Friday, July 31, 2015

Dee Snider: Shut Up And Give Me The Mic (A Twisted Memoir)

Post #314

Dee Snider has lived quite a memorable life in the world of rock n' roll and heavy metal music. In his 2012 autobiography, Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, he tells his tale, and that of Twisted Sister, with an often humbling honesty born from clear-minded, 20/20 hindsight of a career that was a rock n' roll roller coaster ride. I know that sounds cliché, but there are few more-accurate analogies to make!
Dee's childhood and teen years from his middle-class suburban New York upbringing are covered with enough detail that you get a sense that you knew a kid like Dee at some point or other in your life. As he began to pursue his passion for rock music by singing in local bands, his reputation and natural talent eventually led him to audition for Jay Jay French's band Twisted Sister.

Years of building a cult following on New York's club scene, and a reputation as the hardest working band in the city would eventually pay off as they were finally signed to a major label in the early '80's. However, the circumstances and details of the contract, management at the record company, and promotional support (or lack thereof) would each be key ingredients of the band's fall from grace a few years down the road.

First, however, there was their unprecedented rise to the top of the heavy metal music scene. A couple albums into their career Twisted Sister hit the jackpot. Stay Hungry was their 3rd album, released in 1984, and featured their first genuine hit, "We're Not Gonna Take It". It broke open many doors for the band; international touring, commercial success, multi-platinum album sales... Heck, the entire genre of Glam-Metal (AKA 'Hair Metal') probably got its image from Dee Snider's hair! But one of the biggest keys of Twisted Sister's, and Dee Snider's, success as a cultural phenomenon was their success on MTV.

The band jumped into the MTV music video business with true flair. Dee himself had a specific vision of a semi-scripted mini screen play that would serve as an intro to the actual song. The resulting video was of course, "We're Not Gonna Take It". If you look into the history of music videos, you'll find that this was the first ever music video to feature an extended, scripted segment preceding the song, acting out a story-line that sets the mood for the song, and continuing the plot throughout.

For the next year or so the band enjoyed the success of rock-stars, as their stereotype expectations of a dream-career as rock musicians actually came true... But an unfortunate set of circumstances that would doom their career was just around the corner.

Ironically, the cultural phenomenon that Twisted Sister and Dee Snider had become would also play a role in their downward spiral as the parents of this generation of metal fans would make them an example of the 'evils' they believed lay in the music's themes and lyrics. The Parents Music Resource Center (aka P.M.R.C.) originated at about this time as a crusade of sorts against profanity and violence in music. They sought to demand that music which contained certain offensive lyrics and imagery be labeled with Parental Advisory stickers to make consumers aware of their content. This concept quickly brought up the first amendment and the right to free speech.

Dee was invited to give a statement at the senate hearing for the PMRC's proposed parental warning labels for rock music packaging.
(I.E. the 'Parental Advisory-Explicit Lyrics or Content' labels that are now found on a great many album covers- this is where that practice began, and the artists were against it for the most part...) What the PMRC expected was a wasted, unsophisticated, profanity-spewing, blasphemous, high school drop-out, whose demeanor would incriminate itself and become an example of the exact thing they were against. But what they got was Dee Snider: a 100% clean and sober, composed, intelligent, family man who happened to be the lead singer for one of the most popular rock and roll bands of that era. I could describe Dee's speech in detail, but it's easier to just see it for yourself here:

To put it in a nutshell: The PMRC were unprepared for Dee's logical arguments and defense of his craft. Before they knew what hit them, it was all over, and the pompous politicians and their wives were stuck in a perpetual verbal back-pedal, and having difficulty defending or justifying their own words that Dee Snider had quoted to them.

The down side? There was no social media back in 1985, and the masses who would have been educated from hearing this speech didn't get the chance. Coverage in most media outlets was limited to a couple of paragraphs in a newspaper, or 30 seconds on the nightly news. And each reporter was able to put their own spin on the debate, or the spin they were told to put on it by the company they worked for... in 1985... in the height of the Republican's wave of conservatism... at the peak of Reagan's popularity.

Sure, nowadays, every metal-head who is worth their weight in denim and leather will champion Dee for taking a stand for metal music, and representing the artists with dignity, respect, and composure. But what difference did it make back then? Well, do you see those parental warnings on the cover-art for your cutting edge artists? And even more relevant to this specific review: can you name a top-40 Twisted Sister hit AFTER 1985??? In the fallout from the PMRC's demonizing of heavy metal in general, and Twisted Sister (and Dee Snider) specifically, record stores cut their promotion of their music, parents wouldn't let their kids buy their albums, and MTV even banned their high-budget music video from their follow-up album from their network! That song was 'Be Chrool to Your Scuel', and it featured a guest-appearance by the one and only Alice Cooper, but it was never aired! (Of course now it is available on youtube, you'll see I've posted it below...)

For Twisted Sister, their rise and fall has been a mixed bag of blessings and curses, with one often tied-to or wrapped in the other. Dee recounts all of these circumstances with humble clarity, and foreshadows what's to come as the proverbial dominoes are set up right in front of his face, only to be tumbled down in a collapsing house of cards. By the end of the 80's, Twisted Sister was dead in the water, and for all the ambition, creativity, and side projects that Dee could muster, it was years before he was able to find other successful in-roads back into the entertainment business.

Overall, I have found Shut Up, and Give Me the Mic to be one of the most enjoyable and insightful memoirs of a heavy metal artist I have read yet. I am grateful to Dee for taking the time to write this book, and tell his own side of his life-story. I find I am more appreciative of the music he has made because of my understanding of the work that went into creating it, and circumstances that surrounded it. I sincerely hope I am able to catch Twisted Sister live in concert before they hang it up for good. Even if they remain a nostalgia-act, performing just their hits from the 80's, I would still appreciate the chance to see the hardest working band in show business.

In closing, I'll leave you with links to Twisted Sister's trilogy of classic music videos... (well, 2 classics and the 'controversial' banned-from-MTV 3rd video), followed by some recommended tracks that give you a good slice of Twisted Sister's legacy...

Recommended tracks from Twisted Sister:
-Under the Blade
-Bad Boys (of Rock N' Roll)
-You Can't Stop Rock N' Roll
-I Am (I'm Me)
-Burn In Hell
-Stay Hungry
-The Price
-I Wanna Rock
-Be Chrool to Your Schuel
-We're Not Gonna Take It
-Heroes are Hard to Find

Friday, July 10, 2015

Scarlet Canary-Arise (2015)

Post #313

Scarlet Canary are a female-fronted metal band from Denver, CO. I first discovered them when they came to Chicago to play Dame-Nation in August 2013. Their style could be called hard-rock as easily as it could be called melodic metal. I prefer the latter, especially as they incorporate elements of hardcore and metalcore into their sound.

Scarlet Canary's style and formula is actually quite comparable to Halestorm's for the most part. They employ a crisp and heavy tonality, song structures that vary form alternative rock to classic metal or even thrash, memorable guitar riffs, lead guitar solos, and catchy vocal melodies. Singer Hannah Haze delivers the lyrics with a primarily melodic style, but when she goes for it, her voice has a gritty edge when she pulls out her hardcore screams.

Their newest EP: Arise, gives you everything you'd expect from them for those who have heard their previous recordings, but adds the slightest hardcore edge. Since their last album they've had a change in their line-up and some of the new members bring their own influences into the mix. Overall the results are great! This band was poised to step to the next level and Arise certainly takes them in that direction.

Now for a breakdown of the tracks...
Fade-Clean guitar intro, and clean vocal melodies. The song progresses to include distorted guitars, but remains within a radio-friendly structure. This one is pretty much alt-rock through and through.

Regrets-A little heavier, this slow-to-mid tempo rocker builds to a strong chorus where hardcore vocals are used to deliver the line, "Your strength is beautiful to me!"

Death of Rock and Roll-This one is a great metal song with a strong groove, and could also be called a drinking song. Although if one would listen closely its lyrics are a tongue-in-cheek satire and lamentation of the hardships of struggling to make it in the music business as an independent artist. The crux is summed up best near the song's end when they suggest that the 'shots' you get at the bar will be the only 'shot' you'll get.

Bring Forth the Fire-Here is where Scarlet Canary up the ante a bit. During the choruses of this song hardcore screams are featured more prominently. On this one we may be hearing some of the influence from newer members, but it reveals a promising and versatile palate with which this band could continue to create music. To them I would say, 'Bring forth more music!'

Bottles and Anchors- This one has a more traditional metal/hard rock sound, keeping Scarlet Canary's sound accessible yet still heavy. Backing vocal elements tempt me to compare this number to the style to Iron Maiden. Coincidentally this song also contains one of the better guitar solos on this EP. Lyrically the song walks you through the ashes of a broken relationship, and the protagonist experiences betrayal, despair, and later some retribution.

Ghosts- This one has a memorable riff in a minor key which sets a dark mood, util the chorus brings a key-change and lifts the mood. Then the song returns to the darker mood for the next verse. This song has a true ebb and flow with the well-structured key-changes that keep the mood in flux. Another awesome guitar solo can be found here too.

Scarlet Canary are on tour again this summer and will be appearing in northern Illinois once again. This time they're hitting Rockford, IL on August 29th. Tracks from Arise are sure to be prominently featured in their set-list. If you like what you hear in the links below, then you should definitely catch them when they come through town. Visit their Official Website or facebook page for tour schedule, streaming audio and news updates. Also visit them on Reverbnation, itunes, or Bandcamp for downloads. Or you could buy a CD copy here.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Dark Entropy- 2014 Demos (plus new recording 'Crucifixation')

Post #312

Dark Entropy are a thrash metal band from Chicago. They've been writing, recording, and performing in the greater-Chicago area since 2011. The founding members of guitarist Matt Schering and drummer Richard Spoo have persevered through a couple line-up changes since then, keeping their vision of thrash-centric heavy metal alive. Their current line-up includes vocalist Brandon Castaneda and bassist Chico Weeks. You can catch their live performances around Chicago and the neighboring suburbs this summer-follow their facebook page for dates and venues...

Their formula is strongly influenced by the classic thrash era: Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Slayer, Sepultura... the tonality and riff structure of their songs is unmistakably thrash. Vocals are rough-edged growls, occasionally skating on the edge of hardcore screams and guttural growls. Castaneda also employs some melodic vocal passages. The melodic vocals are a decent change of pace but the aggressive vocal style is certainly the singer's comfort zone. The guitar solos are on par with classic thrash metal in technique, and provide the artistic highlight on several of their songs.

Now for an overview of the demos they recorded recently. If you do make it to a show, then you are bound to hear at least a couple of these tracks (which can also be streamed in their entirety on the previously mentioned facebook page.)

FEAR I said Dark Entropy were thrash metal, and that's exactly what you'll get with this number. A mid-tempo thrasher with a couple segments of double-time feel, hardcore vocals, sparing amounts of both melodic singing and darker, black-metal style screams.

Dying to go Insane Another great example of  Dark Entropy's thrash abilities, with a little something different. This one incorporates a touch of black-metal style vocals during the bridge and choruses.

Sins of Our Fathers  This song has an intro that reminds me of Metallica's 'That Was Just Your Life', proving yet again how true-to-form these guys are when it comes to thrash metal. This blending of rough and melodic singing continues...

Enlisted in Suicide This song is another solid thrash number. Again Dark Entropy make their influences apparent, either deliberately or subconsciously, this song has a vocal rhythm and melody that recalls the likes of Metallica's 'Phantom Lord' or Pantera's 'Primal Concrete Sledge'.

Crucifixation (2015 Single) This most-recent recording is driven by a relentless rapid-fire drum beat. This is the essence of thrash metal: killer tempos, and shredding, heavy riffs you ears can barely keep up with! This one gets my top pick for this collection of songs.

Overall I find the music of Dark Entropy filled with the promise of even better music to come as they persevere with their vision and hone their craft on Chicago's local scene and beyond. Again, visit their facebook page for tour schedule and links to these songs on Reverbnation for stream or download.