Note: due to the nature of this series, the reviews may tend to be more in the first person than you are used to with music criticism.
For this edition of Favorites Zane tells us how Van Halen's debut became a classic, DeadSun tells us how Sam Black Church could have changed the hardcore music world if given the chance and Dan checks in with a killer indie discovery; HomBru, a band that is too good for the mainstream.
Van Halen- Van
Van Halen's debut album may seem like an obvious choice on a list of favorites. It has all every ingredient that makes for exciting rock and roll, a rocking rhythm section, the guitar hero to end all guitar heroes, the wildest front man in rock and, above all, some exceptional songs.
Van Halen was an instant classic, quickly selling over 6 million albums (having since passed 10 million) and laying the groundwork for hard rock in the 1980's. When I discovered Van Halen they had just released For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge with Sammy Hagar at the helm. "Right Now" was on constant rotation on MTV. My stepfather had just got a handful of cds and Van Halen was one of them. I quickly pilfered it and the record did not leave my stereo for months but I just couldn't understand why "Right Now" was such a lame song coming from such an awesome band.
You probably don't need to buy Van Halen at this point; just turn to any classic rock radio station and you will hear any of the essential songs from this record at least hourly. The record was made in a hurry and plays loud and furious with the energy of a live show, displaying every muscle this band could flex. Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony are a powerful rhythm section and David Lee Roth added just enough humor and cool to completely overshadow his vocal limits. Roth is the perfect lead singer for Van Halen.
Obviously, the main attraction is Eddie Van Halen's guitar. Wild and frenetic leads and mind blowing solos raised the bar for rock guitar to a level that no one has been able to reach. The guitar is such an essential element to the Van Halen mythos that they included "Eruption" on their first greatest hits disc and omitted "You Really Got ME", the actual song that the extended solo led in to.
Each song here is a gem. "Runnin' with the Devil", "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love", "I'm the One", "Jaime's Cryin'", "Atomic Punk", "On Fire", these songs speak for themselves.
In my high school when everyone was trying to find their identity, music was a huge factor. At least for me and my friends. Van Halen was agreed upon as essential for every kind of music fan. This is the iconic rock and roll that stabs you in the brain and will never let go, planting the bug that will make you want to start a band. There won't be another band like Van Halen, they were too weird but so undeniable.
Sam Black Church
- The Black Comedy (1998)
The most unfortunate aspect of this write up will occur at this moment in time, because at this particular moment, most of those who will read this are wondering to themselves:
"Sam Black who?"
To answer that question, I'll have to warp you back to the Boston hardcore scene, circa 1993. The musical period universally regarded as the "golden era" of "hardcore punk" music had receded around 1986, and a second wave of hardcore (the word "punk" was eventually dropped from the term) had evolved out of it. The most noticeable difference between the old and the new was the emergence of bands with a sound that was blended with certain elements of heavy metal. During the early 1980s, this approach was often called "crossover" by hardcore punk devotees--- a term that usually carried more mocking undertones to it than anything else. Nevertheless, all is in motion, nothing is static, change is the rule of the observable world--- and the same law holds true for any given music scene. By the dawn of the 1990s, "crossover" Hardcore had taken the underground by storm.
The Boston hardcore scene has always had a reputation (much of it deserved) for being a hotbed for Straight Edge hardcore--- largely due to the relentless efforts of bands like SS Decontrol and Slapshot. Perhaps the time was appropriate for something different.
Enter Sam Black Church.
When Sam Black Church released their now legendary (among those in the know) 5-song E.P., a.k.a. the Boston E.P. , in 1993, heads turned everywhere. Bluntly put: nothing else out at the time (or ever after) sounded like their hyperactive, schizophrenically forged alloy of hardcore punk and metal. The band's singular uniqueness had much to do with "upbringing"--- so to speak. The band members (except for Richard G. Lewis) originally hailed from the state of West Virginia. Try to appreciate just what a blessing in disguise this turned out to be. When members Jet, Ben and JR started playing music in the 1980s, there was nothing whatsoever--- in the way of a local underground scene--- for them to cut their teeth on.
A unique set of circumstances was put into motion: a band that played hardcore, but was insulated from what might be best regarded as the all-seeing, scrutinizing eye of the "hardcore code". The result was a band that was every bit as influenced by acts like Metallica and Motorhead, as they were by acts like the Cro-Mags or the Bad Brains. This was (arguably) the primary impetus behind Sam Black Church's sound.
The release of the full-length Let in Life came later that year, and almost instantaneously established Sam Black Church as the reigning kings of Boston hardcore. The live shows were indescribable, yet another huge ingredient to the band's rise. In terms of chemistry, energy, and command presence--- a Sam Black Church show left you feeling as if you had been jump started with a car battery. There is no other way to put it, unless you were there to experience it.
Unfortunately, what looked like a promising deal with Geffen (later on, and at a time when Geffen was known for looking outside of the musical status quo for talent) turned into a contractual morass with their former label, TAANG!. Had they signed to Geffen, Sam Black Church might very well have stormed onto the national scene with the fervor that they swept New England. This was a band who toured relentlessly, and nationally, sharing the stage with acts like Bad Brains, Sick of It All, Slapshot, Motorhead, Clutch, Type O Negative, Fear Factory, TREE, Machine Head Dio, Fugazi, and Quicksand (note the diversity).
Nevertheless, they eventually signed to Wonderdrug records and, in 1998, released another full-length release: The Black Comedy .
If viewed parallel to the directions and ideas associated with the second wave of underground hardcore, The Black Comedy is one of the greatest hardcore/metal fusion albums I have ever heard--- seventeen cuts of music which contain (coincidentally) some of the best sound production, featuring a hardcore band, which I have ever heard. It churns, snaps, spews, vents, and blasts--- and comes across as if it were intentionally recorded to FEEL like a live album. Those who are acquainted with the feel of the first five Motorhead albums will know exactly what "feel" I speak of. The music simply sounds intensely alive. Most importantly, The Black Comedy --- along with everything else Sam Black Church has put to tape--- has a strong, hyperactive, rambunctious quality that courses through each song. The aggression and face-flattening heaviness are ALWAYS present, and in full force--- but with the boundless, free spirited energy which stands as something to be relished in the punk music of yore.
Sadly, The Black Comedy has long been a difficult score for anyone living outside of New England.
If any are interested in this essential work of second wave hardcore--- I believe copies are to be had at the record label's site on the web
Don't miss out--- to this day, Sam Black Church's music (despite the band being defunct) maintains a loyal following, and the music sounds as mean and as explosive as the day it came out.
The Black Comedy : yet another classic gem, mined from the caves of the musical underground.
HomBru - Ingredients
The Nerve. The Muck. The Casualty. The Puzzle. The Mourning. The recipe for the best prog rock album you've never heard. Released in 2002, the Ingredients EP was the result of the Texas-based trio of David Huff, Michael Powell, and Todd Wink reconvening after the original 5-piece band (with the far less creative spelling Homebrew) split up. I stumbled across the band courtesy CDBaby, who had grabbed a description from a review that pegged them as a blend of Gordian Knot and Tool. The Gordian Knot connection, and what really attracted me to them, was the fact that rather than a regular bass, Huff plays a Chapman Stick--for the uninitiated, a 10- or 12-string instrument played entirely by tapping (eat your heart out, EVH).
I have to be honest: the first time I heard this, I wasn't very keen on Mike's vocals. They have since grown on me, but even without that, the music was more than enough to sell me on this. The CD is full of explorations of dynamics, texture, and rhythm--the lush opening of "The Nerve," the plodding melancholy of "The Puzzle," the syncopated groove and complex breakdown of "The Casualty," the long intro buildup to the crashing guitars on "The Mourning." There's a completely different style of the musical backdrop due to the nature of the Stick, since it doesn't lend itself well to chords but allows both melody and bass to be played at the same time.
The lyrics of most of the songs are relationship-oriented, particularly "The Puzzle" ("My favorite puzzle is/missing the best piece that fits/right here in the middle of me") and "The Mourning" ("Please leave my head alone/and I'll be just fine/Without you inside my mind"). I just recently realized though that "The Casualty" is a tribute to the whole 9/11 thing: "Incomplete hole appearing broken/I'm sorry that you had to see this/Live on TV, it devastates me/It's all because of this plane in my side." (Okay, now that I see the words written out it's obvious; I just usually zone out on the music and texture brought about by the vocals.)
I really can't say enough good things about this CD--it's a perfect example of the kind of talent and creativity in the underground that will never go mainstream because it's just different enough to scare off anybody whose main concern is the amount of money it would make for their company. Such as it is, you should stop reading this review now and head to CDBaby to pick up a copy, and make sure to keep your eyes peeled for their new one that should be coming out any time now.