A Moving Picture of a Red Barchetta

Rush’s groundbreaking album, Moving Pictures, turned 40 yesterday. It’s hard to wrap my grey hairs around that. These songs have been a part of my life since I stubbornly crawled out of the womb. This music is the definition of timeless.

“Red Barchetta” is my favorite song on the album (“Limelight” a close second). Every time I hear those iconic opening harmonics, I’m instantly in a better place. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. It can be dead of winter but hearing this song makes me feel like I’m under a big, bright sun in the middle of summer, carefree and weightless. When Geddy Lee fires off his intro bass doodle, it’s impossible to contain the goosebumps.

It’s an excellent tune to turn up while losing yourself on an open road to “the blur of the landscape.” The fact that it’s about a car helps but doesn’t matter. It could be about red Crayola crayons, and it would have the same effect on me.

I love how it starts so subdued, so controlled. The buildup is what makes “Red Barchetta” so outstanding. Rush’s attention to structure and flow was always incredible, and this track is a superb example. When that hard-edged riff by Alex Lifeson hits, you’re on a rollercoaster ride you can’t get off (but wouldn’t want to anyway). Lifeson was an underrated guitarist 40 years ago, and he’s only become better since. I’ll never understand why his name doesn’t come up more in conversations about the greatest ax men of our time.

Neil Peart, of course, does his jaw-dropping Neil thing throughout the entire song. What else can you say about the guy? I’m positive he was from another planet. He was a master of his craft and put everything he had into songs like “Red Barchetta.” Peart once said he thought Moving Pictures was the best album Rush had done, and it’s hard to argue with that statement.

The Atomic Bitchwax – Scorpio

Screw the five cups of coffee. Just play The Atomic Bitchwax’s latest album, Scorpio, from front to back, and you’ll be set for the day. From the first drum roll to the final three-note crunch, the band is a powerhouse of intensity, running on an endless supply of venom. This revolving New Jersey circle of Monster Magnet, Godspeed, and Raging Slab alumni will furiously burn a hole through your fragile, unsuspecting sound system before you can dial in your precious EQ settings. Thankfully, that level of tinkering is unnecessary due to the crisp, robust engineering of Stephen DeAcutis.

Longtime fans of the Bitchwax will relish the familiar bulldozing sounds of the opening track, “Hope You Die,” a rework of the tune from their 1999 self-titled debut. Though not entirely new, it still delivers a much-appreciated kick in the nads to anyone bored with current rock music. It overflows with more boiling attitude than Kyuss’ “Thumb,” and that’s saying something. Chris Kosnik’s defiant vocal delivery portrays him as a guy you want on your side in a back-alley bar fight. At the same time, his bass assault has clearly been shaped to a lethal precision by the always infectious Geezer Butler. In a more direct nod to the mighty Black Sabbath, the band ends Scorpio’s title track with a quick throwback to a sweet, leafy substance. Straight people won’t know what that’s about.

As exciting as Kosnik’s in-your-face statements are, some of the most enthralling moments occur when he steps away from the mic. The instrumental “Ninja” doesn’t sneak up on you, but it will encourage you to karate-kick a tree out of the ground or carve up a couple of park benches with a katana. “Crash,” another wordless jam that is manhandled by drummer Bob Pantella, will leave you feeling like you fell victim to Sting’s Scorpion Deathlock. At times, it’s surprising that three dudes from the stoner rock institution, Monster Magnet, are ripping it up this vigorously, but I’m not complaining. This is what happens when you take excellent skills, undying love for all things rock n’ roll, and (I assume) semi-illegal pharmaceuticals, and toss them all into a high-speed mixer for almost 40 minutes.

They relax slightly with the accessible, and rightly titled, “Easy Action.” This neck swaying tune would work well at a child’s birthday party with clowns and a bouncy castle, or an adult gathering featuring scantily clad women living their best lives on trampolines. I can almost imagine it playing on rock radio, but they won’t do it, and let’s face it – most of them aren’t even worthy of the wax that drips from these atomic bitches. They are undoubtedly a band for music lovers, by music lovers.

“You Got It” is a congested highway buzzing with excessive testosterone. The destination may see your vehicle splattered against a billboard if you’re not paying attention to society’s constraints, but hey, that’s why insurance exists. Speaking of cars, if you enjoy playing air guitar on your Chevy Nova’s roof at 3 a.m. after chugging a bottle of Jim Beam, buy this disc, crank up Garrett Sweeny’s sick ass leads on “Super Sonic,” and do just that. You’ll thank me later (remember to take your boots off first). It might also be a good idea to stretch before submitting to The Atomic Bitchwax’s third instrumental, and final song of the album, “Instant Death.” Letting this one loose at maximum volume is akin to receiving five Stinger Splashes in a row. Once that happens, it’s lights out. Ring the bell. Stoner metal has a new heavyweight champion, and its name is Scorpio.


Corey Taylor – CMFT

Corey Taylor. Corey. Motherf$%#ing. Taylor. Finally, the most electrifying man in music entertainment has come back to turn our candy asses inside out, with his highly anticipated debut album, CMFT. I know everyone’s dying to know what Corey Taylor thinks of Corey Taylor’s first solo record, but for now, you’ll have to settle for my thoughts. Corey Taylor is too busy kicking asses and forgetting names.

Curmudgeons and jabronis beware: These songs are a damn good time. If you’re uninterested in having a little fun while blowing out your eardrums, then take your saggy balls and go home. This album isn’t going away anytime soon. As a wise man named Corey Taylor once said, “CMFT can’t be stopped!” Every loud, tantalizing moment of CMFT is overwhelmingly infectious. Corey Taylor is living his best life, and now, vicariously, you can too!

The band hits the asphalt like an army of bare-naked speed freaks on “HWY 666,” an instant country-metal classic centered around a run-in with Beelzebub. This down south headbanging doesn’t prevail on the album, but the vibe and attitude remain, along with a healthy dose of ‘90s alternative rock. On songs like “Everybody Dies on my Birthday” and “Samantha’s Gone,” Stone Sour’s Christian Martucci unleashes an arsenal of eyebrow-raising leads that elevate him to CMFT championship material. However, I wouldn’t expect Corey Taylor to drop the belt anytime soon. Martucci andZach Throne team up to deliver several Dimebag-light riffs that succeed in kickstarting the heart. After yearning for chunkier, more punishing guitar tones, I soon learned to accept (and appreciate) CMFT for what it is.

No one should enter this party expecting to hear Slipknot or Stone Sour. If anything, this more closely resembles Corey’s anti-Christmas carol, “X-M@$,” but without the jingling bells. There are, however, some delightfully evil moments when the vocal stylings of his previous bands creep in. “Culture Head,” a song that defiantly attacks all sides of our crumbling society, has metal embedded in its DNA. Bassist Jason Christopher (Prong) ruggedly channels the spirit of Alice in Chains’ Mike Starr, while Dustin Robert bashes the toms and snares like a jester possessed. Even in these darker sections, the purpose remains to rock the blues away at all costs.  

This movement is spearheaded by the highly shoutable “Meine Lux” and the thigh-slapping “Kansas.” Both are worthy companions for a road trip motivated by seemingly impossible trials that only music can remedy.Corey appears confused and weighed down by the state of the world, but refuses to remain silent and still. On “The Maria Fire” he clarifies: “I wouldn’t want to imply / That I’m bitter or belligerent or simply benign / I’m just looking for ways to enjoy the view.” With the surprisingly uplifting, “Everybody Dies on my Birthday,” Taylor encourages his listeners via short bursts of wisdom: “The world is not a god damn tournament / choose your own participation.”     

The CMFT band accomplishes its mission unscathed while tapping into a reservoir of rock’s finest mentors. The jazz-infused “The Maria Fire” wouldn’t be out of place on a Stone Temple Pilots record, while “Halfway Down” is how ZZ Top would sound if they were locked in a shed with AC/DC. The ultra-catchy “Black Eyes Blue” carries tinges of both Van Halen eras, maintaining enough spunk and crunch to keep the most hardened rocker interested. CMFT is what a new Volbeat album should sound like, instead of the tear-inducing pop-metal we’ve recently been subjected to.

It’s not always a one-sided victory. Taylor and his tag team partners fall to the mat for a 3-count on “Silverfish,” a stagnant number with cheap lyrics like, “No one’s gonna save me, lord / No one’s gonna save me when I die,” and the piano-soaked ballad “Home,” which desperately lacks a memorable hook. Luckily, these mundane moments are rare. Corey wisely wraps up the album on a high note with the party anthem “CMFT Must Be Stopped” and the comical crossover thrash madness of “European Tour Bus Bathroom Song.” Their positions on the record are perfect because they wouldn’t make a lick of sense elsewhere.

Based on the singles, this could have gone a few different ways, one being a disaster. Like many, I have no interest in a nu-metal or rap-metal resurgence, and my stomach felt queasy the first time I heard the chorus to “Black Eyes Blue.” Both genre leaping forays have become guilty pleasures, though less embarrassment comes from the satirical and humorous “CMFT Must Be Stopped.” It’s hard to hate such a silly song, and the slick verses by Tech N9ne and Kid Bookie only increase the entertainment value. CMFT proves once and for all, to the millions of listeners around the world, that Corey Taylor is the people’s champion of rock n’ roll.

Sugar Ray and The Bluetones featuring Little Charlie: Too Far from the Bar

Veterans of the blues game, Sugar Ray and The Bluetones, released their latest record, Too Far from the Bar, on September 18, 2020. The album is extra special as it’s one of the last recordings from legendary blues guitarist Little Charlie Baty, who unfortunately passed away earlier this year. In the liner notes, Charlie fondly recalls first hearing Sugar Ray and The Bluetones play at the Sleeping Lady Café in Fairfax, CA, almost 40 years ago. Sugar Ray Norcia’s “outstanding voice” and “unique harmonica style” instantly grabbed Baty’s attention. Listening to Too Far from the Bar (or any Sugar Ray release) makes it easy to see why. After meeting a few years later, Baty couldn’t wait to record an album with Norcia and his band of Blues Music Awards nominees, but his own touring and retirement got in the way. Luckily for blues fans, this project came to fruition before Charlie’s untimely death. 

Produced by Roomful of Blues founder/guitarist, Duke Robillard, this impressive collaboration features nine originals and six cover songs which blend perfectly. Kicking things off is their version of “Don’t Give No More Than You Can Take,” an invigorating tune by The “5” Royales. The prudent lyrics and heartening vibe of the original are enhanced by the addition of Baty’s playful fretwork and Norcia’s soul-soothing harmonica solos. They plow down a similar path with “Too Far from the Bar,” a bouncy number with an updated “Johnny B. Goode” feel. The title track, highlighted with frenzied piano strikes by the great Anthony Geraci, portrays a thirsty Sugar Ray struggling to get the bartender’s attention. The singer continues to stretch his storytelling muscles on “The Night I Got Pulled Over,” a cautionary tale many of us can relate to about driving when you have the blues.

Hopefully, Sugar Ray eventually got his drink because he sounds like he needs it more than ever on “Too Little Too Late” and “What I Put You Through.” This is blues at its finest: moody tunes laced with regrets over a love that got away. Neil Gouvin on drums and Michael “Mudcat” Ward on acoustic bass keep the groove locked down like a fortress, while Norcia’s howling harp comes in ever so sweetly at just the right moment. They are also two of four tracks to feature the tender notes of Robillard. The Bluetones didn’t pull any punches with this lineup.

Another standout track is “Reel Burner,” an instrumental with a relentlessly dizzying swing that pushes further away from the blues and into big band territory with every thump. Equally exciting is the accelerated rhythm of Jerry McCain’s “My Next Door Neighbor.” The influence this storied blues singer/harmonica player had on Sugar Ray is apparent. The Bluetones frontman uses his energetic inflection to breathe new life into the song as if McCain were in the room giving him the thumbs up, while Baty and Geraci passionately sprinkle dashes of flavor all over the satisfyingly fresh blues entrée. The combination of these three players shines the most on Too Far from the Bar. Fans of Charlie’s work will appreciate that he injected the same enthusiasm and creativity into this record as he did with The Nightcats.

The jovial, up-tempo jams take a back seat to more relaxed, traditional blues melodies, though the songs never come off lazy or sterile. Norcia often dives deep into bare-naked contemplation, letting his introspective words provide a cathartic level of comfort and motivation. Even when the band is wrapped up tight in a blanket of gloomy blues, there’s a sense of positivity reaching out from under the covers. This ability to expertly leap between various blues styles is what makes Too Far from the Bar deserving of all the accolades it’s bound to receive. This project is one that each musician is justifiably proud of, and that sentiment is heard loud and clear in every song that they put to tape.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s Unforgettable Debut – Ledbetter Heights

Like many music fans, I first heard Kenny Wayne Shepherd when “Blue on Black” took over the airwaves in 1997. I was instantly hooked despite being into a lot of alternative music. I assumed Trouble Is . . . was his first album because he seemed to come out of nowhere. I also thought he was the lead singer in the band. Boy, I had a lot to learn.

On September 19, 1995, Shepherd (who was only 18) released Ledbetter Heights, his scorching debut thatintroduced a new generation to the power of the blues. Shepherd, a self-taught guitar player, started playing at the age of seven, after attending a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert. Thanks to his dad, who was working promotion for the show, Kenny was able to meet his idol. The impact SRV’s playing had on his impressionable young mind (and fingers) is undeniable.

The album wastes no time getting down to business with the heavy, in-your-face rocker, “Born With a Broken Heart.” This track is best described by its second line, delivered soulfully by Corey Sterling: “Keeps getting’ stronger, like a slow rollin’ train.” At the end of the ride, this train is nearly off its tracks, and the listener is treated to a thunderous jam session crackling with electrifying leads. Kenny and his band drive down a similar road with “I’m Leaving You (Commit a Crime),” a hard-edged blues assault originally written by James “St. Louis Jimmy” Oden and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf for his 1971 album The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions.

In addition to a clever name, “Deja Voodoo” wields a groove that grabs you and doesn’t release its grip for six minutes. It’s near impossible to stop your head from bobbing back and forth with pure gratification. The first time I heard it, I was confident it would remain a moody, slow-burner until a minute and a half in when the band unexpectedly kicked things up a notch. This rock n’ roll sneak attack occurs again in “Aberdeen,” a tune originally done by blues legend Bukka White. The track is rich with slide guitar and a knee-slapping acoustic rhythm until the bass and drums furiously explode onto the scene. A simple song, enjoyable enough to relax with on the porch while sipping a cold one, magically turns into a hellacious barnyard burner.

If you’re feeling down, that “bluesy” mood is no match for Ledbetter Heights. The album succeeds remarkably in lifting spirits, thanks to upbeat romps such as “What’s Goin’ Down” and “Everybody Gets the Blues.” The latter focuses on daily struggles we all go through, but does so in a lighthearted way with inspiring words of wisdom:

“It don’t matter if you’re black
It don’t matter if you’re white
You know you got to get it wrong
 To have a chance to make it right.”

Shepherd also wasn’t afraid to slow things down. “While We Cry,” a live cut, is a calming instrumental that takes inspiration from Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and SRV’s “Lenny.” It also sounds wildly similar to Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter,” the B-side to their 1992 hit “Jeremy.” This has sparked some internet debate over plagiarism, but both parties claim the tunes are original without any arguments. There’s a wonderful hypnotic effect to the song that can ease your worries in an instant. Sharing a comparable power is “Riverside,” a laid-back number that goes well with any campfire gathering.

Overall, the ‘90s were a great time for music with guitars, and this album is no exception. None of the originals or covers feel out of place, and the tracklist flows effortlessly between heavier and lighter moments until climaxing with the fast-paced title track. Thanks to the producer, David Z., everything is excitingly crisp when the volume knob is turned all the way to the right. 25 years later, Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s Ledbetter Heights still deserves a spot on your shelf next to all the other great ones.

Alice in Chains: Lifting Faces Since 1990

The second the grimy opening riff from Alice in Chains’ “We Die Young” worms its way through your earholes, it’s impossible not to headbang like it’s 1990 – the year their debut gave rock music a much-appreciated Facelift. Sadly, the song became a painful reality when founding members Mike Starr and Layne Staley lost their drug addiction battles. If only the lyrics, “Take another hit / and bury your brother” weren’t so literal.

Alice in Chains is the one band metalheads agree on. Go ahead and check the comment sections if you don’t believe me. This stems from the fact that they bathed in the musical blood of the godfathers of heavy metal, Black Sabbath. One can’t help but get sucked into the void by “Bleed the Freak,” a deranged jingle that owes its nastiness to the one and only Tony Iommi. The chorus oozes with raw power. Vocalists today who spew indecipherable growls into a soaking wet microphone need to clear the hairballs from their throats and take careful notes. This is how you properly tap a vein with metal.

The uneasy creepiness of “Love Hate Love” harkens back to a timeless piece of doom called “Black Sabbath,” only instead of singing about the great Satan, Layne took a more personal approach. His eerie message to a “little girl” is more maniacal than Ozzy Osbourne’s haunting cries about a “figure in black.” Staley’s sick, malevolent words wouldn’t be out of place in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:

“I want to peel the skin from your face
Before the real you lays to waste.”

These chilling comments are quite fitting, given the album title. Just as Leatherface is inseparable from his saw, Jerry Cantrell shares a similar bond with his axe. Sean Kinney and Starr expertly gave him the space he needed to enhance an already epic composition with one of his most impressive leads.

This sinister, moody albumisn’t just a Sabbath homage. “Put You Down” sears with unbridled energy and a foot-stomping groove that instantly sticks to the brain, begging to be played at every basement bash. The opening notes to the appropriately titled “Sunshine” couldn’t be more different than its demented predecessors. It’s the brightest section of the record, although something ominous slithers its way through the verses. I often wonder what happened to that “dude” after he got touched by the mother. It’s been 30 years. Where did he go? Has anyone heard from said dude? Is anyone else bothered by this? This song is actually about the death of Cantrell’s mother, but I never got that from it. I appreciate its poetic indirectness.

For whatever reason, Jerry decided to get funky as hell on the surprisingly uptempo “I Know Somethin (Bout You).” It’s one of their more jovial, unusual songs, in company with “Swing on This” from Jar of Flies. Where else will you hear the line, “Your gold key don’t fit my crapper”? Not on a Sabbath record, that’s for sure. If you ask me, this is the track they should have inserted the Eddie Murphy inspired “Sexual chocolate, baby!” line into. Tell me you can’t hear it.

“Sea of Sorrow” always had an ‘80s metal feel but with less spandex and more flannel. It’s badass and original enough to avoid ridicule. Honestly, it wouldn’t be out of place on a Mötley Crüe record, and that’s okay. They could have ditched the fade-out, which was (thankfully) fading away around this time. This thumping rocker would have benefited from a hard ending. They should have just slapped the unpolished demo version on the album, with its sexy, turned up piano parts, played brilliantly by the multi-talented Kinney. That guy never gets enough credit. I wonder if the explosive drum-hit after the line “You opened fire!” was a nod to AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).” What am I saying? Of course, it was. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of FIRE!

It’s evident the effect Facelift (and Dirt) had on ‘90s era metal such as Anthrax’s Sound of White Noise and Metallica’s Load. Despite what people think about the latter, there’s a definite grunge influence at play. I find it weird that fans were okay with Alice in Chains switching their style numerous times and not Metallica, but that’s a futile debate for another time. “It Ain’t Like That,” a song foaming at the mouth with diabolical riffs, should make every band shamefully jealous. Though to be fair, it does seem inspired by “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Neither song is worth listening to unless they are cranked to a window shattering volume.

A tune that needs no introduction, “Man in the Box,” is one I need a break from. I blame radio for constantly shoving my nose in its “spit” for 30 years. Great job neutering a song, guys. Even if it hadn’t been played to severe levels of nausea, I wouldn’t listen to it regularly. It’s too basic compared to their exceptionally diverse catalog. I’d sooner turn up the two weaker tracks on the album, “I Can’t Remember” and “Confusion,” which bury other bands’ best work in the dirt. However, it wields a power that other megahits do not. The lyrics are average, but the way Staley releases them from the deepest depths of his diaphragm forces the most casual metal fan to kneel and scream that exhausted cliché from Wayne’s World. Plus, Jerry Cantrell’s mouth works a talkbox better than Peter Frampton, and his solo has no business being that damn good. Show me the way, Jerry.

Like any great rock album, this doesn’t end without dusting the listener’s ears with a little ditty about cocaine. I believe Ozzy wrote a couple of those in his heyday. The shameless honesty that Staley dispenses in “Real Thing” is as brutal as the chest-rattling bass and drums dished out by Starr and Kinney. His unapologetic lyricism set the foundation for more close encounters with illegal substances, such as Dirt’s “Junkhead,” which was even darker and more authentic. Like so many greats before them, the drugs inspired until they damn near destroyed them all.

Make no bones about it, Alice in Chains set the bar higher than an eight ball with Facelift. As far as debuts, or metal albums in general, it’s rarely been matched. Many have tried, often too hard (*cough* Godsmack), and failed miserably. The significant part these musicians played in altering the landscape of metal cannot be overlooked, as well as the overwhelming acceptance by its notoriously unforgiving community. Staley’s influential, godlike vocal abilities can only be compared to his fellow grunge rocker, Chris Cornell. Something was definitely in the Seattle water back then, and we are all lucky to drink from its river.


AC/DC – 40 Years of Back in Black

Rock and Roll Still Ain’t Noise Pollution

I recently told a friend I’d be fine never hearing “You Shook Me All Night Long” again. He whole-heartedly agreed. Yet, here we are 40 years after its release, and millions still drop their knickers for this mega-hit from AC/DC’s Back in Black. Granted, it’s mostly drunk girls who continue to request it during last call at sports bars across America. Obviously, that shouldn’t be the barometer for great music. Neither should the fact that it’s played 24 times a day on every rock station. Still, there’s no denying the impact this album has had on the world since it first shook us on July 25, 1980.

“Hells Bells” remains the most upbeat tribute to a fallen singer ever. Aside from the initial tolling of the bell, it never produces a mournful vibe. I mean, hell, it’s regularly played at football games (which baffles me). I don’t know about you, but the line, “You’re only young but you’re gonna die” wouldn’t motivate me to score touchdowns. Most people don’t realize it’s about the death of their first singer, Bon Scott. In a way, it shows the power of AC/DC to keep plowing forward. Nothing can derail their train, and that message came across loud and proud on Back in Black.

The four lads honored their mate the best way possible: with a big fat wall of sound. Drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams locked down a groove tighter than Bon’s blue jeans. The band also pulled off the most successful replacement in rock history with the high-energy, raspy-voiced Brian Johnson. He delivered a slightly different sound and attitude, but his playfulness and dedication to the spirit of rock n’ roll fit well with AC/DC’s tried and true approach. He only recently stopped singing with them because he was going deaf, and doctors told him to chill, or he’d never hear again. Johnson is a lifer all the way.

Brothers, Angus and Malcolm Young, didn’t exactly pull new tricks out of their hats, but that’s not what they’re about. They stick to their guns, and they do it better than anyone. The back-to-back six-string attack of “What Do You Do for Money Honey” and “Given the Dog a Bone” always knocks me on my ass. They’re the closest to old-school AC/DC. I can picture a shirtless, sweaty Bon belting them out on stage, sandwiched between classics like “Dog Eat Dog” and “Up to My Neck in You.” I get winded just thinking about it. “Shake a Leg” also falls into this category, but the lyrics are cheesier. If I’m told to “shake a leg” one more time, I’m going to grab someone’s fake leg and beat Johnson over the head with it. Thanks for turning my brain into mush with that nasty lead, though, Angus. I hear you.

When I heard “Let Me Put My Love into You” as a wee little guy, I thought Johnson said, “Let me cut your cape with my knife” (instead of “cake”). Therefore, I thought he was talking about comic books. I excitedly asked my old man, “Is this song about superheroes falling in love?” “No, son, it’s about . . . yes. Yes, it is.” he replied. Since then, I’ve always thought AC/DC had superpowers. It explained why Angus Young, even in his 60s, could headbang for two hours straight without breaking his neck. Imagine my elation when “Shoot to Thrill” made its explosive big-screen appearance in Iron Man 2. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me want to shake a leg. Dammit, they did it to me again!

I wonder how many people bought a guitar because of the song “Back in Black.” I wonder how many of those were Gibson SGs with the devil horns. Radio (and film) also bludgeoned me over the head with this track, but I’d be a fool to say it doesn’t still bust my nuts. That opening riff, after Rudd carefully counts in the band, will always hit HARD. When those kids on my lawn say, “It’s a banger,” I’m confident this is what they mean. Angus’ solo slaps like a mother and stands as one of his most memorable.

“Have a Drink on Me” is the reigning titleholder of Greatest Bar Song Ever. However, I’ll never understand the line, “Get stoned!” that’s shouted midway through. That’s not how drinking works, Brian.

“Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” is the ultimate song about rock and roll. Yes, they’ve written 20, but this is the best. It’s a giant middle finger to anyone who disagrees. Truthfully, I’ve listened to it 800 times and have no clue what Johnson says at the start of the first verse, and I’m okay not knowing. I’ll just continue to laugh every time because it reminds me of Jim Breuer’s impression of him.

Now that Mr. Johnson has a fancy new hearing aid, it would be bloody gnarly if they tour for this anniversary. It has to be him on vocals. It makes “good, good sense” for Stevie Young to step in for Malcolm (rest his soul). But I’m not okay with Axl Rose performing the album from front to back.

Back in Black has sold over 50 million copies, and it’s not even AC/DC’s best album (that honor goes to Let There Be Rock). Think about how crazy that is. It says a lot about what people gravitate toward, but it also says something about the timelessness of a great hard rock album. As Brian Johnson screamed so eloquently 40 years ago, “It’s never gonna die, never gonna die!”


Pantera – 30 Years of Cowboys From Hell

It’s December 2004. I’m standing in a driveway next to a puddle of my puke. The whiskey isn’t getting along with my stomach. It’s numbing my pain, though, so I pour another blacktooth grin and smile. The cement is littered with broken bottles and shattered souls. I hear my friend shout, “Watch it go!” seconds before a roman candle whizzes past my face, singeing my earlobe. Amidst laughter and explosions, Cowboys From Hell blasts through a cheap boombox. I can barely identify the faces through the smoke, but I know I’ll never forget this night or who I’m with. Instead of mourning, we are celebrating the life of a legend, the only way we know how: with a ridiculous amount of fireworks, booze, and a metal album that changed the genre. We all have different tastes. Pantera is the one thing we agree on. It’s a brotherhood of metal that will never die.

“Psycho Holiday” becomes the theme song for the night. It defines our thoughts and actions shamelessly to the letter. “Done too much alcohol” is the understatement of the century. Six people I never met show up with more beer. They look like low-life thugs, but after five minutes, we bond over our love for groove metal (and cans of Bud). The wife-beater guy is cross-eyed, but his pupils grow wide with elation when I bring up Vinnie Paul’s explosive double-bass drumming on “Heresy.” Once the shirtless-guy with tribal tattoos finishes rolling a blunt, he doesn’t shut up about how underrated Dimebag Darrell’s solos are on “Medicine Man.” I concur 100%, and it’s not the cocktails talking. Part of me wants to argue that “Floods” from The Great Southern Trendkill is better, but it’s not worth it.

The mood slightly shifts when “Cemetery Gates” plays. We knew this was coming. Some weep. Some just shake their heads. There are bro-hugs throughout the room. We all do a shot. Someone declares it the greatest metal ballad ever. An argument is made for Metallica’s “Fade to Black” and Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home.” The latter receives snickers from the metal elite. I stay out of the debate. I’m drowning in thoughts (and liquor). I suddenly realize I’ve never known who Phil Anselmo is singing about, and I’ve never cared. The song is that good. I’m not big on ballads, but it’s top three for sure. Now, unfortunately, I will think of Dimebag when I hear it. It became his song when that madman took him away from us.

A couple of people in the living room push through the sadness by trying to replicate Anselmo’s outrageous falsetto at the end of “Cemetery Gates.” We all agree it’s the only thing that dates the record, but in a good way. The dogs in the kitchen bark hysterically in disagreement. I can’t wait for someone to attempt “Shattered.” I decide it’s much easier (and more fun) to play air guitar on the coffee table. As I shred my invisible axe inches from the ceiling fan, Dime’s screeching notes cry wildly into the night, and we all let out an audible sigh.

In the moment of silence before “Domination,” a friend’s girlfriend asks, “If the Crüe is so bad, why is their poster on the wall?” We chuckle as he explains to her it’s actually Pantera from their glam metal days when Dimebag went by “Diamond” Darrell. “Wow,” she says. “Thank god they got rid of the spandex.” I receive a round of applause when I swear to the household that Vinnie yells, “Farts stink like a motherf**ker!” in the beginning of “Domination.”

My straight-edge friend sits next to me on the couch and hands me a red Solo cup of water. I’m disappointed it’s not vodka. He explains why “The Art of Shredding” is Pantera’s greatest song because it’s “Punk as f**k” and “You can hear Rex Brown’s bass!” I tell him the bass sounds like robots on motorcycles, and we need to get out of the house before The Terminator finds us. As I start to leave the room, the breakdown in the song stops me. I almost snap my neck headbanging like it’s 1990. The room joins me, and it’s nothing but hair and flannel and wallet-chains whipping around in pure heavy metal fury for the next two minutes.

After Cowboys From Hell ends, I ask if I can put on my VHS bootleg of Pantera opening for Black Sabbath in Philly, back in 1999. Everyone excitedly approves. They opened with “Domination.” I continuously, drunkenly tell everyone how it was a perfect choice because “They completely DOMINATED the arena!” A random girl takes the cold bottle of Jäger from my hand, replaces it with a glass of water, and walks me outside. Apparently, I need some air. I tell her it feels like I was hit with a “Primal Concrete Sledge.” It feels like Phil is living inside my head. She tells me I probably just need “The Sleep.” I tell her she’s pretty, and I ask her if she knows that “Primal” was written in the studio during the end of the Cowboys recording session. Judging by the look on her face, I don’t think she does.

Just as I’m thinking I might have a shot with the girl, the cops show up. Bastards! I guess we were too loud for the neighbors. I run to the stereo to throw on Pantera’s cover of “The Badge,” but one of my new thug friends stops me. Luckily, the police never come inside, even when someone yells, “So they can lick my sack!” from the bathroom window. I’ll always giggle when I think about that moment. To this day, I’ve never heard another line like that in metal, and I doubt I ever will. That’s quite the accomplishment. After being forced to lower the music, the party fizzled out, but our love for Pantera never has.

It’s 2008, and I’m getting Dimebag inked on my leg. My tattoo artist is asking if I’m okay. I’m so hungover I’m falling asleep. Per my request, “Message in Blood” is pumping through the speakers. Other patrons and artists in the shop are pleased. I hear them share their own Pantera stories. As the ink master drills into my skin, he praises Dimebag’s nasty riffing in the song. I nod in agreement as I stare down at the bloody icon on my calf. Four years later, at a metal festival, a very inebriated man sees my tattoo and stops me. He’s teary-eyed and says, “Thank you,” repeatedly. We share a bro-hug and go back to enjoying the metal.

It’s 2020, and a weird mix of sadness and joy comes over me while staring at the cheesy Cowboys From Hell cover. The Abbott brothers on the left are gone forever. In the grand scheme, they were a powerful, short-lived force. They aren’t grinding the axe anymore, but their influence can be heard loud and clear on popular metal bands today, such as Black Breath and Gojira. I listen to Pantera so often that I forget they’re no longer a band, and never can be again. Talk about a “Clash With Reality.”

Thirty years ago, over a flanger-filled guitar loop from hell, Anselmo confidently uttered the words, “We’re taking over this town.” And Pantera did just that. That statement introduced the world to a revolutionary album that is still felt throughout the metal scene today.

AFI – 25 Years of Answer That and Stay Fashionable

What is punk rock? Answer That and Stay Fashionable. AFI’s debut was released on July 4, 1995. It remains an exciting album that you don’t have to be a teenager to enjoy.

The title originates from an episode of The Comic Strip (a British, Spinal Tap-type series) called “Bad News Tour.” The cover was an ode to the Quentin Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs. These guys weren’t just four-chord wonders; they were also film nerds.

This wasn’t my introduction to AFI. That honor goes to Black Sails in the Sunset. I owe a debt of gratitude to a punk friend (mohawk and all) who played that album relentlessly at parties. For him to like music, it had to be fast. AFI certainly had the speed, but I was shocked at how strong the lyrics and melodies were. Soon after, I discovered the similar-sounding, The Art of Drowning, and I was hooked. Other friends, who typically preferred alternative rock, also dug those records. Once I started exploring AFI’s punk roots, I was pleasantly surprised. The songs were simpler, but not bad by any stretch.

As much as I love punk rock, it can become repetitive. Many records sound terribly dated. Some of that has to do with cheesy, adolescent lyrics. Davey Havok indeed wrote his share for this album. Though truth be told, these lines from “Cereal Wars” still make me chuckle: “Give me sugar not nuts and twigs! Do I look like a f**kin’ squirrel to you?”

A song like “I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)” means nothing to my old ass now, but I’m sure it does to plenty of kids. Hearing it today makes me yearn for more comfortable times when my biggest problem was not being allowed to stay out late. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the aggressiveness of “Open Your Eyes” still makes me want to thrash around in a pit (my back be damned!), and the anarchy-fueled lyrics of “Half-Empty Bottle” fit well in our current frustrated climate:

“I’ve got the cure when passive protest just won’t do
Just flick my Bic as I hold it to the fuse
Smash it up! Break it down!
Bring it down, down to the ground!
Tear it up! Burn it down!
Burn it down, down to the ground!”

Production can make or break any album. Luckily, this was produced by Tim Armstrong (singer for some band called Rancid). That little group also released a record in 1995 called …And Out Come the Wolves. I’m not saying AFI’s first album is equal to that juggernaut, but it sounds rad when you blast it in your backyard after numerous cans of cheap beer. Or so I’ve heard.

Another Rancid trademark is Matt Freeman’s catchy, skillful basslines. You can hear him loud and clear over two guitarists hammering out crunchy riffs and solos. What’s impressive about AFI’s debut is that Geoff Kresge’s bass parts stand out similarly, alongside Markus Stopholese’s in-your-face axe attack. Kresge plays killer stuff on songs like “Yürf Rendenmein” and “Your Name Here.” Most punk songs make me want to pick up a guitar. These make me want to slap da bass. He’s in sync with the drummer, Adam Carson, every step of the way. Tempo wise, they could give Metallica a run for their money. In fact, I’ve always thought “The Checkered Demon” owed a lot to “Motorbreath” from Kill ‘Em All.

AFI has taken a stab at many styles throughout their 25-year musical journey: punk, hardcore, industrial, emo, horror, goth, etc. Like all great bands, they’ve evolved while staying true to themselves. In the early days, the influence of bands like The Misfits and 7 Seconds was undeniable. Most songs on Answer That and Stay Fashionable are under two minutes long or close to it. They couldn’t replicate it today if they wanted to (and I doubt they do). Their debut will always be an amusing snapshot of a time when punk music could still sound original.

This isn’t Dark Side of the Moon or even London Calling. But it’s fun, urgent, honest music that will lift your spirits and enhance any party (even an adult one) within seconds. As far as loud music with guitars goes, what more could you ask for? Answer that and . . . well, you get it.

Pearl Jam Drops a Gigaton Bomb

Put your seatbelt on and buckle up for the ride. This uplifting album pairs well with wine, moonlight, campfire, fresh air, and distancing.

Pearl Jam checks every box on Gigaton that has made them so great throughout their 30-year career while sounding like a completely new band. Their 11th record has a vibe of its own, which is exciting if you’re a diehard fan or a newcomer. It may be their most spiritual album to date. There are moments when it seems to lack direction, but strangely, that works in its favor. It’s honest and human. It contains more emotion than technique, and in my opinion, that’s when these Seattle rockers succeed the most.

The frantic, hard-edged urgency of “Who Ever Said” kicks off the album brilliantly. Its unpredictability sets the framework for the ambitious twelve-song journey (and longest album to date). This is one you’ll instantly want to sing along to, even if you’re not sure what Eddie Vedder is saying. Mike McCready’s guitar furiously wails all over the song, as it does on the track “Never Destination.” Oddly enough, the one tune McCready wrote (and produced) himself, “Retrograde,” is quite the opposite. With this peaceful number, we are treated to an atmospheric, soulful sound that would be at home on Vedder’s Into the Wild soundtrack.

At first, “Dance of the Clairvoyants” feels out of place on the record (and within their catalog), but maybe that’s the point. Perhaps out of place is its place, like many of us in the world today. Kudos to them for not being afraid to take a few steps out of their comfort zone. This song also features an interesting round of musical chairs which sees Mike McCready handling percussion duties, Stone Gossard on the bass (its driving force), and Jeff Ament adding a layer of personality with spacey keyboards and laid-back guitar strumming. The leads are still tackled by McCready, and the Jimi Hendrix influence is undeniable. No complaints here.

The sounds and emotions throughout the rest of the inspired collection range from fun and punky, to subdued and reflective. The Matt Cameron penned, “Take the Long Way” is sure to please grunge fans due to its fast-paced Soundgarden vibe. It sounds like an unreleased track from their album, Down on the Upside. “Quick Escape” is a heavier, standout track which features a groovy bassline by Jeff Ament, and more impressive fretwork from McCready, who sounds like he’s channeling the painful cries of Mother Earth.

There’s no lack of quality in the words department either. Lyrics like the following, from “Seven O’ Clock” and “Alright” respectively, are so appropriate considering our current climate, that you’d think Vedder is a time-traveling wizard:

“For this is no time for depression or self-indulgent hesitance / This f**ked up situation calls for all hands, hands on deck.”

“It’s alright to shut it down / disappear in thin air, it’s your home / it’s alright to be alone.”

Meaningful lyrics will never go out of style. The thoughtful poetry sprinkled throughout Gigaton will require much more attention and interpretation from this rock n’ roll listener. All the great ones do.

Speaking of great ones, “Comes Then Goes” is a lovely acoustic number which is most likely about the late, great Chris Cornell. This would be appropriate given how close he was with Eddie. It’s a fitting tribute that seems to draw from his spirit (and others that we’ve lost), serving as a reminder to never let go of their memory. It starts a wonderful wind-down to a rollercoaster of an album.

Concluding this spiritual awakening is “River Cross,” a song that would work well during the end credits to a film with a happy ending. It leaves you with an intense feeling of hope, thanks to the beautiful pump-organ work by Vedder, and introspective lyrics that come from a place of frustration as well as perseverance. “Let it be a lie that all futures die” is a statement we can all get behind.