With debut album Bangers, Canadian redneck rockers Barn Burner answered a question likely pondered over many a Molson: “What would happen if Bob and Doug McKenzie formed a heavy metal band?” Follow-up album Bangers II: Scum of the Earth promises to drive the point home with another batch of songs that blend Southern metal style and Sabbath-sized riffs. Advance single, “Keg Stand and Deliver,” does its title proud, and if the rest of the album sounds anything like its cover art looks, well, I’ll ride that lightning.
Backtracks takes a look at songs that were a meaningful part of los grillos past and have recently come back to los grillos in whatever random ways such things happen–in a movie, in a bar, in a dream, or just in the head for no apparent reason.
I came of age, hard rock- and heavy metal-wise, in the 80s, which happened to be a particularly charged time to be a metal fan in terms of public reaction and outcry, especially with regard to accusations that hard rock and heavy metal were the devil’s music. The 80s saw a rise in public fear that Satanic conspiracies were spreading across the United States. This wave of fear came to be known as the “Satanic Panic,” and rock and roll music was, of course, high on the list of things considered to be in league with the devil. In the summer of 1985, at the crossroads of Satanic Panic and my burgeoning love affair with heavy metal music, I met what I still consider to be one of the spookiest songs I’ve ever heard, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a Madman,” and driven by the power of public paranoia and a bike accident, I took the wrong path–if only for a little while.
Public paranoia about satanism helped fuel the fire behind the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a committee formed in ’85 that set out to protect children from the evils of rock and roll by providing parents with more control over their kids’ access to certain albums. Despite the absurdity behind some of the claims made by the PMRC, such as the notion that subliminal, satanic messages were put into albums through the use of ‘backward masking’, the public bought in. As Satanic Panic took hold, the PMRC’s propaganda saturated popular culture to such an extent that it became hard to believe that heavy metal bands didn’t worship at the altar of a horned beast with a pitchfork and an appetite for virgin blood. This brought about in me a distinct and troubling contradiction–I very much wanted to listen to heavy metal music, but I had very little desire to spend eternity roasting on a spit in the fiery pit of hell. I couldn’t figure out why anybody would want such a thing, and it wasn’t until later that I learned that it was less about a desire for eternal damnation and more about a desire to recklessly pursue earthly pleasures (something to which I’m totally hip).
The earthly pleasure I discovered and then consumed voraciously that summer was the title track for Ozzy Osbourne’s 1981 album Diary of a Madman. It seemed I couldn’t get enough of the way the opening acoustic guitar part exploded into distortion and drums (and later, that creepy choral chanting) before slowing down into a trippy, warped time signature as Ozzy delivered his sermon. I didn’t know what insanity was (beyond my sister’s general mood), and I had little notion about the nature of evil (beyond my sister’s general behavior), but this seemed like the sound of both. If it wasn’t the music that played in hell, it was almost certainly the music that would play during one’s descent into hell, and listening to it felt dangerous and rebellious and really fucking cool.
So one day I was out cruising my Diamondback Silver Streak and “Diary of a Madman” was on repeat in my head. I was, of course, feeling dangerous and rebellious and really fucking cool, so I decided to attempt an ill-fated bunny hop over the railroad ties that bordered my front lawn. This bunny hop was ill fated for a few reasons:
1. My hands, moist with sweat after a long ride on a hot day, had a grip on my CW handlebars that was tenuous at best.
2. I sucked at bunny hops.
3. I was not, in any way, cool.
I was moving along at a pretty good clip when I pulled up, lost my grip on the handlebars, and my front wheel connected with the railroad tie, launching me over the front of the bike in a complete flip. The grip on the left side of the handlebars was torn and pushed over the handle in such a way as to expose the metal. Somehow, this metal caught my inner thigh and managed to tear it open as I soared, head over heels, into my lawn. When I landed, somewhat impressively, I thought, upright and on my ass, I was dazed but unphased. Then I looked down to see my inner thigh slashed open like the tauntaun that Han Solo shoved Luke Skywalker into to keep him warm, and I got a little worried. My thigh’s flesh and fat sagged to the ground, and the cut looked big–maybe not big enough to fit Luke Skywalker inside of it, but certainly big enough to hold a Luke Skywalker action figure.
It took 13 stitches to sew me up–13! Not exactly the number of the beast, but a close cousin. Being a kid who hadn’t yet figured out that sometimes shit just happens as well as a kid who’d been dancing to the devil’s music on a daily basis, I did a little math:
Diary of a Madman
= a warning that fiery damnation awaits
Stupid, I know, but hey, I was a stupid kid. And I sucked at math. And Satanic Panic had taken hold. Eager to avoid fiery damnation and not knowing what else to do, I smashed my Ozzy tape and buried it deep in my backyard.
The odd thing about this episode, aside from my having smashed and buried my Ozzy tape, was that although it wasn’t long before I returned to metal’s dark embrace, it was quite some time before I was able to listen to “Diary of a Madman” again. I remember the thrill (and the cold chill) that shot through my body when I finally did–I still feel that thrill today. And despite knowing that most of the thrill comes from Randy Rhode’s explosive guitar and Ozzy’s voice and a weird time signature and the power of a well-played quiet/loud dynamic, there’s still that part of me that understands that the thrill is psychological–that listening to the song makes me feel dangerous, rebellious and really fucking cool. I do not happen to be any more dangerous, rebellious or cool now than I was back then, but at least I’m back on the right path, the heavy metal path, the path to my redemption.
With its perfect marriage of the Nashville sound and punk attitude, I was surprised to learn that “Are You Drinking With Me Jesus?”, one of my favorite tracks from the Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon collaboration, Prairie Home Invasion, is a cover of a song written by goofy folk duo Lou and Peter Berryman. Between Mojo’s penchant for country-flavored satire and Jello’s punk rock irreverence, Prairie Home Invasion is a country-rockin’ good time that’s pretty hilarious–when it’s not detailing the horrific events of an American industrial disaster such as on “Hamlet Chicken Plant Disaster”. Released in 1994 via Alternative Tentacles in the midst of the alt-country craze, full of great tunes, and loaded with great players (including a number of Austin mainstays like Champ Hood, Danny Barnes and Ted Roddy), this is one that’s worth tracking down.
Just in time for the summer festival circuit, My Morning Jacket are back to doin’ what they do best with Circuital, a Southern rockin’, reverb drenched album of bic-flickin’ ballads and beer-hoistin’ rockers anchored by the epic, seven-minute title track. In anticipation of Circuital‘s release that band has dropped some free downloads, and now the album is streaming in its entirety over at NPR.
Rivers Cuomo clearly hasn’t been up to the task lately, so it’s nice that British trio Let’s Wrestle put together Nursing Home, the best Weezer record since the mid-nineties, for folks to enjoy. It helps that the songs here are straightforward, simple and a bit snarky, and that the band enlisted Steve Albini to man the boards, keeping things raw and stripped of studio pretension. The distortion is thick and the melodies have plenty of stick, making for a solid pop-punk record for your inner stage-diver. And though I hear a lot of Weezer here–especially when singer Wesley Patrick Gonzalez strains for the high note of a chorus’s soaring melody as he does on the album’s catchiest track “I Will Not Give In”–I also hear elements of some other 90s acts that favored loud guitars, pop melodies and punk attitude.