My path down into the Ninth Circle of Hell started well before my hellish teens. I had my first KISS 45 by the time I was 6, and I was sporting a Love Gun T-shirt years before I knew what the song was actually about (a bazooka that fires pink, heart-shaped marshmallows, right?). KISS isn’t considered heavy metal by today’s standards, but in 1974 they were (or “thunder rock,” as I’ve heard in old interviews). Whatever critics and pimply teenagers called it in those early years, KISS were loud, exciting and something to be feared.
It’s only fitting that HEAVIÖSITY debuts not long after the anniversary of an album that shaped me—for better or for worse. KISS’s landmark double LP Alive! was released on Sept. 10, 1975. I was 2, so I didn’t run out to Woolworth’s and buy it. But I did finally grab it 10 years later, and it wouldn’t leave my Walkman (and later Discman) for a long time.
I threw on Alive! the other morning in celebration—and 40 years later that goddamn thing still explodes from the speakers. And it still makes me wanna play air drums and air guitar, and spit air blood. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you like heavy rock and you don’t like Alive!, then you live a truly joyless existence.
Alive!, of course, was KISS’s ticket to stardom, after they’d released three tinny studio records that never truly captured their raw power. It just might capture the concert experience better than any live album that’s come before or since—despite how much it was purportedly doctored in the studio.
When I put those headphones on and turned out the lights—as I did on so many nights—I was teleported to Cobo Hall, sitting alongside those two greasy Midwestern teenagers pictured on the back cover, passing a doobie as our heads got pounded in by pyrotechnics and Paul Stanley telling us that we were going to have a rock and roll pawwwday tonight! Fuck yeah we were. It says something that Alive! still has that effect. “Deuce” and “Parasite” will satiate the heshers. “Strutter” and “She” are pure New York sleaze. And everybody likes “Black Diamond.” Either Alive! is a transcendent rock and roll document that needs to be experienced by everyone, or I’m just a middle-aged simpleton who never quite evolved past age 13.
Like I said, KISS is far from metal by today’s standards. But if anything they were definitely the gateway to heavier things for me, and for many others. Follow the breadcrumbs: KISS led me to RATT, Mötley Crüe and Iron Maiden, which led to Metallica, Megadeth and Exciter, which led to Slayer, Deicide and Cannibal Corpse. Which leads us to yesterday…and today.
What’s Old Is New Again
Metal’s resurgence in recent years, and in particular power metal and NWOBHM-inspired bands, has given many iron dinosaurs seemingly left for dead another crack at new audiences around the world. Recent albums from Scorpions, Mötörhead and Slayer prove metal’s health. Hell, just look at a few of the releases from October alone: Satan, Saxon… Stryper? Hail Stryper!
I saw Satan a year ago here in Portland, and those blokes ripped the roof off the joint with some classic, melodic heavy metal—it was as if time stood still, and the front row looked like the kids from the smoking section at my high school had been teleported to 2015. The British band’s latest, Atom By Atom (Listenable Records), is just as inspired, picking up where their excellent 2013 comeback album, Life Sentence, left off. Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey’s dual guitar attack is as vicious and venomous as it was on the band’s classic 1983 debut Court In the Act, and songs like “Fallen Saviour” and “The Devil’s Infantry” will incite unrepentant headbanging, which, like all things fun, is bad for you.
As with Stryper, fellow ’80s glam metallers W.A.S.P.—or more accurately, the one remaining original member Blackie Lawless—have also returned with a new record titled Golgotha, their first since 2009’s Babylon. The album cover—silhouetted crosses against a blood-red sky—is far more ominous than its contents. I was hoping for something dark and heavy; instead I got something that skews toward power metal with overwrought inspirational choruses, although the almost eight-minute epic “Slaves of the New World Order” is pretty goddamn great…I mean gosh darn great. Apparently Lawless found God sometime back, which is fine, although I do recall a specific cover of Hit Parader magazine that pitted Stryper vs. W.A.S.P. with the headline “Heaven and Hell.” Now they’re fighting on the same side. I think Hell finally froze over.
The ’90s Are Alive and Well
Going not quite as far back in time, there are new releases this coming month from a couple of ’90s ghosts. On Oct. 16 alterna-grunge metal bros Ugly Kid Joe are releasing—wait for it—Uglier Than They Used Ta Be, a play on the title of their 1991 debut EP As Ugly As They Wanna Be (itself a play on 2 Live Crew’s 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be). My first question was, “Who asked for a new Ugly Kid Joe record?” Apparently all the people who helped fund the band’s PledgeMusic campaign to make it happen. Yup, Hell froze over.
I never got into Sevendust (too many muscles and dreadlocks and middling riffs), so news of a new record was news to me. Their 10th album, Kill the Flaw, is out, and I can practically hear the dreadlocks on the single “Thank You.” They’ll be touring this fall with Godsmack, if that’s any indication.
A couple of my favorite bands from that era are also putting out new records. Monster Magnet follows up last year’s Milking the Stars: A Reimagining of Last Patrol with Cobra and Fire (The Mastermind Redux) (Napalm Records), in which the band attempts to psych up their 2010 album Mastermind. Milking it for sure. Just don’t touch Spine of God, Wyndorf!
Maryland’s Clutch, on the other hand, keeps chugging along with abandon, following up 2013’s riff-ripping Earth Rocker with Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker). First single “X-Ray Visions” is classic Clutch—sinewy riffs and singer Neil Fallon’s bizarre tales spewed through gravelly vocals. I’ve loved the band since 1993’s Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes, and Undeniable Truths, and I’m glad they’re still hanging around the underground. Clutch is better than most bands.
New and Approved
Nightfell – Darkness Evermore (20 Buck Spin) One of my favorite metal bands of the past couple years, and they’re right here in my backyard. This Portland two-piece doesn’t play out much (although that’s about to change), but their recorded output is stellar. Released on vinyl in October, Darkness Evermore is another death metal delight (never thought I’d see those three words in a sentence) that’s heavy, melodic and frightening. And that guitar tone is straight outta Hell.
Deafheaven – New Bermuda (Anti-) The San Francisco black metalists are releasing their third album, New Bermuda, which follows up 2013’s divisive Sunbather. Metal purists will scoff. Young beardos will swoon. The song “Luna” will make everyone forget what the fucking problem was to begin with.
Kowloon Walled City – Grievances (Neurot Recordings) The Bay Area four-piece continues its post-rock eats metal racket on their third record. Dystopia never sounded so alive.
Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flowers (Relapse) I just listened to Windhand’s 14-minute “Hesperus,” and Nirvana’s Bleach immediately came to mind. So it was no surprise when I found out Bleach producer Jack Endino manned the boards on Grief’s Infernal Flowers. Dark and lurching and magnificent.
VHÖL – Deeper Than Sky (Profound Lore) YOB’s Mike Scheidt takes a break from the slooooow for VHÖL’s second album, which gets in and gets out over seven spazzy thrash tunes. “The Tomb” is riff-riffic.
Melted Space – The Great Lie (Sensory Records) French composer Pierre le Pape lured vocalists from Morbid Angel, Mayhem, Shining and others for this heavy metal opera. Highbrow for the furrowed-brow set.
Horisont – Odyssey (Rise Above) This has quickly become one of my favorite records of 2015. The deft balance of hooks, riffs and proggy bits is downright stunning. And guitarist-vocalist Axel Söderberg sounds like a slightly more metal Lou Gramm. Which is never a bad thing.
Getting the Spins
Five albums that are getting me through the month:
1. Horisont – Odyssey
2. Van Halen – Fair Warning
3. Satan – Atom By Atom
4. Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
5. Myrkur – M
Mark Lore is a Portland-based freelance writer, and regular contributor to Paste. He bangs thy head daily on Twitter @thedaysoflore