The Importance of Being Metal: Mercyful Fate-Melissa

Mercyful Fate-Melissa
1983; Roadrunner Records

1. Is It Any Good?

I'd like to paint a picture for you. Imagine that you are going to see an opera. You've bought your tickets and have gotten yourself either a balcony seat or a front seat or whatever is generally considered to be a good seat when you're watching an opera. The lights dim, the curtains open and the show starts. The set is a thing of majesty, an ornate background that must have taken the stage hands many weeks to build. The music of the orchestra swells and you feel your heart race in anticipation-this is one of the best arrangements you've ever heard. The cast walks out onto the stage, dressed in some of the most elaborate, striking costumes you've ever seen in a production. The actor who plays the protagonist steps forward, raises his hand, opens his mouth, then unbuckles his pants and takes a shit on the stage. He doesn't look apologetic, either: he MEANT to drop a deuce in the middle of the show- it's an integral part of the performance, as a matter of fact. And you think to yourself, "Well, I'm sort of enjoying the story, these are good actors, the singing is well done..."

But none of that makes a difference. You hate this, and you know exactly why you hate it. You saw the shit leave his body, you heard it plop onto the stage, but that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that you can still smell it. So you think to yourself, "Fuck this, I don't care if this is amazingly produced, I don't care if it's supposed to smell like this, that doesn't make it suck any less that I have to sit in a room with a shit on the floor."

If you haven't been able to guess by now, the stage is Melissa and the actors are the members of Mercyful Fate. And the shit?

The shit is King Diamond's Fucking Voice. Skip ahead to about 1:20. By about 1:35 you'd be about ready to drown your own mother just to make it stop.

And guess what? The whole album is like that. The whole fucking thing. The very first song, "Evil", is probably the most heartbreaking, because it has a great hook and some wonderful instrumentation all around, but King Diamond's voice could make you run into a blast furnace, as long as that blast furnace was somewhere where you couldn't hear King Diamond.

Have I made this clear? Am I being too subtle? Are some of you still on the fence about this whole thing?


So, with all due respect to the guitarist, the rhythm guitarist, the drummer and the bassist, no, Melissa is not any fucking good at all. To reuse the earlier analogy, it doesn't matter if you've put on the greatest production of all time-it there's a big shit smell wafting through the audience, everyone's gonna get the fuck out of there.

2. Is It "Influential"?

Well, this album is regarded by many to be the first black metal album. So that's an entire subgenre of music that wouldn't exist without one crappy album being released. I'd call that pretty damn influential. This was also one of the very first albums to have rampantly satanic themes, along with the music of Venom. Whenever an '80s politician wanted to decry metal as being harmful to children? That's on Mercyful Fate. Any time somebody makes a voice or a gesture making fun of metal as a whole? It's Mercyful Fate they're really thinking of. Every stupid, harmful cliche that has seemed to dog heavy metal since the dawn of time? Well, it's really only been since Melissa came out.

So, yeah. Influential. Like the Bubonic Plague. Or maybe Ayn Rand.

3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?

This is a true story. I have a friend who, a long time ago, was trying to get into black metal. She's really big on the genre now, but wasn't for the longest time. You know why? Because the very first black metal album she'd heard was Melissa. She thought it was one of the worst peices of crap she'd ever heard and it scared her away from the whole genre for a good couple of years. After all, she thought, if this was what great black metal sounds like, how mind-blowingly bad could the stuff that's worse than this be?

So, no, Melissa is not a good entry point for beginners. It's not a good anything for anything, really, but this is the absolute last album you want to show to anyone trying to get into heavy metal. If my friend is any indication, you might scare them off for good.



Siver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers

Silver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers
2005; Drag City; New York City
A week ago I find myself siting on the swings describing to a girl my self reflective concept on happiness being overrated. How, even though I by definition love being happy, I believe that I think better thoughts when I am depressed, I am humbler, I am more artistic, more creative, how I can see situations clearer, how I am more of the person I want to be. And how maybe being happy isn't worth giving that all up. She tells me that in her life she has many times found herself in places lower that. Down to a point below the reserved self examining depression, past the poetic point, past the doldrums into a place of crippling despair. And she said that just maybe she wants to try out happiness for now. By this point in time the bulk of my neurons are irreversibly linked to music and upon hearing this my mind immediately snapped to "There is a place past the blues I never want to see again."

Later sitting in my alcove in the garage I reflected on the event and it occurred to me again "there is a place past the blues I never want to see again." in circular repetition for half a song. What an odd forward phrase and how perfectly it sums up the emotion.

The closing song on Tanglewood Numbers says "There is a place past the blues I never want to see again" and it says it again and it swells and it begs and it circles and then it stops and when it starts up again its with a chant of "I saw God's shadow on this world"
I saw God's shadow on this world.
With this song he leaves behind casts away himself, his life shown through the rest of the album devoted to that place. He never wants to see it again, and as the album is done so is he. And after the final beat lays rest he goes on to make the happiest album he ever recorded and then at the end of january of this year, retire permanently from music. There is a place past the blues I never want to see again.

And I think, yes, I have been to that place and yes it feels like death and yes, I never I never want to see it again. The blues are hard enough. And though I hope never once more in my life to see the place of tanglewood numbers I am glad this brilliant literary album exists to remind me how it felt.

1. Punks in the Beerlight
2. Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed
3. K-Hole
4. Animal Shapes
5. I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You
6. How Can I Love You If You Won't Lie Down
7. The Poor, The Fair and The Good
8. Sleeping is the Only Love
9. The Farmer's Hotel
10. There is a Place

i could not love the world entire


The Mountain Goats - Tallahassee

The Mountain Goats - Tallahassee
2003; 4AD; All the fuck over

Writing for Styrofoam Boots has brought a distinct shift to my music listening habits. Consuming albums used to be a natural, un planed, sometimes extremely long process. On occasion, especially when I am more busy in my life, I would buy an album and it would sit on the shelf for months before I started to understand its importance. As an album reviewer things are a bit different. I've started buying albums with the intention of absorbing them as quickly as possible as to write a review. Albums that have sat on the shelf for a wile get pushed aside because they feel older in my personal history and less vital.

I bought Tallahassee in late april just before a particularly busy time in my life that has persisted up 'til this very moment. I still don't even nearly know this album. I've listen to it a dozen times at least and yet I still have only the basic appreciation for it. And yet, I feel very strongly that I should delve into it, that there is so much waiting for me beneath the surface for me to get lost in. And maybe to write a review that's enough.

My knowledge of the Mountain Goats before I got this album was pretty sparse. I knew their (his) story about a department store boom box recorder, about the wife he loves and hates, about his rush around the country, about his sudden shift to higher fidelity right around Tallahassee. The music I had listened to was everything I could legally for free, two daytrotter sessions and the 2008 pay what you want ep, as well as you tube videos for the songs No Children and This Year. All of the above were fairly melodic and catchy, they would quickly get stuck in my head and pulse back and forth there for days. And the lyrics, wow, after the melody had cleared way from my skull the words would linger on forever. There is something so rich and poetic about them wile at the same time they use very little metaphor, instead telling stories using rather direct language. But it was no children that grabbed my soul and for the first couple days I listened to it forty times each.

I suppose all this added to the contrast when I herd Tallahassee. The songs were not catchy they were pulsing, almost mantras repeated from a mind in denial, every song a different one. There are a few stand out tracks but for the most part the album plays less like a strait line and more like the circling air in a tornado gaining speed. Through it tells the story of the Alpha Couple, two married lovers spoken of often in previous Mountain Goats songs, who move to a house they had never seen before purchasing it in Tallahassee, Florida. Two people who love each other until they hate each other, until they wish the other would drink themselves to death, until they want to kill themselves, as the house starts to fall apart around them. I know this story just because I have been told it. It is there in the lyrics but the lyrics are not yet in me. The songs are mostly acoustic, with some other instruments thrown in here or there, and they come off sounding like a Dylan who hates himself much more then he hates other people.

Then there's No Children. If I were to guess I think I'll be talking about No Children in a year like I talk about Heroin now. It is and will and has changed my life. It was the compression of all the thoughts I had been having into words and song. Its about how after a certain point you don't want it to get better, you want everything worse. You want yourself to get to the bottom point and then see how much lower it can be. It once and for all discredits the fight club mantra of "break down to build up" stating instead that we have always wanted to break down to break down to break down until we die or kill ourselves. I hope it stays dark forever. The song reaches its climax with "I hope you die! I hope we both die!" words I want to shout from mountain tops words I want tattooed on my mind words that are the slogan of our generation. I have found myself playing the song on the street and shouting those words at confused strangers, I don't know why I do this. I don't make money on that song, at least not from anyone who is paying attention.

Before purchasing the album I read on official band website/extreme fan site mountain-goats.com a girl saying she first got into the Mountain Goats when she took a road trip with a friend and the only music in the car was a cassette tape of Tallahassee that got played over and over. I recently took a road trip with my mother across the country and as we drove my biggest regret was that I didn't do the same.

1. Tallahassee
2. First Few Desperate Hours
3. Southwood Plantation
4. Game Shows Touch Our Lives
5. The House That Dripped Blood
6. Idylls Of The Kings
7. No Children
8. See American Right
9. Peacocks
10. International Small Arms Traffic Blues
11. Have To Explode
12. Old College Try
13. Oceanographer's Choice
14. Alpha Rats Nest

my love is like a dark cloud full of rain, always right there up above you


The Importance of Being Metal: Deep Purple-Machine Head

Deep Purple-Machine Head
1972; Warner Bros.; Montreux, Sweden

1. Is It Any Good?

A couple of nights ago, I was telling my mom that the next album I was going to review for this column was going to be a Deep Purple album. She informed me that back in the '70s, Deep Purple was pretty much universally regarded as being an awful band. "Even the kids with bad taste in music would make fun of the kids with Deep Purple albums", she said. "Even the Deadheads would make fun of Deep Purple fans." Imagine the guys who listen to Alkaline Trio making fun of the guys who listen to Good Charlotte and you'll sort of understand what that was like.

So: Is Deep Purple the Good Charlotte of their day? Christ no. Were they very good? Once again, no. With that in mind, is Machine Head any good? Well, third time's the charm!

No. It is not.

Until I figured that I should review this album for the column, I hadn't listened to Machine Head in a number of years, mostly because I thought it was one of the most boring, cheesy pieces of crap I had ever heard in my life. It's not quite that bad in the present day, but it's still not something I would listen to if I had a choice in the matter.

There is a group of people who consider Deep Purple to be in the same pantheon as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in terms of being one of the most important pillars of heavy metal. These people, to coin a phrase, are retarded. As a matter of fact, I would contend that Machine Head barely qualifies as a metal album. It's more like a jam record with heavier guitars. If there was anything about this album that could be considered influential, it would be it's propensity to wander off into Nowhere Land(which also goes by the name of Solo Town) for longer than the listener will be able to find tolerable, although Black Sabbath already did that better on their self-titled debut, along with being a good band to boot. So...yeah, I'm kind of at a loss with this one.

White-boy blues lyrical content crops up all over the place during this album, along with extended organ and drum solos. If that all sounds unpleasant and dated, that's because it is. This might as well be a Boston album. If the sad attempts at funk don't scare you off, the ambling pace and weedely-weedely-weedely keyboard solos will try the patience of even the most tolerant listener.

And before anyone brings it up, "Smoke on the Water" can go fuck itself.

There are two instances on this album where it resembles approaching quality-"Highway Star" and "Space Truckin'", the first and last songs on the album(and, coincidentally, both of which are about cars). There's a legitimate kick to both of these songs-"Highway Star" in particular rips along at a suitably rockin' pace- and the irritating "chill out and smoke a bowl" mentality that permeates most of the album turns into something sincerely charming and fun with "Space Truckin'". Maybe if we could just get a concept album from them that was all about vehicles, we would have something good on our hands.

But, we don't. We have Machine Head. And "something good" definitely does not qualify as an accurate descriptor for this album. I meant for this to be a more positive review than it turned into, but listening to it for a second time I simply can't bring myself to add any qualifiers-this album is cheesy, boring and dated as all hell. With output like this, it's easy to see why even the ABBA lovers of the early '70s were shit-talking Deep Purple fans.

2. Is It "Influential"?

Technically, I suppose it is-this is what everyone tells me-but if you were going to ask me what exactly it influenced I wouldn't be able to tell you. Maybe it, like...no, I really don't have any idea what people are talking about. There were plenty of albums out at the same time that did everything Machine Head did, only about a hundred times better. Like, say, Foghat's self-titled debut. And brother, I can't think of some sadder shit than losing a quality contest to Foghat.

3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?

Does the listener need to get to sleep? Alternately, is the listener somebody who you would like to leave you alone as quickly as possible?

Then no, keep this as far away from a new listener's ears as possible.