Thursday, September 18, 2008

R.I.P. Richard Wright (1943-2008)

This past Monday (9/15), one of my all-time, all-time favorite musicians passed away, the great Richard Wright of Pink Floyd. Richard played keyboards, and sang some occasional vocals. While Pink Floyd is one the most popular and well-known bands in Rock History, the band members themselves were far from rock celebrities, with only the real fans knowing their names, recognizing their pictures, etc. In the early days of Floyd, original leader Syd Barrett got most of the spotlight. When Pink Floyd fractured in the early 80's, the two opposing forces of Roger Waters and David Gilmour got their share of ink for their very acrimonious feud. Richard Wright never got any special kind of recognition, nor did he seek it. He played a more supporting role, but his contribution musically to the band was huge. In many ways, Wright's textured keyboards were the foundation of Pink Floyd's sound.

Pink Floyd in the early days (Wright on the far right)

Richard Wright was a musician's musician. His style was known for restraint, musicality, atmosphere, and lots and lots of emotion. Although his playing was steeped in jazz, blues, and other musical styles, it is amazing to learn that he was self-taught. But then again, that probably isn't surprising. He played straight from the soul.

I also loved his voice, and the occasional songs he sang or wrote for the Floyd, as well as his two solo albums. In the days after Syd left the band, Wright was the most accomplished songwriter in the group. He helped fill that void until Gilmour and Waters' skills were further honed. Gilmour had the amazing voice in the band, but when Richard and David sang together, like on the monumental classic "Echoes," their blend was even more magical. As Roger Waters took creative control of the band as they evolved in the late 70's, Richard's unique contribution was minimized and squeezed out of their sound. This is why I rejoiced when his first solo album, "Wet Dream," was released in 1978!

When the post-Waters version of the band came together in the late 80's, Wright came back into the fold, and by the time they released their "The Division Bell" album in 1994, Wright was a major contributor again, helping write the music for a number of songs, and even taking lead vocals on another. This creative spark continued with the release of his second and final solo album, "Broken China." This was a very serious work, one thematically based around the serious depression that his wife suffered from. Although it was hardly known to even the more dedicated Pink Floyd fans, it is often considered the *BEST* solo album put out by any of the Floyd members. This diehard fan is one who agrees!!!

I tell you, it is a great joy to see Richard in David Gilmour's band on his live DVD "Night After Night," which came out in 2007. Seeing the two of them sing "Echoes" again is purely awe inspiring. Plus David had the kindness to include a number of other Wright lead vocal spots in some of the extras included on the disc. Check it out!

Performing with David Gilmour's band in 2006

I have always been one to champion the underdog, or the unsung hero. Richard Wright was one of these. God, how much I loved his playing and singing! I even put together my own Richard Wright best of mix-CD, entitled "Richard Wright Is God." I made this about 2 years ago when I was in a major Floyd renaissance. He will definitely be missed by this fan. But how blessed I think I am, and we all are for his great contribution to our musical lives.

Give Me 8 Cents,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review: ICY STEEL (self-titled debut)

In the vast space and time continuum of Metal, through out centuries, epochs, ages, and dynasties, there are albums that just kick your 8 Cent ass so hard you bolt upright, grab a sword, slay some f*&king dragons, eat a motorcycle, or whatever. When that album and band turns out to be very obscure and unknown, you feel like you've just discovered a great hidden gem buried deep in the Mines Of Moria. It may not be perfect, but even its imperfection adds to its perfection, if you know what I mean! You feel lucky and privileged to have discovered the band, and you are filled with desire to spread the word that this is *NOT* just another insignificant album, lost in the oceanic wave of discs released each year. It is the proverbial Eight Cent diamond in the rough, the kind of discovery that collectors and true fans go ape sh*t over!

Such is the self-titled debut of Italian EPIC Metal band Icy Steel, which was released last year. I have heard a billion Metal albums in my day, but this one goes down into the Rudo Anvilmeister 8 Cent Metal Hall of Fame, enshrined in its own special spot in that vast museum of Metallic Art. Being from Italy, Icy Steel belong to the burgeoning EPIC Metal scene coming out of "The Boot" and Greece. I wrote an introductory piece on this scene a while ago on R8CM (which can be found here). While Icy Steel have a lot in common with these bands, all of which I love, they have something special that sets them apart. I've tried to figure out what is their "Ingredient XXX," the hidden voodoo that makes their debut album so great. I can't help but think it is their "restraint" that makes the big difference.

So holy f*&king sh*t, RESTRAINT??? Give me 8 Cents! How in the world can restraint be a virtue in a Metallic genre that emphasizes OVER THE TOP (OTT) bombastic glory??? Well, all things are relative, and in proportion, my dear readers. Since this is EPIC F*&KING METAL, of course, it is by nature OTT and BOMBASTIC, and those are really good things! But the constructive criticism I have for this new scene, is that sometimes it goes just a tad overboard, especially the vocals. They seem "over ripe." So in your face, so over done, and sometimes so off-key, it makes you split in half (and believe me, I love excess!)! For example, take the vocals of Sacred Blood, a wonderful band that I really like. At times the vocals detract from the overall quality of otherwise an excellent band and a very good debut album. Icy Steel' s singer, Stefano Galeano does goes flat on occasion, but generally has much better command of his strong vox, and also uses a softer voice for more nuance.

You see, I like nuance. And I like tension. If you do it right, restraint can yield lots of tension, the tension of knowing things could explode all over the place, and you keep kinda expecting it to, but it doesn't, and keeps you engaged and on the edge. Then when it does explode, its like an orgasm! That is what Icy Steel does, particularly in their guitar playing (props to Stefano Galeano & Alberto Eretta). Melody is very important in Icy Steel. The melodies seem a 100,000 years old, and they probably are. There isn't too much original in their music, but that isn't the point. It is finding the perfect mix of classic EPIC Metal ingredients, simmered slowly in a broth of 8 Cents, with the stew acquiring incredible taste and boadacious body as it cooks.

Icy Steel's album is very much rooted in the classic Traditional and EPIC Metal from the 1980's. What is funny and odd, aside from their obvious nods to Judas Priest (definitely utilizing some well-placed Halfordian yelps), the twin Maiden guitar sound, and the obligitato reverence of Manilla Road, what comes to mind is some *VERY* obscure 80's Metal bands, like Oxenkiller, Exxplorer, the mighty GRIFFIN, and a tiny bit of Fates Warning's "Night On Brocken." Icy Steel utilize those ingredients, along with melody and restraint, in a very POWERFUL way to reach maximum IMPACT of Strong Songs by Strong Men!!! Say Yeah!

This is mighty stuff. There are 9 epics, as well as the prerequisite short intro song, that conjure up a time past when Men were Men, and Metal was Metal. The guitar playing is pretty f*&king exquisite, especially for some guys who are not the most technical players, or the fastest, but play with an infinite amount of heart. It is very, very moving... Moving me close to tears on many an occasion (oh!). There are dual leads, there are solo leads, there is powerful riffing, all of it of an incredible righteous nature. What a joy! What an orgasm! The vocals as I said are powerful, but not over ripe and stinky like a mushy pear. I love the vocal harmonies used in most songs, and there are some really cool chant like things in the classic track "Corrupted King." These chants sound almost Gregorian in nature, and certainly appeal to my old Catholic indentured servitude (Give Me a Holy 8 Cents!).

If this self-titled gem has a flaw, it is that sometimes the playing sounds too tentative. In some places, the band needs to gel a little better, with a more natural sound-like-you-are-playing-live vibe. Let's not confuse"tentative" with"restraint." They are very different things. Restraint is holding something back. Tentative sounds like something is holding you back. For one thing, the drums are pretty passive, and well... tentative. They could be more dynamic. If the whole thing "swung" a little more, this album would be even that much better (and by swing, I don't mean Benny Goodman!).

Another really 8 Cent thing about the album is that the lyrics and vocals are in English, and it is so incredibly obvious that Icy Steel and singer Stefano Galeano are far from fluent in it. The singing is very phonetic at times, and the pro-nun-ci-a-tion and syl-lab-ic accents are all over the place. Plus, some of the lyrics are way out there. It almost reminds of 80's French DEMO-FO monsters Mutha Corpse (new musics are rising out of the earths!). For example in "Corrupted King":

"There once was a noble commander,
to become blood has poured him
He has won over two hundred wars,
but his destiny changed is,
when his name became God..."

So I say, "GIVE ME 8 CENTS!" This does not bother me at all. In fact, it makes the whole album more endearing to me. I love all the Metal guys who go out there and try to learn English, and some times fracture it so bad it comes out better than if it was right! Meanwhile most of us stupid, fat, lazy, Americans only have a half-assed knowledge of our own language, and that is it! So hats off to you, Icy Steel, for trying. However, I do know that this kind of misuse of language will put off some of the more refined and cultured listeners out there.

So all in all, the tentative nature of the playing and the language issue smacks of a band making their first album. To be honest, I am not complaining, just trying to tell it as it is. I expect even better things on their next opus, which they have started work on. They also have a new drummer, so we'll see how that goes. The bottom line is, this is a classic P-I-E-C-E of Metal, worthy of anybody tracking down and purchasing, even if that might be a quest to the Mines of Moria, because it ain't that easy to find. However, I recently got a copy from The End Records in the States, so go for it!!!

Here at "Rudo's Eight Cent Marvels," I will write about big bands, because I love a lot of big bands. But I especially love to write about obscure, "little" bands, who are anything but little. Icy Steel's debut is MONSTROUS in terms of quality of gr8 songs, gr8 playing, and the Sacred Sacrament of 8 Cents! Buy it!!!

For more on Icy Steel, check out their Myspace page here, and listen to four of the ten tracks. You won't regret it!

Give Me 8 Cents,