Thursday, March 03, 2011

Quarter Century Review: Master Of Puppets

Master Of Puppets
Produced by Metallica and Flemming Rasmussen.

Perhaps the finest album from metal's kings. Puppets is the last release to feature original bassist Cliff Burton. An album filled with masterpieces that received little or no airplay until 5 years after its release when Metallica's popularity soared. The album builds off of what the band began with 1984's Ride The Lightning, sprinkling acoustic guitars and "ballads" within a thrash template. Unabashed by "sell-out" claims, the band was merely exploring directions that their contemporaries hadn't dared.

"Battery," tolls the bell that begins the record with the aforementioned acoustic guitars. I have to imagine metalheads across the nation, mouths agape, hearing what could have been an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. The thrashing would begin soon enough but the songs' arrangements become more complex and drawn out with all tracks at least a minute longer than any the shortest song on Lightning. Anyone that was looking for a return to the Kill 'Em All status quo is still looking.

The overall sound of the album is remarkably the same as Lightning due to the continuing production and engineering of Rasmussen. The songs, though, are on another level. "Master Of Puppets" (first metal song about substance abuse as far as I know), "Battery", "The Thing That Should Not Be", and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," have never been out of the band's setlist rotation. One underappreciated genius song is "Disposable Heroes", a song that has been even more poignant over the past five years with the insurgence in Iraq. A story of soldiers being used as pawns and being told not to question why.

While Metallica would go on to far greater financial success, it is near impossible for me to think that they ever or will ever achieve greater musical success than this.

Overall Grade = 9.41

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quarter Century Review: November-Coming-Fire

III: November-Coming-Fire
Plan 9/Caroline
Produced by Glenn Danzig

Punk rock was becoming less and less of an influence and priority in Glenn Danzig's music three years after his departure from The Misfits. His music beginning to segue into metal. Samhain was, as expected, just the bridge between the 'Fits and Danzig. You can hear elements of both but that leaves the album a bit disjointed. The confusion of what Danzig wanted to do with his band or to even continue it seems evident. He was often disappointed in the caliber of musicians (some say, he still is) he had to play with while having to keep up the horror punk aesthetic. Danzig himself played drums on a few tracks of November-Coming Fire.

Also, present is Danzig's eerie, somewhat annoying keyboard, something not heard since the Misfits original "She," single released nine years before. It would be a further annoyance down the road with Glenn's Black Aria instrumental albums as well as the industrial-drenched Blackacidevil. The one reason to listen to the whole album is the sheer power of Danzig's voice. He hadn't yet learned to use his voice in subtle ways but there are way worse things than Glenn Danzig shouting on record. The true highlight of the album, once you get past the cheesy keyboard, is the one track where he really allows himself to sing: "To Walk The Night,". While many had probably written him off at this point, Rick Rubin would eventually bring Danzig back to prominence.

Overall Grade = 6.95

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quarter Century Review: The Ultimate Sin

Ozzy Osbourne
The Ultimate Sin
Produced by Ron Nevison

I found listening to this album as a pleasant surprise. I always regarded The Ultimate Sin to be terrible other than "Shot In The Dark," and "Lightning Strikes,". While the rest of the album isn't great, it is passable. And when compared to the next album, "No Rest For The Wicked", it's brilliant.

Jake E. Lee's guitar work is impeccable, as usual, as is the late great Randy Castillo (his first with Ozzy) on drums. Ozzy was pretty consumed with drugs at this point (he did snort ants, for heaven's sake) but that doesn't seem to effect his performance. Bassists in Ozzy's band have usually been interchangable but Phil Soussan did co-write "Shot In The Dark,". Because of legal issues with Soussan (is there anyone Ozzy and Sharon haven't forced into legal action), the album is out-of-print.

No question the 2 hit singles did positively impact the grade of this album and, if not for those two songs, the album would not be terribly missed. Even with that...

Overall Grade = 7.59

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Quarter Century Review: Atomizer

Big Black
Engineered by Iain Burgess

A perfect first album for this year's 25 year reviews. Atomizer is the album where Steve Albini and Santiago Durango figure it out. Their guitars never had or would gel together better than this again. The sound of this album is what would come to define Big Black and all subsequent Steve Albini bands. Albini made a very industrial sounding album with some help from his mentor Burgess. Burgess's work with Durango's previous band Naked Raygun was inspiring to Albini. The guitars are very tinny and driving. It also marks the last time Albini used excessive effects on his vocals.

Surprisingly, this album is not musically as aggressive as Lungs was and Songs About Fucking would be. Even with the unrelenting beats of Roland, the drum machine, mid-tempo rockers "Bad Houses," and "Fists Of Love," serve as almost calming points sandwiched between the assaults of "Big Money," and "Stinking Drunk,".

Atomizer, in its glory, never manages to top its first two tracks: "Jordan, Minnesota," and "Passing Complexion,". The sound of these songs embodies what was great about Big Black: pounding, metallic, and screamy. The middle is great but it ends with two more-or-less throwaways with the instrumental "Strange Things," and a live version of the Bulldozer track "Cables,". It is still a very powerful album that would shape the sound of what industrial would become (that, along with Albini's public ripping of then-electronica artist Ministry) as well as influence Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. Atomizer is confrontational, angry, poignant, and nearly perfect.

Overall Grade = 9.04

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quarter Century Review: Psychocandy

The Jesus And Mary Chain
Blanco y Negro
Produced by The Jesus And Mary Chain

What to say about this? Loud, cacophonous, poppy, shoegazey, lovely. There are few albums off the top of my head that are this drenched in distortion and feedback while being this breathtakingly beautiful. This is widely accepted as the first album in the rock subgenre of shoegaze and definitely one of the greatest.

Psychocandy, with its huge wall of sound and mumbled vocals, is an album that is enjoyable in spite of itself. Upon listening, you try to decipher lyrics or if there even are any words but the feedback keeps you just out of earshot. It is as if the lyrics contain the answers to life's great mysteries but the guitar's first line of defense disorients you and the monotonous beats are further pummeling your senses into submission. These secrets belong to the brothers Reid and they are not for you to know. It doesn't stop us from searching, though, does it?

Overall Grade=9.0