Friday, 31 May 2013


Whilst popular wisdom rightly bestows the origins of heavy metal with Black Sabbath, the origins of it's most direct sub-genre actually has its foundation in the closing of side A on the biggest band in the world's ultimate album, Abbey Road. The appropriately-titled "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" features a doom-laden monolithic minor chord dirge at the end that, if played through a Marshall stack bedecked with inverted crosses at midnight, could possibly summon Lucifer himself to tell you that "the Beatles invented everything!" (Satan strikes me as more of a Beatles fan anyway, considering the enduring popularity of his unholy proselytizer Macca). Despite the well-documented fact that Ozzy and co. were huge Beatles fans themselves, very few subsequent doom bands have really embraced the direct influence of the Sabbs' musical antecedents. How many doom bands have an ounce of the melody that Tony Iommi crammed into Sabbath's riffs? Case in point: at the recent show of theirs I saw, Ozzy led the crowd in a sing-along to the "Iron Man" riff. Sure, they weren't a pop band as such, but even at their most half-assed ("Paranoid" was famously bashed out in 10 minutes as a filler track) they wrote classics that have stood the test of time. 

Compared to the "smoke weed and downtune" school of doom, Cambridge's Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats manage to channel the melodic sensibility cribbed from both the Iommi and the Lennon-McCartney songbook as well as a vintage B-grade Euro-horror vibe. Their second album Bloodlust sounded like a lost 70's doom band from the British provinces whose master tapes mysteriously vanished, one dark and stormy night, only to reappear decades later in an unmarked grave containing a slaughtered goat and a bloodstained knife. Sure, like their contemporaries and label-mates Ghost, who also use a mysterious Satanic veneer to cloak otherwise catchy tunes, this can become a bit gimmicky, but unlike the Swedes' more grandiose pop direction, on their latest LP Mind Control Uncle Acid keep things firmly in the vintage and fuzzed-out surroundings of their previous efforts. 

The album is front-loaded with the goods: "Mt. Abraxas" begins with a tremendous, lumbering riff and a great droning double-tracked vocal, with a mid-section turnabout that lends particular weight to their Sabbath influence. "Mind Crawler" and "Poison Apple" follow, the former a great one-chord garage rock rave-up, while the latter continues the Uncle Acid tradition of excellently representative singles (see Bloodlust's "I'll Cut You Down"). However, Mind Control finds the band headed for more psychedelic places elsewhere on the album. "Follow The Leader" has an almost "Norwegian Wood"-style vibe, albeit one that channels the Manson Family and other Satanic cults, much like the preceding "Death Valley Blues", with it's chiming-but-doomy verses. "Valley Of The Dolls" is molasses-thick doom, a set of grinding, repetitive chords that doesn't quite take off in the same way as a track like "Mt. Abraxas" - at over 7 minutes, there's no respite from the monotonous riff over the course of the track. Fortunately, "The Devil's Work", with it's tom-heavy drumming and psych-rock textures, eschews this leaden approach in favour of something more atmospheric that makes for a great close to the album. 

There are some truly monumental riffs and great songs on Mind Control that indicate Uncle Acid are not merely phoning in the retro trappings - these songs are for the most part excellently written, and the guitar work throughout is stellar. The Beatles' and Sabbs' comparisons do begin to wear a bit thin, but by the end of the album the band are mining territory that is definitely their own, and their single "Poison Apple" is distinctly the work of an original band. I'm interested to hear what direction they will take next, but suffice it to say it will be heavy and hook-driven. Would Macca approve? I think he would. 

Friday, 3 May 2013

R.I.P. JEFF HANNEMAN (1964 - 2013)

The news today that co-founding Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman has died due to liver damage came as a shock. As a guitarist, he had a huge energy and an incredibly fast and innovative technique that attested the influence of hardcore punk on his style. With Kerry King, he formed one of the most ferocious twin-guitar attacks in thrash metal. As a songwriter, he wrote "Angel of Death" and "Raining Blood", two formidable songs that began and closed an absolutely classic album. I saw Slayer on a double-bill in Auckland with Megadeth in 2009, and while Megadeth had their moments, once Slayer came on it was clear who was the bigger band. Everything about them was bigger, the twin walls of Marshall stacks flanking Dave Lombardo's enormous drum kit, on a riser a good foot higher than the Megadeth drummer's kit. The earsplitting scythes of guitar noise that emitted from each side of the amp wall when the roadies were soundchecking. Then the lights dimmed, and to a deafening roar of the crowd chanting "Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!", the band strode on stage, and, well, they utterly slayed! The setlist drew mainly on their classic trio of albums, Reign In Blood, South Of Heaven and Seasons In The Abyss, though a couple of older numbers and a few new ones were scattered through out the show. Although I have been to plenty of metal shows, big and small, over the years, I feel that Slayer was the most intense metal concert I've been to. The sheer power of the band - the rapid-fire of Lombardo's double-kicks, Tom Araya's barked vocals and the explosive salvos of riffs and squealing leads from King and Hanneman - when combined with the responsive energy from the crowd, made for a totally awe-inspiring experience. It's sad to say that no one will be able to see Slayer at the peak of their power again. At 49, Hanneman died too early. His memory will continue to live on through those incredible songs that he wrote, the albums he played on, and the inspiration he will give to new generations of young shredders. It is a sad day for metal. Needless to say, I'll be blasting my Slayer albums loudly tonight.