Recorded in June – July (at Hit City West Studios, Los Angeles, CA) and released on October 7th, 1986, Reign In Blood was Slayer’s third studio album. Yet, it marked major changes for the band. It was the first time they worked with producer Rick Rubin, who drove them to play faster and harder than the band’s previous records. Def Jam Recordings, who primarily worked with Hip Hop artists, pushed the record out to a mainstream heavy metal audience. And this collection of tracks, clocking in at under 30 minutes in length, was the major contributor to Slayer becoming one of “The Big Four" (with Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax).
Slayer (at this point) was Tom Araya (bass; vocals), Jeff Hanneman (lead guitar), Kerry King (lead guitar), and Dave Lombardo (drums). They released Show No Mercy in 1983 and Hell Awaits in 1985 on Metal Blade Records. They enjoyed a cult following, with lyrical content dealing with (obviously) Hell and Satan. The band is credited as being the first Death Metal act, not because of gutturals and growls, but because of their song lyrics. But it was Reign In Blood that solidified Slayer as a premier Thrash/Death/Heavy Metal band, with lyrics adding to the two previous subjects concerning war, murder, Nazis, the Holocaust, death, religion, and anti-religion.
Reign In Blood is a masterpiece! It contains no fluff and no fillers. You get the beating of a lifetime in just under 30 minutes! Then, you just start the record over! In `86, the cassette tape of Reign In Blood featured all 10 songs on each side! Just flip the tape and start again! Hanneman is quoted as saying that Slayer was bored with the repetition of riffs on a loop and decided to write a couple of verses and end the song. King has said that cutting it down to bare bones is simply intense, and this record is nothing if not intense. You’d be hard-pressed to find a serious metalhead that doesn’t love this record, and proof of that is it going Gold in 1992.
Favorite Songs: Angel of Death; Raining Blood; Criminally Insane; Postmortem
*Special Note: on May 2, 2013, the “Riff Master" and legend, Jeff Hanneman, died at the age of 49. R.I.P.
CLASSIC REVIEW: DEAD KENNEDYS- Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
BEST TRACKS: Kill the Poor, Holiday in Cambodia, California Uber Alles, Ill in the Head
“Just when you think tastelessness has reached its nadir, along comes a punk rock group called ‘The Dead Kennedys’” read a San Francisco Chronicle article from November 1978, “they will play at Mabuhay Gardens on Nov. 22, the 15th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.“ Geez, what kind of chutzpah do you need to mock America’s most tragically iconic family on the anniversary of its most notable horror? Well, the Dead Kennedys were all chutzpah; in fact, they were practically bursting at the seams to brutally mock any American institution guilty of abhorrent injustice (and of course, there are many). Though not attacking the Kennedy family directly so as to twist the magic bullet (I’m sorry), the apparent curse upon the 20th-century clan of American idealism was a perfect brand for a group whose entire existence hinged on a sardonic articulation of anarchist paragons. The Dead Kennedys were the first explicitly political American punk band. Bands like X or Black Flag may have been indirectly political in their focus on youthful alienation, but the Dead Kennedys, specifically lead singer Jello Biafra, were completely committed to calling out by name each and every faceless establishment villain who was unfortunate enough to find themselves caught in Biafra’s latex-coated crosshairs. It was not introspection; it was full-fleshed Juvenalian satire. While Black Flag was screaming about being a skate-punk burnout in LA basements, the DKs were hammering Pol Pot, Jerry Brown’s “zen fascists”, privileged college students, unmitigated capitalism, and police brutality in San Francisco’s, well, basements. Their sound was an absurd combination of screeching feedback, overly laid-back surf rock, spoken word, and performance art. Biafra, always keen on any form of the alternative spotlight, was never at a loss for intentionally aggravating pranks which furthered his desire for total demolition of post-war America. These included illegally using warped pictures of other bands for liner notes, abrasively declaring that then-Governor Jerry Brown was actually a hippie Nazi, or running for mayor of San Francisco on a platform of outlawing cars and demolishing all Government buildings. Whatever cliched pattern that today’s alternative rock falls behind in their lazy conviction of powers-that-be (ahem American Idiot) is derivative of the Dead Kennedy’s extremely meticulous establishment of punk rock as a political force. They were ideologically consistent, absolutely non-partisan, and, perhaps most importantly, fully committed to an absurdist approach to music that highlighted the very serious realities of injustice.
In 1978’s San Francisco, 20-year-old guitarist Raymond Pepperell put out an ad in “The Recycler” for bandmates for form a punk group. Two people responded: bassist (and banker) Geoffrey Lyall and poet/singer Eric Boucher. The three were rechristened as East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride and, of course, Jello Biafra. Their first shows around the Bay Area garnered significant attention (both positive and negative) for somehow being in worse taste than even the raunchiest American punk acts. Cartoonish, catchy, and absolutely confrontational, Biafra gained infamy through his highly animated stage presence which included often dousing the audience in beer or destroying pieces of the stage. It is important to note, however, that the Kennedy’s performative violence was not out of angst, but rather part of a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards the establishment. A typical snapshot of a Kennedy’s live performance saw East Bay Ray hammering away at distorted spaghetti western riff while Biafra bellowed out how much the government wanted to kill you while kicking at the walls with a massive grin on his face. Declaring himself the band’s primary songwriter, Biafra would tape record melodies using only his voice which his band would later transcribe onto their respective instruments. Of their early written material, one song stood out for being particularly catchy and scathing. “California Uber Alles” was released Summer of 1979 as the Dead Kennedys’ first single. With military-esque drumming, bastardized surf guitar, a cheeky flamenco melody, Jello’s typical outrageous bellow, and lyrics condemning then Democratic Governor Jerry Brown as a hippie fascist, the band distilled everything in within the DKs essence into their very first recording. And while their embrace of non-power chord guitar lines and heavy political overtones was enough to set them apart from any American contemporary, it was “California Uber Alles’” subject matter which is most representative of while the Dead Kennedys were such a unique and integral group. Attacking Jerry Brown, at first, is incredibly confusing. Ronald Reagan, Brown’s predecessor as California’s governor, had just been elected president and, unsurprisingly, was incredibly unpopular among punks. Why would they go after California’s new “cool guy” Democrat as opposed to Ronald fucking Reagan? Well, simply put, the Gipper was too easy a target. Jello Biafra wanted confrontation, an interruption of American organization beyond partisan attacks on low-hanging fruit. Of course Reagan was terrible, but so was Brown. The Dead Kennedys were anarchists; attacking Reagan would be redundant and a lazy cash grab for a band whose entire ethos hinged on a dismantling of the state. And ultimately this decision was imperative for the band eventually signing a deal with independent British label Cherry Red; the DKs now had the chance to record a full length album. A whole album was given to Biafra and his band to yelp and screech about international injustice in the most sarcastic manner possible. As one would expect, it’s a lot to get through in one sitting; and as one would expect, it’s an amazing album.
“Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” opens with a fitting introduction to the listeners next 40 minutes of acerbic, macabre, and ludicrous fun: “Kill the Poor”. The song begins with massive chords reminiscent of over bloated 70s arena rock laid on top of Biafra’s lyrics concerning a government who has discovered the neutron bomb and will subsequently use it to kill all of their nation’s poor. A blistering surf-punk riff tears down its introduction and the song instantly transforms into a breakneck bounce of sing-along melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in a Disney movie. “Kill the Poor”, despite its placement at the top of the tracklist, is a pinnacle only matched by two other tracks. One of these is a crisp re-recording of “California Uber Alles” while the other is, well, probably pretty familiar to a lot of you readers. The Guitar Hero Classic: “Holiday in Cambodia”. The angst-infected alt-classic opens with an atmosphere, echoed guitar chaos lightly strewn over the unforgettably chunky, descending bass riff before erupting into the bone-chillingly excellent main riff. Churning like an unpleasant halloween acid trip, the song is undoubtedly Biafra’s most scathing performance on the album. As he attacks privileged Americans by contrasting their life with victims of Pol Pot’s Cambodian regime, the other Kennedys lock into a terrifying groove filled with bastard surf motifs and disgustingly sweet distortion. The chorus, as with any classic Dead Kennedys track, is incredibly catchy. It entices the listener to sing it to themselves when they’re aren’t even thinking of it, as if to trick them into condemning very basic pieces of American civilization. There’s a reason “Holiday in Cambodia” is still the DKs most well known song: it’s haunting, brutally honest, wholly subversive, genius, ear candy.
“Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” is the album most people immediately associate with the Dead Kennedys, and this is by no means something to complain about. Hosting three of the bands best songs and even providing insanely smart and concise parody in its filler, the album is a perfect representation of punk rock’s potential as a force of American political commentary. No punk band before the DKs came close to explicitly tackling horrendous societal hypocrisies and I don’t believe any band that has come since has done this nearly as well. In an alternate timeline without our anarchist heroes, the landscape of all American music would be undoubtedly changed.
BEST TRACKS: Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not; Nausea, Johny Hit and Run Paulene, Los Angeles
How do you choose the song to open a film like Penelope Spheeris’ seminal survey of LA’s emerging punk wasteland: “The Decline of Western Civilization?”. Among a pool of bands like Black Flag, the Germs, Fear, or Catholic Discipline, how could you possibly choose a single artist to represent the chaotic atmosphere of west-coast degeneracy? Well, there is one band that explicitly embodies the death of 60s counterculture optimism; a group that built their sound and vision off of repurposed American ideals rather than being representative of their disintegration. So, as the vital documentary begins, viewers are forever introduced to “Nausea”, an atonal masterpiece off Los Angeles, the debut album from California’s most culturally significant punk act: X. Even as the song runs over footage from fellow band’s writhing around on stages glazed with broken glass, X can be immediately identified as an entity which hovered above simple brutality. It’s hard to concisely process what it is about X, their sound, image or attitude, that simultaneously exists apart from all of their LA contemporaries, yet is undeniably instilled to the bone with punk rock. They were sophisticated poets obsessed with old western sounds and sensibilities; they had a magnetic affinity for Chuck Berry riffs and frequently covered the Doors; they looked more like disgruntled greasers than bobby pinned brats. But they were punks. In fact, they were probably the most important punks to ever come out of LA. In a time when the question of civilization’s decline was represented in Los Angeles’ rotting metropolis by a primal, anarchist musicianship, X was the one band who actually stepped up to answer it. In other words, while Black Flag and the Germs were rejecting Americanism in their baseness, X was a purely American unit whose subverted guitar leads and poetry addressed the massive failures of post-war suburbia and 60s counterculture utopianism. Los Angeles is likely the most ambitious and holistically representative work to capture the decrepit reality of the country’s former golden pride.
The legend of X’s formation is an almost laughably perfect story of artists fully enamored with living on the mythical edge of society. Guitarist Billy Zoom met fellow Illinois expatriate John Doe through a guitar ad in the free LA weekly: “The Recycler”. Both musicians were immensely talented, a practical anomaly in the typically brutal punk rock code. Zoom (born Tyson Kindell) descended from a family of woodwind players who primed to him to pick up a variety of instruments such as the clarinet, alto sax, accordion, and banjo. By the time he had met Doe, Zoom had moved to LA to attend technical tube repair school and was working as a session guitarist. Doe (born John Duchac) was a country and western music fanatic. With his pompadour and knack for a wrenching croon, Doe’s ability to locate vocal harmonies granted he and Zoom’s group the ability to embody haunting longing, perfectly conveying the lost paradise of late 70s LA. DJ Bonebrake, a Bay Area passenger tapped to join Zoom and Doe as their drummer, shared his bandmate’s affinity for technical prowess, quickly establishing himself as a jazz-loving wunderkind obsessed with polyrhythm. And so with these three unlikely champions of counter-culture became an entity known as X. If their formation had ended here then they probably would have still been tight, popular, and maybe even a culturally influential band. But it wasn’t Zoom’s plastic rockabilly enamel or Doe’s dirty folk croon that placed them completely in their own musical domain. No, in fact, the amalgamation of all of these factors was only, at most, half of the reason why X became so atypically beautiful. When Doe initially began practicing with Zoom, he brought along his then-girlfriend Exene Cervenka. Cervenka, a poet, would often write and recite her poetry for Zoom and Doe, who decided that she would be a perfect singer and lyricist. Sharing lead vocals with Doe, she became the only member of X lacking a classically trained musical background. Acting as the ingredient which pushed them from a tongue-in-cheek power folk trio to California’s most scholastic punks, Cervenka’s dissonant harmonies which delivered lyrics of alienation, sublime anxiety, and life after destruction acted as a microcosm of LA’s disgruntled youth. As they began performing in clubs like Whiskey a Go Go and The Masque, X gained traction in local zines which had emerged to cover the largely underground congregation of anti-authoritarian musicians. Upon reading a particularly positive review a live performance (specifically of the song “Johny Hit and Run Paulene”) Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek was compelled to produce the band’s debut full-length. Aptly named “Los Angeles”, the album is a confusing digestion.
Unlike their contemporaries, X was not fixated on blistering volumes or ridiculous speeds. Rather, they demanded a thematic subversion of American classics. Los Angeles is raw, shellacked guitar tones or well-mixed drums certainly absent, yet rock’s distant folksy and rockabilly forefathers are not trashed for the sake of complete rebellion. The album’s first track “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not” is instantly reminiscent of British glam with it’s sliding, chunky power chords. In fact, isolating the instrumental would honestly produce an unremarkable T-Rex era romp. But, again, Cervenka’s lyrics and delivery are X’s crucial tipping point. She and Doe double each other for the majority of the track, with Doe remaining (boringly) on key while Cervenka’s atonal shout punches the listener with lines like “Someone clean to chew on a wife that no one likes/ He called and they said all of New York Is a tow-away zone”. It’s both abstract and mundane; her lyrics epitomizing the daily horrors of a decaying nation filled with excess. “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” centers around an over driven Chuck Berry riff, declaring itself the postmodern extension of the most classic essentials of Rock and Roll. When Doe sings he sounds overly self-contained, compressing a bellow into more of a pained whimper. Through this suppression, the listener can make out “He bought a sterilized hypo/To shoot a sex machine drug/He got twenty-four hours/To shoot all Paulenes between the legs” before Cervenka joins in for the slithering, eponymous chorus. It’s insanely dark, grotesque, and despondent lyrics are juxtaposed by this utterly American, swung guitar lead. Adding to their commitment to a kitchen sink, twisted rockabilly attitude is their cover of the Doors “Soul Kitchen”. It’s more acerbic than the original, but it isn’t done mockingly. You can tell that X has a deep respect for their LA outsider predecessors and it’s this appreciation which sets them so definitely apart. “Nausea”, is a resigned, monotonous conviction of an environment which was so suffocating in its distress. Cervenka and Doe synchronously deliver a chorus which details a body betraying its master while Zoom’s fat power chords are supplemented by occasionally meandering licks. It’s an anthem to pissed of kids forced to live in a supposedly ideal putrid wasteland.
X is one-of-a-kind in their commitment to a holistic delivery of an America in decline. When individual bands competed in decadence in order to largely constitute the panic of a new generation, X was able to verbalize that discontent while maintaining a love for previous traditions that were too rich to do away with entirely. Los Angeles is the only album I’ve heard to come out of the first-wave punk movement that was not only a product of its environment but did everything in its ability to address and critique it.
Their 5th studio album, Powerslave was recorded at Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas in winter/spring 1984, and was released on Capitol Records on September 3rd, 1984. Iron Maiden formed in Leyton, East London in 1975 by (the extraordinary) bassist Steve Harris. Credited as the pioneers of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” the band’s discography boasts 39 albums, including 16 studio records. Along with Harris (who also plays keyboards), Iron Maiden is Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Janick Gers (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums), and Bruce Dickens (vocals).
1980 saw the band’s self-titled album, Iron Maiden. Killers followed in `81. 1982`s Number of the Beast introduced us to (the mighty) Bruce Dickens, and the band experienced some fame, though it was because they were being associated (falsely) with “devil worship" because of the record’s title and album cover. Piece of Mind in 1983 brought the band moderate success, and widespread touring. But it was their next record, Powerslave, which brought them worldwide fame, and fast!
The record cover and the subsequent World Slavery Tour featured an Ancient Egyptian Theme. The tour props were multiple storied platforms, a huge pyramid, and statues of Pharaoh Eddie (the band’s beloved mascot), and a sandy landscape. Speaking of Eddie, the stage show also featured a giant mummy Eddie who made an appearance over the drum riser. Two singles were released for this record: 2 Minutes to Midnight and Aces High; both fast moving tracks that, in normal Dickens style, give historical narrative (the latter, of the British Royal Air Force fighter pilots). But it is the title track (IMHO) that separates this album, moving the band beyond their previous recordings. The chorus is incredible, while a story is told from the perspective of a Pharaoh. Harris’ trademark gallops lead the way and the drums keep pace, while the guitar section rolls along with dueling riffs and solos. A notable mention, however, is Rime of the Ancient Mariner; a 13+ minute masterpiece based on the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. With several time and signature changes, this song is one of Maiden’s best! Fans (and the band, themselves) still love this song live and, during the 84-85 world tour, the stage shape-shifted for this song, from the Egyptian scene to that of a massive wooden ship! And, also, during this world tour, 4 dates were recorded live, the results of which would be 1985’s, Live After Death. The two albums were #1 and #2 on the charts the end of that year.
This record is a must for the serious collector in general, and the true Metalhead specifically.
Favorite songs: Powerslave and Rime of the Ancient Mariner
BEST SONGS: Sailin’ On, Banned in D.C., I, Pay to Cum, Right Brigade
“When I think of a great frontman, like a really charismatic guy who everybody in the audience immediately wants to be, I think of Iggy Pop and I think of H.R. from Bad Brains”. Pretty high praise from Henry Rollins, Black Flag’s most integral and prolific lead singer, don’t ya think? Who, or what, could be such a force as to cause hardcore’s buff dad to put you on equal footing as Iggy motherfucking Pop? Well, Bad Brains of course. “What’s a Bad Brains?” you ask, wide-eyed in anticipation of yet another WKNC review of an integral punk group, lip quivering on the verge of tears because you can’t take another four paragraphs justifying how music that sounds like shit is actually good. Don’t worry! This week’s spotlight is on Bad Brains, the undisputed kings of hardcore. Outshining even essential acts like Minor Threat, they made every soul in a mile radius of their presence look down at their own bodies and ask why they haven’t been living through the Bad Brains lifestyle for the entirely of their previously miserable lives. They made people check their turntables after throwing on their newest single because the noises coming from it didn’t sound like music that humans were even capable of creating yet. They made Guinness Book of World Records give them an award for the fastest band of all time. And the best part, they were good. They were really really fucking good. While their contemporaries were pushing to play the fastest and the loudest, Bad Brains looked at each other and said “yeah I guess we can do that too” and played the loudest and fastest of them all. But beyond this, this naked engine nearing aneurysm intensity, Bad Brains was composed of incredibly talented musicians equipped endless creativity and an uncanny amount of stamina. Though their later work was not at all tainted by age or a lack of ingenuity (I Against I is a masterpiece) their eponymous 1982 debut, colloquially known as the “Yellow Tape” is the most essential hardcore punk album ever recorded.
Unlike bands like the Damned, or the Germs, or even Black Flag, Bad Brains was not originally founded upon a commitment to aggression and anarchy. They began as a jazz fusion group. Yes, you read that right, Jazz Fusion, a genre not only infinitely distant from punk’s insistence on id-focused simplicity but one which demands incredibly high levels of skill and a thorough understanding of music theory. So, in their embryonic stages, Bad Brains (then called Mind Power) were obviously leaps and bounds more technically proficient than any other punk band in their native Washington D.C. “Perfect,” the frontman for a completely hypothetical hardcore band who would need to compete with Bad Brains said to himself, “the Bad Brains may be way more talented than me and my sweaty group of pasty bad boys, but they don’t have anywhere near the attitude or vigor to even be considered in the same vein!”. But much to the chagrin of our hypothetical punker, Mind Power’s guitarist, Dr. Know, happened to catch a 1976 television profile on the then up-and-coming British punk scene. His mind blown by a newly discovered weapon against the establishment, Dr. Know bought every Sex Pistols, Ramones, and Damned record he could find before convening with his bandmates and urging them to adopt a radically new style. They were convinced and Mind Power was forever rebranded as Bad Brains, a term taken from a Ramones song which served as an analog to their former head-centered title. After practicing for hours upon hours in the basement in their friend’s mother’s basement, Bad Brains began booking shows in the three D.C. clubs which supported the still very young punk rock ethos. While frequenters of proto-hardcore shows were initially drawn to the novelty of Bad Brains being an all-black punk band, it soon became clear that the group was a spectacle of fury and showmanship that no other D.C. contemporary could compete with. The band was ridiculously fast, putting the Ramones and Stooges to shame with tempos which would have caused complete implosion under normal circumstances. Bad Brains was also tight. Really fucking tight; there was no wavering when their songs lurched into breakneck pace, as Dr. Know would even rip into solos (a cardinal sin in most punk circles) that scorched the bung hair off Minor Threat purists who claimed aggression’s only avenue was through the power chord. H.R, the lead singer and front man would flail around wildly while his band was focused in their blistering craft, acting as the mouthpiece of a rabid flutter while he fell on his back and writhed around before jumping into the crowd and screaming in their face as they smothered in his sweat-drenched frame. What a performance. D.C. degenerates couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The area had never known anything close to a punk scene, and now it appeared like they had been gifted, simply put, the best band of all time. Nobody could match their energy, technical skill, or ability to meld the crowd and performers into a single volatile goo. As such, they attracted a huge following almost instantly. H.R. notoriously would request over a hundred people for the guest list. That, combined with the natural frenzied disorder associated with any Bad Brains-caliber performance, quickly got them banned from the three D.C. clubs that would even think of booking punk shows. So what does an insanely popular, yet underground band who has been blacklisted from their native Washington do? Well, move to the Big Apple of course! Bad Brains evacuated D.C. for the REAL DEAL DADDIO PUNK ROCK NEW YORK CITY BABY and almost immediately earned themselves a headlining spot at perhaps punk’s most important venue: CBGB. It was during their NYC libertine residency that the band recorded their seminal first album. Angry, playful, virtuosic, this self-titled statement to everything hardcore is an essential addition to any collection which aims to document an evolution of American music. Every single song is mind-bogglingly perfect. It’s briefest cuts require the listener to ask themselves “was what I heard real? Are people actually capable of making something like this?” while the slower ones provide breathing room and showcase Bad Brains’ ability to perfectly pace an album. Pacing in a hardcore album? “These guys must be on a totally different plane from the rest of us”, you say, finally excited that we don’t have to cover a deconstruction of music itself yet again. And you’re right, faithful reader: Bad Brains is unlike any other band which came before or after, and their self-titled debut is the required first-taste of their galaxy-brained musicianship.
“Bad Brains” captures a crossroad in the band’s sound and, to a larger extent, worldview, which saw the four Baddest Brains adopt Rastafarianism. This meant a stronger spiritual message in their music, an adoption of reggae and dub by the band, and an alienation from racists who thought that Rastafarianism could be equated with violence and other racists who were pissed that the band growing dreads was a sign that they were moving away from the shaved-head mandate of hardcore. In actuality, the implementation of a strong spiritual message within the album, coupled with the sonic diversity of melding reggae with hardcore, enhanced both the pace of the album and the overall quality of its songs. From the beginning of this half hour epic, Bad Brains incredible songwriting suffocates its listener in “Sailing On”: a Beatles-esque mosh fest whose brevity is equally as impressive as its ear-worm, call-and-response chorus. Dr. Know shreds so hard that it sounds like it’ll melt any CD player unfortunate enough to challenge it, while H.R.’s vocals are brilliantly placed behind this crunchy guitar with a reverb that makes it easily distinguishable from the delicious commotion produced by his bandmates. Beyond this, the singer’s full arsenal of screeches, gulps, bellows, and growls instantly distinguishes him from even the most pissed off Ian McKayes and Henry Rollins. “Banned in D.C”, a reference to the band’s blacklisting from all Washington punk clubs, pounds its unsuspecting listener into a higher orbital as soon as its mockingly militant opening is seized by the H.R. and Dr. Know’s respective vault into white-hot power chords and riot-inducing yelps. H.R. often sounds on the edge of collapse, his lyrics rattling off so fast that he must surely be on the verge of sloppiness or total collapse. This is all before he anchors it back with such ease that it sounds almost like a second thought. “Pay to Cum” is just fast. That’s all I can really find within myself to describe it. It’s brilliant. It should be played to aliens when they are trying to decide whether or not to destroy humanity as the sole relic of our civilization just because, to me, it’s almost unfathomable that this music was actually created. It’s just that fucking fast.
When H.R. screams, he goes fully in, incinerating his vocal cords in a raspy grind. But Bad Brains isn’t just a band for pissed off teenagers; H.R.s versatility as a singer allows these moments of anger to be supplemented by an undeniable talent which can meld the band’s brand of punk into an innumerable amount of other genres (reggae, doo-wop, guitar pop, metal, etc.). And at its core, this is what made Bad Brains so important was that their commitment to punk was not out of convenience or pure angst, but rather an understanding of the lasting vitality that naturally comes with a genre infused with genuine expression. Through their continued showcase of remarkable talent and innovation, Bad Brains legitimized hardcore more than any other group.
It is not like any other Black Sabbath album. Like many of their records, Ozzy is not the vocalist. Unlike many others, Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) is. Born Again, the11thstudio album by the Titans was recorded in May of 1983 at The Manor Studio in England and was released on August 7, 1983. It is also different from any other Black Sabbath album, not only because of the inclusion of Gillan but also because of the song structures and the pure sound itself. In fact, originally, the record wasn’t intended to be billed as an offering from Black Sabbath, but as a yet unnamed “super group.” The record company, however, insisted on the established brand.
“His shriek is legendary,” said guitarist Tony Iommi of Ian Gillan. Bill Ward returned to play the drums, and Geezer Butler rounded out the rhythm section on bass guitar. This record, though containing all the original instrumentalists, is utterly different and absolutely nothing like the usual sound of the band. Absent is the normally eerie feel which they’re known for, but (newly) present is an instantly classic record that would go down in history as the best negatively critiqued line-up in metal history!
The ’83 recording was awful, but the album was remastered in 2011, which helped a lot. Iommi’s riffs, though different, are incredible (as usual). Butler is consistent and trustworthy. And Ward’s drumming is some of his best (IMO). But, honestly, it’s Gillan who steals the show (and album). I do not think that there is a record before or since that expresses the brilliance of his vocal abilities as is found on Born Again.
The controversial album cover, by Steve “Krusher” Joule, has gone down in history, as well, as simply one of the worst ever. Bill Ward hated the cover, Ian Gillan vomited when he saw it, but Tony Iommi liked and approved it. However, for every critic that hated or hates the record, there can be found 10 Metal fans that rank it as the best Black Sabbath record (at least since the original line-up), and you can count me in with them! And other, more famous Metalheads favor Born Again: Chris Barnes (Six Feet Under; former Cannibal Corpse) places it as his favorite Black Sabbath, period. Lars Ulrich (Metallica) ranks it as one of the best from the band. I think that the Vision of the line-up and the track collection was simply before it’s time. This record is meant to be heard today!
Favorite Songs: Born Again; Hotline; Zero the Hero
It was 9 years ago, today (6/25/29), that Parkway Drive released Deep Blue, one of my favorite Parkway Drive records. This was one of the first metalcore albums that I heard when I was first getting into heavier types of music. To me, Parkway Drive has always been a veteran within the subgenres of heavy metal. Parkway Drive evolved their sound with this album and they continue to do so to this day with their most recent release, Reverence. Deep Blue is filled with a lot of breakdowns and melodic riffs.
Although this is one of my favorite records, and some have argued that Deep Blue is their best, it has been criticized by metal blogs for being repetitive and having the same sound. Most reviewers talk about how they over-use basic breakdowns and that it’s generic. But, when doing some research on Parkway Drive and reading interviews with Winston McCall (vocalist), I discovered that Deep Blue was different than their previous albums.
When reading Alt Press’ interview with McCall, he states that Parkway Drive’s sound has not gone through big changes. With Deep Blue, the band wrote everything beforehand and then recorded it exactly the way they wanted it. They experimented with a couple of new things in small doses, just to see if they would work. And to McCall and the rest of the band, it did.
Deep Blue was an experiment that the band created to see if they could evolve their sound. Although their overall sound did not change, musically, they added an atmospheric tone with melodic riffs into their hooks, bridges, and breakdowns. With the atmospheric set, it added more layering and depth to the record.
Overall, I think this is one of my favorite records by Parkway Drive, and some of their most well-known songs came off this album: Unrest and Karma. This record helped them develop their sound even more on their 2012 release, Atlas. Parkway Drive has continued to evolve throughout the years and I don’t see them stopping anytime soon.
BEST TRACKS: My War, Beat My Head Against a Wall, Nothing Left Inside, Scream
Though Black Flag was already a widely popular west-coast punk band with an affinity for harder, faster, and more experimental music than virtually any of their contemporaries, it was the addition of Henry Rollins that defined the band’s distinct sonic and aesthetic composition. “Damaged”, the first album with Rollins as frontman, was simultaneously one of the first definitively “hardcore” punk records ever created and the inception of the young movement’s most charismatic frontman. For these first few years at the turn of the decade (“Damaged” was released 1981), Black Flag echoed other hardcore pioneers such as Minor Threat in their rampaged delivery of staccatoed screams under the banner of a disciplined, straight-edge lifestyle. But just as Minor Threat disbanded in 1983 amid founder Ian McKaye’s realization that playing incredibly fast and loud was limiting, Black Flag was forced to reflect on how the band could move forward without relying solely on uber-aggression (which was becoming increasingly violent). The result: Black Flag became an art punk band. Well, I guess that’s not fair to say. Black Flag was actually always known for their intricate posters and album covers designed by Raymond Pettibond, and they had always demanded that their listeners take their music more seriously than some of LAs earlier punk bands which had become incredibly silly by the end of the 1970s. But when faced with the crossroads brought on by the end of basic hardcore punk, two distinct voices emerged within Black Flag. Greg Ginn, the guitarist, founder, and only consistent member of the group began experimenting with free jazz and doom metal in what became the invention of the classic “anti-solo”, and Rollins began his descent into poetry and spoken word performance of bleak, basic lyrics hinged on frustration and alienation. Unsurprisingly, the two ended up tearing the band apart with their separate aggro-insistences on the future of alternative music, but the albums that were released prior to this inevitable fracture are some of the most interesting and crucial in any punk library. And nowhere is that more clear than on “My War”, the punk rock equivalent of Johnny Marr and Morrissey dueling with their equally insufferable voices and somehow creating a musical texture unlike anything else. Ginn and Rollins are rarely in step together, their ideas flowing out from vastly different channels. But, somehow, as if a flash of congruency lined up beneath the band for the recording of the album, “My War” is Black Flag’s magnum opus.
California’s most important contribution to punk rock was birthed in 1976 by father Greg Ginn, in the vein of typical influences like the Stooges, MC5, and, of course, the Ramones. Ginn’s role as the band’s guitarist and primary creative force meant that there was more of a focus on what Ginn could make his guitar do rather than having it purposefully act as the simple engine for pounding aggression. Ginn quickly established his new band, freshly named “Black Flag” (“Panic” was taken) as distinct from punk contemporaries in the sheer work ethic he required from every member of the band. While this was partially a conscious effort to avoid the excess which killed off many members of punk’s first wave, this work ethic was also necessitated by LA’s lack of (figurative) underground infrastructure. With no punk-friendly clubs or distribution avenues, Black Flag created America’s most impressive DIY music network. As Ginn boasted a plethora of posters advertising each performance (a minimum of 500), self-booked shows at picnics, schools, and abandoned warehouses, a list of punk-friendly fans who could host the band to stay the night, and a comprehensive map of every all-you-can-eat buffet in within their touring scope, Black Flag as an entity required its members to commit every fiber of their being to punk rock. And it paid off. Fans all over the country were enamored with what was then the least compromising sound or image of any other American band, and Black Flag’s cult status propelled them to underground stardom sans support from anything that even resembled mainstream music institutions. That’s where Henry Rollins comes in. In 1980, when Ginn’s rotating array of vocalists signaled that it was time to find the newest iteration of Flag’s frontman, Washington D.C. superfan, and Haagen-Daz manager Henry Rollins was tapped to join the band. Packing up his custom-built muscle T-shirt and nothing else, Rollins moved to California so the band could record “Damaged”. The shaved-head muscle bound Rollins was visually antithetical to everything that punk initially promised, in his ratty jeans and vocal abstention from anything vice-related. But he soon embodied what would become “hardcore punk”. Their second full-length album instantly cemented them among the Gods of the movement’s newest wave with acts like Bad Brains and Minor Threat (led by Rollins’ DC friend Ian MacKaye). The reliance on pure, inflamed rebellion proved unsustainable, though, and rather than become irrelevant or force off their wheels, Black Flag turned to more experimental sounds and, well, lifestyles. While Ginn remained relatively the same whip cracking band leader (albeit with a little more interest in avant-garde jazz), Rollins began his transformation into his most unbearable form. Often performing in just his boxers, Rollins insisted on opening ‘83 and ‘84 era performances with lengthy readings from his journal. He was visibly larger, becoming a devout bodybuilder and frequent aggravator of crowd violence. He would carry around a pool ball that he would grind in his palm for nearly an hour before the set started, staring down the crowd with an ever-more concerning insistence on brute masculinity. He and Ginn grew their hair out, alienating them from the classic Black Flag skinhead fan base. They no longer committed themselves to hectic live performances focused on pure energy, but would rather let the audience stew in silence while Rollins prowled in near nudity. At the time, it was confusing. And “My War” was the final nail in the coffin which forever broke Black Flag from standard hardcore. The album’s slowed down, meandering, tempo-shifting landscape was hated by fans of the original straight edge scene. However, despite an inevitable backlash brought on by the band’s abrupt shift to more experimental and brooding tones, it is this experimentation and willingness to break from a sound which they helped originally establish for the sake of artistic integrity that makes “My War” Black Flag’s most daring and interesting album.
It’s fair to point out that not every song on “My War” was destined to be placed on a Black Flag greatest hits compilation. The titular song was a pretty standard Flag romp, with Ginn’s classic mid-drenched overdrive pulverizing a single riff while Rollins peeled his throat to paranoia drenched lyrics like “My War/You’re one of them, you said that you’re my friend/ but you’re one of them.” So, immediately, the greasy shaved head fans of the band’s earlier material were at least momentarily satisfied. Though the intro may have deviated slightly from “Damaged” era speed-power just because it acted as a pressure build to elevate Rollins’ eventually shriek, it supplemented the breakneck pace of the rest of the song quite well. Great, so this is Black Flag’s new sound? Skinheads could handle their violent tempos occasionally coupled with a dissonant platform for Rollins to thrive if that’s what they needed. But after the album’s titular track, songs begin to drift further from any resemblance of original hardcore punk. “Beat My Head Against the Wall” is a bizarre combination of classic Sex Pistols abrasion, pop music, and experimental west-coast noise bands like Flipper. Adopting doom-metal tempo shifts, the song shifts between Rollins screaming about ramming his head on a wall before switching to a sugar-coated pop chorus garnished with a heavy Ginn line, before switching again to a blisteringly dissonant free-jazz guitar solo and then leading into a final sludgy riff to end the song. In a span of two minutes, Black Flag recorded what is probably the worst song I’ve ever heard in my life. But it’s genius. Once the initial disgust has worn off, it becomes evident that to remain relevant within a molting scene, Black Flag was forced to continually subvert expectations even within punk rock etiquette. The result is almost unlistenable at its worst but thought-provoking when it gets it right. And “My War” gets this formula right more so than any other late-stage Flag album. “Nothing Left Inside” is a seven minute, doom metal march of a song where Ginn does his best Black Sabbath meets Miles Davis impression as Rollins groans endlessly of self-hatred and agony. “Scream” takes “Nothing Left Inside” a step farther and, while still relying on slow methodical drum patterns and punk jazz heaviness, features Rollins literally screaming and croaking for seven minutes straight. If you were to judge punk rock strictly off of how distant it drifted from the Ramones, then Black Flag would certainly be disqualified by this point. But “My War” has the sheer ability to drive every person who listens to it up a wall, something that no other genre drives to do.
In the years following “My War”, Black Flag released three more studio albums before calling it quits. By the end of the legendary Punk band’s demise, Rollins had become drowned in his own ego, forcing too much conflict with Ginn’s long-established control freak attitude. “Family Man”, “Loose Nut”, and “In My Head” all contained the warring personalities which first butted heads on “My War”, but each suffered more from a bitter disconnect. “My War” might be an accident in its beauty, but hardcore punk’s transition into darker and weirder territories has never been exposed in its naked horror more than on this Black Flag classic.
It was on a 1983 Bay Area public access television performance that Flipper’s Will Shatter told his increasingly frustrated interviewer that Flipper wasn’t a punk band. Now, this could simply be relegated to the band being characteristically difficult; after all, they had spent the last hour in their shaved heads and ratty jeans screaming through a comically overdriven bass. They may have not literally been the Ramones, but sonically and rhetorically, Flipper fit well within the emerging West-Coast scene among Bay Area contemporaries like the Dead Kennedys or the Units and LA bands like X, Germs, and Black Flag. But Shatter’s prescription can’t fully be dismissed as a punk insistence on outsiderdom. Flipper was different. The core of punk rock insisted on a visceral release of frustration, a direct line from a performing band to its audience and, on a larger scale, the entire surrounding society they were so disillusioned with. With an insistence on such caustic expulsions, simplicity is required. Any ornamentation would impede the central thesis behind the music’s very insistence, and therefore, punk’s simplicity is indirect. Flipper, however, made this simplicity the main tenant of their musical philosophy. Rather than a necessity placed to prevent collapse under the weight of anger, they distilled and subverted music itself into their own warped, inflamed expression. Flipper wasn’t a punk band, it was a deconstruction band.
Flipper was born out of 1979’s San Francisco to parents Ricky Williams, Ted Falconi, Steve DePace and Will Shatter. Falconi, a Vietnam vet, distinguished himself as a guitar player through his insanely distorted, mid-heavy, disgustingly compressed tone while Shatter’s bass was almost equally as overdriven while relishing in the uncomfortably trebly territory. Williams was replaced by Bruce Loose before the band could record anything, and both Loose and Shatter switched between bass and vocal duties. After releasing a handful of singles (most notably Sex Bomb, an eight-minute sludge of Shatter screaming “She’s my sexy bomb, yeah” over and over) Flipper came out with their debut full length, Generic Flipper, on San Fran’s Subterranean Records in 1982. It was slow; it was sardonic; it was annoying. Today, it remains Flipper’s most recognizable and fully representative work, melding Black Sabbath’s distorted doom into the Sex Pistol’s irreverence and debauchery. Caught in between the two distinct phases of punk which respectively emphasized excess and self-discipline, Flipper existed as a band without a country. The band took no issue with excessive drug use (Shatter died in 1987 of a heroin overdose), yet didn’t romanticize their self-destruction. They were a crusty group playing crusty music that made even the crustiest fans squeamish and irritable.
In a time where punk was getting faster, angrier, more confrontational, Flipper insisted on slowing down and laughing at the crushing weight of the world rather than trying to move it by force. In Generic Flipper’s opening track, “Ever”, Bruce Loose belts out mind-numbingly basic, yet frighteningly resigned lyrics such as “Ever live a life that’s real/Full of zest, but no appeal, Ever want to cry so much/ You want to die”. The bass and guitar are both distorted to oblivion, melting into one syrupy entity and trudging the song along at a tempo that is frustratingly slow. Do-wop claps are placed behind the horribly mixed drum kit, all culminating in a song mocking every single person who has ever expressed any sort of happiness at any point in their lives. And the rest of the album continues in this exact same vein. Shatter and Loose take turns being obnoxiously sarcastic, yet it’s hard to believe that the defeat that they so adamantly preach isn’t at least a partially lived-experience. “Life is Cheap” begins with a doom metal riff played with Falconi’s ridiculously cheap sounding tone, and the drums (which sound like they were recorded by a teenager in a laundry room) begin about 15 seconds in to lock the 4-minute long song in a seemingly unending groove. And Sex Bomb makes another appearance. The eight-minute fart of a song features Shatter screaming at the top of his lungs while his typical sludge infested backing is supplemented by a saxophone of all things. It’s as if Flipper dressed up like the Rolling Stones only to pull down their pants and shit directly on the stage.
By the early 80s, punk was getting faster, angrier, more macho, obsessed with self-discipline and abrasively bettering the world. But Flipper was decidedly not that. As the Black Flag’s sped up to explore the capabilities of what punk could mean, Flipper insisted on slowing it down, making it increasingly unpleasant and wholly nihilistic. They were hated and probably rightfully so. However, whether intentional or not, Flipper was responsible for generations of noise and sludge expressions which defined American post-punk alternativism. Generic Flipper was a brutally simple collection of noise paired with often juvenile pessimism. It can kind of be looked at like the piece of modern art that’s just a white canvas. You could have done it, but you didn’t.
BEST TRACKS: Communist Eyes, We Must Bleed, Manimal, Lexicon Devil, Richie Dagger’s Crime
By the time the Ramones had condensed rock and roll into its brattiest possible unit, punk’s death was already long set in motion. Though “punk rock’ was not a magical intervention by a sympathetic God tired of listening to Fleetwood Mac, the ultimate cultural amalgam that became the genre’s first (and arguably “purest”) wave burned incredibly hot and equally fast. And all by design, of course. So if one were to grab their leather studded microscope to set distinct barriers within punk’s seemingly never-ending canon, the Ramones’ first “1,2,3,4!”s at CBGB are finalized through the Darby Crash’s 1980 suicide. Through his band, the Germs, Crash brought punk’s ethos to the end of its first crescendo by making it harder, faster, and, most importantly, without any apparent control. Though the rise of hardcore punk following the Germ’s demise was faster and harder by technical standards, this was a controlled catharsis. In fact, the highly disciplined blasts of noise made famous through bands like Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, and Rollins-fronted Black Flag, were at least partially in response to punk’s initial reputation of being so decadently caked in debauchery. But whatever catharsis is found within the Germs is chaotic, almost accidental. As the logical conclusion to a genre founded on white-hot excess, they were possibly the most extreme practitioners of debauchery. Their sole studio album, “GI”, is an absolute mess of feedback-riddled guitars, frantic drumming, and incoherent snarls of anti-authority. It is every promise of punk rock fulfilled, and because of that “GI” is a horrifying record. By the time it’s thirty minutes are up, you realize that this is it. As Darby Crash burned out in a wild thrash against every perceived establishment, so did the first wave of punk rock.
Jan Paul Beahm was born in Venice, California in September 1958. Moving to West LA by the late 60s, Beahm’s troubled childhood was patterned with episodes like his brother’s drug overdose/murder, his mother’s frequent bouts with psychosis, and the abrupt death of his stepfather. An avid reader, Beahm was enrolled in Innovative Program School, an LA alternative high school which combined Erhard Seminars Training and Scientology. It was here that Beahm met Georg Ruthenburg, and the two frequently took LSD on campus. Fearing that the boy’s increasing novelty as spaced out cult-esque figures within the school was brainwashing other students, Beahm and Ruthenburg were kicked out of IPS before graduation. They decided to form an incredibly raw, amateur band in the vein of proto-punk acts like the Stooges or MC5 and began purposefully recruiting unskilled musicians for their chaotic project. Eventually settling on the name “Germs” (after others proved too long and therefore expensive to print on T-Shirts), Beahm and Ruthernburg became Bobby Pyn and Pat Smear, respectively. After being joined by bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Donna Rhia, the Germs recorded their first single, “Forming”, a minute and a half pounding, meandering expulsion in 1977. Soon after, Bobby Pyn was rechristened Darby Crash, and the Germs began their infamous circuit within LA’s burgeoning punk scene.
Crash, the clear frontman of the group, would spend shows loaded on booze, painkillers, and heroin while babbling his song’s lyrics seemingly everywhere but the microphone (which apparently had to be taped to his hand at one point). But it was punk; the Germs embodied a pure disorder that LA’s underground was craving by the late 70s. Live performances were often violent, with Crash frequently confronting members of the audience while stumbling about, rarely confident in his ability to stand. Eventually, the band’s notoriety blacklisted them from every club in the city, forcing them to perform under the moniker GI (Germs Incognito). And perhaps not coincidentally, this also was the name of their first/last studio album; a record which has now been bestowed a legendary status for fans of punk akin to “Never Mind the Bollocks” or “Damaged”. For an LA who had only witnessed the germs through their increasingly messy live performances, 1979’s GI was a moment of clarity that forced every listener to sit back for a second and think “holy shit these guys are actually talented musicians”. Smear was finally given a stasis upon which he could clearly show off his incredibly tight and fluid guitar playing, while Crash’s songs could actually be consumed as, well, songs. But what was most surprising were Crash’s lyrics which, up until the recording of GI, were largely impossible to comprehend through hectic live shows. Under his dyed hair, broken teeth, and skin often sliced by glass on stage, he was a poet obsessed with his own inevitable destruction. At once, it became clear that Darby Crash knew he was the final fetid breath escaping his movement; he knew his anarchy was destined to end soon. And it did. After GI’s recording, the Germs found it even harder to perform live within the city, as the LAPD would often come to violently disband crowds which they saw on the edge of a riot. Crash appeared to know the Germs were not sustainable, becoming increasingly removed from the band before purposefully administering himself a fatal dose of heroin December 7, 1980. LA’s most notorious punk band was over. Don Bolles, the band’s final drummer, went on to join a handful of other LA punk bands while Pat Smear eventually joined Nirvana, as a touring guitarist, and the Foo Fighters, as a full-time member.
Musically, it can be hard to differentiate between every track on GI. Within each two-minute snot-fest one will find a crispy guitar, loose and pounding drums, and a Darby crash snarl (of course!). But the third, fourth, or maybe fifth time scratching your head while attempting to consume this spoiled rotten album will elucidate a surprising amount of depth. For instance, “Manimal” opens with a simple yet devastating Smear riff which sounds akin to early Black Sabbath, demanding attention while Doom’s fat, rounded bass acts as an anchor before dissolving into Crash’s fiery yelps. “Manimal” also contains Crash’s most explicit recognition of his otherness and ultimate destiny outside of civilization with “I came into this world/Like a puzzled panther, waiting to be caged/but something stood in the way, I was never quite tamed”. “Lexicon Devil”, the groups most well-known song, is revamped with a new penchant for barreling speed, with a four-chord, percussive guitar lead doubling Crash’s cultish growls which entice the listener to surrender to the Germs and all of their promised damage in lines like I’m a lexicon devil with a battered brain And I’m lookin’ for a future, the world’s my aim
So gimme, gimme your hands, gimme, gimme your minds”. “Richie Dagger’s Crime”, probably more playful than any other track, is shockingly optimistic. Smear’s crunchy, aggressively uncompressed blues leads weave between Crash’s sputtered autobiography of a boy who exists purely to rebel against every person he meets. “We Must Bleed” is the Germs’ most concentrated display of their inherent bend towards deconstruction, is a simple four-chord descent into nothingness which holds both the beginning and end of the Germs within it. The song goes longer than its peers, though Bolles drums become quickly resigned to a tribal thump which Crash spouts “We Must Bleed” over and over again. As it thuds on, the song destroys everything around it, and when even the air begins to fall around Darby Crash he begins to bellow “I want out now!” as his band becomes looser and rattles into oblivion. Crash runs out of things to destroy, and in the terror that follows he realizes that the only thing left to fall is his own body.
The Germs existed for only five years. But in their attempts to become the most vicious and unhinged bands in Los Angeles they cemented a legacy as the final, and brightest, flame of 1970s rock music. After a culmination of disenfranchisement, drugs, and snottiness birthed punk in New York, a trajectory was set that could have only ended with the Germs. And through GI, the germs have left a permanent record upon a movement which was dangerously close to only witnessing them in their brief shenanigans while still on this Earth. In my opinion, Darby Crash is the unheralded king of the punks, and GI is the contract which bestowed his domain.