When people reference ’90s music, they usually mean grunge, alternative, or hip-hop’s second golden age. Underneath the mainstream, however, were a number of genres bubbling around that, while influential, never became as well-known as they should have.
One of these strains was an abrasive form of post-punk sometimes called “Noise Rock” or occasionally “Pigfuck” (Hey, I think I just figured out why this genre didn’t become better known!). Keeping the aggression of punk, while adding a bit more musicianship and reveling in the darker side of life, noise rock was the genre of choice for ex-punks who missed the emotion and and freedom of the genre, but weren’t down with the metal licks and tough guy attitudes that were prevalent at that time.
Three members of groundbreaking noise rock bands, Swans, Unsane, and Cop Shoot Cop have recently teamed up in Human Impact, a band bringing the ’90s noise rock revolution into the 21st century with their self-titled album.
“November” kicks things off with a bass-heavy lurching Jesus Lizard-esque song complete with dental drill guitars and Chris Spencer’s Albini-like howls. “E605” utilizes synths in an effectively creepy way, recalling Italian ’70s horror soundtrack crossed with Big Black. “Consequences” combines classic Joy Division post-punk mixed with Big Black metallic guitar washes propelling the song from brooding to explosive.
The majority of the songs on Human Impact clock in over the standard 3.5 minute song limit, giving the songs time to stretch out and mine the uneasy emotions in the songs. The shortest song, the 47 second “Relax” is brooding, ominous synth soundscape, and works well as the intro to the punishing “Unstable.”
Combining brooding intensity with explosive aggression, Human Aggression have blended different strands of post-punk into a 21st century noise rock showcase, that fans of Helmet, Melvins, and the Ampthetamine Reptile roster would do well to pick up.
Documentary fatigue is a serious problem facing today’s discerning underground music fan. While it was once possible to get excited over a brief mention of the Ramones or Iggy Pop in a History of Rock and Roll documentary, today the market is flooded with full-length documentaries on just about every niche musician imaginable, all trying to trick the gullible consumer into believing that every unknown garage group was much better than any band normal people heard of, all relying on the same talking heads and using the same general framework and structure.
Every once in a while, however, a music documentary is released that makes perfect sense – the interviews are interesting enough, the product is done well enough, and the subject hasn’t been examined over and over ad infinitum.
Such is the case with The Color of Noise, a documentary focusing on Amphetamine Reptile Records and founder Tom Hazelmyer. As a label, Amphetamine Reptile might not have been as well-known as contemporaries Sub Pop or Touch and Go, but was equally groundbreaking and inspired equal amounts of record nerds to buy each new release, knowing that if it was on Am Rep, it was going to be noisy, antisocial, heavy, or at the very least, have a well-designed cover.
Hazelmyer began the label while still in the Marines as a way to document his band Halo of Flies and hopefully get some interest from one of the larger indie labels. Saying he wanted his guitar to “make a sound like a dinosaur,” Hazelmyer soon began releasing records from like-minded bands, such as Tar, Cows, Surgery, Melvins, Hammerhead and Helmet; bands that blended the anger, noise, and excitement of American hardcore with the experimentation of post-punk.
Hazelmyer also used Am Rep to document like-minded Australian bands like X, Lubricated Goat, and Cosmic Psychos. The Australian interviews are among the best in the interview, with members of Cosmic Psychos and Lubricated Goat acting exactly how you’d hope Australian ex-rockers would act.
Director/Producer Eric Roebel was able to interview a majority of the bands on the label, which must have been a Herculean undertaking. Anchored by the affably grumpy Hazelmyer, Roebel also gives time to the artists and designers who were connected with the label, such as Derek Hess, Coop, Kozik, and Shepard Fairey.
Roebel shows a fine editorial hand, interviews last just long enough to be interesting, and the animation is kept to a minimum (One of the reviewer’s pet peeves. If you have to use a lot of animation in your doc, it usually means you don’t have enough faith in your story).
While The Color of Noise is ostensibly the story of a record label, it is more the story of Hazelmyer, and it helps that Hazelmyer is interesting and has a compelling story – after contacting meningitis, he was in a coma for about a month, then walked out of the hospital. Now he produces wood prints, plays in a band, the amazingly named Gay Witch Abortion, and curates gallery shows after the label has died down. Shots of him attending a comic convention or shooting an AK 47 with his kids illustrate what many of the interviews state – that he is a man of conviction and integrity who appreciates the finer things in life – guns, meat and booze. The doc closes with glowing testimonials from band members and friends praising his work ethic and honesty, which honestly runs a bit too long, and your nerd reviewer would have liked to have seen interviews with Tar and Vertigo, but overall The Color of Noise is a welcome entry in the glut of underground music documentaries, and one that should act as a cure for Documentary Fatigue.
Tomahawk is a “supergroup” composed of Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard, Hank III), Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, FantÃ´mas , Mondo Cane, Peeping Tom, et. al) , John Stanier (Helmet, Battles), and Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, MadLove, FantÃ´mas). “Supergroup” is one of the great oxymorons in the lexicon of music. Quick, name the supergroup: Led Zeppelin or The Firm. The answer, of course, is The Firm. In the history of rock supergroups, there are ten bands like The Firm or Bad English for every Cream or Traveling Wilburys. Not great odds. What often looks great on paper fails to produce great music. This, along with colossal egos no doubt, could be one reason most supergroups tend to be short-lived ventures.
So in many ways, just releasing their fourth album, Oddfellows, sets Tomahawk apart from many supergroups. Oddfellows proves to be a continuation of the sound (which I refuse to label with a few stock adjectives) established on the band’s first two releases: Tomahawk and Mit Gas. Tomahawk took a bit of a detour on its third album, Anonymous, by basing the tracks on traditional Native American songs, so the obligatory “return to form” label will undoubtedly be placed on Oddfellows.
At 13 songs clocking in at just less than 41 minutes, Oddfellows plays with a stark economy some new Tomahawk listeners may find jarring. For example, the band often will not repeat a chorus the number of times normally required of the 3:30 minute pop song format. Overall, the band seems to be taking an “all killer, no filler,” less-is-more approach with the brevity of the songs and the live feel of the recording. If there is one complaint about Oddfellows, it would be in the production. Even on CD, the album feels a bit compressed and trebly; this serves to blunt some of the sonic power of the great collective and individual performances, most notably those of drummer Stanier and bassist Dunn.
Mild production concerns aside, Oddfellows plays as another strong album from a supergroup of alternative professionals (how is that for an oxymoron?). There is an obvious chemistry among the four members, almost enough to stop people from mentioning their past bands when talking about this one. So here’s to album four and a hope for a fifth from this supergroup of odd fellows.
The dirty shores of Jersey have given us another hardcore band to sing praises to.
Fight Amp (formerly Fight Amputation) emerges from the grimy basements of West Berlin, NJ with a sludge-soaked musical concoction that is birthed from the same metal/punk breeding ground that The Melvins and Green River clawed their way out of a decade ago. Of course, in order to hear this pre-grunge influence it’s first necessary to scrape away a thick layer that sounds almost too much like Unsane and Helmet.
Then again, none of those bands had a woman on guitar and vocals. Fight Amp has one with a voice that’s as balls-out as the male vocalist in the group, and songs that find her singing lead, as on “Bound and Hagged,” pack added heat. With a guttural growl, not as maniacal as Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow but in the same ballpark, a fresh listener would be hard pressed to pick out which vocals on the album are indeed done by a woman.
Hungry For Nothing is just over 30 minutes of music you’ve heard before, but if hardcore-flavored metal that drips with stale beer and cheap cigarettes is your choice flavor, then this is one release that is sure to set your taste buds dripping.
Offering another flavor into the already bountiful Orlando music mixture, History delivers with a sound that has its feet planted firmly in the mid ’90s post-punk past. Their debut, Ghosts in the City, may take multiple listens to hold tight, but once inside the ear the layers of noise offer nostalgia to those of us who remember bands like Fugazi, Superchunk, and Helmet. For those of a younger age, they will — with any luck — open up new ears to old times.
The dual vocals of Matt Caron and Melissa Parker are as pleasant a pairing as Frank Black and Kim Deal were. Where Caron is frantic and full of nervous anxiety, Parker is a like a smooth milkshake.
Where this Florida band stems off from the otherwise post-punk influence is in the slightly electronic base coat brought on board by the inclusion of a moog keyboard, and the occasional experimental instrumental breaks.
Songs to start with: “Brake Through Hour Wall Sew We Can Sea Where the Rats Arrgh,” “Bloody Death of Murder,” “It’s Ladies Night Somewhere,” and “Horn of the Unicorn.”
It’s been four years since rap metal outfit P.O.D. has put out any new material. Life has brought them a new maturity, softened them a bit, and brought them to a point where they can boldly slow things down and even break out the acoustic guitar at times.
When Angels & Serpents Dance begins a new chapter in the world of P.O.D. For one, it marks the reunion with original guitarist Marcos Curiel, who had had been fired back in 2001. The details surrounding Curiel’s initial ejection are unclear, though most fingers point to management at the band’s then label, Atlantic Records. Take a quick glance up an inch or two, and you’ll find that the band’s new release is on Ino/Columbia, so it seems as though there may be some truth to that claim.
The new P.O.D. is not the one I channel-surfed over back in the days when they could call Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park peers. There’s less rap these days, and that which is there is more in the vein of the reggae-flavored 311 style. They’ve got the heavy songs to satisfy the metal fans, “God Forbid” featuring Helmet’s Paide Hamilton for one. Other notable tracks include the Cypress Hill inspired “Kaliforn-Eye-A,” featuring Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies, the Caribbean craze of “I’ll Be Ready,” and a Red Hot Chili Peppers sounding “It Can’t Rain Everyday.”
At first listen, Akimbo’s Navigating the Bronze smashes the skull like a sledge hammer. It’s heavy, it’s brutal, it’s nothing short of good metal. There are no weak singing breaks in the otherwise scream heavy vocals, and the music lets up for a second to allow the mind to breathe in the stench of stale beer before plowing into the next burst of aggression. It’s a keeper from the first kick off, but it’s not until the third or fourth spin that the Seattle band’s fifth disc reveals its true inner brilliance.
Seeped in the aftermath of grunge, Akimbo seem hell bent on burying the more mainstream side of Seattle’s past and re-establishing the Pacific Northwest as the hub of the sort of heavy metal that doesn’t need theatrics to get people’s attention. These guys are thinking along the lines of Jawbox, Helmet, or The Jesus Lizard. No gimmicks, just metal.
The three best moments within 40 minutes of heart-pounding bliss are: “Roman Coins” (almost three minutes worth of a drum solo that never tires), “Huge Muscles” (possibly the best sludge metal song to come out in the last five years), and “The Curse of King David” (a classically epic metal track that somehow recalls everything from Sabbath to Primus).
I don’t know that I’ve heard such a powerfully heavy band with as much blood in the music as well as the vocal delivery as I have now listening to Unsane’s Visqueen. Hell, even their album covers are bloody. Following in a long line of self made tradition, this disc like their previous ones — dating back to 1991 — has a gory true life photograph of a dead body. It sets the tone for the album before you even have got a chance to take it out of its shrink wrap.
The auditory explosion that awaits inside is a car crash of Black Flag and Slayer. Appearing in NYC around the same time as Page Hamilton’s Helmet, Unsane play a darker shade of the same kind of metal. Their history is a dark as their music — including heroin overdoses, and physical violence that actually put vocalist Chris Spencer in a hospital bed. This is not a sunny band, but it’s a damn intense one.
Released as the introductory disc on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings label, this is the metal record to pick up this year. “Last Man Standing,” “Against the Grain” and “This Stops At the River” are the three songs I’d recommend to a friend as a starter kit to this meal of an album.
‘Twas the night before Memorial Day, and not a creature was stirring ’round downtown Orlando- not even inside The Social where RTX and Totimoshi were scheduled to play. Don’t most people have tomorrow off?, I thought as I hopped next door to the BBQ Bar to have a drink and so avoid being the very first patron to walk through the quiet venue doors. I debated whether or not to skip the show entirely, but my curiousity for Totimoshi propelled along as I pushed my way through the open air and awaited the evening’s festivities… Festivities of which had already gotten pushed back 30 minutes to allow for late fans who never came.
Orlando’s Vox Palma jumped from the bar to the stage to play for their friends, who were responsible for the sole element of energy in the audience. The six-strong pack of greasy, stumble drunk rock boys turned the stage into a garage- ignoring the barren state of the room and having a great time with themselves. Like a pack of teenagers hopped up on big gulps and pop rocks, Vox Palma made a lot of fun noise, a good portion of which was too irresistible not to fall a little in lust for.
However, the explosive noise that Vox Palma took six people to even touch upon, Totimoshi accomplished easily with only three. The trio from Oakland, which consists of Antonio Aguilar on guitar and vox, Meg Castellanos on bass and vox, and- secret weapon- drummer Chris Irizarry, held the gazes of those of us smart enough to have come with the audio equivalent of an exploding planet. They called upon the mojo of Nirvana, The Melvins, Helmet and The Jesus Lizard while Irizarry was busy communicating with the metal gods of yesteryear.
Totimoshi’s Chris Irizarry
“Viva Zapata” is one of those perfect instrumental compositions that only bands like The Big Sleep have the balls to pull off in concert and still keep the audience captivated.
Are Totimoshi always this on, or were their talents on overdrive for the benefit of Meg Castellanos’ father, who was in the audience and seeing his daughter’s band for the first time? I don’t know, I don’t care, but I will find out because any chance I have in the future to see this band play again I will gladly take! Even if it’s just me in the crowd.
When I called up Page Hamilton he was on another call. An A&R guy from the label for the band he’s currently producing, Classic Case, had started his L.A. morning off on the wrong foot by calling him from NY to complain about minor details on recent studio tracks. The well-educated and well-spoken vocalist/guitarist/songwriter of the seminal metal/hardcore outfit Helmet spent a few minutes venting to me about the frustrations of label execs second-guessing musicians “who know what the hell they’re doing, and do it well,” before diving into expansive answers to my many questions.
At this point in your career, after you’ve already put out six albums with Helmet and have been called an innovator within your genre of music, do you find it easier or more difficult to come up with new ideas for songs?
I don’t want to say, ’cause I wouldn’t want to jinx myself for next time! [laughs] It’s like ‘oh, it’s easier!’ and then next time I have writer’s block, or something! I try not to put that pressure on myself, I’m not trying to out-do myself. I don’t compare what I’m doing today to what I did yesterday. It’s just not productive. Every fan and critic will do that. It’s like what we were just talking about, producing albums for people and whatever, everybody having an opinion about music and about everything you do. First of all, I’m flattered that they care enough, but at the same time if I sat there and thought about it I’d drive myself crazy and I’d never progress. So I don’t let what other people say affect me anymore, and I don’t think about it myself. I just sit down with a guitar everyday. You know, let’s say, 85% of my life I sit down with a guitar and a keyboard and a drum machine… it’s always been about the music, for me. I’m not trying to repeat myself, or repeat past glories [laughs].
It’s like, Meantime was a cool album — I’m glad everyone likes it, but that was 14 years ago. Just because that was the first album that introduced the greater public to us, so of course that’s gonna be the favorite album. My favorite Killing Joke album is the first one, ya know. I love pretty much everything they’ve done since, but there’s always gonna be a soft spot in my heart for that record. It’s the same with any band and with critics. It’s hard for people to step back and be objective to something they have an attachment to, and I’m aware of that. I’m a way better writer than I was in 1992, that’s for sure. I’m a better singer, better guitar player… ya know, I have more knowledge and ability in the studio and in every way. I hope that in 10 years I’m better, if not I’ll quit.
Do you ever go back and listen to your old stuff, or is it “the past is the past, let’s move forward?”
I don’t sit around and listen to my records and smoke cigarettes…
…and go “damn! I’m good!”
[laughs] Yeah, I can’t pat myself on the back and go “wow, remember when I did that”… No, but there are times when I have to listen to the music to teach it to the ever-rotating band personnel. I have to learn details of songs when people are like “I wanna learn this.” Like Jared, from Classic Case, asks me, “What’s that chord you’re playing in ‘Speechless’?” And I’m like, “Jesus, I haven’t played that song in 12 years.” So I have to go back and listen to it sometimes and go, “Oh yeah, it’s simple — it’s this.” I mean, I have listened to my stuff, but I can’t remember the last time I did. Except when I started working with these guys, with Classic Case…
How’d you get hooked up with the Saw III soundtrack?
That’s a label thing, Warcon. I had nothing to do with that. They’re just looking for ways — thank god — to keep the album in people’s consciousness. I know nothing about selling records, so I leave that up to them. I just made the record, and I said pick whatever songs you want for singles and videos and whatever. I like all of the songs, I like the whole album, so whatever they can do to help maintain a high profile so that we can afford to make another one… next summer, that’s what I look forward to.
You mentioned the cross-marketing within the record industry. It seems like the labels are looking for other avenues to promote music, since the whole industry is in flux right now. What else can be done to make people want to buy music again, instead of listening on the computer and finding it in other ways?
I don’t think there’s an answer. It’s a different time. People have access to so much, and have so many options, that everything becomes a little less significant to some extent. Like everyone was looking forward to the new Led Zeppelin release in ’75,’ 76, ’77, or whatever — there was AC/DC, REO Speedwagon, and a handful of rock bands… Hip Hop was in its infancy. There was less out there. You went to a record store, you bought records… But now you can get anything, and hundreds of thousands of songs and thousands of records come out a year… People belong to these genres. I saw this thing on TV — VH-1, Fuse, I don’t know one of those — and they were asking all these guys in Metal, “What is Metal?” And they were like, “Oh, that’s a tough one…” It’s not tough — Metal is a marketing tool. Calling something Metal. Is Zeppelin “metal?” Who gives a shit! Or Van Halen, or AC/DC, Black Sabbath… I don’t care what you call it, it’s great music! Is it Metal, or Punk, or Hardcore? I don’t know, I never thought twice about it. People used to say “you’re ashamed of Metal, you don’t want to be Metal.” I’m like, is that because I don’t wear black all the time and I don’t have any tattoos?
As a musician, the only thing you can do — ever — is making it about enjoyment of music, and respect of music and try to improve as a player, a singer, a writer, a producer, or whatever you do it for. If you do it to get laid, then God bless you, that’s cool. I got laid before I was in a well-known band, I’m not doing it for that. [Laughs] For a lot of people there has to be a purpose behind it. Would I like to sell 10 million records? Hell yeah, then I could put in a pool and a big ol’ house, and never leave, and I could pay someone to grocery shop for me. I could just work on my orchestration techniques or something, I’d find some way to waste time! Watch Yankee highlights from the last 20 years… I get nervous sometimes, ’cause there are so many musicians putting out so many records out there — the majority of whom are completely incompetent — and I don’t really think of it as music. People are like, “What do you think of this band?” It doesn’t even register on my radar. When I was 12 I may have liked it, but I’ve heard that band, x, y, or z for the last 25 years. They’re not doing anything new. I have to hear some sort of personal stamp on Western tonality, something!
Are there any bands out there now that do impress you, that you feel are doing something new and interesting?
Page Hamilton greets fans
Yeah, there are a bunch! We’re not talking about reinventing the wheel here. You’re talking about rock music, and I spend about 10% of my time listening to rock music. I’m not out hustling and trying to find new bands. If they bring something to me, for work, and I think “oh, that sounds cool, I have an idea about what I can do with those guys.” My goal is to find what’s interesting about a band and help point it out to them. With Classic Case I can point out and say “that’s ok, but it’s straight out of the Radiohead songbook, or Jeff Buckley.” And they’ll go “oh, yeah.” That’s cool, but let’s do something more interesting with it ’cause those bands existed and it’s done, and let’s do your own thing with it. Like the band Against Me!, on the Warped Tour, they’re pretty straight ahead — a cross between Tom Petty and The Clash, not over the top players, but good solid songwriters and I enjoyed watching that. The band Motion City Soundtrack, they’re super pop and have this kind of Men At Work meets Elvis Costello thing going, late ’70s / early ’80s pop song vibe with a great singer. It was pretty cool, I can appreciate that as much as I can appreciate Slayer. Ya know, it’s not AC/DC or Led Zeppelin, but it’s still good [laughs].
You were one of the few veteran bands on the Warped Tour this year. What made you decide to finally do that?
It was a label thing, Kevin Lyman owns the new label and he’s also the chief Warped Tour guy. He’s tried to get us to do it over the last 12 years, but it never panned out. This one made sense. Yeah. What a deal!
Did you enjoy it?
Well… have you ever gone to one of the shows?
Yeah, I caught your set in Orlando… I actually lined up in the rain to talk with you guys while you were doing your signing…
Oh, God bless you. I have no recollection of Orlando at all. [laughs]
It was one big rainstorm.
Yeah, so Florida was! It rained in Orlando, Miami, South Carolina, North Carolina. That whole little chunk [of] it was like — get me out of here!… There are great audiences there! I have a great time down there. It’s such a goofy state [laughs]. What the hell — you’ve got the Miami Beach thing, and then the redneck thing, and the swamp alligator thing. Florida and Texas should both be their own countries, they’re so bizarre, but I love them both.
So, getting back to your involvement with Saw III, your video for “Monochrome” is going to run during the credits, is that right?
Is it? I have no idea. You mean, at the end credits, right? Yeah, you know more than I do. [Laughs]
Have you already finished that video?
Yeah, but I didn’t do anything. I sat with the bass player from Classic Case and a video camera in the foyer of the studio here in L.A., and sat on a road case and sang the song through a beat box, and then picked up my guitar and played the guitar solo parts. I said, “Shoot my left hand, shoot my right hand.” We did it three times, and sent it to the label and I said, “Have fun.” I said, “I’d prefer not to be in it,” so they had this treatment that involved me with the girl that was in the movie — Shawnee Smith — and candles, and writhing on the floor… I said, “That ain’t gonna happen. I’m not an actor.” I mean, I had fun making the “Gone” video, ’cause I was in L.A. and working with a friend of mine, who’s an actor, and I could just give him shit for three days about what a great actor I was! [Laughs] It was just fun ’cause it was with pals. But for this one, I didn’t have time to do anything. When they sent me the treatment, I said, “That’s not me, can’t you just get some movie footage and incorporate me into it?” So that’s what they did. So I hope it’s cool, my stuff was funny — I thought… Videos have very little do to with music, but I’m all for it, ’cause it’s another way to give those guys a way to keep the album in people’s face. And I’m proud of the album, I want people to hear it.
My last question, how has your opinion of the music world changed since you started playing rock music?
I was much more naive back then. I though that everyone would love me because I was fabulous, I didn’t think they’d just want to make a lot of money off of me. So, you think you’re onto someting really great — and you know it’s good — and then your bandmates realize it’s good and it’s the four of you against the world. Then when people jump on the bandwagon, you’re like, “yeah! See, I knew it was a really good thing!” But then the people in the business world, they’re just looking to make money off you, so when you’re not making them as much money, I’ve seen people drop like flies. I’ve discovered who’s loyal, and who cares for me as a human being. That absolutely includes former bandmates [laughs], unfortunately. People will get what they want from music, and I can’t allow… You heard me a little frustrated, but I’ll be fine once I get in my car and turn on KUSC and they’re playing Brahm’s Piano Concerto and I’ll forget completely some angry conversation I had with someone in the music business.
That naïveté I had before has given me the resolve I have now that I’m on the right path, and always have been. To keep it about music and not be swayed by people’s opinions. The only way to get to that is to work your ass off and make it about the music. Work at it everyday, and never take it for granted. That’s how I started. I came from a music education background — I went to school and had to complete assignments, study classical guitar and jazz and play in the big band… all that discipline made me a better musician. Those things still carry over. The late, great Hal Roberts guitar exercises that I learned 20 years ago I have in front of me — right now. I’m sitting here with a notebook, the song “Cherokee,” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. 62 beats per minute, 3 times through… all those things.
Stick to your guns, do it for the right reasons, ’cause some of those people will come and go in your lives. The people I care for in the music business are still with me. Kenny McPherson, David Whitehead… the other people have gone away. There’s no bitterness about it, cause people have their reasons, but I’d never work with them again. Even Jimmy Iovine, God bless him, he was loyal to me. He phoned me and gave me the opportunity to get Helmet going again. It was his money and his suggestion, with Size Matters. When he, and we, realized that this was not the place for the band to be anymore he still called me to work with this rap group he has and I write with them because he has faith in me as a musician. He’s a businessman and his job is to run this huge label, but he’s a music fan and he appreciates what I’ve done and the vocabulary that I’ve created, so I’ll always be loyal to him.