I am an internet user like you (the “official” being sarcastic, you see), who has chosen to pass the time writing about both his own life and things in the media that he enjoys, most often this is Heavy Metal music, most often through the medium of Blog. Music is my main hobby, the thing I spend most of my free time spending money on, thinking about, talking about, writing about and occasionally… listening to.
I’ve been obsessively into music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else, and I’ve watched about a billion (exaggeration) music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free CDs, websites and whatever else, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
A nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Star Wars or Spiderman, its Music. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about reality TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated Dr. Who fan’s knowledge of that subject.
But I don’t like Football or Reality TV or Trams or Dr. Who. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
For 99% of entries, or I guess I should say the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject as Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres (although I will write one for an interesting new album upon request, as happened with Gold Cobra and Frequency Unknown). They are articles about Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my best efforts and gradually-becoming-official-intention over the last decade-and-a-bit to listen to every single bloody album ever flipping recorded (only slight exaggeration).
You know the type of albums I mean; the kind of albums that would appear in a book like “The 500 Most Important Heavy Metal Albums” or “1,000 Rock Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.”
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a shot.
Finally, before I begin, I’ll add a quick warning; this article is too long. They aren’t usually this long. I guess I had a lot to say. I’ve been coming to and from this article all day. I’ve managed to listen to entire Messugah, Black Label Society, Silverchair, Damageplan and Helloween albums during it before even listening to the album that the entry is actually about. Well, I had a free day in the aftermath of some medical business and I had nothing better to do once I’d spent an hour lifting weights, ate lunch, went shopping and cleaned the dishes. Hey, if you don’t like long, read the first entry again, it was pretty snappy. This time I’ve got things to say. Right; that’s the preamble out of the way, onto the article…
This entry, the fifty-seventh in the series, will be about the Seattle Grunge band Alice In Chains’ second full-length studio album, the best-albums-ever-lists regular, Dirt.
I remember frequently reading about this album, that it was almost a concept album because most of the songs were about addiction and despair, but that it wasn’t actually a concept album. The band didn’t intend it to tell a single story, it just sort of looks that way. Similar to Jethro Tull’s Aqualung album in that way really; people assumed Aqualung was a concept album because about half the songs were about God and two of them mentioned the name “Aqualung.”
Aqualung. Now there is a classic album! I wish I’d had this blog and this series back when I first discovered that gem in about 2007. Listening to that for the first time was like a religious experience (ignore potential puns please). It just felt important. It reaffirmed a slightly waning interest in music in the biggest, baddest, most expensive way possible. If you like Rock or Metal music but haven’t heard Aqualung by Jethro Tull, just try it out, seriously.
…I also remember thinking, right up until the point of purchase, that this album (Dirt, not Aqualung) was a double-album. Its not though. I figured that one out when I opened the Jewel Case only to find there was only one disc. Clever, ‘aint I?
I also always think its called “The Dirt,” thanks I guess to Motley Crue’s tell-all book having that title and being released around the time I started getting into music. So. From the double-disc concept album called “The Dirt” to just some band’s second album, Dirt.
I love double albums and concept albums (take Coheed’s Afterman as a prime example of both being done well), but maybe reality is better than fantasy. Often double albums are overlong and full of weak music (take Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusions). Often concept albums can sacrifice too much music to serve the story (Take My Wife – the Rodney Dangerfield Rock Opera). Maybe a single disc inside that Jewel Case is the best thing to find after all.
Jewel Case…, Disc…, I still like to buy CDs you see. I mean, I’ll buy an album off iTunes or Amazon-MP3 now and again if it’s a drastically cheaper option (or the only option) but as a rule, I like my music on CD. It’s a habbit. Collection of CDs is almost half the fun. Nerd, remember?
When I got into music, cassettes were about 80% phased-out and only the last few diehards were still buying them, there was only one little wall space in my local music shop (“The Music Shop,” Cookstown) for cassettes. You only really got cassettes in the Library, where you could rent out Thrash Metal albums for some reason, inappropriate to the backwards town where even as late as 2004 people were called Devil-Worshipers for listening to Heavy Metal by “Christians” who hadn’t attended a religious service in years, couldn’t quote a bible verse to save their lives and did their best to live in a manner absolutely contradictory to what Jesus wanted; casting the first stone, judging, not turning the other cheek, not loving their neighbor etc. Now I’m that die-hard. Blindly holding on to the CD format even when its really doing no one any favours anymore.
I bring up the whole CD thing because I used to be so house-proud about my CD collection. It used to be treated with a lot of care and I loved it looking good, loved how much of it was undamaged and in good condition. If a Jewel Case got cracked or broken I’d more often than not replace it just to make my collection look nice.
Today I’ve just spilled a massive cup of tea over a load of my newest CDs, permanently damaging booklets, warping, discolouring and ruining shiny new digipaks and generally uglifing “my beautiful Discs and their interesting packaging.” I should be upset. I would’ve been upset in the past. I used to take pride in the fact that the only damaged discs were the ones I’d gotten from other people (or lent to other people, in the days before ripping and file-sharing, and had returned damaged) like my copy of Soulfly’s debut, which was already damaged and frayed when I got it. Whenever I moved City for the Summer just recently however, I got even more CDs warped and damaged and smelling of vinegar in a transportation mishap involving the food bag, and some damp towels I almost threw out but didn’t. Upon returning home I was also informed that my Parents had dropped and smashed a bunch of my CDs (or their cases to be specific) when moving them into storage for me. I would have been ungratefully annoyed at them in the past over that, but I can’t find it in myself to be now, I suppose that’s some sign that I’m maturing, growing up. – Growing up, that’s lain for not being quite so much of a dick isn’t it? – As you get older I suppose you get all that unnecessary pride knocked out of you piece by piece (assuming you’re a good person and not heading for the fall that pride supposedly precedes). You just shrug it off. Things get broken. No biggie. Don’t sweat the small spilt-milk and other mixed metaphors. Its all backed up on harddrives and iCloud anyway, right?
I don’t even know why I still buy and keep CDs, other than because I like to. The times have moved on. Bands don’t get any money from CDs, or so they keep reminding us. I rarely use the actual CDs for music now that I have a smartphone and iPod and iTunes. I don’t even have the room to store them all in one place and I move house so often (and will continue to do so) that setting them up seems almost pointless. I mean I haven’t even put up the Vinyls (I know the plural is just “Vinyl” but the incorrect way is more communicative here) that I’ve been buying as posters since I took them down when I had to move room at Christmas due to the flooding of my bedroom that semi-broke my PS3, warped and rotted a load of my furniture and clothes, and poisoned my multivitamins, leading me to become ill for the billionth time in the last few years.
Mould. It’s a fucker.
I’ve been collecting more CDs lately, out of the habit of collection, usually thinking that at some stage in the future I’ll sit still long enough to actually be able to have things like they used to be, where you could live in one place for more than one year, but that’s not the world I’ve lived in for over half-a-decade now and it isn’t ending any time soon.
None the less, I had to go to the Doctors yesterday and to kill time when I arrived in the City center two hours early I had a look around Waterstones and HMV, pricing Batman comics for the podcast (oh yeah, the Podcast is coming back regular readers, under the new name Rambleast Podcast, check Rambleast for more details), and CDs for the raging and insatiable fire inside myself that screams out for new music at all times.
Despite the future (or even the present, or even the past if I’m being totally honest) telling us all that CDs have reached total obsolescence, I ended up coming home with three more CDs for my fragmented collection. These three CDs are three of the few of the ones in my room that managed to escape the torrential explosion of tea as it happens. They were two Black Label Society albums that I didn’t have (Mafia and Shot To Hell) and of course, the subject of this article, Alice In Chain’s Dirt.
Dirt is an album that I’ve always seen in lists, features, countdowns and Youtube videos that go on about the best albums. The best albums period. Never mind best Rock, best Metal, but just best. (As well as both of those too, of course). A lot of music personalities I follow (podcasters like Stephen Hill etc.) and people I know in my own life, love Alice In Chains, and Dirt in particular.
I never really heard much Alice In Chains though. (I’ve since listened to ‘Them Bones’ and ‘Man In The Box’ on Youtube a few times, initially after watching both Metal Evolution and Hype!, but that was only last year, they’ve been surprisingly absent from my musical knowledge for the past decade, considering their fame and influence). The only Alice In Chains song I ever remember hearing back in the day had a Black And White Video set in a factory, and was slow and heavy in a sort of way that now, with hindsight, I can see why Mike Inez ended up in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. That video was always shown on Metal shows that also had songs by Obituary and Morbid Angel and Slayer on them. I remember when watching one such show, my brother, at a very early stage in my music fandom, possibly even before I even liked Slayer, telling me that he’d read that Alice In Chains were the missing link between Grunge and Metal.
At the time, when I hadn’t listened to much music, that seemed impossible. After all, grunge was stuff like ‘Sliver’ and ‘All Apologies’ by Nirvana and ‘Jeremy’ by Pearl Jam, and Metal was stuff like ‘Surfacing’ by Slipknot and ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ by Sepultura, I mean, this was before I even knew Sepultura were a Thrash band. At this point, I thought their first album was Chaos AD and their second album was Roots and their third (then newest) album was Nation (what the heck happened to Against by the way?). At this stage I hadn’t even heard much Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath yet, never mind ever heard of Hardcore Punk in the Black Flag/Bad Brains way (maybe I’d heard Biohazard by then, I can’t remember, but as far as I knew, Hardcore was just Metal with gang-vocals. ((I remember being surprised a year or two later when I bought Among The Living and Bonded By Blood and found gang-vocals on them.))). Without the early Heavy Metal information or the Hardcore Punk information I was literally unequipped to understand that slow but clear step by step process. How the heck could anyone ever get from Grunge to Metal?
The idea of that bridge, that connection, that trickle-down and mixture of influences, the slow history lesson to be found in the thousand different genres and subgenres of Rock and Metal has always interested me ever since. Regular readers may recall me constantly pondering different angels through which Punk met Metal, the different types of Metalcore, the legitimacy of Nu Metal as a type of Metal and other similar paths of discussing how different forms of music relate to one another. I made a list about it.
But for whatever reason, I never did get into Alice In Chains. Probably just because I never heard enough songs, and something else caught my attention.
I’ll tell you what else happened around the time I started getting into music, or in the early stages of my music fandom I should say, Layne Staley died. I completely forgot that. I only noticed it last night when I read Alice In Chain’s Wikipedia article in preparation for this article. As far as I was concerned, Dirt was Alice In Chains’ third album, and straight after it, Layne died of a drug overdose, around the same time as Kurt Cobain killed himself. In my mind, Grunge died in sort of one year, the stars died and the next day thee was no Grunge at all, which is of course ludicrous, as we all know it lasted a whole half-decade or so after Kurt did, with all the Candleboxes and Bushes and Creed’s filling up MTV2 up until, and even slightly after, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park had broke big.
I’m surprised all the attention that must surely have surrounded his death completely passed me by. I remember my brother saying something about how he weighed about 6kgs, was a recluse, lost loads of teeth and shat himself towards the end of his life – as reported by some music magazine – but when he told me that I assumed that it was old news, as he’d been dead for about nine years in my mind. I mean, when Jimi Hendrix had that revival in interest around the release of Valleys Of Neptune and when Pink Floyd had that revival in interest around Live-8, I, even with my prideful need not to just get suckered into hype, got sucked in. So, surely if Layne died around the time I loved Nirvana, I should have been bombarded with Alice In Chains material and ended up into them, right?
Didn’t happen folks.
I got into music in 2000. Nu Metal was the in-thing, but the TV and magazines were still full of Grunge. No one who got into Metal escaped hearing Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam on a regular basis. Most of my circle of friends got into at least one and usually at least three Grunge bands. No local gig was complete without at least one Nirvana cover. I remember a few Silverchair covers too.
Apparently though, Lynne died in 2002, not only after I got into music, but around the time when Jerry Cantrell put out Degradation Trip. [Wikipedia detail: After he recorded it but two months before he released it.] I remember that coming out, I remember reading reviews for it and I remember seeing the videos for it. I even fuzzily recall people were comparing him to Zack Wylde, but as far as I remember people were not mentioning Layne Staley.That seems unlikely at the best of times for any artist going from one high profile band to a new project. I didn’t realize Layne had just died. It seems doubly impossible that this wasn’t a huge talking point.
[Gesture of “flying over my head”]
So. Considering I missed out on them big-time. Where do they fit in with me? Lots of people say Alice In Chains influenced Soil, Corrosion Of Conformity and Black Label Society a lot. If that’s true then I may be in for a treat. Although I’m not the biggest Soil fan in the world, I’ve been listening to a selection of their best tracks of late on my phone, through shuffle, alongside the rest of my phone-worthy music and really enjoying it when it comes on. I’ve also listened to what can only be described as too-much-to-be-medically-safe Black Label Society and Corrosion Of Conformity lately. Maybe that’s why I had to go to the doctors, people! You don’t know.
Speaking of Zack Wylde, Black Label Society have a tribute song to Layne called ‘Layne.’ Its not one of the most memorable BLS tunes though, even on just that record. I prefer the likes of ‘Crazy Or High,’ ‘Steppin Stone’ and ‘House Of Doom’ personally, but whatever.
Also apparently one of the songs off of Metallica’s Beyond Magnetic EP was about him (‘Rebel In Babylon’ or ‘Just A Bullet Away’ depending on which website you check) Who Knew? Well, lots of people – but not me. Or maybe me, but I forgot. Until now. You know when you hear something at the time, but then you hear it again later and its like hearing it for the first time? Anti-Deja-Vu!
So what of these claims about them being a link between Metal and Grunge then? I’ve looked into it online, and it wasn’t just musical. They toured on the Clash Of The Titans alongside Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. You might wonder how on earth that happened, but Wikipedia also says that in the 80s before they were signed, Alice In Chains dressed in drag, played speed metal and covered music by Armored Saint and Slayer. Ok. I’m playing a bit dumb here, I’ve known both of those things for years, and saw them mentioned in multiple articles and documentaries, but its good information nonetheless.
They also appeared on the Soundtrack to The Last Action Hero alongside Queensryche, Megadeth and Anthrax. Their bassist Mike Inez joined Ozzy Osbourne’s band. They did high-profile tours with Metallica. And in the world-cup of tenuous links; Alice In Chains appeared in the soundtrack to the film Clerks, and that has a character in a Metal band (and its director Kevin Smith listens to Anthrax, and actor Jason Mewes listens to Slayer.) Ok. Too far.
Rob Trujillo was in Ozzy’s band. So was Zack Wylde. So was Mike Inez of Alice In Chains (I said it a few lines ago, remember?). Rob Trujillo is Metallica’s bassist on Beyond Magnetic. Rob Trajillo is also the bassist (along with Faith No More’s Mike “Puffy” Borden who was also with Rob and Mike in Ozzy’s band) on Jerry Cantrell’s Degredation Trip. Come to think of it both Rob Trujillo and Mike Inez were in Black Label Society at one point too.
Also unrelatedly, but interestingly for me, Queensryche’s Chris Degarmo provides a guest solo on Degradation Trip. Oh wait, here’s another link (apart from the obvious Queensryche went all Grungey, Alice In Chains are a Grunge band thing), Alice In Chain’s drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez were in a band Chris Degarmo called Spys4Darwin.
At Alice In Chains’ Hurricane Katrina tribute concert, [Or charity concert, for the disaster, Huricane Katrina… as opposed to a loving tribute to the band “Huricane Katrina” or some bizarre event where Alice In Chains turned up and blew air out of their mouths as a sort of tribute to the Hurricane] Pat Lachman of Damageplan provided guest vocals. Zack Wylde guested on Damageplan’s album. Damageplan featured members of Pantera. Rex Brown of Pantera was the bassist for most of Jerry Cantell’s first solo album. Also Phil Anselmo of Pantera (and Down) guest sang at that same Katrina Benefit gig.
Also, Jerry Cantrell guest-appears on Metallica’s Garage Inc. album on a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover (so too did Alice In Chains drummer Sean Kinney and Corrosion Of Conformity (and Down) guitarist Pepper Keenan). Metallica’s James Hetfield did guest vocals on Corrosion Of Conformity’s ‘Man Or Ash’ by the way. Cantrell also provided guest guitar for Damageplan’s non-album soundtrack single ‘Ashes To Ashes.’
Where am I going with all this? I dunno. I guess, its interesting how Alice In Chains are woven into the fabric of Metal. I’m sure there are plenty of people (especially judging by how many internet trolls complained about there being a Grunge episode of Metal Evolution) that would like to strongly deny any connections between Grunge and Metal, but there are a bunch.
I remember the Straight-Up tribute compilation coming out, and Corey Taylor of Slipknot (who had also guested on Damageplan’s album) guested on it, although in my mind that was the same thing as that Snot tribute compilation that came out. I remember Snot’s singer dying but not Lynne. …Wait a minute, maybe it was actually a Snot tribute I’m thinking of since I now realize “Straight” is not “Staley.” I also remember Drowning Pool’s singer dying around that time, just a few weeks after I saw them live (and they were surprisingly great live, I remember hearing ‘Reminded,’ and thinking the chorus said ‘We’re going to amuse you’ as opposed to ‘Reminded of you, you’ at that concert and its still a song I love to this day. Because its good I mean, not because I misheard the lyrics, that’s just a separate little titbit) No high profile Corey Taylor tribute for Dave Williams as far as I remember.
OK. So you know how these First Impression articles work by now don’t you? Intro then some facts, memories & perceptions, then the genre exploration then the listen though.
So. Genre exploration. Grunge. I’m not a massive Grunge fan. In fact I have a sort of anti-grunge disposition if truth be told. I admit I’m a little prejudiced against Grunge. I scoff a little inside when I hear a Grunge fan in a documentary say it was a little more intelligent than Metal. I turn off ‘Black Hole Sun’ whenever it comes on. I avoid any Grunge bands I didn’t get into before 2002.
What’s that? Yes. Despite my supposedly anti-Grunge thing, I do own music from three Grunge bands. First off, Silverchair.
I was really, really let down by Silverchair when I first got into them, or tried to get into them I should say. I remember hearing ‘Anthem For The Year 2000’ and ‘Freak’ and loving them, they were heavy and interesting and evocative. I bought Neon Ballroom off the back of hearing them, and discovered most of the album was pretty dull, it was overly sweet and in any case, it was not like what I wanted it to be. I bought Diorama some time later and discovered that it had absolutely nothing for me. One of the least enjoyable albums for me personally that I’ve ever bought. I remember kind of liking sections of ‘Lever’ and ‘Tuna In The Brine’ but that was just clutching at straws. I wouldn’t have liked them if there was anything decent to cling onto. Its funny how now I love all sorts of arty, piano driven, orchestral, ballad-filled Prog music, but I still can’t feel favourable about that tepid, tepid record. I might give it an honest, full-length, concentration fueled sit down after this, just to clear the cobwebs. Maybe it’s a masterpiece and I wasn’t ready for it. I never did buy Freakshow, since those other two let me down so much. Maybe it’d have been more up my alley? I don’t know, I was too let down to try.
You know what didn’t let me down though? Frogstomp. It is, has always been and remains a good album. I was never much in the mood for it though. I bought it along side a Biohazard album in the-other the-music-shop (remember that shop, regular readers?) although I think I chose it because it was on a two-for-£10 deal and there was nothing better to pick (As far as I could see or had heard of or wanted at the time, who knows, maybe there was something brilliant there and I didn’t know at the time.) I remember a comment my mother made at the time that will always stick with me. I was really into Biohazard at the time, off the back of the Uncivilization album’s best moments and I recall saying that they were my favourite band, to which my mother replied that “every band is your favourite band” which is pretty telling, considering how early that comment was, and how much music I’m into now, and how many bands have been my favourtie band since. Anyway, Frogstomp. I’ve not listened enough to the album over the years compared to how good it is. I periodically come back to it, find a great song like ‘Madman’ and then forget about it. I think the last time I listened to it was in 2009, just after I’d got into Shadows Fall and Lamb Of God, but even that one-off listen-through was the first time in years that I’d listened to it. I might listen to it again too actually, since it will definitely be good. I think I was just “off-grunge” in the period between briefly liking some Grunge and FOREVER AFTER!
Then there was Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam are an interesting band. They have some of my favourite songs ever (‘Down,’ ‘Sad,’ ‘Leavin Here,’ ‘Brain Of J,’ ‘Indifference,’ ‘Rearviewmirror,’ ‘Mankind,’ ‘The Fixer’) and an absolutely flawless 10/10 album (Backspacer) but some of there stuff absolutely bores me to tears. And even though its good every time I do listen to it, (bits of it really, it’s a chore to listen to all through in one go), I keep thinking I don’t like their legendary Ten album. I’ve got some weird mental-block about it. Like certain episodes of American Dad, the idea of them puts me right off, but if I do watch them I enjoy them. Bad mental thumbnails.
Pearl Jam are a great band, but they do write some dull, dull, unmemorable, dirgy music sometimes. Sometimes they capture a magic that makes them seem incredible, artistic souls and sometimes they sound like lifeless pretentious beatnicks trying to impress a bunch of stuck up artists in an empty coffee house, utterly awful and unimpressive to everyone except the vain snobs who want to think of themselves as the coolest and most exclusive collection of visionary geniuses out there, but who are in fact utter wankers.
Wow. Wait. What was that? I think I’ve tapped into something there. What was that? Inferiority complex? Jealously? Who knows…
I think I’m underselling Pearl Jam a bit. Sure, I don’t like 100% of their output, but they are a great band who make tonnes of music I totally love.
[Side note: I’ve started listening to Neon Ballroom while typing all this, and the song “Spawn Again” is a really interesting piece of musical history, it sounds like all that early Nu Metal as in Deftones and Korn’s debuts, as well as sounding like early Prong, Biohazard and especially Machine Head. Its massively Burn My Eyes. Interesting mix. Very illustrative of that trickledown journey I was talking about earlier]
Anyway; Silverchair, Pearl Jam. That only leaves the original and best. Nirvana. Nirvana were the first Grunge band I got into. They were one of the first bands I got obsessive about (later ones include The Libertines, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull and Rishloo). I remember I used to learn so many of their songs on the drums when I first started playing. I remember how excited I was when ‘You Know You’re Right’ came out (still my favourtie Nirvana song, sitting beside ‘Very Ape,’ ‘Scentless Apprentice,’ ‘Negative Creep’ and ‘Lounge Act’ in my Top-5). I remember hanging out in neighbors’ garages and bedrooms beside posters of Kurt Cobain as they strummed ratty half-learned versions of ‘Polly.’
I remember all my friends going through big Nirvana phases. I remember my good friend Magnum expressing the sentiment that all Rock fans went through a Nirvana phase. I remember one of my friends going through such a gigantic, brightly burning Nirvana phase that it utterly turned me off the band for about a decade. I still find it difficult to sit down and listen to them, or say I like them, or listen to their big hits on the radio. I mean, I checked out their Live Tonight Sold Out and Live At Reading DVDs when they came out, and listened to the remastered Nevermind that came out recently, but, Nirvana are something I feel kind of uncomfortable listening to at times. So over the years, for me, Nirvana went from being absolutely beloved to absolutely reviled, to a slightly guilty pleasure to a band that I like a few songs by but think are overrated… and to be honest on an almost daily basis the pendulum can swing back anywhere and everywhere in between.
I remember about four years ago I was in a band and they wanted to cover ‘Breed’ and it made me feel dirty. Like I was looking at old-woman porn in a job interview. I also remember two years ago I joined a Grunge band by accident, because their “drummer-wanted” advertisement featured a song that sounded like a mixture of Tool and Rage Against The Machine but that song was unrepresentative of the overall style.
But what about other Grunge music?
I remember around that time two years ago, I gave Blind Melon’s debut and Sugar’s ‘Copper Blue’ album a listen through as part of a music-club (think book-club) and found them to be dull and not-for-me. I found out about a year later that my good friend Magnum Valentino had actually loved that Sugar album, massively, for years, like the whole time we were at school together, but just never brought it up by sheer coincidence. Still not for me though. Hey, he doesn’t like Aqualung…we’re not one being folks.
Back in the actually receptive olden days of 2000-2002 there was no shortage of Grunge and Alternative music on MTV2 (almost as if it was still 1993, but then I guess it was just the Grunge kids finally getting the media jobs, like how now Beez on Scuzz is playing a lot of music videos by Nu Metal bands, almost as if it was still 2001).
Around that 2000-2002 time when I heard a lot of Grunge tracks, I used to always love ‘Celebrity Skin’ by Hole but not explore the band further because a) everyone hated Courtney Love b) My brother hated everything about that song, band, singer, scene and era and c) every other Hole song I heard, like ‘Malibu,’ bored me to tears. I remember watching that documentary that blamed Courtney for Kurt’s death a lot. That probably put me off too. She could probably sue the filmmaker. She probably has to be fair.
All of my friends loved Soundgarden. I didn’t get it. Not that I knew much about them. I heard about twenty seconds of ‘Spoon Man’ and ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ but never got to hear a full song, except for ‘Black Hole Sun,’ which I could never, ever stand. I remember when Audioslave came out and everybody loved them (hard to remember now seeing as how hard the backlash against them was on their later material), it took me almost six months to try them out because I simply couldn’t stand the idea of the Black Hole Sun guy. Luckily I did try them out though, because they made three of my favourite songs ever (‘Exploder,’ ‘Shadow Of The Sun’ and ‘Like A Stone.’) EVERY SONG IS YOUR FAVOURTIE SONG EVER!
I remember seeing some footage of Tool playing at an early Lolapolloza festival and looking like a Grunge band. When they came out they were sort of in, or suitable for fans of, the Grunge movement. They evolved far and beyond that over the years, but you can still hear how people would think that on Opiate and Undertow. I always find the most Grungey Tool stuff, the Tool stuff I like the least. I prefer the Proggier and more Metal side of their sound. That’s me.
I could never stand anything by Jane’s Addiction (from what little I heard) but I do have a very clear memory of Chef from South Park saying “Perry Farrell” on the Chef Aid cd. I also couldn’t ever tolerate much by the Smashing Pumpkins (or Zwan later, when they came out) except for that one that says “the world is a vampire” but not even that much, since I just wanted it to play the theme tune to the Buffy-spin-off TV Show Angel, like what happened in a Sky One advertisement once.
I remember liking Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Days Of The Week’ a bit, but never trusting it enough to either pay full-attention or try out any more music by them. When Scott later turned up in Velvet Revolver and the band had a bit of a Grungey vibe I couldn’t ever stick them at all. That’s not what I want from members of GnR to be honest.
I reckon its not what most people want. I don’t even like Slash’s new critically acclaimed solo stuff. Who wouldn’t love a band that just sounded like ‘Out Ta Get Me’ ‘Its So Easy’ ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘My Michelle’ though, with no Grunge. Why don’t former GnR members make that? Just grab Seb Bach to sing and make the hardest, edgiest GnR style material with no orchestras or horns, only one tasteful ballad per album and first and foremost play hard driving, slightly metallic hard rock with intensity?
Anyway. Grunge. Around that early time in my music hobby, I always heard a few songs by L7 and The Pixies and hated them. Not for me. I heard Mark Lanegan turn up as a guest on QOTSA albums but never actually heard any Screaming Trees. I think I listened to a song on Youtube last year and wasn’t impressed. I heard Mudhoney’s name a lot but never heard a song by them, ever. Did they piss off someone at MTV2 or something?
About a year ago I got into a massive spree of watching music-documentaries almost every day. During this (or should I say “one of these” since they keep coming back) phase I watched the documentary Hype! which is all about the whole Seattle Grunge scene and Subpop records and how they went from a shitty little bunch of barely talented local Punk bands playing in dive bars to an audience of no one to Platinum albums, million dollar music videos, sell-out world tours, and the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
I remember really falling in love with the song ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ by Mudhoney off the back of that, many years too late, but never doing anything about it. Because I was done with Grunge ten years prior, remember? I couldn’t possibly buy a Grunge album when I’d moved on. That would be like picking up Static X’s third album (which I remember Terrorizer pretentiously calling “Photoshop Metal” ((possibly in the same issue that they reviewed Machine Head’s Trough The Ashes Of Empires, the same month that Rock Sound Magazine gave away a CD that had a track from it – either ‘Elegy,’ ‘Left Unfinished’ or ‘Bite The Bullet’ – my memory is fuzzy – and made me distrust and not try out that brilliant album for years)) at a time before I’d heard of the computer programme Photoshop, and so was bamboozled by the idea of Photoshop ((as in get your photos developed)) Metal and what the heck that analogy was supposed to mean.)
I mean. You don’t often go back to those early development points after you’ve cut them off and part of your identity has been formed around their absence. Or do you? Isn’t that what this whole series is about? Discovering classic albums that I’ve missed? (Yes it is, keep up!).
So. Am I ready to listen to some depressing, angsty Grunge? (after listening to what the internet is fond of calling “happy, happy” Helloween?) No. Stop Reading.
I mean OF COURSE.
The album opens up with ‘Them Bones,’ which is handy, I’ve heard this one before, I already know that I like it. It just sort of pops like a zit, into a riff that’s going backwards in on itself. There’s a nice melodic chorus that reminds me a bit of ReLoad era Metallica and Tribe era Queensryche (oh it reminds you of the stuff it influenced, does it?). The brief chorus is very enjoyable. So is the guitar solo. Much more musical than Kurt Cobain’s solos. A bit more Metal and less Zeppliny than Pearl Jam’s solos. I like the last chorus.
Next comes ‘Dam That River,’ which could honestly be on any Black Label Society album based on the riff up until the vocals come in. It’s a driving-yet-mid-paced distorted rock song. I hear a touch of Kurt in some of the vocals. This song sounds like Beer and Motorbikes. Maybe that’s just because of the Zack Wylde thing. Some of the lead guitar reminds me of Blast Tyrant era Clutch in a removed sort of way. The opening of the solo is really reminiscent of Queens Of The Stone Age’s debut. Its got that same evocative, deserty sound. Like ‘If Only’ and ‘Avon.’
Next up, comes ‘Rain When I Die’ which reminds me of a mixture between bits of Queensryche’s ‘Dela Brown,’ Machine Head’s ‘Death Church’ and Queens Of The Stone Age’s ‘Walking On Sidewalks’ with its rumbly bass driven intro. Up until the talkbox riff comes in and it sounds massively Stoner Rock, its very BLS. I like the way he sings “call my name/going to rain.” There’s a slight guitar shimmer that reminds me of Chris DeGarmo, and sometimes the way the drums turn in on themselves remind me of Scott Rockenfeld. That stoner riff is really reminiscent of Corrosion Of Conformity’s America’s Volume Dealer album, although the drums wouldn’t fit. There’s a really cool bit about 3.50 in that sounds really intense. Wow. This drummer is good at adding little touches and making the most out of a simple rock song, there’s lots of flourishes and skill displaying going on. No mere beat keeping. Or bee keeping as far as I’m aware.. (maybe in Mud HONEY bad um tish).
Then ‘Down In A Hole.’ I think that one’s famous too. It starts off with what sounds like tribal drums ala the first two Soufly albums but quickly bursts into what sounds like Queensryche’s ‘Walk In The Shadows’ through the Seattle filter (although Queensryche were from Seattle, so um, through a 90s filter then…). The vocals are a bit more Kurty than I’d expect. I like the panning of the guitars. Then something horrible happens, there’s a ‘Love Song For A Witch’/’Sugar’ style circus-music-meets-Nu-Metal style noise section, then it melts into a sort of “stereotype Grunge” bit that sounds like crying with a little waltzy whinge section with slow feedback single notes. Then it goes back to the good ‘Walk In The Shadows’ bit, which now reminds me of Bush-era Anthrax actually. Hmm. Then the bad bit again. 50/50 with this one I’ve got to say. I don’t like this section at all. Then some prayers come in and they turn it into something I can get more into. Then, it goes a bit too not-for-me Grunge during the guitar solo. I sounds like the reasons I don’t like Grunge. Then the good bit comes back. Also it sounds like he’s singing ‘Sick Man’ which is the name of the next song. Me thinks that iTunes got the song titles mixed up. Ok….. I’ve just fixed all the titles manually. That was ‘Sickman.’
So a ballad starts next, I think its ‘Rooster.’ It was in the film This Is Forty. It reminds me a lot of Marilyn Manson actually. ‘The Man That You Fear’ in particular. The way he said “Aw Yeah” was very like how Zack Wylde would. Oh, look, its not a ballad. The guitars are very like every Queensryche album after Hear In The Now Frontier (except the new one with Todd). This one is interesting, because it has parts of the things I dislike about Grunge, but done well. It reminds me a bit of Audioslave and of Silverchair in places. The bit with the military-esque snare rolls and violining guitars is cool. I could get into this. I think Queensryche’s Tribe album prepared me for this. Sounds I dislike but played as well as I like.
All of these songs just sort of fade away. They don’t really end strong.
After that mellow ending to ‘Rooster,’ ‘Junkhead’ comes in with a very Grungey, moody, slow chug. The vocals are very good though. Then it sounds like Pearl Jam for the first time, the bassist is notable. God, I can hear this song in just about every 90s Metal song. I can even hear Rishloo in this. The guitar solo has this weird sublime sounding effect on it, it has a sound I’ve never heard before, its amazing and captivating, shame it lasts so briefly. I don’t have much more to say on this one, its got a lot of good fills in it though.
‘Dirt’ comes in next with an eastern-tinged riff that sounds like it could fit equally well on a Melechesch or Nile album and a Sleep or Kyuss album. The vocals remind me a bit of Soil at times. Sometimes the song feels a bit thin, It seems to be going for a hypnotic, Egyptian vibe. But, like, the Punk version of that. It wants to sound like a band trying to be hypnotic, rather than actually wanting to be hypnotic. There’s some brilliant drums on it. A nice guitar solo too, very musical. I’m really beginning to like Jerry Cantrell’s leads. I can see why the album artwork has sand on it, if this deserty sound is on the title track. Oh wait, maybe its not sand, maybe its dirt.
‘God Smack’ comes next. Probably why the band Godsmack have that name. The riff reminds me of Bleach era Nirvana, some of the heavier Silverchair moments, and certain Pearl Jam moments I can only half recall at the minute. Then it takes a bizarre turn, with these complex flippy drums, a really sort of happy rock bassline and 60s Pop sounding Vocals. And this brilliant busy chorus I can’t even describe. Its like the JXL remix of Elvis’ ‘A Little Less Converstation’ through a White Zombie and System Of A Down filter. The solo on this one is reminiscent of the Robot-y side of Josh Homme, like on ‘You Would Know.’
Then comes a stupid sort of sound effect track called ‘Iron Gland’ with Sabbath referencing lyrics and noise and pointlessness.
Then comes ‘Hate To Feel’ which starts off with that Sabbathy tritonic sort of harsh harmony sound. Its played out sludgily, and into a slow sort of waltz like the intro to Fairies Wear Boots before the fun swing comes in. It sounds like a record slowing down. That is interrupted by a chug robot. That’s interrupted by a groove version of the chug robot. Then there’s a chorus, that influenced a billion 90s/early-noughties choruses. Its hard to pinpoint where I’ve heard it before, but I’ve heard this sort of thing’s eggs hatched in hundred’s of different places. These return of the robot sections, after another tritonic waltz, are welcome. Then it has a very Sabbathy slow down of that waltzy bit, it takes on a blues sort of flavor, it strips down, the drums are very good. The band obviously like Sabbath’s first two albums a lot. There’s a Metal link right there.
Oooh. When they put a straight rock beat over the chorus it gets a nice driving quality. Then they end it in a big way that contradicts what I said earlier.
The next song comes in strong with a cool showy drumbeat, and a big moody dark riff that’s like Down covering ‘Come As You Are’ as a threat. It has a slightly similar vibe to BLS’ ‘Life Birth Blood Doom’ but much darker. I don’t like the Grunge-vocal ‘hey’s and ‘ho’s that punctuate the staccato bit like cousins of ‘Heart Shaped Box,’ but then there’s this sunny Foo Fighters style happy bit. I like when they put a straighish beat under the music from the staccato bit and play a solo over the top. That’s effective. Good structuring. When the stactatto bit comes back the next time I don’t even mind the ‘Hey’s and ‘Ho’s. This song is very punchy. I’m a fan. I like how the end matches the start too. Good cyclical songwriting choice.
Next comes the actual appearance of ‘Down In A Hole,’ which opens up reminding me a bit of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Cowboy Song’ but sounding a bit closer to a Load era Metallica track like ‘Until It Sleeps.’ Its just good. There are more quick little showy fills. I like the guitar scrapes, I like the good non-Kurty vocals. When the chorus comes back its better each time. The time it comes back with more distortion and all these different types of guitar is really good.
The final track is called ‘Would?’ It sounds very familiar. The drums and bass are reminiscent of dozens and dozens of Nu Metal and modern alternative flavoured new Prog tracks. I recognize that chorus. I’ve heard this before. I just didn’t realize. This song is great. It reminds me of Flaw, but its got this sort of Scott Rockenfield feel to the drums that gives it all this energy. The little bluesy solo type thing that comes in before the third chorus is great. There’s a slight touch of the Silverchairs in the bit that follows that could almost derail it, but they save it with good drums. Then a brief staccato section of four musical stabs and its over. The whole album is over.
Well. That was a bit of an abrupt ending for sure, but it was still a good song. There were quite a few good tracks on that album. And they’ve got a very good drummer. Overall, I’m feeling very positive about Dirt. I don’t think it’s the greatest thing since sliced Keeper Of The Seven Keys, but its better than I expected, and contained very little of the parts about Grunge that I don’t like. Not a purchase I regret. I could see myself growing to really, really like it.
Ok. I’ll stop typing now, seeing as I’ve already exceeded 8,000 words by some margin, which is more than anyone really wants to read in a single blog post.
Hope that was interesting. Suggest an album in the comments for next time if you like.