To The Extreme

I’ve worked through a fair bit of my earlier memories in terms of music in earlier posts. These “memories” posts are piling up now so I won’t back-reference every one, but the “Memories” tab in Categories on the sidebar will direct you to any older ones you may wish to peruse. For today, I’ll pick back up in the early 1990’s and get into the really heavy shit, as the title suggests.

Even as I was taking in everything in 1991 I was presented with even heavier sounds. I first hit on Sepultura back then and also picked up Slayer right around that time. As my classmates and friends were pouring obsessively over the Black Album day and night I was discovering German thrash like Kreator and Destruction.

I kept wanting to push the envelope. I got bored shitless with the Black Album and with Metallica in general after 1991. All of my friends were still playing it over and over again. They released a live box set in late 1993 and everyone would play it, even skipping over the older songs to hear the same selection of Black Album tracks. Like come on, man.

Well, all of my friends except one. One dude, a few years older than me, had a monstrous CD and tape collection. His coffers were stuffed to the brim with every kind of rock and metal you can think of, including a fair bit of stuff a lot of people had never heard of. Finally one day I left his house with a selection of tapes to check out and see if I was ready for the heaviest of the heavy.

The stuff I borrowed was a who’s who of early 90’s death metal – Morbid Angel, Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Deicide. It all hit like a ton of bricks for me. It was a whole other level from what I’d been listening to – this was heavy as literal Hell, aggressive, mean, blasphemous, evil, the whole nine yards.

I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with this stuff. Like I said, I’d heard Sepultura, which were not far removed from many of their Roadrunner label-mates. I also very vaguely remember Kurt Loder reporting on MTV News that a Florida band named Obituary had won a battle of the bands thing, probably just before they hit with their debut Slowly We Rot. But that was before I took the plunge – it was just a tidbit I have this recollection of when I was still forming my musical tastes.

I copied off all the tapes my buddy had given me and I went quickly further underground. I didn’t stop with the top-shelf of death metal. I found mail-order forms for Relapse Records, Nuclear Blast and other underground distributors and I went whole hog into it.

My first order from Relapse was for two bands – Incantation and Amorphis. I got Incantation’s debut album Onward To Golgotha and from Amorphis The Karelian Isthmus. I also ordered a few 7-inch records of each band as well as an Amorphis EP on tape. Those two albums would have a huge impact on me and are still massively important to me to this day. Incantation would remain a staple of my death metal diet while Amorphis would move in directions beyond the scope of my taste, but both were huge parts of my early days of this extreme metal exploration.

Other stuff would come. Pungent Stench was a favorite of all of us dumb, bored teenage boys. Hypocrisy would capture our attention. They would be one of the few to endure into the late 90’s, when many of these bands would fall by the wayside. But many others were abundant – Carcass, Bolt Thrower, Vader, Kataklysm, Pestilence, Asphyx, Gorefest … shit, this list could go on for hours. There were so many worthy bands cranking out badass shit in the early ’90’s underground scene. I was in hook, line and sinker.

One that really stood out to me was Suffocation. There’s a joke about the -tion bands, one that Carcass even clowned on in a song off their 2013 reunion album Surgical Steel in the song Thrasher’s Abbatior.

But Suffocation? That shit was real. This intersection between brutality and technicality was unparalleled at a time when bands were often finding their sound in one space or another. Their influence on death metal afterwards was as sweeping as their arpeggios. Brutal death metal, technical death metal, slam, core, whatever you do today – your ass owes a debt to Suffocation. For me, and for many others, they stand as the masters of the craft.

Death metal would come quickly and not always from the U.S. Sweden got into the game in a big way, leading a few charges that would shape the extreme metal landscape forever. The first wave would emerge from Stockholm, with Grave, Dismember and Entombed providing headache-inducing soundtracks shaped in large part by the Boss HM2 guitar pedal. That disgusting tone coupled with nihilistic lyrics and a buzzsaw edge would have its own profound mark on the scene as a whole and especially on my ears.

Then the second Swedish wave came from their second biggest city. The Gothenburg Sound pioneered by At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, The Crown and … yes, Great Britain’s Carcass, would lay a foundation used to this day by kids who weren’t even alive when we were listening to this shit. A more melodic, thrash-based approach that owed equally to Slayer and Iron Maiden would give younger metalheads plenty of homework to do in the coming decades.

This is where I was in the early and mid 1990’s. I was on the vanguard of heavy metal’s most extreme movement to date. But just as I found all of this, something else was going on.

It wasn’t just the music – we had to find this shit through the underground. Tape trading was big, but who did you trade tapes with? You had to find people to do that with. And I quickly got into more stuff from Europe, the American scene was pretty easy to buy at a music store. Even the piss ant “metropolis” of Rolla, Missouri had a CD shop in 1994 and they would gladly order me whatever I wanted. But getting a hold of some stuff wasn’t possible through conventional music distribution means.

The information currency just before the advent of the Internet was called the ‘zine. It was a magazine, just in a Kinko’s (now FedEx Office) mass-printed form. Most ‘zines were truly passion projects copied off in office stores and mailed to rabid metal fans.

I got a bit lucky, though. I grew up not far from St. Louis and a very professional ‘zine came from a die-hard metalhead in the area. Sounds Of Death was published for a few years in the mid-90’s , at the exact same time I was getting into this scene. SOD was a far superior publication to the Kinko’s-printed staple-in-the-top-left ‘zine – it was a full magazine, with a brutal cover and a ton of content within.

I remember that the main honcho of SOD had a huge hate hard-on for My Dying Bride. I would crack up when he would review them. Years later I would get into MDB’s stuff but back then that caustic kind of review struck a chord with me. But the content wasn’t all negative – he had plenty good to say about the most brutal offerings of the day.

I’d end my high school “career” still being very hard into death metal, even as I still entertained other scenes, like the burgeoning alternative radio rock that came of age in 1995. My musical adventures would go in a whole other direction, a much more tourist-oriented state as I grew into adulthood and cared about a lot of things other than having some diehard metal collection. I’d develop this recurring theme of watching what I got into being left behind, just as I watched hair metal perish in 1991 and as I watched death metal suffer in the late 1990’s. A future post about my forays into alternative rock and being more of a music tourist, which thankfully covers an 11-year period of my musical formation and can be summed up rather briefly, is on the horizon.

But there is one other strain of extreme metal to talk about. It’s one that jumps years for me and one I didn’t initially take to. It, for me and many like me, started with the crazy story of betrayal and murder I first saw covered in the pages of Sounds Of Death and elsewhere in 1994. And it is also another story for another time.

I remember when I first got into metal in 1990 – more like Ozzy, Megadeth, Metallica, and the like – my family would go on about how it was “just a phase.” I think that’s been a theme with more than one person in my life over the decades since. It’s something that would go away, to be replaced by figuring out how to put meals on the table for kids, family functions, the mundane yet profound aspects of life that would come as people truly grew up. What I found in extreme metal was just a thing to fill a hole – other stuff would supersede it as time wore on, at least in the eyes of others.

Well folks, this phase is now almost 30 years strong. And, just like many who put food on tables, who go to piano recitals and soccer games, Carcass and Morbid Angel are the soundtrack along the way. I myself may not have kids and other grandiose stuff to do, which just gave me more time to explore the various strains of underground metal that would come.

But I know plenty of people who do have families, businesses and careers, and many of these people would be the same people I’d see at death metal shows and other extreme metal shows over the ensuing decades. I know me and many like me who have lived this phase for 30 years, 40 years. And today it keeps going – kids are still throwing down, looking for the heaviest, harshest sounds they can find. It doesn’t end. Metal just keeps going, and still keeps mutating into new forms. It often now joins with other lesser explored genres of rock to shape new sounds for the coming age.

I’ll see this phase through to my end complete. Extreme metal was, and is, something that could be shared between the few – it turns off the normies, the Karens, the suburban couples walking their dogs on multi-use trails as I fly by them on my bicycle with Bolt Thrower blaring from my Bluetooth speaker. But those of us who get it? Yeah, this shit is for life. And it isn’t to be explained – you either get it, or you don’t. And I think plenty of people today still get it just fine.

Album Of The Week – September 27, 2021

Sometimes I don’t get to things right away in music. Ok, sometimes I don’t get to things right away at all. But hey, this is about the music so let’s keep on topic.

I’ve often been very guilty of not checking things out in a timely fashion. It is easier than ever to explore unheard artists through streaming platforms, YouTube, etc. And social media offers more music recommendations than a person could ever really keep up with.

And maybe that’s the problem – there’s too much. Too many artists, too many scenes, too much information. It is a problem in this day and age and it has some pretty brutal consequences sometimes. But again, this is just about the music, I’m not gonna deep-dive on some philosophical tangent about society.

Anyway, I’ve seen the name Emma Ruth Rundle around for a few years, I guess since the album I’m about to discuss came out. I first actually heard her in 2020 on her collaboration album with sludge lords Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full. I thought that was pretty cool stuff but 2020 was a psycho year for me and I didn’t have a lot of spare time to explore ERR any further.

Then earlier this year I finally found myself blessed with some spare time and a willingness to explore more artists that I hadn’t been in the right space to give a chance to previously. I drifted over to Spotify, saw the kind of cute/funny cover to this album, and pushed play.

Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses

Released September 14, 2018 via Sargent House Records

Favorite Tracks – Dead Set Eyes, Darkhorse, Fever Dreams

Holy shit, man. Holy shit.

I’ve had several landmark moments of artist and album discovery in the past. But I’ll be honest – I thought those days were behind me. I’ve heard plenty of awesome stuff over the past years but I haven’t really been hit by an album since 2007. I had figured those days were behind me and I was just going to drift along until oblivion on a nostalgia kick, as though the magic was dead and my golden age was over.

But nah, here I am again.

On Dark Horses is an absolute masterpiece. The sometimes harrowing, other times triumphant lyrics wrapped in a light/harsh contrast study soundscape is just a whole other world of music than what I normally listen to. This is definitely its own thing and exists purely outside most musical descriptors, well, besides stuff like amazing or spectacular.

For this week I’m going to take the album track-by-track, that’s a little easier for me when tackling something I’ve come into more recently.

Fever Dreams

The album opener just goes straight into how things are going to be for the next forty minutes. This song sounds exactly like what its title suggests – a fever dream. The music flows with dissonant melody while Emma’s lyrics convey the delirium and loss of reality associated with the subject matter. The song is a standout on an album full of choice songs.


This song lets the music do the talking. The vocals kind of blend in to the battle between noise and light going on with the guitars. It has a shoegaze vibe to it, which would be familiar ground for ERR. But overall it’s a war of sounds that we are all winners in.


One of the album’s highlight cuts, Darkhorse is a steady march toward a powerful, triumphant conclusion. Emma has discussed some of the very personal meaning behind this song in interviews. I’ll leave that sort of stuff alone since I can gather that it’s pretty deep stuff and I’m far too uninformed to offer some opinion on it.

But this song? Yeah it’s stellar. This quasi-title track is an open advertisement for how amazing this whole album is. There are some powerful lyrics in here – “smile like you mean it and just cast the light of Hell right out of here” is a gem of wordsmithing. Unlike the aural assault of Control, Darkhorse’s music contains its power and complements the vocals.


We get to the album’s halfway point with a chill vibe kind of song. I wouldn’t say it meanders but it does drift along toward a celebration of the night. Having been a night owl for a lot of the past 20 years I can dig it. Even now that I’m back in total daywalker mode I can still appreciate what’s going on here. It’s a smooth, gently-flowing tune that helps balance the sometimes heavy shit going on lyrically.

Dead Set Eyes

As for that “sometimes heavy shit,” here it is. Emma has said that this song is about her leaving Los Angeles. Well, I don’t know what happened there but damn it must’ve been big.

This song leapt out at me when I first played the album. Lyrically soul-crushing and sonically monstrous, it’s the perfect song to get a metalhead on board with ERR. It’s my favorite song from the record and honestly just one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, period. Nothing else I write about it will do it any justice.

Light Song

This tune is another slow and steady march on to something. This time it’s a love song and it’s very well done. As the immortal Paris Hilton would say, “that’s hot.”

There are more songs about love than probably any other topic. It’s not my main cup of tea – to be honest, other than 80’s hair metal anthems, I’m not much of a love song guy. Most of my music collection deals with war, death and Satan.

But this is a fantastic opus about being into it with someone. The imagery of going into the water works well with the heavy yet flowing riff. It’s a different take on a love ballad and a very welcome one.

Apathy On The Indiana Border

This track is a more gently rolling musical number, quite atmospheric in nature as the riffs hang in the background. The title would indicate the song is about apathy but the density of some of the lyrics might obfuscate any clear message.

I decided to go straight to the source for this one and pull up a 2020 interview with Kerrang! Magazine where Emma explains the song.

This song took so long to write, and I still kind of hate it! Lyrically, it’s about having the intense presence of apathy following you through your life. It’s about the manifestation of inaction, and not being able to feel or do anything. It still feels somehow unnatural to me when I perform it.

I do get that. Indifference can be a blessing or a curse, depending on circumstance. It’s at times useful but it’s an obstacle and perhaps crippling other times. I’ve had my own dance with that over time and even today I can cop to that being a factor.

As for the song I don’t agree with Emma’s assessment – I think it’s a fantastic tune, gliding along while the opaque lyrical content flows along with it.

You Don’t Have To Cry

This intense album closes on a somber, sweet number that delivers an antidote to some of the heavier stuff conjured earlier in the tracklist. There is a lot going on lyrically which I don’t entirely pick up, but I take the song at face value as a nice way to close out a monster of a record.

On Dark Horses became an instant classic in my music library and has resonated with many people since its 2018 release. I could say that I regret not checking it out when it first hit. But, given the very screwed up nature of the past few years, maybe holding off on it wasn’t the worst idea. It was an album that certainly helped ease the tension of pandemic trauma and political discord ravaging the world today. I certainly can’t complain about having it around when I needed it, that’s for sure.

Of course this album is not Emma’s only one. Exploring her other projects and other solo releases has been an absolute pleasure. And in about a month she will release a new solo album, one with an apparently different style and direction than found here or even elsewhere in her catalog. Even without the benefit of years of hindsight, I can state without reservation that Emma Ruth Rundle is one of the best artists I’ve ever heard.

The Importance Of Being Idle – Will Oasis Ever Reunite?

It’s time to wrap up Oasis week here on The Crooked Wanderer. I’ve enjoyed going through what I have so far, remembering Definitely Maybe and gifting S-Tier status to Don’t Look Back In Anger. I would have loved to write up a discussion of the Knebworth documentary that hit theaters yesterday, but sadly no theater in my town showed it. I’ll give some space to that when I can watch the film and also when the album and concert footage releases in November.

Of course there are many other things to talk about with Oasis. I’ll eventually cover other albums and songs as time goes on. I just wanted to spend a moment with them on the week of the Knebworth release.

But there is a huge elephant in the room when it comes to Oasis and it’s now time to discuss that. Oasis came to an end in 2009 when Noel Gallagher left the band after yet another altercation with his brother, singer Liam Gallagher. Noel would immediately start a solo career, while Liam and the remaining Oasis members briefly toured the ill-fated Beady Eye project. Liam would launch his own successful solo career in the late 2010’s.

The question is pretty simple – will Oasis ever get back together? Reunion tours are big business in music and Oasis has captured a wave of nostalgia in recent years that would set the table for a literal truckload of cash. There are several factors to consider in trying to answer this question.

First of all, Noel and Liam have engaged in a rather bitter sibling rivalry in the decade since Oasis split up. I’m not going to recount specifics but it’s not hard to find examples of the two slagging each other off. The feud has gotten extremely personal at times and it does feel like one of the irreconcilable matters. They really, truly do not like one another.

Secondly, Noel does not show any real inclination to get the band back together. He has pursued several experimental musical directions with his High Flying Birds project and every word he has said about an Oasis reunion has been negative. Liam, however, seems ready to do a reunion show the next day if only it would materialize.

An Oasis reunion would be a big-ticket event. There is demand from fans old and new, as their music has transcended its moment in time and lives on today. It’s often cynical when old bands get back together but there is a convergence of interest and nostalgia involved with Oasis that would send that tour to the moon.

I’m gonna be real – I honestly don’t think an Oasis reunion will happen. I take Noel at face value when he says he’s not interested. I think a lot of people want to believe something is brewing behind the scenes, what with the work that went into the Knebworth documentary and the brothers’ high profiles in the past few years. But I really am just not seeing it. Noel has been unequivocal in his dismissal of the reunion concept and of his brother.

Sure, the tour would be huge money. But Noel has made mention of the small fortune he already has. If money were his motivation we would already have had a reunion to talk about. He seems touched by the fond recollections of Oasis fans but seems very interested in going forward with his own vision, and his vision is one not owing to reminiscing.

I could, of course, be wrong, and Oasis might announce a reunion tour the second after I post this, or perhaps after the pandemic has run its course (when the hell ever that will be…). But based on my obviously uniformed opinion as nothing more than a fan, I honestly do not see a world where Oasis gets back together.

I’ll leave with this Noel quote from the How To Wow podcast a few weeks ago. Noel addresses the state of his and Liam’s solo careers, and I think it truly illustrates Noel’s mindset regarding an Oasis reunion.

“He’s doing massive gigs, he’s selling more records than I am and he’s selling more tickets than I am, if you can believe that.”

“So he’s doing his thing and I’m doing mine and we’re both pretty happy doing that at the moment.”

“Liam’s doing his thing, he’s responsible for the legacy being what it is, he’s keeping the flame alive and all that and good for him.”

S-Tier Songs, Vol. 3

It’s time for the third installment of S-Tier Songs. For an outline of the parameters and a master list of every S-Tier song, head to this page.

This week is Oasis week on the blog, a day ahead of the theatrical release of the Knebworth documentary. On that note, my next pick for induction into my “song hall of fame” is the fourth track from the world-conquering album What’s The Story Morning Glory?

Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger

The song is a curiosity from the get-go as guitarist/songwriter/head honcho Noel Gallagher sings the track as opposed to his brother, singer/man of the people/loose cannon Liam. It was an interesting choice and one that might be criticized in retrospect. The story goes that Noel told Liam he could choose between Wonderwall or this and Noel would tackle vocals on the other. Liam chose Wonderwall, probably correctly, and the rest is history.

It’s fun to imagine a world where Liam sang this tune but it doesn’t matter. Noel guided the ship well through the song. Of course, when you write a song as magnificent as Don’t Look Back In Anger, it’s probably not hard to carry a tune along with it.

As with much of Oasis, the song does borrow from the realm of the Beatles. In this case, DLBIA has direct ties to John Lennon. The song’s intro hearkens back to Lennon’s magnum opus Imagine, while lines in the pre-chorus like “the brains I have went to my head” and “gonna start a revolution in my bed” are culled from things Lennon said and did.

The song becomes Oasis’ own in the chorus, and it marks one of music’s signature anthems. The song’s message of letting things go really hits when “So Sally can wait…” comes on. It is an iconic chorus that has taken on a life of its own, often belted out at soccer/football matches. It’s also a song that, much like Live Forever, gets airplay at weddings, funerals and the like.

Of course the central theme of Don’t Look Back In Anger is spelled out directly in the title. And yeah, it’s an important one. I’ve been known to hold a grudge or two in my day, but as time wears on it becomes clear that holding on to old resentments is tiring and unproductive. It’s almost always wise to let shit go and let your soul slide away.

Don’t Look Back In Anger would help Oasis’ home city rally in the wake of tragedy – after the terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017, the town used the Oasis anthem to find their way through the devastation. A lone woman at a rally led the crowd in an impromptu rendition, and later at the One Love Manchester tribute concert Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland would serenade Ariana Grande with the tune.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

Don’t Look Back In Anger is a masterful anthem with a gorgeous melody and an iconic chorus. The song’s message of letting it all go is powerful and important, and at times the world has used the song to soothe disappointment and even tragedy. In a time period when Noel Gallagher was maybe the hottest songwriter on the planet, this song perhaps stands out even over many of the other memorable tunes he wrote.

Album Of The Week – September 20, 2021

This weeks marks the theatrical release of the Oasis – Knebworth documentary. It chronicles the two historic nights Oasis played in England at the height of their immense popularity in 1996. So I felt it fitting to make this week Oasis week around here. We’ll start with the usual Album Of The Week, and I’ll get straight into it.

Oasis – Definitely Maybe

Released August 29, 1994 via Creation Records

Favorite Tracks – Live Forever, Cigarettes & Alcohol, Columbia

Creation Records had been plagued with financial troubles, at least somewhat owing to the ridiculous saga surrounding the recording of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Label founder Alan McGee sold half of the label to Sony and then needed to find a hit to stabilize finances.

He found his hit in the pubs of Manchester.

Oasis’ debut album was an instant success, smashing debut album records in the UK and also hitting platinum in the US. The “brothers’ war” between Noel and Liam Gallagher played out as great fodder for the British tabloids, both painting them as brash bad boys and keeping Oasis in the press. It was a case of instant success for some down on their luck blokes from Manchester, with that would come all the good and bad.

But let’s talk about the album itself. Definitely Maybe is a monster release and a stellar debut that belies the absolute inexperience of anyone in the band besides chief songwriter Noel Gallagher. These are songs of the hopes and dreams of working class people looking for something more than the doldrum of everyday life. It’s spelled out in the beginning on album opener Rock N Roll Star, and excellent banger than sets a hopeful, dream-laden tone.

The album contains several songs of varying scope and heft. Digsby’s Diner and album closer Married With Children are more fun tunes, not quite filler but also not exactly top-shelf stuff. Up In The Sky is a bright, rocking tune while Bring It On Down is a flat-out headbanger, on par with the title track from the second album.

Then there’s Columbia. This song is all about the atmosphere and vibe. This song isn’t about anything at all, or it’s about whatever you want or need it to be. Oasis would offer a few things like this, kind of “nonsense” songs, through their career. And honestly I love it – I just want to go full hipster and strut down the street with this as my theme music.

If one nonsense song wasn’t enough, the album brings another. Highlight single Supersonic is a heavy, mid-tempo affair with a whole lot of words that rhyme with each other and little else. It tells a story of … something or someone who does stuff on a helicopter and, well, that’s about all I get out of it. But it’s a solid song that stands out on a record filled with brilliance.

Sitting between the two “odd” tracks toward the album’s end is Slide Away. A masterful tune, this is a quintessential love song from the Britrockers. And it is actually a love song, unlike Wonderwall, which shocks some people when they find out it’s not a love song. (Seriously, go look up what Wonderwall is really about. Then sing Slide Away to your boo at your next drunken karaoke night. Then consider the existential dread that Wonderwall truly envelops. Then go back to another drunken karaoke night.)

Another favorite of mine is Cigarettes & Alcohol. Yes, both the products and the Oasis song. This tune is a nod to the hollow pursuit of substance abuse to alleviate the strain and nihilism of working class life. Damn, if that ain’t the truth. I’ve been there myself many different times, or perhaps even for just one very, very long time. It’s a statement similar to that of Pulp’s smash hit Common People, though the latter includes some different commentary about how the working class are viewed. No matter the perspective, it’s kind of damn bleak out here, and it wasn’t any different in the early ’90’s.

This album does have one song that, in my estimation, stands head and shoulders above the rest. The song was, metaphorically and literally, an antidote to grunge’s sometimes miserable self-flagellation. Noel told NME in 2013 that he wrote Live Forever as a response to the Nirvana song I Hate Myself And Want To Die.

Live Forever is an amazing song that expresses the bonds of friendship, family, romance, or whatever between people. The song could be, and has been, played anywhere – weddings, funerals, dances, or just hanging with mates. It is a sentimental, sweet, perhaps melancholy yet ultimately triumphant celebration of those deepest, most meaningful connections between people.

Live Forever has been voted among the best of Britrock’s songs in multiple polls, often sharing space with the aforementioned Pulp hit and a few other Oasis tunes. Noel has called it the best song he’s ever written and Liam has said it was his favorite song as well. And it’s number 3 on my list of all-time Oasis songs.

Definitely Maybe was an amazing debut album that helped set the stage for the scene of Britrock to take over the world in the mid ’90’s. Oasis themselves would truly conquer the planet the next year with their second record. But the debut is absolutely possessing of its own merits and is often, perhaps rightfully, regarded as their best overall record.

With the theatrical release of the Knebworth documentary coming this Thursday, I’ll take the rest of the week to discuss Oasis. On Wednesday I’ll pick out one song in particular, and on Friday I’ll address the “what if?” elephant in the room question that comes up when talking about Oasis these days.

My 5 Favorite Songs From The Use Your Illusion Albums

I spent the week paring down the monstrous Use Your Illusion albums from Guns N Roses into one lean, mean fighting disc. Here is Part One and Part Two of that effort, and here you can find the results of my labor.

With that out of the way but the topic still fresh in my mind, I wanted to take a moment and review my favorite songs from the records. There isn’t any more lead-in than that needed so let’s get right into it.

#5 – 14 Years

This is the song Izzy Stradlin sang the verses on, though an unfamiliar listener could be forgiven for not knowing that since Axl’s voice can take on so many different forms. There is no official confirmation but rumors suggest that the song is about Izzy and Axl’s friendship. Izzy left the band during the tour cycle for Illusion and the band did not play the song again until Izzy did a guest spot on the reunion tour.

For me it’s just a cool song that I always liked. It has no real personal meaning for me – I mean, I was 14 when the records came out so I had no “14 years or silence or pain” to relate to, just dumb kid stuff. It’s a song that I’ve always playlisted or whatever and when I revisited these albums it was one of the first ones that really jumped out at me.

#4 – November Rain

Yep, the epic, grandiose, and also ridiculous and over-wrought hit is one of my favorites from the albums. This song and video was such a complete spectacle that it was hard to turn away from. Cake fights, explosions, and cars driving off cliffs while Slash solos – what more could you ask for?

I guess this song is about Axl and his personal relations with women. I don’t really know, it’s a bit hard to derive meaning from all the bombast. I do know that when it rains in the winter I always get this song stuck in my head. I think that’s an inevitable part of life for anyone around when this was all the rage.

#3 – You Could Be Mine

The lead single from the records had a glorious tie-in with the hotly-anticipated Terminator 2. The resulting video interspersed movie footage and also some original content, climaxing when the Terminator’s target screen gives a funny message after scanning the band.

The song is a badass rocker that outlines what must have been a crazy relationship. Nothing wrong with redlining things once in awhile, that’s what youth is for. But yeah, it’s a great song and a signature tune for me from these albums.

Interesting that the band didn’t officially upload the video. I guess money and rights issues between them and the studio.

#2 – Estranged

This long epic was always one of the highlights of the double set. It (I think) served as the final single release for these records before the band moved to an uninspired covers album before effectively breaking up for 20 years.

The song is magnificent – with slowly-building movements that incorporate some of Slash’s most tasteful guitar work and very poignant lyrics from Axl. The song builds to a monumental finish around the 7-minute mark – this is the part where Axl jumps off the ship and does his swimming with the dolphins thing in the video.

I loved the song when it first hit, but Estranged has also taken on new meaning as I’ve gotten older. When the albums released I was 14, when the video for this song dropped I think I was 15 or 16. The word “estranged” is something I would have had to look up in a dictionary. I didn’t know the first thing about it.

But all these years later it’s a different story. Sure, estrangement usually refers to either spouses or parent-child relationships. But it can still apply in a broader sense to personal interactions as a whole. As time wears on, we will lose family, friends, lovers, and other people. One day, often without knowing it, we’ll have said the last things we’re ever gonna say to each other. It’s not a matter of death – everyone’s still around living their lives, it’s just that people have fallen away. Maybe some reconnections can and should be made, but by and large there is very much a “ships passing in the night” vibe to how people come together and fall apart.

In this age of pandemics, climate upheaval and social-political unrest, it’s tough also not to consider the personal relationship aspect of life. We’re all twisting and turning toward something that doesn’t really look good, but also the past is dead and gone. Might as well have a bit of midlife crisis on top of the endless supply of existential dread.

Why must it drift away and die? I don’t know, but that’s the way it goes.

#1 – Civil War

It’s time for the champion to come claim its crown, and this battle was never in any real dispute.

Civil War has always been my favorite track from this era. The song is both melodically beautiful and powerful, a masterful attack on the military industrial complex and a look at the formation of unrest and discord through society.

I didn’t quite understand all of that back then but the song always leapt out at me. And now that I do, perhaps barely, understand what it’s about, I’ve noticed I’m far from the only one to gravitate towards it when these albums get brought up. Hell, they play this song on the radio a fair bit these days, even if “radio play” doesn’t mean what it used to.

Rock music doesn’t always have to be high-minded. It can be dumb and fun, both of which are in ample supply on the Use Your Illusion records. But rock is often at its best when it does cover the deeper, darker threads of existence. And Guns N Roses are in top form on this song.

Well folks, that just about does it for my exploration of the Use Your Illusion albums. It was a very interesting time for me to come of age in, both with this ultimate realization of the band’s grandiose plans and the antithesis to that bombast that hit the airwaves at the exact same time. It was pretty fun and sometimes head-scratching to go back through these ambitious albums and the wide variety of songs on offer. I didn’t feel many were that great but there are some absolute masterworks to be found here.

In terms of further explorations of double albums, well, I know there is other work to be done. My next cutting room floor project is sitting on my CD shelf right now (sorry, Trent). I also have a future idea that pushes the bounds of the definitions here but I’ll see how that goes a bit down the road.

To close – thank you, rock stars, for thinking we need these massive double records. If nothing else, it gives me something to write about.

Use Your Illusion – My Final Cut

This is the pivotal part of my arduous task to cut the Guns N Roses Use Your Illusion albums into one leaner, more epic record. For those posts, check out where I carved up Use Your Illusion I and then over here for Use Your Illusion II.

Let’s begin with a list of the songs that I have automatically placed onto the final cut.

Live And Let Die

November Rain

Civil War

14 Years

Get In The Ring


You Could Be Mine

This gives me a 44:51 runtime. I have 25:09 I can fill, so let’s review our pretty big pile of “maybes” that I’ll be choosing from.

From Use Your Illusion I

Right Next Door To Hell

Dust N Bones

Don’t Cry

Perfect Crime

Bad Obsession

The Garden

Garden Of Eden

From Use Your Illusion II


Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Shotgun Blues

Pretty Tied Up

So right off the bat I see two that are going on – Don’t Cry and Shotgun Blues will make my final cut. This puts the runtime at 52:58.

I can now easily place the top two from the maybe pile on this record no problem. Right Next Door To Hell and Dust N Bones have made the cut. I’m now at 60:58 running time, leaving me 9 minutes of space to make a final decision.

3 songs stick out to me that I would put on here, but one doesn’t make it. The Garden, Yesterdays and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Time constraints won’t allow both The Garden or the cover song on here, though Yesterdays is a perfectly safe runtime and makes the album.

The choices are a cover song that was a single from the record and a signature track for the band for a while, or a second-tier track with a rock god Alice Cooper as a guest.

I see various arguments that could be had here. One cover song is enough. Alice Cooper, c’mon man. But The Garden isn’t really as good as Knockin is. I loaded up with songs from II enough already, let I have a bit more representation on the final cut. My version also has almost all of the album’s singles piled on here. Is it that the singles are the best songs or that I just remember them more and I’m not paying enough mind to the deep cuts?

In the end I did what any person faced with a great, difficult decision has to do – I flipped a coin. Heads to The Garden, tails for Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. The result was heads – The Garden makes the final cut.

I now have my own version of a definitve representation of Use Your Illusion. 13 songs, a runtime of 69:36 (nice!) and the songs I think stand out and offer the best listening experience.

Now I have one more chore – album sequencing. These songs need to be in an order that flows well. This is gonna take a second.

You Could Be Mine

14 Years

Dust N Bones


Live And Let Die

Shotgun Blues

Right Next Door To Hell

Civil War

The Garden

Get In The Ring

Don’t Cry

November Rain


Ok – being real, I didn’t put a ton of thought into it. I did want You Could Be Mine to lead off the album, I felt like the lead single should kick things off and it’s the perfect opener. I wanted a bit of space between the two real aggro songs, Right Next Door To Hell and Get In The Ring. Of course, Shotgun Blues is also pretty aggro so that didn’t really work out. And I wanted the 3 songs that comprise the video trilogy to conclude the album. I do sort of wonder if Get In The Ring should really be right before Don’t Cry but I’m gonna roll with it.

I noticed something as I was having a pain in the ass time building the playlist for this – I did a lot of unintentional staggering of songs from between the two records. Only the first 2 and tracks 11 and 12 are from the same original album. It was a bit of a headache to jump back and forth between both records to make the playlist. (Yeah, total first world problem, I know)

In the end I feel like I got what I wanted here. The songs that didn’t make the cut could serve as B-sides to the plethora of album singles. Let’s be real – a lot of that stuff should have been B-sides anyway. That’s why I’ve had to undertake this great work.

So there we have it – my definitve version of Use Your Illusion. Let me know what you think – did I curate it properly or did I do a total botch job on it? What essential cut to you did I skip and what bloated carcass of a song that I’m into do you think sucks?

Tomorrow – my five favorite songs from these albums. Spoiler alert – they’re all on the final cut.

Cutting Room Floor – Use Your Illusion II

Yesterday I began the daunting task of turning the two massive Guns N Roses records from 1991, the Use Your Illusion series, into one awesome album. I’m playing with a run time of 70 minutes so that I get a bit of a challenge out of it.

Before I get busy on the cutting room floor I do want to cover the fact that the record label already did what I’m doing. There is a version of Use Your Illusion that is a single-disc album that clocks in at 63 minutes.

But their reason for doing it and my reason for doing this don’t line up – I am trying to make an all killer, no filler version of these albums. The record label did it because the big box retail stores wouldn’t stock records with the dreaded “Parental Advisory” sticker so they cut a clean version for retail.

I’m here to tell you – here at The Crooked Wanderer, I like to cuss. I use colorful language from time to time. My records will never be in stock at Wal-Mart or …. oh yeah, the rest of the old big box stores are dead now.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. I’m going to evaluate the songs on Use Your Illusion II and decide what automatically gets included on my final version, which songs will carry on to the next round for consideration and which will hit the cutting room floor right here and now. Let’s rock and roll.

Guns N Roses – Use Your Illusion II

Civil War (7:42)

So Doctor Strange can review 14 million scenarios where the Avengers take on Thanos and find exactly one where the good guys win. But the good doctor can’t find even one scenario where I leave Civil War off of the final record.

This is easily one of my favorite Guns N Roses songs. Not just in relation to the album its on but in consideration of their entire catalog. It absolutely has to be on the album.

14 Years (4:21)

I always dug this Izzy Stradlin-led jam. It’s smooth, rollicking and pretty kick ass. I could maybe it but the fact is it would be the first one on the pile I grabbed to put on the record so let’s just do it now – it has to be on the final cut.

Yesterday (3:16)

One of the double album’s many singles and a very nice song. I am going to maybe this because of time considerations but I have a feeling it’ll work its way on the list in the end.

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (5:36)

Of course the band were gonna cover one of Bob Dylan’s most well-known and oft-covered cuts. (GnR had previously done this song live and in studio). This was a well-executed rendition that updated the song for the 1990’s. I don’t know what the whole speech thing in the interlude is about but it’s whatever. I’ll maybe this because things are gonna get tight in the final battle for space on this record and I don’t know if 2 cover songs are the way to go on a single album.

Get In The Ring (5:41)

This is an interesting one. On one hand, it’s petty as all hell and shows Axl’s less than savory side in full light. On the other hand, the media always were, are now, and always will be a total pain in the ass so I can understand where he’s coming from.

And in the end I gotta roll with it. Gotta go with the good, the bad and the ugly and honestly it’s a pretty killer track. Get In The Ring has to be on the final cut.

Shotgun Blues (3:23)

This is a really cool song that I always liked. I have to maybe it due to time constraints but it’ll certainly be a contender when we get to the finish line.

Breakdown (7:04)

Ok so this song is all right. Has some slight callbacks to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” through some guitar inflections and it’s overall a decent tune. But it’s also a hard NO because it doesn’t have the same weight as other stuff here and it’s a bloated corpse at 7 minutes.

Pretty Tied Up (4:47)

It’s a pretty cool song and I certainly can appreciate the subject matter. I will have to maybe it and I kinda feel like it gets lost in the shuffle, it’s a bit meandering compared to the heavy hitters there are to deal with.

Locomotive (8:42)

The song is pretty badass but there really just isn’t room for something nearly 9 minutes long that doesn’t totally rule. This feels like more of a b-side to me, so it’s a NO.

So Fine (4:06)

This Duff-led song is ok but I don’t really need to dwell on it too much – it’s a NO. Don’t really have room for it. I do think the world of Duff though, he seems like such an awesome dude.

Estranged (9:23)

The last video in the Del James trilogy, and the most self-indulgent one where Axl swims with dolphins or some shit.

And it’s also one of the best songs on the album. Epic, powerful and builds to a super heavy conclusion. This absolutely has to be on the record.

You Could Be Mine (5:43)

This was the lead single for both albums. A tie-in with the summer movie blockbuster Terminator 2 – Judgment Day brought both the band and movie front and center in the cultural landscape of 1991. The song is a total banger and is probably the most well-executed hard rocker on both discs. It 100% has to be on the final album.

Don’t Cry – Alternate Version (4:44)

As covered in the first part, the original version of Don’t Cry is in the maybe pile. As such, there is no room for the same song with some different stuff going on in it. This one is a NO.

My World (1:24)

The over-wrought albums end with a weird electronic music, quasi-rap thing from Axl. I am overall an album-oriented listener and as such I find little interlude things to be fun and sometimes interesting. But no chance in Hell should an album end on something like that. This is not essential listening by any means so it gets voted off the record. NO

So now I have a pile of have to’s and maybe’s. Adding up the times of my have to’s I get a running time of 44:51. That leaves me with 25 minutes to fill for a 70 minute album. Even with me including several of the longer songs I have plenty of room to work with.

It’s also worth mentioning that yeah, I obviously favor the second album. It does bog down some in its middle section but it picks back up with a few of the best songs on either record. I never really had sat and wondered which of the two I liked more but I think we have that answer right in front of us.

So now I have my lists. Tomorrow the exercise concludes with the work of picking through the maybe pile to see what fills out the record. Then Friday I’ll give some time to discuss my 5 favorite tracks overall. My bloated 4-part exploration of these 2 bloated albums is getting ready to round the bend.

Cutting Room Floor – Use Your Illusion I

Don’t you just love when a band releases a double album? It’s two albums’ worth of stuff, it has to be twice as good as just one, right?


I’m sure good double albums exist that don’t need an editor’s touch. I’m not sure I’d do anything to The White Album. We now have legacy groups like Iron Maiden and Tool offering what are, in any technical sense, double albums.

But often the double album is simply an exercise in indulgence. And I can think of no greater amount of indulgence than that found on the 1991 double set from Guns N Roses, the Use Your Illusion series.

It’s true, these are more two separate albums released at the same time than a double album. But it’s the same difference so we’ll roll with it. It’s also going to be the 30th anniversary of these albums on Friday the 17th so it’s a fun time to go back through these.

My purpose here is to turn these two monster albums, with a total running time between them of 2 hours and 32 minutes, into one album. I have to use a time calculator for the first time in my life for this. Very thrilling.

Now a standard CD can hold up to 80 minutes of music, though in the past many were 75 minutes or something like that. For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to use 70 minutes as a running time cap. No way I can use vinyl as a metric for this, both of these chonkers were each double LP efforts.

What I will do is go through each disc track-by-track. I’ll offer a bit of discussion on each song and decide whether it has to be on the comp, maybe it can be on there, or it definitely isn’t going. After a post for each of the albums I’ll do a third one to reveal my final choices. For fun I’ll also do my own top 5 songs from the records as some bonus content.

Just like these albums, this exercise is gonna run a little long, so let’s hit the cutting room floor.

Guns N Roses – Use Your Illusion I

Right Next Door To Hell (3:02)

A nice opening track, I always like when bands come right in with the heat. It’s funny that the very first song on the biggest band in the world’s monster double effort is Axl bitching about a neighbor but hey, it’s that rage and fire that keeps ya alive sometimes. This is a solid maybe for me and honestly more probable than anything to end up on the final edit.

Dust N Bones (4:58)

Pretty smooth and nice tune. It also goes in the maybe pile because I don’t know how much room I’ll have to work with at the end and I can’t definitely say this song has to be there. But it’s a solid candidate.

Live And Let Die (3:04)

We have a Paul McCartney cover song here and this absolutely works. A fantastic rendition that fits GnR very well. This has to be on the end product. The band always was an exercise in both smooth melody and frantic, balls-out rock and this song showcases both perfectly.

Don’t Cry (4:44)

Here’s an interesting case – the same song is on both albums but the version on II is an alternate take. It’s not the greatest thing the band ever recorded but it is a nice ballad and another one I’ll give the maybe card to. Admittedly I do feel like it probably has to be there though, it’s very representative of the band during this period.

Perfect Crime (2:23)

A very nice, short and to the point hard rocker. A very strong tune and a very easy maybe for me. I could almost auto-include it due to its piss-ant length but it’s not top-tier enough to grant an automatic pass to.

You Ain’t The First (2:36)

Another very short song but this time mercifully so. This is what we call “filler,” folks. There’s a hell of a lot of it on these albums. This is a big fat NO, chaff like this is why I’m here culling it down.

Bad Obession (5:23)

A pretty nice bluesy, groovy number that features guest Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks fame playing a few instruments. I’ll maybe it because it’s a decent tune but it sits more on the cut line than the add pile. While it’s nice it’s also like the quintessential dive bar song and that aesthetic, while pleasing, doesn’t fit this bombastic album.

Back Off Bitch (5:03)

It’s a kinda cool song but it’s also whining about your ex years after shit happened. Like, get over it Axl. It’s pretty basic shit that we almost all have to deal with at some point. I’m a big NO on this one. The albums as a whole communicate some pretty lofty stuff at points and this petty shit doesn’t really fit. Axl did a much better job of singing about his exes on other tracks throughout these records.

Double Talkin’ Jive (3:23)

Not the worst thing I’ve ever heard but we gotta exercise some quality control around here. NO

November Rain (8:57)

No point in trying to do some verbal exercise to pretend there’s even an argument – November Rain has to be on the final cut. This song is the very definition of the Use Your Illusion albums – grandiose, bombastic, epic and absurd. It’s perhaps the signature song of both records.

The Garden (5:22)

It’s a decent tune and has a guest shot from Alice Cooper, an absolute god of rock music. I’ll maybe it because it’s a nice song and because Alice, but I am very on the fence about it. This one will require some deliberation when push comes to shove.

Garden Of Eden (2:34)

I’m not some expert on track sequencing but I personally wouldn’t put two songs with the same word in them right next to each other on an album. The song itself is pretty cool, total maybe territory. It might squeak in due to its forgiving run time.

Don’t Damn Me (5:18)

I won’t call it bad but it’s total filler. Easy NO on this one.

Bad Apples (4:28)

I’ll give you three guesses as to what pile I’m gonna put this song in.

If you guessed NO way this whatever song makes my final album cut, give yourself an award. It shouldn’t have made the final cut of the record in the first place.

Dead Horse (4:17)

This isn’t a bad tune by any means but I’m not sure it’s what I’m going for here. I can’t maybe every single song so I’m gonna give this the ol’ heave-ho and say NO.

Coma (10:14)

I’m gonna be real – I totally forgot about this song. I haven’t played these albums in their entirety in many years and I did a double-take when I read the running time of this given that I’m on a time cap with this whole deal.

I could maybe this one very easily. It’s a cool track. But let’s be real – a 10 minute song is going to cause problems when I go to make final cuts, and there are two longer songs on the next album that frankly aren’t going to be left out.

Coma just doesn’t really make the cut here. There are too many shorter songs to consider that would get bumped if this time hog were included. It’s a cool listen but not enough for what’s supposed to be an epic look into a huge band’s most prolific creative period. Coma gets a NO.

I’m finally through to the end of this bloated monster. And this is only the first part. Out of 16 songs I’m showing a tally of 2 songs that have to be on the final version. I have 6 I said NO to right then and there, and 8 that are still in consideration as maybes. I’m barely at a run time of 12 minutes right now but some of the maybes here will be added in the end, and I’m pretty sure Part II will offer up more auto-includes than this did. I’ll get into UYI II tomorrow, then Thursday I’ll post my final edit. Friday brings my 5 favorite songs from the albums. See you then.

Album Of The Week – September 13, 2021

Programming note – I was unable to post last Friday due to technical difficulties with pictures. That post, which is just a look at my Iron Maiden collection, will come at another time. But this week there will be a post every day of the week.

September of 1991 was a watershed month in music history. There are so many albums that released that month of importance, some of grand significance. September 17th of that year saw the release of two, or I guess three, huge albums for the rock crowd. Guns N’ Roses dropped their long-hyped Use Your Illusion double set. Those captured my attention to a point that I’m literally going to spend the rest of the week on here talking about them.

Yes, really.

But not today. The Album Of The Week comes from the same day in 1991, but from a different rock and metal institution. The Prince Of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne released No More Tears on the 17th nearly 30 years ago.

It’s not that we necessarily need a special occasion to discuss this seminal record, but with its 30th anniversary approaching and also a sorely-needed vinyl reissue of the album coming on its 30th birthday, I figured this week would be a great time to pay homage to it.

Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears

Released September 17, 1991 via Epic Records

Favorite Tracks – Hellraiser, No More Tears, I Don’t Want To Change The World

I was very hyped for this release as soon as it was announced. By this time in 1991 I was staying up every Saturday night to watch Headbanger’s Ball, which quickly became my church rather than the droll kind I got drug off to on Sunday morning. Ozzy was a fixture on MTV and especially the Ball around the time of the album’s release. For 14 year old me it was can’t-miss viewing.

Lucky for small Midwest town me, the album did not come with a dreaded Parental Advisory sticker, so the only place in my cowtown that sold albums, Wal-Mart, stocked it. I bought it the minute I could and jammed out to it over and over again.

I know this is a divisive point in Ozzy’s catalog. Some older than me turned their noses up at this direction, preferring the all-out evil Prince Of Fucking Darkness to the more subdued elder statesman of rock that Ozzy became in the ’90’s. But for me? No way – this is absolutely where it’s at. It was the perfect album at the perfect time for me.

This is a beefy album, with 11 tracks and nearly an hour runtime. It works just great for me, there honestly isn’t a tune or even a note that I don’t appreciate here. Even the three quasi-ballads – Mama I’m Coming Home, Time After Time, and the excellent album closer Road To Nowhere are all choice cuts.

Of course Ozzy’s calling card is rock and metal, and No More Tears delivers in spades. This album slams with Zakk Wylde’s guitar and a deep-rooted drive and groove. Mr. Tinkertrain opens with a frantic pace and, while maybe kinda creepy, sets the mood as dark and heavy. The title track is an epic masterpiece – a long, brooding, doom-laden lament of lost love, or at least sex, or something, I don’t know. The Lemmy-penned Hellraiser really kicks up the dust and throws things into high gear. Desire is a very tasty rock anthem that could be suited for a raceway, pro wrestling entrance, or something of that like.

As I look back in the absolute gold mine that was music in 1991, I honestly feel like this album was the one that really kicked things over the top for me. Yeah, grunge arrived and changed the world. Sure, Metallica became one of the biggest bands in the world. Guns N’ Roses offered up a double serving of their unique brand of psychotic excess. Skid Row didn’t let “hair metal” go out quietly into the night – they recorded one of the greatest albums of the era and honestly probably transcended the term hair metal. Van Halen even dropped a Van Hagar-era cut that I feel is woefully underrated and sneakily heavy.

But I keep coming back to Ozzy for this year. I’ve been over it before – I was ready to come into the 1990’s and have my turn with the fun and ritz of hair metal. But the world just threw everything into chaos right when I arrived to the station. Instead I came in amazed at the shifting landscape around me, but still looking for something familiar to cling to. And old reliable Ozzy offered that.

It isn’t just that Ozzy helped anchor me in a turbulent musical climate or that he offered his own gateway into the far heavier things I was about to explore – No More Tears is an excellent document on its own terms.

For Ozzy he seemed to shed the “general of the Satanic armies” persona he had developed in the 1980’s, fueled in large par to the grotesque Satanic Panic of that time. Instead he was the rock god that everyone respected and revered, he was the dad and husband who talked funny but also got on stage and brought it every night.

For me this album was extremely important. It absolutely fits the “raised on rock, made by metal” ethos that shaped my formative years. Ozzy was that metal god and he delivered a sermon I was more than ready for. No More Tears stands to this day as one of my favorite albums and most important steps on the road through music I travel. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to move on and make the most of the night.