Well, of course, the first post of 2022 is regarding the death of another one of our pioneering metal heroes. Burke Shelley was the voice and bassist for early influential Welsh rock trio Budgie. I’m guessing that most of you are probably more familiar with Metallica’s cover version of Budgie songs, Breadfan and Crash Course in Brain Surgery, than you are with the actual music of Budgie. Hell, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t introduced to Budgie through those Metallica versions as well. But once I went back to the original Budgie albums, I discovered a wonderfully eccentric and thoroughly original band. Burke’s almost effeminate voice was a key component to their quirky sound and his trademark glasses were just in keeping with the nerdy aspect of this band. Budgie always seemed to be more of one of those bands whose influence on more famous bands was greater than the reach their music actually had on its own. Which is a shame because these guys just had so many really great songs. They could rock with the best of ’em and they could crank out some of the most tearjerkingly tender ballads. Burke, you’ll be missed. Thanks for all the great tunes.
Damn. This year really slipped on by. Not quite the shitshow of 2020, but still quite a few bumps along the way. But, we made it through once again and now it’s time to look back and see how we did.
First and foremost, live music became a thing again, albeit in a limited sense. The whole live music enterprise still feels a bit fragile at this point with band and crew members still coming down with the virus and tours/shows being cancelled or postponed. Still, it was nice to get to see Lamb of God, Megadeth, Trivium, Hatebreed, The Sword, Zeal & Ardor, Mastodon and Opeth do their thing live this year. All of these bands helped remind me of how special a live metal show is and how much we missed in 2020.
We lost a ton of good people in the past year. Some due to the virus, some to old age and some more more tragic reasons. Here is the time to pour one out for Dusty Hill (ZZ Top), Mike Howe (Metal Church/Heretic), L.G. Petrov (Entombed), Eric Wagner (Trouble/The Skull), Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones), Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), Joey Jordison (Slipknot), Jeff LeBar (Cinderella) and Marsha Zazula (co-founder of Megaforce Records).
For those of you still with me and still give a shit, I’m going to start rolling out the 2021 Best of Metal list starting on Sunday and will culminate the list with the awarding of the Golden Flip Flop on New Year’s Eve. This year was a mixed bag on the quality of metal released. I would have figured that the material would have been stronger given the imperiled state of the world these days. It feels like the environment should be ripe for musical inspiration. While the quality overall was a bit down this year as compared to years past, there were still enough good albums for us to celebrate. This year’s list is populated by old classic bands and band releasing their debuts. There are some old favorites of mine and some new surprises. I can’t wait to get started in sharing these albums with you over the next couple of weeks or so. Hopefully you will enjoy the journey as much as I do. Hell, maybe you’ll find a new favorite album or band for yourself. That would make the end of my year very happy.
I’ll see you on Sunday. Stay metal and Up The Irons!!
Every time I go to a concert, it still kind of feels like I’m getting away with something that I shouldn’t be doing. I guess this is just the mindset of nearly two years of dealing with this stupid virus. At any rate, we snuck out of the house this past Friday and were treated to an amazing triple bill of Opeth, Mastodon and Zeal & Ardor.
Zeal & Ardor was up first as appetizer for the heavyweights to come. I had seen these guys play once before and, while impressed with that first show, I was kind of curious as to whether they could continue to push their mixture of slave-era spirituals with black metal to new avenues or if the formula would start to feel stale. Count me impressed because these dudes are channeling rage and sorrow from the past BLM protests regarding George Floyd/Ahmaud Arbery and police brutality/overreach into gospel-tinged protest songs. Feels like an interesting take on ground covered by Rage Against the Machine and N.W.A. It’s starting to feel like these guys have carved out an interesting niche for themselves and I’m curious to see what they do in the future.
Mastodon held down the second slot of the evening and are out promoting their latest platter, Hushed and Grim. I haven’t had a chance to supply a proper review for this album yet, but it provides another solid notch in the band’s catalog. The album continues to see drummer Brann Dailor taking on more and more of the lead vocal duties and it also has some of Brent Hinds most innovative and searing leads. The new album was obviously showcased during their set along with some very choice older cuts thrown in for good measure. Highlight was definitely seeing them roll out The Czar from Crack the Skye, which is one of my favorite of theirs. Overall, this was probably the best I’ve seen these guys perform live. Sometimes they have a tendency to get a little muddy with the sound. This time around everything was crisp and tight.
It was kind of funny seeing Opeth again since they were the last band I got to see before the pandemic shut everything down in 2020. These guys are always worth the risk of contracting a deadly disease. They haven’t put out any new music since that last show, so technically they are still touring on 2019’s In Cauda Venenum. They did rework the setlist to focus a little more on a retrospective from throughout their career. Sadly, this night’s version of Opeth saw them without longtime drummer Martin Axenrot, who left the band due to a “conflict of interest”. I’m having a sinking suspicion that dude wouldn’t get the vaccine in order to go on this tour. Sucks because he was a good piece of this band. Replacement drummer Sami Karppinen of Therion filled in ably, but there was something a bit muddy sounding on his kick drums that kind of drew a bit away from his performance. Still, it was an impressive display of Opeth’s status as one of the pinnacles of prog metal. Mikael Akerfeldt once again confirmed his status as one of the best frontmen going. His deadpan humor should be experienced by everyone once. An example: On their last tour, Mikael was sporting a stylish, if very non-metal hat. Between songs, someone in the crowd asked him where his hat was. He responded, “My hat is on the bus. I didn’t want to end up being a ‘hat guy’. Slash is a ‘hat guy’. Nothing against Slash….but, he’s a ‘hat guy.'” I guess we’ve seen the last of the hat.
Zeal & Ardor
Well, second time we’re dipping our toes into the Quicksand pond here in as many weeks. First, we saw them play in person and now we’re going to do a quick looksee at their new album.
Quicksand is back with their follow-up to the reunion album Interiors. As stated in the previous Quicksand post, Interiors was one of the pleasant surprises of 2017. Distant Populations hasn’t made the same kind of impression on me as the prior release. It is fine in many ways and contains a good chunk of feel good pop and hippy-influenced punk songs. However, it feels like there is a bit of a lack of heft and depth on this one that keeps it from reaching the heights of Interiors. Even though it isn’t quite to the level of the last one doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend that you seek this one out. As stated, there are still some very solid songs on here.
3.5 flip flops out of 5
So, I went to a big show a few months ago and now I’ve made it to my first club show since everything went to shit. Being back in the sweaty, dark and dirty Mohawk was kind of weird at first, but I’ll admit, it was nice being back in downtown Austin seeing live music. There were days when I didn’t think this was ever going to be a thing again. Credit to the Mohawk folks for checking vaccine status/negative test results and keeping the capacity for the crowd down. Things didn’t feel as shoulder-to-shoulder as this place can sometimes get.
So, first club show back was New York’s sort of post-hardcore band Quicksand. I’ll admit that I completely missed the first iteration of these guys in the 90s, but I’ve been a really big fan of their post-reunion output. 2017’s Interiors was one of the pleasant surprises of that year for me. Even though they record as a three-piece, they brought out Cave-In/Mutoid Man’s Stephen Brodsky as an additional guitar player. They pulled off a really tight set with songs sprinkled from throughout their pre and post-breakup periods. All-in-all, this was a pretty cool little show to start back on the club show horse. Even though, it really seems like a bad idea to start up mosh pits. Smashing and sweating all over each other is still just a poor decision.
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