Sunday, February 25, 2007

As I mentioned in my previous post, Varga were the headliners at this Manhattan Rocks gig. After Encased finished their set, the second band (I believe they were called Crayon Bomb), a mix of Pearl Jam, Soul Asylum came out. They were boring, forgettable and used way to much feedback. They were out of place for such a metal line-up. However, Varga came on and in my opinion played an unforgettable show. Most kids didn't know what to do, but that left the floor open for my buddies and I to mosh are asses off. It was incredible, and I was damned sore the next day. It would be several more years before I saw Varga again in concert, but let's talk about the band and music first.

Varga were a thrash/heavy metal band out of steeltown Hamilton, Ontario. They gained some exposure with their debut album "Prototype" with videos on Much Music and even made it to the ears of BNR Metal Pages which, for me, speaks volumes. I'll start with the band's Demo tape which I "borrowed" from my Stepbro and made a copy for myself back in highschool. It's a 5 song cassette of brilliant thrash metal. The production is great (my copy is terrible and wearing out) and the metal is comparable in quality to early Metallica, Death Angel and the riff monsters Exodus.

"Evil Drifters" is an epic mid-paced thrasher, "Money Talks" is a dark look at fame and fortune with some delicious lyrics and brilliant solo work and "No Man's Land" is a killer tune that's dark, epic and very visual. Side 2 starts with the global warning "No More Clean Air" that speaks volumes coming from a band out of a Steel manufacturing City and the ever delightful and cheesily fun thrasher "Shark Attack" which is a blistering assault. My favourite track, though all are brilliant is "Money Talks". It's unique in style and is a nice blend of mid-pace riffing and pummelling thrash. This demo is Varga's best work in my opinion and I'm sad my copy is suffering from overplay.

Varga, after a few years, finally secured a record deal and released their debut "Prototype". It was around this time when I read an interview with Joe Varga (bass/vocals) where he mentioned that he had an affinity for hip hop and that it influenced "Prototype". I was dreading the outcome, but soon discovered that Varga was definitely rooted in Metal. "Prototype" is more traditional Heavy Metal with uses of electronics that add an industrial feel. The album begins with "Unconscience" which is mid-paced metal both hooky and melodic and is followed by their video hit "Greed" which is a little faster but still chunky. These both have a very industrial sound. "Wawnah Mere", "Thief", "Film At Eleven" and "The Strong" are all standard Heavy Metal tunes in the power metal mold with "Thief" featuring a blistering thrashy outro. Good tunes, but not a lot of staying power.

The stand out songs are "Self Proclaimed Messiah" which is crushingly dark and disturbing and close to death metal in brutality. "Goodbye Boogaloo" is a fast playful instrumental. "Freeze Don't Move" is a delicious blend of Ministry and Public Enemy's "Bring Tha' Noize (featuring Anthrax)". Joe Varga drops his wonderful gruff thrash style vocals and makes an attempt at rapping (I think), but the tune is catchy and garnered the band more notice. The bonus version Krash's psycho mix is bass heavy and more industrial. "Cast Into The Shade" is a great dark power metal tune and a close second for my favourite. However, that title goes to "Bring The Hammer Down" which is the thrashiest song on the album with superb riff work and a great blend of electronic sounds and metal.

During my college years Varga released their second album "Oxygen". It was also when I found out my best friend is a cousin or second cousin to guitarist Sean Williamson which meant that at my second concert of theirs at Mustang Sally's, I got me some autographs and he got a free shirt ... jerk ... ah well, I did get pummelled in the mosh pit though! The sound on this album is more industrial, with a heavier influence of electronics and bass guitar and far more groove oriented metal.

"Healer" opens the album with a slow groove laden number that doesn't forget how to be heavy. The bass guitar has taken a step forward with a quality much like Joey DeMaio's of Manowar. "Closed", "Follow" and "The Passage" are similar in groove and hooky rhythm. "Needlestack", "Underneath" and "The Den" are slower and heavy with stylistic influences like fiddles in "Needlestack", ethnic flavouring in "Underneath" and Egyptian stylings on "The Den". This adds a unique edge to the album. "Follow", "So Real", "Words" and "Red Ribbons" are faster more metal sounding songs with touches of electronics.

Special mention should go to "Skeletons" which brilliantly mixes classy lounge jazz and brooding heavy metal. The versus' are slow loungey music with poetic lyrics and a chorus that surges with a dark inner turmoil that's brutally heavy and surprisingly melodic. A wonderful mixture. My favourite track is "The Passage" for its ridiculously catchy riffs and its poetically dark lyrics. A fine example of Varga's blending of heavy and groove music.

Varga really started to get their sound nailed down on "Oxygen" and they were developing an interesting style. Gone are the thrash roots and epic song structures, but they found a more accessible sound without compromising their heaviness. This, unfortunately would be their last effort, but at least I've been able to enjoy a couple of their shows and all their albums. I just have to find a way to preserve what little quality I have left on their thrash classic demo tape.

Coming up, I'll be moving back into some extreme metal bands starting next with the highly underrated Twin Obscenity and following with the brilliant viking/folk metal masters Moonsorrow.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Death Metal Is Not Noise, It Is Art ...

When I was in highschool, my first real concert (I'm not including my visit to the Grand Ole' Opry with my Mom, though that was fun). As previously mentioned, I had "heard" about a band called Varga via my Stepbro. And when I saw a notice that Varga were playing at Manhattan Rocks (RIP) in Burlington, my fellow metal head buddy Statsy and I hit the show. The opening band was Encased (whose one member Andre Plante is, I think, a cousin of a friend of mine, which I only found out afterwards).

Encased played old school crunchy death metal with groove. The show was great and I thought it was neat that the drummer performed behind a black curtain. It wasn't till the next day when I commented on it, that I learned about drum machines. Upon listening to their cassette "The Artist" I purchased from the show you can recognize the mechanical rhythm and timing of the drums that just sounds too *neat*. Mind you, when your flailing around a dance floor banging your head, you couldn't tell. I've heard far more mechanical sounding drum work since and I must say Encased have done a fine job with the programming. The drums are not inhumanely fast or complicated. They are kept simple and traditionally death metal and blend
beautifully with the music.

I find with Encased's album "The Artist" that it feels like a lesson in keeping time. This is not a bad thing, the drums are perfectly fit to the mostly mid-paced riffing of the guitars and bass. Don't expect wailing solos or complex time signatures. "The Artist" is straight-forward pummelling brutality. And I love it. Encased are not trying to impress virtuoso's, they are trying to crush 'em. This is a solid 5 song EP (same songs repeated on side 2 which is nice) of a band who had some real potential.

"The Artist" begins with "Modus Operandi" a slow chunky, brutally heavy tune with an unsettling intro and bridge. "Innocence Lost" picks up speed and adds some groove without losing the brutality. The title track follows with a dark intro and mid paced chaotic riff work very melodic and groove laden. The drum programming here is nice too. "Guilty By Conscience" blasts into you without warning and is fast and heavy. The album closer "Thy King" is rhythmic and heavy and features a tambourine percussion which adds a unique quality to this brutally driving song.

All the songs except "Guilty By Conscience" begin with a sampled recording of spoken dialogue much like Carcass's "Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious" which was neat and the vocals are straight forward death metal. They have an airy quality and are low but never drowned out. The production quality is quite good.

The band I don't think did much else, but this album had a lot of promise and was a real treat.

Up next is the headliner of this gig, Varga. A fine Canadian thrash band.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Attack Of The Killer Tomato's! ... Uh, Sorry, They Just Need A Hug ...

Headview is an Ottawa, Ontario band who I never would have heard of if my Wife hadn't been working with the cousin(?) or something of one of the band members (I don't know which one). All the same, this co-worker of my Wife's was selling copies of Headview's album "Sad Tomato" and my Wife asked if I would like a copy and I said sure why not. At this point in my life I was exploring various musical styles and was happy to hear something new from an up and comer.

Let me tell you how impressed I was. Very. Headview have produced a great alternative/hard rock album. The music is driven by a fine rhythm section with a strong sense of melody and catchy riffs. It’s hard rock that is passionate and moving, but doesn’t forget to have fun. Take the album opener “Archie’s Room” for instance. It’s fast and catchy and feels uplifting with the momentum building riff work. It’s a happy song that hints at underlining emotions. This is my favourite song on the album.

“Down” and “She’s Gotta Go” are solid rockers that are groove laden and hooky. “Down” is the heaviest song on the album with a great blend of melodic riffing and crunchy accompaniment. “Your Salvation” is melodic and rockin’ with an early I Mother Earth feel. Great solos on these songs too by guitarist Dave Keogh.

The alternative sound comes across more in the slower songs. “Decadent” is harmonic and moving while “Stand To Waste” is more rock ballad. The vocals by Armin Kamal take on a harmonic almost hypnotizing feel. You can just lose yourself at times in them. They feel real and heartfelt. Not showy.

The album closer “Sinking” is a slower acoustic number that’s atmospheric in its harmony and melodies. It’s a good song, but at only 4 min. it seems to drag on. Perhaps that was the intent, a slow sinking ending. Who knows.

“Sad Tomato” is a great album and has seen a lot of airtime in my CD player/iPod. Sadly I think this was a one off deal and the website now directs you to Dave Keogh’s new project The Town Pants which is a Celtic/Folk/World Music group.

I am glad, atleast, to have this now “infamous” recording.

Up next I’ll be heading back to my more heavier metal leanings with Death Metal band Encased from Burlington, Ontario. I went to highschool with one of member’s cousin which I only found out after catching them live as an opening act for Hamilton, Ontario based heavy metal/thrash band Varga whose review will follow Encased’s .

Sunday, February 04, 2007

What's Slang For Generic Hard Rock?

I said in my previous post to think Aerosmith, but I was grossly mistaken. The band Slang play 90's flavoured hard rock along the lines of Bon Jovi and The Pursuit Of Happiness. I know I was way off, but it has been a while since I've listened to these albums. Enough about that. Slang is the band my step-uncle sings in, based out of St. Catherines, Ontario. They (or atleast I own) have 2 albums. "Resilience" and "Sonic Graffiti". I've seen them play only once at their CD release show for "Sonic Graffiti" and they were quite good. The albums on the other hand are a little bland/flat.

"Resilience" is their first outing and I found nothing really stood out. The style here is your basic hard rock with wailing solos, power riffs and the occasional ballad. We have the galloping rockers with the opener "Carousel" and "Skyrider" and "Undertow". A couple of ballads in "Last Train Home" and "Obsessed" as well as a slow rocker with "Your World". Unfortunately, Slang's album suffers the fate of many first records that are self produced and that is weak production quality. The musicianship is fine with some great guitar work, but the songs are unmemorable. My step-Uncles vocals sound flat and that's a shame. If I had to choose, I'd say the Neil Young (Rockin' In The Free World) influenced track "Carousel" is the highlight.

"Sonic Graffiti" is a step up in production and the songs stay with you longer and here we can pick out more of their influences. We have some heavier rockers with "Mad City", "In Your Face" and the album opener "United" which touches slightly on Warrant territory. The Pursuit of Happiness influence comes out on the poppier tracks "Must Have Been A Fool" and "Heartbreak Fascination" where the melody is stronger and hooky. "Gypsy Blues" and the album closer "Unsung Heroes" are ballady and we have the dirty rocker "It Ain't EZ, Being Sleazy". The musicianship here is fine and the move to a pop rocky sound was good. Mick's vocals sound better and the all around production improved. "Heartbreak Fascination" is the song I like (you can here some Lowest Of The Low in Mick's vocals). Sadly, I'm not really into these albums, but Slang does a nice show which is really important.

I'm not sure if they'll be any more albums for Slang in the future, I guess I'll wait till the next family gathering to find out. Well coming up I'll be looking at an alternative band with a member who's cousin worked with my Wife and then I'll drift back to the heavy stuff.