One Album Wonders: V.A.N.

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 5, 2015 11:07am | Post a Comment
V.A.N. - Out in the Rain (1992)

V.A.N. were a short-lived "melodic hard rock" band from Germany who released just one album in 1992, Out of the Rain. I have no idea what the acronym "V.A.N." stands for. It's not derived by the names of the band's members, who were guitaris Frank Elwart, keyboardist and guitarist Helge Engelke, vocalist Jens Reulecke, drummer Kalle Bosel, or bassist Ralf DittrickVereinigung Akustikus Neurinom? I've no idea.

Anyway, of the members of V.A.N., Engelke appears to have had the most previous professional experience having played in the bands Letter X and Zeno. He was born in Hanover in 1961 and began playing guitar at thirteen. In interviews he's mentioned that bands he liked included Deep Purple, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople, T. Rex, Yes -- but that his favorite of all-time is, revealingly, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow.

1992 was a critical year in music. In 1991, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless had pretty much found the limits of what good be done with guitar rock whilst the surprise popularity Nirvana's Nevermind sounded the death knell for the sort of pop metal balladry which had previously soundtracked many a rural American prom. Alternative music, albeit a masculinized, dudebro version, soon took control of American airwaves. Sebastian Bach, pretty boy singer of hair metalers Skid Row, cried "they [Alternative bands] took over MTV and it's like Revenge of the Nerds!"

Meanwhile, bands like hair metalers like Poison, and Warrant hardly went grunge but did trade their spandex costumes for leather and denim and grabbed some wooden stools on which to perform new songs devoid of endless guitar solos and gated drums. A
 hunkered down Bon Jovi released the tellingly Keep the Faith -- its cover depicted the members hands joined together in gritty black and white solidarity. Jon Bon Jovi's decision to cut his Samson-with-highlights perm actually received coverage on pretend news station CNN

At the same time, it wasn't as if the old guard were all forcibly removed from music. Despite the hype about grunge (and in the UK, rave), bands like Mr. Big and Aerosmith could still fill 
12,500 capacity Wembley Arena. There were still plenty of chart-topping releases by the likes Coverdale•PageGuns 'n' RosesKiss, Ozzy Osbourne, Saigon Kick, Slaughter, and Def Leppard who seemed content to carry on as if either blissfully unaware or as if grunge and increasingly commercialized alternative were nothing but minor annoyances and not the seachange they proved to be.

Although V.A.N. had a song called 
"Rock 'N Roll Is Back Again" I doubt (without having listened to it) that it was an acknowledgment of the rise of grunge or shoegaze any more than "Yo, Yo, Yo," was a nod toto hip-hop. This was a band, after all, with the necessary naivety (or perhaps simply Germanness) to write a song called "We Are the Leppards." I'm not sure if "Out in the Rain" was released as a single, but here it is for your consideration in all of its hugely produced, blindingly polished glory:

Ultimately the sort of music made by V.A.N. and their ilk did prove to be on its way out, however, and at Pamidas across the Plains and Middle West, Trixter posters were marked down to clearance to make room for those featuring bands like new hair bands like Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. V.A.N. went their separate ways. Bosel joined another melodic hard rock act, Askari. Engelke went on to play in Fair Warning, Dreamtide and with Lana Lane. Discouraged metalheads everywhere took to BBSs to let it be known that heavy metal would one day return!


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One Album Wonders: Armageddon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 7, 2015 03:46pm | Post a Comment
This week’s One Album Wonder is Armageddon, a short-lived heavy rock band led by Keith Relf which proved to be the singer's last. In Armageddon, Relf was joined by Robert Caldwell (drums), Louis Cennamo (bass guitar), and Martin Pugh (guitar).


Relf was a noteworthy English singer, guitarist, and harmonica player. He was born 22 March 1943 in Richmond, Surrey and started performing music around 1956. Although severely asthmatic he picked up the harmonica in imitation of his hero, Sonny Boy Williamson. In 1963 he formed The Yardbirds. Although today The Yardbirds seem best remembered for launching the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, they were undoubtedly one of the most important of British Invasion bands, responsible along with The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones with introducing countless white teenagers to the black American music which they'd till then ignored and inspiring thousands of them to form rock bands in suburban garages throughout the Anglosphere.

The Yardbirds' two biggest hits, “For Your Love” and “Heart Full of Soul” were written by the great Graham Gouldman (of The Mockingbirds and later, The Mindbenders, 10cc, and Wax) but Relf co-wrote many of their originals, including “Shapes of Things,” “I Ain't Done Wrong,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” As the 1960s progressed, Relf's songs began moving away from their blues base toward folky psychedelia and classical music-inspired progressive rock. Relf left The Yardbirds in 1968 he and fellow-former Yardbird Jim McCarty formed the acoustic duo, Together, which released a single, “Henry's Coming Home” b/w “Love Mum And Dad” that failed to find an audience.

Next McCarty, Relf, and Relf’s sister, Jane, formed Renaissance in 1969, rounded out by pianist John Hawken and Louis Cennamo. They released two albums, Renaissance and Illusion. Illusion was recorded in 1970 as the band was falling apart. The last of the original members had left by the end of the year and Illusion was originally only released in Germany, in 1971. It wouldn't be released in the UK until 1977, a yaer after Relf's untimely death. 

After Renaissance's demise, Relf first moved into production, working with bands including Amber, Hunter Muskett, Saturnalia, and Medicine Head (with whom he also played bass guitar). Another band he produced was Worthing-based blues rock band, Steamhammer, which included Cennamo and guitarist Martin Pugh. Steamhammer called it quits in 1973 and Relf, Pugh, and Cennamo moved to Los Angeles. There they formed Armageddon with Robert Caldwell, a drummer from Florida who’d played with Noah’s Ark, Johnny Winter And, and most recently, Captain Beyond -- a band which featured former members of Iron Butterfly and Deep Purple.

Armageddon were recommended to A&M by Dee Anthony and Peter Frampton (who’d played with Cennamo in mod group, The Herd). A&M agreed to sign Armageddon and in the autumn of 1974 the band recorded their eponymous debut at Olympic Studios in Barnes. It was released in May 1975 (it was issued on compact disc by Repertoire in 1998 and Esoteric in 2009) and was a move into the sort of heavy rock which The New Yardbirds (and later Led Zeppelin) had made after Relf’s departure. The results were loose and jammy and the album only contains five songs, four of which are over eight minutes long.

Armageddon didn't last long, however. Caldwell, at the time, suffered from a heroin addiction and he and Pugh were at odds with Cenammo and Relf, both of whom preferred meditation to hard drugs. Armageddon split up before they could promote the album at all and, not surprisingly, it sold poorly. 

Armageddon's Armageddon (1975)

Relf returned to England to recover from a life-threatening asthma-related illness and with thoughts of rejoining the original members of Renaissance. He recorded what proved to be his swan song, “All the Falling Angles” but tragically died on 14 May 1976, electrocuted in the basement of his home whilst playing his improperly grounded guitar. He was just 33 years old.

With Armageddon no more and the name Renaissance being used by a new line-up of musicians, Cennamo re-joined the original members of Renaissance (minus Keith Relf, of course) as Illusion. Caldwell returned to Captain Beyond (and later, it should be noted, completely quit drugs). Pugh seems to have retired for many years from life as a professional musician although in the 2000s he re-emerged with Hawaii-based rock band, 7th Order.

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One Album Wonders: Sad Iron

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 25, 2015 01:40pm | Post a Comment

This week’s One Album Wonder is Dutch heavy metal band, Sad Iron, who released their only album, Total Damnation, in 1983.


Sad Iron wasn't forged in the Netherworld, but rather the Netherlands -- the harbor town of Hoorn, to be precise. The founder and sole constant member since their formation in 1979 is guitarist Bernard Rive. He soon recruited Dirk Ooms (bass), Gerrit Soering (drums), and Jan Palenstijn (vocals). Three of Sad Iron’s songs, performed live, were included on Holland Heavy Metal Vol. 1. As a result of winning a battle of the bands, Sad Iron were rewarded with once day of studio time at K&M Geluidsregistratie.

Rive entered the studio with new members Leo "Pro Deo" Ockeloen on bass, Jacques Van Oevelen on drums, and Herke Van Der Poel on vocals and they recorded Total Damnation in one day. Sad Iron shared stages with bands like Hanoi Rocks, Picture, and Vandale.

The band’s name, Sad Iron, is odd. Most English speakers have probably never heard of a sadiron (a flatiron pointed at both ends and having a removable handle) and even split into two words, "sad" and "iron," the desired effect remains elusive. The lyrics on Total Damnation are also awkward -- but in a way that is not unfamiliar to anyone who ever listens to non-Anglo European music nevertheless sung in English. The best song, “We All Praise the Devil,” includes the line “We all praise the devil, he’s so fine” which lyrically owes as much to The Chiffons as it does Chemosh, dark lord of the Moabites.

Sad Iron - Total Damnation

The awkwardness of Ab Kooyman's album art can't be explained away by language barrier, however. On it the band’s name weeps large tears as a professional wrestler-looking demon wields a Flying V guitar like a shovel whilst an eagle and tiger look with strange expressions. In the background is some sort of neoclassical financial institution or something. It's charmingly odd but, again, not atypical for heavy metal releases of the era -- nor is the focus on Satan, which might warrant some explanation for the modern listener not emersed in the history of heavy metal or Satan's place in late 20th Century pop culture.

For most adults the notion of songs about Satan is no more scary than songs about monster parties but in the 1980s it Satanic metal struck a fearsome chord into the hearts of the meek. Just a couple of decades earlier Satanism and the Occult seem to have been viewed as harmless fun -- like going to a renaissance fair or LARPingThe Church of Satan was established in 1966, not surprisingly, in San Francisco. In Los Angeles County, Louise Huebner was appointed the county’s official witch. The Beatles stuck and image of Aleister Crowley on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Rolling Stones sang “Sympathy for the Devil.” Ira Levin’s popular novel, Rosemary’s Baby, was adapted into a hit Hollywood film in 1968 -- the same year Black Sabbath formed, taking their name from a 1963 Mario Bava film of the same name.

In the 1970s, that interest in Satanism and the Occult continued. Kenneth Anger finally completed Lucifer Rising in 1972. Dungeons & Dragons was published in 1974.  There were quite a lot of Satanic horror films, the most popular being The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). Even Aaron Spelling (and two future Charlie’s Angels) made a network television movie, Satan's School for Girls. In music, mainstream rockers like Blue Öyster Cult and Led Zeppelin overtly (if superficially) played with occult imagery most Satanic bands like Angel Witch, Black WidowCloven Hoof, Pagan Altar, Venom, Witchfynde, and others remained decidedly underground and mostly appeared toward the end of the decade. 

Satan was dragged back into the spotlight by a group far scarier than Satanists and far more sinister than metal-heads -- evangelical Christian fundamentalists. Always late to the scene, America's Taliban focused their blame for society's ills on loud guitar music, role-playing games, and "gory" 8-bit video games. The flames of their moral panic were fanned by those eager to exploit their superstitious gullibility, figures like Michelle Smith, who published a memoir (co-written by her psychiatrist and future husband) filled with Satanic ritual abuse called Michelle Remembers, in 1980. Although exposed as a fraud, the imaginations of hypnotized psychiatric patients and children were suddenly treated as fact and hack "journalists" like Geraldo Rivera explored and exploited the imaginary Satanic Underground.

For the most part watching these crusaders tilt at windmills was highly entertaining. I regularly tuned in to Bob Larsons (author of Satanism: The Seduction of America's Youth) radio show, in which he would antagonize and be antagonized by metal-head phone trolls and hostile guests. I used to eagerly collect Jack Chick tracts, small comic books that suggested that even benevolent Buddhists were bound for eternal damnation and that trick-or-treating was a Satanic recruitment tool. Some friends of mine were on an episode of Montel Williams about the evils of goth subculture (his henchquack Sylvia Browne must've been busy that day). 

Sometimes it was impossible to laugh, however. The McMartin Preschool case — which resulted in zero convictions -- was the most expensive trial in American history. In West Memphis, Arkansas, three innocent teenagers were sentenced to death in primarily because a jury was convinced that one of the three, since he word black and listened to Metallica (and U2), was surely guilty of ritual murder.

Thankfully, the Satanic Panic seems to be a thing of the past. Today paranoiacs and outrage addicts have a whole smorgasbord of folk devils and boogeymen to choose from (e.g. Barack Obama, the Illuminati, scientists, almonds, bicyclists, campus rape culture, Chinese birth tourists, Millennials, gluten, lawfully-wedded homosexuals, Mexicans, MSG, Muslims, old white men, Planned Parenthood, road diets, Socialists, tap water, the transgendered, undocumented migrants, universal healthcare, white twerkers, and bath salt-tweaking Floridians). Satan, by comparison, seems quaintly old fashioned, as much a part of the '80s as friendship bracelets and beads.

Back to Sad Iron's one album, then. Metal is one of those genres which, to an outsider like me, seems to treat virtually interchangeable sounds as vastly different genres. For metalheads the fact that Sad Iron play both speed metal and thrash counts as versatility. If your'e a big fan of bands like Exciter, Judas PriestSaxon or New Wave of Dutch Metal you should definitely give Sad Iron a listen. (Here’s their website).

Sad Iron fans (Image Source: Sad Iron Metal)

Sad Iron, after all, clearly have their fans and after the release of Total Damnation they were pursued by a couple of labels, Roadrunner and Mausoleum. They decided to go with the latter who ended up going bankrupt in 1986 (they've since been revived). Sad Iron's follow-up album, The Antichrist, was thus never released and the master tapes were lost. The band broke-up shortly after but Satan works in mysterious ways and a line-up of Sad Iron played a reunion show in 2000 at the Heavy Metal Maniacs Festival in Hoorn. Rive decided to have another go with a new line-up comprised, this time, of Charles Heijnen (bass), Marc van den Bos (vocals and rhythm guitar), and Robert Bakker (drums). The embarked on the Dutch Steel Attack Tour with Hammerhawk and Vortex.

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Mariachi-Metal Hybrid Metalachi Takes the Stage at Levitt Pavillion For Free Show Aug. 14

Posted by Amoebite, August 4, 2015 02:09pm | Post a Comment


Boasting the most unique combination of genres we've heard of in some time, mariachi-metal rockers Metalachi will play at Levitt Pavillion in Los Angeles Friday, August 14 as part of their summer concert series.

The show is free and all-ages. Doors are at 6:30 p.m., and music begins at 8. Come by early, grab a bite from places like Pupusas Y Mas, D's Tacos and Tomski Sausage, and swing by the Amoeba booth to give our Prize Wheel a spin.

Playing versions of Metallica and Black Sabbath songs on trumpets on violins, Metalachi are a must-see for any metal fan or mariachi enthusiast. The band, originally from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, has been featured on Buzzfeed and has performed Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" on "America's Got Talent." Check out a video of that performance below:

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One Album Wonders: April 16th

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 3, 2015 03:29pm | Post a Comment


English hard rock/heavy metal band April 16th formed in London in the summer of 1985. The members were Chris Harris (guitar), Dave Russell (vocals), Eric Puffet (bass), John Fisher (drums), and Lawrence Mills (lead guitar). They released just one album, Sleepwalking, in January, 1989. It was recorded at Cherry Studios in Croydon and released by High Dragon Dragons, a subsidiary of Parisian label, Black Dragon Records. The sleeve painting was done by Mike Stick

Sleepwalking garnered the April 16th some attention. Radio 1 invited them to record a session with the late Tommy Vance, influential host of The Friday Rock Show and champion of heavy metal. They also appeared in a feature on ITV's London Weekend Television. There was a review in Kerrang! A second album was tentatively planned for release in 1990 but never saw the light of day. The band broke up in 1991.


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