Skullhead: Odin’s Law (CD, 1991)

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skullhead-odins-lawAlthough undeniably one of the classic acts of the original UK RAC scene, Skullhead doesn’t seem to enjoy quite the same amount of respect and adoration that contemporaries such as Skrewdriver, No Remorse and Brutal Attack do. And listening to this, their second album, it’s quite obvious why.

The cover is, as was par for the course with RAC on Rock-O-Rama, pretty horrible. The production is also quite deplorable, being thin and quite weak, with especially the guitars sounding very flat and powerless. The vocals are also a tad too loud in the mix. This does not in any way benefit the album, which also suffers from rather forgettable songwriting; the entire album is passable, but not memorable in any way. It’s just your run-of-the-mill 80’s Oi!-influenced RAC. To top it all off, there’s a far superior version Last Chance to be found on the Ragnorok-compilation.

Definitely not an RAC essential for average fans of the genre, but one for completists and collectors.

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Satyricon: Rebel Extravaganza (CD, 1999)

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satyricon-rebel-extravaganzaThis is where Satyricon started going wrong in my opinion, or at least taking a path that diverged from my tastes. Newer Satyricon with their rocking black metal does not pique my interest in the least, and this is the album where they totally forsook all of the nature mysticism and shall we say traditional black metal imagery. Well, honestly, Rebel Extravaganza has certainly stood the test of time better than some “experimental” albums by established black metal acts that came out during this time – however, at the time of release I didn’t think this was better than average, and my opinion hasn’t changed a lot in the years since then.

Where old Satyricon was all about the dark beauty of nature and such, Rebel Extravaganza is about filth, ugliness and a sort of urban decay. It feels like living in filth, eating muck with decayed teeth and hearing the endless grinding of polluting machinery destroy everything beautiful and pure. It’s not industrial by any means, but there is a strong sense of industrialized dehumanization permeating the album, emphasized by Frosts’ razor-sharp drumwork and the distorted spoken-growled vocals of Satyr. Gone is every hint of epic majesty, gone are the acoustic guitars and synths. This is filth grinding ugliness and decay.

The atmosphere works, though it feels thoroughly un-Satyricon to me. I also like the visual side, which pretty much fits into how I described the sound above. Where Rebel Extravaganza fails to grip me is the songs. They’re not just particularly interesting. I can certainly dig the bands’ attempt to reinvent themselves, and think that in large parts they did a pretty good job, but when one of the parts where they missed the spot are the songs, getting most other stuff nailed just isn’t enough.

Sadly, things went even more downhill from here, at least as far as I am concerned.

Satyricon/Enslaved: The Forest Is My Throne/Yggdrasill (CD, 1996)

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satyricon-forest-is-my-throneIn some ways, it feels like Enslaveds’ contribution to this split, featuring their Yggdrasill-demo originally released in 1992, is mere padding or a footnote. It is Satyricon who are featured on the front cover of the digipak (whilst Enslaved does, admittedly, occupy the entire back cover) and it is Satyricon who take up four of the five panels of the digipak, featuring lyrics and a short bio of the band, whilst Enslaved only have a measly half panel to them – the other half being taken up by label info.

Musically, too, there is no doubt in my mind that Satyricon is the reason why one should own this release. And one should, period. So let’s start with Enslaved, who take up the latter part of the disc, and almost double the playing time that Satyricon does (41 minutes to Satyricons’ 24 minutes). Enslaved, later evolving into the greatest (Norwegian) viking black metal band and then going on to ever more progressive and genre-defying pastures, began their career as a pretty standard Norwegian black metal band. Eerie, haunting synths, agonized screaming vocals, tinny shredding guitars, blasting drums and some atmospheric inclusions in the form of acoustic guitars. The whole ten yards. Of course, back in ’92 “norsecore” wasn’t a thing yet, so Enslaved were there among the bands that laid the foundation for the whole sound and imagery for the derivative copycats to follow. Graced with an acceptable but rattling, hollow sound, the Yggdrasill-demo is an interesting curiosity especially for fans of the band, but objectively speaking far from a classic piece of black metal music when removed from context and viewed purely as music.

Satyricons’ The Forest Is My Throne is, however, of a totally different ilk. The three tracks that make up the original demo are pure classics. Taking cues from contemporaries such as Darkthrone, already on this, their second demo, Satyricon had a strong identity of their own and weaved images of cold wintry mountains, snowstorms and heavy grey skies like no other band. Compared to the might of Dark Medieval Times (see previous post), The Forest Is My Throne is still embryonic in some ways. One can more clearly hear from which bands Satyr, joined by Frost as a session member at this stage, has taken influence, but already his songwriting shows an innate skill for building atmospheres and combining majesty with furious rawness. Soundwise, the demo is nothing short of excellent; the drum sound is a bit flat, but the guitars are sharp, thin and vicious, and Satyrs’ croaking voice is superbly malignant.

Included on Satyricons’ side is a bonus track recorded in ’95 called Night Of The Triumphator, which according to the liner notes by Satyr is a “tribute to some of those old bands” who laid the foundation to the genre black metal. A crudely thrashing song with crudely explicit lyrics is a fitting tribute where second wave black metal meets the thrashing of first wave bands like Venom, Sodom, Poison, Bathory etc.

All in all, The Forest Is My Throne/Yggdrasill is an essential piece of Norwegian black metal history. It is Satyricons’ part which makes this a great release removed from that context, but both parts of the disc are an integral part of the history of the genre.

Satyricon: Dark Medieval Times (CD, 1993)

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satyricon-dark-medieval-timesNorwegian Satyricons’ debut is smack in the middle of classic Norwegian black metal, a genuine classic that remains one of the finest things to come out of that scene and period in time. After two demos, of which the first, All Evil, I once had on a bootleg CD and which was, as I recall, rather uninteresting, and the second, The Forest Is My Throne, was very good and will be dealt with later, Satyricon released their debut on head honcho Satyrs’ own label, Moonfog.

Whereas a lot of their contemporaries dealt with satanic themes, on Dark Medieval Times Satyricon seem to predominantly deal with dark nature romanticism infused with a strong yearning for mythological “better” dark ages of the past. Of course, with no lyrics in the booklet, it’s hard to exactly say what Satyr is croaking. The music, which alternates between furious rawness and middle-paced moments of majestic atmospheres, reflects these themes marvellously. Acoustic guitars and subtle keyboards complement the thin, tinny and sharp electric guitars, whilst hammerman Frosts’ powerful pounding has often a suitably echoing and cavernous sound. Satyrs vocals are a vicious croaking, and instead of blasting away with all they’ve got, the band keep the pace at a steady gallop a lot of the time, Frost getting to show he is a capable man behind the drumset. Clichéd atmospheric whispering and samples of the wind blowing add additional focus to the later rather overused wintry thematics… but Satyricon make it work, not only because they did it before most, but also because their vision is so strong and the execution excellent.

Containing several lengthy tracks, two of which approach the nine minute mark, Dark Medieval Times is in many ways a majestic and epic album. It weaves visions of dark spruce forests, blowing wintry storm winds, barren mountains and a glorious age of barbarism. I know most regard Satyricons’ second album, The Shadowthrone, as their greatest moment, but to me, nothing Satyricon ever did comes close to the excellence of Dark Medieval Times, which is definitely in my Top-10 black metal albums of all time.

Sam & Dave: Hold On, I’m Coming + Double Dynamite & Soul Men + I Thank You (CD, 2012)

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sam-dave-edsel-twoferLike I’m sure many people of my age, who were born after the soul duo Sam & Dave split, I was introduced to their music via the movie The Blues Brothers. In my mind, that scene where Elwood and Jake drive at night and listen to Sam & Dave is nothing short of iconic in a minor way. Long before I knew what soul was or who sang it, I loved the song based on that short excerpt.

Edsel Records released a two-volume set containing four albums from the duos’ heyday. Here are basically all of their hits and additional single-only bonus tracks and such. These are no budget releases, either, so included are thick booklets with plenty of photos and informative liner notes, both volumes containing separate 4000-word essays. In every way, these are companion releases that are meant to be enjoyed together.

The music is soul at its best; all right, I admit I’m no kind of expert on soul, but still, I’ve yet to encounter a soul artist I like better. Especially the classics, such as Soul ManHold On, I’m Coming and Soothe Me are essential, but there’s plenty of other awesome songs here, such as Soul Sister, Brown Sugar from the bonus tracks off the second volume.

I don’t think there’s much point in dissecting the music since everything that’s to be said about Sam & Dave has already been said by wiser people than me. All I’m going to say in conclusion is,  that as full-price anthologies go, these are definitely worth the money in every way.

And check those moves in the video below…

Rebel Meets Rebel: s/t (CD, 2006)

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REBEL MEETS REBEL stRecorded in the years before the unfortunate and premature death by shooting of Pantera guitar legend Dimebag Darrell, this collaboration between two legends in their own fields of music wasn’t released until a couple of years after Darrells’ death as a sort of tribute. One could be forgiven if they made the mistake of thinking this is a cheap cash-in on the demand for anything Darrell-related that was all the rage then. Even here in Finland, they had endless Dimebag Forever -tribute tours, sheesh. However, when Pantera (minus vocalist Phil Anselmo) and outlaw country badass David Allan Coe joined forces, the result wasn’t some kind of second rate throwaway crap. Not in the least.

For those not in the know, a collaboration between Pantera and David Allan Coe might seem unlikely. But it’s really not. For one, I am certain that as southerners, the boys in Pantera had been subjected to David Allan Coe’s brand of outlaw country since a young age, and those who know more than Coe’s few big hits know that he was one of the first country musicians to dabble in harder music. In fact, he has a handful of tracks that could be dubbed genuine country hard rock. So it sort of makes sense that these guys would get together in the studio and knock out some tunes.

Musically, this is heavy as fuck southern rocking metal with a lot of deadly groove and heavy, chugging riffing. Literally, Pantera putting on a deadly ZZ Top groove. David Allan Coe brings in country credibility to the album, his voice suiting the slightly country-tinted southern metal better than one might expect. All in all, what looks like an unlikely alliance and bad on paper turns out quite well in reality. There’s no real classic tracks here, and Rebel Meets Rebel is not an album destined for the annals of metal milestones (let alone country milestones), but I doubt anyone involved had that in mind. What Rebel Meets Rebel sounds like, and probably is, is a couple of musicians having fun in the studio, teaching each other tricks and just enjoying hammering out songs that aren’t quite at home in either artists’ own style.

Ten years after its release, Rebel Meets Rebel seems to have fallen into almost complete obscurity. Few Pantera fans I’ve talked to even know it exists. This is a shame, because it is a nice little footnote in the history of both Pantera and David Allan Coe.

Rainbow: Pot Of Gold (CD, 2002)

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RAINBOW pot of goldRainbow is one of those hard rock/heavy metal mammoths whose line-up read a bit like a who’s who of 70’s heavy rock music. The two most known members are of course band leader, lead guitar player and all-around heavy rock legend Ritchie Blackmore, and legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio, but other members such as Roger Glover and Don Airey have CV’s that are no less impressive, including names such as Deep Purple, Ozzy Osbourne, Saxon and so on.

I know many will disagree with me here, but I think that in all honesty, Rainbow is much less than the sum of its parts. Considering the musicians involved and how talented they are, the contents of this compilation are frankly a bit underwhelming. Even Ronnie James Dio sounds somehow subdued, not at his best; he would reach his true pinnacle some years after his stint with Rainbow, when he released his two first albums with Black Sabbath and his first solo albums. And as for Blackmore; from a guitar player of his stature, one would expect more than the rather forgettable riffs presented on this compilation of tracks.

The liner notes say that Rainbow was, back in the day, perceived as something of a final home for hard rock has-beens, where mammoths go to die, and listening to Pot Of Gold, that doesn’t sound too far off. Decent hard rock by-the-numbers is not what you’d expect from musicians who’ve created the long list of classics in their discography.

Patti Smith: Land (1975-2002) (2CD, 2002)

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Nobody with their sanity intact would question the impact Patti Smith has had on rock music and her rightful status as an icon. Still, I’ve never really gotten into her music and as such I think I’m the kind of person who’d be satisfied with a thorough double disc cut-through of her career. Alas, Land is not the collection I am looking for.

Really, I wonder who is the target audience of this anthology. The first disc contains essential classics such as Dancing Barefoot and Rock N Roll Nigger: the kind of stuff us casual listeners want to have but devoted fans will already have on the original albums. The second disc, on the other hand, contains demo tracks and live recordings, or the kind of stuff a casual listener such as I won’t give a rats’ ass about, but long-time fans would be interested in. So it’s a case of something for everybody turning into not enough for anybody

As far as the music goes, the first disc has a lot of good content but the second disc is full of trivial and uninteresting stuff for me. Not worth the price of a double disc release in other words, unless you find it on heavy discount.

Pale Roses: The Rutted Road (CD, 2012)

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PALE ROSES rutted roadOf the many zen-like questions in the world, one of the more esoteric ones is “what is the sound of a slightly homosexual slipper singing?” Really, this is the stuff of advanced spiritual studies. Or of listening to French neofolk-act Pale Roses.

So, Pale Roses in a nutshell is rather appalling singing that sounds like a homosexual slipper over a backing of pointless acoustic meandering and lyrics that often border on the ludicrous. Even diehard fans of the genre have to admit that neofolk, as brilliant as it is when all things fall into place, often teeters on the brink of ludicrous self-parody. Pale Roses crosses that line well and truly, and probably completely unintentionally which makes it all the more appropriate. Truth be told, I’m a bit surprised anyone could bear listening through to 51 minutes of this stuff and then decide to pay good money to release it.