Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Black Sabbath - "Heaven and Hell" (LP Review)

Geoff Nicholls died this week.  You're probably thinking "who?" and that's ok, he was a journeyman in the NWOBHM movement, best known as the keyboardist for Black Sabbath from 1980--2004.  Most of the time he was credited as an "additional performer" but he was occasionally credited as a full-member of the band (e.g., on "Seventh Star"), his vacillating membership status serving as a metaphor for the awkward role of keyboards and heavy metal in general.  His wikipedia page states he typically played back- or side-stage during concerts -- nothing says "I'm not a full member of the band" like playing backstage (or in the bar's kitchen, but that's a story for another time). 

Black Sabbath had used keyboards on previous LPs, but fortunately they had never really been central to their sound.  1980's "Heaven and Hell" was the first LP in which Nicholls appears, but of course this LP is better known for being the LP with Ronnie James Dio replacing longtime lead singer Ozzy.  At the time there was a lot of concern about Ozzy-less Sabbath, but I think most people eventually realized that Dio had re-energized Black Sabbath -- honestly, the last two Sabbath LPs with Ozzy weren't very good.  In high school I was a huge Dio fan, so I had no qualms about him leading Sabbath, and I just considered early 80s Sabbath and early 70s Sabbath as basically two different bands.

Although I rarely listen to it now, this LP still occupies a special place for me and it is hard to overstate how important this LP was to me back in the day.  It still sounds good, but I also realize that I can not even begin to separate it from the nostalgia of the mid-80s.  I'll also admit as much as I generally dislike keyboards in metal, Nicholls does a fine job on songs like "Die Young" and "Lonely is the Word", where the keyboards are present but not central... like they're being played from back stage.

Standout songs: "Neon Knights", "Children of the Sea", "Heaven and Hell", "Wishing Well", "Die Young", "Lonely Is the Word"

Skip 'em songs: "Lady Evil"

Final score: 9/10

Sunday, January 15, 2017

House of Freaks - "Cactusland" (forgotten song)

Today's Virginian Pilot has a retrospective article on the murders of the Harvey family in 2006 in Richmond because their killer is scheduled for execution this week.  I recall when this happened, although I don't remember this being part of a larger crime spree, including other murders. 

Bryan Harvey (guitar, vocals) was one of the two members (Johnny
Hott was the percussionist) of Richmond's House of Freaks, who were notable for being the first (one of the first?) bands that achieved a really "full" sound with only two musicians and no overdubs.  We now have The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Matt and Kim, Wye Oak, and surely others with similar approaches, but I'm pretty sure House of Freaks lead the way.

I believe it was late 1991 when I first learned of this band.  I had graduated but Terry was in his final year at JMU and living in the attic of the house on Old South High (pictured above, with Terry's 1990's selfie), which he had arranged in his own indomitable style -- there was surely not a finer attic bachelor pad in all of Harrisonburg.  On one of my visits we were either about to go out or had just gotten back (the details are hazy at this point), and Terry put on a tape and said something like "check this out -- it's just two guys."  I remember being blown away by the sound of their 1987 LP "Monkey on a Chain Gang", especially the song "Cactusland".  For whatever reason, that song crystallized that moment in time.

House of Freaks would break up in the early 90s (not long after that visit to JMU), coming close to "making it" but just missing.  Both Harvey and Hott would continue recording and collaborating in various other local bands and projects.  In fact it was Hott who first discovered the crime scene when he arrived with his daughter for a New Year's Day family party at Harvey's house.

Whatever happens this week, there will surely be more discussion of graphic details of that day in 2006.  I'll try to tune it out and remember the first time I heard "Cactusland" at Terry's place.

House of Freaks - "Cactusland"

But there ain't no gold in cactusland....

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Smiths - "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" (the song remains the same)

Several years ago Julianne, Danette's sister, asked me what I thought was "the best cover song ever?"  I had lots of answers (including "Run On", "Stop Your Sobbing", "Blue Flower", and some others I will eventually cover here), but I'd like to retroactively put at the top of the list "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths.  Originally appearing on their 1986 LP "The Queen is Dead", it was released as a single in 1992 after The Smiths had broken up.  Like pretty much everything by The Smiths, the song is a poignant recount of teenage confusion/pathos/spirituality/sexuality.

My first experience with the song was its appearance as the closing song on the 2003 mix LP "Back to Mine" by The Orb.  This version was retitled "The Light 3000" and is by Schneider TM vs. KPT.Mich.Gan (originally on their joint 2000 EP "Binokular").  The transformation of the song is striking, from the 80s college radio sound of the original to what it would sound like if your computer had teenage angst.  But somehow -- and this is the part that makes it a truly brilliant and inspired cover -- the sterile robotic/synth treatment actually accentuates the universality and the humanity of the original version. 

The Smiths - "There is a Light That Never Goes Out"
Schneider TM vs. KPT.Mich.Gan - "The Light 3000"
And in the darkened underpass
I thought "oh God, my chance has come at last"
But then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn't ask