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I live in the Seattle area and love searching out new and interesting music.

Black Sabbath – “Paranoid” (1970)

As the compact disc rose to ascendancy in the second half of the 1980s it appeared that vinyl was headed to the dustbin of history to hang out with Betamax tapes, rotary telephones, and disco.  Cassettes hung on for a bit, but it wasn’t long before the Walkman was replaced by the Discman and the CD completed its domination, having crushed all before it.  There were things we lost as part of this transition.  Music recorded specifically for digital fell victim to its own hubris, the loudness wars reducing sonic range.  Album art became less important with the smaller format. And, most importantly in my opinion, we lost the concept of the “album side”.

Having distinct album sides gave artists options in laying out their albums, providing a natural break between two groups of songs (or four if it was a double album).  Often this held little if any significance other than the leading singles generally occupying side A.  But occasionally the separation was like a line in the sand.  Side B of Black Flag’s My War was a complete departure from the band’s sound, a move that pissed off their fan base something fierce.  In 1968 Iron Butterfly gave over the B side of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to a 17-minute version of the title track, one that took the entire side and became the litmus test of both heavy psych and, to some extent, self-indulgence.  Of course Blue Öyster Cult threw a curve ball at the whole thing with Imaginos, a concept album with a linear storyline but with the songs appearing in non-linear order, which is bizarre on a lot of levels.  But I digress.  The other thing albums sides do is give us the ability to break down an album into smaller parts.  Sure, we can talk about the greatest albums of all time.  But we can also talk about the greatest album sides of all time, the best four for five (or three… or six…) songs in a row, sides that force you to listen to them all the way through because they’re so perfect.  The kinds of sides that you play from start to finish, meaning you had maybe 15-20 minutes before you’d have to get up and put something else on the turntable.

Which brings me to Paranoid.  Side A of Paranoid is one of the all-time great album sides.  And I do mean all-time greats.

  • War Pigs
  • Paranoid
  • Planet Caravan
  • Iron Man

blacksabbathparanoid

Black Sabbath are one of the originators of truly heavy metal, revered by just about everyone and producing a list of hits as long as your arm.  And yet arguably three of their biggest all-time most popular songs appear on the four-song side A of their second album, Paranoid.  The anti-war “War Pigs” combines weight, shredding guitars, and completely music free stretches in which Ozzy basically sings a cappella.  Politicians hide themselves away / They only started the war / Why should they go out to fight / They leave that role for the poor.  “Paranoid” was written as a last-minute filler, a throw-away song that immediately caught on with it’s matter-of-fact depiction of mental health struggles.  I tell you to enjoy life / I wish I could but it’s too late.  And that brings us to the criminally underrated “Planet Caravan”, a psych trip of spacey grooviness, an acid-soaked journey through the inner space of the mind, the guitar work sounding more like something by Santana than by Sabbath.  Which brings us to “Iron Man”, a truly strange song both in structure and story.  The opening metronome-like kick drum followed by the tuned down distorted guitar, then launching into the heaviest and most plodding jam ever. The entire time you’re waiting for the pace to increase and it doesn’t; it stays relentlessly heavy and in time, never breaking free, like nails being pounded into your head.  He was turned to steel / In the great magnetic field.  A song about alienation and revenge.  Nobody wants him / They just turned their heads / Nobody helps him / Now he has his revenge.  It’s a comic book story come to life, only without a hero to come and save the day in the last 10 pages.  No.  This time there are no heroes.  Only revenge.

Four songs.  The powerful.  The fast.  The slow.  The heavy.  All excellent in their own rights, and fitting perfectly together across 21 minutes of grooved vinyl.

The B side of Paranoid is no slouch in its own right.  “Electric Funeral” is the love-child of “Planet Caravan” and “Iron Man”, all dense psych and great riffs, and all four of the flip side tracks are solid.  But that A side, that sweet, sweet A side, is a masterpiece and definitely one of the all-time greats.

Dark Ages – “Medieval Sorcery” (1987)

darkagesmedievalI like the obscure stuff, especially when I can track down someone who was part of it and ask them some questions for the blog.  So when I found this late-1980s private press metal album from Seattle band Dark Ages I figured I had some good blog fodder.  But I was stymied by the use of pseudonyms, lack of memory, and likely one death.  At some point too-common names led me to either dead ends or so many possible hits that I all I’m left with is four songs on black wax.  I hope no one asks me to turn in my copy of The Hardy Boys’ Detective Handbook.

Medieval Sorcery isn’t typical metal.  The female-fronted Dark Ages do something a bit rawer and a bit less refined than often found in uber-intricate and/or uber-fast late 80s metal, bringing a touch of riot-grrrl-like sensibility paired with some sort of Dark-Ages-esque heavy folk influences.  “Auric Slumbers / Ophelia” opens grunge-like before bursting into a thrash pace overlaid with vocals of fluctuating speed, the whole thing a disorienting array of sonic elements and shredding riffs.  It may be the song that best defines the four-track record.

It’s too bad this is all we got from Dark ages, and that I couldn’t track down vocalist Erin Jean.  If I ever do find her though, you’ll hear about it right here on Life in the Vinyl Lane.

“Das Ist Schönheit” Compilation (1980)

There are certain things I’m a sucker for.  Late 1970s/early 1980s electronica.  Compilations.  Limited editions.  Albums with one-of-a-kind jacket artwork.  When all of these things align on one release, as the do on Das Ist Schönheit, I end up throwing my money at the person working the register like I’m a lobbyist talking to a politician.  It wasn’t cheap, mind you, but the price was fair based on the Discogs sales history, and the  condition was top notch (which seems to be the case for so much of the experimental electronica from this period…), so I couldn’t resist.

dasistschonheit

Sonically Das Ist Schönheit is a bit all over the place.  The first two tracks set up the listener.  First is the spacey “Untitled” by Peter Reitberger, all sci-fi bleeps and bloops, which is immediately followed by Rima Lucia Mardoyan’s classical-based yet still highly experimental “Symphonie Nr. I”, a sample-filled aural collage of orchestral music.  Mind.  Blown.  As near as I can tell there are 17 performers who contribute to Das Ist Schönheit‘s 30 tracks, over half of which are untitled and the shortest (also called “Untitled) only 14 seconds long.  While I think it’s fair to hang the “experimental” tag on this collection, the compositions, for the most part, have coherent musical structures.  Certainly they’re far from traditional, but they are recognizable as music, as opposed to some more avant-garde fare that can come across as simply a random collection of sounds (OK, Oliver Hirschbiegel pushes it pretty far with the random horns on “Billy Sagte…”).  The high point for me is Claus Böhmler’s “Falckenstein”, which uses Devo’s version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as its source material.

I’m hard-pressed to full “recommend” Das Ist Schönheit, mostly due to the price.  You have to be into the weirdness for this to be worth it to you, unless you’re more attracted to it due to it’s collectibility.  That being said, I do like the randomness of it and I’m glad I picked it up.

Boss – “Step On It” (1984)

Hard rock from Down Under, it’s kind of surprising that Boss only managed one album because their sound fit perfectly with what was happening in 1984.  Some poking around on the internet indicates they did OK in Germany and Japan and were certainly a live attraction in their native Australia, but Step On It remains their only full-length.  That plus three 7″ singles (two of which were comprised exclusively of material from Step On It) were all the band left behind.

All the classic rock tropes are here.  Songs about rock ‘n’ roll (“Kick Ass (Rock N’ Roll)”), songs about women (“That Woman”), and lots of apostrophes in the titles are to be found on Step On It‘s 10 tracks.  But you know, like so much rock from the era it’s still pretty decent.  This probably says as much about when I grew up as it does about the actual quality of the band, but I like what I’m hearing from Boss.  It’s entertaining and easy to get into.  There are unconfirmed reports that the band actually used a drum machine on the album, and if that’s true it kind of makes it a bit more interesting because no self-respecting rock band of that era would admit to such a thing.  And there is something kind of mechanical about the drumming… though who knows if I’d think the same thing if I hadn’t read that tidbit before listening to Step On It for the first time.

Grav Spee – “Grav Spee” Cassette (2019)

gravspeeThe latest from new Reykjavik-based label Eyewitness Records is a three-song thumper of a self-titled tape from Grav Spee.  The cassette opens with “Eating Out”, an electro pounder that includes some industrial-metallic-like top end flourishes to give the entire thing a very “otherness” quality, something you can’t quite put your finger on, something both familiar and yet… just slightly off in a way that connects with your most primal fight-or-flight neurons.  Do you like it?  Do you hate it?  Are you afraid of it?  To me it bypasses both the fight and flight options and freezes me solid like a deer in the headlights, unable to look or turn away as a ton of steel and plastic bears down on me doing 60 mph.

“Carpull 55” does away with any pretense and hits like a wrecking ball driven by a mechanical beat, a beat that at times takes on an edge of distortion, running hot and destructive.  “Mongo” is like being submerged underwater, sealed inside a steel drum that someone keeps banging on from outside, metallic and with the sound waves distorted by their travel through the fluid.

Give Grav Spee a listen on Bandcamp HERE.  As of this point it appears there are still cassettes available as well, though it’s limited to only 25 copies so it probably won’t be around for long.