Soundgarden - Louder Than Live Review

Louder Than Live (1990)
Genres: Heavy Metal, Grunge, Doom Metal, Stoner Metal

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a fantastic live album. Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East? Metallica's Live Shit? AC/DC's If You Want Blood? Gentle Giant's Playing the Fool? Daft Punk's Alive 2007? Whatever it is, there's plenty to choose from. While live albums can sometimes suffer from bootleg quality productions, there is a good handful of fantastic live albums that perfectly capture a band at their peak and in a sense brings you to the concert displayed on said album. An unfortunately forgotten live album that ranks as one of the best is Soundgarden's Louder Than Live. This was probably due to only being released on VHS and as a promotional CD/cassette/vinyl in 1990 and never being officially re-released since.

Now, this is a live performance. Like all the best live albums, it shows the band at their very best. Soundgarden is in their prime here, and deliver a crushing balls-to-the-wall concert that would scare off anyone who's too used to modern over-polished "extreme" metal. This is about as much energy as you can get without being at the concert yourself. Plus this is the only Soundgarden release where you can hear Jason Everman on bass.

With a setlist consisting mostly songs from the masterpiece that is Louder Than Love, the most doom metal song Soundgarden's ever done, one of the band's earliest songs, and a couple comedic covers, you know you're in a for a treat. It opens up with said doom metal song, the gargantuan behemoth that is "Beyond the Wheel". Like the original studio version, it's haunting and blisteringly heavy. Here though, it's extended to a much more fitting 7 minutes and you can hear it in all of it's glory. Unlike the garage quality of the debut, this has some extra grit in the riffs and Cornell has a bit more of a snarl.

As if "Gun" wasn't a massive beast of a song before, Louder Than Live has the song sounding like it's just going to grab you by the throat and throw you around in the pit until you're on your way to the hospital. You can hear the feedback, the amps sound like they're going to blow any minute, and it shows that Cornell was just as much of a screaming maniac on the stage as in the studio. The discordant "I Awake" sounds even more out of a horror film, and "Big Dumb Sex" opens with some hilarious stage banter. It all closes with covers of Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom" and Cheech and Chong's "Earache My Eye". "Big Bottom" works in more ways than one, with Soundgarden having such a heavy bottom end. "Earache My Eye" turns into a heavy grungy biter of a track with total manic screaming and it's a real awesome rendition.

To me these are the best kinds of live albums, the ones that display a band in all of their raw and unbridled rage and musical intensity. It serves as a huge influence for budding musicians like myself, and pushes the drive to get out on a stage and give it your all even more. Watching the VHS brings the whole experience home even more, watching everyone swirl around in the mosh pits and bang their heads like madmen just as the band does themselves. If you can find it, treat yourself to one of the best live albums/videos the metal world has to offer.


Soundgarden - Louder Than Love Review

Louder Than Love (1989)
Genres: Heavy Metal, Grunge, Doom Metal, Stoner Metal

"Hands all over the inland forest. In a striking motion trees fall down like, dying soldiers."

Only a year after the band's phenomenal debut, Soundgarden came out with one of the greatest yet sadly underrated metal albums of all time. Louder Than Love, and that's what it is. Slamming hammers of sludgy headbanging riffage and rhythm rain down upon the listener like an erupting volcano, while Chris Cornell's screams have the forcefulness of a primal battle cry. This album is louder and heavier than pretty much anything else, and for me represents everything that is beautiful about heavy metal.

Where to start with this masterpiece? From beginning to end, Soundgarden gives the middle finger to weak moments and anything that isn't heavy. I guess "Hands All Over" is a good place to begin rambling about my love for this album. If you thought all environmental messages in music had to be 60's hippie sunshine pop, you're just wrong. This song will slam your face against the pavement with a chunky bass riff and guitar groove, massive and thunderous drums, and Cornell's primal screams of heartfelt fury. I've always loved Cornell's uses of metaphors with lines such as "turning eagles, into vultures" and the aforementioned one at the beginning of the review. This is easily the best environmental metal song you'll find (Though Testament's "Greenhouse Effect" from the same year is great too).

Louder Than Love has a perfect balance between heavy as fuck 70's-sounding grungy doom metal, massive slabs of sludge, and headbanging 80's metal. "Gun" is a perfect mix of sounds, and may be the best on the album. The lumbering drums that open up the track prepare you for the face-melting riffing that wipes the floor with any other song of its kind. The main riff is brooding, punishing, and wants nothing but to kick the listener to the floor in the mosh pit. It slowly picks up speed, and has one of the best progression flows I've heard in any song. The peak speed of the song occurs after Cornell's spit of "fuck 'em up", and is followed up with what should be known as one of the best guitar solos of all time where Kim Thayil just shreds in a swirling mass while Cornell's screams fade into the background. The song slows back down to the pure doom plodding for the end, with some agonized screams and finally one more bellow of "I've got an idea, of something we can do with a gun". 

For the old school doom metal fans, Soundgarden channels Black Sabbath here better than any other band out there. Take a listen to a song like "Power Trip", and Kim Thayil is the  one who really brought back the Tony Iommi riff back into metal, while blending it into his own unique guitar sound. His solos wail and screech, and he and Cornell deliver bludgeoning riff after riff. "Loud Love" should be more known as an ultimate headbanging anthem, with a colossal hook that is just instant with getting the head moving. "Get on the Snake" is another one that is just a massive stomp. The beast of an opener, "Ugly Truth", "Uncovered", and the beast of a closer "Big Dumb Sex" don't have any shortage of gargantuan hooks either.

The first three Soundgarden albums show every reason why Chris Cornell is probably my all time favorite vocalist. This album in particular, he rarely turns down the siren. Almost every song has him screaming at high levels of high energy, putting tears in my eye as I attempt to scream along to the red-faced and monstrous performances. When he's not unleashing his battle cry, he's either complementing a slow doom crawl with stoner bellowing or snarling and spitting in "No Wrong, No Right". Just the delivery of the last lines in that song, 'No wrong, no right. Guilt admission, you've been bitten". It's so biting and somehow beautiful at the same time.

Of course, everyone contributes equally to this beast of an album, and the rhythm section is a huge part in the heaviness just like the rest. I already mentioned it when describing "Hands All Over", but Hiro Yamamoto's bass is almost always contributing to a massive groove, especially on that colossus of a song. When not grooving, it's a rapid thumping spitfire like on "Full on Kevin's Mom", or helping carry a haunting atmosphere like with "No Wrong, No Right". Matt Cameron is the first thing you hear on the album, as he opens up "Ugly Truth", right up with a drum fill. His performance is explosive and thunderous, and carries some real weight. Whether it be the crashing cymbals that open up "Gun", the rolls that open up "No Wrong, No Right", or the huge stomp that commands the whole album, he's got it.

Louder Than Love covers everything lyrically. From reflective, to blunt, to moody, its got everything. While hair bands play around with innuendo, Soundgarden doesn't have time for that in a song like "Big Dumb Sex". They just out right scream it, and there's no reason for questions. The speed metal-paced "Full on Kevin's Mom" gets beyond to the point, and flies right into the skin with heat-seeking bass and guitar runs.  On the opposite end, you have the discordant and dissonant dirges of "I Awake" and "No Wrong, No Right".

While the debut had a pretty lo-fi sounding production, Louder Than Love has an absolutely massive sound that really makes it "louder than love". I don't think I've heard a sound quite like it, as it melds the warm and raw sound of 70's metal albums with the louder and larger sound of the 80's. I love the debut, but the band sounds just completely focused here and just wanting to deliver a crushing blow to the skull or bite into the skin on this album. 

As you can probably tell with how long and detailed this review is, this is one of my all time favorite albums, probably in my top 10. Along with the next album, this is among what I would call a perfect masterpiece and one of the greatest things ever recorded. While sadly this one goes pretty underrated and somewhat forgotten, this is an album that anyone looking for a crushing, loud, and sludgy behemoth of an album should listen to. It's a true one of a kind release, and shows a band at their most raw and angry. In the world of heavy metal, there's nothing better. Thayil described the band's sound as "zen metal", and if beautiful heavy metal that's louder than love is how you enter a state of zen, sign me up.


Accept - Breaker Review

Breaker (1981)
Genres: Heavy Metal, Speed Metal

"You are down and out, when you're just being your self. We ain't down and out, MAN TAKE A LOOK AT YOURSELF!"

Like Rush did with the legendary 2112 back in 1976, Accept gave the ultimate middle finger to the record companies and producers that were pushing the band to be commercial and have hit singles. Vocalist Udo has said that the previous album I'm a Rebel was uninspired and had too many people trying to manipulate and influence the band. Biggest claim to infamy is the title track of that album which was written by Alex Young, eldest brother of Angus and Malcolm Young of AC/DC, therefore sounding like a reject AC/DC song.

After the failure of I'm a Rebel, the band said 'fuck it' and did what they wanted to do without any outside influence. They couldn't have made a better choice, as Breaker is the album where they immediately found their sound and cemented Accept as among the metal gods. Udo himself believes Breaker to be among Accept's best albums, and I completely agree with him.

There's a perfect blend of speed metal fury, hard rock swagger, metal ballad beauty, and neo-classical soloing throughout the album. Many credit "Fast as a Shark" from the next album as being the first speed metal song, but I believe this album's title track is actually Accept's first creation of that extra fast heavy metal. This and "Starlight" are fast and furious, with blistering leads that will have you air guitaring before you can sing 'He's a breaker'. Jörg Fischer's melodies and Wolf Hoffmann's solos and leads are absolutely amazing, and with the exception of Scorpions' "Sails of Charon" from '77, this was the first real taste of neoclassical metal before Yngwie Malmsteen. Just take a listen to that short but sweet minstrel sounding part in the middle of "Son of a Bitch", which is hilariously placed right before Udo screams 'COCK SUCKING MOTHERFUCKER I WAS RIGHT'

Bassist Peter Baltes does not get the appreciation he deserves, as his thick and chunky basslines really gives Breaker a heavy as hell bottom end. "Feelings" is where I think it stands out the most, and that's what I call groove. It really gives the song a mean swagger, and gives "Son of a Bitch" that extra thumping stomp. He can sing too, as he takes over the mic on the ballad "Breaking Up Again". Stefan Kaufmann's thunderous drum performance coupled with Baltes' thumping bass gives the band a fantastic rhythm section. Kaufmann really shines on the explosive "Down and Out".

Something I love about Accept is how beautiful they sound even when playing borderline speed metal, the title track and "Run if You Can" are perfect examples of such. This brings me to the voice of Accept, and one of the greatest and most unique vocalists in all of metal. Udo Dirkschneider is up there with Rob Halford and Chris Cornell, as one of the vocalists that can be screaming their heads off and create absolute tear-jerking beauty while doing such. The power ballad "Can't Stand the Night" as well as the aforementioned tracks in the paragraph, show Udo at among his finest moments. Of course, he can also be screaming his head off and just be completely pissed off and out for blood. Nothing is a better showcase than the anti-record label anthem of "Son of a Bitch".

Apart from being an absolute masterpiece and the first of many from Accept in the 80's, Breaker also stands with 2112 as an example of a band becoming bigger and better after a record label tries to meddle, proving that staying true to yourselves and your fans is the best way to go. I think the anger that the artists get just gives the performances that much more energy. It's what gives that extra edge for us to scream along as Geddy Lee shrieks about being a priest at the Temples of Syrinx and as Udo screams expletive after expletive at the labels and tells them to kiss his ass. All the beauty of heavy metal is right here. If you've missed out on Breaker, do yourself a favor and listen to an 80's classic.


Anthrax - Stomp 442 Review

Stomp 442 (1995)
Genres: Groove Metal, Thrash Metal


Take one look at that album cover. It's pretty obvious what kind of album this is going to be when it's just a massive ball of heavy metal that towers over the lone man standing right by it. While most known for his work on the many legendary covers that graced all the Pink Floyd classics, Storm Thorgerson did his fair share of metal album covers. This may be his best album cover for a metal album, as this album is so damn colossal just as the ball that stands right in the center.

Stomp 442 is an interesting album in Anthrax's discography, in the sense that it blends together some of the band's most crushing moments with some of their most melodic. Opener "Random Acts of Senseless Violence" is one of the most pumped up openers I've ever heard, it immediately makes you want to kick some ass. John Bush's vocal performance is the biggest part in giving this song so much fucking attitude. The main riff helps too, but Bush's spitting lines and the infectious snarling of 'RANDOM ACTS OF SENSELESS, RANDOM ACTS OF SENSELESS' is really what makes this a perfect song for getting all that built up rage out. In fact, this album might include Bush's best vocal performances with Anthrax. The pre-chorus scream of 'SUCK IT' in "Riding Shotgun" is one of the most badass sounding things out there.

Scott Ian and guest guitarist Paul Crook's riffs are crunching and crushing, while contrasting the meaty sound with screeching and face melting bends. "Drop the Ball" is a spiral of crazy soloing and a riff that pounds your face into the ground like a hammer on a nail. Dimebag guests on "King Size" and "Riding Shotgun" for a couple delicious solos. The latter also has Frank Bello's basslines getting some shine time. You know those 90's music videos where the camera is just spinning out of control, going all over the place? That's what can be imagined while listening to "In a Zone", and it's absolutely amazing. 

Despite the majority of the album being an explosive groove-thrash fest of brutality, "Nothing" and "Bare" are a couple of the most melodic songs the band has done. While I would say that these are the weaker songs on the album, they're still great and give the album a good contrast of sounds. "Bare" in particular sounds like it came right out of one of Alice in Chains's mellow/acoustic EP's.

Stomp 442 was an album that went under-promoted and forgotten, when it should have become regarded as one of the best albums groove metal had to offer. Along with Vulgar Display of Power, this is one of the best albums for getting all that built up anger out and also when you just want to bang your head right off. Along with We've Come For You All, this is the best of the Bush albums, and one that no fan of groove and thrash metal should miss.


Venom - Prime Evil Review

Prime Evil (1989)
Genres: Thrash Metal, Speed Metal

Venom is one of those bands that's sadly more known for their influence rather than the actual music they created. Ask anybody, and they'll probably say something along the lines of "Oh yeah, Black Metal. What an influential album!" or "Welcome to Hell, maybe the first speed metal or black metal album!". Will anyone ever comment on the actual quality? Probably not, and if they do it probably would sound like this: "Ehh, it's okay". I probably wouldn't argue a whole lot if they had only made their first five albums (Though I do really like their first two). However, nobody seems to remember that the band's kept at it, and got 100 times better.

Enter 1989, and here is what I think is Venom's finest hour. Prime Evil is the first out of a few albums to feature Tony Dolan on vocals rather than frontman Cronos, who had left the band after the failure of 1987's Calm Before the Storm. You may be thinking how Venom would continue with the loss of their iconic frontman, but I honestly prefer Dolan's vocals. He maintains the spit and snarl of Cronos, while adding a bit of melody as well as that extra attitude needed for thrash metal.

You know what this album's got? It's got grooves, it's got hooks, and under Venom's command you will headbang. "Blackened are the Priests" has a simply killer groove made with the syncopation of the groove of the guitar riffs and the walloping of drums. "Parasite" and "Carnivorous" are pure thrashers, with the former being addicting as all hell and the latter having a bit of black metal guitar work for flavor. "Skeletal Dance" really shows off Anthony Bray's massive drum sound, with the bridge sounding absolutely colossal. That blended with the piercing guitar sound and screeching, it's like entering an ancient arena.

Usually a cover wouldn't be considered a main highlight, but Venom knocks it out of the park with their cover of Black Sabbath's classic "Megalomania". Man, I love the original, but Venom just gives it a whole new sound and brings such a fresh high energy to the beloved classic. "Harder Than Ever" brings in a more traditional heavy metal sound, especially with the main riff sounding right out of an early Motley Crue album. This is a should be metal anthem, it is just so fun.

While black metal fans may not be too happy, thrash fans like myself can rejoice for what's a real hidden gem that too few people even know exist. There's only one real weak moment on the album, and that's the ridiculously cheesy and somewhat forgettable "Skool Daze" which sounds out of place, but that doesn't do much damage to what's otherwise a flawless masterpiece. If you like your thrash both melodic and spitting, give Prime Evil a try.


Diablo Swing Orchestra - Sing-Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious Review

Sing-Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious (2009)
Genre: Swing Metal

Along with heavy metal, another style of music that I had grown up listening to quite a bit was Big Band and Swing music from the golden age of film. Although there was some Benny Goodman in the selection, most of what I heard were from the classic movie musicals of the 40's and 50's. I can't say I used to be a huge fan of the vocals, but I always loved the dancing and music that went along with it. In fact, I'd still rank classics like Royal Wedding (1951), The Band Wagon (1953), and It's Always Fair Weather (1955) among my favorite films. 

Despite my love of both classic metal and classic films, I'd never have thought "Hey, you know Fred Astaire's awesome jazzy Shoe Shine song in The Band Wagon? Let's combine that with heavy metal and see what we get.". Wrathchild America did the swing and metal combo first back in 1991 with their song "Spy", or if you want to go even farther, Megadeth had some pretty swing-sounding rhythm sections on their first two albums. However, Diablo Swing Orchestra is to my knowledge the first band to make swing metal into an actual thing.

...and holy fuck. When I first heard "A Tap Dancer's Dilemma", I had no idea that this was something I wanted and needed, but fucking hell yes it was. Opening with that total classic sounding booming big band drum sound, it honestly sounds like you did just put on a swing record. Then those sexy horns and grinding guitar come in, it just sounds like a combo made in heaven. It really feels like this is from a scene from one of those old musicals, just with metal instrumentation added. Everything is just so fun, energetic, and just swingin'. Oh, and those basslines, those are smooth as silk that swings.

While the singing was my least favorite part of those musicals growing up, I've since grown to appreciate the vocal styles used such as opera singing and crooning. Usually when people think of opera and metal combined, they think of the over-abundance of Nightwish copycats, but here you couldn't get farther from that. This is real opera singing and other styles right out of those musicals. There's also some tango, surf, and other styles thrown in as far as the music goes. The metal aspect takes from alternative metal, thrash metal, funk metal, and some surprising nu-metal sounding riffs. There is absolutely no pretense here, just tasty licks and delicious riffs a plenty.

"Bedlam Sticks" has thrashing riffs shredding through your skin, blended with bass wizardry and quirky vocals that sounds right out of a Primus album. The vocals are all over the place on this song, with a mix of the aforementioned vocals, opera, cabaret, and even some death vocals thrown in there. "Vodka Inferno" has some crushing hooks that sound right out of a System of a Down album. "Rancid Romance" is an addicting metal tango, "Lucy Fears the Morning Star" has some colossal grooves, and "Ricerca Dell'anima" blends the musical metal sound with some cool surf rock techniques. Towards the end of the song, it's impossible to not love the blend of piercing groove metal riffing with those amazing horns. "Memoirs of a Roadkill" is the one song devoid of metal, and is what I can only call acoustic funk.

Just like the album opened up with the mind-blowing "A Tap Dancer's Dilemma", it closes with the mind-blowing "Stratosphere Serenade". These were the first two songs I heard from the band, and what an introduction. It's hard enough to describe this album as a whole, but this last song especially, I'm at a loss for words. There's some amazing cello work, massive grooves, and beautiful vocals, but this is one that you'll just have to listen to yourself.

This is a tough album to talk about, because no matter what I write in my review, I can't do it true justice. I've made it pretty clear that I'm an old school metal and hard rock fan, most of my all time favorite albums are from the 70's, 80's and 90's. It takes a lot for an album from the 21st century to become one of my all time favorite albums. Clutch's Psychic Warfare did that simply by being an amazing all killer no filler old-school hard rock album, Chevelle's North Corridor did it by being a crushing dirge of alterna-sludge, and Diablo Swing Orchestra did that by being a game-changer that hasn't gotten the game to change yet. It takes two kinds of music that I hold dear to my heart, along with a bunch of other stuff, and just created an album that I never thought I was looking for. While DSO is still around doing stuff, they'll never be the same with the departure of vocalist Annlouice Wolgers. Who knows if swing metal will ever expand beyond DSO's sound. I sure hope it does, but if it doesn't, one thing can be said. Sing-Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious is a one-of-a-kind album, and there's really nothing like it. If you haven't heard this album, check it out with an open mind. In an era where amazing music from new bands is hard to find, make this an essential listen.


Riot - Fire Down Under Review

Fire Down Under (1981)
Genre: Heavy Metal

"Swords and tequila, carry me through the night. Swords and tequila, carry me through the fight!"

Riot immediately established their own unique sound on their 1977 debut, and continued delivering the goods on their second album two years later. Another two years later, and the band blasted into the 80's with one of the greatest classics of traditional heavy metal. Fire Down Under not only marked the last album with vocalist Guy Speranza and the final album of their masterpiece trilogy, but it also happened to be the best of the bunch and the band's magnum opus.

What makes Fire Down Under stand out from the first two is just how it does pretty much everything the first two did, but with all of it turned up to 11. Everything is just exploding with heavy metal fury, even the moodier moments have an electrified presence about them. From beginning to end, this album is 37 and a half minutes of pure metal energy, with not a single weak moment. The moodier songs on the album take the form of "Feel the Same" and "Altar of the King". These tracks manage to maintain the high energy of the album while being absolutely beautiful at the same time. "Feel the Same" especially, with its somber main riff and Speranza's stunning vocal performance. It even makes me tear up sometimes. 

The album begins with the one-two punch of "Swords and Tequila" and the title track. The former has always been my favorite Riot tune, it has such addictive hooks and it's impossible to not want to sing along to it. The title track is a blistering piece of early speed metal that will shred your skin right off. "Don't Bring Me Down" sounds a bit like classic Aerosmith on steroids, while "Don't Hold Back" and "Run For Your Life" are treats of the classic galloping riff. The only song that takes a bit of time to get used to is the finale of "Flashbacks". However, once you get past the talking at the beginning and focus on the blistering distortion and later catchy riff, it closes out the album really damn well.

Even though Riot's terrible mascot is staring you right in the face on Fire Down Under, somehow it works this time around. It almost seems to speak: "Yeah, our mascot sucks, what you gonna do about it?". If that was the intent, you can't get much more metal than that. Even if you still can't get past the cover art, at least give Fire Down Under a listen. If you don't, you're missing out on an amazing classic album that no self-respecting metalhead should miss.