Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Last Sting . . .

The Scorpions, of hord rock's most legendary outfits, will uncoil their final studio effort this coming Tuesday (3/23/10) with the release of "Sting in the Tail".

With a career now spanning four decades, the Scorpions brand of crustacae-infused metal has garnered a large and faithful following - this thanks in part to strong studio efforts and a relentless touring schedule. Early-era albums like "Lovedrive", "Animal Magnetism", and "Blackout" firmly established the band's signature sound amongst hard rock afficianados. Anchored by mega-hits "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Still Loving You", 1984's "Love at First Sting" album catapaulted them into the stratosphere. It still stands today as one of their finest recording / touring efforts. Despite a lack of critical acclaim for ensuing album releases, they are still considered amongst the metal genre's most elite, and deservedly so.

As one would expect with a group of this caliber, the new album release will follow with a major, three-year world-wide tour, with many of U.S. dates being supported by none other than RATT. The expected blast radius from those shows will undoubtedly be vast and very highly anticipated. Having had the opportunity to see the band on their mammoth Worldwide / Live tour, I can report to fact that these guys are the REAL deal, and their stage show - absolutely fuckin' SPECTACULAR! I can only imagine what the band has in store for their final go-round.

You can check out more Scorp news at Blabbermouth; as well as at their official website.

While it's sad to see bands this good hang it up, we can do so knowing that they've left us with an incredible catalog of music to remember them by. I would expect that the forthcoming tour will produce a live concert DVD, thus assuring the fact that we will have the opportunity to feel the "sting" time and time again - - in Dolby 7.1 surround! Glorious! - - J.

Back Out Of The Cellar

80's hair metal mainstays RATT will re-emerge from their eleven year studio hiatus with "Infestation", scheduled for release on April 20th.

Looking to re-create the classic pop-meets-metal sound found on their multi platinum-smashes "Out of the Cellar" and "Invasion of Your Privacy", the band has pulled in former Quiet Riot lead guitarist Carlos Carvazo for six-string duties. The caterwouling Steven Pearcy is once again working his magic at the mic. Rounding out the orignal membership is the shred-tastic Warren DiMartini on lead axe and Bobby "Blotz" Blotzer behind the drum kit.

You can check out the press for the new album at Blabbermouth; listen to the new single "Best of Me" at Road Runner Records; or bask in raunchy Ratt-ness at their official website.

With the core Rattsters in place, and a few new tricks up their sleeve, "Infestation" hopefully will signal a return to prominence for one of L.A.'s premier metal outfits. I'm crossing my fingers for a major U.S. tour and even better - a Fargo date. - - J.

What The Fuzz?

If you spend any time at all perusing online guitar forums, you may have noticed that the "fuzz" pedal is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence amongst today's players. With original fuzz standards / re-issues now being offered by most of today's major players, along with various boutique off-shoots and clones, it would seem that the effect is also finding a new musical identity well-beyond trippy, psychedelia-infused stoner rock.

One thing I've recently discovered in my own musical pursuits is that a fuzz pedal is very effective when employed as a "colour" effect. Just a touch of fuzz adds some interesting complexity and variance against a clean channel, tones that otherwise would have laid relatively flat in the mix.

Another thing I've found to be useful is using it, more or less, as a distortion pedal - which it technically is. Again, this effect seems to be most useful in tandem with a clean channel, where you can set the effect at the desired top-end level, and then control it in the overall tone by using the guitar's volume knob. That way, you can still use the lovely drive effect for rhythm playing, and then send it to the moon with a slight twist of your volume knob.

Many hi-profile classic rock players used a fuzz spefically for overdrive back "in the day" - chief among them Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Carlos Santana. At that time, there weren't a bazillion different overdrive pedals available, meaning that players were forced to experiment with those that were. The end result was that they often found unique ways to employ effects to get tones that were not commonly associated with it. Another "trick" from this era I found to be interesting was using an wah-wah as a distortion effect. The pedal's treadle produces varying distorted / phased tones by being left engaged at different sweep points. Genius!

Like the overdrive pedal, there are now scads of different types of fuzz effects available. Some use modern silicon transistors, others use vintage-type germanium transistors. Common "tweaks" to the original circuit include Q / phasing controls, introduction of an separate overdrive circuit, and some a clipping control to vary the amount / intensity of the clipping circuit. Depending on you playing style, there's likely a fuzz box that will accomodate it.

The two fuzz pedals I use are the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi and the Dunlop Jimi Hendrix JH2S. The Big Muff is a transistor-based unit that provides a fairly agressive distorted fuzz tone. As I'd noted in a previous post, the Muff can be dialed back for some less-pronounced but still very cool tones. Wide open, its a raging, psychedelic colossus of sound. The Dunlop JH2S is a warmer, less agressive fuzz pedal that also works extremely well as a stand-alone distortion. Both pedals product different, unique tones that can be used in all sorts of live and studio applications.

As basic an effect as a fuzz is, its myriad of applications and tones are often overlooked in favor of other function-specific effects. Truth be known, the power of the fuzz box is vast and aurally volitile when properly employed, meaning that daring tonal explorers can reap its ample rewards with a little pocket cash a few well-intended practice / jam sessions. Lava lamp and incense are optional. - - J.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Distant Relatives . . .

The stagnant, murky green waters of the Tone Farm have once again been coerced into tidal motion by our resident heavy / alt rock guru James Reetz. For his most recent contribution, Mr. Reetz delves deeply into his bag of tricks to procure a true gem: Clutch. If you haven't heard of them, all I can say is that you should. Not since the glory days of Soudgarden and Stone Temple Pilots has a hard rock band left such a vast, highly-radioactive blast radius. Daring, twisted, and unconventional - yet at the same time totally familiar. You might not know what to make of what you hear - though it's all but a given that your musical geiger counter will sustain permanent damage. Lead suits are highly recommended. - - J.

I must first admit that I am a follower when it comes to discovering new music. I didn't know about Motley Crue until Shout at the Devil. I had to be introduced to G n' R by my cousin - months after "Appetite for Destruction" hit the shelves. I'm just now hearing some of the best 70's rock due to the diligence of our most esteemed blog proprietor (THANK YOU MR. NELSON!). Still, when I hear something new (new to me at least) I have an ingrown desire that it be great. I want to know the exhilaration that people experience from seeing a band in it's infancy that eventually sets the rock and roll world on it's ear. Can you imagine what it was like for teenagers to see Motley at the Whiskey in 1980? My 2005 discovery of Clutch mirrors this tale in many ways. I was immediately obsessed. 10001110101 was coming through my stereo (from Robot Hive / Exodus) and I couldn't believe my ears. Was that a Hammond organ I was hearing? Was this the future of rock or the past? One call to the radio station and a trip to the store and my hopes of a fledgling discovery were crushed. Clutch had been at it for (12) years at that point. The good news . . . there was lots of incredible Clutch to catch up on.

Strange Cousins from the West is the next step towards . . . I'm not sure what. Never before have I struggled this much to classify and describe what a band does or where they fit. The album is original and fresh and diverse - - and yet undeniably Clutch. Overall, I find that the album is exactly what I was hoping for - yet at the same time very surprising and rewarding from track to track. The first song, Motherless Child, breaks down your door and announces Clutch's arrival with clean guitar power and angst filled lyrics. After that, you're treated to metal infused, blues tinged punk, funk, and soul - - flavored with tiny little bits of folk and country. Diversity is an album with songs entitled Minotaur and Sleestak Lightning. Neil Fallon, once a gifted lyricist is now a brilliant vocalist who's musings will make you think as well as spark your imagination. Insane or genius, maybe both. In my opinion, Abraham Lincoln is the feature song on the disc (although 50,000 Unstoppable Watts is the first single). I mean - who writes a song about Abraham Lincoln? Clutch does, that's who and probably no one else. The song is haunting and catchy; simple and groovy. Why write a song about this man? Fallon offers up a small window into the psyche that is unique to him in a recent interview: "Writing lyrics can be a whole lot of fun because you're given license to completely lie to everybody. I can imagine myself as someone else and say whatever I want."

Thank the stars that Clutch was crowning from the abused womb of hard rock right about the time Metallica was perfecting the commercialization of metal (read: selling out). A quote from another review of Clutch sums it up best, "Though they don't always hit the mark, that Fallon and company take the risks they do is far more commendable than the endless repetition of so many other bands" (unknown author). The fact that the quote is from 2004 and holds true on a 2009 album and all the others is a testament to the greatness of this group of regular joes. by James Reetz

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old Dogs . . . New Tricks

Let me first say that it's extremely difficult to write a review about a Black Sabbath-linked band and not be consumed by the desire to fawn endlessly about their "heaviness". Or their sinfully ominous sound. Or their status quo as the godfathers of the metal genre. But this being my first TF review of a band with said credentials, I promised myself that I wouldn't. We'll see how that goes . . .

The Devil You Know is the first studio release by Heaven and Hell, their current name taken from an aptly-named 1980 Black Sabbath-titled studio effort. Unless you've been serving time in a foreign prison, or on the road with Barry Manilow, you should already be fully aware that the band is more or less a reformation of that version of the band - sans oringinal Sabbath drummer Bill Ward. That being said, there should be no surprises as to what's in store on the musical side of things. As regular TF contributor James Reetz so eloquently mused following his first full listen: this is what Death would listen to on his way to work in the morning.

The band itself is a classic four-piece line-up fronted by the spritely, snarling vocal dynamo Ronnie James Dio (RJD). H & H's nether-worldly ties come courtesy of Sabbath legends Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi. Serving up the thump is Vinne Appice, younger sibling of Carmine - who to my recollection has been in just about every band on the planet at some time or another. Together, a solid, zero-fluff line-up that's fully committed to ripping your head off with old school fire and brimstone metal.

The story of how The Devil You Know came into being goes something like this: When the group got together to cut a few new original tracks for the Black Sabbath / The Dio Years project, the band felt that the vibe present during those sessions was too good to just let simmer on a re-released greatest hits comp. Bat-winged serpents were duly summoned, incantations chanted, and powdered elk antler mixed with eye of goat. Lo and behold, The Devil You Know rose from the fiery depths - as if foretold by the ancients.

Culling on their most auspicious talent for the dark and macabre, the new release grinds sinfully through thick, drop-tuned stanzas. RJD's vocals soar effortlessly amidst midieval-themed lyrical fare. Supporting rhythm lines echo with power and ferocity, descending upon the musical arrangements like a full Panzer division on fleeing, rake-wielding French peasants. The overall effect, of course, is extremely satisfying. A wonderfully modern, yet still classically-bound metal album brimming with excellent songs and incredible performances.

The initial salvo of "The Devil You Know" starts of with the deliberate and methodical "Atom and Evil", a song whose curves conjure up images of Butler & Iommi's former musical mistress. The tempo picks up a notch for the second number "Fear", but sticks closely to the same basic formula. "The Bible Black" enters quietly with a lovely acoustic rhythm / electric intro and RJD serenading beautifully. Two measures later, the song explodes into churning, furious metal cacophany. To me, this song is the jeweled chalice of this album, melding together all of the finest points of the band's volumnous talent and classic metal sound. You simply listen in awe and marvel at the incredible artistry that is Heaven and Hell.

"Double The Pain" and "Rock and Roll Angel" capture the band in full gallop. Both are searing mid-tempo concoctions dripping with savage riffery. The latter features an amazing guitar transition part and solo that leaves no doubt that Iommi stands alone on the silver mountain. The often-copied and highly-revered axeman tastefully weaves his magic as only he can do, each breathless note cascading into a molten display of six-stringed mastery. Then, as if in a dream, the song fades into the mist on a lovely acoustic passage.

"The Turn of the Screw" echoes solo-era Dio material; wryly-written lyrics dancing between a crunchy rhythm lines. The pace intensifies with "Eathing the Cannibals", but again - conjures up trademark cues. "Follow The Tears", "Neverwhere", and "Breaking Into Heaven" bring this fantastic release to a satisfying climax. Familiar tempos and grinding guitars paying glorious homage to Dio's incredible vocal prowess.

If you're getting the idea that The Devil You Know isn't "re-inventing the wheel", so to speak, then you've hit your mark. This band isn't giving you anything you wouldn't expect to hear from artists of their caliber. The tricks these old dogs can do are still quite impressive, thank you very much.

As I look this review over, I see I have failed miserably in my efforts to avoid the usual Sabbath superlatives. But who cares? It's hard not to get excited about music this good. For that, Heaven and Hell is rightfully deserving of the Tone Farm's full five star rating for The Devil You Know. Easily, one of 2009's must-have hard rock CD's.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Down on the Muff'n . . .

The second installment of the Tone Farm's ongoing feature on distortion pedals is now complete. And those that are serious about anything related to guitar distorion had best give a respectful nod and clenched fist power gesture to Electro Harmonix's esteemed ambassador of kick-ass: the Big Muff Pi.

Knowing that players' preference towards pedal effects is often a personal statement towards their approach to tone, I won't wax sentimental about the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi. I picked up a newer NYC version awhile back on Ebay, and suffice to say - its been a go-to piece of gear ever since.

Understanding the Big Muff's core tonal characteristics often requires one to float further upstream, to the headwaters - so to speak. When the Muff was developed back in the early 70's, players weren't exactly looking to scale back volume or wet effect. Naturally, I always find it interesting that players will ultimately play the "it doesn't clean-up very well" card. My response to that is simply, "why would you want to clean-up a Muff?"

Defining the Muff's tone also elicits some interesting discussion. Is it a fuzz? Is it an overdrive? Is it both? I guess it would all depend on who you ask. David Gilmour has used it successfully as an overdrive pedal for decades. But he, too, has a trick to get the results he wants, as is described in this article at Hmmm . . . transparent overdrive. ;~)

The thick, warm, delicious fuzz-drive tones produced this giant silver brownie pan with knobs are an instant time trip back to classic rock's glory days. Hendrix, Cream, Sabbath, Santana, Trower, Pink Floyd, and ZZ Top - perhaps not all "official" users, but bands / artists whose core sound employs many of the characteristics found in the Big Muff. "Wha' - ZZ Top??!! There ain't no Muff stuff on that" Think again. Check out this You.Tube demo from Pro Guitar shop - about 5:11 in. The Muff cops that lovely "tube sag" so evident in the Rev's early 70's recordings (*and with the "sustain" turned all the way down I might add.) Mercy sakes!

On the point of versatility, it's really a simple question of what you want combined with how dedicated you are to understanding and using the effect to its best advantage. In the months I've playing a Muff, I can't say that I've ever been at a loss to find all kinds of different tones on tap. The stuff you'd expect to be there is there - in spades. However, a little exploration will yield some unexpected and sometimes very cool tones - esp. in tandem with other pedals (*say a delay or compressor). Lower settings should not be ignored, either - - as some of the pedal's more subtle offerings are equally as tasty.

Make no bones about it. If you're a player who digs vintage tones, the Big Muff Pi is an absolute must-have. Its big, bold, and in-your-face tone rocks like a truckload of bricks. Without question, an uncomprimising piece of musical history whose place in the pantheon of rock music is both fully acknowledged and revered. - - J.

TF Mailbag

Pleased as pie to introduce to you our latest blog feature - the Tone Farm Mailbag. Got an idea? Got a gripe? Or just want to share something with our vast, influential readership? The 'Bag is here for you!

Jon -
One post since last May!! Really - - I counted. WTF?
Waiting - Forever, IN

Waiting -
One word: summer. Winter in my parts lasts 6-7 months, so being an outdoor kind of dude - this time of the year is extremely precious. Meaning: I'd rather not spend them inside pecking away at a keyboard. With fall just around the corner, I should be "back in the saddle" soon. Thanks for being patient. - - J.
Hey Jon -
Just wondering what's up with that "Beano Feature" you promised something like a year ago.

E.C. - London, UK
E.C. -
Thanks for your e-mail. Funny you should mention that "Beano" feature. Truth is - I'm still kicking around a few of the tracks that'll be featured on the first installment. You should be hearing them soon, as well as enjoying the literary saviour fare' that will coincide. - - J.
Jon -
Did you give up on writing CD reviews? I haven't seen anything even remotely new as far as your review material goes. What up, dog?
Anonymous - Tumbling Pebble Magazine

Anonymous -
To answer your question, no I did not give up on writing reviews. As James Reetz so eloquently points out in his Metallica review , there are so many other things that can draw time and attention away from freelance writing. For me, a part of it also has to do with insipration, and lately -I've found more of that in my playing than my writing. I'm hoping to get some reviews written for a few of 2009's essential CD's in the coming months, so stay tuned and keep the faith. - - J.
Tone Farm -
Seems to me that all I read / hear about at Tone Farm is old / classic / vintage stuff. There's a lot of cool new stuff happening in music these days, so why don't you clear the cobwebs off of your closet full of dusty relics, and get with the program?
Avenged 7X - Tatooville, USA

Dear Avenged -
If you've noticed a purposeful "lean" towards classic bands, vintage tones, and retro coolness at the Tone Farm - then you're not as stupid as your letter makes you out to be. We all draw our inspiration from somewhere, and at the 'Farm - those happen to be the things that make our world go 'round. From time to time, we'll hit on a few highlights in regards to music's "newer generation". But for our money - we'll always take Lennon or Jagger over Sinister whateverhisnameis. Good luck with your Hepatitus C. - - J.
To Whom It May Concern:
Let me just say that I wasn't very pleased with your review on Tesla's "Reel To Reel" project. Bands doing cover versions of their favorite songs shows an appreciation of the efforts made by rock's most influential bands in making great music. If you missed that, you're a putz.
Nikolai - Sacramento, CA

Nik -
I didn't miss anything in regards to that Tesla "Reel To Reel" Project. Covers are for lazy bands who need their meal ticket punched. Period. If I'm going to spend $35 of my hard-earned dollars hearing a band (*and NOT the original band, mind you) weave their own "magic" on songs made famous by some one else, then I'll just go and buy the REAL version - and save myself the hassle. Case and point is Tesla's most recent studio effort "Forever More", which clearly illustrates that they don't need to cover anyone else's material to merit consideration as one of rock's hardest-hitting and best-sounding outfits. - - J.

Well, that's all for this installment. Keep 'em coming. - - J.