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So, what were you doing when you were twelve years old? I started my twelfth year as a seventh grader and ended it as an eighth grader… worrying more about what was for lunch and what was on television that night than anything else; I was just getting into rock and roll. Ava Toton, at twelve, was writing and releasing her second (!) EP of hard rock, a destructive sonic force called CHARM SCHOOL DROPOUT. The set features three blistering rockers, in the same basic vein as the Runaways (probably the most apt comparison, though they were four and five years older when they recorded their first album, with a lot of help from Kim Fowley and a bunch of other writers). I even find vocal comparisons to Cherie Currie… if Cherie had started smoking two packs a day and slamming a fifth of Tennessee bourbon at the age of five. Obviously, the point I’m trying to make here is that Ava has a husky voice that definitely suits the style of music that she plays.


The title track is a snotty, punky number that puts the listener on notice: This isn’t the type of girl that’s gonna play nice with the other, poppier kids. “I’m not like you/I’m gonna scream and shout/Won’t play by your rules/I’m a charm school dropout.” And, this doesn’t sound like someone PLAYING at being snarky and self-determined; it sounds like someone who knows what she wants to do and how she’s going to accomplish it. “I Told You So” is more straight-ahead hard rock, as Ava and her band (bassist and producer Jacob Light and drummer Gideon Berger) eschew the punkier sound without giving up the attitude. Ava has a beefy guitar style (bolstered by Light’s bass) that echoes back to the early and mid-1970s. And, that ain’t a knock! Some of the best and purest guitar rock was produced during those years. The track also features a moody middle section that leads into a short solo that puts an exclamation point on the tune. The next song, “Wake Up the Neighborhood,” offers a snarling vocal and displays a band going full-out, particularly Ava’s guitar and solo and Gideon’s drums. As the title implies, it’s a song about “partying like a rockstar.” I’m not sure how the now-thirteen-year-old parties but… she certainly sings the song with conviction. The final track is called “Take Me With You,” an acoustic number with accompaniment from Jacob on piano and Yoed Nir on strings. It’s an oddly appealing song about aliens and a need to be elsewhere because things are just too strange here on the home planet. Ava’s voice seems a bit strained at times, but not enough to distract from the overall vibe of the piece.

CHARM SCHOOL DROPOUT is more mature and focused than a lot of records by people a lot older than Ava Toton (I’m looking at you, Motley Crue!) and it is definitely worth checking out. You can do so at, where you can learn more about Ava and her music and get your very own (CD or digital) copy.



Any time a new artist releases a full CD, they should be applauded. It takes a whole lot of courage and chutzpah to put a disc out these days and to feel you have something worthwhile to add to the cultural dialogue. For the listener, your general response will be based on two things: “What is different about this entity?” And maybe, “Do the songs grab me?” What we’ve got here is a Saint Louis act called Just After Zero, the musical brand name for one John Liming, who has a flair for observing the nonsensical, consumerist realms of existence, impressive musical chops, and a preoccupation with the sometimes-cinematic and sometimes just taxing side of life. There is cynicism and humor running through these ten songs, and above all, a keen diarist’s sense of the absurd. Fortunately, Liming has the raw beginnings of a pretty original style here, with a healthy dose of David Byrne-ish quirkiness (although Liming’s lyrics are more personal and his delivery less detached) and a touch of Nick Cave’s brooding but vulnerable side. The inherent drama of his vocal delivery works fine when the arrangements match it, which fortunately they do on at least half the compositions on his debut, ALCHEMEDIC. And you get the sense you’ve just met a highly original new songwriter.

JUST AFTER ZERO (John Liming) (uncredited photo)

Liming wisely begins the disc with his strongest track, “Coming Down,” an ultra-cool little chunk of sonics with edgy acoustic guitar, bass, and an insistently simple drumbeat that you’ll tap your foot to. He’s in masterful control here; the guitar playing is terrific, with an economic and surprising electric solo a couple moments in and possibly the best vocal on the record. There’s a vague sense of threat that the narrator is sharing, with the line “I should get out of this town” repeated enough to qualify as a hook. Musically, this is just a solid song all the way. “Backlot” starts with a similarly bracing riff, although it is shorter, and keeps the attention on Liming’s voice. This may be an acquired taste for some… but he doesn’t really sound exactly like anyone else, which I’d say is good. There is a slight tinge of implied paranoia but also a strong sense of survival determination that makes the journey he takes you on less jittery than it might have been otherwise. My favorite of his odd little tunes is “Electric Cicadas,” which is Liming adding memorable flourishes to the template he’s created for himself. There’s undeniable punk-ish energy happening here. “These electric cicadas got me down,” he sings repeatedly, with a brittle, wiry electric guitar solo popping up at just the right moment. And I like the “Oh, no, no, no” exclamation, the best use of that kinda thing since Paul Simon in “Paranoia Blues.” Good stuff, with kinetic energy!

“Building Code Under Fire” will remind you of a Talking Heads title, “Love Goes to a Building on Fire,” and it takes on messed-up societal processes, a thing Liming seems to think about a great deal. The drama is supplied entirely by Liming’s vocals and a solid acoustic guitar track. Then it’s time for an atypical highlight, “Harvest Song (C’est la Vie),” which is airplay worthy. Serious existential contemplation is taking place here, as Liming sings “I met the devil in a truck stop, he was waiting for a ride/He snapped his fingers to the radio that was playing from inside.” A little bit later, we get “I met the devil in a truck stop and he reeked of kerosene/He said, you better pay attention when you see the things I see.” This is a well-constructed tune that features the most singable chorus on ALCHEMEDIC, and it’s fun to ponder what might have prompted this composition. Another voice and acoustic guitar thing, the song proves Liming cares about the songwriting process… he has good ideas to spare, certainly one of the requirements for an adventurous new artist. “Only Monika” is a somewhat dour little tune that may have a girl’s name in the title but clearly it’s NOT “only Monika” causing the blues here. Then we get another surprise – “Tex Mex,” which is a rather zippy little instrumental that shows Liming can really play guitar, quite energetically, in fact. This is a nice trick for a newcomer to have up their sleeve. And “Irene’s Call” begins with part of a computerized voice talking about credit eligibility, which the subsequent song then proceeds to make a mockery of. Liming’s close attention to the irritations of modern life should provide him material for plenty of future songs, no doubt. He does sarcasm pretty well.

JUST AFTER ZERO (Adam Long, John Liming) (uncredited photo)

At times, a few of these songs aren’t too far past demo stage; Liming benefits from the ones that feature drums, which were played by Ralph Noyes. Liming handles guitar, bass on some songs and of course, vocals. There is a theatrical bent to many tracks, and when Liming gets the balance just right, as on “Coming Down,” “Electric Cicadas,” “Backlot” and “Harvest Song,” you really feel you’re being courted by a bracing new talent. The man has something to say, an eccentric style and presence and a pretty good flair for arrangements. I think we’re going to hear more from him for sure, and the riffs and refrains from some of these tunes are already firmly lodged in my brain. That seems like a pretty good sign to me.

ALCHEMEDIC can be ordered from Bandcamp at: Physical CDs can be ordered for $10 from

JUST AFTER ZERO (John Liming) (uncredited photo)


Q1: What is the significance of branding yourself as “Just After Zero” rather than your own name?

John: Truthfully, I was tired of people mispronouncing my last name. The original plan was to go by “One”, a three-way reference between the track from Metallica’s …AND JUSTICE FOR ALL album, which was the first guitar song I learned in high school, my status as a one-man act, and coming up with the name around 1:00 AM the morning before my first open mic. But I worried about it getting mixed up with “Won” and “1”, so I switched over to the more memorable and easily communicated “Just After Zero.”

Q2: Every artist ends up getting asked about their stylistic touchstones or influences. So, what are yours? They don’t just have to be musical artists. But what would you say are the things that led you to making your kind of music?

John: Funnily enough, my biggest influence is from film, not music. I’ve always been a big fan of low budget horror movies, particularly the shot-on-video variety that popped up after the renaissance of cheap VHS camcorders and digital editing software. It’s fascinating seeing filmmakers not much better off than myself just throw themselves at a production and make something on a shoestring budget with precious little technical skill, driven only by a desire to make the movies that scared them as teenagers. The movies end up sweaty, generally ugly, and always fascinating in their interpretation of universal fears. They taught me to not shy away from imperfection, or at least not to trade technical competency for impulse. This inspiration also serves as fodder for a few songs on ALCHEMEDIC, specifically “I Write Horrorshows,” “Backlot,” and “Building Code Under Fire!,” all very literally about the different aspects of cheap production values. Musically, a huge influence of mine is Primus’ Les Claypool. His ability to turn mundane people and places into macabre jokes and character studies is uncanny and guides a lot of my songwriting efforts. Also, “Puddin’ Taine” makes for a fantastic vocal exercise before a performance along with “Life During Wartime” from Talking Heads’ STOP MAKING SENSE album. That’s my hot tip to any musician readers out there.

Q3: “Electric Cicadas” is one of my favorite songs of yours. It’s got a hypnotic weirdness to it. What inspired this song? How would you summarize it for the casual listener?

John: Glad you like the song! I once had to fill out a ReCAPTCHA to log into a website (one of those tests where you type in a couple of words to prove you’re not a robot) and my words were “electric” and “cicadas.” I started thinking about how ungodly irritating a robotic cicada swarm would be (a combination of obnoxious clicking and bits of hot metal banging into windows at all hours, aluminum legs landing unprompted on your arms with no malice but no real purpose, nobody’s really quite sure why anybody invented something so loud and invasive but surely somebody had a good reason for it), and the words sounded fun to say together. So the song just wrote itself as an acoustic guitar song I could play on the open mic circuit. Then when I got the chance to do a full treatment of the song, I took the formerly human acoustic guitar parts and stripped all the warmth out of them with aggressive gates and filtering to get the feeling of chaotic sterility across.

Q4: Is it fair to say you are more of an introvert than an extrovert overall? What kind of release does music provide for you? It seems on the evidence that you are pretty driven… is there tension for you between ordinary survival type stuff and the energy and focus it takes to make music?

John: I’m an introvert normally, but Just After Zero provides me the chance to be an extrovert for a few hours at a time. In fact, this entire musician gig just started as a New Year’s resolution to play guitar at an open mic to convince myself to get out of my apartment a little and meet some new people. And as it happens, the Saint Louis open mic scene is bustling enough to support an independent musical career almost all on its own.

Music, to me, is the chance to tell a good joke or spark a conversation. When I learn something new (You ever notice how Building Code Under Fire is on every Universal movie newspaper? Wonder what’s up with that.) or come up with a weird hypothetical (You think there’s somebody out there that’s so down in the dumps that a call from a telemarketer is actually a formative event in their life?), the first thing I want to do is tell the nearest person about it. Music is a chance to share that insight and maybe, if I’m lucky, make somebody smile or think about that next spam call a little differently. There’s value in that. Making music is effectively a survival type activity at this point. I get twitchy and hyperactive if I go too long without it, so in that sense it jives really well with the more mundane psychological requirements like sunlight and spicy food.

JUST AFTER ZERO (John Liming) (uncredited photo)

Q5: Let’s imagine that this guy, we’ll call him Buford T Injustice, a fictional record industry dude, agrees to a meeting with you after hearing the awesome song “Coming Down.” He seems like he wants you to be honest, but you’re not sure. What would you say to him about your goals and aspirations for your music? How much compromising would you be open to, to sell records? If he pairs you up with some known producer, how much freedom would you give the producer? If Buford starts pissing you off, could you tell him you don’t like this direction, or would you quietly take all his suggestions under advisement?

John: I would approach Buford and ask him directly what he saw in “Coming Down” and what, specifically, he wants to see in my future work. I would expect some compromises to be asked of me and I would evaluate them fairly against what Buford would give me in exchange. I wouldn’t necessarily think of it as a chance to just sell records, though. I would try to think of it as Buford getting me in touch with people who want to hear my music, an extremely valuable resource for the increasingly dense musical landscape we’re living in. I would accept the chance to work with a producer on the condition I still get to play guitar and write my own songs. One of the unique aspects of a one-man band is that you don’t get a lot of creative input or pushback, so that could be a really good chance to take Just After Zero somewhere interesting.

Buford’s pissing me off would be a shame but I’ve worked for irritable bosses before. I would try to keep impartial and determine how much of the friction is actually impacting Just After Zero’s music. Some personal disagreements and irritation are a small price to pay for a publishing deal. If the music begins to suffer or my existing fans start disagreeing with the direction, it would be time to consider hitting the road.



All musical genres evolve and change, no matter what they started as. When Brian Eno coined the term “ambient” for the dreamy, drifty sound he became enamored with in the mid-’70s, it would have been impossible for him to imagine the different directions this stuff would go in over the next nearly half a century. APOLLO, the absolute ambient classic Eno created with his brother Roger and producing partner Daniel Lanois in 1983, found Lanois doing a strange thing: Introducing the pedal steel into otherwise spacey, Eno-esque soundscapes. It was an attempt to comment on astronauts reported fondness for traditional country music. Although viewed as sacrilege by ambient purists, somehow this new and unfamiliar blend worked.

Jonny Campos of Weeks Island (an ambient side project for the guitarist in Cajun band the Lost City Ramblers) was listening. He has just released DROSTE, a 5-track EP that features pedal steel and atmospheric background drone that removes almost every trace of anything you’d call “country.” This is meandering, often haunting ambience that makes a statement without wearing out its welcome. “Raccoon Island” could be the soundtrack for a couple lost in a swamp somewhere, evoking a non-panicky sort of displaced feeling, very much of the background-ish aesthetic that good ambient music excels at. “Fleur Pond” is more sparse but still gently cinematic, with Campos playing his chosen notes with definite deliberation. “Bayou La Chute” doesn’t vary too much, but the bending of a single string upward or downward adds drama and an evocation of being pretty far away from any familiar scenic touchstones. Curiously, this stuff is more purely ambient than Lanois’ diversions on the previously mentioned APOLLO. “Cybrien Bay” adds a repeating low-register tone for something a shade more intense and it contrasts nicely with Campos’ by now characteristic fluid pedal-steel flourishes. And the piece never makes it to the 3-minute mark, The opening “Point Fortuna” is nearly twice as long and represents Campos’ intention here the most memorably.

WEEKS ISLAND (Jonny Campos) (photo credit: WILL HAGAN)

With any sort of weird ambient music, it’s a given that it’s an “acquired taste.” But this is actually a nice little surprise… short, purposeful and totally authentic in its aims to create a southern-tinged atmospheric mini-set that has ambient textures but with pedal steel and the processing of it at the forefront. Let’s keep an eye and an ear on Jonny Campos; he’s demonstrated that he has a feel for this stuff, and meatier works may be in the offing down the road.



I am the type of person that likes to thoroughly research any artist that I write about, mentioning each band member and any guest musician’s contribution to the particular recording up for review. Finding ANY information about Abjection Ritual is like collecting hen’s teeth. However, after much scouring of various online data bases, I was able to identify the man behind the sounds. Now, after some soul-searching, I have decided that if this gentleman has gone to such extremes to keep his identity a mystery, I won’t blow it for him here. Suffice to say, the man is genuinely disturbed… the kind of disturbed that all true geniuses seem to share. These are the men and women who create the most adventurous and thought-provoking music, movies, literature, art… each a statement on the world, its populace or, indeed, the inner machinations of the creator of said piece. So… with that out of the way, let’s take a look at SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH, the fourth overall release from Abjection Ritual and second for Malignant Records.

ABJECTION RITUAL (publicity photo)

Previous Abjection Ritual releases have tended toward a kind of synthesized industrial metal. SOUL OF RUIN… sees the now-duo moving in a more organic direction, introducing guitar, bass and a live drummer into the mix of industrial ambience and heavy electronics. “Lamentations” is the shortest piece on the album, a droning dirge of an introduction with haunting female… uh… well, “Lamentations” leads right into “Body of Filth.” Tribal drums, eardrum-piercing feedback and an assortment of other evil sounding instrumentation replaces the hypnotic droning of the intro. Screamed male vocals are introduced before the whole thing devolves into a hive of noise, buzzing toward an unresolved terminus. “Blood Mother” is a sinister, Dio-era Sabbath wall of doom and gloom highlighted by ridiculously heavy riffs and ponderous drums. The middle section – a stinging, horror movie soundtrack – features a female voice (Rennie Resmini) and odd sci-fi sound effects before returning to the ominous bass grind of the track’s central theme. Hoarse, sore-throat inducing vocals plead and exhort, delivering what I must assume is the desired queasy effect. Author Christopher Ropes delivers a spoken word intro to “Deathbed Conversion.” The best analogy I can come up with regarding this one is that it sounds like the gates of Hell opening, inviting in the soul of a dying man. The lyrics are virtually vomited out, either Satan or the tortured soul seeking redemption (or condemnation). I’m not too sure about the conversion, but if the next song, “Ruin,” is any indication, things did not go well. The tone is oddly brighter, with a synthesized orchestra (or, is that a chorus?) seemingly offering light to the aura, if not the soul, of the entire record. Even so, the track features some crushingly heavy guitar and two guttural voices manage to give the tune and even more chaotic sound than the first half of the record. A lone voice, almost plaintive, dominates the second half grind.

“Carnassial Passage” is a kind of throbbing fever dream that somehow brings to mind the classic Alice Cooper tune, “Unfinished Sweet.” That may have more to do with the song title and the creepy drills that keep intruding into the mix. I feel fairly certain that this one would probably give even the Cooper boys nightmares. And that, friends, is a high compliment to the damaged minds behind the tune. The album ends with the nine-minute-plus magnum opus, “Old Sins.” It’s a slow descent into madness with heavily fuzzed-out guitar and bass with screamed vocals before the painful squall of a guitar’s feedback jolts you awake like electroshock therapy gone horribly wrong. Oddly effective and provocative, the minimalist drums make the cut intensely claustrophobic, forcing the listener into an unwelcome introspective haze. And we’re just a little more than halfway in; a more traditional approach is introduced at about 5:15 in, with a somewhat standard chord progression from the bass and Fripp-like sonic sweeps of guitar. Seemingly just out of listening range is what sounds like a psychotherapy session taking place. Taken by itself, “Old Sins” is a most effective and utterly disturbing piece of music; taken as a solitary piece of a larger construct, it seems to be the final abandonment of all hope, the dissolution of the final thread of sanity. The emotional turmoil that the song elicits, the journey we are forced to embark upon is exactly the desired effect that Abjection Ritual was aiming for. All good music, literature, art has the ability to lead its audience down a path that will generate a certain visceral reaction from said audience; SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH as a whole and, particularly, “Old Sins” by itself does exactly that. I was mentally drained from the experience and, just maybe, a different person for having had that experience. That is the kind of art that one rarely experiences nowadays.




I like noise! Noise is good. Particularly the conflagration of noise manifested by David Brenner, recording as the dark ambient project, Gridfailure. Five months after the release of the bone-jarring debut, ENSURING THE BLOODLINE ENDS HERE, Brenner is back with FURTHER LAYERS OF SOCIETAL COLLAPSE, an EP that is full of the best kinds of noise, utilizing field recordings, as well as heavily processed rock and pop instrumentation, lending the entire proceeding the air of a landscape decimated by industrial collapse. In less than thirty minutes, David (who is co-founder of the influential extreme music public relations firm, Earsplit) takes the listener on a trip that is – alternately – serene and pastoral, frightening and apocalyptic. In short, this is a sound pastiche for the thinking man. The seven-tracks, released on October 31 as a free download (name your own price) at Gridfailure’s Bandcamp page, is scheduled for a limited edition cassette release in the near future. In the meantime, feel free to listen below.

Gridfailure (David Brenner) (uncredited manipulated photo)
Gridfailure (David Brenner) (uncredited manipulated photo)

If you’re familiar with paranormal investigative shows like GHOST HUNTERS or GHOST ADVENTURES or the “found footage” of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, you will recognize the underlying vibe of “A Severing of Ties.” The entire thing plays like an EVP (electronic voice phenomena) session conducted deep in a haunted forest, with weird, disembodied voices buried in a sea of white noise. Toward the end of the track, some tribal percussion (courtesy of Full Scale Riot’s BJ Allen) peeks out of the miasma. “Digital Crush” maintains the thematic thread of the first piece, as the drums resurface briefly at the beginning, before more found sounds and other-worldly voices are introduced into the mix; what appears to be a ghostly single-note piano coda intrudes on the whole affair, while crickets, cicadas and other woodland noises filter in and out to great affect. On “Android Infusion,” the EVP detector has been replaced by a transistor radio tuned to a weak-signal free-form Jazz station transmitting from somewhere within a war zone. “Get Fucked Dance” sounds like a residual (looped) haunting at the site of a horrible train wreck, relaying images of doom, destruction, pain and… a Native American wind instrument?

With “Broken Systems,” the skittering and buzzing of insects reacting to the wildly fluctuating radio waves and apocryphal voices seem to announce the opening of the Gates of Hell. The sounds of forest creatures is slowly replaced by a fever dream of industrial cacophony on “Indian Point Direct Proximity Warning Tester.” This calm before the atomic fallout is, quite naturally, played out over the incessant drone of a warning siren. “Woodlands of Self-Impalement,” though the final track, is the pivotal centerpiece of this dystopian soundscape, encompassing nearly one third of the total time. Thunder in the distance heralds the heavy winds and the storm is upon us; the creatures – natural, spiritual, demonic – cease their chirping and moaning and laughing… the dream, the inner turmoil gains momentum as the white noise of despair overtakes all thought, leading to silence and the sweet release of…




Buffalo, New York’s Malfunction are back with their much anticipated debut full length. Following up the vicious “Summer Tape ’13” release, FEAR OF FAILURE is precisely what one might expect from these Flour City juggernauts… fierce, no frills hardcore in the vein of Merauder, Killing Time and Cold As Life. Metallic and crushing, the record kicks off with “Drained”, a dissonant jam laced with throaty growls courtesy of their vocalist, simply known as Zak. Other stand out tracks include the title track, “Fear Of Failure”, “Final Thoughts” and “Sonic”, the latter of which is a strikingly haunting tune with a stirring atmosphere not commonly found in this brand of hardcore.

For all it’s achievements, FEAR OF FAILURE isn’t a perfect record, and the majority of it’s flaws come from it’s production. The guitars are at times a bit over-saturated and the bass is virtually non existent. The vocals are thick and heavy, but at times lack any sort of a punch and tend to be buried in the mix through out the duration of the record. In whole, FEAR OF FAILURE is a solid debut from a very promising young act. Fans of the aforementioned seminal bands, along with newer heavyweights such as Expire and Dead End Path will no doubt be pleased with this.

Malfunction (publicity photo)
Malfunction (publicity photo)


If you’re here looking for a Jann Wenner/ROLLING STONE/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame style affirmation of how great Bruce Springsteen is, move on… there’s nothing here for you; Springsteen’s indecipherable vocal grunts have never appealed to me and – like Kurt Cobain’s – his lyrics are a tick (well, okay… several ticks) below that “Friday” girl (Rebecca Black). So, with that out of the way, I can pretty much guarantee that this list will not look like any other such list. Why? Okay, while there are albums that are obviously classics, landmark releases or “must hears,” most of those don’t manage to meet my stringent requirements for this list. Do I like Miles’ BITCHES BREW, Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED or the Floyd’s DARK SIDE OF THE MOON? Absolutely! And, just for the record, I do actually like a lot of Nirvana’s stuff, IN UTERO being my favorite. But, and here’s the major prerequisite for this list, how often do I listen to them? Not as often as I listen to the records that made the cut and, to these ears, that’s what counts. So, there you go… that is my stringent requirement: How often do I listen to the album and, to a lesser extent, how vehement am I about forcing said album on everyone else with whom I come into contact. A few minor things to consider (or not): There are no live albums (that’s a completely different list); these are all full-length releases (no EPs or singles); every album on this list is an official release (no bootlegs or “promotional only” items); “Greatest Hits,” “Best of… ” and singles collections are strictly verboten.

Ask me again next week and this list will probably look quite different; in fact, it’s already changed significantly since I decided to do a list. I started at 20 (in line with my list of favorite live albums). The list quickly ballooned to almost a hundred before I started whittling it back down to 50. I then found myself adding, deleting and substituting the other nearly 50 albums, so… what’s a music lover to do? The answer was obvious: Make the list a firm Top 100, regardless of the massive undertaking. If you wanna call this a “guilty pleasures” list, if that’ll help you sleep better at night… that’s okay with me. What I hope to accomplish with this list is to get you to take a closer look at some albums you may have crossed off after a spin or two or to get you to check out something that you may have never even been familiar with. It ain’t rocket surgery, kids; it’s just me telling you what I like and why – maybe – you should like the stuff (or at least give a listen), too. With that said, and heading from the bottom of my humble list to the top of the heap, here’s…



Lucier cover

One look at the name and cover of this record generally sent parents to their clergy, asking if an exorcism may be required to save little Billy or Sally from the hellish claws of Old Man Scratch. Despite the name and the tons of negative karma (it seems that the name alone was enough to cause it to sink from public consciousness almost before it was even released) that accompanied the release of BLACK MASS, the album is no more evil or Satanic in its scope or intent than the soundtrack to one of those great Hammer horror movies from the ’60s and ’70s. So, then, why should you care and why should the record rate as one of my 100 greatest of all time? Well… because, despite the name, the album is no more evil or Satanic in its scope or intent than the soundtrack to one of those great Hammer horror movies from the ’60s and ’70s. Oh… and it sounds really good and there are parts of it that still manage to scare the crap out of some people when I play it for them. Oh, and… it was one of the first ever electronic albums, by a true pioneer of the genre, Mort Garson (the guy who wrote “Our Day Will Come” for Ruby and the Romantics, as well as theme songs and incidental music for a bunch of game shows).

Mort Garson (publicity photo)
Mort Garson (publicity photo)

Garson became a disciple of the Moog synthesizer early on and a guru of electronic music upon the release of the 1967 album, THE ZODIAC: COSMIC SOUNDS (a couple of years later, he would expand this idea with twelve full-length records, each featuring music inspired by the individual signs of the zodiac). By the time BLACK MASS was released in 1971, Garson was well ensconced in the world of experimental electronic music, utilizing the synthesizer and other cutting edge sound inducers. “Solomon’s Ring” opens the album with some now-standard Emerson, Lake and Palmer/BRAIN SALAD SURGERY synth blasts (a couple of years before that record was released); somehow, though, those sounds are more beastial, more seductive here. The track reminds me of one of those movies where a virgin is sacrificed to the Dark Lord or Daniel Emilfork (look that one up) or some such totally evil atrocity. There’s chanting, singing, various “jungle noises” and tribal percussion laced throughout the slinky, oscillating groove of “The Ride of Aida (Voodoo).” “Incubus” is a trippy kind of BARBARELLA romp, complete with synthesizer-produced moans and groans. Despite some deliciously dark moments evoking the title demon, this song is pretty light sounding and fun. The titular number features tolling bells, chanting, wind blowing, a cathedral organ and a whole slew of creepy electronic noises. Even with all of the amazing technological advances in instruments, equipment and electronic music over the past forty plus years, I’ll still stack “Black Mass” up against just about anything since. The record’s first side closes with “The Evil Eye,” which is sort of a continuation of “Incubus” that quickly turns into the science fiction equivalent of a Voodoo curse.

Side two opens with “Exorcism.” The track has a kind of urgency and chaos (in a very organized sort of way) that lends a certain credence to its title, even if the odd, pastoral middle section does seem rather out of place. There’s a wicked sense of playfulness on “The Philosopher’s Stone” that belies the evil intent of the music. “Voices of the Dead (The Medium)” is kind of a lullaby for the criminally insane. If this cut makes you uneasy, you probably don’t qualify as a member of that very select group. Except for the creepy electro-percussion middle section, “Witch Trial” could have come from the soundtrack to one of those cheesy early ’70s made-for-TV movies about witch habitations or haunted lawn gnomes… heck, maybe it did come from one of those infernal things. The basic theme is a classical piece that I’ve always been too lazy to look up. The very short (less than 30 minutes) BLACK MASS ends with “ESP.” The track sounds kind like a swarm of wasps in flight or, maybe, the inside of an active hive; at just over a minute in length, though, it’s hard to make more than a general assumption.

Mort Garson, manipulated (photo credit: GUY WEBSTER)
Mort Garson, manipulated (photo credit: GUY WEBSTER)

Of all of Mort Garson’s releases, this one remains the holy grail (the unholy grail?). It has only been reissued three times since its original release – in 1973, when Uni’s parent company MCA moved all catalog releases under the umbrella of the mothership; 1977, when MCA launched a short-lived budget label called MCA Coral; and, finally, in 1980, when they moved everything back under the MCA tent. I’ve had several copies of the MCA versions of this record, so I have never actually seen a Uni version, but I understand it came with a custom inner sleeve with liner notes giving descriptions (and the reason behind the titles) of each piece. I have no idea who currently holds the rights to this masterpiece of electronic music (Garson ceased to exist in 2008, at the age of 83), but it definitely deserves a proper reissue on CD. Call your elected officials and demand they pass a law forcing the release of a definitive version of the 99th greatest album of all time!



Dead To a Dying World cover

Oh, these crazy kids today with their harbinger of doom and such. This atmospheric album totally transcends everything you thought you knew about the doom metal genre. It is at once suffocatingly harsh and hauntingly beautiful. This record gets me a little teary-eyed because if I had a son, I know that he would look just like Dead To a Dying World. The self-titled slab features two longish tunes with one short little ditty sandwiched between (14:30, 7:00 and 22:20, respectively). Most such epic productions of this ilk would get very boring, very quickly. Not so with DEAD TO A DYING WORLD. The music is nuanced and full of little moments that set it apart; it never lags or drags. I was engaged from the very first droning wails of that cello. Yep… you heard right… cello.

Dead To a Dying World on stage, 2011 (photo credit: RACHEL PRICE)
Dead To a Dying World on stage, 2011 (photo credit: RACHEL PRICE)

I’m not exactly sure how a song (especially one that’s over fourteen-and-a-half-minutes long) can be so breathlessly atmospheric and relentlessly claustrophobic at the same time, but “Concrete and Steel” is those things and more. This band’s technical acumen is akin to the precision cuts of a surgeon; the guitars and drums are crisp and progressive, subversively drawing you into the maelstrom. The lyrics offer nothing but doom and abject misery, as mankind’s seeming need to self-destruct and take everything else along for the ride is the focal point: “Searing effigies of our hope/Stand mocking our pain/And I see you screaming/I see you, but I can’t hear a thing.” Those lyrics are even more evocative and – dare I say – creepy as offered up by Mike Yeager and cellist Sam Pruitt. “Stagnation” is more oppressive and ominous than the first number, and in less then half the time. The unrelentingly dismal strains of the cello bores into your soul as the lyrics rip away at the edges of the hole it opens. Some may hope for redemption with the final offering; there is none. “We Enter the Circle At Night… and Are Consumed By Fire” is, indeed, about the after effects of countless millennia of selfish waste and man’s inhumanity to man, but there is only retribution. The ebb and surge of acoustic instrumentation counterbalanced by progressive, doom-laden metal rushing to an apocalyptic end sees hope lifted up in one instance, only to be crushed on the twisted and broken remnants of a world destroyed. DEAD TO A DYING WORLD is one of those records that gets into your brain, threatening the cerebral cortex with a sensory overload that will leave you drooling and babbling like a lunatic. And, yet… you must listen; you can’t turn away or turn it down or tune it out. Such a production, my friends, is all anyone can ask from a group of musicians like Dead To a Dying World.

A download of the album is available here:; the two record vinyl version is available here:

UPDATE: The band recently completed work on their second album. The vinyl release of LITANY is imminent. 



Harvest Bell cover

Harvest Bell is a Finnish metal and hard rock band who deserve to be huge! With moody vocals, atmospheric guitars and keyboard flourishes, a heavy rhythm section and… oh, yeah… great songs! Unfortunately, they only seem interested in releasing those great songs in bite size increments. The group’s latest, WHEEL OF FORETASTE, is a short 16:30 encompassing three tracks.

The opening strains of “Salutation” lets you know that you’re in for a doomy, gloomy hard rockin’ good time. The tune features some Maiden-esque harmony guitar parts (supplied by Petri Hama and Tuomas Heinonen), suitably subdued vocals from Jussi Helle and a cool swirling, psychedelic vibe. The sound puts one in mind of the very first Black Sabbath album (but with a far better singer), with more than a touch of SAD WINGS OF DESTINY era Priest and a dollop of the Smithereens dropped into the batter for a little alternative sweetening. “Afterglow” is all about the heavy atmosphere and even heavier riffs. The track starts of with some hauntingly simple guitar picking accompanied by a spooky organ (by guest artist, Aki Laaksonen) and a deep-in-the-pocket drum groove (the latter thanks to Juho Alhola). Things grow heavier and a little spookier as the song progresses, particularly Helle’s Dave Vanian-like disaffected vocals and the creepy backing vocals; in fact, the whole song has kind of a Damned feel to it… just one more thing to like about Harvest Bell. The final number, “Too Hard a Habit,” is a solid, heavy blues rocker. It’s highlighted by that Sabbathy crunch, some stun guitar, powerhouse drumming and a nice bass groove from Jarno Makinen.

Harvest Bell (publicity photo)
Harvest Bell (publicity photo)

There isn’t a lot of information about this band anywhere on the internet, but I did read in a review or some such that they have over twenty additional songs in the can. If that’s the case, all I gotta say is: “Please… for the love all that’s holy… release a full-length album soon!” WHEEL OF FORETASTE is available as a three-song CD or a two-track seven inch vinyl single (with “Salutation” and “Afterglow”) from



Axxa Abraxas

Athens, Georgia (home of the University of Georgia) has long been a hotbed of musical creativity, fostering such acts as REM, the Olivia Tremor Control, the B-52’s, Brantley Gilbert, Drive-By Truckers amid a roll call far to long to mention. Add Axxa/Abraxas, the music and art project of Ben Asbury, to that list. A demo of Asbury’s multi-media presentation found it’s way to the offices of Captured Tracks (home to Beach Fossils, Widowspeak and the reformed Medicine), leading to the release of AXXA/ABRAXAS. Asbury handles vocals, synthesizer/keyboards/noises and guitar, while the rhythm section consists of Aaron Neveu on drums and bassist Jarvis Taveniere (who also produced), both from the indie band, Woods. Asbury has a raft of influences, all of which, thankfully, he wears on his sleeve. The ten track album blends and morphs influences and styles into unique tunes that can only be described as “Axxa/Abraxas.” Late ’60s psychedelia collides with Americana and Goth is filtered through sunshine pop and everything is drenched in an electronic squall that sometimes challenges the listener’s patience. I advise you to hang in there, though, as the end result is quite listenable and utterly amazing.

Axxa/Abraxas (publicity photo)
Axxa/Abraxas (publicity photo)

In an album filled with highlights, here are the ones that stand out to me: “Ryan Michalak (Is Coming To Town)” is the album opener. It features an atmospheric, movie soundtrack intro before turning into a pounding psychedelic number, with echo-laden vocals and reverb-heavy guitar. A buoyant bass anchors “Beyond the Wind,” a kind of shimmery Goth thing. “So Far Away” is my favorite track at the moment. Imagine if the Partridge Family or Bobby Sherman dropped acid and asked John Cipollina to play guitar on one of their poppy sunshine confections. The results are loud and awesome. There is a sort of pseudo-psycho country vibe happening with “On the Run,” which features some oddly processed vocals to heighten the weird factor. One of the most straight forward tracks here is the single, “I Almost Fell… ,” a jangle pop offering that sounds a lot like: