Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I'm a Demon, I Walk the Road through the River of Fire - 70s Hard Rock Revival

There are a few entries here where I got around to typing a label for the entry, usually shorthand before I go out and figure out what lyric to assign to the actual entry, and then left, knowing I'd want to get back to it but not necessarily feeling it at the time. This particular subject is one that has been a source of great joy and periodic frustrations. I have difficulty impressing this "genre" on people, one which I have, in effect, invented of my own accord. I think my definition still holds in its way, but that's because I invented it, I suppose. I don't say invention with the air of some accomplishment, mind you, but as a means of referencing the fact that, in all likelihood, even people who share a love for these bands aren't likely to consider this an accurate, effective or sensible label or grouping.

That doesn't really concern me though, as the end result for me, as always, is music I really like. Now, I did actually sincerely attempt to sit down and write this one because of the fact that I do like this stuff so much. It didn't work out too well as I got caught up in trying to verify the application of the genre sense I had, and stumbled into an eye-rolling mess. I've also tried to expand this beyond the three (or so) bands I stick under this umbrella in my first-ever attempt to use Pandora--it was an area of music I wanted more of, but it resulted in my notoriously negative first impression of Pandora. I inserted these three bands and it spat back Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rainbow--and all I could think was, "Well, it's nice to have confirmation that there are people out there who agree on the origin of the sound, at least!" followed by, "Gosh, Pandora, pretty sure I've heard of these bands."

And it is with that, I give you the trifecta of bands used to define what I call "70s Hard Rock Revival," albeit only in my own little world (and if any of those sentiments gives you pause, please bear with me just for this entry and give these bands and me a chance!):

The Hellacopters


The Parlor Mob

While I was in the midst of my metal phase in college, somewhere along the way while looking into the band Entombed, known for being originators of the style known as "death rock" (which used slower tempos and more basic rock drum beats behind metal sounds and death metal "growling"), once had a drummer named Nicke Andersson who wrote all their lyrics, designed their logo, and wrote a chunk of the music on their fully-death metal debut, Left Hand Path, as well as the follow ups Clandestine, Wolverine Blues, and DCLXVI: To Ride Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth.

Alongside that band, I was shortly to learn--finding Entombed tended not to hit the metal sweet-spot for me--Nicke had another band called The Hellacopters. In 1996 they had released their debut, Supershitty to the Max! and then Payin' the Dues a year later. But I had effectively skipped these albums, even as they were available to me in the heyday of my eMusic subscription (once upon a time, it was a monthly fee for access to their music--all of it, download as much as you want). Still one album perked up my ears immediately: 2000's High Visibility. I would later find that the 'Copters went through a significant change with the introduction of Robert Dahlqvist in 1999 for the album Grande Rock. When the band started, the term "garage rock" was more relevant, with songs like Payin' the Dues' "Soulseller":

In those days, the Hellacopters were most clearly influenced by a separate strain of 70s rock: the Detroit stuff. MC5 (whose logo periodically adorns hats worn by Nicke, who moved from drumming with Entombed to vocals and lead guitar in the Hellacopters), the Stooges, and then some earlier punk bands like the Dead Boys and anyone else whose sound was just a little muddy and distorted in that crunchy, red-lining fashion. This phase is preferred by many, though it's often on the grounds that the later phase was akin to "selling out," even if it was actually their debut that won a Swedish Grammy. This isn't to say I dislike this phase myself, as I even once used an early-era lyric for the title of one of my previous entries.

 With Grande Rock, their sound was cleaned up a bit and we were left with songs like "The Devil Stole the Beat from the Lord":

I caught the Hellacopters on the album that followed a year later, which opened with the very song I embedded first in this entry, "Hopeless Case of a Kid in Denial." It also had songs like the stunningly catchy "Toys and Flavors":
They followed that record with what was probably their most popular of all, By the Grace of God, which had a fantastic pair of singles behind it (the b-sides of which were included on the special US edition of the album, along with the videos for the two singles):
The opener, the title track, "By the Grace of God":
And halfway through, "Carry Me Home":
"By the Grace of God" as a video tends to encapsulate the mentality they put into their approach to rock, as Nicke and Dahlqvist arch their backs for wild soloing in visual representation of bends or open chords ringing, mimic the windmills of Pete Townshend and otherwise embody the sensibilities of "rock" in what is something like its purest form--at least, well, this strain of it. And they do it while legitimately rocking, so I can hardly suggest there be any fault to be had here.

While the band does possess the not-unsurprising personal opinion that a lot of music is crap, with Anders "Boba Fett"--really--Lindstrom even directly opining, "[Music] used to be so good, during the 70s," but during the same interview, Nicke agrees with him that they are on a "mission," which Nicke says is to encourage people to buy records by artists from the country they are being interviewed in, Australia, listing the ones they are able to bring to mind immediately (all of which I noted for future usage, of course). That they have actually released covers of some of these bands and mentioned them previously as influences is testament to their legitimate interest in this idea. Of course, they also mention Gluecifer, a Norwegian band who once released a split with the Murder City Devils, and I've been meaning to listen to them as well.

The next band I was to stumble into was while I was preparing for the Mastodon concert I attended in February of 2007, where they opened after local metal band Caltrop, and I happened to find Priestess' debut on the shelves of my then-employer, Borders. My affection for certain artistic styles for cover art, be it album or book is embodied in the cover of that album, Hello Master:

I amused myself when I bought the album on vinyl earlier this year by turning to Matthew who was out with me (he now of Ramps/Ram PS) and asked when he thought the album was from. He guessed the 80s, which was not, of course, the 70s, but still wasn't "six years ago," so I was delighted.  I have a distinct aversion to the mentality of "X Used to Be Better" (unless we're talking about right now vs. Los Angeles*), but I certainly liked a lot of painted or painted-looking album covers a lot more, as there was a greater sense that it was not designed so immediately to fit with the music itself, as if it were a separate entity that had to be puzzled into place next to the music. There was also a tendency to hit ground where the cover could conceivably be--or even was--independently existent, and less clear-cut. Less "graphic design," I suppose you might say--though I'm a fickle creature, and if you give em an earlier, hand-cut or otherwise manually assembled cover based in iconography (such as these two albums by Bronski Beat) and it will appeal to me. I guess I have my grumpy "things were better way back when" tendencies, but I try not to pretend I have anything more than my own subjective opinion backing this sense.

Priestess are less into the clear guitar heroics that the Hellacopters clearly worship, bearing more resemblance to the riff-orientation of bands like AC/DC and Motörhead, with songs like the debut-opener I linked at the top of this entry or the later track from their debut, "Lay Down":
The album entered heavy rotation for me, and is just all around a solid block of riffage, with a nice subdued closer ("Blood") that manages to hit less aggressive ground without being an actual ballad, and even maintaining an ominous sensibility.

Their next album snuck out three years later and started to incorporate a somewhat more "prog" sensibility in some respects, though it was still very rock-oriented--I guess you can possibly tell from a cover like it had, what with its overlaid geometry and astronomy-oriented imagery:

While it does contain "Murphy's Law," which is actually a track about, yes, Alex Murphy, aka Robocop. 
Take a moment for the title to sink in. 
Okay, moving on...

The first track the band released from the album was "Sideways Attack," which remains my favourite track on the entire album, and you should now listen to:

The last band to mention in detail is the Parlor Mob. In a movement somewhat analogous to my impression of the cover of Hello Master, it was probably the back cover of the Parlor Mob's debut, And You Were a Crow that caught my eye. I was looking through promotional CDs at work--Borders again!--and found this seemingly innocuous album. I flipped it over, and I saw this:

If you ask me--and you probably won't, but that's okay!--this looks like a band that almost might've fallen out of the 1970s and been reissued or rediscovered. Of course, they aren't, but they do end up sounding a lot like it. Mark Melicia's voice is often compared to Robert Plant, because they both--at least when Plant was in Zeppelin--stick to high registers, and have a tinge of the nasal to them. But, holy cow was this band tight. The album opens with "Hard Times," which I linked up at the top again. But two tracks later, you hear "Everything You're Breathing For," which may have one of my favourite licks ever. Give this track about two minutes at least, until you that riff that Mark sets up with the words, "And though I hate to be the one to bear such news/Seems like you're set to be the only one to lose."
There's just enough pause to drop in space before the chords drop and launch into a winding lick that just hits all the right spots before settling back into a more relaxed and light, grooving sort of backing, where Marks' voice continues to occupy the spotlight, setting up the anticipation and room for that riff to hammer in again with its absolute precision, built up to with increasingly heavy riffs, one little noodle of a lick until it drops in again for the chorus.

The album's slowing pace over the course of the next few tracks is kicked right back into gear with the fantastic "Real Hard Headed," immediately falling back to "Tide of Tears" which is reminiscent in some ways of the lengthy Deep Purple classic, "Child in Time," in some ways, though it doesn't have the emphatic vocal crescendos.

Only recently did the Parlor Mob manage to sneak out their second album, the more tersely titled Dogs, which I had to go driving all over creation to find. They'd released a single in the modern digital form, though, and it was a pretty great one, titled "Into the Sun":

They tossed us the bones of a few other pre-release tracks in a few ways, the opener "How It's Going to Be," mid-album pairing "I Want to See You" and the heart-breaking "Hard Enough," and then finally the logically-contradictory--I hadn't checked a tracklisting 'til the album was in my hands, but had accurately guessed this was the last track--closer "The Beginning."

One of these bands no longer exists as of four years ago, the other two have less than 20,000 fans on Facebook, which is absolutely shameful. Pick up Priestess and Parlor Mob records. Like them on Facebook, support two excellent bands!

And for the vinyl fans: all of the aforementioned albums are available on vinyl.

*That's a really bad joke and I don't mean it. Well, I do mean the joking part.

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