If you are looking for an exceptional year for music then 1991 has to be up for consideration. This is the year that saw the release of “ten” by pearl jam, “arise” by sepultura, the black album by Metallica, “bloodsugarsexmagic” by the red hot chilli peppers and one of the biggest albums in the history of rock music, “nevermind” by Nirvana. If that is not a run of stone cold classics then I don’t know what is! However after horrible recent events there is really only one choice for my album of 1991. “Badmotorfinger” by Soundgarden has to be viewed as one of the best rock albums of the 90’s, if not of all time.
If you look at the grunge movement as a whole, in a scene of freaks and oddballs Soundgarden stand out as unique.Nirvana had massive choruses, Alice in chains had a dark streak and Pearl jam had a classic rock element. Soundgarden had all of it but in a really odd way. There is something strangely disjointed about them. They are a hardcore punk band playing black sabbath style guitar riffs. It shouldn’t work but it really does.
I don’t know why but the albums from this period sound massive and “badmotorfinger” is no exception. I think that a large part of this is down to Terry Date. His production job on this album is almost textbook. He makes every individual element of the band standout without any one aspect drowning out the others. I don’t know how he makes everything sound both monstrously lumbering and heavy and yet tight as hell. Played correctly through headphones, this album can shake the fillings from your teeth and is utterly glorious for it.
Better writers than myself could fill book after book about the individual musicians in soundgarden so I will try and keep this as brief as I can. Firstly Kim Thayil is a massively underrated guitar player. He gets some really strange sounds to come out of his guitar over the top of those bone snapping riffs. A weird sorcerer of a musician mixing mad scientist inventiveness with straight up sabbath worship. Ben Shepherd on bass not only fills out the low end but brings a frantic energy to the album. This was his first album with the band and you can feel the enthusiasm and confidence he brings. Matt Cameron is a machine of a drummer and just makes the whole thing sound effortless. Then front and centre is Chris Cornell. I believe you would have to go a very long way to find a vocalist to even come close to the standard of his performance on “badmotorfinger”. Soundgarden have that classic rock vibe because with a voice like Cornell’s it’s unavoidable. It’s huge. It’s stadium filling and earth shaking. I’ve described it before as a voice you can get lost in. It picks you up and pushes all the pressure points in your soul. You would have to be made of stone not to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when Cornell is belting out “rusty cage”. His passing is a genuine loss to music.
All this however wouldn’t have meant a huge amount if the album wasn’t jammed with stunning songs. “Outshined”, “Jesus Christ pose”, “room a thousand years wide”, every single track on “badmotorfinger” is a heavyweight. This was their third album and it feels to me that something just clicked for soundgarden when they were writing this. A shade under an hour in length and it feels like no time at all. It is a lean, strong brawler of an album. Nothing is wasted and every blow counts. It doesn’t feel it’s age like some of the albums from the grunge era. That’s because there is no trickery, no gimmicks. Just one of the greatest bands to ever do it just playing awesome songs.
Sooner or later Slayer had to make it onto this list. Why? Because they’re Slayer that’s why. The undisputed kings of the darker side of thrash metal. Many people would vote for “Reign in blood” as their greatest album and I am in no way disparaging that album. It is an etched in stone classic. However to me their 5th album “seasons in the abyss” is the jewel in the crown.
The big difference for me between “reigning blood” and “seasons in the abyss” is the slight let up in pace. Not much but it changes the dynamics of the band. “Reign in blood” is a frenzied attack in an alleyway. “Seasons” is a well controlled punishment beating. The results are the same, but seasons is much more brutal for it. This album delivers blow after blow and doesn’t let up at all.
The confidence emanating from this band is both palpable and much deserved. Just look at the track listing. “War ensemble”, “blood red”, “spirit in black” and these OPEN the album. By any standard that’s just ridiculous. A majority of these songs are still a mainstay in the band’s live set and finishing with a song of the quality of the title track shows you the calibre of the album.
“Seasons” also includes my all time favourite Slayer track. Inspired by serial killer Ed Gein “dead skin mask” is everything that makes Slayer a phenomenal band distilled into 5:20. If anyone asked me what Slayer sounded like, this is what I would play them. Haunting atmosphere, questionable lyrics, drum fills that kick you off you feet and guitar riffs that ironically will take you face off.
This is the last album for a long time with the original lineup. These are four musicians at the top of their game and their isn’t a note out of place or a beat missed. I think that this album cemented Slayer as one of the all time greats and this lineup as untouchable.
I have no clue how to write this but feel that I need to. This is off the cuff and not planned in any way but I need to write about the death of Chris Cornell.
Earlier on this morning my wife was on Facebook and shouted “Jesus, Chris Cornell is dead”. I was stunned and for a while thought it might be a hoax, but as more news appeared then it became more real. At the time of writing this the cause of death has not been confirmed and to be honest that’s not important. The fact that he is dead at 52 is tragic enough.
I found Chris Cornell in possibly the most backwards way going. As a kid I was a massive rage against the machine fan so I was introduced to him by Audioslave. This was incredible to me. This was rage fronted by Robert Plant. The collision of these two worlds really was a massive discovery for me and I decided to track down more of this amazing voice. So, from there I went back to soundgarden and temple of the dog.
The best thing I can say about his voice is you could drop it into any band and it would fit. His voice was so powerful and versatile but at the same time so uniquely his own. There was fragility, soulfulness and a rawness in his singing but when he needed it there was huge range and strength.
I played “say hello 2 heaven” by temple of the dog today with a more heavy heart. Sadly fitting I listened again to a voice that you could drown in and really felt the loss of a truly amazing artist
On paper the second pixies album “Doolittle” shouldn’t work. Off kilter art rock made by social outcasts about surrealism and religious violence shouldn’t be good and really shouldn’t get into the top 100 in the USA and number 8 in the UK. An album this abrasive and jagged shouldn’t carry this much melody. Doolittle however really does work and if you let it, it will stick to your brain like a limpet and never ever leave.
I discovered the band fairly late on. I had heard that they were a big influence on Nirvana and for years I got by on one of their compilation albums. I really love the quirky and downright strange nature of their music. However when you hear those songs in the context of an album they really do soar.
Doolittle kicks off with one of the best opening trios recorded. “Debaser”, “tame” and “wave of mutilation” are a three handed slap in the face that demands your attention. “Tame” also gets bonus points for being in my opinion one of the sleeziest rock songs going powered by Black Francis’s deranged roar.
If you want to get a true idea of the pixies you need to listen to the track “here comes your man”. On the surface with the first listen it is a bright Beatles like pop song. Then play it again and you start to notice a little shadowing. Several listens in and it becomes and really creepy piece of music.
The true magic of pixies music is the vocal contrast between Francis and Kim Deal the bassist. Their voices are at once eerily similar and complete polar opposite of each other. Neither of them have particularly strong voices but they convey so much of themselves emotionally that it’s impossible not to be swept up in them.
It’s also really hard to pin down what “Doolittle” actually is. It wilfully leaps from genre to genre never staying long enough in one place to get comfortable. Art rock, punk, grunge, country,folk etc are all picked up for a few minutes then discarded and in a way that’s kind of what “Doolittle” and the band as a whole are about. These are not your traditional rock stars making safe music to sell. This is obtuse, challenging music made by a band who were outcasts. You can see why these guys and the bands in Seattle were starting to get traction on the world stage because they were showing that basically you didn’t have to look or sound the part to make great music. You could just be yourself and play what you wanted to play. In many ways the lasting legacy of “Doolittle” is introducing a large punk rock attitude and a heavy dose of weirdness into the mainstream. Ultimately this is a great album and really set the tone for the way rock music would sound in the nineties
1988 was a blinding year for hip hop with the releases of “straight out of Compton” by NWA and “follow the leader” by Eric B and Rakim. However, the album that I’ve chosen for 1988 is a game changer. I was late getting into hip hop and I do not claim to be even remotely an expert on the genre. But, as a fan of punk and metal “it takes a nation of millions to hold us back” with 16 tracks coming in at just under an hour, is one of the angriest and honest albums I’ve heard.
Firstly this album hasn’t aged. Times and production may change, but the issues that public enemy were trying to address are still very much alive today. You just have to see Donald Trump, reality TV or the need for an organisation like Black lives matter to know that there is very little change in 2017 from 1988. I like politically charged music but Public Enemy put most other bands to shame in this department. They are precise and ruthless with their targets. They do not miss.
As well as the message behind the music, the music itself is stunning. Front and centre you have the bulldozer delivery of Chuck D, righteous fury disguised as an MC. Slipping in, out and around Chuck is the wisecracking Flavor flav who not only lightens the atmosphere of the band,but also increases the impact of the music. All of this is laid over a bed of sound unlike any other.
Not just drum loops and beats, public enemy combine avante guarde soundscapes, funk, white noise and vocal samples to create a backdrop to match the MC’s at the front. The DJ for this album terminator X is worth the price of admission on his own. The guy is a wizard. Or an alien. Either way I’m not sure he’s human. There are probably other examples but in my opinion “she watches Chanel zero” is the best early melding of rock and rap. Chuck over the guitar riff from “angel of death” by slayer is magical and a world class example of bring together of two music genres who were at the time miles apart. This track might not have been the first but it’s easy to see the blueprint it laid down for bands like Rage against the machine and the entire nu metal scene that kicked of in the early noughties.
My favourite track on “nation” is “bring the noise”. This track slams and is a stone cold no questions asked classic. You can play this track to anyone if you want them to know the sound of public enemy, the importance of hip hop and even American politics. This is a 3:46 demonstration of how it’s done.
I urge anyone, even if they have no interest in hip hop to play this album. Believe the hype, this is worth every second of your time.
So let me start this week by saying straight away that I love Napalm Death and believe completely that they are one of the most important bands to ever come out of the UK. Even now they are still putting many bands to shame and are still at the cutting edge of extreme music. “Scum” is their first album and although it is not a personal favourite of mine it is still a massively important album.
“Scum” is in many ways a very unique album. I’m not sure if this is the first grindcore album, but it certainly set the blueprint for a new genre in aggressive music. The album was recorded by two completely different lineups with drummer Mick Harris being the only band member to play on both the A and B side. Despite that it does seem very consistent throughout. Napalm death also hold the Guinness world record for shortest song. It is track 12 on “scum” called “you suffer” and it clocks in at 1.316 seconds. That should give you an idea of the pace of this album.
With 28 tracks over 33 minutes “scum” does not hang around for anyone. As with most things in life context is important. Songs like “multinational corporations”, “prison without walls” and “c.s (conservative shithead)” let you know exactly what was going on in 87. Thatcher had been voted back in again and the midlands during her time in power with huge unemployment and welfare being given a serious kicking must have been a very bleak place. This isn’t Bob Dylan “blowing in the wind” style protest songs. This is completely uncontainable nihilism and rage. This is a group of angry young guys melding crust punk and metal to create short blasts of white noise and hate. This is social catharsis and it’s full capacity and there is not one second of this album that you don’t believe this band’s sincerity or conviction.
Some of the guys from these lineups went on to create some really important bands for the UK (godflesh, cathedral etc) and “scum” seems to have been a very good proving ground for these musicians. As I said at the beginning this isn’t my favourite Napalm death album, but as a critique of Britain in 87 and for spawning a genre of it’s own “scum” is a massively important album and worth your time.
Welcome everyone to The Punk Rock Buddhist. Today’s blog and the first of the 30 challenge is “candy apple grey” by the awesome Hüsker Dü. You may think you’ve not heard of them but trust me you have. If you like Nirvana, Foo fighters, in fact any alternative rock post 1984 you will have heard them. They were and are a massive influence in rock music. This is there fifth album and their first on a major label. Members are Bob Mould on guitars and vocals, Greg Norton on Bass and Grant Heart on drums and vocals. These guys started out as a hardcore band but over time morphed into this gloriously far reaching rock band. Considering it’s now over 30 years old this doesn’t sound dated at all. They created a style that’s still fairly common today. Mould and Heart spilt song writing and vocals almost 50/50 and it is a magic partnership when it all comes together. At a shade over 37 minutes the pacing on this album is mad. The first 4 tracks of the 10 absolutely slam, full on screeching adrenaline. Then suddenly out of nowhere there’s a mellow acoustic number (“too far down”, Bob Mould at his heart wrenching best). Word of warning Candy apple grey is as infectious as typhoid. I challenge anyone after there first listen not to be singing along to “sorry somehow” or “don’t want to know if you are lonely”. These guys have melodies and choruses by the bucket full. Personal favourite is “Eiffel tower high” where the duel vocals of Mould and Heart complement each other and glide above the track. Everyone needs to listen to this album at least once, if only to see the DNA of what would follow. These guys should be up there with Nirvana as one of the great rock bands of all time.
So that was 1986. Feel free to leave suggestions for any year on this challenge or anything else I should check out either under this post or on twitter @buddhist_rock
Thanks for reading
Hello everyone. For a long time I’ve wanted to write about and promote the best music I can find. So this is it, I’ve finally got the ball rolling. Welcome to The Punk Rock Buddhist. Every Friday I’m going to write about an album, from classics to utter duds and I’m going to be totally honest about it all. As a word of caution to that, these are my opinions not the gospel set in stone. If I don’t like something but you do then cool, what do I know.
So, a little bit about my music taste before I start. I started out as a big (like embarrassingly big) limp bizkit fan. Everyone has a gateway band, you don’t wake up at the age of 10 start listening to cannibal corpse. So from Bizkit I went on to other metal music and from metal I went on to punk. Then after years of this I decided that I was quite bored and made an effort to listen to everything. I rapidly went through hip-hop, blues, jazz, basically anything that I could get my hands on. There are some genres that I just can’t get and I have really tried. Country and electronic are the two big ones that just don’t compute. However I really want to approach everything with open ears and an open mind so if there is anything you want to recommend to me then that’s great. I want this blog to be as much about discovery for myself as for everyone else. Really looking forward to this and I hope it brings great music to everyone. The last thing I want to write about before I sign off for today is the 30 challenge.
I have seen on twitter two things recently that has given me this idea. The first was the album game where you have to list your favourite album for every year you have been alive (it’s really tough, believe me). The second is the 30 days of albums challenge where you have to listen to and review a new album every day for 30 days. My problem with that is that a day is not long enough to really get your head around an album, so how about one a week. As I also happen to be 30 then why not combine the two. So every Friday I’m going to review an album from each one of my 30 years. Not just classics but ones that are interesting and should be heard!
So thanks for reading this folks. I really hope you all enjoy this blog and join me on Friday where I’ll be scribbling about an album from way back in 1986!