Hard Features

– Metal Is Back –
Impaled Nazarene
Phoenix Down

As I drove west on I-80 from North Liberty, Iowa, towards Vermillion, SD, I was rocking to “For Whom the Bells Toll” on the radio. While driving north on I-29, a rock station played “Master of Puppets.” Things have definitely changed. Who doesn’t remember lamenting that radio didn’t support Metallica because they were too heavy, even as their sales went up and up? So, western Iowa is in the throes of a renaissance. Is that good for the genre?

Definitely. There are high school kids that declare they are metalheads, but they didn’t know a CD called “Kill ‘Em All” exists. They think Metallica’s first CD was the Black album. They look at you in disbelief when you say that Creed and Godsmack, while heavy and good bands, are not really metal when you play their albums in the same hour as Entombed’s recent Uprising (Sanctuary Records) release.

Starting out with the ferocious kick of “Seeing Red,” the legendary quintet from Sweden burst back onto the metal scene with straight-forward metal. The intensity is continued with “Say It In Slugs” when vocalist L-G Petrov declares in his gruff singing voice, “I killed my best friend with a hammer/ Now I’m in stitches/ He became one of the icons around/ I was left with an itch.” “Won’t Back Down” is a kick in the groin with an outstanding performance from drummer Peter Stjarnvind and guitarists Alex Hellid and Uffe Cederlund. Bassist Jorgen Sandstrom holds the low end down and locks in tight with Stjarnvind.

Another CD that makes the metal of today seem like ‘non-metal’ is Overkill’s recent Bloodletting (Sanctuary). Miss the old school thrash of Megadeth and Metallica? Overkill’s been around nearly as long and with this release, they are throwing their hat in the ring to continue carrying metal’s torch. If they would only get a replacement for Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. True, Ellsworth gives the band its character, much like Roth did with Van Halen and Halford with Judas Priest, but this time around, he takes on a new level of annoying. Guitarist Dave Linsk and drummer Tim Mallare steal the show, if you tune your ear to how tight they lock in together on tracks like “Thunderhead” at the 3:19 mark. You listen to the Linsk riff and then the solo that follows and think “Now I know another band to put in when I don’t have a Pantera CD nearby and I want to hear a crappy vocalist.”

America’s Volume Dealer (Sanctuary) is the new strong effort from COC who return after a break with strong songwriting from vocalist/guitarist Pepper Keenan. His riffs are more focused. “Congratulations Song” has even been played on eastern Iowa radio stations so maybe, just maybe, the band is going to achieve the mainstream media’s attention. While this is not as strong of a full-blown metal release (the CD has a southern rock feel on “Stare Too Long” with a cameo from Warren Haynes playing slide guitar), songs like “Diablo Blvd” gets the head bobbing with a distortion-thick Helmet start/stop style riff. “Doublewide” is a straight-forward rock song with less distortion and more of a stomp groove.

The 2000 version of Metallica is Impaled Nazarene. Their latest release, Aihil (Osmose Productions) has as much chance being on the mainstream radio as Metallica did in 1984: NONE. Their dark music is abrasive and their vocalist growls in a way that gives the listener slight comprehension. I caught “I am so fucking tired of this” but I’m not sure what “this” is. The pace of this band is staggering: fast and with a lot of changes in tempos and moods. Their lead guitarist doesn’t fill his solos with a 1000 notes per millisecond. Instead, more often than not the solo allows each note to briefly resonate before playing the next one. A strong death metal release. Phoenix Down’s Under a Wild Sky (Frontier Records) is awful. I didn’t like this CD at all. The music sounds like Whitesnake, but with 1/16th of the talent as the Slip of the Tongue lineup (Steve Vai on guitar, Rudy Sarzo on bass, and Tommy Aldridge on drums). The music here is cliched, mainly in the lyrics department. Any band that can write “I’ve been searching your eyes/ . . . and though we tried again and again/ I find in my heart no reason to stay/ . . . yeah yeah yeah” and take themselves seriously, needs to seriously reconsider their goal as musicans. This is the equivelent of the Backstreet Boys in the metal genre. It’s good for what it is, but only for what it is: fluff.

The metal genre does NOT need future releases from Phoenix Down, but it craves future releases from Impaled Nazarene, COC, Overkill (assuming they get a new vocalist or release an all-instrumental CD), and Entombed.

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