Brand new tricks, the Bohemia stage and The Beatles:
Rhiannon Marley chats with Sylosis at The Underworld, Camden
Sylosis are in the Underworld. No Grecian Gods or three-headed dogs, please. It's Camden Town. Evidently, they're here for a reason. And battling past the horde of youths winding around the corner outside, awaiting access, drowned in black and eyeliner-ed up to the nines, I conclude that it must be a good one. When these young ladies and gents realise I'm heading inside already, presumably for something important, their eyes follow me like those of starving children to an Ocado delivery. I almost feel as sorry as I might for those starving children. But let's get a sense of perspective, here...
Indeed, Sylosis are here for a good reason. That reason is the last date of the UK-major-city-spanning 'Metal Hammer Razor Tour 2011', to showcase the pre-order release of merch, music and other morsels centred around their new album, 'Edge of the Earth' – officially unleashed for claws and demon-paws this March. Signed to Nuclear Blast Records, fans will have chronicled their ascent to the public eye since joining the label at the end of 2007. First full-length studio album, "Conclusion of an Age", upon its release a year later, secured them as festival-favourites, and pitched the quartet to metal's media moguls as credible, talented sparks, of potential impact of meteoritic proportions, if cultivated and promoted correctly. And over 10,400 Facebook fans can't all be wrong, can they? For sure, Sylosis have every reason to smile about their new baby. Just don't ask them if they've had a rest in-between.
"We were on tour constantly throughout the whole process, so we didn't really have a break...", vocalist/guitarist, and freshly-appointed frontman since May 2010 Josh Middleton, muses, "So I mean, it was split up, we started [Edge of the Earth] in about 2009, had our tours...then back in the studio...then more tours...so we didn't stop really, no hiatus involved."
I'm a little shocked. Having said that, it's easy to forget that although Sylosis aren't, at present, on the tip of every metaller's tongue in the way that, say, Iron Maiden or Metallica are, they're still signed. And doing splendidly for themselves. When you're surrounded by a network of city-dwelling unsigned bands climbing the ladder, most of whose egos are gargantuan despite lack of warrant, you're pretty blind to what goes on between that primitive stage, and selling out Madison Square Garden. Or at least, doing as well as Sylosis.
I ask if they feel that 'Edge of the Earth' has evolved them as a band – casually dropping in that I've been checking out their early EPs. I didn't realise they were so well-documented on Spotify. Josh, now seemingly the designated speaker, as well as frontman of the band, wishes he could scrap the evidence...
"I'd like to see the EPs removed, to be honest!"
I laugh out loud.
Josh (J): "I'd rather there was nothing there!"
Rhiannon Marley (RM): "Why? Are you very different now?"
J: "Oh, we've definitely changed, I think."
RM: "How so?"
J: "More mature, musically more mature. Like, it's heavier, but just not quite as...kiddie-metal."
And what about the other fellows? After all, I'm not just joined by Josh; there's drummer Rob Callard and bassist Carl Parnell to make up the number, too. I'm sure they can speak up for themselves...
Carl (C): "I'm liking the new stuff a lot more. I did like the old stuff, but, y'know..."
Rob (R): "It's a bit darker, I think."
So, they're dimming the lights musically for 2011's dinosaur. But in terms of their lyrical content, they take no prisoners with their grandiose themes. This has grown into something of a signature since even the days of "The Supreme Oppressor", their 2007 EP. With lines from said record including, and I quote, "We fight for existence,/Preservation and survival", and pessimistic slices from 2008's 'Conclusion of an Age' offering: "Blood is spilt for centuries/Lawlessness, mobocracy", it's no small wonder to see the trend is still going strong throughout the latest creation. Pretty intense. Do Sylosis bring to bear any other interests besides music in their lyric-writing, perhaps? Philosophically? Scientifically? Personally?
J: "Err...A little bit...Like, the whole of the new album's a concept album. It's a story about someone living in isolation, so most of it relates to personal stuff. But it doesn't read like a story; it rides the line between being like a story, and every song having something individual."
RM: "So do you feel that it thematically 'fits' together?"
J: "Yeah, it's just easier when you're writing to know where you're aiming for, and have, like, a story to help tie it all together."
I attempt to coax a response from the other two.
C: "Err...There could be..." (Laughs)
Well, uncertainty is something we all have to battle with from time to time. As musicians, though, I'm interested in delving deeper. I ask if there are certain things which make the hair stand up on the backs of their necks. Y'know...if they get the 'tingles' when they hear a particular sonic sorcery.
They collectively seem to think so.
So what is it that makes them get like that? Do they think they use whatever it is themselves, in their work in Sylosis?
J: "...A bit...Yeah, the last thing that made me feel like that was the soundtrack to 'Inception'..."
RM: "Ahh! Did you watch the film?"
J: "Yeah, yeah. Loved it. Um...Yeah, just stuff like that."
R: "Tons of layers. Can't really think of any other bands or influences at the moment, but..."
RM: "Is it more of a style of music that gives you those 'tingles', or is it a technique?"
J: "Just...power, I guess, like, emotional power, that makes you feel something."
RM: "If it's really intense, or highly-charged?"
Sylosis (All): "Yeah, absolutely."
I always think that's an interesting question to ask anyone. A lot of people whom you press don't really 'get it'. Even if they call themselves musicians. So it's great to see the gents' attachment to their art. On another note, many will be aware that Sylosis supported iron-balled heavyweights Fear Factory, on their European comeback tour in February last year – just before the Factory's appearance at Sonisphere Knebworth 2010. Bearing in mind, of course, this was also just after the release of Fear Factory's seventh studio album, 'Mechanize' – the first to feature original guitarist and founding member, Dino Cazares, since 'Digimortal', and Texan drum-whiz Gene Hoglan, of Devin Townsend, Dethklok and Testament success, to name but a few. How did they find sharing a stage with the big FF?
RM: "Really? Are they a big influence of yours?"
C: "Err...Wouldn't say that..."
R: "Well, we were a bit nervous, going out on it, but the first night, it was good fun; we enjoyed it, big crowd..."
C: "They 'dug' us..."
Well, that's got to be alright, if they're fighting alongside the big lions, and the crowd doesn't think Sylosis are too bad, either. But it seems Rob was content enough to be in the presence of legendary blast-beater, Hoglan...
"He's just ridiculous...so it was cool, warming up for him. I was bumming it the whole time."
And what did they think of 'Mechanize'? Be honest...
J: "Haven't heard it...I mean, we heard a few songs on tour..."
As a matter of fact, the album did fairly well in popular magazine polls; it was listed in Metal Hammer's and Classic Rock's 'Top 50 albums of 2010', and was described by Metal Hammer editor Alexander Milas as "an indispensable return by one of metal's defining voices", at a score of 8/10. For any Fear Factory fans glancing on by who haven't already, it's worth checking out.
Of course, 'Edge of the Earth' is ever loyal to the technical standard set by 'Conclusion of an Age': rhythmically tight, and impeccably accurate. Actually, the style itself requires such precision, it's easy for individual groups to slip into robotisation. How do the boys go about injecting passion and feeling into their playing, to avoid it sounding too clinical?
R: "...Having me as a drummer...to fluctuate all the time...to keep the tempo..."
RM: (Laughs) "...And what about the rest of you?"
J: "I think, for the album, the production helped. We deliberately made it sound a bit more raw, and not as technical or robotic. But err...I guess when you're writing, just write what feels natural, instead of trying to be technical. Like, the only reason we are so technical is because we play on our instruments for so long, and it comes out naturally. But we don't really try to be a technical band. I think we're just on the right side of being underneath 'Tech-Metal'. Just about, maybe."
Alongside supporting Fear Factory, Sylosis have been making a name for themselves over the last two years through appearances at some of Europe's finest metal festivals: notably Sonisphere Knebworth, and Download, Donington. When Shakespeare spoke of "such stuff as dreams are made on" in The Tempest, even he would have had to agree that said description just doesn't cover what an experience like that would mean to up-and-coming unsigned bands, hoping to follow suit with Sylosis. Carl describes the escapades as "bloody good"...but does that really do them justice? How would they summarise those times, if they were, say, speaking to themselves a few years ago, before they'd made the headway of the Sylosis of 2011?
C: "Well, overwhelming again, but the first Download and Sonisphere we did, and the second Sonisphere as well, it was all overwhelming, just in terms of the response, because every single time, we haven't expected the response we got..."
J: "We expected it to be like, maybe half full, because the band before us, everyone would be like: (Pulls unimpressed face), maybe half full, and then we'll walk out and get the same, and then we walk out, and it's heaving."
C: "The last Sonisphere we just did, last year, was, um, max capacity; like, they wouldn't let anyone in the tent, like, even our booking agent had to get escorted in by security..."
R: "But then, they read it, and they were like..." (Widens eyes)
But naturally, I suggest, it's about playing the right festival for the genre, isn't it? Who was their favourite at Sonisphere last year? Lots of 'umm-ing' and 'arr-ing' follows.
J: "I don't know if I watched it, actually..."
RM: "What?! You didn't watch [Iron] Maiden?!"
J: "We might have left by then..."
R: "No, we definitely watched some bands, we watched a bit of Razorlight..."
We like a bit of fun-poking...
J: "We watched a bit of Rinoa, a friend's band... But the year before that, Mastodon, I can remember that being good, but I can't think to last year."
R: "What was it, Slipknot last year?"
RM: "I think they're headlining this year, aren't they? Sonisphere again, with...um...Biffy Clyro..."
We share a mildly condescending snigger. Well, didn't we just say something about 'the right festival for the genre...'? Since Sylosis have already caused such a stir atop the likes of the Bohemia and Tuborg stages, we can now, as Carl informs me, thrash our heads, swill some beer, and catch them on the bill of such big 2011 jobs as "Hammerfest in a few weeks, Summer Breeze, Paris Extreme Festival and Brutal Assault, too". Not bad at all. But probing Sylosis professionally is all very well. It's the mandatory requirement for anyone doing my job. I want to find out about them creatively. This has got to be one for Josh, the only guitarist present. If he could choose his top three guitarists, who would they be?
J: "Err... Dimebag Darrell."
RM: "Oh, but that's the easy option, isn't it?! Come on."
J: "(Laughs) Ok, err...at the moment, David Gilmour, and James Hetfield."
Very different choices, and yet both credited highly in their own ways. Well, let's face it, I say: James Hetfield is the only guitarist in Metallica...
Ok. Let's shift the lens. Let's see what the hunted thinks of what the hunter has to say. The hunted? The artist. The hunter? Writers. I wonder what would be the best and the worst thing that a critic could say about Sylosis...
J: "Err... we're not fans of being tagged as 'Metal-Core'."
C: "Or just comparing us to bands that we obviously don't sound anything like. I think it's a kind of laziness."
J: "...And then we get tagged into...I don't know if it's for younger readers, or sometimes young reviewers, but because, like, we're influenced by stuff before our time, like Death and early Sepultura stuff, that we get compared to just all the modern bands that we don't feel anything associated with. Like we get tagged as 'Metal-Core' all the time; we don't do any hard-core or metal-core."
RM: "Well, how would you describe yourselves then? If you don't want to get lumped in with metal-core?"
J: "Thrash, mainly. Like, old-school thrash, but trying to do our own unique thing with it. More aggressive influences."
It's true: with marketable, sophisticated musical bait to throw to 2011's titanium piranhas, and a rapidly-strengthening fan-base as the magic carpet to help them on their way to the stars, Sylosis are doing their own unique thing...in a way. Sure, it's a formula we've heard time and again, but there's a sound explanation for this: it works. And now, it appeals to a fresh generation, of fresh passion and intensity. In other words, their ability to hook a young audience provides the perfect canvas upon which those 'aggressive influences' of Sylosis can be liberally splashed. And yet, their credentials as musicians strike a metaphorical chord with veteran Metalheads and established players, while their sophomore studio effort itself demonstrates structure, texture, practical depth and dexterity, and all the evident by-products of an increasingly-refined and complex writing style.
I offer a couple more brain-pickers for each of them before wrapping up the interview: if they could play with any musician of specifically their own instrument, live or dead, who would it be? Josh is still opting for the late, great Mr. Darrell Lance Abbott, but drummer Rob has less predictable ideas for his choice...
R: "I'd like to have a nerd-session with Benny Greb; he's a German drummer, because he's doing the sort of stuff that I want to try and...start reaching out to. He's just intensely good."
And of course, I can't resist the all-time classic: Desert-Island Disc. I receive a kaleidoscope of answers: everything from Metallica's 'And Justice For All' and Mastodon's 'Crack the Sky', to Gojira's 'Mars to Sirius', and even Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here'..."just because it's diverse", insists Josh. But what about Carl?
C: "The Best of the Beatles...3 disc..."
RM: "Seriously? Or a slither of a joke?"
C: "About 50/50..."
...And if Berkshire's own brutal boys retain a sense of humour and a pinch of irony about the whole thing, the Edge of the musical Earth really could be theirs. Just ask the flood of horn-throwing warriors ready to break the dam of the front door upstairs.
As even the most avid fan will testify, Black Label Society is hardly a euphemism for passivity. In fact, it's the very opposite. Well, let's face it: any quartet of growling males that shares its name with Canada's most famous fermented export, and a 'mutant' outlaw bicycle club, doesn't exactly bring radical Puritanism to mind. Black is the colour. Bellicose is the game.
But let's take a step back for a moment. Thinking about it, Zakk Wylde's not done too badly for himself. His heavy offspring has been going from strength to strength since 1998; with eight studio albums, three compilations (including 2010's 'Berzerkus Tour Sampler'), one live album and an EP to its name, Wylde has been nurturing the distinctive sound of his Black Label Society to the call of thousands of religious "Berserkers" long and hard enough for it to reach its thirteenth year. The result, as the official BLS website bio proclaims, is "a heavy metal institution true to his vision of uncompromising, unfiltered and unrestrained rock and roll": one which, as Zakk himself tells Adrian Bromley of chroniclesofchaos.com, he doesn't want to "get lumped in with fuckin' nu-metal. We play IRON!" ...And all this after his first brief-lived ensemble Pride & Glory, and solo acoustic album 'Book of Shadows'. Not bad for a bloke who was once hired from his job at a New Jersey gas station by rock's cheapest bargain... cough... Ozzy Osbourne. But on The Label fight. To Hammersmith. With 2010's knuckleduster, 'Order of the Black', still a solid and reliable horseback. It's time to get the leather on, the groove into gear, and witness the survival of the fittest.
British unsigned Southern-style metallers Godsized are supporting - a "focussed powerhouse of a band", declares their MySpace page, and they strike a well-chosen spark for BLS to stretch to full-blown conflagration. A perfect fit. But the engines are revving. The beer is flowing. And BLACK LABEL SOCIETY (9/10) explode into life to huff, and puff, and blow your house down. The hairiest Gods of Thunder you ever did see. They waste no time in ripping into 1999's 'Sonic Brew' cut, 'The Beginning... At Last'. And in light of Zakk's recent departure from the musical juggernaut of his mentor, Osbourne, as well as his success in remaining sober since mid-2009 (an issue well-chronicled), there may be some poignancy in the title that extends beyond the song itself, or even this evening's set as a whole.
Having been (slightly) overshadowed by Heaven and Hell's tribute to Ronnie James Dio, and their final gig under the H & H band-name moniker at High Voltage Festival 2010, it's no surprise that BLS are taking no prisoners musically tonight. The infamous bass-y, chunky grooves are out in force: smoking with drive, and saturated in booze. The Wylde man is determined to live up to his name, alright. Stalking the stage, with trademark Gibson Les Paul Custom in hand, and a bowler hat atop his great blonde mane, he's the lion in his den: untamed, pissed off, and determined to prove a point to the world. His technical trademark of picking every note in his solos remains unblemished, and as you might expect, he shreds like such a demon, even the ears of his wah-pedal are bleeding. But oh, doesn't he know it...
Nevertheless, they pull out a cracking set list offering gems spanning their career, and their worshippers in the pit can't get enough of it. 'Mafia' classics "What's In You" and "Suicide Messiah" are tremendous; 'Order of the Black' firecrackers "Crazy Horse" and "Overlord" blend the old and the new, with not a pinch-harmonic out of place. But the undoubted highlight for most tonight is the stunning "In This River" – complete with a commemorative nod to everyone's favourite guitar hero, the late Dimebag Darrell. Wylde's talent as a pianist, both practically and compositionally, is considerable, and greatly overlooked in favour of his lightening fret-work. But it's his feeling in performance which really compels, and exposed and incongruous lies the emotional core within their signature primal "brewtality". Magnificent.
So, on the sonic front, it seems BLS' solder of the groove of blues to the crunch of metal still roars its way to our souls. To deadly effect. But of course, bad boys come with a bad reputation. Famed for their belligerence as much as their beards, their alpha-male arrogance towards authority has gotten them into more than a few scrapes in their time. They were the subject of media Chinese Whispers, after the alleged involvement of their entourage and followers in that infamous sabotaging of Iron Maiden's set, during Ozzfest festival in 2005... although no statement has ever been issued directly by the gate-keepers, so no-one really knows for certain. In conciliation of both BLS and Maiden fans, Ozzfest's scene was a mosaic of factors, to say the least. Yes Bruce Dickinson, it's testing the water to bad-mouth your employers. When they're throwing you $185,000 a night. But more prevalently, when you put a price on your integrity, Sharon O, you can't afford to then take the moral high-ground. Especially when juvenility is your middle name...
There was, however, the notorious, logo-sharing 'patches' episode between The Label and biker gang 'Satan's Slaves Motorcycle Club', which erupted during the same year, in Manchester. But enough admonition for now. Aren't we all suckers for a bit of drama? After all, would BLS properly represent the macho, the mean and the menacing without a tiny bit of mischief...?
Speaking of the Y chromosome, it's worth pointing out that this evening should be a complete sausage-fest. Those of you unfamiliar with the term: a boy's night out. It's not that BLS are particularly sexist; they're just seeping with such potent masculinity, you'd think they might frighten a proportionate amount of ladies away. Their model of testosterone is more Royal Rumble than Romeo and Juliet. Yet there's a surprising number of females around to speak of, and I don't feel out of place as one of them. Because what's evident tonight is that Black Label Society aren't about how many muscles you have, but how much heart. They tap into a tribalism and unity of character which overrides gender; it's a primal get-together for bearers of their mantra: Strength, Determination, Merciless, Forever. Or the iconic SDMF for short. And it's this eulogy of a weighty willpower and sturdy spine which makes their hot-blooded rebelliousness not only admirable, but in many instances, likeable.
Zakk and his gang of Lost Boys genuinely don't give a rat's arse. Their personas are everything we passionate, horn-throwing mortals wish we had the money, the status, and the balls to be. And yet the intensity, musical sensitivity and capability that BLS have to offer, allows them to bypass the rung of thuggish asininity on the ladder of credibility as artists – that is, if you're prepared to look deeper than the tepid waters of publicised naughty incidents, expect a little less than Othello-esque interview monologues from the frontman, and use your ears. Strength? Determination? Merciless? 2011 says yes. Black Label Society say Forever.
Monster? Morbidity junkie? Media fascinator? Many a question can be raised, and only some answered, about a certain gent legally referred to as Mr. Robert Bartleh Cummings. Perhaps he's a bit of all three: a spectacle of the sinister, uncompromising in his allegiance to the dark side. And over here on our small but intense shores, the British portal to the Underworld has been growing a little chilly over the last dozen years...
How does one sum up the man who calls himself 'Rob Zombie'? Or even introduce him? Notorious; mysterious; his status as a quote-un-quote "alternative" legend has rocketed since first solo effort, 'Hellbilly Deluxe', sold more copies in its first week of release, mid-1998, than any of previous outfit White Zombie's works before it. A few albums, movies (his creations 'House of 1000 Corpses' and 'Devil's Rejects' have become an international cult phenomenon) and piles of bones down the road, and Zombie parades his crown with ease: the Medusa-esque King of all things kooky and spooky. And this is why, after a 12-year hiatus from a UK tour, and with a 2010-counterpart to the original, in 'Hellbilly Deluxe 2', under his belt, we've all gone bananas. So much so, that nearly 5000 graves have been deserted, while their inhabitants troop to the sold-out Brixton O2 tonight, to see if their favourite Undead Messiah has still got it. Fasten your seatbelts and pray for your sins. Because one thing's for damn certain: we're in for one hell of a ride.
For all the rumpus astir, Zombie's secured an odd choice of support in reggae-punk thrashers Skindred, and metallers Revoker. They're Wales' biggest at what they do. But they're nothing like the headliner. Roadrunner and BMG are dishing them out in numbers without congruity, it seems. Even stranger since Zombie's just finished a successful collaboration with fellow shock-rockers The Murderdolls and Alice Cooper, for the 'Halloween Hootenanny' tour across the States, during the latter portion of 2010. And three-of-a-kind like that make far more sense together. But the curtain falls. A massive silver robot housing the man himself bursts into flame to a medley of 'Sinners Inc.', 'Sawdust in the Blood' and 'Call of the Zombie' – even adding Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor' to the melting pot. And at last, it's time to sink the fangs into 2011's London display of bloodlust and barbarism, from the one and only ROB ZOMBIE (9/10) himself.
"It's been so long since we've been here, we thought everyone had forgotten about us", he muses, in his Massachusetts drawl. Really? This is bearing in mind he's grown from a 90s 'fantasy' rocker, whom the press swore to be the 'real thing' of the NYC underground, to a fully-fledged horror franchise in his own right – with even the likes of irritating 17-year-old Taylor Momsen, frontgirl of grungey-pop group The Pretty Reckless, sporting his merch. But as Rob Zombie propels himself across Brixton's stage like a poisoned Harlequin, you remember exactly why he is where he is. He's the Jester to his court of death-suckers. Bathed in carefully-chosen neon hues, he resembles some kind of twisted sea-God: Neptune's darkest nightmare who, though he clearly holds a lot of passion for his art, splashes about in the 'incidental' benefits of his enormous revenue as a nice, not-so-scary bonus.
But enough business talk. Because tonight is pure theatre: a feast for the senses of the live or dead. And as guitarist John 5 of Marilyn Manson fame, and drummer Joey Jordison of Slipknot success team up with bassist Piggy D, they tear through the trademark Zombie formula with stunning panache. The set contains no less than 4 slices from new work 'Hellbilly Deluxe 2'; the likes of opening stormer 'Jesus Frankenstein' and 'Werewolf Women of the SS' fit nicely around 2001's 'Sinister Urge' excerpts 'Demon Speeding' and 'Scum of the Earth'. Of course, there are veteran classics a-plenty: 'Hellbilly Deluxe['s]' 'Superbeast' and 'Living Dead Girl' go down a treat, and first-encore explosion 'Dragula' is no doubt the moment 99% of people in the room have been waiting for, for just over a decade. And with a smattering of White Zombie beauties, including 'More Human Than Human' and 'Thunder Kiss '65', featuring a comic interlude of Marilyn Manson's 'Sweet Dreams' from John 5, Zombie is asserting his dominance tonight. Not only is he a force to be reckoned with in his own right; he exceeds many of his shock-rocker contemporaries in his credibility and longevity. "I hope that's not your cue to tell me you're leaving the band, John?" If Mr. Brian Warner could hear, his makeup would be running.
They're not silly boys, though. Anyone who gave John 5's fifth solo cut, 'The Art of Malice', a listen upon its 2010-release (or has sat through any of his previous four either, for that matter), is no stranger to his tasty playing; in case you didn't know, he picks country like a beast. Likewise, anyone who's familiar with either Zombie's or Manson's material will be aware that it doesn't really showcase a virtuosity of axe-wielding. If Paul Gilbert-wizardry is what you're after, then Zombie's brand of dramatic pop-industrial-sleaze-metal-disco numbers won't sit well with you. It's true, the lyrics don't run deep: "Mars needs women. Angry red women", and "Rock Motherfucker. Rock the Motherfucker" aren't exactly Einsteinian. Nor are the songs technically complex. But the slinky, razor-buzz tone, crunching through semitone-sliding grooves, commanded by the charismatic Zombie himself, proves a potent cocktail for even the biggest cynic to resist. Danceable and likeable, Zombie's tunes, be they past, present or future, fit together because of their stylistic cohesion and simplicity. And never fear: like any self-righteous guitarist, John 5 gets his big shredding moment in the middle of 'Thunder Kiss '65'...as Rob is led through the audience, complete with flashlights and muscle-bound 'heavies'. Just so you remember who's boss. It's an attempted titivation of the Page-Plant, sings-vs.-strings showman complex, which almost works...but not quite.
The black tornado has hit the terrain of the UK once again. And, as promised by the man himself, it's been nothing short of mesmerising. But the precise factors behind this are elusive, because the whole Zombie enigma is a subtle blend. So let's get the basics straight. You'd have to be a few crumbs short of your biscuit to miss the fact that it's largely sight over sound. The whole idea of Rob Zombie, and Rob Zombie in concert, is that drama outweighs musical dexterity. The recorded-quality live performance, and the true capacity of the musicians, is great. And so is the music, because it is what it is. They're not completely "dumbing-down" per se; it's just a more confined animal of genre, but one which tames their egos well. And there's no sense in getting snobbish about it, because you'd be missing the point.
It's about sensationalism, experimentation and fun. And as he's backed by the finest vintage horror on the screen behind him, as well as snippets of Japanese-style animation and a myriad of skeletons, scares and semiotics, you see why the Zombie spell is so effective. It's a cross-temporal, cross-cultural examination of the macabre and the eccentric, with tongue firmly in cheek. His mix of sci-fi, pornography, horror-mythology, occultism and the market of alternative appeal over the years, harnesses futurism with retrospection, and exploits that area just outside the boundaries of everyone's comfort zones concerning what's a bit of fancy-dress, and what's truly psychologically quirky and taboo. And he feeds our curiosity back to us through our own eyes. Sure, it's a little pretentious at times, but it's slick, stylish, smart, and very, very seductive.
We might have been 12 years in the waiting, but Rob Zombie has been making up for a lot of lost time...hard. Meretricious? Maybe. Magic? Definitely. Because with his continued unique breed of dark Commedia dell'Arte going stronger than it ever has, this man won't see you in Hell. He'll show you the way.
It's no secret that the shell of the music world is a notoriously tough nut to crack. It's not as though this is a recent turn of events, either; where audio artistry is concerned, things have always been that way. And it's even harder to get your name out, in the current day and age, down the dark old alley of rock 'n' roll - which today, ironically, manages to be non-existent to the commercial eye, but ever omnipresent to the devout follower. It's everywhere, and it's nowhere; invisible, yet secretly thriving, like an ant nest beneath your floorboards. And to carve your mark in it in the 21st century, it seems you've got to pull out all the weird and wonderful wizardry you can muster. You've got to find a different angle, a different attitude, or simply a new technique of mind-blowing craziness, with which to chip away at the iceberg of musical and financial success.
This is precisely why it's paradoxically refreshing to listen to the 6-track EP of Stoke-on-Trent's upcoming soulful sorcerers, Blue Origin. The work, entitled 'CASCADE' is, put simply, a much-needed and greatly-heralded return to the very beginning of all that sensationalistic, twiddly stuff of the world's great guitar Gods. A strong, bluesy tone, with a classic rock feel, the album offers a good dose of groovy hooks, solos infused with note-bends, vibratos and slides a-plenty, and Robert Plant-esque grit to vocalist Nick Pilgrim's striking range. It sets their sound quite apart from the thrashy, scream-y and noisy one of other surfacing young rock talents within the 'noughties' bracket. And another thing: you know how there's always at least one really dodgy song on every album? As it happens, this is a problem avoided altogether by Blue Origin, thanks to their making every track creatively diverse and different, yet musically cohesive, and thematically consistent.
The Midlands' own home-grown gents are reigniting the spark of old-school rock 'n' roll once more, mixed with a melodic, no-messing, Mississippi-delta-tinged twist. And yet, it doesn't sound dated. The verse-chorus structure of their heavier songs, like 'Freek', 'Earthbound' and 'Gone to Ground', fit their orthodox 'rock' vibe with contemporary armour. And with the picked-arpeggio subtlety of final track 'Applauded Sorrow', and an impressive vocal guest-performance by Elizabeth Whiston on penultimate offering 'Endless', Blue Origin's 'Cascade' also demonstrates crafted song-writing and textured ideas, topped with a fearlessness and talent to be reckoned with.
Blue Origin are doing something that the current world of heavy music desperately needs. It's simplistic in content, yet sophisticated in presentation, and it works. And, even though we recognise its formula straight away, it's potently significant in its return amidst an era with a commercial menu of indie and electronic flavours, and a quote-un-quote 'alternative' one consisting largely of nu-metal, and technicality that makes your head spin. But Hell, what hasn't been done before? They're just more interesting about it than your Average Joe.
Of course, there are the melodic-groove-maestros out there, who refuse to compromise even in the face of modern times, and are doing pretty well for themselves because of it: you've got your Alter Bridge-s, your Black Stone Cherry-s, and if you get heavier, your Black Label Society-s. But, whilst they're all clearly bluesy in personality, they're still using that streak to enhance another, stronger genre: hard rock, or heavy metal. Blue Origin bring to bear influences which reflect far more raw sources: the likes of Led Zeppelin, Free, and if we're talking current acts made of the same stuff, they're a lot like Irish rockers The Answer. They're a hybrid of the best elements of a range of timeless genres, without pretending to be anything else.
'Cascade' showcases their namesake, by providing a modern and successful re-shaping of the very origins of the blues and classic rock, with a nostalgic nod to times when such sonic richness was all the rage. And this is something that Blue Origin certainly aren't afraid to embrace or shout about. With an EP like this, and if they stay true to their blend of passion, poetry and pentatonics, they've got nothing to worry about. After all, as they themselves proudly say, 'we're all just 'Freeks' inside'...
It's been two years since their last album release, and a quarter of that since they last graced the South with their presence. I know what you're thinking. "Graced" seems... maybe the wrong choice of word for Ian Fraser Kilmister's noisy baby. Alright then, have it your way: since Motorhead, the mid-England Fagin's gang originally to be called Bastard, took the world by storm with their Motorizer tour in 2008/9, and pounded their way through Download 2010, heavily pregnant with their 20th studio beast on disc. (Or 21st, if you count 1979's On Parole). But I'm not all wrong. Because there is a certain twisted grace to these veteran pioneers of primitive speed and thrash metal: they're one of the last upstanding totems of what it once truly meant, maybe even still truly means, to be rock 'n' roll. And they reek of the stuff. Well, it's London's turn for the newborn 10-track effort and tour, The World is Yours, and the capital's 2010 opportunity to witness the Midlands' legendary hardest nuts. Let's see if they come up to scratch.
Support comes first from German hard-rockers SKEW SISKIN (8/10). Female-fronted, with a classic, gritty sound, they're a mix of Motley Crue, the Sex Pistols and Joan Jett, if she swallowed a cheese grater. Simple, slick and stylish, Siskin deliver a mosh-able, power-chord-strong and acceptable set. And Lemmy himself thinks so, too – after all, he originally wrote Motorhead's own belter, 'Born to Raise Hell', for them. Not a bad little rung to have on the ladder of your CV. In second place, Finnish multi-instrumentalist, and all-round exhibitionist MICHAEL MONROE (8), takes the spotlight. Like a whirling Dervish who's been told he's got to find Narnia in Steel Panther's wardrobe. His five-piece act delivers a tight, feel-good spectacle, tipped with the same trashy and thrashy web of Skid Row, Guns 'n' Roses, and Sweden's favourite sleazy punks, CrashDiet. Musically dexterous, Monroe recreates his 80s glory all around him, and takes us back to an era of glitz, ostentation, and generally not giving a damn, which passed in the blink of an eye. Even Tim Curry in that infamous Rocky Horror scene would be proud tonight.
The World is Yours. Really? Well, so Lemmy would have us believe, anyway. Literal, or ironic? Perhaps a bit of both. But more of the title later, because it's hard to hear yourself think when MOTORHEAD (9) stroll their leather-booted way onto the platform. Everyone's delirious. It's Lemmy, for Christ's sake: the man described a month ago by Jeremy Allen of The Stool Pigeon as "an agent provocateur existing in a parallel dimension; a relic of a bygone age who nonetheless manages to exhilarate modern audiences". And what a perfect depiction, as they explode into 2000-offering's title-track, 'We Are Motorhead', to begin their night of drink and musical debauchery.
Battering into trademark chunky grooves with power and precision, the black-clad triangle unleashes its assault on the pretence of glam sensationalism – ironically, the kind embodied by Monroe. It's not in a malicious way, though, or maybe even a conscious one; it's just that the masculinity of a band like Motorhead is as raw as their music, and makes the primping and preening of the likes of Poison and Whitesnake look, well, mildly ridiculous in comparison. It's also not that Motorhead are unpresentable, either: they're dressed like smart, modern gentlemen at a funeral, but paradoxically bring a cutthroat, sordid glamour of their own to the table – which is decidedly un-gentlemanly, but blazes with primal majesty.
Steaming into 1979 classic 'Stay Clean', before serving the first dish of 2010 – new album slice, 'Get Back In Line' –, it isn't long before all can test whether the current Motorhead stands up to the old. The formula stays pretty much the same from album to album; some might scorn lack of adventurousness, or experimentation with material. But Motorhead's philosophy seems to be that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And those infectious, blues-edged riffs, furious rhythms and Lemmy's infamous gravelled tones, which have 60-a-day-since-I-was-14 written all over them, are well-established as Motorhead's signature. With the only other excerpt from 2010's effort being 'I Know How to Die', Motorhead aren't silly enough to replace their worn successes on stage with a fresh harvest just yet. And with short, punchy tunes, tattooed with balls of steel, they show how the old can be made congruous with the new, and embed a repertoire of staple golden-oldies with a re-fertilised twist.
As for highlights... who's to count? There's the stunning guitar solo from Mr. Phil Campbell, before 'The Thousand Names of God': wah-saturated; treble-high; slides and bends enough to give you goose bumps. Or there's Lemmy's "greatest drummer in the world['s]" dazzling ad-lib, injected into 2004 scorcher Inferno's 'In the Name of Tragedy'. Mikkey Dee's lightening, double-kick jungle of beats is nothing short of mesmerising. Of course, you could always choose '1916' blinder, 'Going to Brazil', with Hendrix's Voodoo Chile interlude, as your favourite. Failing that, first-half closure with electric devil-child 'Ace of Spades'. But through it all, Lemmy remains the star of the show. A hybrid of James Bond and the Artful Dodger, with a pinch of Satan, his nuclear charisma pervades the room, and his notoriety only enhances his enigma. And as he's joined by Skew Siskin's Nina C. Alice for 'Killed By Death', and Michael Monroe for the encore, in 'Born to Raise Hell', before closing the night with '79's title-track 'Overkill', it's not hard to see why the Midlands' favourite rogue has endured the test of time. His swagger, bragger, and not-giving-a-monkey's damn-dagger attitude have been strengthened and assured by the wisdom of age; viewing 2010-Lemmy has the curious effect of looking at a cougar through Venetian glass. Polished surface, wild-as-hell core.
Tonight, Motorhead have caused a sensation, no doubt about that. But they've captured more than just the hearts of a new generation of thrashers. Sure, they've stormed a tremendous set with tremendous style, they're of studio-quality live, and are true enough to being the alleged 'loudest band in the world'. But their familiarity with the stage, like a comfy pair of shoes, and the continued success of their classic sound, even as we enter 2011, place a glossy stem atop their humble Stoke-on-Trent roots, and are testament to how the seed of musicality, a passion for the metal horns, and refusal to compromise, can flower into true rock 'n' roll artistry. This is made yet more potent in light of modern appreciation of their old rivals of similar origins: Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, to name but three, who again began as humble boys, with big ideas, and titanium characters. The World is Yours? Lemmy, "one of the last torchbearers of rock's ignoble tradition", as Jeremy Allen continues, proves that with a spine, a drink, and glint in your eye, it can be. "We are Motorhead", he screams to Brixton, "and don't you ever forget it." No fear of that, sir. Because times are a-changing, but, as Mikkey tells The Stool Pigeon, "Motorhead never fucking dies."
Let's picture the scene. You're in a dark little bar in the lower-East regions of London town. With high propriety, it goes by the name of the Dirty South. And, as three acts prepare to take to the stage, it is indeed time to witness the crunching higher-planes of the gritty, metal dirt of the South. Hear the rumours, read the signs: a video shoot, you say..? There's no smoke without fire; come one, come all, come far, come wide. For, above all, this is a night of mayhem, madness and Mekanizm.
The drinks are flowing and the stage is set, as THUNDERWOLF (8/10) step into the ring. "Formed in the summer of 2007, with a mutual respect for technical guitar play, and a love for melodic metal", as self-defined, Bromley's paragons of energy sustain their standard once again through a coalescence of strong musical know-how, diversity of repertoire and glove-tightness in performance. Smooth solo-to-riff and pinch-harmonic-to-groove transitions are secured by guitarists Dan Smith and Criss Thomas, laced with a soulful, shaped improvisation from each, to capture the symmetry of their twin-axe harmonies. The undoubted pinnacle of the band's showcase, a vivacious rendition of Iron Maiden's 'Hallowed Be Thy Name', exemplifies well-timed musical intervals, fluent bass finger-work and notably, excellently-replicated fills to mimic then-Maiden-drummer Clive Burr, from Thunderwolf drummer Tom Reeve.
Thunderwolf's particular command of such a well-loved classic tonight marks with poignancy Reeve's last gig with the band, and also the fearless and ambitious animal that is the chrome-plated creativity of this particular line-up: raw, intense, and, above all, ever true to those beautifully twisted roots of metal, with which our kind are all in love. New members? New scenery? New reassurance: Thunderwolf will pull it off, whatever the weather.
The light is shed on Bromley's BOA 2010 fresh blood, SILAS (8.5). "We don't aim to sound like anyone else", claim the ensemble; at this, they unarguably succeed. Their musicianship tonight is both creatively and technically expansive; guitarist Mike Ross masters vibrato-infused and note-bending grooves, complete with semitone slides and satisfying, tonic resolution to root-note. Coupled with an improvisational style that is firmly grounded in a blues feel, propelled by a gritty rock tone, both he and brother Tom explore harmonic decorations that are offset by a network of sounds and timbres, thanks to many a stamp on the effects unit on the floor. Silas talk the talk, and clearly have no trouble walking the walk, when it comes to their musical capabilities.
As for their type of song-writing, they're notoriously hard to pin down. Indeed, they offer a vast array of influences: there are some straight-up metal numbers, structured in a contemporary verse-chorus, 'pop' layout, such as the thematically-consistent 'In the Grind'; there are tunes injected with middle stretches of a totally different style, such as the reggae-pricked 'Angels Lie', and the melodic-blues-soaked 'Open Your Eyes'. Does it seem fragmented? Somewhat. But Silas' charm lies in this difference, this unusualness; and any starkness in genre cohesion is balanced by such memorability and catchiness in their melodies and choruses, that you find yourself singing and humming them at even the most unsuspecting moments. With a titanic energy and enthusiasm in performance that is fatally infectious, Silas' own breed of fire-cracking fusion could be blended a little more delicately, a little more seamlessly – but, without a shadow of a doubt, demonstrates ideas and a versatility of musicianship that, with pounding passion, shoot for the stars. Even the darkest depths of the metal world will bear witness to great things from them.
And as the moment all are eagerly awaiting is finally nigh, MEKANIZM (9) don their armour, and prepare to battle. As the camera rolls, the prospect of shooting a live performance may incite a tremor of fear in a lesser band. But those tremors themselves shy from the courageous execution of Bromley's belligerent quintet tonight, who, in their own words, "supply a full, brutal, military-assault-sounding barricade of noise".
Main lead guitarist Mike Toulson is, for technical proficiency, a wonder to behold. His improvisational style of lightening arpeggios and scalic movements, combined with fluidity of finger-tapping and sweep-picking, and stunning knowledge and command of the makeup of the fret board is, within the construct of Mekanizm, exploited through exotic and unusual flavours: from Western harmonic tones, to Eastern and modal elements. Mekanizm's signature solid, tremolo-picked grooves, selective whammy-bar abuse and Maiden-esque, three-guitar-strong instrumental layering, demonstrate their namesake in a kind of mechanical accuracy to their playing, which satisfies the musical ear through its sheer mathematical precision. Housing also an aggressive network of semiquaver rhythms, blast-beats and dense drum-fills and ad-lib, Mekanizm are musically organised and contrived, with a patterning and velocity to their riffs and solos to place them firmly within the upper echelons of conventional, machine-gun metal.
But it is their chromatic colouring, explorative song-writing, and the energy and mobility in performance of charismatic front man, vocalist/guitarist, and character Faust Perez, which dig deeper. In the same vein, they explode off-camera into free-flow funk and jazz jams, and smoulder through an acoustic rendition of own tune 'Save Me' (featuring Djembes and percussion, high-treble blues-picked guitar techniques, and a dazzling slide solo from new rhythm guitarist Eddy Leo): not only showcasing a thoroughly well-grounded musicianship, but cementing the darker spice with which Mekanizm are tinged. Although relative newcomers to the musical world, theirs is a mature and successful hybrid of a merciless, metallic wall of sound, injected with a passion and intensity to feed the sensual and emotional receptacles of their listeners.
There are splinters of everything embedded: influences from Fear Factory, Machine Head and Soilwork, to Opeth, Yngwie Malmsteen and Disturbed, reverberate within their work. And with musical delicacies such as 'Rise', 'Feel the Pain', and studio-video promo-favourite 'Decide' to feast upon, Mekanizm ravish the senses tonight with their sultry sonic cocktail and gravitational determination: placing their stamp of closure upon the year, and pre-empting a frictionless and victorious path for their artistry throughout 2011.
The 21st Century is evidently the time and place for modernity, machinery and lest we forget, Mekanizm.