Friday, February 17, 2023

Buzz Kuts: Black Label Society, The Katies, Portable, Sons of Hercules & "Punk-O-Rama 4" (1999)

Black Label Society's Sonic Brew
Reviews originally published as a “Buzz Kuts” column, Alt.Culture.Guide™, August 1999

Sonic Brew

Wunderkind guitarist Zakk Wylde may have earned his rep while apprenticing with Ozzy in the shadow of Randy Rhodes, but his chops are entirely his own. Sonic Brew, Wylde’s Black Label Society debut, opens with a trembling riff that sounds like the mighty fist of one pissed off thunder god, Wylde’s throaty vocals roaring above the din of “Bored To Tears” while he tears off bloody chunks of highly-amped hard rock riffage. Most of the rest of Sonic Brew follows the same pattern – solid heavy metal instrumentation backing Wylde’s awesome six-string pyrotechnics, the guitarist hitting both monstrous bottom-heavy rhythms and surgical-sharp, lightning quick fretboard runs. Wylde’s lyrics, preoccupied with death, drugs, and debauchery, are mostly lightweight and somewhat cliched, but nobody listens to a musician of Wylde’s caliber to pore over the lyric sheet. This is no-frills molten slag for listeners who like to hear the sound of guitars crashing about inside their skulls, two-fisted rock ‘n’ roll for those who like it loud and rough. If that sounds like your kind of musical libation, I’d highly recommend a shot or two of Black Label Society’s Sonic Brew. (Spitfire Records)

The Katies

Hailing from the unlikely rock capital of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Katies manage to deliver big city thrills with their self-titled debut. Expertly blending heavy metal riffs, pop harmonies, and wonderfully choreographed hard rock hooks, the Katies have created an uniquely enjoyable set of songs. They manage to keep the voltage cranked up, providing their material with boundless amounts of energy while never overpowering the underlying melodies of songs like “She’s My Marijuana” or “Tappin’ Out”. There’s a lot of good work going on in these grooves. I hear British invasion type harmonies here, some 1970s-styled six string work, a fair amount of “wall of sound” dynamics, lots of well-placed feedback and a whole lot of rock ‘n’ roll attitude. Most importantly, the Katies are never predictable – they fill their songs with careening chords and time changes, screaming leads, syncopated rhythms and vocal gymnastics that a lesser band wouldn’t even attempt, much less pull off the way this talented threesome have. If “Modern Rock” radio had any balls, they’d be programming half a dozen cuts from The Katies, but I’d heartily recommend the infectious “Drowner”, the guitar-driven “Miss Melodrama”, and the disc’s first single, “Noggin’ Poundin’”, with its powerful rhythms and clever lyrical twists. The Katies draw from a musical tradition that includes the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, punk rock, heavy metal, grunge, and a thousand and one unknown and unforgotten bands. They are nonetheless an entirely original outfit, their debut disc a strange but tasty fruit plucked from the abundant tree of rock ‘n’ roll. (Spongebath / Elektra Records)

Secret Life

Portable’s first full-length disc features much of the same traits as the self-titled EP released earlier this year, reprising five of the seven songs from that disc and adding seven more to make an even dozen for Secret Life. Crashing guitars and bludgeoning rhythms are the secret to Portable’s sound, frontman Chance providing the songs with a unique vocal presence. Chance’s vocals range from bouncy Brit-pop inflections to the best Seattle-inspired grunge-like howls, sometimes within the same tune. Guitarist Gus Ciceri keeps things lively, his six string contributions as unpredictable and wide-ranging as Chance’s vocals. The rest of the band does its best to help create an atmospheric sound that’s akin to swimming through a pool of sludge, songs like “Silence Please”, “Restraint”, or “Boy-Girl” the barbed wire and broken glass that lie beneath the surface. Portable’s musical milieu is at once both familiar and foreign, Secret Life presenting contemporary hard rock with heart. (TVT Records)

Sons of Hercules' Get Lost
Get Lost

With their early recordings genuflecting towards the graven musical image of punk godfather Iggy Pop, the Sons of Hercules sonic attack was definitely influenced by the Stooges’ groundbreaking sound. With Get Lost, the Sons have honed their two-fisted rock ‘n’ roll to a sharp cutting edge, treading the same stylistic ground that the New York Dolls planted their freak flag on some twenty-five years ago. Also like the Dolls, the Sons of Hercules have a great vocalist in Frank Pugliese, a snarling, spitting frontman who can bend and slur and screech lyrics with the best of them. Combined with the pummeling guitars of Dan Hoekstra and Dale Hollon and a solid rhythm section of drummer Kory Cook and bassist Phillip Plyler, the Sons of Hercules kick out fast and furious garage punk that begs to be turned up loud! Get Lost runs through a baker’s dozen tunes in a respectable thirty-two minutes, twisting your skull and delighting your ears. The Sons are no mere revisionists, however. They know and love the music they draw their influences from, building upon the past to update the sound for a new generation. Get Lost is simply brimming over with great tunes, rave-ups like “Don’t Wanna Be Like You”, “Some Kind of Freak”, and a completely reckless cover of the Byrds’ “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” that evokes the original while improving upon it. Check out the Sons of Hercules – if you don’t Get Lost, you’re going to miss the party… (Get Hip Recordings)

Punk-O-Rama 4: Straight Outta The Pit

For those of you among our reading audience who think that punk rock began and ended with Green Day or Blink 182, there’s some folks in Southern California who would disagree with you. For the better part of two decades now, the gang at Epitaph has cranked out ‘Grade A’ certified punk rock in every flavor that you can imagine. Founded by former Bad Religion member Brett Gurewitz to release that band’s albums, Epitaph has grown into the closest thing that the punk world could call a major label. As for the label’s accomplishments, look no further than the recently released Punk-O-Rama 4: Straight Outta The Pit, a twenty-five-song compilation of talent from Epitaph and its related label Hellcat. The fourth in a series of low-priced samplers (I copped mine for $4.99!), Punk-O-Rama 4 does a great job of introducing listeners to the label’s bands. No matter what style of punk you prefer, this disc has got it all. Looking for hardcore, bunkie? Check out the cuts by H2O, Agnostic Front, or the Dwarves. Want some socially conscious lyrics? Look no further than Pennywise, Rancid, or the vintage Bad Religion cut included here. Pop punk – how ‘bout NoFX, Pulley, or All? Epitaph has even branched out into more artistic areas lately, as evidenced by their recent release of the first Tom Waits album in years, represented on Punk-O-Rama 4 by the excellent “Big In Japan”. Union 13, the New Bomb Turks, Voodoo Glow Skulls…the list goes on and on. Twenty-five bands, a like number of cuts including a previously unreleased Pennywise tune, all for a crazy cheap price, offered in the hope that you’ll find something new here that you like and put out for the full-length CD. Whether you’re a hardcore punk or a weekend mosher, you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of Punk-O-Rama 4: Straight Outta The Pit. (Epitaph Records)

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