Friday, June 28, 2019

Archive Review: Dag Nasty's Minority of One (2002)

Dag Nasty's Minority of One
Given the time between Dag Nasty albums, you’re more likely to witness a total eclipse of the moon, or maybe get hit by a wandering comet, than you are to hear a new album from the band during your lifetime. Maybe we live in charmed times, or perhaps the stars are in perfect alignment, ‘cause the legendary punk outfit has dropped its first disc in a decade with the extraordinary Minority of One.

Fronted by former All vocalist Dave Smalley and Minor Threat/Meatmen axeman Brian Baker, Dag Nasty has released only a handful of albums since the classic 1986 debut Can I Say. Since Dag Nasty’s last effort, 1992’s overlooked Four On the Floor, the band members have been busy – Smalley with his vocal chores for Down By Law and Baker as Bad Religion’s resident six-string maniac. With Minority of One, tho’, the founding fathers of “emocore” have whipped up a new batch of fab tunes certain to whip the punk rock kids into a veritable frenzy.

Dag Nasty’s Minority of One

Minority of One slaughters the so-called “competition,” leaving bands like Dashboard Confessional and the Promise Ring in its wake. The musical gorefest kicks off with “Ghosts,” a high-voltage rocker that reminds us that the past can come back to haunt us, while the anthemic title cut sounds more than a little like Bad Religion. With screaming guitar riffs, crashing rhythms, chanted vocals and non-conformist lyrical perspective, “Minority of One” delivers a little classic “rant ‘n’ roll” for the attentive listener. Smalley’s passionate vocals and the fresh lyrics of “Broken Days” breathe new life into a poetic cliché, a mournful tale of love and betrayal. “Incinerate” is an old-fashioned love song, defiant lyrics matched with a dynamic chorus and Baker’s jagged-edge axework.

The powerful “Wasting Away” is both a lyrical call-to-arms for fresh blood to pick up the “tattered flag” and a deep cut at the hardcore Cassandra’s who would rather bitch about society than try to improve it. Crackling with electricity, “Wasting Away” offers Dave Smalley’s best Greg Graffin vocal imitation while Baker’s dubbed six-string sounds like a guitar army marching to battle alongside bassist Roger Marbury and drummer Colin Sears’ rhythmic artillery division. It’s a smart song, drawing the line in the sand for the next generation of punk rockers to cross. A hidden track sneaks up at the close of Minority of One, a Dag Nasty customized cover of Generation X’s “One Hundred Punks” featuring Baker’s best frantic, class of ’77 styled guitar performance and Smalley’s snarling Billy Idol-inspired vocals.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Although Dag Nasty will remain an afterthought for its members in the face of their various day jobs, Minority of One is nevertheless a potent musical statement. With top notch songwriting and an undeniable musical chemistry bolstered by inspired performances, Dag Nasty has delivered a career album that pairs the maturity of the member’s present stations with the youthful energy and fierce enthusiasm of their youth. Sixteen years in the making, Minority of One is one of the year’s standout efforts. (Revelation Records, released August 20, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Buy the CD from Dag Nasty’s Minority of One

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Spotlight on Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper band
Alice Cooper band photo courtesy of Enigma Records

Alice Cooper (band) Discography:
• Pretties for You (Straight Records, 1969) *
• Easy Action (Straight Records, 1970) *
• Love It to Death (Straight Records, 1971)
• Killer (Warner Brothers, 1971)
• School's Out (Warner Brothers, 1972)
• Billion Dollar Babies (Warner Brothers, 1973)
• Muscle of Love (Warner Brothers, 1973)

* Later reissued by Enigma Records' Retro imprint, and again by Warner's Rhino Records archival label.

Alice Cooper, the band, was orignally signed to Frank Zappa's Straight Records label, home to oddball rockers like Captain Beefheart and the GTOs and hipster comedian Lord Buckley. The band – comprised of lead singer Alice (née Vince Furnier), guitarists Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith – had been kicking around the late '60s L.A. rock scene for a few years before releasing their first two albums for Straight. When neither album achieved any sort of commercial traction, the band pulled up roots and relocated to Pontiac, Michigan near Furnier's hometown of Detroit.

Alice Cooper's outrageous hard rock sound went over aces with a Rust Belt audience with a taste for honest, raucous rock 'n' roll after experiencing bands like Iggy & the Stooges, the MC5, SRC, and Ted Nugent. Working with young producer Bob Ezrin, the band scored a hit single in 1970 with their classic "I'm Eighteen," which kicked off a string of Top 40, Platinum™-selling albums that culminated in 1973's chart-topping Billion Dollar Babies. After the release of Muscle of Love – the band's fifth album in three years, the hard-touring outfit broke up.

Furnier took the "Alice Cooper" name with him out the door, launching a successful and legendary solo career with 1975's Welcome To My Nightmare, which hit #5 on the charts, and following it up with albums like Alice Cooper Goes To Hell (1976) and Flush the Fashion (1980). Cooper's solo career hit the skids during the nerf-metal decade of the '80s, though, the singer finally scoring a Top 20 album with 1989's Trash. Cooper's solo career continues to this day. The other band members didn't fare nearly as well, Bruce, Dunaway, and Smith forming the band Billion Dollar Babies, which released a single album titled Battle Axe in 1977.

The original Alice Cooper was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, the band reuniting to perform at their induction ceremony (sans Buxton, who sadly passed away in 1997 at 49 years old).

Friday, June 21, 2019

Archive Review: Richard Hell's Time (2002)

Richard Hell's Time
Young punk rockers that would like to find out more about the roots of their passion should seek out the wellspring from which punk first bubbled forth. In this case, I’m referring to Richard Hell, one of the most underrated and overlooked of the punk godfathers. An important member of not one, but three, seminal punk outfits, Hell’s influence on rock music, punk attitude, and street fashion should not be ignored. The odds-n-sods collection Time is a long overdue career retrospective for Hell, delivered, appropriately enough, in glorious lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll sound.

Born Richard Meyers in Lexington, Kentucky, Hell grew up in the sleepy Bluegrass State listening to British Invasion rock and Southern soul. He found a kindred spirit in Tom Miller (née Verlaine), and the pair would soon end up together in New York City. They would form the Neon Boys in 1971, a proto-punk outfit inspired by the Stooges and Velvet Underground, with Verlaine on guitar and Hell picking up the bass. The Neon Boys would evolve into Television and become an integral part of the mid-‘70s NYC music scene growing up around the CBGB club and including bands like the Ramones and Blondie.

Richard Hell’s Time

Richard Hell & the Voidoid's Blank Generation
Chafed at his role in the band, Hell left Television before they recorded their classic debut, Marquee Moon, hooking up with former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan to form the Heartbreakers. Hell would again leave the band before recording, this time striking out on his own. Fronting a band that included guitarists Robert Quine and Ivan Julian and future Ramones drummer Marc Bell, Richard Hell & the Voidoids recorded what is arguably the most important song in the punk rock canon, “Blank Generation,” for their 1977 debut album of the same name.

With his torn clothing, nihilistic lyrics and snotty attitude, Hell became the blueprint of punk rock to follow. The Voidoids would record only one more album – 1982’s Destiny Street – but the band’s influence on a generation of punk rockers was set in stone. Hell would later play in other bands, write poetry and, in 1996, issued his first novel, Go Now, but he would never again pursue music with any sort of ambition. The first disc of the two-CD set Time pairs a previous, cassette-only collection, R.I.P. The ROIR Sessions, with a number of unreleased tracks, including the original version of the Richard Hell/Dee Dee Ramone song “Chinese Rocks,” performed here by the Heartbreakers. Four Heartbreakers demos kick off Time, including “Love Comes In Spurts,” which would be revisited by Hell on the first Voidoids disc.

Blank Generation

Richard Hell & the Voidoid's Destiny Street
Two early Voidoids’ demos follow, each song featuring the individual virtuosity of guitarists Quine and Julian. A different Voidoids line-up is featured on half-dozen tracks from 1979, drummer Bell having left to join the Ramones. The highlights of this middle passage include Hell’s philosophical take on life revealed by an obscure alternate take of “Time,” the Dylan cover “Going Going Gone” and the live at CBGB song “Funhunt,” taken from the ROIR Records release. Another live track, capturing a 1983 Atlanta performance of “I Can Only Give You Everything,” showcases a later-day Voidoids roster while the disc closes with what are possibly the final Voidoids demo recordings, made in 1984 in New Orleans.

The second disc of Time, collecting unreleased live performances by the Voidoids, is what has punk collectors salivating. The first half-hour plus set includes raw performances of Blank Generation era Voidoids from a 1977 performance at London’s Music Machine. All the band favorites are thrown out here, from “Love Comes In Spurts,” “Liars Beware” and “Blank Generation.” A cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” includes Hell’s barks and Quine’s scorched earth six-string riffs. An angry encore, a cover of the Stones’ “Ventilator Blues,” was chosen to piss off a confrontational audience, explains Hell in the extensive liner notes.

The sound quality equals that of a mediocre bootleg, but the passion and fire of the performance is priceless. The last four tracks on disc two of Time, taken from a 1978 benefit for St. Mark’s church held at CBGB, include an original take on “The Kid With the Replaceable Head” (later recorded for Destiny Street) and “You Gotta Lose,” featuring Elvis Costello on vocals and guitar. Time closes with another Stones’ cover, “Shattered,” performed by the Voidoids just this one time.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The significance of Richard Hell’s influence on punk rock cannot be overstated. An innovator and pioneer who matched literature and poetry with angry, aggressive music in much the same way as his contemporary Patti Smith, Hell is often overshadowed by the bands that he helped create (Television) or influenced (the Sex Pistols, the Clash). While other punks have been incarcerated in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Time shows that Hell’s place is in the street, his music and defiant spirit ready to inspire a generation of rockers to come. (Matador Records, released March 19, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Friday, June 14, 2019

Archive Review: The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious (2001)

The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious
Among contemporary rock bands, you’d have to look far-and-wide to find one that is as gloriously unconcerned about “hipness” or “commercial potential” as the Yayhoos. A loose-knit collaboration between former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird, Eric Ambel of the Del Lords, drummer Terry Anderson, and bassist Keith Christopher, the Yayhoos are the ultimate pick-up band. A throwback to a simpler, more pleasing rock era, the foursome genuflect towards a musical altar that rejects modern rock style in favor of classic Chuck Berry riffs and Rolling Stone rhythms. The band features four distinctive vocalists, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists and the whole motley bunch look a little too scruffy to be accepted by the MTV crowd or snobbish big city elitists.

The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious

The Yayhoos’ brief mid-‘90s existence resulted in a handful of tracks placed on alt-country compilations and their full-length Fear Not the Obvious LP, shopped around to major label indifference before emerging on the Bloodshot Records label. On this fine collection of songs, the Yayhoos deliver shameless roots-rock and electric twang, served straight up with no chaser for the unabashed blue collar headbanger who wants his musical tonic loud and uncluttered by fleeting fashion. Call Fear Not the Obvious “town and country” music, the songs here mixing Ambel’s Del Lords-inspired NYC guitar riffs with Baird’s country-styled redneck rock.

The four Yayhoos divvy up the songwriting duties, creating tunes that range from the dark-hued swamp rock of Baird’s “Wicked World” or Anderson’s British Invasion influenced “Hunt You Down” to the ‘60s-styled pop of Ambel’s hilarious “Baby I Love You.” “Monkey With A Gun” is a big beat rock ‘n’ roll tale of madness on the road complete with twin guitars and Ambel’s understated vocals while “Oh! Chicago” is a rollicking 90mph romp through Little Feat territory. The band closes Fear Not the Obvious with an inspired cover of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” offering a different spin on the EuroPop origins of the classic radio hit.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

If your idea of rock ‘n’ roll cheap thrills includes the Faces, the Stones, CCR, the Georgia Satellites, and similar outfits, then the Yayhoos are right up your alley. Blazing guitars, foot-stomping rhythms and unpretentious songwriting make up Fear Not the Obvious in its entirety, the Yayhoos a welcome respite from manufactured pop and cookie-cutter modern rock. (Bloodshot Records, released August 7, 2001)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2001

Buy the CD from!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Book Review: Martin Popoff's Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the '80s (2019)

Martin Popoff's Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the '80s
The preeminent authority on all things hard rock and heavy metal, writer and music historian Martin Popoff is the author of 85+ books (and counting); the former founding editor of Canada’s Brave Words, Bloody Knuckles music zine; and a regular freelance contributor to music-related publications like Goldmine, Revolver, and Record Collector (U.K.), among many others. Martin is also a friend and colleague – a fact, in spite of which, he might still think that the Rev is a little crazy (not so…my mother had me tested!).

Among the dozens of titles to his credit, Popoff has written just about every type of book conceivable covering the aforementioned music genres – concise artist bios (Mötörhead, Max Webster, Riot, Dio, et al); sprawling, comprehensive multi-volume band histories (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath); detailed historical timelines (Yes); record collectors’ guides (four large volumes, one each for the 1970s-2000s); genre histories (three books on the NWOBHM); album-by-album, song-by-song guides (Queen, Led Zeppelin, the Clash); and esoteric tomes covering the more abstract aspects of the art (Who Invented Heavy Metal?). Hell, it tires me out just listing Martin’s literary accomplishments.

Martin Popoff’s Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s

With Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s, Popoff asked his massive worldwide readership to help with some of the ‘heavy’ lifting (no pun intended). Returning to an idea that resulted in his 2018 book Riff Raff: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘70s; Popoff polled his thousands of followers, Facebook friends, and assorted ne’er-do-wells as to their fave tunes from the heavy metal decade of the ‘80s. He subsequently pared this list of hundreds of songs down to a more manageable 250 selections. Although there is endless conversation as to “who invented heavy metal?” (as I mentioned above, Martin even wrote a book about it…) and when the genre actually took off as a critical and commercial force, there’s no arguing that the ‘80s was rich with all things metal. Thrash, speed, death, hair, prog…no matter your taste in all things metallic, there’s something in these pages for you!

So, Popoff counts down this particular Top 250 from the last entry (Dio’s “Sacred Heart”) to the first (you’ll have to buy the book to find out, bunkie!), each selection accompanied by Martin’s pithy commentary, which often adds a bit of history to the song, as well as quotes from those that made the music, artists and band members that Popoff has interviewed throughout his three decades in the trenches. This format is light and breezy, making for an entertaining read, and the text is supported by hundreds of unique band photos and picture sleeve graphics from those rare 7” slabs o’ wax on which the songs were originally released. The 1980s were a heady period and not without a few challenges, and Popoff touches on “satanic panic,” the PMRC and record censorship, and other cultural flotsam and jetsam of the decade.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s is a helluva lot of fun, and for any music fan, it’ll dredge up memories of half-forgotten tunes and send the reader scurrying to their record collection to pull out dusty vinyl and revisit these songs. I was really surprised at the diversity of the artists represented in the book; sure, the expected heavyweights of the ’80s are here, with songs by Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Metallica, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Iron Maiden and a handful of others all deservedly highly-rated. But Martin’s readers are a discerning bunch, and there are more than a few molten metal obscurities among the Top 250, bands like Savatage, Venom, Mercyful Fate, Armored Saint, and King’s X the province of the dedicated, hardcore fan. Popoff has done an admirable job in stripping down the music to its creative core – the individual song – reminding the reader of why they love this stuff in the first place. Grade: A (Power Chord Press, published April 2019)

Buy the book directly from the author (tell him the Rev sent ya!)

Also on That Devil Music:
Martin Popoff - The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs book review
Martin Popoff - Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs book review
Martin Popoff - Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: The Rise of Motörhead book review

Archive Review: Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman (2001)

Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman
The Saints may be Australia’s best-known punk export, but for this scribe’s hard-earned cashola, I’d choose Radio Birdman as the more raucous of the two. Formed by American expatriate Deniz Tek – born in Michigan and weaned on the Stooges and the MC5 – Radio Birdman lasted for just four years and a handful of albums. They were skewered by the notoriously effete British music press and their single U.S. album release was widely ignored. Throughout it all, the band has lived on through rare recordings and bootlegs, building a devoted cult during the past two decades that rivals that of similar high-energy outfits like the Dictators or New York Dolls.

Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978)

The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) should appeal to even the most dedicated of collectors. The compilation offers all the songs from both the Australian and U.S. versions of the band’s excellent 1978 debut album Radios Appear as well as their 1981 follow-up, Living Eyes (recorded in 1978). Two songs are provided from the original self-produced 1977 EP Burn My Eye, the album closing with three live tracks from a 1977 performance. Fully 12 of the 22 tracks collected on The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) have never been released officially in the United States.

So what is it about Radio Birdman that attracts such fanatical acolytes? It’s a curious mix of American roots-rock, the madness of late 1960s Detroit bands like the Stooges, Up, SRC, and the MC5 and the peculiar Australian perspective created by residing at the end of the earth. When Deniz Tek moved to Australia in 1972 to study medicine, he brought with him the spirit of the slash-and-burn six-string style of Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith. Matched with fellow guitarist Chris Masuak’s metalstorm fretboard technique and surfer Rob Younger’s tortured howl, Radio Birdman cranked up the volume and kicked out electric jams that energized a generation of Aussie musicians behind them.

Tek’s lyrics were street-smart and darkly poetic, seeped in Velvet Underground imagery and Motor City sensibility; tuneage like the desolate “Murder City Nights” or the nostalgic “I-94” rock with a primal passion and fury that was shared by just a handful of mid-‘70s bands. “Aloha Steve & Danno” makes good use of the Hawaii Five-O TV show theme, pairing it with the band’s destructive twin guitars and pop-influenced rhythms while “Alone In the Endzone” echoes the Doors, featuring razor sharp riffs and Younger’s Morrison-like vox. Radio Birdman threw elements of three-chord rock, electric blues, and metallic drone into the creative blender and came up with a powerful, no-frills sound that resonates as loudly in 2001 and it did in 1977.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

If you listen to the Dictators, the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, the Flamin’ Groovies, Sonic Rendezvous Band, the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, or any other devotees of the Detroit rock sound, then you owe it to yourself to discover Radio Birdman. The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) is a hard-rocking introduction to this sadly overlooked band, a great collection of classic punk rock tuneage from “Down Under” that should appeal to new and old Radio Birdman fans alike. (Sub Pop Records, released July 17, 2001)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2001

Buy the CD from!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: June 2019 Releases

We're standing on the brink of summer and the outlook is groovy! There are only four weeks in June's release schedule, but there's a lot of rock 'n' roll goodness here to kick off the season. You'll find new albums by folks like the Black Keys, Chris Stamey, Bruce Springsteen, the Raconteurs (with Jack White), the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Santana, Peter Frampton, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, among many others. There are a few choice archival releases this month as well, including a long-lost live Neil Young album, a vinyl reissues of James Taylor's One Man Band and a 25th anniversary vinyl reissue of Americana legend Dave Alvin's classic King of California album (with bonus tracks).

Speaking of the archives, Krautrock and prog fans will like Universal's reissues of seven classic mid-to-late '70s albums by the legendary Tangerine Dream on CD with bonus tracks. Isaac Hayes' classic soundtrack to the movie Shaft gets a deluxe reissue, Prince is represented by a collection from his vaults, and Warren Haynes and Gov't Mule return with a red-hot live set. It's safe to say, no matter your taste in music, there's something in June to tickle your fancy!

If you’re interesting in buying an album, just hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts valuable ‘store credit’ in the Reverend’s pocket that he’ll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy!

Neil Young & Stray Gators' Tuscaloosa

Perry Farrell - Kind Heaven   BUY!
Peter Frampton Band - All Blues [w/Sonny Landreth]   BUY!
Dylan LeBlanc - Renegade   BUY!
Gary Nicholson - The Great Divide   BUY!
Gary Nicholson (as 'Whitey Johnson') - More Days Like This   BUY!
Pelican - Nighttime Stories   BUY!
Santana - Africa Speak   BUY!
Silversun Pickups - Widow's Weeds   BUY!
Slowness - Berths   BUY!
James Taylor - One Man Band [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Neil Young & Stray Gators - Tuscaloosa [1973 concert]   BUY!

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real's Turn Off the News, Build A Garden

Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Servants of the Sun   BUY!
Roger Daltrey - The Who's Tommy Orchestral   BUY!
Isaac Hayes - Shaft (Music From the Soundtrack)   BUY!
Iron & Wine/Calexico - Years To Burn   BUY!
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real - Turn Off the News, Build A Garden   BUY!
Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Cyclone [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Encore [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Force Majure [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Phaedra [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Richochet [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Rubycon [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Stratosfear [CD reissue]   BUY!

Tangerine Dream's Stratosfear

Collective Soul - Blood   BUY!
Def Leppard - Def Leppard - Volume Two [box set]   BUY!
Hollywood Vampires - Rise   BUY!
Hot Chip - A Bath Full of Ectasty   BUY!
Chuck Mead - Close To Home   BUY!
Prince - Originals   BUY!
The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger   BUY!

Dave Alvin's King of California

The Allman Betts Band - Down To the River   BUY!
Dave Alvin - King of California [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Black Keys - Let's Rock   BUY!
Generation Axe - The Guitars That Destroyed The World [Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde]   BUY!
Gov't Mule - Bring On the Music  [live]   BUY!
Magma - Zëss
Chris Stamey - New Songs For the 20th Century   BUY!

Album of the Month: The Black Keys' Let's Rock. It was another tough decision this month, with cool new music coming from talents like Chris Stamey, the Raconteurs, Bruce Springsteen, and Lukas Nelson, among many others. I'm going with the Black Keys this month, tho' as Let's Rock is the blues-rockin' duo's first new LP of studio material in five years and is said to be a return to the guitar-heavy sound of their early material. Recorded in the frontman Dan Auerbach's Nashville studio, it will be good to hear singer/guitarist Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney back in the groove again!

Archive Review: Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky (2006)

Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky
From Devendra Banhart to Sufjan Stevens, lots of folkies are gettin’ their freak on these days, and none of these humble troubadours is freakier than Mr. David Tibet. The stunning genius behind the ever-evolving collective that is Current 93, Tibet made his bones during the heady industrial-music daze of the mid ‘80s. Slicing and dicing and experimenting in sound effects with Burroughsian zeal, Tibet’s collaborative efforts with fellow travelers like John Balance (Psychic TV/Coil) and Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) throughout the decade were complex, dark-hued and hauntingly beautiful tone poems that often verged on madness.

Somewhere along the way, Tibet got in touch with his inner-folkie and throughout the ‘90s he pursued his unique vision of “apocalyptic folk,” combining the adventurous musical experimentation of his early work with traditional and often exotic acoustic instrumentation. The resulting recordings were brilliant and challenging, the meager instrumentation pushing Tibet’s quivering vocals to the forefront, his voice wrapped around mystical tales and somber dirges. It is unlikely that Tibet ever thought that his work would impact an entire genre of music, albeit one as marginal as the current “avant folk” movement, but two-dozen years after his initial recording, Tibet’s importance and influence continue to grow.

Current 93’s Black Ships Ate the Sky

Black Ships Ate the Sky is Current 93’s first album in five years, a stunning collection that is both eerily alluring and magnificent in the breadth of its emotion and instrumentation. Working with his old friend and frequent collaborator Stapleton, guitarists Michael Cashmore and Ben Chasny, and cellist John Contreras, as well as guests like Marc Almond, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the legendary British folklorist Shirley Collins, Tibet has created a work for the ages. Black Ships Ate the Sky is, says Tibet, “the closest I have come to picturing what I hope, and feel, and love, and fear.”

“Yeah,” you say, “all this hyperbole is well and good. But what does the damn album sound like?” Well, gentle reader, Current 93 defies categorization or comparison, refuses to be pigeonholed, and laughs in the face of mundane, focus group-driven trends. Current 93 simply is. As for Black Ships Ate the Sky, imagine the sweatiest, most flesh-tingling wet dream that you’ve ever enjoyed, and combine it with the most frightening, horrible, spine-tingling nightmare that you’ve ever suffered through. That’s the sound of Current 93. Black Ships Ate the Sky is bracketed by eight varying versions of the ancient hymn “Idumea,” each sung by a different vocalist, providing thematic continuity through the album and a foundation for Tibet’s ruminations on our final judgement, which take on a Biblical intensity.

David Tibet’s voice cuts through the mix like the Reaper’s scythe, a siren’s call to salvation or damnation – depending on your perspective – and the choice is entirely up to you. The instrumentation is at once both perverse and gossamer, a soundtrack to purgatory; Norwegian death metal bands dream of writing music this extreme. The guitars rumble, at times, like the four horsemen on a three-day drunk while delicate notes dance across the lyrics like fireflies in a mating frenzy. Punctuated by found voices grabbed from the ether, Tibet’s lyrics are obsessed with intangibles such as love and fear, and by the cold realities of death and loss. This is “folk” music only by the furthest stretch of the imagination, Tibet and crew bending and stretching the form for their own use, musicologists collecting random sounds and influences from across the globe in a quest to create a new folk idiom for the post-industrial age.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Confused? Now you know how I always feel after listening to a Current 93 album. The experience is exhilarating and infuriating, the music, vocals and lyrics working on both a conscious and subliminal level. This is the musical nirvana that fringe-folkies from Mike Heron and Vashti Bunyan to the current crop of talents have attempted to achieve for nearly half a century now. Current 93 combines the best of industrial music’s myriad of influences with classic British folk, a mystical tradition and a global vision to create both the most challenging and the most seductive music that you’ll ever hear...and you’ll never hear anything else like it in this world. (Durtro Jnana Records, released May 23rd, 2006)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2006