Those Poor Bastards: The Plague (CD, 2008)

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

THOSE POOR BASTARDS the plague2008 was a happening year for gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards: they released not only one, but two albums, both of which are absolute highlights in their career. It was also around this time that the cult following of the band was truly taking root. And, sadly, also the time around which the creative star of the band slowly started to wane.

However, on the first of the two albums from 2008, The Plague, there are no signs of waning creativity. None whatsoever: the album is a veritable monument of darkness, defying pigeonholing and borrowing freely from many genres.

The two opening tracks set the mood and approach of the album. Sick & Alone is a dreary and dark lament of eternal solitude, a track that fits in nicely with Those Poor Bastards’ previous discography. It is followed by Black Lightning, which takes a deep plunge into an abyss of doom, blackness, evil and utter, utter hopelessness. There’s more than a passing nod towards doomy metal that reeks of funeral, and wailing saw played by Slackeye Slim lends the haunting track a definite ghostly aura. Both tracks are nothing short of superb.

From there, Lonesome Wyatt and The Minister proceed to explore visions of haunted apocalypse, rural armageddon and redneck disaster, combining familiar elements with new, strange ones. Urged on by plummeting percussion, eerie organs, pounding pianos, haunting guitars and the at times subdued, at times malicious and at times fiercely proclaiming vocals of Lonesome Wyatt, The Plague is a 35-minute slab of doom and gloom. Calling it a country or folk record – even with a prefix such as “gothic” or “dark” – is to stretch things to the point of breaking; this is the kind of music that defies genres.

Whilst not all tracks on The Plague are of the same high calibre as the two opening tracks, there really aren’t any weak moments on the album. Some other highlights include the haunting Nightmare Lullaby, the hopeless and wretched I Cannot Escape The Darkness, the pounding nightmare title track, and perhaps the most demented love song ever, You Belong To Me.

In a genre that has always remained, and will always remain, in the fringes of the underground itself, Those Poor Bastards have with The Plague carved an album that is both one of the absolute essentials but also an outlier, an oddity that transcends the genre whose 2010’s incarnation it helped to establish – “gothic country” or “doom folk” or whatever you want to call it.

If you like music that’s scary, gothic, filled with eerie doom and suffocating horror, look no further. This is it.

Advertisements

Those Poor Bastards: Hellfire Hymns (CD, 2007)

Tags

, , , , , , ,

THOSE POOR BASTARDS hellfire hymnsUS gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards commenced their golden era with their debut full-length Songs Of Desperation, and continue in exceptionally fine form on this, their second full-length album. Whilst the concept of a darkly twisted, puritanically oppressed aesthetic combined with lo-fi old time country folk was already established on the duo’s debut EP and first full-length, it is on Hellfire Hymns that the imagery of Those Poor Bastards as it largely remains to this day, was presented upon the world.

A prominent new element on Hellfire Hymns is the darkly twisted, humorous and irreverent religiosity, which teeters on the blasphemously sarcastic but still retains an aura of authenticity, of lived life. There was some of it on Songs Of Desperation already, but not to this extent.

As far as I know, the group hail from Wisconsin, which is quite far from the bible belt, but what do I know of the religious atmosphere of rural Wisconsin? Probably full of puritan tradition and perversion. Whatever the case, Those Poor Bastards riff on religion with imagery full of baptist ecstasy, old testament hellfire, dark sarcasm and subversive verse. It’s quite glorious. To me the lyrics come across as the musings of someone freeing themselves from the shackles of oppressive barnhouse christianity more than postmodern antireligiosity; there is a feeling of desolate separation from God here, of being lost in a darkness without the old comfort of belief. Maybe this is the place from where the lyrics originate, or maybe songwriter Lonesome Wyatt bluffs well.

Musically, the blueprint remains largely the same from the previous album: old time country folk music with a definite gothic twist and fuzz-laden distortion; a sort of garage-y death rock take on gospel country as performed by The Carter Family, The Louvin Brothers and dozens of string bands from the Appalachian region. Again, the arrangements are far from intricate or complex, but there are small details which elevate the music, ranging from growled and shrieked backing vocals to the occasional organ, all lending a slightly out-of-tune, out-of-step disjointed feel to the music which works well.

At 44 minutes long, the album perhaps slightly overstays its welcome, containing a few tracks that don’t work quite so well. It’s not that they’re filler material per se, they feel more like decent ideas that are a bit underworked and would have done well with a little more time spent on them. However, these fall into the shadow of majestic tracks such as haunting opener The Dust Storm, the fervously stompin’ Behold Black Sheep and many others.

Hellfire Hymns is a desolate journey from dust storms to incestuous religion, rural isolation, degeneration and loss of God. The album ends on an appropriately hopeless, horrible note with Everything Is Gone, proclaiming an end of all that comes not with a bang but a fizzle.

Despite a few tracks that sound a bit half-worked, this is an album of stunning strength and impressive vision, a true iconic release in the history of dark folk and gothic country.

 

Those Poor Bastards: Songs Of Desperation (CD, 2005)

Tags

, , , , , , ,

THOSE POOR BASTARDS songs of desperation“The only drug I’ve found to ease the hurt are songs of desperation…”

I’d been into country for a couple of years when a friend from the States sent me this album on mp3. It didn’t take me more than a listen or two to know that this was one of the best albums I’d ever heard, and that this was the kind of darkness I’d been looking for in music all my life. Later on, the gothic country duo of Lonesome Wyatt and The Minister would add more overtly albeit darkly humorous, tongue-in-cheek stylings to their music, but on their debut the humour, whilst present, is of a wholly darker and more subdued nature. There’s a definite demented, depressed, alienated and estranged vibe on Songs Of Desperation that would vanish from TPB’s music over time.

Expanding and evolving on the debut EP, the music on the album is a combination of lo-fi fuzzy garage and old time acoustic country laced with a sickly, gothic aesthetic. Songs Of Desperation is a combination of the hurtin’ songs of Hank Williams, the rural horror of Lovecraft’s The Picture In The House, old black-and-white silent horror movies, puritan repression and the mysterious evil of Appalachian murder ballads, all washed through a filter of distorted, buzzing lo-fi production values. It’s glorious. It’s hard to put into words what the album feels like. The terror, the estrangement, the overwhelming fear of everything is authentic in a way words cannot do justice to. It’s American Psycho in a rural setting, a degenerate Patrick Bateman in a dilapidated farmhouse with rotting teeth and hair falling out.

The lyrics are rarely exaggeratedly melodramatic, rather going for a more personal, low-key approach; there’s precious little of the religious thematics here that Lonesome Wyatt would embrace on later albums. It makes Songs Of Desperation feel more personal, more from the heart. Later on, the sarcasm would become rather dominant in many lyrics, but despite the obvious theatralics, I’m still convinced that there is a lot of sincere, heartfelt darkness poured into the lyrics on this album.

Whilst the arrangements are far from intricate, they are extremely tasteful and appropriate. Fuzzy electronic guitars and muted acoustic strumming are complemented by slightly out-of-tune steel guitar and piano in a soundscape that is just a bit wobbly, like a slightly damaged and warped old tape. Lonesome Wyatt’s deep voice is, as it has always been, extremely commanding, but it too is far more subdued and restrained than on later albums, gloomy rather than malicious.

I’m still torn in regards to my favourite Those Poor Bastards album. There are days when Songs Of Desperation holds that place. But regardless of which I consider their best at any given time, there is no doubt that Songs Of Desperation is, for me, their most significant album because it is the one that got me hooked to them and their particular brand of rural darkness. To ease the hurt.

Those Poor Bastards: Country Bullshit (CD, 2004)

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

THOSE POOR BASTARDS country bullshitGothic country messiahs Those Poor Bastards are one of the few artists whose releases I well and truly collect – I have almost everything they’ve released in all available formats. All I’m missing is one 7″. So I am not even going to pretend objectivity here: I fucking love Those Poor Bastards.

On this, their first EP, the US duo come across as still somewhat embryonic. The basic fundaments of their music, a cross between old time country folk and fuzz-laden out-of-tune garage sensibilities with lyrical themes of twisted old time religion, wretchedness, depression and everything dark are in place, but the duo of Lonesome Wyatt and The Minister would greatly improve their songwriting and arrangements in rather quick succession.

Consisting of an intro and five songs, this rather brief release features a song Hank Williams III made something of an underground hit when he covered it, Those Pills I Took, which for the longest time was TPB’s greatest claim to fame – despite being far from their best song. It’s not even the best song on this EP. As a composition and piece of lyric it’s very fine, yes indeed, but the soft fuzz of the guitar and rather rigid performance don’t do it justice. Hank 3’s ragged honky tonk rendition is far superior. The best song on this EP is without a doubt Black Dog Yodel, which is a classic Those Poor Bastards song in all regards: a sparse, acoustic arrangement with out-of-tune background vocals over which a story of personal wretchedness and southern discomfort is sung. The rest of the songs are rather forgettable rows – even the acerbic attack on mainstream country called Radio Country. The bonus track, The Bright Side, would get a far superior new treatment on the Satan Is Watching -album some years later.

Whilst the seeds of a darkly humorous, fundamentally wretched greatness are contained within this EP, without the benefit of hindsight they’re not easy to spot. The great concept of Those Poor Bastards still required a little bit of gestation to truly spring into bloom – which it did on their debut album shortly afterwards.

Thin Lizzy: Classic Album Selection (CD, 2012)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

THIN LIZZY classic album selectionA few years ago, when CD sales were in a state of free fall and supermarkets were cutting back on, or completely phasing out their music departments, the major labels tried all kinds of solutions to fight the inevitable. One of the things they tried was repackaging albums by classic bands in budget boxes available for the price of a single full-price CD. Often these came in simple cardboard boxes with little to no extras such as liner notes or bonus tracks – mere repackagings of albums already available standalone as mid price releases.

Mercury’s “Classic Album Selection” series was slightly more luxurious; there certainly wasn’t anything extra on the albums, but at least they came in a thick (instead of paper thin) cardboard box and the albums were individually packaged in CD-sized gatefold covers mimicking gatefold vinyls. So a few points for the extra effort to this line of releases.

Compiling together the six studio albums Thin Lizzy released between 1974 and 1979, this box captures the Irish hard rockers in their prime. The first album of the selection, Nightlife, is the last of Lizzy’s “early” albums, still featuring a less amplified, softer and more bluesy sound – the title track is pure blues – and honestly doesn’t have much going for it, except for the impressive cover art. After that album, however, the band led by legendary Phil Lynott truly realized the benefits of plugging in, applying distortion and in general going for a harder, tougher and more rocking sound. Fighting is an instant and impressive improvement on its predecessor, but it is on the last four albums of the box set that Lizzy really hit their stride: from the celtic stylings of Johnny The Fox and Black Rose to the straighter rocking of Bad Reputation and their most iconic studio album, Jailbreak, the albums released between 1976 and 1979 are when Lizzy truly staked their claim as stalwart icons and eternal heroes of rock music.

Unlike adult rock radio listeners might believe, Thin Lizzy was never just about rocking hard. There was always a considerable breadth of stylistic variety in their sound, from hard rockers verging on heavy metal to power ballads to jamming blues rock, not forgetting a few choice moments of flirting with celtic folk stylings. The songs range from epic and majestic to aggressive, from confrontational to introspective, from tender to tough. For every The Boys Are Back In Town and Jailbreak there’s a song like That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart or Dancing In The Moonlight – of which I consider the latter to be one of the finest tracks in Thin Lizzy’s entire catalog. Still, it is of course the twin-guitar led rockers that are what Lizzy are most famous for, and not without reason. Whilst Lynott, handling bass and vocals, was undeniably the front man of the band, when it came to the music, he never had any trouble stepping back and letting the guitars take the limelight. And how they do! I can certainly imagine the guys in Iron Maiden were inspired by the twin-guitar duelling and memorable riffage of Thin Lizzy, as is proven by Maiden covering Lizzy’s Massacre on the b-side of a single.

Whilst none of the albums consist of iconic classics from start to end, there’s an impressive amount of memorable tracks on each of the albums, save for the aforementioned Nightlife. During the heyday of classic rock, it was not unusual for a band to release a new album yearly, two on a good year, but few bands could create so many great albums in such a short time. This is testament to the songwriting skills of Lynott, drummer Brian Downey and whoever their guitarists for the record were – Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson for the most part, with Gary Moore replacing Robertson on Black Rose.

Their reputation too often reduced to rock radio mainstays Whisky In The Jar, The Boys Are Back In Town and Jailbreak, Thin Lizzy were a surprisingly versatile and multifacetous rock band during the age of the classic, guitar-driven rock band, and not only one of the best bands in their own time, but one of those bands whose music truly has stood the test of time and sounds as timeless and vital today as it did more than 40 years ago. This box is ample proof of that and, if you can still find it for its original price (the asking price on Discogs can currently run up to 100e!), a cheap way to get their most essential albums in one go.

Thin Lizzy: Wild One – The Very Best Of… (CD, 1996)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

THIN LIZZY wild oneOne of a vast number of Thin Lizzy best of’s, this is pretty much as good as any other single-disc compendium of the band. For some odd reason it omits the title track Wild One in favour of what I consider a rather throwaway Gary Moore-featuring-Phil Lynott track, Parisienne Walkways, which is a definite minus. Apart from that oddity, this contains the bare essential tracks casual listeners will want: all of those tracks played on adult rock radio stations every day, and focusing more on the rockers than on the bluesy or balladeering stuff. Naturally every fan will miss this or that track, but then again, compilations like this aren’t for fans.

The one track I am glad they’ve decided to include here, though not a Thin Lizzy track, is Gary Moore’s Out In The Fields, prominently featuring Phil Lynott on bass and shared lead vocal duties – a truly blistering 80’s style heavy metal track with an awesome chorus, tasteful synthesizers and some fine lead guitar work. My personal opinion that this is one of the high points of Lynott’s career, Thin Lizzy and solo records included.

Apart from that, this rather cheap looking compilation album is decent enough if all you want are the absolute essentials of one of the all-time greats of rock music. Odds are though, that after you’ve listened to this you’ll want to dig deeper…

 

Thin Lizzy: Still Dangerous (CD, 2009)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

THIN LIZZY still dangerousWith a title that’s an obvious play on the classic Lizzy live album Live And Dangerous, Still Dangerous is a live album recorded in 1977 at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, USA, but first released over 30 years later in 2009. Being from the same tour as the live classic, this obviously features a lot of overlap in the tracklist, but also some tracks not present on Live And Dangerous. Overdubs in the studio or the authentic live recording? Beats me. Do I give a fuck? No.

With sharp, clear and powerful sound and the band in top form, this is pure gold from start to finish. Where Live And Dangerous was assembled from more than one concert, this focuses on one – although I’m not sure if this is the entire concert or if some tracks are omitted – but honestly, the difference isn’t that great. Highlights? Every single track.

An obvious fan product, Still Dangerous is far from an essential Lizzy item, but for fans of the band, this is a magnificent companion to the classic live album.

Thin Lizzy: Thunder And Lightning (CD, 1983)

Tags

, , , , , , ,

THIN LIZZY thunder and lightningFor what would turn out to be their last album, Irish hard rockers Thin Lizzy adopted a heavier, more metallic sound than ever before. Sure, the band had more than flirted with heavy metal in the past, but never quite to this degree on album length.

The title track, which opens the album, sets the tone: surprisingly fast for Thin Lizzy, with frantic vocals by legendary singer/bass player Phil Lynott, and sharp riffing. NWOBHM this ain’t, though; this is more reminiscent of the heavy metal of bands ten years prior. And it still sounds like Thin Lizzy.

Thin Lizzy were more than adequate headbangers when they decided to go that way. The highlight of the album, Cold Sweat, is ample proof of that; It’s nothing short of a classic Thin Lizzy tune with a memorable riff and a catchy though simplistic chorus, and a great vocal performance by Lynott. On the whole, though, this isn’t Thin Lizzy at their absolute best, partly because it doesn’t have those bluesy jammin’ tracks which allow the two guitarists (Scott Gorham and John Sykes on this album) to trade licks.

Still, in the end, if Lizzy realized their creative star was on the wane and decided to go out with one more album, Thunder And Lightning is a fine epitaph to one of the best hard rock bands ever. It’s not their best album, but it is a good album with some real highlights that closes their illustrious but also troubled career in good form.

Sadly, a mere three years later, leader Phil Lynott would be dead.

Thin Lizzy: Live And Dangerous (CD, 1978/1996)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

THIN LIZZY live and dangerous.jpgThin Lizzy’s first live album, Live And Dangerous from 1978, is from the classic era of the rock live album, and is a prime example of the classic live album: a good selection of tracks culled from a wide range of concerts, spirited performances with adequate sound… in essence, pretty much a “best of…” album, but with versions not available elsewhere, some even arguably better than their studio versions, eg. also a must-have for fans with all previous albums. Devious… but at least in the case of Live And Dangerous, true enough for the album to not be a rip-off.

It is also a prime example of the classic live album in the sense that there’s no telling how much of the album is actually live. It’s no secret that various bits and pieces of the album were later overdubbed in the studio, additional tracks recorded and the original live recording tampered with in general to improve the experience. Some say this is basically a studio album in the guise of a live album, whilst others claim the live recordings were tampered with minimally, only to eliminate some flaws resulting from fluctuating recording quality and/or playing errors and that it is still primarily live.

Who knows. But does it matter?

Maybe it did upon release. Maybe back in 1978, people had a right to demand a recording that was as live as possible, an authentic live recording. Maybe not. Today, 40 years later, it doesn’t matter at all. Live And Dangerous is classic as it is, studio overdubs and all. More than a testament of Thin Lizzy live, it is a testament of that era of rock music, of the classic live album, and of one of the best hard rock bands of the time. It’s become a staple and icon of rock music partially because of the “controversy” surrounding the authenticity of its live content.

But above all, its a blistering recording. In retrospect, it’s quite easy to say that whatever amount of studio overdubs were made, they were justified when the result is an album filled to the brim with this kind of energy. This really captures Thin Lizzy at their rip roaring best – whether it was achieved on stage or in studio. There’s the heavy rocking of  Jailbreak and The Rocker, but there’s also the laid back, relaxed rocking of Southbound and the semi-balladeering of Dancing In The Moonlight, one of Lizzy’s best songs ever. The album is reminder of that Thin Lizzy were not just hard rockers, they were capable of a wide range of expression.

Thin Lizzy were one of the coolest bands ever, at least during their best albums (you have to admit, there’s more than a few less-than-stellar albums in their discography), and Live And Dangerous captures them at their prime. Who gives a fuck if the recordings were retouched and recreated in the studio to capture that moment in time?

 

Thergothon: Stream From The Heavens (CD, 1994/2000)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

THERGOTHON stream from the heavensFuneral Doom. Now there’s a tough nut of a genre to crack. I once went to a doom metal festival in Helsinki, Finland, and there was a funeral doom band playing. This was a Friday evening after work, and I was after some good music, good company and a couple of beers. I have to tell you, I have rarely felt as claustrophobic and isolated from everything in the world as I was there, in that crowded, dark, hot club with that band playing. One chord seemed to take hours to finish, and it felt like every time the drum hit, I had downed a beer and ordered the next one. It was not a bad trip, it was a horrible trip. Funeral doom is not the kind of music you listen to because it’s nice, because it’s fun. Regular doom fits that, sure, even death/doom in its own rotten manner. But funeral doom… no. It’s the kind of music you listen to in bouts of alienation, isolation and exile.

The above has actually very little to do with Thergothon, because of course it wasn’t Thergothon who were playing. This gig was in 2009, and Thergothon split up in 1993. So short-lived and brief was the Finnish funeral doom pioneers’ career, that by the time their seminal debut (and sole) album was released, the band was no more. Band leader Jori Sjöroos would go on to greater commercial success with indie band Magenta Skycode and writing material for Finnish chart toppers PMMP.

But brief though their career was, and short their discography, the reverberations can still be felt in the extreme metal scene today. By 1994, doom-infused death (or the other way around) was nothing unheard of, but taking it to the extremes Thergothon did… that was. The drum beat is lurching at best, and the notes are painfully pulled from the guitar, allowed to linger and languish until they fade away, apparently with heavy use of a slow flanger/phaser effect to make them sound even muddier and more obscure. Laden with horror synths and wistful, demented guttural croaking (and the occasional not-too-on-key clean vocals), this does not make easy listening. Kind of like US doom/death pioneers Winter at 1/4 speed. This is the kind of music that can be excruciating to concentrate upon, but is somehow far too disturbing to have playing in the background. I return to the first paragraph: this is not something you listen to because it’s nice or fun or you enjoy it. In fact, I don’t think I really got this music before I went through depression and the self-isolation, alienation and emotional exile that leads to, the total mental estrangement from all things human. That’s what Thergothon sounds like.

Stream From The Heavens is not the music of doomsday or the apocalypse. It’s not the funeral dirge of a dragged-out burial. It’s not the despairing wailing of a mind falling apart. Stream From The Heavens is what comes after. The desolation after the end of everything, the nothingness that remains when you have lost everything. As uneasy and discomforting as that is, there is an unfamiliar sense of peace in it. Like there is in the dark bottom of the pits of depression, amid all the pain.

Fittingly, a lot of Thergothons’ lyrics dealt with the Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos. There’s not much cosmic horror here, no, but the estrangement and utterly alien nature of the world Lovecraft painted at his most poetic is contained here.

Stream From The Heavens is a classic, one of the foundations of funeral doom. Rightly so. It is a pretty unique and extremely powerful album, essential for anyone who has an interest in extreme metal. But it’s not something you’ll want to play every day or even every year. Maybe almost never. But it’s something that cannot be denied; when you’ve heard it, it’ll keep on reverberating.