Without A Song: Bon Jovi, ‘Keep The Faith & ‘These Days’

bon-jovi

Without a song throws a spotlight on bands, albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.

In 1995, the world of rock was a radically different place to the one it had been at the height of Bon Jovi’s popularity in the late 1980’s. For one, Kurt Cobain had been thrust into the role of grunge poster boy and then had just as quickly ended it all, changing the landscape of guitar music in his wake. An alternative miserabalist/realist outlook had permeated the mainstream.

Whether because of – or despite – this change in the prevailing mood, Bon Jovi had started to overhaul the tone of their music and image with 1992’s Keep The Faith. Gone were the poodle perms of old and in their place had come leaner cuts and less flamboyant threads. Gone were the overwrought cliches of having “seen a million faces and rocked them all,” newly apparent were a greater depth of feeling and a more nuanced outlook in their character sketches. And in “Dry County” they had recorded a near ten minute epic that came as close as the New Jersey rockers ever have to emulating their home state superstar, Bruce Springsteen.

Following the release of their greatest hits package, Crossroad, the group took this new development to the next level. Upon it’s release These Days was received with mixed reviews. A more muscular guitar sound and dense production, combined with decidedly downbeat lyrics, made many wonder where the good time bar band they had come to know and love had disappeared to. But for others, the album represented what many had thought the band capable of if they would only try; something akin to an artistic statement.

The first album the group recorded without bassist Alec Jon Such, this was Bon Jovi’s “dark” record. On opening track “Hey God” a family man reels at the deity and the world that have left him on the brink of homelessness. During “Something to Believe In” our narrator is on a quest for faith, whilst during its counterpart, “Something for the Pain”, he is worshiping at a different altar altogether.

This previously unheard of depth and diversity continues with album centrepiece, “My Guitar Lies Bleeding in my Arms”. The lyric of the song seems to explicitly discuss the changing nature of Bon Jovi’s world: “I can’t write a love song, the way I feel today. I can’t sing no song of hope, I got nothing to say.” For a man who has built a multi-million dollar career from penning power ballads, that’s no small admission. Accompanied by some subtle guitar licks and a powerful central section that sees the most punishing sound Richie Sambora has wrangled from his guitar since “If I was your Mother”, it is perhaps the most affecting track on the album.

Musically and artistically the group have never again achieved the same level of success in their recorded output, even if they have continued to be a cash cow. Later career missteps, like the largely acoustic album This Left Feels Right which saw them reinterpret their own back catalogue, or the bland country-tinged rock of Lost Highway, haven’t done much to broaden their horizons or deepen anyone’s understanding of their craft. Richie Sambora was more successful in that regard on his second solo outing, Undiscovered Soul. But the one-two of Keep the Faith and These Days are a fine legacy from the Garden State’s second most successful sons.

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Without A Song: King 810 | Memoirs Of A Murderer

King 810 Memoirs CoverWithout a song throws a spotlight on albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.

Artist: King 810
Album: Memoirs Of A Murderer
Originally Released: 2014
Label: Roadrunner Records

Time and hindsight are both wonderful things. When you can afford them, they allow you to develop considered and fully formed opinions. If used wisely, they can deliver the space for reflection and grant you new perspectives. And so I hope it is with Skin Back Alley and King 810’s debut album, Memoirs Of A Murderer.

Vaste swathes have been written about this band and their record, both in print media and across the web. Column inches and bits and bytes are full to bursting with missives about frontman David Gunn and his metal crew.

And to my mind, most of it is complete and utter shit.

A few minutes spent with the internet search engine of your choice will deliver you thousands, nay millions, of results leading to reviews, articles and opinion pieces about King 810. Even the most cursory of clicks will show that many, many people – both Joe Public and professional music journalist alike – have given Memoirs… the most brief of listens and have then subsequently jumped to the most base of conclusions.

You will read a lot about how they are simpleton nu-metal copyists. You will read equal amounts about how the band glamourise gun culture and violence. Others will tell you that Gunn is a one-trick pony, able only to sing about death, murder and how difficult life is in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Many will conclude that King 810 are not worth your time or hand earned money.

They are all wrong.

Memoirs Of A Murderer is an astonishing debut album. Hard hitting both musically and lyrically, it is a multi-layered thought-provoking masterpiece. Heavy metal albums – let alone FIRST heavy metal albums from new bands – rarely come as fully formed as this. Repeated listens prove richly rewarding.

King 810 Band Shot

To my mind, David Gunn is both artist and poet. Take the time to study both his words and his delivery, and their strength will hit you squarely between the lobes like the bullets he references. The fact that the majority of these words were committed to memory whilst Gunn languished in a US jail with no pen or paper to speak of makes them all the more hard won.

From the brutal opener of “Kill Em All”, through the lacerating “Fat Around The Heart” and on to “War Outside” and beyond, Gunn’s emotional intensity and poetic flow are excoriating, laying bare the reality of his inner emotions and outward strength. If there is a more visceral discussion of what it is like to live life on poverty stricken streets where carrying a gun is both the norm and necessary, then I have yet to hear it.

Nor do Gunn and his King colleagues do anything to glamourise their subject matter. This record does not exist to shout “Look at me! Aren’t I clever and cool with a gun in my pocket!” It does not boast or beautify. No, this album is run through with dread, fear, regret, the hardening of hearts and the sure knowledge that to be prepared and carry a gun is to become something less than human at the same time as being the only way to survive.

In it’s more reflective moments, and contrary to those bullshit shiny surface opinions, Memoirs… is also about so much more than it might at first seem.

“Write About Us” is brilliant in its execution, with a far more nuanced and stripped back sound it introduces a general theme of people trapped in their own lives, searching for someone they trust to help them live beyond their lot: “And they whispered unto me write down what you’ve seen / So the world knows our story and we’re finally free / They said we need it right and you’re the only one we trust / So promise that you’ll write about us.” In its second half, the song then moves in to the specifics, detailing the very lives of the previously anonymous people and fulfilling their wish and Gunn’s promise: “I haven’t seen Veronica since I told her how I felt / And the twins OD’ed and Sarah sells herself / Maxine’s on the needle, Kelly’s man cuts her up / I see Kristy where she works and she don’t bring the past up.” And so it goes on, the result of some kind of genius, an even more hard-hitting heavy metal Springsteen.

King 810 Band Shot 002

Musically there is more than enough to admire here, too. The irony is not lost on me that King 810 are currently touring the US with Slipknot, the band that they are most regularly accused of copying with impunity. Bar a guitar lick here and there that could – at a stretch – be considered similar to their forebears, King 810 plough a furrow all of their own. At their most musically intense, they are as brutal as any metal band out there. But their sound is run through with atmospheric sound effects, electronics and spoken word passages presenting the album as if it were the titular memoir of David Gunn himself.

Equally, King 810 are capable of a much more broad range of emotion and corresponding soundscapes. “Eyes”, “Devil Don’t Cry” and “Take It” all deliver impressive and impassioned moments far beyond what others are perceiving as a coarse and stunted aural bludgeoning.

So yes, on the surface and without a great deal of thought or consideration, it could be argued that King 810 are all about guns and violence. But I would argue that the people shouting loudest to tell you that are those who haven’t listened very closely at all. Or if they have listened, they certainly haven’t heard.

King 810 have, in Memoirs Of A Murderer, delivered one of the finest and most fully realised heavy metal debuts of the decade. The fact that it makes you squirm and reconsider your world view is something to be applauded, not sneered at from a hard and cynical place. Its ability to get under your skin and show you a vivid new perspective is what elevates the album above most of its contemporaries and puts it firmly on the pedestal labelled “art.”

Find out more about King 810 at their official website
Watch King 810’s video for “Fat Around The Heart” below:

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Without A Song: The Replacements | Let It Be

The Replacements Let It BeWithout a song throws a spotlight on albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.

Artist: The Replacements
Album: Let It Be
Originally Released: 1984
Label: TwinTone

Go to your nearest record store. Preferrably an independent, but given the urgency of the task before you we’re not going to be picky. Rush in through the front door, stride with purpose up to the counter and request in a polite but firm manner to purchase a copy of Let It Be by The Replacements. Once you have handed over the cash (or most likely swiped, tapped and wrapped, these days), return home forthwith. More haste, less speed people.

Walk in to your abode, wherever it may be. Turn on the power to your stereo equipment / computer / other generic listening device. Put the CD in to the appropriate tray. Plug in your headphone jack and position the headphones themselves upon your own noggin in the preferred position. Adopt your listening pose, turn up the volume to a loud – but still healthy! – volume.

Finally, push play.

Now tell me Kurt Cobain wasn’t a fan.

Released in 1984, Let It Be seems to be precisely the sort of album that would have been a monstrous success had it been released ten years later. Utterly ragged yet unbearably melodic, it is chock full of wry observations about life in the margins. The album captures the moment when Paul Westerberg’s songwriting developed into something rounded and beautiful. The music and playing have come along, too since the days of their sloppy hardcore debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to take out the trash.

It’s the raw passion and desperation that carry the day. Westerberg seems to sum it up in the mini-tornado of We’re Comin’ Out: “One more chance to get it all wrong / One more chance to do it all wrong / One more night to get it half right.” The band feel as though they are living right on the edge. This is the last chance they have to prove what they’re worth. And boy do they prove it.

Following two earlier, largely ignored releases, the album proved to be the ‘Mats critical crossover. Here was the ultimate balance between high and low brow. Just enough snotty, brash attitude to keep ‘the kids’ happy; just enough thought and emotion to please those beyond their adolescence. Where else would you find two minutes of rock n’ roll bluster along the lines of Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out, alongside the wracked, heart-on-sleeve, acoustic-led Unsatisfied and still have it all seemingly hold together (just.)

Westerberg’s throat must have been an open wound after recording some of these songs. The delicate balance between laceration and heart molestation is what brings to mind the grunge phenomenon that was Nirvana. Not only did the Seattle rockers seem to take some cues from the sonics of Let It Be, the whole template seems to be there in some primitive, primordial way. But just when you’re starting to take this album seriously, along comes Gary’s Got A Boner to bring you back down to earth with a bump (and a childish snigger.)

The Replacements went on to sign with Sire records and released what many consider to be their masterpiece, 1985 album Tim. But it was here, a year earlier, that so many fell in love with the ramshackle brand of rock n’ roll that the ‘Mats dealt in to such great effect. As such, it remains to many the record that captures that time in their life; that moment of coming of age. For it is truly a coming of age LP.

Now skip back to the beginning and listen again. If you don’t like it, don’t take it back to the store from which you bought it. Give it to someone else with the good sense to love it in the way that it deserves.

Find out more about The Replacements at their official website
You can buy the album from: The Skin Back Alley Music Store.

Without a song: Sanctorum – Semper Fidelis

Semper Fidelis Album CoverWithout a song throws a spotlight on albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.

Artist: Sanctorum
Album: Semper Fidelis
Originally Released: 2011
Label: Auburn Fox Records

The first thought that occurs to me when listening to Sanctorum’s third album, Semper Fidelis, is usually: “Bugger me! Why the f**k are this band not global metal superstars by now?!”

I then take a moment to briefly consider the swathes of shit that have crossed over into the realms of worldwide adulation, my synapses working overtime in order to try and and understand why this blazing display of dynamism, technical proficiency and yes, hook-laden melody, has not somehow delivered the same level of fanaticism for this Colchester cohort.

Tours supporting LA metal stalwarts My Ruin; sets at Bloodstock; appearances alongside the likes of Napalm Death, Evile and God Forbid; production from David Chang of earthone9 and Orange Goblin fame and, most importantly, as engaging and hair-raising a slab of molten metal as you’re ever going to launch down your lugholes. Amongst all these high points, there has been an unfathomable lack of cross-over and traction.

I just don’t get it.

From the opening title track onward, Semper Fidelis beats you violently around the head in a sonic attack sure to leave you breathless and yet begging for more. The band bring together elements of death, thrash, groove and good old fashioned British heavy metal in a heady blend. Across its 13 tracks and 59 minutes, the album is never less than thrilling.

“Dying Breed” is an excellent example of Sanctorum’s songcraft; A combination of Aaron Sly’s serrated screams combined with melodic, clean-cut metalcore vocals, thundering percussion from Matt Alston that is crisp, precise and consummate without being inaccessible, and Alex Commons’ and Sly’s walls of gnarled and biting guitar, over which Commons lets rip with prudently placed solos that soar and stalk with the minacious power of a bird of prey. The whole thing builds throughout it’s running time to a devastating climax, executed with skill and spine-tingling potency.

Sanctorum 2014 Lineup Promo Shot - Cropped

Elsewhere “Rise Of The Underdog” thrashes along at breakneck speed, demonstrating the band’s astounding skill, and delivering a heads-down, horns-up, explosion of a song. “Empty Glass” brings the doom-laden, foreboding atmosphere, all picked guitar and melodic vocal lines that gather momentum and erupt with volcanic intensity, laying waste to all in its path.

“Crown Of Scars” is an epic ending to proceedings, just shy of 7 minutes in length and weaving a fibrous tapestry along the way. It takes in NWOBHM-esque guitar, searing speed, breakdowns that Rage Against The Machine would give their eye teeth for, and groove the likes of which hasn’t been heard since Pantera’s early 90s golden age.

My extremely basic understanding of Latin suggests that Sanctorum roughly translates as “Saints”, and Semper Fidelis “Always Faithful.” The fact that Sanctorum are still here and making peerless heavy metal (the likes of which many other bands can’t come close to matching) and yet have still to make a more significant impact upon the world of music, makes them saintly and faithful in the best possible way.

On the eve of playing a summer tour this August in support of My Ruin, and about to unleash their new album on the world, it’s about bloody time that the heavy metal community – in the UK in particular, but the world over too – sits up and takes notice of one of the very best bands that these isles have to offer. For their music not to be heard is, to my mind, unthinkable.

Rise Of The Underdog? Quite. Together, let’s make it happen.

~ oOo ~

Watch the video for “Rise Of The Underdog” – shot on tour with My Ruin in 2012 – below:

Sanctorum will play:

Friday 15th Aug: Alt-Fest, Kettering
Saturday 16th Aug: Underworld, Camden
Sunday 17th Aug: The Haunt, Brighton
Tuesday 19th Aug: Sound Control, Manchester
Wednesday 20th Aug: O2 Academy, Birmingham
Thursday 21st Aug: The Fleece, Bristol
Friday 22nd Aug: The Duchess, York
Saturday 23rd Aug: The Waterfront, Norwich

Semper Fidelis is out now on Auburn Fox Records and can be ordered from the band’s official merch store

For news on the imminent release of the band’s new album, keep your eyes on Skin Back Alley, and check out Sanctorum’s official Facebook page and Twitter feed

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Bruce Springsteen, ‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’

As the summer weather seems to have arrived in earnest here at Skin Back Towers, we couldn’t resist sharing this earworm from The Boss on this fine Monday morning!

‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’ features on Bruce Springsteen’s 2007 album, Magic.

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