MAMMÚT – “Ride the Fire” (2020)

Greetings again, dear reader. It’s been a while. In looking back I see this is only my third post in November in what has been a year of sporadic updates. I don’t think the saga that has been 2020 is entirely to blame, thought it has certainly contributed. The ironic thing is I feel like I’ve probably spent more time listening to music this year than I have in a very long time, and maybe ever since I can have it on while I’m working at home. And even though the three trips we had planned for this year all got cancelled, along with the record shopping that would have accompanied them, I’ve continued to buy music at a fairly steady pace. In fact I’m expecting one more shipment from my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Record right before Christmas, chock full of new releases.

So why the slowing of the blog? I don’t know. I started to feel like I was writing the same thing over and over. I’ve heard Henry Rollins describe the end of his music career by saying he basically woke up one morning, realized he had no more lyrics, and knew he’d never write a song again. For me it wasn’t quite that harsh, but there is definitely a feeling of not having much new to say, at least not unless an album is particularly compelling.

It’s a gray, damp morning here in the Seattle area. It’s also Thanksgiving, which is an important day here in the US. But of course COVID had other plans. We’ve only had two people inside our house, besides us, since March, and it’ll be just the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner. But we still have so much to be thankful for, even in this crazy year. Neither of us have contracted COVID (as far as we know) and our families and friends are healthy. We’re both still working. We lost a dog, but added a new pup to the household. And even with all this time together in the house, both working from home, we’re still happy to be with each other.

Ride the Fire is the perfect soundtrack for a reflective morning like this one, its sense of wistfulness sandwiched between a light layer of sadness and another of hope. It’s hard to believe this is the same group we saw for the first time back in 2010. Is this really the same band that put out Karkari back in 2008? It’s hard to reconcile but also makes perfect sense. It’s as if you can feel how the members of Mammút have matured over the years, both in becoming more talented musicians but also, just as importantly, adults. The members were young teens when the band started in 2003, meaning they’re probably all in their early 30s now. Some of them have children of their own. There are jobs and bills to pay and responsibilities. Relationships have come and gone. Life happened. And that’s reflected in their music.

Ride the Fire has been getting a lot of play here over the last few weeks, and I suspect it will be getting plenty more. You should definitely go give it a listen yourself at Bandcamp HERE, and maybe pick up a copy on red vinyl while you’re at it.

The Fall – “[Austurbæjarbíó] – Reykjavík Live 1983” (2001 / 2020)

I’m fascinated that this show was recorded, and done so well enough to be released as a live album. I mean, it’s not like in 1983 people were saying, “you know where would be a killer place to do a live album? Reykjavik.” For most of us, at least in the US, about the only thing Reykjavik was known for, if it was known at all, was the 1972 World Chess Championship when Bobby Fischer defeated the Russian Boris Spassky, a feat that actually got him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But here it is, and it sounds pretty damn good, too.

I’m not a big fan of The Fall, though I respect their achievements and music and role. If I’m being 100% honest, what turned me on to this album was the fact it was recorded in Reykjavik. Who was in the audience for this show? The guys from Þeyr? Purrkur Pillnikk? Were the kids from Tappi Tíkarrass there, including their young lead singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir? I feel like there’s a good chance most if not all the who’s who in the first generation Icelandic punk scene may have been there. Does it matter? Maybe kinda sorta, but not really. Except to me and some people in Iceland, probably. And maybe my friend Bryan in Boston.

As I mentioned above, this actually sounds pretty great. Originally released in 2001, this got the Record Store Day treatment in 2020 in a limited 2XLP edition of 1,000 copies. Is it rock, or punk, or post punk? Who cares. Put the genre labels to the side, pour yourself a whiskey, and drop the needle on this sucker.

Velvet Villain – “Velvet Villain” (2020)

Velvet Villain are a hard rocking duo from Reykjavik, Iceland featuring Jón Gauti and Jóni Sölku . That’s basically as much as I’ve been able to find about them online. But really, what more do you need?

This seven-song record came out in July in a ridiculously limited pressing of 10 copies. It’s on clear vinyl and the jacket reverse is numbered with a sticker. A monthly later Velvet Villain put out their debut album Dead By Midnight on various streaming services. It doesn’t appear that the two releases are identical, at least not in comparing song titles. Five tracks on both versions, with the vinyl having two that don’t appear on streaming (“12:59” and “Maístjarnan”), while the Spotify’s Dead By Midnight includes three tracks not on the vinyl (“Wicked Love”, “Out of Sight”, and “Here Comes the Rain”).

Stylistically Velvet Villain is somewhere in the intersection of hard rock, post-punk, and metal. There’s a layer of angst in the vocals, given even more weight by the tuned down guitar. For my money I recommend “Life In a Fishbowl” and “I Wanna Know”, the latter being the heaviest thing on the record, slow and sludgy.

RIP Eddie Van Halen

I’m not going to tell you anything about Eddie Van Halen that you don’t already know. I learned of his passing earlier this week the way we seem to hear most news for the first time these days – on social media. Honestly I feel like it should have hit me harder, like it did when we lost Cornell and Bowie and Prince. Maybe it didn’t because those losses came out of the blue whereas Eddie had battled cancer for some time. Maybe it’s the 2020 malaise spread all over us like a layer of goo and making us numb. I don’t know.

You see, Van Halen was my first “Favorite Band”, a label that is incredibly meaningful when you’re 12 or 13 years old and just starting to form opinions about things that even adults care about. 1984 had just come out and “Jump” was all over MTV, and it was one of the very first records I ever bought. At that point I lacked context, so it came as a bit surprise to learn that Van Halen had five other albums as well. Wow, five more records that are as awesome as 1984! I had to buy them. Over the course of a few months I did, some on tape and some on vinyl.

And I was shocked by the lack of synthesizers and songs that sounded like “Jump”.

I think it was a friend’s much older brother who cued us into some of the best tracks on Van Halen, and it wasn’t long before I gained an appreciation for “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”. I even had a Van Halen painter’s hat to which I attached a pair of Van Halen buttons, the height of shopping mall and arcade fashion in the 1984 tween set.

Van Halen was also the first band that kinda-sorta broke my heart when, not that long after me declaring my undying loyalty to them, they parted ways with David Lee Roth. In my naiveté never dawned on me that such a thing was even possible, and yet it happened to my favorite band. I gave Van Hagar a chance, picking up 5150 as soon as it came out, but I couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t that the new incarnation of Van Halen was bad, they were just different, and different enough that I couldn’t connect. That didn’t stop me from experiencing them live as part of the 1988 Monsters of Rock tour, but to be honest by then I was more interested in seeing Metallica and the Scorpions than I was Eddie and the boys.

All that being said, I do still love me some Van Halen from the David Lee Roth era. With that in mind (and not that anyone asked), here are my favorite songs from each of the first six albums.

  • Van Halen – “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”
  • Van Halen II – “You’re No Good”
  • Women and Children First – “Everybody Wants Some!”
  • Fair Warning – “Unchained”
  • Diver Down – “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!”
  • 1984 – “Panama”

RIP Eddie, and thanks for all those great licks.

Book Review – “Rusted Metal – A Guide to Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Music in the Pacific Northwest (1970 – 1995)”

How long have I been waiting for Rusted Metal to come out? I pre-ordered a copy as soon as I learned about it, and that was close to two years ago. But truth be told I’ve been waiting for a book like Rusted Metal for my entire life. If something like it had existed back when I was a teenager I probably would have spent even more time in my room than I already did, reading, re-reading, and digesting it, only stepping out into the daylight to foray out to used record stores in search of Iron Cross demo tapes.

In the 1980s it was the norm as a teen to define yourself by some kind of label. Jock. Prep. Stoner. Skater. If you were unfortunate you had such a label forced upon you against your will, like Dweeb or Nerd back when Nerd was not a badge of honor. I strove to apply one of these labels to myself back in those days. Rocker.

I wasn’t a rocker though. Not really. Yes, I loved the music – hard rock and heavy metal were the soundtrack to my high school years in the second half of the 80s, with grunge sneaking its way into the mix as Sub Pop 7″ singles started popping up at places like Bellevue’s Cellophane Square Records. And sure, I had a leather jacket, though one with faux sheepskin lining, which hardly screamed rock let alone metal. I had the mullet, but hadn’t truly embraced the full-on rocker long hair look. The bottom line is I aspired to be a rocker, but I wasn’t one.

So what does all this have to do with Rusted Metal? Well, this was the scene I wanted to be part of, and indeed some of the music I listened to is here. And I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like Soundgarden or Mudhoney or Nirvana, though certainly they’re included. I’m talking about bands like Fifth Angel and TKO and Wild Dogs. Bands like Wehrmacht, who were often blasting out of my buddy’s brother’s bedroom window when I pulled up, a speaker perched on the sill and pointing out at the neighborhood and blasting “Suck My Dick”.

James Beach and friends have created the ultimate Northwest rock and metal guide with Rusted Metal, the definitive textbook on those genres in the region, a 902-page slab that’s as heavy as the music it covers. The interviews alone would make the book worth the price, somewhere around a hundred of them spread throughout the tome. Musicians, promoters, studio engineers and producers all share their stories and memories, both of the music and about the characters who were part of the scene (“This is the guy who went to prison for putting a bomb in his girlfriend’s mailbox.”). And have no fear, friends, this isn’t just text. We’re treated to hundreds of photos, flyers, album covers, and other visual treats to help tell the stories.

The cornerstone of Rusted Metal is the section devoted to bands and musicians, over 600 pages of entries in an encyclopedia-like format providing basic info like location, years active, and members, followed by as much narrative as the guys could uncover. For a band like Portland’s High Flight the bio may only run a few sentence, but Beach still manages to connect its members to at least four other bands while also touching on their management and the venues they played. Well-known local acts like the previously mentioned Wehrmacht, on the other hand, earn a page or more, often with an accompanying interview such as the eight-pager with frontman Tito Matos, who later went on to become a very successful club DJ (a fact I definitely did not know).

The final third of the book is broken down into sections devoted to concert dates, venues, record labels, studios, and of course a discography, which given the obscurity of many of these bands is probably the most comprehensive you’ll find anywhere, particularly when it comes to documenting demos. You’ll also find some of the guys’ own releases listed, because they’re partners in the NW Metalworx Music label that has been re-release some NW classics from bands like TKO, Heir Apparent, and Whiskey Stik, as well as a couple of great  comps, most notably NW Metalworx Volume 2: Lake Hills Revisited. I’ve actually run into them a few times set up at record shows where they not only sell NW Metalworx releases but also tons of great NW classics. It’s an all-encompassing passion for this crew.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of Rusted Metal on my iPad and can’t wait for the print version to finally arrive in my mailbox in a few weeks. James and the guys did a terrific job on what is obviously a labor of love, and I applaud them for it because I know how taxing and all-consuming projects like this are. Rusted Metal will hold a place of honor on any music fan’s bookshelf, and I know I’ll be referencing it constantly. You can order your copy direct from NW Metalworx HERE, with a format and price for every music fan from the $9.95 e-book to the $34.95 trade paperback to the $125 limited edition and signed hardcover edition, so get your copy today.