Ghost: on Retro Bizarro

They’re not an old band, but they have a retro appeal that many find irresistible.

Heavy metal, black metal, doom metal. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s and had even a remote interest in the stack of hard rock albums your parents had collecting dust in the attic or basement, chances are they were the gateway drug to a series of musical sub genres that evolved incredibly fast. Too fast, really.

Heavy metal didn’t just evolve from hard rock. It replicated, deformed and perverted its host like a cancerous boil. Then it dropped like a mucous-coated sac against the ears of a new generation. And it stuck. And while everybody in the 80s wore the same repertoire of heavy metal pins, T-shirts, and necklaces that they robbed from Columbia House with fake names and P.O. boxes, not everyone had the same tastes in metal. Sure, it was cool to wear an Iron Maiden shirt, but while Eddie looked badass, Maiden was actually pretty mild.  But they filled a niche with cohorts such as Manowar. Bands like these thrived on the outer perimeters of mainstream hair metal.

Then there was the darker metal: King Diamond and his earlier work with Merciful Fate which could easily be pegged as horror metal or “Halloween metal” by cynics. These guys trailed on the heels of Alice Cooper and Kiss, but their music featured darker themes.

The thematic organization of bands hasn’t changed much over the years. The music, however, has. Bands like Bolt Thrower came along, following in the vein of fantasy and war elements introduced by bands like Manowar, but upping the ante in terms of vocal aggression and speed. In the horror metal sub genre, bands like Death and Cannibal Corpse worked their way to the forefront. The artwork for bands like this remained relatively static (in that it was always awesome), and always spoke to a part of me, but I couldn’t get into a lot of the ultra-heavy music, especially if the vocals didn’t feature some degree of melody. I spent a few years buying albums for the cover art. I didn’t have a PC or the internet back then, and it was one of the few ways to enjoy fantasy art. I wanted to love the music, I did. But I couldn’t.

Bands like Amorphis brought melody back to death metal, but the melody rests with the Moog, not the vocalist. And whenever a heavy band tried to infuse their heavy music with clean vocals, it generally sounded awkward to me. I remember hearing Dawnless for the first time. The music was great, then the vocalist opened his mouth and it sounded like a Bon Jovi tribute band went rogue.

I’ve grown less picky over time, and I find myself growing into bands like Death and Godflesh, bands I used to try to avoid like the plague when I was young, back when I would beg my friend to play his Ghostbusters II soundtrack cassette, because back then Bobby Brown beat Spiritual Healing any day. Of course, when I was seven Bobby Brown beat everything in my friend’s collection, including Metallica, Iron Maiden, and all of the other bands I learned to love only a few years later. But I have always felt like something was missing, something reminiscent of progressive death, but with clean vocals. It’s like trying to find the missing link between Black Sabbath and early Tiamat. And no, the newer material from Amorphis doesn’t do the trick.

I can’t believe this was my music of choice twenty years ago. Now my mature tastes lead me to bands that dress up like executioners and sing about Satan. I’ve grown so refined.

The search, in part, is over. At least for me it is. Someone has managed to carve a nice classic metal sound out of the varieties generated since the earliest incarnations of metal. While it is reminiscent of many classic metal bands, there’s something fresh about Ghost.

Ghost’s first full-length album, Opus Eponymous, was released in 2011. Since then, the group consisting of four men fully garbed in black and their front man–dressed in what looks like some sort of satanic anti-pope outfit–have been touring dutifully to spread the word of the antichrist. Their lyrics are probably some of the most satanic I’ve taken a liking to. I heard my fair share of Deicide when I was young, but you couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying anyway, so I never thought much about it.

Ghost, however, features clean vocals. So when they start praying to Satan in their songs there’s no mistaking it. And they’re not preaching LaVey Satanism. These dudes are singing about the stale scent of human sacrifice in their altar. There’s something initially off-putting about the seemingly gentle voice that conjures up images of Armageddon and likens band members to terrifying historical figures like Elizabeth Bathory. But these guys are way too awesome to let even a strong aversion to Satanism deter you. You have to listen to this music. And in no time you’ll be singing about death knells and blood rituals like they were the latest pop hits from Justin Bieber.

Most reviewers are all about concocting a recipe for Ghost. You’ll hear names like Blue Oyster Cult and Merciful Fate thrown around (Review at Encyclopedia Metallum). But there’s a bit Pink Floyd in the transitions from verse to chorus, and a bit of Alice Cooper in the echo of the airy vocals. I’ve heard their music described as the kind of music you might hear in an episode of Scooby Doo as well, and they’re on target. There’s something about the harmonized voices that is reminiscent of those old Doo songs from childhood. I think all of the influences are present in the following song, which is incidentally one of my favorites:

Some critics give the band a hard time because they see Ghost as a retro gimmick (a critique described by theneedledrop). At the same time, veteran head bangers get upset because they think young fans are clinging to Ghost, mistakenly believing them to have carved out some new niche in metal. But most of my friends know full well that this is a band as steeped in nostalgia as the listeners. This is a band of guys who love classic metal. For me, hearing Ghost play like they do is no different from watching Loeb bring back classic Batman villains in the Hush series. Frankly, I’m amazed this sort of thing isn’t being done in the world of metal more often.

The showmanship is great as well. Why bother describing it when an image does them a sufficient amount of justice:

Yeah, they’re not so subtle about the predominantly satanic theme that runs through their garb and lyrics.

If you’re even remotely interested in metal, old or new, check these guys out. They have some great live performances on YouTube, which will likely pop up in the side bar when you listen to the song posted above.

Other Notable News & Updates related to Ghost:

1. Frontman’s identity possibly revealed

2. Metal Blade Records Ghost Page

3. New Album Announced

4. Interview with Metal Injection

Shit Men & Cow Gods: Green Jelly on Retro Bizarro

Nicole Cushing! (rear left) You never told me the cow pope was a part of Green Jello!

In 1981 Bill Manspeaker and Joe Cannizzaro initiated what they hoped would become the world’s worst band. It was born with the lowest of hopes, raised on a series of banned shows. All appeared to be going in the direction Manspeaker and Cannazzaro had hoped. Then one of the band’s members, Maynard James Keenan, became a huge success with Tool. GWAR helped the band out with costume ideas. They received endorsements from Paul Stanley. Their music video “3 Little Pigs” began airing constantly on MTV, and they were nominated for a grammy in 1995.

By the early 90s Manspeaker and Cannizzaro’s dreams of failure and notoriety for suck were dashed, which is a boon for all of the fans they acquired over the years.

Everybody loved them for a different reason. Some people loved to hate them. Some loved them for the live shows, during which the band was pelted with pudding, jello, and whatever food folks could manage to get into the show. Some people, like myself, just loved them.

Green Jelly was the first and only band I ever wrote to when I was young. At the time, I was old enough to get excited about Kiss: Revenge, but still young enough to spend a few hours a week glued to the television set watching Sesame Street on PBS. Still, maturity (relatively speaking) tugged at my thought process, and I couldn’t help wonder what it would sound like to hear Elmo curse repeatedly, or watch Oscar the Grouch fling shit at Telly. My morbid curiosity left me yearning for more. And Green Jelly answered.

Moreover, when I wrote them, they fucking ANSWERED! After a few months of waiting for a response, I was beginning to think that my wait for a reply would be reminiscent of my experience writing to Nintendo Power and writing in to the editor of Super Mario Brothers comics: I would never hear back, and would be left browsing magazines on the shelf at Great American to see if my letter was printed.

Then the letter from Green Jelly arrived.

The letter was hand-written and featured signatures from all the members in the band during that time. I was put on their mailing list and received postcards informing me of their new singles over the next year or so. I managed to procure a copy of their  Cereal Killer Soundtrack album which featured their original name before they were sued.  Then in 1997 my fucking house burned down and I lost it all. It is probably the only stuff I lament losing. The old letters my female pen pal wrote to me before I sent her a picture and she decided to never write again, they only served to remind me that I had not met her standards. Good riddance to those. The love letters from my ex-girlfriend who cheated on me right before my best friend moved downstate and my house burned down, I didn’t miss those either. But the Green Jello letter, I wish I still had that, and I find myself wondering from time to time if Maynard’s signature graced that page.

The letter arrived around the time that the band hit the pinnacle of its career. Sure, maybe the signatures were fake. Maybe it was written by some fan club president states away in the wee hours of the morning. Still, at the time it rekindled my hope that some bands actually gave a shit what you thought and truly appreciated your support.

And that’s why I still look upon these guys with respect. I admire their self-deprecating style and their bizarro humor. I loved the

There's always room for Jell-O . . . unless it is in a band's name, a film title, a book, a television show, or anywhere else Kraft Foods deems inappropriate.

fact that they placed just as much emphasis on performance and visual entertainment as they did on their music. And man, do I love curse words and songs about shit! It’ll probably never get old.

In 1992 Kraft Foods sued Green Jello, forcing them to change their name. Their album and their promotional products had to be re-released to reflect the change. Later Kellog decided to jump on the bandwagon and sue as well, because Green Jello had created parody versions of many of Kellog’s cereal mascots, depicting them in lewd situations. In the vein of other corporate assholes, the management for Metallica ALSO sued Green Jello for using a similar riff in one of their songs, even though the lyrics to the song cited the source.

I say screw ’em all. Here’s to you Green Jello!

Oh, and thanks for not suing the creators of Monsturd for ripping off your idea:

Homosexual Ghosts and Cheetah C*cks: Wesley Willis on Retro Bizarro

In 1963, one of Chicago’s finest entered the scene. He would not become recognized until many years later, when he began drawing ink renderings of the city. Shortly thereafter, Willis blessed the world with many MANY redundant songs, almost all of which beckon us to reflect on humanity’s follies. His talents covered all basic manifestations of poetics: homages like his classics “Bill Clinton” and “Oprah Winfrey;” and elegies such as “Jesus Christ,” and his tribute to the untimely death of Casper: “Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost.” In addition to his mastery of poetic form, Willis was not afraid to contemplate his own mortality, and sang dutifully about his own fate in songs like, “The Vultures Ate my Dead Ass up.” He predicted the collapse of the housing market with the highly metaphorical “Termites Ate my House up.” He preached to fans about the importance of eating healthy, and included nutritional facts in songs such as “Rock and Roll McDonalds.” Truly, Westley Willis, with Casio keyboard and songbook in hand, was an asset to the rock music community.

He was not afraid to continue the discourse established by his predecessors, such as when he boldly continued in the vein of Sammy Hagar’s declaration “I Can’t Drive 55” by declaring “I Can’t Drive.” Period. You think you’re so badass because you can’t adhere to the speed limit Hagar? I just can’t fucking drive at all.

Though his music isnt for everyone, the merits of his artistic endeavors with ink are obvious

And in the vein of his observation, Willis pulled out all the stop signs. He unflinchingly explored the traumas of youth in songs like “My Mother Smokes Crack Rocks,” proclaiming, “my mother smoked that crack like a cigar. She had a good time at it.” And if you didn’t like his music, he had a message for you too, embedded in his subtle yet poignant classic, “Suck a Cheetah’s Dick.”

Like many other musicians, Willis began to ascribe to the rock and roll lifestyle. In his barely intelligible hit “I Smoke Weed” he proclaimed, “I smoke my crack pipe every day [. . .] I jack my mother for dope money. I do it by threatening her life with a semi-automatic.”

In addition to Willis’ advocation of drug use, he was not beyond shameless product placement in his songs. At the end of many of his odes he would proclaim his loyalty to Heinz, Timex and Wheaties. Nevertheless, he compensated for this with his ballad “Jesus Christ,” in which he described his devotion to the lord and his faith that he would be led on the correct path. This song foreshadows his death and reminds us that Willis will be waiting in heaven, for those of us who ascribe to that sort of thing, anyway.

Unfortunately, in 2003 Wesley Willis met his untimely demise. After struggling for years with paranoid schizophrenia, Willis succumbed to leukemia.

His later works take on a solemn tone. Where once Willis captivated his audience with upbeat songs about beating the hell out of Batman, getting his ass kicked by bird man, and instructing us on which condiments to use on the booty holes of particular non-domesticated animals, his final songs like “Chronic Schizophrenia” remind us that Willis too had a heart, and that his endeavors were no laughing matter. Listen to the following two songs in sequence and see if you can say with honesty that you’re not moved on some emotional level:

Steklovata- Novi God!

Happy New Years everyone! No Retro Bizarro today. Early next week I’ll be announcing a promotional event in which you can acquire a free copy of my new book, among other things. Today, feast your eyes upon this Russian music video that celebrates the new year:

Interesting facts/things to look for

1. Around 25 seconds into the video one of the older guys shakes his head in shame. He knows it is terrible, but the kids seem completely oblivious to how bad it is.

2. At 1:58 . . . EARS!

3. The two boys are part of Steklovata. Check out a few of their other hits: Steklovata and Prosto Osen.

Here’s to 2011!

Retro Bizarro: Jefferson Starship’s “No Way Out” video

Summary:

Mickey Thomas, circa nineteen-eighty-something-or-other, complete with porn actor’s mustache, is taken to a large mansion by a gorgeous blonde. In the basement there is a green chair. Take note. This green chair is important. Because it is green, and it is a chair, and the director decided to include a lot of disorienting shots of said green chair in the video void of any context . . .

That seems to be the premise.

But that’s not where the bizarro elements end. Accompanying the chair we have a doctor and a cave man adorned with face-paint, both quite enthralled by the appearance of this strange porn actor’s presence at their doorstep. We cut back to the actor, who opens the door to the mansion. Inside Grace Slick, dressed in some fucked-up cross between a nun and a roman warrior (with a spider painted on her face to boot) appears in synch with the music’s entrance.

Why is that fucking green chair following the roman warrior-nun and the porn actor up the stairs? Where the hell did Father Guido Sarducci come from, and why is he eating a chicken sandwich while watching the band’s drummer pump iron in front of a geisha? Yeah! It’s that fucking weird!

Why is it bizarro?

1. Green chair.

2. Father Guido Sarducci

3. Wiccan Roman Warrior nun with black widow painted on her face.

4. Drummer pumping iron while Geisha dances before an Andy Warhol print of Mao. If I’m not mistaken, Mao is Chinese and Geisha are Japanese, so on what level are we drawing parallels here? Ok, maybe it isn’t bizarro, but it definitely makes you ask, “what the fuck?”

5. That fucking green chair, now displayed in psychedelic colors.  Why is it flashing on what appears to be an Apple II computer screen? Why is there shit exploding under it at the end of the video? What does it MEAN?!

History/Interesting facts:

Alleged nipple slip around 2:44 in the video. I’m not seeing it, but I do see a plethora of middle fingers pointing at lead singer Mickey Thomas around 3:30 in the video I link to below.

The drummer pumping iron in the video was allegedly later kicked out of the band for punching lead singer Mickey Thomas in the face.

Father Guido Sarducci was a character from Saturday Night Live, created by Don Novello. Search his name and you’ll find some wonderful clips from the early SNL shows.

You can watch the video by following my failed attempt to embed the video below: