A quick post today to discuss the news of a new Metallica album as well as the newly released single.
On Monday, Metallica announced their 12th studio album would be called 72 Seasons and will release on April 14, 2023. In addition to the album, Metallica are planning a huge tour that involves playing two nights in each stop and a “no-repeat” set for each city. More details can be found in the post on the band’s official website.
Also on offer is the first single from 72 Seasons. Lux Æterna comes on offer with sound and video (the band did record a video for every song from their prior album Hardwired…To Self Destruct, curious if they’ll do the same here).
Lux Æterna is a good offering, I’ve enjoyed it so far. It’s brief and to the point and it “feels” like a 2022 Metallica song. It seems like maybe the band “found their pocket” with Hardwired… and are going to stay in that territory. For my money, it’s a wise decision. There is plenty of disagreement over the new track, but I’ve noted a fair share of positive reception for the new song as well.
Of course my main concern is with how the album as a whole plays. It’s 12 songs at 77 minutes long, not as long as Hardwired… but still a plenty long enough album. Seems to be the trend for a lot of “boomer rock” these days, including many of my favorite acts. We’ll see how the full-length pans out, especially with the hefty amount of songs.
I’m personally pretty stoked for this, the new song sounds good and Metallica seem to have a good sense of direction in the latter portion of their career. It’s still over four months until album release, so there’s plenty of time to speculate on exactly what we’re getting with 72 Seasons.
This week’s pick is a tour back to the mid 1990’s and an early sign of what would become an explosion of European power metal.
Blind Guardian – Imaginations From The Other Side
Released April 4, 1995 via Century Media Records and Virgin Records
My Favorite Tracks – Mordred’s Song, Imaginations From The Other Side, Bright Eyes
By 1995 Blind Guardian were gearing up for their fifth album release. The German group had started in speed metal and thrash territory but had been slowly morphing into a power metal outfit. Some of the hallmarks of their early sound would remain in their arsenal, setting their sound apart from the typical power metal fare that was on offer.
Blind Guardian were out to improve their sound on their next album and in doing so recruited producer Fleming Rasmussen to helm the effort. Rasmussen had come to prominence by producing Metallica’s second through fourth albums. The influence of an experienced producer, combined with the decision to only take the best parts of songs to the next step, set up Blind Guardian for a triumphant release.
Imaginations From The Other Side comprises nine tracks at a near-50 minute runtime. Two songs were released as singles – A Past And Future Secret, and Bright Eyes, marking the first single releases in Blind Guardian’s career.
Imaginations From The Other Side
The title track opens things and is an epic song that showcases both power metal leanings and the heavy-hitting instrumentation of the band’s early days. The song laments the loss of fantasy worlds as their magic power fades when one reaches adulthood. Many direct references are made to fictional institutions, such as The Wizard Of Oz, The Narnia series, The Lord Of The Rings, Peter Pan and many more.
This fast-paced track recalls the earlier days of Blind Guardian and their speed metal attack. The song is based off of a book The Sunset Warrior by author Eric Van Lustbader. I’m unfamiliar with the book but the song is a great example of the band expanding their musical pallet while retaining their heavy metal feel.
A Past And Future Secret
A ballad that is one of two to center around the story of King Arthur. It is a haunting lament told from the viewpoint of the wizard Merlin, who prophecies that King Arthur will return to rule after his mortal death.
The Script For My Requiem
The pace comes back up for this twisted tale of a knight returning from the Crusades. The knight is haunted by the atrocities committed in the name of the holy and returns a broken shell of himself. It is one of many songs from the album to be a frequent staple in live sets.
The second of two ballads about King Arthur, this track hits heavier than the first and would likely fall into power ballad territory. The song centers around its namesake Mordred, the illegitimate son of Arthur’s incestuous relationship. Mordred would come to wreak havoc on Camelot and eventually fight a battle with Arthur that would claim both.
The song does a fantastic job of painting the despair of Mordred’s life and the hollow feelings that would lead him to his history-altering course of action. The tragic tale could only end one way and this song provides the rationale for and perhaps even justification for Mordred’s brutal actions.
Born In A Mourning Hall
This scorcher of a tune mostly leaves behind the fantasy world and examines the real-world consequences of people living without any viable chance of moving upward in life. The struggle to live and cope with being a disposable tool of the higher class is a picture painted vividly on this song.
The next song is one that has become one of Blind Guardian’s signature offerings. It is another haunting tale of a young man abused and neglected who is now ready to wreak havoc on the world. While the song bears thematic similarities to Mordred’s Song, it was apparently based off of The Neverending Story but is mostly an original story spun by singer Hansi Kursh. The song is one of the band’s most played live and is a favorite of many Blind Guardian fans.
Another Holy War
This song could be seen as a companion to The Script For My Requiem, as it again involves the waging of holy war. It is told from the perspective of a messianic figure who will be crucified and kick off yet another religious war. It’s another song that preserves the thrash elements of the band’s early days.
And The Story Ends
The final track seems to pick up the story of Bright Eyes, though that is unconfirmed and there is speculation that this song might have something to do with The Wheel Of Time fantasy series. I tend to think it’s the first one, as there seems to be an occasional ongoing story told through various Blind Guardian songs over the years and a mirror is involved with them. The song still maintains a heavy feel but does slow things down at points to allow it and the somber album as a whole to settle in.
Imaginations From The Other Side would mark another notch in Blind Guardian’s belt. The band were already breaking through before this and would see their fortunes rise as power metal would become a resurgent genre in the latter half of the 90’s. Blind Guardian were among the standouts of the new wave of power metal groups and have remained a viable force in metal all this time.
Many of the songs from Imaginations… are staples of live sets to this day. Several tracks have been played a few hundred times in concert and the entire album was aired out as part of anniversary celebrations a few years ago.
This week’s pick is a monumental album from 1985. It saw an established artist break through record label politics and define his sound on his own terms, and kicked off a run of success that would form the creative peak of his career.
John Mellencamp – Scarecrow
Released August 5, 1985 via Riva Records
My Favorite Tracks – Rain On The Scarecrow, Minutes To Memories, Small Town
John Mellencamp had been at war with music executives seemingly from the start of his career. What to record and release was one battle, what to call himself was another. His label had insisted on the “Cougar” moniker for whatever reason and had tried to shoehorn him in as a Neil Diamond-like act.
As chart success came, Mellencamp was able to pivot to doing his own thing, and Scarecrow marks the beginning of a run that would contribute greatly to a series of music movements perhaps best described as alt-country. While the start of alt-country and its associated subgenres is a topic of unsettled discussion, it’s clear that Mellencamp made a huge imprint on everything.
While “Cougar” would still sit on the album’s cover, this was a John Mellencamp album. The useless nickname would take a few more records to disappear, but Mellencamp had truly and finally arrived with what was technically his eighth record.
Today I’ll run down the original version of the album, comprising eleven songs. There are various reissues and bonus tracks available, including a super deluxe set that was just released a few weeks prior.
Rain On The Scarecrow
The opener gets straight to the point – this haunting tale speaks about the loss of small-scale farming, a massive issue in the 1980’s. Single-plot farmers were caught in loan and insurance issues that caused many to lose their land, stock and equipment. In what can’t be a coincidence, decades later much of US agriculture is owned by a few mega corporations.
While mournful, Rain On The Scarecrow is also heavy. It is hard rock and even bordering on heavy metal in its stark delivery. It was an attention-getter on airwaves in 1985 and, while the battle for farmland seems to have been a losing one, did bring the issue to the attention of a far wider audience.
A brief traditional song Grandma’s Theme appears next.
One of the album’s three Top-10 hits, Small Town has been a staple of rock radio since its release. The song is a simple and pleasant look at life in rural America, this time simply recounting the experience as opposed to fighting off a corporate oppressor. Mellencamp’s experience of growing up in small town Indiana is translated nationwide for anyone in a small town. While there would be a huge melancholy vibe in a lot of Mellencamp’s music, this song leaves that behind to simply extol the virtues of a simpler life.
Minutes To Memories
Though not a single, this song about an older man advising on the fleeting nature of time and life has been featured on greatest hits packages and in live setlists. The topic can be unsettling to think about but the song is presented in a motivating, upbeat way. Might as well toughen up and grind it out, one day it will all be memories.
Lonely Ol’ Night
A very simple tune that recalls Mellencamp’s earlier hits, this track joins Small Town as the best-charting singles from the record. This song leaves behind the look at society and instead focuses on a few lonely people who inevitably cure their loneliness together.
The Face Of The Nation
The rocking, upbeat music belies the harrowing lyrical fare. This is a recount of the pain and suffering seen around and how everything is changing into something not very good. For its dire message it is a very snappy tune.
Justice And Independence ’85
Another bright rocker that personifies the title concepts as well as that of Nation. Again the lyrics aren’t quite as peppy as the tune, as Nation stumbles in his life to the dismay of his parents Justice and Independence. The song does close out on an uplifting note.
Between A Laugh And A Tear
One of what would become many Mellencamp songs about how life can be crappy and weigh you down, and the struggle to get through it all. The ultimate message is inspirational and the music is a bit of a preview of what Mellencamp would sound like on future albums.
Another Top 40 single, this is yet another snappy rocker that is examining a hard life and the attempt to move on from it. It’s another great presentation of grinding through the crap and failure to move on to a better tomorrow.
You’ve Got To Stand For Something
The Heartland rock is in full effect here with the song’s title communicating its simple yet important message. This song title would be a country hit for Aaron Tippin several years later but the two songs are not otherwise related.
R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. (A Salute To 60’s Rock)
The album closes with another Top 10 hit, this time a homage to the rock Mellencamp grew up with and what the band played a ton of before recording this album. While this diverges greatly from the album’s pretty grim themes, the song is an obvious crowd pleaser and another of many Mellencamp tunes that still see regular airplay.
Scarecrow was a huge success for John Mellencamp. Besides the well-received singles, the album peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200, sitting only behind the Miami Vice soundtrack. Scarecrow has gone on to 5 times platinum in the US and also has several Australian platinum awards.
More than anything, this marked where Mellencamp truly set out on his own as a songwriter and began shaping his true musical legacy. The blueprint laid for “alt-country” here would be expanded upon on his next release and the pair of albums would go on to forge a great deal of what are considered his greatest songs. It’s hard for the record label to argue with you when you bust the singles and album charts with music on your own terms.
I’m doing another album ranking today. This one wasn’t something I had planned but the gears started grinding on it when 80’s Metal Man did a post recently on one of the band’s albums. Cheers to him for that post and the inspiration to start thinking about this band’s albums.
It’s also a very, very easy album ranking – in the on-again, off-again course of the band’s history, they only had five proper studio albums and one EP that’s long enough to include. This isn’t a scholarly effort like that of ranking Iron Maiden or Saxon records, it doesn’t take a great deal of time or energy to rank the Celtic Frost albums.
For the purposes of this ranking I will include Morbid Tales as a full-length album. The US release was eight songs, which is essentially a full album anyway. I’m not normally a fan of including things that aren’t full-length releases on these rankings but in this case I think the length and the impact of the work are both warranted.
Celtic Frost were a unique entity in heavy metal – their work was along the lines of thrash, though so dirty that it’d help give birth to entire new subgenres. The band never stuck with one sound for very long and they would become a contributor to the emerging doom scene. Avant garde is a term often used to describe some of their music. There was always something more artistic to what Celtic Frost were doing, it was never just a day at the office.
Time to get down to business – ranking the six Celtic Frost albums.
6 – Cold Lake (1988)
The bottom slot, somewhat unfortunately, goes to the album that 80sMetalMan did his retrospective on. Cold Lake is a very complicated album in the Celtic Frost pantheon, being one often viewed with scorn and contempt. Said contempt comes from none other than the band’s main man himself, Tom G. Warrior.
Celtic Frost were derided for going “glam” in this era, though honestly that was far more in pics and videos rather than the music. The tunes themselves are fairly straightforward sort-of thrashy numbers. There are a few false starts and missteps among these songs, which is why I rank it at the bottom. But, the album does have its highlights, like Cherry Orchards, and is far from the disasterpiece it was made out to be. While the album isn’t necessarily a credit to the grim presentation Celtic Frost have in their defining moments, it’s not the boogeyman it’s been made out to be either. And it seems plenty of people have warmed up to it in recent years.
5 – Vanity/Nemesis (1990)
After Cold Lake and its disastrous reception, CF reconvened with founding bassist Martin Eric Ain and offered up this slab of thrashy, goth-rock inspired tunes. It was initially hailed as a “return to form,” but the truth is that it wasn’t really that. It was a different direction for the group, though in reality it isn’t that far removed from its immediate predecessor.
The songs here play out fine enough, but the album isn’t all that exciting. It’s one of those that, for me, is fine to listen to but also doesn’t really move the needle. While Celtic Frost were often a shape-shifting group in their time, this record didn’t necessarily shift into something terribly essential.
4 – Into The Pandemonium (1987)
Speaking of shape-shifting, Celtic Frost did it on this album and did it very well. This was a more refined approach to songwriting, leaving behind the rough and tumble nature of the early albums and investing more atmosphere into the proceedings. It still links to the early records but shifts its leanings to the doom and goth realms, areas where the band also had great influence. Songs like Inner Sanctum and Babylon Fell still offer that classic CF feel, though.
3 – Morbid Tales (1984)
CF’s debut effort was recorded less than a year after Warrior and Ain abandoned their Hellhammer project. This EP/album/what have you would go on to be massively influential in the metal world, and even beyond. Songs like Into The Crypt Of Rays and Procreation Of The Wicked have gone on to be covered by countless metal acts and are in rotation across “best of metal” playlists all over. This is a piece of metal history that is widely responsible for a lot of that godawful noise people are still listening to today.
2 – To Mega Therion (1985)
The first true proper full-length from Celtic Frost shares the influential lineage spawned by Morbid Tales. This album was a blueprint for death metal, black metal and doom metal. It is one of the most important releases to extreme metal as a whole, joining with Venom and Bathory in that regard. It’s really impossible to overstate the influence of this album.
And what an album it is. Songs like The Usurper and Circle Of The Tyrants are masterpieces. The entire album is a great marriage of savage noisemaking and creepy atmosphere. It’s weird to think what kind of place metal would be in without this offering.
1 – Monotheist (2006)
With all that said, my favorite Celtic Frost album was their final one, released after a 16 year gap between albums. The return was highly anticipated and the resulting album delivered in a way that exceeded notions.
Monotheist sees CF lean heavily on the doom side of things and is a presentation even darker than their pioneering early works. Tom Warrior’s voice added qualities with age (not that he was that old, early 40’s at this point) – his delivery is very fitting for the music. And the riffs and arrangements found here are unrivaled. This was a majestic offering from the band, who looked poised to perhaps lead a charge for a new decade but split up again instead.
That does it for the Celtic Frost rankings and, sadly, this is certainly the final, definitive ranking. The band split up in 2008 due to seemingly perpetual tensions between Tom Warrior and Martin Eric Ain, and in 2017 Ain died at only 50 years old. Warrior has proposed a show or two comprised of former CF members purely as a tribute to Ain, but the book on Celtic Frost’s recording career is long closed.
Even with the long layoffs and a discography on the shorter end, Celtic Frost hold an undeniable legacy in the world of metal. They were one of the most important bands to the formation of the extreme metal scene and their influence is responsible for literal decades of music since.
I was putting together some info for a near-future Judas Priest post when I got to thinking about Rob Halford’s solo career. This seed also got planted a few weeks ago when a few of us were at a buddy’s house and he had one of the the Halford albums on.
So today I present a quick run through the non-Judas Priest albums of Rob Halford. He did quite a bit of stuff in his time away from his legendary outfit, and threw a few more solo efforts out there after returning to Priest in 2003.
Let’s go all the way back to 1993 and begin the look at Rob Halford’s solo offerings.
Fight – War Of Words (1993)
Halford came out swinging with his first non-Priest effort. Fight were a band of the times, in a thrash/groove pocket that slotted very well with the metal in rotation in 1993. Though Priest had done well to update their sound with Painkiller, Halford took his own leanings into even more of a current direction with Fight. Also note that Scott Travis double dips here – he was drumming with JP and also with Fight. Also notable is Russ Parrish on guitar, now more well-known as Satchel from Steel Panther.
Nailed To The Gun was a single from War Of Words and it was a great introduction to Halford’s post-Priest life. It got plenty of MTV play and the buzz set Halford and Fight up decently well out of the gate.
Fight – A Small Deadly Space (1995)
Fight’s second and last release didn’t quite hit the same way the debut did. It maybe lacked the dynamics of the first and was a bit stripped down or “grungy,” perhaps. It’s not horrible by any means but it kind of flopped and spelled the end of the project. I did see Fight live on this tour, it was my first Halford live experience of any kind. Between the Fight stuff and a small handful of Priest tunes thrown in it was a hell of a show.
2wo – Voyeurs (1998)
Halford’s next move would be into the industrial metal space, a form of music that was huge at the time and something he had long expressed a desire to do. This one-off project saw him team up with John 5, now known as Rob Zombie’s guitarist and the new guy in Motley Crue. The record was released on Trent Reznor’s record label, though this was not a collaboration between the artists.
2wo did not make waves at all, in fact the album was derided on release and the project scrapped pretty early on. It has gotten some more love in retrospect but remains more of a curiosity than anything in the distinguished career of Rob Halford. I always thought the album was a worthwhile listen but I can see why it didn’t really take off.
Note that while I’ve only posted the song, there is a fairly crazy video out there for I Am A Pig. It takes a bit of digging to find.
Halford – Resurrection (2000)
As the calendar flipped to a new everything in 2000, Halford returned to his metal roots and launched a new project. This time he would collaborate with producer Roy Z, who had lent great weight to Bruce Dickinson’s solo career.
This project would be very well-received and reinvigorate interest in Rob Halford and the more traditional strain of heavy metal. The band toured extensively, including opening for a reunited Iron Maiden, which really spiked interest in the “old sound” again. Bruce Dickinson also appears as a guest on the song The One You Love To Hate, making true a long-desired fantasy pairing in metal.
Halford – Crucible (2002)
Halford’s next move would be to get a bit heavier and actually move aside a bit from the “trad metal” leaning of the last record. This record accomplished its mission and kept the Halford train rolling, with the featured song Betrayal being an absolute barn burner.
This is the point where Halford reconnected with Judas Priest. It would be several more years before a new Halford solo offering.
Halford – Winter Songs (2009)
The third Halford solo outing would be a bit of a departure for heavy metal in general – while not explicitly stated as such, this is a Christmas album. There are a ton of old Christmas standards here, as well as a few originals penned by Halford and Roy Z.
While this isn’t my cup of tea, there also isn’t really anything wrong with it. It’s what you’d want, if what you wanted was a Rob Halford Christmas album. Halford would revisit the Christmas album in 2019 with Celestial, an album billed as a “friends and family” effort.
Halford – Made Of Metal (2010)
It would be a quick turnaround from the Christmas special to the next proper Halford release, which to date remains the final solo offering. This would return to the more traditional metal sound of the first album and serves as a respectable bookend to Halford’s solo catalog, if indeed nothing further materializes.
It’s unknown if there will be another Halford release outside the bounds of Judas Priest. Halford has expressed a desire to collaborate with some specific artists, among them Ihsahn from Emperor. It has yet to happen though, and it’s been all quiet on the Halford solo camp after some mess about label and catalog rights years ago that somehow saw Halford not have the rights to his own solo music for a time. I’m not even sure how that story ended or if it did, but it was kind of a mess.
Whatever may come, Rob Halford has led quite a career, both with his main gig and outside of it. He has displayed a clear willingness to pursue sounds outside of the box and has had some great moments, both within and outside of the bounds of strict heavy metal.
This week’s pick is a watershed moment in extreme metal. The album is hailed as a cornerstone of its sound and it casts a massive influence on the direction of heavy metal for generations to come.
At The Gates – Slaughter Of The Soul
Released November 5, 1995 via Earache Records
My Favorite Tracks – Slaughter Of The Soul, Blinded By Fear, Under A Serpent Sun
By 1995, At The Gates were part of an emerging Swedish death metal scene also including In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Their music would carry the term “Gothenburg Sound” in reference to their home city, but would widely come to be termed melodic death metal.
For At The Gates, fortunes had been rising after the release of their third album, 1994’s Terminal Spirit Disease. The stage was set for a release that would capture international attention and make the band top players in the death metal game. As it turns out, even that bar was too low to describe what happened.
The distinctions between melodic death metal and, uh, “normal” death metal lie in guitar and vocal delivery. Death metal was built on buzzsaw guitars and deep, guttural vocals; while melodic death employed riffs bearing influence from the traditional heavy metal of the 1980’s and a higher register of vocals, rendering the output more comprehensible.
Our album today comprises 11 tracks from the original version, with a very lean runtime of 33 minutes. I’ll handle that before tackling the legacy of the record, which could pretty well fill a book.
The album kicks off with Blinded By Fear, an intense thrasher reflecting on the concept of death being the only release from fear. The template for the record is set here, with fast riffs and vocals leading into a brief yet intense solo section. There isn’t a lot of deviation from this formula for the record’s course.
The title track arrives next. Slaughter Of The Soul has become the signature anthem for At The Gates, encapsulating perfectly the sound on display. The song both rolls smoothly and stomps over everything in its path. Cold comes next and features a guest guitar solo from Andy LaRocque of King Diamond and Death fame.
The assault continues with Under A Serpent Sun, tacking the tried and true metal theme of the end of the world. The album’s first half (roughly) is wrapped up with the instrumental Into The Dead World.
It is a nice, quiet break from the otherwise relentless proceedings.
Things pick straight back up with Suicide Nation. This song deftly straddles the line between thrash and death. World Of Lies emphasizes the low end a bit more, while Unto Others goes back to the higher register and also picks up the pace a fair bit. The album rounds out with Nausea and Need, two songs that lay on the throttle and bring the album home. Everything wraps up with another instrumental, The Flames Of The End, which would come to be a more fitting title than it would initially communicate.
Slaughter Of The Soul captured the attention of the metal underground and thrust At The Gates into the limelight. The band toured extensively behind the record, especially in the United States. The saturation of the market would lay the seeds for metal’s next big movements in the early 2000’s.
While the album would go on to be hailed as a genre-defining classic, much of At The Gates’ celebration of that legacy would not come until much later. In 1996, only a year after Slaughter… was released, ATG called it quits. The members would float through various projects until 2008, when they would reunite for a tour. It would be 19 years between albums as no new recorded music saw the light of day until 2014.
One could be forgiven for thinking that At The Gates did release albums in that time between – hundreds, in fact – the influence of Slaughter Of The Soul is stamped all over American heavy metal of the early millennium. Strains of melodic death metal would pop up all over the US and also abroad, and it wasn’t hard to hear the influence of At The Gates in the music. Both death metal and melodic metalcore would be top-selling fare during the 2000’s and lead the pack in terms of exposure and discussion.
Perhaps the true beauty of Slaughter Of The Soul is that its groundbreaking sound wasn’t really new or innovative, or even groundbreaking. At The Gates had already laid that foundation with three prior albums, along with their peers In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Slaughter… is a beautifully executed record that is a high mark for melodic death metal but also doesn’t really do anything other than distill what already was into a finer form. There isn’t much in the way of innovation – rather, it’s just the sound turned up to 11.
Today Slaughter Of The Soul remains as a staple of the heavy metal diet, in fact At The Gates have been playing the entire record live in recent shows. The album’s legacy is secure and has honestly only grown as the music it inspired became the law of the land in heavy metal.
Today’s post is about buying music, a topic I like to cover here from time to time. This time it isn’t so much how to buy it or what it costs, but it’s about where to buy it. And, more to the point, where I’ve bought it over the years.
While I was born in the late 70’s, I was a child of the 80’s and music was a big deal back then. Radio was huge, MTV was going full blast (with actual music), and people were scooping up albums left and right. Records were still a thing, cassettes were likely the predominant format, and CDs were around but just getting their legs under them.
Pop music was massive in the 80’s. Rock and metal were at their highest point of exposure and sales. Rap was emerging as a force. Country, well, it wasn’t necessarily great in the 80’s but a few legends of the game were setting themselves up on the scene. Music was everywhere – in ads, in movie soundtracks, it was big business in the decade of Reagan and cocaine.
For a good part of the population, buying music in the 1980’s was as simple as having the money for it. Mainstream releases flooded the shelves of both specialized music stores and general retail outlets. Mail order buying clubs existed, even if their best use wasn’t exactly above the board. It was pretty easy to get what you wanted when it came to music.
Well, mostly. I had it a little different. I didn’t grow up in a big city, my hometown’s population was around 2,500. It left one option, that being Wal-Mart. This wasn’t one of the SuperCenter Wal-Marts, either – this was a plain, old-fashioned Wal-Mart. The store was a different animal before the SuperCenter concept took off.
And as a side note – while I rarely ever visit my hometown anymore, I’m fairly certain that the store there is still a regular Wal-Mart, which is an oddity.
Anyway, Wal-Mart is where I had to buy music in my younger days. The selection was honestly pretty decent – I remember records still being in stock when I first really started paying attention to music, but I took to the cassette format due to cost and all that. I was into rock and hair metal at the time, and the store carried all a person could want and more of that.
As my tastes evolved in the early 1990’s, Wal-Mart would still serve a purpose but did become outmoded. I sought more and more stuff with the dreaded “Parental Advisory” sticker, and a holy site like Wal-Mart wouldn’t sell that.
They sort of did, once. I’ll post about it someday but I have to try to dig up more info on it first.
Thankfully a music store opened in the college town just 20 minutes down the highway from me. They had no qualms about selling PA sticker stuff to minors (that was never a law, despite many peoples’ misunderstanding of it) and they’d special order stuff that wasn’t on their shelves. I made out my remaining years of high school with that and the occasional order from underground distributors and labels.
I was in the military for four years and over in Europe during that time. While it seems nice on the surface, since a lot of metal comes from Europe, here’s a reality check – the music there is still just as underground as it is here, or at least was in the late ’90’s. There were plenty of music stores where I could get cool stuff, but mail order was still the lord of the land for more underground fare. That got easier with the advent of the Internet and online ordering, speeding up the process quite a bit.
After returning to the States just before the dawn of the new millennium, things began to shift. Music stores were still in force when I got back, but the digital music revolution clearly eroded the physical distribution model. Music stores began to decline as album sales fell, though the shops were far from extinct.
I was lucky for a very long time – a very quality CD store held out for a long time. Its name was CD Warehouse, and it was an awesome place to buy music. They had a great selection, the staff were super cool, and it was easy to spend a lot of time just browsing for something with no specific purchase in mind. A lot of what still sits on my shelf today came from CD Warehouse over the past few decades.
Sadly, the changing times caught up to the store, and they closed in the late 2010’s. It seemed as though buying physical music was confined to the online retailers. I was at a point where I had too much stuff anyway, so I was only making selective purchases when I really, really wanted to have something. It seemed that the idea of collecting music was going the way of the dinosaur.
But that’s not quite what happened, is it? I wasn’t paying all that much attention to it, but all through the last decade, a once thought-dead format was surging forward in a massive way. Even before my beloved CD store died out, vinyl was again a booming market. What’s old was new again, and the vinyl resurgence has carried into the 2020’s.
While there are plenty of places to buy records, we’ve been lucky that independent shops have seen a comeback. It’s so much better to buy in a shop run by people who know and care about what they’re selling, and the vinyl comeback has been a great opportunity for that sort of business.
Of course it’s getting to be a more rocky road. Vinyl prices are high, inflation is shit and it’s getting tougher to buy music. I’ve personally cut things off entirely for a bit as I regroup financially, and I know many others who have curtailed or eliminated purchases altogether. It’s a necessary thing in the present reality, but it’s a terrible thing for those independent stores who rely on those sales. Big box stores and online monoliths can get buy without music sales, but it’s the thing keeping the good shops alive.
And that sums up the journey of buying music from 1980-whatever through to the present day. I’m sure there will be further adventures in that regard, that is, if I can ever find that elusive thing called “surplus money” again. Nothing beats hitting up the store and finding that perfect album to haul home and put on.
For the past while I’ve been running through my singles collection on Thursdays. I have a few left, but I’ve decided to pause the operation for now. I’ll do a special one near Christmas time, but beyond that I am going to take a break until the end of the year.
Once the calendar flips I’ll do my deep dive into my Iron Maiden singles collection. That’ll take up six months or so at the rate of one a week, so I’ll take a bit of time to get the text and photos for that all set up. Then later next year, once that’s done and I’ve (maybe) acquired a few other singles, I can run through what else is left in my collection.
In the meantime I may do some kind of quick post on Thursdays to fill the gap, maybe highlight a song or go through a few of my box sets, I don’t know for sure yet. I have a week to figure it out, I suppose.
That’s about all for today. Since I was on about Van Halen earlier this week, here’s some more.
Time for another S-Tier song, and the second part of a mini-series started awhile ago. For a list of previous S-Tier songs and an explanation for how it all works, head here.
So I last left off with A Perfect Circle and their hit single Judith. The song was an attack on the deep faith Maynard James Keenan’s mother felt despite an injury that left her debilitated for nearly 30 years. It wasn’t the first time Keenan had used his mother’s malady as lyrical inspiration – the Tool song Jimmy from 1996’s Aenima was about his experiences being 11 years old after his mother’s injury.
And it wouldn’t be the last time Tool would visit with Judith for song inspiration. Judith died in 2003, and in 2006 Tool would release the 10,000 Days album. While the album title pays homage to Saturn’s 29 year long cycle of moons in orbit, two songs on the album serve as eulogy to Judith Marie.
Tool – 10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)
10,000 Days the song is preceded by Wings For Marie, a more intro-like song that sets the stage for the epic rollout to come. And while Wings For Marie is its own track, it’s very difficult to assess it in isolation, as it is clearly a companion to 10,000 Days.
The song 10,000 Days itself begins with a rolling, quiet intro that is clearly building to something and also features the sound of storms in it. The payoff will come, but this 11 minute long song isn’t in a hurry to get to its point.
As the bass and the storm rolls along, Maynard begins singing about the end of his mother’s mortal journey. He takes a shot at the hypocrites who surrounded her after her health issues, but then deliberately writes them off and focuses the rest of the song on Judith.
The lyrics accompany Judith as she ascends to Heaven. Rather than be a humble servant, Maynard says Judith should arrive at the gates proudly and demand her wings. She is truly “the light and the way they only read about” and is the main event at the pearly gates.
The song ends with a quiet reflection from Maynard offering further suggestion for what Judith should say as she enters the afterlife. Everything is a bit of a roller coaster in the 11-minute long surge of music and movements, but the quiet ending sums everything up perfectly.
The rest of the band is up to some real atmosphere generation on 10,000 Days. This isn’t a long song that just goes from point A to point B with a few riffs and fills – no, there are plenty of movements and changes to keep everything fresh and also flowing along with the varying intensity of the lyrics. Tool never was much of a straightforward band anyway, and they up the ante on this song with arrangements and progressions that stand apart from a lot of popular fare of the time.
10,000 Days was not released as a single. It was played live during the album’s tour cycle, but met with some resistance from a portion of fans. The popular cuts from the record were the singles like Jambi and The Pot, and in some instances people at concerts were screaming for those while the band was playing 10,000 Days.
The fan backlash, however strong it may have really been, coupled with the extremely personal nature of the song, led Maynard James Keenan to feel a bit burned by doing the song. He said this about it in a May 2022 interview with Loudwire:
“I think probably the stupidest thing I could have done on 10,000 Days was put myself out there as much as I did with the tracks ‘Wings for Marie (Part 1)’ and ‘10,000 Days (Wings Part 2),’ Keenan said in an interview to promote the album. “I’ll never make that mistake again. It just took too much out of me – too much emotionally, mentally, physically – all those manifestations. Those songs were exploited and misconstrued, people were flippant and dismissive. I won’t be doing that anymore. And technically, ‘Wings’ is very difficult to pull off. If any one of us is off, it falls apart and makes that thing tragic, and that’s not a good song for me to have fall apart. It’s just too personal.”
It is a shame that the song was shrugged off by some, but I know me and many others found it to be a masterwork. The majestic instrumentation along with the powerful lyrics that could only come from such a harrowing place were the perfect song combination. Tool no longer performs the song, though in part that might be due to a whole other album full of 10-minute long songs that eat up a fair chunk of a set list.
Why is this an S-Tier song?
10,000 Days is a triumphant movement, wrapping the emotionally-charged death of Maynard’s mother Judith into a masterful piece of music. It’s a movement that goes beyond our regular notions of music enjoyment and enters a kind of space reserved for the more transcendent of songs. It is a long build up for a payoff only paid if you have any amount of patience within you.
This is the type of song to be enjoyed over a course of time, and to be appreciated for the scope of what is being communicated. A “fan” looking for immediate payoff won’t be welcome here. This is for the more discerning ear, preconceived notions about Tool be damned.
This week’s pick is one of rock’s greatest albums. The songs married the sounds of the time with the band’s already-established formula and created a whirlwind that marks one of the most successful periods in the group’s career. It would also be the last offering from this phase of the band for many years.
Van Halen – 1984
Released January 9, 1984 via Warner Bros. Records
My Favorite Tracks – Hot For Teacher, Panama, I’ll Wait
The lead-up to 1984 was a bit contentious for Van Halen. The band had rushed out Diver Down and Eddie Van Halen was prevented from his desired use of synthesizers. In 1983 he sequestered himself in his new home studio and used a synthesizer for the whole year, in defiance of the wishes of David Lee Roth and the record label.
The results weren’t to be argued, though. The slate of songs Eddie came up with worked, both within the band’s sound and as an update to their offerings. This album was chock full of hits and several of the songs would become iconic pieces of Van Halen’s catalog.
It is a rather short album in some respects – 8 songs with a total time of 33 minutes. But there is a lot to talk about, given the legendary nature and success of these songs.
Keeping things even more concise is the first track, a minute long instrumental that only features synthesizer. That’s about all there is to it.
The proper lead track is likely Van Halen’s most recognized song. Jump features the keyboard front and center, with Eddie’s guitar taking complimentary role. Roth originally based the lyrics around footage of someone contemplating suicide from a tall building, but later reworked them to fashion a more inspiring message.
Jump is Van Halen’s biggest single, being their only number one entry on the Billboard Hot 100. Jump has been ever-present in society in the 38 years since its release.
Eddie put up the keyboard here and offered a more conventional Van Halen track. The song sounds like the prototypical Van Halen party track but is actually about David Lee Roth’s race car. It’s all the same, really, and this is another widely celebrated song. Panama was a top 20 single and is another VH tune that’s never more than a stone’s throw away. It’s also a very nice bridge to the earlier material.
Another guitar-focused track, this upbeat song is a tribute to a gigging band Roth used to catch at a club in Hollywood. Many rock songs have been written about the rise and fall of music stars, but this song simply shines light on a group that went out and played, without the shitty ending.
Drop Dead Legs
Nothing much to get into here – it’s a groovy, Eddie-on-the-guitar tune whose lyrical content is blatantly obvious. Nothing wrong with short and to the point.
Hot For Teacher
The band’s final single from the DLR era is a thing to behold. Alex Van Halen rumbles in with an intense double-bass drum solo intro, then Eddie joins in with some crazy fretwork to kick off this massive rock tune.
The song is, again, simple in premise – guy’s got the hots for his teacher. It has been a common deal since school has been a thing. The song is electric and takes everything to 11. While the single didn’t’ crack the US Top 40, the MTV video was a sensation and saw massive airplay.
Another single, this song goes back to the keyboard-heavy approach of Jump. It’s a bit of a slower tune and the synth being at the forefront works well.
An outside collaborator was brought in to help with the lyrics – Michael McDonald, he of the Doobie Brothers and sundry other projects, helped Roth along with the words. McDonald was not credited on certain versions of the release initially, for reasons not made clear.
I’ll Wait matched Panama’s success on the US Billboard singles chart, hitting position 13.
Girl Gone Bad
Heading toward album’s end with a song that showcases a bit of a cleaner guitar tone from Eddie, something a bit brighter that might be a preview of Van Halen to come. There are also words sung about a girl gone bad, which is literally all there is to say about the song’s lyrical theme.
House Of Pain
The album closes on a very old-time VH sounding tune with a very heavy, driving riff. It’s about rough sex, or about not enough rough sex, or not about rough sex, or maybe all of the above – all is possible within the David Lee Roth multiverse.
1984 was a smash success for Van Halen. The album sold well out of the gate, hitting gold just a bit after release. It is in a virtual tie with the debut album as Van Halen’s best-selling record, both being over 10 million and diamond certified in the US. 1984 is often at or very near the top of many VH album rankings and is cited as one of the best albums of the 1980’s.
It’s worth noting that the “synth” arguments about the album are pretty overblown. It’s two whole songs, three if you count the intro. It wasn’t the first time VH used synth either, so the fuss probably comes down to the success of Jump as a single. It might have been different to hear Eddie base a song off of keys rather than guitar, but it gets boring when artists do the same thing over and over again, and Eddie Van Halen wasn’t going to be that kind of artist.
The band would tour behind the album and then long-running tensions would see David Lee Roth exit Van Halen to pursue a solo career. Van Halen would regroup with Sammy Hagar and enter a musically different yet commercially fantastic era.
Roth’s exit was a foregone conclusion, as fans would find out mostly in retrospect. Roth and Eddie Van Halen butted head creatively, with Roth not fond of the synth-based direction Eddie wanted to take. 1984 seems to be Eddie’s response to that. Roth was also presented with opportunities that later didn’t pan out, so heading out on his own was a fairly logical choice.
However things afterward went down, there is no argument that 1984 was a pinnacle album for Van Halen. It was a more cohesive effort that offered up quality work even in secondary tracks, something other early-era albums could sometimes lack. It captured the attention of the world at large and made Van Halen one of rock’s biggest names in an era where rock was king.