Diver Downer

In my life, Van Halen have gone from being hailed as Gods to being complete clowns back to being a source of great love and nostalgia. Growing up in the Midwest in the 80s you were limited on cultural growth and expanding ones tastes musically to Top 40 radio and physical print mags you found at local bookstores and grocery store magazine stands. If you had cable and MTV then you were ahead of the game slightly. For me, my parents wanted no part in the cable game. We had a 40ft attenna tower that got us 9 channels, plus some Chicago stations on clear, summer nights if we were lucky(The Twilight Zone on Channel 9 was a treat.) My parents saw cable as a scam(though were quick to buy a splitter for their bedroom when I paid for cable at their house when I was 20 years old. Pfft.)

What I’m getting at here is that I was limited to my musical adventures. By the time I hit 5th grade I’d already bought Ratt’s Out of the Cellar, Quite Riot’s Condition Critical, Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, and Van Halen’s 1984. These were my “holy grails” of music. The big four that would push me into all other directions. While Ratt would put out at least three more decent records(Invasion of Your Privacy, Dance, and Reach For The Sky), the rest kind of faltered. Van Halen turned into a different band altogether. With Roth hitting the road they brought in Sammy Hagar, and though they never hit the massive “cock rock” appeal that the Roth years brought they were equally successful(if not more with Hagar.)

For me, though, the David Lee Roth years were my favorite Van Halen years. I’m a completist when it comes to bands. At least I was back then. Once I got a taste for 1984 I knew I had to dig back for all the good stuff. I was familiar with Van Halen and Van Halen II as my parents had them both on 8-track, but the rest was waiting for me to explore. I think Fair Warning was and still is my favorite Van Halen album. It was cheeky and had all the Van Halen tropes I’ve grown to love, but there was also this darkness to it that none of the other albums ever achieved. The album that seems to be everyone’s least favorite is Diver Down. I think it was my least favorite when I bought it in 1985. 32 years later I’d have to say that’s not the case. It’s really quite a hell of a record.

I may not remember much in the ways of Algebra, or how to tie a tie(I was pretty fluent in the art of tie tying in high school because I had to wear one as a bag boy at Owens Supermarket…clip-ons were for losers, baby), but I remember where I was when I bought certain albums. Not all of them, but some. I bought Diver Down on a day I stayed home from school because of a doctor appt. After the appt my parents took me by Butterfly Records where I picked up the last piece of the Van Halen puzzle, Diver Down. The only song I was really familiar with on this album was their cover of “(Oh)Pretty Woman”. I remember seeing the video on ‘Friday Night Videos’ and liking their guitar-heavy version. We arrived home and I went straight to my room to dig into Diver Down.

What I heard was an album that didn’t have any one song that stood out. Each album previously seemed to have stand out after stand out. Diver Down seemed to just roll tape and give out this continuous hum of same ‘ol stuff. I dug “The Full Bug” right off the bat, and I really liked “Big Bad Bill”, if not only for the fact that it made me think of my dad(his name is Bill and in his younger days he was known to throw fisticuffs here and there), plus the clarinet made me think of old Woody Allen movies. “Little Guitars” was nice as well, but everything else just seemed to blend together. It was also the most covers on a Van Halen record, with “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”, “(Oh)Pretty Woman”, and “Dancing In The Streets”. At the time I thought that was kind of lazy of VH. I listened maybe one more time before putting it in the cassette case to sit quietly and complete my collection.

Many, many years later when I would grow up and come to terms with my hair metal past, I started looking back on some of those 80s albums that I loved and would occasionally even pick one up on vinyl when I’d see it on the cheap. Two or three years ago I started snagging up Van Halen albums. Fair Warning was the first. Still a classic to my ears. I found a record club exclusive version of 1984 that was in mint condition last year and grabbed that, too. Then a few months ago I found a $5 copy of Diver Down. I couldn’t resist. I have to say, the 11 year old me just didn’t hear the goodness I’m hearing now. It’s not their best by any means, but it’s still a hell of an album.

One of my biggest complaints 30 years ago was that there were too many covers on this album. My opinion has changed completely on this. I think the covers are probably the strongest thing going on this album, with “Dancing In The Streets” being the cream of the crop. The use of synths, the patented Van Halen groove, the soaring Eddie solo, and David Lee Roth never sounded as sincere in his delivery as he does on this song. Really, I start with side 2 every time I spin this because I love this song so much. “(Oh)Pretty Woman” is another stellar cover, with the song starting out with some weird, dark instrumental(“Intruder”) that goes right into Orbison’s titular riff. Roth turns Orbison’s sadsack guy trying to get the attention of the girl into a blowhard come-on which Roth does like no other. The last cover(I’m not counting “Happy Trails”, kids) is the cover of the Kinks somewhat obscure track “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”. I hadn’t heard The Kinks version before hearing Van Halen do it, so I didn’t really have a reference point. I always dug the guy lamenting about the good old days schtick, and after hearing the Kinks original I felt Van Halen stayed pretty true to it.

Elsewhere, the originals don’t disappoint. “Hang ’em High” is a nitrous-fueled rocker with a mix of punk and LA glam. “Cathedral” is a dreamy little instrumental that leads into the poppy “Secrets”. Roth would go on to put out songs like “Ladies Night In Buffalo” and “Skyscraper” that seem to have their origins in songs like this. For all his crotch writhing and Tae Kwon Do mid air splits, Roth was a goofy romantic at heart. “Little Guitars(Intro)” and “Little Guitars” is flamenco guitar that morphs into the sweetest and most earnest pop the VH dudes had made yet. A kid looking for serious guitar mind melting would be disappointed with this, but for a guy in his 40s looking back this is a perfect dollop of late summer confection. Eddie’s guitar and Michael Anthony’s backing vocals make this song soar. As I mentioned before, I dug “The Full Bug” back in the day and still do now. It’s the obligatory “boogie” track. Nearly every VH album through Roth’s tenure had them. “Ice Cream Man”, “Bottoms Up!”, “Fools”, “Sinner’s Swing!”, and “Hot For Teacher” were all boogies in some shape or form. “The Full Bug” fills the boogie quota for Diver Down quite well. A good portion of the “Sunset Strip” bands of the mid-to-late 80s owe their 15 minutes to the Van Halen boogie(I’m looking at you, Bullet Boys.)

I’m not sure what happened in 1982 when Diver Down came out. Maybe it was VH overkill. Maybe the DLR schtick was starting to wear on everyone. Whatever it was, this album is the least discussed. I’m here to say that after putting some years between me and old Diver Down I can look back at it and appreciate it for the pretty decent LP that it was. It led us to the monumental 1984 and then the eventual ego war between Eddie and David Lee Roth. Then Eddie and the world at large.

If you haven’t heard this one in a long time, give it a spin. See what happens.

Oh, the video is pretty gross. But it was the early 80s. 


That Dracula’s A Bad Mutha….

Of all the video games I was a fan of, none of them were as fun for me as Super Castlevania. I was never much of a hardcore video game guy. I liked simple stuff, mostly. Mario, racing, fighting, and shooting games were where it was at for me. Even The Legend of Zelda was just too involved for me. Maybe there was a small bit of ADD going on, I don’t know. Side scrolling platform games were where it was at for me, and the Castelvania series of games from Nintendo were the most fun I ever had playing video games.

While I obsessed over that first game on the NES, it was Super Castlevania that was released for the Super Nintendo system that I truly spent many hours obsessing over. I’d played it so much that by the time my wife and I got our first place together I’d already beaten the game, but still would play it obsessively. She worked 2nd shift and I worked days, so in the evenings when the place was picked up I’d sit in our papasan with a terrible Bud Dry on the end table next to me and I’d run through Super Castlevania. I’d play it till I beat it, and usually with the sound turned down and music playing through the stereo. This was summer/fall of 1995, so I was probably listening to Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness or Filter’s Short Bus(It was the 90s, so don’t judge me.)

If you were to have told me 22 years ago that I’d be buying video game soundtracks on vinyl I would’ve told you you had the wrong guy. “Why in the hell would I be buying video game soundtracks on vinyl? That’s ridiculous. First of all, vinyl’s dead. MiniDiscs are the future. And second of all, I don’t even listen to the video games. I listen to the Pumpkins and Filter when I play video games.” Well, here we are 22 years later and I’m buying video game soundtracks on vinyl. It’s nostalgia, yes. Maybe it’s living in the past a bit, sure. But you know what? Nobody’s getting hurt here. There’s something about those 8-bit scores to pixelated video games that bring a smile to my face.

After collecting the first three Mondo releases of Castlevania soundtracks I’ve recently acquired what I’d call the “Holy Grail” of Castlevania scores: Super Castleavania.

Of course I share my love of these scores with my son, so that makes it a lot easier to drop $35 on one of these(maybe it even justifies the purchase in my head.) Spinning this after work the other day I was actually blown away by just how good it sounded. It really reminded me of a film score. I was reminded of Disasterpeace’s great work on Fez and Hyper Light Drifter. The tiny, dated sound of that first Castlevania game is gone and in its place is some seriously well-constructed music pieces. I know that sounds ridiculous as I’m talking about a damn video game, but it’s seriously good. It’s a double LP with some amazing cover art and inner gatefold art by Jeno Lab. It puts you in mind of those classic Ralph Bakshi cartoons of the 70s and 80s(think Wizards and his LOTR movies.) The Konami Kukeiha Club really outdid themselves on this game. This was still 1991, so the composition and arranging here is extremely impressive for the times.

I’m sure I’ll probably pick up the Symphony of the Night soundtrack when Mondo drops that as well, but I think that’ll be it for me as far as the nostalgic video game scores go. I may enjoy delving back in time a bit and reminiscing about the old days, but I’ve plugged into as much video game nostalgia as I think I’m going to.

Unless Kid Icarus is a possibility.

Castles Made of Pixels

I don’t even remember Castlevania III : Dracula’s Curse. I don’t remember one single thing about the game, not even the music. Yet, I felt compelled to buy Mondo’s double LP release of the soundtrack a couple months ago. Compelled may not be the right word. Possessed to buy it, maybe? It’s like a sickness, folks. An addiction. Maybe it’s because I figured I bought the first two Castlevania releases, so I needed to complete the trilogy? That could be. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Castlevania as a teen. That was one of the few games in my sad game-playing career that I obsessed over, but only three versions of the game. The original Castlevania on NES, Super Castlevania on the Super Nintendo system, and then Castlevania : Symphony of the Night on the original Playstation. Those three versions I loved and played like an idiot into the wee hours of the night. I’d load up on caffeine and frozen pizzas and battle all the ghouls and ghosts hidden away in Dracula’s various castles.

But not Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

But I gotta say, the music in that game was on point. For being 8-bit(or was it 16-bit by then?), the music really grabs you and pulls you into that world of darkness and doomed baroque romanticism. What’s most interesting is that the music reminds me of the neo-classical guitar of Ritchie Blackmore and that Swedish guy Yngwie Malmsteen. When I heard the second release in this Castlevania series I dubbed it “8-bit Yngwie”. It was sort of an inside joke between me and, well, nobody. Just me. Listen to the guitar/organ solos in Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” for the neo-classical reference. Imagine that done on 8-bit instruments and that’ll give you a good idea as to what I’m talking about.

The Konami Kukeiha Club is responsible for the music to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I’m not sure if they’re an actual club, like with member cards and funny hats. I think they’re just an in-house music department at Konami that were responsible for creating music for Konami’s games. The list of club members is exhaustive, so I won’t list them. I’ll just say that there was a lot of work that went into creating the musical world in not only Castlevania, but so many other classic games that Konami gave us in the 80s and early 90s. What games? Contra. And a bunch more…probably.

I suppose I’ll just continue to keep buying these soundtracks up until I’m broke and selling them on Ebay in order to pay for college tuition or a ham sandwich for lunch. That’s what people with vinyl problems do. We justify these purchases with words and phrases like “nostalgia” and “childhood memories” and “collecting” and “I earned it, dammit!” I’ll have excuses till the cows come home as to why I need to buy these lovely pieces of plastic that are adorned with eye-popping artwork. Why?

Because I earned it, dammit!

Martin and Uncle Cuda

I think one of the more bizarre films in the George Romero canon is 1978s Martin(and yes, I’ve seen Knightriders AND Bruiser.) It wasn’t bizarre in a “bad” bizarre way. It was Romero’s take on the vampire story, but done in a modern way. Watching it back in the 80s I came away from it feeling kind of icky and queasy. It disturbed me. It wasn’t the typical tragic romantic take on the vampire lore. There was no melancholy, handsome Dracula feeding on big-bosomed women lying in ornate king size beds wrapped in satin sheets. There was no fear of sunlight or garlic or crucifixes. Martin, the film’s namesake, was a skeazy young man with a 70s hairdo and turtleneck shirt drugging, raping, and slitting the wrists of women and feeding on their blood till they had been bled to death. There was nothing mythical about the guy, other than he was a solid stalker with a taste for blood and a tendency to mix sexual tendencies with violence and murder.

He was basically a barely adult version of Ted Bundy with a blood fixation.

Now you’d think that since there was no magic involved here that the fear level would’ve gone down. “Hey, he’s just some skinny asshole that could be taken down with proper Chuck Norris fist punch to the throat or a Don “The Dragon” Wilson roundhouse to Martin’s whiney face. I got this.” But the fact that the vampire in this movie was just some skinny asshole was exactly what made the movie so disturbing. I don’t think a movie disturbed me more than Henry : Portrait of a Serial Killer. No powers or super human strength or demon possession there. Just some drifter that murdered people at will, and with no remorse. Martin got me to this familiar icks.

Martin isn’t a movie I revisit very often, or ever. Not like Dawn of the Dead which I watch at least twice a year in its entirety. It’s just something I don’t often think of sitting down and revisiting. Once or twice was enough, really. But recently on a vinyl-buying bender over at Light In The Attic I saw they had Donald Rubinstein’s original S/T for the film on sale for $9. Whether it’s a favorite or not I had to drop the cash for it. Just to say I have it, really. And you know what? It’s not too bad.

Donald Rubinstein is the brother of Richard P. Rubenstein, Romero’s producing partner on nearly all of his movies. While trying to find someone to score Martin, Rubinstein suggested they visit his brother in New York. After meeting and Donald nervously playing some music for the giant Romero, Romero was thrilled with what he heard. Rubinstein got back to work and finished scoring the new Romero vampire flick.

So how does it sound? Well it sounds like a ramshackle of 70s noises. Electric piano, eerie theremin-like sounds, and a touch of white guy jazz for kicks. Highlights include “The Calling/Main Theme”, which is all piano and mournful vocals. “Phased” is a quick punch of phaser-effected electric piano that sets some eerie mood. “Fly By Night” is some lounge-y jazz thrown in for good measure, while “Exorcism/Classical Funk” almost has an avante garde vibe with staccato-plucked strings and quirky piano lines.

Basically this is a minimalist score for a low budget 70s horror film. That’s what this is. It’s quirky, dark, melancholy, and at times kind of weird. But it’s endearing in its own way. I mean, you’re not going to be throwing this one on at parties or to impress your music nerd friends. But maybe on some quiet evening when OK Computer, London Calling, or Blood On The Tracks isn’t cutting it and the absynthe has run out, you might just feel like Donald Rubinstein’s Martin S/T could scratch that musical itch for you.

But more than likely not. For $9, I’m glad it’s available for just in case. And I’ll be ready with the Chuck Norris fist to the neck, in case any turtlenecks come knocking.

Ode To Karin Krog

Man, the air seemed brand new today; sharp, cool, and crisp going into the lungs. It was like walking out of an underground bunker from a four-month stay and having the first blast of air hitting you. I don’t know why I don’t usually notice the air that surrounds me normally, but today it hit me. Could be that driving the company van from the plant to one of our suppliers gives me the urge to just keep driving and not look back until the sun has sunk into the west. It’s probably the fact that every time I’d get out of the van that fresh air taunted me and begged me to stay in it. Just leave that lousy van running and start walking. Where? Who cares. Just keep your feet moving, one in front of another until you come across something worth stopping for.

If only I’d a worn my walking shoes today.

Be that as it may, I didn’t leave the company van running in the parking lot of the local anodizer and begin walking the earth like Caine in Kung Fu. I merely took a couple big hits of that freshly squeezed oxygen, hopped in the van, and made my way back to my lonely desk that sits on a large dock and received in those anodized parts. I couldn’t just walk away from it all. I have yardwork to do and Marvel flicks to see with my son this year yet. The wife and I have plans to hit a brewery or two in Michigan and stay the night up north sometime soon. We’re heading to Chicago at the end of the month so my wife and daughters can go see Hamilton at the Chicago Theater, while the boy and I pretend to be men of wealth and fame in the hotel for the afternoon. Maybe we’ll swim or drink scotch in the hotel bar. Maybe even hit on a beautiful baroness or an Italian beef sandwich, whichever one comes with steak fries and an IPA.

Plus, I’ve only just begun to get to know Karin Krog.

Karin who? What? Whaaa? Hey now, just simmer down and let me talk here. You see, I found out that one of my favorite record labels Light In The Attic was having this spring clean sale where they were parting with a bunch of albums at nearly half off the original price. My local record guy said he could get ’em direct from LITA and save me the shipping. Well hell yes! So I headed to the sale page and started perusing to see what I could find. I figured I’d do the old blindfold and dart trick and pick some random albums. Some stuff I wouldn’t normally buy but since it was half off why the hell not? I picked out Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg, Martin S/T by Donald Rubinstein, and Karin Krog Don’t Just Sing An Anthology : 1963-1999. I put my children through the Gainsbourg album last night. Through the moans and breathy whispers of “Je t’aime…moi non plus” my son asked as he sat in the living room with an aural advantage “What are we listening to?” Birkin and Gainsbourg will be for me on those lonely afternoons and evenings. Or when the wife and I want to get all French New Wave on some tawdry Saturday evening. I haven’t listened to Romero’s vampire soundtrack yet, but I did crack the gatefold sleeve of Karin Krog’s 2LP gatefold and I have to say I’m loving it.

Prior to this, I had never heard or heard of Karin Krog. The album cover appealed to me, and also the fact that it was a double LP they were selling for $12. Oh, and Dexter Gordon played with her on a few of the 60s cuts(bonus.) Krog is obscure here in the states, but in Norway she’s a household name as a famous jazz singer, collaborating with a who’s who of musicians over her 40+ year career. In 1994 she was the first Norwegian artist to ever release an album on the US jazz label Verve.

So the album. I have to say my favorite is album one. It seems to have the more bop-style jazz with bits of experimental vocal stuff. Krog has a hell of a voice and she shows it off beautifully on a be bop cover of Bobbi Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe”. It’s groovy and full of swing, with Gordon laying down some great tenor saxophone. The rhythm section of Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass and Espen Rud on drums is a pivotal ingredient here. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” gets the Karin Krog treatment here as well, and to stunning effect. “Lazy Afternoon” is another great one with Krog showing her precise melodic skills vocally. She uses her voice like an instrument playing its part. At times she’s like a psychedelic Rosemary Clooney, and other times she’s something quite cosmic, chanting, panting, and squealing through drone-y experiments like “Glissando”. I don’t care for the experimental stuff as much, but I can appreciate it for sure.

Most of these tracks were recorded in the late 60s and early to mid-70s, with just a handful scattered throughout the 80s and 90s. There’s a killer cover of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” that is as soulful as it is unique to Krog. “Cloud Line Blue” has some seriously amazing horn playing by John Surman. Seriously, holy cow. And there’s even a reading of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” that closes out this anthology. It’s nothing but Karin Krog singing and Nils Lindberg on a church pipe organ. It’s actually quite haunting as Krog sings Coltrane’s Psalm from “A Love Supreme” poem. I guarantee you haven’t heard anything quite like it before.

Occasionally I like to do the blind grab with music. I’m not independently wealthy so I need to make my money stretch as far as I can, especially with this horrible vinyl addiction of mine. So far I’m not disappointed with my “go for it” choices. If you like jazz and occasionally adventurous music, I can’t recommend Karin Krog enough. She’s 79 years young and still creating music in her home country of Norway. She sounds amazing on this LP set, and it’s a beautiful sleeve with a great booklet inside that includes an interview with Krog. Grab it. Why not?

I wonder if the air will be as crisp tomorrow? I’ll bring my walking shoes, just in case.



Alien Boy Scouts and Dark Knights

An idea can be an exciting thing. You get this spark of something and it lights up your brain for days. You think if you can pull this idea off it could be the greatest thing ever. You plan and mull the idea over in your head and map out how you can make this thing happen for days, weeks, months, and even years. Maybe you give the idea up and pass it onto someone else who may have the means to make this idea sprout from your meager beginnings into something close to what you’d imagined in the first place. Or maybe you just pack the idea away for a time when you can make something of it. Or worse yet, maybe that idea’s spark fizzles. Maybe it never sees the light of day.

After having lived with Zach Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice for a year I’m starting to feel like maybe the spark of that idea needed to have been put on hold a little longer. At least until that story could’ve been pounded out a bit more…or a lot more. That movie had so much potential to be great had they just followed the blueprint left for them by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. That story would’ve been an amazing intro into the dynamic between Batman and Superman. The dichotomy between the alien boy scout and the American vigilante. The first half of the story was an all out Batman tale, with Bruce Wayne now in his 50s coming out of a drunken retirement(10 years after the death of Jason Todd) to help stop the rampant violent crimes of “the mutants”, a new gang in Gotham. Batman must defeat their leader in order to stop them. There’s also a Joker confrontation at an amusement park, with occasional shots of Superman meeting with President Reagan about the problem in Gotham. He is eventually is asked to “take care” of the problem, leading to a battle between Batman and Superman at the end.

If you haven’t read the book I won’t tell you how it ends. I’ll just say from there they could’ve worked in the Justice League, and maybe even gone full circle with The Dark Knight Strikes Back. Sure, it would’ve started out as more of a straight up Dark Knight film, but who would be complaining about that? Not me. The best bits of Batman V Superman, in my opinion, were the Bruce Wayne bits anyways. I thought Affleck did a pretty damn good job, despite the boos from the Peanut Gallery. Jeremy Irons as Alfred was on-point, and the shots of the burnt out Wayne Manor worked well to fold in Nolan’s films. The shot of Todd’s bloodied Robin suit in the Batcave could’ve foreshadowed a future Under The Red Hood film which I would’ve been extremely happy with. Instead of staying true to a certain comic writer’s vision they whip up this comic book gumbo of a film that throws in all these different storylines(The Dark Knight Returns, Doomsday, and even hints of Under The Red Hood) and create this colossal mess of a film. At times engaging with some great looking shots here and there, but for the most part lacking any light, humor, or steady footing.

But hey, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL hit it out of the ballpark with their soundtrack!

If there’s anything truly redeeming about the film besides Gal Gadot in that Wonder Woman outfit(pants uncontrollably) is the score. Beautifully constructed more like a classic film score with grand orchestration and dramatic twists and turns, it pushes all the right emotional buttons without getting schmaltzy. To me, thanks to Junkie XL’s modern touches and percussive additions this album sounds more like an industrial take on the classic John Williams score. It’s very doom-laden, but with shards of light pushing through the muck and mire. You never get the feeling these guys called this score in(unlike the film itself at times.)

The gentle piano refrain of “Day of the Dead” works into something more triumphantly morose and almost has hints of post-rock inside of it. “Do You Bleed” is all swirling synthesizers, tribal beats, and doom-laden voices. You get the feeling that something bad is going down here. “Black and Blue” is that which action sequences are made of. It’s over 8-minutes of propulsive orchestration and darkly lit percussion. “Is She With You(Wonder Woman Theme)” is probably the most well-known piece on the soundtrack as it’s Wonder Woman’s intro music. It’s probably the catchiest thing as well with it’s Middle Eastern slant and tribal percussion. You could definitely see this one following the character into many adventures(and sequels.)

So what you have in this score is a beautiful collaboration of modern and classical touches. “This Is My World” is as dramatic and melancholy as things can get, while “Men Are Still Good(The Batman Suite)” is a 14-minute piece that exemplifies the best of dark and light. It’s simply magnificent. I think Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL are two of the best working in film scoring today. They seem to be fans of Snyder and Christopher Nolan films, too.

Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was a grave disappointment. An overshot. An overstuffed mess of a film, but not without its tiny pleasures. My son and I enjoyed seeing it together in the theater. It was an excuse to get out and enjoy the cinema. The Batman segments were pretty great, too. And of course the Hans Zimmer/Junkie XL score. Well worth the price of admission.


South of Heaven…North of Kentucky

I can remember in those formative years of mine it was taboo to listen to Slayer. It was bad enough getting caught listening to something like Megadeth’s “Good Mourning, Black Friday” or Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” by yourself in your bedroom with the lights off, your comforter draped over you like a cape while praying over a bucket of chicken blood. I mean, the rules were ALWAYS never take a bucket of chicken blood in your bedroom. You could stain the carpet. Anyways, for me listening to Slayer was like a filthy little secret. It was tantamount to keeping Playboys under the mattress or worn copies of Faces of Death 1, 2, and 3 hidden under puzzle boxes and Hot Wheels in your closet. Those California thrashers were just so dark. You got the feeling there was very little laughter going on behind the scenes. I could be wrong, but the band that wrote songs titled “Crypts of Eternity”, “Aggressive Perfector”, and “Dead Skin Mask” surely wasn’t getting stoned on the tour bus and laughing at Tex Avery cartoons and singing along to “Penny Lane”.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

You see, Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, and Dave Lombardo looked like dudes you did not cross. I imagined someone mouthing off at one of their shows and Araya pulling out a trident and forking them in front of the entire Palladium crowd. Maybe there were moments of levity in-between cases of Heineken and devouring the souls of virgins from town to town. But I’m sure those only lasted until the bloodlust returned and the band had to feed once again on the blood of the young. Okay, okay, so these guys weren’t monsters, but for the 16-year old me they scared the hell out of me. They were the musical version of those video nasties I always heard about. I knew a girl named Karrie in 10th grade. She was in my geometry class. She’d moved to our Republican stronghold of a town in 1990 from the east coast. I’m not sure exactly from where but I think I think maybe Massachusetts as she had a bit of a Bostonian accent. I may have had a bit of a crush on her as she dug metal and had teased bangs that were at least 8 inches long. She even sold me her VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder. How could I not be smitten? I was putty in her hands. Anyways, Karrie had told me a story about how she and a girlfriend had partied with Slayer and that her girlfriend slept with Tom Araya. Back then I was a little jealous, but now that I’m an adult and a dad with daughters I’m horrified at that story. I mean, she was 16. Ugh.

Point I’m trying to make is that Slayer were an infamous band in my mind. My junior year in high school I became a fan with Seasons In The Abyss, but my first true exposure to Slayer was actually the Beastie Boys. Both “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” had Hanneman playing his famous squealing, all over the place guitar solo. I believe he was in the “No Sleep” video as well. I thought, “Hey, if the Beasties dig Slayer maybe I should too?” Of course that didn’t happen, but two years later my brother was inviting me into his bedroom so he could show me what he procured from Butterfly Records that afternoon. It was Slayer’s South Of Heaven. He put it into his console stereo and I was feeling like I did the first time I watched Henry : Portrait of a Serial Killer, which means I felt a little queasy.

South Of Heaven felt like this overwhelming of the senses. It was this perfect melding of their hardcore roots and what would become speed metal. But they weren’t singing about Stephen King books, drug addiction, or covering the Sex Pistols. Slayer seemed to be summoning Satan himself in their breakneck rhythms, speed-picked solos, and Araya’s manimal vocals. Songs about serial killers, devil worship, the horrors of war, and general depravity felt more like hearing a psychotic’s journal being read over death marches than four drunk California punks having a good time. You took these guys at their word when they sang lines like “Bastard sons beget your cunting daughters/Promiscuous mothers with your incestuous fathers.” Songs like “South Of Heaven”, “Live Undead”, and “Mandatory Suicide” were relentless. They seemed to push the boundaries of musical dexterity and human decency. But still, there was something about them that kept me wanting to hear a bit more. There was this lawlessness to their music that was appealing. I sort of looked past the lyrics about necrophilia, masks made of human skin, and wartime atrocities in order to appreciate what was going on musically.

All these years later and I feel like I’m having a bit of a speed metal renaissance. Last year I got a little overzealous on Discogs and located some first pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South Of Heaven. Out of those I’d have to say that South Of Heaven is my favorite. It’s still that perfect mix of youthful aggression and disgruntled middle age, bashing each other into a bloody pulp. Lyrically they go for the jugular, but it’s more about shock value than actually summoning demons from Hell. I think Tom Araya had one of the best metal vocals in the 80s. It was this spitfire delivery. It was strong, upfront, and not to be stifled with. Rick Rubin’s production was near perfect. No overused effects or studio trickery. The songs were raw and in your face. Hanneman and King weren’t intricate players, but they’d built up their speed and could speed riff better than anyone. Their solos sounded like wounded animals or howling damned souls, which seemed to suit the songs well. And Dave Lombardo? Man, the best drummer of the era period. That guy’s double kick drumming was unlike anyone else. There was power and finesse, but he could also kick it old school and knock out some serious hardcore beats. Lombaro was Slayer’s secret weapon, and once he left for good they just weren’t the same for me.

I’ve learned to not fear Slayer, but embrace them. And I’ve learned that first pressings can be a little expensive. More expensive than a VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder? Hell yes. Worth every penny? Oh hell yes.