The Official Demise Of A Musical Dynasty: In Memory Of Vinnie Paul

It was early this past Saturday morning, around 2am, when I got up to take a quick piss.  I looked on my phone for shits and giggles and saw that I friend of mine posted something, captioning “holy shit!” above it.  It was a the Billboard article announcing that former Pantera/Hell Yeah drummer Vinnie Paul was dead at 54.  I thought I was just tired; but after a few minutes I realized that this was in fact reality.  There were no facts at the times, all that mattered was that one of the greatest of all time was gone.

The facts, since then, have slowly started to become known.  We now know that he died in his sleep in his Las Vegas home (booze and strippers, duh!), and of a heart attack.  According to the Las Vegas police, there were no signs of foul play.  Then today came the news that, just like his late brother, he’ll be buried beside him and their mother…in a KISS coffin.  Of course it’ll take some time for the toxicology report to come out.  I don’t want this to focus too much on his well publicized lifestyle here.  But let’s face it: despite his machine like intensity on the drums, he never seemed to burn too many calories.  That’s most likely because he never slowed down the drinking.  I mean fuck me did this guy and his brother, the late Dimebag Darrell, know how to party or what??

As I said before, I’m not here to discuss what everyone else is bound to write about.  I’m going to talk about why this son of a bitch from Arlington, TX will forever have a spot as one of the greatest drummers of all time.

So what the fuck makes a musician one of the best?  That person is able to make himself recognizable in songwriting style, technique, skill and sound.  That guy has to be able to make himself stand out.  From non metal guys like Stewart Copeland and Phil Collins (yeah, Phil Collins was a drum god at one point!) to hard rock drummers such as John Bonham to Vinnie’s own idol, Alex Van Halen, each of the guys I mentioned had the ability to make themselves easily distinguishable because they possessed all the qualities I just mentioned.  Vinnie, along with his brother, clearly knew this early on.  And while it would take three independently recorded albums before they were signed to their first deal, the wait would be worth it, because they, along with Rex Brown and Phil Anselmo, created a new sub genre of Metal, making them the single most important Heavy Metal band of the nineties.  Pantera were to be the band that single handed SAVED Metal during the rise of the Grunge scene, and later Alternative music.

Starting with their fourth album, 1990’s Cowboys From Hell, Pantera burst out like a goddamn raging bull with tracks such as the title track, “Psycho Holiday”, “Heresy” and everyone’s excuse to mosh, “Domination”.  There are other classics on there that I could’ve named just now but I chose the ones I just mentioned because those tracks are filled with an extraordinarily seamless combination of interlocking with…groove??  Oh yeah, Vinnie never lost the groove no matter how mechanical or technical those tracks were.  He’d explain years later that, while he respected drummers with fast left hands (think blast beats), he was more concerned about making people move.

1992’s Vulgar Display Of Power saw Pantera develop a much edgier sound all around.  I mean they were already edgy, but starting here the band were starting to sound more like the soundtrack to a fist fight!  Between Phil’s rougher vocal delivery to Diamond Darrell…as he was unfortunately still calling himself at the time…downtuning his guitar and those drums.   Unlike most Thrash bands, Pantera were not JUST about precision and speed.  Vinnie Paul as a drummer was more than JUST an anchor.  He knew when to keep it tight and he also knew when to let loose and just go with the shuffle:

With tracks such as this one above, and “No Good (Attack The Radical)”, you started to hear Vinnie’s creativity.  There are syncopated rhythms in “No Good” that sounded so new.  They’d also be the basis for shitty nu metal bands later on but I’ll get to that soon.

1994’s Far Beyond Driven.  Without question it’s THE most important album in Pantera’s history.  Why?  Because it debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.  No Metal band before Pantera had EVER pulled that off before and now no one could EVER take that away from them.  It is also the HEAVIEST album to EVER debut at No. 1.  With the opening track, “Strength Beyond Strength”, your ass is kicked immediately.  It’s one big explosion and Vinnie’s much louder, much more POWERFUL drums are taking full charge.  Sounded like Vinnie had done some tinkering in the studio, both with his drum kit, as well as with the mixing board.   I mean goddamn – just listen to this fucking track!!!

I said earlier that to be the best you had to find your own sound among other things and Vinnie’s drums sounded so much deeper than on any other album up to this point.  Turns out he in fact was tuning his heads real low…like almost to the point of being loose.  And those bass drums!  They sound so triggered.  But as the story goes, while in the studio, Vinnie used wooden beaters in the studio and also taped quarters on his bass heads, right at the spot where the beaters would make contact.  The result was a clicky, yet stronger, clearer, more powerlful bass drum.  It’d also set the tone for the way many other, far more extreme Metal bands would record in the years to come.

If his brother, who was finally going by Dimebag at this point, was to be my generation’s Eddie Van Halen, then Vinnie was to be my generation’s Alex.  Both were brothers, both played together for so long that they could read each other’s minds with ease.  They both understood each other.  But on the downside, Alex, amazing as he was, was clearly destined to be overshadowed by his game changing brother.  Vinnie would be no different.  Dime’s playing and his SOUND were a MASSIVE game changer at this time, and rightfully so.  But every guitarist, bassist, or even singer are only as good as their drummer.  Eddie would’ve been just some asshole who taps had it not been for Alex.  Dime would’ve probably just been a guy with a scooped sound and a whammy bar had it not been for Vinnie.

Take for example “13 Steps To Nowhere” off 1996’s The Great Southern Trendkill.  This unmistakably is THE darkest, most intense album in Pantera’s entire discography – and my personal favorite!  It’s a headbanger for sure, very Sabbath inspired with just enough technicality to justify it as old school to the core.  It sounds like Vinnie here perfected the trigger sound on his bass drums, and found just the right EQ setting for his low tuned toms, as they cascade from high to low before Phil’s fucked up verses.  Right in the middle, the Sabbath moment takes over as the song breaks down beautifully, allowing Vinnie’s drums to breathe.  You hear every nuance, every reverberation, every BOOM.  It’s pure destruction.  It’s so sexy.

Then a problem arose in the music world.  In the four years between the release of ‘Trendkill and their final album, 2000’s Reinventing The Steel.  Starting with KoRn, actually going back to ’94, several “Nu” bands came along and tried to focus strictly on groove.  The guitarists all had a scooped sound, they all tuned down lower than even Dime thanks to the revival of seven string guitars; the drummers were playing nothing but snycopations, especially shit bands like Disturbed; and the singers all wore green shorts like Phil and were all just angry without a cause (well to be fair Jonathan Davis was apparently molested as a kid).  Unfortunately, Pantera were to get the blame for this, as most of these fuckers freely cited Vulgar as a major influence.

But the biggest problem with all those fuckfaces – and the biggest reason music SUCKED in the early 2000’s – was that they completely missed the point.  Pantera as a band, and as individual musicians, took close to a decade to perfect their sound.  Did any of them understand that Dime and Vinnie were insanely talented musicians since they were kids?  Did any of those retards know that Pantera started out in 1983 as a GLAM band??  Oh it’s true.  It took years for them to develop into a harder sounding band.  It also took the drive to always want every album to be better and better.  Thanks to their refusal to truly do their homework – and actually learn to play their instruments – these Nu/Rap Metal pieces of shit chose to just be followers…and ultimately forgettable.  Thankfully.

After the break up of Pantera in 2003, Vinnie and Dime went on to form Damageplan.  Their sole album, 2004’s New Found Power, was a major change in their sound.  The brothers wanted to try something new and while I surely wasn’t a fan of all the track on the record, I understood that this was an experiment and perhaps things would change.  I was however a fan of a the beyond sludgy “Moment Of Truth”.  It’s so slow, so heavy and it allowed Vinnie to sound like nothing short of a fucking jackhammer.

Unfortunately, as we all know, that second album would never happen, as Dime was gruesomely murdered before years end while on stage.

Vinnie stayed away from the public for a few years afterward.  His final band would be Hell Yeah.  I’ll be honestly.  I don’t mean to disrespect Vinnie, but he could’ve done so much better than joining a “supergroup” with the assholes from Nothing Face and Madvayne.  If he enjoyed himself, then hey good for him.  But I personally found Hell Yeah to be so beneath what he was capable of.

His unexpected death last Friday marked the end of en era, and a musical dynasty.  If you’re new to this blog you’re expecting me to say some shit like “he’s with Dime now”.  Not here.  I’m athiest.  I don’t believe that shit.  But with his death, gone are the one family that were as successful and ultimately as influential as they were playing this kind of music.  No one before the Abbott brothers could pull it off and no two brothers have repeated it just yet.  Vinnie Paul alone changed the game with his signature sound, and many drummers will say that they started playing because of Vinnie Paul.  In fact, while in the middle of writing this I stopped to write a new Spotify playlist, featuring my favorite Vinnie Paul moments in Pantera and even Damageplan.

To end this I’m going to leave you with the very first Pantera video I ever watched back in 1996 on an episode of Beavis and Butthead.

Rest In Peace Vincent Paul Abbott 1964 – 2018

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The End Of Days Is Near…RIP Slayer

I’ve been wondering for almost five years if they’d ever get a fucking clue and just call it a day.  Then, this past Monday, Slayer made this bombshell  announcement amid rumors of a huge summer tour lineup including Testament, Behemoth, Lamb Of God and fellow Big Four band Anthrax:

Well damn.  There was just one thing for me to say….it’s about fucking time!  In my opinion this should’ve been done nearly five years ago, as I said above.  Why?  Nothing against Paul Bostaph who’s currently in his second run with the band, but the band’s treatment and dismissal of Dave Lombardo – especially by Kerry King – was just fucking disgrace by all accounts.  A few months later, guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of alcohol related cirrhosis of the liver.  While they had already been touring with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt for a few years while Jeff was recovering from a near fatal spider bite, they should’ve stopped everything right there.

I’ve spoken about this in an article ripping Kerry for calling Jeff “worm food” back in 2015.  Yeah, Kerry is a great rhythm player, he’s a really good guitarist, probably more technically sound than Jeff.  But Jeff was the better songwriter, having written “Angel Of Death”, “Necrophiliac”. “Spill The Blood”, “Postmortem” and the perennial set closer, “Raining Blood”.  Being that he was the one guy in the band that was more influenced by Punk than the others, his songwriting and playing style were far more reckless and chaotic than anything Kerry wrote.  Same goes for his lead style, just pure balls to the wall ripping.  It was never pretty and that’s why it was amazing.  Here’s an example, go to the 1:42 mark for Jeff’s solo.  By the way the music here is all his too.

I can spend this entire article kissing Jeff’s ass but here’s my point: like it or not Jeff was a KEY member of the band.  With him gone, Slayer was officially nothing more than a tribute band.  You know, that band that just goes out there for the money and play those signature songs they didn’t even write.  Because every time they play “Angel Of Death”, their SIGNATURE song, it just does not look right seeing Gary on the left side of the stage – and by the way this is not to disrespect Gary.

But it’s like David Vincent and Tim Yeung going out on tour as I Am Morbid (I seriously cannot stop laughing at that name!).  Yeah, David wrote almost all the lyrics to those classic Morbid Angel songs; but without Trey killing it on guitar it just sounds like a money grab before the tour even starts.  From a non metal perspective it’s the equivalent of Aerosmith touring and recording without Joe Perry or Brad Whitford – BOTH of the band’s guitarists! – for five years.  Who really gives a shit about Rock And A Hard Place?  Certainly not I!

While it’s clear to me that both Kerry and Tom Araya are the two business partners of the band, Kerry most likely is the one that pushed and pushed to keep going.  He’s much more shrewd of a business man.  But there’s one problem.  His songwriting style has changing DRASTICALLY since the earlier days, as he’s almost embraced shitty trends such as Nu Metal and it showed a little too much on 2001’s God Hates Us All.  Wanna know why I’ll never give Repentless, a complete listen through?  Because who in their RIGHT MIND wants to hear an entire Slayer record written by him?  And if you say you do you’re just a fan boy and should go die – fucking slowly.

Tom, on the other hand, made it clear several times over the years that at his age he’s become homesick.  He’s tired, and I think he’s kind of lonely without Jeff.  Starting in the late eighties/early nineties, Tom and Jeff began a songwriting partnership that produced some of Slayer’s best tracks, including “War Ensemble”, “Season In The Abyss” and my favorite latter era track, “Eyes Of The Insane”.  Jeff wrote the music but Tom wrote the lyrics.  Here’s a statement Tom made to Loudwire in 2016:

“At 35 years, it’s time to collect my pension. [Laughs] This is a career move.  I’m grateful that we’ve been around for 35 years; that’s a really long time. So, yeah, to me, it is. Because when we started off, everything was great, because you’re young and invincible. And then there came a time where I became a family man, and I had a tough time flying back and forth. And now, at this stage, at the level we’re at now, I can do that; I can fly home when I want to, on days off, and spend some time with my family, which is something I wasn’t able to do when [my kids] were growing up. Now they’re both older and mature. So now I take advantage of that.” Araya added: “Yeah, it just gets harder and harder to come back out on the road. 35 years is a long time.”

So I’m wondering if either certain business/contractual matters were finally resolved or Tom finally let Kerry know that he had enough.  I personally think that at 56 years old he’s burnt out.  It probably take it’s physical toll to scream like that every night at his age.  Or just maybe he has enough common sense to understand that things can NEVER be the same with Jeff gone.  Either way, the band has finally made the right call because at this point they’re more than beating a dead horse.  I almost want to see this farewell tour.  The lineup is fucking sick, and I can almost guarantee Anthrax is on there because they’ll probably have both bands on stage together at the end of every show to play a few songs together and it’ll be one big party as 2/4 of the Big Four.  Hell, even Dave Mustaine said he’d like to put together one last Big Four show as his way of sending them off.  Sounds actually really cool, considering the interband relationship between his own band and Kerry (Kerry was in Megadeth for five seconds before he got sick of Dave’s dictator-like approach).  But will they agree to it?  However, as I’ve hashtagged on Instagram posts for a while now, #nojeffnoslayer.

No Jeff, no Slayer.  He’s not there and I’m not interested.  Kerry and Tom, congratulations.  You’ve had an amazing career, creating a legacy that’s UNDENIABLE.  But please, after this is all over, make sure it stays that way.  Don’t be like that pro wrestler that retires then almost as quickly comes back because they can’t stand to be away – or need the money.  Here’s one of THE most fucked up songs the band ever released, written by Jeff:

 

In Memory Of “Fast” Eddie Clarke…and the end of a legend.

Wen I began this blog in March of 2015, I clearly had no way of knowing that within months I’d begin paying tribute to the dying members of the classic Motorhead lineup as they slowly began dying.  It started with drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor, then a few weeks later we lost Lemmy himself, obviously signaling the end of the band.  Then came the news earlier this month that we lost guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke on Jan 10, 2018 due to pneumonia.  What a shitty way to start off the new year, because he was the last surviving member of the original lineup that brought us such filthy albums like Overkill,  Bomber, and of course, Ace Of Spades.

Wanna know why those early albums were so influential?  Yeah, Lemmy and “Philthy” brought the thunder, but Eddie brought the filth.  Eddie’s guitar style is heavily rooted in blues, and rightfully so.  But the way he incorporated it into the Motorhead sound was just…so…fucking…imperfect that it was perfect!  His riffs, his speed, his ATTITUDE, the let it fly style in his solos.  Add in that voice that sounds like Lemmy gargled fire and the result is pure, beautiful, disgusting filth and no one else can come close.  When he left after 1982’s Iron Fist, shit was never the same.  That’s not a knock, Motorhead continued to kick ass all the way until Lemmy died.  But shit just seemed less filthy afterwards. Here are two examples from Overkill that show just how filthy Eddie’s playing was.

 

 

Rest In Peace “Fast” Eddie Clarke.  October 5th, 1950 – January 10th, 2018.

Album Of The Year 2017

There were lot of brutal albums that came out this year, from just about all forms of Extreme Metal.  I knew by June that it’d be difficult to chose just one.  It was so bad that I even put out an Instagram poll – in which just one person voted…which is why this year’s Album Of The Year…is actually a tie.  One of these two is a record I had already reviewed over the summer, and the other one is a record that took me by surprise, not because I didn’t expect this one in particular to be any good – oh I did! – but the increase in songwriting quality and atmosphere absolutely blew me the fuck away.  So let’s get started:

Municipal Waste – Slime And Punishment

I reviewed this record back in August, by which point it had been out for a few months.  Here’s the link:

https://metalheadconfessions.com/2017/08/03/municipal-waste-slime-and-punishment/

But in short, Municipal Waste are BACK.  Five years away plus the addition of additional guitarist Nick Poulos to beef up their sound, did the band way more good that I ever expected.  The album sounds fresh compared their previous albums, 2009’s Massive Aggressive and especially 2012’s The Fatal Feast, a seeming desperate attempt by the band to be more of a Crossover act.

The songs are all perfectly quick and to the point, with the longest one clocking in at just over three minutes.  The guitars are way beefier, and singer Tony Foresta found the perfect vocal approach, using the same high pitched scream he’s used for the last few Iron Reagan albums.  Bottom like:  With Slime And Punishment, Municipal Waste found a formula that absolutely works for them, one that’s focused yet reckless at the same time.  Let’s just hope they keep this for a bit, eh?

Key Tracks: Breathe Grease, Enjoy The Night, Shrednecks, Parole Violators, Poison The Preacher, Under The Waste Command, Think Fast

The Black Dahlia Murder – Nightbringers

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The other album that blew me away.  I was dead set on making the Municipal Waste record my album of the year until this past October.  The Black Dahlia Murder went through a possibly band shattering change two years ago when lead guitar Ryan Knight left the band just a month after the release of Abysmal and after four albums with the band.  As far as I’m concerned, Ryan’s playing is what turned The Black Dahlia Murder into a full fledged Death Metal band.  In his place they hired Brandon Ellis of Arsis, marking the second time the band has poached anyone from Arsis – which is fine because Arsis are absolutely fucking BORING.  I never thought technical guitars with a black metal vocal could get so stale so fucking fast!

When I heard the band were releasing a new album I expected it to be good, until I heard this:

Oh fuck!  I knew the band were Carcass disciples but I’ve never heard Trevor Strnad sound so much like Jeff Walker until this moment.  Same with the music, it honestly sounds like the band’s best interpretation of Carcass during their early 90’s peak.  A lot of the credit here goes to guitarist Brian Esbach, the only other remaining original member of the band, for seemingly NEVER forgetting where he came from and NEVER straying away from what has essentially become his signature songwriting style.  You can hear any song from the band and know instantly who you’re listening too.

As mentioned earlier, BDM are essentially disciples of the old school and Nightbringers, at times, is without question equal parts Carcass and even Domination-era Morbid Angel – and if you’ve read this blog in the past you know I love that album!  Tracks such as “Matriarch”, “Widowmaker”, “Of God And Serpent, Of Spectre And Snake”, “Catacomb Hecatomb”, “As Good As Dead”, are absolute balls to the wall musical masterpieces that, while calling on the band’s obvious musical influences, enhance the band’s own signature style, one that seems to easily convey every single negative emotion I could think of.  I own every single BDM album going back to Unhallowed and that album was THE last time the band made me feel every negative emotion I knew of.  That was fourteen years ago, by the way.

I love reading the lyrics sheets to these albums.  Trevor Strnad’s lyrics at times are either straight out sadistic and very Poe-ish.  Take for example these lines from “Kings Of The Nightworld”: Enshrouded in ebony mystery/Blacker than the darkest pitch/A bond of blood to death an drek/Seeking to defile everything which bears his name we will/Destroy you all the same sucking each vein we shall corrupt and dismantle/waging a war without end until/The head of the one fettered Christ doth sate/Our lust for revenge…”.  Trevor never seems to run out of inspiration from the dark side.

So why was this a tie along with ‘Waste for Album Of The Year?  Consistency.  They never strayed to far from what works; they also have a unique signature sound that can reach out to more people than most modern Death Metal bands today.  It’s the reason why Nightbringers was the biggest pre-ordered album in the history of Metal Blade Records.  It’s the reason it’s a tie for my Album Of The Year.

Key Tracks: Of God And Serpant, Of Spectre And Snake; Matriarch; Jars; Kings Of The Nightworld; As Good As Dead; The Lonely Deceased

Honorable Mention

Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained

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Speaking of Morbid Angel!  I want to make it clear right now – if this came out earlier than it did it would’ve easily knocked off both ‘Waste and Black Dahlia for Album Of The Year without me hesitating.  But I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Kingdoms Disdained.  This is literally THE record no one saw coming regardless of how excited people were to hear Steve Tucker rejoined the band nearly three years ago.

I actually wrote an article on the situation at the time, debating whether David Vincent or Trey Azagthoth himself were to blame for that last pile of shit Morbid Angel released an it could’ve gone either way.  Yeah, David is now a completely different person, but apparently Try is actually into techno.  But with David’s departure, as well as the release of this track, it’s easy to see who wasn’t to blame after all:

Oh yeah.  This right out the gate reminded me of something off Covenant…but with Steve on vocals instead of David.  It’s absolutely brutal from beginning to end, chock full of polyrhythms, time signature changes, and the single most angry performance I’ve ever heard from Steve Tucker as a vocalist.  Sounds to me like he felt the need to make a statement after being gone for twelve years!

Another great addition to the band is new drummer Scott Fuller.  On tracks such as “For No Master”, “Paradigms Warped”, and “Architect And Iconoclast”, Scott shows that not only can he channel the legendary Pete Sandoval’s double bass expertise, but he also has his own feel and style.  That’s important because…there’s only ONE Pete Sandoval.  Back behind the controls for this one as former Morbid Angel and current Hate Eternal guitarist Erik Rutan.  I wonder if he was intentionally trying to give Morbid as much of a bare bones sound as possible because this doesn’t sound like any of the other bands he’s produced over the years.

What I’m thrilled about most, as I’m sure most fans are, is hearing Trey rip it up in a way we haven’t heard in a long ass time.  His solos remind me of the late Jeff Hanneman’s at times, always have.  Oh yeah, there’s structure.  But in that structure is so much dissonance and chaos, yet it all fits perfectly every single time.  Not many guitarists can pull that one off.  As one of my Instagram followers put it recently “thank fuck they are back!”.  And more so than even ‘Waste, lets hope they keep this up!

Key tracks: Piles Of Little Arms, For No Master, Architect And Iconoclast, From The Hand Of Kings

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Pain In Recorded Form: Alice In Chains – Dirt

September 29th, 1992.  By the time this day rolled around the Grunge scene was at the top of the music heap.  Just a year earlier Soundgarden released the album that got them attention, Badmotorfinger; Pearl Jam, having risen from the ashes of Mother Love Bone, released their uber-boring debut, Ten; and of course, Shitvana released their craptastic shitsterpiece, Nevermind.  But on this day, Alice In Chains, on the heels of their 1990 debut, Facelift, and their 1991 EP, Sap, released their second album, equal parts Sabbath worship in music and lyrical documentation of the heroin addiction that would eventually claims the lives of two of the band’s members, Dirt.  Upon it’s release was probably THE darkest album to be released in the mainstream at that point in time, with most songs blatantly about frontman Layne Staley’s radiply growing heroin addiction.  But lets make one thing clear before I go any further, none of the guys in the band were squeaky clean.  This wouldn’t be a Seattle band if any of them were, right?  Hell, Jerry Cantrell admitted to taking Xanax during the recording of Dirt for severe clinical depression and was also drinking heavily.

Of course, heroin wasn’t the only subject matter tackled on the album, thanks to the handful of tracks written entirely by guitarist Jerry Cantrell.  In fact, one of those songs, “Them Bones” is the album’s heavier-than-fuck opener.  Written in a very Soundgarden-like 7/8 time, not even Kim or Chris on their best days could come up with a riff as crunchy as this.  Besides, it’d mean playing more than just single notes!  Add to that morbid lyrics about fearing death and a badass solo but Cantrell and you pretty much have a taste for what was to come.  This would definitely sound NOTHING like Facelift.  “Dam The River” kicks the door down immediately after “Them Bones” with even more drop-D Sabbath-style Metal.  It’s amusing when Cantrell explains that the song was written in retaliation for drummer Sean Kinney breaking a coffee table over his head and knocking him out because he wouldn’t shut the fuck up.  Musicians take note – this could be you.

Image result for alice in chains 1992                            Image result for alice in chains 1992

Alright, here’s the first set of Layne Staley lyrics, “Rain When I Die”.  There are a lot of things happening in the lyrics that’ve led to many interpretations from Layne predicting he’ll before he can even get help to him letting someone take the fall for something he did (a drug deal maybe?) to him claiming that even junkies have feelings.  That last one will forever be debatable as far as I’m concerned.  The music?  Pure Sabbath worship.  So many slow, snaky whammy bar dips, crying out throughout many layered guitar tracks.  It’s almost like the song’s an “Iron Man” tribute to Iommi himself, backed up by an absolutely solid bass vamp by Mike Starr.

“Sickman” is such a HUGE track, switching from a frantic riff that just makes you panic to a slow waltz tempo at multiple points.  Fuck, it sure makes me anxious while thinking about it.  But the real high point to this track is Layne’s layered vocal harmonies at the midpoint.  To most fans, the centerpiece to any classic Chains track is hearing Layne’s stacked harmonies.  They were always surprisingly well thought out and added almost a morbid sense of finally to such a doomy backdrop.  But this is also why Jerry Cantrell was and still is a GOD.  Taking a break from themes of morbidity “Rooster” is the most epic track on the record.  Written entirely by Cantrell, the song was a tribute to his father, a Vietnam veteran.  He was estranged from his father for years and this was his way beginning to mend fences.  It clearly worked: his father is interviewed on camera for the intro to the music video.  And Jerry plays the part of his father in the video.  It’s actually very powerful:

Following up the band’s big “Kumbaya” moment we’re thrown right back into heroin hell with “Junkhead”.  I don’t think I need to explain what’s going on here: “What’s my drug of choice?/What’ve you got?/I don’t go broke/And I do it a lot”.  But it almost sounds like Layne was letting everyone know that he’d become one with the fact that he was junkie and didn’t care, especially when he sings that “You cant understand a users mind/But try with your books and degrees/If you let yourself go and open your mind/I’ll bet you could do it like me and it ain’t so bad”.  It’s almost as if we was writing his own eulogy.

Following that is the snaky title track.  It’s yet another Cantrell-style exercise in Sabbath worship, but with an atmospheric tone that is almost unpredictable, even if it also sounds like the end of something is coming.  It’s pure depression.  Of all the tracks on here, especially “Angry Chair”, this to me is the track that just oozes pure emotional pain.  When first heard Layne sing the lines “I want you to kill me and dig me under/I want to live no more” I totally believed it.  Just remember, heroin isn’t necessarily the type of drug that makes you energetic like cocaine.  It’s supposed to provide a supposed euphoric effect but as far as I’m concerned it just makes people more depressed and makes them more withdrawn, or more of an asshole.  Used for pain my ass!  The final moments, in which the tempo gradually slows down, reminds me of someone going to sleep…or fading away.  Was that was Layne was thinking when he heard what Jerry came up with?

Now, long before some piece of shit New England band took their name from an Alice song and even stole their logo, “God Smack” was another track about heroin.  It’s admittedly not one of the best tracks on here but I definitely love the main riff.  Remember me mentioning an “Iron Man” tribute in “Rain When I Die”?  It happens again in the short interlude track “Iron Gland”, featuring vocals by Tom Araya.  “Hate To Feel” is the first of two tracks written entirely by Layne Staley, music and everything.  The riff is very bluesy, yet very Sabbath inspired, based on it’s single note main riff, the backdrop to lyrics in which Layne blames his father for his addiction.  In later years he claimed that he’d try to get sober and his father would come by asking him for drugs, so it’s possible.

The next, and last track written completely by Staley is one of THE most memorable and breath taking tracks, “Angry Chair”.  I did say “Dirt” was the track with the most pain, but “Angry Chair” was the track where Layne not only describes in detail the horrible withdrawal symptoms of heroin, but also gives to clear of a picture of his own mental state.  It’s such a jaw dropping lyric, even if he is seemingly predicting his own end as he sings “Loneliness is not a phase/Field of pain is where I graze/Serenity is far away…”.  Considering it’s one of the first songs Layne ever wrote entirely it’s a masterpiece.

“Down In A Hole” is one of the darkest love songs Cantrell or anyone for that matter has ever written.  His harmonizing with Layne is spot on before Layne takes off on his own.  Unsurprisingly, he was apparently high as fuck while recording his vocals for this one.  What is kind of surprising is how he was clearly able to keep himself together while recording his masterful triple harmony lines near the end.  I’d show you the video but it honestly is lame so here’s the song.

Originally written for the Singles soundtrack and therefore recorded before the band even went into the studio for Dirt, “Would?” is the albums closing track.  Also written by Jerry, the song was written about Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Mother Love Bone who died of a heroin overdose on the eve of the band’s debut album release.  This is actually very significant to not just Dirt‘s roots but to the Grunge scene’s future.  Many people will say that before Wood’s overdose the music that came out of Seattle was for the most part nowhere near as sad and angry as it would become.  In fact, it was said the he was full of life and energy nd everyone loved the guy.  So therefore his death took a toll on a lot of people.  One of the reasons Cantrell was on Xanax was apparently to help him cope with this.

As far as his lyrics were concerned, it was pointed at those who pass judgement on others for their mistakes, as bought up in the final chorus line “So I made a big mistake/Try to see it once my way”.  I guess I can see his view but I also can’t.  Maybe that was the point, being I’ve never touched a single drug in my life.  The music, and incredible display of soft and loud dynamics while never losing it’s aggression before Layne closes out the song, and this drug fueled shitstorm of an album by asking us “If I would could you?”.

The events following the release of Dirt could be comparable to see a legitimate prophecy live out.  In early 1993 bassist Mike Starr was fired from the band for his own drug problems and replaced by Ozzy bassist Mike Inez.  After a while the band stopped touring regularly after dropping off an opening spot with Metallica and rumors of Layne’s drug use ran rampant.  After the release of their 1995 self titled album and their 1996 MTV Unplugged appearance, where Layne looked like a fucking pink haired corpse, he went into hiding.  Aside from the band’s Music Bank boxset, no one really heard from Layne again, until he was found dead of his apartment in Seattle in 2002.  The autopsy report determined that he died two weeks before he was even discovered, making his death date April 5th, the exact day Cobain offed himself eight years earlier.  Mike Starr was found dead in 2011.

Dirt was Alice In Chains’ masterpiece.  It was as dark and heavy as any Heavy Metal album could be.  And Layne Staley’s lyrics were honest.  He didn’t play with words and guessing games with you, like that jackass Cobain did.  He told it like it was…and most likely as it was happening.  it was mentioned after he died but with Dirt, Layne seemed to really be prophesizing his own death, while Jerry Cantrell was his doomy, sludgy, pallbearer.

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Municipal Waste – Slime And Punishment

I really wasn’t sure if Municipal Waste were ever going to pull it off; but what they released just over month ago, Slime And Punishment, is truly the album we’ve been waiting for.  It’s been five years since they released their Nuclear Blast Records debut, The Fatal Feast, a bit of a musical departure from the usual Thrash/Party Metal they’re legendary for at this point, to more of a Crossover type sound.  I wasn’t bad but neither that or the album before it, 2009’s Massive Aggressive, could EVER amount to their 2007 masterpiece, The Art Of Partying.  Hell, upon listen to Massive again while getting ready for this review I remembered why I stopped listening to it after three spins tops (maybe even just one!) – they were trying to hard to top The Art Of Partying.  You could barely hear the drums, and it felt like Tony Foresta struggled horribly with keeping up with the tempos.  Same unfortunately goes with Ryan Waste.  He couldn’t speed pick fast enough to keep up with the rhythm section for shit.

So what a huge shock it was when they dropped their first single of the new album, “Amateur Sketch”, back in April.  It was faster than a lot of The Fatal Feast.  But not only that, but the intensity was back and everything, guitars especially, was so much louder and so much sharper.  When mixing an album it’s so important that everything can be heard no matter what.  But one track doesn’t mean shit after a five year absence.  So I waited then I heard the title track, released a month later.  I wasn’t fast but it hit just as hard.  It was more old school Metal than Thrash but it was quick, catchy and did the trick.  I was sold and bought the record a week after it was released.

“Breath Grease” kicks this one off with a real BANG!  No slow, prodding intros, no instrumentals, just straight into a fast tempo song, which leads into “Enjoy The Night”, which sees the pace kicked up even faster…as if to say “good luck banging your head to this without snapping it!”. Upon hearing most of this album two things come to mind: the addition of Nick Poulos as a second guitarist was the smartest decision the band made last year, and the band as a whole clearly realized that it’s better to let the music come naturally, as opposed to forcing themselves to play a specific style.  The results are that of a band that sounds absolutely refreshed; just all of the things they’re good at and nothing they can’t do.

The one thing I’m really impressed with on Slime And Punishment is the incredibly high pitch in Tony Foresta’s vocal approach.  If you’ve paid attention to him outside of Waste then you know that this is the exact approach he’d been using with his other band, Iron Reagan.  But for this collection of songs he without a doubt NEEDED to go this high.  Especially on tracks likes the balls to the wall “Bourbon Discipline” and “Parole Violators” (featuring Vinnie Stigma of Agnostic Front), where he screams out “fuck you man!”, it’s as if he’s legitimately living out the audio party as it’s happening!

As mentioned earlier, hiring a second guitarist had to literally be THE smartest decision the band made recently.  Sure, even with one guitarist you can track as many guitars on a recording as you can.  But with two guitarists comes an extra set of ideas.  It’s readily apparent on “Poison The Preacher”, one of the way more serious tracks here, where some of the riffs just don’t sound like they were just written by Ryan.  There’s so much more of an old school Hetfield-like crunch to them (I’m talking …And Justice For All era Hetfield, when he still had balls along with two years worth of emotional rage).  Extra props for that chorus hook – one of THE heaviest moments on the entire record!

Another big surprise here is the instrumental track, “Under The Waste Command”.  Oh yeah, it starts off like classic Waste, breaks into a very Maiden-like harmony, then breaks into a solo section with a rhythm that sounds like something right out of…a Megadeth album??  With a solo that sounds like it was played by Mustaine himself??  As of this writing I’m still not sure of whether or not Nick or Ryan played it.  But one of those two clearly did their homework.  It kind of reminded me of “Dialectic Chaos”, probably one of the ONLY tracks I liked on Endgame.  Fuck, even some of the riffs on the album closer, “Think Fast” sounded like latter day Megadeth at a certain point.

Slime And Punishment, to me, is everything we all love about Municipal Waste with a few great add-ons.  The album just shits frantic riffs played in a way only Ryan Waste can play them – but now with more of a crunch.   There are plenty of songs about humor, drinking, tons of debauchery, but now with even more energy than ever before!  The songs are all under three minutes and that’s actually fucking perfect.  Songs that sound like this would totally risk becoming stale if it went over that mark for sure.  Then again I’m personally a little biased for shorter songs more and more these days.  I blame it on my growing taste for Grindcore and Powerviolence bands.  But more so than that, the album can also be seen as a glimpse into the future for Municipal Waste.  If they stick to what they did here their next few records can proof without a shadow of a doubt that they still have yet to reach their full potential after all.  So was Slime And Punishment worth the five year wait?  You fuckin’ bet it was!

Key tracks: Breathe Grease, Enjoy The Night, Shrednecks, Parole Violators, Poison The Preacher, Under The Waste Command, Think Fast

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