Sunday, December 7, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW - Pink Floyd: The Endless River




This review of Pink Floyd's The Endless River is being posted nearly a month after the album's release. While that's not exactly the sort of thing that record labels and publicists like to see, rest assured that the gap between the album's premiere and this piece was intentional. Simply put, I needed time to live this album before writing about it. A band with a nearly 50-year history unveiling their first new music in a generation is something that warrants a high level of contemplation. We're not talking about a random band shooting out a clump of tunes here; we're talking about the self-proclaimed “final” album by one of the most innovative and influential groups in music history. While the Web was immediately filled with knee-jerk reactions to the album once it hit retailers (with some reviews being especially vitriolic), it is important to note that this is a Pink Floyd album. One can't possibly “get” an entire album experience by this band in a single sitting. In an era of Mp3 instant gratification and the supposed death of the LP format, here comes Floyd to give us an album that we actually have to stop and listen to all the way through to understand and appreciate. The bastards!

Of course, the structure of The Endless River isn't the only thing about the album that makes us think of the past. Pink Floyd's previous album was released in 1994 – and a helluva lot has happened since then. Sadly, in the case of Pink Floyd, the decades that followed the release of '94's The Division Bell have seen the band face the painful truth of mortality. Syd Barrett, the band's original sonic genius whose much-chronicled mental health issues resulted in years of seclusion after his 1968 departure from the band, died in 2006. Two years later, fellow original member Richard Wright succumbed to cancer. And although Hell froze over long enough to see long-estranged bassist/vocalist Roger Waters rejoin his former cohorts for a brief performance at Live 8 in 2005, this fleeting reunion was never meant to last. Considering how cruel the hands of time have been to these men in the last two decades, a new Pink Floyd album was the last thing anyone expected to receive in 2014.

But here we are.

Before this review goes anywhere else, let's address what has quickly become the primary bone of contention among some fans and critics regarding this album. Yes, the foundation for The Endless River was built on hours of unused instrumental recordings from the Division Bell sessions. (The various photos from the 1993 sessions found in the hardback digibook edition serve to drive home this fact.) Yes, these mostly instrumental recordings were eventually whittled down to an album's worth of material with the help of a trio of producers (Andy Jackson, Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, Killing Joke's Youth). Yes, some additional instrumentation and vocals were added to 20-year-old sounds to give the proceedings a more complete feel. Yes, the Pink Floyd left standing to finish The Endless River is one original member (drummer Nick Mason) and the man who replaced Syd Barrett (guitarist/singer David Gilmour). Are fans really supposed to accept this thing as a legitimate Pink Floyd album?

Yes. The Endless River is a true and deeply important addition to the Pink Floyd discography. And the reason for that comes down to one person: Richard Wright.

With The Endless River, Pink Floyd have finally – and gracefully– righted one of the greatest wrongs in their history. Completely absent from 1983's The Final Cut and reduced to sideman status after his return for 1987's Waters-less A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, Wright would finally regain his full standing in Pink Floyd for The Division Bell. With Wright's presence in the band fully restored by the time of his passing, it is appropriate that Gilmour and Mason chose to use material already featuring the man (including a piece recorded all the way back in 1968) instead of recording an entirely new album without him. By building The Endess River around Wright's invaluable contributions, the surviving duo have succeeding in confirming and celebrating the keyboardist's importance to the band's longstanding magic. After getting short shrift for much of his tenure, Wright is posthumously given the spotlight he so richly deserved. Simply put, anything new released under the Pink Floyd name without him would be a crime. (And as far as the complaints regarding Waters' absence from The Endless River are concerned, consider the fact that an entire generation of music fans – this writer included – were kids when Waters split. The first time many of us heard of Pink Floyd was when we saw the “Learning To Fly” video on MTV in 1987. We're used to Roger not being there. It's fine.)

While The Endless River is not the greatest Pink Floyd album ever released, it is certainly the most cohesive and adventurous collection of music they're produced since The Wall. Far from a mere collection of Division Bell castaways, the album offers an array of moments that meet or even far exceed the quality of that release. Presented as 18 tracks spread over four sides (which each side representing a complete piece), the album starts at a meditative place. Mellow album opener “Things Left Unsaid” conjures The Orb before flowing into “It's What We Do,” which introduces Gilmour’s trademark pristine soloing to the album. Side A closes with the soothing “Ebb And Flow.”

The adrenalin kicks in considerably on Side Two, which finds Mason showcasing a percussive fury more powerful than anything he delivered on The Division Bell. When the drummer lets loose on “Skins,” the tribal-flavored results are sensational. Without even reading the liner notes, you just know that this track involved Youth (who unsurprisingly receives a performance credit on the track for “effects”). The album's second piece closes with the urgent Wright composition “Unsung” and the soaring “Anisina,” a number made all the more beautiful thanks to Gilad Atzmon's tenor saxophone.

The Endless River loses it way a bit on Side Three – the piece on the album most glaringly derived from disparate musical fragments. While the content on this side is often fascinating (especially the Wright-penned “The Lost Art Of Conversation” and “Autumn '68”), it is also frustratingly brief. For example, “On Noodle Street” shows tremendous promise (highlighted by the sterling bass playing of longtime Floyd associate Guy Pratt) before disappearing after a mere 1:42. Naturally, the side's longest number,“Talkin' Hawkin'” (featuring a guest vocal turn by the legendary physicist and author himself) actually feels like a complete, coherent song – a feat accentuated by the soulful backing vocals by Youth's one-time Blue Pearl collaborator, Durka McBroom.

While Side Three is jumbled, Side Four is sublime. The uplifting “Calling” leads into the exceptional “Eyes To Pearls,” which finds a Nick Mason/Andy Jackson rhythm section delivering just the right amount of tension to add intriguing color. “Surfacing” is Gilmour's Endless River masterpiece, showcasing the same effortless grace that has defined his playing for decades. Pink Floyd wrap up The Endless River – and, presumably, their career – with “Louder Than Words,” which finds the album's sole lead vocals (sung by Gilmour, with lyrics by his wife Polly Samson) paying tribute to the band itself:

It's louder than words
This thing that we do
Louder than words
The way it unfurls

It's louder than words
The sum of our parts
The beat of our hearts
Is louder than words

Inspired by an absent friend, The Endless River takes us on one final trip through the creative minds of a unique combination of players and songwriters that left an indelible mark on the world of music. If this is indeed the end, this album is an extraordinary way for Pink Floyd's light to go out.


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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Renaissance Shines a Light in Natick


Photo by Esa Ahola 


As previously discussed on this site, longtime Renaissance singer Annie Haslam is a true survivor. Despite a recent half-decade of considerable setbacks (including the 2012 passing of guitarist Michael Dunford and ongoing personal health issues), Haslam remains determined to keep the group going after resurrecting the Renaissance name for a 40th Anniversary tour in 2009. As already evident of this year's extraordinary Symphony of Light album and made abundantly clear at the group's sterling October 30 performance at The Center for Arts in Natick, Haslam's talents and strengths are unshakable.

With past Renaissance keyboardist Tom Brislin (Yes/Meat Loaf) sitting in for current member Jason Hart, the band delivered an effortless overview of Renaissance’s best work, ranging from classics like “Mother Russia” and “Ashes Are Burning” to material from Symphony of Light. As strong as Haslam's unmistakable five-octave range was throughout the evening, her finest moments came when taking on new songs like “Symphony of Light, Waterfall” and “Grandine il Vento.” With good-natured between-song banter and onstage smiles throughout the evening, it was obvious that the current incarnation of Renaissance enjoys delivering this music to live audiences. Although Renaissance may not be a household name in the states, the members of their loyal following who gathered in Natick to take in the band's rich sounds were treated to an unforgettable experience.


Very few artists strive to top themselves after nearly 40 years in the business. In Annie Haslam, we see – and hear – an artist producing and performing her strongest work in the present tense.  


Renaissance and Annie Haslam online:


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Friday, November 14, 2014

"Hollywood Has It Wrong:" Uncovering the Truths of Voodoo with "Bight of the Twin"


(Author's note: Please check out my recent chat with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and watch the video below to put the following article in a proper context.)





When was the last time you read about an interesting movie or play and decided to hop in your car and experience the event for yourself? Now, when was the last time you read about an intriguing culture in a different part of the world and jumped in a plane with a film crew – especially with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge in tow - to check it out without knowing what would happen? There are very few people who would be so daring, but Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker Hazel Hill McCarthy III is one of them.

Hazel's friendship with Genesis dates back to 2009, when she was introduced to h/er by Kelly McKay of Swoon Magazine. The two instantly hit it off; before long, Hazel was doing design work on Gen's book Thee Psychick Bible (Feral House), and Gen was appearing at Hazel's popular performance space Show Cave. Fast-forward a few years, and Hazel finds herself inspired to see the Vodun Festival in Ouidah, Benin in West Africa after reading about it in The Guardian. She invites Gen to take the trip with her. A small crew is assembled. Airline tickets are booked for January 2014. Nobody really knows what is about to transpire as the first plane leaves the runaway. And then...they're off.

Let all of this sink in for just a moment. Here is a film crew packing up and heading to a part of the world that they knew very little about – and to a community that knows nothing about them - all for the purposes of investigating a controversial religion. And with Genesis – a pandrogynous Caucasian with blonde-dyed hair and gold teeth – along for the ride. Still, it all made perfect sense to Hazel.

“I had to remind myself multiple times that Genesis was different,” she offers. “I'm not saying that in a fanatic way or a repulsive way, but you kind of forget the facade – the outer shell, if you will...I think something that really attracted me to Genesis was actually being able to look at yourself with faults, being able to take changes and being able to be vulnerable. For some reason, with the life's work that Genesis has really embodied as a transformative cultural artifact, I just thought it would really interesting to examine that further in what seemed to be the most bizarre culture fit, but at the same time the most fitting culture fit. Voodoo is something that can be really looked at in a myriad of ways. The only way to fully experience it is with somebody who kind of lives that activation and that type of wonderment and spectacle...It feels right when I'm working with Genesis to kind of take a stab in the dark, but with the gut feeling that this stab in the dark is going to be something with some sort of purpose and a bigger message that we won't fully realize until we physically experience it.”

Fortunately, the chance paid off, with the people of Benin welcoming the crew with open arms.

“Everyone we met was really open, loving and accepting,” Hazel says. “They didn't acknowledge, 'Oh, you are different.' We bypassed that; we were people. 'Yes, you're white, but you're just like anybody else.' I think that was the most shocking part of the trip. We literally fell into place there.”


Photo courtesy of www.bightofthetwin.com


Although most Americans live in a Web-connected age with plenty of information, Voodoo is still a very esoteric – and, for many, a downright frightening – subject. After all, “Voodoo” is about gore, violence and exploring the “dark side,” right? So why would Genesis call it a “religion of kindness” when we spoke about the project earlier this year? What are the real truths about Voodoo that a vast number of people in our culture seem to be missing? Bight Of The Twin will provide the answer to these questions.

“Specifically in Ouidah, the practitioners of Voodoo live a very coexistent life with other religions,” Hazel explains. “There's the Basilica [of the Immaculate Conception of Mary] in the main quarter, right next to The Python Temple, and a mosque is just another road behind. When they have actual functions and festivals, they allow all different religions to partake in it. Sometimes, practitioners of Voodoo are also Muslim and Christian. I hope to show through this film that Hollywood has it wrong.”

Two months ago, the crew made a second trip to Benin to continue filming. By then, flying to West Africa had become not only an adventure, but also a potential health risk as word of an ebola outbreak hit the world news.

“We had planned on going with a crew of six, including Gen,” Hazel recalls. “Two of the people who hadn't gone on the first trip pulled out before we left. They had major concerns with their own health and the risk of getting ebola.”

Despite the danger, the remaining crew soldiered on, seizing the opportunity to capture more footage for the film. In the spirit of repaying the hospitality of their hosts, the crew donated funds towards benches and desks for an elementary school in Benin. Not only had the filmmaker and her crew survived the ordeal, but they did what they could help children of Benin thrive.

Naturally, an undertaking like Bight Of The Twin cannot be possible without considerable funding. After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, Hazel recently launched a page on Indiegogo to raise the funds to carry the film to the next stage of production. The campaign had seven days to go at the time of this writing. Hazel is aiming to have the film finalized in the spring, preceded by a rough cut in December.

A film as intriguing as Bight Of The Twin also needs the right kind of soundtrack. Enter Hazel's husband Douglas (best known for his work with Nitzer Ebb and Recoil), who signed on to provide music via DJMREX, his current project with LA electronic music vet Cyrusrex. Taking isolated sounds taken from field recordings in Benin, Douglas and Cyrusrex used modular synths to create unique musical accompaniments. Along the way, frequent Skinny Puppy collaborator Ken "Hiwatt" Marshall joined the team to help with the sound design and music production. The resultant music is nowhere close to what one might expect when considering a soundtrack to a movie based in West Africa.

“Given that it was a subject matter filmed in Africa, we wanted to keep clear of a kind of cliched combination of National Geographic and Paul Simon,” Douglas says.

In keeping with the spirit of the film, this music will be utilized in unexpected ways. For example, some of the film's more in-your-face moments could very well end up with soothing sounds in the background.

“There will be very intimate sacrifices [in the film]...Things will get really intense,” Hazel reveals. “When there's that intensity, the last thing you want is some jarring music that is just overpowering the image. Then it just becomes this flatline nothing; you're not really sure what to hold your attention to. So the idea is to really juxtapose the music with the imagery.”

Of course, this isn't the first time Douglas has been involved with a P-Orridge-related project. His first experience creating music around h/er happened in the mid '90s – even if he didn't know it at the time. At the urging of his friend Mary Byker (Gaye Bykers On Acid/Apollo 44), Douglas hit the stage and sang at a Pigface show at Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit. He would be reminded of this event years later.

“As I got to know Gen after Hazel had worked on the book, we were in LA swapping stories,” he recalls. “We were talking about the Detroit show. It was difficult to tell because Pigface had about 12 people onstage – and nobody was particularly coherent or especially sober - [but] we were actually on the stage together! Without knowing it, we had performed with one another.”

For Douglas, some of the most “intimate and emotionally charged events” surrounding the Benin journey involved the ceremonies where Genesis reconnected with Lady Jaye. For these “visibly raw” moments, the crew was reduced to just Douglas and Hazel. What they captured was a deeply personal chapter in the ever-evolving narrative of P-Orridge's existence.

“Gen is coming to the end of h/er life story,” Hazel says. “There's been so much baggage and non-resolution. If you see her life pattern, things have been very much on the fringe of society...I think this documentary is looking less at trying to glorify Genesis, but take the human condition that we all have and kind of amplify it through h/er experience in Ouidah. It's a little like a fish-out-of-water story, but fundamentally it's h/er experiencing something that s/he's been practicing. This isn't a fluff piece about someone of greatness at accomplishing life figuring out the origins of Voodoo in the one month in total that we spent there, and this isn't proposing to understand Voodoo. It's just trying to understand the human condition through this really interesting experience.”


Photo courtesy of www.bightofthetwin.com

Humbled by his travels in Benin, Douglas has learned to see things like flight delays and other inconveniences for what they truly are – first-world problems at a time when so many in other parts of the world have so little.

“I remember coming back from LAX to our home and just being kind of shocked at how much concrete there was, and how many people and cars there were,” he says. “We had only been away for two weeks...It really does affect you that deeply.”

“There's a closed-mindedness in the West that you don't feel when you go to Benin,” adds Hazel.

Above all, Bight Of The Twin will showcase a brilliant example of what is possible when inquisitive people leave the comfort of their surroundings to explore elements of humanity that are simply unattainable with a Mac.

As Hazel says, “There's still stuff out there, and [this project] kind of takes the chance of stepping away from your computer to find those things and really, fully experience them.”







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Sunday, November 2, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW - Sonny Vincent & Spite: Spiteful





Supergroups can be tricky. Too often, the lofty expectations generated by the names listed on the album cover are decimated once the lukewarm reality of the album's music greets the understandably bummed listener. For one reason or another, projects of this nature tend to highlight the lowest common denominator of each individual contributor when they should reflect the very best that each musician has to offer. Simply put, far too many “supergroups” whimper when they should wail. (I don't need to name names; just look at your record collection and you’ll see that I'm right.)

Where does Sonny Vincent & Spite's Spiteful fit into all of this? First, let's have a look at the cast of characters. Of course, there's Vincent, New York Punk veteran and legendary Testors frontman, on vocals and guitar. On bass, we have Glen Matlock from The Sex Pistols. The drumming is handled by none other than the great Rat Scabies of The Damned. And then things go way over the top...On saxophone, Steve Mackay from the mighty Stooges.

Let that sink in...We have a singer/guitarist who's been at this game for a good 35 years, the guy who wrote “Pretty Vacant on bass, the original drummer from one of history's greatest bands and a guy who played on Fun House. This is some serious, serious business – enough to make one reluctant to actually play the record out of fear of having his or her incredibly high hopes dashed. Thankfully, Spiteful will go down in history as one of the very few occasions where something like this absolutely works.

Blazing out of the gate with the all-out “Dog On The Subway” and wrapping up with the deceptively calm “Clouds,” Spiteful doesn't let up for a second. Boasting 14 tracks in under 35 minutes (perfect!), the album showcases some of the strongest, no-fucking-around Rock music committed to disc in decades. Shades of L.A.M.F., Blank Generation and Young, Loud And Snotty abound, while Vincent and Co. have more than enough spark in them to give latter-day Punk Rock 'N' Rollers a guide to doing it right. Highlights include the raucous, dirty Blues of “Silver,” the Mackay freakout on “Thief Of Words” and the sterling love song “Now That I Have You.”

In a world of literally thousands of “Punk” bands, it takes a bunch of middle aged guys to plug in and peel the paint off the walls to remind us of what the real deal is all about. There are guys who can play it, and there are guys who are it. Give Spiteful a listen to immediately recognize the difference.

(Note: This review is based on the track listing on the promo CD provided to the author. The tracks and song order referenced above might be different on the final commercial release.)


The behind-the-scenes story of the making of Spiteful is available HERE.  



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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From THE PROCESS to Praxis: Inside M.O.D. Technologies

Checking out a release by the New York-based label M.O.D. Technologies is like going to musicology class. Without fail, the credits offer a previously unfamiliar name (or five) of an artist with a history worth exploring. The label is not set out to build a discography based on genre; the goal is much bigger than that. M.O.D. is about fostering an entirely new world of sound based on experimental collaborations between unexpected (and incredibly enticing) combinations of disparate musicians. But what do you expect from a label fueled by Bill Laswell? Here is an overview of the label's most recent releases.


THE PROCESS


Take three masters of their craft, drop them in a recording studio for three days and see what happens. This was the plan behind The Process, which finds Laswell joining forces with Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and visionary pianist John Batiste. Naturally, the results are extraordinary. From the stunning bass-drum interplay on “Drop Away” (featuring Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio on vocals) to the Krautrock vibe of “Black Arc,” The Process effortlessly shows that these musicians were meant to create music together. The album's greatest strength is found in its subtlety: Instead of flashy drum solos or other outlandish displays of musical prowess, the trio goes for groove over gloss. These players serve the song, not their own spotlights. A good example of this can be heard on “Time Falls,” where all three musicians (plus Dominic James on guest guitar) are playing at their peak without getting in each other's way. The Process is not just a great listen; it's an intense study of how musicians can instinctively (perhaps telepathically) communicate with each other to create magic.


M.O.D. Digital: The Incunabula Series
Below is an overview of the first six releases in The Incunabula Series by M.O.D. Digital. Many of these recordings were culled from Laswell's residency at The Stone in April.


Praxis & Rammellzee: In Times Of Horror



Along with PainKiller and Bladerunner, the mighty Praxis is Laswell's escape into unadulterated noise. Featuring late NYC performance artist Rammallzee, “In Times Of Horror” is an amped-up version of the already-insane 1991 track “Stronghold” (from the Sacrifist album) made even more menacing than the original thanks to horror-monster vocals and the paint-peeling saxophone onslaught of the incomparable John Zorn.

Bill Laswell & DJ Krush: Shuen


The perfect antidote to the Praxis acid bath, “Shuen” pairs Laswell and Japanese Hip Hop producer DJ Krush for a sedate, 10-minute chill soundtrack that manages to keep the waters calm even as crazed drums kick in along the way.

Method Of Defiance: Phantom Sound Clash Cut-Up Method: One




While it would be impossible for M.O.D. Technologies to put together a label sampler in the course of one song, Method of Defiance's 38-minute “Nebuchadnezzar” certainly comes close. The track's stunning list of contributors speaks for itself: Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrell, Dr. Israel, Garrison Hawk, Gambian musician/composer Foday Musa Suso, percussionist Adam Rudolph, trumpeter Graham Haynes, Peter Apfelbaum, absolutely stellar drummer Guy Licata...need I say more?

Bernie Worrell: Phantom Sound Clash Cut-Up Method: Two



As discussed elsewhere on this site, Bernie Worrell is America's greatest living musician. Described by the label as “classic sound/mush up,” the 49–minute “Purple World” finds Worrell beginning and ending with a quiet piano – with a galaxy's worth of spaced-out Funk and percussion in between. Recorded at The Stone, “Purple World” features Laswell, Rudolph, Dr. Israel and Grandmaster DXT. A Bernie Worrell live experience is a journey; you never quite know where he's going to take you, but you know the trip will be unlike anything else you've ever experienced. “Purple World” is no exception. Beyond essential.

Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: The Stone (Back in No Time)



Another recording culled from Laswell's Stone residency, “Back In No Time” features the bassist and drummer Milford Graves taking a free-form musical conversation to the 40–minute mark. Although the song's unstructured nature (imagine a sax-less PainKiller) might be too much for some ears, those who stick around for the ride will be rewarded with a recording that offers new things to uncover with every listen.


Wadada Leo Smith & Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation)



Pairing Laswell with the brilliant Wadada Leo Smith, the 38-minute “Akashic Meditation” offers the kind of mellow sonic noir one might hear playing in the background in a David Lynch film. When it gets noisy, the track delivers shades of Throbbing Gristle's Heathen Earth. The perfect soundtrack for a midnight stroll in a cold, mysterious city.

Happy listening – and be sure to Google those names listed in the credits.

Al of these releases are available to purchase HERE.  

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW - Mike Hudson & The Pagans: Hollywood High




When you get right down to it, legendary writer/Pagans frontman Mike Hudson didn't need to do a goddamn thing after releasing the “Street Where Nobody Lives / What's This Shit Called Love?” single with The Pagans in 1978. As perfect as anything off Raw Power, this two-sided gem easily secured Hudson's place in history, making everything (records, books, articles, etc.) he has blessed us with in the ensuing decades icing on the cake. Not only is Hudson still creating, but Hollywood High proves that hasn't lost the spark that made his early work so incendiary.

Backed by a supergroup including members of Detroit/Los Angeles veterans The Dogs (whose Loren Molinare produced the album), Keith Christopher of The Georgia Satellites and even former Dio/Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain, Hudson and his raspy, world-worn voice deliver an eight-song, 33-minute blast of energy that reminds listeners of what the real deal sounds like. This ain't Mall Punk, kids - this is real, filthy-barroom-at-1am-with-a-full-ashtray kinda shit. If The Dead Boys had kept their act together long enough to do a third album, it would have sounded like Hollywood High. (Appropriately enough, Hudson and Co. even kick out a cover of “Detention Home.”)

The album's many highlights include the riotous “I Just Got Up,” a harmonica-fueled cover of Son House's “Death Letter” and a new version of The Pagans' “'(Us and) All Our Friends Are So Messed Up.” The album's undeniable centerpiece, “Fame Whore,” finds Hudson delivering a spoken word piece – full of sex, blood, sweat, scratched skin and other nasty human things – over an eight-minute music jam.

Hudson says that Hollywood High was inspired by his turbulent relationship with muse Evita Corby, best known for her sexy-as-hell shot on the back cover of the Kill City album by Iggy Pop and James Williamson (and visually represented on Hollywood High courtesy of a vintage cover shot taken by the late Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy). If this album is any indication, she's one hell of a lady.

Hollywood High is out November 4 on Ruin Discos.
  
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ALBUM REVIEW - Mike LePond's Silent Assassins





Listening to Mike LePond's Silent Assassins is a bit of a homecoming for me. As a Metal fan growing up in New Jersey in the 1990s, it was impossible to ignore Symphony X and Non-Fiction, two groups that offered powerful – if differing – examples of just how vital the Garden State was to the underground scene during that time. While Symphony X was progressive in musical focus, Non Fiction was moody and brooding. Combine the best elements of both acts, and you have the nine songs that comprise this album.

Conceived as a solo project by Symphony X member Mike LePond, Silent Assassins features the renowned bassist alongside former Non-Fiction vocalist Alan Tecchio (also known for his work in Hades, Seven Witches and Watchtower), Symphony X bandmate Michael Romeo on guitar and drum programming and fellow New Jersey six-stringer “Metal” Mike Chlasciak (Halford, Testament). If you're familiar with these musicians, you already know what to expect with Mike LePond's Silent Assassins. If this is your initiation, rest assured that this album is true Metal of the highest possible degree.

Bursting through the speakers like a modern-day version of Judas Priest's Painkiller, Mike LePond's Silent Assassins holds nothing back. From the expectedly high-caliber musicianship to the flawless production (is that really a drum machine?), every second of this album delivers. The instrumentation is showy without being arrogant, while the album's lyrics (including the King Arthur-themed “The Quest”) remain epic without surrendering to the overblown pretentiousness that often hinders the genre. And after nearly three decades in the game, Tecchio offers perhaps his strongest vocal performance yet. Take a listen to “The Progeny,” “Ragnarok” or “Silent Assassins,” and you'll hear why he still stands as one of the most durable and dependable voices in Metal.

Simply put, anyone who loves this style of music can't go wrong with this thing.

But hey, of course it's good. It's from Jersey.  


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