Monday, January 30, 2012

CD Review - Ghost - Opus Eponymous

Now and again a band comes around that truly defies classification. Or at least goes so counter to what you expect that you are taken for a loop.

The Swedish group Ghost is one of those bands.

A colleague at work tried for literally weeks to get me to buy the band’s first (and only) album, Opus Eponymous and I resisted.

While I love this guy, his taste in music is far more hardcore than mine. Put it this way – I don’t have the new Disfigured Prostitute album but I am pretty sure he does.

I have told him a million times that I like melody with my metal. No screamo cookie monster stuff for me. Well, he must have been paying attention because Ghost is the most catchy devil music I have ever heard.

Yes – the band promotes itself as devil music, a la Mercyful Fate and the like. But I have to think it’s a ruse. The five-piece band dresses in black capes and cowls, with their faces obscured so you can’t see them. They don’t even have names – they are all called Faceless Ghouls in interviews and on promotional material.

The lead singer, Papa Emeritus, is like 70s-era Peter Gabriel from Hell. He wears religious vestments complete with huge bishop hat and his face painted with a black and white skull.

All of this raised the chuckle factor for me, but then I got a free offer for Spotify and really had no excuse but to stream up the Ghost album to pacify my friend. That was about a month and a half ago and now I own the album and will see the band tomorrow evening in Portland on its first ever U.S. tour.

If I were to publish a recipe for this band, I’d say blend 50 percent pure Black Sabbath with 25 percent Metallica, 15 percent Genesis, 5 percent Blue Oyster Cult and 5 percent Randy Rhodes-era Ozzy. Does that equal 100 percent? I dunno - math sucks.

The Sabbath and Metallica-infused dark riffage and speedy moments permeate the music, but it’s when they hit that prog-rock percentage that my ears really perk up.

The fifth track, Stand By Him, is a great example of this. Part-way through this very catchy rock song, the band busts into weird time signatures with spooky organ and Steve Hackett-esque hammer-ons and then goes into some very Metallica-inspired heaviness. The song winds its way back to the catchy chorus that sounds like a BOC outtake and ends with some great melodic guitar a la 70s Maiden. What the hell…

The closing instrumental number, Genesis (aptly named) sounds like an outtake from that band’s Foxtrot album. Ending a dark-assed CD like this with a gorgeous dual-acoustic passage is flipping genius.

Or take track two, Con Clavi Con Dio, which is pretty heavy overall but ends with dark-sounding Gregorian chants. Still, you feel like you know where the album is going at this point. Until track three, Ritual, starts up and sounds like 70s radio rock with chunky guitars and tasty arpeggios, giving way to the catchiest chorus I have ever heard promoting human sacrifice. I could not get it out of my head and had to look up the lyrics, which are “This chapel of ritual smells of dead human sacrifices from the altar bed.” Not Katy Perry-level pop but damn it’s just as catchy!

So – catchy music, kooky Devil lyrics, mysterious image, chameleon-like musical style. What’s not to like about Ghost? I will drop a full concert review if I make it back alive. Until then, here is a live version of Ritual from some sludge rock show in Europe. Enjoy!

Rush Photographer Andrew MacNaughtan Dies, Neil Peart Remembers

Last week, Canadian photographer Andrew MacNaughtan passed away while on assignment with Rush. Reports said that he had a heart attack the day after the photo shoot.

MacNaughtan worked with Rush since the mid-80s around the Power Windows tour, and had become their quasi-exclusive photographer.

This morning drummer Neil Peart posted some thoughts on his website. I won't paraphrase here but suffice it to say that MacNaughtan helped Peart through his dark days of personal tragedy, and also introduced him to his current spouse.

As jarring it is when a famous and influential musician dies, it's equally sad when a key member of the 'camp' goes to shoot that great gig in the sky.

Check out MacNaughtan's work at

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Neil Young & Crazy Horse Album Completed

I have said it before and I'll say it again - Neil Young is at his best with Crazy Horse. This is when he rocks out the hardest, and improvises the most.

Neil seems to space out the Crazy Horse albums, like he needs to store up the energy to make them happen. But reports from Thrasher's Wheat, and confirmed by Rolling Stone, indicate that Neil and The Horse have finished recording a new album and are in the midst of another one.

Neil broke this news at the Slamdance Film Festival during a sit-down with Jonathan Demme, who has worked on various films with Neil including the recent Heart of Gold film. You can see a video of the conversation between Neil and Demme at Thrasher's Wheat.

Neil's stuff is always touch and go - you never know what you are going to get. His last album, Le Noise, was great - well, I liked it. But it got mixed reviews. I thought it was sonically really interesting and with Neil and just an electric, it was something he had never done before.

From Rolling Stone:

Neil Young is recording a new album with Crazy Horse, according to a post on Young's fansite Thrasher's Wheat – and now confirmed by Rolling Stone: "It's looking good," a representative for Young says. According to the fansite report, Young shared the news over the weekend at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, at an event with Jonathan Demme to promote their new movie Journeys. The audience "erupted in applause" when Young said that he was working with Crazy Horse again. Multiple fans subsequently posted on Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina's Facebook wall to ask if the news was true. His response: "Yes!"

Young began playing with the garage rock band in 1968 and they back him on many of his greatest albums, including Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Zuma, Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory. Their last album was the 2003 rock opera Greendale, though it didn't feature guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro. The band (including Poncho) toured with Young in 2003 and 2004 to support the disc, though they haven't played together since the tour ended March 21st, 2004 at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. This has been the longest time Young has gone without performing with the group since their formation, though Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina played with Young on his 2007 disc Chrome Dreams II and the first few legs of the supporting tour. He was replaced by drummer Chad Cromwell in the summer of 2008 for unknown reasons.

The full line-up of Crazy Horse hasn't backed Young on an album since Broken Arrow in 1996, though they did record an LP in 2000 called Toast that Neil opted to shelf. "It's great rock & roll, very moody, kind of jazzy," Young told Rolling Stone in 2008, who was then contemplating a release of the disc. "It's really dark. It's got everything that the best Crazy Horse albums have had. It won't be the most commercial Crazy Horse album ever out."

In that same interview, we asked Neil if he had any desire to work with Crazy Horse again. "I'm not thinking about that right now," he said. "We'll just see what happens. Something might happen. You never know. Or something else we don't even know about could happen, and that would be really good, rather than go back. But if the vibe's right to go back and grab what's back there and yank it into the future, that's a big job."

According to the report on Thrasher's Wheat, Young said that he's already recorded one album with Crazy Horse and another is in the works. It's unclear if Toast is the finished album. There's word of a spring release for the album, but don't get your hopes up too high. Things change very quickly in the world of Neil Young. Remember that 30-date Buffalo Springfield that was supposedly happening this year?

That last point is the truth, and you never know when Neil is going to have a whole, finished album in the can and then never put it out. Well, whatever happens, I will always have my favorite Neil Young & Crazy Horse album, Ragged Glory:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book Review - Tony Iommi - Iron Man

I have been meaning to post a review of Tony Iommi's autobiography Iron Man for a while now. I read it in November, right after Ace Frehley's book, which I did review. But the Iommi book got away from me.

Many people beat me to it, including my friend and co-worker Justin Norton, who reviewed the book for the Invisible Oranges website.

I also made the mistake of actually reading Justin's review, which sealed the deal that I would never write my own, because I agreed with 95 percent of his review and mine would be a copy.

So I asked Justin if I could just re-post his (lazy, I know), so I am doing so. But first let me say that I enjoyed the book and learned an awful lot about Iommi. The story about how he crafted the prosthetic fingertips after his factory injury is fascinating. In fact the detail in which he describes what he has to do to this day to keep his fingers in shape for playing is really amazing.

Overall the book is entertaining but a little dry. The stories of how they used to haze Bill Ward are pretty awesome. The Born Again era is well-documented, but the reunion with Dio is almost an afterthought despite the great success of those last few years.

Anyway, if you dig Sabbath, get the book. Oh and be ready to want to break out your old Sabbath LPs and really dig into them. I was inspired to do so and now feel that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is my favorite Ozzy-era album by far.

Here is Justin's review, also posted at Invisible Oranges. Go there to read the comments - they are interesting.

Oh, and Thanks Justin for letting me steal your work.

Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell With Black Sabbath By Tony Iommi (with T.J. Lammers)

“My role was to come up with the music, with the riffs,” Tony Iommi writes early on in his memoir Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven And Hell With Black Sabbath. “That probably stopped the others from writing music. If I didn’t come up with anything, we wouldn’t do anything.” Iommi says it in such a deadpan voice that you’d think he was talking about a day in a Birmingham plant rather than creating a genre of music that’s been around for nearly a half-century.

Considering how circumspect and low-key Iommi has been despite his achievements, it’s not a surprise that writing the building blocks of heavy metal seems like another day at work. Iron Man, co-written with T.J. Lammers, does a good job of telling Iommi’s story from Birmingham troublemaker and novice gangbanger to rock legend. Iommi’s bandmate Ozzy Osbourne has long been over-covered in print and on television; in the past two years there’s been an Ozzy autobiography, a book of humorous medical advice and a documentary helmed by his son, Jack. During Ozzy’s peak popularity in the early ’00s there were enough books on the Osbournes to fill a small shelf. Part of this is unsurprising; Ozzy’s antics and his public persona beg for stories and tabloid coverage. Meanwhile Iommi – the man who created the musical universe that propelled Ozzy to stardom – spoke through music. Who needs words when you wrote the riff for “Paranoid”?

Nonetheless, there’s been an unrelenting curiosity about Iommi’s past because time has proven him to be the cornerstone of metal. While Ozzy courts television cameras, Iommi hides behind sunglasses and often painfully generic interviews. Iron Man does a good job of answering questions. Iommi takes us back to his earliest years, when he played with also-rans like The Rockin’ Chevrolets and famously crafted part of a finger after an accident to continue playing guitar, all the way to recent passing of Ronnie James Dio.

Iommi found his muse with Sabbath; he quickly took to the road, and never stopped. The tour stories are hilarious and often horrifying; how Ozzy showed up for an early tour with just one shirt and a pair of jeans; how Iommi and one-time manager Patrick Meehan thought a wasted groupie was dead and considered throwing her off a balcony before she woke up, and how drummer Bill Ward was nearly killed when he was set on fire as a joke.

There are a number of interesting detours, including Iommi’s revelation that he experimented with astral projection but today can’t “leave his body”. Along the way there are worldwide travels; countless lines of cocaine – they really were snowblind – and musical partnerships with unlikely collaborators like Body Count’s Ernie C. Iron Man offers insights into many relationships, including Iommi’s close friendship with Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Iommi’s relationship with Lita Ford gets a bit of a brush off; perhaps he views it as insignificant in retrospect.

There are no huge revelations or exposés in Iron Man, and that’s what makes it a strong record of Iommi’s life. Despite fame, riches and influence, Iommi never views himself as more than a talented and determined English guy who wanted to make music. Iron Man is a story about the power of creativity paired with drive and, ultimately, about a life well-lived.

By Justin M. Norton

PS - Justin turned me on to the band Ghost and I will be reviewing their tremendous new album soon. And no, I won't be reading Justin's first!!!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New 1970-Era Doors Tune Released

It's always fun to have bands open the archives so fans and fanatics alike can enjoy outtakes, first mixes and even tunes that hit the cutting room floor. Witness the excitement over the recent 'new' Van Halen song that was really from the band's first demo in 1976.

The Doors have followed suit, releasing a song that was recorded during sessions for 1970's L.A. Woman album.

There are some real gems on L.A. Woman and I like it best out of all their albums, if not for the songs but for the sound. The older Doors albums sound great but also have that late 60s dated sound to my ears. Mainly due to keyboards and drums.

But much like the Abbey Road album (same year, almost), the mics, studio techniques and mixing technology finally hit a real sweet spot and the recordings shine and still sound modern. The drums sound punchy and Ray Manzarek's keyboards don't sound all hurdy-gurdy.

So anyway, the band is putting out a 40th anniversary issue of L.A. Woman and have dug up a new song called She Smells So Nice. It's a blues, a la Crawling King Snake and Been Down So Long, which are my least favorite songs on that album. But I know Morrison was really into singing the blues at that time so I am pretty sure the band humored him.

She Smells So Nice is a 'fast blues' shuffle. Morrison's vocals are distorted, which probably means this is a first take that they never went back and fixed. And now of course, they can't. It's cool to hear a new song, though. Check it out below. What do you think?

She Smells So Nice by The Doors Official

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Van Halen Single - Tattoo - Hear It Here

Don't have much time to do more than post this for you to hear. It's Van Halen's new single, Tattoo. First impression is that Eddie's solo rocks, and overall the song sounds like something I could actually hear Sammy Hagar singing! But I don't know - I need to hear it more than once to make a fair assessment. What do you think?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Tony Iommi Has Cancer

Reuters is reporting that Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with early stages of lymphoma.

Iommi's website also backs this up, saying "With the news that Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with the early stages of lymphoma, his bandmates would like everyone to send positive vibes to the guitarist at this time.

Iommi is currently working with his doctors to establish the best treatment plan--the “IRON MAN” of Rock & Roll remains upbeat and determined to make a full and successful recovery."

This is terrible news, and who can avoid thinking of Iommi's band mate Ronnie James Dio dying from cancer in May 2010. The difference is, Dio's cancer was not detected until it was well-along.

Rolling Stone posted an article this morning as well, saying:

Two months ago the original lineup of Black Sabbath announced plans to record their first album of new material since 1978's Never Say Die! with producer Rick Rubin. They had been working in Los Angeles, but Iommi's diagnosis has caused them to move recording over to England.

Black Sabbath are also scheduled to kick off a world tour May 18th in Moscow. It's unclear whether or not Iommi's treatment will have any impact on these plans. The group hasn't toured since 2005, though the Ronnie James Dio-led lineup of Black Sabbath toured extensively from 2007 through Dio's death from stomach cancer in 2010.

Cancer is a bitch and reared its head in a very personal way for me in 2010. I had three people close to me pass of it (plus of course Steve Jobs, a high-profile victim). Let's pull our prayers together not only for Iommi and all the other cancer sufferers, but that a CURE can be found and cancer can be made a footnote in history, like polio.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Van Halen Cafe Wha? Gig -- Exclusive Report and Photos

A former housemate in San Francisco from many years ago was able to get into the Van Halen show last week and I spoke to him about it and with his permission am posting some of his photos and observations for you to enjoy.

Hi name is Vince Muraco, and he is Executive Chef at Andaz 5th Avenue in New York City. In fact, when I knew Vince in the mid 90s, he was attending California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, where at age 17 he was its youngest student ever.

He has a long, prestigious resume as a chef in California, Miami and New York, including Park Hyatts in SF and LA, Vix in Miami, Grove Isle Resort in Coconut Grove, Florida and as Executive Chef at Zimzala in Huntington Beach. Now in New York and soon to be married and a father to boot, Vince is making a name for himself at Andaz 5th Avenue.

He has always been a Van Halen fanatic, even back in the day when we shared a house with a bunch of other guys in the city. We needed to have seven or eight people in that house to make rent, and Vince was one of those guys. I was in a touring band and wasn't around much but when I was we'd sometimes talk Halen, and I'd borrow his red Strat, the only axe in the house with a whammy bar. Vince also had one of the first 5150 heads, which he still has!

So anyway, he was able to get into the show at literally the last second from a classic 'friend of a friend of a colleague' situation and was ushered into Cafe Wha? during the first song. He stood off to the side of the stage on Wolfgang's side. You can see that from some of the photos he has shared.

Vince told me the vibe in the venue was electric and even though it was mostly industry folks in attendance, people went totally nuts.

He said that while Dave couldn't really hit the high highs, he sounded great and was the same old Dave, telling stories and going on and on. He said the band was mugging behind him and Eddie looked at his watch a couple of times during the longer Dave intros but all in fun.

Wolfgang was solid but as with most people, Vince missed Michael Anthony's voice. Wolfgang and Eddie did sing backups, though. Alex was rock solid on the kit, playing the smallest drum set Vince had ever seen him play -- probably due to the tiny stage more than anything. And the happiest surprise was that Eddie seemed sober and was having fun and was on fire.

Vince told me he had been able to sit in on some Van Hagar sound checks a few years ago and Eddie would be tight and killer but by show time he'd be wasted and couldn't play. Not the case in New York.

As you'd expect (and with an only 45-minute set), it was over in a blur. As noted in other reports, despite Beautiful Girls and Unchained being on the setlist for the encore, the band only did one song, Ain't Talkin Bout Love

Vince hung out after the show, bumped knuckles with Wolfgang, who gave him a pick, and then made his way to Eddie's side and was able to grab a setlist (pictured) and one of Eddie's picks too. Gearheads will appreciate the photos of Eddie's rig.

Speaking of Eddie, Eddie Trunk (NYC DJ and host of VH1 That Metal Show) was there and Vince was able to shoot the bull for a second and give him his card. Jimmy Fallon and John McEnroe were also in attendance.

Enjoy Vince's photos, and for sure hit the Andaz 5th Avenue if you make it to NYC. Thanks Vince for your insights and photos! Next step - let's see how good the new album is.

Also, according to Eddie Trunk's website, the track listing for Van Halen's new studio album, A Different Kind Of Truth has been revealed via The Van Halen News Desk.

A Different Kind Of Truth's Track listing:

1. Tattoo
2. She’s The Woman
3. You and Your Blues
4. China Town
5. Blood and Fire
6. Bullethead
7. As Is
8. Honeybabysweetiedoll
9. The Trouble With Never
10. Outta Space
11. Stay Frosty
12. Big River
13. Beats Workin’

In other Van Halen news, is reporting that the Deluxe Edition CD will feature a bonus DVD featuring four brand new acoustic performance videos titled The Downtown Sessions.

Van Halen's A Different Kind Of Truth is due to be released on February 7th through Interscope Records.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Van Halen Rock NYC Club - Videos Included

As predicted, Van Halen played a small club gig last night for 250 industry folks and journos. You can read all about it at and I am sure a bunch of other music outlets. But here is the Cliff Notes version from what I read:

--Setlist was from the 70s Roth albums plus a 'new' song from the upcoming album, but the song is a re-working of a 70s-era tune that was never released
--They absolutely rocked and were super tight. Eddie was sober (yes!)
--Roth is still verbose
--Wolfgang is great on bass but everyone missed Michael Anthony and especially his vocals

Its great to hear that the band is tight as shit and Eddie seems together. I guess the proof in the pudding will be the new album. Does VH have any creative fire in its tank? We'll soon find out: the new album is out next month!

I am sure loads of clips from the gig last night will emerge. Here are a few already:

New song "She's A Woman" debuted:

Here is a cool one. Who knew Dave played guitar?

and this is the whole of Panama:

Sounds great guys!

By the way, here is the original Gene Simmons-produced demo of She's the Woman from 1976:

Here is the setlist according to

1. You Really Got Me
2. Runnin’ With The Devil
3. Somebody Get Me A Doctor
4. Everybody Wants Some
5. She’s The Woman
6. Dance The Night Away
7. Panama
8. Hot For Teacher
9. Ice Cream Man
10. Ain’t Talkin Bout Love
11. Jump

According to ClassicRock:

During the show Roth namechecked some of the stars who have played the Cafe Wha? in the past – Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix among them – and told the audience: “I’m more nervous about this gig than I would ever be in Madison Square Garden”. And among the celebs in the audience was tennis legend John McEnroe, who’s always loved to throw guitar hero shapes.

The band start touring in North America on February 18 in Louisville, Kentucky. The dates so far stretch to June 26 in New Orleans, with tickets on sale from Tuesday, January 10. So far, there’s no hint of any shows outside of the States and Canada.

Check out the full list of dates here. Bizarrely, Kool And The Gang are said to be supporting on selected shows!

Also, according to the Van Halen News Desk, the band’s new single, Tattoo, will premiere on January 10, along with the official video.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy Birthday John Paul Jones, George Martin

I don't usually do these happy birthday posts but these two guys undoubtedly changed the course of music, with The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

I have never seen or met Beatles producer George Martin, but was able to ogle JPJ a couple of years ago when Them Crooked Vultures blew our tiny little Portlandia minds at a mid-sized club called The Roseland.

If you want to see what JPJ added to the 'heavy' of Zeppelin's heavy metal, look no further than this from 1999:

And here is a great video of George Martin going over how he and the Beatles recorded A Day In The Life:

John Paul Jones is now 66, and George Martin just hit 86.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Van Halen to Tour in 2012

A few days ago Van Halen posted a teaser video on the band's website. It was basically a two minute clip of some songs from the 1984 album with black and white video of the guys going through the motions, with scrolling text that the band will tour North America in 2012, and that the first tickets will go on sale as early as January 10.

A second item showed up on the Roxy's official website saying that the band has been rehearsing in secret at the L.A. club for two months. This was a cool inside scoop 'official leak' with a few posts from Roxy personnel.

See the whole thing here, but here is the scoop and a photo:

For the past 2 months VAN HALEN has been rehearsing here 2-3 times a week!!!!!!

Do you have any idea how hard that was to not tell you??

When you come in at 10:00AM and David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, and Wolfgang Van Halen are on stage with 3 other people in the room playing “Running With The Devil” and you can’t say anything?! It’s tough, to put it simply.

It all began with a 3 day video shoot for their newest single that you don’t know about yet (shhh) and we were all geeking out like never before. Little did we know, the guys had fallen in love with the room and decided to rehearse for their upcoming unannounced tour for the next 2 months!

We couldn’t film it for obvious reasons, so we’ve decided to share some of our favorite VH moments that happened for the next 2 months.

I am not sure if I will bother with this. If they hit Portland and the tickets are cheap, maybe. But wouldn't it be great if the band's new album - supposedly hitting also in 2012 - is actually good? That would be a big surprise and would put these guys on top again. Everyone loves the rags to riches to rags to riches. In my opinion, VH is now an underdog with low-assed expectations so they can only go up from here.