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CD Reviews by Bill Ribas

Slayer, God Hates Us All (American Recordings)
There's an intensity, a fury, at work on Slayer's eighth studio album, God Hates Us All. It's a fury that drives through each song, providing the listener with the sensation that all hell is about to break loose. Yet the band maintains that precarious position of teetering on the brink of sheer chaos, pulling back on the reins a hair, just enough to keep the frenetic pace at a peak.

It's not an easy disc to listen to, at least not for those unaccustomed to metal thrashing. There are abrupt rhythmic shifts, throbbing bass lines, bomb-dropping guitar squeals and lightning scalar runs, drums that pound relentlessly, that fire like cannons, splatter like machine guns, and vocals filled with pain and rage, venting, yet still intelligible. Wrapped together, it's a musical maelstrom, a cacophony. It's extreme rock and roll, and Beethoven isn't rolling over; he's trying to claw his way through his casket and on through to China.

There are other bands that utilize screaming vocals, and bands that use evil lyrics and imagery to provoke and offend. Shelves in music stores are full of discs that pound and punch, forsaking melody for odd time signatures and detuned guitars, kids sneering on CD covers, using makeup or tattoos or odd hairstyles to shock. But dig this; Slayer have been banging it out for nearly 20 years, a stretch of time that is longer than the age of some band members getting air time on radio right now. Or try putting it this way: where were you 20 years ago? And what were you doing? Are you still trying to perfect what you were doing? Slayer are and they've evolved, to be sure. And to overlook the path they have taken, to cast aside God Hates Us All in favor of some teen band with misguided or imagined angst, would be foolish indeed.

Some may wince at what comes out of the speakers, but on repeated listening, you may be fortunate enough to let your guard down and let the music transform your edginess to a blissful calm. Strange as it may seem, it happened to me as I was listening. Much like the transformation from the wild winds of a hurricane to the tranquility of the eye of the storm, I soon felt unusually serene. And though I'm not too keen on lyrics like the title cut, "God Hates Us All" (though that philosophy would explain a lot), there is no one out there currently who does it better than Slayer. On your knees now, lift that Bic lighter high in the air, and exclaim, "I'm not worthy." For Slayer are back with a vengeance.

Related Bands: Type O Negative, Vision of Disorder, Soulfly, Machine Head, System of a Down, Slipknot, Disturbed, Deftones, Papa Roach, Adema

Long Beach Dub Allstars, Wonders of the World (Dreamworks)
Long Beach Dub Allstars
As the first cut, "Wonders Dub 1" weaves hazily across the room, there's the expectation of a heavy reggae disc, the sense that the air is full of the acrid sweet aroma of Jamaican weed, and that a feeling of total relaxation is soon to follow. But alas, the West Coast outfit – formed from members of Sublime after their frontman, Brad Nowell, overdosed – follows the pattern of so many bands today by presenting a variety of styles that makes labeling a difficult task. Are they reggae? Sort of. Ska? On a few tracks. Hip-hop? Rap? Well, there are certainly bits and pieces. Punk? Or better yet, speed pop? Yeah, here and there.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for diversity. But showing all your cards at once leaves a listener confused, and a confused listener usually doesn't listen too long. Though I would categorize the disc as predominantly reggae/pop, I have another sore point with the music (and feel free to suggest therapy). That is, I've never trusted white reggae bands. Oh sure, the sound is close to being there, but there's something amiss, like the groove just isn't hitting. Maybe it's simply hard for me to stomach some crackers tossing "Jah" around like they mean it, while hardcore Rastas would just as soon see whitey off the planet for good. It's akin to white rappers. Remember (shudder) Vanilla Ice? Count yourself fortunate if you don't.

Back to the disc. The clash in styles is most evident on the following tracks: "Rolled Up," an uptempo ska number that's poppy and has a good hook in the chorus, "Every Mother's Dream," an old Crude number that is punk in nature, fast chord changes, not much on melody, clocking in at 1:45, and "Life Goes On," a dub reggae tune awash in delays and echoes with a rap vocal. The variety of styles hits in such a way that the listener isn't quite sure if it's one band or many, thinking perhaps that Sybil was in the studio, laying down tracks.

When the Allstars do hit, it's the dub reggae that works best. Maybe it's because I don't hear dub too frequently (though there is a liquor store on 87th and York where reggae oozes constantly). There is a bit of a theme on the disc, with "Wonders Dub 1" and later "Wonders Dub 2" acting as a kind of thread to connect everything. And the single, "Sunny Hours" is poppy enough, and also a relief to the radio airwaves, though it sounds closer to Blind Melon than Bob Marley. Merging styles seems to be mandatory for Left Coast bands as of late. The reason for this will not be solved here. If, however, you're enamored by variety, and reggae inclined, then the latest by the Allstars is sure to please you.

Related Content: Interview with the Long Beach Dub Allstars
Related Bands: Less Than Jake

Machine Head, Supercharger (Roadrunner Records)
Machine Head
Their lineup is simple, four guys, two guitars, bass, drums. Robert Flynn sings in addition to the fretwork, Ahrue Luster is the other guitarist, Adam Duce the bassist, and Dave McClain the drummer. Yet on their fourth album, it sounds like there's a lot more going on. There are industrial sounding wails, walls of distorted guitars, an ocean of sounds, but somehow there's clarity. An overproduced sound is absent, in part, due to the band recording everything in analog and foregoing the digital path that so many others choose. The result is a sound that thrusts out from the speakers, raw and powerful.

The songs are blunt, primal, and full of energy. Flynn alternates between singing and screaming, leaning more toward the latter, though he has a good voice when he is singing over the softer parts of the songs. Fortunately, the songs don't blast like a 767 on takeoff from start to finish. "Only the Names," for example, a cryptic piece about drug addiction, uses chorused guitars that make the notes sound like they're dripping off the ceiling before exploding into a violent chorus.

Though when the need for aggression, relentless pounding, and balls-to-the-wall violence are called for, Machine Head are more than happy to oblige. "Crashing Around You," slated to be the single off the disc, whacks your head with all the intensity of a Jack Daniels hangover. And it's not just chord changes and noise; there's a dark melodic sound, and enough of a hook in the chorus to make it fun.

If flaws are to be found, one might look to sections of the lyrics that ensure a parental warning sticker. On "Nausea," Flynn shouts, "I'm fucking sick of you, and all that shit you're pulling, your fuckin' attitude, had better go on...." Sure, we get the point that you're angry, but next time try to be a little creative. When I hear lyrics like this, all I can think of is Robert Plant in "Stairway to Heaven," saying rhetorically, "Does anyone remember laughter?"

Poetic no-no's aside, the raw brutality should impress those with a bent toward the harder stuff. Dynamically, the band is smart enough to vary the sonic output so the listener's ears don't bleed (well, unless you really, really crank it). Machine Head's fourth disc may just be their best to date.

Related Content: Machine Head in Concert (with photos)
Related Bands: System of a Down, Slipknot, Disturbed, Deftones, Papa Roach, Adema

September 2001

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