What are you listening to now? : Non-metal Edition
The Sisters of Mercy - "First & Last & Always" (1985)
A pretty suitable gothic rock accompaniment to the two hour drive home in the pouring rain after a shit day at work.
Mogwai - Les Revenants (2013)
Danzig - "Danzig" (1988)
Interestingly I'd never given Glenn Danzig's widely celebrated self-titled debut an active listen until now. I was certainly across the couple of tracks that got flogged on underground metal radio back in the late 80's/early 90's ("Twist of Cain" & "Mother" specifically) but the rest of the record was previously unknown to me. I didn't mind Danzig's 1990 sophomore album "Danzig II: Lucifuge" though so I thought I might also enjoy the debut & I do to a similar extent. Neither album are particularly to my taste but both offer a crunchy brand of bluesy AC/DC style hard rock with a darker Black Sabbath edge & a vocal delivery that pays homage to Elvis Presley. Is it a metal release? Not even close in my opinion. There are a couple of legitimate heavy metal tunes amongst the ten on offer (see "Am I Demon" & "The Hunter") but I can't say that I ever really find myself considering a metal-based tag for this one. The consistency of the tracklisting is certainly pretty good though as there's not a weak track in sight but, in saying that, I don't think there's a truly classic song here either. In fact, the two most popular tracks are probably the ones that I enjoy the least amongst this lot. I do dig the bluesy feel & the warm & uncluttered back-to-basics production but I don't think "Danzig" will be one that I return to all that often. I'd probably take the follow-up over this one by a slim margin.
Swans - "The Great Annihilator" (1995)
High quality experimental post-punk & gothic rock from New York, USA.
Scorpions - "Love at First Sting" (1984)
I've always found that I get some enjoyment out of Scorpions records but have never found myself gushing over them like the majority of rock/metal fans seem to. Sure, the guitar solos are great but they have a fair amount of cheese included on every record too & I'm pretty sure that all of our regular contributors clearly understand my aversion to that abominable trait by now. I was familiar with the full string of five albums from 1976's "Virgin Killer" up until 1982's widely celebrated "Blackout" record (not to mention their 1978 "Tokyo Tapes" live release) prior to coming into "Love at First Sting" with all of them sitting at that 3.5/5 mark but the Germans highly regarded 1984 ninth full-length may be the first album I've heard from them where I struggled to overcome the commercialism with fully-fledged glam metal raising its head on more than one occasion.
The tracklisting begins quite well with the heavy rock of opener "Bad Boys Running Wild" being pretty entertaining however proceedings descend significantly after that with five lacklustre efforts in a row before the band miraculously resurrects things with three quality hard rock numbers to close out the album. Closing ballad "Still Loving You" is the clear album highlight & leaves me feeling better about the whole experience but I can't quite shake the memories of glam metal numbers like "Rock You Like A Hurricane", "The Same Thrill" or "Big City Nights" with their obvious pop hooks that were so clearly intended to crack the American rock radio circuit. There's no doubt that Matthias Jabs' guitar solos are exhilarating & my ears prick up every time he steps up to the plate but, as with every other Scorpions record, I have serious doubts about the metal credentials of "Love at First Sting". There's really only the one song that I regard as being genuine metal in the fairly dull "Coming Home" although "Bad Boys Running Wild" kinda skims along the borderline between hard rock & heavy metal. I guess they're a metal band if you think that Van Halen, AC/DC or Guns 'n' Roses are but I very strongly disagree with that sentiment.
"Love at First Sting" gives 80's Scorpions fans exactly what they want but I'm afraid this is where they've started to lose me & I'm a little fearful about what's to come from their later material given that it's not regarded anywhere near as highly as the band's classic era which ended with this record.
Living Colour - "Vivid" (1988)
It’s funny how I occasionally find myself in a situation where I’ve maintained a position on a certain record for many decades only to finally undertake a reassessment of it's value & decide that I don’t think I’ve even heard it before because nothing about it sounds familiar. It doesn’t happen very often but it’s occurred over the last couple of days with the 1988 debut album from New York’s Living Colour. I'm sure that I first discovered them shortly after the release of this record through the inclusion of their big hit & opening track “Cult of Personality” on a compilation I’d acquired & I know that song back to front but the rest of the album? Nup… I can’t honestly say that I recognise a single second of it so I don’t think I actually checked it out even though Living Colour’s 1990 sophomore record “Time’s Up” got quite regular plays around my home as a teenager so this gives me the opportunity to approach it with unbiased ears.
Living Colour were known as one of the big players in the early funk metal movement & became really popular in Australia off the back of their 1991 hit single “Love Rears It’s Ugly Head”. I quite liked them at the time but remember questioning their links to metal & “Vivid” certainly sees me revisiting those feelings as there’s very little genuine metal on this record. I can only think that people have had their opinions influenced by “Cult of Personality” more than anything as it’s clearly the most metal track on the album & even then it’s kind of a heavy metal/hard rock hybrid. The rest of the record sees this talented outfit championing a sound that’s better described as an unintimidating blend of commercial hard rock & bouncy funk rock with some poppier moments scattered across the tracklisting. Unsurprisingly, those poppier tracks are the clear fails here too & “Vivid” is a lot less consistent than I thought it’d be, particularly when you consider the talent on show.
Living Colour’s main focal point is definitely band leader & guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid who absolutely slays here, his exciting jazz fusion guitar solos representing the high point of almost every song. I’m a big fan of his expansive & experimental style & the album is worth listening to solely for his contribution but bass player Muzz Skillings & vocalist Corey Glover also put in stellar performances & you get the feeling that the band was always going to make it big given the collective weight of their musical chops. This makes it a bit of a shame that they opted to explore a few obvious cash-grabbing opportunities on this album because when they extend themselves creatively they’re a more than decent & very likeable unit. Sadly though, poppy filler like “I Want To Know” & “Glamour Boys” see the shine taken off the better material. I’m not sure it sees my score dropping at all but it’s definitely reduced my opinion of Living Colour just a touch.
Ultimately, “Vivid” is a competent rock record produced by a class act that really knew what they were doing. It’s just not one that offers me the sort of appeal to see me returning to it in the future. My childhood memories recall “Time’s Up” being a more complete piece of work but I’m starting to question myself on that now & may have to give it a fresh assessment at some point before committing to claims like that. In the meantime I’ll be raising a Hall of Judgement posting as I really don’t think “Vivid” has a place at the Metal Academy if I’m being honest.
Elder - "Lore" (2015)
I’ve really been enjoying Massachusetts-based trio Elder over the last couple of years since discovering their excellent 2012 “Spires Burn/Release” E.P. which triggered my subsequent exploration of the band’s back-catalogue. I’d eventually nominate their 2011 sophomore album “Dead Roots Stirring” as a The Fallen feature release & also got stuck into their 2017 “Reflections of a Floating World” fourth album at some point while contributing to the Hall of Judgement, both of which presented Elder as a highly professional & seriously talented group of creative musicians. It only makes sense then that I would look to fill in the gaps between those very solid records with 2015’s “Lore” album which seems to be just as highly regarded as the releases I’d already experienced.
Despite being consistently linked to the stoner metal genre, Elder have always been a bit of an anomaly as far as genre tagging goes. I found “Dead Roots Stirring” to sit firmly within the realms of stoner rock with some psychedelic influences popping up here & there. “Spires Burn/Release” saw them upping the heaviness & working its magic in the space between stoner metal & stoner rock but “Reflections of a Floating World” possessed a more progressive sound than those two records so I’ve tended to tag it as progressive stoner rock. This left me wondering whether “Lore” would represent the starting point for Elder’s more progressive excursions & I’d eventually discover that this is the case as I’ve found it to sit a little closer to its successor in terms of ambition & technique although I don’t see as much psychedelia as I’ve heard from them in the past. Despite including a number of metallic riffs, "Lore" isn't a metal record in the true sense of the term as the production is intentionally centred around a more organic 70’s sound & the guitar work never stays in Sabbath mode for long before returning to a more ambitious & techy approach akin to progressive rock icons like Yes. I do hear a fair whack of Tool in some of the grungier parts of the album though which can’t be a bad thing while some of the riff structures also recall a band like Mastodon.
I remember mentioning in the past that the limiting factor in Elder’s chances of reaching my higher scores is the vocals & that’s still the case here. It’s not that they’re not well done as I actually think they’ve improved since “Dead Roots Stirring” but it’s a question of whether they can hit upon melodic hooks of the highest calibre. As has become the norm for Elder, the vocals are used fairly sparingly with the instrumentation generally taking the front seat so when they do come in they have the opportunity to make a bigger impact. We can see an example of that on album highlight “Legend” whose memorable hooks see it overflowing into classic territory. I don’t think Elder quite get there with the remainder of the material though & it’s left to the more progressive moments to capture me which they do with utmost ease.
Ultimately, I have to say that I challenge any fan of mature & ambitious rock music not to like a record like “Lore” as it’s yet another triumph for a band that had already well & truly proven themselves by that point. My affection may still be a little stuck behind the confines of its more palatable rock packaging but it’s almost impossible not admire the skill of a band who seems to be incapable of making an ordinary record. I have to say that I favour Elder’s more progressive releases over their earlier works these days with “Reflections of a Floating World” still remaining the high point of my Elder experience to date but “Lore” has done extremely well to come in a close second after a couple of very rewarding days of listening pleasure.
Boris - "Heavy Rocks" (2011)
I’ve been a big fan of Tokyo trio Boris for a very long time now but they’re so prolific & their back catalogue is so extensive that it’s really pretty hard to keep up with them. They also cover so much musical ground (often within the confines of the same release) that you never know what to expect as they jump wildly between different genres at random. I really enjoyed the high quality stoner rock of Boris’ 2002 “Heavy Rocks” album recently though & noticed that they’ve also released two more albums with the exact same name in 2011 & 2022 (presumably intended as a thematically linked trilogy) so I thought I’d give the 2011 sequel a few spins to see what it has to offer.
If ever Boris have failed to commit to a defined direction with an album it’s here as the 2011 “Heavy Rocks” album suffers a real case of ADD with so many genres stuffed into the ten tracks that it’s almost impossible to tag this release with anything that seems appropriate. It's generally regarded as a stoner rock/metal record but I’d suggest that those genres only really account for a couple of tracks included here with the others exploring a whole array of sounds including neo-psychedelia, alternative rock, hardcore punk, post-rock, post-metal, doom metal & thrash metal. To my ears there’s not enough metal to warrant a metal primary tag though if I'm being honest. In fact, I’d estimate that only about a third of the tracklisting is legitimate metal with stoner metal opener “Riot Sugar”, the epic thirteen minute post-doom metal monster “Aileron” (my album highlight) & short thrash metal closer “Czechoslovakia” being the sole contributors. If pushed I’d probably go with post-rock & alternative rock as the best fit for primary tags on this one so I’ll be submitting a Hall of Judgement nomination to have “Heavy Rocks” removed from The Fallen & added the Non-Metal shortly.
From a general quality perspective, the consistency of the tracklisting seems to be pretty jerky & a good half of the songs included don’t do all that much for me. Some of their signature pitchy vocal melodies sound a bit flat which doesn’t help but thankfully the two best tracks on the album both exceed twelve minutes which saves “Heavy Rocks” to an extent. There’s a very casual feel to the way Boris present themselves here though. I know they’ve always pushed that dangerous edge that the modern rock scene seems to be so lacking in but at times they push things a little too far & can tend to sound a bit lazy in my opinion. Boris are certainly at their best when they’re at their most cerebral with the post-rock inspired excursions & the more psychedelic stoner material being clearly more appealing than the messy alternative rock & punk material but... I dunno.... I can’t help but be a touch disappointed with 2011’s “Heavy Rocks” even though it’s a pretty enjoyable experience when viewed holistically. I guess I just know that Boris are capable of so much more & feel that a little quality control might go a long way at a time when they seem to be releasing three or four full-length albums per year. This may well be the weakest Boris album I’ve heard actually but thankfully it’s still not a bad listen & their prolific past ensures that I’ll likely never run out of unexplored gold either.
Héroes del Silencio - "Senderos de traición" (1990)
Spanish gothic/alternative rock.