Sounds of Marshabaloosh Episode 1 – Manilla Road: A Metal Invasion

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First of all, Marshabaloosh is the evil deity that makes you stub your toe, step on a nail, makes your wife divorce you, starts world wars and makes it snow heavily on the day of your important job interview.  Indeed he’s quit the nogoodnik, yet we worship him.

Sounds of Marshabaloosh is the music and entertainment spin off of the Savage Hippie retardo propaganda machine, and for the first installment, I was granted the privilege of interviewing Mark “the Shark” Shelton and Bryan “Hellroadie” Patrick, guitarist/singer/songwriter and singer/roadie for legendary cult metal band Manilla Road.  If you don’t know ’em, you better wise up, sucker!  They’ve been together in some way, shape or form since 1977 and have released a large and diverse body of work that ranges from heavy, progressive space rock, melodic epic metal, thrash, doom and even 12-string acoustic folky music, whose one uniting factor is Shelton and his penchant for fantasy, science fiction, horror and the occasional philosophical lyrics.

Shelton, Patrick and I spend an hour talking about everything from Manilla Road’s music (whoda thunk we’d talk about that?!), their various albums, encounters with other bands, potential label deals, the literature of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and the time Manilla Road incited a brawl between Stryper’s Christian fan base and their biker one… guess who won…

I wish I had asked Shelton to elaborate on the Riddle Master project and about the legendary Herman Hill riots, but oh well… maybe next time?

Here’s a list of all of their albums if you want to check out their stuff, which you should, asshole.

Invasion (1980)
Metal (1982)
Crystal Logic (1983)
Open the Gates (1985)
The Deluge (1986)
Mystification (1987)
Live Roadkill (1988)
Out of the Abyss (1988)
The Courts of Chaos (1990)
The Circus Maximus (1992)
Atlantis Rising (2001)
Mark of the Beast (2002) (recorded 1981)
Spiral Castle (2002)
Gates of Fire (2005)
Voyager (2008)
After Midnight Live (2010) (recorded 1979)
Playground of the Damned (2011)
Mysterium (2013)
The Blessed Curse (2015)
Dreams of Eschaton (2016) (recorded 1981, remaster of Mark of the Beast)

And Mark, if you’re reading this, I downloaded all three Heavy Load albums!  Thanks for the recommendation!

Dust

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Dust
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I’m assuming most of the intrigue for searching out Dust comes from Marc “Marky Ramone” Bell being in it years before he drummed for Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and, of course, THE RAMONES!!!  The other two guys in Dust were guitarist/singer Richard Wise and bassist Kenny Aaronson, who also played a mean pedal steal guitar.  Wise later joined co-producer Kenny Kerner to produce Kiss and Aaronson became a session musician for a whole lot of people that I’m not going to mention.  Dust made two albums and that was it.

Dust – Kama Sutra – 1971

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If you found the double LP reissue set containing the self titled Dust LP and their second album Hard Attack packaged together and on the plastic there was a sticker that read “the roots of American metal”, that is a lie, my friend!  Do not think for a second that the group Dust is an undiscovered, underground gem in the same vein as Pentagram and have a bunch of heavy, Sabbath doom riffs and horrific themes because you’ll be disappointed beyond belief.  Sure the cover looks scary but it’s a facade.

However, if you’re a fan of early, bluesy hard rock that is obviously influenced by Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad, then you’ve got yourself a nice pair o’ records to play!  The first Dust album contains seven original numbers that alternate between good-time groovy, kind of funky hard rock, acoustic pedal steal country blues, epic-length “Dazed and Confuses” blues rock trudgery and high speed – nay, damn near hardcore speed – boogie rock.

The album immediately blows apart the “American metal” myth with opening track “Stone Woman”, which rides along on an upbeat funky groove, complete with slide guitar.  One thing you may ask yourself when you hear this fun opening tune is, “how is that the same guy who drummmed in the Ramones?”  His snare dominated patterns and non 4/4 rockin’ make it clear that the music of the Ramones was way below his skill level.  Side two opener, “From a Dry Camel” is the aforementioned heavy, blues rock trudgery.  It’s similar to “Dazed and Confused” except the lyrics are really weird and it later picks up into a galloping beat.

So yeah, I don’t need to describe every song.  The lyrics are about typical rock subject matter; love, lust, roamin’ ladies and sucking water from a dry camels hump.  The guitars are beautifully loud and have various tones and Wise sings in the same high pitch 70s style as Mark Farner.  I mean, what’s there to say; this is proletarian hard rock to bang your head and/or fist to, so get to it man!

Hard Attack – Kama Sutra – 1972

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Kind of looks like a Molly Hatchet album, doesn’t it?

Not only is the title for this album a stupid pun, it’s a complete lie!  Just like the sticker that says, “The Roots of American Metal”, this album is not only not metal, it’s not even hard rock!  The album begins with acoustic guitars and though the song “Pull Away/So Many Times” picks up the energy into an acoustic/electric gallop, it’s still not hard rock.  Furthermore the album proceeds to get lighter as we go along so that, by the time we’re on the third song, “Thusly Spoken”, we’re hearing an acoustic guitar/keyboard/piano/strings ballad!  “Hard Attack” my arse!

But, hey, here we go!  The fourth song, “Learning to Die” is a hella energetic hard rock song, who’s opening melody sounds like the Twilight Zone theme before proceeding into the main riff then a lighter, scarier part.  Then the eerie part goes away and we’re back into energetic rock ‘n’ roll zone!  Is this supposed to be social commentary?  “Every man learns to die/he has to leave his jewels behind”?  I dunno, whatever.  This song kind of reminds of Blue Oyster Cult with all them minor notes.

I already mentioned the group’s playing ability; guitarist Richard Wise and bassist Kenny Aaronson are perfectly fine on their instruments whether they’re playing electric/distorted or acoustic and, of course, Marc “Ramone” Bell is playing way more technically advanced stuff than he would in the Ramones.

What is with these existential lyrics, “somewhere somebody lives/somewhere somebody dies/but it was only time/somewhere somebody laughs/somewhere somebody cries/but it was only time”… what?  Good thing the song it comes from (“All in All”) has some neat start/stop boogie rockin’ with plenty of drum rolls and ultimately good time cheer and then, A COWBELL!!!  Did Marc Bell play a cowbell on the previous release?  Not that I recall… anyway…

Arrghh, now we’re back into acoustic zone with “I Been Thinkin’.”  In case you’re wonderin’ (ha!), I am reviewing the album in real time as the songs come.  I have listened to it a couple times before but I kind of enjoy this play by play approach.  Oh, hey… another hard rock song that starts off with some killer snare attack, some slides on the neck, then soloing, then three chord riff, then more soloing and it appears by the song’s set up, that “Ivory” will be an instrumental.  Some of these solos sound Toni Iommi-ish in parts.

Then one more acoustic, countryish ballad and one more, mean hard rocker with some honestly killer, angry riffs and more neato fills.  That’s the album for you.

Black Sabbath – 13

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If any of my loyal readers were wondering why I dropped off the blogosphere, I spent the weekend in Grand Rapids, acting drunk and stupid while attending the performances of Kylesa, Torche and Baroness, who just happened to all be in town on three successive nights.  Now I’m back and have the next week off work so expect to see lots of new posts; band profiles and reviews, reviews, reviews!!!  Old, shitty movies, new lousy records – although I’m being facetious on both fronts let me tell you about the mediocre new Black Sabbath album.

But before I get to that let me tell you about Blood Ceremony, who opened for Kylesa.  They sounded like Sabbath but with a flute playing front-woman who dressed in typical, Satanic cult garb.  It seemed like the only things she sang about were Satanism and witchcraft.  Which, leads me to my next point.  Where does Sabbath stand in 2013 among all of these stoner, doom and sludge metal bands?

Look, it doesn’t take a rockologist to know that these reunions are a pile of bullshit.  The first Black Sabbath album was released in 1970.  The world was a different place; nobody had heard anything quite like that first album.  In fact I was chatting with the gentleman at the Corner Record Shop and he told me that it really stood apart from Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin.  People really believed that Ozzy Osbourne, Toni Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward were card carrying occultists who drank goat blood and worshiped at the altar.  Or maybe that’s how they were perceived in conservative old Grand Rapids.

But back to this reunion thing.  Bands have a right to make money off their legacy however they should limit it to a tour and then kill it.  Why try to recreate the past?  And, for that matter, it’s not even a full reunion!  I was disappointed when I read that Ward wouldn’t be participating.  He plays in an atypical jazzy style where he struggles to stay in standard 4/4 time.  Brad Wilk, on the other hand, is just a rock drummer.  They could have gotten anybody and it wouldn’t have mattered.

But the bottom line is that Black Sabbath attempt to recreate the sound and vibe of their first four albums to a fault.  It seems as though the group surveyed their early catalog and found specific songs to replicate.  While most don’t go exactly by the numbers, opening track “The End of the Beginning” and third song “Loner” are musical sequels to “Black Sabbath” and “Planet Caravan.”  The former follows the structure of “Black Sabbath” to a t.  It starts with slow, doomy, heavy chords.  Then said melody is played on the root notes.  Then the song builds up and the headbanging part comes in with the only departure being that the song doesn’t end but detours into another part.  But it also starts the album with a question.  The opening line in “Black Sabbath” is “what is this that stands before me?”  The opening line in “The End of the Beginning” is “is this the end or the beginning?”  Yeah.

“Loner”, on the other hand, is “Planet Caravan” style acoustic, hippie, bongo drum music and attempts to combine the lyrical themes of both “Planet Caravan” and another Sabbath softy called “Solitude.”  Ozzy even sings through that weird, quivering bong water effect from the original “Caravan.”  Yikes.

But elsewhere you’ve just got a lot of slow, heavy, down-tuned songs, the very type you’ve heard countless times on Sabbath albums and by countless other bands.  Yes, Ozzy has a unique voice, Iommi plays occasionally solid riffs and Butler moves his fingers all over the neck of his bass to created that whirling sound.  So I’ll give them that.  There are parts of 13 which are solid and heavy.  But so what?  A few of these songs are just way too long!  Why does “God Is Dead?” have to go on for nine minutes when all they do is repeat the same parts over and over?  Also, two songs – forgot which – have stupid “funky” parts, sorta like you’d find on a Rage Against The Machine record, in other words, not good!  Furthermore Ozzy really hams it up and, sadly, sounds a little stupid when he’s deliberately singing every song very slowly decades after performing on the much more uptempo material of his solo career.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that the lyrics are really dumb, combining a melodramatic delivery, stupid cliches and bad rhyme schemes often at the same time!  The most egregious example I can think of at the top of my head is this line from “God Is Dead?”, which goes “Out of the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom.”  That’s pretty terrible, isn’t it?  They’re mostly like that!  And this is 2013!  We forgave Sabbath for the clunky lyrics and overly earnest approach on songs like “War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Electric Funeral” and “Sweet Leaf” because they were young guys thinking that they were making serious statements!  But now that younger bands like Electric Wizard and Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats are singing cult, Satanic and witchcraft themed songs in a fun way, Sabbath’s philosophical musings on God, Satan, death and the apocalypse make them seem like old, out of touch, buffoons.