Sad news today as American Headcharge bassist and co-founder Chad Hanks has passed away after a bout with kidney and liver failure. He was 46. AHC band members and friends of Hanks remembered him on social media and offered comfort to fans. Continue reading
Skin could sing a Health and Safety policy, replete with appendices, and make it sound heartfelt, deep and relevant, so it’s little surprise that she is, once again, the undoubted star of Skunk Anansie’s new album Anarchytecture (Spinefarm), their third since reforming and sixth overall. Showing a more considered side, though resplendent in the 90’s production tones their angsty rock used to be defined by, this time around Skunk Anansie are dialling back the vitriol.
While it is hard not to compare where they are now with who they were then, surely a band is only judged against who they were if their current output doesn’t stack up? So, while perhaps only Led Zeppelin should expect the song to remain the same (even though theirs weren’t) and repetition leads only to contempt and ever diminishing returns in the world of musical delights, it is a shame that, once again, maturing or developing as songwriters doesn’t actually equate to better song-writing. In fact, maturity, or indeed banality sees a regression as, pleasant and deliberately crafted as the fare on offer is, other than the distinctive and excellent velvet of Skin’s timbre, Anarchytecture is complete wallpaper. And not even the crazy fucked up wallpaper your grandparents had from the 70’s, but magnolia.
Which isn’t to say there is a dearth of decent material, though, it’s just that all through we are greeted by inoffensive, pleasant if entirely competent and decent songs. Electro-tinged pop mingles with alt.rock.lite on ‘Love Someone Else’, a steady stroll that isn’t a million miles from where Madonna was around the turn of the millennium, ‘Beauty Is Your Curse’ jangles as Skin seems to get a little hot under the collar and ‘Death To The Lovers’ is a sparse, and emotive sensitive number, where once again Skin dazzles with delicacy. Yet high spots are scant, as the remainder of the album meanders away, until the excellent ‘Suckers!’ builds over the course of a minute and a half before cruelly, suddenly stopping in its tracks, replaced by close-but-no-cigar plod staccato ‘We Are The Flames’.
‘Little Baby Swastikkka’ turned heads, ‘Weak’ proved that vulnerability and power could dovetail exceptionally, ‘Hedonism’ was poppy-magic, ‘Charlie Big Potato’ shook things up, and Skunk Anansie were proudly, boldly different and defiant. Skunk Anansie used to be about statements. Musical, political, aesthetic, they made an impact. Anarchytecture simply shakes your hand and wishes you a good day. No matter the maturation process, there is no excuse for safe and uninspired songwriting.
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Thirteen years is a long time. And lots of things have happened in the time frame since Coal Chamber’s last album, 2002s Dark Days. Let’s see what’s different. Physical copies of albums don’t sell all that well. Boy bands gave way to something even more horrifying in Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. Rock Band and Guitar Hero were an odd fad. EDM unfortunately exploded onto the mainstream.
Oh and Nu-Metal was swapped out as the popular sub-genre by Metalcore and/or the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Even Coal Chamber’s frontman Dez Fafara switched scenes and released six consistently solid albums with Devildriver.
So the question becomes what can Coal Chamber, Nu-Metal pioneers that suffered a fiery first death, offer this brave new world of extreme metal? In new album Rivals (Napalm Records) just maybe their strongest and most focused release ever.
Lead single ‘I.O.U. Nothing’ sets an aggressive and confident tone that permeates the following 38 minutes. And confidence is the right word here as Coal Chamber sound like a new band as opposed to one trying recapture its former glory. It’s all mid-tempo crunch from there on out with über-producer Mark Lewis providing a clean, but menacing mix. It’s public knowledge that their 2003 onstage demise was dramatic and highly amplified by substance abuse, but time does really seem to heal all wounds here. Dez and Co. have taken years of successful and momentum gaining reunion tours and channeled it on Rivals. For the faithful, ‘Suffer in Silence’ and ‘The Bridges you Burn’ are straight Nu-Metal rippers from when the genre had teeth instead of gimmicks. But there is musical progression as well, ‘Another Nail in the Coffin’ and the title track are more in sync with Devildriver’s punishing groove than channeling the 90s.
Not every blow connects, ‘Light in the Shadows’ and ‘Empty Handed’ feel more like afterthoughts or songs that couldn’t quite crack it on Dark Days. But the important take away in Rivals is the energy and level of commitment. Especially from a band that didn’t need to release a new record and continue touring. Drummer Mikey ‘Bug’ Cox and guitarist Miguel Rascon had been toying in other musical ventures for years and we all know what Fafara has been up to. They didn’t need to, but the great news is that they wanted to.
Rivals is a solid recording even if you didn’t take Coal Chamber or the sub-genre they had been associated with seriously. And in defense of Nu-Metal, for how many kids (myself included) was that a gateway drug to other bands? Maybe I wouldn’t have eventually learned of Relapse Records if I didn’t start with Korn and Mushroomhead first. Maybe there’s a great column waiting to be written on the importance of Nu-Metal, but that’s for another time.
So if not for the strong music, respect Rivals and Coal Chamber for being available to a new generation of young and hungry metalheads.
Coal Chamber is still a band. That seems a bit odd to me. Truth be told, if you had told me a few years back that Coal Chamber would still be a touring act with new music on the way, I’d kindly remind you to stop sniffing glue. Front man Dez Fafara, guitarist Miguel “Meegs” Rascon, bassist Nadja Peulen and drummer Mikey “Bug” Cox onstage again?
But hey, its 2015 and Coal Chamber are playing packed venues across the country. And somebody who is very pleased with their current trek is Cox.
“The tour is good, man” shares Cox. “Personally this is my first 100% sober tour. I quit drinking and everything so for me it’s incredible. And it translates to the whole band. I mean, offstage we’re all like best friends which is crazy because we never used to be. Lots of drama that everyone knows about.”
The reason to clean up his act came from Cox’s longtime exposure to the touring life and how it would have an impact on the people around him. Maintaining sobriety while being on the road may seem daunting, but “It’s been easier than [being] at home” for Cox. “Going into this tour I was like ‘Oh, this might be hard.’ But I just had a kid, you know, and for me I had my run from 20 until not too long ago. Just being out of my mind all the time. I went from the drug phase to the drinking phase. I’m getting sick of watching friends dying and dying on the road. I think we’ve all had our run for sure. To me it translates to how the band is with each other and we’re tighter onstage.”
One friend such friend lost to substance abuse was former Static-X frontman, Wayne Static. “We gave him some of his first show. In fact my other band [We Are the Riot], the side project with Meegs were opening for Wayne on his last tour. So me and Meegs – I’ve known Wayne since I was 19 years old – we actually sat and talked to him weeks before it happened. So it was definitely a shock you know. The music industry has a crazy lifestyle to it, but nobody should be dying that young. Especially over something stupid and unnecessary, but you get stuck in it out here on the road. It’s a lonely place.”
So how does Coal Chamber, they of the very tumultuous 2003 break up come back together after several years of no communication? Cox’s longtime friendship with Rascon has certainly helped him get through the rougher days, back into music and ultimately playing with Coal Chamber again. “Me and Meegs we’re best friends,” Cox says. “I quit music for like seven years. Didn’t play once. Like randomly, never played. I was done with the business. And then me and Meegs started talking like ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we tried to do this.’ So Meegs contacted Dez and went onstage with Devildriver and played ‘Loco’ in California and that was kind of like an apology through all parties.”
But even after reconnecting with Fafara nothing was set in stone. “Then we took more years off and it was just a slow process. If we forced it before it happened now we wouldn’t have lasted. So it took a long time to enjoy each other’s company.”
What helped cement Coal Chamber’s return was the crowd’s reception at early comeback gigs. “The plans were to do Australia, which was our first show back and that was it,” says Cox. “Let’s see if it’s going to work, we’ve never been there and the kids asked for it. We’re gonna go do that and be done. Then in South America same thing happened. The shows in Australia were insane, crazy shows. So we were like ‘Maybe we have something still.’”
After that came campaigns across North America and Europe that were met with equal praise and enthusiasm. With that enthusiasm in mind the labels came calling again. Coal Chamber envisioned the tour in Europe as a way to “put the exclamation point on the band and then all of a sudden we started getting label interest to make a record. Once that happened it just snowballed into us sitting here right now.”
The new album Rivals is due May 19 through Austria’s Napalm Records. With the release date just around the corner, Coal Chamber are ready to ride that wave of momentum. “This tour finishes On April 12 in Dallas. We have one week off and we go to South America. We’re doing the Monsters of Rock festival with Ozzy Osbourne. Which is going to be insane. We’re doing a show with Black Veil Brides in Chile. We’re headlining Mexico City, which down there the shows are crazy. The kids are insane. Then we have three weeks off then we off to the UK for three and a half weeks and that’s when the record comes out. That’s when the work really begins. Right now we’re just getting started.”
INTERVIEW BY HANSEL LOPEZ
It was a time when we talked about getting piercings and tribal tattoos. That time was the 90s, and that decade was very much in vogue last Saturday at the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Yes, Coal Chamber and Filter sharing a tour in 2015. Not too bad for a couple of bands that were regularly appearing on Dimension Films’ soundtracks 15 years ago.
For attendees like myself the night was an odd nostalgia trip to the Family Values Tour days, but to most in attendance who haven’t learned to part with their Tripp pants it was a reaffirmation. In a crowd fully donned in leather, spikes, smeared makeup, top hats, goggles (I kid you not) I felt oddly exposed and slightly out of place in my blue jeans and Shai Hulud hoodie. But this is not a knock on those who prefer their pants extra baggy and wallet chain excessively long. If anything, I salute you. Your fashion choices show that you have stronger convictions than I could ever have.
I am glad to report that American Head Charge still show a lot of the promise that surrounded them during releases like The War of Art and The Feeding. The rampant personnel changes and hiatus gave me worry, but see them tear into tracks like ‘Ridicule’ and ‘All Wrapped Up’ put all my woes to rest. It could be their inability to find a supporting label, but I wonder why they aren’t more successful? Their combination of heavy, catchy songs with strong clean vocals suggests that they should be sharing the stage with Five Finger Death Punch at the least. If the new material they premiered live was any indication, they can still live up to those expectations.
Not so promising for me were Combichrist. Their brand of industrial metal was lost on me. People have informed me that the particular genre is known as “aggrotech”. Their excessively black attire and makeup seemed bordering on every metal cliché in the book. While some may say the same about the night’s headliners, I feel like Coal Chamber have a tongue in cheek quality to them. Combichrist plays their electronic/metal mashup a little too seriously. So much so that songs like ‘Never Surrender’ and ‘What the Fuck is Wrong with You?’ just come across as juvenile. Next time just smile a little more, guys. And let some more live drums and guitars into the mix.
On the opposite end of the musical and visual spectrum, Richard Patrick led a fresh lineup of Filter though a nine song set that touched upon their entire discography. I’m serious about that entire discography bit. They even busted out ‘(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do’ from the Spawn soundtrack. Good song from a not very good movie. The new lineup had the material down pat and Patrick was spry even though his voice has gotten raspier over the years. He was also quite vocal about his respect for the troops and his disdain for Beyonce and her pop contemporaries. He’s really not happy about her. Like he’ll bring her up on three separate occasions before starting the next song. While it was quite nice to cap off the set with staples ‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’ and ‘Welcome to the Fold’, I would’ve loved to hear that rock radio mainstay ‘Take a Picture.’ I’m sentimental about the 90s like that.
Years of regular gigging since their 2012 reformation has paid dividends for Coal Chamber’s morale and live performance. Aside from vocalist Dez Fafara’s quickly graying hair, the energy on display by the band rivaled any of their younger counterparts. Wasting no time or momentum they started things off with mainstay ‘Loco’ and ‘Big Truck’ setting the stage for a set list heavy with numbers from their 1997 self-titled debut. While it was great fun to indulge in nu-metal jams like ‘Oddity’ and ‘Sway’, Coal Chamber made sure to showcase its new tunes. Fret not Coal Chamber faithful, ‘I.O.U. Nothing’ and ‘Rivals’ groove just as good as anything else in their catalogue live. But for this writer’s money the best bits of the night came in the form of Dark Days songs like ‘Rowboat,’ ‘Something Told Me’ and that album’s title track.
The real ace in the hole for Coal Chamber is their live production. They are aware that they aren’t bringing Rush levels of songwriting. Let’s face it, Coal Chamber songs aren’t the most dynamic in metal. And that’s fine because with this Fafara venture it’s about having fun. Apparently borrowing Rob Zombie’s DVD collection, every song is backed by macabre/entreating horror film footage from yesteryear. To add even more visual flare they also bring one of the most elaborate light shows I’ve seen for a Palladium show.
The dream of the 90s was very much alive in Worcester last Saturday night. Cheers.
WORDS BY HANSEL LOPEZ
New York thrashers I.N.C. (formerly Indestructible Noise Command) are back with fourth album, Black Hearse Serenade (Ferocious Records). Their second record since reforming in 2010, the band have decided to take the often risky route of the concept album. Based around religious zealotry, Black Hearse Serenade “tells a story set in Southern California about a broken man, his congregation of runaways, junkies and lost souls and a murderous path to finality. A childhood filled with embarrassment and shame, born of religious zealotry and an overbearing mother, that broken child has now become a man.”
Despite the possibly overblown premise, the album is actually just a solid, groove-laden thrash album. The band – Dave Campo (Bass), Kyle Shepard (Drums), Dennis Gergely (Vocals), Tony Fabrizi and Erik Barath (both Guitar) – clearly like a bit of Pantera and Alice in Chains, but manage to avoid simply rehashing 90s sounds. Opener ‘Stirring the Flock’ is a lesson in pure speed metal; lightning fast riffs and vocal melodies Anthrax would be proud of. It’s a great standout track, but hardly fits in with the rest of what’s on offer. The likes of ‘Sainted Sinner,’ ‘Organ Grinder’ and are all packed with a slower, muscular groove, occasionally brining to mind Damageplan or a less cringey Hellyeah.
Every song is packed with host of big, chugging riffs and a healthy dose of pinch harmonics, while the vocals sway from throaty Anselmo-eque screams to almost Alice in Chains styles crooning. The middle trio of the album’s title track, the furious ‘The Lies We Devour’ and crushing ‘Lucky #7’ are the highpoint, but there’s very little fat here. In fact the only real drawback is when ‘Love Like Napalm’ drags the album to a close. More of a slow stadium rocker, it doesn’t really fit, but offers another side of the band. It’s a small nit-pick on an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Black Hearse Serenade manages to avoid falling into the self-importance trap most concept albums succumb to. INC has created a solid album that owes plenty to 90s groove and grunge, but retains enough energy and song writing chops to ensure it stays interesting over the 45-odd minute runtime.
With part one covering the conception, gestation and birth of Devilment, the second part of our feature sees guitarist Daniel Finch opening up to Ghost Cult about the sound beneath the skin, and the elements that feed in to their debut album The Great & Secret Show
“What do they say about assumption being the brother of all fuck-ups?” (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels)
Before I heard Devilment, I’d been told it was like the Gothic bits of Cradle of Filth with the poppy bits of Rammstein. I’ll be honest, my interest was piqued, but taken with a spoonful of sugary scepticism. Although Cradle had enjoyed a romping return to form on The Manticore (Peaceville), prior to that you have to go back to 2004 and Nymphetamine (Roadrunner) for the last genuinely, consistently good Cradle album.
But here’s the rub, The Great & Secret Show (Nuclear Blast) isn’t a Cradle of Filth album. While the cleaning up of Dani Filth’s vocals may come as no surprise as recent recorded output has seen him heading down that route, a route which allows his intelligent chronicles to be aurally more lucid, it may be something of a revelation just how big, fun, catchy and groovy the music that Devilment have produced actually is. It’s not black metal, Jim, and there are no pianos and top hats in forests, but it’s got a huge rock club groove running all the way through it, like a jackpot seam of coal.
“Dan wanted it to be a side-project, it was important it was seen that way, and I think that’s one of the negative things is that Cradle fans go “It doesn’t sound like Cradle”, but my thing is “Why would it? Why would you want to go out and do a band that sounds just like your day job band?” So while it does sound a bit like the Goth (Goth, not Gothic…) bits of Cradle mixed with a poppier Rammstein, there’s more to it, there’s more than a hint of a White Zombie bounce, for example. “I am influenced by the 90’s metal sound, but in a weird kind of way. I liked the nu-metal stuff when it came out. I liked it when bands did dropped tuning, like when The Almighty did Powertrippin’ (Polydor), Alice In Chains as well. Not too sludgy, but that dark groove.
“And, obviously, there’s Pantera as well.”
“A friend of mine hates Pantera” continues Finch, reliving the musical memories that form the core and crux of who he is as a musician these days. Many of us of a similar age to myself and Daniel have taken that circular journey, going first through the more extreme or divergent elements of music, but ending up back at the roots of the tree, with the classics of the 1990’s that defined our musical journeys. “I remember, we took a bus trip to Donington Monsters of Rock, the 1994 one when Sepultura played as well. Anyway, Pantera came on and he’s all ‘Fuck them, I’m going to go get a beer’. And he’s stood there at the bar when ‘Walk’ comes on, and he’s looking around and everybody is nodding away, even the bar staff, and he said he just couldn’t help but nod, too. That idea has always stuck with me. Mid-paced riffs and those big grooves. That works for me.”
It’s a concept Finch has retained as a core principle of Devilment. “So that’s the thought, if you’re at a festival and you walk into a tent and we are playing, would you bang your head to it? If the answer is yes, then we’re doing the right thing. It’s very important to be a good live band these days. Look, it’s every musician’s, every metal head’s dream, from hearing your first WASP record and air-guitaring off your bed with a baseball bat, surely!
“I’ve tried to do the fast black metal bands, and you’re playing shows, and everyone’s looking at you weird and all you can think is “Fuck me! Everybody hates me”, but you play a groovy bit and heads start banging, people start smiling…”
The lyrics and song titles on The Great & Secret Show are very tongue in cheek, redolent of Martin Walkyier in his pomp and prime, with Mr Dani Filth both curator and orator of puns and fictions. “Oh, he’ll like that (Walkyier reference). He’s massively influenced by him, Venom and Celtic Frost. He had free reign and didn’t have to write to the Cradle formula, there’s no ‘Gothic Romance In The Kingdom Of Death or Destruction’ expectation, so you can have a song title like ‘Even Your Blood Group Rejects Me’ or ‘Girl From Mystery Island’.”
Yet when even the Overlord of Metal Comedy, Lord Devin Townsend (in the midst of two albums about a coffee and flatulence obsessed alien, mind) declares metal and humour is a dangerous combination, then isn’t this just inciting some of the more po-faced members of the Metal Archives High Council to tut and wag their fingers? Is it confrontational, or is Devilment not worried about people taking you seriously? “I didn’t write the lyrics. For him, he’s been able to have a free reign on what he wants to write about lyrically. But, I mean, they are all very Dani Filth lyrics still. He creates these stories and massive landscapes and ideas.
“I’ll admit, at first, I was like “Err… that’s not what I had in mind…” but you see where he’s come from on it.
“And, well, he is a bit kooky…”
The one thing that is clear about Devilment and their long term future is, that this is a band that will need to balance around the demands of their frontman’s other band. How big an impact does it have on the band? “Well, to begin with, we just fucked around for a bit. Dani was busy doing Cradle, so obviously we couldn’t put in the time you normally would with a new band, so it was difficult to get the momentum going, but, now this is my thing. Devilment has been mine and Dan’s baby for the last few years.”
It is clear, though, that while this is Dani’s side-project, it’s Daniel Finch’s main beast, so when the vocalist and lyricist heads back to Cradle, what happens then? Will we be seeing more of Daniel Finch now that Devilment has seen his profile and stock rise? “I’d like to (do another project). It’s difficult because I’m not sure what my record contract says as to what I’m allowed to do! I mean Aaron (Boast – drums) does Kemakil and Colin (Parks – guitar) does The Conflict Within, while Lauren (Bailey – keys) and Nick (Johnson – bass) do Vardo & The Boss, so they all have their little bits. We’ve started writing the second album, and while the whole Cradle thing is happening, we want to knuckle down and write the next album.
“If I get time, I’d like to write some stuff for people, doing some songwriting, maybe not metal, maybe indie/goth, and I’ve always been into folk music. But at the same time I’d love to do something that’s really fucking extreme, stupidly heavy, eventually.
“But, look, Devilment has to come to first for me.”
The Great & Secret Show is out now via Nuclear Blast
WORDS by STEVE TOVEY
For a new band just getting started, garnering praise from musicians in the industry is a major benefit. More than just a stroking of the ego, these types of recommendations can help to build hype around an artist as fans of the famous admirer take note of what their musical hero is saying. Islander are a band who have been given such praise, with H.R. from punk legends Bad Brains and Sonny Sandoval from nu-metallers P.O.D. lapping up the foursomes brand of alternative rock/metal.
However, just because they like it doesn’t mean everyone will, and when it comes to their debut album, Violence and Destruction (Victory), that certainly rings true.
A mixture of heartfelt lyrics and nu-metal/alt-rock tones, Islander’s first full-length is a grower not a shower, with some tracks neither showing nor really growing. A mixture of the two, opener ‘Counteract,’ an angst-ridden metal affair and ‘The Sadness of Graves,’ an aggressive but melodic track, set a high standard from the off but not everything that follows is cut from the same entertaining cloth. ‘New Wave,’ ‘Count Dracula’ and ‘Cold Speak’ are half-decent almost sombre tracks with sincere lyrics but lack anything to really make them stand out, while songs such as the zealous ‘Side Effects of Youth’ and creative ‘Pains’ show a different, more musically passionate side to the band, a side which is much more entertaining to hear.
Then there’s the nu-metal anthem ‘Criminals,’ which features the aforementioned Sonny Sandoval and sounds like it was taken straight from the 90s, a great track for anyone who into their nu-metal or is looking for some nostalgia to their youth. In the next breath is ‘Mira,’ a very short track that feels pretty much pointless. Finale ‘Violence and Destruction’ however leaves the album going out the way it came in; with an explosive yet harmonious bang, giving you at least a good last memory.
Violence and Destruction is a tale of two halves, one being great and the other being rather unmemorable. If you like your alt-metal with a douse of unpredictability, this album with surely quench that particular thirst, but not always for the right reasons.
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Do you remember Downset? If you were around buying CDs and records back in the 1990s, then you will definitely remember them. They found themselves, probably unfairly, badged with the epithet “rap metal”. Whilst that epithet went some way to describe the dynamic that underpinned their work, it didn’t really cover all the bases, missing, for example, their debt to the LA hardcore scene as well as their overt political sensibility. As the more forensically minded among you might recall, Downset emerged out of LA politicos Social Justice from the late 1980s.
Downset are now back with a solid and unrelenting album in One Blood (Self-Released). This is a brutal and vicious record as lead singer Rey Oropeza reminds us that his anger remains utterly undiminished by the passage of time, remaining utterly relentless in his and his band’s rallying against injustice, broken society and politics in general. If you are at all familiar with their work, then you can breathe a sigh of relief that all things Downset are present and correct.
This is the band’s fifth album to date and their first for nigh on a decade. Downset’s vision has always been one wherein the artistry and community forged through music can be a collective force for good. Given the instability and political crises across the globe at the present time, one can see why this single minded of groups have decided to step back into the fray.
One Blood is breathless in its execution. From the sparky, take-no-prisoners opening track through the Suicidal Tendencies meets Dillinger Escape Plan schtick of ‘Why We Can’t Wait’ and onwards to the brutality of ‘Know Me’, this is a record that works on two levels. First, as an aural baseball bat to the head, it doesn’t have many peers. You are bludgeoned from the off so it helps if you are in the mood for its crushing anger – this is unlikely to be your Sunday morning hangover record (on second thoughts though…). Second, as a manifestation of the rage of men struggling to make their way in a society where the odds seem stacked unfairly against them it also works.
If there is criticism of One Blood it is in that it sounds exactly like the early 90s and exactly like a Downset record. Having said all that, given the fragility and uncertainty of the political realm that surrounds us, perhaps that Downset anchor point is just what we need.