Tag Archives: Peak Arts

The Misfits – The Devil’s Rain

In 1977 Glenn Danzig combined some buddies, an imagination fuelled on horror-movies and comics, and a penchant for writing brutally catchy punk/metal music to form The Misfits, the original Horrorpunk band. Six years later, he dissolved the group, leaving an enormous impact on metal music – and his fans to deal with the fallout. Danzig brought authenticity and brutality to his pop-soaked horror-imagery, approaching his subject matter with a seriousness and starkness that the revived band’s revolving-door of singers has perpetually struggled to resurrect ever since. On The Devil’s Rain, as on every release since The Misfits’ comeback in 1997, we’re dealing with a very different band.

Original bassist Jerry Only writes the lyrics now, and since 2003’s surprisingly successful 50’s cover album Project 1950 he’s been in charge of vocals as well. This doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the band: while he lacks the charisma and force of Danzig’s Elvis-wail or even the latter (teenage!) Michael Grave’s energy, Only’s voice is serviceable: somewhere between a shout and a croon, honed over decades of backup singing, though TheMisfits clearly suffers without its trademark vocal frenzy. Only is aware of his success on Project 1950, and it shows in his affinity for sustained harmonies and song-structures that hew remarkably closely to their Project 1950 precursors (of which the extremely pop-y “Monkey’s Paw” ends up a standout track). When his vocals hit their mark, Only’s only major problem (and by extension that of the band) is a lack of ingenuity: at best The Devil’s Rain chugs along consistently, a fine companion to that post-Hallowe’en party of yours. At its worst, whichever songs don’t repeat themselves ad nauseum (“It’s cold in hell!” x 18), sound nearly identical, and not in a “well-alright-it-is-Punk” way, but as more of a “oh-right-these-guys-play-in-Osaka-Popstar” variety of boggling tempo and chord repetition.

Then again, there’s a solid chance none of this will bother you: anyone exclusively a post-formation Misfits fan is likely to find more than enough to enjoy here (and can probably increase that score a little). Only takes more joy in playing with classic horror tropes than he  does getting all worked up and angry, and that’s perfectly alright – the result is simply a lukewarm band more suited to playing over Hallowe’en barbecues than mosh pits.

C+

Originally published in The Peak, November 2011. 

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William Shatner – Seeking Major Tom

Pop Culture Alert: William Shatner – yes that Shatner – just released a concept album about the ongoing adventures of Bowie’s Major Tom, made up of covers that famous people helped him record, and it’s actually good. Go ahead, roll your eyes! I’ll wait, because Seeking Major Tom is the silliest and most sincere spoken-world album you’ll hear this year.

Shatner’s space-age love letter is a tough one to categorize: ‘vocalist cover-album’ doesn’t do it justice, since here rarely ever sings (save his bizarre and glorious “Bohemian Rhapsody“).  It clearly isn’t a linear story-piece either, since whatever cohesion Tom’s tale might possess is listener-generated, drawn from Shatner’s re-appropriated space imagery, and made up of reassembled metaphors by everyone from Hawkwind all the way to, of course, Elton John (“Rocket Man” gets a chance for redemption, don’t worry). Keenly self-aware, Will never seems to worry either way: his perpetually off-time delivery and deadpan humour carry real emotional resonance, handily one-upping his (cookie-cutter, capable-but-bland) all-star cohorts.

Coming from a man in his eighties, songs like “Iron Man” and “Spirit In The Sky” take on a new and hilarious life – and a charisma that simply begs re-listening.

B+

Originally published in The Peak, October 2011. 

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Opeth – Heritage

When Opeth dropped Damnation back in 2003, they took what the industry calls a leap of faith: they released an album with no double-kick violence, no head-banging metal riffs, and most disconcertingly no death-growls at all. Opeth had always been a band of extreme dynamics, of classical flourishes sunk deep within the tropes of death metal and unified by prog-rock composition and the twin virtuosic voices of singer Mikael Åkerfeldt. On Damnation the setting-aside of Åkerfeldt’s growl was the elephant in the room, Opeth’s usual ferocity instead supplanted by mellotron grooves and jazz-fusion drumming (frequently with brushes). The response was overwhelmingly positive: Opeth had released their first ‘clean’ album – an oddity they had already offset with its sister piece, the previous year’s super-heavy Deliverance. Since then, each of their albums has increasingly embraced their softer aspects, and on Heritage Åkerfeldt finally cements that their ‘clean’ albums need no longer be treated with scepticism (nor apologetic companion albums): his band has matured into a genre-blending juggernaut just as capable of eliciting a reaction with organs and brush-drumming as with death metal bravado.

Longtime fans are going to be split over this one: anything resembling death metal has again been given a wide berth, songs are meandering exploration of Åkerfeldt’s progressive and psychedelic influences, and all of the vocals are clean – but for that Heritage abandons none of the band’s typical gothic appeal. Heritage embraces the intertwining history of folk music and metal, meandering from the heaviness of Sabbath and Zeppelin-level distortion and riffage to honest and open King Crimson homage. “The Devil’s Orchard” runs a killer baseline under psychedelic guitar solos interspersed with Nietzsche references and Rush drumming. “Nepenthe” comes in somewhere between acoustic folk and jazz fusion, littered with references to isolation and given to spontaneous outbursts of prog-funk noodling (not unlike a comprehensible Mars Volta track). “Slither” is likely the most disconcertingly closely Opeth will ever flirt with pop… the list of oddities goes on and on. This album is nothing if not a trip.

Heritage is everything Opeth fans know and love, run through the kaleidoscope of Åkerfeldt’s obsession with his influences and the nuanced history of metal, and it couldn’t be better for it. For it’s kind, this might just be album of the year: a supremely atmospheric work honouring where metal has been, while simultaneously making room for Opeth to carve their own space in the continuum.

A

Originally published in The Peak, September 2011. 

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