Monday, October 12, 2009

A San Francisco Treat

ANVIL CHORUS – “The Killing Sun” CD ’09 (Rockadrome, US) – I thought long and hard about how I wanted to open this review. I’ll admit it, as you probably already know (the 3 of you who read this site…just kidding!), I get into this sort of thing where every damn review has to have some sort of epic intro. There’s gotta be some way that I trace the history of how the band in question involved themselves in my musical life and all that. Well, here we go again…but it won’t take all that long, I promise. See back in the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s there was this guy named Ray and he worked as manager of a record store. One fateful day, sliding from between the albums in a box from Greenworld Records came a trashy little newsprint magazine called Metal Mania. Seems it was published by a KUSF metal disc jockey named Ron Quintana and it did 2 things: 1) It knocked me on my ass by showing me just how much I DIDN’T know about the burgeoning metal underground and 2) shortly thereafter became my bible. Not only was this cat talking about all the same bands I was discovering (Accept, Y&T, Sweet Savage, Electric Sun, Angel Witch, etc.) he was opening up a helluva lot of new doors for your’s truly. First off, the guy had been to shows like Reading in England and was giving first-hand accounts of live performances by the likes of Budgie, Maiden, Baron Rojo, etc. That had my attention alone, in a truly jealous admiration. Most importantly, however, through his writing he was making me very aware of an exponentially expanding metal scene right in his San Francisco backyard. Names like Metallica, Exodus, Warning, and ANVIL CHORUS resided in his playlist right next to things I knew Goddamn well were great already. So, what was I to do but contact Ron and a few of his other buddies to find out more about this obvious West Coast treasure trove? It was with that contact that Mr. Q was cool enough to run me off copies of some of these bands’ demos and I was off to the races! To be honest, everything he sent me was great but the one that stood out the most was the material by, yes, ANVIL CHORUS.

It’s here that I’ll take a break (Please, Ray, I hear you begging!) and refer you to that oft-dreaded term of recent years, “prog metal.” I know, I know. You’re probably cringing, with visions in your mind of bespectacled, po-faced musos fresh out of Julliard, grimacing in pseudo-intelligence as they navigate precisely (and without a hint of feeling) through 35-minute suites with names like “Scenes From A Distant Black Clouded Memory Of Redemption While A Multitude Of Octogenarians Jerk Off To My Tweedling.” No, no my readers, please put aside your notions. You remember Rush, of course? Think back to the time before they went off to try to become The Police for awhile and graced us (not under pressure!) with brilliance like “A Farewell To King” and “Hemispheres.” That was early prog metal, of course, and then in the mid ‘80’s, we started to hear things like Queensryche, Fates Warning and…ouch, yes, Dream Theater. But in between, there was a band who found the vibe left by those masterful Rush records and imbued it with some of the NWOBHM’s growing aggression, but without losing the melody…in fact, emphasizing it in favour of making more convoluted songs and put the cherry on top of it with massive, ripping dual lead guitars. This band should have been huge, should have been stars but alas, it never happened. More so, they never even put out a record, only demos. The why’s and wherefores of how ANVIL CHORUS evolved and why they never consummated their art on vinyl back in the day are a path I’ll let you travel with Mr. Quintana in his brilliant liner notes to this CD. The fact that the disc in fact exists, the work of a current 2009 ANVIL CHORUS, finally bringing to life this fearsomely awesome music is a wonderful thing and that, in and of itself, begs me to comment thusly.

What I really like about what ANVIL CHORUS has done here is simple, to begin with. The guys have recognized just how special the songs they concocted so many years ago remain so many years later. With that in mind, they've taken the time to record brand new versions of those songs and finally give them their proper airing. Yes, as guitarist Thaen Rasmussen tells me, the band is currently working on new material but this stuff is legendary and can now be heard, even better than ever. Where do you begin? The nearly thrash opener of “Deadly Weapons,” the multi-sectioned-yet-sharply-focused 6 minutes of “Red Skies,” the way “Man Made Machines” blends ethereal melodies in the chorus with a bludgeoning guitar riff in the verse. It’s all there, borne on the powerful, smooth vocals of Aaron Zimpel and the devastating lead guitar work of Thaen Rasmussen and (on most cuts), his original sparring partner, Doug Piercy. Phil Bennett’s ultra-melodic keyboard washes paint a broad melodic panorama that adds a nearly 3-D quality to the excellence on offer from beginning to end of this superb disc. Just imagine what it would have been like if there had only existed a demo version of “Saints In Hell” up until now and Priest had finally recorded it like the monster you knew it was and laid it on you full-force. That’s what this sum-bitch is like. Ignoring “The Killing Sun” is not an option. Buy it now. Birth Of A Dream (Come True)

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