MATT PIKE

Cool CDs — COWS, 5678s, High on Fire

Every once in awhile I listen to a bunch of loud music from the old days…the fabulous 1990s. Above is COWS bringing it from 1996 in Minneapolis. Saw them that year! In addition to regular club dates they were on the Indie stage at Lollapalooza and toured with TOOL. They completely plow through these songs with their trademark razor wire guitar + throbbing rhythm section + demented front man with total abandon! There are quite a few live COWS shows from those days up on YouTube now and that is a great thing! Brings it all back for us who were there and helps those who weren’t and wished they could’ve been glean a little of what it was like. Bands like COWS should be preserved for posterity. That was some a-ok fun and reckless stuff happening right there ladies and gentlemen.

I hear, well saw actually, that there was a reunion show in Minneapolis last year that was very well-attended and enjoyable for all who were there. I think there have been a few of those over the past couple of years, but guitarist Thor Eisentrager bowed out in 1998 and has never returned. I think that is why today if something happens they are referred to as COWZ. There have been releases (?) of old material and some different things?. Of course, Amphetamine Reptile Records is the label that released all of the COWS material and a whole lot of other great aggro-noise besides. They are still in existence, in a limited way. I got the hankering to DO SOME MOO (listen to COWS) and looked through my stacks. I knew I still had some COWS cds and I do and I threw them on and started looking about the internet to see what’s what. I found out that Old Gold, which is a compilation of their first 3 albums: Daddy Has a Tail, Effete and Impudent Snobs, and Peaceticka, is completely out of print. Hmm. I would imagine the albums it represents are also long gone, but, through the magic of YouTube, they LIVE, NOW ON your computer. Pretty cool.

cows3The music on Old Gold is pretty crazy, especially the early stuff. COWS hadn’t quite worked out their sound and presentation yet, but tracks like Camouflage Monkey, Shakin’ and Memorial (always in rotation in many COWS sets) prove that even back in the late 80s, they had all of raw energy and power necessary to become a great punk and noise band. Some of the other “songs” like Dirty Leg, Whitey in the Woodpile and Bum in the Alley are just plain weird. By the time you reach Peacetika (peace sign and swastika get it?) the band is really coming together. Hitting the Wall (one of the band’s defining tunes) is some of the most unhinged, volatile, molotov-cocktail music produced by anyone ever. The title track is also a great tune — an “instrumental” sound collage that drives in a Sonny Sharrock meets Joy Division direction that I wish the band would’ve explored further. Cant’ Die and 3 Way Lisa are also le terrifique! There are a few folks out there who think Peacetika is the best COWS release and it is definitely #2 for me! (I review 1992s Cunning Stunts, in the right column and believe that to be #1, though not by much.)

cows2The COWS songs had both feet in the disaffected rage of the Beavis and Butthead trailer-park generation; that slimy underbelly of the rust belt towns that were once built around a church and a somewhat stable economy. Kind of like the movie Fargo if everyone acting in the movie did so on 3 hits of really hot blotter and a tub of Big Mickeys. They represented and embodied the post-industrial, post-modern, post-Grand Funk/Stooges generations even if some of they did was pure drug-induced psychosis or prairie schtick. Musically there was a mess of blues, jazz, and the sounds Midwestern rock icons like The Stooges and Alice Cooper scattered throughout. Sometimes what sounds like a guitar is actually a bass line all distorted, effected and played with a slide! I can’t say for sure he invented it, but I’ve never seen anyone but Kevin Rutmanis play bottleneck bass. On cuts like Shitbeard, off of the Sexy Pee Story disc, both Rutmanis and guitarist Eisentrager play slide on their respective instruments! Talking about rippin’ up the rule book! Any pretense of typical technique is not really evident, but repeated listening will prove that these guys worked hard on putting together a group sound that was much more than any one individual’s musical abilities. Supposedly guitarist Thor would come to sessions with pages of his parts notated out. There is a lot to enjoy and learn here and I hope there are younger musicians out there who pick up on it. This is one of the things people did before there was an internet and American Idol and running through the East Village because of a rumored Kanye West secret show on a post office loading dock. Ok…so maybe it would’ve been at Webster Hall. Still. srsly?

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Anyhow, in the course of going through my stuff I came across discogs.com, which is a pretty hip, user-generated-type site that has all kind of really important information pertaining to the recorded media one may have. This is where I found out that Old Gold is something people want. What’s even more bloody brilliant is that I have a promo copy of Old Gold too. I have no idea where I got this, but it’s in great shape, except it looks like it’s 20 years old. Oh wait…it is.

cows1The track listing isn’t any different, but I saw that someone is asking almost $100 for it on Ebay. Wow! Of course, vinyl is the way to go! Some of that stuff is really worth a lot, but I don’t have any. I’m glad people are seeking out these COWS releases…Way cool! I’m sure it’s tough to drum up the support necessary for a full re-release so hopefully everyone who wants a copy will somehow manage to get one. I may even part with mine eventually, who knows? The thing about CDs is the discs are usually in pretty good shape long after the listener has major problems (haha). You really have to take care of vinyl to have it still sound good 20 years later.

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Another CD that I have is this one by The 5678s — a band favored Quentin Tarentino (the band made an appearance in the movie Kill Bill) and assorted guys with backpacks everywhere. New CDs are selling on Amazon for $150. Holy Smoke. These gals were/are sassy and sultry and they got the Americana retro thing down like a shimmyshack. I saw them a long time ago in a small club in NYC, but they were pretty ordinary as far as really being able to bring it live unfortunately. Maybe they had jet lag. Japan is pretty far away, you know? I gotta say though…they gave it their all and looked fantastic!

56781I’m pretty sure I bought this from my friends at Vital Music Records a long time ago. I like this CD and love the Americana music even more than I used to, but I do, in my old age, prefer the polish of someone say, like Friends of Dean Martinez over the kitschy power of The 5678s. But, as with COWS, it’s great younger people seek this stuff out. Back in the day RAWK like this was flying off the shelves everywhere. Things have changed, I know, but Rock and Toll is a force you need in your life!

The last thing I found diggin’ through the stacks was this copy of High On Fire’s first release. This looks to be an in-demand item on discogs.com too — 91 people want it and only 17 people have it, although no price is mentioned. This release was put out by 12th Records, which I think, didn’t do anything else after. The three songs that appear on this CD would also appear on the Man’s Ruin release The Art of Self-Defense in 2000, but I’m pretty sure they are different versions. Master of Fists is slower and sludgier, but all three are performed very well. It’s easy to see that guitarist/leader and ex-member of the legendary Sleep, Matt Pike, already had his sound, style and riff factory up and running it was only a matter of time before the metal world caught on.

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High on Fire

High on Fire - The Art of Self-DefenseHigh On Fire! The kind of band you go see or put on when you feel like running headfirst into a brick wall! The first time I saw them was in the fall of 2000 at CBGBs, the notorious Bowery club in NYC that no longer exists. It was a metal show, and I knew some of the bands on the (really packed) bill and it ended up being a fantastic time. One of the bands Boulder, had the total Judas Priest thing going on with the Flying V’s and enough Marshall stacks onstage to sink it. I think it took them longer to set up than it did for them to do their set, but they had a real interesting metal/hardcore thing going on complete with the twin leads and twisted vocals and it was pretty good. Acid King played next and were played great and totally impressed me. I bought Busse Woods right after their set. Then High on Fire came on. It was great, I mean like GRRRRRREAT! They played their Man’s Ruin release, The Art of Self-Defense,  and the song Eyes and Teeth, which would be on their 2nd release, Surrounded by Thieves, as well as a Steel Shoe.

I really dug this version of the band. It never really got any better for me after this, but I know I’m in the minority. HOF started out as Stoner Rock, really groovin’ sludgy riffs and interesting song structures and then by the time their first bass player left and they released their 3rd album, Blessed Black Wings, they turned into a full-on metal band. It was a good move for them I think, as they have been very successful; they’ve made 2 more records and have opened for Metallica in Europe, and that’s pretty friggin’ good. These guys have worked hard and toured a lot and deserve every reward that comes their way.

High on Fire - Surrounded by Thieves coverBut the stoner-rock/doom idiom is more interesting to me to listen to, and as a guitar player. I like instrumental approach and the really LONG songs that go through many complex parts and changes. This first time I saw HOF I thought they were Sabbath meets Zeppelin mixed with prog-rock and lo-fi free jazz kind of stuff. Very physical and pummeling for sure, but not the straight-ahead doom or metal played by other bands, even some of the other bands that were on the bill. There was a lot of atmosphere and dynamics and CBGBs was a great place to see a band where the guitarist and bass player were each using 3-4 cabinets. It was LOUD and standing close as I was…RIGHT IN MY FACE. AWESOME! Definitely ranks as one of the best shows ever, and I saw tons of shows at CBGBs over the years. To this day HOF have retained quite a bit of that early diversity and have never sacrificed their pummeling brutal intensity, sound and approach, so I don’t want to give the impression that I think they sold out and would understand if the band would say “hey, we’ve been doing basically the same thing all along,” because in a way, that’s true.

High on Fire-Sleeve image from 1st releaseMatt Pike is a guitar monster and has been ever since he was a youngster in the band Sleep. High on Fire, even in the beginning, with drummer Des Kensel and bass player George Rice, had a very pummeling sound. I’ve read in interviews that Matt took a jazz guitar course or two and I think I hear some John McLaughlin in his playing—definitely some Tony Iommi, Dave Murray from Iron Maiden, and Motorhead. There is this space in time where prog-rock, jazz, fusion, stoner rock and metal meet and I think in the early days, and maybe a little bit still, Matt Pike was trying to make ALL of it work for him. Like the main riff from Baghdad is just sick! and the end jam on Master of Fists and parts of  Thraft of Canaan (WTF is a “THRAFT”) sound really jazzy to me, especially the circular style drumming and the guitar soloing. When multiple styles overlap the music becomes very interesting, not only because there is so much ROCK and complex musical inspiration to draw from, but, also, the potential to create completely new hybrids of ideas and combinations is almost limitless.

High on Fire-Blessed Black WingsI learned the riffs to the Art of Self-Defense and a band I was in at the time even covered Master of Fists live. Had to drop the guitar tuning down to C for that heavy-riffing sound and just bang along. Lots of clever parts and fun riffs to do—Last, Fireface, 10,000 Years, Baghdad, Master of Fists and Blood From Zion are all total headbangers.  Surrounded by Thieves also had a lot of great stuff on it; Eyes and Teeth, Nemesis and Thraft of Canaan are all brutally beautiful. I did like Blessed Black Wings and the hooks, riffs and execution just kept getting better and better—The Face of Oblivion and Cometh Down the Hessian, Sons of Thunder (which sounds like heavy prog-rock to me) and To Cross the Bridge are just amazing. The recording sounded great, Matt’s lyrics are always totally metal and the album artwork is always really awesome too. I think he’s a guy who wants his music to take the listener somewhere, it’s not all about slaying and pummeling and throwing the horns.

These days Matt plays a custom-made 9 string guitar! How cool is that? With the 3 high strings doubled (like on a 12-string) he can get more “body” and a chorus type of effect without switching on a pedal. Since he does a lot of his riffing Iommi-style, which translates to doing most everything heavy on the 2 low strings, he can crush heavy and also have this very beautiful chorus-type of ring going on simultaneously. Brilliant!