Unsung Materpieces

Unsung Masterpieces- Alice In Chains- Alice In Chains

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When you look back at Alice In Chains’ discography, most people tend to look at Dirt and Jar Of Flies as the bands masterpieces. Facelift is often looked as a great album as well. Their self titled and final album with Layne is often overlooked. The album, most commonly referred to as “the tripod” album due to the three legged dog on the cover, is quite possibly one of the deepest and darkest albums the band has ever written.

This album is truly a remarkable record filled with all the things you know and love about Alice In Chains. In a way, it has a bit of a Jar Of Flies vibe to it with the way the acoustic layers are put in, as well as the signature heavy sound. Something else that I’ve always held in high regard about this album is that Layne wrote all the lyrics for the album minus three songs (“Grind,” “Heaven Beside You,” and “Over Now,” all of which Jerry sang lead on). Before this album was recorded, Layne spent his time working with Mike McCreedy on the Mad Season album.

I remember first hearing this album when it came out in 1995 and I was hooked, and that’s not just because “Again” was a rad song. There are so many great songs on this album that have truly become timeless classics like “Sludge Factory,” “Shame In You,” “Brush Away,” “Head Creeps,” “God Am,” and “Frogs.” Though Alice In Chains never toured on the record, probably due to Layne’s increased drug use, some of these songs were performed live during their Unplugged performance. My favorite of these songs done at that time has to be “Sludge Factory.” What a great song that is. I really wish the band would play more from this album live these days. Layne’s performances on these songs are absolutely remarkable. He’s always had a knack for creating great vocal melodies but on this album he really set a standard for how it should be done.  Something else about this album that I’ve always loved is the way it flows. The themes of depression, isolation, drug use, anger and death are all found throughout but, the way the arrangement of the songs are on the album, really leaves a lasting impact the way all the emotions hit you.

I highly recommend you all taking some time and re-introduce yourself to this unsung masterpiece. Not only will it leave you with a sense of awe but, it will add another level of love for Alice In Chains.

 

Alice In Chains- Self Titled:

 

 

 

 

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Unsung Masterpieces: Led Zeppelin- Presence

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Looking back at Led Zeppelin’s catalog there is an album that hardly ever gets its due. The first 6 albums are all acclaimed and highly regarded but, there is one in particular that really needs to be in the conversation as well, and that album is Presence. Released in 1976, Presence is an album that strips it down to the root of drums, bass, guitars and vocals. Presence was written and recorded after Robert Plant was recovering from a serious car accident. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant spent time in Malibu, California working on the ideas that Plant had written during his convalescent period. After some time Page and Plant joined up with John Bonham and John Paul Jones for rehearsals before they went to the studio. After 18 days in the studio, Presence was recorded and mixed.

The songs on the album are quite substantial and poignant. Starting off the album with “Achilles Last Stand” is a statement all on it’s own. This song is the epitome of what Zeppelin is. The 10 and a half minute epic that is “Achilles Last Stand” sets a standard on how to kick off an album. “For Your Life” oozes with blues and pain, as Robert was in a wheelchair while he recorded his vocals for the song. “Royal Orleans” has a funk vibe to it, allowing John Paul Jones to show off his seriously underrated bass skills. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is a classic Zeppelin blues jam. Jimmy Page really shines on this song. His guitar playing is astounding and beyond influential. “Candy Store Rock” is probably my least favorite song on the album. It seems like a filler song to an extent and doesn’t have the gusto that other songs on the album have. “Hots On For Nowhere” has an interesting history. The first making of the song goes back to Physical Graffiti as well as live renditions of when Zeppelin would play their extended version of “Dazed and Confused.” Ending the album is “Tea For One,” one of my all time favorite songs by the band. The slow mid tempo build that evolves into a blues epic, along with Robert Plant’s vocals and lyrics. “Tea For One” is also the perfect compliment ending to the album.

Presence is a rock n roll album to the fullest. The guitar tones on this record have been copied throughout the years. Not to mention the overall sound of the album. There is a purity about Presence that shines through and through. Perhaps it’s because of what Robert Plant was going through, or even the bands need to capture their roots again but, I will say this, Presence is a game changing album for any music lover. If you are a fan of rock music, then you need to listen to this album and feel all that it has to offer.

 

Led Zeppelin- Presence:

Unsung Masterpieces: Godsmack- Awake

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There are a lot of bands out there that catch a lot of flack. Sometimes it is justified and others well it’s just unwarranted. Recently,while putting together some topic ideas for an upcoming podcast and radio show (stay tuned for that!!!), a thought crossed my mind. Why do people hate on Godsmack so much? I will admit that their name isn’t the most original and at times the lyrics are a bit juvenile but, Godsmack are a band that is absolutely necessary. Think of them more as a gateway band into heavy music. Godsmack are a really solid hard/heavy rock band, mixing bit of Alice In Chains and “Black Album” era Metallica. They emit a sense of accessibility and melody, that sometimes gets lost in translation as you delve into heavier genres. For someone that is young and is starting to get into “rock” music, a band like Godsmack is a great place to start.

The reason I mention all this and single out Godsmack, is because of how good their second album Awake is. They really stepped up their game from their debut. The sound of the album kept a “raw” edge to it, without sounding too polished. The songs were riff heavy but with a ton of groove to them. For a second record, the band shows a sense of maturity throughout the music written. You can tell on the first single “Awake” that they were trying to separate themselves from being lumped into the “nu-metal” tag, by adding guitar solos, and the song being 5 minutes long. “Sick of Life” and “Greed” are solid rock songs, minus the lyrics. Other tracks on the album like “Mistakes,” “Trippin,” “Forgive Me,” “Vampires,” “The Journey,” and “Spiral” really make this album as good as it is. The production on this album was top notch as well.

Godsmack delivered a solid heavy rock album, and continue to do so. Over the years, the juvenile lyrics have subsided and matured. Awake showed a range of songwriting. Songs that weren’t all about depression and hopelessness. Instead themes of reincarnation, and rebirth were very prevalent. The band also has a secret weapon in bassist Robbie Merrill. He has a feel to the way he plays that stands out. Guitarist Tony Rombola, is a student of the 70’s and early 90’s. He’s able to blend those two together just as Jerry Cantrell, but on a simpler level. Sully Erna, on this album started to come into his own. It wasn’t until their fourth album though, that he really found his own voice. The drums on this album are something else to be intrigued by. Tommy Stewart laid down some really great grooves. Though I will say, Shannon Larkin has really taken the songs from the first two albums and made them his own. He’s a true underrated drummer, that should get a ton more credit.

Say what you want about them but, know this, without bands like Godsmack, generations of kids wouldn’t get into heavier music. Take a listen to Godsmack’s Awake and just appreciate the music if anything.

 
Godsmack- Awake:

 

Unsung Masterpieces: Will Haven- Carpe Diem

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If there is one thing that has always been mind blowing to me is that the bands that are huge influences on so many “Bigger” bands are often overlooked by the masses. The strange reality of all this justifies my thoughts that those in charge really don’t have a clue what is good and isn’t. There is a band from the Sacramento area that really left a huge mark on the bands like Deftones and Far. That band is Will Haven. In 2001, Will Haven unleashed what I consider to be an unsung masterpiece entitled Carpe Diem. Clocking in at just over 45 minutes, the ten songs on the album are honest, emotional and chaotic with dashes of atmosphere. There are so many things about this album that have rubbed off on other bands from the guitar tones, song structures, vocal delivery and style, and even lyrical content. Songs like “Bats,” “Carpe Diem,” “Dolph Lundgren,” “Dressed In Night Clothes,” “Finest Our,” and “Moving To Montana,” have been my absolute favorites on this album and still hold up over 15 years later.

If you are a fan of heavy music and you’ve never heard this band or album, I urge you to stop what you are doing for the next hour and listen to this. And if it’s been a while since you’ve listened to Carpe Diem, stop what you are doing and take a trip back to 2001 and rediscover a great album.

 

Will Haven- Carpe Diem:

Unsung Masterpieces: Bush- Razorblade Suitcase

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This November will be twenty years since Bush released their very underrated and unsung masterpiece Razorblade Suitcase. I can actually remember getting this album. My mom and dad had bought it for me. I came home from school and in my room was a copy of Razorblade Suitcase along with a note that said do your homework, but listen and enjoy the album. I remember putting the album on and letting it play from start to finish and thinking to myself that this is absolutely great. It was different from Sixteen Stone in a good way. There was so much more to this album in regards of depth and feeling. The album title itself, I thought was a really cool name, meant to Gavin Rossdale as a way to describe emotional baggage. What a crazy yet interesting way to describe it. Also during this time the band kept getting knocked in the press for supposedly being too much like Nirvana. This is something that I’ve never thought was true. Sure they had an album recorded by Steve Albini, and played a similar style of loud guitars and booming drums, but Gavin and Kurt were completely on the opposite sides of things.

The album is one of my favorites of all time. From the beginning growl of Gavin’s dog on “Personal Holloway,” to the dissonance of closing song “Distant Voices” and everything in between, Razorblade Suitcase was the perfect way to follow up Sixteen Stone. Lead single “Swallowed” was impactful and gritty yet full of sweet melody. Other wonderful songs like “Greedy Fly,” “Insect Kin,” “Cold Contagious,” “Bone Driven,” and “History” were absolute stand outs. Other tracks like “A Tendency To Start Fires,” “Synapse,” “Mouth,” and “Straight No Chaser,” offered something for every type of fan of the band. From the heavier tracks to the more delicate.

While Bush isn’t the most original band in the world, they are still part of the legacy of the 90’s that shouldn’t be ignored. Put the Nirvana comparisons aside and just listen and you’ll come away with an album that is deep and vulnerable. The playing and songwriting on this record is exceptional as well. Taking away the the polish of Sixteen Stone, Steve Albini put Bush in their natural element to really get at the true nature of the band. Gavin’s voice really shines on this album too. Razorblade Suitcase is often overlooked by many, but it’s not one that should be. Twenty years later this album still holds up if not better than when it first came out.

 

Bush- Razorblade Suitcase:

 

 

Music Videos:

Swallowed:

 

Greedy Fly:

 

Cold Contagious:

 

Bonedriven:

 

Personal Holloway:

 

 

 

 

Unsung Masterpieces: Korn- Issues

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Lets travel back to 1999. The peak of the nu-metal genre was riding high and Korn was on top of the mountain. Fresh off their success of their mainstream breakthrough of Follow The Leader, Korn followed that up with a more melodic simplified album, Issues. Issues saw Korn maintaining their signature heaviness while incorporating a slew of guitar hooks, vocal melodies that enhanced the lyrics, a dash of electronics, and production that really made their sound bombastic. Korn was also able to go back to its bare essentials, dropping their hip hop flair and rapping. Working with Brendan O’Brien allowed them to stay on track, and make an album that sonically sounds great and cohesive. Granted all of Korn’s albums have the same themes throughout, Issues was the absolute pinnacle of what became their signature. “Falling Away From Me,” “Trash,” “Beg For Me,” “Make Me Bad,” “Somebody Someone,” “No Way,” and “Dirty,” are absolute standouts on the album. The short interludes in between songs like “Dead,” “4U,”and “It’s Gonna Go Away,” add to the already dark lyric tones, but actually provide a nice bridge to carry on the flow of the album. I can remember buying this album and being absolutely enthralled by it. There was something about this record that really hit home with me. During this time in music, it wasn’t hard to write angry lyrics and such, but to do it with conviction and actually mean it was something Korn did perfectly. Yes, they have repeated the same thing for years, but they really know how to do it.

I’m bringing all this up because Korn are releasing a new album later this year that they promise will be more in the vain of their older efforts like Issues and Untouchables. They released a new song called “Rotting In Vain,” that really does have an old school Korn feel to it. Needless to say I’m actually intrigued to hear it. When I heard the new song, I felt compelled to go back and listen to a few of their albums. Issues was always the one besides their debut that stood out to me as a solid album. It’s quite strange to think that 22 years later, Korn is still releasing music and selling out venues, but they keep doing it and people keep listening. So take a trip down memory lane and listen to Issues.

 

Korn- Issues:

 

Korn- Rotting In Vain:

Unsung Masterpieces: Stabbing Westward- Darkest Days

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Back in 1998 while I was waiting for a new Nine Inch Nails record, an album was released by Stabbing Westward that would hold my attention for years to come. Darkest Days is the album I’m talking about. Stabbing Westward took their industrial influences a few steps further on this album without sacrificing their knack for writing catchy melodic songs. Singer Chris Hall’s anguish, pain and suffering all show through in his vocal performance. Something I found interesting about the album is that it’s actually a concept record. It’s made up of 4 parts,  with each depicting  a different emotional phase after a break up. The Tracks 1-4 is about sabotaging the relationship. Tracks 5-9 is about lust, hope, and longing. Tracks 10-12 is about hitting rock bottom after it’s all over. The final part is about recovery and self-respect. When I found that out a few years back, the album made a lot more sense to me. I’m sure most of you will remember the song “Save Yourself,” as it was the first single released for the album. But there is way more to the album than just that song. Songs like ” Everything I Touch,” “Drugstore,” “You Complete Me,” “Haunting Me,” “When I’m Dead,” “Torn Apart,” and “On Your Way Down” are absolute standouts. That’s not to say that the other songs aren’t as good, these ones just always seemed to have a lasting effect on me.

Stabbing Westward called it quits in the early 2000’s. Chris Hall went on to start the band The Dreaming. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them a few times over the years, and he is still one hell of a singer and frontman. During the early years of The Dreaming it wouldn’t be shocking to hear them play a couple Stabbing Westward songs live. It was announced recently that Stabbing Westward will be reuniting for a show to celebrate their 30th anniversary, but in Chicago. Let’s hope it goes well, so we can get a full on reunion tour!!!

 

Stabbing Westward- Darkest Days: