And we lose another one. This one as a direct hit from the covid pandemic. Wagner was the longtime vocalist for doom pioneer band Trouble and subsequent band, The Skull, which more or less felt like a continuation of his work in Trouble. Dude was probably as well-known for his Catholic beliefs and spiritually inspired lyrics as he was for his tortured sounding wail. His voice was instrumental to the Trouble sound and there weren’t really any comparable singers from that time that captured the anguish that he brought to the mic. As Wagner aged, his vocal style became less reliant on the high register he was known for the 80s and he seemed to fall into a more relaxed and natural delivery. In many respects, his embrace of this style in his older years reminds me a lot of how Robert Plant has aged (hell, they even look a lot alike in their old age). It was as if he simply embraced the ravages of age and the style of vocals he brought to The Skull just worked. Wagner was a unique voice and another that will be missed. I’ll admit that I was a bit late to the Trouble bandwagon and never got to see them play live, but I did get to see Wagner with The Skull before the pandemic shut everything down. I had planned on seeing them at what would have been one of his last shows when they played in Austin back on Aug. 8. I ended up passing due to the covid Delta surge and the fact that the show was taking place in a very small club. Now, I kind of wish I had just risked it to see him play one last time. But, hell, who knows…he may have contracted the infection at the Austin show. Just sad at any rate.
So, I did a dumb thing Friday night. This was a rescheduled date for a show that was intended to take place last summer, but was cancelled due to the pandemic. When they rescheduled this date for August, I was all excited because it was looking like things were finally starting to turn in the right direction. Hell, the punk rock wife and I had gone out to dinner in a fancy sit-down restaurant and even saw a movie at a theater. And then the shit hit the fan in the name of Delta. Things have not been looking good here in Austin for the past month or so. If I’m being honest, this is not a show I should have gone to. But, I, being a fine American, gave into short term pleasure over long-term consequences. So, feel free to yell at me. I am definitely part of the problem. Now, full disclosure: I am fully vaccinated and this was an outdoor show. I did wear a mask when I had people anywhere near me. But still, it was probably a mistake in judgment going to this show.
Was it worth it? I suppose so. The reality of feeling that energy and connection that comes from a live show was sorely missed. Hearing the drums pounding through your body and hearing blistering guitar riffs so loud they nearly sear your head off was truly amazing. It felt like coming home. I had really missed the transitory nature of a live show. It’s a one time special moment shared between the artists and the audience never to be replicated. It will only live on in the memories of the people in attendance that night. In that way, it does feel like it was worth it.
On to the musics. First up in the evening was Hatebreed. Dudes went on a 6:00 and I’ve never been the biggest Hatebreed fan. So, I didn’t exactly bust my ass to get out to the venue after work (yes, believe it or not, this blog thing doesn’t pay my bills…I have a real job). I did get to see the last song of their set and it was fine. Jamey Jasta seems like a nice fellow.
Trivium was up second and put together a nice tight set that focused mainly on their latest couple of albums. Trivium is one of those bands that I always have felt should be a bit better than they actually are. Matt Heafy is just an effortless shredder on guitar and the other members of the band are all extremely proficient. Fine band and fine set. Just fine.
On to the main attractions: Lamb of God and Megadeth.
Lamb of God is just a machine. Seriously, they are my favorite band of the 2000’s. I just can’t get enough of these dudes. This was the first show I’ve gotten to see with them and their new drummer, Art Cruz. I’ve got to say that it is still a bit sad that Chris Adler is no longer behind the kit, but the band really hasn’t missed a beat sonically with Cruz manning the drums. The biggest surprise of their set this time around was the addition of FIRE! Lots of pyro punctuated their set and simply added to the awesomeness of their show. The set was a nice balance of material of their latest self-titled album and many of the classic cuts. These guys are simply everything a professional metal band should be.
And then there was Dave. I mean, that’s kind of what Megadeth is reduced to. Sure, the supporting cast of characters that he has assembled for the 2021 version of Megadeth are more than capable. Guitarist Kiko Loureiro simply stepped into Marty Friedman’s shoes and just effortlessly hit every note in every solo perfectly. Dirk Verbeuren is just a machine on the kit. His level of play has really racheted up the overall sound of the band by laying down a massive back line upon which everything else is built. Dave was, well, Dave. Dude is showing his age. Granted, his guitar playing doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all. He was nailing all of the classic riffs and solos with ease. But, dude’s voice, never the strongest, sounds pretty well shot at this point. I always loved his sneering delivery, but he really sounded like he was struggling at points during this show. Granted, this was the first night of the tour and maybe he is not quite in playing shape yet. Still, it was nice to see a legend play again. At the rate we are losing our metal heroes, it feels like we all need to take advantage in every opportunity we have to see them in a live setting.
It was a lovely night of metal. I hope we can get to a point where we can do this sort of thing more often in the future. Get your fucking shots, people!
Lamb of God-Walk With Me in Hell
Lamb of God-512
Lousy few days for musicians. Dusty Hill’s death wasn’t nearly as shocking as Mike Howe’s, but it’s not anymore disheartening.
I’ve always had a soft spot for ZZ Top for two reasons. First, they were from my home state of Texas. Second, ZZ Top was the first concert I ever attended. I was lucky that my friend’s mom and boyfriend agreed to let him and I tag along with them to see the Top in 1983 when they were touring on the blockbuster Eliminator album. I remember them taking us to Threadgill’s for a pre-game chicken fried steak the size of my head. A person’s first concert is always a formative experience and I was always kind of proud that ZZ Top was my first. ZZ Top was in their 1980s over-the-top MTV excess era complete with their spinning and fuzzy guitars. As a pre-teen burgeoning metalhead, my mind was completely blown and I credit this show as starting an obsession with live music that continues to this day.
Billy was always the focus and frontman of ZZ Top. Whereas, to me, Dusty was always the soul of the band. His understated bass licks laid down a solid foundation upon which Billy could lay down his trademark tasty blues riffs and leads. His clean and higher range backing and sometimes lead vocals gave the ZZ sound a rich layer. I hear that ZZ Top is going to follow through with their current tour plans and I guess its nice that it will be a celebration of ZZ’s music. But, the proceedings just aren’t going to be the same without him. Drink a beer and raise some hell for our fallen brother. You’ll be missed.
Just a gut punch. Mike Howe was a giant in the metal underground and he had one of the more recognizable gravely roars in the metal world. Metal Church probably wasn’t a household name as some of the other thrash metal bands of the 80’s, but those of us in the trenches knew how solid of an act these guys were. Mike started his career out in the criminally overlooked Heretic and then took over the vocal spot in Metal Church in 1988. Not only did he possess a distinctive vocal style, he brought an energy and charisma to the stage that was very infectious. By all accounts, he was a generous and approachable guy off the stage.
I was lucky to see Mike and Metal Church live in 1988. They were touring off of Mike’s first release with the band, Blessing in Disguise, and they were the opening slot for an Udo-less Accept and W.A.S.P., who was touring off of their The Headless Children album. I was 17 years old at this show and it was one of the first shows I went to at a smaller venue in Austin (the old and long defunct Austin Opera House). I was super excited and got there really early. I ran to the front to secure a spot on the barricade. Metal Church hit the stage and Mike was an absolute dynamo on stage and just let lose some banshee type screams. During their opener, Fake Healer, he ran over to the side of the stage where I was standing and he reached right over and gave me a super enthusiastic high-five. For an impressionable 16-year-old, this absolutely sent me over the moon. When you’re that age, a simple acknowledgment from a metal hero can mean the world and it is a memory that I will always hold onto. Guitarist Craig Wells also threw me a guitar pick as well. Just a really cool show. That’s probably how I will always remember Mike. Luckily, I got to see Mike with Metal Church again after he rejoined the band and before the pandemic shut everything down. Even though he had cut off his hair, he looked and sounded exactly the same as he did in the 80s. I think that’s why he death was such a shock. He looked to be in great shape.
My condolences to Mike’s family and loved ones. He was one of the special ones. It’s a shame he was taken from us too soon.
Release date: February 28, 2020
Origin: Los Angeles, California
Personnel: Sacha Dunable-guitar/vox, Dave Timnick-guitar/vox, Joe Lester-bass, Alex Rudinger-drums
At #3, we have another band whose very existence felt in jeopardy over the past few years. Their last album was released in 2015 and after extensive touring, the band took a much needed break. In the interim, original drummer Danny Walker was let go due to sexual harassment allegations. This loss seemed to put the band on what felt like a permanent hiatus. Luckily for all of us, the band regrouped and have released one of their strongest albums to date. They enlisted journeyman drummer extraordinaire, Alex Rudinger, to handle the drum duties. This album contains all of the pot influenced post-metal, jazz-tinged, progressive metal that you’ve come to expect from these guys. Just as tight of a band as there is in the world of metal. Fun fact: the was the only 2020 release that I got to see performed live prior to covid shutting everything down when they opened for Cult of Luna in February.
5 flip flops out of 5
The list so far:
3. Intronaut-Fluid Existential Inversions
5. Paradise Lost-Obsidian
6. Blues Pills-Holy Moly!
7. Armored Saint-Punching the Sky
8. Huntsmen-Mandala of Fear
9. Black Crown Initiate-Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape
11. Fake Names-Fake Names
13. King Buffalo-Dead Star
14. Sylosis-Cycle of Suffering
15. Kirk Windstein-Dream in Motion
16. Oranssi Pazuzu-Mestarin Kynsi
17. Forming the Void-Reverie
18. Lamb of God-Lamb of God
19. Demons and Wizards-III
20. Killer Be Killed-Reluctant Hero
Fourth album overall for a band whose first album came out in 1987 kind of sums up Heathen’s status as a back-bencher in the Bay Area thrash scene. That’s not meant to imply that their past material has been sub-par, but Heathen has always felt like a band that only exists when it’s band members’ other gigs are at a standstill rather than an actively healthy musical entity.
Heathen has always lived in the shadows of Metallica, Testament, Exodus and Death Angel as far as the San Francisco Bay Area metal scene is concerned. Hell, their most well-known member, guitarist Lee Altus, is probably more well-known for his stint in Exodus than he is for his Heathen material. But, I guess credit is due to the band for not completely giving up on this entity entirely and sporadically putting out decent material. Dude needed something to do while Gary Holt was running around with Slayer the past few years.
This latest album really doesn’t feel like a thrash album to me. Sure, there’s a bit of that Exodus-sounding crunch to some of the guitar riffs, but the sound on this album feels more akin to American power metal more than anything. It kind of lives in that Jag Panzer, Onward or Firewind realm of power metal rather than the aggressive classic thrash sound that is normally associated with the Bay Area. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just that Heathen normally gets lumped in with the thrash scene and I think it kind of does the band a disservice. The sound on this album is a little more melodic and little more in the traditional vein of metal. I think vocalist David White’s performance and vocal style contribute highly to the power metal vibe. He’s got that silky smooth power metal voice that doesn’t really have that razorblade bite a lot of thrash singers possess. I guess what I’m saying is if you go into this one expecting a little less thrash and a little more power metal, you might have a better reaction to the album as a whole.
3.5 flip flops out of 5
Fuck this year. Everything about this year has just been crap and we’ve lost quite a few musical heroes during this time, but it is just devastating to lose another giant of the rock and metal world. Losing both Eddie Van Halen and Neil Peart in the same year is just not cool, universe. Not cool at all.
Eddie was one of the primary influences on my musical tastes as a burgeoning little headbanger. I still have a very weird memory of being in elementary school and there being a talent show. A group of older kids came out and did this air guitar/lip synch version of You Really Got Me from Van Halen I. Yeah, that was the level of “talent” at this show. Anyway, I believe that was the first time that I actually ever heard Van Halen and regardless of the ridiculous “rendition” the kids put on, the song just blew my impressionable mind. That guitar sound. So much crunch. So much sear. It is just indescribable what that guitar sound did to my insides. It just gave me goosebumps and made me feel electric. Van Halen I ended up being one of the very first metal albums that I ever bought (along with Screaming for Vengeance…yeah, I knocked it out of the park with those two). Many, many hours were spent air guitaring to those Roth-era Van Halen albums.
The influence of Eddie’s unique sound and style of play can never truly be measured. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that every hotshot guitarist that came out in the 1980s metal scene was solely inspired by Eddie. The stable of imitators is very long. However, nobody ever reached the crunch of his sound on those early Van Halen releases. Some of the sounds he was able to wring out of the guitar are just inhumane. Seriously, go listen to Eruption again. Some of those sounds are just so fucking sinister. Hell, I still maintain that the riff to Unchained is quite possibly the greatest riff in the history of mankind. Plus, in addition to the amazing playing, let’s give kudos to the pure joy of playing that he brought to his live performances. He always had this big goofy grin on stage and looked like playing before a crowd was just the greatest thing in the world. I’m sad to say goodbye, but I’m really happy we still have all these great albums to revisit. Hopefully his death will result in some youngsters today to go back and discover his playing for the first time.
I feel like I keep saying this a lot of late, but here’s another album to simply cherish for its mere existence. It’s a sad state of affairs in our current climate, but for bands the size of Black Crown Initiate, the prospect of surviving as an active entity is fraught with peril. From hearing some stories surrounding the making of this album, the fact that this thing even exists is a miracle and a testament to the dedication of the members of the band to keep plugging away in the face of multiple obstacles. I fear that so many metal bands are going to find themselves in this state of affairs going forward with the lack of touring.
This is full length number three for Black Crown Initiate and it has been four long years since their last release. Things had been so quiet on their front as far as touring and new album news that I really started to fear we had lost these guys for good. It sounds like the band members had gone through quite an upheaval on personal, financial and health fronts. As a result, this album is coming from a very dark place. I can only thank these guys for remaining committed to this project and seeing this album to its end because they really came up with something special on this release.
Black Crown Initiate is a member of the technical death metal genre, but they been one of the few bands in that genre that has managed to find that sweet balance between the technical and the creative. Sometimes the bands in this sub-genre can veer into the pure masturbatory indulgences of speed and aggression that end up ruining any attempt at creating any memorable songs. Black Crown definitely has moments of technical brilliance and flash, but it is all focused to serve the songs and the album as a whole. Added flashes of acoustic and odd timings and rhythms throughout also give their take on technical death metal a more unique and memorable impact. Also, on this album, it feels as though the vocals have almost been split evenly between the demon growls of James Dorton and the angelic croon of guitarist Andy Thomas. The dichotomy of the two styles elevates the album to such a cool place.
This is just a phenomenally forward thinking and emotional gut-punch of a death metal album. This is the kind of album that transcends the genre and it really carving out an interesting space all its own.
4.5 flip flops out of 5
This was a tough one. There have been a number of prominent metal musicians pass away recently (and I plan to address each of those in future posts. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to properly address each just because everything in the world just seems so bleak and fucked up right now), but Riley’s death really shook me. I think it’s because he died so very young and with so much life left to live. Riley and his band, Power Trip, were just beginning to break into some relative mainstream success and it really felt like this band’s future was very bright. We only got two full length albums out of these guys and it really feels like a loss in that we’ll never get to see where these guys would have gone in the future. In addition to fronting a great band, Riley seemed like one of the good dudes on the metal scene. He championed the causes of the little guy and always spoke out in a uncompromising manner on the issues important to him. Metal needs more dudes like this.
For those of you that weren’t familiar with Power Trip or had a chance to see them in a live setting, I’m sorry to say that you really missed a chance to see a band and a frontman who knew how to properly put on a metal show. From the moment these guys would hit the stage, it would be as if a bomb went off. Power Trip was pure energy, aggression and catharsis personified. They had perfected that blend of old school 80s thrash metal with a bit of a hardcore punk attitude. Their shows were not for the weak of heart. If you ventured into one of their pits, you knew going in there was a real possibility of coming out bloodied and bruised. But it was glorious release and there aren’t many bands that I’ve ever seen live that just catapulted a routine metal show into something otherworldly. I was lucky enough to see Power Trip at the very beginning of their career and also during their stints opening up for some of the heavy hitters of the metal world. The first time I saw them was at the Scoot Inn in Austin during SXSW. They were the opening band during a free day show that also included Kadavar, Orange Goblin and Clutch. They hit the stage at 1pm and I had made a point to get their early to see them. Even though there weren’t many people at the venue yet, I was completely floored by their performance. Riley was one of those guys who just exuded confidence, charisma and enthusiasm that made it impossible not to get fully immersed in what the band was doing on stage. Riley was a headbanging whirling dervish jumping around the stage in his trademark ball cap and mustache. This band just held nothing back. They were there to go completely all out whether there were 20 people in the crowd or 500 people. They only played a 30 minute set, but they won me over in a big way that day. I was able to see them in numerous clubs over the course of the next few years and even got to see them open up for Lamb of God and Anthrax at the Moody Theater in Austin. It was so cool to see this hardcore bunch of kids playing at one of the classiest concert theaters around.
So, if you didn’t know Power Trip before reading this, go pull up a copy of Manifest Decimation or Nightmare Logic and blast ’em loud. Riley was a special dude and the metal world is a little less interesting without him.
Here’s some footage I shot the last time I saw Power Trip in 2018 at the Mohawk in Austin. Hopefully it will give you a sense of how intense being in the pit at one of their shows was like. Audience participation was always a big part of the show.
This album title feels like a troll. There is absolutely nothing metal happening on this album. Honestly, there’s not much in the traditional sense of the band Witchcraft going on with this album. This feels like a continuation of vocalist (and really only member of Witchcraft left) Magnus Pelander’s solo album, Time, from a few years back. It’s just Pelander and an acoustic guitar presenting some very dreary songs. I’m not opposed to acoustic albums per se, but it doesn’t feel like this one every really gets off the ground. The songs feel so insular and isolating that they almost reach into that singer/songwriter territory that becomes downright irritating and self-absorbed. Many times during my listens of this album, I kept imagining that scene from Animal House when Bluto grabs the hippy crooner’s acoustic guitar and smashes it to kindling. I’m just kind of confused about putting the Witchcraft name on this album. As I said before, it feels like this is a direct continuation of his previous solo release. I wish he would leave the Witchcraft name for his metal output.
2 flip flops out of 5