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Stinks Like Shit
By Bill Ketzer

As I Lay Dying

Shadows are Security (Metal Blade)

Should have renamed this band As I Die Laughing. I’m sorry, this is just about the most prosaic, melodramatic, seeping, torpid slab of sour metal beef I’ve come across in quite a while. Hardly up to the exemplary standards set (nay, created some would argue) by Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade. This band, while still warm and capable like Keats’s living hand, have no soul. And that might hurt. But it’s true. I listened to this thing 35 times straight through without it stirring within me so much as a single gas pain that could even remotely pass for an emotion. Here, art imitates nothing but a tired pattern of ho-hum wails-o-pain interspersed with actual singing (this tactic is getting older than reality-based television), pro forma double kick, and guitars that carry melodies that, if you tuned them to E and knocked off the distortion, you would have . . . oh my God . . . Simple Minds.

Of course, it’s selling like hotcakes. The kids love the look, the faux angst and the bleeding mascara, the calligraphy, the interview with the vampire that got thrown off the field by the umpire. I don’t know. I’m not even going to bother going into any more detail because I have things to do, like scrape the crabs off my sea wall. But I will say this, paraphrasing from the theologian and literary theorist Thomas Cahill: All good music, like all great civilizations, must have a weight of energy behind it. There can be strong sensibilities, good looks, excellent diction and all of that, but music (and again, societies) can have all of these amenities and still remain listless and cold. Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?

Jenny Scheinman

12 Songs (Cryptogramophone)

Albert Brooks released an al -bum 30 years ago called A Star is Bought. It included a glossy photo of Brooks, tucked inside the sleeve. Printed on it was the inscription, “To single any one of you out would be a big mistake.” That line came to mind when considering the title for Jenny Scheinman’s fourth album, 12 Songs. It’s perhaps the same dilemma Randy Newman faced when he gave his album the same title in 1970. Naming it for any one of the diverse compositions would tip the delicate balance.

Violinist Scheinman here fronts a septet that includes guitarist Bill Frisell and cornetist Ron Miles. Her dozen instrumental songs spring from a rich well of Americana, mixing in jazz, folk, and cabaret. There are numbers that sound like Erik Satie in a saloon (“Satellite”), a loopy parade (“Moe Hawk”), a lullaby (“Sleeping in the Aquifer”), and a heartwarming stroll into the sunset for a closer (“June 21”).

Remarkably, with the wealth of soloists on board, everything adheres closely to the character of each song. Soloing does occur regularly, but it weaves itself in by paying homage to the crisp melodies, offering up respectful variations with subtle grace and beauty.

—David Greenberger

Testament

Live in London (Spitfire)

Ah, finally a reunion offering that smacks of nothing but smackdown. Unlike so many recent attempts by ’80s thrashers to relive (and ostensibly cash in on) their salad days, these longtime Bay Area favorites deserve all the acclaim they can muster with this absolutely devastating, no-frills CD-DVD. Sure, they have released several live albums in the past; perhaps even more than Kiss. They were also crude and desperate enough at one time to re-record an album of early hits, but to see the outfit in such fine form is just too damned gratifying to criticize with much heart.

With guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick at stage right, these guys set the standard for melodic thrash before it was cool, and his return—however short-lived—is the stuff of majesty. Original drummer Lou Clemente also makes an appearance, if for only a few tunes (hired gun John Tempesta bashes out much of the set). This is perhaps somewhat akin to Paul DiAnno returning to Iron Maiden’s line up to sing “Murders in the Rue Morgue” at the Academy while Bruce Dickinson first belts out “Wrathchild.” But with Chuck Billy’s growl and Skolnick’s operatic arpeggios, Clemente was never the focal point of the band. And he steps up famously, so we can forgive it.

The DVD (sold separately) is shot by a crack team of four or five, and is standard live footage. The disc also contains some negligible bonus interview footage from the band’s recent European tour, where Billy talks a bit about his victory over cancer and Skolnick waxes philosophical about how the evolution of amplification since the early ’90s makes timeless classics like “Trial by Fire,” “Over the Wall” and “Into the Pit” even heavier than originally thought possible; and indeed, the real treat here is the set list itself. All pre-1992, pre-grunge, full-tilt dandruff. It will make all but the most jobless and bitter Testament fan insane with glee, the exception being the curious inclusion of “Let Go of My World” from 1992’s The Ritual. Kind of a turkey. Otherwise, it’s all here in the black and black. A fine assault on the senses.

—Bill Ketzer


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