June 12, 2013

Review: "13" by Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath Emerge From Lake Of Fire

     13, Black Sabbath’s first studio record with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978′s Never Say Die!, starts off just as one might expect. “End Of The Beginning” punches through with a trunk-rattling dirge of murky low-end guitar guts. It then swivels away into grey as Osbourne ponders his placement in time.
     Producer Rick Rubin, the great conjurer of past inspiration, got founding members Osbourne, guitar demon Tony Iommi and bassist, and lyricist, Geezer Butler in the same room for the first Sabbath release since 1995′s Forbidden, and they don’t mess around.
     Sabbath has had a revolving cast of players over the years with Iommi being the one constant. A full-on reunion had been gestating since 2001. When sessions finally recommenced last year original drummer Bill Ward dropped out citing, lamely, a “contractual dispute.” It’s a shame that 13 isn't a complete reunion, but who better to take Ward’s place than the tough, militaristic Brad Wilk from Rage Against The Machine? The songs are given a harder edge thanks to his presence. You couldn't ask for better personnel to keep alive the name of Sabbath.
     This album is dense. The first two songs alone stretch out to nearly seventeen minutes. On “God Is Dead?” Osbourne sings of “blood on my conscience and murdering mind.” Voices echo through his head as he wonders on the current state of God. The question in the title switches to a pronouncement, then back again to a question.
     It’s clear Rubin was using past classics as a template for this excursion. There are a lot of familiar sounds. “Zeitgeist” could be the sequel to “Planet Caravan” off Paranoid with its bongo hits from the cave. Osbourne travels saintly through the universe. “Lost in time I wonder when my ship will be found,” he hums. At the end Iommi teases out the despondency of your soul with his guitar. The next song, and the heaviest, “Age Of Reason,” keeps the mind from drifting. It exists on many different floors and Iommi’s guitar collapses one after the next. Nobody slides down the neck in unison with the drums the way he does. The results crush your spine.
     The running motor of “Live Forever” kicks the listener into a metallurgical trance. The floor becomes the ceiling. “Damaged Soul” is heavy slow-groove blues, until Iommi lets loose a few lacerating solos. “I’m not dying cuz I’m already dead / pray for the living cuz now I’m in your head,” Osbourne warns.
     There are no mid-90′s Ozzy ballads here. He’s not trying to sing his heart out, instead relying more on his low-registered croak and quiver. Iommi slays each song with dark psychedelia, while Butler and Wilk maintain their rhythmic hammer.
     This is the metal that Black Sabbath created somewhere around the moon landing and this is the metal only Black Sabbath can masterly recreate in this fucked-up Internet age. Their music still has the tremors of occult, like you’re walking through a sixteenth-century forest with dark, hooded clans. The songs are long, drawn out and pulverizing and if you’re not used to that sort of thing, you may grow weary. If you are used to that sort of thing, then this is what your life has been missing lately.
     Old fans of Sabbath will be very pleased. The purveyors of black magic metal have returned with perfect timing. In a world riddled with pockmarked landscapes and hate elevated, Black Sabbath is needed. Miley Cyrus and Keisha’s electronic goat-fuck party anthems just don’t accurately mirror this world. Damaged souls need damaged music in which to drink and smoke to and 13 is the perfect embellishment.

Key Tracks: "End Of The Beginning," "God Is Dead?," "Damaged Soul," "Live Forever"

from: I M P

June 08, 2013

Review: "...Like Clockwork" by Queens Of The Stone Age

QOTSA get hard and soft on rock and roll classic

     God, it feels good when that first strike of sludge guitar hits on Queens Of The Stone Age’s new album, …Like Clockwork. First track, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” travels at a lowly lurk, like carefully stepping through a graveyard at night. Frontman Josh Homme takes deep painful stabs on his downtuned guitar while distressed ghouls crank away in the background.
     It’s been a while since QOTSA have released new music. Since 2007′s mighty, bare-knuckled Era Vulgaris, Homme has been driving, red-eyed and burnt, through the California desert. He fronted the superb, eye-gouging Them Crooked Vultures with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and old pal Dave Grohl on drums and dropped a third Eagles Of Death Metal record.
     Now, Homme returns with old Queens’ players in tow, but has lassoed an army of friends, old and new. Grohl is here performing on a majority of the songs, founding bassist Nick Oliveri returns for one and Mark Lanegan, Homme’s wife Brody Dalle and Trent Reznor all contribute, while Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters, Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys and, yes, Elton John add their heft to the record.
     The tempo shifts from song to song. The second track and head-bobber, “I Sat By The Ocean,” is the most overtly Queens-sounding with those slithering, braying guitars. “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory” slows way down, each measure strung together with ominous keyboard and fat synthesizer. At first “Kolpsia” throws the listener for a loop, sounding like a pasty dream, but then flaps open into a hotbox of feedback and 90′s riffage. A beautiful melody is pitted against Homme’s gnarled scowl and somewhere in the mix is Reznor on vocals, but it’s hard to pick him out.
     Homme’s drugged, careless snarl is in full effect on the record’s best song, “If I Had A Tail.” “I wanna suck, I wanna lick, I wanna cry, I wanna spit. Tears of pleasure, tears of pain, they trickle down your face the same,” he sings along to the bump. An undeniable boogie is at work here. It instantly picks the body up and soon you’ll be reaching for a bottle of whiskey and car keys.
     A great clamped-down energy controls “Smooth Sailing.” Homme finds himself at the bottom looking upwards, not giving two fucks about what comes next. “I’m burning bridges, I destroyed the mirage,” he sings, before offering a classic line only he could erect: “I blow my load over the status quo.” Lyrics like that, well, they just don’t come very often. The album then descends into the spectral “I Appear Missing,” where lost souls go hammering back into the dirt.
     It’s devastatingly obvious Grohl and Homme are on the same rhythmic wavelength. One of the greatest drummers playing today, Grohl, holds these songs down with his consistent punch and full force rolling crescendos that just fucking explode through the speakers. The results of these two rock and roll hemoglobins is achingly satisfying. As a drummer, it’s impossible not to air drum wherever you are.
     A steady, plodding piano from John finishes out the record on the title track. It brings out an emotional response heavier than any other Queens song before it. “Everyone it seems has somewhere to go,” Homme swoons, “the faster the world spins, the shorter the lights will grow.” It’s not all drug-taking, car-racing, lip-smacking, but down in the dirt reflection, too.
     As the title may suggest, this album is another chip off the ol’ Queens Of The Stone Age block. It begins and ends with the grave, with slight detours in the middle of spirits rising and circulating. Homme feathers his vocals a little more and soundscapes creep in, but once it begins to sound too pretty, there is an off-note, a pinged sharp, that uglies it. …Like Clockwork is a borderline masterpiece of swampy rock and roll.

Key Tracks: "If I Had A Tail," "Smooth Sailing," "I Appear Missing," "My God Is The Sun"

from: Independent Music Promotions