CD Review: Operation: Mindcrime – The Key

CD Review: Operation: Mindcrime – The Key
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: C+

Operation: Mindcrime - The Key 2015
The sprawling concept album Operation: Mindcrime was indeed Queensryche's finest hour, a grand puzzle of progressive metal full of grandiose arrangements, sweeping drama and intelligent, socio-political storytelling. Queensryche's former singer is hoping some of the magic of his old band's most iconic work rubs off on his latest mission, which bears the same name.

Not so much a band as a collection of hired guns gathered together to help Tate realize his vision, Operation: Mindcrime borrows the talents of Megadeth's Dave Ellefson, John Moyer (Disturbed, Adrenaline Mob), drummers Simon Wright (AC/DC) and Brian Tichy (Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne) and seemingly a cast of thousands on the elegant mess called The Key, said to be part one of an epic musical trilogy from Tate and released by Frontiers Music srl.

An enormous undertaking, The Key is ambitious, thought-provoking and cinematic in scope, and the chord progressions, strings and deep bass grooves establish a dark and stylish environment for a series of scenes addressing the question: What would happen if a key was found that could completely alter our perception of the world? The crunching, surging riffs and building drama of "Burn" and "Re-inventing the Future" that follow in the wake of the soaring, orchestral opener "Choice" all suggest the high expectations for The Key were warranted. This is where the engine stalls.

Quickly losing focus, its jumble of interesting ideas never quite pulling off the jaw-dropping tricks its set of musical magicians promise, The Key devolves and flatlines. "Ready to Fly" meanders about without any real sense of purpose or direction, as if sleepwalking through an empty park in the wee hours of the morning. Just as rudderless, the proggy indulgences of "On Queue" and "An Ambush of Sadness" are set adrift instrumentally without any hope of rescue. And choruses destined for greatness end up ineffectual and formless, as is the case with "Hearing Voices," a chunky, heavy riot of Rage Against The Machine-like stomp that ends up stammering like a petulant child.

Still possessing a powerful, expressive voice and a gift for bold theatrics, Tate has time to fix this, with two more acts yet to play out. Getting all these disparate pieces to fit together logically, allowing for greater flow and fewer stumbles, might be his biggest challenge.
– Peter Lindblad

Going 'Girl Crazy' with The Dictators

Ross The Boss looks back on landmark punk LP
By Peter Lindblad

The Dictators - The Dictators
Go Girl Crazy
If ever an album was deserving of a midlife crisis, it's The Dictators' Go Girl Crazy! Having just turned 40 this year, it ought to be living the high life, and against all odds, it is.

Rather than racing around in expensive muscle cars, sporting a bad comb over and sidling up to trashy, tattooed strippers, telling them dirty, tasteless jokes over 25-cent tappers in vain attempts to wear down their resistance, Go Girl Crazy!  the Rodney Dangerfield of proto-punk records – is finally getting some respect.

"When it came out, people were laughing at us," said Ross The Boss, a founding member of punk trailblazers The Dictators and guitarist of a band that showed everyone from The Ramones to the Beastie Boys how its done. "People were mocking us, laughing at us. 'Ooo hoo, look at that guy with the wrestling outfit on the front cover and the back. What’s going on with this?' You’re talking about cars, girls, surfing and beer and American culture, and we thought, 'Ohhh, yeah!' But it seems as if 40 years later, Uncut magazine votes it No. 1 greatest American punk rock record of all-time. Uncut magazine … yeah. Uncut magazine … greatest American punk rock record of all-time."

Misunderstood almost from birth, The Dictators' seminal debut LP, released in March 1975, had its own special neanderthal, politically incorrect charm that, over time, has ... well, it's grown on us. It was after simple pleasures, and it was a stone gas, honey – just loud, obnoxious rock 'n' roll laced with grabby hooks, irresistible melodies and sun-kissed harmonies, such as those found in "Weekend," "Teengenerate" and "(I Live For) Cars and Girls," and a penchant for goofy humor. Take for example "Back to Africa" and "Master Race Rock," a precursor to Black Flag's "TV Party." Did I mention the political incorrectness?

Primitive, naive and just out for a good time, this was savage, street-wise garage rock played with surprising skill and a wild, brash attitude. It had an appreciation for bad TV, political incorrectness, indiscriminate sex and youthful hijinks and, according to "Two Tub Man," it had "Jackie Onassis in my pants." Oh, and it hated hippies.

"It was amazing. It was our first time, my first time, in the studio.We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but we had the songs," said Ross The Boss, who later resurfaced with traditional metal heroes Manowar. "We knew what we wanted, and we recorded that record and it’s hanging in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. The first thing you see is [Handsome Dick] Manitoba (The Dictators' indomitable front man) stuff, and the band has never been bigger, never been bigger – working harder than ever."

Soon, Go Girl Crazy! will get what it so rightly deserves, that is a proper reissue from CBS Sony. However, on Black Friday, Sony Legacy will release an appetizer of sorts, a 10-inch EP of five songs from Go Girl Crazy! that's entitled the Next Big Thing EP. A special 40th anniversary reissue of the original album is due to follow. Ross The Boss is enthused.

"Andrew W.K. has remixed three tracks. And he asked us to do it," said Ross The Boss. "We dug up the fucking two-track, excuse me. He remixed three songs … amazing remixes. I never thought I’d hear them remixed, and they are reissuing a double CD with alternate takes, odds and sods, that stuff that they found. And now it’s coming out again 40 years later. So now I’ve lived and the tables have turned. So this is going to be a great fall."

The two releases are separate, as the 40th anniversary CD reissue of Go Girl Crazy! will include the full album, plus alternate takes and different mixes.

As for Ross The Boss, he's got more than a few more irons in the fire. His melodic power metal band Death Dealer just released its sophomore album, Hallowed Ground. And there's new Dictators' material on the way.

"So this is going to be a great fall. [Along with] the new Death Dealer, also we’ve written our first new single, The Dictators, without Andy, with the new lineup," said Ross The Boss. "So we’re moving into new territory. And everything is hitting on all cylinders my friend."  

There's no rest for the wicked, or Ross The Boss. And his work ethic is stronger than ever.

"I’m honored, I am honored, but at the same time, I wake up and I work my ass off every single day," said Ross The Boss. "I don’t take a day off. So we work on it all the time. And I would say maybe pass that bit of info on to other musicians. Instead of sitting there on their couches every day, waiting and waiting for their break, you can’t wait for it. It’s not coming. You have to go out and get it."

Just like The Dictators did all those years ago.

CD Review: Motorhead – Bad Magic

CD Review: Motorhead – Bad Magic
All Access Rating: A-

Motorhead - Bad Magic 2015
Soldiering on despite increasingly alarming health issues, Lemmy Kilmister leads Motorhead on another balls-to-the-wall, rock 'n' roll escapade, this one called Bad Magic. Keenly aware of his own mortality, Lemmy – with a little help from his friends  – seems intent on going out in a blaze of glory, releasing one fireball of an album after another.

The formula doesn't change. Taking pride in being gritty, fast and ugly, as they always have, Motorhead again goes straight for the throat, and on the UDR release Bad Magic, Lemmy and cohorts Phil Campbell (guitars) and Mikkey Dee (drums) are addicted to the speed of blazing anthems "Victory or Die," "Thunder & Lightning" and "Electricity." It's as if they feel the Grim Reaper hot on their heels, as they race through a more melodic "Evil Eye" and blacken the earth with a scorching "Teach Them How to Bleed," hardly ever stopping to catch their breath.

While the deteriorating effects of age are creeping into his vocals, Lemmy's vile snarl is still vicious and mean, free of any studio or computerized enhancements that might add a synthetic and dishonest youthfulness that would send any Motorhead follower worth his salt into a disillusioned rage. Focus instead on the dogged grooves and hooks of "Fire Storm Hotel" and "Shoot Out All of Your Light" –the latter a powerful squall of dizzying guitars – and get blown away by the big, high-impact chorus and churning riffs of "The Devil." To top it all off, Motorhead brings their leaner cover of The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For the Devil" back to the street, a rather faithful version that's even tougher than the original. Aside from a fairly standard and lugubrious, if still smoldering, ballad in "Till The End, there's nary a misstep on Bad Magic, where Campbell's solos and leads are absolutely searing and Dee's beat factory working furiously to keep up with orders. Sticking to what works with determination and editing out the fat, Motorhead still has that old black magic.
– Peter Lindblad

Walking 'Hallowed Ground' with Death Dealer's Ross The Boss

Founding member of The Dictators, Manowar talks career, new album
By Peter Lindblad
Death Dealer is coming out with its
sophomore LP Hallowed Ground. 

Death Dealer's time is coming. Ross The Boss, aka Ross Friedman, knows it in his bones.

Maybe it'll be their cataclysmic firestorm of a sophomore effort, Hallowed Ground, that kicks open the door for these ferociously rugged, melodic heavy-metal mercenaries, thrown together by fate to wage war against musical charlatans that dishonor everything metal stands for.

It's happened before for the guitarist, a founding member of the testosterone-fueled, epic metal heroes Manowar, as well as The Dictators, whose 1975 debut album The Dictators Go Girl Crazy was recently deemed by Uncut magazine as the "Greatest American Punk LP" of all-time.

"I have a feeling I right now like I had in 1981, like before (Manowar's first LP) Battle Hymns came out," said Ross The Boss. "I mean, I have that kind of a feeling. People don’t know what’s about to hit. And I have that feeling, and I hope it does. It took Manowar a while before everyone realized how original it was, and I have that same feeling. I’m confident about Death Dealer. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in it. I’m not into a slog. That’s not what I want to do. I’m into doing positive, good work."

Appetites whetted for Hallowed Ground by the powerhouse debut album Warmaster, as well as the fiery video for the song "Break The Silence," seen below, Death Dealer – featuring fellow guitarist Stu Marshall, vocalist Sean Peck, bassist Mike Davis and drummer Mike Bolgnese – has designs on world domination, even if such grandiose dreams seem far-fetched in this day and age. With a force of nature like Ross The Boss in the fold, however, anything seems possible.

Soon, Death Dealer will make landfall after being a part of Motorhead's Motorboat Cruise, which also included Anthrax, Exodus, Suicidal Tendencies, Hatebreed, Slayer and Corrosion of Conformity. Then comes the business of reaching mass audiences with extensive touring.

Made up of veterans from metal acts like Lizzy Borden, Rob Halford and Cage, not to mention Ross The Boss's impressive credentials, Death Dealer is ready for the next level, as Hallowed Ground blends aggressive speed metal, ambitious orchestrations and pulse-pounding bombast in an explosive package. Ross The Boss talks about Death Dealer and the highlights of his career in this interview:

What do you have going on now that the album is done?
RTB: The album’s done. It’s coming out Oct. 2 on SMG, Sweden Music Group. Our video dropped last week. We have 12,000 hits on it, and we’ll just roll along.

How happy are you with the recording?
RTB: Absolutely thrilled with it. Once we finished the first record, after Warmaster, our first record three years ago, we started … well actually before, it was like two and a half years ago. Once we finished with that, we started writing immediately for the second record. So we’ve been living with these songs for quite a bit. I mean, we did the Metal All-Stars arena tour. We opened for that, which I was a part of. I was an All-Star. And so I was opening for myself. The band really became a true band, played in front of 80,000 people, so we worked on these songs and we’re so very happy with it. I mean, our songwriting really matured, I think. It’s the natural evolution of things, and here we are waiting to release the second record. 

Maybe you already answered this, but in what ways does Hallowed Ground build off what you did with Warmaster?
RTB: Well, as I said, it’s just the natural evolution of music. It’s deeper, it’s … well, you know, everybody says it’s better, but I think this actually is better. Not to belittle a really good debut, but the songwriting has more rounded approach. You obviously haven’t heard it?

No, I have. I love it. I really like the production of it. I think the production … man, it hits you.
RTB: It does hit you. It’s loud. It’s clean. I’ve actually had someone say that it’s too loud.

RTB: Yeah, I go, “What?” I mean, you live long enough you’re going to hear everything in this world. I don’t know. It’s too loud for a heavy metal fan. I mean, people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it like that. I don’t know. I’m braying with smoke coming out of my ears, I don’t know (laughs).

Death Dealer - Hallowed Ground 2015
Was it an easier process this time around, or were there difficulties you encountered?
RTB: No, actually no. The songwriting … Death Dealer is a song-rich environment. I mean, when you have actually three guys that can really write songs, and then Mike and Steve, they’re going to start, I mean we’re dealing from strength here. These ideas … we have stuff for the third one already. It just never stops, the process of songwriting for us. It’s an amazing thing because if I send a riff to Stu, and he’s in Sydney, Australia … if I send a riff to him, I don’t even have to play it. I show it to him … "Play it like this, right?" And he does like eight bars, 16 bars, and then, all of a sudden, he writes a part to it, another part. So then we have that part. He does the demo, and we can have a demo that sounds like that album, Hallowed Ground. We have that, he masters it, and he has the whole thing. So, we’re already hearing it like people are hearing our music on our CDs, so that really rushes up the creative process. And then Sean gets it in a nanosecond and he’s on it. And everybody stores their stuff. Everybody passes everything along, and I think it’s an even better process of writing songs than if you’re in the same room.

I was going to ask you about that. You obviously like doing it this way, but because everybody talks about the immediacy of recording live in the studio, and how that sounds, do you get that still with this method?
RTB:  Well, we would love to be together all the time as a band practicing. Would we love to say, “Let’s go practice and knock shit out?” Of course we want that. Everybody wants that, but in today’s world, today’s day and age, I mean not many guys live in the same spot, except The Dictators, who are all from the same city. So bands that live apart, it’s the only way to go. It’s the only way to do it. And we’ve mastered that. We have it down to a science where everyone … and Stu’s in Australia, so his time zone is ... forget it. So we manage to do Skype with the whole band, so everybody’s on the same plane with the songs, everybody’s contributing. Mike and Steve contributed greatly to the arrangements and all the stuff that has to go down to it. There’s no “I” in Death Dealer, so … I mean, the proof’s in the pudding.

One of the best songs on the record is “Break the Silence,” and you did a cool video for it. Talk about the making of video and the recording of that track …
RTB: We were in Europe last month on our tour. We had festival shows, promotional stuff. So we drove up to northern Sweden to our director’s house, Owe Lingvall. And he had everything set up. It was unbelievable. We got there and it was like, flame towers, flame throwers, drones … he had drones ready to go. I mean, this was … those giant lighting things, I mean it was quite a nice production to this video. And flame everywhere like you wouldn’t believe. He’s one of the finest directors in the business. I mean, the result is obvious. I think the video is just incendiary (laughs).

It matches the song.
RTB: Uh huh. No, really. I mean, we’re really happy with the final product. He puts his name on something and it’s really great. SMG loves it, everybody loves it. So far, the 12,000 hits we got love it. We want to make that 12,000 into 120,000. That’s the goal of the band. When we’re at 120,000, this band is going to be all over the world, and I truly believe that is going to happen.

What guitar parts are you most proud of on the record? I really like the guitar work on “Total Devastation” – great power, speed and a variety of leads.
RTB: Well, I mean, all of it is really interesting from Stu and I. Everything … I think it’s very interesting what we do. Also, our acoustic pieces are incredible. This thing on “Gunslinger,” his acoustic work on “Gunslinger” and my “Llega El Diablo,” before “The Way of the Gun,” I’m most proud of that. I just think that it just builds, it’s got that Spanish, Tex-Mex whole thing. “The Way of the Gun” solo I think is pretty much classic Ross. I’m just proud of the whole thing. The way Stu and I differentiate, the way our styles differentiate but complement each other, the fact that there’s no race there. Our mantra is, “Whatever is best for the song.” All that matters to us is the song. And if I have to play the solo, I do. If Stu has to play it … like “Way of the Gun,” I played it. If one of the songs, he has to do it – he’s got a couple he does them all himself – that’s it. If there are no solos, like in “Séance,” then there are no solos. We don’t care. It’s like you see these bands with multiple guitar players, it’s like a competition. And there’s no competition here, because I have no competition. It’s just, you know, I don’t … I mean, I can’t play like anyone else, but everyone else can’t play like me, you know what I’m saying? So, we’re delighted with it.  
Death Dealer consists of guitarists
Ross The Boss and Stu Marshall,
bassist Mike Davis, singer Sean Peck and
drummer Steve Bolgnese
You’re quoted in the press materials as saying, “ … this is what metal should sound like.” Between Death Dealer and Manowar, you’ve been responsible for shaping and influencing heavy metal. What’s different about the metal you’ve made with Manowar and Death Dealer, as opposed to the metal of today’s artists? What are they missing?
RTB: Well, I think that the accent on songwriting, the accent on divergent, diverse songwriting. I mean, you could listen to our stuff and we’re really not repeating ourselves. Some bands have like their songs, their main song, that’s 1A. And then they start going to 1B, 1C, 1D … it’s like the same song. They’re repeating themselves through the whole CD and the ideas get very tired. I mean, I’ve heard some really good records, but I don’t think a band can sustain a record like we have on 13 tracks here.

There’s a real rawness and power, not to mention great hooks, to songs on Hallowed Ground like “K.I.L.L.,” “The Anthem” and “Break The Silence,” and a galvanizing energy and spirit to “I Am The Revolution.” And then there’s the speed of “Plan of Attack.” There’s a lot of variety to Hallowed Ground, but to me it’s the aggression and energy that really stand out. How would you characterize the album?
RTB: Oh, there’s absolutely an incredible energy level to Hallowed Ground. People compliment us a lot on our live show saying, “That’s the highest energy band I’ve ever seen.” And then people are mentioning how high energy it was. The band is high energy, right from the get-go. We are a high-energy machine. It’s incendiary. That’s what it is. We are that. You can’t deny it.

How did you guys get together?
RTB:  Well, about three and a half years ago, I get a message on Facebook from Sean Peck, who I knew. I wasn’t very familiar with Cage, because I don’t listen to a lot of other bands. I never did. So I get this call from him and he goes, “Ross, I really admire you and what you’ve done, and blah, blah, blah, and I’m putting this thing together with this guy Stu Marshall, who’s this really great guitar player, and we’re interested in having you play on a couple of songs." And you know, we took it as far as that. “Okay, all right. Send me some songs then.” Okay, and then the next day, I get a message from Stu. And it was like, “Oh hi, mate. Battle Hymn is my favorite. It really changed my life,” and all that. And he goes, “You can’t believe how influential all that stuff was,” and I go, “Okay. Great.” And he said, “I’m working with Sean and I think we either want you or K.K. Downing (laughs).” And I said, “What? Huh?” He said, “You or K.K. Downing.” And I said, “Okay, all right. I’m very interested.” So later, after about an hour, I get some tracks, unfinished tracks, and I go, “This is incredible. This is really incredible.” It took me a day, and I said, “I’m in. I’m in with this. Whatever you guys do, I’m in.” And so Sean gets back on the thing and says, “Well, we have the name of the band set, and we have a bass player, we have a drummer, blah, blah, blah …” Sean is just so flipped on this, and I go, “Wow!” And then we started working on the songs. It was great, and the rest is history.” And in three years, we’ve taken the band from idea to completing Warmaster to opening for the Metal All-Stars on the arena tour, to doing all the other stuff, getting a label, putting it all together – SMG is putting it out Oct. 2 – to doing three tours to doing the video. In three and a half years, this is what we’ve done. We self-financed the first record, but not this one, so I think … it’s good, it’s good.

I know it’s a whole new world out there, but have you found that you’ve been able to build an audience the same way you used to or are you having to go to different avenues?
RTB: Well, it’s not as easy as it once was. I mean, bands … if they want be on a big tour they have to buy on, which SMG is going to do for us. In one way, you’ve got the Internet helping, which spreads the word faster, but you really need to get out there and win over heads and turn heads, which we’re going to do. We’re doing the Motorhead boat tour Sept. 28, which has a thousand people on it. We’re excited to do that. The whole plan is just being laid out, but it’s a different world we live in.

Have you done a boat tour before?
RTB: Uh, no.

What are you most looking forward to with it?
RTB: I am looking forward to it. Hanging with Lemmy. Hanging out with my friends in Anthrax. It’s going to be great. It’s got to be great. It’s a load of fun.

Yeah, because you worked on Anthrax’s demo, producing it.
RTB: Yeah, I got them their first kind of deal and all those Marshall cabinets, and really helped out.

What did you think of the band back then?
RTB: I thought they were great. I mean, I liked their ideas. I thought their energy was … I could definitely relate to that. I liked their songs, and Neil Turbin and Danny Lilker, the other guitar player. It was cool.

Did you believe that The Dictators Go Girl Crazy, which turns 40 this year, had a lot of commercial potential at the time?
RTB: Coming out?

RTB: Go Girl Crazy? Yes, I did. You bet. I thought songs like “Weekend” and “Cars and Girls” definitely could make it on the radio, but the radio was so screwed up with Boston and Foreigner and all this other stuff that was coming out then that … I mean, I thought good American records, good American rock ‘n’ roll would always win out, but CBS couldn’t figure it out at the time, you know. There were no visionaries there. It was just, it’s got to come out and sell … typical story, but strange, though. How many records from back then are still being hailed as great records? Not many. The Dictators Go Girl Crazy has just got legs. It’s got a life of itself. It’s got a super cult following, and people have responded. And finally, people are saying this is the No. 1 greatest American punk rock record of all-time.

That’s amazing, considering all the great punk records that came out. You guys really were influential.
RTB: Yes. I mean, I would say that, as in Manowar, all the original fans became musicians that had bands and made records, especially with The Dictators. So many people around the world that got into Go Girl Crazy when it came out were all musicians, like Radio Birdman, The Ramones, and all these bands from all over the world. Yeah, so the band was really influential.   

Going back to the origins of The Dictators, what brought the band together and what were early rehearsals like?
RTB: Oh, well, we created the band up at state college in SUNY New Paltz. After high school, we were all pretty much not going to college (laughs) … going to college, but not going to college at the same time, like “Animal House.” That was exactly what it was, and New Paltz was like the No. 2 party school in the country. It was insane, and it was that kind of environment, and I was in a band called Total Crud in New Paltz. It wasn’t that good, but it was wild. And Andy Shernoff was there and going to New Paltz, and he goes, “Listen, do you want to form a band? Do you want to form a band?” And I go, “Yes.” Yeah, and I said, “Yeah.” And he was a rock ‘n’ roll journalist, writing rock reviews. And he had his own fanzine, Teenage Wasteland Gazette. (Laughs) And he said, “Let’s start a band.” So Andy and I started The Dictators, and we got Scott (Kempner) and we found a drummer up there and kind of was messing through it – couldn’t play worth shit, except me, actually. But he had a bunch of songs, and we kind of got the band together. Manitoba wasn’t the lead singer yet. He was our breakfast chef (laughs). So Richard Meltzer was Andy’s friend, a rock writer, and Meltzer’s buddy, Sandy Pearlman, was managing the Blue Oyster Cult. And he got Sandy to come up and see the band. And Sandy fell in love with us and that was it. We went down to New York. We recorded a demo and we were signed to CBS.    

What was it like working with Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman.
RTB: Well, very interesting guys, I can tell you that. They have very different production values than what I was using. I don’t know. They had some very strange things that they did in the studio, but it seemed to work out. Sandy just had his way of doing things. I mean, I worked with Sandy on a lot of records, including Shakin’ Street. Listen, when you’re working with a producer like that – and he did The Clash – when you’re working with a producer like that, it’s what he wants. He was good with us in that if I suggested something to him, he was definitely into it, but he definitely had his own vision (laughs).

Did that clash with what you wanted?
RTB: Sometimes, sometimes … yes – especially working with Mark Mendoza. Oh my God. Oh my God. Like when we heard Manifest Destiny in San Francisco, we wanted to kill him. The whole group said, “We hate this. Go fuck yourself, and we hate you.” You know what that did? Nothing (laughs).

What is your favorite Dictators record?
RTB: Mine is Blood Brothers – just because the band was more musically together, and we had a real drummer. I can imagine if we had Richard Teeter for the first record, I think the band would have been superstars. Seriously, but that’s the way it is. We were who we were. It is what is. And it hasn’t died. It lives bigger and better.

What was the New York City music scene of the early 70s like? Describe some of the places you played back then.
RTB: What was the early scene like?

Yeah, was it pretty gritty? I imagine it was.
RTB: When we got down to New York in ’74, and there was really nowhere to play. There was a place here in Queens called The Coventry, where KISS was playing and the Dolls would play. No Max’s Kansas City yet. No CBGBs yet, but there were other bars to play at. There was Popeye’s in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. That’s where Manitoba sang for the first time – got up on stage and sang “Wild Thing.” It was like a dead Tuesday night, and the bums were there and we’re playing. Here’s an interesting story. We’re there, and we’re just playing along. Andy was the lead singer, and people are going, “Yeah, they’re nice. They’re good … The Dictators … yada, yada, yada.” You know, it’s like, Manitoba was our roadie, but he was a terrible roadie, because he was breaking signs and shit. In the clubs, he was back and just destroying shit. So they couldn’t keep up. That couldn’t keep up, because we couldn’t afford it, breaking awnings and stuff. So we go, “Richard, you want to sing a song with us?” Looking up, he’s drunk and shit. And I go, “Well, what song do you know?” And he goes, “Well, I know ’Wild Thing.’” Oh, okay. We know “Wild Thing.” So we proceeded to do “Wild Thing,” and he started singing, and every bum, every person in the club, their heads perked up. It was like, “What the fuck was that? Who was that? What the hell?” The reaction he got was shocking. It was shocking that he woke this whole club up like the place was on fire. And after that, I go, “You know what? I think we found our lead singer.” So that night, at Popeye’s in Sheep’s Head Bay, Handsome Dick Manitoba was born. And, you know, a guy from Blondie was there … the guitar player?

Oh, Chris Stein …
RTB: Yeah, Chris Stein. Yeah, he was there and Eric Emerson. But now, of course, everybody says they were there. You know, like Game 6 of the World Series with The Mets. Everybody was there, and everyone was at Woodstock, too, but it was an amazing night.  

Talk about meeting Joey DeMaio for the first time. How did the idea of forming Manowar come about?
RTB:  Okay. Shakin’ Street was supporting Black Sabbath on the first Ronnie James Dio tour, and their comeback was playing in Manchester … one of those cities. And Ronnie Dio comes up to me and goes, “Oh Ross, I love your guitar playing. I love the history of The Dictators and New York rock. I love it.” And I go, “Well, thank you.” And I’m like Ronnie Dio … love it! He goes, “Great fan of yours.” And I say, “Thanks. Thanks, Ronnie.” He goes, “Oh, by the way. You should check out this guy Joey on our crew. He plays bass. You should check him and check each other out.” And I go, “Okay.” So the next thing I know, Joey and I are like in Black Sabbath’s dressing room when they’re on making music and going through ideas and stuff like that. So, as the days went on, we decided that I was going to leave Shakin’ Street, issue my replacement and we were going to go off the road and form [Manowar]. And I already had a guy on EMI that really wanted to do a project very badly with me, Bob Curry, who was a friend, a personal friend, and a very great guy. So that was the stage for Manowar.    

The music of Manowar was pretty different than that of the Dictators. What excited you most about the potential of Manowar and what attracted you to play metal?
RTB: Well, it was different. Culturally, it came from a different place. It was Norse mythology, Wagnerian moments, street rock and roll, of course, and me, and it was different. I don’t think anyone else was doing stuff like that. We were ready from the beginning. We had the epic songs. “Dark Avenger” that I had written, and Joey had “Battle Hymn,” so it was different. No doubt about it. It was different. I mean, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden weren’t writing songs like that.  

What were the early days of Manowar like? What were the shows like? Were you received well from the start by audiences, or did it take time for them to get what you were doing?
RTB: Yeah, wherever we played we were … yeah, because no one else would play with us.

Why was that?
RTB: Because that’s just the way it was. Whitesnake said, “Well, you can come out with us, but you can’t wear your clothes. You have to be in jeans." And we said, “No way.” And it’s like, we kind of did it to ourselves: “We’re the best, we’re the loudest, we’re the fastest … we’re this, we’re that. ‘Death to false metal.’” We kind of made it like a members-only club. And as much as it helped the band, it hurt the band. We had big mouths. 

Talk about some of the Manowar albums, starting with Battle Hymns. What was recording that like, especially compared to your work with The Dictators?
RTB: Oh, well. We were still doing everything in the studio together. We were very, very well-rehearsed. And you know, Criteria Studios (Miami, Fla.), it was basically the same – get everything set up, mic everything up and go through takes. It was the same. It was the same up until Fighting The World.    

But you got Orson Welles on that record …
RTB: Yeah, Orson Welles did the first record, right. Our manager … well, Bob Coury from the label found his manager. He was living in Las Vegas, he was going to be in New York for a couple of days, and we sent him the lyrics, and he absolutely loved it. He agreed to do it, it was the coup of a lifetime, and amazing. It was an amazing thing that happened to me, and it was Orson Welles.

Was Into Glory Ride another step up from that record?
RTB: Well, listen. By the time of the Into Glory Ride period, we’d gotten dropped from EMI. They gave us a buyout, and from the money we got from the buyout – because EMI and Liberty Records, Kenny Rogers’ label, had absolutely no idea what we were doing; I mean, they couldn’t relate to us – so with the money we got from the buyout, we recorded Into Glory Ride, and it was the most hateful, angry we could come up with. And that was Into Glory Ride, and that’s what it is – another record that still stands the test of time.

And so does Kings of Metal. Did that really feel like the pinnacle for you guys?
RTB: Well, it was the pinnacle recording it. And then, of course, Joey thought it was a good decision to ask me to leave right before the release of Kings of Metal. So I put that in like the top two of the worst moments in rock ‘n’ roll: Mick Taylor quitting the Rolling Stones and Ross The Boss leaving Manowar before Kings of Metal. Like maybe after that tour? You know … it totally put that band into confusion.

Was there ever a reason given?
RTB: Yeah, we weren’t getting along … blah, blah, blah. But there was no reason for that, no reason for that. We could have worked out our problems, but a certain someone needed complete control – complete control of the money, complete control of everything – and he wanted to work with a band of puppets. I wasn’t about to be a in a band of puppets, so …

What seems to me to tie Death Dealer, Manowar, and The Dictators is a real sense of integrity and that really comes through. You’re really making music that’s true to that genre. Is that kind of the sense you get to?
RTB:  Well, that’s what we have to do. Only the true bands will go through. A band that’s full of shit will be outed easily. They will be outed. Like an all-star band, like a one-off tour … some of the songs, light songs. You know what I’m saying. Our music, all that stuff was from the heart back then, and to this day now. It’s just the way it is. We put a lot of effort and love and work into our music and it shows. It showed between ’82 and 1988 and it shows now, and it showed on my two solo records, too.

Outside of those main two bands, what are some of your other favorite projects?
RTB: The Ross The Boss band – New Metal Leader and Hailstorm I think are very, very fine records. We had a band called The Spinatras, and we did a record for CMC, which no one knows about because they just went to hell, the label just went to hell, but they gave us a whole bunch of money. The Spinatras were good, my work with the Brain Surgeons – Albert Bouchard from BOC … there’s a lot of them.

Any of those records you feel should have gotten more publicity than they did?
RTB: The Spinatras for sure. There was some real strong songs on that record.

With everything you’ve got going on, what are your hopes for The Dictators going forward and Death Dealer?
RTB: Well, The Dictators are getting bigger and bigger. Our tours are getting more well-attended. The single’s coming out. We’re going to have it for November. We have 12 shows in New York for November, ending in the Eindhoven Speed Fest [in The Netherlands]. And you know, as far as Death Dealer, we have the [Mothorhead] Motorboat cruise, and the day we get off the ship, our album is going to be released on the second of October, and we’ll take it from there. I mean, I’m sure it’ll start attracting a lot of heads. I think 2016 is going to be an incredible year. I mean, if it’s not, something’s really off on this planet, but I think we’re setting ourselves up – both bands – and I got the Titans of Metal in Israel on Dec. 17 with Sean Peck and the girl from Nightwish, and Uli Jon Roth and the two guitar players from Mercyful Fate, and all this. So we’re going to do that, Tel Aviv and Cyprus on the 17th and 18th of December. So I’m kind of busy, you know. Things are all really going to be good, but Death Dealer and The Dictators for 2016, put your money on it.

Book Review: Greg Prato – Survival Of The Fittest: Heavy Metal in the 1990's

Book Review: Greg Prato – Survival of the Fittest: Heavy Metal in the 1990's
All Access: A-

Greg Prato - Survival of
the Fittest: Heavy Metal in
the 1990s
The party was over for glam-metal and more traditional metal acts weren't having such a good time of it either, their days in the sun darkened by dour, flannel-clad hordes from the Pacific Northwest intent on making everybody as depressed as they were.

Once and for all, a new lengthy examination of metal in the '90s by author Greg Prato completely eviscerates the wrongheaded party line that grunge was some kind of powerful insecticide that wiped out the entire genre as a whole, even if it did seem to, at the very least, harsh headbangers' buzz for a time. Still, after grunge's cleansing purge, heavy metal – beaten to a pulp in the press and, for a time, left for dead in record label boardrooms – miraculously recovered and even thrived, its durability enhanced by its own evolution.

Utilizing the oral history format that served him so well with other tomes, such as "Iron Maiden: '80, '81," "The Eric Carr Story" and "Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music," Prato covers a great deal of territory here, interviewing close to 90 subjects – Eddie Trunk, Riki Rachtman, Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, Overkill's Bobby Blitz, Les Claypool from Primus, Phil Anselmo, Cinderella's Tom Kiefer, Scott Weiland and others too numerous to mention – for over 600 pages of candid, insightful observations and memories from those who experienced one of the biggest sea changes in rock history. Along the way, Prato chronicles the splintering of metal and hard rock into seemingly a thousand sub-genres, as metal seemed to merge with "alternative rock."

In his forward to Prato's work, ex-Pantera bassist Rex Brown writes, "Back in the '90s, us and quite a few of our peers were doing something that was off-the-cuff, and you had to make it your own brand and style." Innovation was the order of the day, as bands like Pantera, Nine Inch Nails,Sepultura, Fear Factory, White Zombie and Kyuss expanded the possibilities of a genre that had gone stale, and Prato takes great pains to chronicle the onset and development of stylistic shifts that resulted in prog metal, extreme metal, funk metal, industrial metal, stoner metal and, of course, nu metal.

At the same time, Prato attacks the subject from all angles, painting a well-rounded picture of just what the hell happened in metal's most perplexing decade. It explores, in depth, Guns 'N Roses' increasingly grandiose aspirations and precipitous decline, the explosion of Nirvana, band break-ups, changes with KISS, Rush and Aerosmith, the "Gary Cherone Years" of Van Halen, and other earth-shattering events. Even with such a prodigious page count, "Survival of the Fittest: Heavy Metal in the 1990's" flies by, the conversational tone of the book resulting in a fairly quick read. Because of that, and the massive amount of interview material it contains, it's a work that owners can go back to again and again and still find it worthwhile to do so. For ordering information for paperback and Kindle, go to and for Nook, visit
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Dr. John – The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974

CD Review: Dr. John – The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974
Omnivore Records
All Access Rating: A-

Dr. John - The Atco/Atlantic
Singles 1968-1974 2015
All of America's confounding contradictions are laid bare in Dr. John's "The Patriotic Flag Waver," the mono version of which appears on a new compilation, from Omnivore Recordings, of the New Orleans icon's best-loved music titled The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974.

Set to martial drums, some light acoustic guitar strumming and a playful, slightly off-key children's choir singing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," the beautifully messy, spoken-word reading perfectly encapsulates – without judgment – the cultural and socio-political idiosyncrasies of a country that aspires to greatness and often falls short. Given the current divisiveness over race, religion and any number of hot-button topics that drive people into a frothing rage these days, the song – guileless and honest, to a fault – couldn't possibly be more relevant.

This well-curated collection, complete with insightful and reverential penned liner notes by musicologist Gene Sculatti, gathers together both the A- and B-sides Dr. John recorded for Atlantic's labels during a stretch of particularly inspired work. Revisiting "The Patriotic Flag Waver" – a history lesson that sounds like a distant echo or a recovered memory in mono – is, in and of itself, a rewarding and thought-provoking journey through the nation's checkered past. Still, that's just one of heady intoxicants in a 22-song survey that, while less than comprehensive, serves as an ecumenical worship of an artist and the music of his native home, and a serious lesson in the musical lexicon and history of The Big Easy.

An easy stroll through the diverse sounds of the Bayou, the music of Dr. John is a melange of swampy R&B, jazz, psychedelia, pop, funk, rock 'n' roll and whatever else happens to be trolling through the backstreets of New Orleans blowing sun-dappled, dewey horns. Like a more languorous and soulful Tom Waits, he slinks down Tin Pan Alley in the jazzy, minstrel shamble of "Jump Sturdy" and shuffles through the subdued, engaging R&B of "Mama Roux." However, darkness and danger are present in the mysterious murk of "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" Parts I and II and the sinister "Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya," as a creepy Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack, declares himself to be "known as the night tripper" over rolling drums, with hypnotic, zombie-like vocals swaying and moaning as if caught in a voodoo trance.

A Grammy winner six times over, Dr. John is a soulful singer and a wickedly clever keyboardist, his great feel for the material and what it needs always apparent, whether he's shaping the slinky grooves of "Loop Garoo" and the smash hit "Right Place Wrong Time," or laying back and playing it cool on a breezy "Wash Mama Wash." He makes the electric-piano boogie of "Wang Dang Doodle" seductively bounce and gyrate across the dance floor, while the summery "Such A Night" twinkles and sashays under the stars, the high-stepping energy of "Iko Iko" exudes light and "A Man Of Many Words" – where Dr. John is joined by Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy – gets lost in deep, bluesy reflection.

Protective of its traditions, but not inextricably bound to them, Dr. John is a New Orleans institution, an almost mythical figure ingrained in the old, decaying fabric of a haunted city. Among the producers, writers and arrangers he's rubbed elbows with are sainted names like Clapton and Guy, Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler , Allen Toussaint, Willie Dixon. Even among such esteemed company, Dr. John – his slightly raspy voice a cocktail that brings on a drowsy buzz all by itself – stands out, his outsized personality and reputation for wildly theatrical performances matched only by the singular character of a place unlike anywhere else. To find the real Dr. John, wander through The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974 and then seek out the rest of his catalog. It's easy to fall under the spell of the Night Tripper.
– Peter Lindblad

Short Cuts: W.A.S.P., Aerosmith, Death Dealer

CD Review: W.A.S.P. – Golgotha
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: B+

W.A.S.P. - Golgotha 2015
Few could have predicted that Blackie Lawless, of all people, would find religion ... again. Unthinkable in the '80s, when he was Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center's Public Enemy No. 1 for his outlandish, unsavory stage antics and lewd, violent lyrics, Lawless has, indeed, turned back to God for salvation. And the more recent output of W.A.S.P. has reflected the change, becoming less dangerous or carnal in the process and sounding cleaner and more idealistic as it leaves behind the furious bluster and viciousness of the band's malevolent past. Not all W.A.S.P. fans have welcomed the transformation, with many leaving the flock in droves after 2009's Babylon and its predecessor Dominator. The first W.A.S.P. album in six years, Golgotha – the skull-covered site of Jesus's crucifixion undoubtedly inspiring its creepy cover art – might draw some of them back, its ominous winds blowing strong melodies across desolate landscapes. It's easy to get swept up in the gathering momentum of high-flying, melody-filled metal anthems such as "Scream," "Last Runaway" and "Shotgun," even as Lawless comes off as some pale, trilling imitation of Meatloaf in this heady rush. Overtly Christian in many of its themes, as the earnest, slow-building title track dramatically pleads, "Jesus, I need you now," the occasionally bloody Golgotha finds Lawless in a vulnerable state, the desperate, emotional ballad "Miss You" – awash in melodrama – baring his feelings of utter helplessness and the darkly melodic "Fallen Under" appealing for protection against evil hordes. In stronger voice, Lawless urges on the galloping bravado of "Slaves of the New World Order," even as leaves himself more exposed than ever on Golgotha.

CD Review: Death Dealer  Hallowed Ground
Sweden Music Group
All Access Rating: A-

Death Dealer - Hallowed Ground 2015
Still looking to eradicate "false metal" from the face of the earth, ex-Manowar and Dictators guitarist Ross The Boss resurfaced in 2013 with Death Dealer and their raging debut album Warmaster. An all-out offensive of racing rhythms, blazing solos and gnarly riffs, Warmaster put Death Dealer on the metal map, earning the newly formed outfit a spot on the upcoming Motorhead Motorboat Cruise. The band's sophomore effort, Hallowed Ground, is all those things and more, another thrilling, white-knuckle ride of aggressive, slamming speed-metal and heavy punishers reminiscent of Painkiller-era Judas Priest. The earth-shaking production is assertive and vigorous, amplified for maximum impact in brutal bangers "K.I.L.L.," "The Anthem" and a screaming banshee called "Break The Silence." Killer hooks abound, hair-raising singer Sean Peck practically devours this material and Ross The Boss and Stu Marshall let it rip on searing leads and vigorous riffs, showing off a dizzying variety of chops on "Total Devastation." Pressing down on the accelerator, the thrashing "Plan Of Attack" goes 100 miles per hour and the spirited defiance of "I Am the Revolution" should galvanize the faithful, while "Seance" infuses mystery into Death Dealer's irresistible onslaught, even if the faint whiff of cheese can be detected over the menacing din. A force to be reckoned with, Death Dealer is metal to the core and has shown everyone how it's done.

CD/DVD Review: Aerosmith  Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Aerosmith - Aerosmith
Rocks Donington 2014 - 2015
A massive spectacle in every sense, the Download Festival rolled out the red carpet for royalty in 2014, welcoming Aerosmith as a headlining act. These kings of sleazy, blues-infused rock 'n' roll laid down the law in an electrifying outing from the "Let Rock Rule" tour, now available as a lavish, career-spanning two CD/DVD collection titled "Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014." Overly effusive in his praise, Rolling Stone's David Wild gushes and prattles on endlessly in colorfully photographed liner notes that serve more as a mash note to Aerosmith than anything else. On the other hand, he's not wrong about them or this powder keg of a performance, as Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer feverishly tear through a raucous, double-barreled blast of "Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "Eat The Rich" for openers, confidently strut and preen all over the full-tilt boogie of "Walk This Way" and "Same Old Song and Dance," and radiate pure energy in vibrant, crowd-pleasing renditions of "Love In An Elevator" and "Dude Looks Like A Lady." Vividly filmed in high definition, with quick-cutting, sweeping camera work shooting from unusual angles and edited so it comes up with money shots in every scene of the band in full throat, "Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014" is a truly great concert film. And the sound is just as striking and lucid. Aerosmith is electrifying on this sparkling night, with newer fare like "Cryin'" and "Jaded" shining just as brightly and gloriously as old favorites like a savage "Sweet Emotion," the majestic "Dream On" and a rollicking "Mama Kin." Even with Tyler, ever the ring leader, narcissistically mugging for the camera at various turns and occasionally slurring his way through the words, this is vintage Aerosmith, a full-force gale onstage playing with power and passion as Perry and Whitford trade nasty licks, Kramer kicks like a mule and Hamilton acts as the anchor, his bass phrasing melodic and compelling throughout these 20 songs. Nobody should be jaded about Aerosmith.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Iron Maiden – Book Of Souls

CD Review: Iron Maiden – Book Of Souls
BMG Recorded Music
All Access Rating: A-

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls 2015
Flying too close to the sun is an occupational hazard for Bruce Dickinson, both as an aviation enthusiast and as the lead singer of heavy metal legends Iron Maiden.

Ignoring the lessons of Icarus – the cautionary tale having been recounted by the metal legends on the 1983 album Piece Of Mind – Dickinson and company climb to dangerously lofty heights on an ambitious new double LP entitled Book Of Souls. Somehow they manage to do so without crashing to earth in a burning heap of singed feathers.

Exploring issues of mortality and the nature of souls with a deep intellectual curiosity, the highly literate Book Of Souls is a progressive-metal epiphany – with a strong emphasis on the word "progressive." Whether charging once more into the breach with the pounding rhythmic hooves, galvanizing strength and hot metallic breath of "Death Or Glory," "When the River Runs Deep" and "Speed Of Light" or traveling the winding passages of the glorious "Empire of the Clouds" – Dickinson's 18-minute long, piano-based opus and now the longest song in Maiden's catalog – the follow-up to 2010's The Final Frontier is a daring musical adventure. Maiden has never shown this much diversity or taken these kinds of risks.

With Dickinson, Steve Harris and Adrian Smith divvying up the songwriting duties, Book Of Souls artfully develops heady harmonies, plots out clever changes and subtle intricacies and indulges in the kind of signature gallops and dramatic builds and flourishes that have always been part and parcel of Maiden's sonic mythology. Practically daring critics to grouse about how "overblown" the release is, Maiden throws all of these elements into the chugging, dizzying rush of blood to the head that is "The Red and the Black," the sweeping, cinematic grandeur of "Shadow Of The Valley" and the wheeling, serrated sharpness of "The Great Unknown," controlling shifts in tempo and dynamics like puppet masters. Even with three songs eclipsing the 10-minute mark, Maiden seizes this opportunity to distinctly shape and mold its melodic sensibilities on "If Eternity Should Fail" – dodgy synthesizer intro and all – and the Robin Williams' tribute "Tears Of A Clown," trotting out good, sure hooks in thoroughly impressive displays of song craftsmanship.

Hardly diminished by time, Dickinson's stirring vocal histrionics are forceful and dynamic, but it's his expressive reading of "The Man Of Sorrows," emerging from quiet calm and a menacing undercurrent, that's his most affecting performance here. Flowing twin-guitar leads and searing solos shoot forth like missiles from the guitar armada of Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers, while drummer Nicko McBrain offers his trademark acrobatic rolls and Harris takes a more nuanced approach to his bass work – choosing to prod and pull Maiden with an easier touch, rather than simply thundering away out in front.

Anyone holding their breath for a return to the explosive heaviness and raw, immediate excitement of Killers or ever The Number of the Beast should probably exhale. While not completely abandoning the identity it's taken them decades to establish, on Book Of Souls an even more theatrical and indulgent Maiden expands what defines them, making them harder to pigeonhole. That, in and of itself, doesn't automatically qualify Book Of Souls a great record, but the fact that it contains music that is consistently compelling and interesting does.
– Peter Lindblad

The summer of Rivers Of Nihil's 'Monarchy'

Progressive death-metal unit unleashes sprawling concept album
By Peter Lindblad

Rivers Of Nihil released the album
'Monarchy' in August
Never mind what the calendar says. To Rivers Of Nihil, it is a scorching-hot summer in the desolate desert of Monarchy, where the earth is a giant wasteland and its new inhabitants, ruled by oppressive religious zealots, think of the Sun as their God.

The planet is in peril on the latest post-apocalyptic concept album from ascending progressive death-metal provocateurs, and only a wise old earthly force can save them from themselves. In Rivers Of Nihil's seasonal cycle, which began with spring and 2013's The Conscious Seed of Light, the dog days of existence are here, as bassist Adam Biggs, guitarist Brody Uttley and vocalist Jon Dieffenbach are joined by new members Jon Topore (guitar) and Alan Balamut (drums) on a dystopian journey through flowing scenes of brutal sonic devastation and beautifully developed, expansive post-rock atmospherics inspired by Explosions In The Sky or Sigur Ros.

Signing with Metal Blade Records and sharing stages with the likes of Obituary, Whitechapel and Dying Fetus has only served to enhance the profile of Rivers of Nihil, who formed in 2009 and have been focused on building off the promise of their first EP Hierarchy since its release.

On Monarchy, Rivers Of Nihil break new ground, releasing giant storms of emotional tumult through ever-evolving dynamics, alternating scenes of darkness and light, and monstrously heavy, seething riffs that stand there huffing and puffing while gazing upward at heavenly skies of gorgeous sound astronomy.

Biggs recently took time out to answer some e-mail questions about the making of Monarchy and what influenced this mammoth project, which ought to garner some "Album of the Year" consideration. 

Explain how the lyrical concept for Monarchy was conceived and what role the seasons have played on your records.
Adam Biggs: The specific concept for Monarchy pretty much came as a result of simply thinking about topics that bother me about our modern society and sort of extrapolating it to its source if you will. I was thinking a lot about the issue of LGBT rights in general and the grip that the "fundamentals" of our society has over a person's individual rights. What really governs someone's right to love? Or to be who and what you are without fear of judgement? It comes down to this convoluted idea of right and wrong brought about by centuries of religious brain-washing. So Monarchy deals with a race of new intelligent life forms on a distant future earth after it has been transformed into a desert wasteland by a massive solar flare, and their struggles with these similar issues. The desert setting, and the "oppressive heat" of this religious empire's stranglehold on the masses really sets the tone as the summer album in the seasonal concept. The whole idea behind the seasonal bridges between the four albums is to illustrate in the most relatable terms, the inevitability of death, and idea of rebirth within an ever-changing landscape. It's a huge thing to connect four records, but hopefully by the end it will all come together, and the larger picture will be more apparent.

Rivers Of Nihil - Monarchy 2015
Did this turn out to be a more emotional record for Rivers Of Nihil, and if so, why? Did the sequencing of the album play a role in bringing out those elements?
AB: I think it definitely is a more emotional record. You can tell just by listening to it. There's a whole lot of different feelings mixed in with the more stoic brutality that we tend to bring to the table. I think the main reason we decided to inject more feeling into this record is because the last one just felt so straightforward brutal, which is great, but it's not all we have going for us really, so we decided we should dig a little deeper this time around and show the more emotional side of our musical range. The order of the tracks takes on a sort of progression towards this idea, with the album starting off a lot darker and heavier before giving way to the more progressive leanings on the album. It's intended to give this feeling of relief, a sort of break from the anger of the first half or so. 

What was different about making this record, as opposed to previous efforts? Did you feel you had more freedom this time around to do what you wanted to do?
AB: Absolutely. We decided to take a fairly large chunk of the production duties on ourselves this time, utilizing our guitarist Brody's burgeoning engineering skills to track all of the guitar and bass performances in his home studio before importing to nearby Atrium Audio in Lancaster, Pa., where the rest of the album was tracked, edited and mixed. This method allowed us the freedom and time to make the guitar parts as layered and intricate as we wanted without the threat of going over budget or skipping over something for time's sake. This sort of control we had this time I feel really opened up the floodgates as far as what we felt we were capable of pulling off as a band; whereas before there was always a question of whether or not it'll work, now we can listen to it right away and get a feel for what we're doing ahead of time.

Talk about the influence of post-rock music on this album. Was it simply a matter of wanting to make an album that was more atmospheric, or did those elements work especially well with the tale you wanted to tell?
AB: Again it was another means of bringing our more emotion within the music. It's an element we'd experimented with in the past, but never brought to the forefront like on Monarchy. Yes there was also a desire to make the record more atmospheric, but at the same time it's more about just making everything denser; it's almost like having an orchestra backing in the band in a way that is really cool. The amount of moods that it can create is pretty impressive. 

In what ways is this record more experimental than the others? What sorts of things did you try with Monarchy that you hadn't attempted before? Were there some that didn't make the record because they simply didn't fit or seemed to be too "out there"?
AB: Pretty much everything that was written made it onto the record in some form or another which is kind of odd, I know. We've been a band for a lot longer than some people realize, and Brody and I have a pretty good understanding of what works for Rivers of Nihil material and what doesn't. So while we were writing the record we really stretched those ideas; rarely did we truly break away from the sorts of things we know we like to hear. It was all really a matter of sort of amending the definition of what this band is a little bit without betraying the whole meaning. 

Rivers Of Nihil are Jon Torpore,
Alan Balamut, Brody Uttley,
Adam Biggs and Jake Dieffenbach
How did the talents of the two new members, guitarist Jon Topore and drummer Alan Balamut, impact the recording of Monarchy? What kind of musicians are they?
AB: Jon's impact on the record is somewhat minimal because he joined the band pretty late in the writing process. However, he did co write the song "Reign of Dreams" with Brody, which turned out to be one of my favorites on the album. Jon is really solid as a player; he's a goofy dude, but when it comes down to putting on a tight show he's all business, and his talent for guitar mimicry is pretty impressive and makes for a really solid addition to the guitar duo of this band. Alan on the other hand contributed quite a bit. All of the drum parts are totally translated through his super busy, entertaining style of drumming. Alan really wanted to shred on this record, and that he did. At one point during tracking he even joked that he was doing too much and should probably make his drum parts easier next time, but I doubt he will. It's just not in him to take a break behind the kit.

Was there a moment during the making of Monarchy when it seemed like everything was coming together just the way you wanted it to? Conversely, what frustrations did you encounter along the way?
AB: It's actually pretty crazy because I don't think there was any point during production that I thought the record wasn't coming along the way we wanted. It really was a super smooth process, each next thing we did just kept adding to the overall feel and we just kept getting closer and closer with very few stumbling blocks. But if I had to choose one moment where I was like, "Yeah, this is what this is supposed to be," I'd have to say it was during mixing. Having all the finished parts where we wanted them and just adjusting the fine details of the whole thing really made it feel like reality at that point. It's like putting the last coat of paint on a model car or something.

There has been talk about how lush and layered the record is. Talk about the process that went into producing those sounds.
AB: It was honestly just a ton of Brody's guitar wizardry layered with a generous heap of delay and reverb among other effects. Like I said earlier, this was one of the big reasons that recording the guitars in our own home studio was the right option. There's just so much there and so many different tracks and tones that it would've been a nightmare trying to track them all in a pro studio when the clock is ticking and the money is flying out the window. He took a lot of pride in composing and arranging those tracks, so it's something I encourage anyone who listens to the record to take an extra careful listen to all the ambient textures. A lot of it is really cool.

Let me get your take on a few of the songs off Monarchy, beginning with "Ancestral, I" ...
AB: This one was actually pretty divisive. When Brody first sent the demo for this song I wasn't entirely sold on it, and I'm not sure if he was either. We went back and forth on it a lot; at one point we even considered leaving it off the album altogether. This one easily went through the most changes, going from the demo stage to what you hear on the record. Everything from the overall tempo to the solo structure to bass lines and drum beats were tweaked, scratched and re-written. It turned out to be well worth the effort in the end, because everyone in the band really enjoys that song and we plan on including it in the live set in the future. The lyrics ended up dealing with the death and burial of an over-zealous religious figure within the monarchy who is reflecting on the impact his life and influence had and will continue to have on generations to come. 

"Reign of Dreams" 
AB: Again, this is the one that Jon and Brody wrote together. It's a brutal, chaotic experience right from the get-go and it kind of gradually gathers itself into a more easy-to-digest sound, culminating in one of the biggest sounding choruses on the record. It was also one of the most difficult songs on the record to learn and perform. It could just be that the pace of the song is pretty nonstop, or that I'm just not used to adapting Jon's riffing style to the bass guitar just yet, but I had a hell of a time with this one – still lots of fun to learn and play though. The lyrics are about the sort of freedom that this new society enjoyed prior to the advent of the sun-worshipping religion and the Monarchy itself. It was free-flowing and dangerous, but they were very much in control of their own minds. The lyrics themselves have a good deal of "stream of consciousness"-type phrasings to reflect a truly free society.

"Terrestrai II Thrive" 
AB: Believe it or not this was actually the first full song written for the record and it's a heavy contender with "Ancestral, I" for the title of "most messed with song on Monarchy," in that it was pretty much a different song until Brody decided to turn the song into an instrumental, and was titled "Terrestria II." This is definitely the biggest leap sonically that this band has ever taken; it's head and shoulders above anything else we've done as far as a more progressive sound is concerned. I'm personally really excited to bring this one to the stage sometime, but it's hard to say when we could possibly make that happen.

"Perpetual Growth Machine" ...
AB: This is another one that got worked over pretty good (you're reminding me just how much rewriting we actually DID do). It started as a few throwaway riffs that Brody cobbled together to test tones on an amp configuration in his studio. When I heard it I said to him, "That's how the next record starts." And that's really how it happened. He sat on amp test version of this song for a while until fleshing it out more, and then there were some further edits we did. As it turns out this has quickly become a pretty popular song for us, which is strange because I never really saw "single potential" in it because the song doesn't really have a chorus, but hey it works! The lyrics, naturally, are about the birth of the new species of life on earth as the crawl from cracks of the world's dry ocean beds. It's meant to portray the persistence of life, and the inevitability that life can continue through just about anything.

Vocally, what's different about "Monarchy"?
AB: The easiest thing to notice about the vocals in this track is how few of them there are compared to a lot of our other songs. At the beginning of the writing process for this record, Jake and I agreed that we'd made the vocal lines way too busy in our previous releases and we wanted to draw it back on this record and focus on hooks, and more slogan-esque type passages that get stuck in the listener's head, while also giving the music and the riffs more space to breathe. And Monarchy is a pitch-perfect example of us doing just that. 

Now that the process of making the record is over, what stands out the most about it to you? And in what ways does it reflect where Rivers of Nihil is right now and where it's going?
AB: I think the thing that stands out the most for me is that I can still listen to it and not get grossed out in a way hearing my own band like I usually do. It still feels like it's fun to listen to, which I hope is something that translates to fans as well. As far as how it reflects us? It really doesn't because this IS us right now. When you see us live you're going to see mostly new material because of how proud we are of it. Hopefully when it's time to wind down on touring for Monarchy and start writing the next album we can continue the trend set by this record and just not put limitations on ourselves, and just do what we think sounds cool, because that's ultimately how good music is made.

CD Review: Public Image Limited – What The World Needs Now

CD Review: Public Image Limited – What The World Needs Now
Pil Official
All Access Rating: A-

Public Image Limited - What
The World Needs Know 2015
With the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten vented his spleen over England's arcane traditions, sneered at the queen and advocated for anarchy as a political solution. In introducing "Double Trouble," the opening track on Public Image Limited's new album, What The World Needs Now, John Lydon takes a moment to go on a scathing tirade about more mundane concerns.

The plumbing is out, and Lydon is sick and tired of hearing complaints about it, especially when there are bigger issues to tackle, such as corporate greed and American religious hypocrisy. Still fiercely intelligent, his wit as sharp as ever, Lydon tackles the important matters with appropriate vitriol and piercing insight on PiL's arty and seductive, while also engagingly loose and fun, 10th studio album, even as he seems to be getting more cuddly in his advanced age.

There's nothing warm and fuzzy about the vicious "Double Trouble," though, as Lu Edmonds' slashing guitars and the track's relentless drive, irresistibly nasty hook and tightly coiled rhythms seem on the verge of lashing out like a cornered rattlesnake. As the record's lead single, it has a dogged bite to it, as does the mildly abrasive "Know Now" and menacing, brooding discord of "Corporate," which seems to puff up and bruise as if punched repeatedly about the face. Tying together the obsession over pornography in the U.S. and the country's supposed Christian morality, Lydon and company pay tribute to a pin-up legend in "Bettie Page," a moody, gritty piece of post-punk noir and edgy pop that segues nicely into the cinematic, twinkling "C' Est La Vie" and the dark, serrated "Spice of Choice," with its U2-like atmospherics and chiming guitars.

Aside from Lydon's trademark vocal trill and his curmudgeonly charisma, What The World Needs Now succeeds because of Scott Firth's burbling, subterranean bass lines, the creative drumming of Bruce Smith and Edmonds' subversive musicality. From the soft, hypnotic dub murmur and washing guitars of "Big Blue Sky" to the danceable grooves of "Whole Life Time" and "I'm Not Satisfied," with its stabbing urgency, Public Image Limited continue to redefine and shape the future of post-punk with their restless creativity. And it helps that they have a leader who's still got something to say. If only someone would come along to fix the plumbing.
– Peter Lindblad

Short Cuts: Fear Factory, Atreyu, TesseracT

CD Review: Fear Factory – Genexus
Nuclear Blast Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Fear Factory - Genexus 2015
Visionary chroniclers of unsettling dystopian nightmares that exist in elaborately conceived, sci-fi concept albums, veteran industrial-metal insurgents Fear Factory have signed on for yet another tour of duty in what's become a never-ending war for the soul of mankind in the face of a hostile takeover by the machines. Visceral, creative and majestic, Genexus covers much of the same well-trodden ground Fear Factory has marched through in the past, but unlike the mechanical and overly precise The Industrialist, the latest from Burton C. Bell, Dino Cazares and company balances cinematic beauty and hammering, roaring brutality with breathtaking artistry in the stampeding opener "Autonomous Combat System" and tension-packed punishers "Anodized," "Dielectric" and "Soul Hacker" – all of which eventually open into rapturous choruses and oceanic melodies, before again turning apoplectic with rage. Moody synthesizers and orchestral string pads leaven the screaming, teeth-gnashing violence of Genexus, as the almost proggy epic "Regenerate" rises to glorious heights and starry dreamworlds "Expiration Date" and "Enhanced Reality" offer a calming respite from rugged sonic beatings. While verging on becoming formulaic and predictable, Fear Factory is also still a work in progress, further establishing its literary and musical identity with Genexus, a flowing, dynamic work with imaginative storytelling that rivals their masterpiece Obsolete.

Atreyu – Long Live
Spinefarm Records
All Access Rating: B

Atreyu - Long Live 2015
Five coffins are littered about a gloomy landscape on the cover of the ironically titled Long Live. For pioneering metalcore comeback kids Atreyu, it at first blush seems an oddly depressing choice, considering this rebirth they're undergoing at present. Then again, they have been vacated, perhaps signaling a resurrection of sorts. Visitors won't find this tomb entirely empty, as Long Live runs the gamut of strong emotions – going from spitting mad and vengeful to broken hearted and pained in short order – and contains a good variety of fresh musical ideas, especially from guitarists "BIG" Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel. Their creative mix of crunching, furious riffs and frenzied, fiery leads can make one forgive the uninspired emo melodic backwash and stereotypical screaming impotence of the title track, the staggering "Labor to Live" and "Cut Off The Head" – songs that would otherwise be considered chaotic, gripping and intense, with surprisingly unexpected breakdowns and tempo changes that demand your attention. However, it's their rather subtle and tasteful execution of the gorgeous acoustic piece "Revival (Interlude)" that's remarkable. While Long Live initially struggles to break out of a modern-metal mold Atreyu helped form, it does eventually hit its stride, as "A Bitter Broken Memory" blossoms into a widescreen, melodic epic and the stomping feet and hand claps of "Do You Know Who You Are" give a tip of the hat to Queen, adding some organic texture and natural feel to an album in desperate need of it. Swinging heavily, with pummeling, ferocious urgency, "Heartbeats and Flatlines" is bruising and raucous, but it's the satisfying, strong hooks, vicious anger and frayed punk nerves of "Brass Balls" that win the day. Running on a half-full tank of furious energy and instrumental vitality, Long Live could give Atreyu a second chance at having a musical life.

eOne Music/KScope Music
All Access Rating: A

TesseracT - Polaris 2015
Take any track from Polaris and pull it apart, like a curious child examining some beautifully complex piece of machinery. Even the cleverest and most imaginative of engineers would find it difficult to reconstruct any part of the miraculous third album from progressive-metal cartographers TesseracT. It would take hours of focused study to adequately trace the meticulously mapped out arrangements of Polaris and explore all of their gloriously enigmatic rabbit holes. For music that is this adventurous, complex and clinically experimental, it also happens to be unexpectedly accessible, atmospheric and lush, with inside-out, acrobatic melodies that twist and turn in the most delightful ways. Dreamy currents, earnest supplication and reflective lyrics carry "Hexes" almost imperceptibly into unsettling puzzlement and then a blustery volcanic eruption, where the bounding, menacing "Dystopia" throws listeners around like rag dolls almost from the start. Inviting warmth and expansive settings seem to beckon sonic travelers into the wondrous worlds of "Phoenix" and "Messenger," only to crash their vessels on rocky shores or in sudden storms that don't reveal themselves until its too late to escape. There is great drama and utter sincerity in TesseracT's vocal designs. They practically swim in the majestic swells of "Seven Names" and wander about spacious confines of "Cages," aware of its mystery and illusory character and not knowing what to expect next. Though engaging, soulful and intelligent, and as cinematic as Porcupine Tree or Radiohead ever were, the brilliantly conceived Polaris can also explode into staggering, hard-funk violence, as it does in "Survival," and its sheer unpredictability, fully engorged grooves, intricate virtuosity and propensity for taking bold risks makes it one of this year's most stunning works.
– Peter Lindblad

Massive 60s and 70s Rock Photo Archive Hits The Auction Block

The Who 1965
September 2015 -  Backstage Auctions is proud to present one of the most historic rock photo archive auctions featuring thousands of vintage images of the British music scene from the 1960s and 1970s.

The collection consists of well over 20,000 historic negatives, slides and transparencies featuring some of the most iconic musicians and bands of all time. Almost exclusively comprised of film from the 1960s and 1970s, this material comes direct from John Halsall and was once part of the core archive of a London based photo agency. After having been professionally stored for the past 35 years, the world can now witness the unearthing of a visually magnificent and historically significant archive that has no equal.

This collection is divided in just under 500 individual lots and will be offered with a full transfer of rights, which makes this material not only collectible but also commercially appealing and exceptionally valuable.

The Grateful Dead 1970
As with any high quality collection, this archive is well-represented by the various decades and genres that ultimately transformed and created the history of rock, pop and punk music.

From the 1950s the collection offers attractive lots by several of the Jazz, Pop and Country greats such as Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Charlie Mingus, Sidney Bechet, The Andrew Sisters, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Johnny Cash, Bill Haley & The Comets and Gene Vincent.

Otis Redding 1966
The roaring 60s consume a large part of the auction. From teen heart-throbs such as the Bee Gees, Beach Boys, Dave Clark 5, Sonny & Cher and The Walker Brothers, to R&B giants such as James Brown, The Crystals, Martha & The Vendellas, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and The Supremes.

It is however the Rock & Roll portion that truly elevates this collection to peerless heights. In particular the thousands of never-before-seen photos of The Rolling Stones and The Who is what makes this archive one for the ages. 

Equally significant are lots by The Animals, The Band, Jeff Beck, The Byrds, Blind Faith, Cream, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, The Mamas & The Papas, The Move, Them and Pink Floyd.  

Mick Jagger 1964
Robert Plant 1979
The 1970s is the next decade that consumes the other large part of the auction, fueled by incredible collections from many of the A-List of Rock such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Mountain, New York Dolls, Sweet, Thin Lizzy, T. Rex and Frank Zappa

Complementing the diverse 70s are fantastic lots from the Punk era (Sex Pistols, The Clash, Blondie, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Jam, The Stranglers), Pop giants (ABBA, The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, The Police, Dire Straits) to the early days of Heavy-Metal (AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard).

The collection comes to a conclusion in the early 1980s with exceptional lots from some of the legendary New-Wave (The Tourists, Pretenders, Ian Dury), Ska (Madness) and Reggae (Peter Tosh) performers.

Sex Pistols March 21, 1977 with Sid Vicious at Notre Dame Hall - London
Rounding out the archive are several impressive festival collections (Isle of Wight, Knebworth, Reading, Bickershaw, Glad Rag Balls and others) to over 30 lots from various “Top of the Pops” and “Ready, Set, Go!”  television episodes aired between the mid-60s to 1982.

Collection Highlights

Highlighted below are what we consider to be the Top Five collections to be featured in the auction. Of course it was hard to pick just five, but read on and you will get a sense of why these collections are high on our list.

Rolling Stones 1965
The Rolling Stones - simply because of the sheer volume (almost 5,000 negatives) and the fact that 75% of it is dated between 1963 and 1969. It provides the a most comprehensive visual documentation of their TV appearances, live shows, formal and candid photo sessions and their years of touring.

The Who 1965
The Who - very much for the same reason as with The Stones.  With almost 3,000 negatives, of with more than half from the 60s, this collection presents an insight into their high profile and public lives. 

Cream 1969
Eric Clapton – and in particular the collection of photos of Cream and Blind Faith, which include highly illusive images of club shows, rehearsals and candid photo sessions. The many addition lots of Eric Clapton with Delaney & Bonnie, as well as his early years a solo artist makes this overall a most comprehensive collection of the vintage Clapton era.

Jimi Hendrix ca. 1966 UK
Professional Photo Shoot
Jimi Hendrix - just when one would think that every Hendrix photo that was ever made has already been discovered and seen by ‘the world’, this archive offers 175 jaw-dropping new images, from photo sessions and candid moments, to TV appearances, rehearsals and live shows.

The 5th artist is a true toss-up between Pink Floyd (for the Syd Barrett content), Otis Redding (for the amazing live and backstage photos of several of his U.K. shows) and Black Sabbath (because it documents the first few years of their career through a series of stunning photo sessions and live shows).

Collections worthy of more than a quick glance

The Jeff Beck Group 1967 with Rod Steward and Ron Wood
The Jeff Beck Group 1967 with Rod
Stewart and Ron Wood
What comes to mind initially is a collection of almost 800 Rolling Stones negatives (!) taken from their first tour of Ireland, which lasted exactly 3 days (January 6-8, 1965). To take that many photos means that you have documented nearly every plane, train and bus ride, hotel stay, breakfast, lunch and dinner, rehearsal and concert, dressing room and backstage moment from that tour…and this collection in fact has done just that.

The second is more an ‘angle’ than a specific artist. Perhaps the most unique element of this archive is that it captures so many ‘big name’ artists at a time when they were so young. And with that comes the other aspect…so many of the photos are deeply personal as they show these artists at home, in their backyard, on the road, in a dressing room, even in the hospital. What stands out – and we could do a great photo collage – is;

•         Keith Moon at home with wife & kids
•         Bill Wyman at home with wife & kids
•         Pete Townshend visiting his manager’s office
•         The Bee Gees at home with wives / girlfriends
•         Jimi Hendrix in rehearsal
•         Cream on the couch of their management office
•         Mick Jagger looking at a "peeking" fan 
•         Otis Redding getting ready for a show in London
•         Marc Bolan and his girlfriend with newborn son 
•         David Bowie on the floor in his apartment
•         Jeff Beck with his buddies (Stewart and Wood) 
•         Johnny Cash with wife & son
•         Roy Orbison with wife & son
•         Ozzy Osbourne dropping his pants  
•         Sonny & Cher in the worlds most "dizziest" outfits  
•         Diana Ross & The Supremes first UK visit
•         Mama Cass Elliot in her London hotel room
•         George Martin (The Beatles producer) at home

David Bowie ca. 1969
About John Halsall

John Halsall started London Features and was formed in 1969 and initially began as a tool for the syndication of John's

John Halsall - London Features Press Pass 1974
personal freelance articles and the photographs taken by his photographer/ co-director. By the 1970s it because apparent that, as far as rock music was concerned, London had become the Capital of the World and many of the foreign publications that had used Halsall as their foreign correspondent were either opening their own offices in London or financing a London based staff.

As time passed, the need for Halsall’s interviewing and writing obligations diminished but the need for on the ground photographers was growing, so LFI (London Features International) added photographers, opened additional dark rooms and a proper studio, and soon came into its own as an established agency.

Halsall interviewing Carl Wilson
of the Beach Boys in 1973
LFI became the largest agency in its field and the competition conceded; most sold their collections to LFI complete with rights as did many independent photographers. Halsall, being a businessman first, recognized the value and opportunity in the images and began to personally purchase the collections and assimilate them into the LFI library. 

Decades later, LFI became the victim of the “digital revolution” and the rise of such well funded giants as Getty and Shutterstock.  LFI was sold in 2005 and Halsall retired along with his amazing library of images. The collection being presented at auction is the personal collection and historical archive of John Halsall.

Auction Information

The Photo Archive Auction will have a special VIP Preview beginning on September 19th, 2015. The bidding will begin on September 26th and run through October 4th, 2015.

To register for your All Access VIP Auction Pass click here:  VIP REGISTRATION