Friday, July 25, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I think I've mentioned Banzai Records a few times on this blog. Banzai played a HUGE role in disseminating underground metal in Canada during the '80s. It licensed the cream of American, British and European independent metal labels—Neat, Megaforce, Metal Blade, and Noise in particular—and, through the distribution might of Polygram, put them in every damn record shop across Canada. Sure, their product could be "budget" and stingy on the packaging, but the fact that they got the music out there was the most important thing.
I still remember the excitement of seeing albums by bands I'd only read about in Kerrang! up on the wall at A&B Sound...and for $5.99, too! Kill 'Em All was the first LP I sprang for, little knowing that that album was the lit fuse on a scene that would quickly explode. Over 20 years later, I'm still listening to the dust and debris settle.
A few years ago, Adrien Begrand of Decibel & Popmatters captured that era much more skillfully than I can here. While I consider his piece the definitive Banzai retrospective, I'm always thrilled to find anyone else reminiscing about the label in print.
So it is in the latest issue of Decibel, where pro wrestler and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho talks about being a metal fan in Winnipeg in the mid-'80s, and manages to neatly sum up the egalitarian nature of the new metal in the process:
"There was this label Banzai Records in Canada—it was the imprint for Metal Blade and Megaforce. Anything that was on Metal Blade or Megaforce in the States was on Banzai in Canada. We bought everything on that label... I remember buying Kill 'Em All because it was on Banzai and because the guys in the photo on the back had more zits than I did. I thought if those guys could be in a band and make it, then so could I."
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Simian Special—The Cougar Stands Its Ground (SN Ratio)
Max (Sim Special) Arnason is a huge talent on the local scene, whether as part of the legendary Roadbed in their final days, teaming up with Super Robertson for a marvelous one-off album, or designing gig posters and CD packaging (he did stuff for my favourite Norse troll Mortiis, for Odin’s sake). The guy’s voice can transition effortlessly between a Martin Tielli-esque earnestness and David Lee Roth's partay yelp. Get him behind the drum kit, and he’s a similarly commanding presence. To see him take the stage at the Supper Show is always a treat. Simian Special is his own baby, a quartet with tight songs rooted in guitars from the 4AD school of texture—imagine a more gregarious Cure or a Rheostatics who’ve shucked off the burden of forging our national identity. The arrangements are detailed and precisely rendered, very much like Sim’s own visual designs. The drums snap, the harmonies soar, the guitars chime, synths snake in the background—something’s always going on. For me, the experience of listening to the album was a process of absorbing the minutiae over the course of a few airings, and after that the songs and hooks emerged in all their glory. There are an awful lot of 3 1/2 minute songs to take in—16 in all—so there’s a risk that some will be lost in the clutter. Nevertheless, there are a number of tunes I wouldn’t want to live without, like the hard charging “Frank Slide” (joining my own "Hope Slide" in the canon of songs named after western Canadian natural disasters) and “Solid Hole.” The high point of the album for me, though, is “Beloved Jane,” which gracefully unfurls a single chord progression, drapes a compelling vocal and ethereal guitar overtop and results in something majestic—their very own “Plainsong,” if you will. Graceful and unpretentious, it’s beautiful work.