–GALACTIC COWBOYS: Space In Your Face (1993)

•November 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

–GALACTIC COWBOYS: Space In Your Face  (1993) 

The 1990s was a challenging time for heavy metal. For those of us old enough to remember those dark ages of musical misery, that is one major understatement. Hard rocking MTV superstars of the ’80s were breaking up and being dropped from labels right and left amid the alternative rock and grunge onslaught. Beloved arena-packing icons such as Iron MaidenJudas Priest, and Dio were now relegated to touring small clubs and theaters in the U.S.; we fans, meanwhile, were reduced to digging for mere scraps in the suddenly nonexistent metal sections of record stores. Then, about five years later, the explosion of the “nu metal” movement/plague sounded to me like the final death knell for decent musicality in general. No, I spell my delicious popCorn with a freaking “C”– thank you very much. 

Yet, arising from the ashes of this musical holocaust, a few phoenixes soared high above the desolation and laughed. Houston’s Galactic Cowboys were one such act, a truly unique band that took their eternal quest for creativity and experimentation almost as seriously as their embrace of bizarre silliness. From the moment I first watched the video for “I’m Not Amused,” their first single, on Headbangers Ball, I sat there bemused — and, also, a bit amused. Here stood these four zany longhairs in the desert playing this insane smorgasbord of a metal tune. This song alternated between acoustic Mariachi strumming, bludgeoning thrash riffs, bluesy harmonica solos, full-on speed metal, and gorgeous vocal harmonies that would have made The Beatles jealous. But rather than sounding disjointed or merely schizophrenic, “I’m Not Amused” was original and captivating. My GC fandom was launched. 

Now, choosing a specific Galactic Cowboys album to showcase is no simple decision. Their self-titled 1991 debut is no slouch whatsoever, featuring such inimitable crossover favorites as “My School,” “Someone for Everyone,” and of course, “I’m Not Amused.” Their third record, 1996’s Machine Fish, finds the GC boys branching out into some more modern soundscapes. It took some getting used to, but it’s a grower. But on Space In Your Face, they sound the most comfortable in their own skins. The GC sound is more focused and crystallized without losing one iota of their unique charms. Let’s dig into Space

On Space In Your Face, the Galactic Cowboys — lead vocalist Ben Huggins, bassist Monty Colvin, guitarist Dane Sonnier, and drummer/”attempted keyboardist” Alan Doss — burn all their solid rocket fuel on intense and compelling songs. Sonnier’s guitar riffs juxtapose a bluesy swagger with aggressive thrash rhythms, while Huggins’ acoustic parts provide the dynamic counterpoint. Colvin, who’s also GC’s principal songwriter, plays lively, picked bass lines with a tone that is downright filthy. 

Huggins’ lead vocals are pleasant and warm in a glam-metal sort of way; think of some RattW.A.S.P., and perhaps Don Dokken thrown into a blender. Doss, for his part, delivers a ferocious hardcore punk intensity from the drum stool. This diverse package is enveloped by a giant bow of catchy pop-rock choruses and gorgeous vocal harmonies. 

Opening like a juggernaut, the brief introductory title track, with its swirling interplay of intricate thrash rhythms and jarring meter changes, raises the listener’s heart rate to dangerous levels. This segues into the driving first single, “You Make Me Smile,” an appropriately catchy and schizo sister track to “I’m Not Amused.” Next up, “I Do What I Do” is a dynamic diamond; its contrasts between the cleanly-arpeggiated verses, sublime chorus harmonies, and exhilarating Metallica-esque excursions are some of GC’s finest moments. “Circles In the Fields” is a straight-ahead thrashing ode to crop circles, and the band spares no spit nor venom in the purely belligerent rocker, “If I Were a Killer.” 

Some of Space’s most melodic moments are also its most endearing. Take, for instance, “Blind,” a lovely, mid-tempo quasi-ballad that never loses its metallic crunch. “No Problems” is a beautiful and harmonious tribute to personal perseverance and gratitude. 

On “Where Are You Now?,” the album’s crunchy, almost sludgy closer, Huggins nostalgically ponders the fate of old high-school crushes. As the band stomps through a looping culminating riff, the listener hears Colvin cold calling a few ex-female classmates. Sylvia, the first young woman he calls, is pleasant and polite, if ultimately clueless as to who Monty Colvin from High School is. “But you’re not a country band?” He’s much less lucky with his second caller, however: “Look! I don’t know who you are, and I don’t appreciate this. So don’t call back!” Ouch. 

But there’s a silver lining to this tragic tale. The Galactic Cowboys have reformed after nearly 20 years apart. Expect their brand new album, Long Way Back to the Moon, out Friday, November 17th. Now that really makes me smile — when it’s said and done. –Jonathan Kollnot 

–Tracklisting: 1.) Space In Your Face 2.) You Make Me Smile 3.) I Do What I Do 4.) Circles In the Fields 5.) If I Were a Killer 6.) Blind 7.) No Problems 8.) About Mrs. Leslie 9.) Where Are You Now?


–Knives Are Quiet (Local West Michigan Spotlight)

•October 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Knives Are Quiet: Self-titled ep (Local West Michigan Spotlight)

Very few bands, regardless of their locality or stature, possess a truly original sound. Many bands conspicuously ape one or two of their favorite artists or sub genres, while others may try to mash so many different styles into a song that it sounds like a convoluted porridge of musical slop. No, not so appetizing. 

Then there’s Knives Are Quiet, a band that epitomizes the descriptor, “unique.” This instrumental heavy-rock trio from Grand Rapids, Michigan has been active on the scene for several years — they also have left their footprint regionally with past shows in Indiana, Toledo, and Chicago. But perhaps what most separates KAQ from their local contemporaries is their brilliant combination of ethereal atmospheres, hypnotic grooves, and headbanging riffs amidst a colossal wall of sound. 

I first experienced the inimitable KAQ live show back in August of 2015, when they were playing with the excellent West Michigan hard rock/metal act Apostles at Mulligan’s Pub in Eastown, Grand Rapids. Naturally unsuspecting of the forthcoming musical extravaganza, waves of gorgeous guitar arpeggios — enveloped in the warmth of reverb and digital delay — soothed my ears. Suddenly, crunchy, palm-muted riffs pummeled my senses; Kevin Keefer’s downright filthy and cleanly-picked bass lines served as the perfect harmonic foundation. The drums, meanwhile, provided straightforward grooves while including enough tasty fills to keep things hopping. This KAQ initiation was emotive and unique, and the band immediately became one of my favorite local acts. 

Needless to say, Knives Are Quiet — currently featuring Keefer, guitarist Mike Glover, and drummer Jeremy Gish — always deliver on the live front. Hard rock fans also can get a potent taste of the KAQ live experience via their 2014 self-titled ep. Dynamically combining elements of U2Pink FloydKing’s XBlack Sabbath, and post-punk bands, songs such as “House of Cards” and “Path of Cinders” shine with irresistible grooves and shimmering melodies. “Diving Bell,” the haunting middle track on the CD, simply needs to be heard to be appreciated. 

Fans of instrumental hard rock need to check out Knives Are Quiet on Facebook or in a Midwestern venue immediately — if not yesterday.– Jonathan Kollnot 

–R.E.M. Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

•October 2, 2017 • 1 Comment

This review marks a return to my classic albums series, focusing on some of my all-time favorite records from the 1970s through the 2000s. The albums may be obscure or famous, mellow rock or extreme metal; the common thread being that they deserve more recognition, and that they are of outstanding quality. Now, on to the 1980s and R.E.M.’s darkest, most enigmatic hour. 

R.E.M.’s music has always hovered somewhere in the ether of my life’s soundtrack. Much like an early-morning fog, or tufts of cottonwood fluff floating in the breeze, it covered and colored my musical subconscious. Between my dad’s frequent spins of Document on the old red Econoline’s tape deck, or osmosis from the ubiquitous MTV videos, I just couldn’t escape R.E.M.’s influence. They were not close to my favorite band, and they sounded absolutely nothing like my beloved hard rock and metal. But there was always something there. 

Gradually, my vague respect for the jingle-jangly Athens, Georgia boys evolved into bonafide fandom. My first deliberate foray into R.E.M.’s back catalog occurred in the form of the Green CD that I would frequently check out of the high school library; specifically, the haunting and moody “I Remember California” rarely left my head. Concurrently, Automatic for the People hits such as “Everybody Hurts” and “Nightswimming” satisfied that angsty adolescent emo itch. 

But exploring the early albums revealed R.E.M. at their most vibrant, energetic, and uplifting. The Murmur debut is one bopping, jingle-jangly party of a pop-rock record; likewise, the sophomore effort Reckoning continues where Murmur left off, albeit with an even more confounding lyrical and vocal performance from Michael Stipe. Anchored by Stipe’s soothing, if nasally, voice and guitarist Buck’s driving, cleanly-arpeggiated riffs, R.E.M. seemed like an unstoppable –and incorrigably optimistic — rock band. Then, in 1985 Fables of the Reconstruction hit the streets, and fans immediately immersed themselves in a much darker version of the R.E.M. sound. 

From the opening strains of “Feeling Gravity’s Pull,” contemporary listeners must have felt as if Charlie Daniels’ patented Devil had indeed been up to some fresh mischief down in Georgia. This tune begins with Buck playing deliberate arpeggios and chiming harmonics that reverberate like a mournful church bell. “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” is a downright slow, almost doomy dirge that features one of Stipe’s most haunting and provocative performances. When he wistfully sings in the chorus, “Step up, the sky is open-armed/when the light is mine/I felt gravity’s pull,” one can sense a profound spiritual revelation, even if the meaning is still pretty confounding. Bassist Mike Mills’ trademark gorgeous vocal harmonies, coupled with new touches such as lush orchestration, clearly reflect a newfound sense of maturity and experimentation for the band. 

So, does the rest of the album continue in this emotionally-charged manner? Yes and no. “Maps and Legends” increases the pace and APMs (arpeggios-per-minute) a tad while maintaining the contemplative vibe to the vocal melodies. The crawling, funky groove of Mills’ bass riff propels “Old Man Kensey,” a particularly moody tune awash in Buck’s ethereal chimes and Stipe’s dreamlike, plaintive singing. “Wendell Gee,” another more experimental track, finds R.E.M. embracing uplifting folk-rock, replete with banjo and campfire harmonies. 

But make no mistake, Fables… still provides plenty of upbeat, bounce-around rock tunes. On “Driver 8,” Buck’s staccato intro riff serves as the perfect foil for the song’s acoustic major chords and intricate interplay of vocal harmonies. The bombastic and downright funkified “Can’t Get There from Here” showcases the rhythm section of Mills and drummer Bill Berry at their best; “Green Grow the Rushes,” by contrast, is a wistful folk ditty that’s features one of Buck’s most infectious riffs. “Auctioneer (Another Engine)” might seem like a standard up-tempo rocker until that tense and slightly dissonant chorus appears. 

Perhaps this sophisticated and fantastic masterpiece of an album is best epitomized by “Good Advices,” a straight-forward jingle-jangler that lacks one single non-catchy moment. “At the end of the day/I’ll forget your name/I’d like it here if I could leave/and see you from a long way away. ” Who can not occasionally relate to such singular, indelible moments in one’s life? Indeed, contrary to another line from this tune, home is not “a long way away” as long as this glorious book of Fables… is upon the fingertips. 

–Tracklisting: 1.) Feeling Gravity’s Pull 2.) Maps And Legends 3.) Driver 8 4.) Life And How to Live It 5.) Old Man Kensey 6.) Can’t Get There From Here 7.) Green Grow The Rushes 8.) Kohoutek 9.) Auctioneer (Another Engine) 10.) Good Advices 11.) Wendell Gee

–Jonathan Kollnot 

–Prototype: Seed demo (Retro Review, 1996)

•September 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

(This review was originally published in Kollnot Music #3, Summer 1996. Occasionally I will be revisiting some of my old reviews that I recently found in storage. I figure it’ll be fun to see how opinions change over time and to take another look at some great 1990s releases. Kragen Lum is now well known for his work in Heathen and his long current stint as lead guitarist for Exodus.)

Perhaps you are one of the lucky 1,200 who own a copy of the classic Lifeforce CD by California thrash legends Psychosis (not to be confused with the band on Massacre Records). If so, you remember what a fine collection of aggressive and powerful, if derivative, thrash it was. It had a similarity to Testament with the straight-ahead riffs and clear yet undefined vocals. Now, the duo of Vince Levalois (vocals/rhythm guitars) and Kragen Lum (lead guitar) have returned with their 1994 demo from Prototype. 

Prototype have combined their thrash roots with progressive touches, creating a vibrant, emotional, and inspirational piece of work. While they still play aggressive thrash metal, complete with Levalois’ raspy but enjoyable vocal style, these three songs bury the Psychosis material into a sea of beautiful atmosphere and dynamic moods. The songs on Seed border on the slower side, whereas Psychosis always indulged in fast tempos. A strong contrast between arpeggiated progressive guitar textures and the crunchy riffing of Lum/Levalois creates songs that are constantly moving, changing direction, and surprising. Lum’s lead guitarwork is particularly impressive, especially on the standout “Shine,” and the musicianship of all four members is superb. “Seed” and “Dead of Jericho” continue in a mid-tempo vein,and the demo is complete. 

Lum/Levalois probe complex issues like Christianity and corruption, presenting them in an interesting light. The biblical references in their music are hard to ignore on “Dead of Jericho.” “Seasons will follow/the death of the land/governed by spirits/the sons of Abraham.” The Christian themes are more critical on songs like “Cold is This God” from Psychosis. Kragen explained that they write about religion because it interests them, and the lyrics are sung from the point of view that Christianity has problems and contradictions. (The original review ended with pricing and old contact info for Prototype, including such quaint technologies as a snail-mail address and an email. 😁)–4/5

–Jonathan Kollnot 

–KING’S X: Live At The Music Factory, Battle Creek, Mich. 09-09-17

•September 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

–wsg: Kings of Spade/local openers

Some special events in one’s life invoke extraordinary expectations. Whether it be a first date with that one perfect sweetheart, or the anticipation of a very first metal concert (Savatage, BTW), the sheer excitement level can be overwhelming. But what about when that date stands you up, or your favorite band storms offstage after three songs — or worse yet, cancels entirely? Is a precipitous fall of disappointment inevitable? Not in the case of King’s X, it isn’t. 

The Houston-based progressive hard rock trio has been one of my favorite bands for over 20 years. But for whatever reason –work conflicts, infrequent tour dates in the area, poor promotion, etc. — I had never had a chance to catch King’s X live before Saturday. That long spand of withdrawal time, coupled with the unique mystique of their music, cast an unyielding spell on me. Their music offers a rare combination of the best elements of progressive rock and metal — heavy, complex riffs; superb musicianship; high energy — with the beautiful vocal harmonies, folky arrangements, and uplifting lyrical vibes of the psychelic and hippie movements. Needless to say, that first King’s X concert is an experience I was unwilling to miss again. 

After soundcheck went a bit late, the show kicked off at about 7:30 with the first of two local acts. Without knowing who the bands were, it’s hard to offer much in the way of commentary. Both bands featured great musicianship and played some intriguing cover tunes from the likes of Simple MindsHendrix, and Zeppelin. I will offer this one piece of unsolicited advice: all bands, local or otherwise, should try to identify themselves visually while onstage. Whether it be investing in a small scrub backdrop, or even putting the band logo on the bass-drum head, it’s crucial to show potential new fans who you are. Trying to rely on people being able to hear you announce your band name over the din of crowd chatter is just not going to cut it. Why bother opening for larger bands if people won’t know who you are? Okay, soapbox dismounted. 

Kings of Spade, the national touring opener, undoubtedly surprised a lot of people this night. This intriguing quartet from Honolulu, Hawaii looks like a punk rock band; the visual centerpiece being the pink mohawk-sporting lead vocalist Kasi Nunes. But when Nunes sang her first line, she belted out a soulful melody that was not unlike a marriage of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Throughout the Kings’ set, Nunes’ voice soared and sailed with power,  range, and emotion. Yes, Nunes is good, exceptionally good. Her bandmates are not too shabby either, and the Kings of Spade’s balanced mix of alternative rock, soul, and funk was highly entertaining, if also strikingly different than the headliner. Their stirring cover of Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” converted many a fan, myself included. Kings of Spade are well worth a second look. 

Then came the part of the show where one desperately works their way up to as close to the front of the stage as possible. I managed to worm myself over to about the third row, stage right. Finally, after a seemingly interminable wait, we heard Dug Pinnick’s unmistakable voice murmur quietly into the mic as the black curtain lifted. Pinnick, sporting all black and donning his trademark left-handed bass, rolled right into the monolithic riff of “Groove Machine.” Ty Labor’s uber-crunchy guitar promptly joined in, alongside the Bonham-esque deep pocket  of Jerry Gaskill. The harmonious King’s X groove party was on. 

Our heads bopped and feet moved almost in time to the heavy opener, as Pinnick directed the audience to sing nearly all the song’s lyrics. While I generally don’t approve of a singer passing off his vocal duties on the crowd, in this case it contributed to the inclusive and peaceful atmosphere. The band picked up the pace with the more metallic “The World Around Me,” off their 1992 self-titled album; they then deftly shifted back to the heavy grooves of the crushing “Pillow,” with us in the audience again singing the nearly  hymnlike chorus: “Tide underside my pillow/ willow thundering.” On “Flies and Blue Skies,” Tabor’s chiming arpeggios rang as clear and true as the haunting vocal harmonies. 

The hits and sublime moments just kept coming. At one point while Pinnick was tuning his bass, someone yelled out for “Cigarettes.” Pinnick calmly answered, “Yes, that’s what we’re playing next,” and King’s X indeed played the serenely melancholy ballad. Of course, veteran bands like King’s X have an extremely deep back catalog. But it just wouldn’t feel like a real show without them playing all the hits such as “Black Flag,” “Lost In Germany,” and “Summerland.” Thankfully, they played all these, as well as more obscure sing-a-long gems as “Pray” and the gorgeous “A Box.” 

All the while, Pinnick’s bass tone was downright filthy and his voice still soulful, though naturally lacking some of the range of his younger days. Tabor’s guitar solos were melodic and searing while never devolving into self-indulgent wankery. He’s also the happiest-looking musician one will ever see. As for Gaskill, he’s still an absolute monster behind the kit; it’s great to see him so healthy again these days too. 

During “Over My Head,” representing the joyous and loving soul of King’s X, Pinnick delivered his famous mid-song sermon. He decried the lack of empathy and division in modern society, imploring everyone to care for each other despite our differences. We all heard and sang the “music over our heads” with all the collective passion of a hard-rocking revival meeting. For the encore, the “Dogman” crushed our necks with abandon before the sublime, stripped-down rendition of “Goldilox” closed the show. We all sang every beautiful word, with Pinnick serving merely as conductor. I can think of no better way to conclude one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. Faith. Hope. Love. 

“I stand behind you and I watch you from a mile away. / Wishing you could be the one but not here this way./ I got to know your name./ And I must know who you are, yeah. ”

–Approximate Setlist: 1.) Groove Machine 2.) The World Around Me 3.) Pillow 4.) Flies and Blue Skies 5.) Vegetable 6.) Cigarettes 7.) Pray 8.) Black Flag 9.) Lost In Germany 10.) A Box 11.) Looking for Love 12.) Summerland 13.) Over My Head 14.) Go Tell Somebody 15). We Were Born to Be Loved. Encore: 16.) Dogman 17.) Goldilox 

–Jonathan Kollnot 

–Angra: Holy Land (Retro Review, 1996)

•September 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Angra: Holy Land  (Retro Review, 1996)


This review was originally published in Kollnot Music #3, Summer 1996. Occasionally I will be revisiting some of my old reviews that I recently found in storage. I figure it’ll be fun to see how opinions change over time and to take another look at some great 1990s releases. 

In KM #2 I declared Angra’s Angels Cry as one of the greatest albums ever made. I realize now I was slightly off the mark with that statement: it is THE best album ever made! Fans of that symphonic power metal triumph have been waiting seemingly forever for the release of Holy Land  (especially in America) with expectations of the second greatest album ever made. While I can’t go that far, I can say that this new Angra CD is a crowning achievement and shouldn’t disappoint fans of their debut masterpiece. 

 HL is not a carbon copy of their first; in fact, it moves further away from their pure power metal style vocalist/songwriter/keyboardist Andre Matos began when he was with Viper. While the classical orchestrations, speedy riffs, dazzling leads and beautiful vocals are still on fine display, HL introduces several new pieces to the Angra puzzle. Lyrically, this is a concept album, about the discovery of the South American continent, whereas was not. Native Brazilian wind and percussion instruments are utilized to bring the story to life on songs like “Carolina IV” and “The Shaman.” The different influences of the various members are being utilized now, as the jazz element can’t be ignored on the title track, with Andre Matos’ piano sculpting an unforgettable lick. They have slowed the tempos overall, and the abundance of mellow songs causes the album to lack the intensity of Angra’s previous effort. 

But the sheer beauty and grandeur of this album is undeniable. The CD begins with a mesmerizing chorale, “Crossing,” originally written in the 1500s, and then the vicious attack of “Nothing to Say” is unleashed. Andre’s voice is breathtaking and piercing here, and the band shifts between speed metal and classical music with finesse. “Carolina IV” is the album’s centerpiece, beginning with a tribal drum beat and proceeding into 10 minutes of power metal ecstasy. “Make Believe” is a beautiful ballad, while the somber “Deep Blue” is reminiscent of “Lasting Child” from AC. “Lullabye for Lucifer” is the peaceful conclusion, with an acoustic guitar and inspirational lyrics: “On the sand, by the sea/ I left my heart to shed my grief/ A vulture came begging me/ Feed me with this piece of meat/ I won’t give away/ something I need.” –4/5

–Jonathan Kollnot 

–Pantera: Reinventing the Steel  (2000, Retro Review)

•September 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

–PANTERA: Reinventing the Steel (2000, Retro Review)

(This review was originally published in the Grand Rapids Press in June of 2000). 

The screaming chorus of opener “Hellbound” hits you with the subtlety of a diesel train careening into a big diesel truck. That’s the way Pantera likes it. 

Pantera’s fifth album is called “Reinventing the Steel,” and the title’s irony is obvious once its abrasive style of rock kicks into gear. Pantera is not reworking an old genre with this release. This is the same style of old-school heavy metal that bands like Metallica and Megadeth cultivated in the 1980s, only this is played even louder and with more aggression. 

The difference between Pantera and their contemporaries is that their music remains extremely heavy despite continued commercial success. 

Longtime Pantera fanatics will cherish the abrasive sound that dominates “Reinventing the Steel.” Guitarist Dimebag Darrell’s trademark brutal guitar riffs and singer Phil Anselmo’s guttural screams still paralyze, whiledrummer Vinnie Paul and bassist Rex’s intricate rhythms propel songs like the powerful first single “Revolution is My Name.” Pantera still knows how to shock, too, earning in spades its explicit lyrics sticker through an irreverent attitude and enough profanity to humble most new acts. 

This album will not likely convert new listeners to metal or Pantera, but die-hards will bang their heads with joy. ***–Jonathan Kollnot 

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