Municipal Waste enjoy heavy rotation on my iPod. This group of thrash maniacs keep the party hardy vibe of thrash metal’s past alive with a healthy fixation on Reagan-era social issues, horrible death through exposure to nuclear radiation, horror flicks, beer and weed. It seems like just yesterday that they released Massive Aggressive, an – ahem – darker album whose lyrical themes had less to do with getting wasted and more to do with being torn apart by wolves mutated by the radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. April 10th marks their return with their latest album, The Fatal Feast, which manages to bridge the gap between the extraordinarily violent Massive Aggressive and the extraordinarily ridiculous The Art of Partying. Still, they’re not quite as silly as Gama Bomb, but they’re getting there and the latest video to kick off the album, a tale of cannibalism and a haunted space station ought to give you an idea of what they’re angling for.
The rest of the album, by the way, is pretty good.
Heavy metal music is fairly predictable stuff in terms of subject matter. The pairing of metal and horror is a no-brainer and has pretty much been in the mix since the dawn of the genre. The very name of the founding heavy metal band, Earth, was eventually changed to Black Sabbath when bass player, Geezer Butler, observed lines of people queuing up to see Mario Bava’s horror film of the same name. Death Metal made it even easier with its obsession with the fragility of the human body. What is surprisingly not so common is a heavy metal connection to science fiction. It’s out there, though. There’s an apparent crossover between horror and science fiction so naturally there is the same crossover between heavy metal and sci-fi. Like my lists of Songs About Vampires, Heavy Metal-themed horror movies and the Sci-fi, horror and fantasy connection to Progressive Rock, here’s a new list of science fiction-themed heavy metal.
Anthrax I Am The Law
from Among The Living
Thrash metal, the mutant offspring of heavy metal and hardcore punk was the chocolate to science fiction’s peanut butter. Most thrash in the 80’s that wasn’t heavily concerned with social and political issues of the Reagan 80’s had a weird fixation on post apocalypse settings, nuclear war, genetic mutations and man vs. machine conflicts. Just about every one of them had a song with heavy sci-fi tones. Anthrax, the flagship band of the East Coast thrash culture, nailed it down on what is probably the finest of their Joey Belladonna-era albums, Among The Living. Among The Living has all the social commentary you could want but in the middle of it all is a pummeling mainstay of their live sets, I Am The Law, a song about the iconic British comic character from 2000 AD, Judge Dredd.
Dredd takes place in a future United States rendered almost uninhabitable following a devastating nuclear war that confines humanity’s survivors to domed megalopolises that are riddled with crime. To combat the crime, the government institutes The Judges, roving officers of the law who exact justice on the spot. They’re cops but they’re also judge, jury and executioners. It’s a cool comic. Unsurprisingly, the band’s main lyricist, Scott Ian, is a pretty big fan of science fiction and comic books, in general (former Anthrax guitarist, Dan Spitz, was also known at this time to play a Jackson King V decorated with Ninja Turtles). The track doesn’t so much tell a story as it is a sort of overview of Judge Dredd, speaking of Megacity 1, isocubes, The Burning Earth and so on. In the lead up to the chorus the band shouts a gang vocal, “DROKK IT!!!”
Queensryche NM 156
from The Warning
I always felt kind of bad for Queensryche. I’m sure they feel differently, but it always seemed to me that they got the shaft and never received the respect they actually deserved. As metal was reaching critical mass at the end of the 80’s, they released their magnum opus, Operation: Mindcrime, an album that sounds as good today as it did in 1988 but somehow got mixed up with all those hair bands that were ruling the charts at the time. They were most certainly not a hair band in spite of a bit of posing, hair spray and leather fringe. As a matter of fact, they shared far more in common with bands from The New Wave of British Heavy Metal and their lyrics were often seriously cerebral. Then they hit huge with their slow jam Silent Lucidity and just kept on trucking, leaving their way out lyrics mostly in the past.
The first Queensryche LP, The Warning, was mostly unremarkable with the exception of a couple of standout tracks. The most notable among them was NM 156, a mysterious title about computer supremacy in the future. Mankind is ruthlessly kept in check by a dictatorial computer with a boner for cold logical data. Man versus machine was a common theme in metal’s explorations of science fiction. It’s easy and it preys and on the same sort of paranoia that fires off the same neurons that are stimulated during particularly horrifying death metal lyrics. Queensryche were way ahead of the curve, though. NM 156 reads like a blend of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (which was published a year after this album was recorded and Harlan Ellison’s nasty post-nuke novela, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Queensryche was progressive before anyone had even thought of the concept of progressive metal.
Hypocrisy Dead Sky Dawning
from The Arrival
American death metal seemed to spring to life in Florida, of all places. Bands like Death, Deicide and Morbid Angel all came out of Florida and before the style had spread to the rest of the country, never mind the rest of the world, it was undergoing all manner of experimentation down in America’s wang (aka The Sunshine State). Plenty of bands in Europe were leaning in that direction but it wasn’t until Hypocrisy’s Peter Tagtgren picked up stakes from Florida and moved back to Sweden that the Swedish metal sound, one of the most popular variations on death metal in the world, began to take form. Hypocrisy was like most death metal bands with the usual gory lyrics but what was surprising about their rise was the more than occasional song featuring lyrics of a paranormal nature. Specifically, lyrics having to do with harrowing visitations and abductions by aliens. It almost became the Hypocrisy calling card. This weirdo twist on death metal passed into the metal consciousness without so much as a second thought as other death metal bands embraced the idea. Plenty of bands were writing songs about unstoppable serial killers and zombie hordes eating people, but a corner of the death metal community celebrated tracks both brutal and melodic about an apocalypse at the hands of flying saucer men. Nobody did it better than Hypocrisy, though, and Dead Sky Dawning, an actual return to themes of alien visitations after a hiatus from this theme, tells the story of mankind’s total demise at the hands of an enemy in the sky. It’s a ballsy track.
Municipal Waste Unleash The Bastards
from Hazardous Mutation
At some point in the early 90’s, thrash metal fell out of vogue as death and black metal dictated the future of metal’s extremes but in the last ten years or so, thrash has surfed a wave of nostalgia back into fashion and leading the way are thrash metal party masters, Municipal Waste. If they weren’t so fucking good at what they do, they’d seem like a novelty throwback that’s good for one album before breaking up.
Metal has a tendency to take itself seriously to a fatal degree. It’s not easy to sing a song like SATAN SPAWN!!!! THE CACODEMON!!! and be taken seriously but jokers like Glenn Benton are burning inverted crosses into their god damn foreheads, for crying out loud! In Norway a bunch of these guys committed serial arson and killed a couple of people. It’s nice to find a band like Municipal Waste who realize exactly how silly it all is and prefer to write songs about The Toxic Avenger. Not this song, though. Unleash The Bastards, in true thrash form, is another song about man against machine. This one is about killer robots. At some point, the people in control of, well, everyone, build a race of machines to keep those below them on the social food chain in line but the robots turn on their masters and kill them.
Gama Bomb OCP
from Citizen Brain
After this I promise I’ll leave thrash alone. I’m sure you get the picture. These goofy guys in the sleeveless denim and the upturned baseball caps fucking love horror and sci-fi movies. It’s a staple of the scene. Most of these guys come from a similar background as me and I’m sure that’s why more than any kind of metal in the 80’s when I was a little metalhead, thrash had the most appeal. It was fucking loud, it was fucking fast, it served up a bleak social message and they constantly namedropped horror movies that I spent hours past midnight watching from age 12 on. Nobody in the current wave of thrash owns this vibe more than Northern Ireland’s Gama Bomb. With songs like Lunch Hall Food Brawl and Horny For Blood, it’s hard to top Municipal Waste in terms of foolishness but Gama Bomb succeeds and exceeds with flying colors. They get the thrash sound right but lyrically they’re in the ballpark with shit like New Eliminators of Atlantis BC, Apocalypse 1997 and In The Court of General Zod. No track qualifies for this list more than OCP, though. For obvious reasons. It takes a ballsy disregard for giving a fuck to write a song about Robocop and arrange it so the lyrics are all taken from the movie.
Gama Bomb also wrote a song about ninjas. Bitches leave.
Voivod Tribal Convictions
from Dimension Hatross
Voivod are fucking genius, y’all. They began as your average thrash band from Quebec but with each LP they evolved into the most forward thinking metal band of their age. Voivod seemed to hit their peak with their album Nothingface but the release before it, Dimension Hatross is my personal favorite. Beginning with an album called Killing Technology, Voivod took to crafting concept albums featuring their ongoing character, The Voivod. On Dimension Hatross, Voivod has created a pocket universe with an atom smasher and uses it to move himself to this place to find a planet populated by warring factions representing ideologies of total, unrestrained freedom and complete dictatorial control. They all happen to be fairly primitive, though, and regard Voivod as a sort of god. They struggle against one another until the universe proves to be unstable and tears itself apart just after Voivod manages to escape.
Dimension Hatross is an intense, extremely experimental album. It toys with the model for what a heavy metal album can be. Compared to its contemporaries, it’s a fairly controlled and restrained experiment in metal. It has as much in common with Metallica as it does Pink Floyd. The lyrics are, at times, impenetrable and the structure of the music embraces weird tunings, keys and time signatures. It’s not as out there, musically, as Meshuggah but without Voivod there probably wouldn’t be a Meshuggah.
Megadeth Hangar 18
from Rust In Peace
Rust In Peace was the album when it all seemed to come together for Megadeth. Dave Mustaine is an exceptionally skilled guitarist but the first three Megadeth albums, as good as they are, are mostly unfocused affairs and have not aged well. With Rust In Peace, the lineup was magic and everyone was moving in the same direction. Megadeth no longer felt like Mustaine’s personal vendetta against James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. It was a huge step toward maturity and some of the tracks reflected the band’s interest in science fiction and comic books. Also on this album is the album opener, Holy Wars… The Punishment Due, which concerns both the religious fighting in Northern Ireland and Marvel Comics’ The Punisher. Hangar 18, however, is all about the United States government’s alleged containment facility at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and the contents therein. Namely, the recovered alien craft that crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.
20 years on and this song still sounds fresh. This is not easy for a metal band to do. Particularly if your name is Megadeth. The first three albums sound like 80’s metal albums and, admittedly, much of Rust In Peace sounds like the time that it was produced in but this is such a blazing track with a number of killer solos and a great rhythm section. The lyrics concern a guided tour of the secret government facility that is Hangar 18. The person taking the tour clearly knows too much and that’s never a good thing.
Iron Maiden The Final Frontier
from The Final Frontier
Man, you’d think Maiden would provide a menu of sci-fi metal tracks to choose from. I mean, they’ve made a career as metal gods out of highly imaginative fantasy themes for their entire catalog but I had a bitch of a time nailing one down that I wanted to talk about. Turns out, apart from To Tame A Land from their album, Piece of Mind, there’s just nothing else to talk about that’s science fiction and that song kind of sucks. Let me stop you before you go any further, though. Caught Somewhere In Time isn’t actually about time travel. Sorry, bro.
No, it took Maiden this long to crank out a track that had something to do with sci-fi. At the time of this writing, the latest album is The Final Frontier. Once Bruce Dickinson was back in the band after a few years away, learning to pilot commercial aircraft, learning to fight with swords and kicking out a series of pretty decent solo albums, I gave the band an unfair shake, insisting that the reunited Iron Maiden wasn’t the band that they used to be and that without any kind of progress on their part, they now sounded like the bands that they influenced but that’s not fair at all because for all that lack of progress that I give Maiden a hard time about, I love AC/DC for the same reasons. No. The new Maiden albums are all pretty good. As for the song, it’s barely sci-fi material, actually. The song concerns the final thoughts of an astronaut whose craft has drifted off course and is woefully out of reach of any kind of help. He’ll drift through space until he finally dies and as he does this, he reflects on his life, his only regret being that he can’t tell his family that he loves them one more time. Poignant, but did this heartfelt and probably very genuine sentiment need to be framed in such a strange setting?
Nocturnus Arctic Crypt
Death metal isn’t the kind of place you’re going to commonly find sci-fi inspired soundscapes and lyrics. It’s just not the right setting. The entire notion of death metal is a celebration of horror. It’s an often over the top circus of gore and vomit. Black metal and power metal got all the trappings of fantasy and thrash pretty much cornered the market on sci-fi as I’ve proven. Hypocrisy bucked those trends but even before they were getting carried away with songs about alien invasions wiping humanity out of the universe there was Nocturnus. Nocturnus managed to combine the horror of death metal with their own interests in the paranormal. When they weren’t writing songs about ancient aliens, they were writing songs about vengeful pyschics and poltergeists. If it sounds silly, it is.
Death metal gets a bad rap from people who don’t know any better. Often dismissed as unsophisticated crap, the truth about death metal is so much more than your average music listener thinks. Nocturnus, one of the more obscure Florida death bands had two absolutely brilliant guitarists capable of technically complex and seriously amazing playing. They also had a keyboardist, which was something that stayed out of extreme metal until black metal bands in Norway started using them to add texture to an otherwise frozen expression of metal. Arctic Crypt concerns the discovery of an ancient alien craft hidden in polar glaciers for ages until an earthquake breaks it open. The people who discover it open it and wind up unleashing the being inside which wreaks havoc on the Earth. I mean, yes. This is some sci-fi shit, but it wouldn’t be death metal if the song didn’t describe at least some kind of act of genocide. Right?
Blue Oyster Cult Godzilla
Blue Oyster Cult were no strangers to the horrifying and the weird. While they’re a far cry from the hard rock and metal bands that came in their wake, they were among the first bands out there to point to genre media like comic books, horror movies and science fiction TV shows and base songs on these things. It just so happens that a certain song and an accompanying sketch from SNL made sure that everybody remembered them for Don’t Fear The Reaper. Then again, didn’t producer, Bruce Dickinson (played by Chrisopher Walken) tell them? More cowbell would ensure the song’s immortality! Truth is, Don’t Fear The Reaper was produced by Sandy Pearlman. It’s also a killer track.
Don’t Fear The Reaper dominates classic rock radio playlists for obvious reasons but from the same album is the hit song, Godzilla. I’ll give you three guesses what it’s about.
So there you have it. Ten unlikely tracks about science fiction themes from the world of heavy metal. If you want to check them out all in one place, plus a few more tracks that I didn’t mention here from the likes of Fear Factory, Deep Purple, Evile and In Flames, check out the 8tracks mix I put together for your listening pleasure.
It wasn’t too long ago that Tenebrous Kate dedicated a week’s worth of blogging to the topic of music and I honed in on that shit, right quick. Kate and I tend to travel in similar circles and tune into the same wavelengths of weird. It explains much of why I count her blog, Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire among my favorites. When she got down to it and started namechecking spooky music, she surprised the hell out of me when each day, her picks of stuff I ought to be listening to did three things simultaneously:
She listed a bunch of bands that I was pretty sure myself and maybe ten other people were aware of and into
She listed a bunch of bands I’d never even heard of
She listed lots of metal bands
She just doesn’t strike me as the doom metal type, you know? Among the gold on those lists was a band who have managed to ear worm their way into my brain. I hear their melodic hard rock in my head when I’m not thinking about anything else. I hear them when I’m trying to go to sleep. My three year old daughter even loves them. Something I ought to think hard about because their lyrical content, a far cry from actually alarming shit like Regurgitate, Cannibal Corpse or Agoraphobic Nosebleed, is nothing but catchy track after track in celebration of your friend and mine, the Prince of Darkness. Satan, that is. The last thing I want is to be at my mom’s house with her some day and have her start singing songs about summoning the unholy bastard by way of human sacrifice. My mom, after all, disposed of no less than four copies of Reign In Blood in the time that I lived in her house and threw a fit the day she found my sister’s Ouija Board. She takes the occult pretty seriously even though we don’t.
Not a whole lot is known about Ghost. They’re from Sweden. There are six members and all but the singer wear robes and hide their faces in their cowls. The singer wears a mockery of a Catholic Cardinal’s robes and a mask with a skull painted on it. They drive tr00 kvlt black metal fans bananas with their insistence that they’re a black metal band. They tell some story about how they’re members of a Satanic sect of cultists out to bring about the end of the world and their path to the end involves corrupting and converting everyone else to their own ways by way of the corrupting influence of rock and roll. It’s actually some kind of joke and a lot of people suspect that the band is some kind of side project of another band. Popular opinion seems to think they’re related to death thrashers, Repugnant, although I can’t really say why. You can’t really take them very seriously, though. It’s pretty clear that this is some kind of theatrical joke since in an interview with Vice magazine, they claim that they ripped their costuming off of Zlad.
Their sound is a pretty particular mix of doom metal, Blue Oyster Cult and Mercyful Fate. At times, the riffs are reminiscent of any track off Melissa that I expect falsetto invocations of Satan to come pouring out of the speakers at any moment. You get these great riffs, minimalist guitar solos and a positively menacing organ and each song is, as I said, extremely catchy and melodic. It’s metal but in a really old way. Most people complain that Ghost is about 40 years too late for that bandwagon but to those people I say, “Haters gonna hate.” Ghost do a great form of retro-metal that is massively listenable. The only downside to Ghost’s sound is their singer, whose clean vocals, clearly inspired by the great King Diamond, are often whispy and weak. The rest of the band’s sound is so strong and assertive but their front man comes off passive. It took a long time for me to come around to him. What’s worse is that this lack of punch in the vocals department causes a series of downright fantastic lyrics to fall flat at times. Lyrically speaking, Ghost spares no opportunity to celebrate Satan and every song seems to be written by the cast of some 70’s Satan in the suburbs horror movie like Devil’s Rain or something. It’s completely silly in the best way possible.
Just give it a listen. Their first full length is called Opus Eponymous.
I was probably 4 or 5 the first time I saw KISS on TV. It was an episode of 3-2-1 Contact that showcased the special effects that went into any given live performance and it captivated me. My dad listened to WAAL, Binghamton, New York’s home of the rock, so I was familiar with the concept of rock and roll but not like this. They left out Gene Simmons spitting blood because this show, after all, was meant for children but there was plenty of bass players spitting fire, flying up to the top of the scaffolding for a bass solo, Ace Frehley launched rockets off his headstock, Peter Criss’ drum riser launched intself into the air and fireworks went off everywhere. Somewhere in the mix they remembered to play music and I was captured forever, a metalhead from birth. It wasn’t until I was about 12 that metal registered in my consciousness and the two of us meshed in a way that only true metalheads can understand. All the while, I was getting wise to horror movies and in the 80’s when metal was at its party-peak, I couldn’t help but notice that metal and horror shared a common bond that went beyond the abstract connections forged by Alice Cooper and Arthur Brown. The connection became obvious to me upon the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and then was solified by Craven’s follow-up to The Serpent and The Rainbow, Shocker. Down the rabbit hole I went. Can you blame me? Dokken was a band who managed to thwart the unstoppable Freddy Krueger with the sheer power of rock!
Metal and horror go all the way back. It’s a natural pairing. Black Sabbath, probably the first band to play the signature heavy metal sound, pioneered the notion of fear and violence in music. Their name, renamed after it turned out someone was already using the name Earth, was lifted from the Mario Bava picture when Tony Iomi remarked that he thought it strange that people would go to a movie with the expectation that they would be scared. They did a pretty good job bringing that vibe from the movies into their music. Alice Cooper, whose stage show and lyrics reflected a deeply morbid sense of humor, claims that his band was the first to be identified as a metal band in Rolling Stone magazine. The signature aggression of heavy metal, even in those formative years, was directly analogous to the cathartic release of a kill scene in any given horror movie. The same people listening to metal flocked to horror for the same rush that a sweet, head banging riff provided them. It was a match made in hell. It’s actually sort of amazing to me that it took so long for the two mediums to come together in a meaningful way that combined them both in one package. Metal spent years co-opting the brutality of the horror movie into the music but the music didn’t turn up in the movies until the late 80’s, as metal and horror were both on the decline. Iron Maiden spearheaded the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with songs about Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera and being stalked by a murderer and photos of WASP’s Blackie Lawless turned up as he poured blood into his mouth from a human skull. Ozzy spent most of the 80’s biting the heads off fake animals after his initial meeting with label executives established him as the guy who geeked a live dove for publicity (and later an actual very dead bat at a live show in Des Moines, Iowa). King Diamond sang to a stage skeleton named Melissa and then spent the rest of his career up to this very day producing horror-themed concept albums about haunted houses and dark family secrets. And I don’t even have enough room here to mention the many, many death metal bands that took hold in the Southern United States in the early 80’s, most notably, Death, who took horror movie imagery and made it their bread and butter, lyrically.
It wasn’t until 1984, though, when the marriage was made. Though, metal and horror may have come together even sooner, Rocktober Blood seems to me to be the flashpoint when exploitation movie producers looked at the music and finally found a connection to make some real money. Exploitation is produced in a hurry so in cases such as these, it should come as no surprise that Rocktober Blood’s producer sprang for the first band that came along, Sorcery, to turn out the music. Sorcery were no strangers to film, actually, and are the band featured in the Australian stunt spectacle, Stunt Rock. With their exceptionally mediocre metal and stage show, which involved Merlin the magician vs. The Devil, with a lot of sleight of hand and stage trickery, Sorcery provided the music for the Head Mistress band in Rocktober Blood, about a killer rock and roller “back from the grave”. The movie also features Nigel Benjamin of the LA band, London, who seemed to spawn most of the 80’s biggest rock stars, chief among them, Motley Crue bass player (and one of my favorites) Nikki Sixx, without ever breaking out, themselves. They’re featured in one of The Decline of Western Civilization 2’s best scenes where a Russian flag burning on stage doesn’t go quite as planned. Rocktober Blood, like most movies exploiting the popularity of heavy metal, got just about everything wrong and is a fucking dog from start to finish, but you have to start somewhere, I guess.
This being the 80’s, no mention of heavy metal would be complete without allegations of satanism. After all, the metal/horror connection is most certainly trumped by the metal/satan connection. Whole congregations were swayed all over the US when teens playing Dungeons and Dragons returned no actual results in studies of witchcraft in connection with role playing games. Bible thumpers needed to unite around a new common enemy and even though metal bands hailing satan and throwing up horns to sell records were actually kind of rare in these days (warnings about evil and devil worship were, in fact, far more common thanks to Sabbath lyrics by Geezer Butler and a handful of songs by doom metalers, Saint Vitus, to name but a couple) but it didn’t fucking matter because Ozzy Osbourne had a blast antagonizing the moral sensibilities of Americans at the time, Slayer were on the rise in lower circles of metal and Venom, in an indirect way, spawned metal’s most confrontational, actually dangerous sub-genre, Black Metal, with their own brand of cartoon satanism. It took no time for exploitation producers to grab the ball and run with it. Speaking of Ozzy and satanism, here’s Trick Or Treat, another well-intentioned pile of dog shit from the low end of the horror shelf at the video store. Rag Man is the town metal head, actually played by Family Ties nerd-next-door, Skippy (Marc Price). He gets fucked with every day for being who he is but he keeps his cool by corresponding with Sammi Curr, heavy metal superstar from his hometown. Curr winds up dying in a fire, though, and this means the end of all things for Rag Man, who tears the living shit out of his room. When local DJ, Nuke (played by Gene Simmons) gives him a tape of Curr’s final recordings and the instructions to listen to it backwards to get some directions in life, Rag Man finds out how to get even with the jocks who make his life miserable and it turns out that Curr lives on after death in his music, compelling Rag Man to kill and maybe even find a way to bring him back to the earthly plane. Ozzy also shows up as an outraged preacher who hates metal. Irony! Trick Or Treat is stupid but it’s fun and the music is provided by Fastway, a combination of members of Motorhead and UFO. Their first album is pretty good but Trick Or Treat came on the downslide for Fastway and the results are pretty crappy. Though, metal was often used on soundtracks in later days to market a movie, Trick Or Treat comes out in that exploitation space where metal was an integral part of the movie. It’s just a shame that these flicks couldn’t find anyone better to provide the music. Moving forward, things didn’t really improve.
True story. I was once prowling used record stores in Cambridge with my brother when we came to this hole in the wall store with a lot of sweet post-punk. I bought vinyl copies of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation and Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psycho Candy but on the way out, I’m stopped dead in my tracks when I realized that above and around the door, there’s a shrine to Canadian body builder/heavy metal god, Jon Mikl Thor of the band Thor. These days I suspect it was some kind of proto-hipster irony shrine since Thor wasn’t exactly this shop’s cup of tea but I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. This same muscle bound rocker portrayed a demon hunting angel in what is my second favorite heavy metal horror fiasco, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare. Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare knows what it’s doing even though there are times when it seems to be taking itself deadly serious. The plot is nonsense. The band, Triton, headed up by Thor as John Triton, head out to the Canadian countryside where they’ll find the peace they need to lay down some new tracks for their new album. Their women folk seem to do nothing but wash dishes and Triton seems to think something evil is afoot until it’s revealed that the devil is up in the place and Triton fabricated the entire scenario to lure the devil out so they can do battle because he is The Intercessor! Some kind of mostly-naked angel with a cape, eye shadow and freaky frizzy hair. This flick was made for peanuts and it is one of the greatest examples of so-bad-it’s-good foolishness. The soundtrack is, obviously, provided by Thor, since he’s the star and who the fuck else are you going to contract to provide your musical context? Thor was not and while still playing today are not a very good heavy metal band. They’re quite mediocre even by standards of 1987 heavy metal. Everything about them was predicated on Jon Mikl Thor’s stage antics which involved bending iron bars with his teeth and smashing cinder blocks on his chest. He was the carny equivalent to KISS with no actual pyro budget. Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare is great fun, though, evident in the below clip, which everyone involved should be ashamed of.
Getting down to brass tacks, my first-favorite heavy metal horror fiasco is Black Roses, a movie I can watch endlessly, with most of the music provided by one of metal’s most easily forgotten bands with what is easily the strangest legacy of them all. King Kobra was one of those bands formed in a hurry from session players in LA by drummer Carmine Appice, fresh out of his stint in Ozzy’s band, and all they seemed to do, in spite of a couple of studio albums, was license songs for movies. Apart from this one they also provided a track to Iron Eagle. Though, Black Roses’ theme song of sorts, Me Against The World, is provided by Lizzy Borden, the rest of the soundtrack was practically all King Kobra. More on this later. Black Roses concerns the efforts of evil heavy metal band, Black Roses, who are about to embark on their first tour where they hope to harness the evil powers of rock and roll to bring young people all around the world under their thrall. They test out their evil rock in a small town where they perform several live shows for the high schoolers who progressively become corrupted and eventually start raising hell. The only guy who can stop the madness is a teacher with a fresh love of Shakespeare and a sweet ‘stache. Black Roses, from the same people who brought you Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare, is a massive step up in terms of production but the movie is still pretty silly and features a scene where Vincent ‘Big Pussy’ Pastore is dragged kicking and screaming into a speaker to his death by a demonic heavy metal monster. The band, Black Roses, also turns into monsters. It’s fantastic! Back to King Kobra. Of all the glammy LA metal bands, these guys were up there with the glammiest. Their singer, Mark Free, a very talented singer, was the glammiest of them all and often adopted a look that was mostly feminine where most metal expressions of glam were bizarro-world twists of ultra masculinity with touches of make up and frilly clothing. It’s tough to know where to draw the line here and I’m sure the only guy on Earth who can explain how this does not necessarily constitute cross dressing is Dee Snyder. But what you really need to know is that after the break up of King Kobra, Mark Free dropped off the earth and resurfaced in the 90’s as a woman going under the name Marcie Free. Seriously. Black Roses is great b-movie fun but it is aided by the bizarre legacy of the band that provided most of the movie’s soundtrack. It’s also home to one of horror cinema’s most peculiar plot devices, the hometown concert. Trick Or Treat does this, too, with Sammi Curr trying to play a show at the local high school and Black Roses does this repeatedly. Who the fuck does this for real? Am I thinking about this too much? Who has the logistics to support a supposedly major rock act in a freakin’ high school gymnasium?
By this point in the 80’s, Hollywood, who always seems to be a few steps behind the exploitation industry, manages to catch up but rather than build movies around a shaky heavy metal premise, they start to sell their movies with soundtrack singles and cameos. John Carpenter puts Alice Cooper in Prince of Darkness in a very minor and extremely creepy role and the theme song is provided by Cooper as well, who was enjoying a bit of a comeback at the time with his album Trash. Cooper then rears his head again in A Nightmare On Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead as Krueger’s abusive father. Speaking of Alice Cooper, Megadeth turns up on the Shocker soundtrack covering Alice Cooper’s No More Mr. Nice Guy and a couple of years prior, Dokken, mentioned above, turns in the theme for A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (the only other movie in the series anyone seems to give a fuck about). There were others as well, but the problem was that horror and metal had both gone critical mass at the same time. Metal was thriving on the underground but the shit that was making waves on the radio was pretty-boy slop and power ballad bullshit that sold a lot of albums to horny teenage girls. A lot of people point to 1991, the moment that Smells Like Teen Spirit blasted away all that remained of metal on the radio as the death of metal, but pop metal was coming apart at the seams years prior with members of Ratt contracting HIV and 3 out of 4 musicians collapsing under coke or heroin addictions. The entire scene was a mess. Likewise, Horror had been bled dry by this point, reduced to a genre of sequels as franchise killers who should have been left dead many sequels ago kept lazily slashing their way through film after film. Fresh attempts at establishing new franchises like The Horror Show flopped miserably (since that movie sucks a thousand dicks in hell) and with the approach of the Clinton 90’s, the entire genre seemed to gring to a quiet halt to cool its heels until Scream came along to pump some new juice into the genre and propel it into the new millennium. The problem was that by that time, the musical landscape had changed so much that clear lines could no longer be drawn from movie to music. The radio was dominated at the time by Jay-Z and Destiny’s Child. Eventually, Rob Zombie would come along and remedy this and Dee Snyder of Twister Sister would try his hand at filmmaking with Strangeland, but the lifeline between metal and horror had been cut forever, never to return again.
It’s kind of funny that I have any affection at all for prog rock. Before high school I was all about thrash and heavy metal and high school introduced me to skateboards, The Ramones and The Misfits and seeing as how punk rock was a backlash against excessive, wanky rock and roll in the 70’s, as well as disco, you’d think that I’d make it my life’s mission to avoid the chief of the wanky rock and roll tribe, Progressive Rock, at all costs. I’ve backtracked on a lot of my early opinions of music in a big way and in this internet-age singularity of all music being available at all times for little or no cost depending on your ethical standards, I’ve managed to go back and explore certain genres and subgenres out of sheer boredom only to find that Mikey likes them. I’m hypocritical that way, baby! One of the most surprising discoveries to me was that my flirtations with prog, they being a long-held appreciation for the music of Rush, were only the tip of the iceberg and I actually really like a lot of this stuff. So with this article kicking off 2011, a year that I threatened to tear a new asshole, I’m kicking shit off with something unusual; something off-beat and a little weird. You’re going to have to stick with me because believe it or not. Progressive rock and horror have an awful lot in common.
What the fuck is Progressive Rock?
Glad you asked. Of all the music out there, it’s easily the most asexual of the bunch. Where Guns ‘n’ Roses, Ted Nugent or Led Zeppelin will most likely make you horny as hell. Yes, Genesis and King Crimson will most likely cure that urge to have sex better than a cold shower. The growing availability of analog synthesizers in the late 60’s and a greater proliferation of organs and keys in rock music opened a door in the genre to bring in all these mostly-British musicians who saw fit to incorporate greater complexities into their music. Classically trained pianists and jazz guitarists started hanging out in rock clubs and weaving the scales and time signatures of classical and jazz into distorted psychedelic rock and what came of it was a series of exceptionally pretentious but ambitious and previously unheard of experimentations in a genre of music that didn’t know what to do with itself in the wake of the Beatles breakup. In its most fundamental form, progressive rock is rock and roll music with heavy influences stemming from classical music, world music and jazz. Strange time signatures abound. Excessively long solos stretch already bloated playing times out to the breaking point. Most importantly, though, any prog band worth its salt is going to, at some point in their career, write a series of songs about mankind’s struggle to dethrone its robot overlords in the year 2000. Maybe the themes of a bunch of songs were inspired by sound effects from Godzilla movies. No matter what the band, though, every single one of them has written a concept album (exaggerating) about something genre-releated and that’s why this column fits this site.
Keith Emerson of the seminal prog group, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, had a flair for the theatrical in the early 70’s and at a performance in Rome around that time, legendary horror director, Dario Argento was on-hand to watch Emerson in the throes of a psychedelic jam session, stab his keyboards with knives he had tucked into his belt at the climax of the jam. This simple act inspired Argento to take an unorthodox route while scoring his film Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) not with the creepy string arrangements of Ennio Morricone but with the help of an Italian progressive rock band then known as The Cherry 5. In keeping with the subject matter, the band changed its name to Goblin and a seriously nerdy horror-fanboy obsession was launched. Claudio Simonetti and his band would set the pace for horror soundtracks in Italy in the 70’s until the band broke up amid a torrent of mutual acrimony, leaving Simonetti alone to score Tenebrae while tinkering with disco music conventions. The stage was set, though, and Argento’s catharsis at the sight of Emerson’s violent end to a probably very long jam session built a bridge between progressive rock and the genre that had actually been there all along.
So check this out. Here’s a sampling of prog rock and its many foolish, expertly executed songs and concept albums relevant to horror, science fiction and fantasy. There’s more of it than you might think.
Attention, unshaven hipsters! I will now introduce you to the music that will choke out your iPod diet for the next three months. I’ve been going back and forth about writing about this stuff for a couple of weeks now. I’m not sure if there’s much to say and not entirely sure if it even qualifies since Witch House isn’t directly related to horror. I’m not even sure if you’d call it a genre of music since Witch House doesn’t mean shit to anyone. The problem with Witch House is that most of the participating acts deliberately make it difficult to track down anything of value about them. They actively repel media interest and take extreme measures to keep things on the down low, which is pretty cool, if you ask me but finding new groups can be a real chore since they all use cryptic symbols found in the outer reaches of your system’s character map. Save the “Artist formerly known as…” jokes because shit is about to get real.
To get an understanding of what’s going on with Witch House, I suppose I have to dive into some suspiciously bullshit territory and start tossing around abstractions about post-modernism and all that but stick with me because it actually makes sense. See, back in the day, rock music was driven by a few key ingredients: raw teen angst, the primal need to party down and an unquenchable thirst for sex. Right from the get-go, rock music satisfied and urged some of our most primal instincts and the social systems that support us weakened, those themes were refined and intensified. However, since the 80’s, those forces driving us and the music that influences our cultural attitudes have weakened and intense, emotional music has given way to complacent pop bullshit. I don’t want to act like I’m above all that, either. I actually enjoy some of that complacent pop bullshit, it’s just that as much as I like junk food music, the sort of thing that really stimulates me and leaves me satisfied is the sort of music that challenges the very idea of what I consider music. In my never-ending quest to be thrilled, musically, I’ve put my ears to some seriously abrasive crap and very little of it actually ever sticks. Going into the 90’s we had music produced by the children of baby boomers, singing self-centered anthems about how much it sucks to be white, middle class teenagers and this astonishing degree of entitlement was about the most insulting thing to me yet it went on to define rock music in the 90’s. Things haven’t gotten much better. That stupid shit gave way to even stupider, ignorant jock rock before disappearing through the cracks and leaving in its wake the most tepid, tea-drinking, American Spirit smoking, iPad fondling dog shit the world had ever heard. If there was one thing to be said about Limp Bizkit, at least it was compelling nonsense that inspired people to do something, even if it meant setting fire to an outdoor concert venue. Belle and Sebastian makes me want to pull on a cardigan and read Steinbeck.
This is how it always works out for me. I don’t discover the cool bands until its too late. Though, my friend Kiarna assures me that it spares me the heartbreak of going through the band’s breakup as it happens, it still robs the music of a bit of its power. It almost seems pointless to highlight a band who has been broken up for a few months but I have an alternate take on that process. Horror Punk is a tough scene. The fusion of horror themes and rock music are a natural pairing and depending on the particular bent of the music, the horror theme can take the overall style in one of several directions. The classic horror punk band is, of course, The Misfits but equally as important are The Cramps, who took the horror idea and spun it off into rockabilly and surf territories which then spun off into their own horror themed subgenres, producing groups like The Ghastly Ones and Demented Are Go. Meanwhile, Christian Death and LA goth culture crossed over with The Germs, Fear and Black Flag to create death rock, not an overtly horror rock sound but horror punk nonetheless. The clear victor of that arms race was 45 Grave, whose singer, Dinah Cancer is still out there in world covering Party Time with whomever she happens to be playing with. One thing is for certain, though, The Misfits are the prevailing kings of horror punk and because of this, 9 out of 10 horror punk bands feature savage three chord riffs with a tenor woah-oh-oh vocalist. There’s not much in that scene that sets one band apart from the rest which is why I tend to celebrate only a couple of them.
This is why Schoolyard Heroes stands out from the pack. Seattle punk has always stood out as distinctly Northwestern. Rainy and heavily forested, Washington rock has always carried a slightly stoned hippie vibe with it. The entire Pacific Northwest, in fact, has managed to carve out its own unique alternative music sound since people began questioning the very fundamentals of what made hard music so hard. Seattle, home of The Green River Killer and Ted Bundy’s original stomping ground has produced bands in the past with a toe in the death rock pool. By this, I mean the incredibly awesome Murder City Devils, aka the loudest fucking band I’ve ever heard. Not to mention Nirvana, a band who needs no introduction, only the mere suggestion of their name indicates a changing of the rules. For starters, Schoolyard Heroes sound nothing like any horror or death rock band you’ve ever heard. There is no romance for early garage rock, surf or doo-wop. Leather and pompadours never factor into their aesthetic at all. As a matter of fact, by looking at them, you’d never suspect them of being a horror punk band at all. That all-black fashion sense never even comes into play. Their lyrics speak for themselves, though, obsessed with horror movie themes, violence and Michael Dudikoff, the American Ninja,
What’s really unusual, though, is that Schoolyard Heroes were fronted by a woman. Rock, in general, is a guy sport. Dudes rule the day. It’s a given. I don’t mean this to be a sexist missive, so don’t misunderstand me. This is why women in rock have a tendency to be extremely bad ass when they break out. Were it not for the severe gender gap in rock music, Joan Jett probably wouldn’t be the kind of woman who could eat you alive. Horror punk tends to be dominated by men as well. In horror circles, the last word on horror punk fronted by a woman is Liverpool legends, Zombina and the Skeletones. With such an unusual pedigree, it’s no wonder that Schoolyard Heroes were unlike any horror punk band around.
Fans of My Chemical Romance will recognize the sound immediately, without the glammy excesses of Gerard Way. Where horror punk bands of the past dwell in the punk sound of the past, Schoolyard Heroes embraced the current wave of punk and hardcore, music often mislabelled as emo. It’s a hard sound that follows sometimes proggy rhythms found in the music of Coheed and Cambria. The band put out several singles and three full lengths. Beginning with 2003’s The Funeral Sciences, following it with 2005’s Fantastic Wounds and 2007’s Abominations and then broke up in November of last year. Abominations is a real kick ass album, straddling metal and pop music. Equal parts Katy Perry and Siouxsie Sioux, vocalist Ryann Donnelly put the finishing touches on what was one of horror punk’s most original entries. It’s just a shame that it had to end when it did. The final release, Abominations, sent the band out on a high note featuring anthem after anthem and putting on a sound that was far more mature than previous material.
I need to be careful or pretty soon this is going to wind up an H.P. Lovecraft themed blog with a very misleading title. Lovecraft and rock music are no strangers. There was a psychedelic band in the 60’s named H.P. Lovecraft, Plenty of bands have done Lovecraft themed songs like Univers Zero’s song titled after The Music of Erich Zann, Metallica has that Call of Ktulu instrumental and a song called The Thing That Should Not Be (Cliff Burton was a Lovecraft fan), Gwar have a song about Yig. No one, to my knowledge, has ever dedicated the entirety of their band to Lovecraft. That is, no one aside from The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. The Thickets, with a few exceptions and an entire concept album unrelated to Lovecraft, have more or less written entire albums dedicated to The Mythos. Unfairly labelled Geek Rock by their considerably nerdy fanbase, thanks in part to their strict adherence to the rules of Lovecraft Country, certain band members’ associations with table top roleplaying games and an outspoken pair of fans in the form of the Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are actually a fairly stoney band. Their latest full-length, The Shadow Out Of Tim, has some unbearably sweet riffs that sound as though they were lifted straight out of any given Ozzy-era Black Sabbath album. Except for Technical Ecstasy because that album fucking sucks.
Back in the early 90’s in British Columbia – that’s in Canada – three righteous dudes got together and wrote a bunch of songs about Cthulhu. Flash forward 18 years and they’re still at it only they’ve honed their craft to the point where they’re writing entire concept albums about The Shadow Out Of Time, entitled The Shadow Out Of Tim. What The Thickets do, though, is add a touch of humor to the lyrics inspired by some downright humorless storytelling. And they’re good at it! Really good, actually. Early recordings could easily be indentified as melodic punk but their more recent releases have a sound that seems clearly informed by bong rips. The Shadow Out Of Tim, in particular, is characterized by fuzz-box guitars, noodly leads and eighth note drum beats. Slow dirges about possession at the hands of a race of aliens reaching forward through time this is not, however. Each song, with the exception of a couple of weak spots on The Shadow Out Of Tim, is a series of righteous pop hooks and as a rock album, it’s a solid affair. Add the Lovecraftian narrative and you have a winner.
It doesn’t end there, though. While most of their catalog is a tongue in cheek tribute to Lovecraft, the band has branched out on occasion. Case in point, their album Spaceship Zero. The album, about a ship with a “Better Than Lightspeed” drive that causes the entire universe to collapse in on itself and then explode out again, coincides with a roleplaying game (that doesn’t seem to be in print anymore) of the same name by Thickets members Toren Atkinson and Warren Banks. The general outline spoofs 50’s and 60’s sci-fi. To compliment the release, the band toured wearing a series of space suits and jumpsuits. As a matter of fact, costuming, as evident in that image up and to the left, plays a large part in the live Darkest of the Hillside Thickets experience.
Take a few minutes to listen to their sweet tunes and then head over to their site to learn more and buy their stuff.
If you Google Devil Doll, you’re going to wind up with some common search results. You’ll get a couple of early hits for the Tod Browning movie. You’ll find a bunch leading you to various resources for a nasty rockabilly band and you’ll find some cyptic hits for fansites related to an experimental rock group fronted by a wide-eyed lunatic by the name of Mr. Doctor.
Every couple of years I’m stricken with an irresistable urge to listen to this group even though I could write a comprehensive case study for why Devil Doll is bad for your overall mental health. I know what’s coming every time I press play for the first time. The following few weeks will be dominated by obsessive streaks of ceaseless listening. When not listening, the silence in my head will be replaced by passages from particular movements played again and again. It takes a considerable effort to put a stop to this and the withdrawal period is a tough one to ride out.
The history of Devil Doll is a strange one and in many ways, the story is a lot more interesting than the music, but you’ll be hard pressed to find something as completely original and compelling as Devil Doll, a fractured blend of style that spans some of the most unlikely genres. Nearly every album is a single composition made up of several movements. Militaristic orchestral pieces flow seemlessly into slavonic folk and then further down into driving metal and out into more orchestral horror that smashes influences together from Wagner to Weill to Hermann. All the while, the proceedings are overseen by the leader of the band, the enigmatic Mr. Doctor, whose vocal style is an obscure method called Sprechsang, an abrasive operatic technique that lives somewhere between speech and singing. The end result is consistently unsettling and one of the grestest untold chapters in horror.
There was a time in Cinema Suicide history where I ran a sister site called Soundtrack Apocalisse and a friend of mine, Tim Fife, did some totally sweet interviews with guys like Fabio Frizzi and Claudio Simonetti as well as a number of album reviews for movie soundtracks. Well, apart from Jovanka Vukovic, I’m not sure anyone ever actually visited that site. Tim began production on a documentary and the whole thing died a very sad, quiet death as a result of neglect. Since then, I haven’t bothered to approach music reviews. In the meantime, for reasons I’m still trying to work out, I went ahead and named the band Calabrese the official rock band of Cinema Suicide, mostly because I was binging on their music at the time. Remarkably, Calabrese, three spooky brothers from the A.Z. reacted positively to it and while I’m sure the thought hasn’t crossed their mind since the email I sent declaring them awesome, we have gone back and forth a bit, resulting in them sending me an advanced copy of their latest full-length, Calabrese III, They Call Us Death for review.
As the name suggests, They Call Us Death is the third full length, following their initial Midnight Spookshow EP, and it marks yet more evolution in their sound. Horror rock has a tendency to live in its own separate space, embracing the well trodden conventions of psychobilly bands like The Meteors or Demented Are Go while others cultivate their romance for The Misfits and Samhain, never really branching out and trying too hard. As long as you write songs about horror movies and work a lot of doo-wop style woah-oh-oh into your lyrics, you’ll be fine. Thankfully, Calabrese has the talent and vision to buck the trend and combine these elements with strong songwriting. Their appeal does not hinge on your feelings about horror movies and that’s what sets Calabrese apart from most horror rock bands.
They Call Us Death offers 12 tracks, each one a hard edged exploration of horrifying topics. The brothers Calabrese have removed the brakes with this release and from start to finish, the pace is breakneck while maintaining not necessarily a poppy hook, but a quality that keeps it from falling into vicious, repellent territory. Unfortunately, what this means is that They Call Us Death lacks a couple of tracks like Voices of the Dead and Vampires Don’t Exist from the previous album, The Traveling Vampire Show; a pair of very infectious earworms that keep you repeating them until you hear the songs in your sleep. No one track on They Call Us Death seems to stand out from the rest but from wall to wall, They Call Us Death is a consistently solid album and I can’t really ask for much more than that. They Call Us Death is out on March 20th and can be preordered at their website.
Cinema Suicide began as most movie blogs do. One man, his many opinions and an ability to write that is questionable at best. Since then, movie reviews made room for the latest news in horror, exploitation and cult movies. What you can expect to find is everything you could possibly want to know from DVD releases and reviews to trivia about movies you may or may not be familiar with. At the bottom line, Cinema Suicide aims to reach beyond the shallow interactions of your typical blog and create a community that can come together around a concept that we all have in common: A love of really crappy movies.