Album Review – Clawfinger / Use Your Brain (1995)

Use your brain and listen to the cult album by this distinct Swedish act, presenting an austere and impactful fusion of Rap and Heavy Metal.

Rating4

use-your-brainA few years before Limp Biskit, Slipknot or any other band considered part of the Nu Metal scene from the 90’s/2000’s started, there was already a Swedish band called Clawfinger playing a very original mix of Rap Metal, Hardcore, Rapcore, Funk Metal and even Industrial Metal in a very aggressive, politicized and anti-racist way. Although the band was formed back in 1989, it was just in 1993 that they launched their debut album called Deaf Dumb Blind (which included a very controversial song called “Nigger”, but again, in the most anti-racist way possible), and a couple of years later, in 1995, they launched their most interesting album in my humble opinion, titled Use Your Brain. If you hate Rap by all means and/or if you’re too narrow-minded to accept it mixed with Heavy Metal, don’t even bother listening to it. However, if you enjoy heavy music no matter what, then Use Your Brain might be an amazing addition to your day-to-day playlist.

Use Your Brain starts at a high note with my favorite song from the album, Power, which talks about exactly the opposite of most songs with the word “power” in their names: power can be really harmful to anyone who doesn’t know how to use it properly, which happens to the majority of the people that have it anyway. “Power to the one who doesn’t want it / Do you want it why do you want it”, screams lead singer Zak Tell, accompanied by some excellent heavy riffs by Erlend Ottem and Bård Torstensen and keyboards by Jocke Skog. The song is followed by Pay the Bill, which keeps the energy level up, and Pin Me Down, a more rhythmic track with strong lyrics that ended up becoming one of the band’s biggest classics.

ClawfingerThe next song is called Wipe My Ass, a good example of how the band was able to unite Rap and Metal in a very solid way. The only thing I don’t understand is why sometimes I find this song with a different name, “Waste My Time”. Well, it’s probably due to the “beautiful” expression used in the original name, but honestly, who cares about that? Anyway, the next two tracks, Die High and It, are just average songs, especially the second one which is quite bland compared to the rest of the album. Fortunately the next song, called Do What I Say, takes the album back on track with its simple but strong riffs and amazing lyrics about the emotional and sometimes physical (and endless) war between parents and their kids, acidly declaimed by Zak Tell and his hostile vocals. I normally don’t add a huge chunk of any lyrics in my reviews, but this one is so good that deserves to be appreciated almost in full. Besides, although this song might have been recorded over 20 years ago, it still sounds fresh and contemporary, just to show you how parenting will never, ever be an easy task to anyone.

“I‘ve paid to raise you good
Done everything I could so don’t you dare to say
That I ever cared about you anyway
I gave you good food to eat
I kept you on your feet
I gave you all my good advice
Not once did I hear you
thank me for all that I’ve done
You don’t know anything
About my suffering
I went through a lot of pain
Just to get you where you are today
If I ever hit you
It’s because I have to
You have done something wrong
And you deserve the punishment, you’ll have to pay”

The rest of the album doesn’t have anything too special: Undone is considerably tasteless, while What Are You Afraid Of doesn’t do any good but at the same time it doesn’t harm the album. Things get a lot better with Back to the Basics, especially the eerie sound the band created with the guitars and keyboards working together; Easy Way Out with its addictive chorus and the groovy drums by Ottar Vigerstøl; and Tomorrow, a very good Rap Metal track that powerfully ends this very original and catchy album, with highlights to the rumbling sounds generated by Ottar and bassist André Skaug. In addition, the front cover is absolutely precise in summarizing the content of the music in the album (despite being fairly simplistic), and that “less is more” type of art is most probably the reason why I love it so much.

Use Your Brain_remastered

Use Your Brain 2004 Remastered Edition

The 2004 remastered version of the album also includes 3 bonus tracks and 3 bonus videos, so if you’re interested in buying it I suggest you go after the remastered one (which by the way is a lot easier to find in any webstore). Clawfinger released a statement around August 2013 saying they split up, which was a bummer at that time based on the quality of their music, but fortunately it seems those Swedish metallers are back in action and ready to deliver us another blast of their venomous music, going against the sea of boredom that dominates the scene nowadays. Hence, Use Your Brain (which can be enjoyed in its entirety HERE) is far from being a true masterpiece, but it’s an extremely enjoyable album with meaningful lyrics crafted by talented musicians and, above all, an excellent option to expand your horizons in the world of heavy music and a lot better choice than most of the crap the media makes us swallow every single day. In other words, use your goddamn brain at least once and enjoy the austere music by this unique band hailing from Sweden, alright?

Best moments of the album: Power, Pin Me Down, Do What I Say and Back to the Basics.

Worst moments of the album: It and Undone.

Released in 1995 WEA/MVG (Warner Music Group)

Track listing
1. Power 3:14
2. Pay the Bill 4:20
3. Pin Me Down 4:10
4. Wipe My Ass 3:13
5. Die High 2:34
6. It 5:21
7. Do What I Say 4:25
8. Undone 4:11
9. What Are You Afraid Of 3:47
10. Back to the Basics 2:27
11. Easy Way Out 2:39
12. Tomorrow 4:09

2004 Remastered Edition bonus tracks & videos
13. Better Than This 3:36
14. Three Good Riffs 3:56
15. Armageddon Down 3:36
16. Pin Me Down (Video Clip) 4:10
17. Tomorrow (Video Clip) 4:09
18. Do What I Say (Video Clip) 4:25

Band members
Zak Tell – lead vocals
Jocke Skog – keyboards, vocals
Erlend Ottem – lead guitar
Bård Torstensen – rhythm guitar
André Skaug – bass
Ottar Vigerstøl – drums

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Album Review – Carcass / Heartwork (1993)

Wake up and listen to this Melodic Death Metal wonder.

Rating3

carcass_heartworkWhen a band or artist changes their musical direction towards something more commercial or mainstream, in order to become more famous and consequently make more money without worrying about their morality or principles, their old diehard fans start calling them a sellout. We have seen this type of thing happening hundreds of times with different bands from a wide range of musical styles, especially in Heavy Metal which always tends to be a more conservative genre than any other. Who doesn’t remember all the negative reaction of the fans and the specialized media to Metallica’s Load or Judas Priest’s Turbo? However, sometimes this change is for better, and that’s exactly what happened to Liverpool’s Extreme Metal masters Carcass when they “abandoned” their old Splatter/Grindcore to show the world a more polished material with the album Heartwork, released in 1993, becoming the pioneers of what we call today as Melodic Death Metal.

Although Heartwork was considered a radical change by lots of their old fans, and as I mentioned before a sellout by many, the album is far from sounding commercial or any shit like that. This is a milestone in the world of extreme music, quickly becoming the source of inspiration for hundreds of bands all over the world due to the quality and complexity of its music. The first track, Buried Dreams, already shows a much “cleaner” Carcass than ever before, but it’s still very extreme and violent. That new Carcass, a lot more melodic, offer us then Carnal Forge, which is pure Melodic Death Metal with amazing vocals, especially the initial scream, and beautiful solos by both Bill Steer and Michael Amott.

Can we call the unique No Love Lost a Melodic Death Metal ballad? This song is a classic with its perfect riffs and lyrics (“Without emotion you heartstring’s played / Strummed and severed to the tune of a tragic serenade”), and as one of the album’s singles it got a pretty cool video too. Then comes the best song of all, the title-track Heartwork,  a heavy music masterpiece with incredibly fast riffs, awesome solos, an addictive chorus (“A canvas to paint, to degenerate / Dark reflections – degeneration / A canvas to paint, to denigrate / Dark reflections, of dark foul light”), and Jeff Walker being absolutely fantastic on vocals, sounding like an (extremely) evil version of Dave Mustaine. This is a Death Metal anthem with flawless synchronicity of all band members, and a mandatory track in any music selection for a heavy workout at the gym.

carcassAfter an impeccable start, the album loses a little momentum with Embodiment, which is not as amazing as all previous tracks. Moreover, this song reminds me a lot of what Arch Enemy do today, clearly due to Michael Amott’s influence, but not as cohesive. This Mortal Coil is an excellent song with awesome guitars, making it one of the best in the album and a great song for any live performances. The next song is fantastic too, albeit it has a very weird name: Arbeit Macht Fleisch is a derivation of “arbeit macht frei”, the famous German phrase found over the main gates of many Nazi concentration camps during World War II (including Auschwitz I) that means “work makes (you) free”. In this case, the meaning would be “work makes (you) meat”, a more suitable expression for the gruesome heavy music played by Carcass.

The last part of Heartwork begins with Blind Bleeding the Blind, a very technical song with lots of groove and electricity, followed by Doctrinal Expletives, which is a more straightforward, traditional metal song. The last track of the album, Death Certificate, has an amazing start and very interesting lyrics, but in my opinion it’s its fast and heavy rhythm what makes it so great. This is the end of an outstanding album, with Bill Steer and Michael Amott kickin’ ass from start to finish (what those two guys did with their guitars together in Heartwork was glorious) and Jeff Walker adding a creepy touch to it with his guttural, raspy voice. In addition, we can see here one of the most extraordinary front covers in the history of heavy music, called “Life Support 1993”, designed by the deceased Swiss artist H. R. Giger.

The band released Swansong in 1996, and 17 years later they got back with the amazing Surgical Steel, in 2013, but Heartwork is still their biggest work so far and something quite impossible to be beaten (and if I were you, I would definitely go for the Full Dynamic Range Edition with its four amazing bonus tracks). Carcass might have changed their musicality, with an almost complete shift in their vocal style and more diversity in their music and lyrics, but instead of a sellout they became a reference in Melodic Extreme Metal. If you love truly heavy, violent music with a solid melody in the background and insanely gory words, well, let’s just say that you must “wake up and smell the carcass”.

Best moments of the album: No Love Lost, Heartwork, This Mortal Coil and Arbeit Macht Fleisch.

Worst moments of the album: Embodiment.

Released in 1993 Earache Records

Track listing
1. Buried Dreams 3:58
2. Carnal Forge 3:54
3. No Love Lost 3:22
4. Heartwork 4:33
5. Embodiment 5:36
6. This Mortal Coil 3:49
7. Arbeit Macht Fleisch 4:21
8. Blind Bleeding the Blind 4:57
9. Doctrinal Expletives 3:39
10. Death Certificate 3:38

Full Dynamic Range Edition bonus tracks
11. This Is Your Life 4:09
12. Rot ‘n’ Roll 3:51
13. Carnal Forge (live in Tokyo) 4:25
14. Heartwork (live in Tokyo) 5:01

Band members
Jeff Walker – vocals, bass guitar
Bill Steer – lead guitar
Michael Amott – lead guitar
Ken Owen – drums

Album Review – Paradise Lost / Draconian Times (1995)

The best, darkest and most detailed album by one of the pioneers of Gothic and Doom Metal.

paradise_lost-draconian_times-frontI remember when I was a teenager that there was a stupid “urban legend” about the album Icon, by British Gothic/Doom Metal band Paradise Lost, selling more copies worldwide than Metallica’s Black Album. We all know that was pure bullshit, but one thing was true: with the albums Icon and especially Draconian Times, Paradise Lost became one of the most respected bands of the 90’s, being recognized as one of the pioneers of Gothic/Doom Metal and appearing as one of the main attractions in many festivals all over the world, something not seen very often taking into account the dark and sluggish music played by the band.

Draconian Times, as any other album from a similar genre and/or style, is not an easy product to be assimilated, mainly due to its obscure and depressive themes, and of course, its slow pace (you shall never expect to hear some fast drums in a Gothic song, my friend). However, it’s a brilliant Heavy Metal album with several amazing moments, even if you’re not a big fan of this type of music. The first track of the album, Enchantment, is an excellent summary of the band’s music, with a beautiful piano intro and excellent riffs throughout the whole song. It’s a great mix of Gothic and Doom Metal, with particular highlights to Nick Holmes’ powerful voice and the song’s somber lyrics (“In depth grasp the chains / Struggle as the waters gain but I… / All I need is a simple reminder) and eerie atmosphere.

The second track, Hallowed Land, is what we can call pure Doom Metal,  while The Last Time became an instant hit with its faster than usual rhythm and lyrics and chorus tailored for being sung loud by all fans at their shows (“It’s a cruel misfortune / Forbidding us to see / When stories may collide / It’s a sad state of mind / Heart’s beating… / Heart’s beating for the last time”). This might be considered their biggest hit, despite its a more commercial approach not being well digested by their diehard fans. Then we have Forever Failure and its lyrics that deal with the constant losses in our lives, a very depressive and slow song not recommended for people who have some kind of suicidal tendencies. Once Solemn closes the first part of the album in a brilliant way, being a fast tune with a very good rhythm, and more Heavy Metal than any of the other songs (sometimes even sounding like Metallica).

Paradise LostIf Draconian Times was comprised of only its first five tracks, it would have deserved a flawless 5.0. However, after that the album loses a little its energy and creativity, but nothing that makes it less compelling. Shadowkings has nice riffs and its pace is good, albeit not enough to outdo the previous songs, while Elusive Cure, sounds extremely Gothic, eerie and deep. The following track, called Yearn for Change, showcases an obscure but pleasant rhythm, while Shades of God goes back to the more melancholic approach of “Elusive Cure”, despite not being as solid and entertaining. Finally, we have Hands of Reason, with a very beautiful guitar solo embellishing its overall result, followed by the sluggish and damned I See Your Face, and the final track, Jaded, which is extremely melancholic and another good example of how slow and somber the union of Gothic and Doom Metal can be.

Many different special editions of Draconian Times have been released since the original version in 1995, all of them with some bonus songs, videos and other shenanigans. In addition, there’s a live album called Draconian Times MMXI, where the band plays the album in its entirety. If you cannot find any of the fancier versions of it, I suggest you at least search for the one that comes with The Sisters of Mercy cover Walk Away. It’s an amazing version for this classic song that’s worth the extra investment without a shadow of a doubt.

The front cover is beautiful and makes a great connection with the music in the album, representing all the sadness and sorrow found in the lyrics and rhythm. Another important thing is that despite being considered a Gothic band by many, very few songs have over 5 minutes in Draconian Times, making the album more “commercial” or at least easier for the radio stations at that time and MTV to play some of the songs during any of their daily programs. Those were good times when Rock N’ Roll and Heavy Metal were respected and admired, with Paradise Lost being competent (and lucky enough) to enjoy some fame in the world of mainstream music even playing mournful and unhappy sounds.

Best moments of the album: Enchantment, The Last TimeOnce Solemn and Walk Away.

Worst moments of the album: Shades of God.

Released in 1995 Music For Nations

Track listing
1. Enchantment 6:04
2. Hallowed Land 5:02
3. The Last Time 3:27
4. Forever Failure 4:18
5. Once Solemn 3:03
6. Shadowkings 4:41
7. Elusive Cure 3:21
8. Yearn for Change 4:19
9. Shades of God 3:54
10. Hands of Reason 3:58
11. I See Your Face 3:17
12. Jaded 3:26

Japanese Edition bonus tracks
13. Walk Away (The Sisters of Mercy cover) 3:24
14. Laid to Waste 3:16
15. Master of Misrule 3:07

Band members
Nick Holmes – vocals
Greg Mackintosh – lead guitar
Aaron Aedy – rhythm and acoustic guitars
Steve Edmonson – bass guitar
Lee Morris – drums

Album Review – Stratovarius / Episode (1996)

The best album from the best Finnish band of all time.

Rating2

stratovarius_episodeOi maamme, Suomi, synnyinmaa, soi, sana kultainen! Finland is by far one of the most Heavy Metal countries in the world, and I’m not inventing this information from out of nowhere: take a look at this map showing the number of Heavy Metal bands per 100,000 people and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Nightwish, Lordi, Amorphis, Sonata Arctica, Turisas, Apocalyptica, Teräsbetoni, Finntroll, HIM, Sentenced and Wintersun are just some of the biggest exponents of heavy music in this land that offers its people a lot more than just ice and snow, but none of them have changed the world of heavy music as the Power Metal/Melodic Heavy Metal band Stratovarius.

Since their start in 1984, Stratovarius have released many important albums which revolutionized Heavy Metal with intense and fast riffs, double bass, high-pitched screams and epic songs. Among those releases there was their fifth studio album, Episode, released over 20 years ago, which in my opinion was the most important step in the band’s history in terms of creativity and evolution. With the awesome Timo Kotipelto on vocals for the second time after the good album Fourth Dimension (and fortunately until present days), and the addition of the beasts Jens Johansson on keyboards and Jörg Michael on drums, Stratovarius became a synonym for Melodic Heavy Metal in the 90’s and influenced an infinite number of bands all around the world. That was the band’s most stable and powerful lineup of all time, until Timo Tolkki left the band in 2008.

The music in Episode is pretty straight forward, it’s fast and clean Heavy Metal with total synchronicity of instruments, together with lyrics talking about life, love, dreams, and all the struggles a man has inside his mind. Add to that the beautiful atmosphere created by the Sibelius String Orchestra and Sibelius Choir, and you have a musical masterpiece. The clock ticking in the beginning of the album just announces that what comes next is no less than memorable: Father Time is an incredible song that summarizes all the power and technique of the band’s members, especially Timo Tolkki and Jörg Michael. What those guys do with their instruments is beyond awesome, and seeing this song live is like having a musical orgasm. Furthermore, Tolkki’s riffs are a constant in the whole album and one of the elements that make it so special for all Heavy Metal fans.

The speed goes on with Will the Sun Rise, another classic showing how perfect the partnership Tolkki/Kotipelto used to be. Then things slow down a little with the beautiful Eternity, but after the instrumental intro Episode comes one of their fastest and most amazing compositions ever: Speed of Light can make even a Thrash Metal band jealous of its speed and riffs, and as Canadians love a mosh pit I can’t wait for a Stratovarius concert here in Toronto to slam into the pit with this song. On the other hand, Uncertainty is quite boring and the lowest point of the album, despite its nice intro.

stratovarius_1995The next track is another good ballad, Season of Change, where Kotipelto once again demonstrates why he’s a reference in Melodic Heavy Metal, followed by the instrumental song Stratosphere, where we can see an inspired Timo Tolkki and a crazy Jens Johansson “masturbating” their guitar and keyboards respectively for our pure delight. Babylon can be considered an “epic” song due to its lyrics, strong intro and variations, while Tomorrow brings back the band at full speed with its inspiring lyrics (“Feeling strong and brave inside / my head up high with pride / yes I’ll be back tomorrow”) and Jörg Michael pounding his drums with his unique technique.

Finally, we have the song Night Time Eclipse, a nice semi-ballad with pleasant riffs and solos, and then a ballad so beautiful I can’t even find the right words to describe it, Forever, where Timo Kotipelto melts the heart of any woman with his performance (“I’m still there everywhere / I’m the dust in the wind / I’m the star in the northern sky / I never stayed anywhere / I’m the wind in the trees / would you wait for me forever?”). The Japanese version of Episode also contains a good bonus track called When the Night Meets the Day, another nice song, albeit not as wonderful as the regular tracks.

If you don’t know Stratovarius, I would say Episode is probably the best album to start. The only “issue” would be the side effects of listening to this musical wonder, which are an extreme addiction to Finnish Heavy Metal and a compulsive obsession with the language, culture, drinks and people from the marvelous land of ice and snow.

Best moments of the album: Father Time, Speed of Light and Forever.

Worst moments of the album: Uncertainty is the only “weak” track of all, or let’s say the least awesome.

Released in 1996 Noise Records

Track listing
1. Father Time 5:01
2. Will the Sun Rise? 5:06
3. Eternity 6:55
4. Episode (instrumental) 2:01
5. Speed of Light 3:03
6. Uncertainty 5:59
7. Season of Change 6:56
8. Stratosphere (instrumental) 4:51
9. Babylon 7:09
10. Tomorrow 4:51
11. Night Time Eclipse 7:58
12. Forever 3:06

Japanese edition bonus track
13. When the Night Meets the Day 5:30

Band members
Timo Kotipelto – vocals
Timo Tolkki – guitars, backing vocals
Jens Johansson – keyboards
Jari Kainulainen – bass
Jörg Michael – drums

Album Review – Iron Maiden / Powerslave (1984)

Exactly 30 years ago, the world would witness the birth of the best Heavy Metal album of all time.

Rating1

Iron Maiden_PowerslaveRecorded from February to June 1984 at the famous Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, and released on September 3, 1984, Powerslave is much more than just a milestone in the Heavy Metal universe. You can disagree with me and start all that blah blah blah about how this or that album from Black Sabbath or Metallica, or even another Iron Maiden album like The Number of the Beast, is better than Powerslave, but I’m sorry, nothing really compares to this album. Powerslave is by far the most complex, complete, exciting and powerful album of all time, and anything I say about it won’t be enough to describe this 50-minute Heavy Metal masterpiece’s grandiosity.

Steve Harris, Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray and Nicko McBrain were at the peak of their musical creativity and inspiration, delivering their fans unique songs about the Ancient Egypt, the experiences of a sailor from a famous English poem, the pleasures and honor of a duel, an aircraft battle during the Battle of Britain, and more. All songs have wonderful instrumental parts, together with clever and meaningful lyrics, making them some of the most requested by all Maidenmaniacs around the globe for any live concerts, best of albums, top 100 Heavy Metal songs, weddings, birthday parties, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, prom nights, or anywhere else good music can be played.

Well, the album kicks off with my favorite song of all time in any music genre, Aces High, which still gives me the chills every time I listen to it. “Run, live to fly, fly to live, do or die / Run, live to fly, fly to live, Aces High”, sings Bruce perfectly while Steve Harris “gallops” his bass like a wild beast. Not only that, you can feel the battle going on in the air with the lyrics, and the solos are among the best the band has ever produced thanks to majestic performances by Adrian and Dave. Do I need to say it sounds even more splendid live?

There’s no better way to continue the album than with another all-time classic, 2 Minutes to Midnight, a song that has an unparalleled starting riff that even a newborn baby can easily recognize, and amazing lyrics that make reference to the Doomsday Clock. Then comes Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra), one of the few instrumental songs the band has ever produced, with total highlight to the beautiful job done by Steve and Nicko. Flash of the Blade keeps the bar high with its outstanding riffs and speed, while The Duellists is in every fan’s dreams of seeing it being played live by the band in any of their world tours. This is another one of my top Maiden tracks of all time, especially due to its incredible rhythm led by Steve and Nicko. Iron Maiden even tried to replicate this type of sonority with more contemporary songs like “Fallen Angel” and “Montsegur”, but it seems the fans didn’t like the new songs that much. Then we have Back in the Village, another song with amazing riffs, although it’s considered the least favorite of the album by many fans.

Iron Maiden 1984The last part of the album is simply awesome: Powerslave is one of those cases of a song that should be turned into a movie due to its excellence in telling the Ancient Egyptian history during its 7 minutes of pure Heavy Metal. Its initial drums are superb, the lyrics are perfect, the chorus is wonderful (“Tell me why I had to be a Powerslave / I don’t wanna die, I’m a God, / Why can’t I live on?”), as well as every other part of the song. Seeing Maiden playing this song live is an unforgettable experience in the life of any person. And last but not least, we have another Heavy Metal masterpiece, the one and only Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Inspired by the amazing poem from British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, this 13-minute song has one of the most elaborate lyrics in the world of music, different tempos, a beautiful narration in the middle taken directly from the original poem, and all musicians showing us why “Iron Maiden’s gonna get ya, no matter how far”. As I mentioned before, nothing I say will be enough to describe the magnitude of this song or the entire album.

“One after one by the star dogged moon,
too quick for groan or sigh
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang
and cursed me with his eye
Four times fifty living men
(and I heard nor sigh nor groan),
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
they dropped down one by one.” 

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772-1834)

Iron Maiden World Slavery Tour

World Slavery Tour 1984-1985

If you think that’s all, you’re completely wrong. Iron Maiden is not a regular band, as they add a lot more than just the music to their work. Powerslave follows its predecessors with another unmatched front cover showing the band’s most celebrated “member”, Eddie the Head, this time inspired by the Ancient Egypt and perfectly representing the content of the album, designed by master Derek Riggs. It’s impossible not to fall in love for it, don’t you agree? And if you get the 1995 reissue, you’ll also enjoy the songs from the bonus disc, especially their cool  version for Beckett’s Rainbow’s Gold.

Finally, right after the release of Powerslave the band went on their longest and most memorable tour of all, The World Slavery Tour, which began in Warsaw, Poland on August 9, 1984 and ended only in Irvine, U.S. on July 5, 1985 (187 shows in total), culminating with the launch of another masterpiece, the live album Live After Death. I have no idea of how many bands have been influenced by Powerslave or by Iron Maiden’s entire career, but I know that none has ever been able to deliver something so mighty and unique as Steve, Bruce & Co. did with Powerslave. UP THE IRONS!

Best moments of the album: Aces High, The Duellists, Powerslave and Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Worst moments of the album: None. Powerslave is perfect.

Released in 1984 EMI

Track listing
1. Aces High 4:29
2. 2 Minutes to Midnight 6:00
3. Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) (Instrumental) 4:13
4. Flash of the Blade 4:03
5. The Duellists 6:06
6. Back in the Village 5:03
7. Powerslave 7:12
8. Rime of the Ancient Mariner 13:42

1995 Reissue Bonus Disc
1. Rainbow’s Gold (Beckett cover) 4:57
2. Mission From ‘Arry 6:42
3. King of Twilight (Nektar cover) 4:53
4. The Number of the Beast (live) 4:57

Band members
Bruce Dickinson – lead vocals
Dave Murray – guitar
Adrian Smith – guitar
Steve Harris – bass guitar
Nicko McBrain – drums

Album Review – Tristania / Widow’s Weeds (1998)

It’s from Norway the most remarkable Gothic Metal album of all time.

Rating3

WidowsWeedsGothic Metal has always been and will ever be a very tricky subgenre of Heavy Metal, especially in terms of originality, because it can bore you at the blink of an eye. I, for instance, do not consider myself a true Gothic Metal fan, as I prefer a lot more heavier and faster material like traditional Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, and even Hard Rock rather than any Gothic music. However, once in a while there’s a band like Tristania that breaks this barrier and gains my respect in the world of heavy music.

After their self-titled EP Tristania (1997), it was time for this Norwegian Gothic Metal band to release in 1998 their first full-length album called Widow’s Weeds, which in my opinion is the best Gothic Metal album of all time. In fact, Widow’s Weeds cannot be considered only Gothic Metal, as it contains elements of many other subgenres of heavy music such as Symphonic, Death and Doom Metal, which explains why this album is so difficult to understand, and consequently so delightful.

Widow’s Weeds is a tsunami of obscure themes and dark lyrics, all full of the most uncomfortable emotions such as depression, sadness and madness, and of course everything is wrapped up by a very precise and dense musicality. Do not expect to hear crazy riffs and solos, or even fast drums with lots of double bass, but lengthy and slow songs where all instruments together form a complex sonority, in parallel with Vibeke Stene’s angelic voice and Morten Veland’s roars.

Right after the intro Preludium…, the band shows all its powerful musical range with the beautiful Evenfall, by far the most amazing composition of their entire career. Vibeke’s performance in this song is awesome, as well as the drums by Kenneth Olsson, and the final result portrays perfectly how pleasant sadness can be when transformed into music. The following track keeps the bar extremely high: Pale Enchantress can be considered another of the band’s classics, a lot faster than the previous one with great melancholic lyrics (“Enchanting all my dreams / A beauty and her flood of tears / Nightfall embrace my heart / Mesmerized and ravendark”).

December Elegy and Midwintertears are examples of what I previously said about the trickiness of Gothic Metal, as both can easily make you feel bored due to their length and lack of speed or changes in rhythm. However, they’re pretty good songs, it’s just that they’re not tailored for MTV or radio. On the other hand, even the more skeptical heavy music lovers will enjoy the next two tracks: Angellore has many interesting goth elements from the 80’s that match perfectly with the band’s style, with the addition of Østen Bergøy doing the clean vocals, and the final result was so good that it was probably the reason why he joined the band full-time from 2001 until 2010; while My Lost Lenore is considered by many Tristania’s biggest masterpiece. Here we have not only Vibeke and Morten doing a superb job, but above all the talented Einar Moen on his synth and piano giving a huge boost to the song.

tristania7The (almost) last track, Wasteland’s Caress, is for me the weakest of all tracks, and the outro …Postludium ends this amazing album, unless you have the special edition which contains two excellent bonus tracks called Sirene and Cease to Exist. The front cover of the album simply summarizes how dark and mysterious the music by Tristania is, fully complemented by the band’s sinister outfits.

Unfortunately, there have been way too many changes in the band’s lineup and musicality until today, provoking an immense drop in the quality of their material. Maybe if Vibeke Stene and of course Morten Veland, the mastermind behind Tristania’s eerie and mesmerizing music and currently with Sirenia, were still with Tristania, the whole story would have been a lot different. Nevertheless, based on Tristania’s most recent albums, I don’t believe we’ll see anything close to Widow’s Weeds again.

At least there are some good news about Vibeke returning to the world of heavy music after years of privation, and when she actually returns she deserves a special “Metal Chick of the Month” post for her and one or more reviews of the music projects and/or bands she joins in a near future. She’s a truly underrated musician, and I hope she comes back kickin’ ass as she used to do in her years with Tristania.

Best moments of the album: Evenfall, Pale Enchantress, Angellore and My Lost Lenore.

Worst moments of the album: December Elegy and Wasteland’s Caress.

Released in 1998  Napalm Records

Track listing

1. Preludium… 1:09
2. Evenfall 6:51
3. Pale Enchantress 6:31
4. December Elegy 7:31
5. Midwintertears 8:32
6. Angellore 7:16
7. My Lost Lenore 6:23
8. Wasteland’s Caress 7:40
9. …Postludium 1:12

Limited edition bonus tracks
10. Sirene 3:22
11. Cease to Exist 9:17

Band members
Vibeke Stene – vocals, choir
Morten Veland – harsh vocals, guitars, choir
Anders H. Hidle – guitars, choir
Rune Østerhus – bass
Einar Moen – synths, programming
Kenneth Olsson – drums, choir

Guest musicians
Østen Bergøy – clean vocals on “Angellore”, choir
Pete Johansen – violin
Hilde Egeland, Marita Herikstad, Hilde T. Bommen – choir

Album Review – Matanza / A Arte do Insulto (2006)

Learning Brazilian Portuguese can be a lot easier and more fun with this awesome countrycore album.

Rating3

A+Arte+do+InsultoWith less than 3 months to the 2014 World Cup, lots of soccer fans from all around the world are probably heading to Brazil pretty soon and, of course, are trying to learn some basic words and sentences in Brazilian Portuguese (well, the original Portuguese from Portugal might be helpful too) in order to have an even better experience during the event there. However, if you really want to mingle with the locals, you’ll need more than a simple “por favor” (please) or “obrigado” (thank you), and Brazilian Countrycore band Matanza can help you out with that.

This very talented band from Rio de Janeiro plays an awesome mix of heavy music, hardcore, punk and country, being highly influenced by sacred monsters such as Johnny Cash, Motörhead, Slayer and The Exploited, and adding a huge amount of irony and sarcasm in their lyrics about women, alcohol, violence and human ignorance. After two excellent full-length albums (Santa Madre Cassino, from 2001, and Música para Beber e Brigar, from 2003) and a tribute album composed in its entirety by heavy versions of many classics from Johnny Cash called To Hell With Johnny Cash, from 2005, Matanza released A Arte do Insulto in 2006, or “The Art of Insult” if translated to English, considered their best album until today by the fans.

The title-track, A Arte do Insulto (The Art of Insult), is pure hardcore that will teach you a vast cursing vocabulary for you to use whenever you meet a Brazilian, while Clube dos Canalhas (Scoundrels’ Club) reminds us men what it really is to be a man. The next track is also mandatory for anyone that wants to party in Brazil:  O Chamado do Bar (The Call of the Bar) has some awesome fast riffs and is perfect for some insane circle pits. Sabendo Que Posso Morrer (Knowing I Can Die), a song that talks about love, and Quem Perde Sai (Who Loses Leaves), focused on the pitfalls of poker, are also pretty good fast songs that showcase all the talent of the band’s musicians, as well as the amazing Meio Psicopata (Half Psychopath) with its funny lyrics.

matanzaThe album continues its feast of black humor and bad mood with the classic Eu Não Gosto De Ninguém (I Don’t Like Anyone), an excellent hardcore song with one of the most acid lyrics I’ve ever seen, and the slow-paced O Caminho Da Escada e Da Corda (The Way of the Ladder and the Rope), which despite its cool lyrics is not as exciting as the previous songs. Then we have another great example of what countrycore is with Ressaca Sem Fim (Endless Hangover), the intelligent Tempo Ruim (Bad Weather), and Quem Leva A Sério O Quê? (Who Takes What Seriously?) which is pretty much filler. The last two tracks are pretty cool:  both Whisky Para Um Condenado (Whisky for a Convicted) and Estamos Todos Bêbados (We’re all Drunk) are some kind of funny tribute to alcoholism, with the last being even funnier due to its “pirate song” atmosphere.

Regarding the musicians, I would say the heart and soul of the band are the guitar player Donida (who wrote pretty much all the songs from A Arte do Insulto), and especially the lead singer Jimmy London. Although he was born in Rio, he doesn’t look like a “carioca” at all, resembling a lot more with a metalhead from Ireland, and his voice and attitude add a lot of value to the music of Matanza. And finally, the album art is simple but very effective, inspired by sexy saloon dancers, alcohol and guns, a constant in all of their albums.

Do you understand now how Matanza will help you during the World Cup? It’s heavy music with lots of sarcasm, bad words, and the perfect soundtrack for partying and having some drinks at a pub, which is pretty much everything you’ll be doing in Brazil, right? Or are you going to tell me you are planning to get there just to support your national squad?

Best moments of the album: A Arte do Insulto, O Chamado do Bar and Eu Não Gosto De Ninguém.

Worst moments of the album: O Caminho Da Escada e Da Corda and Quem Leva A Sério O Quê?

Released in 2006 Deckdisc

Track listing
1. A Arte do Insulto 1:51
2. Clube dos Canalhas 3:01
3. O Chamado do Bar 2:06
4. Sabendo Que Posso Morrer 2:19
5. Quem Perde Sai 2:32
6. Meio Psicopata 2:18
7. Eu Não Gosto De Ninguém 3:53
8. O Caminho Da Escada e Da Corda 3:00
9. Ressaca Sem Fim 3:08
10. Tempo Ruim 2:43
11. Quem Leva A Sério O Quê? 2:50
12. Whisky Para Um Condenado 2:22
13. Estamos Todos Bêbados 3:32

Band members
Jimmy London – vocals
China – bass
Fausto – drums
Donida – lead and rhythm guitar

Album Review – Grave Digger / Tunes of War (1996)

Don’t forget to grab your sword and shield before listening to this masterpiece.

Rating2

Tunes_of_warIt looks like the end of the 90’s was a special period for concept Heavy Metal albums: we had the perfect Cruelty and the Beast, which I talked about a couple of months ago here, and another masterpiece from the German Power Metal band Grave Digger, the album Tunes of War. I guess I don’t need to say how awesome an album entirely dedicated to Scotland and its struggle for independence from England can be, right? It was also the first album in the band’s trilogy of concept albums inspired in the medieval times which was continued by Knights of the Cross (1998) and Excalibur (1999).

I had the pleasure to talk to all members of the band during a special acoustic performance at a Heavy Metal pub in São Paulo (Brazil) back in 1996, one day before their full gig for the Tunes of War tour. They explained me how the album was created, all the ideas they had, their trip to Scotland to better understand the country’s history and so on, and that’s probably the reason why Tunes of War is so good and precise: it follows the true facts that happened between the 11th and the 18th centuries with the Scottish clans, and all the horror, blood and death in their path for freedom.

Tunes of War starts with THE BEST intro of all time, The Brave,  a mighty Heavy Metal version of “Scotland the Brave” (or “Alba an Aigh”, in Gaelic), considered by many the unofficial Scottish national anthem. There’s no way a regular person won’t feel inspired and ready for war while listening to it. What the band did with this song was amazing, and a perfect intro to one of their best songs of all time, Scotland United. It’s an instant classic with a chorus tailored for any army in the world (“United, united we stand / United, forever and ever!”). The next song, The Dark of the Sun, also has a strong melody with its lyrics exalting the Scottish warriors, while William Wallace (Braveheart) has one of the most furious riffs I’ve ever listened to in my life, and as you can see its dedicated to the life of the great William Wallace, one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence who was spectacularly portrayed by Mel Gibson in the Oscar-winning masterpiece Braveheart (which I saw for the 1000th time this week).

Grave_Digger-Tunes_Of_WarIn The Bruce (The Lion King), the band shows a very obscure side, almost as if they were a Doom Metal band, getting back to their traditional Power Metal with The Battle of Flodden. Then comes a very beautiful but sad ballad, called The Ballad of Mary (Queen of Scots), where we see Chris Boltendahl’s voice in a completely different way. By the way, this song has such dark and melancholic lyrics that it might suddenly make you cry especially if you can feel all the pain in it. The Truth, Cry for Freedom (James the VI) and Killing Time are considerably short songs, but very effective in the whole storyline, and all amazing for any of the band’s live performances.

The last few songs are kind of paradoxical: while Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching) is just perfect with its amazing riffs, lyrics, and one of the greatest chorus in the history of Heavy Metal (“The clans are marching ‘gainst the law / Bagpipers play the tunes of war / Death or glory I will find / Rebellion on my mind!”), Culloden Muir sounds quite boring if compared to all other songs. There’s still an outro called The Fall of the Brave, which in my opinion perfectly represents the end of a battle with all the corpses and blood on the war field, and if you have the special edition you’ll be able to enjoy three of Grave Digger’s old classics, all excellent for a beer and some mosh pits: Heavy Metal Breakdown, Witchhunter and Headbanging Man.

Grave Digger has always had wonderful front covers (take a look at this one from Heart of Darkness, for example), and in Tunes of War it’s no different. Regarding the lyrics, as I said, they are all profound and tell the whole story in the best way possible. Of course, nothing would be possible without Grave Digger’s awesome musicians, especially their leader and founding member Chris Boltendahl, owner of a unique voice in the world of Heavy Metal.

To sum up, a brilliant concept album from one of the greatest Power Metal bands in the world, and by far their best album of all time. Only Iron Maiden’s The Clansman is more brilliant than the songs from Tunes of War, but it’s just one song anyway. Moreover, this winter in Canada has been one of the worst of all time, with frigid temperatures and extremely stressful morning and evening commutes due to all the snow, ice storms and freezing rain, so why not getting ready for this “ice cold battle” on the streets enjoying this great album in your car? I definitely will.

Best moments of the album: Scotland United, William Wallace (Braveheart) and Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching).

Worst moments of the album: Culloden Muir is the only song that is not totally awesome in the whole album.

Released in 1996 GUN Records

Track listing
1. The Brave (Intro) 2:23
2. Scotland United 4:35
3. The Dark of the Sun 4:33
4. William Wallace (Braveheart) 5:01
5. The Bruce (The Lion King) 6:58
6. The Battle of Flodden 4:06
7. The Ballad of Mary (Queen of Scots) 5:00
8. The Truth 3:50
9. Cry for Freedom (James the VI) 3:17
10. Killing Time 2:53
11. Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching) 4:05
12. Culloden Muir 4:08
13. The Fall of the Brave (Outro) 1:56

Special digipack bonus tracks
14. Heavy Metal Breakdown
15. Witchhunter
16. Headbanging Man

Band members
Chris Boltendahl – Vocals
Uwe Lulis – Guitars
Tomi Göttlich – Bass
Stefan Arnold – Drums

Album Review – Cradle of Filth / Cruelty and the Beast (1998)

This is how any band in the world should record a concept album.

Rating1

410309-300Today is my birthday and I was thinking about which classic album that has helped define my musical taste should be reviewed. I could go for one of my favorite albums of all time, which would be Iron Maiden’s Powerslave, Judas Priest’s Painkiller or Slayer’s Reign in Blood, but instead I chose something more complex and unconventional: Cradle of Filth’s Cruelty and the Beast, a unique concept album dedicated to the legend of the serial killer Elizabeth Báthory, the “Blood Countess” from Hungary who tortured and murdered hundreds of young women in the 16th and 17th centuries, and who many believe used to bath in the blood of her victims to rejuvenate her skin like if she was a vampire. The story itself is inspiring enough for a really dark Heavy Metal album, and no other band rather than Cradle of Filth would have been capable of creating such a masterpiece.

I love the intro Once Upon Atrocity, not only because I’m totally fond of obscure intros like this one, but also because the thrilling transition to the amazing Thirteen Autumns and a Widow is beyond perfect. And what can I say about this song? Despite being probably too heavy and heinous for most of our society, it’s a mesmerizing chef d’oeuvre that no other band is capable of doing (not even the current Cradle of Filth is anymore).The drums and keyboards are terrific, providing the song a unique atmosphere. Then comes one of the band’s most famous tracks, Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids, which is not as fast as the first song, but it’s also excellent and has some very good riffs.

Cradle+of+Filth+Cruelty+and+the+BeastBeneath the Howling Stars was the first song I’ve listened to ever from Cradle of Filth, and until today it makes my day a lot better when I listen to it. From its horror movie-like intro in the keyboards to the chorus, it’s a perfect fit for the soundtrack to apocalypse. I know Dani cannot reach the same high-pitched notes anymore, but it’s still great to listen to this song and I hope the band adds it back to their future setlists. The next track, Venus in Fear, is an instrumental song that is not recommended at all to listen to with your parents or your little sister, while Desire in Violent Overture is another musical typhoon from this Extreme Metal band from England.

The Twisted Nails of Faith is one of my least favorite ones, which doesn’t mean it’s not a furious track (it’s not just as brilliant as the others), followed by what can be considered an “Extreme Metal Opera” called Bathory Aria: this 11-minute insanity starts in a melancholic way with Benighted Like Usher, evolves into a storm with A Murder of Ravens in Fugue, and finally ends with a poem-like part called Eyes That Witnessed Madness. I REALLY would like to see them playing this live one day, that would be a dream come true. The album ends with another instrumental song, Portrait of the Dead Countess (this one you can listen to with anyone around you, no problem), and the fast and heavy track Lustmord and Wargasm. And if you’re still alive after this infernal tsunami, it means you enjoyed it and you’re ready to listen to everything again and again.

All musicians in this album are awesome (including the guest musicians) despite none of them being with the band anymore except for Dani Filth, the mastermind behind Cradle of Filth. Well, he’s the main reason why Cruelty and the Beast is so good, because without him it would be just a regular album. Although Dani’s trademark voice was not as high as in their previous albums, he was singing like a demon, adding a lot of violence and despair to the musicality of the whole album. Not only that, the lyrics in Cruelty and the Beast are also as creative, evil and wonderful as always, this time even better due to the whole storyline involving Countess Bathory as the main character, and the front cover and the rest of the album art are the perfect finishing touch for it.

Cradle_Of_Filth-Cruelty_y_The_Beast_(Limited_Edition)-Frontal

Koch Records’ 2001 two-disc edition front cover

If you’re lucky enough to find the Koch Records’ 2001 two-disc edition bonus disc, you’ll be amazed by their superb covers of Iron Maiden, Venom and Sodom, bands with a high influence on Cradle of Filth’s music. The only bad thing about this bonus disc is the mix version for The Twisted Nails of Faith: I don’t like when a Heavy Metal song are mixed into some generic electronic song, and this one is not different from that.

Anyway, if you love Extreme Metal and a good story, you must listen to Cruelty and the Beast. Cradle of Filth might not be the best Heavy Metal band in the world, but this album helped redefine extreme music for sure and destroyed all the remaining boundaries between music and art for good.

Best moments of the album: Everything in this album is gold, but if I had to choose only a couple of songs they would be Thirteen Autumns and a Widow, Beneath the Howling Stars and Bathory Aria.

Worst moments of the album: None, unless I can choose a song from the Koch Records’ 2001 two-disc edition bonus disc, then I would say Twisting Further Nails (The Cruci-Fiction Mix).

Released in 1998 Music for Nations

Track listing
1. Once Upon Atrocity (Instrumental) 1:43
2. Thirteen Autumns and a Widow 7:14
3. Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids 7:18
4. Beneath the Howling Stars 7:42
5. Venus in Fear (Instrumental) 2:20
6. Desire in Violent Overture 4:16
7. The Twisted Nails of Faith 6:50
8. Bathory Aria (Benighted Like Usher/A Murder of Ravens in Fugue/Eyes That Witnessed Madness) 11:02
9. Portrait of the Dead Countess (Instrumental) 2:52
10. Lustmord and Wargasm (The Lick of Carnivorous Winds) 7:30

Koch Records’ 2001 two-disc edition bonus disc
1. Lustmord And Wargasm (The Relicking of Cadaverous Wounds) 7:58
2. Black Metal (Venom cover) 3:27
3. Hallowed Be Thy Name (Iron Maiden cover) 7:10
4. Sodomy & Lust (Sodom cover) 4:47
5. Twisting Further Nails (The Cruci-Fiction Mix) 5:33

Band members
Dani Filth – lead vocals
Stuart Anstis – guitars
Gian Pyres – guitars
Robin Graves – bass
Lecter – keyboards
Nicholas Barker – drums

Guest musicians
Sarah Jezebel Deva – backing vocals
Danielle Cneajna Cottington – backing vocals
Ingrid Pitt – Lady Bathory’s narration on ‘The Twisted Nails of Faith’ and Bathory Aria’s ‘Eyes That Witnessed Madness’

Album Review – Fight / War of Words (1993)

An amazing Heavy Metal album from a totally awesome band that unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore.

Rating3

Fight_-_War_of_WordsWhen the Metal God Rob Halford (the best Heavy Metal singer of all time) left Judas Priest back in 1992, no one knew what was going to happen to him or to the band. Fortunately for most of his fans all around the world, he formed the amazing band Fight in 1993 and recorded one of the most underrated Metal albums of the 90’s, War of Words.

How can someone not get completely addicted to an album that starts with two masterpieces such as Into the Pit and Nailed to the Gun? These two songs are more than perfect, with the Metal God reaching his famous powerful screams and the rest of the band simply kickin’ some serious ass. In my opinion, they’re better than almost anything Halford or even the Priest have produced since then, except for Resurrection (which might be a good topic for a future post).

After this incredible start, War of Words keeps delivering some excellent material: Life in Black is a very nice slow and heavy tune, while Immortal Sin is another instant classic with its great riff and chorus; the title-track, War of Words, has another great performance by Halford, while Laid to Rest can be considered the darkest track of the whole album. Then we have one of the least memorable tracks, For All Eternity, which is not bad but becomes boring after two minutes, and the hit single Little Crazy that made even people that knew nothing about Halford or didn’t enjoy Metal at all sing along with our Metal God.

fightThe last part of the album is a little weird if compared to anything Halford had previously recorded in his career, with a sonority that reminds me of some more modern Thrash Metal (something that didn’t even exist in the beginning of the 90’s). If you listen to the songs Contortion, Kill It and Vicious today, you’ll think they’re from a brand new band, not from a group from the 90’s which had one of the most iconic classic Metal singers of all time. My favorite one from these three tracks is undoubtedly Kill It, especially due to its pretty simple but cool chorus. Reality, A New Beginning closes the album, and I personally don’t understand what the band wanted with this song. It is extremely boring compared to the rest of the songs.

Maybe the front cover is the weakest part of the album, because even a 5-year old kid can do something better using only pen and paper, but in this case I don’t care about it due to the high quality of the music. And of course, great songs can only come from real musicians: Halford is the Metal God, there’s nothing else any mere mortal like me can say about him; Russ Parrish (or if you prefer, Satchel from Steel Panther) is a very talented guitar player, as well as Brian Tilse, and they both produced awesome riffs and solos in this album; Jay Jay also delivers some great bass lines;  and Scott Travis, the drummer that has been giving more speed and power to all Priest songs since joining the band in Painkiller, does an amazing job here too.

In summary, if you have never listened to War of Words, you have no idea of what an amazing Metal album you’re missing. Fight might be a long-gone band today, but the music they produced during their short life was pure fuckin’ Metal.

Best moments of the album: Into the Pit, Nailed to the Gun, Immortal Sin and Laid to Rest.

Worst moments of the album: For All Eternity and Reality, A New Beginning.

Released in 1993 Epic Records

Track listing
1. Into the Pit 4:13
2. Nailed to the Gun 3:38
3. Life in Black 4:34
4. Immortal Sin 4:39
5. War of Words 4:29
6. Laid to Rest 4:40
7. For All Eternity 4:42
8. Little Crazy 3:49
9. Contortion 4:35
10. Kill It 3:30
11. Vicious 3:11
12. Reality, A New Beginning (includes hidden track “Jesus Saves”) 13:18

Band members
Rob Halford – vocals
Brian Tilse – guitars
Russ Parrish – guitars
Jay Jay – bass
Scott Travis – drums