are seems clearer than it did two years prior.

I won’t claim to know why that is, and it doesn’t really line up with the circumstances of Never Say Die!‘s making, which involved Osbourne (whose father’s death is the basis for the aforementioned “Junior’s Eyes” lyric) quitting the band and being replaced by Dave Walker (Savoy BrownFleetwood Mac) before rejoining, finishing the record, touring, and being fired, various other disagreements over direction, more business trouble and working at a studio in Toronto that BLACK SABBATH NEVER SAY DIEreportedly no one had looked at beforehand, drugs drugs drugs — also booze — and so on. But as side B launches with the standout “Shock Wave,” fostering a tonal grit reminiscent of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath topped off by a layered melody from Osbourne, if Never Say Die! is sloppy or haphazard, it’s organic to the material in a captured-live sense. “Air Dance” pushes against this idea with its midsection departure into piano, keys and wistful jazz guitar, and so does “Breakout” with its cocaine-era saxophone wankery, but Sabbath had done acoustic and/or piano pieces before, and “Air Dance” establishes its verse and atmosphere before embarking on what’s still a plotted linear build, and under the brass in the two and a half minutes of “Breakout” is a rolling movement that feels like it maybe taught Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats (among others) how guitars should sound.

“Over to You,” which appears between “Air Dance” and “Breakout” in the tracklisting, keeps the piano from the preceding song, and feels sure-footed enough in its verse and chorus that “Breakout” doesn’t come across as so substantially different in intent from “Orchid” on Master of Reality (discussed here) or “Laguna Sunrise” from Vol. 4 (discussed here), even if its actual execution leads it elsewhere. All of these feed into an overarching vibe for Never Say Die! that positions it as tangibly above Technical Ecstasy in craft and performance — each member of this band hit their stride as a player at some point in this eight-year stretch in ways that would define their respective career arcs, but that didn’t necessarily happen all at the same time or according to the order of LP releases — while having traded some of its soul for that self-awareness and direction.

As “Swinging the Chain” wraps, Ward holds out his notes and even hits a falsetto that speaks to his emergence as a singer. In another reality, would he have taken over lead vocals after Osbourne‘s departure? Or could Black Sabbath have pulled it together and kept the Osbourne/Iommi/Butler/Ward configuration somehow, and if they had, would they still push forward with something as outright majestic as 1980’s Heaven and Hell (discussed here), which introduced then ex-Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio as their new frontman and felt like all the more a radical turn for it, or continue to backslide into a kind of comfortable mediocrity even before they hit middle-age? Flashes of their former greatness amid an endless string of identifiable but watered-down riffs, with neither the force nor passion behind them of their earliest work?

Of course these things could’ve happened, and if they had, maybe Black Sabbath would still be as revered as they’ve been since reforming their lineup in the later-1990s. But in this universe, Never Say Die is impossible to divorce from its context as the ‘last’ Black Sabbath original-lineup LP, and if you reorient to a position of looking forward from it rather than looking back at it, maybe that’s for the best. Nonetheless, at its center, it’s still these players captured at this time, and as the capstone of their run, there remains positive forward potential in its songs as well as the exeunt omnes spirit so easily read into “A Hard Road,” making it an ending worthy of the beginning from whence it came.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

I gotta answer some emails. If you’ve reached out to me, oh, let’s say in the last four or five months, and not heard back, I’m sorry. My time is pretty tight these days — genuinely more so than I expected it to be when I sent my daughter off to full-day kindergarten this past Fall — and I’ve found my capacity for getting back has taken the brunt of that. I was never especially good at email, to be honest. I find now I’m about ready to move on from it, though no, that doesn’t mean I’m shutting off the contact form on this site. Just that I’m ready for whatever technological advance in communications might eventually follow to render it obsolete. Branded mini-emails like social media DMs aren’t really cutting it either. Same anxiety on approach, less easy to sort through and find what you need when you need it.

First, I’m lucky anyone thinks enough of what I do here to send their music in the first place, whether it fits or not. Second, I’m doing my best and I acknowledge that things will not always be as they are today.

But yeah, email.

If you dug the string of Black Sabbath week-closeouts, I’m glad. It was a fun project. I was thinking I might dig into Kyuss in a similar fashion, but we’ll see. There are a couple other not-multiple-week odds and ends I’d like to do as well, but I’m content not to decide anything about even next Friday this week, as much as I do enjoy getting an answer for that kind of question ahead of time. For example, I currently have two full albums slated to stream in May, and not necessarily at the start of the month. Working ahead is how I stay sane in this to the extent that I do. In my head, I’m feeling like it’s time to put together the back end for Monday’s review.

And about next week. Monday’s a Skraeckoedlan full stream, Tuesday I’m going to try to follow that with a Colour Haze studio log-ish-type feature. Wednesday is Cancervo’s new LP, Thursday is the Esben Willems solo record with a track-by-track, and Friday I’m leaving open either for Craneium or some other review that strikes my fancy. Or maybe I’ll post that Brume video interview where I, well, just sucked. Their record doesn’t, and that helps. We’ll see.

I got some pretty thoughtful comments last week, more than just internet-style platitudes and/or empty optimism, and thank you for that. You might not find this surprising, but sometimes writing a thing out helps me organize my thoughts. Wild, I know.

This week was my wife’s Spring Break, and it was wonderful to have her home. Tuesday we went to the Job Lot, today we went to the library to look at alternative Zelda books for The Pecan, who at this point continues to want to read nothing else, and even just having her in the house, whether she’s working upstairs or down, whatever it is, makes life better on every level. I’ll miss her next week when she goes back to work.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Have fun, watch your head, hydrate. I’ve got my water jug and my bluetooth speaker and some clothes laid out for after I shower, which is my stank-ass-self’s next stop. Beyond that, primo hours of fuck-off time ahead. I hope you also get a bit of a chance to relax, however that looks for you. Thanks again for reading and checking in. Back Monday.


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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 27th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

I’m not going to pretend to have any insight on Black Sabbath‘s Heaven and Hell beyond the scope of what’s been written about the album over the 42 years and one month since its arrival. It is simply one of if not the greatest piece of heavy metal ever released. Think of this as a celebration. It not only brought the band into contemporary status with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and revived the arc of their career with the inclusion of then-Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio on vocals in place of Ozzy Osbourne, but it brought their songwriting to a new level of complexity entirely, as guitarist Tony Iommi seemed able to find a manner in which to channel the riff-driven approach that made records like Master of Reality (discussed here) and Volume 4 highlights of early ’70s heavy — as well as the landmarks from which the aforementioned NWOBHM was in part built — into something newer and more grand. Black Sabbath weren’t breaking ground stylistically in the same way they did with their self-titled or Paranoid, but Heaven and Hell (which previously closed out a week here) was a revolution and a reignition for them and it helped steer heavy rock and roll and heavy metal into a new era for the 1980s, the soaring, seven-minute title-track alone standing out for its ability to find a way to convey a sense of the epic without tipping fully over into the self-indulgence of prog rock. Heaven and Hell, then, is Black Sabbath having it both ways.

Forgive me if I assume familiarity on the part of the reader with the album. If you’ve never heard Black Sabbath‘s ninth LP (in 10 years, mind you), or you’ve never really bothered to dig into the various post-Osbourne eras of the band, it was issued by Warner Bros. in 1980 as the follow-up to 1978’s Never Say Die, and to put the two albums side-by-side is perhaps one of the starkest contrasts one could hope to make. Famously drugged-out and careening toward mediocrity, the combination of IommiOsbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward still were able to conjure a few classics even in sounding past their peak just several years earlier, but no question it was a slide from both the grittier heft of Master of Reality and the electrifying performances on albums like 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and 1975’s Sabotage, never mind the genre-codifying influence of their first four LPs — though I know Never Say Die and its predecessor, 1976’s Technical Ecstasy (discussed here) for sure have their proponents. In considering Black Sabbath, however, the only proper scale to rate it is alongside other Black Sabbath. Sometimes that isn’t even fair. So here we are.

Among Heaven and Hell‘s stunning aspects — and there are many, between the scope of the production, the range of songs like “Children of the Sea” or “Die Young” in bringing Iommi‘s acoustic work into the actual pieces themselves, Butler‘s bassline alone on the title-track still imitated, and the nod of the closer “Lonely is the Word” remaking blues rock in its image — is the fact that, all told, it runs just about 40 minutes in length. Four songs on a side, rocker up front with “Neon Knights” opening — an energy Black Sabbath Heaven and Hellthat a year later “Turn Up the Night” on 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here) would brazenly attempt to recapture — and then quickly unfolding into the broader intentions of “Children of the Sea,” setting up the back and forth interplay of grandiosity and straightforwardness that the bass-led “Lady Evil” and “Heaven and Hell” continued on side A and “Wishing Well,” “Die Young,” “Walk Away” and “Lonely is the Word” reaffirmed on side B, Black Sabbath pushing and pulling their audience along this dynamic course without even really letting on what’s happening; a subversive duality further conveyed through the album cover. Still, what they accomplish in the five and half minutes of “Children of the Sea” is more than many bands have done in their entire career, to say nothing of “Heaven and Hell” or the scorching payoff of “Die Young” to come. Pairing those with the hooky — and outwardly misogynist in a way that became a hallmark of Dio‘s lyrics — “Lady Evil” and “Walk Away” or even “Wishing Well,” which is probably as close as this record comes to filler, establishes a pattern and a personality unlike anything else in the Black Sabbath catalog, before or after.

The band’s run with Dio was short. Already noted, Mob Rules arrived in 1981, minus Ward on drums, and after 1982’s crucial Live Evil (discussed here), Iommi and company teamed with Deep Purple‘s Ian Gillan for 1983’s still-undervalued Born Again (discussed here) before a few floundering years — lest we forget Glenn Hughes on Seventh Star in 1986 — led them into the Tony Martin era with 1987’s The Eternal Idol (discussed here). A momentary reunion with Dio for 1992’s Dehumanizer (discussed here) brought a darker, meatier tonality and a signal of refocus not unlike what Heaven and Hell did following Never Say Die, but it was a short-lived collaboration and Dio was back to his own band soon enough, Sabbath returning to work with Martin for the bulk of the ’90s until their reunion with Osbourne in 1997 led to years of touring and their first Ozzy-fronted studio recordings in two decades (looking at you, “Psycho Man” and “Selling My Soul” from the 1998 Reunion live album).

A 2007 collection The Dio Years with new Dio-fronted studio tracks led to the formation of Heaven and Hell with IommiButlerDio and drummer Vinny Appice, and though Dio would pass away just three years later, the band nonetheless managed to tour and offer up 2009’s The Devil You Know (review here) even amid his and Iommi‘s declining health, finding a way to salute their long-intertwined paths while remaining vital, creative and unabashedly heavy as elder statesmen of metal; a magic that 2013’s Rick Rubin-helmed 13 (review here) would attempt to harness, seemingly as a closing chapter for the band’s studio work with Osbourne and their first album with him since Never Say Die. Retirement touring, Osbourne‘s own, well-publicized physical decline, and other collaborations have come in the years since, but the future of the band is never written until its written. I won’t speculate.

However you ultimately define Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell is a touchstone beyond touchstones. In the realm of desert-island albums, it is the island you want to be stranded on.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

I’m still sick. Or I’m sick again? Or I have allergies? I’m not really sure. I woke up at about 4:15 yesterday morning and was miserable from that point on. Sinus pressure in my head utterly inescapable, snot leaking out my nose all day, coughing. No sore throat to speak of, and in direct comparison to the week before, the rest of my body didn’t feel the same as when I was covid, which was somewhat ironically like a lockdown keeping me in place because my entire being felt so wretched — for only about two days, thankfully — but still, a wreck.

I’ve been awake now since 3:15AM. The Patient Mrs. has already gotten up and given me a bucketload of shit for getting up so early, thereby inevitably leading to hardship and fatigue later in the day. The facts that (1:) I wasn’t sleeping anyway because in my head I’d already started to compose the above writeup for Heaven and Hell and (2:) it’s not like she’s about to stop grading to let me write about 42-year-old metal records for a couple hours in the early afternoon and (3:) big change, I managed to think better than to mention. But there really is nothing like starting what’s probably going to already be a long, tough stretch of hours with your spouse pissed off at you. Super, super helpful.

She bought me medicine yesterday, which was helpful — perhaps none of us are at our best in the middle of the night — and I took all of it. I said this out loud yesterday to her and I stand by it. If it’s allergies that I was suffering from yesterday — some mysterious pollen blooming or whatever — then it’s the worst allergies I’ve ever had. Even more than that, The Pecan was in the exact same condition. A fucking mess. All day. Miserable. Kept him home from school. I did go to bed yesterday afternoon for about 90 minutes, which helped — so thanks to The Patient Mrs. for that, definitely — but by the time Strange New Worlds was over was no less desperate to return there than I had been after lunch. It was a brutal day.

His covid test, meanwhile, was negative. I show a faint line positive on the home test. The PCR I took last Thursday, meanwhile, was negative. No one knows anything, everything is fucked. I’m glad fewer people are dying, and I’m glad not to need to be put on a ventilator. I know some who were not so fortunate. Needless to say, having the sick kid as an additional factor of anxiety did not aid on any level whatsoever. It’s been a tough few days. I was feeling better before that.

Steps to be taken? Well, I’ve got nose spray, a leftover steroid inhaler hanging around, Zinc, various Claritins, Mucinexes, DayQuils and so on to parse out. I’ve already finished an iced tea and nearly a full pot of coffee, and I’ve set an alarm on my phone for noon to make another. Beyond that and the usual hydration, I’m not really sure what there is to do. I’m out of Paxlovid, if this is still covid, and in the meantime, one of my nephews up the hill at my mother and sister’s house has tested positive, so even if I was willing to bring someone from over there in to assist here — a thought I find not particularly thrilling, given the potential risk of exposure from us to them, never mind from them to us — outside help would seem not to be forthcoming.

Survival-mode, then. The tv went on early yesterday, may go on earlier today. We’ll see.

I did manage to floss yesterday and this morning though, and that felt good. And I’ve gotten about 150 responses from people looking to take the Obelisk Questionnaire, so it seems that feature will continue for the foreseeable future. I’m glad. I like it.

I wish you a great and safe weekend. Have fun, stay healthy, watch your head, drink water. It’s 5:30AM now and I have more writing to do for today, so I’mma skip out. New Gimme show this afternoon. It’s a good one. I know you don’t care but I do.

Thanks for reading.


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Friday Full-Length: Dio, Holy Diver

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 8th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

It is a pinnacle achievement in heavy metal. One of the greater classics of the form. A genuine landmark for the artists involved and the genre they helped define. The course that brought vocalist Ronnie James Dio to front his own band on this debut album in 1983 was certainly bumpy enough — early teen idol fare leading Ronnie Padavona to Elf, to Rainbow, into and out of Black Sabbath again (and ultimately back into, out of, and into again as well) — but Holy Diver is one of those records that seems to stop time.

Its nine songs are brazenly dynamic, starting at a rush and pulling back immediately toward a new kind of metallic grandiosity in “Stand Up and Shout” and “Holy Diver” itself. Clearly written with an audience in mind, informed by the NWOBHM and fully cognizant of itself as a ‘heavy metal’ album at a time when that meaning could still be nebulous, Holy Diver is a monument to craft and performance. In either its own era or now some 39 years after its first release, it is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment — even in a life such as Ronnie James Dio‘s, which had a few of them — and it shines in a way few albums of any style could ever hope to do. There is very little hyperbole that is hyperbole enough to accurately describe either its quality or the influence and effect Holy Diver has had on metal and other heavy musics in general. It is a given. It is dogma. Holy.

One of three Dio albums to feature the lineup of Dio, guitarist Vivian Campbell (who had been in Sweet Savage prior), bassist Jimmy Bain — who also played keyboards here before the band added Claude Schnell to fill the role — and drummer Vinny Appice. The latter was imported from Black Sabbath where he had replaced Bill Ward for 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), which was also the second LP on which Dio fronted in place of Ozzy Osbourne, who began his own solo career in a band bearing his name in 1980. You could — and hey, it might be fun, too — argue which of the three is the Dio band’s greatest achievement, between Holy Diver, 1984’s The Last in Line (discussed here) or 1985’s Sacred Heart, but the simple truth is there is no wrong answer. With a quick jump into the album cycle of recording, releasing, and touring, and ace management, Dio was able to hold onto momentum from his time in Black Sabbath and make it his own, much as these songs were a sonic turn from even the most progressive riff-based work of Tony Iommi, blessings and peace upon him.

Consider “Invisible” on side B, or “Caught in the Middle,” or “Rainbow in the Dark.” These songs are young, vital, fresh. Despite Dio‘s presence in the music industry for decades by the time he fronted this group, he’s speaking in part to aDio Holy Diver younger audience, not patronizing but identifying with feelings and considerations that a weird heavy metal kid circa 1983 might be dealing with. Following its layered melodic opening, “Invisible” is seething, triumphant. “I can go away/I can leave here/I can be invisible.” This is a message of empowerment for someone feeling cast out. “We’re all 18 and we’re in between.” Different songs serve different purposes, of course, but from the encouragement to physically move that is “Stand Up and Shout” — pure for-stage songwriting if there ever was any, and an answer to Sabbath tracks like “Neon Knights” and “Turn Up the Night”; quintessential openers — to the storytelling in “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Holy Diver,” that perspective of needing to overcome a challenge is unflinching. “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is a model Dio would follow throughout his career, one of many lyrics framed around a kind of basic wary misogyny, but it pairs with the rolling cruise of the subsequent side B opener “Straight Through the Heart” as though finally embracing the inevitable.

“Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” are achievements unto themselves, of course. Candlemass must have been paying attention, as well as countless other bands. Even the rise of thrash seems like a punker-born response to the over-the-top, all-in, zero-irony push one can hear in these songs and in Dio‘s metallic contemporaries, be it Judas Priest or Iron Maiden or Ozzy OsbourneHoly Diver takes itself deadly serious — a lesson that even the most extreme death and black metal took to heart, to be sure – and while it’s a fun record to listen to both in the bounce of “Holy Diver”‘s verses, in the scorching “Gypsy,” and in the swinging, bassy strut and open bluesy vibe of closer “Shame on the Night,” the latter something of a comedown following the keyboard hook of “Rainbow in the Dark” but still strong enough to earn its place at the finish, it also lives up to the seriousness of its approach in its performance. This band rips these songs to shreds like no one had done before and no one would again. Listen to “Rainbow in the Dark.” Just listen to it. Really.

I don’t know when the last time you put this album on was. Maybe it was yesterday. Maybe a decade ago. Maybe never. Whenever it was, Holy Diver (which was one of the first Friday Full-Lengths I ever did) has been waiting for you all along. Its songs are just as memorable as you’ve been hearing in your head this whole time, and though I’d usually wrap one of these pieces with some summary of what the artist involved went on to do after, this is enough. You know how it went, and I’m not even going to claim to have any insight on Holy Diver or Dio‘s career arc — there’s a Holy Diver graphic novel now? Okay. We’re coming up on 12 years removed from Ronnie James Dio‘s passing, and the legacy of his work and this record are strong enough that they don’t need to be recounted by the likes of me in my sweatpants on my couch. He was a generational talent. This is a generational album.

As always, I hope you enjoy. I feel pretty confident you will, and if not, I respectfully hope you’ll reconsider your position. Thanks for reading.

Not sure I have or really need an excuse behind the Holy Diver revisit. It is its own excuse for being, and if maybe I close out a week with it at random points once every decade or so for the rest of my life, I know at least I won’t complain. I’ll be the last blogger ever by then, practicing a lost artform while most people just upload their brains to the cloud or whatever. Fine.

What a week. I was up early every day including today to work on Quarterly Review stuff. We’ll wrap that on Monday and then it’s back to normal. The next few weeks are pretty locked down and there’s some cool stuff slated. I’m finally going to review the Naxatras that came out in February, not this week but the week after. Better late, and so forth. And I interviewed Esben Willems from Monolord the other day, so I’ll find some slot for that video as well. He’s a nice guy.

I was efficient enough in the Quarterly Review though that yesterday I finished today’s writeups with enough time to give myself 90 minutes off before The Pecan got home from school. I showered, I think, but then failed to take the rest of the time and instead worked on some draft revisions for a Tau and the Drones of Praise bio. Nothing major, but not exactly “time off” either. I could wrap this up now and get more time, but the same thing would happen. I’ve got a Gimme Metal playlist to turn in for next week (I’ll get an email about it today, most likely), and there’s still that last QR day. I think I’d rather go back to sleep, but yeah.

Actually, Truckfighters and Greenleaf just announced the rescheduled dates for their tour I was supposed to go with them on… oh, right about now… and I should get a post up for that. The Patient Mrs. tells me my flights are booked for it, so that’s interesting. Maybe it’ll happen, but you’ll pardon me if I’m a little gunshy about looking forward to it.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Have fun, hydrate, watch your head, whatnot. It’s Spring now, kind of, so that’s something. Maybe listen to some Amorphis. That’s what I do.


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Friday Full-Length: Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog (2018)

Alice in Chains have now released as many full-length albums without Layne Staley as they had with him. Of course, their original run also produced the landmark EPs Sap (discussed here) in 1992 and Jar of Flies in 1994, as well as their captured performance at MTV Unplugged in 1996 and other sundry singles and soundtrack appearances — anyone remember Last Action Hero? — so that’s not necessarily a comparison of total output so much as the passage of time. Indeed, if one counts the Seattle grunge legends’ beginning point as 1987 and the end of their original run as the release of the Music Bank box set in 1999 — they never had a hard breakup so much as a general recession in 1996 as Staley battled with the heroin addiction that claimed his life in 2002 — and the beginning of their new run with vocalist/rhythm guitarist William DuVall joining lead guitarist/vocalist/principal songwriter Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney as 2005 when they started playing shows again, their second era is already longer than their first in terms of duration. Listening to their third album with DuVall in the lineup, Aug. 2018’s Rainier Fog, there’s no reason to think they’re stopping here, either.

With 10 tracks and a 53-minute front to back runtime, Rainier Fog follows 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here and 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue and finds Alice in Chains in more direct conversation with their legacy than they’ve been since they were forging it with landmark albums like 1990’s Facelift, 1992’s Dirt and their 1995 self-titled, each of which offered a darker and heavier take on the Seattle grunge scene that birthed them and so many others in the same era. From the title’s reference to Mt. Rainier to Cantrell‘s solo in opener “The One You Know” to the creeping modus of “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes” that speaks to some of the same atmosphere as the self-titled — which I’ll gladly argue as one of the grimmest commercial rock records ever made — Rainier Fog basks in signature Alice in Chains elements like the gorgeous vocal harmonies of “Maybe” and “Never Fade,” the crunching guitar-led stomp of the aforementioned leadoff cut or the later “So Far Under,” and the inventive rhythm work of Kinney and Inez that backs the acoustic/electric guitar arrangement of side A closer “Drone.” In tone and songwriting, Rainier Fog isn’t so much Alice in Chains trying to ape their work in the early and mid 1990s as it is their reclaiming it as their own and arguing for it not as chiseled in marble on a pedestal for all time, but something meant to be pushed forward and reshaped according to the will of their songwriting.

alice in chains rainier fogAnd their argument is compelling. Returning to the Seattle studio where they recorded the self-titled (as well as other locales in Los Angeles and Nashville), the band once again employed producer Nick Raskulinecz to work the board, and the differences in sound between Rainier Fog and its two AIC Mk II predecessors only speaks further to the consciousness with which they’re engaging their history in a way that their last two records didn’t seem to dare. It’s still a modern, commercial production. Drums are triggered — a tragedy considering the loss of the human character in Kinney‘s playing — and stops are muted and a sense of digital smoothness extends even to the vocal arrangements between DuVall and Cantrell. And while that inherently undercuts any kind of organic feel the band might be looking for, it’s a necessary evil for making an album with the scale of release — they’re on BMG — they have, and their level of craft and melody shines through just the same.

The title-track and “Red Giant” join the opener to make an initial salvo of marked weight in tone and atmosphere, while the semi-acoustic “Fly” finds Cantrell leading a softer-landing verse into an appropriately soaring hook. DuVall, who may forever be cursed with consideration as the “new guy” in the band, handles his role like the veteran he actually is, bringing personality of his own to “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes,” “So Far Under” and the penultimate “Never Fade” while seeming no less in ownership of Alice in Chains‘ past than any of the other three members of the band. Listening to “So Far Under” one is reminded of how Norwegian black metallers Darkthrone would cite themselves as an influence in their own liner notes. If Alice in Chains could influence Alice in Chains, that seems to be happening most vividly on “So Far Under,” though there are aspects new and old throughout that cohabitate fluidly in the material. They’re using their legacy as a tool, not a blueprint.

It’s a landmark foundation to work from, to be sure, but Alice in Chains are long past having something to prove, and though some of its emotional grit in the lyrics feels performative, they seem to find some resolution in the questioning of closer “All I Am,” and finish the album with a patient, flowing execution of their modern sound with a maturity of approach their earlier work was simply too troubled to bring to bear even in their acoustic material. Whatever else it might be, Rainier Fog is heavy in the way Alice in Chains always have been — never outwardly aggressive enough to be metal, but sharper in craft and meaner in tone than any of the other major grunge acts — and I found even in listening to it for the first time that I was humming along to choruses of songs I’d never heard before. That’s rare, to put it mildly. I’ll grant that I’ve been an Alice in Chains fan for more than a quarter-century, but even so, Rainier Fog establishes a relevance of its own that feels like more than just by-the-numbers classic rock from a band going through the motions. One suspects that if that were the case, it simply wouldn’t exist. That’s not to say it was created simply for the joy of the process of its making, which would be naive, but there’s still heart and still passion behind what Alice in Chains do — a credit to DuVall at least as much as the other three, as songs like “Never Fade” and “The One You Know” demonstrate — and Rainier Fog presents that with as clear a vision as one could ask.

As always, I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Not that I need to justify writing about records I like, but I don’t enjoy writing about commercial releases generally. Which is why I don’t. It’s not like Alice in Chains need the press from my dickweed blog, and the bottom line is that for a band of their stature, those who are going to be open to it already are and those who aren’t won’t be. But I did something I don’t usually do and actually read a couple reviews from other outlets for Rainier Fog and didn’t really see what I thought there was to say, so decided to say it. No regrets. If you’re looking for something in a more obscure, riffy vein, I might refer you back to Shovelhead, who closed out last week.

Anyway, that’s where that came from. Not the usual fare, but I think there’s enough of a connection that it works, and as I have to periodically remind myself, I can write about whatever the hell I want. That was the whole point of this site to start with.


It was a busy week, but I managed to stay on top of things pretty well. I have some running around to do this weekend — Providence today, Boston tomorrow — but it felt good to get as much stuff done as I did and still have the time to see something like that Greenleaf news come in yesterday and have the flexibility to post it immediately. That wouldn’t happen every day.

Next week is a little different. There’s one premiere set for Monday, but beyond that, it’s kind of open at the moment and accordingly, I’m doing kind of a curated series of reviews. Just stuff I feel like should be covered and that I’ll be writing about because I want to write about it. There will inevitably be some changes before and when we get there, but here’s how it looks for now:

Mon.: Øresund Space Collective live album stream/review; ST 37 video premiere.
Tue.: Iron Void review.
Wed.: Brant Bjork review.
Thu.: The Skull review.
Fri.: Rotor review.

I have to look at the release date for that Rotor album and when it actually comes out to see if that review makes any sense at this point, but otherwise, yeah, that’s how it looks today.

So, I spoke a little bit last week about The Little Dog Dio having bone cancer. She was fairly miserable and clearly in pain following that initial vet appointment, and The Patient Mrs. and I kind of thought that was it, she’d either pass on her own or we would end up having her put down, which I’ll just say has been a nightmare scenario of mine for years now but when you come to it you come to it. We went back to the vet on Tuesday though to reassess and she got a steroid shot, a stronger painkiller and some takehome prednisone pills that have made a huge difference.

She wasn’t eating or drinking or really picking her head up when she stood. Now she’s able to get up on the couch and lay next to me while I type and she’s being hand-fed chicken breast and basically any cheese, as much as she’ll eat in a sitting, and drinking water. She’s markedly more comfortable, and that’s the whole point. I know we’re buying time — and if I ever need a reminder, I can look at her and see the huge fucking tumor in her shoulder — but if we can buy her good time where she’s not hurting and is still able to have some good life and eat good food and be loved on for a little while longer, she deserves nothing less.

I’m thinking about getting her some shrimp toast. It’s the only thing she’s ever eaten when she’s been left alone in the car with food. Took it right out of the bag of Chinese takeout and it was simply gone. We only knew she ate it because some of the cardboard from the container it came in was left on the back seat. This was years ago, but it seems to me that as long as she’s taking in food, speaking of things she deserves, it’s a treat that feels fitting. My only concern is what it would do to her stomach. She needs to put weight on, not take it off, and she’d almost certainly puke up that shrimp toast. We’ll see.

She’s the best dog I’ve ever had and the best dog I will ever have. Every minute I get with her is a gift.

So if you’re interested, that’s where we’re at. It might be a couple weeks, it might be a month, I don’t know. The scale of immediacy has changed a little, but she’s not actually going to heal. There’s no point at which she won’t have cancer. It’s just a question of how long she lasts with it. We’ve been very sad. A lot of crying. There will be more.

I hate to leave you on that note, but I’m going to. Just a matter of timing. We’re past 5:30AM now — woke up at 2 — and The Pecan will be up soon and ready to party as he is in mornings of late, and The Patient Mrs. will follow shortly thereafter. I have some work to do this weekend — a Roadburn writeup and another bio besides — so I’ll be around at least a bit if you need me for anything.

Till then, have a great and safe weekend. Have fun, be safe, enjoy summer’s remnants and don’t forget a little rock and roll. See you back here Monday for more of that.

Thanks again for reading. Forum and Radio:

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer (1992)

It’s both funny-ha-ha and funny-strange to think of it now, but Black Sabbath were old men in 1992. Think of what else was going on at the time. Dehumanizer, the band’s first studio full-length with Ronnie James Dio as frontman since 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), came out on June 30. On Sept. 24 the year prior, Nirvana released their breakthrough second LP, Nevermind, and in Sept. ’92, Alice in Chains would help solidify what became the “grunge era” along with Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and a 100,000 others who suddenly decided flannel and ripped jeans was a really good idea. Even as its more extreme forms — death, black, even doom if one thinks of it in the Peaceville sense of the word — were beginning to hit their vital prime in the underground, in the commercial sphere, metal was staid and overblown. Would bringing back a singer who’d fronted the band a decade earlier really do any favors for the past-trend Black Sabbath? Hindsight argues yes, it can and did.

Looking back on Dehumanizer some 26 years later, it’s easy to see the effect it had on Black Sabbath in general. They were never going to recapture the groundbreaking moment that was their early years. Simply couldn’t happen. The ’70s were long over, metal had codified into a varied rock and roll subgenre, and the band’s own production value and stylistic drive had shifted — as heard even before they parted ways with original frontman Ozzy Osbourne, let alone got Dio in for the first time on 1980’s landmark, Heaven and Hell (discussed here). What Dehumanizer allowed Black Sabbath — spearheaded as it always was by guitarist Tony Iommi, with co-founder Geezer Butler on bass and returned drummer Vinny Appice — to look back while moving forward. It was the first time they’d done so, and a decent portion of their career to come would be spent in that modus. Long since mature in their approach, Dehumanizer appealed in songs like “Computer God,” “TV Crimes,” “Time Machine” — lest we forget the Wayne’s World soundtrack — and “I” to Black Sabbath‘s established audience. A little older, but still wanting a metallic crunch in their guitars and still ready to groove on an Iommi riff. Dio, who’d spent the 10 years prior fronting his solo band and thereby helping to chart the course of ’80s metal with a string of hits across an essential first three albums-plus, was already the voice of classic metal even as “classic metal” first became a thing. On Dehumanizer, Black Sabbath took these established principles and brought them together with an approach that was modern in its production and presentation, and still allowed for a sense of rawness in the delivery.

That can be heard in the careening verses of “TV Crimes” or in the thudding and rolling highlight “After All (The Dead),” as each black sabbath dehumanizerpunch of snare from Appice seems the punctuation of a stomp Black Sabbath had never before elicited. Melody of course was central, on “After All (The Dead)” and the single “Master of Insanity” as well as “Time Machine” and the later “Sins of the Father” and “I,” but where Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules both seemed to carry over some of Iommi‘s late-’70s progressive aspirations, a decade later, Black Sabbath sounded fully assured of who they were as a unit, knew what their sound was at the time and how to capture it. They’d of course been doing so for years at that point on the 1986 would’ve-been Iommi solo album, Seventh Star and the beginning of the Tony Martin-fronted era in 1987’s The Eternal Idol (discussed here), 1989’s Headless Cross and 1990’s Tyr — all of which followed the Sabbath-meets-DeepPurple experiment that was 1983’s Born Again (discussed here) — and though it’s almost too easy to read this stretch as a descent into mediocrity, it served as a defining moment for Iommi in terms of style. The guitarist who’d helped to create metal learned what metal was during this time and began to find his place in it. His style of riffing became less bluesy, took away some of the progressive edge, and learned that sometimes the raw force of a riff was enough to carry a piece.

Some of that can be heard on Dehumanizer as well, on the brook-no-argument side A with “Computer God” — the lyrics both prescient and quaint over a quarter-century later — and “After All (The Dead),” as well as in the reaches of a less-immediate side B, which is bolstered by “I,” but requires deeper listening to “Too Late” or closer “Buried Alive,” the last of which is anticlimactic on the first impression but unfolds over time to be deceptively memorable. Dehumanizer was never going to be classic Sabbath, and it wasn’t intended to be. It was a pivot that not only helped recapture the mutually-beneficial-if-personally-tumultuous relationship between Iommi and Dio, but gave the band’s mature approach a kick as only the latter could provide. Sure, it was just one record and then Iommi and Butler would be back with Tony Martin and drummer Bobby Rondinelli for 1994’s Cross Purposes — both Butler and Rondinelli would be gone for 1995’s Forbidden — but one has to wonder if the late-’90s reunion with Ozzy, Butler and original drummer Bill Ward would’ve happened in the way it did had Dehumanizer not blazed that trail of getting back together with a former vocalist. Arguably, between touring with Osbourne and reuniting again with Dio in the late ’00s, first as Black Sabbath for new material on the The Dio Years compilation and then as the offshoot unit Heaven and Hell, whose lone studio album, The Devil You Know (review here), came out in 2009.

The death of Ronnie James Dio in 2010 and Tony Iommi‘s battle with cancer — he won, with riffs — seemed to drive Black Sabbath back together minus Bill Ward for the 2013 album, 13 (review here), and subsequent years of (alleged) retirement touring that wrapped with a hometown show in the band’s long-ago hometown of Birmingham, England, last year. A fitting enough end if it really was the end, I suppose. That’s what they called the live album, anyway: The End. Nowhere to go after that except The Epilogue, which would invariably be something of a comedown.

Either way, Black Sabbath remain unparalleled legends in doom, in metal and in the creation of what has come to be known as “heavy” in general. Dehumanizer is one of several outings in their catalog that served as a pivot point as they moved from one era to the next, and though its sound is inevitably a standout from the two original Dio-era albums, it’s a more than worthy addition to that catalog and, of course, essential listening.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Today’s Friday, right? Shit I hope so.

I’m in Massachusetts as of yesterday afternoon, hope to be leaving again as of this afternoon. Here just long enough to take out the recycling and try — probably fail — to obtain a new driver’s license. Yesterday we came up from Connecticut, today we’re going back, and then either Saturday or Sunday, depending largely on the weather and The Pecan — who’s even less predictable at this point — back down to New Jersey for I hope at least a full week. It would be nice to be someplace for a full week.

Not the least because there are no fewer than six shows I want to hit in various spots in the next two weeks. Next Friday, Saturday, Sunday, in order: Sasquatch at Saint Vitus, Backwoods Payback in New London, CT, and Bible of the Devil in Manhattan. Then, the week after: Sleep in Brooklyn, Acid King & Geezer in Brooklyn and Witch Mountain in Brooklyn. I’m thinking of going to all of them and calling it a “weekend warrior special,” but that too will no doubt either happen or not at the behest of the baby. We shall see. Gonna take it one day at a time like the alcoholics.

Seemed like a lot of in-transit this week, but a lot of it was basically just running around from place to place with the baby. It’s been nice out — summer and whatnot — so I’ve been trying to take him outside, let him try to eat grass, stop him immediately, then let him try again, etc. Going for walks and that kind of thing. That’s been facilitated by the fact that I’ve been waking up absurdly early. This morning was 2:40AM, yesterday was later, 3:30, but the two days before were both somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-1:30, so yeah, pretty silly.

I’ve been able mostly to get my shit handled though and then be available to The Patient Mrs. for baby-helpery early in the day, which has been good. Yesterday we all took a walk on the beach together and that was good, and the day before, he and I were out for an hour just basically killing time. Yeah, there’s some element of it that’s counting down to when he goes to bed, but there’s some element of it that’s counting down to when I go to bed too, so fair enough.

Also been singing to him like nonstop. Little known fact that about me that no one cares about but is true anyway is that I’m a huge Beatles fan and I’ve been on something of a kick lately. Three hours in the car stuck in I-95 traffic? No problem when you’ve got a thumb drive filled with the entire catalog plus choice bootlegs set to random. Meandering around the neighborhood for untold amounts of time so The Patient Mrs. can check in on her students for the online class she’s teaching? The mental jukebox was built for these things. “Strawberry Fields,” take 30. It’s fun to pretend I’m not completely tone deaf, which, sadly, I am.

Distractions abound this morning, but before I go, of course, next week’s notes. Being home, my PhotoShop installation disc is handy, so I just loaded that onto The Silver Fox and I’ll be using it to make a Quarterly Review banner. Then it’s onto the 50-record madness throughout the next week. I’ll likely have fewer posts overall — going to try to keep it to three a day if I’ll actually let myself do so — but we’re at the moment of a great girding of loins. Tomorrow I build back ends and start writing. From there, all hell breaks loose. I expect by next Friday I’ll really, really want to get out to a show, which is fine because I hear there are a few happening.

Thunderbird Divine also play Ode to Doom in Manhattan next Wednesday. Dare I? We’ll see.

In the meantime, here are the notes, subject to change blah blah blah:

Mon.: Quarterly Review day 1; Saint Karloff track premiere.
Tue.: QR2; Electric Citizen track premiere.
Wed.: QR3; Gorm track premiere.
Thu.: QR4; Saturnia video.
Fri.: QR5; Atavismo full album stream.

Woof. I’m exhausted already.

Okay, let me get out of here and see if I can sneak a minute or two of back-end work before the day starts. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Thanks for reading and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Live Evil

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Live Evil (1982)

Black Sabbath had already done the impossible by the time they released Live Evil in 1982. After a run of six albums resulting in several timeless and formative landmarks in the history of heavy metal, they’d seen something of a decline in the late ’70s with frontman Ozzy Osbourne and, after separating with him and hiring Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio for the vocalist role, managed to bounce back and not only produce two more records in 1980’s Heaven and Hell (discussed here) and 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), but to use those albums as a means for redefining their personality as a band and reclaim their place at the forefront of a heavy metal movement they helped to shape at its outset. When ’82 rolled around, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was underway, and rather than languish as so many ’70s heavy outfits did with those not already undone by punk either breaking up or fading into obscurity, Sabbath — guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer ButlerDio on vocals and first Bill Ward and subsequently Vinny Appice on drums — stormed forward into the new decade and continued to have an impact and an influence still felt today. Unbelievable. How many bands get to do that twice? How many get to do it once?

But for the fact that the lineup was once again falling apart at the time — with friction between Dio and Iommi documented in the latter’s memoir and other sources — and perhaps in spite of its terrible here-are-our-song-titles-turned-into-people (note the War Pig, the Neon Knight, etc.) cover art, one might consider the 14-track Live Evil a victory lap. Its 14 tracks span an 80-minute runtime and find Black Sabbath hitting with maximum force and presence that comes through clearly from each player. I don’t know if Dio ever sounded so powerful again as he does on this version of “Children of the Sea,” and certainly I’ve never heard a thrust from Appice to match the surge he puts into “Neon Knights” at the outset. Ozzy-era classics like “N.I.B.” and “Children of the Grave” find Butler and Iommi utterly refreshed compared to how they sound on 1980’s band-unsanctioned Live at Last (nothing against that release, but if you want primo live Ozzy Sabbath, chase down the Asbury Park ’75 soundboard bootleg), and in extended versions of “Voodoo” from Mob Rules and the Heaven and Hell title-track brim with vitality no less than the screaming rendition of “The Mob Rules” or the nine-minute take on “War Pigs.” Captured while the band was on the road for the second of the LPs issued with Dio during their first run together, Live Evil has a stateliness and fury in kind, and though it would ultimately mark the capstone for this version of Black Sabbath, it perfectly summarizes the absolute mastery they conveyed at this point on every level — style, structure, charge and poise.

Of course, even when a band releases a whole show officially, let alone a live record compiled from multiple sources like this one, they’re putting the best representation of themselves forward, but even with that caveat, Live Evil absolutely soars. With a crisp mix much bolstered by the keyboard work of Geoff Nicholls (who, sadly, passed away earlier this year) and an absolutely vital blend of songs like “Sign of the Southern Cross” and “Black Sabbath,” it represents Black Sabbath acknowledging what by then was already their history as well as their unwillingness to be bound by it. As they finish with “Children of the Grave,” they leave no question as to their place in the lore of metal and the NWOBHM specifically, and though the language of their serving as forebears of doom didn’t really exist at the time, that too is no less chiseled in stone here via Iommi‘s solo in “Heaven and Hell” than by the swing of “Voodoo” or the lumbering heft of “Iron Man.” This incarnation, this band, this moment: Untouchable.

And temporary. Within a year of Live Evil‘s release, Ronnie James Dio would be out of Black Sabbath. His debut with his own Dio band on Warner Bros., 1983’s Holy Diver, kicked off a trio of releases with the lineup of Dio, Appice, guitarist Vivian Campbell and bassist Jimmy Bain rounded out by 1984’s The Last in Line and 1985’s Sacred Heart that further affirmed his place among metal’s greatest frontmen while achieving massive commercial success in the studio and on tour. Sabbath, meanwhile, tried to go three-for-three in bringing aboard Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan for 1983’s Born Again (discussed here), and while the result was one of their darkest, grittiest albums and one that’s only flourished in appeal in the years since, at the time it didn’t have the same kind of far-reaching success as either Heaven and Hell or Mob Rules before it, and the lineup didn’t last. Iommi would work with another former Deep Purple singer, Glenn Hughes, for the Seventh Star album in 1986 — reportedly supposed to be a solo record that was later stamped as a Black Sabbath release — before settling in with singer Tony Martin to begin the band’s next era in earnest, which would carry them until their 1992 reunion with Dio for the Dehumanizer LP, and then pick up again for two more outings in the mid ’90s — 1994’s Cross Purposes and 1995’s Forbidden — before Iommi, Butler and Bill Ward eventually reunited with Osbourne in 1997.

That’s not the end of Sabbath and Dio‘s complicated history together by any means. They’d get together again under the guise of Heaven and Hell in the aughts/early ’10s, tour and produce both a live and a studio album, the latter being 2009’s The Devil You Know (review here), and perform together essentially until sidelined by Dio‘s declining health and the battle with cancer that took his life in 2010.

If their work as Heaven and Hell proved anything at all, it was the continued relevance of this lineup and the sonic persona that made it distinct from any incarnation of Sabbath before or after. Live Evil represents that at its best and most vivid, and as always, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

In the middle of a conversation about something else — I don’t remember what, but can only imagine it was baby-related as most things these days seem to be — The Patient Mrs. turned to me the other day and said this exact quote: “Also: we should listen to some Dio.” Sometimes a relationship provides you with a moment when you’re so filled with love that you feel carried by it, like you’re floating in its warmth and safety. My wife suggesting we put on Dio was, for me, one of those moments. Naturally I chose Live Evil to close the week in her honor.

This coming Monday is the 13th anniversary of our marriage in 2004. Next Thursday, Sept. 28, is an even bigger one, marking 20 full years since we got together in 1997. Staggering. Well more than half my life at this point. It is my marriage and my life with The Patient Mrs. that defines who I am as a person — whatever else I am and whatever else I do, I am hers first — and of all the courses I could have imagined for what my life would become in my childhood (which I still arguably was at 15 when we became a couple), I could never have dreamed of being so fortunate as to have her in that central role. Every day, I continue to be so, so, so lucky and so, so, so much in love. 20 years is nothing. Give me forever.

We’re celebrating this weekend by returning to Ludlow, Vermont, which has kind of become an “our place,” at least in my mind. You’d be forgiven for not recalling we rented a small cottage there last year after spending a month on the same property in 2010, and I think the intent is to make it as much of an annual anniversary-marking sojourn as we can. Sounds awesome. Three hours on the road this afternoon will be well worth it to see those mountains again with their already-changing leaves and to feel the cool clarity of the air at altitude. We’re there until Wednesday morning, and aside from the absolute-must of watching the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery on Sunday — please don’t suck please don’t suck please don’t suck — I believe the plan is to hang out mellow, maybe get some work done, and enjoy each other’s exclusive company before The Pecan arrives and transforms our life together as we know it.

Due date is in about three weeks. Oct. 15. Getting close now.

We had another ultrasound appointment yesterday. He looks like a person, is one, and seems to be healthy and hearty enough that if he was born today, he’d be small but otherwise fine. That’s good to know. I should probably note that when The Pecan arrives, I’ll probably put up a post about it, but if there are a few days there where I’m occupied outside this site, I hope you’ll forgive me. As it could happen anytime, the situation obviously requires flexibility. Allowances to be made, etc.

So of course I’m going to try to sneak in a six-day Quarterly Review starting this coming Monday. Ha. 60 albums written up between Monday and Monday. I’ve still got links and players to embed in the back ends of the posts — ugh — but otherwise we’re good to go. Here’s a full look at my notes for what’s coming:

Mon.: QR day 1, Doomstress announce/song premiere, Scream of the Butterfly video premiere.
Tue.: QR day 2, Radio Moscow review.
Wed.: QR day 3, Fungus Hill video.
Thu.: QR day 4, Windhand video.
Fri.: QR day 5, whatever else comes along.

Might not look like it, but that’s a packed week. The Quarterly Review is a huge amount of work on my end in a way that nothing else I do for this site is, but I’ve yet to put one together and not feel like it was worth the effort, so I expect to get there once again. There’s a lot of cool stuff included. It’ll be good. Stay tuned.

That’s gonna do it for me. The Patient Mrs. and I have another doctor’s appointment on this rainy-as-hell morning, because babies, doctors, that’s how it goes, and then it’s back home to pack and hit the road to Vermont. Whatever you’re up to, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Thanks again for reading and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Deep Purple, Made in Japan

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Deep Purple, Made in Japan (1972)

I don’t know that heavy rock live albums of its own or of any other era get much more essential that Deep Purple‘s Made in Japan. The only one I can think of that even comes close to the same echelon is Band of Gypsys, which also had the advantage of coming out two years earlier in 1970, but that’s a pivotal two years between the Jimi Hendrix release and the Deep Purple one. It could easily be argued that, whatever role Hendrix played in laying the foundation for it, the style of heavy rock that Mk. II Deep Purple played really took shape between 1970 and 1971, coming into its own around Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and so on even as the world mourned Hendrix‘s passing in Sept. 1970.

And what of the Sabbaths and the Zeppelins of the universe? Well, Black Sabbath‘s aptly-named Live at Last wouldn’t show up until 1980, and Led Zeppelin didn’t release The Song Remains the Same until 1976. Pink Floyd‘s genius-level concept Live at Pompeii came out in 1972, but it was more film than album, and had no audience. Made in Japan basically owned its moment, and though it starts out with a rigorously scorching if relatively straightforward rendition of “Highway Star,” its extended takes on the classics “Child in Time,” “Smoke on the Water,” “The Mule,” “Strange Kind of Woman,” “Lazy” and especially “Space Truckin'” continue to provide an insight into how the band worked in a way that nothing else could.

Of course, it’s about the performance and the players. You think just anyone could pull off a 12-minute “Child in Time?” Not a chance. But Deep Purple were at the arguable height of their powers in Aug. 1972, when Made in Japan was recorded over the course of three nights — two in Osaka, one in Tokyo. The all-allstar lineup of founding bassist Roger Glover, organist Jon Lord (R.I.P. 2012), drummer Ian Paice, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and vocalist Ian Gillan had released Machine Head three months prior, which flubbed on its first single but nonetheless produced the band’s defining hit in “Smoke on the Water,” and after 1970’s In Rock and 1971’s Fireball (discussed here), it seemed that the band’s true artistic and commercial potential was realizing itself. I won’t take anything away from 1973’s Who Do We Think We Are, which would be the last studio outing Mk. II Purple would release until their 1984 reunion for Perfect Strangers, but Made in Japan captures them as close to in-their-moment as any live record possibly could.

Be that as it may, the prevailing sentiment one gets in listening to it is of ego. On stage for these songs, Deep Purple are as much about showcasing virtuosity as engaging their audience. “Highway Star” is the lead-in, but “Child in Time” indulges a long and flowing drama of vocal and guitar acrobatics, Blackmore and Gillan almost competing to be the standout performer. “Smoke on the Water” makes a good case for Blackmore in that role, though it’s Paice who gets the solo in “The Mule,” which like the subsequent “Strange Kind of Woman” is brought to nearly 10 minutes. If there’s any point at which Made in Japan goes over the top, that might be it, if only because they treat a song about soliciting prostitutes like it’s Mozart, but as they do with “The Mule,” with “Child in Time,” with the shuffling “Lazy” and with “Space Truckin'” still to come, Deep Purple make it hold up.

That is, the ego — all that ego, which I think even the band at this point is willing to acknowledge as the reason this lineup didn’t last much more than another year, despite having produced such landmark output — is justified. Is Made in Japan overblown? Absolutely. Yes. But the self-indulgence becomes part of the appeal, and even as “Strange Kind of Woman” meanders into guitar noodling, one can hear the audience clapping along. And the blues jam at the start of “Lazy” brims with the kind of fluidity and chemistry that is perhaps the best example on this record of what made this incarnation of Deep Purple so special. To have them then follow that up by taking one of their best hooks, for “Space Truckin’,” and taffy-pull it into this massive sprawl — holy shit, Jon Lord‘s keys — and put it to a big rock finish that would make even Manowar blush? Come on.

Their mark on heavy rock, and rock in general, is indelible, and while Made in Japan isn’t in itself the reason for that, it’s certainly the line that underscores the point.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Maybe you saw I posted on the social medias or maybe you didn’t, but Echoes and Dust was kind enough to ask me about three records that have influenced my life and my picks were posted earlier this week. Thank you to Sander van den Driesche for caring enough to ask. I was deeply flattered.

Unlike last week, I did not take today off from work. Looks like a lot of people did though, so the office is relatively quiet. Remind me to tell you sometime about what a huge proponent I am of the four-day work week. Four on, three off. Should be four off, three on, but I’d take a three-day weekend every time out and call it progress. Which it would be. Working five days a week. Soul-swallowing.

Nonetheless, this week wasn’t quite as unbearable as last week was, and by that I mostly mean that it seemed to go by quicker. I’ve been pretty beat the last couple days, but even so, the hours moved. Last week, everything sat still. I’ll get out of here in a little bit — going to even cut out a couple minutes early since I got here early — and go home and have lunch and see if I can watch some baseball and hang out with The Patient Mrs. if she gets home from a meeting at work at any reasonable time. Plan is to grill later if the weather holds — very much a springtime notion — and then tomorrow meet my family for an early dinner in Connecticut, essentially halfway between where they are in NJ and where we are in Massachusetts, and also just so happens to be where The Patient Mrs.’ family is, so we’ll see them as well. Always a marathon, but good. I’ve got Sunday to recover.

And while I do that, coffee ritual and plenty of writing to do. Today was absolutely packed. Single announcement, video premiere, album review, video premiere, album announcement, track premiere and this? Yeah, that was like three days of work right there. But Monday’s got plenty going on too, as does the rest of next week. The notes (subject to change) look like this:

MON.: Radio Adds, maybe a Stubb track premiere, otherwise Hollow Leg video and Fuzz Evil video.
TUE.: Spidergawd album review and a stream for a sampler of RidingEasy’s new Brown Acid compilation.
WED.: T.G. Olson album review, Six Dumb Questions with Forming the Void, and Doublestone video premiere.
THU.: Brume track premiere and album review; video premiere for Sea.
FRI.: The Sonic Dawn review/full stream; track premiere for the new Avon single.

There’s of course a backlog of news and other stuff slated in there as well, so yeah. My head’s pretty much spinning from now until Roadburn hits in two weeks. Funny to think of staying up until six in the morning to write and working on the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch ‘zine over there as a respite, but I think by the time I get to Tilburg it might actually be one.

Because compulsion!

Oh hey, we went to war again this week and the US Senate took its toys and moved just a little bit further away from being any kind of democratic legislative body — as opposed to the House, which long ago gave up that ghost — but yeah. Super. It’s a super world.

Whether or not institutions and long-held political conventions — not to mention international law — are breaking down all around us, I hope you have a great and safe weekend, wherever you might be and whatever mischief you might be up to. Have fun, watch your ass, and come back Monday for more good times, having thoroughly checked out the forum and radio stream in the meantime.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Mastodon and Clutch Announce “The Missing Link” Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 20th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

You’ve probably already seen this news everywhere, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t post about the fact that Mastodon and Clutch are touring together and that Big Business and Graveyard will switch off in the support role. Some things are just too badass not to post, no matter how ubiquitous they might be.

The tour starts April 16 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and all that’s really left to wonder is if Clutch‘s new album — which is being recorded this month — will be released by the time the run ends on May 24. Either way, it’s pretty astounding that these two have come together, so I’ll get out of the way and defer to the PR wire, which has dates and details:





Two of the world’s most respected and influential hard rock bands Mastodon and Clutch are proud to announce THE MISSING LINK TOUR, which brings together both bands as they join forces along with special guests Graveyard and Big Business – each taking part of the tour as support.Together, this night of heavy rock will be one of the heaviest and most exciting concert events of the year.

THE MISSING LINK TOUR kicks off on April 16th in St. Paul, MN. with support provided by Big Business, who recently supported Mastodon throughout a sold-out European tour. Sweden’s Graveyard will then take over the main support slot starting in Los Angeles on April 29th for the remaining dates, closing out the tour in Columbus, OH on May 24th. Tickets are on sale now.

Mastodon and Clutch share a longtime friendship as fans will recall Clutch front man Neil Fallon contributed vocals to “Blood And Thunder” (from Mastodon’s 2004’s Leviathan) so fans can expect surprises in store for fans throughout the tour rumbling across North America. THE MISSING LINK TOUR will feature full sets from both Mastodon and Clutch. Clutch will close the show on April 24th in Vancouver, May 10th in Pittsburgh, May 15th in Bethlehem, May 16th in Baltimore and also the final night of the tour, May 24th in Columbus. Mastodon will close all other shows.

Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster had this to say about the tour.”We are very much looking forward to our US tour with our friends in Mastodon. We always enjoy playing live but when we have the opportunity to share the stage with a band as inspiring as Mastodon we know each evening will be that much more special. See ya out there!”

Mark your calendars, as THE MISSING LINK TOUR will roll into Denver’s prestigious Red Rocks Amphitheatre on May 3rd, and joins the stellar line up for Atlanta’s Shaky Knee’s Festival on May 8th. The New York City show will take over the celebrated Central Park Summer Stage annual concert series on May 19th. General tickets on-sale Friday, January 23rd.

As previously announced, Mastodon have been nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for “High Road,” from ONCE MORE ‘ROUND THE SUN. This is the band’s third Grammy nomination. The 57th Annual Grammy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on Feb 8th. Tune into CBS TV.

Revered Maryland rockers Clutch have been pushing the boundaries that define heavy rock music since the 4 original members got together in high school. Clutch is an unmatched musical force that has been best described as “the quintessential American Rock Band”. Clutch released their tenth and latest studio album Earth Rocker via their own label Weathermaker Music on March 16, 2013. The album entered the Billboard Top 200 chart at #15 giving the band their highest chart position to date.

Clutch is currently working on their follow up to Earth Rocker which will be released in 2015.

Do not miss THE MISSING LINK TOUR this spring. Confirmed dates are as follows:

*Mastodon Closes The Evening. **Clutch Closes The Evening

Apr 16 *St. Paul, MN Myth
Apr 17 * Winnipeg, MB The Burton Cummings Theatre
Apr 18 *Saskatoon, SK O’Brian’s Events Center
Apr 19 * Edmonton, AB Expo Centre
Apr 21 * Calgary, AB MacEwan Hall
Apr 23 * Vancouver, BC Commodore Ballroom
Apr 24 **Vancouver, BC Commodore Ballroom
Apr 25 *Portland, OR Roseland
Apr 26 *Seattle, WA Showbox SODO
Apr 28 *Oakland, CA Fox Theater
Apr 29 *Los Angeles, CA Palladium
Apr 30 *Tempe, AZ Marquee Theater
May 01 *Las Vegas, NV House of Blues
May 02 *Salt Lake City, UT The Complex
May 03 *Denver, CO Red Rock’s Amphitheatre
May 05 *San Antonio, TX Kapone’s Ballroom
May 06 *Oklahoma City, OK Diamond Ballroom
May 08 Atlanta, GA Shaky Knees Festival
May 09 *Raleigh, NC Lincoln Theatre Street Stage
May 10 **Pittsburgh, PA Stage AE
May 12 *Clive, IA (Des Moines) 7 Flags
May 13 *Milwaukee, WI Eagles Ballroom Club Stage
May 15 **Bethlehem, PA Sands Event Center
May 16 **Baltimore, MD Pier Six Pavilion
May 17 *Boston, MA House of Blues
May 19 *New York, NY Central Park Summerstage
May 20 *Niagara Falls, NY Rapids Theatre
May 21 *London, ON London Music Hall
May 24 **Columbus, OH LC Pavilion

Troy Sanders — Bass Guitar / Vocals
Brent Hinds — Guitars / Vocals
Bill Kelliher — Guitars
Brann Dailor — Drums / Vocals

Neil Fallon – Vocals/Guitar
Tim Sult – Guitar
Dan Maines – Bass
Jean-Paul Gaster – Drums/Percussion

Clutch, “ZZ” Live at Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ, 12.29.14

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