Saturday, June 17, 2017

Obituary, S/T (2017)



     Since their reunion, I've never really given Obituary a solid chance.  I play their classics Slowly We Rot, Cause of Death and The End Complete from time to time, but I was underwhelmed by Frozen In Time and Xecutioner's Return.  I kind of let the band fall off my radar for a while.  2014's Inked In Blood grabbed my attention and I actually was anticipating their self titled release.  Out of the gate I must say that this album offers you a heap of old school death metal riffs that are great but the record also has some songs with "death n' roll" elements, which in general are kind of hit or miss.  The vocals are still as great as they ever were and while Obituary isn't in the running for "Album of the Year" by any means, it is an above average release that old fans and new should enjoy.
     John Tardy is one of the most recognizable vocalists in metal.  His growls aren't as guttural as most death metal vocalists.  Tardy uses a wider range of vocal inflections and howls that really make the music move.  The lyrics don't just sit there, Tardy emotes and makes them come alive rather than merely grunting monotonously into the microphone as loud as possible (like Glen Benton does).  Another of Tardy's signatures is the way he ends lines and verses.  His howl expands on the final vowel sound in a way that is sort of reminiscent of a wild cat's roar.  It's a vocal inflection that sets him apart from most death metal vocalists and has always been one of my favorite elements to the Obituary sound.
     I've been kind of on the fence about the "death n' roll" approach.  Sometimes it's okay, but most of the time it comes across as kind of toothless (listen to latter career Entombed albums if you don't know what I mean).  On paper it looks like it could work.  Fusing death metal elements into a more traditional hard rock framework?  What could possibly go wrong?  Well apparently it is harder to pull off than most realize.  Most bands end up with either a boring death metal record, a somewhat decent alternative metal record (if such a thing exists), or something in between.  They are albums that are a jack of all trades and a master of none.  Obituary carefully dances around that line in certain songs.  But there are moments that I feel like I'm listening to a second-rate Pantera circa 1992, which initially sounds like it wouldn't be that bad, but hear me out..  That particular sound has not exactly aged well and slipping in bouncy rock oriented and bluesy riffs that sound like they were lifted from the cutting room floor during the Vulgar Display of Power recording sessions makes some of these songs sound dated.  Nothing against classic Pantera.  But the year is 2017 and Obituary has had their own thing going for them for decades already.  Retreading this particular style, that wasn't even theirs to begin with, was a mistake.
     What Obituary does well and what makes this record stand out in my opinion is it's simplicity.  A lot of death metal created these days tends to be on the technical side.  Obituary just lays out their riffs and beats you over the head with them like a club.  Cave man style.  Obituary is not a masturbatory wankfest thus illustrating that death metal can be brutal no matter how many notes you play or how little.  These are mid paced, chest slapping, chugging guitars that are somewhat of a relief to hear in an era where break-neck fast bestial black metal and technical brutal death metal are ruling the underground scene (at least here in California they are).  There are some glorious old school knuckle-dragging head banging riffs on here.  Kenny Andrews has some fantastic leads on this record and Trevor Peres and Don Tardy are great laying down the groove as always.  Essentially this is Obituary doing what Obituary does best.  Not overly flashy songs.  They are to the point and still brutal.
     This was one of the most difficult reviews I've had to write so far.  This is due to the fact that I wasn't truly that inspired to write it nor did I feel strongly about it one way or the other.  And that kind of sums up how I feel about this record.  This album is not going to knock your socks off.  It's a good record and fulfilled the minimum requirements:  Not sucking and giving fans something that they will enjoy.  But while it is proficient in this regard it lacks that special ingredient that would've made it an attention grabbing release.  This is something to play in the background while you're talking in the yard with a beer and cigarette watching the grill.  It isn't something you sit down, strap in and give your undivided attention to.  This music doesn't command that.  It could be playing or not playing.  But should music always command that kind of space?  Perhaps not.  Not everything recorded has to be a magnum opus of pretentious pomp and Obituary was never really about that anyway.  Obituary isn't a garbage record, but I wouldn't consider it a masterpiece.  It's just old school death metal played by one of the genre's legendary bands.  Nothing more.  But sometimes that is all I require in my life and I thank Obituary for delivering it.  Certainly worth a purchase and a listen.

Favorite tracks:  "End It Now" or "Turned To Stone".  These are songs that could've easily been on Cause of Death or The End Complete.  Chest thumping cave man goodness.  Classic shit.

Least favorite:  "A Lesson In Vengeance" and "Betrayed".  The riffs are repetitive and have that bouncy death n roll feel.  It doesn't sound like Obituary and I would've left them off the record. 
     


Saturday, May 27, 2017

U2 Sucks And If You Think Otherwise, You're In Denial

     
what the fuck is going on here?
     U2 sucks and if you think otherwise, you're in denial.  U2's mega hit album The Joshua Tree turned thirty this year and enough time has passed that these guys have sort of become the "elders" of rock and get all the respect that comes with it.  I get it.  They've been around the block many times, sold a lot of records, and made some people a shit load of money.  Stupid fucking money.  And that's all well and good but at the end of the day, what I really care about is this:  Does your shit stand up to the hype?  When all of the accolades and award show appearances and benefits and bullshit wash away, what we are left with is the work.  How good is it really?  Well I'm here to tell you that this music is weak.  It's pompous and obnoxious.  It's a steady morphine drip of radio friendly schmaltz and boredom.  It inspired a generation of vapid radio rock that I would like to see buried and forgotten (you hate Coldplay?  I do too.  Thank U2).  It is shocking to me that these guys came out of the late seventies punk rock scene.  The irony in that is U2 has become everything about rock music that punks clown on world wide (except for maybe Ireland?).  Fuck this fucking band and I am so tired of people talking about how great they are.  Bono's voice is so over the top that it's hard to take seriously, the guitar work is overrated and the rhythm section is uninteresting and just flatlines on every song.  This is the band that gave away their album for free with iTunes and still nobody fucking wanted it.  It pissed me off that not only was the record pushed on me, but iTunes wouldn't allow me to delete it.  And these are the guys that the up and comers in the rock business are supposed to look up to?  The schmucks who attached their names to the epic Broadway catastrophe that was Turn Off The Dark?  A musical?  About Spider-Man?  How un-rock n' roll can you get (while we're on the subject of Broadway, fuck Green Day too)?  Well allow me to review the ways in which U2 fans have deplorable taste in rock aesthetics and should not be allowed to reproduce.       
     The way Bono howls and moans on the songs has become comedic.  It may have been acceptable in the 80's but now Bono has become almost a parity of himself.  Sure the guy can carry a tune and when you hear Bono, you know it's Bono.  He's got that brand recognition going for him.  But fuck me running when I hear him it is hard for me not laugh to myself.  It is so overly emotive that I just can't take it seriously.  Even on "heavier" U2 songs it sounds like he's about to cry at anytime.  I'm sorry but I don't find his style inspiring or as grand as it is portrayed in mainstream rock media.  I don't understand how someone can moan for an entire record, hear themselves played back and not be embarrassed.  It's comparable to another notorious moaner named Morrissey.  I find Morrissey's style monotonous, but even he has his moments where he just hits the note in the right spot in the right way and it's great.  There are songs from The Smiths that I really enjoy.  But Bono, and U2 in general, just kind of warble and float there (the bass and drums bear a huge responsibility for this, but I'll get to that later).  I've said it before and I'll say it again, just because you pretend to cry on a song doesn't necessarily make the music have anymore impact.  You can over sell it.  Conveying emotion in music sometimes requires a soft touch.  Bono is so god damned heavy handed with that whiny crooner shit, but unlike The Smiths, it doesn't come off as earnest or as punchy.  It just oozes with saccharine sanctimony.  I can't fucking stand it.  The whiny sad boy moan style of singing just triggers my gag reflex faster than a USC cheerleader taking a twelve inch dick down her throat on camera for the first time.  In Bono's defense, the man seriously cares about philanthropy and in interviews, when he isn't trying to sell you shit and is just being casual, he seems like a fairly relatable guy.  Morrissey on the other hand comes off on all accounts as a cantankerous diva that I'd like to open handedly bitch slap into oblivion.  But hey, I can like someone and hate their art and conversely hate someone and like their art.  It's always easier to get along when the two coincide, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way.  
     David "The Edge" Evans has been playing the same fucking riff for over forty years and yet every fart sniffing brain dead homunculus thinks he's a fucking guitar hero or something.  Yeah yeah he uses a lot of reverb and delay.  Oh how wonderful.  It's easy to have a signature sound when you seriously only play one fucking way.  I know I'm coming off harshly on guitar players that have one trick and make a living off of it.  I hate on Evans for being a one trick pony, but at the same time I absolutely love Johnny Ramone's buzz saw guitar sound.  I guess the difference is that Johnny Ramone never ever promoted himself as some sort of guitar virtuoso.  Because the thought of that is just preposterous.  He was just a guy who found a style that worked, stood in the trenches and delivered it every night.  But "The Edge"...  And what kind of stage name is "The Edge" anyway?  The Edge of what exactly?  Is it the edge of the cliff I will drive off of if I hear that jingle jangle echoey bullshit on my stereo one more fucking time?  Is it the edge of my sanity that I careen toward when I hear people gush?  The edge of tastefulness?  But the fans will chortle "But but but you just don't understand.  His style is minimalistic and it is not about what he plays, but about what he doesn't play.  It's about color and feeling.  This contrasted greatly with the avalanche of 80's hair metal guitar shredders of the time and was a breath of fresh air for the rest of us that liked real music."  Evan's has never said this sort of thing himself, but I've read fans and critics bring this up.  Well I'm here to say, fuck that bullshit.  Shredders like Van Halen, George Lynch and Randy Rhodes weren't just out there waving their dicks around.  They and guys like them were doing some real shit and if you don't like glam metal, that's fine I understand, but writing it off as not real music is as uninformed as it is pretentious.  And there lies one of the important ingredients to why "The Edge" and U2 in general don't appeal to me.  Pretentiousness.  Look, you want to talk about minimalism?  How about Pink Floyd being categorized as a progressive rock band even though their style is bare and simple yet so deceptively complex?  Now that is minimalism done right.  That is artistic.  That earns you the privilege of being pretentious (and if you ever want a clinic in pretentiousness just listen to David Gilmore and/or Roger Waters talk.  But the men are truly geniuses..  I give them a pass).  
     The rhythm section is so bland and banal that I bet most people couldn't even name the bassist and drummer...  Because nobody cares who the fuck Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen are.  I could've made those names up and most readers probably wouldn't have even noticed.  They are as unremarkable as their playing style.  I'm going to compare U2 to The Smiths once again because I find certain similarities in their instrumentation.  If that offends you, just bare with me for the moment, then, if you have the time later on today, go fuck yourself.  For The Smiths, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce were the perfect compliment to Morrissey and Johnny Marr.  They were the rock that tethered Morrissey's airy utterances and Marr's fluttery jangling to Earth and added a bite and punchiness to the music.  It was a great contrast with the buoyant and weightless sound of the vocals and guitar.  I love Rourke's bass tone and attack in particular.  The Smith's don't play aggressive music, but Rourke and Joyce come in like thunder and it just works.  The casual listener may not notice they are doing it, but the brain does.  You can't help yourself from tapping your feet and dancing.  That my friends is what a good rhythm section can and should do.  But Clayton and Mullen are so profoundly over powered by Bono and Evans that the music just floats from the speakers and just hangs in the air like a silent and rancid fart.  This is prevalent on The Joshua Tree album in particular.  There is no drive.  Evan's guitar style would be complimented so much better by bass and drum tracks that are well grounded.  But the bass and drums are so fucking weak.  They might as well have stayed home and not shown up to the studio.  It just sounds like they are a couple of dudes who are in the band just to collect a fucking check.  Put some god damn effort in you fucking hacks.     
     U2 are hoisted up on a pedestal and regarded as "Rock Gods".  I know this to be heresy and it galls me.  These gods are false.  I want to burst through my front window onto my balcony and scream it to the mountain tops.  I want to grab the first bystander I see and throttle them, pleading with them to believe me.  Because this is important.  There will be a day when Bono and/or Evans dies and for days and weeks and months on end all anyone is going to hear about is how U2 were the greatest rock band ever...  No.  Fuck that shit.  Burn the false idols.  Reduce them to ashes and let the pages of history regard them only as a footnote.  U2 is a totally overrated band and how in the wide wild world of fuck they are considered as anything other than such, boggles my bitter borderline alcoholic mind.  And with that, I'd like to present this Hate Award to U2.  Fuck their music, their fans and the rock critics who have vested interests in peddling that music as anything other than what it is.  Mediocrity.   

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Immolation, Atonement (2017)



     Four years after the mixed reception of Kingdom of Conspiracy, the death metal masters from Yonkers, New York have returned with their tenth album Atonement.  Immolation is one of those bands that has established a reputation for consistency.  Sure I like some albums better than others, but for the most part when you pick up an Immolation record you can pretty much expect a certain quality, which has made them one of death metal's truest standard bearers.  I liken Atonement to watching a Friday the 13th movie.  Everyone in the audience knows that the teenagers fucking on the couch are going to get their guts ripped out.  They see it coming, but they still love it regardless.  Atonement does not deviate far from Immolation's signature musical style, but within the context of their discography it does continue to demonstrate the band's maturation and overall craftsmanship.  The lyrics are still nihilistic and pointedly critical of humanity's propensity toward blind faith, tyranny and self-destruction while on the production front, the team made some important improvements.
     The composition on this record is exquisite and the performance is tight.  Robert Vigna is still on the top of his game employing frantic tremolo picking, pinched harmonics, ringing dissonant harmonies and the stop on a dime rhythmic and tempo changes that Immolation is famous for.  The new comer, Alex Bouks, does a fantastic job keeping up with and complimenting Vigna's style.  Ross Dolan still has one of the best guttural growls in the business, which is forceful yet expressive and interesting in a way that a lot of death metal vocalists are not (Glen Benton should take notes).  As always, Steve Shalaty is a motherfucking beast on the drum kit and locks in with the guitars and bass with the precision of a Rolex watch.  This band is air tight, well rehearsed and professional.  Through their career Immolation has allowed their music to breathe more while still being technically complex and proficient.  This is still true on Atonement.  Vigna and Bouks let chords ring out and allow more space in the music.  The meat of the songs are still based around technical riffing, but the moments of space drive home the album's mood and tone.  This has been an evolving trend in the songwriting process over the past decade.  The cacophonous whirlwind of chromatic progressions are still present (this is death metal after all), but Atonement has moments where the quality of the notes mean more than the quantity.  Sometimes the impact of music comes from what is not played rather than what is.  I don't mean to imply that Atonement is somehow death metal's Darkside of the Moon by any stretch of the imagination.  We aren't listlessly drifting through space and time on this record.  It is brutal and merciless.  But it demonstrates the maturity and craftsmanship in the songwriting.  Immolation has more tools in the toolbox, so to speak, and they know how and when to use them to get the desired effect.  
     After back to back concept albums, Atonement is more general is it's lyrical themes, but still hits home Immolation's overarching message.  2010's Majesty and Decay riffs on the archetypal tyrant and the Jungian "shadow".  Inside every human is the inclination to become a dominating and wrathful monster and the album ponders the question: are people worth saving or does humanity deserve to be wiped out? 2013's Kingdom of Conspiracy was about the perceived malevolent and divisive forces that drive our societies and keep people malleable, docile, and easily manipulated.  Atonement revisits both of these themes while also reintroducing Immolation's most reliable and favorite punching bag, organized religion.  Religious fundamentalism presenting a clear and present danger to the world today makes these songs all the more relevant.  Songs such as "Fostering the Divide", "Rise of the Heretics", and "Above All" rail against religion as one of the primary forces that divides and pits people against one another.  But none hit this point home harder than the self titled track "Atonement" which is not only critical, but defiant.  "Atonement" doesn't wallow in nihilism like most of Immolation songs do.  It is assertive in its indignation.  The common threads that tie this album together, and Immolation's entire discography for that matter, are the forces that diminish freedom and individuality.  Dysfunctional societies, politicians, the illuminati, religion, and the dark side of human nature itself are all what drive the collective toward self-enslavement, war, and ultimate self-destruction.  This is what Immolation has been writing about for decades and will most likely continue to do so in the future.       
     Paul Orofino returns to the producers chair with engineer Zack Ohren in tow.  Orofino has worked with Immolation since 1999's Failure of the Gods and by and large has done a decent job with the exception of the previous release.  One of Kingdom of Conspiracy's great downfalls was that the drums were too loud and "clicky" drowning out an otherwise decent performance.  I am happy to declare that those short comings are rectified on Atonement.  The double kick drums and snares lose that annoying "click" noise and sit well in the mix.  Thus the guitars, bass, and vocals have more room and are able to set the tone of the music like they are supposed to do.  The production is still "modern" in the sense that everything is compressed and jacked up as loud as possible giving the music little to almost zero head room.  But I can't necessarily blame Orofino and Ohren for that.  After all, this has been the industry standard in music production for some time now and it is up to the band, not the engineer, to dictate which parts should be softer and which should be louder.  A good engineer will pick up on this and bring it out of the performance.  There are a few moments of dynamic variations on Atonement, which are given the proper care much to Ohren and Orofino's credit.  A lone guitar interlude doesn't need to be blasted through the speakers.  The quiet parts give the louder parts more of an impact.  Orofino and Ohren demonstrated that they understood this while recording.
     In summation this is an awesome album worthy of a purchase from death metal fans.  It admittedly lacks an "X factor" that pushes it into the mind blowing and jaw dropping category, perhaps due to it's predictability.  Nevertheless, Atonement is a solidly put together release that will undoubtedly stand out as 2017 rolls along.  Immolation doesn't make bad albums, which has made them one of heavy music's most enduring and influential bands.    

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Top Ten Hip Hop/Rap Albums of 1987

   

     In 1986 classics such as Run-DMC's Raising Hell and the Beastie Boys debut Licensed to Ill were released, which many music historians mark as the beginning of "Golden Age Hip Hop."  More and more rappers and producers started to mature and experiment.  A passing of the torch was in order.  Furthermore, by 1987 one thing was abundantly clear to hip hop haters: Hip Hop was not a passing fad.  It was here to stay and it was getting better.  So, as promised, here are my Top Ten Hip-Hop/Rap Albums of 1987.


Honorable Mentions (No particular order):




Kaos, Court's In Session
     Kaos were a group from New York that released an album or two and then disappeared.  It was well regarded on a few forums that I visited so I decided to dig it up and give it a shot.  Now I would be a liar if I said this album had a chance of making the top ten.  It didn't blow my mind quite enough to merit that.  However there are a couple of interesting elements on this recording that I felt deserved some attention.  Firstly the production is gritty and the beats are very well constructed.  I love that filthy 808 house party sound.  The producer/DJ, as far as I could ascertain, was Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez who later became one half of the garage/house duo, Masters at Work.  Secondly, you know that "hey hey hey" chant that is in almost every song nowadays?  Of course you do, YG has it on half of his fucking songs.  Well these guys were doing it all the way back in 1987.  I found that intriguing.  Kenny Dope's production and scratching is definitely the strongest thing about this record.  What holds it back are the emcees.  They are battle rappers who talk a lot and yet don't really say anything.  It comes off a tad bit too amateurish.  Sure the emcee duo demonstrate they had some raw talent, but the lyrics have one too many cliches by 1987 standards and the delivery lacks the assertiveness that you come to expect from battle rappers.  They sound like they are hesitant and holding back.  Still if you are a complete nerd, like me, it's worth a listen for the historical reasons and for Kenny's dirty beats.




Schoolly D, Saturday Night: The Album
   Originally self released in 1986, Saturday Night was picked up by Jive Records and re-released in 1987.  Since this was the version of the record that most people are familiar with, it makes the 1987 list.  Schoolly D is not known for his lyrical cleverness.  His style is very straightforward and to the point and his delivery is relaxed to the point of sounding cold.  The lyrics on this record are more like the narration in a documentary rather than poetry.  In other words, Schoolly D tells it like it is.  Drawing inspiration from his Philadelphia neighborhood, Schoolly D described the dog eat dog world of the ghetto like a news reporter.  It is a style that would later become infamously known as "gangsta rap".  Schoolly D was the first.  As the earliest pioneer of the sub genre he deserves a shout out, but by 1987 there were other emcees that were doing the same thing only better.  For that reason Saturday Night doesn't make the top ten, but I suggest giving it a listen.




LL Cool J, Bigger and Deffer
     There are those out there who probably think I'm out of my mind for not including LL Cool J's most successful album, Bigger and Deffer, on the top ten list.  Truth of the matter is, I don't really like LL Cool J that much.  He has a few songs that I appreciate, but he just doesn't do it for me.  I don't dislike BAD.  It is a well produced record.  It is widely considered a hip hop classic and ranks high on not only most critic's top ten lists of 1987, but is even considered as one of the greatest rap records of all time.  For many young teenagers in the late 80's, this was probably the first rap record that they ever bought.  And the rap ballad, "I Need Love" is still played on KDAY.  Before "I Need Love", love raps were miserable abominations.  Tender lyrics don't sound good when they are yelled in that high energy, Run-DMCish, assertive style (cough, Heavy D and UTFO, cough cough).  The juxtaposition between the lyrics and the delivery was laughable at best and destined to be skipped on the CD player at worst.  But LL Cool J finally got it right.  And, of course, my lady likes it when it comes on the radio.  Mission accomplished LL.  Bravo.  But it's just not really my thing.  I consider it "pop" rap and I just happen to like other shit better.  


The Top Ten:




10) Fat Boys, Crushin'
     I'm not ashamed to admit, I love the Fat Boys.  In the movie Krush Groove they completely stole the show and I've been a fan ever since.  As far as gimmicky rap groups are concerned, these guys were the undisputed kings.  Also they were talented enough to transcend the gimmick in that not all of their raps were about being fat (Heavy D should have taken notes).  Crushin' is their fourth and best selling release.  It delivers exactly what you would expect from a Fat Boys record, which is bumping drum machines with energetic and irreverently shouted end rhyming.  Crushin' is fairly consistent, but loses a little steam toward the end.  "Fat Boys Dance" is a forgettable track and "Hell, No!" just sounds like "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)" but not nearly as good.  A song worthy of note is the safe sex PSA "Protect Yourself", which is one of the few songs of the day that actually talked about AIDS.  This was during a time when most people (including President Reagan) would rather have AIDS kept under the radar even though by the late 80's it had killed over 20,000 Americans.  So props to the Fat Boys for speaking up.  Favorite tracks are "Boys Will Be Boys", "Making Noise" and the eternal guilty pleasure, "Wipeout".        




9) MC Shan, Down By The Law

     The debut album from MC Shan and produced by the legendary Marley Marl.  This chronicles the famous Bridge Wars rap feud between Queens' Juice Crew and the Bronx's Boogie Down Productions.  The most famous track off this record, "Kill That Noise", was in response to the Boogie Down Productions diss track "South Bronx".  The drama induced from this feud enticed listeners to turn on their radios in order to hear the latest bombshell dropped by either side.  While MC Shan was not my favorite Juice Crew emcee (with Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, and Masta Ace on that roster?  Bitch, please) nor the most prolific, Down By Law is one of the most famous releases from the Juice Crew and deserves a place on this list mainly for it's historical significance.  My favorite track is "MC Space" because I'm a sucker for sci-fi themed shit and Marley Marl's beat has that awesome early 80's techno/synth pop sound that slays.  But the defiant "Living In The World of Hip Hop" is a close second.  This track can perhaps be categorized as a diss track to critics, music big-wigs and haters who claimed that hip hop was a passing fad or, at worst, a menace that was guilty of corrupting late 80's youth.  As if the rampant hedonism and excess exalted by the then mega popular and lucrative glam metal bands were any less harmful to impressionable teenagers.  In the end all of that turned out to be invasive paranoid social conservative bullshit.  So there it is, MC Shan's Down By Law.  Hip Hop historians owe it to themselves to give it a listen.  




8) Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded

     As described in the above review of MC Shan's Down By Law, this album was instrumental in promoting hip hop culture and popularity due to it's high profile diss tracks "South Bronx" and "The Bridge is Over".  In the "The Bridge is Over" KRS-One picks apart the Juice Crew one at a time.  Drama sells and as music biographer Steven Stancell says in his book Rap Whoz Who, "these back-and-forth radio battles were good for both radio stations [KISS-FM and WBLS], raking in listeners by the numbers on the weekends".  From the get go, KRS-One demonstrates on this album he's one of the best emcees ever.  I once heard him free style at a New Years Eve party many years ago.  Trust me, the man's still got it.  Co-produced by Ced-Gee,  KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock blended many different musical styles and samples like rock, soul, and dancehall reggae.  Sure on paper it looks like an ugly clash of sound but somehow it works.  After this release, Scott La Rock was murdered trying to break up a fight.  This affected KRS-One profoundly.  While he would continue to release albums under the Boogie Down Productions moniker, KRS-One would drop the gangsta subject matter in favor of the socially conscious and political themes that he is famous for.  But nevertheless this small slice of gangsta rap from KRS-One is one of the most beloved albums of the "golden age" and deserves a place on my top ten list.  The stand outs for me, other than the famous diss tracks, are "P Is For Free" and "9mm Goes Bang" as a very close second.  "P Is For Free" has a Jamaican dancehall beat, which not a lot of rappers were using at the time.  The bass booms and KRS-One does what he does best in this tale of drug addiction and prostitution.  "Golden Age" fans must have this.




7) Ice T, Rhyme Pays
     Black Sabbath sample on the first track?  Yes please.  Rhyme Pays is the strong debut from one of hip hop's most beloved OG's, Ice-T.  It was also produced by one of the earliest hip hop pioneers Afrika Islam.  As one of the forerunners of gangsta rap, Ice-T with tracks like "6 'N The Mornin'" "Somebody Gotta Do It (Pimpin' Ain't Easy)" prepares for the flood of popularity gangsta rap would receive in the following years.  Before gangsta rap became a cartoonish parody of itself by the mid 1990's, Ice-T was one of the few rappers out there doing it justice.  Rhyme Pays is a series of harrowing vignettes of gratuitous violence with some party jams mixed in for good measure.  From the start, gangsta rap's underlying intention was meant to illuminate the reality of urban decay and the social ills that most suburban dwellers were not privy to.  As Eazy-E once said, "Who gave it that title, gangsta rap?  It's reality rap.  It's about what's really going on."  But others viewed this record and others like it as an attempt to glorify and romanticize the vice and murder it described.  Perhaps both camps are right in one way or another.  This is precisely what the song "Squeeze the Trigger" is about, which is why it is my favorite track.  And because of that funky walking bass line.



,

6) Tuff Crew, Phanjam
     Philadelphia's Tuff Crew released this overlooked gem in 1987.  Kool Keith and Ced Gee joined the production team for this one and I love that nuts and bolts, stripped down and dirty production.  In inspired hands, sometimes good drum machine programming and a mic is all you need.  DJ Too Tuff is just a beast on the cut.  Emcee trio LA Kidd, Ice Dog and Tone Love have great chemistry and flow between each others rhymes effortlessly.  The lyrics are mostly about how bad ass their crew is, rocking the partying and getting wild.  And without a doubt, these guys were well versed in the art of rocking the party.  This album, like Crushin', is like the swan song of the "old school era" of party jams before records such as It Takes a Nation.. and Straight Outta Compton came along and utterly obliterated everything around them.  The Tuff Crew would go on to release a few more albums and enjoy a pretty successful run as an opening act for headliners such as Public Enemy, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, 2 Live Crew, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, and others.  Overall this record just captured that late 1980's "golden age" essence and flavor that we all love.  This was the kind of shit that mid-2000's hipster hop tried to imitate.  It's fun, high energy and worth a listen.  Favorite tracks are...  all of them.  No joke.  This record kicks ass wholesale and is a culmination of what makes hip hop such an enduring musical expression.




5) Too $hort, Born to Mack
     This was Too $hort's first major label album and was released in 1988 however Born to Mack was originally independently released in 1987 so I'm going to include it on the list (I realize that this contradicts my argument for Schoolly D's Saturday Night: The Album, but I don't give a fuck, I like this album and want to talk about it).  This record is littered with pornographic rhymes that chronicle the hustler and pimp lifestyle.  It's filthy, it's funky and it's 100% street.  My favorite track, "Freaky Tales", is an epic porno rap that clocks in at over nine minutes, which is as ridiculous as it is impressive.  The entire track is a list of names of local hood rats that Too $hort had sex with.  It's the portrait of the pimp as a young man.  It's ambitious and hilarious.  In an interview with Vibe Magazine, Too $hort revealed that the song was originally longer (almost 75 names), but was cut short because he didn't want the track to get played out..  Holy shit..  But what makes this record great for me is the proto G-Funk beats that Too $hort and a friend of his made themselves.  The whole album was recorded just using an 808 and a synthesizer.  The bass lines produced on the Roland SH-101 synthesizer have that glorious Parliament/Zapp & Roger quality that would become essential to the formation of west coast G-Funk in the 1990's.  And the 808 programming provides the music with those deep bass kicks and attack that gives golden age hip hop that signature sound.  Too $hort essentially laid the groundwork that helped spring board later Bay Area rappers to success and fame.  In effect, he put Oakland on the map.  His twentieth album is slated to be released later next month, but Born to Mack was his first big break and helped earn west coast hip hop the credibility it deserved.




4) Kool Moe Dee, How Ya Like Me Now
     Kool Moe Dee is one of the true battle rap masters.  From his famous roasting of Busy Bee Starski to his 1987 release How Ya Like Me Now, this man was breathing fire toward his adversaries that many couldn't match.  The title track, "Don't Dance", and "Rock You" are scathing rants against LL Cool J that would've ended a lesser rapper's career.  Granted these diss tracks are tame by today's standards, but in their historical context they are ruthless.  One of the things that makes Kool Moe Dee special is that he was one of the few members of rap's old guard who saw a need to adapt to the changing times.  His material from the Treacherous Three days certainly wasn't going to cut it towards the late 80's.  Kool Moe Dee's style and delivery on this record are miles ahead of his old school peers who released albums that same year (Grandmaster Flash and Spoonie Gee, I'm looking at you).  Kool Moe Dee's rhymes became more sophisticated and were still delivered with the swagger, and attitude that give battle raps their appeal.  Favorite tracks have to be "How Ya Like Me Now" and "Don't Dance".  I'm sorry, there is some other really good stuff on this record, but Kool Moe Dee is at his best when he ripping other emcees apart.  It's really an art in itself.

   

3) N.W.A, N.W.A. and the Posse
     Since this is technically a compilation I considered leaving N.W.A. and the Posse off the list.  Dr. Dre's The Chronic is more or less a Death Row Records compilation.  Could I justify leaving that album off a future top ten list?  Of course not.  That would be fucking stupid.  And "Boyz N The Hood", "8 Ball", and "Dopeman" (all penned by a young upstart named Ice Cube) are some of N.W.A's most iconic and well known songs thus I decided to include it.  Aside from N.W.A, the Fila Fresh Crew have a few good tracks on there too and the Arabian Prince's electro masterpiece "Panic Zone" is another highlight among many.  This compilation showcases Compton's up and coming rap prowess as well as one of the earliest production credits in the storied career of Dr. Dre.  The 1989 re-release replaced Rappinstine's "Scream" with Ice Cube's "A Bitch Iz A Bitch", which was a smart upgrade.  I've never heard of Rappinstine and I don't really care.  "Scream" fucking sucks.  "A Bitch Iz A Bitch" is a harsh diatribe against arrogant and snobby women that, for me, is one of the most memorable tracks on the record.  You couldn't get away with making a song like "A Bitch Iz A Bitch" or "Fat Girl" nowadays.  Whether that fact is a bummer or not is for the listener to decide.  With that, I'd designate this compilation as a near perfect release.  None of the tracks are easily skipped (even the ridiculous Fila Fresh "Twist and Shout" remake, "Drink It Up", has a certain charm to it).  With emcees such as Ice Cube, Eazy-E and The D.O.C., this roster is stacked with talent.  A solid release, but as far as Compton and west coast rap in general was concerned, this was merely the tip of the spear.




2) Eric B and Rakim, Paid in Full
     Self produced by the duo, Paid in Full sets the bar incredibly high for everything that came out after it.  Eric B is one of the best turntablists ever and MC Rakim revolutionized the way rappers could rhyme and flow by ignoring the end rhyme scheme for a more free form internal rhyme pattern.  By this album's release, no longer was it just acceptable to merely "rock the party".  By the late 80's, what you said was becoming just as important as how you said it.  Lyrical content was becoming more expressive and complex.  No longer was just raw energy and a clever turn of phrase enough to carry your record through.  Ideas were just as important.  The gauntlet had been thrown.  Rakim isn't just a rapper, he is a poet.  He demonstrates a command of the English language that was miles ahead of his contemporaries at the time.  His delivery is stoic and his writing is superb.  Rakim's style has inspired members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Eminem and many more.  For these facts alone, Paid in Full isn't just a benchmark for "golden age" hip hop, it's a benchmark for the entire genre.  The beats are amazing.  The samples are classic and well selected and the drums are funky yet understated making a soundtrack that is gritty and heavy.  Eric B has three instrumental tracks to demonstrate his skill in creating dark and soulful beats and brings the element of live turntablism to a rap record better than anyone had done before.  Favorite tracks are "I Ain't No Joke", "My Melody", "Eric B Is President", and "As The Rhyme Goes On".  Basically half the fucking record.  But don't let that lead you to believe the rest of the record is filler.  They are all good.  This album is essential for any hip hop fan's collection and was seriously considered for the number one spot.  However...        





1) Public Enemy, Yo! Bum Rush the Show
     This was the debut album from Public Enemy, who are easily my favorite Islamic black nationalist anti-Semitic rap crew ;)  Chuck D is a god damned human wrecking ball when it comes to emceeing.  This man has more ideas in a rhyming couplet than most rappers have on their whole fucking album and delivers them with the force equivalent to a punch to the face.  However, the lyrics on this record are not as politically incendiary as the next two.  Most of the raps are directed toward representing their crew, but the politics are still present even if they are buried in between verses.  There is the political track "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)" and socially constructive songs "Too Much Posse" and "Megablast".  But I'd like to view this album as Public Enemy sort of introducing themselves before getting down to their ideology.  Out of the gate, Flava Flav demonstrates why he is greatest hype man of all time.  He makes it look easy, but anyone who knows anything about the hype man role knows that it's one of the hardest gigs in the business.  With all of that being said, the real reason this album is number one and why Public Enemy's music really sticks out to me is the production team known as The Bomb Squad.  Hank and Keith Shocklee, Eric Sadler, Gary G-Wiz and Bill Stephney are a beat making collective that have inspired millions of musicians including myself.  Their aggressive, atonal and sample heavy collages of sound are unlike anything that came before.  On the following It Takes a Nation... and Fear of a Black Planet, The Bomb Squad would further develop their sound creating a sonic cacophony that is adrenaline inducing yet humbling to listen to.  But this album is where it all started.  They are one of my favorite production teams of all time, up there with the RZA.  Yo! Bum Rush the Show is not my favorite Public Enemy album and you've have a hard time convincing me it is their best.  But at the time this record was blowing most shit out of the water and is definitely my number one pick for Best Hip Hop/Rap record of 1987.


   There it is.  A list of great records that turned thirty this year along with myself.  If you like this list, disagree with the rankings, or would like to share your own top ten list, please comment below.  As always, I'd love to know what you all are listening to.

Friday, March 10, 2017

In Flames.. What the Hell Happened??

     
And now it has come to this?
A genre defining album.  Cool artwork.

     Betrayed.  There was a time long ago when you could rely on In Flames to deliver decent melodic death metal.  Former In Flames guitarist and founder Jesper Stromblad set out on a mission to meld the powerful melodies of Iron Maiden with the savagery of death metal and did so with a fair amount of success.  The twin guitar harmonies would come through my headphones and lift the music to a powerful height and it truly separated them from their Gothenburg scene counterparts.  It's what made them special.  And now for fifteen years and counting In Flames has challenged the fans of their seminal work to give a shit.  In 2002 they defected to the "alternative metal" scene and for some reason, like the victim of an abusive relationship, I kept coming back; thinking that they didn't mean it.  I thought, "Maybe it's my fault and I'm being too opinionated."  So for the last couple of months I went on listening and suffering through their discography hoping for that "return to form" album with that In Flames melo-death sound that I once knew.  Well I am not doing it anymore.  After enduring 2016's Battles, it's finally time for me to walk out the front door with my suitcase and never look back.  Getting through their back catalogue was an almost foolish endeavor and I will never get those hours of my time back, but at least I can warn others: the In Flames that was is never coming back.  They sold fans of their early work down the river.  They wanted that Korn money.  They wanted that Deftones money.  They wanted a mainstream audience.  Period.  Thus they have become some of the worst peddlers of mallcore metal bitchery I have ever witnessed.  The writing, instrumentation and artwork have degenerated into a that nightmarish niche that I'd like to call "The Hot Topic Tundra".  It is a vapid wasteland where thick eyeliner, bad haircuts and superfluous piercings are presented in order to warn others, "Caution: I have bad taste in music".
     In Flames' writing has always been cryptic and even esoteric at times.  For the most part In Flames still uses this technique.  Personally I find their lyrical imagery less rich and more contrived than before.  In Flames lyrics used to stir up a sense of nihilism and existential angst.  The rabbit hole was a lot deeper to fall into.  Now its more about loneliness, heart break, and not fitting in.  I suppose they are similar emotive forces in a way, but the latter is more easily relatable to teenagers and simpletons.  They are ideas that are ready to be easily consumed in the marketplace.  The title track off of their landmark melo-death album The Jester Race ends with these lines:  


Vanities in extreme formations, 
ride into tomorrows rigid futile scripts 
of our dying jester race. 

All that humans accomplish and all that humans aspire to amount to nothing in the end.  All is vanity.  Life is a sardonic race to the bottom.  We are the jester race.  In Flames are calling humanity a joke.  That's a powerful statement.  Countless books and essays have been written on this.  It evokes the timeless and terrifying question, "What the fuck is it all for?"  Now read the words to "Like Sand" from the new album Battles:

How did I end up here

Half alive and still full of fears
If I'm honest I think you'll see
I'm scared to share what's calling for me
You say, make the most of your time
Hard to work when it's not on your side
What can't kill you makes you stronger
So I heard but I'm going under

That element of futility and fear are still there.  The writer is obviously grown up now, middle aged or "half alive", but he has acquired no revelations or certainty with age.  He is still full of angst and nihilistic terror.  The difference is that the images here aren't as potent or interesting as before.  It also took a lot longer to say.  The song goes on to describe the old cliche of time slipping through our fingers like sand.  And that's the song.  There isn't really much to think about with that one.  It's pretty straight forward shit.  It's the "Hot-N-Ready" of philosophy.  Just consume, tastes good, now repeat.
     Stromblad said in an article from Metal Injection pertaining to some of the reasons he left the band: 

"For me [In Flames] was a guitar/riff based melo-death band.  And it's not anymore." 

He's right.  There are no more bitchin twin leads ascending through the mix.  What we have are synths and clean vocals taking the reins melodically with that tedious nu metal down tuned "chug-chuga-chug" guitar sound in the background.  Now I'd be a liar if I said I didn't love a well placed synth.  Melo-death counterparts Dark Tranquility are a guitar driven band and added synths and a plethora of other ingredients and colors into their music.  It was a very risky move and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.  But these additions were used to ad flavor and a little contrast in Dark Tranquility's overall sound.  In Flames?  Not so much.  The synth sound in and of it itself is good.  They are good patches I guess.  If you're making a Katy Perry song that is.  What in front flipping fuck are they doing dominating the tracks?  The guitar harmonies still make appearances in their songs, and even more so on Battles than previously, but they aren't front and center.  The In Flames guitar parts were what made them stand out and now it seems they are just added in for flare.  Who do In Flames think they are?  Rush from the mid 1980's?  At least Rush still sounded good.  Give me a fucking break.

Before.
Fuck.  This.  Bullshit.

     












     Anders Friden's voice always cracked a little when he growled, but that was kind of his signature.  I never expected him to fully embrace and embellish it.  That squeaky emo shit he whines now is just horrifying.  He sounds like an angst fueled teenager yelling at his mother.  Then there are his clean vocals, which basically sound like everything else today.  I can't tell the difference between Friden's voice with any other mallcore band on the radio.  The Swedish accent is probably the only give away.  Clean vocals in metal music aren't bad.  A lot of my favorite bands use them.  But Anders Friden and the recording engineers behind the scenes employ a pernicious and trying mainstream approach that just makes me want to jump out of a tenth story window.  One of the goals of pop music producers is to make everything sound the same as the previous top selling song.  That's what In Flames vocals sound like.  They are recorded and smothered in audio effects to the point where Friden becomes just like everyone else.  And they are responsible for carrying the melody now, which is such a downgrade considering the way In Flames used to riff the way they did.  
     Anders Friden offered his rebuttal to people like me in an Alt-Press interview:  


"I wanna challenge our listeners a little bit.  They shouldn't know exactly what they're gonna get.  They're definitely gonna get In Flames in some sort of way, but I don't wanna do Whoracle or Jester Race part 2.  When I got into the metal scene, for me it was like, 'Whoa!  There are no rules!  You can do whatever you want.'  Then, when I started playing in bands, all of theses rules were told to me.  What?  Can I not do what I want?  I have to be this person to be part of this scene?  I cannot look this way?  To me, you can do whatever you want."

Artists shouldn't be discouraged from changing their sound and challenging boundaries.  But it still has to sound good and/or keep the listener engaged.  Otherwise, why bother?  And a lot of the "experimental" elements that In Flames use in their music aren't challenging.  They are mainstream sounds and techniques.  The only challenging thing about In Flames for the past fifteen years has been getting through an entire album without turning it off.  In Flames is not a metal band anymore.  They make metal influenced alternative rock.  And it sucks a long and spiked dick.  As Hesh from The Sopranos succinctly put it, "There is good and not good.  This is not good."  No.  This is not good, man.  This is certainly not good.  Hate Awards are usually given to tedious mainstream pop mediocrity that is overplayed and pushed on us.  But that is what In Flames has sort of become.  So I present the first Hate Award of 2017 to In Flames.  Traitors to Steel.  Heretics of the Metal Gods.  Mainstream pop drivel.  Vile and toxic fucking garbage.  I will never even look at another record of theirs ever again.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Inaugural Post: Top Ten Metal Albums of 1987







     I was born in 1987 which now makes me thirty years old.  For those who haven't made it there yet, it's not so bad.  As Minor Threat once said, "It's not how old I am, it's how old I feel." There is nothing scary about it.  Thirty is what you make of it.

     I dabble in making music, but I am first and foremost a music fan and there is a horde of my favorite records that also turned thirty this year so I've made some top ten lists.  So to kick things off, here is my top ten list of my favorite metal albums of 1987.

Honorable Mentions:



Dio, Dream Evil
Dio could do no wrong in my opinion so obviously his 1987 offering was up for consideration.  However the song writing lacks the aggressiveness that you had come to expect from the three previous albums and the production is way too pop orientated for a Dio record.  It just comes off as "glittery".  My guess is that corporate influences held sway in the creative process, which is more often than not a mistake. Or it could have been that the band was reeling from the firing of guitarist Viv Campbell and felt they needed a change in direction, which new guitarist Craig Goldie happily provided. But no matter how you slice it this record is more than a few riffs short of a classic.  Luckily Dio would rebound from these shortcomings in 1990's Lock Up The Wolves.





Manowar, Fighting the World
Any top ten metal list needs to consider Manowar. Manowar are known lyrically for two things, swords/sorcery and party anthems.  Sprinkle in some songs about motorcycles from time to time and you are good to go.  1987’s Fighting the World continued the band’s shift to a song ratio that favored the fist pumping party anthems over the loin cloths, broadswords, and the felling of foes.  It’s a fun album. I am not denying it. However, and I know there is one guy out there in particular who, if he is reading this, will likely burn me in effigy for writing this; Fighting the World doesn’t make the top ten because I believe it falls short of it’s mission.  On the back of the record there is a bold statement that proclaims, and I’m paraphrasing, Manowar is here to combat modern mediocrity.  But ironically Fighting the World is probably the most commercially tame release the band had produced up to that point.  I personally believe Manowar is at their best when they are singing about great halls, riding into glorious battle and annihilating the enemy horde.  This is some tough love for the kings of steel indeed, but I do it out of love.  I enjoy this band and enjoy the record but it just doesn't make it to the top ten. If you like good metal party music and haven’t heard it, get on it.




Sodom, Persecution Mania
The Teutonic Terror, Sodom’s second album.  This record is balls to the wall and uncompromising as only Sodom can be.  It doesn’t make the top ten mainly because it has a lack of memorable riffs that separate it from the pack.  But regardless, it is a relentless thrash assault and I suggest you take it for a spin.  And sandwiched between Obsessed by Cruelty and Agent Orange, what more do you need in life? I don’t know.




Anthrax, Among The Living
My favorite album from them and arguably the quintessential Anthrax album.  This is regarded by many as a thrash metal classic.  I was never a big fan of this band growing up and in a lot of ways I’m still not however I enjoy their music and I respect them immensely.  I particularly like Caught in a Mosh and N.F.L.




Exodus, Pleasures of the Flesh
First album with Steve Zetro on vocals after Paul Baloff hit the bricks. Stevie Z had big shoes to fill replacing the much beloved Baloff, but the man could hold his own and gives a good performance. This came close to making the list, but I just happen to like other albums a little more. Pleasures of the Flesh wasn't really my favorite Exodus album to begin with. But it is an iconic thrash metal release and I recommend listening to it.




Mayhem, Deathcrush
It is the 30th anniversary of Mayhem’s first release, Deathcrush.  It is the grim and brutal vision of Euronymous that helped put Norwegian black metal on the map.  This was the warning shot of black metal’s infamous second wave and, unlike most music made in the 80’s, it has actually aged well. The few songs that are on it are still staples in the band’s live performances and the production sounds like it was recorded in Hell’s boiler room on the shittiest audio equipment they could afford.  I love it. This is what black metal is supposed to sound like.  I particularly like the signature distortion on Necrobutcher’s bass which I’ve always wondered why metal bassists don’t incorporate it into their sound more often.  Originally I had it ranked on the top ten list but after careful consideration I decided to remove it. The reason being: Let’s face it, it’s not even a full length release. In fact it’s barely even an EP. It’s more like a glorified demo tape if we're being completely honest here.  Three of its eight songs are just the guys fucking around with the recording equipment.  "Witching Hour" is great but it's a cover song and "Chainsaw Gutsfuck" is a plodding snore-fest, which really only leaves three noteworthy original tracks. The lost and final eighth track dubbed "Outro" was cut from later releases and it's just the guys drunkenly screaming a nursery rhyme.  I happened to find "Outro" refreshingly humanizing to hear because the band has always been shrouded with such grave seriousness.  The Norwegian press turned Mayhem into a living and breathing horror show, which Euronymous admittedly encouraged. With that in mind it’s hard to remember sometimes that these guys started out as just a group of friends who loved to drink beer and play heavy music. And there you have it. 1987’s Deathcrush. In summation, it is historically important and the few songs that are on it sound great, but it doesn't make this top ten list.



The Top Ten:





10) Kreator, Terrible Certainty
This continues where the band left off in Endless Pain and Pleasure to Kill only not nearly as famous.  This album is Kreator just doing what Kreator does, which is rule the German Thrash scene with an iron fist.  The lyrics are relevant to this day with misanthropic visions of apocalyptic war (As the World Burns) and human caused environmental meltdowns (Toxic Trace). The title track is about facing death from a deadly plague and it is just a fist pumping high energy explosion with that staccato chorus that just adds to the feeling of menace. There is an underlying theme on this album, and perhaps in all of Kreator's music, which is how people justify the infringement on the liberties of others and inhumane acts of cruelty. Kreator delve into that part of the human condition that most people would like to view as outside of themselves.  The media likes to call those who commit atrocities as "mentally unstable". It is comforting to us to consider murderers as the exception to the rule. I'd argue that there are many who are not only mentally stable, but know exactly what they are doing and believe it is right. They are human and you are human too. It's a scary thought isn't it? Deep down inside everyone is that capacity to become the Auschwitz camp guard and just consider it an exciting new career opportunity.  As Kreator states on this album, "Mankind never learns.."


9) Candlemass, Nightfall

The first album in the trilogy consisting of Messiah Marcolin on vocals, Candlemass’ Nightfall is a morose yet powerful experience.  It’s an album about death, the afterlife, witchcraft and cosmic forces of good and evil doing battle behind the veils of reality.  Messiah’s voice soars over a mammoth sized and ominous dirge of sound.  It is textbook grade “A” doom metal.  There are a couple of instrumentals that might be misconstrued as filler on their own, but within the framework of a full play through they fit well as transitional pieces.  This is also the record that spawned the infamous "Bewitched" music video.  I dig the video. I like the dry ice effect as Messiah emerges from his coffin and starts singing. Then he proceeds to bewitch the metalheads to follow him on a death march back to the cemetery. Sure it’s obviously low budget, but they seemed to get the most out of it. It draws some criticism for being so obviously cheap, but most couldn’t do any better if they tried.  My favorite track is probably "Well of Souls".  It sets the tone early and I love the line, “Don’t believe our world is as safe as we pretend.”  Dark are the Veils of Death is up there too.  Lars and Mats channel their inner Toni Iommi on this track and it’s phenomenal.





8) Motorhead, Rock N Roll
Upon hearing this for the first time I found it somewhat unremarkable, but after giving it another whirl I realized how solid this record actually is.  I can listen to it cover to cover without batting an eye. None of the tracks are easily skipped. Let's call a spade a spade. Motorhead doesn’t make bad albums.  The Motorhead records that I like the least are still better than the best records from most other bands and while Rock N Roll isn’t my favorite Motorhead album, it is a skillful execution by the band in full stride. Wizzo and Wurzel created a collection of some of the catchiest Motorhead riffs ever committed to tape and Philthy Animal and Lemmy are great as always.  They came they saw they conquered.. It's the Motorhead mantra really. When you see the Motorhead logo you know what you are getting and what you are getting is a full running time of kick ass. Rock N Roll is often an overlooked chapter in the band’s storied career and perhaps this is because the chosen single happened to be the weakest track on the record, "Eat The Rich".  But if you haven’t heard it I suggest you rectify that immediately.  Preferably get a remastered copy with the bonus track "Just Because You Have the Power" which adds to an already stellar collection of down and dirty rock songs. My favorite track has to be "Stone Deaf in the USA". But "The Wolf", "Traitor", "Blackheart", and "All For You" always creep into my head and take residence.





7) Dokken, Back for the Attack
Okay, I'm going to work up a lather here and rant on this one so bear with me... Hair metal or glam metal or whatever you want to call it has committed some unforgivable crimes without a doubt.  By and large it hasn't really aged well either. But it has its moments that I enjoy and love much to the chagrin of my lady.  When I play glam metal around her she just wants to crawl into a hole and fucking die.  It really makes her reconsider the relationship. But I just love Dokken and in particular, 1987's Back for the Attack.  It could be my favorite Dokken album and I’d consider it a glam metal masterpiece.  Don Dokken might be my favorite singer and songwriter from the sub genre in question.  The dude is a hit making machine.  And George Lynch proves on this record that he is a criminally underrated 80’s guitar hero.  This is the man that almost beat Randy Rhodes and Jake E Lee for the Ozzy gig and it leaves me to wonder whether or not it was a mistake by the Ozzy camp not to give him the job.  I’d certainly choose him over the banal biker brute Zakk Wylde.  Perhaps his lack of recognition is due to his documented ego and attitude problems and his cringe-worthy solo output over the last couple decades.  However his work with Dokken in the 80’s stands tall above the barrage of cookie cutter Aqua Net saturated shredders of the day. It’s all in the phrasing.  Lynch knows when to lay back and when to hit hard and his leads often take you to places that you don't expect.  This is something you can't necessarily teach someone.  It’s a feeling.  It's in your gut. It’s a gift. Check out the solo on “Night by Night” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.  Lynch brings seering and innovative solos to all of the classic Dokken albums and I don’t give a flying fuck what the chest thumping “true metal” troglodytes think, Back for the Attack is a guitar enthusiasts wet dream.  The man had style. It’s a shame he’s such an asshole.
Anyways, Back for the Attack is the high water mark for the band and a heavy metal treasure. Are you still the type that deems Dokken as a bunch of posers?  Well, legend has it that when Dokken were filming the music video for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, actor Robert Englund was getting buddy buddy with the band. In between takes he was giving them cocaine off of his Freddy gloves.  That’s right you bitches..  Dokken snorted coke off of Freddy Krueger’s claws…  I don’t care how “kvlt” you think you and your bedroom NSBM band are, you will never be more metal than that. Eyeliner, spandex and all. Fuck the haters. My favorite track?  “Mr. Scary” is a menacing instrumental that makes you feel like you are playing Mega Man and are about to fight Dr. Wily.   But there are also "Night By Night", "Prisoner", "Dream Warriors", and "Kiss of Death".  There is only a small helping of filler on this album, but the ratio swings hard in favor of so many good songs. This album and Dokken deserve to be recognized.





6) U.D.O., Animal House
Accept is one of my favorite bands.  They created some of the most towering and melodically infectious metal anthems and are still doing it today at a high level. I'll put away my Accept boner for a moment and state that this was the beginning of a low point for them.  Animal House was the Accept album that never was.  After the good but somewhat shaky release Russian Roulette, Accept penned some of the most balls out heavy metal classics of their ever loving career and then decided to shelve the fucking thing.  Due to band infighting and corporate influence, the band decided to split with stand out front man Udo Dirkschneider and move into a new direction. As a parting gift, Peter Baltes and Wolf Hoffman gave Udo the songs. Considering the divisive affair that the official follow up, Eat the Heat, turned out to be, I would consider this one of the most asinine moves in music history.  Peter and Wolf gave away a classic. Animal House is held back by sub par production but make no mistake, it is a tour de force and stands up strong to Accept classics such as Balls to the Wall, Metal Heart and Breaker.  Its memorable hooks will be stuck in your head until the end of days and if you ask me, that’s a good thing.  My favorite track is tough to choose, "Go Back to Hell", "Warrior" and "Lay Down the Law" are probably in a three way tie, but there is nothing about this album that could be considered a let down.




5) King Diamond, Abigail
The second album from the Frankie Valli of metal, King Diamond. 1987’s Abigail turns thirty this year.  Arguably it is King Diamond’s best solo work.  Other Mercyful Fate alumni Mike and Timi are in the trenches for this one as well as Andy LaRocque, who would later appear on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns, and the master percussionist Mikkey Dee who would later replace Phil Taylor in Motorhead. A super group of sorts, they join forces in this grisly tale about demonic possession, evil omens and murder.  Concept albums are hard to pull off.  They have the tendency to be susceptible to filler and can ramble on.  They can even get a sort of show tunesy feel to them.  Sometimes there is more opera than rock in a rock opera (see Tommy). Even Pink Floyd’s The Wall falls victim to this down the stretch. The track "The Trial" at the end of the The Wall is basically a Broadway song and I usually always skip it. But this doesn't happen to King Diamond, he tells his story exquisitely.  It’s a good story, has good music, and there is no fat to trim.  It is on point from start to finish and knowing how hard that is to do I applaud this album with the utmost sincerity. This could have so easily devolved into a self masturbatory wankfest, but King Diamond somehow manages to pull it off and that’s one of the reasons it makes the list. My favorite track is a toss up between "The Family Ghost" or the title track "Abigail".  This was seriously considered for the number one spot, but it was narrowly beaten by a fantastic and formidable top four.




4) Sarcofago, INRI
Sacrofago’s INRI is every bit as intense as it is blasphemous.  Deathcrush may have been the war cry from the north, but down in Brazil these guys were already determining what black metal was going to be for the next generation.  No one else was doing it quite like this. It is truly a black metal milestone.  With bestial black metal ever popular in the underground today, I’d even go so far to say that fans have these guys to thank. Drummer DD Crazy’s frantic blast beats go at breakneck speed, Wagner Antichrist's guttural vocals, the merciless guitar shredding, the unapologetic Satanic lyrics... It is misanthropic and filthy in every way and this was three years before Blasphemy’s Fallen Angel of Doom (that's right, fuck you Canada). The Brazilian Beast took a page from the gospel of Bathory and Sodom and just took it to the next level.  Even their image is undeniably influential.  The leather, studs, corpse paint and bullet belts are still a statement in black metal's presentation and style. How many black metal bands today ape this shit like crazy?  All of them?  Absolutely. Even seminal bands like Darkthrone and Beherit both cite Sarcofago’s INRI as an important inspiration in their music. Sarcofago even made a fanboy out of Mayhem's Euronymous, who sent fan mail to vocalist Wagner Antichrist.  Later in an interview Wagner would call Euronymous a “nutcase” and would criticize much of the Scandinavian scene. Regardless, Scandinavian black metal is a cultural force to be reckoned with and like it or not, it's hard to imagine what that scene would even be if this record never happened.  My favorite track is "Nightmare", I love that opening riff and the stop on a dime blast beat changes. "Sathanas" and "Satanic Lust" are also among the highlights.  This collection of songs was not meant to make you happy.  This is an aural assault.



3) Bathory, Under The Sign of the Black Mark
Bathory’s third album Under the Sign of the Black Mark is a seminal and much beloved release and has some of the band's most well known songs.  When I first heard this album I couldn’t get it off the stereo.  I was obsessed.  It has higher production quality by Bathory standards but it still sounds like it was recorded in a friend's garage.  Quorthon would state in an interview I found on Metalunderground.com that he hated this record.  He considered it to be commercial dog shit and one of the worst things he’s ever made.  I can fully understand being critical of your own work, but god damn it man…  This is Under the Sign of the Black Mark!  Perhaps it is a little more commercially accessible than the self titled debut and The Return of Darkness and Evil but that only makes it about as marketable to the masses as a subscription to Church Burners Weekly with a complimentary set of rosary anal beads. The mid paced headbangers, tremolo guitar picking, screeching vocals, occult lyrics and unearthly and mysterious tone have many fans in agreement that without Under the Sign of the Black Mark, everything we know and love about black metal would not be the same or wouldn’t exist at all.  The highlights for me are "Call from the Grave" and "Enter the Eternal Fire".  If you are a metal fan don’t own or have even heard this, you need to seriously question your life decisions.



2) Helloween, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt 1
A perfect album.  This is a testament to Kai Hansens genius.  Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt 1 sets the bar for power metal and specifically the European sound.  Hammerfall, Blind Guardian and Stradivarius pretty much take notes from this record. It is melodically rich, uplifting, and delivered with furiosity. Guitarist Michael Weikath was left off the album due to an injury he sustained, which left the de facto band leader Kai Hansen to dominate the mix and brew up some of the best twin lead guitars ever put on a disc.  Those twin guitar harmonies are some of the best I’ve ever heard.  I’d even go as far to say they are on a Smith/Murray level or a Tipton/Downing level.  Michael Kiske is still my favorite Helloween singer and is in rare form on this one. This album gets kind of personal for me, which is one of the reasons I’ve ranked it so high other than its just a fantastic recording to listen to.  It came into my life at a hopeless time and it would get me pumped up.  It would inspire me to get up, face down the bullshit and fight tooth and fucking nail every day. All in all, isn’t that what power metal is supposed to do?  Evoke that inner perseverance and strength? This album certainly does that.  For me at least.  Hansen would later split from Helloween and start the power metal band Gamma Ray, which I encourage people to check out if Euro power metal is in your wheel house. To celebrate this album's thirtieth anniversary, Kai Hansen and Micheal Kiske are rejoining the band for a world tour and you can bet that I'll be there when they come to Los Angeles. My favorite track is "Twilight of the Gods" because that solo at the mid point is just sublime, but "Futureworld" has the tendency to become embedded in my brain every time I hear it. Honestly there isn’t anywhere on this record I’d consider a low point.  If you’re wandering through the Misty Mountains on your way to Mordor, pick this one up along the way.  



1) Death, Scream Bloody Gore
The always relevant and game changing first album from Death. It's on my iPod and I still listen to it. It is inspired and truly an all killer no filler affair. It goes without saying that this is not only among the best of 1987, but one of the best metal albums of all time. This is the first complete death metal album. This metal dreadnought plowed through a sea of thrash metal banality and we are still swimming in its wake to this day. There are many that would give the honor to Possessed's Seven Churches, but I'd argue that while Seven Churches certainly has many death metal elements, Scream Bloody Gore is the culmination of all of the proper death metal ingredients. When the opening riff of "Infernal Death" starts and Chuck Schuldiner's guttural cries blast through the speakers there is no question that what you are listening to is death metal. The low tuned guitars fly through chromatic progressions and are backed with powerful blast beats and abrupt time changes. Lyrically you can tell songwriter Chuck Schuldiner was inspired by gory exploitation films and horror movies in a way that the Misfits were, but Schuldiner takes Danzig's signature lightheartedness completely out. The violence is taken to graphic extremity, which is really picking up where Slayer's "Angel of Death" left off. There is nothing about the lyrics that is left up to interpretation. This is brutality laid bare for all to see and it is very disturbing. This record is about sadism, cannibalism, rot, decay, torture, necrophilia and voodoo. This is death metal.
There are bands that spend their entire careers trying to make a record like this and Death did it in their first try. Done. Scratched off the bucket list. What's next?.. Death metal is popular worldwide and is still a considerable commercially lucrative expression. There is a reason every record store may not have a "metal" section but just happens to have twenty copies of the same Cannibal Corpse album. It's because death metal still sells. You can thank Death for that. They invented the shit. Not to take anything away from Cannibal Corpse of course. Chuck Schuldiner wrote all the songs and played all the instruments except for the drums which were played by Chris Reifert. Reifert would later start another seminal death metal band, Autopsy. So in that respect, Death wasn't even really a band at the time. It was a personal mission statement. Chuck Schuldiner was a talented instrumentalist and visionary who changed heavy metal forever single handedly with this recording. My favorite track? Pick one. Seriously. Not joking. It's a god damn hit parade. It's a metal magnum opus and without a doubt the best metal album of 1987.

  If you agree or disagree with the list leave a comment or share your own list. I'd love to know what you are listening to. I have also prepared a list of my top ten hip hop/rap albums of 1987 so if you had a good time reading, I've got more to share.