Jerry Cantrell – Brighten

It’d been nineteen years since Jerry Cantrell, the fucking Riff God himself, release a solo record, 2002’s Degradation Trip. And a lot has happened since that time, in particular the completely unexpected REBIRTH of Alice In Chains with their 2009 comeback MASTERPIECE, Black Gives Way To Blue. From that point on, minus a song that was recorded for the John Wick: Chapter 2 soundtrack, it was largely assumed that Cantrell would never release a full-fledged solo record again. In fact, when asked about a future solo record by Guitar World in 2018, he told them that the only reason he even recorded two solo records was because he didn’t have a band, and now he does again, thus Alice being his ultimate priority.

He wasn’t wrong ladies, there was a shit ton of unfinished business with Alice In Chains.

So, if you weren’t surprised when it was announced that he was performing a few solo shows just months before the greatest year and a half of my life took place, you were a dumb motherfucker. I was even more stunned when, not too long after those shows took place, it was announced that he WAS, in fact, going to record a new solo album. I sure didn’t know what to expect. You didn’t either, especially once the video for “Atone” was released on Rolling Stone’s website a few months ago.

I knew what NOT to expect. But I certainly didn’t imagine that “Atone” would come out sounding like something out of any Western style movie with a soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone. As fate would have it, it’s what Jerry was looking for. As fate would also have it, holy fuck does it sound fucking great! It may sound like a modernized “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, but it also has Jerry’s signature songwriting style all over it, along with the Open D Major tuning he’s used on and off since Alice’s 1995 self-titled album. And, for as much as I will never forgive Duff McKagan for being the bassist for Guns ‘N’ Roses, I really does like some of the fills he plays here.

The next single to drop, as well as the second track on the record is “Brighten”, the title track. Very different sounding from “Atone”. I can’t begin to tell you how pleasantly surprised I was to see Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums for this video and song. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, Abe, who I’d first read about in Modern Drummer Magazine in the late 90’s, is a very talented drummer who’s been in Paul McCartney’s touring band since 2001. This is more of a Rock tune in every way.

The next track is “Prism of Doubt”. A mid-tempo track of sorts, it sounds unusually happy, or at least introspective. The pedal steel guitars, fit right in. The aura created by the track makes me think of driving aimlessly on a desert road while your girl has her head out the window, or if your friends in the backseat have their hands out.

Spoiler alert: there’s more pedal steel guitars where those came from.

“Black Hearts and Evil Done” is a largely acoustic guitar-only track…with more Pedal Steel Guitars. If I thought that the previous track was lyrically introspective, I hear more of that on this number. The opening lines, “Too many heads broke too many times/Tired of the same joke, tired of the grind/Coming down’s a bit low, harder to stay/Same punk in the mirror, different the day” hits a little too close to home as I’m trying desperately to change my own life around. I feel the aches of living a mundane life oozing out of this track, as I work two jobs daily with no true break, all so I can transition smoothly out of one of them.

I’m just curious about the second verse. I’m not the biggest fan of musicians getting political. While Jerry never named names here, or particular events, I wonder what he’s referring to when he sings “Tired of the lies spun in the land of the free/Sеlling out’s a mission, kneel, settle, assume/Samе crook in the White House prospecting me and you”.

“Siren Song” can almost be “Breaks My Back” Pt. 2. If you’ve never heard “Breaks My Back”, here’s your chance now. It just has that aura about it. It’s actually one of my favorite tracks on the record because it sounds so sensual at points. Jerry ALWAYS knows what to play and when to play it.

“Had To Know” is just fun. And no pedal steel guitars here! Holy shit! But it does contain an organ. I really love the organ solo followed by Jerry’s solo. It’s on this track that backing vocalist Greg Puciato can actually be heard outside of the title track. He’s not mixed too loud on most of this album, which is a relief because I hate him thanks to his previous band.

Dillinger Escape Plan sucks. Fuck them and him.

“Nobody Breaks You” is a lyrically powerful song. If “Black Hearts” tackles life as an existential nightmare, this targets the idea of at least trying to “get out”. “Nobody breaks you like you in your heart”, Jerry sings. Almost sounds like life advice, no? It’s as if he’s telling us all to believe in ourselves…or at least to not take on a victim mentality and take action to change our lives for the better, as only we can do so in the end.

I fucking loved “Dismembered”. Don’t let the Alice sounding title fool you; “Dismembered” is nothing like that and a hell of a lot more of an idea of the type of song the late Glenn Frey and Keith Richards would’ve written if they ever collaborated together in 1972. It’s the perfect mix of the Country Rock style that put the Eagles on the map pre-Hotel California and the Boogie Woogie style the Stones would’ve performed during that time. It’s another song that conjures up images of driving on an open road or getting hammered even in a nasty ass roadhouse somewhere in the mid-west.

Jerry chose to close this incredible record with a cover of Elton John’s “Goodbye” off his landmark 1971 album Madman Across the Water. It’s a cover so faithful to the original that it even received approval from the old Queen himself! This isn’t to say that Cantrell can suddenly sing like Elton John in his prime because Elton hasn’t sounded like Elton since the 70’s came to a close. However, for those of you not in the know regarding Jerry’s relationship with Elton: Jerry asked him to play piano on the closing title track to Black Gives Way to Blue. Elton was so moved by the lyrical content that he immediately agreed to do so. Jerry grew up listening to Elton John long before he was introduced to Black Sabbath, thus making a song like “Goodbye” childhood verse, more or less.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Brighten is not what you expected, or perhaps even hoped for from Jerry Cantrell. After nineteen long years, what were you really expecting again? He’s no longer in the headspace needed to record Boggy Depot or Degradation Trip. He’s actually happy and he’s only out solo because for once, he just wants to, not through necessity. That being said, it’s rather fitting that the songs sound happier in a musical context, more outgoing in lyrical stature. Brighten, when compared to its predecessors, is very much a 70’s era Country Rock album with multiple guest musicians, incredible song writing and something for every fan of Jerry’s to latch on to and enjoy.

Brighten gets 4 out of five middle fingers!

Black Label Society Live At The Wellmont Theater…Or Why Zakk Wylde Is An Icon, November 10th, 2021

I’ll make no bones about it: I idolize the shit out of Zakk Wylde. I’ve done so probably since I first got my hands on Ozzy’s 1995 album Ozzmosis. His guitar was LOUD. His speed picking style added muscularity to his playing. His vibrato was wide and unusually vocal. Those fucking pinch harmonics. Then there’s his songwriting. Zakk will never deny that he’s a disciple of Black Sabbath, and he’ll let it shine, but with his own, explosive twist.

Upon learning that Black Label Society were arriving in my neck of the woods I knew I’d be there. I hadn’t seen Zakk since I went to see Zakk Sabbath, his Black Sabbath tribute band at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. But this time he’d be not even twenty minutes away from me, AND he’s promoting Doom Crew, Inc., Black Label’s first album in over three years.

Considering he’s been calling his band and his LOYAL followers the Doom Crew, Inc. for YEARS, I’m very surprised he never gave that title to an earlier album. Either way, here’s my take on last night’s show, with featured openers Prong and Death Metal legends Obituary.

Prong

Before I continue I want to make clear that I didn’t take countless photos of every band. I took a necessary few and then I’d enjoy the show like a normal person pre-smart phones.

Having said that, I’d suspected Prong would be the first band. Therefore, I absolutely took my time getting to the show, making sure to eat while on the way. Upon my arrival to the Wellmont Theater, Prong were most likely halfway through with their set. That made me happy because ladies, Prong sucks. That “New York style” of playing nonchalant, almost Hardcore sounding music never appealed to me. I honestly found it annoying and self-righteous, and still do. The single most annoying thing about the band last night?

Any time Tommy Victor opened his mouth.

The irony of my being a native of New York City who hates that fucking accent. Any time he talked, any time he sang, the irritation grew stronger. And I could tell that a good chunk of last night’s audience had to have come from any of the five boroughs (mostly Staten Island and Brooklyn if I were to guess). I really got annoyed when he was introducing “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck”, Prong’s signature song.

“Come on ev’rybody! SNAP YA FINGIZZZ!”, he yelled out while attempting to open up a pit in the general admission section. I had a really good view from my balcony seat and I really wish I was able to shoot him in the face. His accent was that fucking obnoxious!

Obituary

I have to admit, while I am clearly familiar with Obituary, I never really delved too much into their catalog. I do remember my college radio station receiving their 2005 comeback album, Frozen In Time, in which they managed to get Randy Burns out of retirement to produce it. I guess it matches the album title, huh? I did hear upon buying tickets to this show that the band were really kicking ass every night. Now I was actually looking forward to seeing this for myself and, thankfully, I was not disappointed.

I’d made two videos because I’d accidentally stop filming during their instrumental opener in which vocalist John Tardy has yet to come out. I then noticed that the bassist looked awful familiar to me. As I’d previously mentioned, I don’t follow them. Therefore, I’d zero clue that Terry Butler had apparently been the band’s bassist since 2010. For those of you who don’t know, Terry also played bass for Massacre and, subsequently, Death’s second and third albums, 1989’s Leprosy and 1990’s Spiritual Healing. He’d later backstab Chuck Schuldiner when he and the rest of Death toured Europe without Chuck’s permission or knowledge.

Obituary were filled with endless energy. John Tardy’s screech vocals were just as badass as they ever were. Their version of Death Metal is decidedly more on the Thrash side, not as technical as Death were. I wonder if that’s why I didn’t care too much for them. I never hated them.

They did surprise the shit out of me when the pulled out an absolutely badass cover of Celtic Frost’s classic “Circle Of Tyrants”. Overall I was very impressed.

Black Label Society

As Obituary were finishing, BLS’s crew raised a big curtain adorning the band’s logo…as in before Obituary even walked off stage. That was weird. Either way you knew that once the band got on stage the curtain would drop, blah blah, blah.

After a decent wait time, the lights finally dimmed, followed by an audio mashup of Ozzy’s “War Pigs” vocals over the music to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. At the end the band hit a quick staccato ending that’d segue into the beginning pulses of “Bleed For Me”. It was once the song kicked into full gear that the big curtain finally dropped to show Zakk and his co-guitarist, Dario Lorina performing Zakk’s signature sideways headbang in unison.

The Setlist

  • Bleed For Me (1919 Eternal)
  • Demise Of Sanity (1919 Eternal)
  • Overlord (Order Of The Black)
  • Heart Of Darkness (Catacombs Of The Black Vatican)
  • A Love Unreal (Grimmest Hits)
  • The Blessed Hellride (The Blessed Hellride)
  • Spoke In The Wheel (Sonic Brew) *
  • In This River (Mafia) *
  • Trampled Down Below (Grimmest Hits)
  • Destruction Overdrive (The Blessed Hellride)
  • Set You Free (Doom Crew, Inc.)
  • Fire It Up (Mafia)
  • Suicide Messiah (Mafia)
  • Stillborn (The Blessed Hellride)

* For these tracks Zakk sat behind his electric piano while Dario handled the leads.

This was my seventh time seeing Black Label since Ozzfest 2004 and my eighth time seeing Zakk overall. And he never appears to lose energy, ESPECIALLY now that he’s been sober for twelve years. I first noticed his playing style change a lot upon seeing him in 2011, my first time seeing him in his sober state. He was also very willing to give Dario multiple chances throughout the night to show off his own abilities, something I noticed the first time I saw Dario with the band at the Rock Carnival in 2015. On the track “Set You Free” off the new record, Zakk actually TRADES SOLOS WITH DARIO. Zakk NEVER let Nick Catanese do that. In fact, Nick is NOWHERE to be found on any Black Label albums from their debut through the time he left in 2014.

He’s now a registered sex offender.

The biggest surprise to me came during “Fire It Up”. Before they ended the song, Zakk, in place of his usual solo spot (where he makes every guitarist in the audience want to quit), he traded solos with Dario for ten, maybe fifteen minutes. I’m not just talking lick after lick. The two even HARMONIZED together, while Zakk stood on top of his piano. They’d even harmonize during their signature live intro to “Stillborn”, the band’s show closer for the longest time.

At the end of the show, he stood up on the gig box in the middle of the stage, took off his Black Label vest, and held it up nice and high before walking off…because Zakk never plays encores.

Ever.

I genuinely don’t know of many musicians who can say with legitimacy or integrity that they’re able to get even better as live performers with age. Regardless of how long it had been since I last saw Zakk in any capacity, he’s ALWAYS stepping up his game. Black Label Society were absolutely flawless last night. Zakk himself was absolutely FLAWLESS and he, once again, demonstrated why he’s not only an excellent, yet criminally underrated, showman, but a fucking guitar GOD who will NEVER be matched.

He’s an entity unto himself. I’ve heard idiots bitch about his playing style or smirk and say that there are guitarists that are far better than him, that “he’s not that good”. I can’t help but laugh every time because being a great guitarist will always be more than just having technical skill. Being an expert in playing gay ass sweep arpeggios won’t ever make you a standout player in any genre, let alone Heavy Metal. It’s about finding the style that suits you and practicing that style so much that it becomes second nature.

Flawlessness.

It’s about finding a style that helps you to STAND THE FUCK OUT. That’s what Zakk did. When Ozzy bitched during the 1987 auditions that found Zakk replacing Jake E. Lee that “If I want Yngwie Malmsteen, I’ll just call him!”, Zakk got the hint real quick and found the one thing no one else was doing. Those other guys may be technically DAZLING. But do they stand out? Are they known to more than just the underground? Is their playing as memorable as it is heavy or technically brilliant?

Probably not.

That’s why Zakk Wylde literally is an icon.

Don’t Be Like Your Parents, Asshole!

Are you on the cesspool that is social media? Are you somewhere between your thirties and at least close to 50? If you answered “yes” to either of these, are you posting gay ass memes like this on your Instagram or Facebook?

Or maybe this?

900+ Getting Old ideas in 2021 | getting old, bones funny, funny quotes

Or perhaps even this dumb shit?

If this is you (and it probably is) then congratulations on doing the one thing you weren’t supposed to do: you became your parents! And in doing so you have officially failed at life. It’s funny that I, of all people, am talking about living. I hate living. But you fucks are just pathetic.

What happened? Settled down with someone who never knew how to live in the first place and you simply assimilated to please him or her? Never lived a healthy lifestyle (more than likely!)? Hanging around the wrong morons (also a high probability)?

You are supposed to be BETTER than your parents. You’re not better than them if you go around bragging that you’re bald, fat, achy, or that your favorite shitty high school jam was on the oldies station. It’s not funny, it sure isn’t cute. It never was. I’ve fucked women older than you who STILL have the energy and drive (especially the sex drive!) people your age are supposed to have. My psychotic, openly depressed, nearly 72 year old mother has more drive than you and she broke her ankle last year. My 66 year old dad, who has sustained MULTIPLE Powerlifting and labor related injuries is STILL strong as a bull and STILL tries to have a life when he’s not working long ass shifts at a job he’d rather not be in.

So if they can still go out there and LIVE, then I fail to see what the fuck your deal is. Is your lower back hurting? Get off your ass. Literally. Stop sitting down. Your glutes are weak and they’re pulling on your lower back. So exercise and strengthen those areas. Fuck I’ll even help you a bit and give you a few options!

  • Back Extensions (my go-to for a long time. Add a mini resistance band to increase force production.)
  • Glute Bridges (elevate your feet as much as possible)
  • Reverse Hyperextension (my current go-to before I do ANYTHING else)
  • The McGill Big 3

In an unrelated note I highly recommend low back strengthening for you women with big titties. You’ve no idea how annoying you are when I hear you say “they’re hurting my back! I think I want to get a reduction!” Fuck that and you! Just get some muscle and let us enjoy those beautiful fun bags.

Does sleeping in a awkward position hurt you like in a meme I posted above? Simple solution: stop sleeping like that and learn how to properly sleep! What a concept! There is a right way and a wrong way to sleep. Referring again to the lower back: when you sleep on your back, for example, your lumbar spine is not resting on the mattress, especially if you have a big ass like I, because it’s being put into a state of involuntary flexion. Therefore, you’re spending up to eight hours adding stress to an already stressed out lower back. For the last several years I’ve been placing pillows underneath my knees when I sleep and now I feel no pain because the lumbar spine is able to relax.

Knees hurt? Unless you’ve sustained a major injury, that too can be fixed. The book Becoming A Supple Leopard offers COUNTLESS ways to fix painful knees, one of which I put to great use in late 2019. Getting fat? Developing the dad bod? Stop eating like shit and get off your ass! I have two cousins in law who were fat probably long before I ever knew them. Upon seeing them both for the first time in twelve years at my brother’s funeral in 2019 it was obvious that they were looking worse. Why? Because they don’t care. So when they go next I’m not even going to question what happened?

This may seem ignorant, one track minded and chauvinistic. It’s not. If this triggers you or pisses you off it simply tells me you’re the loser I’m targeting. All you need to do is eat right, learn how to exercise, learn how to get strong, and learn how to THINK FOR YOUR FUCKING SELVES. As negative as I usually am, guess what – there’s still hope. Guys, eat healthy, eat less, get rid of the gay ass dad bod and try to at least squat your bodyweight. Ladies and especially you moms, I’m sure getting rid of that pooch may be difficult. I’m not here for that. But you can also eat healthy, eat less, lift weights and for fucks sake get rid of that fucking retarded mom/Karen haircut and revive the sexiness I know is in you. Yes, long hair is not only youthful, it’s sexy as can be.

You still have time. Knock it off with the stupid age memes and learn how to be BETTER than your parents. Get into shape because they couldn’t or wouldn’t, and don’t just wait until you’re divorced and too scared to be alone either. It’s over for your parents (well, most of them anyway), it doesn’t have to be for you. Unless you want it to.

The Songwriting Genius Of A Guitar God: In Memory Of Eddie Van Halen

I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said about Eddie Van Halen since the word got out that we lost him just a little over two months ago. I refuse to discuss his popularizing the two handed tapping technique that everyone and their mother learns eventually. I won’t discuss his invention of the super strat via his Frankenstein guitar, or his “brown” sound. So what can I discuss that most people probably won’t discuss?

Let’s talk about Ed’s creativity as a songwriter. Why? Listen to his riffs alone on those first six records. He’s not just banging out power chords like most guitarists do. He never relied on a co-guitarist. In fact he was never formally trained on his instrument. Yet he was still an even better songwriter than he was a guitarist.

Read that last line again.

Ed said in the past that if he ever took lessons he didn’t think he’d be able to play like he did. I can relate to that. I did take lessons for four years. But both of my teachers, the first teacher being the uncomfortably talented Ron Thal and the next teacher being Christian Corrao, one of the most incredible jazz guitarists I’ve ever heard, taught me both directly and indirectly to think outside the box. Nothing has to be played the way you’re told to play it. Just play what you hear in your head and how you feel and you’ll be surprised with what comes out. I attribute that to why some of my future bandmates either couldn’t understand what I was playing or they just didn’t have the mental capacity to try and learn what I was doing.

There’s no doubt that Ed wasn’t the music world’s first ever self taught guitarist. But as with every other aspect of his career, there was something different about the way he played. Thanks largely to his musical upbringing and his later experiences in cover bands, there’s no question that there was plenty of music in his head. But how the fuck do you convey such concepts when you’re self taught?

That’s why he used all six strings on the guitar, as opposed to just hitting three note power chords, as mentioned before. He needed a way to sound as big as he could without relying on a second guitarist. That’s why he wasn’t afraid to use alternate tunings. He was inventive enough that he even incorporated his popularized tapping technique into his songs. I’m not just referring to his solos, I’m referring to the way he’d TAP OUT the fucking harmonics of chords, which took an already pretty chord pattern and made it breath taking. Speaking of tapping for effect, according to Ed himself, the harmonic tapping section of “Dance The Night Away” was designed to emulate a horn section in a pop song, the inspiration being his days playing Top 40 covers.

Fair Warning, my undisputed favorite of the first six Van Halen records, is considered their darkest album. Ed himself had stated that some of his angriest playing is on that record – which is probably why I love it! Tracks like “Unchained” and especially “Mean Street” are probably the most Metal sounding songs the band ever records. Then there were tracks such as “Push Comes To Shove”. The track itself wasn’t angry, but Ed’s solo certainly was. Close your eyes and you could actually FEEL the emotion.

There can be a lot of benefits of being self taught depending on the musician in question. Some people are geniuses and others should just cave in and take lessons. Or give up. For Ed, it allowed for a creativity not seen in Rock guitarists before. Why? Because he didn’t uphold to any written barriers. He didn’t follow structures that were repeated over and over again. He made his own. “Hot For Teacher” is the best example of this. The whole band changes time signatures midway through Ed’s solo for 4/4 to 5/4 and then back again. Not only was it an ingenius way for Ed to have the song fit his solo as opposed to having the solo fit the song, but that little nuance alone displayed his incredible sense of dynamics.

There was no way I wasn’t going have you watch the video!

This to me is the true legacy of Eddie Van Halen. His legacy to me is more than just “Eruption”, or a homemade freakshow guitar and bastardized backline or the showmanship of David Lee Roth. His legacy is that he didn’t follow musical constructs. He bent them to his will and made them his own. He’s probably one of the most copied guitarist ever to the point that I don’t blame him for turning his back to the crowd while he was soloing during the band’s early days. He didn’t want anyone to copy his technique – imagine that!

There was no one like Eddie Van Halen before he came along and there will never be anyone like him again. Let’s not misunderstand, there are so amazing guitarists out there right now, but they’ll NEVER have the appeal that Ed or his band had to the public at large. Primarily in that unlike Ed, none of his worshippers ever got girls because they were too busy jerking off to guitar lessons.

Read that again.

Let the article and Ed’s songwriting be a lesson to all you bedroom guitarists out there. I’m glad you know every mode and scale there is to know. But if any of you ever want to be remembered for anything, learn how to write a song.

Rest In Peace To The Undisputed KING Of Guitar

Eddie Van Halen

January 26th, 1955 – October 6th, 2020