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All Heaven in a Rage

17 Oct

England, Autumn 2009: the temperature has dipped considerably, the sky has faded to the ashen color of a cadaver, and I’ve lost both my voice and the ability to swallow properly due to a nasty, lingering cold. Good enough time as any, I suppose, to suck up my phlegm and explore more of those sounds that helped make this country what it is today:

necromandus41. NECROMANDUS – “Orexis of Death” (from Orexis of Death, Audio Archives, 2001) A footnote in the BLACK SABBATH story ca. 1973, since Tony Iommi himself produced and managed these guys for a while back then. But this unreleased Vertigo album shows that aside from a couple of compact heavy rockers, NECROMANDUS mined a much more nimble, hard prog sound – one that was decidely more jazzy than SABBATH ever attempted. While this is a disappointment to some, the agility with which these guys pull it off is mighty impressive. They had a great lead gtrist, a more than capable rhythm section, and they were as comfortable rocking in quieter, introspective fashion as they were ripping proto metal DEEP PURPLEish riffs. No they don’t best SABBATH – who does? – but as runner-ups in the early 70’s UK pagan/downer rock sweepstakes, I say these folks could’ve beat BLACK WIDOW seven days a week. They’ve got another CD on Audio Archives entitled Necrothology that duplicates most of this record – both are great, so either one’s a solid investment.

vb1725b2. PLUMMET AIRLINES – “The Engine Driver” (from On Stoney Ground, Hedonics, 1981) Apt-named pub rock band active in mid 70’s London who only had a couple 45s to their name during their lifespan, before going down in flames when punk rock changed the face of UK music forevermore. This collection was cobbled together retrospectively from demos, live stuff, & Peel sessions to satisfy their few but rabid fans who swore they absolutely slayed live. While even diehards give this one a mixed review, their stew of mellow BRINSLEY SCHWARZ-like rural rock, earthy r&b pub gruffness, and actually inspired gtr rave-ups will appeal to those like me who like to linger at the MAN/HELP YOURSELF end of the bar. Half the time they were too MOR to translate well to 2009, but if you listen closely to the other half, you too will see their twin gtr thing was actually quite evolved. Yep inspired, end-of-hippie talent was indeed aboard this flight, and the better live cuts here exhibit true GRATEFUL DEAD/WISHBONE ASH exploratory ambition. Though, it’s precisely that kind of talent that sadly got lost in the wreckage of punk’s ensuing floodwaters.

dragonfly13. DRAGONFLY – “Space Bound” (from their Dragonfly E.P., no label, 1981) Stumbled upon the sleeve sans record of this megararity in a Hornsey charity shop recently, which got me to search out mp3s of it online. And aside from the singer’s kinda flat voice, I reckon DRAGONFLY rates fairly well in relation to other New Wave of Britsh Heavy Metal obscuros. No this ain’t gonna ever reach the, uh, hallowed NWOBHM heights of DIAMOND HEAD, WITCHFYNDE, or ANGEL WITCH, but it does pretty well encapsulate what was good/bad about that particular scene: the sometimes awkward mix of late 70s prog and metal cliches, the longing for IRON MAIDEN-like commercial breakthrough, the endearingly rough, warts-and-all performances. Meaning: if you’re a metal lifer this will no doubt make you cry like a little baby, but if you’re anybody else, well . . . you’re gonna probably find yourself shaking your head in confusion. And me? I’m just the guy stuck staring at an empty pic sleeve.

1613064. SHOCK HEADED PETERS – “The Kissing of Gods” (from Not Born Beautiful, él Records, 1985) – Whenever I have doubts about the current state of UK underground music – this is often – I take solice in the knowledge that Karl Blake still walks alone somewhere on this fair isle. The projects he’s led (S.H. PETERS, LEMON KITTENS, EVIL TWIN, THE UNDERNEATH) are all such eccentrically unique takes on modern outsider music that I’m tempted to call this guy England’s answer to Ohio’s Jim Shepard. Karl claims to be inspired by William Blake, BLACK SABBATH, and FAUST in pretty equal amounts, and dammit if he don’t always sound it.

Now all you doom rockers don’t get too excited. The SABBATH influences on his early SHOCK HEADED PETERS were more suggested than explicit; you’d have to wait for Karl’s UNDERNEATH project for a SABBATH tribute proper. But there’s a toughassed basskick at work here that his peers – say, PSYCHIC TV and CURRENT 93 – never knew existed. This is the sound of 80s messthetics maturing down any number of hairy eyeball backalleys, as funneled through a hazy blur of studio mindfuckery. The real weapon, though, was Karl’s beautiful croon, something I always thought sounded like it was emanating from the head of decapitated nobleman, freshly skewered on a pole. His “Kissing of Gods” – a moment of calm balladry in an otherwise restless sea of disquieting, post-industrial confusion – is one of the most heart-wrenching performances ever. And while it ain’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll, it most definitely is wig ‘n’ roll – making your scalp itch every goddamn spin.

Pulling Paul’s Chain

16 Nov

A buddy of mine once rightly noted that, given the tidal wave of progressive rock that burst forth out of Italy in the 1970’s, it was quite possible that there was a time when every adult Italian male over the age of 15 had participated in the creation of at least one prog rock record. Just like Israeli Army conscription, you had to serve your time – no exceptions.

PAUL CHAIN didn’t, no sir. Instead he formed the very first “horror music” band – DEATH SS. They were an insane, screamy band of overblown & overwrought teen metal dudes who drooled a bloody form of ALICE COOPER-damaged, SABBATHoid rock that sounded nothing like what LE ORME or PFM were spewing at the time. DEATH SS dressed like monster movie extras, had a literal “cult” following, and released some poorly-recorded but effective 45s & demos in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Their stuff will give most of you residing in developed nations a righteous, stinging nosebleed. After you’re done banging your head, that is.

But then, in 1983, Paul went solo. And IT GOT REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

Paul Mirror

Paul was one of the few in southern Europe to spend some serious time – it can now be measured in decades – getting to know those slow/mid-tempo rhythmic flows & surges that 70’s dudes used to call heavy rock. In the 80’s, he also spent an equal amount of time exploring all that gothic detritus/minutiae that hangs from the music we know and love (or fucking despise) as METAL. Meaning: he was just as likely to come at you with a MORRICONE-like soundscape of errie bells, chanting, and cackling howls as he was a lean, mean BUDGIE-esque crunch groover. And then, in the 90’s, he’d inexplicably stretch out into a 15 min., minor-key ALLMAN-style gtr jam. I love it all.

What’s particularly mindbending are the phonetic vocalizations on his records. You’ll occasionally hear a word or phrase that sounds “English”, but more often – it’s just Paul hollering DOOM MUSH over the din that somehow matches the chords & notes perfectly. That, plus his copious use of church organ gives his records a special tension/dread that is really something to behold. And there are few in the annals of Heavy Metal, this side of Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich (SAINT VITUS, THE OBSESSED, THE HIDDEN HAND, etc.) with the kind of dark-hued, grim melodic content this man throws at ya. That’s high praise.

I can’t pretend to know much about Paul’s life & career, except that he’s a man of real spiritual conviction, someone with some very idiosyncratic ideas about how music oughta be put together, and a fucking great gtr player. And a legacy of over 3 dozen records to prove it! At this point, I’ve explored over half of these, and all of em (whether he’s doing spacerock, soundtracky instrumentals, stoner doom, keyboard-based “improv goth”, or freakin’ wild NWOBHM) are stamped hard with that schizo, underworld Mario Bava vibe of his. Which, I guess, is the Paul Chain vibe. Rest assured, it’s like no other.

Where should you start? Well I have a particular fondness for his late 80’s psycho-NWOBHM phase . . . and his HAWKWIND-tribute tribal jams (released by “Paul Chain – The Improvisor”) from the late 90’s/early 2000s . . . not to mention his Park of Reason CD from 2002, a bonified stoner-epic . . . but really, it’s all pretty great and totally fascinating/alien to my California-bred mindset. Where can you buy some of it? Well there’s some Italian guys selling his CDs on ebay, but sending money to Italy has always been a dicy proposition. Aw hell, do it anyway – if PAUL CHAIN ever arrives in your mailbox, you’re gonna thank me! Where can you hear it? Check out the fan MySpace sites below, they’ve got a decent cross-section of Paul’s body of work represented:

Paul Chain

Paul Chain Violate Theatre

And here’s a classic one off of his In The Darkness LP (Minotauro Records, 1986):

Welcome to My Hell

Paul Chain

Thanks to Stephano Miraglia for the great portrait of Paul

Pagan Altar Takes Flight

21 Oct

Dig this: we caught PAGAN ALTAR live at ULU in London on Friday night. Their second gig (the first was a couple weeks back in Leeds) in a quarter century! Aaaaaah!

The sound was a bit rough, but nicely crunchy and way LOUD – just like how those early ’80s recordings on their definitive Volume 1 CD sound. Gtrist Alan Jones looked/played just like an aging Jeff Beck, while brother/singer Terry alternated from an easy-going, Essex-dad persona to POSSESSED WARLOCK CHANNELING THE UNDYING FLAMES OF HELLFIRE in the space of a single breath. Their mix of galloping NWOBHM rhythms with those slow, crushing tempos we now come to know and love as D-O-O-M spelt a little bit of Heaven & Hell to these ears. When I shut my eyes, I could almost imagine PAGAN ALTAR were burning a hole in the center of the coming apocalypse, large enough for all us rocker types to pass right on through, unscathed – so we, the chosen few, could keep rockin’ for all eternity.

My wife & I were swaying all night in sea of burners with waist-length hair, HM-patch covered denim, and stinky leather jackets – most of whom had travelled from places like Norway to witness it. Though you can’t see us in the ULU gig clip below, our extra-sore neck muscles from all that righteous head-banging prove WE WERE THERE!

Oh and compliments to the opening bands, especially WARNING, whose towering “funereal doom” sound impressed the heck outta me. But with Patrick Walker’s ernest, soaring vocals, they came across like RITES OF SPRING covering REVEREND BIZARRE. “emo-core doom”, anyone?

Homeland Security

28 May

Yeah it’s all, like, THE ARCTIC MONKEYS and LILY (fucking) ALLEN out here in fair England, probably forevermore. But that hasn’t stopped me from searching out a few old geezers who still do it right, in ways my aging ass can actually understand. Today I’ve come to honour 3 British artists/bands who’ve toiled longer and harder than most along the English homefront, with scant acknowledgement or recognition. And no – they ain’t winning the war for us – but they sure do make it sound mighty sweet as we all go under.

1. PAGAN ALTAR“The Cry of the Banshee” (from the Mythical & Magical, Oracle Records, 2006)

Pagan AltarYou ready for your early morning cup of NWOBHM? Me, I say fill er up mac. PAGAN ALTAR are an original New Wave of British ‘Eavy Metal group, class of ’78/’79. They recorded lots of unreleased demos at the time – see their Volume 1 and Time Lord releases for the goods. Like WITCHFINDER GENERAL, PAGAN ALTAR went for that canal-dredging, early BLACK SABBATH sound rather than the prog/punk attack typified by Di’Anno-era IRON MAIDEN. Which means they kept things slow-to-mid tempo, focusing attention on deeper rhythmic concerns, hence foreshadowing the doom rock revolution of the late 80’s/early ’90s. They also exhibited a stately, mannered decorum (think PROCOL HARUM) that for whatever cultural reason, seems to suit the Brits like a glove. And they could write, arrange, play, and ROCK better than a whole buttload of Brit bands swinging Flying V’s at the time. Sadly, the mulleted hordes didn’t really wanna know.

Sometime in the new millenium, they managed to drag themselves from their SE London grave with twin beliefs in heavy rock and pagan/witchcraft themes wholly intact. Their copious use of hammer-ons may make you smile (they did me) . . . but if you’re someone who laughs at the mere endeavour of playing DOOM-LADEN, EPIC METAL in total ernesty – as if punk had never, ever happened! – well, stranger, then you’re a bigger idiot than I gave you credit for. Their recent CDs (showcasing an “updated” DIO-era SAB sound) are full of great and inspired metal by guys who, in some small way, helped invent the damn stuff. I bow; you ought to, too.

2. THE GREEN RAY“All My Tears” (from Back From The Edge, Senza Tempo, 2006)

green rayHippie stalwarts from Walthamstow (BEVIS FROND country, doncha know) who are also a key offshoot of the MAN/HELP YOURSELF family tree. Which probably means bugger all to most of you, but ALOT to those who can recognize the subtle beauties of 70’s British acidrock. THE RAY continue in that flowing, US west-coast tradition, jammin’ their twin gtrs straight from the heart up into the cold, grey London skies, aiming to blow puny minds with a mere flick of a pick. It’s true HEAD music, unaffected by the fact these guys’ heads are now mostly gray and balding. And if you hipsterz need even more of a reason to check em out, do note that both Forced Exposure and Ptolemaic Terrascope mags sung their praises in the 90’s – with fucking good reason, too.

I just now see they play a monthly residency at The Plough Inn in W’stow – must make a mental note to scratch up some skunk and go ride their magic carpet some evening soon!

3. ALEX FERGUSSON“Dark Angel (Fireball Mix)” (from The Castle, Eis & Licht, 2006)

AlexALEX is both ex-ALTERNATIVE TV and ex-PSYCHIC TV, but he’s done so much more (before/during/after) it’s just silly. He’s been largely passed over in punk/postpunk history books since he seemed content to remain out of the limelight, hidden under the weight of much bigger egos (there are few bigger than that of ATV’s Mark Perry and PTV’s Genesis P-Orridge). But his songs/tunes/riffs always seem totally identifiable to me. He tends to moor an intimate, singer-songwritery pop sensibility (he says he’s a big fan of early Emitt Rhodes) with what’s known over in this part of the world as “neo-folk” (that would be his post-industrial PSYCHIC TV connections). Anybody bothering to look deeper will see that he’s been recording/writing in a uniquely ALEX-ian fashion at least since PSYCHIC TV released Pagan Day way back in ’84 – which, by all rights, oughta be seen as ALEX’s first solo LP.

I am a huge fan of this man’s uncanny ability to use stripped-down instrumentation to communicate often perverse subject matter via simple but delicate pop songcraft. ANYTHING with this man’s name on it is worth exploring before you die.