Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The new TESTAMENT! My chat with Pomo Indian and heavy metal legend, Chuck Billy!

Testament is a band that truly needs no introduction. Since the mid-1980s, the Bay Area quintet has been the unyielding flag-bearer for highly-skilled, innovative and monstrously heavy thrash metal. With a catalogue featuring ten studio albums (including the 2001 collection of re-recordings, First Strike, Still Deadly), five live albums, a string of DVDs and a host of “best of” collections, it is impossible to deny the legacy of the band.

In early 2010, Testament is hitting the road with metal titans Megadeth and Slayer for what has been dubbed The American Carnage Tour. Before heading out, we managed to score some time with Testament’s imposing front man, the charismatic Chuck Billy. Read on, as we discuss the excitement of the tour, the importance of loyalty, and the value of family. [Feature can be found here!]

Discussing the ongoing relevance of PANTERA with Revolver Magazine's Jon Wiederhorn

It has been five years since the tragic passing of Pantera guitarist and chief songwriter Darrell Abbott AKA Dimebag Darrell. Every year since his death, metal and guitar-centric magazines pay tribute to his life and accomplishments with old interview clips, new interviews with surviving members of Pantera, and even anecdotes from fans.

This year, however, Revolver Magazine has taken things a step further and devoted an entire section of its latest issue to discussing the magical, perfect storm that went into the creation of Pantera’s 1992 breakthrough album, Vulgar Display of Power. Spearheaded by senior writer Jon Wiederhorn (whose additional credits include talent coordinator and panelist for AOL Noisecreep's "Creep Show' Podcast, Noisecreep writer, freelancer for Inked and Guitar World, former editor in chief of MTV's Headbanger's Ball Blog, and ex- associate editor at Rolling Stone), the magazine painstakingly compiled new interviews with everyone imaginable who had anything to do with the inception of the album to paint a living memorial to one of heavy metal’s iconic guitar personalities.

Read on as we sit down with Wiederhorn and discuss what it was that made Dimebag and Pantera such revolutionary entities. [Feature can be found here!]

Discussing vocals on soundtracks with AVATAR and IRON MAN 2 songstress Lisbeth Scott!

Although you may not know her by name, you surely have experienced the vocal talents of Lisbeth Scott. Called upon to be the featured vocalist by many of Hollywood’s most noteworthy film music composers, Scott’s mesmerizing voice has contributed to many Hollywood blockbusters, including both Chronicles of Narnia films, the first two Shrek movies, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Munich, King Kong, The Sixth Sense, and The Passion of the Christ. She has also been featured on high-rating television series, like CSI, ER, The Tudors, and True Blood.

Currently, Scott can be heard in two films in theaters – Guy Ritchie’s revamp of Sherlock Holmes, and James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar. She is also booked to lend her voice to 2010’s Iron Man 2, and has several other opportunities on the burner. Read on, as we get to know one of the “unsung” heroines of movie soundtrack canon. [Feature can be found here!]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Getting in the holiday spirit with A CHRISTMAS STORY soundtrack composer Carl Zittrer!

Christmas movie soundtracks are a rare commodity. Most are only in print for a very short span of time, to coincide with the movie’s original release or tied to a DVD release, and some have never even made the transition to a digital format. Even rarer are those iconic films that never, ever see an official soundtrack released. Until last month, a soundtrack for A Christmas Story simply did not exist in the retail industry.

However, thanks to the persistence of the film’s composers Carl Zittrer and Paul Zaza, in cooperation with Rhino Records and Turner Entertainment, a 20-song soundtrack to the late Bob Clark’s holiday hallmark is now finally available for movie fans to enjoy for years to come.

Read on, as composer and soundtrack producer Carl Zittrer illuminates us all about the extraordinary journey that was to become A Christmas Story! [The Story continues HERE]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Encounter with an Academy Award Nominee: Discussing The Twilight Saga New Moon soundtrack with composer Alexandre Desplat!

It’s not every day that you get an opportunity to speak with an Academy Award nominee, let alone one who recently was the recipient of two World Soundtrack Awards. But for all his accolades, French film music composer Alexandre Desplat is a true artist, devoted wholly to his craft. If he is publicly acknowledged for his work, so be it. He accepts it humbly, and keeps his head buried in whatever project he undertakes.

With the release of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, however, Desplat may find himself unintentionally metamorphosing from workhorse to rock star. Having delivered a score that ignites imagination and passion from its listeners, surely many more honors are in the cards.

He completed seven scores this year (Chéri, Coco avant Chanel, Un prophète, L'armée du crime, Julie & Julia, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the aforementioned New Moon) and he’s already got three in production for 2010…so far. How can someone possibly concentrate on such a work load when he is consistently offered awards?

It is here where our conversation begins…

It’s funny; I thought I would get better at it when I go up on stage to grab whatever award it is. But as I look out into the audience, I see people like Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Robert DeNiro, and Charlize Theron, I get so impressed and I ask myself, “What am I doing here???” I’m very humbled by it and very happy at the same time.

Do they affect you as a creative energy and the projects you take on?

The main thing there is to be inspired by film. That’s what drives me; that’s what I like; that’s my life. The rest is just an accident. You get an award or you don’t get an award, who cares? But if you make a great film, it’s fantastic, and it’s the best thing you could do if you find a great relationship with a director. Of course, the great thing about awards is that your name becomes more exposed. But I think the body of work that’s behind you is most important. Because if I did bad work and provided bad music for movies, I’m not sure I would get another call.

Read the full interview here!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sexy Vampires, Homicidal Farm Children, and Ambient Prayers? Welcome to the world of composer Jonathan Elias!

Although you might not immediately recognize his name, you surely know his work. From the “Yahoooooooo!” jingle to the Columbia Pictures logo that precedes many movies, New York-born music composer Jonathan Elias is a staple of music in pop culture. One piece of his music even became an iconic standard in the homes of millions of people through the 1980s – the MTV “moon man” station ID clip! Since establishing his own company, Elias Arts in 1980, he has built a formidable empire of commercial and film trailer music.

He had also been nominated for a Grammy for his hybridized neo-classical / world / new age music project, American River. Elias spends whatever time allows to another passion, the creation of his Prayer Cycle music series, which culls notable musicians and celebrities from around the globe in a passionate musical and spoken word experience.

But there is another side to Elias…a darker side. In 1984, the man who had helped make MTV a household name struck fear into the hearts of moviegoers, when he created the musical landscape for the Stephen King thriller Children of the Corn. The combination of choirs, gentle synthesizers, and the unassuming visuals of a cornfield made pulses race, and caused people to think twice before stepping onto a farm, in much the same fashion that John Williams and Steven Spielberg gave people Thalassophobia (fear of the sea and oceans) a mere decade before.

Read my full interview with Jonathan Elias here!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Getting Filthy: Movie soundtrack reviews with guest commentary by Cradle of Filth’s mischievous singer

As you may or may not know (it really depends if you read my album reviews at Examiner), but I’ve taken on the challenge of writing a horror (or related) feature every day for the month of October to bring a little autumnal cheer to the masses. What I didn’t count on was the overwhelming enthusiasm I received when I inquired if Dani Filth wanted to participate (and get a few nods for his new book, of course). Not only has this been a fun experience, but the man knows his movies and music, adding an extra dose of darkness to my features.

Here is the current rundown of where his assistance appears:



HORROR OF DRACULA (featuring excerpts from The Gospel of Filth book)


Stay tuned for more wickedness!

Here in Autumn TWILIGHT: An in-depth review of the NEW MOON soundtrack

Go ahead, say it. I sold out. Well, not exactly, but I was actually intrigued at how the music would turn out, given the year's worth of hype and speculation.

New Moon is inarguably the most anticipated soundtrack release of the year. There is an irony in that statement, because historically (with a scant few exceptions) soundtracks are the red-headed stepchild of the music industry. However, thanks to such monstrously popular releases like the High School Musicalseries, the Hannah Montana comps, and last year’s jaw-dropper Twilight, soundtracks are enjoying a resurgence that hasn’t been seen since the early 1980s, when Footloose, Flashdance, and Purple Rain were dominating the charts.

But with popularity comes a price. While the 1980s soundtracks were sculpted to draw in a variety of audiences, the modern soundtracks target very definite groups, be they children, ‘tweens, females, males, or genre-specific fans. New Moon seems to be designed to break down some of those barriers and open up its built-in audience to a broader spectrum of musical experience. While its predecessor Twilight was like a hodge-podge of “it” bands, taking advantage of a scene, building a franchise and an opportunity (not to mention bleeding Paramore’s fame just a little bit “more”), New Moon is more adventurous, no, daring in its bold choice of songs and artists.

Read my full track-by-track analysis here!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Slipping back into the water with JAWS – A new look at John Williams’ classic movie soundtrack

Today I posted an article, no, rather an essay about John Williams’ unparalleled soundtrack to the 1975 classic Jaws. I know it’s not exactly a horror film, but can anyone honestly say that it did not scare them, even a little? Anyway, I think a tribute to Williams’ work on this one is long overdue, despite his Academy Award for it, so I gave it a go. I also included excerpts of Spielberg and Williams interviews to add a bit of color to the piece, though it probably made it appear more like a book report than a retrospective review.

The more I do these articles, the more I get the weird feeling that I am among the last bastions of film score music. I can’t exactly explain it, but it seems as time goes on, less and less people care about this artform. But I’m not giving up; I need to keep these pieces of aural art in the minds of as many people who are willing to open their minds to them.

Check out the fishy fun here!

Halloween Horror Music Happenings – Soundtrack and Film Score reviews with bite!

For the month of October, I decided to start writing up extensive spotlights on a number of horror movies…well, some of them are horror, and some just have scary elements. Everybody does features pertaining to the best horror movies (or scariest, or goriest, or most shocking), but no one seems to give any attention to the music that, in many cases, is the actual backbone of the frightening atmosphere.

So, for every day this month, I am creating feature articles to give respects to some amazing soundtracks. Sure, some of the movies might not be the cream of the crop, but this is about the music, not the movies themselves. You would not believe how many bad movies are released every week that have great musical backdrops.

The factor that sets the horror genre apart is that most of the composers work either with unbelievably small budgets, or they have a very limited time frame in which to work. So it is even more incredible that they are able to produce quality product.

In addition to giving a little overview of the film and examining the soundtracks, I also have been coloring the features with excerpts from Roger Ebert’s reviews from when the films were originally released (because his work is more entertaining than it is legitimately critical), and I have also received some guest commentary from Cradle of Filth vocalist Dani Filth. I’ve also got some VERY special features to post in the coming weeks, so be forewarned!

So far, I have posted articles spotlighting Children of the Corn, Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Candyman, The Silence of the Lambs, The Lost Boys, Christine, and the recently released Trick ‘r Treat. You can join the fun every day here.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My 'Dethly Encounter with yet another awesome musician

As you know by know, I've been using this blog to share my run-ins (mostly intentional, and unfortunately, not in-person but via phone) with some of my favorite musicians.

This time, I'd like to share with you a bit of a Cinderella story of sorts. Once upon a time there was an incredibly creative power/thrash metal band from Colorado called Jag Panzer. The band made some great albums, my favorite being the MacBeth-imbued conceptual piece, Thane to the Throne. Jag Panzer contained an amazing array of gifted musicians, and one that shined just a bit more brightly than his peers - led guitarist Chris Broderick.

The guy's work was just insane, and if you have ever gotten a chance to see the band's official DVD, The Era of Kings and Conflict, you may have seen a glimpse of Broderick' spiderlike phalanges. Fast-forward a few years, and we find CB in the court of King Mustaine and his motley band of thrashoholics. Megadeth's new album, Endgame, will be the first studio album on which Broderick's has appeared since 2004!!!

Anywho, check the link HERE for my exclusive interview with Chris.

I truly hope you all enjoy it!

Monday, August 31, 2009

No Metal for the Mouse: Disney Bans Heavy Metal Concerts!

Here's an oldie but goodie. A few years ago, Disney banned the performing of heavy metal concerts at the House Of Blues concert venues that happened to be on Downtown Disney property. It caused an uproar in the metal commmunity, and I, being a member of said community, decided to do an article about it for the Penn State Berks Collegian student newspaper. So, without further ado, please enjoy this little blast from my past.

If you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL for Spring Break and you happen to enjoy rock music of the hard persuasion, don’t book your flight just yet. Word is quickly spreading about a new Disney decree: all heavy metal music acts are banned from performing at the House of Blues nightclubs in Downtown Disney districts.

Disney officials have not openly stated why this new policy has taken immediate effect, but one can assume that it is tied to the recent muggings and vandalism at the Downtown Disney district at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL.

It is a common fact that there has been insufficient security staff during late nights in the area, as pointed out by Jeff Davis, a staffer for the popular Disney podcast, Character Breakfast. He also believes that Disney is making moves to draw in a different kind of crowd to the nightclub and that heavy metal really isn’t popular enough to keep the people coming in.

He may be right, but it is an odd rule for Disney to make after spending decades producing hundreds of films that preach ideals of tolerance and openness.

Concerts at House of Blues are always ticketed events, and most of these are ‘over-21’ shows, so people typically are not going to attend these concerts if they are offended by what they are hearing. Regardless, a press release was circulated citing “violent imagery, undesirable fans and inflammatory lyrics” as the reason behind the ban.

This type of generalization is unfortunately sad and somewhat hypocritical. As one Berks campus senior questioned the policy, “Who else are they banning? Are they allowing hardcore and gangster rap? If they are banning all acts with violent content, ok, it is a fair policy. If they are just banning heavy metal, they need to reexamine their policy because it is not fair.”

So far, no other genres of music have felt the bite of the mouse. Oddly, bands that have played the club multiple times in the pass are just as astonished to have the door now slammed in their faces.

Dani Filth, vocalist of the British shock rock act Cradle of Filth recently stated, “The cancellation of our show on grounds of inappropriate content is a joke. We’ve already played there three times in the past.”

After having two concert dates cancelled at the venue, Robb Flynn, singer of Oakland, Ca. metal band Machine Head interviewed with Worcester Telegram & Gazette and agreed with Filth’s sentiments.

“It's pretty disturbing,” Flynn began. “We are shocked that in this day and age, in 2007 America, that bands can be pressured, (and) that promoters can be pressured by a business and be removed from a venue because somebody doesn't like what your lyrics stand for or think that your fans are crazy. We've played these venues before, and there was no indication that anything was going to be different.”

While Disney remained silent on the issue, Live Nation, the company that owns House of Blues soon issued its own statement of defense.

John Vlautin, the vice president of Communications, offered the following:
“House of Blues offers a range of entertainment to match the audience at our venues. It was determined that the mix of entertainment at our two Disney locations should be different from our other venues.”

While this did not specifically address the issue of singling out heavy metal music, it seemed to appease the people. But the heavy metal music fans were still not satisfied.

A Berks senior vehemently professed, “As an avid fan of both Disney and heavy metal music, I am distraught over this predicament. While I am not going to say that there are no heavy metal bands that do reflect the [press release’s] statement, the genre is so vast that the statement can only hold water with a fraction of bands regarded as heavy metal. From my experience, hip hop, punk, and hardcore bands are more violent and unpredictable than heavy metal, yet there is no mention of cancellations for those genres.”

Another senior offered a different perspective on the situation.
“If the House of Blues is on Disney property, Disney has some input on who should and shouldn't play there.”

Filth retorts, “If Disney didn't want to see hordes of black-clad figures lurking around their jaded kingdom, then they should've thought twice about creating characters like Cruella DeVille and Maleficent in the first place.”

The irony doesn’t stop there, either. The House of Blues night club chain was formed to pay homage and honor The Blues Brothers. They were a raucous blues/rock act that became iconic on Saturday Night Live and later became the primary players in a blockbuster film. The Blues Brothers themselves most likely would not have been permitted to perform on Disney property either, due to their own lewd behavior.

While the music is banned from being performed on property, the Virgin Megastore almost across the street from House of Blues in Downtown Disney is still permitted to sell heavy metal CDs and DVDs.

And at Planet Hollywood in the Disney Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM), one could easily purchase t-shirts promoting horror films like Halloween and Evil Dead. These may not be music items, but they do possess similar “violent imagery and undesirable fans.”

While the Penn State curriculum is chock full of classes that teach and exemplify acceptance and tolerance, it seems that Disney is playing to a different tune. Students who may find themselves down at Walt Disney World this spring take note.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Interview with Horror Movie Soundtrack Composer Tyler Bates (Halloween II)

I REALLY enjoy interviewing film composers. It probably has something to do with the facts that they never really ever get a lot of press, and that I've spent the last 15 years interviewing rock/metal musicians. So it's definitely fun to crack the mold and venture where few dare to tread.

Today I interviewed Tyler Bates on the day of release of the film he just scored, HALLOWEEN II.

Here's a taste:

One of the things I really enjoy about your work is that you’re not a canned composer where all your work sounds identical. I mean, you can tell a Bates score when you hear one, but it doesn’t sound the same as another score in your filmography. And I don’t know if it is something you consciously do, but the music plays a different role in each film. In Watchmen, the music was part of the setting. In The Devil’s Rejects, it felt like another character. In 300, it took on the role of the emotions of everyone involved. With your work on Halloween II, the music seems to suck all of the oxygen out of the air and replaces the atmosphere with this really dense, palatable, metallic sensation.

(Laughs) Well each movie calls for something different. My musical tastes are very broad and are not really formed at all by film scores, although there are composers whose work I admire and get me fired up to do good work. But to be honest with you, I just look at the individual challenge. I don’t gauge a movie by something I’ve done before. Even this new Halloween movie, following the one Rob and I did couple years ago, the point really was to turn the page and approach this a little bit differently, while hopefully carrying forward some of the experience we had from doing the first one and dealing with the characters and taking John Carpenter’s pre-existing material into consideration.

On the first one, there were footprints you had to tread and, to a point, you had this built-in audience that was expecting to hear an homage to Carpenter’s work. But the new one has a very clean-slate feel to it, where it expands upon, like you said some of the character themes.

Actually, when I started the Halloween II score, I was thinking very minimalist. I wanted it to be really muddy and bassy with some gongs and random hitting of stuff that made it sound really tactile and identifiable with a room you just really didn’t want to be in as opposed to a traditional, thematic score. And it does become thematic at times, but not exactly in the traditional sense, and definitely not as much as the John Carpenter-era Halloween films. Even though that stuff can be limiting in terms of structure and that it was created for that first incarnation of Michael Myers (which is a totally different film style from what Rob is making), at the end of the day, when I’m dead, if I could have done one piece of music that is even remotely THAT identifiable, I’d be completely happy.

And like I said, this film is pretty much a clean slate in that it is not a sequel to Halloween II (1981), but it is in essence a brand new movie. So you are given a freer range of things you wanted to do and ideas you wanted to explore. That said, were there things in this Halloween II score ideas from the first film that you wanted to expand upon but couldn’t?

Yeah, I would say that it is a progression of ideas. In the first one, there was a sort of grappling with how much do we pay homage to the original Halloween and its characters and how much we employ the Carpenter themes. Really, that’s Rob’s battle. He will talk to me about what he feels is appropriate. But that said, any time I had to do a Carpenter theme, it was very difficult to drop it into the middle of what I was doing, so it pretty much negated a number of ideas I wanted to explore in the first movie.

So when Rob phoned me up and asked if I was up for it, he said, “I don’t think I want to work with the Halloween themes as integral aspects of the score. It would be kinda cool if it was somewhere in the film, but let’s do our own thing.” I thought that was an interesting opportunity or way to go back and make it our own complete destruction of a movie. (Laughs) So, yeah, sure there were different ideas and motifs that were explored, as if this were ‘Rob Zombie’s first Halloween movie'.

Read the full story here!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A video to check out! Sure it's for a shark book related contest, but it's pretty creepy!

So I've taken the plunge and entered into a little contest to attempt to get my likeness placed into the next book in Steve Alten's MEG (big badass shark novel) series. Sure, you may call it cheesy, but since Alten is one of my favorite authors, I think its pretty cool.

Here is a trailer for his latest book entry in Alten's MEG series, entitled MEG: HELL'S AQUARIUM. There's more than just crazy giant shark action. There's environmental issues, theories on previously extinct sea creatures, and, of course, flesh flinging in all directions! It's a great, suspenseful summertime read...especially if you're at the beach!

So, the more you click on THIS LINK, the better my chances of getting into the book. Also, you should check out the book, because, like I said, it's really fun, and really suspenseful!


Friday, July 10, 2009

My first interview with a Soundtrack composer, or How awesome it would be to be in San Diego between July 23-25

So, as many of you know, I've been a soundtrack / film score fiend for as long as I can remember. I collect scores (on CD and vinyl), and I used to do some soundtrack copywriting for Muze, before they were bought by Macrovision. That little void was what prompted me to pitch an idea to Examiner - to allow me to share my knowledge and passion for soundtracks with the masses via their site. Soon after, in addition to being Heavy Metal Examiner, I became Soundtracks Examiner.

It's been a rough road, because soundtracks are like the red-headed stepchild of the music industry - unless it's a Broadway musical, a Disney production, or Twilight, most people don't really care about soundtracks. It's definitely been an uphill battle to share the joys that film scores bring me.

However, today is a banner-day for me, as I have posted my first interview with a composer...and not just any ol' lacky from Media Ventures / Remote Control Productions (though they do seem to nab a lot of the high-profile movies these days). I was given the opportunity to spend some time with Battlestar Galactica / Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles / Eureka music-meister Bear McCreary.

Here's a taste:

On the subject of Battlestar Galactica, word is out that you’ve completed compiling the music for the Season 4 two-disc set. How did this project grow beyond the confines of one disc?

Fans have been bugging me for a two-disc album since the beginning of Season 4. I’ve honestly been fighting it. I wanted to compose a nice companion piece the ever-expanding BSG universe. I don’t like having filler on my soundtrack albums, so if a cue isn’t good enough for me to put it on CD, I don’t put it on for the sake of filling space. So I really didn’t think I could fill two CDs, but when I got to the end, I realized that the finale alone had over 60 minutes of scoring that I thought was really good. There was maybe 100 minutes of music in that episode, but there was about 65 minutes of it that was worth putting on CD. So it was then that I realized that we really did have to do a two-CD set to do the show justice. I mentioned it to La-La Land Records, and I believe their words to me were, “well, duh!”

Regarding your latest release, Caprica, it sounds to me more emotive and character-centric than the Battlestar scores, which are very atmospheric, encapsulating all the action and drama of the environment.

Well, Caprica has a much smaller cast, and that cast can essentially be divided into two families – The Adamas and the Graystones. So I wrote two themes, one for each family, and they serve as the thematic thread that ties the Caprica score together. Battlestar, as you mentioned, tends to be attached to arcs, subplots, and sometimes thematic ideas. There are also themes for every single character on the show, and there are at least 50 of those alone, not that they all get used all the time. So Caprica was a very different approach.

Check out the full monstrosity here!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

You guys deal with Michael Jackson, I'll concern myself with Midnight

With so many celebrity deaths bombarding the public conscience over the past couple weeks, one would think that the wave had finally ended. But just this morning, I awoke to find the following blog entry from legendary progressive/power metal band Crimson Glory in my email bin:

"On July 8, 2009, founding member and original frontman Midnight passed away at 3:30am surrounded by his family. The band is deeply saddened by the passing of their friend and brother. An official statement will be forthcoming later today or tomorrow."

Those three little sentences shook me to the core; not only because I am a fan of CG and Midnight’s later work, but because I had also been recently emailing back and forth with the man about conducting an interview to be featured here at Examiner. I’m having a REALLY difficult time writing this, because I now have to discuss one of metal’s unspoken great singers in the past tense.

I've done a rather extensive eulogy/tribute to Midnight, and felt it more appropriate to place it in a public forum, so even people who were not aware of him can now get at least a glimpse of his creativity here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

RIGOR MORTIS Is Setting In! Texas' Beloved Thrash Metal Band Is Back!!!

As excited as I was to do the Iron Maiden interview, I was even more stoked to sit down with three of the four founding members of Texas' Rigor Mortis. As an adolescent, I thought the band was among the better thrash bands of the era, largely because of guitarist Mike Scaccia's unique picking technique. Unfortunately, the masses didn't really pick up on it until he left the band to join Ministry.

But regardless of all that, I had a great time with Casey Orr, Bruce Corbitt, and Harden Harrison.

Here's a taste of all the formaldehyde-y goodness:

Is Scaccia still as fast as he used to be? How did his guitar style develop? Was it originally an accident, a joke, or was it something that he really worked at? I don’t think the term “speed metal” has any relevancy without Scaccia’s work on those Rigor Mortis albums.

CASEY: Mike’s a mother***er, ain’t he? Yeah, I’d say he’s every bit as fast as he ever was. He’s a freak of nature. He doesn’t play the guitar; it just bends to his will! I used to say that trying to keep up with him felt like running down a steep set of stairs too fast, knowing you’re going to trip and end up at the bottom in a broken heap!

BRUCE: I met him when he was 16 and he was already able to do that unique picking style at that time. He told me back then that after he first started playing guitar, that for some reason he was just always able to do that. So it was just something he tried, and it came natural for him. People have said his picking style is sort of like a bumble bee. He is just as fast as he used to be, maybe just a slight adjustment with how he does it as he gets older.

HARDEN: Yeah, he’s fast as ever. It’s an inborn nervous twitch type of thing, but he also worked very hard at mastering the guitar and practiced more than anyone I’ve ever known...or even heard of.

Read the whole massive monstrosity here!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Put them in the IRON MAIDEN! Excellent!!!!

As excited as I was to do the Gary Hoey interview, I was even MORE chuffed to get an opportunity to speak with a member of the band that almost wholly inspired me to pick up a musical instrument, IRON MAIDEN. Last week, I had a great phone conversation with drummer Nicko McBrain. And although the conversation was cut short, due to a restrictive schedule, I managed to get some great stuff out of him.

Here's a teaser:

Iron Maiden is a band that needs no introduction. The band’s name is legendary, and their concerts border on religious experiences. This week, the Flight 666 documentary movie hits stores (and recurrent airplay on VH1 television). Through the film, we see these legends as men – jovial, emotional, and philosophical. But rarely, do we ever get the opportunity to interact with these fables of the flesh.

Examiner was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with the jolliest of all these hallowed beings, drummer Nicko McBrain to discuss some of the background and internal nuances of the movie. Read on, as we talk with Nicko about Flight 666, the dangers of golf, pizza etiquette, and Anvil!

Was there an extensive group discussion about participating in this movie, or was it an executive decision from Rod Smallwood [manager] saying that you had to do it?

No, no, no, Lord almighty. There were many, many discussions. It kicked off one night after a show in Europe. We were talking amongst the band – we do talk to each other, contrary to popular belief. Bruce came up with the idea about getting our own jet airliner and touring around the world.

We discussed the places we’ve never been to, places we wanted to go to, how much money it costs to tour these places, and how cost-prohibitive these places were. And Bruce said, “Well, we’ll have our own magic carpet!” Then we started thinking that that might be a great idea; we could get a 747! And Bruce said that he was thinking more along the lines of a 757, because he wasn’t rated for the 747. Then we pitched it to Rod, and discussed the logistics of where we wanted to go. And originally, the idea for taking the 757 was so we could take all our gear, have Bruce pilot it, and bring all of our family along. Then someone said, “Well, we have to take all the journalists of the world with us, too, because this is an historic event!”

“Hhhhhmmmm,” said Rod, “why don’t we document this here bloody trip. It is historic, after all. Nobody’s ever done this before - customize a 757 and whatnot. Even better, we should have a documentary crew 24/7 for the duration of the tour!” Boy, that’s when it went down like a fountain in a 2-man submarine, believe me. There was a bit of rumbling, a bit of grumbling, some trepidation…my lord, trepidation! So yeah, it wasn’t a matter of “yeah, let’s all do it.”

Read the whole interview here!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Catching waves with guitar hero GARY HOEY! An interview with a genius!

I am ultra-excited to be able to present this to everyone. After admiring the guitar wizard from afar for over ten years, I finally got an opportunity to interview with one of my musical heroes, GARY HOEY.

Here is a bit of a teaser:

When someone utters the term “guitar hero”, several names (aside from the obvious video game) are immediately conjured – legendary axemen like Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Yngwie Malmsteen are but a few. For some strange reason, Massachusetts born (and [spiritually] California-raised) string-smith Gary Hoey is rarely at the forefront of the guitar-slinging pantheon. But he is there nonetheless, shredding licks and melting picks along with those the public deems “godly”. He does not rest within the confines of any one genre; his music embraces multiple styles (sometimes simultaneously), including metal, rock, blues, surf, and a touch of good old funky jazz for flavor.

During the past two decades, Hoey has recorded nine incredibly diverse studio albums (one of which being the soundtrack to the cult surfing film The Endless Summer II), an intense live album, and three very well-received Christmas albums. He also has provided music for DISNEY, ESPN, No Fear, and has even performed the National Anthem for the New England Patriots, San Diego Padres, and the Boston Red Sox. Last year, he became the host of the inaugural Rock the Waves Cruise in coordination with Best Music Cruises. And this year, he is setting sail again.

Prior to he and his band (bassist Erik Kontz and former Event drummer Matt Scurfield) entering the studio to record the next album, Hoey is embarking on a brief clinic tour, where he will be demonstrating some new gear from Fender.

Check out the full interview here!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Seeing Red: An interview with Russian folk metal band KALEVALA!

I recently did an interview with the Russian folk metal band KALEVALA for my gig at I don't normally plug my other stuff here, but I think this band really needs to get noticed. Here is my lead-in to help get you in the mood:

It may seem an obvious notion, but MySpace truly does offer a world of music at one’s fingertips. Anyone can log on and search for new music by style, looking through Top Friends of other bands, or simply wait for those pesky Friend Requests to pile up in one’s in-box. Many bands abuse this capability and use MySpace simply as press release fodder (like having x-amount of MySpace friends means anything to the industry). However, there are those honest bands who use the tools simply to promote their music and put it out there for anyone to enjoy.

It was here that I stumbled upon a genre of music that I previously was unaware of, that of Russian folk metal. About a month ago, I received a Friend Request from the Moscow-based band Kalevala, most likely due my “Friendship” with bands like Korpiklaani and Moonsorrow. But rather than delete this message, I became curious, largely due to the name; why would a Russian band name itself after a collection of Finnish folklore? So I went to the page and checked them out. A week later, I had the CD, courtesy of Napalm Records European mail order (it is not available stateside, unfortunately).

I was enthralled with the music so much, I decided to research music in the area and was surprised to find an entire scene of great folk music in the Russian vicinity; bands like Tenochtitlan, Arkona, Pagan Reign and several others, some of whom have been releasing music for ten years. Until this point, my only exposure to Russian hard rock / metal was limited to Autograph and Gorky Park. Unfortunately, this phenomenon was not covered in Sam Dunn’s documentary Global Metal, and shame on him for overlooking it. Regardless, my eyes have been opened to a new wellspring of fantastic music, and all started because of a band called Kalevala.

You can read the interview here!

Thanks for checking it out!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why are Classics the only things allowed to be considered “classic”?

So this is actually a legitimate blog post for once. It doesn’t pertain to me shilling a product, attempting to enlighten the masses on something I think they would enjoy, or a regurgitation of any kind of list.

I, like many other people, have become enthralled with this little Facebook application called LivingSocial, where users make top five lists out of any imaginable category. My guess is that similarities between users foster conversation based on common interests.

However, I noticed a particular “Top Five” yesterday that stopped me in my tracks; it jarred something in the back of my memory that unfortunately started a bit of a firestorm of anger and mild verbal hostility.

The list in question was a “Top Five Favorite Guitarists”. Sounds like a fair enough topic, right? I mean, there are literally millions of guitar players out there from whom to choose to make one’s own personal favorites. My friend (I hope) listed the following guitar players: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, King Bennie Nawahj, and John Mayer.

Now technically, I shouldn’t argue, because it was his list, not mine, and represented his personal taste; no one else’s. However, the simple posting of three of those names thrust a philosophical thorn into my side. I didn’t dispute his posting of John Mayer, because he admitted to seeing him live and being blown away. Fair enough, personal connections do that all the time. I didn’t even question King Bennie, largely because I had no idea who he was.

No, my beef was with the first three. I would bet that easily 70% of the people who made a list of Top Five Favorite Guitarists would have those three names in there, with possible additions/substitutes of Carlos Santana, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, BB King, Keith Richards, George Harrison, John Lennon, and maybe even Curt Cobain. Why do I believe this? Because I have very strong feeling that society conditions us to like or dislike certain things, regardless of merit.

I had this argument with a couple English professors at Penn State, who kept making us regurgitate the same century + old "classics" to prove various literary points. We HAVE to read Thoreau, we HAVE to read Aristotle, we HAVE to read Melville, we HAVE to read Beecher Stowe. They felt that we would get a better appreciation if we didn't deviate from the prescribed literature, even though it was they (and the prof's before them, and the prof's before them) who keep representing it, and only allowing that little niche of literature to be allowed into the "classic" canon.

Thousands of books have been released every week, since those ages old scripts were first manufactured, yet they are not even considered to a) prove the exact same literary points, or b) retain or inspire the students to enjoy what they're exposed to.

Music is the exact same way. Only a handful of musicians are ever allowed to be revered in a Top Ten by any major medium, be it radio, print, or television. The artists are always the same, just in a different order. Why do you think that people who do not like metal cannot name more than ten metal bands off the top of their heads? Hell, I hate country music, but I can easily rattle off twenty country musicians without batting an eye. It all boils down to exposure.

So to reiterate, my issue was not with my friend, but the simple notion that those same people are being revered over and over again, with no one else being allowed into that exclusive canon. Just because an artist does not receive the same amount of press, any major awards, platinum sales status, or a major radio/video push does not mean they are equally (if not more so) talented than any of those Top Ten-hoarding musicians. Does lack of exposure really skew our vision and opinions that much? If so, then we really are little more than a fascist nation in disguise.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Disney Ride STAR TOURS finally getting an overhaul!!!

I don't normally lift news items from other sites, but this was too great and exciting for me to waste time summarizing! So, here is the piece as it ran on /film!

Yesterday was the third day of a secret LucasFilm film shoot in West Hollywood. If you were allowed to enter the “LODESTAR” production stage, you would’ve seen Boba Fett, Admiral Ackbar, a Tusken Raider, and even some Jawas. C3PO himself Anthony Daniels will be filming later this week.

So what is LucasFilm shooting? The good news is that George Lucas isn’t making a another Star Wars movie (not yet anyways) or additional scenes for some super duper special edition. And No, the Star Wars live-action television series has yet to begin production. So what is it? LucasFilm is shooting new footage for the Disney’s Star Tours ride.

The ride really hasn’t been updated since it opened in 1987. It’s not the total podracer reboot that was rumored a few years back, thank God. I’m hearing that its essentially the same ride but updated. It sounds to me like they might be shooting the footage in 3D, but I’m not sure.

Our source reveals that the revamp will incorporate prequel characters (like Naboo citizens and Geonosians) along with many aliens from the original trilogy (Aqualish. Bith, Rodians, etc). In the action sequence, the Star Tours vehicle is now going to be chased by Boba Fett. C3PO and R2-D2 are still the hosts, and Anthony Daniels will be recording his parts this week. Admiral Ackbar holographically communicates with the Star Tours vehicle. Right now they’re shooting mostly green screen footage, as it is the middle part of the production timeline.

Friday, April 10, 2009

If Godzilla had an iPod, would you be more frightened, because he really wouldn't be paying attention to where he was walking?

I know I haven't done one of these in a few weeks, and I feel kinda bad about it. I actually get a kick out of them, because they are catharsis for my otherwise miserable existence. So, enough of the jibber-jabber, let's get down to business.

1. CRADLE OF FILTH –“Scorched Earth Erotica”from Bitter Suites to Succubi
~ Nothing says“Friday”like some good old-fashioned gothic-tinged evil metal. But seriously, CoF is actually a fun band to listen to once you get past all the Hellraiser-esque pageantry. I don't know of many bands that can put so many different styles of music into one song, and that is something that always drew me to CoF – their ability to keep me guessing. Jolly stuff!

2. SAM KINISON – Wild Thing”from Youth Gone Wild Vol.2
~ Well, here's a little blast from the late 1980s. I remember the video that got tons of MTV airplay with Slash and all those 80s rockers acting goofy. But with Sam Kinison as ringleader, what did you really expect? I still giggle when I hear the line, "Every time I kiss you, I taste what other men had for lunch!" Hahahaha.

3. MARVIN HAMLISCH –“Nobody Does It Better (instrumental)”from The Spy Who Loved Me
~ And now we cool things off a little with a romantic ditty from one of Roger Moore's most underrated James Bond flicks. While I typically have something against an older James Bond score that isn't composed by John Barry, this one had a bit of charm, despite it being largely disco-based.

4. LOREENA MCKENNITT –“Cymbeline”from The Visit
~ Okay, so we go from tranquil to esoteric. I've always loved McKennitt's ability to weave multiple cultures within one composition. She has this uncanny knack to make Middle Eastern-Celtic-folk-New Age music sound like a legitimate genre. I just wish she's put albums out more often.

5. RICHARD CHEESE – "Stand Up (Ludacris cover)”from I'd Like a Virgin
~ And now all bets are off. If you can make it through a Richard Cheese song and not laugh, you’re a cold, cold person...if you’re human at all. I suppose people look at him like a second rate Weird Al Yankovic, but there’s sincerity to Cheese's performances that Yanky fans really take for granted. You have to give it to a guy who can turn a hardcore rap song into a sultry lounge performance.

6. GOD DETHRONED – The Poison Apple (Eve & Serpentio in the Garden of Eden)”from Ravenous
~ Back on the metal tip, we've got one of the scariest songs I've ever heard. Seeing the band do it live is even more frightening. It's got cutthroat precision, a happy Biblical story, and jaw-dropping guitar solos. While there really aren't a lot of Dutch metal bands that make waves on the international scene, I'm really glad God Dethroned is one of them. Their music is an honest combination of Beauty and the Beast in one mutated organism.

7. THE MEATMEN –“Centurions of Rome”from Rock 'n’Roll Juggernaut
~ I remember when I first heard this song, years ago; I didn't know what to make of it, other than that I loved it immediately. It was like a punk band trying to be Manowar. Eventually, it became sort of an underground fist-banging anthem. If you ever get a chance to see The Meatmen live, I guarantee that you'll be in for an interesting experience. For some reason, while I adore bands that take their craft seriously, I also dig a lot of bands that do it wholly for the fun of it.

8. RAMMSTEIN – "Benzin”from Rosenrot
~ Not my favorite song off of Rammstein's sorely under-appreciated 2006 release, but it does capture the band's unique energy. Rammstein's music intrigues me, because it's like romantic Frankenstein music. It's stiff to the point of rigor mortis, but it breathes with a definite passion. It really is difficult to put into words, but if you open your mind to them, they'll get their meathooks into you.

9. D12 – "UR the One”from D12 World
~ It sounds weird, but this is actually D12's unapologetic attempt at being romantic...well, as romantic as a foul-mouthed, Eminem-acquainted rap group can be. Needless to say, I find myself being amused more than feeling their message. But really, is D12 even designed to be taken seriously?

10. PANTERA – "Rock the World”from Power Metal
~ And closing out our little adventure today is one of those rare numbers that Pantera (and Atlantic Records) has tried to bury for nearly 20 years. This song comes from Phil Anselmo’s 1988 debut with Pantera, when the band was pretty, and Phil sang like his nuts were clamped firmly in a vice. To be fair, it's actually not as bad as most people like to think. Granted, there is a heavy Judas Priest influence on the music (and Phil's voice), but you could already tell the band had a passion for their craft. Honestly, I think more people need to be aware of this album, because it is a classy piece of metal...and it's fun to look at those outrageous hairdos!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Momentary Lapse of Reason

I’ve been on a weird Pink Floyd kick lately. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the stress in my life – not having a job, struggling as a writer to make something stick, and fending off the creditors. I feel like the walls are collapsing, and for some reason, Pink Floyd helps take that edge off.

I suppose it goes back to my youth and my godawful home life. As much as I loved metal and that adrenaline rush, Pink Floyd was great escapism music. No matter how bad things were, I could always pop on Meddle or Animals and just get lost in the wilderness of sound.

It’s been a bit of a reawakening for me, actually, similarly to Kevin Smith’s recent re-acquaintance with the glory that was Wayne Gretzky. Floyd’s music takes me back to those times, when although I thought the world was suffocating me, I could always put on the Pink Floyd oxygen mask and inhale life anew. And back then, I really didn’t have that many problems, aside from the emotional stress of dwelling in a broken home, not being allowed to explore or realize my youthful dreams.

I am constantly haunted by the chorus from “High Hopes”:

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
With friends surrounded
The nights of wonder

Why I am fixated on my own past, I’m not quite sure. I’m constantly second-guessing every decision I make. I see my friends and acquaintances moving in a forward motion in their own lives and wondering why I am stagnating, spinning my wheels in a whirlwind of confusion. I know this sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself and engaging in a self-induced pity party. Maybe I’m just struggling for answers.

Pink Floyd were true musical explorers; they never let genre or rules get in the way of their craft, and they were praised for it. Not just praised, but eventually worshipped. I watched a recent documentary on them on VH1, called Which One’s Pink?, and I found myself thinking, would they be even remotely as possible if they had put their first album out in 2008-2009? Sure their sound would be different, but they really didn’t write singles. I think they were a band that existed at the right moment in time, and if you moved them out of it, they might never have gotten to where they went.

I say this, because at times, I feel like I am a person out of place, out of time. Like I am wandering through life, trying to find a path. It’s a little sickening that I am over 30 and still trying to find my way. Why I am posting this in a blog, I don’t really know. And I’m sure the first thing readers will say is, “just get a job, regardless of what it is.” And it’s not for lack of trying. Over the past year, I’ve applied to nearly 100 different jobs in several fields. I suppose I built myself into a little box, having the bulk of my writing and editing experience encased in the world of music, and potential employers might see me as a one-trick pony. I don’t know. At least the sun is shining today.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Shuffle Up and Deal!" My Continued Adventures with the iPod

Yeah, I had fun doing this last week. It was a nice exercise, so here's another round for the kids.

1. FICTION PLANE - "Running The Country" from Left Side of the Brain
~ Not exactly my favorite song on the album, it does have a great bass line. I'm not sure if I've seen these guys too many times or what, but this song doesn't really have the same effect on me as it used to. That said, it is a great, bouncy track to start one's day.

2. SERGEI RACHMANINOFF - "Symphonic Dances: 2. Adante con moto (Tempo di valse)" from Isle of the Dead / Symphonic Dances
~ I've always had a thing for classical music that sounded like film scores (or I suppose I should give credit where credit is due, since film score music is derived from its classical parentage). Anyway, I would never have heard of this particular track had I not been perusing the classical section when working at Barnes & Noble several years back. I innocently stumbled upon a disc called Isle of the Dead, and blindly purchased it based solely on the disc's title. It is rare that I make such purposes, because buying something before listening is always a crapshoot, but it is that much more enjoyable when it pays off.

3. LEAVES' EYES - "Twilight Sun" from Vinland Saga
~ Liv Kristine's voice is simply angelic. Of the female fronted metal pantheon, I'd put anything she's involved with in another league. The music isn't contrived (too often these kinds of bands base their lackluster music around the novelty of the female vocals), and, well, she's a friggin' Viking! You also can't go wrong when your backing band is Atrocity.

4. OBITUARY - "Slowly We Rot" from Slowly We Rot
~ Ah, the days of juvenile bliss. Not a groundbreaking release by any stretch of the imagination, this track of metallic sludgery was released way back in 1989. The thing I always find funny about this song is that although the music is primal death metal and the vocals are sick, if you listen closely, the lyrics actually discuss the ins and outs of volleyball -- proving once again why death metal lyrics really don't matter. Good times!

5. BOLT THROWER - "War Master" from War Master
~ Wow, what is this, a high school reunion? Two old school death metal tracks back-to-back. This is another one of those albums that helped me through my "I hate school and my parents" phase. The song has one of the sickest groove breaks about midway through it, and it always gets my blood rushing whenever it hits. Regretfully, Bolt Thrower is among those few iconic metal bands I've never been able to see live. However, they are supposed to headline this year's Maryland Death Fest, so maybe I will be able to check them off the list.

6. BRICKLIN - "Walk Away" from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure soundtrack
~ Yes, it really is high school all over again. First we have some death metal, and now we're revisiting Bill & Ted. This is the track that was playing during the duo's oral report at the end of the film. Normally, I don't like compilation soundtracks, but this one was so innocent and chock-full of unknown bands, my heart kinda went out to it. Interestingly, this soundtrack featured a demo track by the band Extreme before they had actually released their first album. Now I want to watch the DVD. Party on, dudes!

7. MICHAEL KAMEN - "Sanchez is in the Bahamas / Shark Fishing" from License To Kill soundtrack
~ Now I know I shouldn't say negative things about the dead, but Michael Kamen was always one of those overblown film composers that had a habit of trying to make movies bigger than they actually were. Also, he was given the unenviable task of following up John Barry's last (and arguably best) James Bond score. Add to that the fact that it was another Timothy Dalton Bond outing and you've got a recipe for disaster. Kamen actually sounded like he phoned this one in, more emulating Barry than doing his own thing. Oh yeah, R.I.P., Michael.

8. THE ELIMINATORS - "Punta Baja" from Cowabunga! The Surf Box
~ Is it summer yet? Big fan of surf rock, this stuff can brighten even the dreariest of days. And I think another charm of this music is that the songs are usually pretty short, so the band's have to get in, make a poignant statement, and get the hell out of Dodge. This track is off of a 4-disc box set commemorating the rich history of surf rock, and it sounds like something that could have very easily been on the From Dusk Til Dawn soundtrack...or any Tarantino flick for that matter.

9. SIR MIX-A-LOT - "Swap Meet Louie" from Mack Daddy
~ Yes, this is a track off the infamous album that gave us "Baby Got Back". Why is it even on my iPod? Because for some reason, I dig Mix's style -- his enunciation, humorous lyrics, and complete irreverence towards trends. "Swap Meet Louie" is one of those deep album tracks that makes me laugh.

10. CANDLEMASS - "Under the Oak" from Live
~ And our lesson for the week draws to a close with one of the most massive tracks from the greatest doom metal band ever. Messiah Marcolin's vocals just give me chills on this. It is one of those rare live albums that is comparable to a studio album, due to its recording quality, tightness of the band, and classic set list. There was a time when I thought this band could do no wrong...then the singer left...and came back...and left again. They're still a decent band, but they are a different beast than the mythic monster they once were.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Doing the Friday Shuffle...

Someone over on Facebook started a group called "Friday Shuffle", where members are encouraged to put their iPods on a random shuffle, and jot down the first ten tracks that play. I don't exactly know why this is an attractive exercise, but for some reason, I got sucked into it.

And rather than just list the songs (showing off how extensive one's taste - or lack thereof - can be), I'm going a step further and offering a little commentary on each track. And before you ask, yes, I actually own these CDs.

If you dig it, cool. If not, hey, it's only a blog!

1. JORN - "Christine" from Worldchanger
~ One of the best voices in heavy metal. It is sad that he is widely unknown in America. He's like David Coverdale, Ronnie James Dio, and Ian Gillan all wrapped into one. The glaring difference is that he's not over 50. His work with MASTERPLAN was amazing, but his solo material always comes across as more soulful.

2. THE AMAN FOLK ORCHESTRA - "Main Title" from Subspecies soundtrack
~ We need a little cheese every now and again. That said, the Subspecies soundtrack is one of the creepiest horror soundtracks out there. It's sad that the film series never achieved any mainstream success (did ANY Charles Band flick??), otherwise this album might not be out-of-print today.

3. THE GAME - "One Night" from Doctor's Advocate
~ I think that sometimes rap music grounds me, especially the stuff that is based in reality. A lot of the stories these guys spill are quite humbling, but I can understand if it comes across as too abrasive for some people. Honestly, THE GAME can sound quite depressing at times.

4. GREEN JELLY - "Carnage Rules" from 333
~ Sometimes, in addition to cheese, we need to be downright silly, right? I don't think GREEN JELLY (JELLO) ever released a serious song, or ever could. "Carnage Rules" is one of those little ditties that blends punk and metal and makes you want to bounce around the room like a complete idiot.

5. SCAR SYMMETRY - "Seeds of Rebellion" from Symmetric In Design
~ And speaking of abrasive...I've always had a fondness for Scar Symmetry, because they remind me of what EDGE OF SANITY could have evolved into, had the band continued to exist and if Dan Swanö didn't have a penchant for 70s folk rock. SCAR SYMMETRY is also among the very few bands that can combine death growls and silky clean vocals in the same song and make it sound perfectly natural.

6. JAMES HORNER - "Genesis Countdown" from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan soundtrack
~ Yes, I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to movies, and like those fellows in Free Enterprise, I hold Wrath of Khan in very high regards. And it's not just the movie itself that makes the film great. I feel that Horner really peaked with this one, and although he's done some great things since 1982 (Aliens, Willow, Clear and Present Danger, Apocalypto), I will always see this as his crowning achievement. It is actually kinda sad that the very next year (1983), he would plagiarize his own work when he scored the soundtrack to Krull.

7. DURAN DURAN - "Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)" from The Reflex single
~Yeah, it's an obscure DD song, and a live recording at that. I don't know, there was always something about DD that intrigued me - their sense of melody, the combination of eccentric synthesizer work with incredibly underrated bass guitar work and smooth vocals. They just always sounded sincere, even if their lyrics never made any sense. I think another part of their charm is that no matter what they do, whenever I listen to them (current album excluded), I feel like a little kid again, plopped in front of the television, watching the equally confusing videos on MTV.

8. PAUL DI'ANNO - "Wrathchild" from The Classics: The Maiden Years
~ it is sad that nearly 30 years later, poor ol' Paul is still shilling his brief work with Iron Maiden. Yeah, he only appeared on 2 albums, but they were pivotal albums in the band's career. And I don't care what anyone says, no one can sing those songs with the fervor that Paul brings to them (sorry, Bruce). I guess when you are involved with a band that big, no one cares what else you do. I don't think Paul has had an album of original material released in America in over 10 years. I could be wrong, so don't quote me on it.

9. PABLO FRANCISCO - "Mentos" from Knee to the Groin
~ This guy is just hilarious. The guy could read the obituaries, and I think I would still chuckle. This is his take on how ridiculously cheerful the people in Mentos commercials are, regardless of the situation they are in. It's only a 43-second track, but it's a riot.

10. BLACKMORE'S NIGHT - "Shadow of the Moon" from Shadow of the Moon
~ And closing our set today is one of the most charming, most inventive songs by Ritchie Blackmore's (guitarist for Deep Purple and Rainbow) current musical incarnation. The combination of folky, medieval sounding music with Candice Night's Stevie Nicks-meets-Loreena McKennitt, ambient vocals make this track simply enchanting. I feel like taking a barefoot walk through a forest right now. If only it weren't 40 degrees outside...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Grouch The Oscar or Spending An Evening Complaining About Entertainment

Okay, now that the Oscars are finally over and the noses-upturned-to-anything-interesting committee is able to focus their collective inability to acknowledge good movies towards next year, it is time for me to chime in on a few things.

Okay, since NO ONE was surprised that Heath Ledger was going to win, why is everyone acting like they are? Out of all the films in his hot-fudge-with-sprinkles career, only a handful was actually watchable. Now, outlets like EW and Rolling Stone are calling him the modern James Dean? Give me a friggin’ break. Did ANYONE see the piece of garbage that was A Knight’s Tale? Granted, he was good in The Patriot, but I think that was more because of the story than his acting ability, but people are now citing Ten Things I Hate About You as some kind of zeitgeisty, introspective work of visual art.

I’m not going to go on about this, because it really turns my stomach to see Hollywood (and the general public) get all gushy and sentimental just because dude died. Let’s leave it at this, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS AN ACCIDENTAL OVERDOSE! If it was accidental, then there would have been an eyewitness who was with him watching him do it. It was suicide, plain and simple, and I have NO respect for anyone who thinks their life is so hard that the only way for them to move forward is to cut the cord. Yes, I’m talking to you, too, Herr Cobain.

Anyway, let’s turn our attention to Sean Penn for a moment. Now, I loved the guy in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, We’re No Angels, Casualties of War, and Carlito’s Way. But ever since his portrayal as David Kleinfeld in 1993, it seems that he has started choosing movies for the sole purpose of getting Academy nods, rather than stretching his acting chops. Sure, you can say that he’s smart for doing it, but I think that is a cowardly, and safe, way to go through an acting career. Wouldn’t you rather be someone like Ed Harris or Robert DeNiro, who are great in everything, regardless of the Academy batting an eye at them?

I dunno, I think I’m just sick of seeing Penn’s name in the nominee list every other year. It’s kinda like the same thing with period and political films getting nominated for all the major awards every year. Come on guys, that’s the formula, why nominate the exact same crap every year? That extends to BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN, too. Umm, if period films are so plentiful all the time, do you really need to keep nominating them? What makes one film’s 19th Century-inspired attire better than anothers? Maybe I need to be a seamstress to understand.

And speaking of not understanding, what is up with BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM OF THE YEAR? Granted, I am glad that Wall*E won, but look at its competition. Kung Fu Panda and Bolt? What happened to nominating films of substance? What exactly are the criteria for nominating animated movies anyway? It must be pretty, it must be funny, and it must target 4-year-olds? Seriously, I think this award only exists to draw in the youngsters, who will be able to see the exact same award at Nickelodeon’s Kid’s Choice Awards. It’s kinda like having Grammys nominating Latin artists, but having Latin Grammys, too. There’s no point.

What’s even more confusing, is that I looked up the nomination rules for Best Animated Feature. Check this out, I pulled it right from

The Executive Committee of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch shall meet prior to the last Board of Governors meeting of this calendar year. At this meeting, a Reminder List of the animated feature films released during the year shall be reviewed. If the committee finds that there are eight or more eligible animated feature films that warrant a category, it may choose to recommend to the Board of Governors that there be a Best Animated Feature Film award given this year. If the governors accept this recommendation, the following nomination process shall be set in motion.

Okay, so the category is optional, no problem. I totally understand. Some years there just aren’t any nominatable films for Best Animated Feature – because anything more mind-numbing than Kung Fu Panda shouldn’t be considered. However, did you notice that they need EIGHT films for consideration to have the category submitted? Umm, there are only ever THREE films nominated. Where did the other FIVE go??? On top of that, John “Pixar” Lasseter is part of said committee! The dude is nominating his own movies! One more reason this category is irrelevant.

I really don’t want to go on a rant about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the curious case of its 13 nominations. You’ve heard it all before, it’s a half-baked, heartless Xerox of Forrest Gump, you don’t connect with the characters, Tilda Swinton is still a scary-looking bitch, and the tie-in to Hurricane Katrina was completely tasteless. Why the 13 noms? I guess the Academy was bored. Or they were too afraid to nominate movies like Appaloosa and Gran Torino. I thought whenever Clint Eastwood crapped dust, it got nominated. Oh wait, there were racial slurs in this movie. Can’t have that. Because reality isn’t what they go for with Oscar nominations…except Animated Feature.

This brings me to my biggest beef with Oscar nominations. And I have this same gripe year after year (I just never had a blog before). One of the most overlooked, and under-researched categories at the Academy Awards is BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR A MOTION PICTURE, ORIGINAL SCORE. I kinda figured Slumdog Millionaire was going to take this one, because it was so different from everything else.

However, I fancy myself a fan of film scores, and I found that one completely unlistenable. It was noisy, it was chaotic, but it was Bollywood! That’s the politically-correct way to go these days! Seriously, did it win Best Score, because it WAS the best score, or did it win simply because it also took Best Picture and Best Director? Maybe my ears are not attuned to Indian music, but that sloshy, gumbo of an album was little more than a sonic headache. Seriously, the hodgepodge of techno-Indian-dance-hip hop sounded like a bad Nintendo game or some bizarre fetishist amine.

But hey, let’s look at the other nominees.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Alexandre Desplat) – seriously? This was Desplat doing his best Danny Elfman impersonation. Yeah, I get that he was trying to fuse fantasy and drama, but I thought the licensed music for the film (you know, all the old school big band and jazz standards) were much more interesting.

Milk (Danny Elfman) - Speaking of not interesting, this was another one of those moments where Danny Elfman tries to make himself contemporarily relevant by NOT sounding like Danny Elfman. Milk came off sounding more like a cross between Splash and Arthur – uninspired and derivative.

Defiance (James Newton Howard) – and yes, on the derivative tip, here we have another go at standard espionage fare, a la John Powell’s Bourne series, or anything with a spy and guns in it for that matter. Why was it nominated? Oh, it had random cello solos, which drew some comparisons to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which incidentally won the Best Score Oscar in 2001). Ah, 2001 was actually the last decent year for nail-biting film score noms – Crouching Tiger, Gladiator, and The Patriot? All classics in my book. Defiance, however, is not.

Wall*E (Thomas Newman) – the only one of the bunch I felt deserving of a nomination. Since there was no dialogue during the first half of the film, it was the music that carried the action. I thought Newman did a stellar job combining childlike whimsy, isolation, and adventure in one little eco-friendly, cardboard-sleeved package. I guess the win is reparation for last year's Ratatouille upset. Yes, it is too bad the Academy is deaf.

And while we’re on the subject, I did some perusing at the Oscars website and learned some rather weird things about the committee that makes these bizarre and lackluster nominations. Here are the Board of Governors (as they are called on the site). I should also note that all my info about them can be verified on IMDB.

Charles Fox – primarily a TV composer, whose BIGGEST films include National Lampoon’s European Vacation (you remember, the really bad Pig In A Poke one), 9 to 5, Zapped! and Short Circuit 2. The last feature film he scored was a 1995 talking pig movie called Gordy. Truly a magnificent list of credits. He’s definitely qualified to make these decisions.

Bruce Broughton - also largely a TV composer. Biggest films include Silverado, The Presidio, and Harry and the Hendersons. Last movie scored was a 1998 Stephen Baldwin vehicle called One Tough Cop. Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s done some good things…20 years ago. Again, not really sure if his ears are attuned to making good decisions.

Arthur Hamilton - scored ONE FILM in 1955. He’s primarily a songwriter, who is best known for the tune “Cry Me A River”, (not to be confused with the Justin Timberlake ditty) which was featured in 6 movies. How in the hell is this guy qualified to sit on a board that decides what film scores get nominated for Oscars? That’s like making a 6-year-old teach astro-physics, because he can make paper airplanes.

Now, if I was on the board, what would I have nominated? Glad you asked. Besides Wall*E, I would have cleaned house and NOT even considered the other four noms. That frees me up to make four new choices. I would have nominated the following film scores:

The Happening (James Newton Howard) – Yes, I feel he was nominated for the wrong movie. He also could have very easily been nominated for The Dark Knight (which he would have had to share with Hans "needs more synthesized strings" Zimmer) as well, but I thought this score was much more visceral. It was probably among the best suspense scores since the days of Bernard Herrmann. He should have also been nominated last year for The Great Debaters, but I really don’t want to get into the debacle that was the 80th Academy Awards. I’d just start spewing about how American Gangster was completely robbed of any dignity.

HELLBOY 2 (Danny Elfman) – Again, nominated for the wrong film. Milk was extremely lactose-intolerant, while Hellboy was injected with an ample supply of Nestlé Quik. Sure, you could argue that it is standard Elfman fare, but I would disagree. Sure, most of the work he’s done since the late 80s has been a variation or rehashing of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. To this day, I am shocked that Beetlejuice was never considered for an Oscar in 1988/89. But Hellboy II represents a more refined, mature, and no less adventurous Elfman. It’s a score that combines mayhem and heart, which is an odd mix, but Elfman can pull it off.

Mongol (Tuomas Kantelinen) – Yeah, the guy is a complete unknown in America. Then again, so is the film. But holy crap, is this a great, epic score. Kantelinen effortlessly channels the old school Hollywood epic film score legends like Miklos Rosza and Alex North, and offers something passionate and brutal. It’s like what Jerry Goldsmith was gunning for with The 13th Warrior, but better.

Nights In Rodanthe (Jeanine Tesori) – Sure, I know this is completely unbecoming of me, but this is some very moving music. This is also Tesori’s first proper film score, as she is primarily known as a Broadway composer. I have no desire to see the movie, but the music is completely gut-wrenching. It is like a modern classical sonata. Very romantic, and very rare for the world of film scores.

And there you have it, kiddies, my Oscar rant for this year. I really don’t know why I let silly little things like the get under my skin, because ultimately, what is more frivolous than an organization that puts on a multi-million dollar beauty pageant to pay homage to the entertainment industry? Think about it, it’s a show that honors movies. It’s kinda like a paradox, isn’t it? I just hope that somewhere down the line, the Academy Awards will be more based on what people want to see, rather than what Oprah’s Book Club thinks we should see.